Eisenstein and Manet

Sergei EisensteinThe Twenty-fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on this day fifty years ago. It made poll taxes illegal on the both the state and federal levels. I think it is really interesting given that the voter ID laws are exactly the same thing: a way to make voting something that must be earned instead of a right so as to disenfranchise the poor. But I feel sure that if it ever got to the Supreme Court (UPDATE: see Rick Fine’s excellent comment and links below), somehow the five conservative justices would see it in a whole different light. But you will have to forgive me. I’m sick and grumpy.

On this day in 1832, the great painter Edouard Manet was born. Although considered an impressionist, he was more the proto-impressionist. He is probably the most important artist in the move from Realism to Impressionism. I really admire his work, and I would include more details and an image if I were feeling better. Maybe I’ll update it tomorrow.

Other birthdays: big handwriting John Hancock (1737); French writer Stendhal (1783); physicist Ernst Abbe (1840); the great mathematician David Hilbert (1862); physicist Paul Langevin (1872); comedian Ernie Kovacs (1919); actor Chita Rivera (81); actor Sonny Chiba (75); actor Rutger Hauer (70); and TV’s MacGyver, Richard Dean Anderson.

The day, however, belongs to the great filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein who was born on this day in 1898. After having Griffith yesterday, I hate to give Eisenstein so little attention. He is best known for Battleship Potemkin, although he made a number of other important films. I am a great admirer of October: Ten Days That Shook the World. But my admiration isn’t with regard to it as a propaganda film. To be honest, I’ve always thought that aspect of Eisenstein’s work was over-intellectual, and I don’t think anyone really understood without having it explained. But it is an immensely powerful film, even today.

Here is one of the most famous movie scenes eve, the Odessa Steps from Battleship Potemkin. It is both amazingly suspenseful and it makes its point as clearly as one could in film:

Happy birthday Sergei Eisenstein!

Our Dirty Wars Ultimately Harm Us

Dirty WarsYou may remember my 95-5 rule: 95% of the problems in the world are caused by 5% of the people. This comes from my experience that the vast majority of people just want to live their little lives and be left alone. So it is a very small number of people who get us into wars and otherwise perpetrate acts of social disease—even though most of them use a pen rather than a rifle.

This afternoon, I haven’t felt much up to working because of some flu I have. So I laid down and finally watched Jeremy Scahill’s documentary for Dirty Wars on Netflix. I’ve read part of the book, so I knew what I was in store for. That’s probably why I’ve put off watching it for so long. I wasn’t much more than a few minutes into the film before I was sad and angry.

The film brings to mind a narrative film based upon actual events, The Battle of Algiers. In that film, the French win the battle but lose the war. They kill the “bad guys” but in so doing create so many more enemies that within five years they had literally lost the war. That is, above all else, what Dirty Wars is all about. You can leave aside all the immorality of what we continue to do. In the end, we will lose this war.

This is how empires fall. I don’t believe our protection has anything to do with why we are killing people all over the world in dozens of countries we aren’t technically at war with. Instead, we are doing it to assert our dominance. If you watch the hawks over on Fox News, you will see that none of their arguments are really about safety. They are about sending out some kind of message to the world that America is a badass country. That seems to be an end in itself.

Of course, I’m well aware that there are all kinds of economic issues too. In one village that we destroyed with a cruise missile, part of the debris is a camera lens that had been on that missile. I can’t imagine that the people working in the factory that made that lens even know that they have been a part in murdering a bunch of innocent civilians. And that means we are all culpable, regardless of how much we might not like to admit it. Most of us aren’t directly involved. And most of us aren’t making a fortune while knowing that the enormous profits support such great harm. But we are all pulled in—all soiled by it.

