Did Obama Fall Into GOP’s Disingenuous Trap — Again?

Obama and the Republicans play Merrick GarlandJonathan Chait reported something that should surprise no intelligent person, Conservatives Demand Supreme Court Vacancy Be Filled by Next President, Unless That President Is Hillary Clinton. The fate of Merrick Garland hangs in the balance.

The headline overstates what’s going on. It’s just The Wall Street Journal that is saying this. Of course, you can depend upon the fact that the entire Republican establishment is thinking this. I’ve already talked about how they will come up with a new reason why Hillary Clinton can’t appoint a Supreme Court justice either. But what The Journal presents is actually a clever idea, and highlights the fact that Obama still doesn’t really know who he’s dealing with.

As you have probably heard, Obama has nominated Merrick Garland to replace Scalia on the Supreme Court. This is a curious pick for two reasons. First, Garland is a moderate. Second, he’s 63 years old. It’s clear what Obama is doing. He’s saying to the Senate Republicans, “Here’s by far the best justice you are going to get unless you win the general election, which ain’t looking good right now.” I don’ really get it. I keep coming back to John Boehner claiming that he got 98% of what he wanted in the original Debt Ceiling showdown — and still didn’t take it. Does Obama think the Republicans have gotten more reasonable since then?

Obama CopeBut this case is even worse. Because Obama has effectively given the Republicans everything they could have asked for. As The Wall Street Journal put it, the Republicans can stall on Merrick Garland’s nomination and then “vote for him in a lame-duck session — if Mrs Clinton wins the election.” So there is no threat for the Republicans. They aren’t facing Merrick Garland or someone younger and more liberal; they are facing Garland as their worst case scenario. That’s actually really bad.

It takes me back to the old days when Obama played the part of Charlie Brown and the Republicans were Lucy. Obama makes a peace offering and the Republicans repay him by acting like he had wounded them. There is no dealing with the Republican Party. It is a revolutionary power. It doesn’t believe in norms. It doesn’t believe in history. It only believes that it should be in power and it doesn’t matter in the least how that goal is managed.

The Irony of Merrick Garland’s Fate

Of course, there is a wonderful irony to all this. Conservatives have conveniently decided that the president should not be allowed to pick a Supreme Court justice in his last year in office, because it should be left up to the people. The people will decide who the next president is, as though they didn’t decide who the current one is. But once conservatives know that they are going to have another president they don’t like, well, that whole last year thing is out the window.

I understand that “politics ain’t bean bag.” But at the same time, what’s going on here isn’t politics; it is governance. And what the Republicans are engaged in regarding Scalia’s replacement is unpatriotic. It’s all about their power. They show no confidence in democracy or the Constitution or anything else. They’ve been trained to know that they can just talk about Obama’s “imperial presidency” without the media countering them. There is no such thing as truth, so it is wrong to allow Obama to nominate a justice on 7 November 2016, but just fine on 9 November 2016.

And Obama, it seems, has fallen into the same old trap of trusting the Republicans to act in any way like normal people.

Morning Music: Born Under Punches

Remain in Light - Born Under PunchesGoing through Remain in Light, I find that I’m able to contextualize it far better than I could at the time. (How could it be otherwise? I didn’t know what was coming.) For example, “The Great Curve” points directly to their next album, Speaking in Tongues — although I would argue that it is better than anything on that album. Meanwhile, “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” goes back to “I Zimbra” off Fear of Music.

Remain in Light really is the sweet spot in the evolution of the band. It represents that point when they were not a pop band. But they couldn’t hold onto that and so they slipped into straight, mostly uninspired funk, and then into what I can only call straight pop — the kind of thing that is designed for the Billboard charts. Remain in Light inspires me as much today as it did 35 years ago.

I’m going to highlight “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” because, well, just listen to it! In this case, the drums and bass are kind of wild. Yet they still nail down the madness that is going on above it. It is probably the most African inspired tune on the album. But again, it isn’t something that sounds added; it is organic. This is probably because the album was a collaborative project. Later Talking Heads albums would turn into more “David Byrne and the Others.” This is why I now have no real interest in seeing a concert by Byrne, but I would be interested in the other three. I know they have performed together in the past. (That’s not to take anything away from Byrne, who I do think is brilliant.)

So here is “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On),” which, not surprisingly, also seemed to be about some kind of paranoid and isolated person.

Anniversary Post: Death of the Gold Standard

Gold StandardOn this day in 1968, the US Congress repealed the requirement that the dollar be backed by a gold reserve. I haven’t been able to confirm this, actually. But it’s on Wikipedia, so it must be true! And it gives me an opportunity to rant about the gold standard.

The thing is, I don’t understand people who believe in the gold standard. Even when I was an idiotic libertarian, I didn’t understand it. The general thinking is that with the gold standard, the government can’t “print money” and “devalue the currency.” In other words: it’s about inflation. The problem is that inflation was a far bigger deal when we were on the gold standard than it has been since we got off it.

The very concept of money is mysterious. But as far as I can tell, as long as the flow of cash doesn’t increase faster than the economy is growing, there is no problem. Usually, there isn’t even a problem when it does! But somehow, we are supposed to wed the supply of money to one particular metal that used to be very valuable but really isn’t today. It’s value in no way tracks what’s going on in the economy. Starting in the mid-15th century, gold has done little but go down in value. (Other than spikes because gold bugs were freaking out.)

Long Term Gold Prices

What the fascination with the gold standard shows is that this stuff is not rational; it is a matter of faith. Gold bugs are convinced that the government is just itching to devalue the currency. This is despite the fact that the government itself would do very badly if inflation goes up. It reminds me of these people who claim that Obama wants to destroy the United States. He’s the most powerful man in the world because he is president of the United States and he wants to destroy it? At least liberals had a point when they noted that George W Bush was an idiot. No one ever accused him of wanting to do things that went entirely against his own interests.

I know how much of a rant this is. But it is has been a long time since I’ve been able to deal with supporters of the gold standard rationally. It just makes no sense. I’ve waited for decades to hear a good argument for it. And I’ve looked! But there is no good argument for it. It’s just a bunch of freaks who believe it the same way other people believe in gods. But you can’t prove that gods don’t exist. You can prove that the gold standard is a stupid idea.