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.

Afterword

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!