Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky and BullwinkleAs you may know, I am a huge fan of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. It is one of my primary comedic influences and probably explains the very high level of silliness in my writing. Of course, the show was very silly. But like most great comedy that we enjoy as children, I didn’t get a lot of the jokes because they were over my head. I think this is how we get trained to find the absurd non sequitur funny. So much of the life of a child is trying to react appropriately to things we don’t understand.

This is why intellectuals annoy me when they talk about humor. Most jokes are funny because they work on many levels. But it isn’t the case that any one way of experiencing a joke is correct. Consider one of my favorite jokes. Question: how many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: fish. On one level, the joke is funny because surrealism doesn’t make much rational sense and fish are a common element in surrealist art. The answer “Bowler” might be more pointedly intellectual since it would also be a snarky comment on Rene Magritte. But if a young child heard the joke, he would likely think it funny simply because it made no sense. In this way, substituting “fish” with “bowler” would cut down on its appeal.

Other than silliness and puns, Bullwinkle is great social satire. This, of course, also went over my head when I was a kid. And what is especially great about it is that it doesn’t telegraph how you are supposed to feel about it. The show is at base a product of the cold war. But you can see it taking the whole conflict seriously or not. I choose to see it as making light of the period. This goes along with my general belief that 99% of the people everywhere just want to be left alone to live their lives. All the problems are created by 1% of the people. And that doesn’t mean that all of the people who make up that 1% are bad. But they are people who are prone to confrontation—regardless of the reason. It doesn’t matter whether they are Genghis Khan or Barack Obama.

So what we see in the show is a bunch of people who are leading the world focused on this very pleasant flying squirrel and a moose who is stupid even by moose standards. The whole spying endeavor is just a game. And indeed it is. Whenever old information about our spying programs are declassified, we see just how ridiculous it is. It is as though the governments think they must have spying programs but they have little idea of what the whole point is. And, of course, that leads to our wonderful foreign policy of staging coups of democratically elected governments. Of course, in the world of Rocky and Bullwinkle, it is only the Soviets who are actively evil; the Americans are just incompetent. (The Soviets are incompetent too. Hell, everyone is incompetent where a flying squirrel is the smartest guy in the room.)

I bring this all up because I just watched the following documentary about the Making of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. It isn’t great, but it has a lot of information that I didn’t know. And you get to see many of the people who made the show. If you are a fan, you will like it. And if you aren’t a fan, well, all I can say is I don’t see how you can have the good taste to be visiting Frankly Curious and not like the show. Regardless, if you don’t like the show, I can’t think of a reason you would want to watch this documentary. In fact, I don’t know why you’ve read this far! But for the rest of you: enjoy!

No. 17 on Nixon’s Enemies List

Daniel SchorrOn this day in 12, the crazy emperor Caligula was born. The French Classical composer Jean Paul Egide Martini was born in 1741. Here is his Plaisir d’Amour, which sounds a lot like The Magic Flute to me:

German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz was born in 1821. Italian composer Amilcare Ponchielli was born in 1834. Here is his Capriccio for Oboe, which sounds almost impressionistic:

Educator Maria Montessori was born in 1870. Actor Fredric March was born in 1897. Broadcaster Arthur Godfrey was born in 1903.

Broadway lyricist Alan Jay Lerner was born in 1918. Actor G. D. Spradlin was born in 1920. Comedian Buddy Hackett was born in 1924. And actor James Coburn was born in 1928.

Two great musicians are 68 today. The first is Van Morrison. I had wanted to put up “Have I Told You Lately” but he insists that it isn’t a religious song and that annoys me. So here he is doing “Days Like This”:

The second great musician is Itzhak Perlman. Here he is performing Tchaikovsky’s showy Valse Scherzo:

Actor Richard Gere is 64. I have nothing against the man, but his being in a movie is often enough to make me not watch it. The hilarious Julie Brown is 55. Here she is doing what is now a golden oldie, “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun”:

If you will stay with me for a moment, Julie Brown has a fine YouTube channel. And she clearly has a problem with Victoria Jackson, which is especially cool because Victoria Jackson is a horrible person. Here is Victoria Jackson Reacts to the Election!

