Blog Credo

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis.The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.
- Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Piketty Explained

Nice summary.

The Racist Elephant In The Room

About a week ago, Jon Chait wrote a provocative piece about racism and opposition to President Obama.  As I understood it, what Chait was saying is that while all racists oppose Obama, not all opposition to Obama is racist.  And when Democrats accuse all opposition towards Obama of being racist, it effectively shuts down political dialogue.  Chait has been one of the leading proclaimers of how broken the GOP is in terms of its unilateral and inflexible opposition to compromise, so he's not making a Utopian statement about "grand bargains".  He's simply saying that you can't always lay opposition to Obama at the feet of racism.

Some of the criticisms of the piece were fair, some were not.  I don't think, for instance, that we should forbid white writers from writing about race.  Chait's opinions are perhaps less lived in than Nahesi-Coates, but we don't forbid French political scientists from writing about America, so...

Anyway, I would be interested to hear what Chait would have to say about the latest utterances from Sagebrush Anarchist and Welfare Cheat Cliven Bundy.  Compared to the idiotic drivel spewed by the Duck Dynasty patriarch, Bundy's words are just foul and inexcusable.

They are also entirely predictable.

The fact that this dipshit who rides around with an American flag talking about how he doesn't believe in the legitimacy of the US government is somehow unaware of the ridiculous hypocrisy of his statements should surprise no one.

Bundy is a welfare cheat.  He has lived off stealing government owned resources.  That he cannot see the correlations between that and his racist spew is a perfect encapsulation of the lack of awareness of those who live within the Fox Bubble.  Here's an excerpt:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” the rancher began as he described a "government house" in Las Vegas where he recalled that all the people who sat outside seemed to "have nothing to do."
“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he said, as quoted by the Times. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

While Chait's writing about how conservatives may or may not see race was condemned for being tone deaf to the lived racism that African Americans survive, I think we can agree that a redneck talking about what he's learned "about the Negro" crosses every line possible.  Using slavery as a positive comparison?  Really?

And yet there is something more revealing in Bundy's statement than the racism.

Notice how he compares slavery favorably to living on government assistance.  Forget for the moment that Bundy has been living off government assistance for decades.  What sort of person thinks that slavery was comparable to getting food stamps and rent subsidies?

It's a person who has been exposed to the central lie of Ronald Reagan: "Government isn't the solution to your problem, government IS the problem."

That's a fantastic soundbite.  It's also incredibly careless with the truth.

Sometimes, government is absolutely the solution to your problem.  Any abuse of the Commons, any predatory practice that has the strong subjugating the weak, any need for pooled resources is an opportunity for the government to act.  As Lincoln said, "The proper role of government is to do for the people what the people cannot properly do for themselves."

Sometimes, this leads to a narrow preference for rules over common sense.  Frequently it does.  But the idea that the government of the United States - when it assists its citizens - is somehow analogous to slavery represents the extent to which Reagan's rhetoric (far more than his actions as President) have poisoned the mind of the American Right.

Bundy is an extreme example, to be sure.  But he is simply the logical output when you combine Fundamentalist Reaganism with Fox News Epistemic Closure and the legacy of American Racism.

We can be hopeful that this is a generational result of the Reagan years and therefore not permanent.  But Cliven Bundy's dad was probably in the John Birch Society.  This particular strain of the Paranoid Style has old and deep roots in America.

Luckily, Bundy's true colors have left his supporters scrambling, as once again the GOP has to distance itself from the racist, sexist, misanthropic elements that make up its base.

But just wait.  There is sure to be another Cliven Bundy right around the corner.

UPDATE:  And sure enough, various conservative media figures and politicians are trying to separate the racism from the political philosophy, without acknowledging that the two are inextricably linked.  Let me repeat: Cliven Bundy's racism is relevant because of what it says about his philosophy about government.  If you agree with the latter, you implicit endorse the former.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Malaise Speech

I just re-read Jimmy Carter's "Malaise Speech".  It's actually spot on.  It's not surprising that it was panned, because the truths are uncomfortable.  Here is what my students read:

