Presty the DJ for May 22

For the record, I thoroughly disagree with the number one song today in 1961:

Today in 1965, the Beatles found that “Ticket to Ride” was a ticket to the top of the charts:

That night, ABC-TV’s “Hollywood Palace” turned this classic …

… into, uh, this:

The number one album today in 1971 was the Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers”:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for May 22”

Presty the DJ for May 21

One strange anniversary in rock music: Today in 1968, Paul McCartney and Jane Asher attended a concert of … Andy Williams:

Eleven years later, not McCartney, but Elton John became the first Western artist to perform in the Soviet Union.

Four years later, David Bowie’s suggestion reached number one:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for May 21”

The downward spiral of Sports Illustrated

This all started with Jordan Peterson, as Jason Whitlock reports:

Dr. Jordan Peterson misspoke when he proclaimed via Twitter that Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Yumi Nu is “not beautiful.”

We all know beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Peterson should have said the extra-plus-sized model is “not healthy. And no amount of authoritarian tolerance is going to change that.” He undermined a fact with a personal opinion, and by doing so, he allowed the woke to once again dodge responsibility for their real evil agenda.

On Monday, North America’s most honest public intellectual reacted to Sports Illustrated’s decision to place an obese woman with a strikingly pretty face on the cover of its formerly iconic Swimsuit Issue. He retweeted a New York Post story picturing the blubbery Asian beauty beneath his proclamation: “Sorry. Not beautiful. And no amount of authoritarian tolerance is going to change that.”

Twitter, of course, erupted in faux outrage. A white man impolitely aired his truth about a flabby Asian fashion model. Twitter’s social justice army accused Peterson of unloading a toxic vat of white privilege and white supremacy.

Unafraid of a brawl, Peterson engaged his critics. He doubled down on his contention that the left wants to redefine beauty standards.

“It’s a conscious progressive attempt to manipulate & retool the notion of beauty, reliant on the idiot philosophy that such preferences are learned & properly changed by those who know better.”

I say this respectfully. Peterson missed the mark again. He botched this issue. Beauty is an opinion. And we all know opinions are like booty holes. Everyone has one and they all stink. The left doesn’t want to retool the notion of beauty. They want to retool the notion of health. They want to reclassify obesity as healthy.

Virtually everything the progressive left promotes is related to normalizing a culture of death, destruction, and despair. Abortion is about the right to kill babies in the womb. Liberalizing drug laws is about freeing people to self-medicate themselves into zombies. Defunding the police is about normalizing violent chaos within communities. Hostility toward religion is about removing hope, the lifeblood of civilization. Transgenderism is about the mutilation of God’s creation.

Jordan Peterson is known for speaking uncomfortable truths. He passed on an opportunity in this instance. The platform of the modern left is built on early 20th-century satanist Aleister Crowley’s “do what thou wilt” philosophy. Crowley argued the purpose of life is for humans to align themselves with their true will.

It sounds great. Why wouldn’t you want to align yourself to your true will?

Well, for those of us who believe in a higher power, who believe our inalienable rights come from God, who believe that Jesus died on a cross for our sins, we’re taught the purpose of our lives is to align ourselves with God’s will for us. His vision for us is spelled out in the Bible.

We’re taught that our nature is sinful and we should avoid a “do what thou wilt” mindset and set of behaviors.

Specifically, among other things, we’re taught that gluttony is a sin that will harm our lives and lead to death.

Phillipians 3:19: “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.”

Proverbs 23:2: “And put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony.”

Proverbs 23:20-21: “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.”

For those of you who are nonbelievers, you don’t need the Bible for evidence of the dangerous impact of gluttony and obesity. Check with any doctor. Punch it into Google. You can call me. Gluttony and obesity have been my weaknesses.

The effort to normalize obesity is evil and satanic. Sports Illustrated is promoting death with its glorification of rotund runway models. Yumi Nu foolishly believes her ascension to SI cover girl is a symbol of necessary progress.

“I feel like we’re in a place right now where people are making space for more diversity on magazine covers,” she said. “It’s a big time for Asian-American people in media. I know I play a big role in representation in body diversity and race diversity, and I love to be a role model and representative of the plus-size Asian community.”

Nu is a disciple of the D.I.E. religion of diversity, inclusion, and equity. The D.I.E. religion is just Aleister Crowley’s satanism rebranded in a way that makes it palatable for the masses. It’s do what thou wilt. It’s the seeking of your true will.

Yumi Nu is a 250-pound glamour girl. She has aligned herself with her corpulent true will. She’s no different from Lia Thomas, the young man who decided his true will was to be a swimmer on the University of Pennsylvania’s women’s team. Nu is no different from Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. secretary of transportation who hopped in a hospital bed to pretend he delivered a baby.

Yumi Nu feels like she’s the Asian Christie Brinkley, Heidi Klum, or Tyra Banks. The reality is Nu is more Lizzo or Jason Whitlock, a pretty face seated atop a grossly unhealthy body. The people lying to and about Yumi Nu want her and others to die an early death smothered in gravy, fried chicken, and Kool-Aid.

