Inequality for All

Robert ReichRobert Reich has a film out, Inequality For All. It looks really good. But I’m afraid it will be a while before I get to see it. Unlike John Dies at the End, Inequality For All is not available to stream. It is, however, getting better distribution. If I could get to Berkeley or San Francisco, I could see it. Nothing like this ever comes to Santa Rosa. That’s interesting, because Santa Rosa is a reasonably liberal town. But the only documentaries like this that make it here are conservative claptrap like Dinesh D’Souza’s 2016: Obama’s America. Of course, that film disappeared almost immediately, indicating that no one here cared to see it. But the rich people who own our multiplex sure wanted to push it. But a liberal documentary about income inequality? Not so much.

In the trailer below, it is clear that the film combines the two things that I most love about Reich: humor and insight. It even includes a very short bit of video where Bill O’Reilly says that Reich is a communist. That’s a perfect example of the revolutionary use of language: make words meaningless. If Reich is a communist, what is Stalin? A double plus bad communist? But O’Reilly is right to fear Reich because he does stand for everything that O’Reilly has spent his career fighting against: equality, opportunity, justice. But it is more than just ideology; it is also style. O’Reilly is a bully who shouts and intimidates in order to get his way. Reich uses his considerable charm and enormous knowledge to make his points.

Unfortunately, raging on live television will draw 3 million viewers per night. Robert Reich has no such outlet. So it is great that this documentary is making its way around the country. Thus far, the reviews for it have been very good. Currently Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 93% fresh rating. So hopefully it will get some big awards and get a larger audience. I can’t speak for the film, but certainly Robert Reich deserves that. And so does the country.

Afterword

I saw on the O’Reilly Sucks blog that last night he was pushing the most pernicious bit of false equivalence. He claims that both sides have their complaints, “So President Obama and the Republican leadership must sit down and hammer out a deal. Those who will not compromise will be hurting the country and the American people will know just who they are.” But that is the whole thing. If you say that it is acceptable to shutdown the government over an irrelevant policy, then you are siding with the Republicans. But of course, O’Reilly puts it in a way that sounds reasonable and even handed. Also note: Obama can’t negotiate with John Boehner. Boehner doesn’t have control of the Republicans. So even if it were the right thing to do, it would be useless.

Bill O’Reilly Kills Jesus

Killing JesusIf there is one man alive who I associate with the Prince of Peace, it is Bill O’Reilly. But I associate him as more the anti-Christ. I don’t say that because he is such a bad guy, even though he is. It is just that he is the most prominent rageaholic in America. At the same time, I know he considers himself a good Catholic. So I was very interested to hear that he was writing a book on the life of Jesus. What would his take on the subject be?

For those who do not spend much time thinking about Christianity, a book on the life of Jesus probably sounds strange. After all, isn’t that what the Bible is all about? Well, not really. First, there are only four books of the Bible that specifically talk about Jesus’ life—the four Gospels: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. And they aren’t exactly what you would call histories. To begin with, they build on each other. First came Mark, then Matthew rewrote Mark. Increasingly, it looks like the theoretical Q document that Matthew and Luke supposedly used in combination with Mark didn’t exist after all. Instead, it looks like Luke is just a rewrite of Matthew. John, is mostly independent of those Gospels and comes out of the ongoing fight of the early Christian church to separate itself from the Jewish church. It is also the antisemitic Gospel, much beloved by Mel Gibson.

What’s also true is that like most of the rest of the Bible, the Gospels contradict each other. For example, in one, Jesus was crucified next to two thieves. In another, it was one thief. In the other two, it was none of them. What’s more, almost all of the stories in the Gospels are clearly didactic. They are little narrative designed to teach a lesson. This is why, for example, the apostles are such idiots. They never learn from one story to the next. As a result of this, there really is a need to have one story of the life of Jesus. The problem is, as Albert Schweitzer noted, pretty much everyone comes up with a “historical Jesus” that just so happens to be the Jesus they want.