Ten days ago I had planned to speak to you again about a very important subject -- energy. For the fifth time I would have described the urgency of the problem and laid out a series of legislative recommendations to the Congress. But as I was preparing to speak, I began to ask myself the same question that I now know has been troubling many of you. Why have we not been able to get together as a nation to resolve our serious energy problem?
It's clear that the true problems of our Nation are much deeper -- deeper than gasoline lines or energy shortages, deeper even than inflation or recession. And I realize more than ever that as president I need your help. So I decided to reach out and listen to the voices of America.
I invited to Camp David people from almost every segment of our society -- business and labor, teachers and preachers, governors, mayors, and private citizens. And then I left Camp David to listen to other Americans, men and women like you.
It has been an extraordinary ten days, and I want to share with you what I've heard.
These ten days confirmed my belief in the decency and the strength and the wisdom of the American people, but it also bore out some of my long-standing concerns about our nation's underlying problems.
I know, of course, being president, that government actions and legislation can be very important. That's why I've worked hard to put my campaign promises into law -- and I have to admit, with just mixed success. But after listening to the American people I have been reminded again that all the legislation in the world can't fix what's wrong with America. So, I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.
I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.
The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.
The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.
The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July.
It is the idea which founded our nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else -- public institutions and private enterprise, our own families, and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations. We've always believed in something called progress. We've always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own.
Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy…
In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.
The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.
As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.
These changes did not happen overnight. They've come upon us gradually over the last generation, years that were filled with shocks and tragedy.
We were sure that ours was a nation of the ballot, not the bullet, until the murders of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. We were taught that our armies were always invincible and our causes were always just, only to suffer the agony of Vietnam. We respected the presidency as a place of honor until the shock of Watergate.
We remember when the phrase "sound as a dollar" was an expression of absolute dependability, until ten years of inflation began to shrink our dollar and our savings. We believed that our nation's resources were limitless until 1973, when we had to face a growing dependence on foreign oil.
These wounds are still very deep. They have never been healed. Looking for a way out of this crisis, our people have turned to the Federal government and found it isolated from the mainstream of our nation's life. Washington, D.C., has become an island. The gap between our citizens and our government has never been so wide.
Often you see paralysis and stagnation and drift. You don't like it, and neither do I. What can we do?
First of all, we must face the truth, and then we can change our course. We simply must have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this nation. Restoring that faith and that confidence to America is now the most important task we face. It is a true challenge of this generation of Americans.
We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.
All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path, the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our nation and ourselves. We can take the first steps down that path as we begin to solve our energy problem.
Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this nation, and it can also be the standard around which we rally. On the battlefield of energy we can win for our nation a new confidence, and we can seize control again of our common destiny.
In little more than two decades we've gone from a position of energy independence to one in which almost half the oil we use comes from foreign countries, at prices that are going through the roof. Our excessive dependence on OPEC has already taken a tremendous toll on our economy and our people. This is the direct cause of the long lines which have made millions of you spend aggravating hours waiting for gasoline. It's a cause of the increased inflation and unemployment that we now face. This intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic independence and the very security of our nation. The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our nation. These are facts and we simply must face them.
I will continue to travel this country, to hear the people of America. You can help me to develop a national agenda for the 1980s. I will listen and I will act. We will act together. These were the promises I made three years ago, and I intend to keep them.
Little by little we can and we must rebuild our confidence. We can spend until we empty our treasuries, and we may summon all the wonders of science. But we can succeed only if we tap our greatest resources -- America's people, America's values, and America's confidence.
I have seen the strength of America in the inexhaustible resources of our people. In the days to come, let us renew that strength in the struggle for an energy secure nation.
In closing, let me say this: I will do my best, but I will not do it alone. Let your voice be heard. Whenever you have a chance, say something good about our country. With God's help and for the sake of our nation, it is time for us to join hands in America. Let us commit ourselves together to a rebirth of the American spirit. Working together with our common faith we cannot fail.

Thank you and good night.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Fire Next Time

I am of the opinion that real change happens when a mass movement meets a forceful, competent leader.  Thus did the broad civil rights movement wed with LBJ to pass meaningful civil rights legislation.  Thus did the broad class of industrial and agricultural workers wed with FDR to pass Social Security and the Fair Labor Standards Act.

There have been two recent important academic efforts to talk about economic inequality.  There was Piketty's book that says - shocker! - that capitalism actually concentrates wealth among the very top rather than share it with the mass of workers.  Then there was the Princeton study that says - shocker! - that American politics favors the elite.

These studies help mobilize academic and intellectual elite opinion.  Although as Sarah Kliff noted in her analysis of the large sign-ups for ACA, people actually hate not having insurance.  They want insurance badly, which is something DC elites - who HAVE health insurance - don't comprehend.

So while we still have a ways to go, there is a growing consensus among intellectual elites to match the rhetoric of #occupy.

This, I think, explains the reticence of many progressives to commit to a Clinton presidency.  This explains their preference for Elizabeth Warren.

There is a growing consensus in America - as exemplified by the majority preference for raising the minimum wage - that wealth inequality is a major issue.  In the long term, only climate change is more important.

But it's clear that 2016 is the moment to make this movement a political reality.  And if so, there needs to be a charismatic, effective president to realize this moment and make it a reality.

