Some Totally Pointless Criticisms of The Mask

The MaskI just watched The Mask for the first time in a decade. It is a charming film. And in a sense, I am more the target audience for the film than just about anything else I can think of. It appeals to all the prejudices of the kind of guy who thinks that he’s “nice” and walked around with a puppet on a stick for many of his teen years. And I still spend a fair amount of time watching Bugs Bunny. He is one of my heroes. And yes, he is a hare.

But as one gets older (if he is paying attention at all), one notices one’s prejudices. And the “nice guys finish last” trope has come to annoy me. It’s also, I’m afraid, really sexist. The truth is that men and women make terrible mistakes in their love lives. In my experience, nothing is as attractive as self-confidence. And it is often true that people who are self-confident are jerks. I suspect it works differently from the way many people think. Being highly desirable makes people self-confident, but it also makes them more selfish. It’s human nature.

Of course, in The Mask, Stanley Ipkiss is a truly nice guy. I say that because he likes cartoon and has a great dog that likes him. And what is sweet about the film is that Stanley wins the girl the way men have always won the girl: by allowing her to see past all the discomfort and pretense to who he really is. This is why the ending is so sweet with Tina Carlyle (played surprisingly well by Cameron Diaz) throwing away the mask. The truth is, Stanley’s unchecked id was a bit too much for her, but surely she likes knowing that it lives within him.

On a technical level, there are some problems with the film. But I doubt anyone watching the film for the first time notices. As soon as Dorian Tyrell (the bad guy, played by Peter Greene) gets the mask, the film stalls. I understand the problem. You can’t make Tyrell the wacky character that Ipkiss turned into. But the mask doesn’t bring out his naughty child; it just seems to turn him into a more angry version of himself. So those scenes are tiresome. What’s more, I’m afraid that Greene is miscast in the part, because he is too convincing a heavy.

But things do pick up, as Ipkiss breaks out of jail and eventually takes us to the climax of film that is as zany and wonderful as anything that came before. It just would have been a whole lot better to move faster from the point of reporter Peggy Brandt’s double-cross to Ipkiss’ escape. They could have trimmed five or even ten minutes from the film and sped into the third act without driving through a pothole that upsets a very consistent momentum throughout the rest of the film.

Really though: what’s not to love? Jim Carrey has never been so adorable. The script is the silliest of fun. And it has the cutest dog ever. I don’t know why I waited this long to watch it again.

John Hodgman Does Ayn Rand

John HodgmanThe other day, Andrea called to read from an article by John Hodgman in The New Yorker, Ask Ayn. In it, he created excerpts from a column she had supposedly written for Parade Magazine shortly before her death. Of course, the article isn’t presented that way. It starts, “After a couple of appearances on the interview program Donahue, in 1979 and 1980, the author and philosopher Ayn Rand enjoyed something of a renaissance in popular culture, including a week as a panelist on Match Game and a guest appearance on Fantasy Island as the Spirit of Capitalism.” I did not get the joke.

I knew she had been on Donahue, so it wasn’t a stretch that she was on a second time. And the truth is that Rand had a love a pop culture. Corey Robin’s essay on her is titled, Garbage and Gravitas. And the fact that I have read a couple of biographies of her made the joke much more opaque. She was a supremely strange person. In addition to this, I knew that she had written a column for a popular audience. It turns out it was for The Los Angeles Times, but that isn’t too far off.

Anyway, Andrea started reading to me the fake columns. Here’s the first one she read:

Some of you wrote in last week to express surprise that, when I appeared on the Phil Donahue program, I told him that I was a fan of Charlie’s Angels. This just shows how poor your critical thinking is. It should be obvious why I love Charlie’s Angels. The show is about three beautiful women who are not ashamed of their beauty or their ability at solving crimes. And when their talents were not appreciated by the police department and they were forced to become crossing guards, they refused! They refused to take money from the government to train American children to believe that the state will forever protect them from risk! They left their jobs and made new lives for themselves in a private capitalist enterprise. They went Galt.

Again, I was confused. I remembered that she did claim to like the show Charlie’s Angels. And she was totally hung up on beauty. Whatever else you can say about her, Ayn Rand was not a beautiful woman and she was painfully aware of it. She idolized Marilyn Monroe, writing at least one entire essay about her. So I was kind of confused because all of the fake columns started off with things Rand believed, written in ways that Rand wrote. Hodgman recreates her style very well. But then the columns slid off sideways but rarely into total absurdity—rather typical of Hodgman.

