Edward Albee at 85

Edward AlbeeWhat a day for birthdays!

It is Mitt Romney‘s birthday. And speaking of martyrs to irrational causes, Italian mystic and Catholic Saint Gemma Galgani was born 125 years ago (she’s been dead 100 of those years). In 1831, Clement Studebaker was born—I’m sure you can guess what he’s know for.

But there’s more! Jack Kerouac was born in 1922. And John Lennon’s mom Julia was born in 1914. I know: big deal. But she is the subject of one of my very favorite John Lennon tunes:

Also having birthdays today: Al Jarreau (1940); Liza Minnelli (1946); North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad (1948); James Taylor (1948); Rob Cohen (1949); Ron Jeremy (1953); Titus Welliver (1961); Dave Eggers (1970); and so on.

But the big deal today is that Edward Albee is 85. It is hard to overstate just how much I love Albee’s work. I would write more about him, but it is late. So here is a little bit of one of Albee’s greatest plays A Delicate Balance. This is where Claire talks about not being an alcoholic:

It’s amazing that this is a play. It seems every bit as real as the best of Cassavetes (who was not born on this date).

Help GOP Step Back from Crazy Cliff

Crazy CliffEarlier today, the second blogger to received the coveted Frankly Curious Artist’s Rendering, Jonathan Bernstein, published A Minor Defense of Ryan and the Republicans. His point is that we can’t expect Republicans to be anything but Republicans. Obama winning re-election doesn’t suddenly mean that Republicans aren’t conservative or that they are just going to accept anything because the Democrats won in November.

I’ve written about this before. (And I wish I could find it!) I respect the Republicans for standing by their principles, even while I think those principles are totally vile. A robust democracy depends upon everyone energetically pushing their own ideas. The problem is not the Republicans trying to get the best deal they can in negotiations with Democrats. The problem is the Democratic Party and its tendency to seek out the middle. If the United States had a true liberal party, we would be getting policy that was to the left of the current president’s positions. But instead, all of Obama’s “reasonableness” just means we get gridlock when we don’t get ridiculously conservative policies.

Understand: I don’t claim that it is all the Democrats’ fault. But it is the lack of conviction of Democrats that has allowed the Republicans to become a revolutionary party. And there is no negotiating with these people. The Republican Party had a man as its standard bearer (John McCain) who was for a healthcare individual mandate while running for president, but the moment he lost he changed his position: suddenly, the individual mandate was socialism. I find this behavior extremely frustrating. But the Republican Party didn’t become crazy all by itself. The Democrats allowed this to happen by avoiding standing for anything lest it be used by the Republicans to claim that they were “liberal”! What a terrible fate: conservatives calling the liberal party “liberal”! That’s a fate worse than death!

So Bernstein is correct: we shouldn’t expect the Republican Party to role up into a ball and do whatever the Democrats say just because of the November election. Instead, we should expect the Democratic Party to start standing for actual liberal policies. And the great thing about that is if they do, it will pull the Republican Party back from the edge of the crazy cliff.

Liberal Priorities

Rachel MaddowMaybe I’m just a cynical old guy. But Rachel Maddow spent the entire A section of her show talking about gun control. I’m cool with gun control. As I’ve argued before: by the time we notice that the government is coming for us, our guns won’t do bit of good. (It is interesting that those most concerned about their guns being taken away, are not at all concerned about targeted assassination and executive overreach. Instead, they cheer it on: we’re number one! We’re number one!) So I’m fine with the government coming in and taking away all our guns. The idea that universal background checks will destroy our liberty is more than ridiculous.

But it isn’t that important either. With tighter gun control, we might reduce the number of gun homicides by a thousand per year. That’s a very big deal to those thousand people who don’t get murdered. My question is just how big a deal it is more generally. Families USA reported that 26,000 Americans die every year because they lack health insurance. It is hard to say how many people die early because of poverty. We do, however, know that people in the upper half of income earners live six years longer than those in the bottom half of income earners. So I tend to think it is millions.

