Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Monday, November 28, 2016

I Have Always Been Grateful For The Kindness Of Strangers

Would you like to come up and see my Thermomix?

Everybody else is lamenting how politics will ruin Thanksgiving but did the Pilgrims complain about politics when they sat down on that First Thanksgiving? Of course not! They didn't need newspaper editorials or pundits to tell them how to get along; they already knew how to wait until they had enough numbers and weapons to steal the Native Americans' land, break their treaties, kill their people, kidnap and convert their children, and permanently impoverish them.

Our ancestors didn't need pundits like me to deliver talking points, pep talks, or pop psychology. However,  I am contractually obligated to post something this week and I have absolutely no intention of working on Thanksgiving, the day after Thanksgiving, or the weekend. So here is some simple advice that I came up with in between ordering groceries online and ordering, er, asking my caro sposo to clean the front door and sweep the stoop:

Don't talk to your relatives at Thanksgiving. When I visit my father at Christmas, we don't say a word. Once he asked me to explain my husband's work to him but then he just snorted and said nothing.  Sometimes my father opens up and explains the nuances of utility infrastructure, but usually we discuss my latest vacation or fascinating interview and then lapse into an extremely comfortable silence.

When I visit my mother or sister, we have many fascinating conversations about my views on world events, but after we are all caught up on family gossip, we turn on the tv and don't speak until it's time for cocktails. Sometimes I can hear children at play, but fortunately they don't disturb me and I don't disturb them. Mutually-agreed upon social taboos are the glue that holds together family celebrations.

Unfortunately our country has become bitter about political opponents. This is ruining politics for me. I want to talk about Paul Ryan's plans to privatize Medicare and bitter little people want to talk about swastikas and hate crimes and conflicts of interest. When I bring up eradicating regulation, they bring up Muslim persecution. It's all so tiresome and it's taking all the fun out of politics.

So instead of indulging in bitter recriminations over who is ruining what country or threatening which minority, let's think happy thoughts instead. Instead of thinking about the (barely) undercurrent of spite, racism and sexism that overturning Trump brought into the light, let's think about all the good people in the world.

For instance, me. I'm a very good person and there is no reason AT ALL that I should suffer just because all of my ideas for drowning the government in the bathtub are going to come true, causing a tremendous amount of splashing and suffering. So climb down from that curtain, Kitty, and don't get any ideas about blaming me!

But if you won't give up your bitter hatred of white supremacists and granny-starvers for me, do it for yourself. Recognize all the good people in the world, and make a list of your reasons for giving thanks. I'll start.

First, I'm grateful for my political opponents, even thought they're wrong. And not nearly as smart and educated as I am. But they do their best, bless their hearts. Although they're wrong and I'm right.

But mostly I'm grateful for all the people who made it possible for me to fail upwards so spectacularly. As I said all along, Americans hate regulation and Obamacare. They want markets to be free and people to be unencumbered by nasty work safety laws and overtime pay. No matter what you have read recently, there is bad in everyone, not just Trump voters. We need to step back a moment so we can place their racism, sexism, and fascism in proportion to the good in their American souls.

Because everything I said about America was right!  The voters chose us and rejected liberals! We are right and liberals are wrong! Now everything will be so much better! America is an amazing country and Americans are remarkable! So listen up my little chickadees, as Aunty Jane tells you a little holiday tale.

On March 4, I announced to the world that I was going on book leave from the Atlantic. Many journalists leave their jobs to write books. Many. My book leave, by the way, had nothing to do with the little bother about my ties to the Koches and my lies denying my ties to the Koches. Absolutely nothing. I just decided to quit work and live on my savings. Money means nothing to me next to the Muse and its demands. I don't mind living on the cheap and doing without while those around me prosper. I am both one of the elite and anti-elitist, which I can do because I'm special.

And there was no pressure about my 29-year-old husband's internship at Reason. Interns at conservative sites are paid and have health care and anyway it was only a matter of time before excellence found its reward and my caro sposo was picked up by a Koch sinecure.

Now, it is true that I have said that Newsweek begged me to join them, throwing money at me like confetti. I meant every word. I also mean every word of my little tale of job interviews and desperation. That's how it's possible to say that I left The Atlantic because I was wooed by Newsweek. If you believe something, it is true for you, and if it's true for you, it's true for everyone in your world because they are in a world in which it's true.

