Thursday, October 28, 2021

Joe Did What? The Return of Team Optimist

Can't believe I'm still doing this, but it's really not over, and there are some reasons to be pleased with today's program from Biden, assuming he's put it out because he really thinks he has a deal, and supposing he might be right

“After months of productive, good-faith negotiations with President Biden and the White House, we have made significant progress on the proposed budget reconciliation package,” Sinema said in a statement. “I look forward to getting this done, expanding economic opportunities and helping everyday families get ahead.”

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), the other centrist holdout, would say only, “In the hands of the House” when asked about the new framework in the Capitol on Thursday.

If I understand that correctly, it means Manchin is saying his own work is done, until Pelosi sends the bill over for him to vote on—that is, he's not planning to undermine it any farther than he's already done. 

The worst cuts seem to be those of the paid leave provisions, which were supposed to cost somewhere between $494 billion and $547 billion over the ten-year period, the prescription drug pricing negotiation initiative, which would have saved the government between $460 billion and $530 billion over the same period, and the free community college. Sanders has had to let go his plan to include vision and dental care in the Medicare menu, but hearing remains. The immigration approach is not chopped liver ($100 billion to improve efficiency and humanity in green card process, asylum process, border, etc.) but isn't at all the promised reform (which I think probably couldn't fit in the reconciliation).

What's in the bill remains pretty good, if limited in time for some items:

Wednesday, October 27, 2021


Dear blogfriend Peter Hochstein, known to you all as The New York Crank and in the comments as Etaoin Shrdlu, died April 9 this year, apparently of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, at what must have been around 80 or 81  (he graduated from Antioch in 1961). I just Googled him this morning, wondering why he hadn't posted anything at his own blog or anywhere else since March, and found his brief obituary at the Antioch website.

Another blogfriend, MBouffant, sent us a link to a very fine blog obituary (bloggobit?) by Jill of Brilliant at Breakfast, which I hope everybody will read. He was a superb writer, with a droll fantasy under an old ad man's discipline (he could never write anything without a clear-cut shape), and a kind though cranky person, and we'll miss him forever. His last post, from just three weeks or so before he died, was a particularly good one, dark and funny, which somehow helps me hope with Jill that his passing was quick and peaceful.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Public Health is Public

North Western Fever and Smallpox Hopsital, Hampstead, 1871, via UK National Archives

 Piece at The Atlantic by the extraordinary Ed Yong putting the concept of "public health" in its US historical context in the Progressive era, with the realization that poverty, inequity, and exploitation were literally making people sick:

A mixed group of physicians, scientists, industrialists, and social activists all saw themselves “as part of this giant social-reform effort that was going to transform the health of the nation,” David Rosner, a public-health historian at Columbia University, told me. They were united by a simple yet radical notion: that some people were more susceptible to disease because of social problems. And they worked to address those foundational ills—dilapidated neighborhoods, crowded housing, unsafe working conditions, poor sanitation—with a “moral certainty regarding the need to act,” Rosner and his colleagues wrote in a 2010 paper.
Providing the slumdwellers with fresh air, clean water, and light protects everybody from tuberculosis, cholera, and typhoid, even us upstanding citizens on the right side of the railroad tracks. 

This is such a nice communitarian picture, of something that really existed in our country at one time, through it existed, of course, at the same time as the rapacity and cruelty of the Gilded Age, and the real power was generally wielded by the robber barons who were responsible for the poverty and inequity and exploitation—government being largely their obedient servant, the "management committee of the bourgeoisie" as Marx called it. 

Monday, October 25, 2021

For the Record: Make it so, Democratic senators!

 Couldn't help diving back into the economics a bit, because Shapiro thinks he DEVASTATED my girl Senator Warren:

And then I got annoyed by the very distinguished historian Timothy Snyder, retailing a silly formula in place of an argument:

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Soul of Moderation

Drawing by Hugh Lofting of Dr, Dolittle and his creatures, with the Pushmi-Pullyu at left.

Another day, another confusing story on the mysterious views of Senator Sinema. Yesterday, a leaker speaking to Politico asserted that she had agreed to accept some kind of tax program to fund somewhere around $2 trillion for the reconciliation bill—

"Senator Sinema has agreed to provisions in each of President Biden's four proposed revenue categories — international, domestic corporate, high net worth individuals, and tax enforcement — providing sufficient revenue to fully pay for a budget reconciliation package in the range currently being discussed."

