Night of the Still Living George Romero

George RomeroOn this day in 1895, the British character actor Nigel Bruce was born. He’s the kind of guy you see in a lot of gold age films like Rebecca. But he is mostly known for playing Dr Watson in the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films. He was the person I was thinking of when I talked about how the series Sherlock was better because of the way they had updated Watson. There is something distinctly uncool now about the original conception of the character: sure, he was an old army man, but did he have to be overweight and even more obtuse than a normal person? Anyway, Bruce was great at playing that character. And I have to say, those old movies are still great.

Charles Lindbergh was born in 1902. Most people think of him as a great American hero who flew a plane across the Atlantic. I think of him as an antisemitic asshole and a Nazi sympathizer. It amazes me that what has lasted all this time is the hero and not the cautionary tale about racism in America.

Clyde Tombaugh was born in 1906. I met him in 1990, when he lectured at my school about his discovery of Pluto. He was an interesting guy. But as far as I’m concerned, Pluto should not be classified as a planet. Or if it is, then there are a couple of asteroids that ought to be considered planets. As planets go, Pluto is disappointing. What’s more, there are very possibly many other “planets” orbiting far from the sun. I’d rather just have eight set planets and call these other things something else. But I don’t particularly care, so long as we are consistent. If Pluto is a planet, then at least, Ceres is a planet.

Rock legend Alice Cooper is 66. I think he’s great. But even more important, in the 1970s, he had a great band. Here he is in 1979 doing “School’s Out” with Steve Hunter and Davey Johnstone (I couldn’t find any with Dick Wagner) on guitar, Fred Mandel on keyboard, Prakash John on bass, and Pentti Glan on drums. Pretty much the Bob Ezrin crowd. It’s great and hilarious the way Cooper always is. Enjoy:

Other birthday: playwright Pierre de Marivaux (1688); mathematician Nikolay Umov (1846); aeronautical engineer Ludwig Prandtl (1875); cubist Fernand Leger (1881); civil rights activist Rosa Parks (1913); feminist writer Betty Friedan (1921); screenwriter David Newman (1937); computer scientist Ken Thompson (71); and boxer Oscar De La Hoya (41).

The day, however, belongs to George Romero who is 74 today. He was an independent filmmaker when it really meant something. And he made one of the greatest horror films ever: Night of the Living Dead. And then, in 1990, he wrote (with Tom Savini directing) a remake for the next generation. Although not important in the way that the original was, it is a perfect horror film. Every little bit from the original film that bugged me was taken out. It is a great film and I really do wish that fans would get over themselves and accept that it is a more enjoyable film than the original. Regardless, Romero has gone on to make other films, many of them quite enjoyable. But only one film revolution per director!

Here is the trailer for the remake. Really: if you haven’t seen it, do check it out. It really doesn’t get any better:

Happy birthday George Romero!

There Are No Libertarian Republicans

Dave WeigelI have long known that Dave Weigel is one of those “bleeding heart” libertarian. These are the kind of libertarians I was when I was a libertarian: very concerned with social justice—left leaning, you might say. But such libertarians are still (1) libertarians and (2) wrong. Weigel showed this today by making a bit of fun at Alex Sink, Democratic Congressional Candidate Has Big Questions About Libertarianism. He notes, “It is not actually inconsistent to believe in small government as it pertains to economics and also believe in small government as it pertains to social issues.” Ha! That’s a good one!

One of the biggest myths about libertarianism is that it is for small government. This is no more true of them than it is for Republicans. Think about what kind of government institutions libertarians are in favor of. They believe in the military. They believe in copyrights and patents and other kinds of property rights enforcement.[1] And most of all, they believe in courts. This last one is the killer. In exchange for normal regulations, libertarians are for a legal system in which everyone is suing everyone else all the time. As a result of this, the true libertarian utopia would turn out to be one with a huge government doing things in the most inefficient way possible. It’s either that or system so unjust that the poor just give up trying to have their rights enforced. But that second kind of libertarianism wouldn’t be acceptable to the heart bleeders. So you’re only left with: big government.

Weigel wonders that anyone could still be unclear about what libertarians believe. He writes, “You think, what with all the attention paid to the Paul dynasty and to Edward Snowden and to the Koch family, that people basically understand what ‘libertarianism’ means.” Let’s look at that list. Snowden’s anarchist thinking has hardly been big news. I’ve been following him closely and it is only because I pretty much used to be an Edward Snowden that I understood where he was coming from.

What do the Pauls believe in? They are both anti-choice. So on the biggest social issue in modern America, they come down very clearly on the state intervention side of things. I’m more than willing to accept that a libertarian case against late term abortions can be made. Even middle term abortion. But first term abortions? No. And “citizenship begins at conception?” That idea is absurd.

But it goes further than that. At least Ron Paul believes in drug legalization. Rand Paul has only ever been willing to accept cannabis legalization. That’s not a libertarian argument: “You can do whatever drugs you want as long as it is one that I think is okay for you to use.” That’s the same old philosophy of liberal democracy, which is great. But it ain’t anything like libertarianism.

