A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

Open Mouth, Insert Foot: Mitt Romney’s economic history of Israel and Palestine

by pdxblake

The NYT has good analysis of Mitt Romney’s open-mouth-insert-foot moment from Israel where he diminished the difference in GDP per capita between Israel and Palestine, and then suggested that there were reasons including “cultural differences” and “divine providence” that explained the difference.  The NYT The Caucus blog describes:

Speaking to roughly four dozen donors at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, Mr. Romney suggested that cultural differences between the Israelis and the Palestinians were the reason the Israelis were so much more economically successful than the Palestinians, without mentioning the impact that deep trade restrictions imposed by the Israeli government have had on the Palestinian economy. He also vastly understated the income disparities between the two groups.

Romney’s comments were not well received by the Palestinian Authority:

In an interview with the Associated Press, Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, called Mr. Romney’s remarks “racist.”

“It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation,” Mr. Erekat said. “It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people.”

The NY Times did their part to follow up with the Romney campaign for clarification about the economic impact of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the not-too-distant economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, but got no response from the Romney campaign.

On Monday afternoon, Romney campaign officials did not respond to a query about whether Mr. Romney believes that the blockade of Gaza or trade restrictions in the West Bank have had any dampening effect on economic activity in those areas.

Apart from the specific minefield that Romney ventured into, it appears that he might be suffering in part because he lost his foreign policy advisor to the culture wars in the US.

The Smoking Gun Of Voter ID Bills Just Gave A Deposition

by evanmcmurry

Former Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer spilled the beans in a 630-page deposition that included the term “Whack-a-dos” to describe Republicans and tea partiers, not once but twice.

Go read the thing for yourself—most of it is about what Wayland Smithers would call “misappropriation.” But here’s the money part if you’re into more than just shadenfreude:

On voter suppression, Greer said he had just completed a December 2009 meeting with party general counsel Jason Gonzalez, political consultant Jim Rimes and Eric Eikenberg, Crist’s chief of staff, when questions arose about fundraising.

“I was upset because the political consultants and staff were talking about voter suppression and keeping blacks from voting. It had been one of those days,” he said.

Yup, just one of those cloudy, minority-disenfranchising days.

Greer’s deposition came as part of a lawsuit against the party over $130,000 of severance pay, so Republicans will almost certainly dismiss anything he says as stemming from animosity over being stiffed. Still. If the above can be in any way verified, it’ll be the smoking gun of Voter ID legislation.

Romney’s Real Foreign Policy Problem

by evanmcmurry

Romney followed up his disastrous visit to England with one to Israel, where he was less buffoonish in some respects, but in others did even more damage to his credibility as a human person who can speak coherent sentences about other nations. James Downie has a round-up of everything he got wrong in and about Israel, including attributing the differences in GDP between Israel and Palestine to cultural mores. Downie concludes:

This overseas trip has made clear that not only does Romney surround himself with advisers who want to push the Bush-era foreign policy even further, he also has terrible foreign policy instincts.

It’s worth pointing out, now even more than when it happened, that Romney had an experienced foreign policy advisor, or at least one respected in the field, who had to resign after two weeks of non-service because he’s gay. This is another case of the GOP’s conservative bent screwing Romney coming and going: not only must Romney maintain unrealistic foreign policy positions to appease the neo-con sections of his base, but he must do so without the help of qualified advisors, who could perhaps instruct him on how to thread on issues like the Middle East, because of a stupid cultural litmus test. Having to either hold dumb positions or work without qualified advisors would be bad enough for Romney; having to do both is so difficult you almost feel bad for the guy.

Colson Whitehead’s Rules For A Being Smug Cliche

by evanmcmurry

I saw this schmo read these at the Strand last week, at the “free” event that cost $10. He introduced them as coming from a friend of his, though I guess that friend was made up, which is definitely in keeping with his “Ha ha I’m 2 steps ahead of you” reading (he didn’t actually read, but acted out staged bullshit and then pretended he’d run out of time, with a level of self-satisfaction wholly out of step with someone who’d just written a zombie novel as if that were some new thing). Anyway, they’re just a big bag of cliches, and if you don’t see rule #11 coming from a mile away, I’ve got a condo in Williamsburg to sell you.

Don’t Blame NBC For Editing Out The Memorial To Terrorist Victims

by evanmcmurry

Will Leitch, writing about the Olympics (it’s unclear whether he penned this before or after the brouhaha over NBC’s editing of the terrorist memorial out of the telecast, but Deadspin makes the logical connection, so I will too):

The way network execs think we consume the Olympics isn’t the same as the way we consume other sports. We don’t watch the Olympics the way we watch the NFL; we watch the Olympics the way we watch “Project Runway.”

I don’t say that with derision. (I love “Project Runway.”) I just think that the way we watch the Olympics is similar to how we watch reality shows. They are easily packaged, escapist entertainment that introduce us to characters — who exist in large part for the specific purpose of the cameras watching them — whom we have not met before, partaking in activities that we do not understand and have not thought much about before. We obsess over them as if they are our friends, particularly if they’re American, and we invest our emotional capital in their stories, their successes and their failures. For two or three weeks, we care so much. And then we do not think about them again.

