Debt Ceiling Ends With Snicker Not Bang

Debt CeilingExcuse me for being out the whole day. The truth is that my savings is almost completely exhausted and I am forced to start prioritizing paying work. Will called me up with a very boring computer job and off I ran. Why is it that the paying jobs are always the boring ones? Oh well, the job will be helpful because February is the month that all the host names and hosting costs come due. So I’m hopping.

Sadly, I missed something really exciting today. After more than a week of the Republicans jumping from one proposal idea to another, John Boehner finally just gave up and allowed a clean vote to raise the Debt Ceiling. What’s more, it passed! This is kind of a big deal because this morning Jake Sherman reported that there mightn’t have been the necessary 18 Republican votes to pass it even if all the Democrats voted for it. In the end, we got a whole 28 Republicans. Yay!

A lot of times, I think that people (Even I!) expect too much of politicians. Ultimately, their jobs are really just to get re-elected. Nothing else matters. They can be totally corrupt and incompetent, and it doesn’t matter as long as their constituency doesn’t mind. But the way that Boehner and the the rest of the Republicans have dealt with the the Debt Ceiling shows that they don’t even much understand how to do the basics of politics. After years of talking about how terrible the Debt Ceiling is and how we are just spending ourselves into Greece, for them to just fold like this is pathetic.

On the micro-scale, it is far worse. Every day we saw a new bunch of demands. It reminded me of the T-1000 at the end of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. When it falls into the molten steel, it tries various forms, looking for one that will allow it to survive. Or perhaps better would be Max on Get Smart, “Would you accept a Medicare Doc fix and a case of single malt scotch?” A week ago, Jonathan Chait wrote, House Republican Debt Ceiling Hostage Update, with the subtitle, “It’s getting sad.” And it only got worse. “Would you accept a single bottle of blended scotch?”

I do, however, think that a lot of the liberal pundits are wrong to think that this clean Debt Ceiling vote means there won’t be anymore Debt Ceiling extortion. For one thing, there will still be fringe Republicans who will make lots of noise about this. Whether the leadership will pander to them, I can’t say. But it is clear that the whole Keystone Cops routine with different ideas about what the Republicans should require to raise the Debt Ceiling was nothing more than pandering to the stupid and extreme part of your party. (You know: the median!) So I’m not sure it really is over. After all, 28 Republicans voted to raise the Debt Ceiling and 206 did not. Still, it does look like the Debt Ceiling as a credible threat is dead for at least a couple of election cycles.

Now you’ve been updated. Tomorrow should be a more normal day with exciting updates through the day. I’m actually way backlogged. There are three movies I want to discuss: Ikiru, And the Ship Sails On, and Looper, although I’m not sure what I want to say about the second two. I have a few things to say about Victoria Jackson, who remains funny even as she spouts some of the most vile things. There’s a long overdue article about the history of the song “Man of Constant Sorrow.” And so much more! I do hope you’ll stop by.

The Greatest Mankiewicz

Joseph MankiewiczOn this day in 1847, the great inventor Thomas Edison was born. Okay, I said he was great, now I can get to the point. I really have a problem with him. He was brilliant when he was young, but eventually he became Edison Inc, and that was a bad thing. At that point, it wasn’t about literally bringing good things to light, it was about making as much money as possible. His fight with Westinghouse is particularly telling. Because Edison had all the patents for DC, he tried to discredit AC as a method of delivering power. If the government had fallen for this, we would have been screwed for decades. DC is a terrible way to deliver power, except over very shot distances. Another example involves the creation of Hollywood. If Edison had had his way, film never would have become the great art form it did. His patent did nothing but price filmmakers out of work. It is a great example of how innovation thrived despite the patent system, not because of it.

The great singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow is 52 today. My opinion of her went way down when she hooked up with Kid Rock. I figure he must be great in bed. At least, I hope so, because it can’t be his intelligence or talent that attracted her. Anyway, here she is doing her song “Home”:

Other birthdays: photographic pioneer Henry Fox Talbot (1800); Egyptologist Auguste Mariette (1821); great American physicist Josiah Willard Gibbs (1839); great portrait painter Ellen Day Hale (1855); Futurist painter Carlo Carra (1881); nuclear physicist Leo Szilard (1898); boxer Max Baer (1909); novelist Sidney Sheldon (1917); actor Eva Gabor (1919); sex researcher Virginia Johnson (1925); Ginger Grant on Gilligan’s Island, Tina Louise (80); actor Burt Reynolds (78); songwriter Gerry Goffin (75); and actor Jennifer Aniston (45).