The whole experience was yet another example of how it is not healthy to know a lot about Ayn Rand. But luckily, John Hodgman performed the piece live and it is on YouTube. And it is hilarious. But at the start of it, he mentions that all of the bits start off with “pretty much verbatim quotes from Ayn Rand.” That would have helped a lot—context is everything in comedy. But you can’t miss the comedy with his performance. Even after having heard most of it, I still really enjoyed this:

For the record, Ayn Rand hated Reagan. She also hated the libertarian movement. She hated pretty much everyone. Even among her circle of Objectivists, people were constantly being excommunicated over trivial matters. There are very good reasons why people call Objectivism a cult. I don’t know if I would go that far. But it was typical of small revolutionary groups so brilliantly parodied in Life of Brian:

Libertarian Zealot Milton Friedman

Milton FriedmanToday is J K Rowling’s 49th birthday and clearly the world is a better place because of it. I’ve tried to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and I have to say that I didn’t make it very far into it. Not really my kind of thing. It is, after all, written for grammar school children. What I find amazing is that a lot of adults like it. There is no accounting for taste. But I like the fact Rowling seems to be a decent person and even tried to publish a novel without getting massive sales based upon her name. So that’s all very nice. But since I don’t know much about her and don’t particularly want to know anything about her given I have a nice feeling about her and I don’t want to spoil it, I am not going to write about her for today’s birthday post.

Instead, I’m going to provide you with a slightly edited version of last year’s birthday post about probably the most pernicious academic of the twentieth century. That’s right, rather than write about the nice British lady, I am going to write about a nasty American man who symbolizes most of what is wrong with our shared country. A man who not only did great harm here, but also exported his pernicious ideology to other countries where countless were harmed, many dying many years before they would have. All of this happened because of ideas pushed by an ideological zealot.

On this day in 1912, the undoubtedly great economist Milton Friedman was born. The truth is, though, that being a good economist doesn’t mean you know anything about economics in the real world. The the Chicago School that he was so important in building shows that to this day. The people who have followed him tend to get lost in their models and mistake them for reality. I’ve seen it happen in my own field. And I think by the end, you could say the same thing about Friedman.

He was far more influential as a popularizer of libertarianism. That was especially true of the very disingenuous book he wrote with his wife, Free to Choose and then the PBS series Free to Choose. (It is amazing how much conservative propaganda the “liberal” PBS has pumped out over the years.) In this capacity, he pushed the thinking on the right to such an extent that now they would consider him a socialist who wants to steal everyone’s money via the Federal Reserve and its money printing. Of course, I figure if he were still alive, he’d be as crazy as they are. As he got older, his arguments became less grounded in economics and more like the thinking of a religious fanatic.

The other thing about him is that the 2008 economic crisis showed that he was wrong about his greatest claim to fame. He supposedly showed that the Federal Reserve caused the Great Depression; he claimed that if the Fed had just increased the money supply, all would have been well. That is exactly what the Fed has done since 2008 and you can see that it simply isn’t enough. The only reason we aren’t in the same place as we were in the 1930s is because of automatic fiscal stimulus in the form of Social Security and Unemployment—the very kinds of policies that Friedman was against.

I have long wondered what Friedman would have said if he had lived to see the crisis of 2008. It is certainly the case that most of the people who followed in his footsteps came up with clever ways to justify themselves. I feel fairly certain that Friedman would have used his own remarkable mind to justify his old thinking rather than to adjust it. As it was, he was an adviser to Augusto Pinochet in Chile. Every time Friedman’s free market ideas failed to pan out, Friedman’s excuse was always, “It’s that the economy isn’t free enough!” This is, by the way, a common trick of libertarians and communists and, for that matter, any utopian thinker. There can never be the perfect system (whatever the ideologue might see it as), so there is never a way to disprove their theories. So if Friedman had still been alive in 2008, he probably would have been part of the chorus claiming that there was a crash because the deregulation didn’t go far enough.

The thing is that even though Milton Friedman was totally wrong about the main things he is now remembered for and even though he caused so much pain and suffering all over the world, he had a great life. And even in death, he is deified by modern conservatives, especially the libertarians. He considered himself an agnostic, which means that in his reality, there’s at least a reasonable chance that he is burning in hell. So there’s that.

Now that you’re dead, happy birthday Milton Friedman!

“Les Bourgeois” and the Wisdom of Age

Jacques BrelIt’s always a good time to talk about Jacques Brel. The years have not diminished my admiration for him. What is so great is that he doesn’t just sing. He acts the songs. He is, above all, a storyteller. And the stories that he tells are so filled with keen observations of the way the world is.

