Bill Maher Bashes Disability

Bill MaherAs you all know, I like Bill Maher. I think he is funny and he is right about a lot of politics. But I get very angry at him when he is egregiously wrong. This happened most recently during the presidential campaign. Goldie Taylor was on his show. She claimed that Obama would win 330 electoral votes. Maher claimed that this was an example of the “liberal media bubble.” But as I pointed out at the time, it was no such thing. When Taylor made the claim, there was a 21% change of Obama getting that many votes. And in the end, he got 335 votes.

Last week on his show, he discussed another conservative canard that for whatever reason he just accepts at face value: more people are on disability and we should be outraged. In his little brain, this is all about the Paul Ryan hammock: Americans are just getting more lazy. It goes right along with Maher’s libertarian inclinations. The problem is, it just isn’t true.

The Congressional Budget Office looked at this question last July. And they found there are three primary reasons why there are more people on disability. First, the workforce is older; older workers are more prone to career ending disabilities. Second, because most women work now, there is a larger percentage of the population that works; more workers causes more people on disability. Third, the Reagan administration changed the qualifications for disability to be more fair; more workers qualified for disability causes more people to be on disability.

This is not hard stuff to understand. What’s more, this isn’t news. A Google search of “rise disability rates cause” brought up that article above. So Maher is either just following his prejudices or he’s listening to conservatives with an ax to grind. Regardless, I really expect better of him.

Republican Economic Incoherence

Greg MankiwThis morning, Greg Sargent writes, We all agree that spending cuts hurt the economy. Right? Right. Right now, the Republicans are claiming that spending cuts will help the economy. Of course, six months ago, they were saying the opposite. But this is nothing new. The truth is that Republicans are incoherent on economic issues.

They will always claim that tax cuts help the economy. This is true. As long as those cuts are not offset with spending cuts. But that’s getting too complex for Republican thinking. Why do they think that tax cuts spur the economy? Because they give people more money that they can spend and this feeds back in the economy. The obvious question is then: doesn’t government spending do exactly the same thing?

That’s when we move into Republican incoherence: spending is bad because we can’t afford it, blah, blah, blah. But a dollar of spending costs exactly the same as a dollar of tax cuts. So I don’t even know how we are supposed to deal the Republicans on economic matters. They are either incoherent or they are disingenuous.

Actually: I think they are both. I think they don’t understand the economics at the same time that they will use any argument to justify what they want to do. Right now what they want to do is hurt the economy. But if they controlled the White House they would favor policies that helped the economy: Keynesian policies.

It isn’t just politicians who act this way. Harvard University economist Greg Mankiw, widely respected in his field, was against the 2009 stimulus package. But when he worked for Bush Jr, he was all for stimulus. If that isn’t an indictment of the economics profession, I don’t know what is. I don’t think we see this on the left, but on the right the first step in determining what to do to help the economy is to find out which party is in the White House.

We may be past the time when the Republicans will explicitly hold the US economy hostage over things like the Debt Ceiling. But they are still doing it implicitly by countering any good policies whenever they aren’t in power. This is a new level of cynicism. And there is no choice but to do what John Boehner claims Obama wants to do to the Republican Party: annihilate it.

Who’s with me?!

Oh My Marriage!

Jim NaborsI know that not long ago, I checked Wikipedia to find out if Jim Nabors was openly gay. And as I recall, there was really nothing about it. Of course, I assumed he was. I don’t know why. There are those stories about Rock Hudson. Everyone assumed. And maybe it is just that no one cared, Nabors being so obviously such a good boy.

Regardless, open secret or just no one caring, it seemed to me that Nabors was kind of living as a closeted gay man. And that always makes me sad. Well yesterday, he told Hawaii News Now that he got married to his longtime boyfriend Stan Cadwallader.[1] And I am almost giddy with joy!

But let me nip one nasty rumor that is going around. Nabors is quite a lot older than Cadwallader. When they first got together Cadwallder was 26 and Nabors was 44. This is not an unreasonable age difference, even at that young age. By the half plus seven rule, we have: 44/2+7 = 29. And that means that their relationship is officially not creepy. [Oops! I got that wrong! It was a little creepy. -FM]

So in honor of their marriage, I offer you Jim Nabors performing Oh My Papa!

Afterword

Look at the direction of that clip. That is a lot better than other TV of that time.


[1] Hawaii has some kind of civil union, but not same-sex marriage. As a result, Nabors and Cadwallader were married in Washington state.

