About pzerzan

Organizer and freelance writer. Living in San Francisco. If you are reading this blog and work for Netflix and/or AMC, I have a great idea involving a 6 part miniseries to adapt the Cornelius Ryan classic "A Bridge Too Far." Please contact me for more details...

Everything Burns: The Joker Theory and How The Dark Knight Explains The Tea Party

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Thinking about the current government shutdown, I’m reminded of something I told my cousin 2 years ago in the middle of that debt ceiling crisis-the Tea Party is like The Joker in The Dark Knight and this scene is probably what it looks like when “moderate” Republicans talk to their Tea Party counterparts:

It resonated with him quite well that we talked several times over the next couple of days about it and the debt crisis.

As we have both a shutdown and another debt crisis on the way, I figured I’d explain this theory to the big World Wide Web:

At the beginning of The Dark Knight, the mob is in trouble. Where once they ran Gotham, Batman is squeezing them out. Low level criminals are too scared to break the law. Drug suppliers aren’t available in Gotham. The various criminal organizations have had to cartel their efforts and are at the mercy of foreign money launderers. Worst of all, the government and the people of Gotham have begun to stand up to the mobsters who they once feared.

Enter The Joker. Before Batman began his (caped) crusade, he was just a psychotic small-time thief who ripped off fellow criminals. Now, he has a proposition for the mob: he will kill Batman for half of their money. With all of them facing jail time, the mob agrees. Soon, The Joker begins a reign of terror. He starts killing judges and police chiefs. Then (as shown in the above clip) he turns on the mob. Soon the whole city is in a state of chaos.

I saw parallels between this and the Tea Party. For decades, the moderate wing of the Republican Party has been withering away. From Reagan to Gingrich to Bush 43, the Republican Establishment has been concerned about gaining and exploiting power through what ever means necessary. However, their policies, from the Iraq War to tax cuts to deregulating Wall Street have been disasters. People began to turn on their ideas and, in 2008, Republicans were in tatters. They had come off of 2 election cycles where the Democrats had exceeded expectations and where Barack Obama had done better than any Presidential candidate in 20 years. Things were not looking good.

Even with these losses, Republicans and their business allies were not interested in compromise. They decided they were going to oppose Obama’s agenda tooth and nail. The hope was by preventing him from passing anything the American people would turn on the President and he would loose reelection. Things would go back to the way they were. However, Republicans were not very popular. They needed a new group.

Enter the Tea Party. For decades, there has always been an element on the right that has opposed the rights of workers, women, minorities, and gays and for businesses to have no restrictions on making a profit and the police and churches having more control over our daily lives. The genius of the Republican establishment has been to keep them at arms length while using them as the ground troops of the conservative movement. With the election of Obama, the barriers they had erected in the past were torn down. Republicans embraced this fringe with money and support.

At first, it appeared to pay off. Town Halls of Democratic officials were interrupted by right-wing protestors. When Ted Kennedy died, Republican Scott Brown got elected in blue-state Massachusetts, putting Obamacare’s passage in peril. In the fall of 2010, Republicans retook the House. With a weak economy and high unemployment, it looked like Republicans were going to go back to the days of 2003.

However, the Republicans now had a beast they couldn’t control. As Rachel Maddow pointed out, as early as 2010, Tea Partiers were calling for a shut down just to shut down the government. Their idea was government is so terrible, anything to take it down was okay. They downplay the effects of laying off thousands of government employees and even of the United States defaulting on its debt. Liberals know that transitioning from a bad system (like private health care) to a better one (like public health care) takes time and patience and requires compromises that ensure people don’t have a rough ride to a better place. Tea Parties don’t really care about making a smooth transition to their libertarian utopia. If the world burns, they’ll watch with joy.

Last year proved the Republican embrace of the Tea Party was a failure. Barack Obama pushed through a far-reaching agenda not seen since the Great Society. In political terms, it failed to stop Obama’s reelection and get control of the Senate out of the Democrat’s hands. If it wasn’t for gerrymandering, Democrats might control the House as well. Despite their failures, the Tea Party is even stronger. The Republican leadership lives in fear of loosing their jobs to more radical members of their party. Pleas by several business interests to moderate have been ignored. The Tea Party appears to be determined to take down the federal government, just because they can.

