Don Cervantes

Jauregui's Cervantes - not actually CervantesOn this day in 1571, the great Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio was born. He was only 38 when he died, but he was hugely influential on the path of painting. Yet he was all but forgotten after his death. It has only been in the last century that he has been given his due. He was a wonderful painter regardless.

The great Jerry Lee Lewis is 78 today. Here he is doing “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On”:

Other birthdays: the great novelist Elizabeth Gaskell (1865); largely wrong economist Ludwig von Mises (1881); the great physicist Enrico Fermi (1901); novelist James Fogle (1936); actor Madeline Kahn (1942); actor Ian McShane (71); the great television composer Mike Post (69); and comedian Robert Webb (41).

The day, however, belongs to the man who not only invented the modern novel, he invented the postmodern novel: Miguel de Cervantes who was born sometime around this day in 1547. I’ve read a couple of biographies about him and I can tell you this: we don’t know much about him. But the man clearly loved poetry. And yet, he really wasn’t that good a poet. What I don’t think he ever appreciated enough is just what a great wit he was. It isn’t just in Don Quixote. His Ocho Cemedias would be hysterical if performed. And even the Novelas Ejemplares are funny. But it seemed to be so much a part of who he was that he didn’t focus on it.

He also had a remarkable life. While coming back from war, he was captured and enslaved for five years, during which time he attempted to escape 4 times—some of the attempts quite daring and involved. But he never really used the experiences in his work—at least not in an autobiographical way. Again, I think it was too much a part of him. As a result, I always imagine him as a very introverted man who perhaps didn’t have the best notion of what was going on in the “objective” world. But he certainly created much great literature.

Let me explain what I mean when I say he invented the postmodern novel. In the first book of Don Quixote, he claims just to be someone who found these true histories of this amazing man Don Quixote. But then, in the second book, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza—the actual people the story was written about—become famous because of the first book. That is some seriously twisted life imitating art imitating life. It is wonderfully charming and funny.

Happy birthday Miguel de Cervantes!

CEOs Know Nothing of the Economy

Paul StebbinsPaul Krugman is unhappy. Lydia DePillis at Wonk Blog wrote another one of those horrible interviews with people no one cares about, “Shame on us”: How Businesses Brought the Debt Limit Mess Onto Themselves. It is with Paul Stebbins, who we are supposed to care about because he is the CEO of 74th company on the Fortune 100. But he’s really being interviewed because he’s a representative of Fix the Debt, the Pete Peterson funded group determined to cut the deficit by taking money away from the old and poor.

Krugman is upset because Stebbins shows a typical lack of understanding about economics and politics. He notes that Stebbins thinks that the economic problems we have come from our government debt. “You get the sense that he’s completely unaware of the actual debates that have taken place about economic policy, probably unaware of how much the actual deficit and forecasts of future debt have changed. So he’s angry at Washington for not facing up to a fake problem.” That’s absolutely true. What’s more, the deficit scolds that Peterson funds have not celebrated the fact that the federal deficit has cratered. Part of the problem is as Krugman claims: they don’t even know that it has happened. But the other part is that they don’t care about the deficit; they just want to use it as an excuse to cut entitlement programs.

Stebbins is also wrong on the politics. As Krugman characterizes him, “The AARP, fighting against cuts to benefits, is just like Republicans threatening to plunge us into debt crisis if Obama doesn’t kill health reform.” But the actual quote from Stebbins is helpful:

Because their reality is, the Club for Growth is telling every single Republican member of Congress “we’re going to raise $5 million to beat you in a primary if you even mention the word revenue.” And AARP is telling every Democratic member of Congress, “If you even mention the word entitlement reforms,” which is all that throw grandma into the snow stuff, “we’re going to raise $5 million and beat you in a primary.”

Put aside the “throw grandma into the snow” comment, which says about all you need to know about how Stebbins thinks of the needs of the poor and old. And also ignore the fact that the AARP is really not in the primarying business—Congressional Democrats don’t get liberal primary challenges very often. What is most important is that Stebbins frames the debate as though he alone is in the reasonable center. He has created a continuity: on one side there are tax increases and on the other is cutting entitlements for the poor. Since Fix the Debt wants to do both, that makes them the heroes because everyone knows the truth is right down the middle. Of course, when it comes right down to it, the deficit scolds are for cutting social security and raising taxes on the middle class. The last thing these people want to do is cause even the slightest amount of pain for the rich.

