The Eccentric Bernhard Goetz’s Squirrel

Glinda's SisterIf you are my age, you know Bernhard Goetz as the “Subway Vigilante.” And that’s about the end of it. At first, he was presented as this guy who acted in self-defense against some thugs on the train. Later he seemed more like and angry guy who used the crime that is everywhere in the big city as a way to legally shoot some people. It is hard to know what to think. The incident itself is one I have actual experience with where some young man will technically be panhandling, but with a clear threat of violence if you don’t hand over some money. And most of the young men involved in the case did not go on to do themselves proud.

But to add to the complexity of the man, the Daily News reported Monday, Subway Vigilante Bernie Goetz Fighting the Possible Eviction of His Pet Squirrel. It seems that for years, Goetz has been involved in squirrel rescue in New York. According to Wikipedia, “He installs squirrel houses, feeds squirrels, and performs first aid.” And he currently has a pet squirrel in his apartment that has been the source of much controversy. It is illegal to keep a squirrel in New York. And the landlord wants it out. Fair enough, but can we at least say that the landlord is a jerk? Yes we can!

The squirrel is named Glinda’s Sister and she is a rescue. She had her back left leg surgically amputated, and her right leg is paralyzed. There was apparently an infestation of moths caused by Glinda’s Sister’s rotting food. But this has now been taken care of. The landlord claims that one of the tenants has complained about “screeching in the walls.” I don’t think this is Glinda’s Sister’s fault. It seems to me she is just going to get blamed for anything any rodent does in a three block radius. I don’t see why they can’t leave this poor squirrel alone.

Regardless, this isn’t the only oddity of our man Bernhard Goetz. He is also a vegetarian and is a big advocate for the practice — trying to get vegetarian meals offered at public schools in the New York area. He’s also a supporter of cannabis legalization and instant runoff elections. Other than his great interest in guns, and paranoia about security, he seems rather like my kind of guy. But really: no one who administers first-aid to squirrels is all bad.

I think that Bernhard Goetz is a classic American crank. And I mean that in a good way. He has those things he’s interested in — squirrels, cannabis, instant runoffs, and shooting thugs on the subway — and he is proudly committed to them. All of this makes him what is most important: interesting. He isn’t just another boring guy. You know who is just another boring guy: George Zimmerman. But then, Zimmerman is no Bernhard Goetz. But it should be clear that no one is. I hope he gets to keep his squirrel.

The European Union’s Unpleasant Greek Choices

Joseph StiglitzA few years ago, when Greece was still at the start of its slide into an economic depression, the Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz remembers discussing the crisis with Greek officials. What they wanted was a stimulus package to boost growth and create jobs, and Stiglitz, who had just produced an influential report for the United Nations on how to deal with the global financial crisis, agreed that this would be the best way forward. Instead, Greece’s foreign creditors imposed a strict program of austerity. The Greek economy has shrunk by about 25% since 2010. The cost-cutting was an enormous mistake, Stiglitz says, and it’s time for the creditors to admit it.

“They have criminal responsibility,” he says of the so-called troika of financial institutions that bailed out the Greek economy in 2010, namely the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. “It’s a kind of criminal responsibility for causing a major recession,” Stiglitz tells TIME in a phone interview…

Over the weekend the prospect of Greece abandoning the euro drew closer than ever, as talks between the Greek government and its creditors broke down. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who was elected in January on a promise to end austerity, announced on Saturday that he could not accept the troika’s “insulting” demands for more tax hikes and pension cuts, and he called a referendum for July 5 to let voters decide how the government should handle the negotiations going forward. If a majority of Greeks vote to reject the troika’s terms for continued assistance, Greece could be forced to default on its debt and pull out of the currency union.

Stiglitz sees two possible outcomes to that scenario — neither of them pleasant for the European Union. If the Greek economy recovers after abandoning the euro, it would “certainly increase the impetus for anti-euro politics,” encouraging other struggling economies to drop the common currency and go it alone. If the Greek economy collapses without the euro, “you have on the edge of Europe a failed state,” Stiglitz says. “That’s when the geopolitics become very ugly.”