Pray for Ron

Ron JeremyI am not a big fan of video porn. But like any American male of my age, I know Ron Jeremy. According to USA Today, Mr. Jeremy is in the hospital, following heart surgery for an aneurysm. The article claims that Jeremy is a “porn star.” And indeed, he has “starred” in over 2000 porn films. But you have to ask: is Ron Jeremy really a star?

Was William Kempe a star? Because Kempe was to Elizabethan theater, what Jeremy is to porn: comic relief inside the larger structure of the drama. But while Kempe undoubtedly was a major draw, I’m not sure that Jeremy is. Did anyone rent Debbie Does Dallas Part II because of him? I doubt that. But I don’t doubt his value to the films. He provides much needed (and easily created) padding for films that, left to themselves are more like training films for gynecologists than entertainments.

I was very struck by the following tweet that his manager sent out.

The PrayForRon hashtag is probably why so many people love this man. And it is certainly why I decided to write this article. Because despite what Althea says in The People vs. Larry Flynt, we do want our religion and porn mixed. In fact, I don’t see much difference between them; they’re both 99% narcissism.

God may not exist, but Ron Jeremy probably does. #PrayForRon!

Government Austerity Hurting Economy

Ezra KleinThere is a blogging problem that I’ve only really noticed the last few months. There is a constant feeling that you’ve written about “this” (whatever it is) before. Because you have. Because the same old bullshit comes up time and time again. Case in point: the size of the economy shrunk last quarter. Now, this hasn’t happened since I started writing about politics. But I seem to write every day about the story behind this fact.

Our GDP decreased by 0.1% this last quarter. But if it weren’t for the shrinking of government purchases, our GDP would have increased by 1.2%. That’s right: the government is hurting our economy by not spending enough. And this has always been true for the last couple of years. It isn’t just conservatives who are blithely unaware that the federal budget deficit has come down each of the last three years.[1] That in itself would not be so bad, given that it hasn’t come down that fast. The problem is that at the same time, state and local budgets have plummeted.

Ezra Klein presents the following graph which shows the share of public and private spending as it relates to GDP. And what it shows is that despite the claims of conservatives—Government spending is out of control!—government is spending less and less, quarter after quarter.

Public and Private Spending Effect on GDP

So there we have it again: the government needs to spend more, not less. Government austerity is hurting our economy. It isn’t a lack of “confidence” or a balanced budget. There is not enough demand and it ripples all through the economy. The government needs to spend more, not less.


[1] In looking for a reference, I was again reminded of just how deceptive conservatives are when they present the budget deficit. They invariably present the fiscal year 2009 budget as Obama’s, even though it was Bush’s budget. The more intellectually honest writers note this but then pass it off as though Obama could just step into office and change Bush’s budget. Of course, I’m not blaming Bush for the budget deficit. It came about because of the financial crisis and the bursting of the housing bubble. It isn’t particularly Bush’s “fault,” but it most definitely isn’t Obama’s.

Wasteful Border Security Spending

Statue of LibertyThere are some things that America just can’t get enough of. There is always money for the military. There is always money for prisons. There is always money for border security. Yet there is almost never any indication that this money is well spent. Quite the opposite, actually. Let’s talk border security, shall we?

From 2005 to 2010, the amount we spend on border security almost doubled. We now spend $18 billion per year on border security. This is about what we spend on Pell Grants, but while they are decreasing, border security is skyrocketing.

I suppose we can take some solace from the fact that the number of deportations has also skyrocketed—although they have not gone up by quite as much. We have reached the point where there is no net illegal immigration. But the main reason that we’ve accomplished this has nothing to do with our more rigorous enforcement. Instead, it is due to the economic downturn. There just aren’t as many economic opportunities in the United States and so people are not coming as much as they used to.

None of this matter, of course. The federal government always wants more money for border security. Because in the United States, it doesn’t matter that you accomplish anything, only that you look like it.

Thank You Pig

Babe: Pig in the CityI watched Babe: Pig in the City again last night. It is a wonderful film. Even better than the first one that is also wonderful in its own way.

My major problem with the original film is the ridiculous plot device of a secret code that makes all sheep talk to you, “Baa-ram-ewe . Baa-ram-ewe. To your breed, your fleece, your clan be true.” Oh my! I understand that it’s a children’s story, but still. It doesn’t ruin the film by any means, but it does make it something less than it could have been. Also the third act was weak with Rex running all the way back to the farm.