— A source familiar with the discussions

—but then House Ways and Means chair Richard Neal came away from a 40-minute conversation with her on the subject unsure whether she had anything specific in mind at all, though he was convinced she was ready to make a deal:

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Stop Trying to Make Fetch Happen


Former U.S. president Donald Trump launches 'TRUTH' social media platform

Says some of the more measured coverage, from Reuters. Well, not exactly. Actually, it's that he will launch it, as soon as the company that's going to create it exists, after the finalization of a merger between the Trump Media and Technology Group (TMTG) and a company called Digital World Acquisition Corp, a "special acquisition company", the singular purpose of which is to buy TMTG for $293 million and list it on NASDAQ. Unless some shareholder in the acquisition company, run by former investment banker Patrick Orlando decides to take their shares back, and Orlando's track record in setting up special acquisition companies or SPACS is not a long or hope-inspiring one:

Orlando, who has worked at Deutsche Bank and BT Capital Markets, has launched at least four SPACs and has plans for two more, according to his firm's website and regulatory filings.

But none of the SPACs have completed a deal yet. A China-based SPAC that Orlando led failed last month to complete a merger with Giga Energy Inc that would have valued the transportation solutions provider at $7.3 billion, because it could not deliver the cash required, according to regulatory filings.

My bold. Also, TMTG, or as Trump Jr. called it yesterday in a Fox News interview,

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The End of Economics



I've been having a hard time thinking any thoughts about anything relevant other than what's happening in Congress, which is far too noisy at this point for me to think I understand anything, and my "ideas" about money, which nobody likes, too intangible and abstract for most regular readers but raw and downright backwoodsy from the standpoint of more refined visitors, and I meant my promise that the previous post would be the last one.

But I did bump into a kind of back door, which I'll get to below, to a part of the discussion that's more or less concrete and interesting, the ancient history part where, as you may or may not remember, the theory of the origin of money I hammered together out of old bits of scrap metal out in the shed turned out to be awfully similar to the brilliant and highly controversial theory developed by the anarchist anthropologist David Graeber in his 2014 Debt: The First 5,000 Years, except his had vast amounts of exemplification, archaeological and documentary (some of it reputedly wrong), backing it up.  

Friday, October 15, 2021

Hi, It's Stupid: The Last Post on Modern Monetary Theory


Statue from 2009 by the late William Fawke, in the Garden of Heroes and Villains, Warwickshire, via Ellen Herold's Pinterest.

Hi, it's Stupid to say Modern Monetary Theory is all wrong, but I just can't help myself.

George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, the great Irish philosopher midway between Locke and Hume, argued brilliantly that things don't exist—I mean things, material objects, the out-there stuff we see and touch, in that you can have a perfectly coherent picture of the universe without them: all you need are minds, full of perceptions, and that's enough. Things corresponding to the perceptions don't have to be there. "Berkeley's system," says the Stanford Encyclopedia mildly,

while it strikes many as counter-intuitive, is strong and flexible enough to counter most objections.

Which made Dr. Samuel Johnson, the irascible lexicographer whose portrait serves as my avi, pretty mad. Because obviously the theory was revolting to his stolid English soul, but he didn't even know how to participate in the discussion. One day as he was leaving a church with his future biographer, James Boswell, they started chatting about it, Boswell observing that "though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it." As they spoke, they passed a big stone along the path and Johnson turned to give it a powerful kick, no doubt hurting his foot: "Thus I refute it!" 

Meaning, more or less, GTFOOH, are you telling me this doesn't exist? Deze nutz!

This is my problem with so-called Modern Monetary Theory. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

For the Record: Quarrelsome

Monday got a text from the dentist reminding me of an appointment on Wednesday. Which seemed vaguely odd because the last visit wasn't very long ago, I didn't think. Woke up this morning in some anxiety about getting there in time, looked back at my phone, and the appointment was for Wednesday, February 16. What is the possible use of a reminder for an appointment four months away? Who does that??? 

Anyway if I seem unusually quarrelsome today, maybe you can chalk it up to that and forgive me.

My dentist is actually a very gentle and conversible Iranian, not this kind of dentist.

Scarcity mentality

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Literary Corner: Party of Contempt


Facial expression of contempt. Via Wikipedia.

Smart Enough

by Charles Ernest Grassley

I was born at night,
but not last night. So if
I didn’t accept the endorsement
of a person that’s got ninety-one percent
of the Republican voters in Iowa,
I wouldn’t be too smart.
I’m smart enough to
accept that endorsement.
(Via Des Moines Register, 10 October, reporting Trump's rally Saturday, in which he generously endorsed Senator Grassley's bid for re-election, from Grassley's grateful response.) 

That's remarkably candid. The 88-year-old candidate wants to make sure everybody knows he's only got one reason for sharing the stage with the monster. 