So what would a truly awful person like Bill O’Reilly come up with in his new book, Killing Jesus: a History? I have no intention of reading the book, of course. I actually like these kinds of books. For example, The Historical Jesus: Five Views is an exceptional book, which presents views from the most liberal to the most conservative. But O’Reilly is no scholar and his book never would have been published if he weren’t a famous guy with a lot of fans who will buy any nonsense he sells. Still, I wanted to know, even if I suspected that I had a good take on what he would have to say. O’Reilly wasn’t going to present a hippy “love thy neighbor” Jesus; that was for sure.

Luckily, New Testament scholar Candida Moss, in an act similar to that of Jesus, suffered for the good of all of us: she read the book. Her review can be summed up in one sentence, “The single most consistent social teaching in the New Testament is that Christians must support the poor, widows, and orphans, but this hardly gets a mention in Killing Jesus.” But the truth is even more amusing. O’Reilly thinks that Jesus’ mission was to save the people from the evils of high taxes:

The basic argument of the book is that Jesus died because he interfered with the taxation-heavy Roman revenue stream. The reason the Jews eagerly anticipated the Messiah, writes O’Reilly, is, “When that moment arrives, Rome will be defeated and their lives will be free of taxation and want.” …

O’Reilly argues that Temple taxes and profits from the moneychangers were back-channeled to Rome. Thus when Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers he “interrupted the flow of funds from the Temple to Rome.” …

Even if Jesus’ actions had been all about taxes, he died protesting a skeletal taxation system that privileged the rich. Wealthy citizens were exempt from most taxes altogether, non-citizens paid a flat-rate poll tax regardless of income, the property tax was 1 percent, and the money from taxes was used to build roads and fund the military. It’s not like the Romans did anything obscene like tend to the poor.

Moss discusses other things that O’Reilly gets wrong. She notes how he uses very late Christian traditions where it suits him. I recommend reading the whole article. But this bit about Mary Magdalene is particularly great:

Women do less well in O’Reilly’s Biblical world. Following Sunday-school tradition, Mary Magdalene is identified as the prostitute who anointed the feet of Jesus with oil. That’s not in the Bible. This is a fifth-century error that originates with Gregory the Great.

Unfortunate, especially considering that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ patron. Imagine opening your home and checkbook to support a fledging religious group only to have history remember you as a prostitute. Slut shaming: it’s not just a modern phenomenon.

O’Reilly has done the world a great favor with this book. A lot of liberals I know don’t understand how it is that supposed Christians can be conservative when Jesus was all about helping the poor. The answer is in this book. Any text can be read in countless ways. So people like O’Reilly just minimize anything that goes against what they want to hear. And then they focus on what they do want to hear. In O’Reilly’s case, he not only focuses on the moneychangers; he creates a back story out of whole cloth to turn the Prince of Peace into “Grover Norquist: Tax Reformer.”

GOP Demands Are Extortion

Debt CeilingThere is big outrage from Republicans after White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said Thursday that the White House was all for budget negotiations, “What we’re not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest.” Republicans claimed that Pfeiffer was saying they were terrorists. That’s not really true. A terrorist just, for example, gets on a bus with a bomb and sets it off. This is more akin to a normal extortionist who goes into a bank with a bomb and says, “Give me all your money or I will blow us all up.”

Obama cheerleaders Steve Benen and Greg Sargent both accept the terrorist framing, however. And they think it is wrong for the administration to use such language. But really: aren’t we just splitting hairs regardless? Tea Party TerroristTo me, a suicide bomber who kills only one other person is every bit as much a terrorist as the guys who brought the World Trade Center towers down. And there is really no difference between these people who were set on killing people for some political goal and someone who is trying to extort money. After all, the tactic of terrorism is to create a generalized feeling of fear that something bad could happen at any time.

So I’m not sure that what the Republicans are doing is not a form of terrorism. Just look at the images that I’ve been using over the past two years to accompany articles about the Debt Ceiling. They all relate to extortion—the threat of violence if the Republicans don’t get what they want. But regardless of whether Pfeiffer implied that the Republicans were terrorists, his analogy is absolutely correct.