Truth is such a funny thing; opposite things can be true based on stuff like perspective and confirmation bias and will to power. But back to my story.

It was a dark and gloomy pre-dawn. These were desperate days, less salad days and more cooked spinach days, when money was running low. I was staying at a tatty little motor court inn in Memphis, the conservative think tank capitol of Tennessee, and in a hurry for an early morning interview. I don't know why they scheduled me in the wee hours of the morning; perhaps they always schedule the most promising interviews first to save time. Anyway, as I backed out of the parking spot I heard the crunch of my bumper hitting another bumper.

I couldn't wait around so I left a note and a blank check* on the chap's windshield. I spent all day worrying that the car owner would write a large sum on the check and overdraw my bank account. When I returned to the motel, I could see the car was old and dented and the bumper had been stuck on with duct tape before I hit it anyway. Clearly, I had imagined the crunch of breaking plastic or metal, and it didn't matter that the bumper was knocked half-off because the owner had wrapped more duct tape around it to keep it from falling off altogether. Thank goodness the car didn't belong to someone with money!  Poor people don't care about money. A rich person would have tried to take me for every dime. It is our way.

I didn't try to contact the owner further. The car had Southern plates and a military uniform in the back; obviously the owner was someone on leave from fighting one of our many wars. He, like I, was staying at that crummy motel and that meant he, like I, was poor. It is true that my father is wealthy, my sister and I will inherit everything when he dies, I have a $400,000 brownstone in DC, I have an Ivy League degree, and I have a deep pipeline into infinite wingnut welfare, but at that moment I felt very poor so it was just the same.

But what did that wonderful American soldier do? Nothing! Here I was, offering him or her free car repairs out of the goodness of my heart, and he didn't take a dime! He must have thrown away the blank check I left and I got off Scott-free. Isn't America wonderful?!

And that is why I think this country will be able to overcome its partisan bitterness. As long as Americans keep showering people like me with money and opportunity, we will all get along just fine and I will be grateful for each and every one of you.

*"But I do know one thing: Offered an opportunity to have a stranger fix their car for free, when it looked as if they could really use that help, they crumpled up the blank check I’d written and tossed it in the nearest trashcan."

Friday, November 18, 2016

How To Talk To An Authoritarian

Think. Plan. Protect yourself. Then get the damn cheese out from under his trap and feed your kids.

We cannot afford to act submissively to Trump and help him run his administration. He is an authoritarian and for him, you are either below him or above him. He's now president. In his mind, nobody is above him. Therefore your role in the Trump psychodrama being played out it is one of office drone. You shut up and do your job, and maybe you get paid or maybe the boss lowers your hours and you no longer get benefits.

Too many people now think the Democratic party only talks about caring but doesn't actually improve people's lives. We saw that social advancement did not negate the lack of economic advancement, in fact, it inflamed it, because when the majority gets poorer, they blame the minority's social advancement instead of the elite's gaming of the system.

If liberals work with Trump, whether in reality or in appearance, they will lose a lot of women, minorities, gays, and immigrants. They will get no credit for cooperation. Republicans will accuse Democrats of obstruction whether they do it or not. Lying works.

Trump is already working with the Republicans. Is Trump the sort of person who wants to work with the complete and total losers who were rejected by the voters? Or would he give orders and expect the beta males and girls to do what he says? Would he reward them for their obedience or stiff them?

If you tell people that you are doing something wrong for their own good, they will not believe you unless they already want to. If you say that you are working with someone musing about concentration camps and planning to eliminate Medicare and Social Security, they will not think that you care.

If we refused to cooperate without gaining something tangible *in advance,* we will never get anything we want and will be destroyed in the process. The only the reason the right will keep the left around is to have someone to blame when everything goes wrong. Therefore we should demand what we want now, not later.

We had our chance during the last two primaries and liberals supported the party's choices, which included capitulation to the rich, which led to Trump.

Liberals either force Trump to capitulate or they become his bitch, because Trump isn't a deal-maker, he destroys everything he touches and sticks others with the clean-up and repairs. Letting the middle class get gutted by the rich led to Trump.

