And Now Lauren Bacall

Lauren BacallWell, it had to happen. Lauren Bacall died today. Now I know: she was 89. But I really expected her to make it to 90 at the very least. And she had only another month to go! Olivia de Havilland is still alive at 98! It isn’t fair. Really, I feel like Bogart has died again.

Obviously, Bacall became a star because she was beautiful with that amazing sexy petulance on the screen. But just like Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis, she aged really well. She didn’t grow out of the bad girl act, she grew with it. She became someone I enjoyed seeing in interviews, and that’s saying something because I generally find actor interviews incredibly boring. But she came across as enormously real but still with that bit of slyness that made you wonder if she wasn’t just making the whole thing up.

She was also a well know liberal. But I only just found this great quote from her in 2005 on Larry King Live. He asked her if she was a “big D Democrat.” She responded, “I’m a total Democrat. I’m anti-Republican. And it’s only fair that you know it. Even though…” He interrupted in mock surprise, “Wait a minute. Are you a liberal?” She said, “I’m a liberal. The L word! I love it. Being a liberal is the best thing on earth you can be. You are welcoming to everyone when you’re a liberal. You do not have a small mind. Little picayune things. You want to welcome everyone.” She continues on. It is quite delightful. “I hear anyone say anything about FDR…” How do you not love her? Unless you have a small picayune Republican mind!

The world, of course, will always remember one thing about Lauren Bacall:

You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… Blow.

The whole scene has a few gems. “Who was the girl, Steve? The one who left you with such a high opinion of women?” And, after Bogart asks her why she kissed him, “I’ve been wondering whether I’d like it.” And then afterward, “It’s even better when you help.” She’s just great, and totally outclasses Bogart. But that’s much of the charm of the whole thing:

That was her first time on the screen as far as I can tell. And she had been working ever since—through this year. Goodnight princess, you should have died hereafter; there would have been a time for such a word; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

US Dealt With Torture Program by Putting Whistleblower in Prison

We Tortured Some Folks - This Modern WorldThe always insightful Tom Tomorrow is out with a new installment of This Modern World, We Tortured Some Folks. You should click on over to see the whole thing. But I thought this first panel was the best part of it. That government whistleblower is, of course, John Kiriakou. He is currently in federal prison. He got two and a half years for disclosing classified information. But that was only because the government couldn’t make a stronger charge stick. He is in prison because he disclosed government waterboarding.

I’m afraid that now, most people don’t know what to make of waterboarding. But until it was disclosed that we were doing it, the government had always been clear on the practice: it was torture. It was only when it was revealed that the government was doing it that all the apologetics started to fly. According to ABC News, “Water boarding was designated as illegal by US generals in Vietnam 40 years ago.” As Tom Tomorrow lampoons in his comic, “Brave patriots working under pressure made mistakes.” I think an actual hot war where there are two armies going at each other has far more pressure associated with it than the highly asymmetrical War on Terror.

John KiriakouBut what works so well in the comic is the contrast: it was well meaning patriots who tortured many people, at least some of which were completely innocent. But the guy who revealed this misconduct was not a well meaning patriot. Good God, no! I mean, he actually embarrassed the government! A patriot would never embarrass the government. But in the heat of four years after 9/11 with detainees who were inside a prison that was itself inside a prison, of course mistakes would be made by patriots who were only looking after the good of the country and weren’t just functional psychopaths.

Obama has an amazing ability to show empathy and kindness to his political enemies. I like that. I share that! I’ve always been in favor of a 9/11-aftermath “truth and reconciliation commission.” I don’t want to punish the people who did wrong during this time. Let’s just think the best of them. But let’s admit what we’ve done. So I’m all for forgiving the abuses of the Bush administration. Unfortunately, I’m also for forgiving my own side. Obama doesn’t share that feeling. He seems afraid to stand up for his own side, most likely because he is.

Of course, John Kiriakou doesn’t need to be forgiven. He is an American hero. The Obama administration needs to apologize to him. But you can be sure that Obama won’t do that. And you know the reason, because it is the same reason for everything: Obama can’t do anything liberal because then everyone would know he was a liberal. And don’t forget: Obama is black! So if he showed any empathy for the poor and the weak or (God forbid!), someone who didn’t think the country should be torturing people, well everyone would know he was black, or liberal, or a human being. We can’t have that!