I understand that there are other artists who do this. Bruce Springsteen’s best work is like this, but usually he falls into cliche. Bobbie Gentry certainly managed this on a few songs. But American songwriters tend to disappoint. As much as I love the work of Warren Zevon and Randy Newman, they rarely succeeded in any given song. I think the problem is that American popular music, regardless of the form, is too dependent upon “slice of life” stories, with little payoff. It is extremely rare that a songwriter even tries to convey what we get from the best American short story writers like Irwin Shaw.

But Brel doesn’t just try—he succeeds. And he does it consistently. It doesn’t matter if he’s being serious or silly, he always has something to say. A good example of this comes from a song I really like, “Les Bourgeois”—a song that is both serious and silly. It tells the story of three friends: Jojo, Pierre, and the narrator. The first two verses tell of how they are drinking away their youth at the Three Pheasants Hotel bar. And when the older bourgeois pass by, the young men ridicule them in the chorus, “The bourgeois are like pigs!” And so on.

In the third verse, things are different. The three friends are now the bourgeois. They still have the same interests. They are still the same people. But they are old. And now there is a new generation of young people who ridicule them just as they ridiculed the generation before them. This is not exactly a startling denouement, although I think any reasonable person would admit that it has far more to say that most American pop songs. And that’s especially true coming from a man only 32 years old. (Brel wrote the lyrics; the music was written by Jean Corti.)

What’s more notable about the song is the way that Brel performs it. The entire tone of the third verse is different. It is a bit more stiff—the performance of man who knows he has to be dignified but still feels the same inside. And then, he doesn’t even sing the final chorus. This is the same chorus that was sung with such gusto the first two times, “The bourgeois are like pigs!” It is spoken with sense of disbelief, “Can you believe what these kids say to us?” It’s poignant and beautiful.

Here is the song. There are no subtitles, but I hardly think they are necessary:

If He Were Serious, Paul Ryan Would Switch Parties

Paul Ryan - Eddie MunsterOver at the Huffington Post, Arthur Delaney tries to get to the bottom of, Just How Much Does Paul Ryan Want the Government to Plan Poor People’s Lives? And, as is getting more and more common with the more and more vanilla website, he doesn’t really answer the question. But he does provide a good overview of just what the Republican wunderkind is up to. And as expected, he is showing himself to be the fraud he has always been.

Apparently, Ryan told the Christian Science Monitor today that the whole case management thing was just an idea he was fond of. Just like when people noted the gaping holes in his budget, he argues that despite all the big deal made of his plan, it’s not set in stone. Apparently, anything that anyone has a problem with will be jettisoned and so his poverty proposal is just as serious as his budget was. But it’s worse than even that.

Ryan told the Huffington Post, “What we’re saying is we’re not mandating case management. We’re saying this is one of the things we recommend, but give the states the ability to try other ideas.” Now you may not be as fluent as I am in the obscure Charlatan language, so let me translate. He’s saying that the most important thing is to bind up all the the poverty plans and block grant them. That’s what he really cares about. And the reason he really cares about it is that this is a way that the poverty programs can be destroyed over time.

Again, I wonder: why is anyone taking this guy seriously. He cares about the poor the way I care about Potato Bugs: I know they exist and they will always exist, but I don’t want them around me. Let’s be clear about this. Paul Ryan’s primary plan to help the poor is to do what he’s always wanted to do: block grant programs that conservatives don’t like. His other big idea is to create “case workers” for the poor. What he’s thinking—what he “knows”—is that the poor aren’t poor because of a lack of opportunity; they are poor because they just don’t know any better. If they had a more “can do” attitude and a cool Eddie Munster haircut like Paul Ryan, they too could be on the short list for the Republican presidential nomination.

Return to SenderIt is worse than stupid that the media continue to treat this guy with even a modicum of respect. I assure you that a young black man who had failed as totally in his career as Paul Ryan has in his would undoubtedly be spending life without parole in a prison somewhere. But Paul Ryan is a rich white guy. So we have to listen to him because rich white guys are always serious and important and filled with wisdom.

But something more general has been on my mind. This isn’t just about the media needing to find a “serious” Republican. It is about this idea that both sides of the political isle want to help the poor; both parties care about making America better for everyone. But that is absolutely not true. If you want to see the real political divide in this country, look at the anti-immigration protests. Look at the angry people screaming with their “Return to Sender” signs. This is the Republicans Party in a general sense. They don’t care about the kids fleeing death in their home countries. And to the point: they don’t care that people are born into poverty, live in poverty, and die young in poverty. If Paul Ryan really cares about poverty, he needs to switch parties first.

