The Way Dorothy Fields Looks Tonight

Dorothy FieldsRembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, a man so great we know him by his first name, was born on this day in 1606. Under normal circumstances, I would have given the day to him. But it is hard to do that when Google has spent the whole damned day hocking their doodle of him. He is unquestionably great, and I really like his work. However, I prefer Vermeer. It isn’t that I think Vermeer is better. From a technical standpoint, Rembrandt is certainly better. To me, he is very similar to the best of the High Renaissance, which is a very great compliment. But there is a certain magic in the way that Vermeer uses light that I find very compelling. Rembrandt is undoubtedly more realistic. But what does my opinion matter? You’re reading a man who is most inspired by pre-perspective religious painting.

The Italian composer Giovanni Buonaventura Viviani was born in 1638. His work is pre-Baroque. You can definitely hear where it is headed. Here is one of his sonatas played by the Chicago Early Music Consort with period instruments:

The American composer Jack Beeson was born in 1921. He is that fairly rare creature: a modern composer who wrote operas. Here is the second act of his opera Lizzie Borden, which is in English, but is demanding music:

Linda Ronstadt is 67 today. She is such a fine pop singer. Here she is in the video for her version of Bob Haggart’s and Johnny Burke’s “What’s New”:

Wrestler and iconoclast Jesse Ventura is 62. Guitarist Joe Satriani is 57. I admire him, but often think of the line from Amadeus, “Too many notes.” Still, here he is with “Flying In A Blue Dream,” which is quite nice once he gets into it:

And actor Forest Whitaker is 52.

But the day belongs to one of my favorite lyricists Dorothy Fields who was born on this day in 1905. She is best known for the songs “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”, “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” and, of course, “The Way You Look Tonight.” Here is the original version of that last song sung by Fred Astaire. It is not my favorite version at all, but what matters is the song. It is always great:

Happy birthday Dorothy Fields!

“Fact” Checking Moves to Australia

Pants on FireThere’s a great scene toward the end of The Matrix where Agent Smith is talking to Morpheus. He says that humans are like a virus. This is actually a shockingly stupid argument. The truth is that all creatures bread to the point where they exhaust all resources and then either die out or move onto green pastures. It is only other species that causes there to be any balance in the environment. But I think the virus analogy is pretty good when it is applied to American journalism.

The Australians are currently suffering from America creep. The country has three new “fact checking” services. Bronwen Clune reports all in, Are Fact-Checking Sites a Symptom of the Media Not Doing Its Job? One of them will be very familiar to most Americans: Politifact Australia! They haven’t only exported their ridiculous Truth-O-Meter with its infantile “pant on fire” rating. They’ve also exported their peculiar definition of of the word “fact.” Clune writes something that should be familiar to readers of this blog:

Just how convoluted this seemingly simple judgment can be is best illustrated over controversy around a statement made by Greens senator Scott Ludlam that “currently, Australia is 71st per capita in the world in terms of refugees hosted.” The original ruling read nothing short of “what the senator says is right, but we rate it as ‘mostly false.'”

Hooray! America’s greasy sense of fact wins another victory!

The other two fact checking services are home-grown. One is a kind of academic affair where a statement is graded by one person. Then that person’s analysis is graded by someone else. And what do you know? Sometimes the two disagree. There is a third service that has not yet started but already conservatives are complaining that its editor has a leftist bias. I think that tells you all you need to know about the whole “fact checking” endeavor: it will never work as long as people can’t differentiate between fact and truth. In the Politifact example above, it was found that the statement was correct, but that Ludlam had used it to imply something that wasn’t true.

Clune’s point is that this really ought to be what journalists are always doing. Of course, they aren’t. But the fact checking services are not going to fix this problem. This is because they claim to objective, when they aren’t. Their effort is a worthy one—but it is worthy for journalists, not specialists who claim they are providing “just the fact.” And that gets a “pants on fire” from me.


You know you want it:

Fox “Straight” News Fear Mongering After Zimmerman

Fox NewsSince there were none of the riots that Fox News was predicting, they had to go elsewhere with their fear mongering and racist coverage Monday’s broadcast. I just caught a little bit of Shepard Smith’s show and it was quite the thing to watch. As I try to explain to fans of Fox News, the problem is not so much that the station actively lies—although they do enough of that. The big problem is what they choose to cover. In a general sense, there is nothing wrong with this. Last week on Counterspin, FAIR had a segment of Sequestration, which is great, even though most of the mainstream national press couldn’t care less about the issue. Similarly, on right wing hate radio, they are still talking about Solyndra. But no one mistakes FAIR or the right wing talkers for the mainstream media. Fox News is very much mainstream media. And thus people get the impression that if Fox News is reporting it, it must be a big story.

