Republicans Are in the Majority Again — So Krauthammer Is Against the Filibuster Again

Charles KrauthammerI haven’t been exactly circumspect in my criticisms of Charles Krauthammer. But I’ve always given the man his due — or what I thought was his due. I thought he was at least fairly intelligent. But he isn’t. He’s an idiot. But before I discuss that, I want to talk about his well documented hypocrisy. A bit over a year ago, I wrote, A Tale of Two Krauthammers. It was about the filibuster. In 2005, when the Republicans controlled the Senate, Krauthammer wrote, Nuclear? No, Restoration. The Democrats were supposedly so out of control on the filibuster that “going nuclear” was just restoring normalcy in the Senate. The Republicans were right to go nuclear!

Even at the time, his argument was ridiculous. Check out my article, Republicans Caused All Filibuster Abuse. It shows quite clearly that it has always been the Republicans who pushed the use of the filibuster to higher levels. Whatever that level was, the Democrats stuck with it when they were in the minority. So Kruathammer’s anger in 2005 was just the usual complaint from Republicans that when they are in power, they don’t get everything they want. Later, I discussed the issue of the changing situation in, Filibuster Hypocrisy Is One Sided. As I noted, one could reasonably be for filibuster reform in 2013 and have been against it in 2005. But there is no way it works the other way around. If the filibuster needed to be destroyed in 2005, then it needed to be even more so 2013.

Of course Krauthammer didn’t agree. In 2013, I explained:

The situation is far, far, far worse than it was in 2005. If what the Democrats were doing then was “radical,” what the Republicans are doing now is “super doubleplus radical.” So he’s all for what Harry Reid did, right? Well, I’ll give you a clue; his Thanksgiving column was titled, An Outbreak of Lawlessness.

Well, Krauthammer was back last week with another gem, Time for the GOP to Go Nuclear. He provided his reasons. He claimed, “I’ve been radicalized. By Harry Reid and Barack Obama.” But how can that be? He was similarly “radicalized” in 2005 when Reid had just taken control of the Senate Democrats and Obama had just made it into the Senate. No, I think we all know the truth: Charles Krauthammer is against the filibuster when the Republicans are in the majority and for it when they are in the minority. There is nothing more to his arguments. He’s a pathetic hack who can’t even be bothered to look back on what he’s written before.

His stated reason for thinking that the filibuster must be killed is so that the Senate will get a chance to vote to defund the immigration services of the Department of Homeland Security. As it is, it is looking like the Republican controlled Congress will manage to just shut down the the whole department. And get ready for a great big conservative Krauthammer whine, “Republicans, not the filibustering Democrats, will be blamed for shutting down DHS and jeopardizing the nation’s safety at a time of heightened international terrorism.”

There is something else that the Congressional Republicans could do: they could just pass a clean funding bill and not hold national security hostage to their their little slap fight with the president. But that’s Krauthammer’s argument. The Republicans should get rid of the filibuster altogether for just this one fight because it will make the Republicans look bad for one news cycle.

But that just makes Krauthammer (as usual) pathetic. What makes this so stupid is that he’s wrong that if the Republican Senate got to vote on the bill and it got vetoed by the president that the American people would blame Obama and not the Republicans. The American people are not fair. If they were, the Republican Party would have long ago became a group with power only in Alabama, Mississippi, and parts of Louisiana. So Krauthammer ought to be damned glad that the American people unfair, because it usually works to the Republicans’ advantage. But when it comes to government shutdowns, the American people do know which party it is that wants to shut down the government. So they are going to blame the Republicans regardless.

If Krauthammer were a liberal, he might be a middle manager at a small corporation. It is only because he’s a conservative that he has any audience. The man is a total joke — a party hack who never has anything interesting to say. About the only thing he’s good for is laughing at — which does provide me with content for a couple of articles per year. But if you ever wonder what Krauthammer thinks about the filibuster, just look and see who which party controls the Senate. You don’t have to read any of his pathetic apologias.