—Simon Shuster
Joseph Stiglitz to Greece’s Creditors: Abandon Austerity Or Face Global Fallout

Does it Matter if Paul LePage Is Impeached?

Paul LePageLast last week, Politicus USA reported, Maine Lawmakers Move to Impeach Republican Governor Paul LePage. It sounds serious, “Governor LePage is accused of blackmailing the Good Will-Hinckley School board by threatening to withhold half a million dollars in funding if they extended a job offer to Democratic House Speaker Mike Eves.” It’s really petty nonsense, so exactly what you would expect from Paul LePage. But what’s most important is that LePage is not popular in his state. He’s been twice elected president because (1) there have been three way races; and (2) they are off year elections when not many Democrats go out to the polls. In 2010, LePage got less than 38% of the votes cast; he did much better in 2014, but still only got 48% of the votes.

What’s more, whenever the people of Maine are asked, they don’t like the job that he’s doing. So sure: impeach him. Throw him out of office! And then what? He’ll just run again and the voters of Maine will re-elect him. Who knows? He might get a full majority in a new election. Clearly, Maine has a screwed up system. But it is hardly unique. I’ve written before about the tendency for blue and swing states to regret their recent governors — and even red states. It doesn’t seem to matter. On the day of the election, it’s a matter that “they’re all the same,” and then a couple months later, it is “I never imagined they’d do that!”

I’d love to see LePage impeached. God knows he deserves it. But ultimately, the people have to take responsibility. What LePage is doing — which he doesn’t deny — is entirely in keeping with what he’s done before. No one can reasonably claim that they are shocked by him. I suspect that the world gets rid of LePage the way that it got rid of Rob Ford. First LePage has to be caught on video tape using an illegal substance. Then his behavior has to get so bad that he checks himself into rehab. But note: Rob Ford may not be mayor, but he’s still on the city council. So maybe there is no way of getting rid of Paul LePage.

This, my friends, is how empires fall. We really do live in a post-truth world. Nothing matters — most of all policy. And on that count, I don’t really blame voters. For a good forty years now, they have watched as they have elected conservatives and “liberals” and nothing especially changes. Yes, things get modestly better under the Democratic Party than under the Republican Party. But it is easy enough to consider that a coincidence. And I really think we are at the point where most of what we once called the middle class look at the increased pain with a sense of schadenfreude — as though the pain of others makes up for their own pain.

So go ahead, Maine: impeach Paul LePage. But even if he is expunged from the good graces of the body politic, the blight he represents will go on. We will still live in a society that doesn’t think things can get better. We live with a system that makes voting difficult, and privileges the rich and the old — just incidentally the base of the conservative movement. We live with media that sees politics as a game devoid of meaning. It would take a kind of revolution of thought for the people to push back against that. I still hope. But I would find it shocking if it ever occurred.

George Will + Fact Checker = Confusion

George WillJim Naureckas at FAIR made a great catch, George Will Won’t Throw Out a Perfectly Good Column Just Because Its Premise Is Completely Wrong. Apparently, George Will publishes his columns first in Investor’s Business Daily and only later do they appear in The Washington Post. In between these publication, someone at The Washington Post actually fact checks the article. Because Will made a huge mistake: he thought that the decision in King v Burwell was based on the so-called Chevron deference.

This is based upon the case Chevron USA, Inc v Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. In that case, the Court decided that when a statute is ambiguous, deference should be given to the reading of the executive agency. Before the King v Burwell decision arrived, a lot of people speculated that the Court might find against the plaintiffs using Chevron deference. But after the case came out, it was widely reported that Roberts specifically did not use Chevron deference. This was a big deal because it made the case all that more stronger a decision for the government because it meant that a future Republican president couldn’t just decide not to offer the subsidies to people buying insurance on the federal exchanges.

