Leaves of Walt

Walt WhitmanOn this day in 1754, neoclassical painter Andrea Appiani was born. The inventor of the Petri dish, Julius Richard Petri was born in 1852. Google created a cool little doodle for the occasion of his 161st birthday today. Check it out! Pseudo-impressionist Walter Sickert was born in 1860. “Positive thinking” proponent Norman Vincent Peale was born in 1898. Actor Don Ameche was born in 1908. One of my favorite actors, Denholm Elliott was born in 1922. And director Rainer Werner Fassbinder was born in 1945.

Clint Eastwood is 83 today. Actor Sharon Gless and quarterback Joe Namath are 70. Actor Tom Berenger is 54. Brooke Shields is 48. And actor Colin Farrell is 37.

With all due respect to Google, the day belongs to the great poet Walt Whitman who was born on this day in 1819. I’m not a huge fan of his work, but he was a great man. And I have a great affection for artists who just keep writing the same book all through their careers. The first edition of Leaves of Grass was only 95 pages, and the last edition was 438 pages. But mostly, he was a very good man in his own time and ours.

Happy birthday Walt Whitman!

157 Visits, Oh My!

Tucker CarlsonYou know me: I have a love-hate relationship with libertarians. But I have a hate-hate relationship with what I call “pretend libertarians.” These are people like Rand Paul who use libertarian rhetoric, but who are just conservatives. Another one of these people is Tucker Carlson. Don’t get me wrong: I like the bow tie. I’m big on any display (regardless of how minor) that shouts “Iconoclast!” But Carlson isn’t much of an iconoclast. And he isn’t much of a libertarian. He’s just a conservative apologist who uses libertarian rhetoric.

A lot of people were excited when he started The Daily Caller. A real Washington libertarian publication. Just check out that name, “The Daily Caller”! It makes you think of someone reading Common Sense in the public square. Libertarians love that shit.

But that’s not what The Daily Caller has been. It’s been just another conservative rag. In its defense, we will have to see the reporting coming out of it when a Republican is in the White House. But I don’t expect much. Carlson is a conservative first and foremost. If I were a as disingenuous as he is, I would say, “I’m not a liberal, I’m a socialist.” After all, there is much about socialism that I admire. But I am not, in fact, a socialist and it would be an insult to actual socialists to claim that I am.

Regardless, The Daily Caller is known for its attack-dog journalism. And thus far, it is all an attack on the left. So I don’t think much of it. (As libertarian publications go, Reason is probably the best.) So I wasn’t too surprised to see that the Caller was pushing the recent Obama “scandals” with excessive vigor. And on Wednesday it “broke” the story that the former IRS head Doug Shulman (once again: a Bush appointee) had visited the White House 157 times. Or rather: 157 times! And of course, Bill O’Reilly piled on, calling the visits a “smoking gun.”

Contain your shock that The Daily Caller would be wrong about the story. It was actually 11 visits and only 3 of them even included President Obama. The 157 “visits” were times that the Secret Service pre-cleared Shulman for meetings that he might attend—almost all of them regarding work on the ACA (Obamacare). So there is no story there. But in the future, don’t pay attention to any part of the supposed scandals until they’ve been vetted for a while. That’s especially true of conservative media, who want to beat this stuff like a runaway Walmart worker. And that includes The Daily Caller most of all.

Afterword

Andrew Sullivan, the man who brought Charles Murray and his The Bell Curve into the mainstream, and almost destroyed The New Republican as editor, had this to say about the The Daily Caller article:

I am sorry to give this crap any air. But it’s worth putting it out there if only to expose even further the toxic bullshit that Tucker Carlson now peddles under the guise of journalism.

Project much, Andrew?

History of Austerity

Austerity: the History of a Dangerous IdeaI just got around to reading Mark Blyth’s Austerity: the History of a Dangerous Idea. It is something of a revelation because it puts the modern economic debate into historical perspective. He starts way back at John Locke and his fear of the tyrannical state. Then he moves on to Hume and Smith who built on his ideas. John Stuart Mill managed to find the problem with where these guys were going in the land of fairies and elves known as libertarianism. But no one really paid much attention to Mill as the story unfolds.

All along the course of this thinking that leads to the modern proponents of austerity, there are a lot of good ideas. And many of the fears are justified. A good example is the Freiburg liberals in Germany during the 1920s. They claimed that the economic problems were based upon the fact that the legal system was corrupted by the use of private economic power. This has long been one of the linchpins of my argument against libertarianism and other forms of free market fundamentalism.