Democrats Making Chumps Out of Us

Bill ClintonThomas Frank has been recycling some old essays recently, and yesterday, he posted one he wrote after Obama had won the election but before he took office, Obama Really Let These Clowns Win? How Right-Wing Obstruction Always Trumps Sober Centrism. In a certain way, it is just his way of saying, “Told you so!” But I’m not so interested in it for being prophetic as I am in how much it parallels my own thinking.

The base of his essay is that Clinton played the “moderate” game and moved the country to the right and Obama was looking as though he was going to do the same thing. And we all now know that he did just that. It’s true that Obama did not hurt the country nearly as much as Clinton did. But given the opportunity that Obama had coming in right after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, you have to say that he did as bad a job as Clinton.

Frank ended his essay on what was undoubtedly meant to sound hopeful but in retrospect just makes me want to close up the house and go back to bed for a decade or two:

Centrism is a chump’s game. Democrats have massive majorities these days not because they waffle hither and yon but because their historic principles have been vindicated by events. This is their moment. Let the other side do the triangulating.

But there is more Frank’s article than a look back on Clinton and a look forward to Obama. He also gets into the thinking of the professional centrists, of which Obama and Clinton are members, but who are mostly journalists. As he noted, “The real-world function of Beltway centrism has never been to wage high-minded war against ‘both extremes’ but to fight specifically against the economic and foreign policies of liberalism. Centrism’s institutional triumphs have been won mainly if not entirely within the Democratic Party…” Indeed.

I’ve gone farther on this issue, as I did back in 2012 when I wrote, Serious Centrist Saletan’s Selfishness. In it, I discussed William Saletan of Slate, but more as a type than as an individual:

The reason that Saletan and his peers share this kind of [economically conservative, socially liberal] political outlook is clear enough: it speaks to their personal interests. They are socially liberal because the corresponding views improve their lives. They have friends who are gay. They’ve had girlfriends who have had abortions. Their careers depend upon a strong first amendment. So their lives would be poorer and their bank accounts too, if the social conservatives got power in the United States. As a result, they are socially liberal—even extremely so.

On the other side of things, they are rich. Whether on the TV, in newspaper, or increasingly even on the internet, pundits are rich. They are all well inside the top 20% of earners. As a result, Saletan finds it easy to be a booster for so called free trade. No Chinese worker is going to take his job. (Not that there aren’t about a million who could do it as well.) But unionized IT professionals might reduce his income. And increased taxes on the upper class could certainly reduce his income. So it just makes sense to argue that Social Security must be cut while ignoring the obvious fix of increasing the payroll tax cap, which it just so happens would increase his tax burden.

And I suspect this is the problem with Clinton and Obama. They are winners in society. They may care more about the poor than the Bush family, but they are no less estranged from the poor. So of course Obama would never think about raising the payroll tax cap: that would hurt every one of his friends and himself. So the only solution that makes sense to him is to cut Social Security benefits in a politically viable way. It isn’t that he’s a bad man, it is just that like everyone, he is largely biased by his own class interests. And those are the interests of what is called a centrist.

Barack ObamaBut as I’ve shown, centrism isn’t the middle between the two extremes. In fact, if you look at the American people, elite centrism is more or less the popular anti-centrism. The people tend to be economically liberal and socially conservative. So what Democrats and most of the press call the “middle” is anything but. The main thing to remember however, is that whether it is elite centrism or popular centrism, it is still an ideology. Obama’s claims about being post-partisan make him either a charlatan or a fool. Regardless, we are lost as long the “liberal” Democratic Party keeps electing people like him. As Thomas Frank noted, “Centrism is not merely a mental habit of the comfortable, but an ideology of its own, a system of cognition that stands beyond proof or refutation.” Obama and Clinton will go to their graves certain that they had found the Aristotelian perfection: the golden mean between the two extremes.

Long Term Interests in Israel-Palestine

Ezra KleinThere has been a lot of liberal rethinking and despair about what’s going on with the Israel-Palestine conflict. Yesterday, Jonathan Chait wrote, Israel Is Making It Hard To Be Pro-Israel. And then this morning, Ezra Klein wrote an article basically commiserating with Chait, Why I Have Become More Pessimistic About Israel. Klein does a better job of getting at the real problem, which is that Israel’s actions are bad for it in the long term.

In bars up and down the west coast in the 1980s and 1990s, and even to this day but to a much smaller extent, I came upon a certain kind of person who had fought in the Vietnam War. And they would lament the fact that we could have won that war but the government just wouldn’t let them. I think these guys felt they had to defend themselves and their generation. This came from the fact that a lot of people thought that the Vietnam War was the first war that the United States lost. Just on a factual basis this is absurd: we lost the War of 1812, and this is why we make such a big deal of the Battle of New Orleans—it was the only thing that went well for us in that war.

