Ultimately Obama Will Be Judged on the Economy

Obama HopeJonathan Chait has published a nice little pick-me-up for discouraged Democrats, Obama Promised to Do 4 Big Things As President. Now He’s Done Them All. The four big things are: economic recovery, healthcare reform, climate change, and education reform. Barring the courts interfering with the new power plant regulations, he has done major things on all of these.

Chait rightly points out that one can complain that he didn’t do enough (if you’re on the left) or he did the wrong things (if you’re crazy). But you can’t deny that he has accomplished a lot. The “hapless mediocrity” meme on the right ought to be dead. And I’ll go further than Chait in one way, I think that Obama did all this despite more resistance than any president has ever faced. So yeah, Dodd-Frank is a really weak law and not even close to what we need. But given the Congress that he had, we should be impressed with what we did get.

There’s one thing that I disagree with Chait about, “What’s no longer possible is to imagine that historians will look back at Obama’s presidency and conclude not much got done.” He’s basing that statement on the fact that Obama did what he said he was going to do. But that isn’t how presidents are judged. To be honest, the way historians judge presidents are no less fickle than the way the people judge them. The only difference is that historians have a longer list of presidents to judge.

And how do the people judge presidents? On one thing: how the economy was when they left office. And in that regard, I think that Obama will do okay. But he won’t be remembered like Reagan and Clinton are remembered. They are both remembered well because the economy had been struggling when they came into office and it took off midway through their presidencies. The fact that neither president really deserves any credit for this—that it was was just dumb luck—doesn’t really matter. If the economy continues to improve, Obama will be remembered for that. Otherwise, I don’t think it much matters.

Think about Richard Nixon. I know he’s a special case, but the man did start the EPA. Do normal people even know that? Is he given much credit for it? I know that Obamacare is a big deal, but the way the law was created, it was designed to not seem like a law at all. More people will get Medicaid. Most won’t know whether they would have qualified before or not. The exchanges and the subsidies will just become part of what everyone does and no one will think about it. Healthcare inflation has been reduced? Hooray! That means once Republicans get back into power, they will have more money to waste on tax cuts for the rich and their beloved crony capitalism.

In the end, Obama will be judged on the economy. And there really were things that he could have done to make things a lot better. But to do that, he needed a willing partner in Congress. He didn’t have that, even when Congress was controlled by the Democrats. And I’m not sure Obama himself understood the economic situation correctly. So if the economy continues to improve, history will say he was a pretty good president—maybe even a damned good president. But just like with Reagan and Clinton before him, it won’t actually say anything about him.

Support James Risen and Press Freedom

James RisenNormally, I do not go in for pure advocacy, but this really struck me. Even after Attorney General Eric Holder said that no reporters would go to jail for not revealing a source, it looks very much like The New York Times reporter James Risen is set to go to jail for not revealing a source. This is yet another one of those cases where the government is using the Espionage Act of 1917 against pretty much everyone. In this case, it is ex-CIA agent Jeffrey Alexander Sterling. The information that he revealed to Risen was so important that no one seems to know what it was. Was Sterling a pissed off ex-employee? Sure. Was he also a whistleblower? Based upon the content of State of War, he definitely was.

Of course, we live in the country where you go to jail simply because you piss off the wrong people. The government doesn’t need Risen to testify in order to throw Sterling in jail. It is just an act of government intimidation of the media. (Given how accommodating the media are to the government, I don’t see the need.) This is exactly the kind of thing that used to make me so angry about the Bush administration. It’s even worse with our current president. We all thought his being a constitutional law professor would make him uphold the Constitution more. But it’s turned out that he just uses his knowledge to get around it.

Anyway, Roots Action has a petition that I really think you ought to sign, We Support James Risen Because We Support a Free Press. I’ve signed it and I rarely sign petitions. So please, go over there. This is kind of important. Hopeless, I suppose; but important.

Problems With Split Screens

FrameupThere are two reasons that I don’t understand anonymous blogging and both of them act as reasons for blogging anonymously. First, I’m a narcissist. Writing is an extension of me and I can’t imagine doing it without getting credit for it, even though I mostly do it to please myself. Second, I’m an idiot who allowed my privacy to be so compromised that I just don’t think anything is still available to be used against me. It’s this second thing that seems to bother most anonymous bloggers. They are afraid that what they write might hurt them at work. That is a sad commentary on life in America.