Now, The Dark Knight comparison isn’t perfect. First of all, the main theme of the movie-whether The Batman is a good influence on Gotham or inspires madness-isn’t applicable. Barack Obama isn’t the Caped Crusader. He’s the democratically elected leader of the United States, not a masked vigilante living a double life. I suppose you could compare him to Harvey Dent. However, I’m certain he’d wouldn’t become a vigilante if things get rough and he suffers a major personal tragedy.

However, the is also one parallel that sadly doesn’t exist. In The Dark Knight, after Harvey’s tragedy, the mob tells Commissioner Gordon where The Joker is. It was reported today there are many in the business community, while scared of the effects of the shutdown or a debt default, still hope the Tea Party can pull off suspending Obamacare and getting tax and entitlement cuts.

We can only hope someone care get through to the Tea Party and explain Why this is So Serious…

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Michael Kinsley: Troll

Well, we now know why Michael Kinsley wrote those pieces he did last week: he was trolling. He reveals himself rather quickly:

One [article I wrote last week] was a defense of people’s right to oppose gay marriage. It charged that dissident voices on this subject were being suppressed (although I myself am very much in favor). I was expecting a hailstorm, but the reaction was almost disappointingly calm and reasonable.

There was actually quite a bit of criticism. Given he goes on to cite Scott Lemieux of Lawyers, Guns and Money later in the article, I have a hard time believing he didn’t read this. Or he didn’t see this article that is prominently displayed on Gawker right now. However, what is clear is he this month’s troll of Paul Krugman.

None of the arguments he makes are new. We have a “where is your plan,” “I’m the real liberal trying to save social programs,” “look, he contradicts himself,” and all the logical fallacies we are accustomed to. Joe Scarborough was beating this drum last month and Mary Matalin and George Will have made it their mission in life to stump Krugman on This Week, so no treading on new ground here. We do get a photo of Krugman in a white tie at some fancy setting with what I assume is a European monarch just to prove Krugman is an out of touch elitist (unlike man of the people Michael Kinsley).

I never understand this fascination people have with trying to prove Krugman wrong. Yes, he can be a bit prickly (I had some hard feelings towards him during the 2008 Democratic Primary) but he is sincere and makes sure all his facts are straight before talking. The fact this is an exception and not a rule tells less about Krugman and more about other pundits.

Krugman trolling isn’t anything new and after Kinsley is done, there will be someone else to do it next month. Why Chris Hughes fired Timothy Noah (who wrote a book on income inequality, one of the biggest issues of our time) and keeps giving space to some 90s wash-out doesn’t reflect well on the New Republic.

The Great Denial

Michael Kinsley has two pieces out defending conservatives. The first attacks Paul Krugman and his columns against austerity and the second goes after those who got Ben Carson removed from speaking at Johns Hopkins Medical School because of homophobic remarks he made. In both columns he defends conservatives from what he considers unfair attacks. Putting aside how wrong he is, Kinsley is just another symptom of what is the greatest problem with journalism-The Great Denial.

The Great Denial is the refusal to accept the Republican Party and the conservative movement are as radical as they really are. If you believe this, as Kinsley does, then guys like Krugman and those Hopkins activists are just as much a problem as the Tea Party. Problem is, they’re not.

Do austerity supporters just disagree on what is “premature” austerity? Nope. Ever since The Great Depression, conservative economists have argued for using bad economic times to push their tough policies on the general public. Is Ben Carson calling for raising taxes on the rich, increasing support for the poor, nurturing the planet, and repealing Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act? Nope. Carson first got noticed for calling for a flat tax at the National Prayer Breakfast and believes evolution is a hoax. These are not reasonable people trying to have a serious discussion only to be insulted by mean liberals. These are radicals who want to undue the economic and social gains of the 20th Century.

Because of The Great Denial, you cannot say these this. If you do, you’re out of the club and just another mean-spirited liberal (look at the careers of Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein). So you make up liberal straw men to burn.