Boehner with Uncle Sam as HostageI understand the instinct among people like Sargent and Benen to keep the conversation civilized. But this is a mistake when dealing with extremists. It’s interesting that conservatives are the first people to ridicule anyone who tries to “appease” someone like Assad. That may well be because they understand well that they themselves can’t be appeased. The history of the last five years has shown very clearly that Obama only gets cooperation from the Republicans when he stands strong. When he shows any hint of weakness or any tendency to save them from themselves, they go for the kill. So it is a mistake for any journalists, but liberal journalists most especially, to treat these Republican extortion attempts as anything else.

Debt Ceiling NegotiationsI don’t understand how the current Republican demand for concessions in exchange for not crashing the economy is different from the bomb carrying bank robber. I’m open to correction. In both cases, however, each party does not want the bad thing to happen. But in order for that not to happen, one part must do things for the other that they would never do under normal (non-extortion) circumstances. It may not be terrorism (and Pfeiffer never said it was), but it is extortion, and it is wrong.

When Extreme Isn’t Extreme Enough

Tea Party Terrorist

Guess who said the following: “Congress consistently brings the government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility. This brinkmanship threatens the holder of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits.” Ronald Reagan. But as David Horsey says, “The current crop of congressional Republicans have more in common with the Weather Underground of the 1960s than they do with traditional Republicans, including the man they claim to venerate, Ronald Reagan.” Of course, let’s not hold up Ronald Reagan as a kind of ideal. If the Democrats hadn’t given him his enormous tax cuts, he might have been leading the charge for a government default. The main thing, though, is that a serious threat of a government default was always unthinkable—at least up to two years ago.

Last night, Politico reported some amazing news, House Republicans Lack Votes to Move Plan to Raise Debt Ceiling. Let me put this in perspective. Remember yesterday when I reported on the Ridiculous GOP Debt Ceiling “Plan”? This was the House Republicans’ laundry list of every policy they’ve ever wanted: Obamacare delay, tax cuts, entitlement cuts, more oil drilling, and even an end to net neutrality. John Boehner couldn’t get his caucus to agree to that.

According to the article, the Republicans didn’t think there was enough in terms of deficit reduction. It reported, “Conservatives complained that it lacked specific spending cuts and failed to tackle entitlement reform.” But not to worry! Representative Tom Cole said the leadership was tinkering with the bill. And Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers said they were working on the exact timing for the vote.

This is madness! They know that there are three stages to this process: the House, the Senate, and the president. Creating and passing a ridiculously conservative bill is not going to go anywhere. This is the very definition of political theater. I guess even the House Republican leadership thinks that pretending to legislate is good enough. If Boehner had any power whatsoever, he would be explaining to his caucus now is not the time for wish lists. Now is the time to put together a bill that might have some chance of actually becoming a law.

But I don’t suppose I have any room to expect more. This is the group that has voted 41 times to repeal Obamacare. Getting actual work done doesn’t seem to matter at all to them. But now we are at a point where something actually needs to be done. And that means they need a leader. Unfortunately, they have John Boehner, who is probably perfectly competent under most circumstances. But he is clearly no good at dealing with these idiotic and immature Representatives.

This will not end well.

Media Could Make Default Much Worse

Debt Ceiling CartoonJonathan Chait wrote a really good article this morning, The Debt-Ceiling Showdown Is the Fight of Obama’s Life. In it, he argues that Obama cannot negotiate on the Debt Ceiling. Even giving the Republicans nothing but a symbolic concession would be catastrophic, because it would just set up another blackmail opportunity for the Republicans the next time that the Debt Ceiling has to be raised. This is absolutely right, but it is slightly deeper than this.

If Obama allows Debt Ceiling negotiations to become a normal thing, it doesn’t just mean that we will have these totally ridiculous fights where our entirely undemocratic Congress can push for unpopular policies that they would never be able to get in the normal legislative manner. It means that the government will breach the Debt Ceiling. So if Obama manages to stop the Republicans from forcing a government default by giving them something, all he will have done is put off the default to some later time. The Debt Ceiling can only be used as a hostage so many times before it gets out of hand.