The day, however, belongs to the great film director Joseph Mankiewicz who was born on this day in 1909. He was also a great screenwriter. He won the Academy Award as both writer and director twice for A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve. Some of his other cinematic triumphs are Somewhere in the Night, The Ghost and Mrs Muir, and Sleuth. But he is also the man who took charge of the brewing catastrophe that was Cleopatra, and made it into a great film. I don’t think of Mankiewicz was a terribly innovative filmmaker. But he knew how to tell a story on film better than most. I greatly admire him. Here is a bit of his version of Julius Caesar:

Happy birthday Joseph Mankiewicz!

Republican Class Warfare on Obamacare

Class WarfareBrian Beutler wrote an interesting article over at Salon this morning, Why They Hate Working America: GOP Equates Benefits With Personal Failure. It is about the Republican reaction to the CBO report that said that, because of Obamacare, some people would cut back the hours they work and others would stop working altogether. The information in the report is mostly good news. In particular, it gets rid of the problem of job-lock where people are stuck in jobs just because they need the health insurance it provides.

Back in 2009, Paul Ryan himself asked, “[A]re we going to continue job-lock or are we going to allow individuals more choice and portability to fit the 21st century workforce?” But as usual with them, Republicans approach any problem with a long list of solutions that are not acceptable. So they may all be in favor of affordable healthcare, but they aren’t willing to do anything about it that would actually work. So it isn’t surprising that Republicans would twist themselves in knots to attack Obamacare with information indicting it is fixing a problem they’ve claim to care about.

Beutler notes that the main argument that is appearing from Republicans about the CBO report is pretty much the same as Romney’s 47% narrative. “They’re not condemning 47 percent of people in the country, but they are being much more specific about the class of people they’re condemning.” The best example I have of this is a two-income family where the one person only wants to work part time but has to work full time in order to have health insurance. So Obamacare allows the family to go from two incomes to one and a half incomes, allowing more time for managing the home and children. That ought to be something that conservatives would applaud—especially social conservatives!

Of course, it isn’t something that Republicans, in general, are for. Beutler quotes attempted murderer Avik Roy writing in Forbes, “Bored with your job? No worries—now you can quit, thanks to the generosity of other taxpayers.” And that seems to be the main Republican line of attack when they aren’t just outright lying.

There are a couple of things wrong with this. First, government policy always helps one group more than another. Before Obamacare, government policy helped people who had the kinds of jobs that provided healthcare. Obamacare actually makes the situation far more equitable. It still is the case that employees who get employer provided healthcare get an implicit tax refund. Under a normal system, they would have to pay taxes on the money and then buy health insurance. Roy is, despite everything, a smart guy. He knows this is true. But he throws out the nonsense above because it sounds good and supports the policy he wants regardless of the facts.

The second aspect of this is that there is no clearer example of class warfare. Any mention made of income inequality in this country causes Republicans to scream, “Class warfare!” But explicitly pitting middle class workers against the the rich, who will see their Medicare Tax go up by 0.9 percentage points on income over $200,000, is not. I’m not going to get into the issue of income inequality, although I don’t think discussing it is a matter of class warfare. But it should be clear that the notion of middle class workers freed of job-lock are abusing the rich is nothing but class warfare.

In general, the Republican party is focused like a laser on the needs of the rich. And the reason they are against Obamacare is that 0.9% tax on the wealthy. We see this in the Republican “alternative” PCARE, where the tax burden is taken away from the rich and placed firmly on the middle class. I don’t have a problem with that specifically. We should debate it. But we should not put up with this idea that taxing the rich is class warfare but taxing the poor is not. It’s just a difference of opinion. But Republicans scream so loudly because they know that in an honest discussion they would lose—badly.