What’s amazing with Kinsley’s second column is gay rights are on the ascendent. Most Americans support gay marriage and that number keeps going up. Maybe in 2006 or 2008 you had to hide your support for gay marriage to be elected in Ohio or Florida but in the last election we had statewide candidates in both states win on a pro-marriage platform. There is little need to compromise with anyone who doesn’t support full marriage equality.

Also, Kinsley doesn’t address how marriage equally has gotten more powerful-by calling conservatives out. After all the attention the Mormon Church got from backing Prop 8 in California, they have pulled out of funding anti-gay marriage campaigns, virtually insuring victory for equality backers. Image matters, and by calling prominent marriage opponents bigots, gay rights activists have seen major victories.

If we could get full employment in a year by shaving off Paul Krugman’s beard with broken glass to appease the austerity freaks, I’d break a few bottles myself. However, if the Obama Administration has proved anything, it’s those chanting for more austerity don’t care about the economy or jobs-they are just rich folks trying to horde money. If their vision of how America should be is unappealing to most Americans, that’s their problem. Denying this wouldn’t make them any nicer.

Rand Paul: Not Anti-Drug War

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There was a conservative guy I knew, who, when I brought up gay marriage, he would always try and dodge the question by saying “it should be decided by the states.” I then brought up my cousin, who is in a committed relationship with a woman from Spain. Were they a straight couple, her immigration status would be fairly clear cut-they get married and she would get a green card and a path to citizenship. However, while she did eventually get a green card, it was a long and tenuous process that involved them living on the other side of the country for years. This conservative never gave me an answer as to whether or not my cousin’s family should get the same treatment as a straight couple would.

I bring this up because the common consensus is “Rand Paul wants to end the drug war.” His stance over allowing decriminalization was brought up in his speech to Howard University as an example of minority outreach. A common libertarian line used against Obama and the Democrats is they want to end the Drug War, which has been overwhelmingly harmful to minority communities, while the Democrats want to keep it going. However, that’s only part of the story.

There are two big flaws in the Rand Paul plan to decriminalize drugs. The first is Senator Paul is calling merely for an end to federal involvement in the drug war. In his world, states would be allowed to make their own decisions.

While he has called for a more compassion with regards to drug sentencing, leaving it to states would create a whole mess of trouble. It doesn’t seem particularly fair if California and New York become Amsterdam while Paul’s own Kentucky keeps drugs illegal. It also would raise some questions-what would the standard be for regulating and taxing narcotics? What about moving them across state lines? Suppose a flight from San Francisco to New York made an emergency landing in a state where drugs are illegal, would passengers who brought drugs be arrested? Could the state’s Air National Guard scramble fighter jets to bring down the plane? The reason we have a national government is to sort these things out.

The second issue goes to the reason he got into so much trouble in 2010-his belief about government regulation of the private sector. If you remember, he got into trouble for claiming the Civil Rights Act shouldn’t have infringed on private businesses that discriminated. So, even if drugs were legal in all 50 states, what about companies who forbade drug use outside of work? What if all the companies in the US got together and fired anyone who smoked weed outside of work? What if they only fired black or Hispanic employees who did this but not white ones? What if they chose to use it as a firing offense on libertarians but not liberals? Paul has stated he doesn’t want the federal government interfering with business practices. It doesn’t seem particularly liberating if you can’t get a job merely because you smoke weed.

If Paul wants to work with other lawmakers to deal with our absurd War On Drugs, I’m all for it. However, it should be noted if you think marijuana is a substance less harmful than alcohol and should be taxed and regulated as such while more harmful narcotics should be dealt with as a health issue and not a criminal one, Paul is not on the same page-like everything else, he just doesn’t want the federal government involved.

Remembering the 2008 Primary

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Reading about whether or not Clinton would hire Mark Penn again has reminded me of the 2008 Democratic Primary. I volunteered in various capacities on that campaign, the biggest being running the phone banks in San Jose. While Obama’s nomination now seems inevitable, looking back it really wasn’t. I remember everyone in 2007 talking about Clinton being the presumed nominee and how Obama had a bright future ahead of him but not as our next President. And the reality was, they were right.