What is especially bad about the current situation is that in the minds of many reporters, what the Republicans are doing with the government shutdown and Debt Ceiling has become a new normal. Chait quotes Time Magazine reporter Zeke Miller writing, “Hostage taking—by promising harm if you do not get your way—has long been a standard way of doing business in Washington.” But Chait notes this isn’t at all the standard way of doing business:

Democrats, in the cases Miller cites, were objecting to outcomes—full extension of the Bush tax cuts, continued filibustering of executive appointments—that they defined as unacceptable. House Republicans, by contrast, don’t object to raising the debt ceiling. They concede it’s necessary to avoid disaster!

In other words, there is something entirely new and dangerous about saying, “We will destroy the country if we don’t get what we want!” In contrast, the Democratic examples are just political hardball. And it is hardball only because the Republicans, while making excessive demands on offense, won’t give the slightest when on defense.

This is what makes the current situation potentially very dangerous. There is potential catastrophe if enough “neutral” reporters stand back and say, “This is just the way politics has always worked in the United States. The Republicans aren’t any worse than the Democrats.” If we are to stop these very dangerous political tactics, the country must be united in denouncing them. If we get more both sides now reporting on this issue, we are lost. We might as well just burn the Constitution, because this is not how any constitutional democracy—much less our own—is supposed to work.

The Killer Inside Jim Thompson

Jim ThompsonTwo of the 20th century’s greatest magicians had a birthday on this day. The first is Harry Blackstone who was born in 1885. He was the last of the long line of the big magic shows. These were huge touring companies with large scale illusions. People like Harry Kellar and Harry Houdini. You can see how at the time, they were really something. They were grand. Houdini did a vanishing elephant. Kellar decapitated himself and made the head float around the stage. But with the advent of movies they became less relevant. How can sawing a woman in half compare to King Kong climbing the Empire State Building? Now, I think magic is coming back to some extent—precisely because it only really works live. Literally anything can be rendered on a movie screen and so it now has all the romance of the computer program it is. But there really is something special about a guy moving around holes on a business card a couple of inches in front of your eyes.

Anyway, here is Blackstone doing a pretty typical transformation from his show. It isn’t very exciting, but it’s short:

The second is the great comedy magician Carl Ballantine who was born in 1917. Regardless of whether you love or hate magic, he is hysterical. “This takes a lot out of an artist! Of course it doesn’t bother me much.”

The great jazz pianist Bud Powell was born in 1924. He was an amazing talent. It is better to think of him as a classical musician. I think that is why he is still largely a specialized taste. You can hear it in this great version of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Anthropology.” The rhythm is really difficult and the implied harmony is challenging. But if you can get past that it is a fun and swinging performance:

Other birthdays: composer Cyril Scott (1879); the great psychologist Albert Ellis (1913); film director Arthur Penn (1922); idiot climate denier Fred Singer (89); singer Meat Loaf (66); and actor Gwyneth Paltrow (41);

The day, however, belongs to the great pulp novelist Jim Thompson who was born on this day in 1906. Ever since he died, Hollywood has been in love with him. Typical. And I’m not all that fond of what they’ve done with him. A good example of this is with his novel The Grifters. It is a great tragedy. In it, whenever Roy tries to do the right thing, it goes bad. He is cursed to be only good at being bad. Throughout the novel, he struggles to connect with humans as something other than marks. And just as he reaches a transformative moment, he is killed. None of that is in the film.

Most of his novels are really dark—far too dark for me ever to have allowed myself to read. One of them, The Killer Inside Me still haunts me. But Thompson was at his best when he let his sense of humor fly. Pop. 1280 is a wonderful dark comedy. If you only read one of his books, it is the one to read. But I will warn you: it’s easy to get addicted to his books. They transcend the pulp genre, and Pop. 1280 is one of the best novels I’ve ever read.

Happy birthday Jim Thompson!

The Rich Are Supposed to Be Evil

Paul KrugmanPaul Krugman has long argued that the reason the rich will brook no public criticism has to do with the needs hierarchy. Since they have everything that money can buy, they’ve moved beyond that. Now their need is to have all the nation worship them as demigods for their brilliant successes. He wrote about this today, Plutocrats Feeling Persecuted. I think there is much to this. But the issue is more fundamental than this.