And actor Chris Tucker is 41.

The day, however, belongs to the journalist Daniel Schorr who was born on this day in 1916. He was a very important television journalist when they still had them. (Just kidding! When they still had a lot of them. How about that?) He is famous, for example, for releasing the Pike Committee report on illegal CIA and FBI activities in 1976. He was also number 17 on Richard Nixon’s enemies list!

But I mostly know Schorr from his editorials on NPR during the first years of the century when I was having my liberal awakening. What I liked about him was that while he was clearly and proudly liberal, he was not especially partisan. He was one of those old time New Deal Democrats who calmly watched as the whole center of gravity of American politics moved ever to the right—even if the people didn’t. Here is an example of this, his 15 December 2000 editorial in the Christian Science Monitor about the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush Vs. Gore:

In developing countries such as Pakistan, Chile, and Sierra Leone, a transfer of power is often accomplished by military coup. In our country, it is done by judicial coup.

Admitting to something short of cool dispassion, I marvel at the way the gang of five, led by arch-conservative Antonin Scalia, tried to camouflage their 5-to-4 operation behind a nominal 7-to-2 agreement that there was a problem with the Florida recount. That seemed to leave open the chance of fixing the system. Their fix was in, all right, but a different fix. It suppressed the recount for good.

Any one of these five could have returned the contest to limbo. But none did. Decades of conservative support of states’ rights, by overturning federal statutes from affirmative action to federal review of criminal cases, went out the window in an arrogation of authority to judge voting in Florida.

The tactics were adroit. First, the junta on Saturday halted the vote count. That enabled them to say on Tuesday that there was no more time left for vote-counting.

One thing about Tony Scalia is that he levels with you. Not every justice would say, as he did Saturday, that issuing the voting stay suggested Bush had “a substantial probability of success.” Not every justice would own up to partisanship by saying the recounted votes “threaten irreparable harm to petitioner”—Governor Bush—”and to the country.”

Justice Stevens, for the embattled minority of himself, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David Souter, said on Saturday that halting the vote recount “will inevitably cast a cloud on the legitimacy of the election.” Tuesday he said we may never know who was the winner of the presidential race, but “the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.” …

That legitimacy has been endangered by the court’s intervention into the white-hot controversy over the presidency that opened the court to suspicion of partisanship. Before this issue arose there were suggestions of partisanship. Mr. Bush referred to Scalia and Clarence Thomas as models for the kind of justices he would name. Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice O’Connor reportedly said they would like to retire under Bush to ensure being succeeded by conservatives. But now, these five have had a banner day. They have selected a president.

(For the record, I suspect that Sandra Day O’Connor regrets stepping down as she did. Two things helped that along. She stepped down and then Rehnquist died. That put more of Bush on the court than she likely hoped for. Second, she was replaced with Samuel Alito, a judge she smacked down when he was on the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. In addition, since leaving the court, she has made a number of telling comments. The most notable was her “dissent” on the Citizens United case. But isn’t this all exactly what we expect from conservatives? When they have power, they are full tilt evil. When out of power, they suddenly come to their senses. I think it has to do with the authoritarian mindset and its desire to always follow orders. Anyway, she’s fucked the country good!)

Happy birthday Daniel Schorr!

Prognosticator Steve Kornacki

Steve KornackiWhy do we love Steve Kornacki? Because he doesn’t believe his own bullshit. Sure, he’s pleased that he said that Eliot Spitzer might not cruise to an easy victory over Scott Stringer for New York City comptroller, and that looks to be at least partly correct. But he was quick to point out how he is more often wrong. Most pundits and commentators accept the acclaim for being right but never admit their failures. No one pays attention to when I’m right or wrong. But when I make predictions, I do it for other reasons—to make some point about a situation, and sometimes just to be a crank. And I think that is true of most others when they make predictions. But I’m really glad that Kornacki took the opportunity of being right about this to highlight the fact that what’s important about him—and the reason we listen to him—is not his prognostication skills.