Pig in the City only uses “Baa-ram-ewe” once, and to good comedic effect: it doesn’t work on pit bulls (actually bull terriers). But the film still suffers from a weak third act. The banquet scene is far too busy; it is hard to know what is going on; and it all goes on for too long. I would have enjoyed more time with the zany cast of animal characters. More time could certainly have been spent with the break-out from the pound.

There are other things that people no doubt complain about. The plot is episodic, but I think it would have been less so if they had spent less time getting to the hotel and less time resolving the plot. Regardless, I think the writing does a good job of weaving a single plot line throughout, although it does get a bit muddled toward the end. Another potential complaint is that the story of the humans gets dumped for the whole of the second act. I tend to think this could have been dealt with by a tiny bit of cross cutting, and I don’t doubt that this was in the script. But in the end, how can humans compare with Ferdinand and Flealick?

Above all, the reason I prefer Pig in the City to Babe is that it has a better cast of characters. It also has standout scenes that the first film lacks. The most obvious is Babe’s saving of the Bull Terrier and the resulting situation where the mean dog enforces Babe’s egalitarian rules. But by far my favorite moment is when Thelonius insists upon dressing before escaping. In that moment, he is all of us. There is nothing eternal about our cultural habits, but we follow them because it is our way; we get meaning from them. This is paid off admirably by two short scenes. The first is when Thelonius is trailing behind as the animals are escaping through the hospital. A child recognizes him and says, “Hello Thelonius!” It is sweet: there are advantages to keeping up appearances. The second is at the end when we see Thelonius hand Esme Hoggett a laundry pin as the narrator says, “As for the Orangutan, he insisted on staying at the farmhouse… with Herself.”

And all was right in the universe, or at least our little part of it. Thank you, pig.

Afterword

I also like how much higher the stakes are in the second film. It does make it a lot darker. A good example of this is when the chihuahua says, “My human tied me in a bag and throwed me in the water.” Wow! In a world where your human throwed you in the water, we need all the pigs we can get. But Babe-like pigs; not those horrible pigs who are always tormenting Shaun the Sheep.

Republican House Racial Polarization

Elephant and DonkeyScott Bland has provided an amazing graph over at National Journal in an article, Why Immigration Reform Could Die in the House. The article itself shows that getting immigration reform through the House of Representatives could be harder than many people imagine. Of the Republicans in the House, 112 of them (almost 50%) are in districts that are more than 80% white. Fully 74% of Republicans are in districts that are at least 70% white. What’s more, the Republicans in this House represent even more predominantly white districts than they did in the last House.

Bland argues that a large fraction of the House Republicans have no incentive at all to be in favor of immigration reform that does anymore than deport more people and spend more for border enforcement. In fact, many of them have an incentive to block real reform. This reminds me of something that I read in Michelle Alexander’s excellent The New Jim Crow. I can’t find the reference, but it turns out that people who live in low crime areas are more punitive in their attitudes to criminals than people in high crime areas. The same thing happens with undocumented immigrants. And it all comes down to community: if you don’t know people, it is easy to vilify them like the retractable horned Jews of Borat’s imagination.

Here is the graph; click on it to see it at full resolution:

House District Demographics

The first thing to notice about this graph is how gerrymandered the districts are by race. Of all the districts 54% of them are more than 30% white. It seems to me that with the settled law about districts not being too gerrymandered and the Voting Rights Act, that a court case could be made against the current districts. We really do need to do something about gerrymandering, but unfortunately, it benefits both parties at different times and that seems to stop any movement on reform.

The second thing to notice is that the Democratic districts are fairly evenly distributed. In contrast, the Republican districts look like a Poisson distribution. You can really see the demographic catastrophe awaiting them in this graph. They simply do not appeal to anyone other than white people.

As a Democrat, I’m very pleased with this graph. As an American, I’m appalled.

Wacky Argument Against Same-Sex Marriage

Paul ClementJonathan Chait reported something today that was so unbelievable that I had to look into it. Conservatives were at the Supreme Court the week before last trying to both get California’s Prop 8 (gay marriage) overturned and force the White House to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act. As Chait rightly points out, its fine for a conservative to just be against gay marriage because he is, “But if you’re a lawyer defending a gay-marriage ban in court, you need an actual legal reason for your position.” And boy oh boy did the conservatives come up with an actual legal reason!