So the big story on Fox News is that Eric Holder said that Trayvon Martin was a “tragic, unnecessary shooting death.” Furthermore, Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP is calling for a federal civil rights trial of George Zimmerman. Oh my God! That’s so shocking! Also, Trayvon Martin’s parents are thinking about a civil case against Zimmerman. Let’s think about those for a minute. First, Holder is right. I would like to think that even Zimmerman’s staunchest defenders would admit that it was a tragic, unnecessary death. We all could assume that the NAACP would call for a federal case. Regardless, we knew before the verdict that this was a possibility. As for the civil case, there’s been a lot of talk about that the whole time.

Smith was also reporting on the need for George Zimmerman to get his gun back. One “reporter” went on at some length about this and the subtext was not good. You see, with all those angry negroes in the NAACP, you know they’re coming after poor George. After all, they are calling for a civil rights charge to be filed against him. That’s just respectable negrospeak for “bust a cap in your ass.” Really, that’s the level of the nonsense that we are getting from Fox News. I fully expect to see George Zimmerman on Hannity’s show talking about how scared he now feels.

On their website, Fox News has the headline, More Than a Dozen Arrested in Protests Against Zimmerman Verdict. The article itself, however, tells a different story, “Thousands of people staged demonstrations in cities across America Sunday and into Monday—resulting in more than a dozen arrests in New York City and Los Angeles—as they voiced their disappointment and anger at the decision by a Sanford, Fla. jury’s [decision] to acquit George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.” In other words, they couldn’t report riots, so they reported negligible arrests to invalidate the protests. And what were those arrests for? “Police in Los Angeles said they arrested six people on Monday, mostly for failure to disperse.”

I understand all the people who are upset that Zimmerman was found not guilty. I share their disappointment. And if they had rioted, I would have been at least understanding. But I don’t understand why the political right is so vindictive even—Or especially!—when it wins. If George Zimmerman had been convicted, I could understand the blanket coverage about the miscarriage of justice. But this isn’t about that at all. This is about how the black folk are coming for all the good white folk. This is, “We got the ruling we wanted; be afraid, be very afraid!”

Update (15 July 2013 5:15 pm)

I decided to watch the beginning of All In to see what was said there. They were clearly upset, but there was no fear mongering. The one point they were most upset about was the after trial press conference when the defense said that if it had been the other way around, Trayvon Martin wouldn’t have been prosecuted. That is, admittedly, an outrageous statement. Remember: when the police investigated the crime, they tested Martin for drugs, but not Zimmerman. They did a criminal background check on Martin, not Zimmerman. The idea that the justice system was especially hard on Zimmerman because he wasn’t black is ridiculous. But the main thing is that on MSNBC, which clearly has a Democratic bias, I saw nothing especially out of line. But then, I tend to agree with them.

Update (15 July 2013 5:53 pm)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Cenk Uygur this upset. It is really good and I agree with him right down the line:

Update (15 July 2013 10:32 pm)

The Washington Post just reported, Juror: 6-Woman Jury Was Initially Split on Convicting Zimmerman, but Law Led Them to Acquit. That is not what actually happened. The truth is that juries are a very unstable thing. Three jurors wanted to convict on at least manslaughter. What it means is that the three on the other side were dominant. And that is all that it means.

Also: All In had this great segment of a case where a black woman got 20 years for simply firing a gun that harmed no one; she was not allowed the use of the stand-your-ground law.

Gang of Umpteen

John McCainPolitico reports this morning, Reid digs in as Senate Nears Nuclear Option Showdown. While it is good that Reid is indeed moving forward, that isn’t what the article is about. Rather, it seems that some Republicans are trying to pitch a new “Gang of Umpteen” to Reid. I am not in favor of this.

Right off the top, I’m skeptical because the Gang of 14 disappeared as soon the Democrats got control of the Senate. Why was that? I thought the whole idea of that group was not just to stop the Republicans from using the nuclear option, but also to make filibuster use more responsible and rare. And the way the Gang of 14 worked was pretty much that the Republicans got whatever they wanted. Pretty much every nominee who would have been filibustered was pushed through by the Gang of 14. In other words, the Republicans might as well have used the nuclear option, there were only a very small number of nominees who the Gang stopped. So the question is whether the new Gang of Umpteen would function the same and allow pretty much all nominees through.