So America’s response to its previous torture is to put the man who told us about it in prison. Case close. Can’t look back! Gotta look forward! You remember the Obama slogan:

Forward ...Until We Encounter Opposition
Via The Daily Show, by Bill Wright, Indianapolis, Radio X in Basel, Switzerland

See Also

Torture Worse Than Torture Disclosure
Kiriakou on Conviction
Problem with Unenforced Laws
How We Treat Real American Heroes

Republican Party’s Libertarian Fantasies

David FrumDavid Frum has written a very interesting article over at The Atlantic, Why the “Libertarian Moment” Isn’t Really Happening. It is a major push back against this idea that that the country is ready for a libertarian Republican Party. Frum did an excellent job of explaining why this idea is total nonsense. But he’s wrong about why libertarian rhetoric has become so big in the Republican Party since 2009. This is hardly surprising. Frum is a Republican, and as much of a reformer as he may be in some areas, he’s just not willing to admit certain truths about his chosen party.

Before getting to that, let’s lay out the environment, because Frum does such a good job of it. He notes that the idea that young people are turning libertarian is based upon three facts: (1) they are more open to LGBT rights and drug legalization; (2) they aren’t as supportive of Social Security; and (3) they aren’t very fond of either party. If this collection of facts doesn’t sound like libertarianism to you: ding ding ding! You win the prize: you are smarter than a reporter at The New York Times. Frum observed, “[These three facts] reveal (modest) generational self-interest, social liberalism, and political demobilization.”

Frum also noted that the libertarian policies that the Republican Party has been pushing are not the ones that the people want. This is Frum at his absolute best and most insightful:

Despite the self-flattering claims of libertarians, the Republicans’ post-2009 libertarian turn is not a response to voter demand. The areas where the voting public has moved furthest and fastest in a libertarian direction—gay rights, for example—have been the areas where Republicans have moved slowest and most reluctantly. [Actually, they haven’t moved at all. -FM] The areas where the voting public most resists libertarian ideas—such as social benefits—are precisely the areas where the GOP has swung furthest and fastest in a libertarian direction.

He followed this brilliant insight that (to me) leads clearly to the answer, with a vague argument about the difference between libertarians and conservatives being effectively a matter of degrees. He claimed that the party’s recent flirtation with libertarianism was just a matter of despair. And then, he claimed, “For mainstream conservatives, concerned about the growth of government since 2008, libertarianism can sometimes sound like only a slightly more exuberant version of what they already believe.” Frum really needs to get out more. As Jonathan Chait wrote just this morning:

Public-sector employment has fallen by 700,000 since Obama took office, after having increased by more than a million under each of the five previous presidents.

All the “growth of government” has been due to automatic increases in social safety net programs because we just went through the biggest recession since the Great Depression. Yet Frum just parrots the patently false Republican talking point that the federal government has grown thanks to the secret Kenyan socialist in the White House. No wonder Frum is confused about his party’s recent infatuation with libertarianism.

The issue is very simple. There are big funders who push a one-sided version of libertarianism—most notably the Koch brothers. There is a whole conservative media echo chamber that does the same thing. We must abolish the IRS because of liberty! We must never allow same sex marriage because of religious liberty! The libertarian rhetoric works very well to push the same old Republican desires: cut taxes on the rich, cut benefits for the poor.

But let’s remember back to the start of the Tea Party movement with all its libertarian rhetoric. Remember: it didn’t start because the Bush administration was bailing out the banks. No, it started when the Obama administration decided to use a lot less money to help out middle class homeowners. But the truth is that the movement would have gone nowhere if it hadn’t been for all the money that the Koch brothers put into it and for the constant advertising that Fox News and hate radio did on behalf of it. And when all was said and done, what was the one issue that all these supposed libertarians agreed on: abortion should be illegal. And it is no surprise that the Paul family are libertarians except when it comes to reproductive rights. Because libertarianism in the Republican Party is nothing but a pretense. It is simply a way to make their funneling of money from the poor to the rich look ideologically reasonable.