We are out of time. It's now or never. Incrementalism and working within the system doesn't work with an authoritarian. It got us here, to Trump.

ADDED: Heh. Charles P. Pierce:
If Trump hires Willard to work for him, it will be because he wants to tell people that Mitt Romney came to him begging for a job and that, He, Trump, nature's nobleman, was a big enough guy to give him one. He's going to mount Willard's head on the wall of his den, right above the Tiffany vase that holds Chris Christie's balls. By next March, he'll be sending Romney out for another bucket of KFC.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Success Is Its Own Reward

Megan McArdle won. All the writing, research, and time I've expended was a complete waste. I prevented nothing and convinced almost nobody. America supports McArdle's ideas and voted into office the people who will carry them out.

I am not sure they understand this; I'll never forget a tv interview I saw at a huge anti-abortion rally. The reporter asked a young woman what she would do if she got her way and abortion and her access to birth control were outlawed.

She replied, "Oh, the Democrats would never let that happen."

She's not the only one.
There is nobody to stop them. The Republicans will control all levers of government before long. Progressives and liberals have no power to do anything. McArdle wanted Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare gone, and it looks like she'll get her wish.

Let the washing of hands begin, because there's no shame in joining the Trump administration.
In 1975, the economist Milton Friedman gave a series of lectures in Chile, as well as a small amount of advice to Augusto Pinochet, the country’s right-wing dictator. The advice was not on how to best crack down on political dissent, or where to hide the bodies of dissidents you were trying to disappear; it involved economic policy, and was advice that was similar to what he’d have given any government. Nonetheless, Friedman’s left-wing critics somewhat predictably used this brief interlude in a decades-long career to tar him and his ideas.
I could sit and discuss the economic plans created by the Chicago Boys School and the CIA but that would take a lot of time and work, which would just be a waste. Pinochet pushed through his economic plans by using political repression, including dogs trained to rape women. McArdle thinks it doesn't matter. "Everyone has to be paid by someone."
Pinochet's regime carried out many gruesome and horrific acts of sexual abuse against the victims. In fact, several detention sites were solely instituted for the purpose of sexually tormenting and humiliating the prisoners. Discothèque (La Venda Sexy) was another one of DINA's main secret detention centers. Many of those who "disappeared" were initially held in this prison. The prison guards often raped both men and women. It was at this prison where internal repression operations were centralized. Militants anally raped male prisoners, while insulting them, in an attempt to embarrass them to their core.[38]
Women were the primary targets of gruesome acts of sexual abuse. According to the Valech Commission, almost every single female prisoner was a victim of repeated rape. Not only would military men rape women, they would also use foreign objects and even animals to inflict more pain and suffering. Women (and occasionally men) reported that spiders and live rats were often implanted on their genitals. One woman testified that she had been "raped and sexually assaulted with trained dogs and with live rats." She was forced to have sex with her father and brother—who were also detained.[39]
Pinochet's men tortured their victims of course.
One torture method which was very commonly used was the "grill" or "La Parrilla." In this torture, electricity was fed from a standard wall outlet through a control box into two wires each terminating in electrodes. The control box gave the torturers the option of adjusting the voltage being administered to the prisoner. The naked prisoner was stretched out and strapped onto a metal bedframe, or a set of bedsprings, and tied down. He or she was subjected to electrical shocks on several parts of the body, especially on sensitive areas like the genitals and on open wounds. The Valech Report includes a testimony of a Chilean man who was interrogated by prison captors. They took off his clothes and "attached electrodes to his chest and testicles. They put something in his mouth so he would "bite his tongue while they shocked him."[32] In another method, one of the wires would be fixed to the prisoner (typically to the victim's genitalia) while another wire could be applied to other parts of the body. This caused an electric current to pass through the victim's body, with a strength inversely proportional to the distance between the two electrodes. A smaller distance between the electrodes led to a stronger current and thus more intense pain for the prisoner. A particularly barbaric version of the "grill" was the use of a metal bunk bed; the victim was placed on the bottom bunk and on the top bunk, a relative or friend was simultaneously tortured.
Most prisoners suffered from severe beatings, and broken or even amputated limbs. At Villa Grimaldi, DINA forced non-compliant prisoners lie down on the ground. The captors ran over their legs with a large vehicle, and crushed the prisoners' bones.[33] The assailants also beat prisoners in the ear until they became deaf, and entirely unconscious; this torture method was called the "telephone."[34] Most of the acts of punishment were intended to severely humiliate the prisoners. At the Pisagua Concentration Camp, captors intimidated prisoners by forcing them to crawl on the ground and lick the dirt off the floors. If the prisoners complained or even collapsed from exhaustion, they were promptly executed.[35] Prisoners were also immersed into vats of excrement, and were occasionally forced to ingest it.[