But there is a more fundamental issue in all of this. Why does the Washington Post think that the CEO of a large business knows any more about the economy on a macro scale than anyone else? And even if he did know something about it, wouldn’t we have to worry that his business interests would cloud an objective judgement? And wouldn’t that be more so the bigger the company was? This is a big part of the problem with media coverage of the economy: it is presented through the lens of big business. Every day on the news, we hear how the stock market did. We almost never hear how workers’ wages are doing. (Now that would be a depressing segment each night!)

I wouldn’t mind if Stebbins were being interviewed about trends in transportation fuels. As the CEO of a company that does that, he might have something useful to say. But he apparently can’t say anything about the economy generally without simply repeated long refuted talking points. But it’s worse than that. He is also someone who testifies before Congress with the same ignorant certainty as when he talks to Washington Post reporters. Is it any wonder that our nation is so screwed up?

Afterword

I’ve been ending a lot of articles that way. The truth is that the government shutdown and Debt Ceiling crisis are really having an impact on me. And it seems that it doesn’t much matter how badly the Republican Party (With lots of help from the Democrats!) drives the economy into the ground, the people will continue to ignore it. But maybe they are the smart ones, because it doesn’t seem to much matter what we do. But we could at least vote the worst ones out of office.

Republican Obamacare Corruption

Lee FangAs I point out a lot, conservatives are against Obamacare because it raises taxes on the rich. There is no more to it. One of the main ones is a new excise tax on certain medical devices. Companies that make and import medical devices hate this 2.5% tax. So they have been lobbying Congress hard. And guess what? It’s working! Yesterday, the House voted for a continuing resolution that delays Obamacare for one year and permanently repeals a tax on medical devices.

Lee Fang at The Nation wrote a great article yesterday, Tea Party Lawmaker Letter on Med Device Tax Repeal Authored by Lobby Group. As he reports, after the Republicans took over the house at the start of 2011, 75 Tea Party House members wrote a letter to Boehner in which they demanded that the medical device tax be repealed. Clearly, this was not about the people and their freedom to get the Best Healthcare in the World.™

But Fang has more to report than this. He looked at the metadata on the document and under “author” it said, “Ryan Strandlund.” Who is he? A congressman? A congressional staffer? Of course not! He is “a member of AdvaMed’s government affairs team.” And AdvaMed (Advanced Medical Technology Association) is a lobbying group for the medical device industry. But there’s more! Until recently, Boehner’s deputy chief of staff was Brett Loper—a former AdvaMed lobbyist. (In June, he went back to lobbying in an official capacity.)

Fang points out that the medical device industry is not hurting. They already pay a very low tax rate. But it is worse than he says. By increasing the number of people who have insurance, there will be more demand for medical devices. So the medical device manufacturers should be happy: more business and more profits. What I don’t like about Obamacare is that it forces citizens to buy into a ridiculously expensive private insurance market. This is a huge giveaway too all of the people in the healthcare industry. But despite this, the businesses who are getting major help from the government are upset when the government asks them to give the smallest amount back.

Again, however, the issue is not the business community. It is supposed to be evil. The problem is that the government is not supposed to do the bidding of the business community. It is supposed to be looking out for the best interests of the nation. Sometimes, those interests are the same. But in this case they aren’t. In the feeble minds of the Tea Party caucus, the business community is America. It is the same old myth that what is good for GM is good for America. These 75 Tea Party legislators should be tried for treason—well, at least corruption.

Fred Henhouse, RIP

Fred HenhouseOn or about Sunday morning 29 September 2013, our favorite chicken Fred Henhouse died. Her mangled body was found in the next door neighbor’s yard.

Only last night, I heard her make her nightly trip to the truck where she had taken to sleeping on top of the muffler. I was concerned because she made far more noise than usual. After a while, I checked on her and nothing seemed out of the ordinary except that she was just standing under the truck.

Because I was worried, at around 9:00 last night I went outside and checked the truck. She was not in her usual place. This was not a cause of great concern, however; she slept in the backyard some times. We had hoped to build her a hen house given that the truck is not always available when she was ready for sleep. (Based upon Fred’s behavior, chickens are early to bed and early to rise.)

This morning at about 8:00, a neighbor from across the street came by and told us that Fred appeared to be dead. We found her next door. She had been largely eaten. And the ants were then having their turn. It was suggested that an opossum might have killed Fred. We do have a large community of opossums here, but the very idea is ridiculous. Opossum are very gentle animals who only eat larger animals who are found dead. It could have been raccoons, but even that seems unlikely. I figure it was a dog, but for all I know it could have been a car. The one thing that seems unlikely is that Fred was ill and died, only to be discovered by other animals. She seemed fine yesterday—and as fast as always.

We buried Fred in our backyard this morning. It was a solemn, if secular, ceremony. She will be missed.