For the record, I’m still for getting rid of the filibuster. I just don’t see the point of it. If the parties had the level of control they had in the 1960s, it might be fine. But it is long past its due date. Regardless, it is undemocratic, just like the Senate. I’d like to get rid of both

“Too Big to Fail” for Military Contractors

Pay Any Price - James RisenFar more than any other conflict in American history, the global war on terror has been waged along free-market principles. In Iraq and Afghanistan, American soldiers actually on the payroll of the US Army were outnumbered by independent contractors working for private companies hired to provide services from meals to base security. From Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia, American counterterror operations have relied heavily on outside contractors to provide intelligence and logistics. As a result, the tenets of twenty-first-century American capitalism have become the bywords of twenty-first-century American combat. That includes the most infamous catch phrase of the global financial crisis — “too big to fail.”

When applied to banks, “too big to fail” referred to financial institutions that were so large and critical to the economy that they had to be bailed out by the government, no matter how execrable their past behavior or how badly they had been mismanaged. Letting them fail, refusing to bail them out, would only sink the American economy.

In the global war on terror as well, Washington has treated some of its biggest military and intelligence contractors as if they are too big to fail. The American enterprise in the Middle East has been so heavily outsourced, and the Pentagon, CIA, and other agencies have become so dependent on a handful of large corporations, that the government has been reluctant to ever hold those firms accountable for their actions.

—James Risen
Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War

New Minimum Wages Pushed Walmart to Act

Walmart SucksAs you may have heard last week, Walmart announced that they will raise the wages of over a half million of their lowest paid employees. In April, the minimum starting pay will go up to $9 per hour and then it will go up to $10 per hour next year. This is good news for those employees, of course. And it is good news for the economy. But it doesn’t say much of anything about the company itself.

I’m not one of those people who thinks that Walmart is a uniquely evil company. But it is an excellent exemplar of the evil company. Walmart, and the many companies like it, should be illegal in a modern capitalism. According to an article in Forbes last year, Walmart Workers Cost Taxpayers $6.2 Billion in Public Assistance. That’s roughly 40% of the profit that Walmart makes each year. This is an argument that I’ve been making for years: this is not welfare for the poor; this is welfare for the rich. Food stamps, Medicaid, and SCHIP are programs that give money (indirectly) to the poor, but the real beneficiaries are people like the Waltons who get to pay their employees less than a living wage.

Walmart Food Stamp Scam

Of course, it isn’t like the government doesn’t know it is giving billions of dollars to Walmart every year. The government loves giving money to the rich while it holds its nose as though it were doing some great good deed to the undeserving poor. At the same time, ever since 1947 and the Taft–Hartley Act, the government has done everything it can to destroy unions so that workers had no power to get a slice of economic growth. And as Think Progress reported a few years back, Walmart Allows Its Workers to Unionize in Other Countries, Just Not in the United States. That isn’t because Walmart especially hates American workers. It’s because the American government especially hates American workers. But I digress.

Michael Hiltzik put the whole thing into context, Walmart’s Raise Underscores the Poor Condition of Most Low-Wage Workers. Much of the reason for these raises is simply that states have been raising their minimum wages, “That’s an improvement. But the average nationwide minimum will barely keep pace with statutory minimum wages now or going into effect in January in nine states and the District of Columbia…”

Here’s a little factoid that will make your head explode. Since 2008, Walmart has opened hundreds of new stores. Yet they have decreased their workforce by 120,000 people. This reminds me very much of Edward Baptist’s recent book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. Just as industrialists made better equipment to increase productivity, the slave economy increased productivity via the whip. But as Hiltzik noted, there are limits to this approach to increasing profits, “In 2013 the grimy condition of [Walmart’s] stores, their unstocked shelves, and the lengthening of their checkout lines reached a crisis, and customers started to flee.”