Clinton went into the 2008 Primaries with the greatest name recognition, fundraising base, and ground team of any of the candidates. As Obama as a state senator from Illinois in 2004, he had to start from scratch. Also, the Clinton campaign (along with Giuliani’s) managed to convince most states to have their primary or caucus on February 5th, as early as possible. This was to shut down any potential upstart challenger in the early states.

So Obama had his work cut out for him. If I had to point to one thing that cost Clinton the election, it was not putting staff in February 5th states like Idaho and Kansas. The fact Obama put resources in those states was accidental-they had raised more cash than expected and decided to contest these states, as David Plouffe documented in his book. However, Mark Penn actually didn’t realize the Democratic primary wasn’t winner-take-all so he failed to put any resources in those smaller caucus states. In the end, winning Idaho by 50 points netted as many delegates as winning New Jersey did, so Super Duper Tuesday was a draw and not the knockout blow Clinton needed.

In the end, Clinton was still a formidable candidate. While we talk about the left being upset at her Iraq vote or her mismanaged campaign, one has to remember she was able to stay in till the very end. I honestly believed after Obama won those 10 primaries after Super Duper Tuesday, Clinton would pack up and concede and her support would give up and rally behind Obama, but she was able to push on till the very end. As I said, in an alternate universe where she had kept Obama’s margins smaller in the caucus states and had put resources in the states after Super Duper Tuesday, she would have netted several hundred delegates more than Obama did and would have been the nominee.

One thing I’ve always remarked on is if Clinton were to run in 2016, she would most likely have a lot of former OFAers on staff. I found this funny because there were a lot of people who joined the Obama campaign in no small part because of Clinton’s Iraq War vote and the general feeling the Clintons sold out on things like “welfare reform.” Now, 8 years later, time will heal all wounds.

Since When Did Conservatives Care About The Masses?

If you read Matt Yglesias today, you have to wonder if he is paying attention to American politics at all. Some basic points-

  • Liberals/progressives/Democrats/center-left folk’s end goal is a world more equal for everyone.
  • Conservatives/libertarians/Republicans/humble Burkeans’ end goal is a world more unequal for everyone.

Why is this? Conservatives believe the natural order of the world is one where one group is on top-rich over poor, men over women, white over minorities. Therefore, there is no problem in government rewarding this. If this means taking money out of the poor and middle classes’ hands, even better. The producers certainly deserve it.

One thing so many liberals need to stop doing is pretending conservatives are something that they’re not. They don’t care about the “value proposition of government services.” They care that those they deem worthy live well off and the rest suffer for their sin of not being worthy. At least one former conservatives knows this. Why doesn’t Matt comprehend this?

 

David Brooks Is Wrong On So Many Levels

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via The Atlantic

I have to say, David Brooks’s column today is a doozie even by Brooks’s standards. He goes after the Progressive Caucus’s budget. I guess that’s progress-there was a time when he would ignore those hippies.

His biggest beef is with taxes. He tries to claim all these big important economists are saying horrible things about taxes, usual Republican stuff. However, one part stood out to me-

Edward Prescott, a winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics, found that, in the 1950s when their taxes were low, Europeans worked more hours per capita than Americans. Then their taxes went up, reducing the incentives to work and increasing the incentives to relax. Over the next decades, Europe saw a nearly 30 percent decline in work hours.

Right now, Greeks work longer hours than Americans and Italians and Spaniards work a comparable time to us. A little over a year ago, David Brooks hearted Germany. Yet, by that same chart I posted, Germans are a lazy, lazy people.

The final passage is just a spiteful swipe at the Progressive Caucus-

The progressive budget in the House seems to have been written by people hermetically sealed in the house of government. They work in government. They represent public-sector workers. 

So, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and the rest of the Republicans in Congress don’t collect a check from taxpayers? Also, Keith Ellison, the Congressman pushing this budget, represents less than 4500 federal employees. Ryan represents over 6000 federal employees. Cantor represents over 11,500.

Low taxes are the drug of choice for Republicans and Brooks is a high-functioning addict. He can act respectable and come across as reasonable. However, when this core belief is threatened, he turns into a cheap AM radio pundit…