How to Make War Bipartisan

Glenn GreenwaldRecall back in 2008 that the CIA prepared a secret report (subsequently leaked to WikiLeaks) that presciently noted that the election of Barack Obama would be the most effective way to stem the tide of antiwar sentiment in western Europe, because it would put a pleasant, happy, progressive face on those wars and thus convert large numbers of Obama supporters from war opponents into war supporters. That, of course, is exactly what happened: not just in the realm of militarism but civil liberties and a whole variety of other issues. That has had the effect of transforming what were, just a few years ago, symbols of highly contentious right-wing radicalism into harmonious bipartisan consensus. That the most vocal defenders of this unprecedented government acquisition of journalists’ phone records comes from government-loyal progressives—reciting the standard slogans of National Security and Keeping Us Safe and The Terrorists—is a potent symbol indeed of this transformation.

—Glenn Greenwald
The major Sea Change in Media Discussions of Obama and Civil Liberties

Obama Wimps Out on IRS Scandal

Obama NopeIn the past, I’ve been really disappointed with President Obama. But now I’m really angry. He forced the resignation of acting IRS chief Steven T. Miller. This wasn’t done because Miller is culpable. Sure, you will hear that he testified before Congress that the organization wasn’t targeting groups based upon their political leanings. But that was because while he was heading the IRS they weren’t targeting groups based upon their political leanings. There was no credible reason to force his resignation.

So why did Obama do it? Because he’s a coward. Because he doesn’t stand for anything. Because he can’t take even a day of political heat. Just like with Shirley Sherrod, this administration doesn’t care what the facts are. They can’t wait until the facts are know. They need a scapegoat and they find one.

And what exactly does Obama get from all this? Does he really think that tomorrow all the papers will be hailing him for his leadership? Mark my words: tomorrow, there will be a lot of coverage of the fact that Miller was not the head of the IRS at any time during which this scandal was going on. And people (Including the conservatives who Obama wants to appease!) will call his actions into doubt. I know people will be writing much what I’m writing, “Rather than deal with the problem, Obama just looked around for a convenient scapegoat and fired him!”

Of course, most of the conservative world will just claim it was a political decision that is meaningless. And I hate to admit it, but they will be right. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the controversy and Obama is only doing it to quiet his critics. And guess what? It won’t work. And on the one scandal that really matters—the Associated Press phone surveillance—Obama is standing firm. According to him, what he did was right and proper because it dumps all over the United States Constitution. And Obama ought to know it, because he used to teach constitutional law. Of course, that was in his younger days when he believed in something other than accumulating power.

Shame on you, Mr. President!

Afterword

Mitch McConnell said, “More than two years after the problem began, and a year after the IRS told us there was no problem, the president is beginning to take action. If the president is as concerned about this issue as he claims, he’ll work openly and transparently with Congress to get to the bottom of the scandal—no stonewalling, no half-answers, no withholding of witnesses.” John Boehner said, “The IRS admitted to targeting conservatives. My question isn’t about who is going to resign. My question is who’s going to jail over this scandal?”

And that’s within an hour of the president’s announcement.

Pathetic.

The Wonderful Wizard Frank Baum

L. Frank BaumRevolutionary proto-Baroque composer Claudio Monteverdi was baptized in 1567. Why does that matter? If you’ve ever listened to Renaissance music, you probably didn’t like it very much. And no, the music you heard at the Renaissance Faire was almost certainly not Renaissance music. That music is highly modal; it doesn’t have the sense of chord progressions. To me, it sounds almost random, like it doesn’t know where it’s going. It is nice enough but not the kind of thing that holds your attention.