The innocents we are killing just want to live their lives—they are part of the 95%. But they are caught in the middle of a war that really has nothing directly to do with their lives. Or at least it doesn’t, until an attack by one side or the other makes it part of their lives. And we are pushing ever and ever further with this “war on terror,” making more and more enemies. But in the end, I doubt we will be defeated militarily. I suspect we just won’t have the money to continue. The more a society focuses on the military, the less it has to support the rest of the economy.

A change will come. But as always, it will most harm the innocents here. The people who have profited from more and more of these covert wars will be sitting pretty. The 5% always is.

Sean Trende and the Next Two Elections

Sean TrendeOne of my favorite conservatives is Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics. I usually disagree with him on substance, but he’s a good and honest number cruncher. And yesterday, he did a whole lot of crunching, Obama’s Job Approval Points to 2014 Trouble for Democrats. As is typical of him, he has put a conservative spin on what’s actually in the article.

Basically, all he’s saying is that if Obama’s approval rating stays at 43% or goes lower, the Republicans will almost certainly take control of the Senate. But as I wrote about last July, there was always a good chance of the Republicans retaking the Senate. I put it at 50-50. What’s more, I think that Obama’s approval rating really has reached its nadir. It seems mostly due to the problems with the healthcare exchanges. And now that the Republicans are posturing for another Debt Ceiling fight, I suspect his approval will bounce back up—at least a bit.

Regardless, according to Trende, the worst case scenario for Democrats is that in 2015, the Republicans will control 55 seats in the Senate. And the best case:

If Obama’s job approval does bounce back—which is exactly what happened in 2012—there’s a reasonable chance that Republicans could walk away from this cycle with just a handful of pickups. As we’ll see in the next article, that could have major implications for 2016.

And the Republicans need to pick up six seats to control the Senate. We will see. But the more important point is that it really means very little for the Republicans to get control of Senate in the 2014 elections.

As promised, this morning Trende published his second article, Why the 2014 Senate Races Matter So Much. Again, the headline is a distortion. What he means is that if the Republicans don’t make major progress in the Senate in 2014, it is almost certain that the Democrats will get control back in 2016 and even possible they will get another filibuster-proof majority. As I discussed last month, the Democrats will only have to defend ten seats—all of them in blue states—and the Republicans will have to defend 24 seats, of which 7 are in blue states. It is definitely important for the Republicans to get a running start if they don’t want to face a catastrophe in 2016.

Trende does have an annoying tendency to provide a lot of data that can’t be easily summarized. For example, he provides a table with the number of Senate seats the Republicans have after the 2014 election and then provides columns for the cases where a Republican and a Democrat are elected. The bottom line is that it looks bleak for the Republicans. Even taking the very worst case scenario where Republicans have 55 seats and a Republican wins the White House in 2016, the Democrats still have a 27% chance of taking back the Senate. On the other side, if the Republicans only start with 51 seats and a Democrat is elected president, he predicts a 94% chance of the Democrats taking back the Senate. I think both of those numbers are actually low, but you get the idea.

He concludes:

As you can see, if the GOP wins a bare majority in 2014, the odds are very, very good that the Senate will revert back to Democratic hands in 2016. In fact, if GOP gains are confined to the “traditional seven” Democratic races (the three open seats and the four incumbents in states Mitt Romney carried), they’re still favored to lose the chamber two years later. On the other hand, if Republicans get to 54 seats, their chances of retaining control are very good, and given the horrific playing field for Democrats in 2018, they would be extremely unlikely to lose it that year.

Perhaps of more interest, if Republicans gain only a seat or two, a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in 2016 is at least plausible. If Republicans break even or lose seats—and remember, no one thought that Republican losses were plausible at this point in 2012—a filibuster-proof Democratic majority might even be likely in 2016. A year good enough to net Democrats six or more Senate seats would probably given them control of the House as well, giving them an unlikely trifecta for the second time in eight years.

If that happened, it sure would be nice to have something other than a New Democrat in the White House. But I don’t think that’s likely, unless Clinton turns out to be a very different president than her husband. That’s possible, but unlikely.