Ha ha ha! Wait, I have to catch my breath… My, but that was a doozy! Of course that isn’t going to happen.

As usual, what the Republicans are offering the Democrats is the weakest of tea. This is bad in a couple of ways:

McCain said he and Republicans are trying to strike a deal with Reid would either allow up-or-down votes on seven contentious nominees or at least find “replacements” for those nominees.

First, this doesn’t even deal with the problem generally. McCain is suggesting that if they can deal with just these seven nominees, all should be well. But he isn’t even offering up-or-down votes on them; he’s offering to find replacements. Replacements?! Sure! Why don’t we put John Bolton in charge of the National Labor Relations Board. I’m sure that the Republicans in their infinite charity would allow that.

There is a theory out there that it must be hell to be a Republican. By this theory, Republicans don’t really want to stand for everything that is wrong and ineffective. But they have to or else they will lose their primary to an even more radical challenger. The problem with this theory is that it doesn’t explain the filibuster. Not filibustering a nominee is not the same as voting for him. I don’t see how the details of Senate procedure would be an effective challenge in an election. So that leaves us with a Republican Party that really is for everything that is wrong and ineffective.

This provides us with things like the recent spectacle of Eric Cantor announcing a new DREAM Act. And we see it here. Rather than legislating like normal politicians, these people think they can game and finesse everything to their advantage. But they’ve become so ideologically ossified that now they can’t even effectively do that. Find replacements? Really?!


Of course, I have little confidence that the Democrats won’t go along with this pathetic attempt at a compromise. For all I know, Reid will give up the whole thing in exchange for McConnell’s word that he won’t use the nuclear option when he’s in the majority. Time will tell.

Libertarian Populism Still Bunk After Tim Carney

Timothy P. CarneySpeaking of libertarians, Timothy P. Carney is over at the Washington Examiner today. He wants to explain to us, Libertarian Populism: The Economic Prescription for the Right. It is a list of policies that he claims constitute libertarian populism. He even complains about Paul Krugman calling the whole idea of libertarian populism “bunk.” But his whole article demonstrates that Krugman was right.

I’m not saying that there is no overlap between populism and libertarianism. But as I know from years of disappointment, if you vote for someone who talks libertarian, what you will get is straight up conservative policy. You may vote for the guy who is calling for an end to all welfare, but the policy you will get is an end to individual welfare. So if the people are dumb enough to vote for a politician who says he is a libertarian populist, they will be getting a conservative who will put anti-choice, pro-big-business people on the federal courts.

So what does Carney offer as policy positions? He wants to break up the big banks. That is anti-libertarian but very populist. That will absolutely not happen. In fact, a candidate probably wouldn’t even campaign on that because it would offend too many donors. It’s his second position that made me write this article: he wants to eliminate (or at least cut) Social Security. You know what they call Social Security? The most popular government program ever. Very populist! Next up: corporate welfare. Two of the three examples he produces are from the farm bill. That’s the farm bill that the conservatives just cut in half; the farm subsidies part was increased relative to the Senate bill. Apart from that, liberals have long been for cutting farm subsidies. What’s more, in general, conservatives are way more in favor of corporate welfare than liberals are.

Carney also wants a “cleaner tax code.” That is just another name for raising taxes on the poor and middle classes, and lowering them on the rich. Of course, Carney says, “I don’t think the tax rate has to be flat.” But it is clear that he thinks it ought to be flatter and that totally flat would be a good thing. That is what people mean when they talk about simplifying the tax code. That’s what Simpson-Bowles is pushing. That’s what Paul Ryan is pushing. And that was what Mitt Romney was pushing. You remember Mitt Romney: he was the guy that libertarian populism is supposed to save the Republican Party from.

His approach to healthcare is pretty much to kick people off their employer provided plans. He says that this limits competition between insurers. There are a couple of things wrong with this. First, insurer profits are not a big problem; the problem with insurance companies is all the money they spend denying care. The big problems are drug patents and great limits on who can practice medicine in this country. Rather than offering a true libertarian approach to these problems, he just ignores them and focuses on minor issues. It’s also interesting that conservatives scream about how disruptive Obamacare will be, but have no problem greatly upsetting the current system by removing support from the employer-based system. He also wants to cut Medicare. Of course.