You might have noticed, if you could stomach reading that material, that our government committed some of these same tortures against Iraq prisoners. Before you say, "It can't happen here; nobody would let it happen," remember that it already has and we already did. We could have impeached Bush or at least sent him to jail after the fact but we went shopping instead.

When people worship their leader they think he can do no wrong. If he does do wrong, they just say that it's not wrong when he does it because he's one of us, he's a good guy. And good guys only do good stuff, so anything bad is really good. Bush committed crimes. Obama refused to prosecute him. Obama wanted to work with Bush's people and Obama wants us to work with Trump's people. Obama will let Trump's people torture and kill just as he let Bush's people get away with torture and killing. He had the power to stop it and refused. He no longer has that power and even if he does change his mind, it's far too late.

If you still think the elite care about you and work to make your life better, I can't help you.

If McArdle doesn't care that her alma mater helped Pinochet, she certainly won't care if they help Trump. We must make sure that the government functions smoothly when people are interred in camps. Which we also have done before. Muslims were already put on a government database and that was fine with us.
Whether Friedman should have advised Pinochet has long been a matter of cocktail-party debate in right-wing circles. Is it better for experts to send a message by withholding their expertise? Or if you have good advice to give, is it better to offer it to bad governments -- to benefit their people, even if incidentally the advice benefits the bad governments as well? The utilitarian calculus is, to say the least, unclear.
Sadly, the people of Chile did not benefit from The Chicago Boys' assistance and it's safe to assume that Americans will not benefit from the actions of libertarian and conservative Good Germans either. In fact, we might come to regret any cooperation with the Trump Administration, but as is invariably the way, we will be sorry much too late for the victims to re-animate and go back to shopping for the greater glory of capitalism.
Well, on the right today, it's no longer just cocktail-party chatter. A lot of #NeverTrump wonks are likely to find themselves torn between being #NeverTrump and being wonks -- between their consciences and their callings.
No worries. McArdle doesn't have a conscience. Problem solved.

But that's not really the problem, is it? McArdle doesn't want future job prospects harmed by collaboration with Trump and doesn't want liberals to sneer and insult her at cocktail parities, which evidently are the most important events of her life.
I don't see a moral obligation for anyone to serve in a Trump administration.
Phew! That's a relief. Too bad she immediately contradicts herself, though.
But people who opposed Donald Trump, on both the left and right, should commit right now to one thing: We will not tar good people for joining the Trump administration. Their motives will not be questioned, and if things do turn out as some of his critics fear, the people in his foreign and domestic policy apparatus will not suffer guilt by association. It is just too important that Trump have good advisers.

Now that you bring it up.

There's no point in fighting; we lost and we'd lose again. But nobody says we can't make the winners miserable in their success. Sure, McArdle is greedy and ambitious. There's nothing we can do about that. But McArdle and all her little cohorts desperately want to be cool, too. They think working for the White House will unlock Maximum Cool, so at the very least we should make sure they understand that that will never happen. It's the only thing liberals control.
Trump will be the least policy-savvy president in history. He has built no ideological framework for future policies, much less a set of detailed proposals. He has few advisers, in part because so many of the usual contenders have come out against him.
Here is where McArdle makes her mistake, however. For one thing, she went to Asia after the election. The jockeying for position is going on without her, although I am sure a lot of emails are whizzing their way around the globe while McArdle attempts to see if she can leverage Trump's win into another upwards failure.

