Possible Outcomes of Debt Ceiling Crisis

Tea Party?What if the United States government shutdown and the House Republicans didn’t care? I mean, really: even after a month they didn’t care. They thought it was great! Maybe it would be a good chance to shake up those 47% senior citizens living the easy life with their $1,000 monthly pensions! I really do wonder, because now a government shutdown seems all but inevitable. And I’ve begun to wonder if I wasn’t wrong before about it quickly resolving itself.

An even bigger concern is that the government shutdown will go this way. The press and business communities will freak out. Boehner will go to his caucus and say, “This is bad for us.” Then he will offer them what he’s been offering all along, “Pass the continuing resolution and then we’ll push our case over the Debt Ceiling.” My hope was that a government shutdown would scare the Republicans away from the Debt Ceiling showdown. But now I think a government shutdown is at least as likely to lead to a Debt Ceiling crisis.

The current situation reminds me very much of the film The Rock. John Boehner is General Hummel, who is trying to blackmail the government but has no intention of killing the hostage (basically, the people of San Francisco). “This mission was based on a threat of force. I’m not about to kill 80,000 innocent people. Do you think I’m out of my fucking mind?!” I’m afraid that it will all play out as it does in the movie. Right after giving that speech, the others mutiny and soon everyone is dead.

It is not like a government default is all bad. As I’ve noted before, it will most likely destroy the Republican Party as a going concern. And Adam Davidson offers an even better silver lining in, Our Debt to Society. He argues that defaulting on our debt will cause other countries to stop seeing the dollar as a reserve currency. This will devalue the dollar. That would be great! It would increase the cost of imported goods and lower the cost of exported goods. It would create a hiring boom and do a lot to help our flagging manufacturing sector.

Of course, the rich hate such an idea. For those who already have lots of dollars, seeing them go down in value is a bad thing. But a lower valued dollar is just what the doctor ordered. Currently, we import more than we export. Normally, this offset would be fixed by our dollar sinking in value compared to the money of the countries we are importing from. But because of the United States’ role in providing the reserve currency, our dollar stays artificially high. (It is also the case that since the Clinton administration, the government has tried to keep the dollar overvalued because it cares a whole lot more about the rich than the poor.)

The other side of default is that Thomas Frank may be right in The Wrecking Crew. In that book, he argues that the Republicans keep political advantage by destroying everything whenever they are in power. They run up big debts so that when a Democrat gets into the White House, he has to work on the debt rather than improving social programs and the economy. (I don’t think they actually have to, but that’s a subject for another day.) The truth is that a government default would increase government borrowing costs. This would put yet more pressure on the government to cut services. So even if the Republicans get booted out of power, the conservative movement could be the ultimate winner.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I know that disruption is usually a bad thing, regardless of how things get sorted out in the end. And I really feel that the Republicans are more serious about this fight than is good for a democracy.

Three Great Williams: Will, Carlos, Hank

William Carlos WilliamsIf I had to name the greatest songwriter of the 20th century, it would be Chuck Berry. But the second best would have to go to Hank Williams who was born on this day in 1923. Of course, I have a soft spot for people like Williams who are great artists but not so good at life. In his case, though, I think he had a lot of physical problems and pain—things that were never really diagnosed much less treated. (The same is true of Charlie Parker, whose birthday I seem to have missed!) In the end, he did not die from drugs but from bum heart. The Wikipedia page notes (without reference or argument) that this was “exacerbated by pills and alcohol.” Such is the level of thinking about drugs that everyone just “knows” that alcohol would make his heart worse. I’m curious how that would work.

Still, he left us a great songbook: “Move it on Over”; “Lovesick Blues”; “Why Don’t You Love Me”; “Cold, Cold Heart”; “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)”; and “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” And of course, there is “Hey Good Lookin'”:

The great novelist Ken Kesey was born in 1935. He was an interesting guy. He only left us two novels, but they were both great: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion. The remaining 37 years of his life, he just fiddled around. And why not? It seems like he was having a great time. My problem with J. D. Salinger is that he was a recluse except when he was out trolling for young co-eds. And maybe it’s just a generational think, but I never engaged with The Catcher in the Rye, but I very much did with Kesey’s novels. Plus: Kesey’s novels are distinctly more filling. Of course, we know that Kesey must have been a lot of fun to hang around with—whether you were a pretty young girl or not.

Other notable birthdays: Justice Warren Burger (1907); actor Roddy McDowall (1928); actor Anne Bancroft (1931); the great comedic actor John Ritter (1948); novelist Mary Stewart (97); Justice David Souter (74); and film director Bryan Singer (48).