Monteverdi’s most famous piece is the two plus hour long opera L’Orfeo. It isn’t exactly Le Nozze di Figaro, Ossia la Folle Giornata, but it is really good. You can find a few complete performances of it online, but you really owe it to yourself to at least listen to this short excerpt from the beginning. It is worth it, plus it is a chance to hear a kind of music one rarely hears but that is also really good. (A lot of pretentious people listen to Gregorian chants, but it is really only interesting to specialists.) I think after listening to this, a lot of people will want to hear the whole thing:

Romantic modernist painter Viktor Vasnetsov was born on this day in 1848. American actor Joseph Cotten was born in 1905. English actor James Mason was born in 1909. And the great neo-Keynesian economist Paul Samuelson was born in 1915.

The great English playwright Peter Shaffer is 87 today. Painter Jasper Johns is 83. Two 60s icons Wavy Gravy and Ralph Steadman are 77. Madeleine Albright is 76. The evil Roger Ailes is 73. And musician Brian Eno is 65, so we won’t be hearing anything about him in the future.

The day, however, belongs to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz writer, L. Frank Baum who was born in 1856. He wrote a total of 14 Oz books. They are a lot of fun. Of course, in the books, Oz is a real place. I rather like the movie, but the whole “it was only a dream” bit kind of bugs me. In the eighth book, The Emerald City of Oz, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry fall on hard times and Dorothy arranges for them to retire there. Kind of subversive, when you think about it. Of course, people of that time were used to terrible recessions. That’s one of the things that bugs me about the gold standard libertarians who think all would be well if the government just went away. Well, we tried that. And do you know what? Aunt Em and Uncle Henry had to move to Oz where they had a better social safety net.

Happy birthday L. Frank Baum!

Scandal?!

Scandal?!This morning, Jonathan Chait reported, The Strange Creation of the Obama Scandals. And Glenn Greenward reported, The Major Sea Change in Media Discussions of Obama and Civil Liberties. Indeed, Obama does seem to be experiencing a perfect storm of bad sandal-like news. And most of the coverage of it is horrible.

It isn’t as though all of these controversies don’t tell us a whole lot about modern America. It is just that what they tell us is not playing much of a role in the coverage. Instead of looking at what is wrong with how this country is run, we get stories straight out of bad TV westerns. Obama wearing a black cowboy hat moseys into town and grabs an innocent woman. Suddenly, Rand Paul wearing a white cowboy hat rushes out into the street. “Take your hands off her!” Paul yells at him. And on and on. There’s a bad guy in town and that bad guy is the president who is responsible for everything.

You all know me: I’m not a big fan of the president’s. But he is not the bad guy in all of this. He certainly is one of the bad guys in an evil system that proudly rewards villainy. But he doesn’t stand out in what is really going on and this is most definitely not a story of good versus evil.

Consider scandal number one: Benghazi. There is an important issue here. People in our foreign embassies should not be murdered. Were their problems with that particular embassy or our embassies generally? I’d like to know. I’m sure the American people would like to know. But that’s not what the scandal is all about. It is about how the administration talked about the attack on the Sunday news shows after it happened.

Mostly, this all stayed in the right wing media rabbit hole. Until last Friday when ABC reported on email messages that said that the talking points of Susan Rice were changed many times by the White House. Again, even if this were true, it would hardly be important. But it turned out, that it wasn’t true. On Tuesday, CNN reported that ABC got it wrong. It turned out that the Friday report was not based on email, but rather upon what were surely Republican staffers’ summaries. Once the actual email messages were seen: no story.

That brings us to scandal number two: IRS targeting of conservative groups. Ever since Watergate, there has been a law that stops the president from even communicating with the IRS. Why? To stop the president from doing what conservatives are implying he did: use the IRS to go after his enemies. But there is absolutely, positively no reporting that even hints at this sort of thing going on. So what happened? It seems some low-level staff members were trying to deal with the huge increase in 501(c)(4) applications. These were overwhelmingly from conservative groups. And it isn’t like they didn’t also go after liberal groups. They not only went after them, they denied them. Norm Scheiber puts it brilliantly:

Democrats can’t say it; Barack Obama can’t say it; and the IRS certainly can’t say it, so here goes: the only real sin the IRS committed in its ostensible targeting of conservatives is the sin of political incorrectness—that is, of not pretending it needed to vet all the new groups that wanted tax-exempt status, even though it mostly just needed to vet right-wing groups.

