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January 7, 2012

living with uncle miltie

So I'm reading Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, and I'm digging the hell out of it.  And I'm currently in the section where she describes how the University of Chicago, via the largess of the Ford Foundation and the tacit cooperation of the CIA, is flying South American students up to indoctrinate them in Friedmanism, so that they could go back to their home countries and fight the intellectual war against just societies.

It's easy to type that, all sneering and sarcastic, because that's my worldview, the result of the things I've read, the things I now believe.  Milton Friedman and his laissez faire orthodoxy is one I don't agree with, and I'm learning more from the Klein about how dirty the hands of the Friedmanites actually were forty years ago.

But you know, I've never really read any Friedman.  To be fair, I've never really read any Keynes either, or even any Marx, but this man that I vilify, Milton Friedman, is a man I know little about.

So just to give myself a skim, I read this interview with Friedman by a Hoover Institute fellow right before he died.  It's a very fawning bit of writing, an abject lesson in why one should never interview one's idols.  But Friedman himself?  He comes off as a modest little old man, not without charm, with a wife to whom he has remained married for 68 years.  Not exactly the sort of guy who would plot to have people shoved out of helicopters in Chile.

But then again he is certainly the spiritual father of those that would.  How does this get reconciled?  Amidst the harmless and genial things Friedman said in this interview (including the fact that of course he would invite John Maynard Keynes to dinner!) is this statement describing the beginning of the end of the Great Society in the late 70s:

“But what was happening in the economy was producing a reverse movement in opinion. Now people could see, as government started to regulate more, the bad effects of government involvement. And intellectual opinion began to move away from socialism toward capitalism. That, in my view, was why Ronald Reagan was able to get elected in 1980.”

I know that the winners are the ones that get to write the history books, but that is a very assailable and criminally simple account of an impossibly complex period of time.  He mentions a movement in opinion twice, which is a phenomenon pretty difficult to measure, given the nature of the Academy and the constant give and take of those who disagree with each other.

And it seems that he believed in his heart that it was true, but he was just so damned blithe about it.  Is that what manufactures our monsters?  Conviction?  Righteousness?

All of these topics, macroeconomics, the workings of the morally compromised, historical figures in real life, are of interest to me.

Also: very sunny and warm out today.  I'm going for a walk.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:13 PM

January 6, 2012

david brooks will be the end of me

It is taking an awful lot of self-control to not write about David Brooks' column this morning, in which he doubled-down on Rick Santorum, got tipsy on 800 words about social hygiene, put a lampshade on his head and generally tortured the English language.  I mean, that column is sitting there like a freakin' piñata, like someone else's very delicious cheeseburger and no one is looking.  How am I supposed to walk away from social hygiene.

Meanwhile, on the front page of this newspaper you will find another story about Rick Santorum, reporting how this former senator (whom is beloved by David Brooks for his connection to the middle class) very adroitly turned his post-Senate into giant bags of cash, as companies who benefited from legislation he favored handed him spots on the board and lucrative consulting gigs.  Not Newt-Gingrich lucrative, mind you, but Gingrich is an historian.

I should just start avoiding the op-ed page and stick to the news.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:39 AM

January 5, 2012

the center for union facts is lies lies all lies

Hey, there's a big old full page ad in the A section of the New York Times this morning, and I'm assuming it's in other newspapers, probably a TV campaign and some contextual ads online.  You can see the ad here (warning, pdf), but if you don't feel like wasting their bandwidth, it's an ad paid for by The Center For Union Facts that compares current American unions to South Korea.

South Korea!  Yes, the bad Korea, because South Koreans don't get choice, and neither do union members, according to TCFUF, because union members are not afforded a regular opportunity to unvote for unionization.  It's a bit of propaganda for the passage of a pernicious bit of legislation masterminded by Orrin Hatch that would hamstring unions by strangling them with red tape as the rank and file gets picked off one by one by some kind of Ayn Rand brainwash sniper.  It is much lauded on the right, this legislation, because they love freedom, and finally workers will be given the untrammeled right to be free from unions.  Or something.

If you try to poke around on the website (no link, out of spite) of TCFUF to find out who they are, who pays them, etc., you are treated to pages of entreaties to union members to take the wool off your eyes, sheeple!  And if you do finally arrive at something like a FAQ, you get:

So who are you guys, really?

The Center for Union Facts is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization supported by foundations, businesses, union members, and the general public. We are dedicated to showing Americans the truth about today's union leadership.

Is this part of a political effort?

No. The Center for Union Facts doesn't support candidates for office. We are about education.

The usual story, right?  Just as I myself say that I am not part of a political effort; I'm just ardently opposed to corrupt oligarchs on educational grounds.

And who funds them again?  Well, according to Sourcewatch, they're yet another front group of Rick Berman, who has a propensity for running ideological fake grassroots organizations that refuse to disclose the identities of funders and just happen to make Berman a very wealthy man.  Maybe he gets some money from "union members and the general public," but maybe he's also getting money by swindling little old ladies.

But whether it's Berman who's behind this, or some new morally-comprised individual we haven't heard of yet, the fact is the funders of TCFUF couldn't give a flying fig newton about the rights of employees.  They care only about busting unions, about turning the workforce against each other, so that the cost of employing people goes down, and the prohibitions against treating the employees like dirt are loosened.

And we are at some point of cynicism that this has to actually be said out loud, as purported motivation is accepted as actual motivation, because they're not really going to say what they want out loud, right?