What made America great was when we collectively sought to align ourselves with God’s will for us. That’s what compelled us to end slavery and Jim Crow. Men and women who wanted to be on the right side of God fought for freedom and equality of opportunity.

Men and women who want to be on the right side of a history leftists plan to write will end up standing alongside Aleister Crowley and blubbery beauties.

Michael Smith:

There’s been a lot of discussion about the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and how it is incorporating obese models as some attempt to redefine beauty.

It is true that “beauty” is a historically and culturally flexible concept – but one aspect of it has not changed – beauty is celebrated because it is unique in some way.

Before SI flipped the script and focused on what society defined as beautiful and then began to try to redefine it, I enjoyed the Swimsuit Issue for that reason. I found it pleasurable to view females of unique beauty

I used to subscribe to the magazine – but I no longer do and the change in perspective as evidenced in the Swimsuit Edition is largely why. I can get sports news faster today than ever before. The Internet changed that – but when SI began its campaign against beauty in favor of celebrating average, that was the end for me

Look – in a totally non gay bro-like perspective, I appreciate unique handsomeness in men as well.

My wife one asked me who I would be if I could be anybody and I chose Brad Pitt’s character of Tristan from the movie “Legends of the Fall”. To me, Tristian is the idealized model of a real man – the way a man is supposed to look, act, and leave a legacy behind

Stuffing an obese woman into a swimsuit doesn’t make her beautiful any more than stuffing a dude with a beer gut into a Speedo makes him handsome

Shoehorning “plus-sized” Yumi Nu onto the cover of SI does not make her attractive.

I’m with Jordan Peterson on that.

It doesn’t make her ugly, either.

It is just that absent of her swimsuit, if I walked past her in a mall, I would notice nothing remarkable about her. She looks like pretty much every overweight woman in America. There are literally hundreds of men I see who generate the same “meh” reaction.

It’s not misogynist or misandrist, its just their appearance is average and therefore unremarkable.

I’m not interested in average – I can see average at any mall in America without paying for it. As a matter of fact, I see average every morning when I look in a mirror.

But as with everything these days, there is a deeper meaning to a seemingly superficial situation.

SI trying to normalize average as unique is the same process communists use to subdue the masses. Nobody can be special or unique, nobody can perform better than anyone else and most certainly, nobody can stand out – because standing out is standing over.

It’s madness and represents a complete denial of what we are as humans.

Peterson is right about another dimension of this discussion – it is a classic authoritarian move.

It’s actually the same blueprint as in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”.

In the 2081 world of Harrison Bergeron, everyone is “equal” in every way—physically and mentally. The United States Handicapper General and her agents ensure compliance by forcing people to wear various devices and “handicaps” to assure no one performs better than anyone else. The strong or graceful are burdened with extra weight, the intelligent have their thoughts interrupted with jolting sounds, musicians wear an unstated handicap to limit their abilities and the beautiful wear hideous masks.

The original mission of the SI Swimsuit Edition was to celebrate the unique beauty of the female form.

Now it seeks to channel Vonnegut’s Handicapper General, a woman called Diana Moon Glampers, who eventually shoots the Harrison dead during a televised ballet performance with a double barreled 10-gauge shotgun

Glampers then orders the musicians and the ballerinas to get their handicaps back on and the people are ordered by the media to forget what they just saw.

And they did.

I have been an on-and-off subscriber to SI since 1982. The first issue of my first subscription was the 1982 Swimsuit Issue, back when the swimsuit issue was part of the issue before the Super Bowl. Later it became a separate issue.

SI, truth be told, has been floundering for several years as a print product, and in fact there is probably little reason to subscribe to the print edition anymore. The magazine went from weekly to biweekly, and is now a monthly. How a sports magazine can cover sporting events (which has always been central to SI) when coming out every month … well, that explains the “floundering” part.

It is reasonable to ask how swimsuits are part of “sports.” The swimsuit issue dates back to 1964, back when SI was 10 years old and its definition of “sports” was broader than now. Swimwear has usually been worn by models of the day (Cheryl Tiegs, Chrissie Brinkley, etc.) than athletes, and swimwear has waxed and waned in, well, skin coverage, including photos where models have held, though not worn, swimwear or anything else. For a few years those appearing in the swimsuit issue for the first time also were photographed in body paint and nothing else.

Why? The answer should be obvious: Money. To what should be no one’s surprise the swimsuit issue has been one of SI’s most lucrative, as you could tell given the previously gargantuan size of that issue. (With a lot of ads whose content rivaled the editorial photos.)

One of the more entertaining reads of SI has been the letters to the editor section following the swimsuit issue, which have, as all media should, included criticism of the swimsuit issue more from the left (objectifying, oppressing, exploiting, etc.) than the right (impure, sinful, etc.).