[…] We haven’t given Phelps a second thought in the last four years because we don’t really care about swimming. We care about programming. We care about Phelps like we care about Christian Siriano, who won “Project Runway’s” fourth season. I was deeply invested in Phelps the same way I was invested in Siriano’s designs. And then the season ended and I never thought about him again. It’s reality television. It’s programming.

In short, cry all you want about NBC editing out something you may have wanted to see, but we’re the ones who have gleefully accepted a manufactured reality from networks as a substitute for the real thing. Leitch is right: we trained NBC how to edit.

Ralph Steadman’s Font Presents “Yellow Health Drink”

by evanmcmurry

This is an ad that’s been appearing everywhere, or at least below 14th St., which is the same thing in some editions:

Compare and contrast:

Prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrretty similar. They even got the stray dots that would have been dripped from Steadman’s pen in his original inks. Oh, to be have been in the ad meeting when some hopped-up copywriter snapped his fingers and said, “I know! Steadman font!”

I’m well, well passed being outraged, surprised, or even particularly interested when a corporate ad campaign arrogates a piece of counterculture for the purposes of pushing a product. The last vestiges of innocence we had about that went out the door circa twenty years ago.

But come on. There are limits, even to capitalism’s grasp, the best example being when Levi’s wanted to use The Dead Kennedy’s “Holiday In Cambodia” in a jeans commercial. It wasn’t so much the pairing of a wildly anti-capitalist band with one of capitalism’s banner products, as much as the fact that the song was about the ways bourgeoisie culture covers up its oppressive origins in the sweatshops of places just like Cambodia. To use an anti-authoritarian song to sell a product was one thing; to use a song about capitalist oppression in the making of products to sell that very product seemed so—is spiteful the word?—that Jello Biafra fought his bandmates in court to prevent the song’s sale (he lost).

I think we’re in the same boat with Vita Coco, whatever it is. Ralph Steadman is forever linked to Hunter S. Thompson, who would have crushed four VCs as a hangover cure before asking for something real to drink. But more to the point, Thompson, like the Dead Kennedys, had a specific critique beneath his general rebellious veneer, and like the band he focused on the ways consumer culture dissembles, how it constructs its civilized edifice to obscure what amounts to a glorified con. It’s not the salesmanship that Thompson would object to in Vita Coco’s case, as much as the company’s claims of actuarial beneficence from its product; the people who make fortunes bottling yellow water and selling it to rubes as “health drink” are the exact type Thompson called “swine.”

Sure enough, Vita Coco, if you look very, very, very, very, very closely at its website, is informing customers that it recently settled a class action suit over the falsity of just such claims. Thompson would have labelled these folks, if I’m quoting his chief codex correctly, “lying whores.”

Selling beer is one thing. I have a feeling Thompson would have found the whole microbrewery movement overly precious, for the same essential reason that they use an illusion, in this case of authenticity, to move product onto the unsuspecting masses, who would eagerly purchase specialty beer thinking they’re buying that authenticity when really they’re just paying extra for Bud Light Premium. (I actually like FD fine.)

But after his second Flying Dog, Thompson would be over whatever objections he may have had. I don’t think there’s enough agua de coco in the world, however, to make Ralph Steadman’s Aesthetic Presents Vita Coco go down.

(NB: For all I know, Steadman partnered with Vita Coco, but I wasn’t able to find any indication that he was involved.)

I jumped the gun and gave credit where credit was not due

by pdxblake

Remember when I said something nice about Martin Feldstein?  Ok, he’s back to being wrong, but not as wrong as the Bundesbank (ht Business Insider):

focusing potential ECB purchases on the sovereign debt of those countries with high interest rates would have serious adverse effects. It would reduce pressure on the governments of Italy, Spain, and other high-interest countries to make the politically difficult decisions that are needed to cut long-term fiscal deficits. Spain needs to exercise greater control over its regional governments’ budgets, while Italy needs to shrink the size of its public sector. An ECB policy that artificially reduces their sovereign borrowing costs would make these steps even more politically difficult.

Feldstein is arguing economic policy based on a “morality” argument where debt and deficits are bad and should be discouraged, and by doing anything, the scofflaws are just being encouraged.

Where this goes wrong is that the Spanish and Italian bond yields are rising more as a result of the refusal of the central bank (the ECB) to defend the Eurozone, something which the ECB has now pledged to do, subject to approval of the Bundesbank, the German central bank.

The poor governance of the Eurozone with the Bundesbank having implicit veto power over the ECB’s policy will continue to inhibit dealing with the crisis.  There are plenty of times to worry about deficits, but not when the integrity of the Eurozone is in doubt.  Then, you must focus solely on saving it (if you want to save it), by any means necessary.