Let’s think about that for a moment. One of my biggest problems with libertarians is that they have this ridiculous idea that it is only the government who can limit your liberty, “Because only the government has a military.” Or some variant. It’s ridiculous on its own terms. The great innovation in chess over the last many decades have been the hypermodern openings. You see, standard chess theory dictates that you must control the center of the board. But hypermodern theory shows that it is not necessary to occupy the center of the board in order to control it. We’ve seen this with American imperialism where we don’t have to officially own a country to control it. And Walmart doesn’t have to have its own army to control your life.

So I think anonymous blogging is great. But I do wish that anonymous bloggers would provide some information about themselves. And if not that, at least a way to contact them. And if not that, at least a way to comment on their blogging. And this brings to an active little blog, Technology as Nature. I came upon the blog because there were a couple of click-throughs to an article over here. So I went over and checked it out. I assume the author is a man, and he is a pretentious little punk—much like me, but probably a couple of decades younger. But he seems to know what he’s talking about—he agrees with me. In discussing Maya Angelou, he correctly noted that her poetry isn’t very good, but her prose is.

But he asked a question, which cannot be answered because there are no comments on the blog:

Why is 24 the only recent show to have used split screen frequently and successfully?

I don’t know how 24 uses the split screen because I haven’t seen it. I don’t see much television and I’ve specifically avoided that show because I believe it to be torture porn, and as well made as it may be, I don’t want to encourage that. Also, it seems to push the idea that torture works, and that doesn’t seem to be true in the real world. It does, however, say a lot about how we have changed as a culture that in my youth, the fact that a character tortured someone was a bad thing. But let’s put that aside for now.

The split screen is in general a bad thing because it calls attention to itself. It pulls the viewer out of the narrative. And I don’t know of a situation in which it is necessary to tell a story. So it is, as the writer noted in the article, a “stylistic tool.” And as such, a director needs a really good reason to use it. Otherwise, it seems flashy for no good reason. I still see it used, but in more experimental films. Jon Jost used it to great effect in Frameup. In one scene, we see Ricky Lee performing a monologue in front of one of those mugshot backgrounds. On the left, he is looking directly into the camera and on the right, he is seen from the side. I don’t know exactly what Jost was trying to “say” with it, but the effect was electrifying.

Another is Mike Figgis’ Timecode, which I think kind of makes the case for why people should not use split screens. Figgis used the sound editing to clue in the viewer about what is the most important panel to be watching. It raises the question, “Given that cross-cutting has been standard film syntax for a hundred years, why not just cross cut and not inundate me with a lot of narrative that I don’t need?” It’s the equivalent of novels that jump back and forth, chapter by chapter, between two periods. It can be justified at times, but mostly it is just authorial laziness.

The rule should be that you tell the story in the most straightforward way possible. If you use something as flashy as a split-screen it had better be either (1) essential to telling the story or (2) visually stunning. As I said, I don’t see the first condition ever being met. And only people as brilliant as Jon Jost had better try for the second.

Power Abuse by the Power Elite

Charles J HynesPower concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. — Frederick Douglass

Keep those words in mind. Always. It doesn’t matter how friendly or noble power seems. Power is like the will. Before Obama became president, he seemed like someone who was against the overreach of presidential power. Hell, he still seems that way. Yet his administration has been one of the most abusive of any—just ask John Kiriakou. But that’s old news, I suppose.

Friday, I saw a very interesting article over at Talking Points Memo, Ex-Brooklyn DA Accused of Funneling a Whole Lot of Money to Political Consultant. According to the article, Charles J Hynes used “money seized from drug dealers and other criminal defendants to pay a political consultant in his failed re-election campaign last year.” I just love this because it gets to the very heart of what is wrong with our society. According to the power elite from the 1980s onward, non-sanctioned drug use was so terrible that due process didn’t matter. If the police thought someone was a drug dealer but they couldn’t prove it, they just took his possessions and then it was up to him to prove that he wasn’t a drug dealer.

Notice that the Tea Party and other conservative apologists get up in arms about a 4.9 percentage point increase in the top marginal tax rate. That is tyranny! That is theft! But when it happens to relatively poor people, well, they just don’t care. And the fact that all it has managed to do with all this totally unconstitutional theft is make drugs more available to users, doesn’t really matter. Because it isn’t about protecting the poor drug addict; it is about taking money from the poor and potential interlopers and giving it to the rich and powerful.