(I had a momentary involvement in this sort of thing, though not in SI. Back in 1988 a high school classmate of mine created what she called the Women of Wisconsin calendar, which was the focus of a story in the Wisconsin State Journal. Not long afterward a letter-writer condemned the calendar from the left — ironically, someone who had been a model for a fitness studio ad in the first newspaper I worked for in college. I then wrote a letter defending the calendar and asking how someone who agrees to do something and gets paid for it can be considered exploited. That was followed by another letter from where I was living that criticized the calendar from the sin perspective, written by the daughter of a local minister.)

SI started to lose the plot a few years ago when one of the models, who apparently is Muslim, wore neck-to-ankle swimwear. (That might be the ultimate mixed message — using a model from a religion whose excessively conservative adherents are famous for oppressing women for a project accused of exploiting women.) The plus-size models are not new, and their inclusion is less debatable than including a man wearing women’s swimwear. (No, not Caitlyn Jenner.)

Readers are, of course, free to read, or not, the SI swimsuit issue or anything else. (SI even went so far as to offer to not deliver the swimsuit issue to subscribers on request, such as libraries or schools.) Attempting to censor someone because you don’t like their views and don’t think anyone should be able to read those views (including photos of women wearing little or nothing) is a sign of low character.

SI is dealing with the same problem nearly every print publication faces — the Internet. Playboy Magazine’s response was to go bimonthly in 2016 and then quarterly in 2018, while briefly no longer showing the obvious reason to buy the magazine in the first place. Playboy stopped printing in 2020. SI has a vast website, but SI also has vast sports news competition online.

SI’s response has been an attempt at the woke business model, celebrating athletes’ progressive social awareness (see Kaepernick, Colin, and Thomas, William “Lia”) when the evidence that that’s what SI’s readers want is not being backed up by increasing print advertising. That’s not the reason for its slow-motion demise, but SI’s attempt to broaden its readership isn’t working. (The most recent issue, whose theme is women in athletics, is no bigger than SI issues were in its weekly days.)

SI seems destined to follow Sport, Inside Sports and ESPN The Magazine (whose attempt to emulate the Swimsuit Issue was the Body Issue, showing off the unclothed bodies of athletes, including those who don’t really have athletic bodies — this means you, Prince Fielder) into print memory. (I know something about that, as you know.)

 

Presty the DJ for May 20

Today in 1966, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who decided to replace for the evening the tardy drummer Keith Moon and bass player John Entwistle with the bass player and drummer of the band that played before them at the Ricky Tick Club in Windsor, England.

When Moon and Entwistle arrived and found they had been substituted for, a fight broke out. Moon and Entwistle quit … for a week.

The number one single today in 1967:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for May 20”

Disinformation on the disinformation board

Robby Soave:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has placed a “pause” on the newly-minted Disinformation Governance Board; its first executive director, Nina Jankowicz, has resigned.

The board’s existence, which was announced just three weeks ago, prompted serious concerns from many civil libertarians and inspired Ministry of Truth comparisons. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas tried—and largely failed—to address these concerns by noting that the board would serve in merely an advisory capacity and not have any actual power to police speech. That the Disinformation Governance Board did a bad job of communicating information about itself did not exactly instill confidence, and evidently DHS has now realized that the entire project is a bad idea.

It’s unclear whether plans for the board will be un-paused in the future; Jankowicz had initially decided to resign, reconsidered when she was told the pause might be temporary, and then ultimately left anyway.

This news comes from an exclusive report by The Washington Post‘s Taylor Lorenz, whose scoop is buried underneath layers of pro-government verbiage. Lorenz’s story excessively flatters Jankowicz—she is glamorized as “well-known” in the field, having “extensive experience,” and “well-regarded” in just the first two paragraphs—while ignoring legitimate criticism of this so-called expert’s track record. Indeed, there is zero mention, none whatsoever, of the fact that Jankowicz was flagrantly wrong about the pivotal “disinformation” episode of the 2020 election cycle: the Hunter Biden laptop story.

For WaPo, the story is not that DHS shuttered the Disinformation Governance Board—the real story is that right-wing “coordinated online attacks” achieved this outcome after subjecting Jankowicz to an “unrelenting barrage of harassment.”

“Within hours of news of her appointment, Jankowicz was thrust into the spotlight by the very forces she dedicated her career to combating,” writes Lorenz.

She concedes that the board’s name was “ominous” and details about its specific mission were “scant.” But most of the article focuses on the tenor of the criticism of Jankowicz.

“Jankowicz was on the receiving end of the harshest attacks, with her role mischaracterized as she became a primary target on the right-wing Internet,” writes Lorenz. “She has been subject to an unrelenting barrage of harassment and abuse while unchecked misrepresentations of her work continue to go viral.”

That’s not even close to all of it:

Jankowicz’s experience is a prime example of how the right-wing Internet apparatus operates, where far-right influencers attempt to identify a target, present a narrative and then repeat mischaracterizations across social media and websites with the aim of discrediting and attacking anyone who seeks to challenge them. It also shows what happens when institutions, when confronted with these attacks, don’t respond effectively.