There is no doubt that part of why Walmart is doing this is just to improve its public relations. The fact that so many of its workers depend upon public programs to make ends meet is well known — even blown out of proportion in many cases. And since just short of half of all American workers are seeing their minimum wages increased, Walmart certainly must have thought that they might as well make themselves look good instead of just like another company grumbling as the the minimum wage went up. (In Walmart’s defense, it has generally been supportive of minimum wage increases — for its own greedy reasons.)

But there are two things to take away from this. First: what Walmart is doing is pretty much the minimum that they could get away with. Second: Walmart wouldn’t have done anything at all if it weren’t for voters and organizers all over the United States who got the minimum wage increased. I continue to hear low (but not minimum) wage workers grouse about fast food workers’ demonstrations for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. This is about solidarity folks! Most of the evil work of the power elite is done for it by the oppressed workers. Non-unionized workers complain about unionized workers. Slightly above minimum wage workers feel they will get screwed if the minimum wage is lifted to their wage level. Unions are good for all workers — regardless of whether you are in a union. A higher minimum wage is good for all workers — regardless of whether you make the minimum wage. Don’t be fooled into doing the dirty work of Walmart and the rest of the power elite.

Why I Didn’t Watch the 87th Academy Awards

87th Academy AwardsDid you watch the Academy Awards last night? I didn’t! I could not have cared less. First, I will tell you something that I learned when I was a sports handicapper: the film with the most nominations always wins Best Picture. Of course, there are often ties, as there was this year. But really: did you think the Academy was going to give Best Picture to Wes Anderson? It had to be Birdman. And that is no slight of Birdman — I haven’t seen it. And it is sometimes the case that the film that wins the Academy Award for Best Picture is a great picture. But it’s rare.

Take, for example, 1942 when the Best Picture went to How Green Was My Valley. Now it is a rather good film — not great but well worth watching. Still, that was the year of Citizen Kane. I know: an overrated film. But that’s only because it is so often claimed to be the greatest film ever made. Hell, it isn’t even close to the best film Orson Welles ever made! But it is unquestionably a great film — and the greatest film made in 1941. The point is, who will care that Birdman won the Academy Award in five years, much less 70?

My favorite is the 1980 Academy Awards. That was the big year for Kramer vs Kramer. I know what you’re thinking, “I though that was an after school special!” Only in content and quality, my friend. I was just reading about it and supposedly it was an important movie because we were all supposed to be shocked — Shocked, I tell you! — by divorce in 1979. What I mostly remember about it is the totally tacked on “happy” ending that nullifies the entire point of the film.

But I’ll be honest: Kramer vs Kramer is the ideal Hollywood film. It is the sort of thing that the Academy just can’t help but love. It’s an “issue” film. But not just an “issue” film — one that isn’t the slightest bit controversial. Oh yes, it took on the important issue of male single parenthood — an issue that even today is a pathetic and unbelievable cliche for a situation comedy. Just three years later, Author! Author! was savaged by the critics, although that may have had more to do with the fact that it wasn’t taking the issue “seriously.” At least The Courtship of Eddie’s Father had the decency to make the father the more realistic widower.

And what films lost to the sentimental tripe of Hollywood fantasy? A lot of far better films: Being There, Breaking Away, La Cage aux Folles, Manhattan, Norma Rae (a much more acceptable issue film), …And Justice for All, A Little Romance — to name but a few. But there were three undisputed great films that year. Let me list then in reverse order of their acceptability to the Academy.

The Tin Drum won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Rightly so. It is an amazing film, but hard to describe — a surreal epic. In addition to its being a unique, and thus un-Oscar worthy, film, it has a lot of sex in it — incest and pseudo-pedophilia. It’s the kind of thing that the Academy can accept coming from Europe, but the film would never have been mentioned at the Academy Awards had it been made by Americans.

Apocalypse Now continues to be a film that people go back to. I just don’t think anyone ever says, “Hey, I feel like seeing Kramer vs Kramer again!” But they do say that about Apocalypse Now. I’m not a huge fan of the movie, but there is no question of its greatness. And if it was Milius’ idea to set Heart of Darkness in Vietnam, all I can say is that he never read the novel. Still, Francis Coppola’s direction is amazing and he manages to create something of eternal power.