In the case of Hynes, he used the money to try (unsuccessfully it turned out) to stay in power. But this was hardly the first time that Hynes had abused his power. There were a number of high profile cases. A good example was his prosecution of John O’Hara for voting in the wrong district—a form of voter fraud. He was prosecuted because O’Hara ran against one of Hynes’ political allies. There are lots of wrongful murder prosecutions too of course. And there is much else, because in addition to simply being a terrible person, Hynes was a District Attorney: the most powerful position in our legal system. And repeat after me, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

But the use of raw government theft from the powerless—something that pretty much everyone in the power elite thinks is just fine—to illegally try to stay in power is almost too much. But it gets better. The money, taken from poor people, was used by Hynes and given to “widely respected jurist” Barry Kamins. Kamins and Hynes discussed how to attack Hynes’ Democratic primary opponent Kenneth P Thompson. But that’s not all. They also discussed pending cases, which I suspect is totally common, but technically wrong, and morally outrageous.

Kamins’ lawyer’s justification was this, “Joe Hynes and Judge Kamins have been good friends for 40 years and have talked politics for much of that time.” He said other things, but that’s the meat of it. And the fact that he (and probably most people in the power elite) think that is fine is a big part of the problem. I don’t want cops being friends with prosecutors; I don’t want prosecutors being friends with judges. For all of those people, the whole legal system is just a game that they get paid to play. But for the people who get arrested and prosecuted and imprisoned, it is something much bigger.

Jabbar Collins spent 15 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit because of misconduct by Hynes’ office. After being freed, Collins sued various prosecutors:

The lawsuit charged that prosecutors in the district attorney’s office routinely coerced witnesses to testify through illegal threats and intimidation, and that Hynes “maintained a policy, custom and/or practice of deliberate indifference to violations by his employees of the constitutional rights of individuals who were investigated and criminally prosecuted.” In a hearing for the lawsuit, Judge Frederic Block said Vecchione’s behavior in Collins’ trial had been “horrendous” and asked the lawyer for the city, “Hynes hasn’t treated it seriously, has he?” In February 2013, Block denied the city’s motion to dismiss the suit, but said that while Collins could move forward in the suit against New York City, Vecchione and the other individual prosecutors named were immune to prosecution.

Which does get to the very core of the issue in the abuses of the power elite. They get promoted and they make money by abusing the powerless. But when they get caught, nothing happens to them. Collins may win his lawsuit, but it won’t be the people who colluded against him who will pay the price. So it makes perfect sense that Hynes and Kamins thought they were above the law—because they pretty much are above the law. And in the end of this, they will get some minor punishment. But it won’t destroy their lives—not like it did the lives of so many poor people who they prosecuted and punished.


I cropped that image of Hynes above so that you could see that American flag lapel pin. I just love that. So patriotic! Like most of the power elite, he loves America! It’s just its ideals and people he’s not so hot on.

A Trip to Hell With Jan Frans De Boever

Jan Frans De BoeverOn this day in 1872, the great Flemish Symbolist painter Jan Frans De Boever was born. I don’t know much about him, even though he was very popular in his own time. He is probably best know for illustrating French Symbolist writer Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil). Both men were quite interested in the intersection of sex and death. Pretty much all of his work seems like the action is taking place in hell.

You can find a lot of his work online, mostly I think, because there are a lot of goth websites and his work goes along with that. But it’s surprising how little actual information there is about his work. As with my experience with Bernard Frouchtben, the art world is fickle. We know far too much about certain artists and not nearly enough about others. The Wikipedia page of De Boever makes three main points about him: he was arrogant, he became popular in the United States were I think he moved, and his work went out of favor toward the end of his life. That’s not a lot to say about a very productive artist who lived almost 78 years. Compare that master’s thesis Wikipedia provides on Vincent van Gogh.

Some of De Boever’s work shows a real sense of humor, although he was generally interest in the symbolism of his work—he was very interested in literature. I mostly just like the look of his work that is very distinctive. Here is Les Danaides. Danaides were from Greek mythology, “The daughters of Danaus, who at their father’s command murdered their bridegrooms on their wedding night and were condemned in Hades to pour water eternally into a leaky vessel:”

Les Danaides

Happy birthday Jan Frans De Boever!