More:

“These smears leveled by bad-faith, right-wing actors against a deeply qualified expert and against efforts to better combat human smuggling and domestic terrorism are disgusting,” deputy White House press secretary Andrew Bates told The Post on Tuesday.

Even more:

DHS staffers have also grown frustrated. With the department’s suspension of intra-departmental working groups focused on mis-, dis- and mal-information, some officials said it was an overreaction that gave too much credence to bad-faith actors. A 15-year veteran of the department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly, called the DHS response to the controversy “mind-boggling.” “I’ve never seen the department react like this before,” he said.

Yet more still:

Experts say that right-wing disinformation and smear campaigns regularly follow the same playbook and that it’s crucial that the public and leaders of institutions, especially in the government, the media and educational bodies, understand more fully how these cycles operate.

The campaigns invariably start with identifying a person to characterize as a villain. Attacking faceless institutions is difficult, so a figurehead (almost always a woman or person of color) is found to serve as its face. Whether that person has actual power within that institution is often immaterial. By discrediting those made to represent institutions they seek to bring down, they discredit the institution itself.

Harassment and reputational harm is core to the attack strategy. Institutions often treat reputational harm and online attacks as a personnel matter, one that unlucky employees should simply endure quietly.

Jankowicz’s case is a perfect example of this system at work, said Emerson T. Brooking, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “They try to define people by these single, decontextualized moments,” Brooking said. “In Nina’s case it’s a few TikTok videos, or one or two comments out of thousands of public appearances. They fixate on these small instances and they define this villain.”

That’s the explicit message of the article, and it’s hammered home over and over again: expressing concerns about Jankowicz and the Disinformation Governance Board is an act of sabotage by bad-faith right-wing harassers against a noble public servant. The Washington Post does not grapple with legitimate criticisms of Jankowicz. The article doesn’t even acknowledge that any exist. Bad people oppose Jankowicz, in the Post‘s framing, and if you oppose Jankowicz, you’re probably one of them.

Yet there is good reason to be skeptical of both the Disinformation Governance Board and Jankowicz’s fitness to run it. Informal efforts to police disinformation on social media are beset with serious challenges, as moderators and fact-checkers routinely make odious mistakes: Just today, Facebook dubiously censored a recipe for homemade baby formula. The social media site’s fact-checkers have previously flagged Reason articles as spreading false information, only to later admit the articles in question were accurate. John Stossel, host of Stossel TV and a contributor to Reason, is currently suing Facebook for characterizing his videos as misleading, even though fact-checkers eventually conceded he was right.

Government disinformation cops are no better; time and time again, public health officials circulated false information about COVID-19, and suppressed perfectly legitimate discussion of the theory that the virus originated from a lab leak. And when The New York Post reported on the salacious contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop just weeks before the election, the story was widely dismissed by so-called disinformation experts and government security experts on grounds that they presumed it to be Russian malfeasance. “Hunter Biden Story Is Russian Disinfo, Dozens of Former Intel Officials Say,” reported Politico back in October 2020.

Jankowicz repeatedly made public statements indicating that she held this view, too. She shared national security officials’ “high confidence” that the Hunter Biden story was part of a Russian influence campaign. She described the idea that the laptop had been left behind at a repair shop as “a fairy tale.” This was a critical test of whether disinformation experts could check their innate tendency to ascribe everything unfavorable to the Democratic Party as Russian nefariousness, and they utterly failed. Jankowicz failed as well.

Somewhere in Lorenz’s article, amid the repetitive praising of Jankowicz’s qualifications, anonymously sourced lamentations that DHS will no longer be able to recruit effectively, and broad characterization of criticism as nothing more than sexist harassment, perhaps that failure deserved a mention. The article reads like it was ghostwritten by Jankowicz herself, which makes the underlying scoop less impressive: It’s easy to get a government official to cooperate for a news article when the news article takes the form of PR.

Bidenomics vs. how the economy really works

National Review:

Lowering the price of consumer goods by raising the cost of producing them — President Biden can be, to put it charitably, counterintuitive.

The Biden administration is in an entertaining public spat with what we might as well call the “Bezos administration” (Amazon’s annual revenue exceeds the GDP of most European countries), and, while our faith in the man who publishes the Washington Post is something quite a bit less than total, in this case Jeff Bezos is unquestionably in the right — and not just because the Biden administration has an uncanny knack for being wrong on every economic question at every possible opportunity.

Biden has proposed to fight inflation by raising corporate taxes. As Bezos was quick to acknowledge, there is a case to be made for raising corporate taxes (we are not persuaded by that case, but there is a good-faith argument there), and certainly there is a crying need for an anti-inflation policy — but to pretend that these are the same thing is economic illiteracy.

The Biden administration has an inflation problem — because America has an inflation problem — but the administration is by and large unwilling to do the things that are in its power to actually address that problem, because such measures are likely to be politically difficult for a White House in which the reflexive response to any problem is to throw money at it. Inflation is a problem that is famous for getting worse when you throw money at it, and for getting better when you stop.