And the Koch brothers? Really?! I’ll admit, in a fundamental sense, they are libertarian: they care only and forever about keeping their taxes low and government regulation impotent. Regardless, they may talk libertarian, but when it comes to social policy, they are (Again!) anti-choice. As for the rest of their agenda, they might be for some libertarian social policy, but it doesn’t matter to them. They’re willing to allow gay people to marry, but if that gets in the way of their tax cuts, its true importance becomes clear. As Robert Greenwald wrote:

David Koch, however, has a hypocrisy that needs some unpacking. For his part, he is the latest to pretend to be for gay marriage. I say “pretend” because even though he has told a reporter that he disagrees with Republicans on the issue, he is, in practice, doing what he’s always done: supporting politicians and groups that have worked to stymie gay rights at every turn.

So I think we should cut Alex Sink a little slack. What libertarianism means in modern America is not the “pure” system that I’m sure Dave Weigel has constructed in his mind. Instead, it is what conservatives have been my entire life. Proponents talk about broad freedom, but they push economic libertarianism with social conservatism thrown in to get the votes necessary to get elected. My advise: Weigel should find a new name for what he believes, because it won’t be found in a major American political party, most especially the Republican Party.

Afterword

I am generally sympathetic to libertarianism. The fundamental problem with it is that it attempts to define an end point. One of the big ideas of liberal democracy is to work toward maximizing freedom. When I was a libertarian, I found that my work for the cause only led to more libertarian economic policy. So the rich got richer, but the poor, if anything, got less free. That’s not a bargain that I’m willing to make. I don’t see how a libertarian could look at Obama and Romney and think, “Romney will better maximize my freedom!” That’s just nonsense. That’s the thinking of someone who believes that freedom only applies to marginal tax rates.


[1] Some might take exception to this. It’s true that “serious” libertarians are very much against our intellectual property laws. But this is a minority, based upon my experience over the last thirty years. And notice how it leaves the door open to creeping government control. Suddenly, hunting down kids who are ripping DVDs isn’t an intrusion; it is just the government doing what a government properly does: protecting property rights! Once you start making those kind of arguments, you might as well be arguing for droit du seigneur.

Democrats Aren’t Liberal: TPP Edition

Free Trade

I haven’t had anything to say about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) up until now. The truth is that there isn’t a lot to say. It is yet another trade agreement and that is pretty much always a bad idea in an economy that is as unequal as the one we have in America today.

The issue is quite simple. Under ideal circumstances, such a deal would allow more trade so that both sides would get richer. And in an economy with relative income equality, those extra riches would be broadly shared. But in an economy such as ours, almost all of the extra money would go to the owners of capital. Of course, these people are already doing as well as they ever have. So why are we even bothering with such a deal? Surely we could better use our resources.

We know why there is a big push for the TPP, of course. The rich want it. Now I’m not saying that just because the rich want something that means it is bad. But it is most clearly the case that we are not discussing the TPP because a bunch of politicians got together and decided that it would be broadly beneficial for the nation. And it turns out that—Get ready for a surprise!—the TPP is not broadly beneficial for the nation. In fact, it is estimated that within 10 years, the TPP will increase GDP by 0.13%. In other words, a negligible amount that will be so far in the noise as to not even be measurable.

As Dean Baker has discussed, we already have relatively few barriers to trade with the countries involved. So if the deal isn’t about reducing barriers to trade, what is it about? “Rather the point of the deal is to put in place a structure of regulations that will be more friendly to the large corporations who are in many cases directly part of the negotiating process.” Mostly this is exactly the opposite of free trade. It is an effort to make pharmaceutical companies and Hollywood studios even more wealthy.

The big thing about all of the “free” trade deals that we’ve signed over the last few decades is how targeted they are. It is always middle and lower income workers who are put in direct competition with cheap labor over seas. It is never doctors and lawyers. So while the wages of the poorer classes go down, the cost of living stays high because these politically connected rich folk can’t ever be forced to compete globally. Add to that increased prices on drugs and entertainment and you’ve got an outrage that isn’t discussed in the mainstream media. It is outside the Overton Window. It is just assumed as God given that trade agreements should only affect the middle class and never the upper class, except in so much as it enriches them.

Of course, if the TPP passes, it won’t be a big deal. It will be a huge windfall for certain industries and companies. But for the economy generally, it will just be another step in our long journey to neo-feudalism. But it is interesting that at the same time that Obama is supposedly focused on income inequality, his administration is working—largely in secret—to negotiate a trade deal that will push more money to the wealthy at the expense of the rest.

The whole thing highlights what I am most focused on in the area of politics. When it comes to economic issues, we don’t have anything like liberalism in the United States. The Democrats are conservative and the Republicans (in as much as they make any sense at all) are revolutionary. The sad thing is that it looks like our only chance to stop the TPP is via the revolutionaries. The Democratic Party is so used to thumbing its nose at the liberal base, I don’t think it matters how much we yell and scream about this.

Afterword

This does not mean that we shouldn’t yell and scream about the TPP as well the administration’s efforts to fast-track it. Do yell and scream! Raise your voice. Write your Congress members. This is important. Above all, it is important the Democratic Party understand these economic issues are the things that really matter to us as well as the rest of America. If they want us to show up and vote for them, they have to offer more than a handful of liberal social issues. And last time I checked, same-sex marriage isn’t a liberal issue. It’s an everyone issue. (Freaks aside.)