I've often compared Obama to Woodrow Wilson, but Wilson was someone who was forced in a more populist, progressive direction by a movement below him.

Perhaps it will be Clinton who can similarly surprise the Left and be the agent of change that Wilson - a former Southern conservative, FDR - a plutocrat, and LBJ - a Texan, all became.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Big Data

I've tried to be a loyal reader of Nate Silver's new site, but it's frankly pretty boring.

Maybe it will pick up during election season, but right now I don't see the point.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Fundamental Truth About ACA

People want health insurance, but they couldn't afford it.  Now they can afford it.  So they're buying it.

Kliff hit on something essential: The people decrying the complexity of Obamacare and the website are people who have employer based health care, in which all the complicated work was done by the HR department.  For them, health care is a snap.  Why wouldn't it be?

But for the millions who live in fear of getting sick, it was worth the hassle of a glitchy website and so on to make sure that they can see a doctor and get care.

Some of this feeds into the Princeton study I referenced yesterday, but it's not only our politicians who are captured by the narrow perspective that their wealth gives them, but the chattering classes, too.

And not coincidentally, the rock star appeal of Elizabeth Warren among Democrats comes from her explicit and implicit empathy with people who don't have a 401K.

Friday, April 18, 2014

"A Republic, If You Can Keep It"

Some pointy-headed Princetonians have argued that America is no longer a democracy, but an oligarchy.  If I was being pedantic, I would note that America has never been a "democracy" but a republic.  And republics naturally reflect the will of elites more than the masses.

But I also feel that this is a bunch of academic stunt writing.  Make a provocative claim, reap the headlines and talk show appearances, profit.

But on the other other hand, this is a real possibility if we don't address wealth inequality and its impact on politics. It deserves to be brought up.


The day after Edward Snowden proved his libertarian credentials by crawling onto Putin's lap and licking cream from his chin, we have this:

Meanwhile, our small town that has basically one violent crime a year is procuring a military anti-mine vehicle to arrest drunk and disorderly people.

The NSA should not be doing what it is doing, but it is the militarized, shoot first police in this country that is the real assault on liberty.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

RIP, Gabo

Love In The Time of Cholera remains my favorite novel.  And while I know that I've only read his works in translation, the spell he cast on language was truly magical.

Like a flock of yellow butterflies that steal your sleep.

The Captain looked at Fermina Daza and saw on her eyelashes the first glimmer of wintry frost. Then he looked at Florentino Ariza, his invincible power, his intrepid love, and he was overwhelmed by the belated suspicion that it is life, more than death, that has not limits.
"And how long do you think we can keep up this goddamn coming and going?" he asked.
Florentino Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty-three years, seven months and eleven days and nights.
"Forever," he said.

Dismal News From The Dismal Science

So, yeah, inequality is a fact of life, global and hard to control.

Not impossible, but hard.

We'll get right on that...

Pity Party

So there's this guy and he's an "education reformer".  And he gets angry emails from teachers who complain about the agenda that education reformers often push on the classroom.

His defense in the above column is kind of bizarre.  He taught for two years before getting mugged and developing PTSD.  But two years with TFA is not the same as struggling with the issues in education for a career.  I can't imagine having the presumptuousness to tell a teacher what makes good teaching after two years in the classroom.

I'm really sorry he had a traumatic mugging and post-concussion syndrome.

But that doesn't excuse his lack of teaching experience.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Obamacare Is Working

The frustrating thing is that no matter how well it does work and how well it insures people and how well it contains costs, there are going to be people who hate it and refuse to believe the evidence because of ideological or partisan rigidity.

We can be a profoundly stupid country.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Today In Neo-Confedracy

I have little doubt that the Wisconsin GOP will NOT vote to secede.  It's Wisconsin.  But it will get votes.  But the narrative will be: Look!  They DIDN'T vote to secede!  They must be reasonable!

And then we have the specter of an actual Klansmen killing people.  Again, it's not like ALL GOP members are Klansmen.  And even if SOME GOP are Klansmen, it doesn't follow that the GOP is RACIST!

All of this flows into a discussion that Booman was having about a Jon Chait article.

Is the GOP motivated by racism in its opposition to Obama?  Somewhat.  All the references to the birth certificate and his Muslim identity are elements of the racial panic of a "disappearing America".

Yet at the same time would opposition to the President be any different if it was Hillary Clinton?  No.  And then we could (and probably will) focus on sexism within the GOP.  And if the President was Joe Biden?  They'd still oppose every single damned thing he did.

What has been so distressing about the GOP has not been the thinly veiled racism within elements of the party.  When you assimilate the white South, that's just going to happen.

What I find distressing is that the GOP refuses to behave like a principled opposition party, but simply a band of institutional nihilists.

Now with extra racism!