The film I still think should have won the Best Picture Oscar was All That Jazz. It is a fantastic film — Bob Fosse’s best (which is saying something). I don’t really know what to say about it, other than that it isn’t — it is far better. If you want to know what I think about it, read, All That Fosse. The main point here is that Kramer vs Kramer is nothing compared to it.

So people can watch the Academy Awards, but I won’t. I didn’t even know it was happening until The New York Times started sending me updates about it. So Hollywood’s biggest night has come — a night of great pretense where the industry shows that it is all about commodity — where it is clear it wouldn’t know a work of art if Michelangelo’s David were shipped to the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and carried down the red carpet.

Morning Music: Paradise By The Dashboard Light

Bat Out of Hell - Meat LoafI thought I would start something new today — but I don’t know if I’ll keep it up. Each morning, I will try to dredge up some interesting video to start the day. This is not going to be like Ed Kilgore’s stuff where he celebrates things like the Finland release of Queen’s Jazz. (Really, it’s sometimes that bizarre!) I’m just going to do whatever comes to my mind — generally stuff that pleases me a whole lot more than it does you. And I may just stop. As it is, this blog is really getting in the way of the rest of my life where I make a tiny bit more money. So I don’t exactly need to make more work for myself on the blog. But I love pushing music and film on other people.

Today, we have a suggestion from Will: the Meat Loaf classic, “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.” I hate Meat Loaf’s politics, and I haven’t been that fond of his music for the decades since, but Bat Out of Hell is a great album. On it, the great Ellen Foley performs the female part. Here, it is the perhaps greater Karla DeVito. And I have to say, I prefer the way that Meat Loaf looked before he got a personal trainer. This performance, by the way, is pretty much what Jim Steinman always had in mind. He is, above all, a musical theater writer.

Birthday Post: WEB Du Bois

WEB Du BoisOn this day in 1868, the great William Edward Burghardt “WEB” Du Bois was born. He lived most of the way into 1963. I find that remarkable. Can you image living through that period? He grew up without electricity — with horses and mostly exterior plumbing. And he died after two world wars, electricity and cars everywhere, and phones in every house. Of course, none of that is what is special about Du Bois.

He was a sociologist by profession — the first African American to earn a PhD at Harvard. And he saw the world the way a sociologist does. I tend to think of sociology as about the most accurate vision of the world — along with anthropology. And although economics is called the dismal science, I think it might better be applied to sociology. I tend to see the world that way and it doesn’t make me happy.

One of the great disputes of the early part of the 20th century was between DuBois and Booker T Washington. I don’t doubt Washington’s greatness and good intentions, but he was wrong. The truth is that in similar situations, I can go in either direction, but time has shown that it was a mistake for blacks to try to make nice with whites and hope that they would eventually be accepted as full human beings. It goes along with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ discussion of the idea of “twice as good.” This is the idea that African Americans had to be “twice as good” as whites to get approval.

The problem with it is that for the racist, “twice as good” is not nearly enough. Infinitely good would probably not be enough. To the racist mind, any misbehavior on the part of a black person is proof of their inferiority; and any good behavior is waved off as the exception to the rule. Du Bois understood that equality must be demanded. As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

As many great African American observers, Du Bois saw more clearly the white “race” than it did itself. And I do not really think of him as a thinker in terms of racial matters. He was a radical thinker. And by that, I mean that he followed where the evidence took him. This is the problem with the vast majority of scientists — both social and “hard” — they are too inclined to just go along with what others already believe. There’s a good reason for this. In most cases, not worrying about what society thinks of what you think is really dangerous. And there were many hard times for Du Bois. But in retrospect, I don’t think there is any doubt that he was far more correct than not in his appraisal of the United States. He suffered for the sins of evil men who were never forced to suffer. That is, of course, the American way.

Happy birthday WEB Du Bois!