But there is a real issue here. Why are all of these political groups (on the left but primarily on the right) being allowed to pretend that they are do-gooder social groups when they are just the newest kind of political action committees? Again, this is not the focus of the story. Instead it is that evil IRS (probably controlled by that evil Obama) going after all their enemies.

And finally, scandal number three: the Justice Department looking at the phone records of the Associated Press. This one has begun to bug me the most. I am one very small voice of a relatively limited group of leftists and libertarians who have been screaming about this for years. And now the press is interested in it because they think they might be able to tie it to the president? This is pathetic! There is nothing particularly appalling about this revelation. It may turn out to be completely legal. Because Obama (just like every president before him) has pushed these surveillance laws further and further. After the Washington Post said this scandal was calling into question Obama’s status as a civil libertarian, Glenn Greedwald wrote, “You don’t say! The Washington Post‘s breaking news here is only about four years late.”

There are three important questions: (1) are our embassies safe; (2) are our tax laws being taken advantage of by political groups; and (3) what are we going to do about our ever degrading civil liberties? But the mainstream press isn’t interested in these questions. Instead, they are like that dog in Up: “Scandal?!”

Afterword

Fourth Estate my ass:

The Charm of Star Trek

Kirk Against Gorn (lizard man)I’m not much into science fiction except in as much as it is about the nature of consciousness or is just well written. It is rarely either. I am more or less a Star Trek fan, but that has nothing to do with science fiction. Just because a melodrama is placed in space doesn’t make it science fiction. At its best, Star Trek is fun.

One of my favorite bits comes from Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home. The crew has gone back in time to get a whale to stop some space craft from destroying the earth because the extinct whale is not answering its call. Silly, but that’s not what I love. In present day earth Scotty and Bones go in search of a tank for the whale. Scotty offers this guy the secret to transparent aluminum (if memory servers me) in exchange for building the tank. Bones protests, “Won’t that change history?” To which Scotty replies, “How do we know he’s not the guy who invented it?” It could plausibly be the guy so therefore it is the guy. Of course time travel narratives are always silly. There are lots of other problems with the movie. But it doesn’t matter. The point is to have a fun time with a bunch of actors, their silly accents, and pointy ears.

And then it all went wrong. Gene Roddenberry decided to “fix” the series and created Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is the most tiresome series ever created. It makes me long for the days of My Mother the Car.[1] What made Star Trek work was that the characters didn’t get along. Spock and Bones actively hated each other. In The Next Generation we got a crew of people so well adjusted that I always believed there was a dungeon on the Enterprise where they all tortured sex slaves. If that wasn’t bad enough, the plots were ridiculous contrivances where everything worked out perfectly. Gone were the days of “City on the Edge of Forever” where Joan Collins has to die or “A Piece of the Action” where Kirk leaves a crime syndicate in charge of a planet. No more! The only thing that wasn’t just perfect was Denise Crosby dying in the second season because even she couldn’t take the series anymore.

After that came Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Luckily for it, Roddenberry was long dead and could not “fix” the series. It had conflict and generally worked well enough. It took by far the stupidest species ever created, the Ferengi, and created a reasonable character of Quark. And it had the Irish guy from The Commitments and about half of every other film to come out Ireland in the last three decades. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t particularly care.

That marked the end of my Star Trek days. I did manage to see the first “new cast” Star Trek film. It shocked me that people thought it was so good. To me, they took the silly concept and kooky characters and made them stale. Then they put them in a typical Hollywood action film that was overlong and under-fun.

