The End of the Bagel Exception

Whole Foods MarketAs many of you may know, I have a problem with Whole Foods. I’m all in favor of natural foods sold at exorbitant prices. But I have a real problem paying these prices when the workers who sell me these expensive goods are poorly compensated. At Whole Foods, staff members are paid so badly that recently one of them was fired for “stealing” a tuna sandwich out of the trash. This is in addition to the idiot libertarian CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, and his constant annoying proclamations. Most recently, he corrected an earlier statement that Obamacare was socialism by saying that it was really fascism.

(This is really aggravating to me. Because they are CEOs, people like Mackey get a lot of press when they make statements about economics. But they are almost to a man extremely ignorant. In fact, they are also usually just plain stupid. We are supposed to listen to them because they are successful in business. But anyone paying attention should have noticed by now that it doesn’t work that way. Their success in business is as much a function of luck as anything. They show with their proclamations that they would have been hopeless had they gone into any other field. But as a society, we continue to look up to these fools and there doesn’t seem to be any level of foolishness that will convince us that they aren’t worth listening to.)

As a result of all this, I have made a decision to not shop at Whole Foods. This is very difficult. Because of my lifestyle, shopping at Whole Foods is extremely convenient. It is often very hard not to dash inside to pick something up. But I’ve managed to avoid that. Almost completely. There is just that bagel exception. Occasionally, I have bought bagels there. I rationalized it because unlike everything else in the store, bagels are a decent deal. They are only 99¢ each, for a pretty good bagel. Now, it’s true that I can get a better bagel for only 89¢ at the local health food store. But I’m not near it very often, so Whole Foods has gotten some of my business on this one product.

That all changed today. I wanted a couple of bagels and I was close to Whole Foods, so I ran in. And the price is now $1.50—a full 70% more than the locally owned health food store where the bagels are better. Well, that’s it! There is no longer a bagel exception. The new price is ridiculous but beyond that, what’s with the more than 50% increase in price? Regardless, that’s a high enough price that I will either go without or go to the local health food store.

My recommendation to all of you is to avoid Whole Foods if at all possible. And definitely stay away from the bagels.

Jeeves and Wodehouse

P. G. WodehouseOh but when it rains, it pours. Some days have no one really interesting. Others have too many. Today is the latter kind of day.

On this day in 1844, the great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was born. I’m not a great fan of his, but it isn’t really his fault. The problem is that young men tend to really like him. Since he wasn’t a terribly careful writer, his work is a hell of a lot easier to read than, say, Kant. Plus, there is something very obnoxious about many of his ideas. The worst of these is the superman. The problem is not the very idea. I actually believe that man creates his own ethics and that this is determined to some extent by the man with the inclination and strength to force his ideas on others. But for most 17 year olds, it is just an excuse to be an asshole.

The great economist John Kenneth Galbraith was born in 1908. The thing about the best economists is that they shatter assumptions of the past. And economics, more than any other science I can think of, is littered with unconsidered assumptions. One of those assumptions was that companies didn’t affect consumer independence. That’s just a silly idea. Galbraith destroyed it. He also argued that the modern economy was fundamentally different than economies of old. I’m not sure how much I accept that, but it is certainly true that most libertarian theories are based on (and could only work in) extremely simple economies that don’t exist anymore.

And the great comedian Larry Miller is 60 today. Let’s be honest, he would be a huge star if he weren’t so ugly. What I especially like about him is that he created an enormous amount of material. Check out this half hour routine about a ski trip. It is brilliant:

Other birthdays (because I really want to go and watch It Happened One Night): the great historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr (1917); actor and Spock’s dad Mark Lenard (1924); philosopher Michel Foucault (1926); film director Penny Marshall (70); and musician Richard Carpenter (57).

The day, however, belongs to the great humorist P. G. Wodehouse. He is best know for his Jeeves short stories and novels, but he wrote a lot more than that. In fact, it is amazing to look back on his output. He is still well worth reading today. But if you don’t have time for that, you can always watch Fry and Laurie as Jeeves and Wooster. Here is the whole episode “Bertie Is in Love”:

Happy birthday P. G. Wodehouse!

House Still Not Serious About Deal

John BoehnerOne of the few conservatives really worth reading, Ramesh Ponnuru, offers us a look at The New House Plan. And it is ridiculous, as expected. As I noted earlier, the Senate bill is good because it is the result of an actual negotiation: Republicans get something they want in return for something Democrats want. This is what we all learned from Sesame Street. This day is brought to you by the letter “C” as in “compromise”!

The House Republicans are asking for a bunch more goodies. But most tellingly, they want to destroy the Reid-McConnell balance. In that bill, the Republicans got income verification in Obamacare and the Democrats got a delay to the reinsurance tax. Well, the Republicans want to take away the reinsurance tax delay. Why? I assume because they absolutely don’t want to give the Democrats even the smallest of concessions. Or it could be worse. They may think they could offer up this change as a concession later. Regardless, what this all means is that the House Republicans still aren’t seriously negotiating this stuff.

As Ponnuru notes, these are small concessions for the Democrats to make. But that hardly matters. It is not acceptable to reward the Republicans for their hostage taking. And as Ed Kilgore adds, “It’s not entirely clear whether this proposal could command enough Republican votes to pass without Democratic cooperation.” This takes us back to the Fiscal Cliff negotiations from last year. It doesn’t make any sense to deal with Boehner at all since he doesn’t really speak for more than a small hand full of his caucus.