He doesn't mind showing his contempt for his voters ("I'm only doing this because you're idiots") and he doesn't mind showing his contempt for Trump ("I'm only doing this because my voters are idiots"), which is surely mutual ("You're only doing this because I'm stronger than you"). Then there's Jeff Kaufman, chair of the state Republican party, suggesting Grassley has only done one thing of any importance in his 45 years in Congress, though he did it three times in the last four years, a job you could easily program a computer to do: "It’s pretty easy to introduce Chuck Grassley. All I need is three words, folks. Three words: Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett. Let’s say it together. Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett."

So much contempt. Contempt for poor people, contempt for college graduates, contempt for city dwellers, contempt for immigrants, but such open contempt for each other.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Goodbye, Columbus

Happy Indigenous Peoples' AND Italian-American Heritage and Culture Day! I thought I'd reposted my own favorite Columbus Day post, from 2017, but I never have, so here it is:

No rapist, Amerigo Vespucci, in yellow tights, chastely declines a proffer of women in Honduras, 1497. Illustration by Theodor de Bry, ca. 1592, via Wikipedia.

An interesting wrinkle in this year's pro–Columbus Day noise is the suggestion that if you don't like Columbus Day you must be allied with the Ku Klux Klan. Why? Is the Klan supporting a national holiday honoring our indigenous peoples?

Sadly, no. It's all about identity politics, and the Klan's denial of the Italians' ethnic pride. As we read from Jarrett Stepman at Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal:
Much of the modern rhetoric about Columbus mirrors attacks lobbed at him in the 19th century by anti-Catholic and anti-Italian groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
In fact, Columbus Day became a nationally celebrated holiday following a mass lynching of Italians in New Orleans—the largest incident of lynching in American history....
As the pro-Columbus website The Truth About Columbus points out, the Ku Klux Klan worked to stop Columbus Day celebrations, smash statues, and reverse his growing influence on American culture.
According to The Truth About Columbus, in the 1920s, the Klan “attempted to remove Columbus Day as a state holiday in Oregon,” burned a cross “to disturb a Columbus Day celebration in Pennsylvania,” and successfully “opposed the erection of a statue of Columbus in Richmond, Virginia, only to see the decision to reject the statue reversed.”
Attempts to quash Columbus failed, but they have re-emerged in our own time through the actions of far-left groups who want to see his legacy buried and diminished forever.

Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that the lynching of 11 Italian immigrants in New Orleans in 1891 was the worst lynching in American history?

Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Ends Justify the Means Test


Trigger warning: I'm going to do a little agreeing with Joe Manchin here, on the question of what they call means testing, or income- and wealth-based restrictions on who gets government assistance:

Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia has a ready retort to fellow Democrats who say shrinking the party’s social safety net bill will mean depriving vulnerable populations of critical resources: Limit access to every program in the ambitious measure to only those Americans who need it most.

Or maybe not so much Manchin as Tim Kaine of Virginia, 

“In the same way that we have higher tax rate on people who make more, I think some programs should phase out on people who make more,” he said.

Still, lawmakers need to be mindful of complexity, Mr. Kaine cautioned, and some programs are more conducive to such limits than others. For example, the push for universal prekindergarten and community college access should be treated as an extension of the public school system, which is open to all comers, Mr. Kaine said.

This is an issue I used to be very hot and heavy on a year or two ago, with the advent of Yangism and the Universal Basic Income that was not actually going to be an income for anybody, and would in my view operate to increase economic inequality: the poorer you were, the more of your lousy $1000 a month you would have to spend on bare necessities, while the rich could invest all of it, for instance putting it in the kids' college fund (poor parents don't have college funds), and directly widening the wealth gap.

Friday, October 8, 2021

For the Record: Stupid Senator Tricks


Thomas Nast, 1872, "A Few Washington Sketches—In the Senate", via Senate Collection (where you can embiggen the image more effectively than here).

This thread has achieved something like virality, even as the issue seems to have been put aside for the next couple of months.

Another day, another stupid Republican senator:

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Green Lanternism


I've never been an aficionado of the Green Lantern, and one of the things I didn't know about him, or them, since there is apparently a whole Green Lantern lineage, sometimes coexisting in an intergalactic Green Lantern Corps managed by the Guardians of the Universe, was this thing in the earlier phases of development in which his magic power ring didn't protect him from attacks with wood, or vegetable matter in general. This is blamed on the very first Green Lantern, or first one on Earth at any rate, in ancient China, one Yalan Gur. Wikipedia explains,

Power ultimately corrupted this early Green Lantern, as he attempted to rule over mankind, which forced the Guardians to cause his ring to manifest a weakness to wood, the material from which most Earth weapons of the time were fashioned. This allowed the Chinese peasants to ultimately defeat their corrupted "champion". His ring and lantern were burned and it was during this process that the "intelligence" inhabiting the ring and the lantern and linking them to the Guardians was damaged.