There are couple of other things that don’t exactly fit. He wants to cut down on regulation to allow more raw-milk dairy farms and such. And he wants to stop the revolving door of people in government going into lobbying. This second one is shockingly anti-libertarian, but at least populist. Regardless, almost all of Carney’s libertarian and populist ideas are marginal. In addition to not dealing with patents and medical trade, he doesn’t mention our out of control copyright system and says nothing about the very populist idea of a financial speculation tax.

He ends his article by saying, “These are acute libertarian populist policies. In the long run, a freer market means more competition, means higher wages.” Really?! Almost without exception, his ideas are not libertarian or not populist. Freer markets do not necessarily mean more competition; that’s why we have antitrust laws. It is also not clear that a freer market means higher wages. But regardless, in the long run we are all dead. One of the good uses of the government is to soften the disruptions of a free market. (And what’s with that highly unusual use of “acute”? It’s like Romney’s “severe conservative” comment.)

What all of Carney’s article shows is that libertarian populism is simply rebranding of tired old conservative policies. There is basically nothing in his list of policies that Romney and Ryan weren’t talking about during the last election. Conservatives have never tried to sell tax cuts for the rich as a good thing because rich people are so great. It was always that tax cuts for the rich would be good for the rest of us. Remember “trickle down economics”? Now it is about giving the “job creators” more money so they can hire us. But the article is good in the way that Sean Trende’s articles were: it shows what conservatives will do. The problem is that Carney really thinks he’s onto something new.

My Rich Uncle Won’t Help

Rich Uncle PennybagsNancy Folbre is an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. And last night, she wrote an article over at the Economix Blog, Let Your Rich Uncle Pay for College. It is about a pilot program that will allow students go to their state university system in exchange of a 3% tax on their incomes for the first 20 years after graduation. As she notes, this is a good deal for poor and middle class students. What’s more, similar programs in Australia and Britain have increased college participation.

This is an exciting idea and I hope that it works out well. But I’m more interested in what she compared it to: a market-based program called My Rich Uncle. It is based on an idea by Milton Friedman and the Cato’s Miguel Palacios. And like most libertarian solutions to these kinds of problems, it goes a long way out of its way to ultimately do a far worse job than a direct government approach.

The idea is similar to the Oregon program. Students who want to go to college find a rich person to pay for it in exchange for a piece of the action. My Rich Uncle would work as an intermediary between the two parties, just like those companies that administer loans between family members. I see various problems with this. The main one is that this will set up a situation where those who are already well connected will do the best. Those who know wealthy people are more likely to benefit from their largess. What’s more, those whose parents are in the upper middle class are a much better bet than those those parents are poor—because that’s how our “meritocracy” works.

Almost as big a problem is turning education into job training. My Rich Uncle will clearly incentivize even more young people to major in business and finance. It would probably also encourage more people to go into engineering, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I doubt it would do much either way regarding the sciences. But it would decimate most of the liberal arts. I think that our society is greatly enriched by having a diversity of intellectual experiences. I want more people studying literature and Latin. They make us all better. But there is another aspect to this: most people don’t work in the field they got degrees in. The point of college, as Professor Kingsfield might have said, is to train your mind.

Here we come to a conundrum. If programs like My Rich Uncle were the only ones available to support higher education, people would notice the first problem: too many business majors. And so a private bureaucracy would form to deal with it. Students would be told things like, “You know, we’ve got too many business majors this year. Have you thought about engineering?” I run into this a lot when I discuss things in depth with libertarians. After a while, they end up with systems that are even more bureaucratic and constraining than government programs. But to them, it is all good because the government isn’t doing it. In other words, they don’t care about freedom so much as they just mistrust the government.

So where does this leave us? I believe that these kinds of free-market approaches to social ills are not provided so much to solve problems. Instead, they are provided to show that there are potentially solutions to these problems. The assumptions is that if the government just gets out of the way, the free market will cure all of our problems. It reminds me of an old Far Side cartoon where a scientist is written out a proof. It starts with the problem and ends with the solution, but in the middle is, “A miracle happens.” Indeed, if you listen to conservatives generally on these issues, you will over hear the word “magic.” The government should get out of the way and let the magic of the free market work. But the free market doesn’t work by magic. We understand in broad terms how it works and how it fails. And it does fail. That is especially the case when providing social goods like public education. And remember: almost all libertarians and a growing number of conservatives don’t even want to have publicly funded primary education. So you have to wonder about them when they start hocking ideas like My Rich Uncle.

But I’ve left the best for last. My Rich Uncle went bankrupt in 2009, screwing a whole lot of people. Vive la free market!