The second thing is that Trump has his own people and Trump believes in loyalty. He also enjoys being spiteful and punishing people who crossed him. McArdle herself is beneath Trump's notice but she has prominently promoted the #NeverTrump failure, and that's not going to disappear from the internet. McArdle and her friends might be able to skim some money off of the Trump administration but that's not a given.
Now he is going to have to have advisers. He is going to have to staff regulatory agencies. He is going to have to decide about policy priorities, and push legislation to advance them. If smart, competent people refuse to be a part of that, because they think it’s likely that they will suffer permanent stigma from having joined his team, then Trump's administration will still do all those things -- but it will do them poorly, and the nation will suffer.
The nation will suffer anyway. The only question is, will people help Trump like Good little Germans, or will they do everything in their power to slow down, distract, delay, or destroy his presidency? "I was just following orders" is for Nazis, not Americans.
The most vital area for Trump to staff with good people is his foreign policy and defense team. Those people will be making decisions in a short time frame, and often behind closed doors, with little public check on their thought process. But his domestic team matters too. These are the folks who will have to make thousands of decisions that affect our daily lives, from education to what companies are allowed to merge. If his cabinet is filled with inexperienced folks or narrow activists, those decisions can be disastrous. So if a good person enters the administration, don’t question his judgment or her character. Applaud.
Make sure that Trump has good people in office while they compile lists of Muslims to jail. You wouldn't want to slow down that process. When Trump makes up his kill list (just like Obama!), he'll need competent people to carry out his orders. And when our few remaining separate corporations merger, they'll need lawyers to explain how having one source for a product will actually lower prices.
During the Bush years there was a cottage industry of liberal economists who dinged conservatives like Greg Mankiw and Glenn Hubbard for saying complimentary things about policies that were, let us say, somewhat less than well-supported by economic science. Needless to say, such cheap shots could easily have been taken at folks like Austan Goolsbee and Jason Furman during the Obama years. I didn’t take them.
If McArdle didn't insult someone, it's because she thought they might be useful some day in advancing her career. Goolsbee was her former professor.
Good economists in an administration cannot come out and say “This is bad policy,” for obvious reasons; their job is to have those conversations internally, and then support their boss’s decisions. That will also be the job of an adviser in a Trump administration, and we want good people in there making the good arguments.
Because Trump will care what people say, and listen to advisers who don't agree with him, and implement advice he disagrees with. For the good of the party he trashed.
When I tweeted a much shorter version of this thought this morning, I was beset by angry progressives talking about “Vichy” and “quislings” and saying that they wanted the Trump administration to fail as spectacularly as possible. While I understand the grief that those people are feeling, America, and the world, cannot afford this kind of thinking. There are things more important than political fights. One of them is making sure that the man in charge of the world’s biggest rich economy, and its biggest nuclear arsenal, has smart and sober-minded people around him. We all need to do everything we can to make sure that’s the case.
McArdle did everything possible to bring this moment to fruition. She demonized liberals and fought their policies tooth-and-nail. Paul Ryan and Goldman, Sachs will guide the economy now. She must be thrilled and we should remind her every minute of the next four years that she is getting exactly what she wanted. Any disasters will be of her own making, and liberals will have no power to stop anyone. But we can make those cocktail parties and comment sections just a little less fun for the princess.

McArdle wants the status quo because it made her rich. Sure, it could have more free market fairies, but she doesn't want it disrupted. She wants stocks to stay high, bonds to stay safe, housing costs to rise, taxes to fall, and regulation to disappear. She want to enrich herself and her useless husband. But now she might have more market freedom than she thought, and she wants everyone to ensure that her success in destroying liberal governance doesn't blow back on her.

She wants us all to work very hard in protecting her assets, while she continues to try to destroy ours. But thanks in part to her efforts, we no longer have the power to protect her money and now she's on her own.
I don’t know if Trump will ask people I admire to serve in his cabinet; I don’t know that they will be willing to serve if he does. But whoever does serve will have my respect for their willingness to take on a difficult job; my most charitable assessment of their motives; and my fervent hope that they will prove to be able stewards.
It's too late. McArdle won. The Free Market won. And now she will get her hard-earned reward.

(You already read Roy Edroso, right? I thought so.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Presenting "The Elites of Eckington" at The Sherman Oaks Review of Books!

You read the first episode here, now read the second episode of "The Elites of Eckington" at The Sherman Oaks Review of Books!

I forgot how wonderful it is to have an excellent editor. The last time I wrote a tv episode for fun, the editor was incredibly good and made my work much better, as did my co-writers on the multi-author episodes.