And for the record, it isn’t at all clear that Spitzer won’t cruise to an easy victory. According to a New York Times/Siena College poll that came out on Friday, Spitzer has a 15 percentage point advantage against Stringer. I don’t especially care. I like Spitzer and I know next to nothing about Stringer. It would certainly be nice to see Spitzer back in elected office because I think he has done a good job. But if he doesn’t win, I’m sure there will be lots of other chances for him to serve the public.

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Obama Wimps Out, Does the Right Thing

Obama CopeGood news on Syria. Really! Obama is backing out. For some time, he has claimed that legally he can do whatever the hell he wants. When he was a candidate, however, Obama had a very different opinion. Note how that works. It isn’t that Obama got into office and finally had a chance to read the Constitution and its interpretations, and figured out, “Oh, I was wrong!” As people are fond of bring up all the time he was a constitutional law professor. So it is just that once he got the power he changed his mind. Power corrupts even boy scouts like Obama.

But this Syria bombing campaign seems to be different than the Libyan bombing. In Libyan, Obama didn’t get Congressional approval because, as we all know, Obama can kill anyone he likes without asking permission. (This is different from, say, minting a trillion dollar coin to save our economy from radical Republicans; that would actually make things better, so Obama can’t do it.) Now Obama claims that we really need to have a “debate” about the bombing.

This is good news, but it still annoys me. After all, if the situation is Syria is so clear as Secretary Kerry has said, what is there to debate? But of course, there is a whole lot to debate. It is just that Kerry is showing himself to be a much greater jackass than we had ever thought. I’m sure this part of the administration’s plan. Kerry was supposed to out in public braying like a donkey in heat to see if it would turn the country back to those halcyon days of 1990 and 2003. Quick! Who does this remind you of:

This decision by Obama puts him in a much better place. First, it extends the amount of time before he has to bomb. In that time, maybe cooler heads will prevail or maybe the nation will lose interest. Maybe John Kerry will shut the fuck up? Second, Congress may pull a Parliament and vote not to give authorization. And third, even if they do give him authorization, he gets more political cover. None of this will change the fact that it is an illegal act of war. But who cares about such things? Certainly not American presidents who can commit any war crimes they like without having to worry about being held accountable.

Any day that we don’t attack is another day that we aren’t killing people in Syria. Given that the Syrian government is likely to react to an attack by killing more people, this is unquestionably good. As I noted last night, Obama is being very weak in this whole thing. But if he’s going to be weak, this is the way to do it. Better a weakling than a weak bully.

Update (31 August 2013 8:11 pm)

Samuel Knight has done an excellent job running the Political Animal blog today. He’s been writing about Syria a lot. He is highly (but reasonably) cynical about the administration, Obama to Ask Congress for Permission to Bomb Syria—Let the Repulsive Horse Trading Begin. We exchanged email where I said that I hoped he was wrong but that if it weren’t, it would be the perfect storm of clusterfucks: domestic and international. He responded that he hoped he was wrong too. But hope only takes you so far.

The New York Times just published an article that pulls me in two directions, President Pulls Lawmakers Into Box He Made. On the one hand, the subtext seems to be that Obama just really doesn’t want to bomb Syria. On the other hand, he was arguing that he wanted to get Congress’ approval in case he later needed to attack Iran. In addition to this, it seems that all of the people surrounding Obama are keen to attack Syria. This is pretty bad if the only one in the White House with any reluctance about this is Obama himself. That is, of course, assuming that the whole “leaked” story isn’t just bullshit.