Last year, I reported on a study by sociologist Paul Piff. He had kids play the board game Monopoly with special rules. As I wrote, “Instead of giving players an equal start, he defined players as either rich or poor. The rich player received three times the usual starting cash. The poor player received half the usual starting cash, got half as much money for passing go, and had to roll one die instead of the usual two. Obviously, the poor player lost—and quickly.” There is nothing especially surprising about that. But what happened was that the rich players came to see themselves as deserving of their special status. For example, the rich players were far less likely to cut the other player any slack and showed feelings of schadenfreude.

This is quite natural. People tend to think that they are entitled to whatever they are used to having. I’ll give you an example of this. I have a friend who has rented a house for a couple of decades. Last year, his landlord raised his rent 50%. He thought this was totally unfair. But in fact, his landlord had not raised his rent in ten years. If his landlord had raised his rent only 4.2% per year, it would have been at the new rent level, plus he would have been paying higher rent for the previous ten years. But none of that really mattered to him because he felt that what he was paying was the amount he was entitled to. The sudden rent increase shattered that fantasy.

1%The rich are like all of us in that they come up with ways to justify living better than others. But they have a lot more work to do because the nature of our economic system is to intensify inequality. If two people invent something at the same time, the one who gets the patent first can go on to be a billionaire, whereas the other gets nothing. And over time, these kinds of disparities only grow. For example, because he was rich and well connected, Bono got to invest in Facebook early and so made about a billion dollars. His children will inherit his money in addition to all the other advantages that come from being Bono’s child. Wealth accumulates over generations. (This isn’t to put down Bono, who seems like a decent guy—especially compared to other billionaires.)

As a result of this, the rich need to do some heavy duty justifying. This is where we get the myth of the Job Creator. The little people just spend money but the rich create jobs. Thus, in their own minds, they take on the responsibilities of the government. What need is there for social programs when these great Job Creators are doing God’s work by caring for the poor? And this leads to a feeling that anything the government does to reduce their wealth is evil because it gets in the way of their own program of Good Works like yacht buying.

But as I said, this is completely normal. I don’t expect the rich to behave any differently. Similarly, I don’t expect corporations to work for the public good as others do. These people and institutions do what is best for themselves. And that’s how the whole capitalist system is set up to work. It is wrong to expect anything different. What we need, then, is a strong government that stops the rich from getting too rich and corporations from getting too big. Because once that happens, we see what we have today: a system where the wealthy manipulate the government. And what they do is make the already unfair “winner take all” capitalist system even less fair.

So the question is not, “Why are the rich so awful?” It is, “How did we allow the rich to get so powerful?” And going forward, we have the even more important question: what are we going to do to reverse this?

Ira’s Brother George

George GershwinOn this day in 1774, the proto-environmentalist Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) was born. I didn’t know he was an actual person. It turns out that he didn’t wander around planting seeds, however. He started nurseries and later orchards as a business. And much of the production of those nurseries were used (As always!) to make hard cider and other alcoholic beverages.

The sociologist and photographer Lewis Hine was born in 1874. He did great work during the first three decades of the 20th century to document the lives of regular Americans. A lot of his work was with the American Red Cross, documenting their relief work. In the 1920s he did a series of photographs of Americans at work. But despite his many great successes, he found it difficult to get work in the late 1930s. He eventually lost his house and he died in poverty. In other words, his is a typical story of what we do to great Americans with the temerity to do something with their lives other than make money.

The great poet T. S. Eliot was born in 1888. He is one of those “problem” poets—in his case antisemitism. But we all have character flaws, and it doesn’t too much matter to the work. What I most like about his poetry is his jagged rhythmic sense. I think it has had a profound effect on me in terms of my songs, which have grown ever more playful, although admittedly, less accessible to others. Here is Eliot’s “Hysteria” from around 1920:

As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved in her
laughter and being part of it, until her teeth were
only accidental stars with a talent for squad-drill. I
was drawn in by short gasps, inhaled at each momentary
recovery, lost finally in the dark caverns of her
throat, bruised by the ripple of unseen muscles. An
elderly waiter with trembling hands was hurriedly
spreading a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty
green iron table, saying: “If the lady and gentleman
wish to take their tea in the garden, if the lady and
gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden …” I
decided that if the shaking of her breasts could be
stopped, some of the fragments of the afternoon might
be collected, and I concentrated my attention with
careful subtlety to this end.