As Bezos points out, Biden and many of his congressional allies tried to throw even more money at our already-overheated economy and were saved from their own worst inclinations only by the relative sobriety of Senator Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat whose willingness to buck his party has made him, for the moment, the most powerful man in Washington. “They failed,” Bezos wrote, “but if they had succeeded, inflation would be even higher than it is today, and inflation today is at a 40-year high.”

Indeed, in the near term, putting new cost burdens on the firms that produce consumer goods and services would be a pretty good way to ensure higher prices for those consumer goods and services — the economics of “tax incidence” (how the economic burden of a tax actually gets distributed in the real world) can be pretty complex, but powerful firms reliably are inclined to pass along their expenses to consumers as well as to their vendors and employees. Everybody who has ever paid $10.81 after sales tax for a $9.99 bottle of bleach knows how that works — it is the consumer, not the producer or the seller, who pays the tax.

The United States already has a relatively high corporate tax rate, one that is a bit higher than the rates in high-tax Nordic countries such as Sweden, Finland, and Iceland, and significantly higher than the rates in such competitive European countries as Ireland and Switzerland. We lay a second tax on dividends, which are paid out of corporate income that already has been taxed once at the corporate rate.

The administration’s suggestion that Bezos’s criticism is only a cover for his disinclination to pay taxes is cheap demagoguery and deserves to be regarded with contempt. It is only the latest in a long line of contemptible inflation dodges: First it was “transitory,” until it wasn’t, and then it was the “Putin price hike,” even though the inflation started long before the war in Ukraine, and now it is Republicans or Jeff Bezos or — give it a couple of days — systemic racism. Anything other than the obvious: flooding the economy with money during a worldwide supply-chain disruption and keeping Covid-era emergency economic policies in place long after the economic emergency has passed.

Biden and other critics sometimes complain about “loopholes” in the tax code, which is strictly boob bait — in reality, the Biden administration loves special handouts written into the tax code: These are called “tax incentives,” and the administration proposes to create many more of them to reward politically connected businessesThe Obama administration couldn’t get enough of them, either.

Biden and other Democrats, notably Elizabeth Warren, have charged that this is an issue of “price gouging.” But big retailers are hurt by inflation as much as anybody — because they are buyers as well as sellers of goods. Walmart, for example, just announced that it missed its first-quarter earnings estimates because of higher prices for fuel, inventory, and labor. It is not the only firm facing such difficulties. Raising Walmart’s taxes at such a time is not the most obvious way to achieve consumer price stability.

Indeed, the Biden administration has no idea how that would work. When asked about how raising corporate taxes would combat inflation, the new White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, did an excellent imitation of a high-school student who hasn’t done the reading and gets called on to expound on Chapter 32 in Moby-DickIt is hilariously painful to watch. The president himself often appears to be as lost as last year’s Easter eggs, but Jean-Pierre is if anything even more incoherent — the real world isn’t MSNBC, as it turns out.

But, back in the real world, the fact is that the prices of baby formula and gasoline are not going through the roof because billionaires are buying those commodities by the ton and need to be reined in. (We trust the yacht market will see to itself.) Taxing Elon Musk into penury is not going to affect the price of a pound of 93 percent lean hamburger at Trader Joe’s — and that price is the sort of thing that the Biden administration should be worrying about for both substantive and political reasons.

We do not have high hopes for the Biden administration and never have. But, ceteris paribus, we would prefer a Democratic administration that is wrong and serious to one that is wrong and preposterous. And the Biden administration’s approach to inflation has, so far, been nothing short of preposterous. The intellectual laziness and moral cowardice of this administration are extraordinary, and Americans are paying a very high price for them.

Presty the DJ for May 19

The number-one album today in 1958, and for the next 31 weeks, was the soundtrack to the musical “South Pacific” went to number one and stayed there for 31 weeks. The film version starred Mitzi Gaynor, who looked very much like my mother a few years later.

Today in 1979, Eric Clapton married Patti Boyd, the former wife of George Harrison and the muse for the song “Layla.” The song lasted much longer than the marriage.

One wonders if anyone played selections from that day’s number one British album:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for May 19”

Carter and Biden

The U.S. is now plagued with the highest inflation rate since Jimmy Carter was president, which corresponded with this country’s second energy crisis.

But those aren’t the only similarities between Carter and Biden, as Jonah Goldberg notes:

In his remarks on inflation, the president laid out a series of concrete measures he was undertaking to curb inflation. But, he cautioned, “it is a myth that the government itself can stop inflation. Success or failure in this overall effort will be largely determined by the actions of the private sector of our economy.” A bit further on he proclaimed:

“No act of Congress, no program of our government, no order of mine as president can bring out the quality that we need: to change from the preoccupation with self that can cripple our national will, to a willingness to acknowledge and to sacrifice for the common good.”