The day, however, belongs to the great poet William Carlos Williams who was born on this day in 1883. Unlike other great poets of that time like T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, Williams is joyously devoid of uncomfortable political overtones. To me, what is most important about his work is how he manages to plug into the musical nature of everyday speech. Especially in the twentieth century, there has been a tendency among poets to neglect the sound of their work. To me, it doesn’t much matter what else is going on, if it doesn’t sound interesting, it doesn’t work. For all my dislike of E. E. Cummings, he clearly enjoys playing with the sound of his words. Of course, Williams is more than just sound. He was a keen observer of life and there is a kind of stark spirituality to it that I greatly admire. But that may come out of my great interest in his earlier work.

I’m sure you know “The Red Wheelbarrow,” so I won’t bore you with it, even though I find it eternally fascinating. Instead, here is “The Dark Day,” which is from the same period (from Sour Grapes):

A three-day-long rain from the east—
an interminable talking, talking
of no consequence—patter, patter, patter.
Hand in hand little winds
blow the thin streams aslant.
Warm. Distance cut off. Seclusion.
A few passers-by, drawn in upon themselves,
hurry from one place to another.
Winds of the white poppy! there is no escape!—
An interminable talking, talking,
talking… it has happened before.
Backward, backward, backward.

I never have much to say about Williams’ best work. I just feel that I enter its world. In this, I like the image of people “drawn in upon themselves.” I’ve never given it much thought, but that is how people walk the rain—especially a rain that has gone on so long that everything is soaked. There is also the great sense of being inside, watching what goes on outside. We are insulated except for the “interminable talking, talking, talking.” But I don’t pretend to understand it all. I have no idea what he means about the white poppy. I’m even unclear about the ending, except for the vague notion that with endless repetition time could as easily go backward as forward.

Happy birthday William Carlos Williams!

Fox News Is Destroying Democracy

Fox Not NewsI just watched the end of today’s Special Report with Bret Baier. For those not familiar, the show ends with a discussion amongst commentators. The star is Charles Krauthammer. And it is clear why he is such a big deal among conservatives. Compared to the knee jerk Obama haters, he comes off like a fucking sage. Baier himself stays above the fray. This allows him to say, at the end of show, immediately after the commentators, “That’s Special Report for this time, please tune us in next time, and in the meantime, more news is on the way—fair, balanced and unafraid.”

The other two commentators were Weekly Standard columnist Stephen Hayes and then some blond female commentator. (It’s hard to keep them straight on Fox News!) What was most evident with them was how they were against whatever Obama did. Most of the segment was about how Obama gave a “political” speech about how we shouldn’t shut the government down when the Navy Yard shooting had not worked itself out of media’s focus. It was really amazing because there is absolutely no doubt that whatever Obama said or did or did not say or did not do, they would have complained. But not to worry, because it was “fair, balanced, and unafraid.”

Watching a little of what used to be Shepard Smith’s show, I was amazed at the unrelenting negative tone about everything going on in the country. It isn’t that I don’t largely agree with the feeling. But the not at all subtle subtext was, “Things suck because of that Kenyan socialist in the White House!” There are other aspects of the slanting of the news. In particular, there is simply the choice of what stories to run. If you don’t normally watch Fox News, you really should do it now and then. Stories that aren’t even in the mainstream press are huge and stories that are huge in the mainstream press don’t even get covered on Fox.

Whenever Bill O’Reilly comes on The Daily Show, he claims that Fox News is “fair and balanced” when it comes to the “straight news” guys like Baier and Smith. And Jon Stewart lets him get away with it! The reality is just the opposite. At least the “opinion” shows are explicitly that. The “straight news” shows are supposedly objective but they are 100% pernicious propaganda 100% of the time.

I have often been inclined to think that Fox News doesn’t matter. After all, it is only preaching to the choir. But it really does do a lot of damage. It makes people (mostly old) reflexively conservative. It trains people to not only suspect the government but also any media outlet that isn’t explicitly conservative. I see it on this website. I work very hard to at least understand all sides of the issues. But I get commenters who have clearly only ever gotten information from conservative radio, blogs, and television. For example, there are loads of people around who are sure that inflation is being misreported because they’ve seen the price of milk increase. These are probably not idiots, but they are people who have been conditioned to believe that there is only one Truth and that truth comes from the likes of Fox News.

In 1787 I’m Told Our Founding Fathers Did Agree

Constitutional Convention 1787

Okay, it is Constitution Day, which celebrates the adoption of the United States Constitution in 1787—that’s 226 years ago! I know that there are a lot of people who think that the Constitution is frozen in time because life today is so very similar to life 226 years ago. And a lot of other people think that the Constitution consists entirely of the Second Amendment. Like Mark Kessler, who is running for sheriff to “be on top of getting the constitution back into the courthouse and prevent the libtards from trampling over my rights and your rights to own guns to.”