This isn’t just about what’s most important. I believe that Rachel Maddow is pushing the gun control story—which she has been doing for months—because it is one issue that looks like a winner for liberals. But is that really what liberals should be pushing? I find that liberals do this much too much for my tastes. There was much rejoicing after the Fiscal Cliff deal, “We made the Republicans cave on taxes!” The fact that the president didn’t get a good deal didn’t seem to matter. And now it looks like a Pyrrhic victory.

So what are we going to get now: a universal background check that is a no brainer in exchange for the 700,000 jobs lost via the Sequester? Is that what we liberals are hanging our hopes on? Are we going to celebrate nationwide same sex marriage while millions of children are born into perpetual poverty? I know it isn’t an either or question. It is just that liberals seem to cheer for the easy, but mostly useless issues, while they don’t even talk about the really important issues.

People are dying but at least we banned that 31 round clip. Now gunmen can only kill 30 people before reloading!

Death Throes of the GOP

Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus StevensSteve Benen at Maddow Blow noted a really telling anecdote over at the New York Times about Obama’s GOP outreach. Four months ago, the president invited five GOP congressional leaders to a secret screening of Lincoln with some of the stars of the film. All five people declined.

As Benen notes, “Are we to believe that all five—invited in secret so they wouldn’t have to take heat from Fox or the GOP base—were all washing their hair that night?” He thinks the GOP is just being unreasonable, but I think there is something more profound going on here. The modern Republican Party (as I’ve said again and again) is a revolutionary party. They are not the loyal opposition. They are the disloyal opposition. They do not think that the Democratic Party is legitimate.

So these Republicans refusing to go to the White House is all about snubbing him. The fact that the president is offering fine food, entertainment, and Tommy Lee Jones makes the event all the more repellent. It highlights the fact that Barack Obama really is the President of the United States. He really does have the power to screen films with movie stars. And most of all: it highlights the fact that the Republican Party in its current form is going through its death throes. Think: the Federalist Party in 1805. And that is the point: the Republicans do not want to think of the Federalist Party in 1805, even though the party staggered along until 1829.

I can’t exactly say, “It’s been good to know ya.” But I am eager to say, “So long!”


I have no idea if Tommy Lee Jones was there or not.

The Krugman Times

The Krugman Times

Vincent Woo, who claims to be “a t-shirt hawker at everlane.com[1]” has created quite a zany website, The Krugman Times. You can see a screen capture above. What the website does is grab the front page of the New York Times, replace all the images with pictures of Paul Krugman, the author with Paul Krugman, and words it doesn’t understand with economic jargon. It is charming as hell. If you want to see the page it was based on, press the “?” key. This is a much more enjoyable way to check out what the Times currently thinks is important.

Click on over. In addition to everything else, it is some cool technology. And his personal site is the sort of thing that people who visit here would find interesting, although he doesn’t post that often.

[1] I would provide a link to everlane.com, but it is one of these annoying and creepy sites that require an email address or Facebook account to visit. Imagine walking into a store that wouldn’t let you shop until they had all your contact information. “No clothes for you!” Well, no sales for you!

Hamilton Straightens the Prols Out

Alexander HamiltonAll communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government. Can a democratic assembly, who annually revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed steadily to pursue the public good?

—Alexander “You damn dirty prols!” Hamilton
Debates of the Federal Convention (1787)

Don’t Pee at The Flood Zone

Don't Pee at The Flood ZoneYou may have heard the story of Patricia Barnes, the woman who stopped at a roadside restaurant to use the bathroom only to get a bill from the restaurant for $5 in her mailbox a couple of days later. I think the story has caught fire because we’ve all used restaurants that are “for customers only” and worried that they would call the cops on us. And that is effectively what the owner of the restaurant did.

The woman tried to pay the $5 to the restaurant—Twice!—but the owner refused. She said that she was just trying to make a point. I don’t think she meant it this way, but she did make a very important point: Don’t eat at The Flood Zone in Erin, Tennessee because they are total assholes!