Cory Booker and the New Democrat Failure

Cory BookerIt is the weekend, so barring war, I’m going to try to get some of my backlog posted. And right now, that brings me back to Thursday when Chris Hayes had his big interview with Cory Booker on All In. As you may know, I’m not a fan of the major. He is New Democrat all the way. He’s fine on social issues, but on economic issues, he’s terrible, and he is firmly in the pocket of Wall Street. You may remember the dust up during last year’s election when he defended Bain Capital on Meet the Press. That’s who Booker is and Democrats continue to delude themselves when they think electing someone like him will result in any change. Booker and Obama and all the New Democrats are just smarter, more competent Republicans. I want more from my elected officials, and barring that, I at least want the choice to vote for an economic liberal.

But here’s the thing: in addition to everything else, Booker is a coward. At worst, he is leading in his Senate campaign by 16 percentage points. Other polls show him leading by far more than that. But as you will see in the interview below, the man cannot answer a straight question that goes outside of his talking points. And Hayes’ questions are not at all rough. It is a very friendly interview:

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As we liberals move into the future, we have to recognize that people like Booker really are a big problem. It looks like that Republican Party is determined to destroy itself. If that happens, the Democratic Party will rightly divide itself on the economic issues. And that will put Booker and friends in the New Republican Party. And once again, that will make the party one of ideology over practical solutions. Because this love of Wall Street, big banks, and the rich is not based on all the great things they do for society. It is based on affinity bias. Booker’s friends are bankers just like all the New Democrats. And that’s just fine: people should be allowed to be evil in their own ways. I can work with people like Booker as the opposition—but not as a member of my (liberal) party. On the single most important issue that we face as a people, he wants to make things worse.

Chris Matthews Never Saw a War He Wouldn’t Cheer Lead for

Chris Matthews: one of the worst fucking people in the worldI’ve been really busy this week, so I haven’t been doing much cooking. And cooking is the only time I watch television. But tonight, I had to cook because I had some Spanish rice and corn tortillas that really needed to be used or they were going to go bad. So I found myself in the kitchen trying to make something like taquitos. I failed miserably, but the result was still delicious. But mostly, I got to watch All In, which was all about the coming Syrian attack. Even though I seem to agree with Chris Hayes on the issue, most of the guest were there cheer leading for war.

I was hoping for something more from The Rachel Maddow Show. The truth is that I’m really depressed about what’s going on. It really does seem that Obama has painted himself into a corner with all that talk of “red lines.” And now he thinks he will look weak if he doesn’t bomb Syria. It’s sad, because to me, he does look weak. He looks weak the same way that bullies always look weak. He looks weak because he cares more about saving face than doing what’s right. So I was hoping that Maddow would make me feel better, even though I thought the odds were long.

Alas. Rachel Maddow was off. In fact, the whole The Rachel Maddow Show was off. Instead, there was a special edition of Hardball with Chris “War Monger” Matthews. But I continued to watch. After all, my pseudo-taquitos were not ready to go into the over. (I know, I know: they are fried, not baked!) Anyway, how bad could Chris Matthews be? Surely he had learned something from being so painfully, so aggressively wrong about the Iraq War. Right? Right?! Right?!!

One thing that Chris Hayes discussed on his show is how disheartening it is to see people pushing for war with Syria by saying exactly the same things proponents of war with Iraq said 10 years ago. The only difference is now they add some obligatory statement about how it is different this time. Sure, the intelligence that was indisputable last time was wrong, but this time it really is indisputable. But other than saying such things really deliberately and forcefully, we have no reason to think anything has changed.

Matthews came out swinging. He said the bombings were about killing. Okay, that got my attention. But it was just a fake. It was just so that he could go on to claim that killing innocents was a small price to pay for sending a message. And he doesn’t see that message being sent to Syria and the Assad government. No, bombing Syria is about sending a message to Iran about not building a nuclear weapon. And he had others on to parrot back his words to him. Matthews really belongs on Fox News, because that’s all his program is: propaganda. And I would say that even if I agreed with him.