The singer-songwriter Marty Robbins was born in 1925. My mother was a big fan of his and his story songs. So this one is for her:

And the Roxy Music frontman, Bryan Ferry is 68 today. I’m torn on him. In many ways, he’s a pretentious twat. But I really do love those first two Roxy Music albums. Anyway, here is one of his solo efforts, “Let’s Stick Together”:

Other birthdays: Romantic painter Theodore Gericault (1791); novelist Joseph Furphy (1843); singer Olivia Newton-John (65); and actor Linda Hamilton (57).

The day, however, belongs to the great composer George Gershwin who was born in 1898. He is often mistakenly thought of as a “serious” or “classical” composer, but he was not at all. It is probably better to think of him as a musical theater composer, which he probably would be known as today if it were not for his death at only 38 due to a brain tumor. It is best to think of him as a cross between a jazz and a classical composer. It would have been interesting to see where he would have gone as a composer, because he certainly hadn’t reached maturity. Still, he left us with a lot of great music like Rhapsody in Blue, here conducted by a fan of his, Leonard Bernstein:

Happy birthday George Gershwin!

Megan McArdle Humiliates Eric Alterman

Eric AltermanEric Alterman is no wonk. He is an English professor, after all. And although he is perhaps better described as a historian, he is no mathematician. So you can imagine just how humbling it is when he starts making calculations. Like back in 2003, shortly after the invasion of Iraq, he predicted, “George W. Bush deliberately misled the country to launch an unnecessary war that will embroil this country in what could be decades of chaos, mayhem and murder, and cost us hundreds of billions and quite possibly trillions, while destroying the nation’s fiscal health in the process.” Ouch! He must regret saying that now!

At that time, Jane Galt—later revealed to be right wing hack and pseudo-libertarian Megan McArdle—was on hand to call Alterman on his bullshit. She wrote that while most things tend to end up costing more than first estimated, he was way off target. “But trillions? US GDP is roughly $10 trillion. Alterman is saying that over the long run, this war is going to cost us at least 20% of GDP. That’s nuts, and it’s not the first time I’ve seen those sorts of numbers around.” That had to sting! I can’t imagine how Eric Alterman could even show his face in public after that.

After she was done “proving” that Alterman’s numbers were wrong, she went after another well know innumerate: economist James Galbraith. He made the outlandish prediction that the Iraq War could take 5 years and 200,000 troops. What an idiot! No wonder the only people who ever quote him are similarly mushy headed thinkers like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz. Megan McArdleBut McArdle was not afraid, she even went so far as to try to school Galbraith on what an opportunity cost is. Of course, as Jon Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution noted, she can’t even do basic arithmetic like division. But her point is not Galbraith; she is above all focus on the evil English professor and his suggestion that the Iraq War might cost more than Bush and company said.

Of course, it turned out that McArdle was completely wrong. The war really was that expensive, it really did take that many toops, it really did take that much time. Actually, it took more of all of them: money, troops, time. It also cost far more lives than she estimated. Gin and Tacos dredged up this old Jane Galt article last month and gave it the whole FJM treatment, A Very Special Time Warp FJM. It goes step by step, tearing McArdle apart. It wasn’t hard. As they said, “Megan McArdle labors mightily, and almost always unsuccessfully, to write columns that do not immediately collapse under the weight of mild scrutiny.” And this one was written ten years earlier!

But what I find most interesting is that it doesn’t matter that McArdle was totally wrong about this and so much else besides. She is still a shining light in conservative media. Last year, right after the election, David Brooks wrote, The Conservative Future. He was looking at all the new ideas and open minded thinking on the right. He highlighted Megan McArdle and wrote that she was one of the “soft libertarians” who “start from broadly libertarian premises but do not apply them in a doctrinaire way.” Apparently, nothing that McArdle can say or do will ever make her anything but a smart and insightful thinker.