And the ring and lantern retained this wood vulnerability when they were picked up by the original American Green Lantern, Alan Scott, but it didn't transfer to his successors, beginning in 1959 (Hal Jordan's lantern was vulnerable to the color yellow instead, and the entire topos of Kryptonite knockoffs eventually disappeared from the series).

This story sheds a whole new light on the Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency, a popular myth discovered by Dartmouth professor Brendan Nyhan, as Ezra Klein reported it in Vox in 2014:

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

For the Record: Debt Ceiling

This is something I started contemplating in July that's really starting to come into focus, and I'd never quite finished the story:

Which means...

Monday, October 4, 2021

Ho de ho

At one point, [Stephanie] Grisham says Graham kicked a White House staffer out of Bedminster "so he could take her room."

"Senator Freeloader was sitting at a table by the pool, a big grin on his face, lapping up the goodies he was getting like some potentate," Grisham writes. "He said to me with a creepy little smile, 'Isn't this great? Man, this is the life.'" (David Edwards/Raw Story)

Sunday, October 3, 2021

For the Record: Cheap Shots

Married father of four and notorious pickup artist Corey Lewandowski, left, catches 'em all. How does he do it? Sheer Republican animal magnetism. "Mrs. Odom stated that over the course of the dinner, Mr. Lewandowski tried to hold her hand, and she pushed his hand away. He touched her leg, and she moved it away. He grabbed her napkin off her lap and tried to touch her leg again, and she pulled her dress over her leg, to move his hand away and cover her skin," Odom’s attorney wrote in the statement. "He touched her back and she tried to get away," the statement continued. "He described an area where he was sore from a workout, on the side of his butt, but he demonstrated this by touching her there—on the upper side of her rear end. Lewandowski tried to touch her approximately 10 times, and Mrs. Odom always rebuffed him." (Politico; composite photo via New York Post.)

I too was surprised by reports of Corey Lewandowski admitting to stabbing murders in the course of his amorous pursuit of Mrs. Trashelle Odom at a Republican fundraiser, in defiance of efforts to restrain him on the part of Governor Noem, who may be or have been his girlfriend, until I heard the event was held at a Benihana's:

More weekend miscellanea below the fold.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Why I Hate The New York Times: Centripetality

Josh Gottheimer gets a commitment from the Speaker, 24 August. Via.


Josh Marshall does an excellent job of skewering the dreadful New York Times reporting on what happened yesterday on Capitol Hill, according to which the House's failure to vote on the "BIF" (Bipartisan InFrastructure bill, though it's getting less bipartisan every day as its few Republican supporters dwindle in number and commitment) is a "significant setback" for Biden's agenda produced by a "liberal revolt" and a "humiliating blow to Biden and Democrats" ("Something's Very Wrong With the Times"):

The president’s goal throughout has been both bills. They both have to pass. The last week has appeared to be on a steady course toward decoupling the two bills, passing the BIF bill and then facing negotiations over a reconciliation bill with no leverage at all over the two Senate holdouts who seem increasingly happy to let the reconciliation bill die on the vine. This is far from over. But what really happened is that the threat to kill the BIF bill got the two holdouts or at least Joe Manchin to actually start negotiating. What the Times calls a “significant setback” and a “humiliating blow” is actually the two bills being recoupled which has been the White House’s aim literally for the entire time.... But the outcome of yesterday is th[e] first good news supporters of the President’s agenda have gotten in days. Not seeing that means having a profoundly distorted understanding of the most basic dynamics at play here.

But he's not so clear on what exactly is wrong with the paper—what exactly is the profound distortion, and where does it come from? 

Friday, October 1, 2021

Of the Waking of Brooks There Is No End

Pope David bestows Nihil Obstat on the Biden agenda. Image by Driftglass.

In his latest near-miraculous achievement, President Biden, who had already turned David Brooks into a bleeding-heart liberal, has made him actually good at it. That is, not only has he come out with a plea to Democrats to pass the whole reconciliation package ("This Is Why We Need to Spend $4 Trillion"), but he's come up with a fairly original, and very Brooksian argument for it, the kind of thing he's been misapplying to "compassionate conservative" policy proposals ever since I started reading him, and it's really kind of, umm, right:

The Democratic spending bills are economic packages that serve moral and cultural purposes. They should be measured by their cultural impact, not merely by some wonky analysis. In real, tangible ways, they would redistribute dignity back downward. They would support hundreds of thousands of jobs for home health care workers, child care workers, construction workers, metal workers, supply chain workers. They would ease the indignity millions of parents face having to raise their children in poverty....