The reason this all comes to mind is that earlier today, Matt Yglesias posted, The Greatest Star Trek Movies, Series, Episodes, Villains, and Crew Members. And when he listed the movies from best to worst, I totally agreed with him on the first two: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Now, he may not know it, but the reason these films are at the top of the list is that they were directed and co-written by Nicholas Meyer. And Nicholas Meyer is no Star Trek fan. But he’s a good storyteller and that’s all that matters in the end.

The rest of Yglesias’ list is hit and miss: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (agreed; also co-written by Meyer); Star Trek VIII: First Contact (horrible, stupid movie); Star Trek (as I said, not very good, but probably the right position); Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (lots of fun; good: “Klingon bastard! You killed my son!”; bad: Merritt Butrick); Star Trek: Generations (pretty bad, but I like seeing Kirk ride a horse); Star Trek: Nemesis (never saw it); Star Trek: The Motion Picture (greatly underrated film); Star Trek: Insurrection (never saw it); Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (just wait). It is so easy to put down The Final Frontier. It is a mess. Shatner is at least 50 pounds over weight. And Nichelle Nichols is close. But in its complete failure, it’s an amazing thing to behold. The production designer introduced our first ever glimpse of an Enterprise toilet! Spock has a crazy half-brother who is a hell of a lot more fun than Spock. And he’s searching for God! Plus, would Kirk, Spock, and Bones really vacation together? It doesn’t get any sillier than The Final Frontier and it is definitely better than any The Next Generation episode or movie (that I’ve seen).

Next Yglesias gets to the series from best to worst: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, The Original Series, and Enterprise. Oh my! I haven’t seen even a clip of Voyager and Enterprise. I’ve been told that Voyager is rather good. It probably isn’t. Whatever. But I think that Yglesias puts The Next Generation on top because we all love most the Star Trek of our childhood. And that takes us to an important point. Star Trek is silly and even stupid. But we naturally look back on the shows of our youth in a nostalgic fog. Sure, I can justify why the original series was the best, but the fact is that I remember being four years old watching the Metrons force Kirk to battle the lizard man. And yes, I’m sure from Matt Yglesias’ perspective it’s just stupid. But to me, it’s charming.

Afterword

Yglesias’ top two characters are Spock and Data. What is this guy? A twelve year old?


[1] I don’t think that My Mother the Car is as bad as people say. I was just making a point.

Netflix Knows How to Hire More Workers

NetflixI have long complained about what feels like the constant drum beat for more technology workers via the H1-B visa system. The idea is that high tech companies just can’t find American workers with the skills they require. But the truth is, if high tech companies really were desperate for workers, they would pay them more. That’s how markets work. If all programmers were paid minimum wage, companies would find it very hard to hire them. That’s why programmers are paid more than minimum wage. And now, if high tech companies really can’t find enough programmers (for example), they could pay more—maybe steal a little talent away from the finance industry.

Of course, the issue is that these companies want more highly skilled workers, but they don’t want to pay them the going rate. So they go crying to the government to mess with the free market and allow them to get workers for less than the market rate. I’ve never heard a politician push back on this, “If you can’t grow your company by paying the market rate, then your company is not efficient enough to grow!” Instead, we see them all wringing their hands as though job number one is to see that companies are profitable rather than that workers have jobs. It is inexcusable.

Well, not all companies think that the government should take care of their profit margins. Bloomberg Businessweek reported last week on Netflix’s unusual approach to hiring:

Netflix can now hire just about any engineer it wants… Managers routinely survey salary trends in Silicon Valley and pay their employees 10 percent to 20 percent more than the going rate for a given skill. Fired employees also get ultragenerous severance packages; the idea is to remove guilt as an obstacle to management parting ways with subpar performers.

So let me get this straight: Netflix pays more than the market rate to get better engineers? How can that be? Did their managers take economics in college or something? My understanding is that business majors were required to eschew all economics. That’s why American business developed in the way it has. This Netflix idea could potentially revolutionize American business. But I wouldn’t count on it.