But the truth is that the point of war is never to “win.” By this logic, we could have “won” the Vietnam War by simply nuking the country back to the stone age. And that takes us to everyone’s favorite Prussian general, Carl von Clausewitz and his often quoted aphorism, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” In other words, the war is not the point; the war is just a tool. Now I would argue that ultimately wars serve only themselves, and this is why after just about every war, people wonder why we fought it. But there is no doubt that rulers generally start wars because they want to accomplish something other than killing a lot of people.

In Klein’s article, he quoted a Stratfor Global Intelligence report that looked at Israel’s long term interests. It indicated that Israel is acting as though it will always be the great military power in the region. But given that it is currently completely dominant, the chances are that in fifty years Israel’s situation will be worse than it now is.

Looking at the relative risks, making a high-risk deal with the Palestinians would seem prudent in the long run. But nations do not make decisions on such abstract calculations. Israel will bet on its ability to stay strong. From a political standpoint, it has no choice. The Palestinians will bet on the long game. They have no choice. And in the meantime, blood will periodically flow.

What we know is that when these conflicts arise, both sides gain more political power. It’s like after 9/11—it greatly increased support for President Bush. The whole thing makes me even more cynical, because if anyone should be thinking about the long term, it should be Israel. But instead, Benjamin Netanyahu and most of the Israeli government seem to care more about their short term political interests. Clearly, Netanyahu’s power is increased when Hamas starts shelling. So that’s what conservative politicians in Israel get. But Israel, if anything, gets weaker.

It all reminds me of The Battle of Algiers where effectively the French “win” the battle, but lose the war. I don’t think the Israeli government is working in the interest of Israel just as I don’t think Hamas is working in the interest of Palestine. It is almost an unspoken conspiracy for leaders of both sides to increase their internal power, while actual people die and the long term prospects of both sides look dimmer by the day.

See Also

Cause of Every Israel-Palestine War
Don’t Ask How the US Would React
A Modest Proposal for Israel-Palestine
Israel’s Long-Term Security
Two-State Solution Unlikely Anytime Soon

Waiting for Peter Bogdanovich

Peter BogdanovichThe great film historian and and director Peter Bogdanovich is 75 today. He is an interesting guy. He started off as an actor and then somehow ended up as the film programmer at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. From this position, he met and interviewed a number of notable people from the film industry including John Ford and, most important, Orson Welles with whom he had a friendship for the rest of the older director’s life. There’s no doubt he could have continued on in this vein for the rest of his life. He is a great analyst of film, although I always get the feeling reading him that he’s looking down on me: everything is obvious and shouldn’t you just be watching the films? I largely agree and so haven’t made it a point of reading much of his work.

It was inevitable given his knowledge, predisposition, and connections that he would direct films. He first became involved with Roger Corman, for whom he directed Targets and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women in the late 1960s. In 1971, he made it to the big time when he wrote (based on the novel by Larry McMurtry) and directed The Last Picture Show. It’s a coming of age film that I admire but don’t much enjoy. He followed it up with the highly successful and funny What’s Up, Doc? And then, of course, there was one of my favorite films, Paper Moon.

The rest of his life has been a muddle. He’s made a number of good films since then. I’m a big fan of Noises Off myself. And there has always been his attraction to young actresses, most notably his relationship with Dorothy Stratten, which culminated in her murder (I’m not suggesting that Bogdanovich is in any way culpable). Currently, he is working on a film One Lucky Moon with Cybill Shepherd, with whom he was romantically involved when she was the age he seems to be most attracted to.

These days I look to him mostly for news about the status of Orson Welles’ last film, The Other Side of the Wind. If anyone ever gets the film released as it should be, it will be Bogdanovich. It isn’t just a matter of the legal issues (of which there have been many). There are missing bits that may require some second unit filming, narration, editing, and music. No one wants its release to be a repeat of Don Quixote. But I would like to see the film before I die. Anyway…

Happy birthday Peter Bogdanovich!

Anti-Libertarian Criticism Site Review

Anti-Libertarian CriticismFor some time I’ve been thinking about starting a series of articles where I discuss (review, if you will) other blogs. It comes from one of the primary things I tell people who ask me about starting a blog: come up with things you can write on a regular basis. In my case, each morning, I write a birthday post. It gives me something to do. It’s like having a baby: it demands attention and thus your blog more generally gets attention. I have another series called Odds and Ends, but it is intermittent. This one will be too. But I start today because I’ve discovered a new and fascinating blog, Anti-Libertarian Criticism.