The conservatives are arguing that same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry because they don’t have accidental pregnancies. Chait says, “Gay couples don’t get drunk and wake up pregnant.” Therefore: no marriage for you!

I had a hard time believing this. Was it April first? No. Was there some giveaway in the text—a nod and a wink? No. So I clicked over to the LA Times, Gay Marriage Opponents Take Unusual Tack With Supreme Court. Chait was telling the truth. The article reports that the lawyers are arguing, “Unintended children produced by opposite-sex relationships and raised out-of-wedlock would pose a burden on society.”

There are ways to make the argument sound less ridiculous. But it always comes down to this: we need marriage to make couples behave properly. There will always be responsible couples, of course. We don’t need marriage for them. In fact, if it weren’t for the irresponsible couples, we wouldn’t even have marriage. Thus, there is no point in expanding the definition of marriage because it isn’t necessary.

There are some obvious problems here. What if a absolutist anti-choice lesbian get pregnant via rape? That would be unintended. Her non-married mate could just leave, not wanting the responsibility. I realize that this is not going to happen all that much, but doesn’t the society have an interest in seeing that the child is raised by two parents?

Another issue, of course, is equal protection. (I realize that conservatives only think that equal protection applies to George W. Bush, but still.) Why should responsible heterosexual couples get (for example) tax benefits when responsible homosexual couples do not?

It is all quite silly. But note: the big lawyer behind this is none other than Paul “If the state can force you to buy healthcare why can’t it force you to buy broccoli” Clement. That was no more silly and he managed to get four of the justices to agree. Who knows how he’ll do with this case.

Tom Tancredo’s Reefer Madness

Reefer MadnessLet me lay the whole story on you because (1) it hasn’t been the well reported and (2) I’m a hip cat who wants to lay it on rather than just write it down. In the lead up to Colorado’s shocking vote to make cannabis legal—Just to get high, if you can believe it!—Tom Tancredo promised that if the proposition passed that he would blow a fat one. This promise was made to Adam Hartle, a documentary film maker who caught the exchange on video.

Well, Colorado passed the law to make cannabis legal—Just to get high, if you can believe it! If this were a normal story, it would end here. Tancredo would back out saying something like, “Well, it’s still against federal law.” But it isn’t and he didn’t. Instead, he announced that he was going forward with his promise. He and Hartle were gonna blow a fat on and let the empty ice cream containers fall where they may.

But it is not to be. On Saturday, Tancredo announced that he will not be subjecting himself to reefer madness. That’s fine. As I indicated, that’s what I originally expected. What bugs me is how he’s backing out. According to him, “My wife is absolutely… She’s pissed.” What’s more, his grandchildren are “very upset with grandpa.” Give me a fucking break! So now cannabis use is legal in Colorado—Just to get high, if you can believe it!—but the Tancredo family want the world to know that they think it is the wrong thing to do.

Tancredo has long been on record in support of cannabis legalization. So are we really expected to believe that he can’t explain to his wife and grandkids that the use of this drug is neither physically nor morally dangerous? Tom Tancredo has spent his career doing mostly harm. Here was a chance for him to do real good: to say to the nation that its ideas about drugs are based mostly on government propaganda and bad B-movies. Instead, he is doing the opposite. Can you dig it?

Non-Crazy Conservatism

Daniel LarisonDaniel Larison wrote a short article last week, Bobby Jindal and the “Party of Growth.” As I read it, I found that I was very much in agreement. But how could that be? It was published in The American Conservative.

It was not that the ideas were solid. I often agree with sensible conservatives. Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review Online is often very good. But I don’t think he’s much fun. He’s a National Review guy, and though he may be no older than I am, he seems so.

This isn’t to say there aren’t conservatives who strike me as more part of my generation. Tucker Carlson, for example, has a style I appreciate. The problem is that he’s an idiot. And that is very true of the Republican “young guns” generally.

But check out Larison on Jindal’s big speech:

Jindal opens with a complaint that Republicans have become too focused on “zeroes” and “number-crunching” and government book-keeping, which he believes puts Republicans at a disadvantage in any debate with their opponents. Then in the next breath, he expresses his irritation that bad or irrelevant ideas such as term limits and the balanced budget amendment are not taken seriously. Because these ideas are not taken seriously, Jindal proposes instead that the GOP focus all of its attention on promoting growth and opportunity…

The closest that Jindal comes to specific suggestions for becoming the “party of growth” is to say that Republicans must “promote the entrepreneur, the risk-taker, the self-employed woman who is one sale away from hiring her first employee.” In other words, the party must become even more preoccupied with celebrating entrepreneurs along the lines of the second day of last year’s convention.