Here’s the thing: bombing might indeed make Iran very careful in public. And it might make them really determined in private to get a nuclear weapon. Because everyone knows that Obama wouldn’t be about to bomb Syria if it had a nuclear weapon. As I wrote about earlier this week, when the United States intervenes, we send unintended messages. But all of this talk of messages from Matthews is just smoke and mirrors. He loves a good war. He loves a bad war. He loves any war.

MSNBC should have fired him long ago!

Robert Crumb and the Obnoxious Truth

Robert CrumbIn this day in 1748, the great French Neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David was born. How great was he? All you have to do is check out Mars Being Disarmed by Venus and the Three Graces from about a year before he died.

Perhaps the greatest Romantic period English author, Mary Shelley was born in 1797. Look, I know. Frankenstein is kind of slow by modern standards. But Shelley’s sense of plot and tempo is amazing. If you haven’t read the book, you really should do so. The movies, as much as I love them, are candy compared to the book. It is also, in addition to everything else, an indictment of who we are. The real monster in Frankenstein is not the creation of our modern Prometheus, but rather us.

The German chemist, one of the founders of physical chemistry, Jacobus Henricus van ‘t Hoff was born in 1852. Mathematician Carl David Tolme Runge of Runge–Kutta fame, was born in 1856. Russian landscape painter Isaac Levitan was born in 1860. The father of nuclear physics Ernest Rutherford was born in 1871.

Actor Fred MacMurray was born in 1909. He was really great at playing awful characters as he did in Double Indemnity and The Apartment. Baseball player Ted Williams was born in 1918. Abstract painter Guy de Lussigny was born in 1929. And writer Molly Ivins was born in 1944.

Slightly less than totally evil billionaire Warren Buffett is 83 today. Blues singer Jewel Brown is 76. Here she is doing “Did You Hear About Jerry” with Louis Armstrong’s band:

Comedian Lewis Black is 65, so we won’t be seeing him anymore. And actor Cameron Diaz is 41.

The day, however, belongs to the great cartoonist Robert Crumb who is 70 today. I don’t know what to say about him. I’ve admired him since I was very young. He has a very distinct style that is becoming less so because of his huge effect on the profession. But what most comes across is his extreme honesty. It is hard to read his first person work and not uncomfortably identify with him. But that probably says more about me than anything. I think there is something about being a skinny, shy, but opinionated guys that binds us together.

Quiet Study

Happy birthday Robert Crumb!

Wagging the Republican House

Wag the DogSince speculation seems to be the word of the day, I thought I would offer up some more. Is it possible that President Obama is trying to use Syria as a kind of “wag the dog” scenario? You may remember the modestly successful 1997 comedy Wag the Dog. It told the story of a president who is caught making advances to an under aged girl two weeks before the election. So the campaign brings on spin-doctor Conrad Brean, who stages a war to distract the people from the sex scandal.

I’m not suggesting that Obama wants to start a war to avoid a sex scandal or any scandal at all of his own making. Rather, wars have a tendency (in the beginning) to make people love the president. And if a war was going on, he could easily say to the Republicans, “Quit fucking around the raise the debt limit. We’re at war for Christ’s sake!” The fact that we are already at war in Afghanistan doesn’t really matter. That war’s a total clusterfuck, but no one mistakes it for something that Obama has to focus on lest it become even more of one.

The idea is wonderfully America. It would be saying, 120,000 Syrian civilians don’t mean a thing. But the government’s credit rating is at state, and well, them’s fightin’ words! So why not Syria? The use of chemical weapons is an outrage. (That’s why Bush Sr said very mean things when Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds!) And if world history teaches anything it is that leaders only need the tiniest of justifications for their invasions. Remember that when Germany invaded Poland, there really were people in Poland who welcomed them. They were liberators, not conquerors!

Any reasonable person would have to wonder how likely this scenario is. Not likely, I’m afraid. But I do think that it is frosting. It is a sweetener for something that the administration (for very poor reasons) thinks it ought to do. After all, it isn’t just that it will likely improve Obama’s approval rating and make the Republicans look like even bigger dicks than normal. It will also highlight the 5% sequester cuts that the military has suffered this year. On a domestic level, it has a lot to recommend it. It also answers Steve Benen’s question this morning, “It remains unclear why action must happen so quickly.”

