Portrait of a Villager: Then and Now

Howard FinemanDigby wrote a great article this afternoon, 10 Years On: the Press Reconsiders. In it, she looks at a new article by Villager Extraordinaire Howard Fineman in which he discusses the mistakes the media made in the run up to the Iraq War. To be fair, Fineman calls himself to task. But Digby shows with the help of his own writing at the time that his sins are far worse than he now admits. And then she shows that his current reporting is every bit as partial towards power as it was then.

I hate Howard Fineman. When he took over at the Huffington Post, I knew that website was doomed. And truly, there isn’t nearly as much good content as there once was and there is a hell of a lot more middle-of-the-road Villager coverage. But mostly I hate coming upon him because I know that all I’ll hear is the same old Washington insider bullshit that all Villagers trade in. In fact, Digby wrote something about this that is exactly my own experience:

Well, I don’t travel in the corridors of power like Fineman, so I suppose I had the advantage of not needing to flatter the men and women who will feed me information to uncritically regurgitate. But, to me, it didn’t take a professional journalist to see that George W. Bush and the Cheney cabal were warmongering liars. After all, they’d signaled their intentions for years. It was even on the internet.

I remember the early days of 2003. It boggled my mind that pretty much everyone accepted the administration at its word. Digby quotes Fineman saying exactly what I’m talking about, “If he’s a cowboy, he’s the reluctant warrior, the Shane in the movie, strapping on the guns as the last resort because he has to, to protect his family, drawing on the emotions of 9/11, tying them to Saddam Hussein, using the possible or likely rejection vote from the U.N. as a badge of honor.” What?! Are we really to believe that Fineman thought that Bush was reluctantly going to war? As Norman Solomon shows in War Made Easy, presidents always claim that the last thing they want to do is go to war. They’re always doing everything they can to not go to war. And yet, somehow, they are always pulled into war despite all their efforts. How many times can the media be fooled?

This is the problem when a sizable portion of a culture is taken over by a revolutionary group like the current Republican Party. All the installed interests—the opposition party especially—are in shock. Everyone is so vested in the system as it is that they pretend that all is well, even when the most naive among us can see that something is very much wrong.

I was just listening to NPR and James Fallows was talking some nonsense about how great it was that people like Rob Portman are able to have personal experiences that change their political outlook. If this is what we have to wait for, then we will never solve our most pressing problems. Rob Portman does not and never will know anyone from the island nation of Kiribati, which will soon be entirely under water; so Rob Portman will never care about global warming. Rob Portman does not and never will know young men who go to prison for years because an unconstitutional search revealed a small amount of cannabis; so Rob Portman will never care about the drug war. Rob Portman does not and never will know any of the working poor; so Rob Portman will never care about income inequality or raising the minimum wage. But don’t worry, because James Fallows is there to sooth everyone, “See: Republicans are reasonable if you give them enough time!”

And I think this is exactly what went on in the lead up to the Iraq War. It is the same thing that is happening now regarding Obama’s drone war on anyone he decides is an enemy. It’s all okay! We’re the Good Guys! There’s nothing to get riled up about!

Whether it is Howard Fineman or James Fallows or any of thousands of other mainstream journalists, the word is always the same: everything is as it should be and it is only fools who claim that those in power are anything but good leaders wanting to do what is best for everyone involved. There has got to be tenth circle of hell for these enabling sons of bitches!

Macro View of Ryan Budget

Paul Ryan - Reagan 2.0On Thursday in the Washington Post, Matt Miller reminded us that “Ronald Reagan ran the federal government at 22 percent of GDP when the country’s population was much younger, and health care consumed about 11 percent of GDP.” In fact, he reminded us three times! His point is simple: Paul Ryan’s budget is a joke because it runs the federal government at 19 percent of GDP when the country’s population is much older, and healthcare consumed about 18 percent of GDP. I highly recommend reading the article!

In it, he also includes part of an interview he did with Paul Ryan a year and a half ago. He brings up the Reagan comparison time and again and Ryan keeps avoiding the question. His best response is that Reagan was taking so much in taxes so that we could win the cold war. (Note: Reagan’s military buildup did not cause the communist systems to fall.) But the truth is that military spending at that time was only about one percentage point of GDP higher then. So this difference is not even mostly about military spending.