The tag line for Anti-Libertarian Criticism is, “Keeping libertarians in check and exposing it as a bankrupt ideology.” It’s first post was on 15 May of this year, Left-Libertarianism Is Bunk Because It’s Still Libertarianism. In it, he explains that he was once a fellow traveler. And as all people who took something silly much too seriously, he is now in the best situation to critique that silliness.

I have a special interest in his insights, because my experience with libertarianism is a whole generation before his. It is also clear that his involvement in the movement was much more intense than mine, even though I was quite involved. What I thus found most interesting was an article he wrote earlier this month, Critical Map of the American Libertarian Movement. To me, there have always been, roughly speaking, three kinds of libertarians: embarrassed conservatives, reluctant liberals, and conservatives that like to associate with the name. Good examples of this last category are people like Rand Paul and even Ted Cruz. As for the the actual libertarians, my experience is that 95% of them were really conservatives.

The map that Brainpolice2 (the writer of the site) provides contains eight types. It includes Paleo-Libertarians, which is what I normally call pretend libertarians like Paul. I think that’s correct: he is part of the ecosystem. It also shows how libertarianism can be molded to anything you want to believe—as long as you deify the “free market” and capitalism. And this is really more than anything else what Anti-Libertarian Criticism discusses: the delusions of the Left-Libertarians that they are arguing for a post-capitalist utopia.

Reading through the blog, I was constantly struck with how much I agreed with Brainpolice2. But he goes into much more depth about libertarianism than I am ever willing. To me, the movement is made up of confused idealists and conservative apologists. But it is great fun to read someone who looks at the movement seriously. And the work is more and more important as libertarian (or at least pseudo-libertarian) thought becomes a bigger part of the Republican Party—especially among the Tea Party base.


The site is stark. There is very little visual candy. There are only two images and a single video embedded (of The Who performing “Don’t Get Fooled Again”), and these are from the first couple of posts. It’s probably all for the best, however. The articles are more along the lines of what you expect from Noahpinion—longer, more detailed articles than one normally finds on blogs. And the style is more academic. They often sound like term papers, “How I Wasted My Youth on Libertarianism.” But there are sparks of real wit amid the deliberate prose.

Like a lot of blogs, Anti-Libertarian Criticism is anonymous. I don’t know if people realize quite how annoying this is to readers. We do really want to know who we are dealing with. All that the “About” pages says is, “I am who I am. I had my time in the libertarian movement and my continued observations of it call for criticism.” I understand the need for anonymity. In my past, I’ve published some very controversial things that have caused me no end of trouble. But in general, I think people are unnecessarily paranoid. I know liberal bloggers who never write anything you wouldn’t see on MSNBC but who are still afraid their employers will find out about them. The only reason I can think for Brainpolice2 to be anonymous is if he’s still active in the movement and if that’s the case, it ought to be stated.

The Future

My fear is that the blog will not go on very long because the subject is so limited. Thus far, Brainpolice2 seems to have found many interesting angles to look at the subject. Eventually, I think he will have to broaden the focus. For example, I’d like to hear his take on the reporting of Bleeding Heart Libertarian David Weigel. But for now, it provides a wealth of insights about the modern libertarian movement. I will definitely be checking in on it.

Burwell v Hobby Lobby Leads Nowhere

John RobertsOne month ago, after the Supreme Court decision in Burwell v Hobby Lobby, I wrote, SCOTUS Says Not All Religions Are Equal. In that article, I discussed how the real takeaway from the decision was not that religious companies can deprive women of birth control healthcare coverage; it was that not all religions are equal. In other words, the five conservatives on the Supreme Court violated the Establishment Clause. The reason is very simple: the majority argued this case very narrowly so that they wouldn’t have to similarly apply it to Christian Scientists, for example. Doing so would have basically signaled the end of law in the United States: you can do anything God tells you to. The problem is that I don’t see any reason to think that conservative Christians who are against birth control pills have a more sincere belief than Christian Scientists who believe that any disease (Except broken bones!) can be prayed away.

As I wrote then, don’t think that the Court is going to find any religious rights that the five conservative justices don’t share. But that hasn’t stopped a lot of people from getting excited. The Satanic Temple, for example, is looking to use Burwell v Hobby Lobby to make the case against “informed consent” laws. These are laws that Republicans have passed all over the country that require women be given generally dubious and often explicitly religious information before they can get an abortion. These are extremely vile laws that in addition to everything else treat adult women as though they were children.

