St. Patrick We Never Knew Ye

St. PatrickI’ve waited until late on St. Patrick’s Day to ruin it for you. I know: you don’t give a shit about the holiday except that it is an opportunity to get drunk and remember that, “Wow! The Pogues are a really good band!” But here’s the thing: we know next to nothing about St. Patrick. In fact, 17 March isn’t even his birthday, because we don’t know when he was born. So we celebrate it on the day he died, which always reminds me of A Christmas Carol when everyone is so happy about his death. I don’t think that is what was going on with St. Patrick, but still.

Also note: they may know the day the good bishop died, but they don’t know what year. Today, scholars think it was 460. But it might have been 457 or 461 or 420 or 492. That last date would have made him 105 years old when he died.

If you know anything about St. Patrick, it is that he chased all the snakes out of Ireland. This must be a myth, because there were never any snakes in Ireland. At least, that’s what we think based upon science. But if you’re the type to revere long dead saints, maybe that won’t matter to you. As for me, I think it is very cool that Ireland has no naturally occurring snakes. I don’t like snakes.

I do, however, like beer. May I recommend Lagunitas Brewing Company’s exceptional A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale. It is hard to find a better beer. I’m sure St. Patrick would have approved; people in those days were permanently pissed. And here’s some of The Pogues to go with it:

We Call Them Republicans

Mitt Romney - I hate the other 53% tooOn Friday night’s Real Time with Bill Maher, they did a segment with image confessions. It was pretty funny. You can find the segment over on WhoSay. But I thought this one was good enough to share.

I think that’s pretty accurate. It isn’t that I think Romney hates everyone. I think just like Rob Portman and most other conservatives, he doesn’t give a shit about anyone but his intimate circle. Certainly it is true that Mitt Romney is the kind of guy who can’t imagine what it’s like to starve to death without actually seeing it happen.

This was also true of Ronald Reagan. If he heard about some kid dying of cancer, he’d write a check for fifty grand. But when it came to providing healthcare for poor children, he didn’t really see the problem. Or you can think of the Woody Harrelson character in Seven Psychopaths who weeps over his dog but has no trouble murdering people for the smallest of indiscretions.

When they are in a movie, we call them psychopaths. When they are running for office, we call them Republicans.

No Long Term Budget Problem?

Sarah KliffLate last week, Sarah Kliff brought attention to the new Economic Report of the President. In the article, she notes that healthcare costs over the past few years have only grown at the rate of inflation. If this is not just a recession fluke, there are huge policy implications.

As anyone who reads this site knows, the only budget problem we have is the long term growth of healthcare spending. In fact, healthcare spending has been rising so fast the last few decades that if nothing is done, it will bankrupt our whole economy, much less the government. But if healthcare costs stabilize, we have no budget problem.

So the question is whether the slowdown is a long term trend. There is reason to believe that it is. One issue that Kliff does not mention is that we already pay far too much for our healthcare. Thus, it may be that the healthcare market has hit a ceiling. Remember: prices are set by what the customer will pay, not what the companies must pay to provide the good or service. But this doesn’t mean that we’ve necessarily reached a new normal in healthcare costs.

But let’s suppose we have. If that’s the case then all of the deficit hysteria is for nothing. And that is one of the biggest problems with all of this Chicken Little nonsense regarding Social Security and Medicare. We are being asked to cut these programs because in the future there may be a funding problem. This is just madness.

Now we have much of the Democratic Party—including President Obama—pushing for a Grand Bargain to cut Social Security and Medicare. And for what? So we can get the rich to pay a tiny bit more in taxes at a time when their taxes are extremely low by historical standards? And note: the Grand Bargain that Obama is pushing (any real deal would be worse) is 2/3 entitlement cuts to 1/3 loophole closing.

All liberals need to pay close attention to this issue. As Kliff points out, “It’s taken as an article of faith inside the beltway: Policy makers need to do something to tamp down on out-of-control health-care costs.” We need to counter this idea at every opportunity. Because we do not know that something must be done. And until we do, there is no reason to cut these programs. Unlike global warming (which we aren’t doing anything about), we can deal with any budget problems once they actually become budget problems.

Afterword

Most of the push for cutting entitlement programs is a cover for cutting taxes on the rich. Note that all the big conservative and moderate budget plans start with a big tax cut. In any normal world, this would make these plans Very Unserious indeed. But because they also do great harm to the poor, they are considered Very Serious.

Have You Seen This Nigerian Prince?

Emmanuel EkhatorThe Toronto Star reported last week that a man pleaded guilty to defrauding $32 million from North American lawyers. What is great about this story is the scam. Also: it couldn’t happen to a nice group of people. But most of all, the culprit is Emmanuel Ekhator—Wait for it!—a Nigerian!

The scam was well-organized but simple. He would email an law firm, telling them that he was owed money due to a divorce or some such. He would then ask that they do the arrangements. Eventually, everything would be settled and the person owing the money would send a check to the law firm. The law firm would contact the bank and make sure the check was good. Then they would subtract their fees and wire the money to Mr. Ekhator.

The problem was that the the checks were fraudulent. They looked like the real thing, but the phone number of the checks were to part of the scammer’s operation rather than the real bank. Eventually, the check would bounce, but by then, the wired money would be long gone.

Pretty cool, eh?