Miller claims that we shouldn’t get into the weeds regarding Ryan’s budget. On the macro level, it just doesn’t make sense. Ryan is saying that we should be taking in 3% of GDP less in taxes when the needs of the government are quite a lot greater than they used to be. Of course, Ryan isn’t fooling anyone who sees things at all clearly. As Miller wrote, “[H]e’s disingenuously trying to use the aging of America to force a severe cutback in the non-elderly, non-defense portion of government, which is already headed toward historic lows as a share of GDP.”

He goes on to paint a picture of the nation that Paul Ryan envisions:

Ryan’s vision is an America with 50 million uninsured… forever. Of infrastructure and R&D investment that trails other advanced nations… in perpetuity. Of a nation that assigns its least effective teachers to poor children… permanently.

Yep: that’s the Republican vision for our future!


Disconcertingly, Matt Miller ended the article by asking:

It speaks volumes about today’s political culture that this thin gruel vaulted Ryan from obscurity to the “intellectual leadership” of his party and a national ticket. If all that was possible, imagine what a sensible plan championed by an intellectually honest Republican—Jon Huntsman, perhaps?—could do.

Two things stand out here. First, when Jon Huntsman had the opportunity to be the “adult in the room” he demurred. It was only after his campaign was over that he admitted that he wouldn’t accept 10-to-1 spending cuts to revenue increases in order to balance the budget. (As if that deal is responsible in any universe!) Second, it is only because Paul Ryan’s budgets have been sloppy, vague, and most of all, cruel that he was elevated to the status of budget wunderkind. I explained this last week in, Paul Ryan Loses His “Seriousness.” I’m surprised that Miller doesn’t understand this.

Sydney’s Case Against Political Compromise

The American President movieThe American President is a bad film. When I watched it, I was in graduate school researching global warming and I really hated the discussion of the issue in the film; I thought it was trivialized. But that wasn’t the main problem. It is just a stupid film, pretending to be for adults when only Justin Bieber fans could take it seriously.

There was, however, one moment in the film that I liked. It is at the beginning of the third act when Sydney lets loose on the president for abandoning climate change legislation for a crime bill. I’ve done a bit of editing here, because it doesn’t matter what the president says. Here is the speech:

You should call Leo and make a deal. He hires me back for say 72 days. I go around scaring the hell out of Congress, making them think the president is about to drive through a very damaging and costly bill. They’ll believe me, right? Because I’m the president’s Friday night girl. Now I don’t know if we can dip into that well twice, especially since I’ve lost all credibility in politics. But you never know. I might be able to just pull it off again. I might be able to give you just the leverage you need to pass some ground breaking piece of crime legislation. Like a mandatory three day waiting period before a 5-year-old can buy an Uzi… It’s only taken you three years to put together crime prevention legislation that has no hope of preventing crime.

I think of that line every time I hear someone talking in glowing terms about the Democrats finally standing up to the NRA. Sydney is not completely right, of course. It isn’t that these bills won’t do some good. They will! But it is pretty weak tea. And it doesn’t make up for all the other ways that the Democratic Party screws over really important liberal concerns.

There’s another line in the middle of that, which I edited out. The president asks Sydney what she thinks has happened. She responds, “I got screwed.” That is pretty much the response to the question, “What did the Democratic Party do to its liberal base?” It doesn’t matter when you ask that question.

Happy 60th Richard Stallman

Richard StallmanSome interesting people were born on this day. Three Nazis: Josef Mengele, Dorothea Binz, and Traudl Junge (Hitler’s last secretary—not so much a Nazi). And there are lots of great birthdays. Jerry Lewis is 87—I don’t know how many more birthdays he’s going to see. Bernardo Bertolucci is 73. Game show host Chuck Woolery is 72. The great Jerry Jeff Walker is 71. The unintentionally hysterical Erik Estrada is 64. The beautiful and modestly gifted Nancy Wilson is 59. Gore Verbinski of the three lesser Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Mouse Hunt, and Rango fame is 49. So is the lovely and talented Patty Griffin. And actor Alan Tudyk is 42.

But none of those people matter. Well, I guess those two Nazi war criminals matter, but in a bad way. This guy matters in a good way. Richard Stallman is 60 today. You may not know who he is but he’s affected your life. He started the GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation. If it weren’t for him, there would have been no Linux. And it wouldn’t have mattered if there was because there wouldn’t have been anything to run on it. He is a programmer. He is probably best known for creating the Emacs editor. But he did far more important work with compilers and other base development tools. But none of that is as important as his political vision and work as an activist.

So a big “Happy birthday!” to Richard Stallman. But also: a big “Thank you!”