The Satanic Temple’s reasoning is that their beliefs about medicine are dictated by the best scientific evidence and so their religious rights are being violated by being required to hear about things that go against their beliefs. It’s a good argument. And despite what people claim, The Satanic Temple is a serious religious group that sees Satan as representing those on the margins of society—who have been, to be blunt, cast out. (I get angry especially at liberals who just dismiss it as a trolling organization.) But of course, the Court won’t even hear such a case unless it has to. The liberals already know how dangerous it is that the majority did, so they won’t be interested in hearing the case. And the conservatives won’t want to go against their conservative Christian ideology. (It is, of course, possible they would have to hear it because a lower court finds for The Satanic Temple because of Burwell v Hobby Lobby. If they happened, the conservatives would find some loophole like having to hear bad information is not the same as having to pay for drugs.)

Now, I hear from Right Wing Watch, Alabama Officials: Coal Regulations Violate God’s Will. According to the article:

And now, out of Alabama, we get a perfect example of biblical economics at work. reports on a press conference delivered by officials from the Alabama Public Service Commission and the Republican National Committee yesterday at which they argued against new EPA coal plant regulations by claiming that “coal was created in Alabama by God, and the federal government should not enact policy that runs counter to God’s plan.”

“Who has the right to take what God’s given a state?” asked commissioner-elect Chip Beeker.

Sure, why not? For over 200 years, the Supreme Court has found that religious rights do not trump government law. This is why Utah had to get rid of polygamy in order to become a state. (It was a big issue before it became a state and was only a territory.) But the Supreme Court made a major mistake in Burwell v Hobby Lobby. I don’t blame most of the conservatives, but Chief Justice Roberts really should have known better. But I suspect that he just thinks this one can be finessed like Bush v Gore. And he may be right.

The main thing is that Burwell v Hobby Lobby isn’t going to lead to any expansion of religious liberty. It was just another conservative effort to harm Obamacare. In the long term—within fifty years, I think—the Supreme Court will overturn Burwell v Hobby Lobby. And historians will wonder, “What were they thinking?” Or maybe we will all just get used to the Supreme Court being an extension of the parties. The conservatives justices will always find how ever conservatives want them to, regardless of the necessary twisted logic. But I don’t really think so. I think eventually the Supreme Court will be fixed, and John Roberts will be remembered as the Chief Justice who broke the Court.

Dinesh D’Souza Fuels Conservative Anger

Google Search: America on 29 July 2014

Right now, if you go to Google and search for “America,” you will see the results above. That’s right: Dinesh D’Souza’s newest agitprop film is the first thing that comes up on Google. I think it is funny that the normal top result is for the washed-up 70s pop-rock band and not, you know, one of the continents. But apparently, a few weeks ago, D’Souza’s stupidly titled film America was not coming up first. He even had his lawyers send a letter to Google and Republicans are considering looking into Google’s clear efforts to stifle free speech. What’s amazing is that anyone would think that if they named a film with such a generic title that Google would automatically think that someone searching for the word would be looking for the movie. This is why studios name their films thinks like The Fluffy Movie and not Fluffy, although even that is better than America.

But as you see, it does show up as number one now, so Google apparently folded. The company released a statement:

Our systems have unfortunately confused the title of the movie ‘America,’ because it’s a common term and appears in many movie titles. We’ve updated the Knowledge Graph, our database that stores this type of information, but it will take some time to display showtimes and other details for this movie. We’re always working on improving our systems, and we appreciate the feedback.


What really bugs me about this is that it is typical of conservatives to go whining about how unfair everyone is to them when they create their own problems. The truth is that everyone who was going to see this film, saw this film. The reviews on it are terrible. It was made for the kind of people who are still interested in anything said by a man who became engaged while still married and who recently pleaded guilt to a felony involving illegal campaign contributions. America wasn’t going to be the surprise hit of 2014.

Dinesh D'SouzaBut in 2012, D’Souza put out 2016: Obama’s America where he made an incredibly tired argument (mostly, although not entirely, used by conservatives) that after winning re-election, Obama would show who he really was turning America into the Soviet Union. Of course, it is two years later and there is no sign of the anti-colonialist who wants to destroy America. You would think that even if this didn’t cause D’Souza to rethink things, it might make some of the people who saw his last film to think that he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

The new film supposedly takes on five arguments that people like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn have made against the United States. But as David Ehrlich at A V Club noted, America “is astonishingly facile, a film comprised entirely of straw man arguments.” But that’s just a pretext. The real purpose of it is to say, that while Obama may not have turned out to be quite the America destroy president that D’Souza claimed, Hillary Clinton surely will be.