As celebrity chef Bobby Flay said, “There’s plenty of people that come to the restaurant, use the bathroom and leave, and that’s the way it goes.” As the article notes, “It also shows good will on the part of the owner.” But more to the point: a stunt like this shows bad will. Look: if I have stopped shopping at Whole Foods, where it is incredibly convenient for me to shop, all because they don’t pay their employees enough, I surely would boycott this stupid little restaurant if I lived anywhere near Tennessee.

None of this really matters; most business owners are dicks. What matters is that the owner did in fact call the police. And the police gave her the woman’s address. Even if there was proof (other than the owner’s word) as to this unauthorized bathroom use, it isn’t a crime; it is a civil matter. And even if it were a criminal matter, the police would deal with it themselves and not encourage some random citizen to become a vigilante. This is basic law enforcement. I understand that cops have to be fairly stupid to be employed, but someone really ought to be fired for this.

The Today Show did a survey of their viewers (not a scientific survey, but still), and 30% of the people said it was always wrong to use a restroom if you aren’t a customer. It is shocking that such a large fraction of our country believes in such ridged rules. These are the people who think that a rich man has a greater right to his wealth than a poor man has to his life. It is pathetic. Yet this kind of thinking undergirds the entire conservative movement.

Pretend Deficit Hawk Conservatives

Paul Ryan - Eddie MunsterI am fond of quoting Matt Yglesias about the Quaker budget hawks. In it, he compares Fix the Debt to a group of Quakers who claim to be for balancing the federal budget but who are against any proposals that don’t involve reducing military spending. You would have to say that the Quakers are just pacifists who are using the budget deficit as a ruse. And so it is with Fix the Debt: they don’t want to balance the budget; they want to cut entitlements and lower taxes.

But it isn’t just Fix the Debt. The entire conservative infrastructure is involved in this game. And no one is a better symbol of it than Paul Ryan with his new “plan” to balance the budget in ten years. Let’s just look at the extreme hypocrisy of his approach to the ACA (Obamacare). Ezra Klein explains, “Ryan’s version of repeal means getting rid of all the parts that spend money to give people health insurance but keeping the tax increases and the Medicare cuts that pays for that health insurance, as without those policies, it is very, very difficult for Ryan to hit his deficit-reduction targets.”

This is a strange kind of conservative thinking. When it is to their advantage, they talk up incentives. We couldn’t, for example, bail out underwater homeowners because that would create a moral hazard. We are told that incentives matter. Yet when it comes to Ryan’s new budget, the assumption is that the people won’t mind if new taxes, which were levied to pay for a new program, stick around while the program itself goes away. If this were true, we could balance the budget by killing Social Security and Medicare but leaving the payroll tax in place. That, my friends, is exactly what Ryan is doing with his new budget.

It is no secret what Paul Ryan and the rest of the conservatives are all about. Eugene Robinson puts it bluntly, “If Rep. Paul Ryan wants people to take his budget manifestos seriously, he should be honest about his ambition: not so much to make the federal government fiscally sustainable as to make it smaller.” Of course, that isn’t the whole story: they want to reduce the size of government when it comes to spending on the poor; when it comes to the rich, they want to spend ever more. Remember: what diferentiates Democrats and Republicans is what they want to spend money on, not how much they want to spend.

In an article this morning, Ezra Klein sums up Ryan’s budget in three sentences:

He cuts deep into spending on health care for the poor and some combination of education, infrastructure, research, public-safety, and low-income programs. The Affordable Care Act’s Medicare cuts remain, but the military is spared, as is Social Security. There’s a vague individual tax reform plan that leaves only two tax brackets—10 percent and 25 percent—and will require either huge, deficit-busting tax cuts or increasing taxes on poor and middle-class households, as well as a vague corporate tax reform plan that lowers the rate from 35 percent to 25 percent.

Is that clear? Basically, it comes down to this: cut programs for the poorer classes, raise taxes on the poorer classes, and lower taxes on the rich. There are many ways to create a budget. Ryan and the conservatives choose to do it in a way that almost everyone would agree is morally upside down.

I still love the pretend deficit hawk Quakers because their hearts are in the right place; they are trying to shrink the war machine. But the pretend deficit hawk conservatives are another thing altogether. They want to take from the poor and give to the rich. And that’s just immoral.