In other words, inflation and our other economic woes were downstream of deeper cultural problems with the country.

You shouldn’t feel guilty for missing these remarks or angry at the media for not reporting on them, because the current president didn’t say any of this. These remarks were delivered 44 years ago by President Jimmy Carter to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

In fairness to Carter, he did offer a number of serious proposals—whether they were all wise or adequate is a debate for another time. He imposed a cap on government worker wages and asked the private sector to do likewise. He sensibly ordered a review of regulations that had the effect of driving up prices. “I’m determined to eliminate unnecessary regulations and to ensure that future regulations do not impose unnecessary costs to the American economy,” he said.

But this idea that inflation was the product of selfishness and widespread moral failings of the American people is what really sticks out. Carter, who famously admonished Americans a year earlier to treat the energy crisis as “the moral equivalent of war,” was a consummate moralist who liked to reduce technical problems to moral failures. He told the newspaper editors, “The problems of this generation are, in a way, more difficult than those of a generation before. We face no sharply focused crisis or threat which might make us forget our differences and rally to the defense of the common good.” A year later, in his even more famous “malaise speech” (which never used the word “malaise”), Carter said, “all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America. What is lacking is confidence and a sense of community.”

There are a lot of similarities between the Carter presidency and the Biden presidency. Both—so far—have been rocked by any number of crises, many of which were not entirely of their own making, but were nonetheless beyond their ability to get control of. Both Biden and Carter won the presidency in large part because voters wanted to rebuke a previous Republican president. (Yes, Gerald Ford was Nixon’s immediate replacement. But were it not for Nixon’s abuse of his office, Ford wouldn’t have been a placeholder and Carter wouldn’t have won.) And both shared the belief that America’s problems were the result of a breakdown in team spirit and selfishness.

The biggest difference between their approach to leadership lay in style. Despite his conviction that America’s problems boiled down to a lack of esprit de corps, Carter was no cheerleader. He was more like an exhausted youth pastor who didn’t know how to talk to young people but thought he knew exactly what was wrong with these damn kids. Biden, meanwhile, often sounds like a high school yearbook editor fighting the lazy senioritis of his staff—“Come on, everybody, if we all work our hardest and come together, we can make this the greatest yearbook ever!” I’ve lost count of how many times he’s said some version of, “If we come together there’s nothing we cannot do,” or, “We have never, ever, ever failed in America when we have acted together.”

Now, longtime readers will not be shocked to learn I think is profoundly wrong. Unity is a tool, and like any tool it can be used for good or for ill. Lots of terrible things are done under the flag of unity, including war, genocide, lynching, and repression generally. To use a contemporary example, let’s say you passionately believe in a constitutional right to abortion. Do you think that right should evaporate if a large majority of Americans are united in their belief that no such right exists? Even in a democracy, unity alone isn’t always a persuasive argument.

But that’s a familiar refrain of mine. More basically, tools are only good for solving problems they are suited to solve. Screwdrivers are pretty useless for chopping wood and the best scalpels are worse than the crudest rock for pounding nails. And sometimes, the wrong tool is worse than no tool at all.

“We’ve got to amputate his arm!”

“All we’ve got is a mallet!”

“I’ll make it work!”

In Biden’s remarks this week he said:

“My plan is to lower … everyday costs for hardworking families and lower the deficit by asking large corporations and the wealthiest Americans to not engage in price gouging and to pay their fair share in taxes.

The Republican plan is to increase taxes on the middle-class families and let billionaires and large companies off the hook as they raise profit and — raise prices and reap profits at record number — record amounts.

And it’s really that simple.”

Now, I have the pundit’s obligation to note that this is not “the Republican plan.” It’s Sen. Rick Scott’s politically barmy trial balloon that crashed like so much blue ice accidentally jettisoned from a commercial jet. Mitch McConnell’s “plan” is very similar to Michael Corleone’s offer to Sen. Geary: “Nothing.” Like it or not, McConnell’s well-developed attitude is that when your political opponent is smashing himself in the groin, the last thing you want to do is say, “Can I borrow your hammer?”

But the interesting part is that Biden thinks inflation is being driven by corporate greed and “price gouging.” He’s not alone. Elizabeth Warren has introduced economically illiterate legislation to empower the Federal Trade Commission to punish companies guilty of charging “unconscionably excessive” prices. What are “unconscionably excessive” prices? The legislation doesn’t say. She simply trusts that her emissaries on the FTC will know them when they see them. Firms will be “presumed to be in violation” if they use “the effects or circumstances related to the exceptional market shock as a pretext to increase prices.”

“What’s an ‘exceptional market shock?’” you ask. “Any change or imminently threatened (as determined under guidance issued by the Commission) change in the market for a good or service resulting from a natural disaster, failure or shortage of electric power or other source of energy, strike, civil disorder, war, military action, national or local emergency, public health emergency, or any other cause of an atypical disruption in such market.”

With a precise definition like that, what could possibly go wrong?