I'll say one good thing for TCFUF: they are supporting their local newspaper with expensive ad buys.  (But then Berman has to show some kind of expenditure, right?)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:17 AM

January 4, 2012

kbye michele bachmann

I should probably have a lot to say about Michele Bachmann dropping out of the presidential race, considering how many words I've devoted to her through the years, but I don't.  She was there, now she's gone, leaving only fumes of crazy and the afterimage of her goo-googly eyes.  It could've been so much, a true platform for the insane people of a nation, but no.  Some bunting, weathered, maybe some confetti made of red white and blue construction paper.

Was she too, maybe, ambitious?  Was she maybe speaking for the greater good of Michele Bachmann, instead of liberty and freedom and Jesus?  Was she in it for the bucks and not the Oval Office?  I don't know for sure (but Abe Sauer does).

Ultimately, it's one less not-very-smart lunatic for us.  It's sad (in a gratifying kind of way).

Posted by mrbrent at 6:10 PM

iowa caucuses, wrestlemania

So if you add up the votes of the top three of yesterday's Iowa caucuses, Romney, Santorum and Paul, you get 86,241.  Just by way of comparison, in 1987 93,173 fans packed the Pontiac Silverdome to see Hulk Hogan prevail over Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III.  The correlation?  Well, both events caused Newt Gingrich to decide to go negative.

Actually, do you still call them votes in a caucus?  Isn't it more like a raised hand, or a note passed?  A like or a heart?  A furtive wink from across the room, a room-key to a hotel room?

One thing I do know about the Iowa caucuses is that whatever you call these votes, they're actually non-binding as far as apportioning delegates to the Republican National Convention, which is actually a long process that starts after the caucus collects the votes.

Just in case you were wondering if any of this was meaningless or not.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:17 AM

January 3, 2012

david brooks on the santorum train

I'll let username Nebraska-Admiral sum up the pitiable stab at, what, relevance? in this morning's David Brooks column:
Santorum is some weird culture warrior who has appeal to other shitty cultural warriors and the praying over a fetus thing will win him votes with the type of people who pass off spinal bifada surgery photos as a baby reaching out of the womb during an abortion. (A Thing That Actually Happened if you happen to get crappy email forwards from marginal family members.)

Yes, the column is about the unexpected appeal of Rick Santorum to the cross-political spectrum, which, if you know anything about Rick Santorum, is the height of preposterousness.  That's not an argument that needs to be unpacked or expanded on.

But I do want to share the final paragraph of the piece — the kicker, as they call it:

If you took a working-class candidate from the right, like Santorum, and a working-class candidate from the left, like Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and you found a few islands of common ground, you could win this election by a landslide. The country doesn’t want an election that is Harvard Law versus Harvard Law.

Wait, if you took them and what?  I presume Brooks means run them on the same ticket, but even that doesn't make sense in the context of the kind of election the country doesn't want.  But then again, if you have a working class vs. working class (and describing someone as working class because of their parents is just dumb), then just how does the landslide work again?

It's fun to poke Brooks with a stick because of his lazy thinking or his wrong-headed conceits, or even best his thinly-veiled egotism, but that shit is just plain incoherent.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:32 AM

January 2, 2012

eric cantor: merely mendacious?

I saw the face of Eric Cantor (R-VA, waiting for veep tap any day now) on the TV after the end of the Raiders game, but I did not put two and two together and figure out that there would be a "Sixty Minutes" segment on him.  Not that I would've rushed to the DVR for that, but Cantor has that sulfurous whiff of egotism and hubris that indicates that Cantor intends to be a politician on a national scale, so it's good to sneak a peek before he ascends to the speakership after the ritual sacrifice of John Boehner.

But during this "60 Minutes" segment, as pointed out by Steve Benen, Cantor and his handlers flatly deny that Ronald Reagan raised taxes during his administration:

At that point, Cantor’s press secretary, off camera, interrupted the interview, yelling that Stahl was lying when she said Reagan raised taxes. As Stahl told “60 Minutes” viewers, “There seemed to be some difficulty accepting the fact that even though Ronald Reagan cut taxes, he also pushed through several tax increases, including one in 1982 during a recession.”

This phrase is nearly beaten to death by overuse, the old say, "You're entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts."  But the fact remains that prominent Republican Eric Cantor, who happens to also be the House Majority Leader, is so reality-averse that he is unwilling to admit on camera a demonstrably true fact about Ronald Reagan.

I understand that Reagan was posthumously anointed with super-powers, including but not limited to omniscience and the power to single-handedly destroy every Communist regime everywhere, but history ain't that rewritten yet.  Someone on the Beltway beat should be pestering the Cantor office with follow-ups along the likes of, "So w/r/t the Reagan tax-raising, are you as dumb as a bag of hair, or merely mendacious?"

Posted by mrbrent at 8:35 AM

happy new year 2012

I totally spent the weekend celebrating and reading (just finished Kadrey's Kill The Dead, just started Klein's Shock Doctrine and Miéville's Perdido Street Station) to the extent that I just plain forgot to wish a bunch of people (like, most of you) Happy New Year.  So I'm doing that now.  I hope that nothing wretched happened yesterday that would obviate my wishes for the new year, but nobody would be surprised less than me if I were a day late and a dollar short.

Speaking of Sunday things that could dampen one's mood, yesterday's New York Times had a notice on the front page that the weekday price of the paper would be increasing by fifty cents.  That was kind of a yikes, but watching prices inflate is the side-effect of living too long, etc.  But the bigger yikes is that the increase takes effect tomorrow.  Which is today.  So if you, like me, have the habit of buying a copy on the way to the public transit, steel yourself.  Note that home delivery is only increasing marginally, and comes with the added benefit of digital access.  I think this says a lot about the looming death of paper-print media.)

So then Happy New Year, especially to the few remaining newsstands, who are going to need one.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:17 AM