I love that italicized “even more.” That’s really what made me think this was a new kind of conservative. Larison goes on to explain how Jindal and most Republicans misunderstand the idea of “American Exceptionalism.”

As a result of Larison’s brief article, I did a little research on The American Conservative. All right! I looked on Wikipedia! It said:

It reflects traditional American conservatism that has argued vigorously against American interventionism, against a debt-based fiscal policy used to finance adventurism abroad and government growth at home, and against the intrusions on Americans’ private lives by state security apparatus. In general, TAC represents an anti-war and Old Right voice against the dominance of what it sees as a neoconservative strain on the Right.

And that made me think even more highly of them. Most people who claim such interests call themselves libertarians, even though they are not up to the challenges of individualist anarchism. (Really: who is?) But these people put on no such airs. They’re just conservative, in the way that the word used to be defined. And that probably means they want a small government, but they aren’t against the very idea of government. What’s more, they are clearly against the government’s most pernicious powers—just the opposite of the modern Republican Party.

I’m sure I would disagree with a lot of the gang at The American Conservative. But we could definitely work together. And the stronger their voice gets the better it will be for the country.

Afterword

When I talk to people with very different political beliefs, I normally find that we agree on results, just not means. The problem I have with the modern Republican Party is that they claim to agree with me on results, but I just don’t see that. They seem to want to make the rich richer at the expense of the poor. Their insistence that we reward “risk taking” undermines their argument. It implies that we should just accept the fact of inequality because some people win the lottery and others don’t. We know that really is the way the world works, but it shouldn’t be what we aspire to. Out of the mouths of Republicans, it is just an apologia for the way things are.

What David Mamet Knows That Just Ain’t So

David MametDavid Mamet is not a great writer. But he has a good sense of story and character, as well as very unusual dialog. Thus it is strange that he is a conservative. But not a very thoughtful one. And this is probably why Newsweek decided to run a cover story written by him, Gun Laws and the Fools of Chelm. Tina Brown seems to want to signal that just because they’re no longer publishing a print version of Newsweek, that doesn’t mean they are going to do anything so rash as to raise their incredibly low editorial standards.

I’ve written for a lot of little publishers. Some of them are great. But most of them edit only so far as it can ruin your work. And most don’t fact check. But all big time publishers fact check, right? I used to think so. As we learned during the Niall Ferguson fiasco, “We, like other news organisations today, rely on our writers to submit factually accurate material.” (I believe that all reputable publications do fact check.)

Yesterday, Matt Gertz at Media Matters reported on, 3 Major Flaws In Newsweek’s Red-Baiting Gun Rant. One of these is truly astounding:

Anyone applying to purchase a handgun has, since 1968, filled out a form certifying he is not a fugitive from justice, a convicted criminal, or mentally deficient. These forms, tens and tens of millions of them, rest, conceivably, somewhere in the vast repository. How are they checked? Are they checked? By what agency, with what monies? The country is broke. Do we actually want another agency staffed by bureaucrats for whom there is no funding?

What the fuck?! Even aside from the astounding lack of understanding of background checks, one line really stands out, “The country is broke.” The country is not broke. But again (and again and again), we have a conservative who knows—Just knows!—that which just ain’t so. And note the logic here. It is stupid not to check these cards! But it would be an outrage if these cards were checked! Anyway, we can’t afford it!

But the rest of it reminds me of this SNL skit about how ignorant undecided voters are:

“Who is the president right now? Is he or she running? Because if so, experience is maybe something we should consider.” It is remarkable that a major news magazine would publish speculation about something that the writer could easily look up. Like Matt Gertz did (on a blog), “The FBI explains that, for more than a decade, there have no longer been forms resting ‘somewhere in the vast repository,’ but rather prospective purchasers are subject to FBI background checks to ensure they are not ineligible to own a weapon.”

I guess when you’re a Republican, there are just some things you can’t know. And unlike in the undecided voters in the video, conservatives like Mamet will not be helped by answering very specific questions. Our biggest problem in American politics is not the ignorant undecided voter, it is the willfully ignorant and myth-loving conservative voter who knows—Just knows!—that which just ain’t so.