In short, the FTC would be the economic conscience of the nation and its commissioners would have free rein to let their conscience be their guide. In effect, obscene profits would be determined by Potter Stewart’s standard for obscenity, “I know it when I see it.” The problem is a market system that punishes companies when their investments pay off but doesn’t compensate them when they don’t (or vice versa) isn’t a market system. It’s a form of bureaucratic autocracy.

Now, it’s absolutely true that, say, oil companies are making big profits right now. But in 2020, they suffered what some might call unconscionable losses. ExxonMobil lost $22 billion in 2020 alone. And yet, the people now denouncing Big Oil’s greed didn’t congratulate Big Oil’s “generosity” when it was losing money.

As I’ve written a bunch, the concept of “institutional racism” was invented to explain how undesirable racial outcomes could manifest themselves even when no human actors had racist intent. I think this is a perfectly fine intellectual endeavor so long as those engaging in it hold fast to the part about intent. The problem is that humans aren’t wired that way. The crusaders against “institutional racism” usually can’t help but accuse those who dissent from their analysis as racist. I think it’s because the same part of the brain that drives us toward conspiracy theories needs to assign agency to bad things. For instance, I have no idea whether J.D. Vance is a conspiracy theorist or just plays one for electoral advantage. But the suggestion that Biden is intentionally inviting fentanyl into our country to kill “MAGA voters” is dangerous nonsense.

Similarly, Marxism is mostly garbage as economic theory, but it’s really useful as an illustration of how people can talk a good game about systemic problems—class structure, misallocation of capital, etc.—but invariably get seduced into morality tales about villains and victims. Marx’s labor theory of value was, again, garbage as economic analysis, but man was it awesome for demonizing money-lenders, industrialists, and the bourgeoisie under the rubric of “science.”

We see a version of this kind of thinking all over the place. According to Warren, Kroger, which has very low profit margins, is a monopoly-like malefactor responsible for soaring food prices that must be punished.

There’s this weird irony in progressive rhetoric about corporations. They despise the idea that “corporations are people” but they are the first to anthropomorphize corporations, assigning sinister motives to them. Multifactorial dynamics are reduced to voluntary evil choices.

I don’t want to be accused of perpetuating the naturalistic fallacy, in part because I don’t think the free market is particularly natural. But we all understand that when wolves eat deer, they’re just playing their part in the ecosystem. We don’t denounce “lupine greed” or the depredations of Big Wolf. And when wolves starve because the supply of prey is inadequate for their population, we don’t decry the selfishness of ungulates who run away from the hungry canines. But when it comes to the market system, we routinely assign moral intent and corrupt agency to complicated systemic phenomena.

The baby formula shortage, for instance, is very bad, but it’s not an evil scheme. Scott Lincicome is of course correct that protectionism and certain regulations are partly to blame for this crisis and other supply chain woes. But even Scott, who hates protectionism with the same intensity my old basset hound Norman had for that gray poodle, doesn’t insinuate that protectionists want babies to go hungry.

The projection of simplistic moral categories onto the complicated workings of markets is not always absurd, but it usually is. It’s best understood as our tribal brains rebelling against what we don’t understand.

I know I’m running longer than a Steve Schmidt Twitter vendetta, but I want to make one last point. Last year, Rick Perlstein wrote a much discussed—and mockedessay arguing that contemporary concerns over inflation are silly. Concern about the possible inflationary effect of Biden’s massive spending proposals, Perlstein wrote last fall, “makes no sense, and no liberal should take it seriously — let alone be seduced by it into balking over Biden’s spending plans.”

But that wasn’t the controversial part (most liberals, including at the White House, were saying similar stuff). Perlstein also argued that the inflation of the 1970s really had little to nothing to do with, well, inflation. He wrote:

The conclusion I’ve drawn is that this was a form of moral panic. The 1970s was when the social transformations of the 1960s worked their way into the mainstream. “Inflation spiraling out of control” was a way of talking about how more permissiveness, more profligacy, more individual freedom, more sexualfreedom had sent society spiraling out of control. ‘Discipline’ from the top down was a fantasy about how to make all the madness stop.

I thought that was ridiculous at the time, and I still think it’s substantially wrong. Americans justifiably cared a lot about inflation and the cost of living, and it’s just very weird that a historian would deny that. Here’s a passage from Robert Samuelson, writing in 2009:

“Since 1935, the Gallup Poll has regularly asked respondents, ‘What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?’ In the nine years from 1973 to 1981, ‘the high cost of living’ ranked No. 1 every year. In some surveys, an astounding 70 percent of the respondents cited it as the major problem. In 1971 it was second behind Vietnam; in 1972 it faded only because wage and price controls artificially and temporarily kept prices in check. In 1982 and 1983, it was second behind unemployment (and not coincidentally: the high joblessness stemmed from a savage recession caused by inflation).”

For Perlstein’s thesis to be correct, not only was Ronald Reagan’s and Paul Volker’s heroic (and politically risky) effort to wrench inflation out of the economy a mere sideshow, but America’s “moral panic” over progressive change just happened to end around the same time they succeeded. That’s hardly how progressives described Reagan’s America at the time.