How long can Dinesh D’Souza go on making money with the same tired and quickly refuted arguments? Probably a long time. The conservative publishing industry has gone on for decades with the same arguments made again and again. The truth is that there is a big group of mostly old white men who are certain that America is just going down the drain. About a year ago, I wrote, Don’t Let Merle Haggard Deceive You. And just yesterday, I got the following comment from “Len,” who perfectly reflects the kind of person who makes uncreative frauds like D’Souza rich:

Frank, you truly are as my dad used to say,”an educated idiot.” Your questions of the lyrics in these songs show me without doubt you have no idea of when and what the good times in America were. In my opinion you should stick to science and physics as you don’t seem to have any common sense at all which is a very contagious disease in the U.S. at this time. Seemingly as Merle sang in one of his songs you appear to be one of those who keep rolling the snowball toward hell. If your were alive and around in the 50’s and 60’s and gave a crap you would know exactly what the songs were referencing and see the bottom of the pit that America has fallen into although I am pretty sure it has by no means reached the bottom at this time. Stick around smarty the worst is definitely yet to come.

There is no talking to such people. They are angry and they will do anything and pay any price to fuel their anger. And fifteen bucks to watch Dinesh D’Souza talk about how it’s not Obama but really Clinton who is going to destroy America is a small price to pay.

Don’t Cry for the Export-Import Bank

US Export-Import BankWe have been living through a very interesting economic time. A good example came last year with the Fiscal Cliff deal. I was for it. In fact, I was unhappy that Obama cut a worse deal than he could have—allowing rich people to keep more money than should have been. But as I also wrote at the time: in the long term, it was good policy; but in the short term, it was bad policy. We wanted the people to have as much money as possible. In this case, it didn’t matter that much because only the rich saw their income taxes go back up to the normal level, and they already have more money than they can spend. (A much bigger issue was an end to the payroll tax holiday, which was just peachy to the Republicans because, let’s fact it, they only care about the taxes of the rich.)

We have the same thing going on with re-authorization of the Export-Import Bank. The truth is that it’s a bad thing: welfare for the rich, masquerading as some great big jobs program. So we ought to get rid of it. But not now. It is a good example of why economic growth has been so anemic. It is economic death by a thousand cuts. If the Republican Party were any kind of reasonable, things would be much better by now. You can see this by looking at federal government spending after every other recession since World War II. Just check out this graph by Ezra Klein from last year. What it shows that is that when Reagan and Bush the Younger where in the White House, federal spending really helped the economy. But under Obama, federal spending has been cut so much that it has actually hurt the economy. That’s not really on Obama but rather the Republicans. And despite this, the Republicans continue to claim that federal spending is out of hand. (And they will only stop saying that when a Republican is in the White House.)

Average Government Spending

The point is that in general, we should be doing anything we can to help the economy, even stupid things like supporting the Export-Import Bank. But this morning, Dean Baker made an excellent point, More Fun and Games With Export-Import Bank. It’s in response to an article by William Brock who argued that this is all going to cost jobs. Well, that’s not especially true. It will cost profits among those favored, politically connected companies. But okay, lost profits is money that doesn’t cycle in our economy and thus jobs will be lost. But just how big would this hit be?

Dean BakerBaker noted that these cheap loans would not result in a decrease of exports equal to the loans, so we are looking at something like $4 to $11 billion per year, and not the $37 billion that Brock would have us believe. Compare this to the estimated $15 billion per year in exports that we lose each year because we refuse to do business with Iran. In that context, the loss of the Export-Import Bank doesn’t look that bad. We are willing to forego two to three times as much in exports because we still haven’t gotten over the hostage crisis from 35 years ago. And that’s just one example.

In another article this morning, Baker asked, Will Protection of Microsoft in China Cost the Jobs of Manufacturing Workers? The point is one that Bakes makes a lot. Our government only has so much leverage over China. And we seem to be using it to get stronger intellectual property protections, which help already rich software and movie companies. Instead, we should be pressing China to increase the value of its currency so that our exports to them would be more competitive and their exports to us, less competitive. That’s the sort of thing that would really create jobs, but instead the government (as usual) is looking out for the interests of the super rich rent seekers.

What we have in the United States is a media system that pays a whole lot of attention to things that will hurt the super rich (eg the Export-Import Bank, copyright in China) and very little attention to much bigger things that hurt the working class (eg trade with Iran, the strong dollar policy). So while it’s true that the elimination of the Export-Import Bank would be bad in the short term, it wouldn’t be that big a deal. But given that it is a welfare program for the super rich, chances are that the Export-Import Bank will be reauthorized. This is American, damn it: the rich can never be harmed!