Most concerning about all of this is the idea that Boehner might just pass his own bill and then send the House home. This is what Ponnuru tweeted this morning:

That would depend upon him passing this more reasonable bill. If it were, say, the Ryan budget, everyone would blame him for crashing the economy. If it seems that he is excepting relatively small concessions, he could at least make the argument he wasn’t to blame. Regardless, it would be the most dangerous move he could possibly make. My guess is that it is really like Nixon’s madman theory: Boehner wants to float the idea that he would do something he actually won’t.

Regardless of all this, I’m losing patience with the House Republicans. The crazies are the crazies. And Boehner doesn’t have much power, partly because the House has made it pretty hard to manage itself. (Bring back earmarks!) My anger is directed at the supposedly reasonable Republicans. I’ve never believed they were reasonable, but I had been counting on them to not be crazy, or even worse, nihilistic.

Republicans Hold Wake for Shutdown

Republican House Funeral Director Steve SoutherlandThis morning during their meeting, the House Republicans broke into a rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Representative Michael Burgess was particularly impressed that they all knew the words of all three verses. I suspect that’s because they have all spent a whole lot more time in church than they have in, say, economics class. And if they learned “Amazing Grace” from going to church, well at least they got something good out of it. But let’s face it, this outburst of song is both creepy and funny.

The creepy factor is deep. Why were they singing at work? And why were they singing about redemption? The Congress of the United States is not involved in a holy war. And if they were it would be pathetic: a holy war over the right of medical device manufacturers to not pay a small excise tax? Would anyone really think that God is on their side in such a small minded battle? If God doesn’t care about children starving all over the world, why would he care about a 2.7% tax on medical devices? And the idea that these people would think they need religious strength rather than simple technocratic skill shows that the Republican Party has managed to jump every shark available.

When he was told about the outbreak of song, Democratic Representative Gerry Connolly joked, “Isn’t that usually sung at funerals?” And he should know, because he went to school to become a priest. I’m sure the irony is lost on the Republicans. Representative John Fleming responded to the comment by saying, “Well, that’s really a level of cynicism that’s surprising even for Democrats, to be honest with you.” That’s from a representative of the most cynical major party in American history. But enough of that, here is Elvis’ great version of the song:

The whole thing gets more amusing. It turns out that the song was started by Representative Steve Southerland. Before becoming a Representative, he was—Wait for it!—a funeral director! So he must know a wake when he sees one. He’s from the part of Florida that might as well be Alabama. And there isn’t much to say for his political career. He’s a religious nut who got elected in the “libertarian” Tea Party wave of 2010 and he’ll stay in the House until he retires or is caught in a sex scandal. Meanwhile, he leads the caucus in song.

One nice thing about being a Democrat is that at least our representatives are smart and even funny. When Gerry Connolly was asked if the Democrats would sing a song at their meeting today, he said, “Here Comes The Sun.” I hope he’s right.

House Tries, Fails, Tries Again

House GOP Leadership

At some point, you just have to learn to stop worrying and love default. And I think I may have reached that point. This morning at around 7:18, I got an email from the New York Times, House Outlines Alternative to Senate Deal on Spending and Debt Limit. It said that the House Republicans had been given a look at the Senate plan that Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell had been working on over the last few days. And the House was in the process of producing a counter proposal.

Jump ahead to 8:50—roughly an hour and a half later. The New York Times emails me, House Republicans’ Fiscal Plan Collapses. I laughed aloud. After days of negotiations in the Senate, the House looks at the plan for an hour and decides that there is nothing that can be done. Brilliant.

Where does this leave us? Well, John Boehner said, “We’re trying to find a way forward in a bipartisan way that would continue to provide fairness to the American people under Obamacare.” That too is funny, because it is so obviously a lie. Boehner knows that he already has a bipartisan way out of this mess: if McConnell signed off on the deal, then there are at least 17 House Republicans who will vote for the bill and all of this will then be over—at least for a while.

I can see why the House is balking at the Senate deal. It really is reasonable. And more to the point, it is an actual deal. The Republicans get the income verification on the healthcare exchanges and the Democrats get a delay of the reinsurance tax that unions don’t like. It isn’t much of a deal, but then, it isn’t much of an extension. It would only reopen the government until 15 January 2014 and raise the Debt Ceiling until 7 February 2014. For the House Republican caucus, this must sound like madness. They were promised that if they just misbehaved long enough they would get Obamacare repealed and the full Paul Ryan budget enacted. This deal is weak tea indeed.

It does seem that some deal will be reached. To a large extent, this is all political theater. I think it would have been better if the Senate bill had come out tomorrow. Presenting it this morning gives the House at least a day to play around and posture about how unfair this all is. There are a lot of people in the Republican Caucus who will not vote for anything. So will some token addition like repeal of the medical device tax really give Boehner the political cover he needs to bring the bill for a vote? And even more important: will the Democrats go along with that? I don’t think they should, even if many of them are for the policy. This is a 3 month extension; nothing as large as that should be part of the deal. Hopefully, we will get the Senate bill passed. Tomorrow will be critical.