Some might counter that this is all fine for Netflix, but not all companies can pay more than the going rate. All Netflix is doing is pulling employees away from other high tech companies. This is true, but it isn’t the whole story. By paying high tech workers better, more people will enter the field. Also: more people will study engineering and science in school if they know they can make a lot of money. So by paying more, Netflix helps themselves relative to other high tech companies, but they also help all high tech companies by raising the average salary.

I’m not saying that more immigration is a bad thing. Far from it! I think immigration is a great thing. But the reasons for more immigration is not that big corporations can get employees for less than the going rate. This is basic economics folks. But our political leaders don’t want to understand it because big business pretends it doesn’t know how to get more highly skilled workers.

H/T: Dean Baker

The Debt Outrage Will Continue

This is the most unimportant graph of the day:

CBO Debt Projection

It comes from the Congressional Budget Office, but I got the graph from Paul Krugman. What it shows is that we have stabilized our debt. This should make all deficit scolds very happy.

Ha ha ha! What a kidder I am! It won’t matter in the least. You see, all the talk of debt by these people is nothing more than a pretense for cutting spending on the poor.

For the umpteenth time: Mitt Romney stated out by cutting marginal income tax rates. Simpson-Bowles started out by cutting marginal income tax rates. The House started out by cutting marginal income tax rates. Imagine if the Progressive Caucus’ budget started by doubling the support level of Social Security? No one would take it seriously. But somehow, when conservatives start their budget cutting by giving huge amounts of cash to the rich, the Very Serious People think they are being very serious indeed.

The truth of the matter is that this graph from the CBO probably makes the future debt look worse than it should. The CBO is usually conservative in their estimates. If we got some actual economic growth (unlikely as long as Republicans control the House), we might see that number come way down. It will be even bigger if medical cost inflation continues to go down. And note: we have already accomplished what Paul Ryan claimed his newest budget would do in 10 years: balanced the budget.[1]

But none of this matters. The deficit scolds will continue to talk about our “out of control” spending and “unsustainable” budget. The Republicans will continue to complain that Obama is turning us into a combination of Greece and the Soviet Union. Because all the deficit hysteria was never about the budget; it was about an ideological commitment to destroy the social safety net. Until the CBO comes out with a report that shows we aren’t helping the poor at all and the rich are not being taxed a penny, the debt outrage will continue.


[1] This is not quite true. When the Republicans look at the budget, they do it as though they had never heard of macroeconomics. The reasonable definition of a balanced budget is to have the deficit not add to the debt as a percent of GDP (or even better, potential GDP). Ryan’s budget supposedly balances in absolute terms. Even the most conservative economists think that’s crazy.

Summer School, Camp of Both?

Well it’s time for us to decide what to do this summer! Having a child with ADHD and finding a camp can be a challenge in more ways than one. I’m actually late so I can say ‘goodbye’ to early bird discounts.

In the past years I’ve ruled out summer school and gone for taking the summer off. But school is getting harder and more demanding so I’m thinking about enrolling my son in summer school so he can keep up next year. My son does not like change (what child with ADHD does) and already has anxiety over the next school year, so I am thinking that continuing with academics into the summer will help out.

With four weeks of summer school, 2-3 weeks of camp plus family vacation time summer will be over is in no time. So will this be too much, and will he have enough down time? I am starting to re-think our plans already!

Support Groups

256px-Laughing

This is going to be short, but I just wanted to emphasize how valuable support groups and classes related to ADHD can be.  They certainly have been for my family and me. My fellow blogger, Erika, and I met at a Parent to Parent class through CHADD, and we continue to support each other.  Our sons now attend a wonderful social skills group together. For more information, click on the following:

*CHADD

*Meet-up.com

*Yahoo Groups

Many of the Yahoo groups are web-based, only, but they can be very helpful, nonetheless. In ways, they are better, because you can remain anonymous.  If you want a local group for social interaction and can’t find one, I highly recommend starting your own. You can find out how by clicking here or here.