One of my greatest disappointments as an American is that on the right, people have turned the Constitution into a religious document. The founding fathers were not gods. The document was not divinely inspired. And above all else, it is not now and never was a perfect document. But it has served us pretty well over the years, and I’m certain it will continue to do so. Of course, I don’t think it is quite up to the challenges that we face going forward. Perhaps after 226 years, it is time to rework it.

But in celebration of Constitution Day and all that the document has meant and all that it continues to mean, I present “Schoolhouse Rock”:

H/T: Ed Kilgore

America’s Terrorist Gunpowder Keg

Gunpowder KegIf America has the seeds of home grown terrorism, it is not in the form of radicalized Muslims. It is in the form of our gun culture—specifically, those at the far edge of it; those who consider themselves “libertarian” and “constitutionalist.” I don’t see there being any problem with your average guy who likes to enjoy nature by killing the animals in it. That’s a thing that people like to do. I don’t get it, but I sort of see the way it works. It is like dogs chasing after cats. Dogs don’t hate cats, but it is fun to chase after things that are hard to catch. That’s the basis of most video games. When it comes to American gun culture, that is the vast majority.

What is of concern are those who think they must have guns to protect themselves from a tyrannical government. Before discussing them, let’s start by noting just how delusional these people are with regard to their potential success. Among these kinds of people, Randy Weaver is a hero, even though he was a very dangerous bigot. But they respect him because he “stood up” to the ATF. But if the government was really all that tyrannical, it would have just bombed the compound and that would have been that. Yes, these people could do some minor damage if they used guerrilla tactics, but it would be limited. If you allow a society to get to the point of armed conflict, you’ve already lost.

What greatly concerns me is what these people are claiming with their rights to armed revolt. What is it that justifies them to start killing other people? Would universal background checks be enough? Or would it take concentration camps for registered gun owners? Based upon the rhetoric of the supposedly mainstream National Rifle Association, it is much closer to universal background checks. And that’s frightening. Because just about no matter how you look at it, that would be terrorism.

It doesn’t help that the American media and government allow the public to think that Islamic terrorists just hate us. There’s little acknowledgement that these people at the very least feel aggrieved. They think they are fighting tyranny. So such American terrorists could blithely assume that they weren’t terrorists because they had a grievance. I don’t think most people would doubt our drone killing of innocent children is a more just reason for an terrorist than the fact that the government is limiting the supply of large capacity magazine clips.

So I really do worry what would throw these supposed freedom fighters over the edge. The whole Oklahoma City bombing did push many back from the precipice. But that memory seems to have faded. Since Obama took office, I’ve heard a lot more talk of tyranny. This is interesting when you consider how quiet it was during the Bush administration. But in a sense, the two administrations work together. Bush convinced them that there really was an existential threat to the United States. And Obama (because he’s a Kenyan socialist) convinced them that he was that threat.

These people really represent a terrorist gunpowder keg, just waiting for anything to set them off. But you can be certain the mainstream media won’t call them terrorists, because clearly, they don’t hate us for our freedom.

Krugman Does Magritte!

Paul KrugmanThis morning, Paul Krugman posted an article, This Is Not a Crisis. What he’s getting at is the claim by conservatives that we must do something about our “out of control spending!” As I am always quick to point out: Republicans Don’t Care About Economy. They only use it as an excuse to cut social programs for the poor.

Krugman wrote: “[W]e are nowhere near fiscal crisis; we aren’t even looking at anything like a fiscal crisis 15 or 20 years from now. So budget deficits, entitlement reform, and all that simply don’t deserve to be policy priorities, let alone dominate the national discussion the way they did for the past few years.” And of course, he’s exactly right. The problem isn’t so much the Republicans, however. We know what they are about. The problem is the long history of the supposedly liberal Democrats fretting about budget deficits. It’s no wonder we are arguing this point on the Republicans’ terrain; there is no other terrain allowed in polite company.

But what most struck me in the article had nothing to do with politics and economics. After the article title, “This is not a crisis,” he presented this image:

CBO Federal Debt

Then he followed it when this, “It’s not even a picture of a crisis.” That’s classic Krugman. It’s an obscure joke. He’s referring to the Rene Magritte painting The Treachery of Images:

The Treachery of Images

Written on the painting is, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” In English, it is, “This is not a pipe.” And indeed, it is not a pipe; it is a picture of a pipe.

Oh, you are a droll one, Dr. Krugman!