Much of my reason for speculating about this comes from an excellent article that Matt Yglesias wrote yesterday, The Case for Doing Nothing in Syria. He sets out the case as clearly as one could for why war with Syria is madness. The argument for war is all about false framing:

I was in a meeting recently in Washington with a whole bunch of important people, when I heard a chilling phrase: Obama had “no good options” in Syria. It’s become a cliche. Aaron David Miller in a CNN commentary said there were “no good options” for dealing with the situation. Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast wonders if bombing Syria is America’s “best bad option.” This is how Washington talks itself into a war that has little public support and scant basis in facts or logic. It’s completely unclear how much military strikes will weaken Bashar al-Assad’s regime and also completely unclear to what extent a weaker Syrian regime serves American or humanitarian interests. Military engagement has potentially large downsides and essentially no upsides. But we can brush that all under the table with the thought that there are no good options, which makes it OK to endorse some shoddy ones.

Except, in this case, it’s total nonsense. Obama has an excellent option. It’s called “don’t bomb Syria.” Don’t fire cruise missiles at Syria either. Or in any other way conduct acts of war. Condemn Assad’s violations of international humanitarian law.

But as Steve Benen also reported this morning, “With this in mind, the likelihood of a U.S. military strike appears all but certain. Indeed, it’s not at all clear what could change President Obama’s mind.” And I’m just trying to figure out why.

Machine Guns, Starvation, and Chemical Weapons

Hyon Song-wolThere is a single report from one of South Korea’s biggest daily papers, Chosun Ilbo, that singer Hyon Song-wol was arrested and executed along with 11 other members of the Unhasu Orchestra and Wangjaesan Light Music Band. Hyon was once Kim Jong-un’s girlfriend, but his father put a stop to that. There have been rumors as of 2011, that the two had rekindled their affair, which doubtless would not have thrilled Kim’s new wife Ri Sol-ju.

The only reason I mention it is because news outlets here in the west seem to be focused on a single issue: the allegation that Hyon and the others were executed because they made and sold a sex tape. For example, Slate reported, Unconfirmed Report of the Day: Kim Jong-Un Had His Ex-Girlfriend Executed For Making a Sex Tape. The Global Post reported, Report Alleges Kim Jong Un’s Ex-Girlfriend, Hyon Song Wol, Executed by Firing Squad Over Porn Charges. And Huffington Post reported, Hyon Song Wol, Kim Jong Un’s Ex-Girlfriend, Reportedly Executed For Making Sex Tape.

I’m not suggesting that any of these reporters actually believe the allegations. But as Adam Martin at New York Magazine reported, also among the charges was “possessing Bibles.” And this all adds up: it sounds like just the kind of trumped up charges that autocrats love. This is right out of 1984. Remember how all of the confessions were exactly the same? And they all included deviant sexual practices and banned books.

None of this means that the story is true. On the one hand, this is a total cliche that goes right along with what we all think of autocrats. On the other hand, autocrats are total cliches that go right along with what we all think of them. So if you were going to make up a story, you would say that Hyon was arrested for sex tapes and Bibles. But if you were an autocrat, you would say that Hyon was arrested for sex tapes and Bibles. It is very hard to distinguish in this case.

Let me provide you with my wild-ass-guess that at least is grounded in a decent understanding character and narrative. Kim was apparently stepping out on his wife with Hyon. This no doubt displeased his wife. After the relationship cooled down, she insisted that Hyon “go away.” That could mean that she be killed. But I think equally likely that she be taken out of the public sphere—maybe on house arrest. Her absence could certainly generate lots of rumors about arrests, sex tapes, and machine gun executions.