That said, I think there’s a point to Perlstein’s argument, just not the one he intended. He got the causality backward. Inflation is panic inducing. It makes people feel like things are out of control, that their leaders are in over their heads, and that their economic future is imperiled. And when you’re all jangly with fear and the sense that powerful forces are buffeting you, you’re more likely to be freaked out by other stuff, too. In other words, the economic panic of the 1970s made moral panics generally feel more justified. The inflation of Weimar Germany (far worse than our current predicament, I should note) made Germans susceptible to other forms of panic. When droughts or other calamities afflicted our ancestors, all sorts of moral panics followed.

Obviously, in politics nothing happens in a vacuum. In the 1970s the very legitimate fear of crime was unsettling, too. The unease caused by skyrocketing crime surely fueled unease about the cost of living and vice versa, particularly among those who felt trapped in neighborhoods they couldn’t afford to move out of. And in that context, it’s surely plausible that middle class anxieties about everything from feminism, to Vietnam, to racial discord, to those damn hippies were made worse by inflation—and vice versa. But that doesn’t change the fact that inflation was a real thing, not some metaphorical catchall for conservative bourgeoise reaction.

The polarization and hysteria of the last decade no doubt makes inflation feel even worse. The fact that Biden seems not just inadequate for the job but incapable of describing the problems he faces undoubtedly makes people more anxious about inflation. Similarly, Donald Trump’s inability to talk about the pandemic as something other than a conspiracy against him, a hoax, or a boffo ratings opportunity made people even more anxious about COVID. Leadership—and the lack of it—matters. And we’ve had crappy leadership for quite a while now.

Ronald Reagan said in 1980 that a recession (toward which we are now halfway) is when your neighbor loses his job, a depression is when you lose your job, and recovery is when Carter loses his job. Replace “Carter” with “Biden” and everyone with a D after their names, and the same applies.

 

Presty the DJ for May 18

If you wanna be happy, listen to the number one single today in 1963:

Another one-hit wonder had the number one single today in 1968:

The number one single today in 1974 might be the very definition of the term “novelty song”:

The number one British single today in 1975:

(Which more appropriately should have been called “Stand by Your Men,” since Tammy Wynette had had three husbands up to then, and two more thereafter.)

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for May 18”

How to make Bidenflation worse

James Freeman:

There are too many dollars chasing too few goods and services in the United States. Until the Federal Reserve effectuates a meaningful reduction in the amount of dollars, countering inflation requires either increasing the supply of goods and services or reducing the demand. The latter option inflicts economic pain and tends to be nearly impossible for policy makers to engineer without also depressing supply, but unfortunately it seems to be President Joe Biden’s preferred course.

On Friday the president tweeted:

You want to bring down inflation?

Let’s make sure the wealthiest corporations pay their fair share.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who always seems more sensible than the newspaper he owns, responds:

The newly created Disinformation Board should review this tweet, or maybe they need to form a new Non Sequitur Board instead. Raising corp taxes is fine to discuss. Taming inflation is critical to discuss. Mushing them together is just misdirection.

Mr. Bezos is right to suggest that inflation is not caused by competitive corporate tax rates. In fact pro-growth tax policy acts as a crucial incentive for businesses to supply more goods and services and to create disinflationary innovations.

But Mr. Bezos may be giving Mr. Biden too much credit in dismissing the President’s tweet as mere irrelevant disinformation. It’s possible that the president is not confusedly combining two economic concepts. The chilling possibility here is that Mr. Biden understands exactly what he’s saying and that he intends to use confiscatory taxation to depress economic activity in a misguided belief that he can reduce demand and end inflation by crushing business. The president ought to remember the 1970s but apparently doesn’t.

Annie Palmer at CNBC notes:

White House spokesperson Andrew Bates responded in a statement that “it doesn’t require a huge leap to figure out why” Bezos, the world’s second-wealthiest man, would oppose Biden’s proposal to hike taxes on the ultra-wealthy and corporations.

“It’s also unsurprising that this tweet comes after the President met with labor organizers, including Amazon employees,” Bates said in a statement.

Bezos’ venture capital firm, Bezos Expeditions, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

If the White House goal is to discourage supply by attacking business, it’s doing a marvelous job. Now unfortunately even one of the critics who tried to dissuade Mr. Biden from his inflationary spending agenda in early 2021 is endorsing the emerging Biden policy. Former Obama and Clinton economic adviser Larry Summers tweets:

I think @JeffBezos is mostly wrong in his recent attack on the @JoeBiden Admin. It is perfectly reasonable to believe, as I do and @POTUS asserts, that we should raise taxes to reduce demand to contain inflation and that the increases should be as progressive as possible.

Investors have lately been tortured by a fear that the Fed cannot slay inflation without triggering a recession. Now along comes the disturbing prospect that slowing the economy may be official White House policy.

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