Meanwhile, Eric Alterman continues to be the star on the left that he has long been. But being right doesn’t matter any more than McArdle being wrong matters. To some extent, that’s simply because he’s a liberal. Liberals are expected to be right when it comes to facts. Conservatives are only supposed to be right in a postmodern sense of the word—you know, where being right is the same as holding an opinion. What’s more, it is another example of conservative affirmative action. We can’t hold conservatives accountable because the pool of conservatives who can pass for intelligent political observers is so small.

Still, I think we need to point out the gross incompetence of commentators wherever we see it. I do it to liberal commentators all the time. There isn’t nearly as much fun to be had going after conservatives. Shooting fish in a barrel is easy compared to it.

Update (26 September 2013 8:05 pm)

In a private tweet, Megan McArdle responded, “Yes, you’re right, I was wrong about the Iraq War.” I always hate getting these kinds of responses, because it makes it all so very personal. It isn’t my intention to make her feel bad. My point is that no one is held accountable once they get a certain level of fame. So I don’t particularly care that she was wrong in this particular case. I don’t even particularly care that she has been wrong so often about so many things. (Just two months ago, I wrote, Megan McArdle’s Ridiculous Anti-Filibuster-Reform Argument.) The point is that it doesn’t matter. She will continue to be well paid to blather on. And this is part of why our politics is so screwed up.

Ridiculous GOP Debt Ceiling “Plan”

Debt Ceiling NegotiationsThere hasn’t been much news recently—at least on the national level. I think this is because everyone is waiting around to see just what the Republicans do to fuck everything up. The Republicans work as the equivalent of Iago in politics. Or perhaps a better analogy would be Worm from Rounders. He fucks everything up, but he doesn’t have a reason for it. It is just how he rolls. That seems to be the case with the Republicans and the government shutdown and Debt Ceiling crisis.

This morning, Jonathan Strong at National Review provided us with the goods, Revealed: The House GOP’s Debt-Ceiling Plan. And it is quite a “plan.” Basically, it is just a conservative wish list. The Debt Ceiling bill that the House Republicans are cooking up says, “We’ll raise the Debt Ceiling, and all you have to give us is everything we’ve ever wanted.” Well, that’s not exactly true. They aren’t asking for the death penalty for women using birth control and anyone caught having “unnatural” sex. But otherwise, it is all in there.

They want Obamacare delayed for the exact period of time they will limit the Debt Ceiling. But wait, there’s more! They want the Keystone Pipeline green lighted, more oil drilling offshore, and an end to EPA carbon regulations. They want an end to net neutrality. They want tort reform. Not satisfied? There’s more! They want to cut the child tax credit. They want to means test Medicare. They what the REINS Act which would politicizes all scientific judgments in regulations. But don’t answer yet, because there is so much more! They want to gut Dodd-Frank. They want entitlement “reform” (i.e. cuts). They want the Ryan budget plan!

That’s all just for raising the Debt Ceiling for one year. Actually, that’s only about half of it. Click on over if you want to see the whole list. The main thing about it is that it isn’t just a bargaining ploy. Although it is best to start a negotiation with high demands, this list goes way beyond that. It says, “We’re not serious about this negotiation.” Of course, that was clear from the start. In the 2011 Debt Ceiling fight, at least it was about the budget. The Republicans were saying, “We’ll only allow the government to borrow more if they stop borrowing so much.” It was bullshit even then, but it made a certain amount of sense. In this case, Boehner has been saying he will only allow more borrowing if Obamacare is killed, even though the program pays for itself.

So why not throw in net neutrality?! Why not force through the Keystone Pipeline? Why not lower taxes (which makes the budget shortfall even worse)? It doesn’t have to make sense. In fact, it is not even supposed to make sense. It is a power play, pure and simple. The House Republicans are saying, “We don’t care about the United States and so we are willing to destroy it if we don’t get our way.” This battle should have been fought a long time ago. The Republicans should have been called on their bullshit. Now there is going to be real damage, but giving into the Republicans now will only put off a much more damaging fight later on.