H/T: Ed Kilgore

Slow Recovery Good News for Dems in ’16

Jonathan ChaitWell, Jonathan Chait has let the cat out of the bag. He actually wrote down what I’ve been thinking for a couple of years but was too superstitious to put into print or bits or whatever it is we are doing here. I probably have mentioned it along the way, but I didn’t write a whole article about it! My mother always told me, “Don’t tempt the gods.” So I try not to. Apparently, Chait never learned this lesson, because today he wrote, Have House Republicans Extended the Economic Recovery Into 2016? Well, in a word: yes. In a couple of words: almost certainly.

The speculation is that by doing everything they can to stop the recovery, the Republicans have only succeeded in creating a slow but very long recovery. The economics on this is actually pretty simple: left alone, economies do recover. In a downturn, people may put off buying new cars, but eventually they will have to do it. So unless the government just does everything wrong, the economy will heal. The Republicans have had enough power to do really bad things to slow the economic recovery (for example: the Budget Control Act of 2011 with its sequester), but they have not had enough power to stop it.

So the economy continues growing, but slowly. As it is, the unemployment rate is 6.2%. Even if you forget about the fact that this is artificially low because of all the discouraged workers, this is much higher than the 4%-5% unemployment rate generally thought to be full employment. So barring anything surprising happening, the economy should continue to grow at its anemic pace for long enough to elect Hillary Clinton in 2016 (or whoever else the Democrats run).

In one sense, there is no fear of letting the cat out of the bag. The Republicans have already created this destiny. It’s not like they could start legislating properly, allow an economic boom, and hope for a bust some time in the middle of 2016. But in another sense, this is extremely dangerous. There are things the Republicans could do to destroy the economy in 2016. In particular, they could refuse to raise the debt ceiling and throw the world economy into untold chaos. Now the people might actually blame the Republicans for this and destroy the party. But I’m not convinced it would work out that way. It could quite easily lead to President Ted Cruz.

Regardless, I think it is a mistake to give the Republicans the idea that they have painted themselves into a corner with regard to 2016. This will only encourage the consistent call from their base, “The problem with the Republican Party is that it isn’t conservative enough; we need to destroy the economy in order to save it!” More and more, it seems that the Republican Party will do anything to get and keep power. I don’t, for example, ever remember a minority party actively sabotaging the economy because they thought it was in their best political interests. So I don’t know what they’d do if they got the impression that 2016 was hopeless. Most likely, however, they won’t conclude that. Instead, they will stay in their own echo chamber and assume that economic calamity is just around the corner, and the country is as conservative as they are.

Shock Yourself with Samuel Fuller

Samuel FullerOn this day in 1912, the great independent filmmaker Samuel Fuller was born. He started his career as a journalist and soon started writing pulp novels and then in the 1930s, screenplays as a freelancer.

Apparently, Fuller wasn’t terribly impressed by what directors were doing with his screenplays. So he struck up a relationship with Robert Lippert. I’m still fascinating by how independent films got made at that time. Lippert was a major movie theater owner. So he was in a position to produce films and show them at his theaters. As long as the films were fairly cheap, he was sure to make a profit. So in 1949, he produced Fuller’s first film, I Shot Jesse James followed by The Baron of Arizona, which starred Vincent Price. But things really came together with The Steel Helmet, the first film made about the Korean War—released smack in the middle of it. (You can get The Criterion Collection The First Films of Samuel Fuller, which includes all three films.)

After the success of The Steel Helmet, Fuller was of great interest to the studios. He finally signed seven picture deal with 20th Century-Fox. His best known work was done after this period, however. This included Shock Corridor about a journalist who gets himself committed to a mental hospital to solve a murder, and The Naked Kiss about a prostitute who tries to change her life by working with handicapped kids. It’s sentimental pulp nonsense that works really, really well.

After that, he made a couple really good big-budget films: the autobiographical war film The Big Red One and White Dog. The first was highly successful but the second film was highly controversial and wasn’t released. It was thought to be racially inflammatory and the studio feared an NAACP boycott. It is understandable, but I think the group is often too timid. The conclusion of the film is that racism is not something that can be cured. My position on the matter is complicated and so I won’t go into it here.

After this, Fuller moved to France where he directed his last three films. Eventually he moved back to the United States and died at the age of 85 in Hollywood. He is well worth checking out.

Happy birthday Samuel Fuller!