Afterword

As many of you know, I was recently divorced from my wife, who was the last in a long line of Nigerian royalty. She owes me quite a lot of money—over a million dollars. Unfortunately, it is stuck in a bank in her home country. If you could loan me $10,000, I would give you 25% of all the money returned. Email me for details at IWannaBeLikeEmmanuel AT MyNigerianPrincessWife DOT com. Thank you!

Fred Hiatt’s Circuitous False Equivalence

Not EqualLast week, Fred Hiatt over at the Washington Post came out in favor of presidential leadership, Obama Could Get Things Done by Governing Today. It is a wonderful example of false equivalence by a writer who knows that false equivalence is a bad thing. As a result of this, he cloaks the whole thing in an attack on Steve Israel’s claim that the Democrats really need to retake the House if Obama is going to get much done in his second term.

Who is Steve Israel? Only the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In other words, he is boosting for the DCCC. His statement is not standing policy of the Democratic Party. No Democrat is standing around waiting until they control the House to do any work. But Hiatt has to pretend that they are so he can compare it to an unnamed Tea Party idiot who does think that the best strategy is for the Republicans to obstruct until they get a decisive electoral victory.

All of this is just a smokescreen for what Hiatt really wants to say: both sides do it! The meat of his article is found in the following two sentences:

Before his reelection, many Republicans presented Obama as a wild-eyed radical, a European-style socialist who had to be stopped. Today, many Democrats present the opposition as unnaturally extremist, pathologically opposed to progress.

The first sentence is mostly true. It is deceptive to say that “many” Republicans presented Obama that way. He should say “nearly all.” That image of Obama was and still is a staple of Fox News, Hate Radio, and the vast majority of Republicans in Congress. Hiatt’s second sentence is roughly the same. I would say that “most” Democrats present the Republican Party as “unnaturally extremist, pathologically opposed to progress.” What’s more, I would say this is largely a factual statement. It is possible that if a Republican were in the White House, the Republicans in Congress would be more reasonable. But that’s not saying much and last time I checked, there was not a Republican in the White House.

After this stunning bit of false equivalence, Hiatt brings the article back to his cover story: the parties can’t just wait until they have full control of the government! But even in making this point, he puts the onus entirely on the Democrats. This is at the end of an article in which he’s admitted that Obama is trying to work with the Republicans. This begs the question: what was the point of the whole article? His argument comes down to: both sides say the other is extremist (And who can say which side is right? Certainly not Fred Hiatt!); Obama is trying to work with the Republicans; Obama should do what I already said he is doing.

Brilliant, right?

Slow Poke False Equivalence

H/T 15 March Counterspin

The Trials of Shoe Shopping

Nike Air Jordans - 2013In Springfield, Massachusetts, a group of people were waiting in a line outside the store Expressions. They were waiting for the store to open so that they could purchase the new Nike Air Jordans. What I fool I am! I didn’t even know they still made these, much less that people waited in line outside stores to buy shoes that work as much as Nike advertisements as tennis shoes. But there you go: people were waiting in line to buy some tennis shoes.

Look: people can do what they want to do. Most people would say that the way I spend my life is stupid. But people were waiting in line yesterday morning where it was 27°F to buy shoes that cost three times the most expensive shoes I’ve ever bought. But to each his own! If these people enjoy spending their lives as consumer automatons, fine. Moving on with the story…

Well, a scuffle started and before anyone knew it, a gun was pulled, it went off and an 11-year-old girl was shot in the leg. I assume the girl is okay, but it is hard to say because the article about the shooting in The Republican only mentioned the girl twice: first that she was shot and second that the police don’t think she was the target of the shooting. The rest of the story is about the police’s unsuccessful search for the shooter. You’ve got to have your priorities right.

This whole thing makes me think of the old adage, “An armed society is a polite society!” That isn’t true, but… Isn’t it pretty to think so?

William Gibson in Retirement

William GibsonDespite what Wikipedia says, this is the birthday of the great British Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean. Since he died in 1833, I know him only from the writings of William Hazlitt. But he made quite an impression on Hazlitt and that’s good enough for me. In addition, Kean lived quite a colorful and scandalous life, so that works in his favor.

I suppose I should also mention Mikhail Vrubel who was born on this date back in 1856. I am not a big fan, but there is no doubt that he was a great painter. Nat King Cole was born in 1919. He was only 45 when he died of lung cancer. I’m not a big fan, but when I was a kid, I thought “The Little Boy Who Santa Claus Forgot” was deeply affecting. And Michael Been of The Call was born in 1950.

But no day would be complete without a serial killer. John Wayne Gacy—or as Michele Bachmann refers to him, John Wayne—was born back in 1942. He is one of the most creepy of the serial killers. Dontcha just love the picture of him with Rosalynn Carter!

Now on to the birthdays. Kurt Russell is 62. Gary Sinise, the guy who seems to be in a lot of Ron Howard movies but maybe just two, is 58. Earl and Mooch creator Patrick McDonnell is 57. Rob Lowe is 49. And when you’ve reached Rob Lowe, you’ve reached the bottom of the barrel.

The day belongs to William Gibson who turns 65 today. He is probably best known as the author of Neuromancer, but as always, I recommend that you read Fragments of a Hologram Rose. As I’ve discussed before, Gibson is one of the inventors of cyberpunk. He used to have a blog that was really good, but I guess he’s just too big to be bothered anymore. Regardless, happy birthday old man! What are you going to do in your retirement?