Perhaps the most important point in this whole story is that it could all be true and it doesn’t matter to anyone outside of North Korea. It’s a reminder of just how horrible that government is. Of course, it is just an extreme example of where authoritarianism takes a country. There are lots and lots of examples of this same mentality in this country. It just that as of yet, we still have institutions and norms that prevent it from getting out of hand. But remember: North Korea is a theocracy. There are many in the United States who want a theocracy—just not that kind.

So what do we do about North Korea? Nothing. It has a stable government. It has the bomb. And most of all, it is only starving to death and machine gunning its citizens. It’s not like it’s using chemical weapons.


Here is Hyon Song-wol’s catchy hit, “Excellent Horse-Like Lady”:

Update (5 September 2014 7:35 pm)

According to Wikipedia, Hyon Song-wol appeared in public after this story broke. So thankfully she was not murdered.

Democrats Bad Debt Ceiling Strategy

Debt Ceiling CartoonIt seems that budget negotiations between the White House and Senate Republicans have broken down. This is part of the effort to avoid a government shutdown and then default. It’s kind of funny when you think about it. Why is the White House negotiating with Senate Republicans, when it is the Democrats who control the Senate? Oh, that’s right! Because Congress, the Senate in particular, is totally fucked up.

The problem in the negations is that the Republicans want to cut entitlement programs. The White House is fine with that, but they want corresponding tax increases in the form of reduced tax deductions. The Republicans will have none of it. Let us take a moment to think about how absurd this is. Our economy is in a bad state. So the Republican response: make it worse by cutting entitlements. The Democratic response: we will only make the economy worse if you agree to do even more damage by raising taxes!

The economics of this is very simple. Our economy is running below capacity. Businesses are not investing because there is not enough demand for their products. Think about it: why buy a new widget making machine if you already have more widget making machines than you need to keep up with the widgets that people are buying? As a result, there is a lot of money just sitting around. So lowering the amount of money that the government borrows is not going to increase the amount that businesses are borrowing. (Also note: businesses are currently sitting on huge piles of their own money.)

I don’t expect much from the Republicans. They don’t want to cut entitlements because they think it is good economic policy. They want to cut them because it takes money away from the poor and that is just what Republicans do. But I do expect something from the Democrats and this raising taxes obsession is madness. While it is true that taxing the wealthy will not have the deleterious effect that taking money away from the poor will, it is still bad for the economy right now. What’s more, it all seems so much like a game. When Obama got the Republicans to agree to a tax increase earlier this year, Democrats were triumphant. It wasn’t that it was good policy; it was simply that “Obama forced the Republicans!” Big deal.

From a political standpoint, this doesn’t make sense either. Let’s suppose that Obama got what he wanted: cuts to entitlements and raised taxes. The budget would pass through Congress with primarily Democratic votes. So in 2014, the Republicans would campaign on the fact that the Democrats cut Social Security and raised taxes. Brilliant guys!

Disrepecting Henry Bergh

Henry BerghOn this day in 1632, the father of classical liberalism, John Locke was born. He had a lot of good ideas, but many of his very bad (and wrong) economic ideas are still with us today. But I suppose that he can be forgiven. After all, conservatives would make up the ideas if they had to. And there was nothing in Locke’s own time to indicate just how wrong he was. That’s the thing about history. Locke really was liberal at the time he was working. But that was 350 years ago when we knew a lot less. Now conservatives hang onto 350 year old ideas that have been shown to be wrong. Yet they think that they are the ones who think outside the box.

The staggeringly great neoclassical painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres was born in 1780. He was very much a traditionalist and he fought hard against the Romantic movement. His great adversary in this fight was the equally great Eugene Delacroix. The funny thing is that Ingress still shows lots of Romantic influences. These philosophical fights always seem so minor from a distance. Here he is basically doing Mannerism:

Grande Odalisque

Poet Edward Carpenter was born in 1844. Inventor of the electric starter and (unfortunately) leaded gas, Charles Kettering was born in 1876. The film writer and director Preston Sturges was born in 1898. Here is a bit from my favorite of his films The Great McGinty:

The great heart surgeon Vivien Thomas was born in 1910. Actor Ingrid Bergman was born in 1915. Here she is in Casablanca:

Queen Bitch Richard Blackwell was born in 1922. The great singer Dinah Washington was born in 1924. Here she is doing Bessie Smith’s “Send Me to the Electric Chair”:

And Michael Jackson was born in 1958. He is terribly overrated. Just the same he was an incredible talent. I still like this stuff best:

Cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky (who did one of my favorites Theatre of Blood) is 101 today. Director Richard Attenborough is 90. Not at all maverick John McCain is 77. Actor Elliott Gould is 75. Strong dollar idiot Robert Rubin is also 75. Really bad director Joel Schumacher is 74. Here’s an example of his work:

And Jack Lew is 58. I only mention it so I can show you this:

Jack Lew's Signature

The day, however, belongs to the great founder of the ASPCA, Henry Bergh who was born on this day in 1811. Three years ago, I compared him very favorably to Don Quixote, “Bergh spent the next twenty-two years of his life daily going about New York personally stopping animal cruelty—even arresting people and taking them to jail. If he saw a horse-pulled train that was over-crowed, he would stop it and force the riders to get off. Henry Bergh was a Victorian Don Quixote, in the sense of one man out to right wrongs, no matter what the odds.”

Unfortunately, Bergh is nothing but an icon to the ASPCA today. What the group now does is kill animals by the millions. And this is what it has become:

All of this should not stop you from giving to pet shelters. But please help a no kill shelter. Otherwise, you are just buying lawyers and lethal injections. I can assure you that that is what Henry Bergh would have wanted.

Happy birthday Henry Bergh!

What Starbucks and Whole Foods Have in Common

StarbucksIf I have to take a $10 per hour job, I do hope at least the title is something like “grunt,” “shitheal,” or the more accurate “serf.” Please don’t let it be something like “barista,” which sounds vaguely European and thus respectable. The issue comes up because Will just sent me an article in the Huffington Post, Former Starbucks Barista, Fired After Eating From Trash. It tells the story of Coulson Loptmann, a 21 year old “barista” who was fired after fishing a breakfast sandwich out of the trash to eat. This is what Starbucks calls stealing. Apparently, it is what Starbucks employees call a “benefit.”

Normally, companies have rules about taking things out of the trash because they are afraid that employees will put them in the trash for the reason of taking them out of the trash. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. In fact, although Starbucks said first that Loptmann was fired because this was “stealing” they now claim it was wrong because it violated health codes. Also: it was just the last straw and the young “barista” was a terrible employee, a fact released only after Starbucks started getting bad press over the firing.

The whole thing is corporate think from top to bottom. At most places that sell food, free food is one of the benefits of working. But at a corporate business, this is a no no, because they’ve worked out just how many dollars they lose from such behavior over the eternity that corporations exist. It’s big money and employees are only resources, no more and (Thankfully!) no less than the jar of mayonnaise.

The Post article also mentions a similar story where Whole Foods fired an employee for taking a tuna sandwich out of the trash. How proud the people at these companies must be! I mean, in the high tech world that I’m familiar with, people are paid enough that they would never go looking for food in the trash. But at these two companies, this seems to be common. And what exactly ties Starbucks and Whole Foods together? I’ll tell you: (1) they are really expensive and (2) they pay their employees really badly. I guess there is a third thing that binds them: their clientele are mostly the upper middle class who would not like the idea of the employees being paid so poorly, but not enough to drive a block out of their way to go to a local place.

I am willing to grant everything to these companies. Loptmann probably was a terrible employee. It really is wrong for employees to take food out of the garbage. But what I’m not willing to grant them is that they pay their employees a reasonable salary. I’m far more accepting of Walmart: they pay poorly, but at least they provide good prices. I get better prices at my local health food store than I do at Whole Foods. So all I can figure is that the employees of Starbucks and Whole Food are not sharing in the profits. It must be a good time to own Starbucks and Whole Foods. But it is not a good time for any liberal minded person to frequent these businesses.