Obama partial extension of Bush tax cuts gives a tax cut to 95% of the top 1%, GOP cries “socialism!”

by pdxblake

The types of people that Paul Krugman derides (rightly) as the Very Serious People are always bringing in ideas for deficit reduction and for “solving” the problem of the “fiscal cliff” that have one thing in common: they talk a big game about imposing shared sacrifice in the name of deficit reduction, but in fact call upon the wealthy for very little of the cuts.  The LA Times’ Michael Hiltzik describes:

“Yet there’s still reason for most Americans to fear the deal-making aimed at avoiding the fiscal cliff. For one thing, the debate seems increasingly to be driven by the wealthy, who can be trusted to protect their own prerogatives while declaring everyone else’s to be wasteful. “

Hiltzik digs up the statistics I didn’t have time to find from the Tax Policy Center (run by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution) about the extension of the Bush tax cuts excluding the points which only affect the very wealthy.  As I expected, even the “middle class” tax cut extensions primarily benefit those with the highest incomes because these tax cuts don’t apply only to those earning less than $250,000, they also benefit the wealthy’s first $250,000 in income.  Here’s how the numbers break down (taken straight from the Tax Policy Center report):

The key numbers is that, even though Obama’s proposal is supposed to amount to a tax increase on the wealthiest  Americans, it doesn’t do even that very well and amounts to a huge tax cut for the wealthiest.  Only 4.3% of the top 1% face a tax cut that averages just above $11,000 while the rest of the 1% who get a tax cut see their average tax cut of over $16,000).

Moving up to the richest of the rich, the 0.1% (i.e. those people with more income than 99.9% of all Americans), more of them face a tax rise, but still only 1 in 8.   The 7 out of the 8 highest one-tenth of one percent income earners get a massive tax cut, averaging nearly $68,000 per year.

This compares with a tax cut on the middle quintile (people around the middle of the income distribution, between the 40th and 60th percentile), who all get tax cuts, but only see $1,100 per year.

And yet even Obama’s proposal which is overwhelmingly tilted towards the wealthy is derided by Republicans as “Socialism!” as they cry out to protect the “job creators” (who apparently aren’t protected when 95% of the wealthiest 1% of Americans see a tax cut under Obama’s proposal, which gives you an idea of who the GOP sees as their natural base).


Breitbart.com Reviewed Whatever Movie They Watched Instead Of The Dark Knight Rises

by evanmcmurry

If you haven’t read Breitbart.com’s review of The Dark Knight Rises, well…don’t do so immediately, or even today, but perhaps the next time a houseguest leaves a bottle of Malort on your counter. Here are the hits:

Batman is lost — a warrior without a war who sacrificed everything for a city that in peacetime dismisses those that make peacetime possible. Now smug and soft, Gotham is going about the business of letting down its guard — a weakness that always invites aggression.

Aggression has already arrived in the form of Bane (Thomas Hardy), a hulk of a man burning with resentment against a society whose only provocation is being prosperous, generous, welcoming, and content — instead of miserable like him. In Gotham’s sewers, Bane recruits those like himself — the insecure thumbsuckers raging with a sense of entitlement, desperate to justify their own laziness and failure and to flaunt a false sense of superiority through oppression, violence, terror, and ultimately, total and complete destruction.

They’re orphans, dude. You must have been tweeting during that part.

Uncharacteristically, Alfred (The Mighty Michael Caine) has lost some of his perspective over the years. He’s America’s surrogate parent of our wounded warriors and only (and understandably) worried about his child’s happiness and well being. In a world where evil is real, though, touching and noble intentions such as Alfred’s only get in the way of a greater good that frequently requires unspeakable sacrifice.

Plus he’s British. Think they’re so big, with the Olympics. They’re not the boss of us!

As expected, “Dark Knight Rises” is a love letter to Gotham City: its flawed but ultimately decent people, its industry and generosity — all of which are by-products of liberty, free markets, and capitalism. In other words, just as “The Dark Knight” was a touching tribute to an embattled George W. Bush who chose to be seen as a villain in order to be the hero, “Rises” is a love letter to an imperfect America that in the end always does the right thing.

And Nolan loves the American people — the wealthy producers who more often than not trickle down their hard-earned winnings, the workaday folks who keep our world turning, a financial system worth saving because it benefits us all, and those everyday warriors who offer their lives for a greater good with every punch of the clock.

While all of Hollywood embraces nihilism wrapped in irony, Nolan moves us with an inexpressibly touching faith in humanity. While all of Hollywood embraces CGI, the shaky-cam, and hyper-editing, Nolan sets his story in the real world and allows us to see what’s going on. And as all of Hollywood embraces hollow, artless, left-wing tripe, Nolan delivers crowd-pleasing, thematically-driven classical art that ennobles the human spirit — and while doing so, breaks box office records.  

There is, unbelievably, more. SEK has a good takedown of all of this, but here he really gets to the crux of the problem:

Conservatives aren’t accustomed to considering cultural artifacts with the seriousness they merit, and so on the rare occasion they want to claim ideological kinship with one, they have no idea how.

Also: The Daily Caller treats the leftist first half like an editing mistake. And ThinkProgress shows how to do ideological reviews of films, if you must. Plus, mine.

Job Creator

by evanmcmurry

At least somebody’s hiring:

Also, if you know how to beat Obama, that would be great.