But as much as I get the thinkers who brought us to today, I still scratch my head over how the austerians can continue to think that the economy is driven from the wealthy on down. If there are not consumers with money it absolutely doesn’t matter how much or how cheaply stuff can be produced. The economy is driven by demand. It’s also interesting that these same people talk about the power of the government, but don’t seem concerned about private economic power. They also have a kind of “control economy” philosophy where instead of the government in control (as is the case in communism), it is the “job creators” who are in control. Any reasonable observer would be concerned about public and private power.

Blyth shows in sometimes exhausting detail that austerity is not only morally wrong but that it simply doesn’t work as it claims to. Although he maintains a fairly objective tone throughout the book, he comes out swinging in the conclusion:

This book has examined the case for austerity as both a sensible economic policy and as a coherent set of economic ideas, and it has found austerity to be lacking in both respects. Austerity doesn’t work. Period.

In the last part of the book, he predicts the way forward. He thinks we are going to get higher taxes on the rich and that the recent Fiscal Cliff deal is just the beginning:

So we are talking taxes, which no one likes. But since I found out that in 2010 I paid more taxes than the General Electric Corporation—really, I did, and so did you—I’m willing to give financial repression a chance. Yes, it will greatly limit my opportunities to buy and trade exotic derviatives and engage in international financial arbitrage games, but you know what? I’m willing to give it up. After thirty years of all the gains and all the tax cuts going to the people who brought us the bubble, payback is coming. Not because of Occupy Wall Street and not because of my personal preferences, but because it’s so much easier and more effective to do than it is to enforce self-defeating austerity that it’s bound to happen.

He continues to explain why it is right to tax the rich:

But there is plenty of room to tax the top because of the bailouts. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. After the 1929 crash income inequality and financial-sector pay declined sharply relative to ordinary earnings, but this time they did not, so taxing now is simply taking the bailout back to the taxpayer. This idea does not just resonate with progressive circles in the United States.

That’s an argument that I’ve long been making. We have had a governing infrastructure that rewarded the rich exclusively over the past 35 years. While we’ve enacted laws that have made the rich richer, we have also asked them to pay less and less in taxes. It is time to reverse that. Raising taxes on the rich is not a question of class warfare. It is a question of class survival. And truly, the rich should understand that better than anyone.

I’m going to have to read Austerity: the History of a Dangerous Idea a second time to get clear on all the economic movements. A lot of the material was brand new to me. But even with the one go, I learned a lot. Plus it was a pleasant read. At his best, Blyth is an amusing and breezy writer. And for anyone who wants to know how we got to such dysfunctional economic policy, it is a must read.

No More Confederate General Bases!

Robert E. LeeLast weekend, Jamie Malanowski wrote an amazing OpEd over at the New York Times, Misplaced Honor. I didn’t know this, but 10 United States Army bases are named after Confederate generals. Look, I don’t have it out for the south. In fact, I have almost nothing but fond memories of my time in the south. But all the Confederate flag waving and related activities have got to stop. We can all admit that the Civil War was a tragedy and that most people were innocent of anything other than being caught up in an unfortunate event. What we can’t do is pretend that the south had cause to leave the Union. The people of the Confederacy were traitors. At that is above all true of the generals.

As Malanowki wrote, “Would we have a Fort Rommel? A Camp Cornwallis?” Of course not! And that is not to say that Rommel and Cornwallis weren’t anything but noble men. But even if you don’t wish to say, as I do, that Robert E. Lee was in fact a traitor,[1] we do not name military bases for people who fought against us in war. There are ways to honor men like Lee without naming our bases after them.

And we are not just talking about men who deserve respect like Lee. Bases are also named after vile men. Henry Benning, for example, wasn’t a reluctant warrior; he actively pushed for succession, demagoguing fears that Lincoln would push to abolish slavery. John B. Gordon was an early head of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia. And George Pickett was even accused of war crimes, although in the Obama-style “look forward” philosophy of the time, he was never tried.

It is an outrage that we have military based named after these men. It is now 150 years since the Civil War. We need to stop trying to sooth ruffled feathers over our most destructive war, which was waged against us for the most vile of reasons. Imagine what it says to our African American soldiers that they should be stationed at a base named after one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan. It seems to me that we should be far more concerned about their feelings than those of white southerners who think that the Union was wrong to have stopped their rebellion.

The only way to get past the Civil War is for all of us to admit that the right side was the Union side. We are now all Americans. The Confederacy was never a real nation. The Civil War was a great tragedy, but some good things came out of it. And we should all be proud of that. As Americans.


[1] For the record, I admire Lee. I think he is one of the great tragic heroes of our nation. But taking up arms against the United States is an act of treason. And because of Lee’s brilliance, unthinkable extra men died. If he had headed the Union army as Lincoln wished, the war probably would have been over much sooner and there would have been far less loss of life.