Somehow, George Will missed this. Like I said: it was widely reported — so widely that I knew about it and when I started reading Naureckas’ article, I thought, “But this case wasn’t based on Chevron!” I soon learned that was the whole point. But the fact that George Will missed it is probably an indication how cut off he is from normal news. The conservative media were too focused on how the decision was the very end of freedom in America. Just look at Will’s overblown headline, “On Obamacare, John Roberts helps overthrow the Constitution.” But it’s so much worse than just being wrong.

In his first draft, George Will wrote, “Rolling up the sleeves of his black robe and buckling down to the business of redrafting the ACA, Roberts cites a doctrine known as ‘Chevron deference.'” By the time the editors at The Washington Post got done with it, it read, “Rolling up the sleeves of his black robe and buckling down to the business of redrafting the ACA, Roberts invents a corollary to ‘Chevron deference.'” And it goes on from there. Rather than just replacing the three paragraphs about the Chevron deference — just 160 words — he made minor edits to keep it there, even though it isn’t central to what is, after all, just a rant.

I understand this. After you write an article, it is really hard to delete it, even if it turns out to be based upon a misapprehension. But I suspect that it just doesn’t matter to George Will. Here is the critical paragraph — the one where he makes his central point:

The Roberts Doctrine facilitates what has been for a century progressivism’s central objective, the overthrow of the Constitution’s architecture. The separation of powers impedes progressivism by preventing government from wielding uninhibited power. Such power would result if its branches behaved as partners in harness rather than as wary, balancing rivals maintaining constitutional equipoise.

What you will notice there is that it is not falsifiable. “Progressivism” is some monster that he’s conjured; it isn’t a thing and and it doesn’t have a “central objective.” The claim that the separation of powers was meant to stop progressive action is just one of those conservative canards that people like George Will “know” to be true without evidence. So what would be the point of giving up the Chevron deference section? It’s just words. The point is that George Will is really really unhappy with John Roberts and he wants us all to know that freedom is dead.

Morning Music: Arthur Honegger

Arthur HoneggerLet’s try something new today. My flu seems to be at its end, and I’m feeling more capable of engaging more than I have been. I got Arthur Honegger in my mind. Of all Les Six, he is probably the most difficult to listen to. But today, we will listen to something that I consider quite accessible: Pacific 231.

According to Honegger, the idea was create a piece of music that got more and more momentum as its pace slowed. But he named it after a train, and Honegger was known to have a thing about trains. So in 1949, the film theorist Jean Mitry created a film to go along with it. And that is what we listen to and watch this morning:

Anniversary Post: Typewriter

Sholes and Glidden typewriterOn this day in 1874, the first practical typewriter went on sale. It is known as the Sholes and Glidden typewriter. More or less invented by Christopher Latham Sholes, it was developed with Carlos Glidden along with Samuel Soule and James Densmore. It was an awkward thing. It only typed in UPPER CASE. And you couldn’t see what you were typing. But it had the main features that we have come to know as a typewriter — including the QWERTY keyboard.

The truth is, unfortunately, that it wouldn’t have taken off if it had been left to these men. It was a difficult a machine (it requited trained operators), too expensive, too new. There wasn’t an urgent need for it — even though there soon would be. It only took off because the weapons manufacturer E Remington and Sons bought it. They wanted to diversify. And they were able to stick with the device and improve it over the several years before it took off.

Don’t take this to mean that I think capitalists do a lot of good. I think capitalists can do a lot of good. I’ve never questioned but that moving capital around to where it is needed is a very useful purpose. But we largely don’t see that in our modern economy. The capitalist class has largely gained control of the government and so is able to make lots of money doing nothing at all. Before the crash of 2008, finance made up 40% of our economy. That’s just nonsense. I’m sure if the modern mindset had been around in 1874, they would have abandoned the typewriter long before it became a success. After all: it didn’t make a profit this quarter!

Anyway: typewriter!