Morning Music: Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin - PearlA story my mother used to tell me was that in the early years of her marriage with my father, he wanted to go out partying with his friends. And she had to explain that he was married now; he had children and responsibility. He felt trapped and wanted his freedom. And she used to repeat the refrain from the song, “Me and Bobby McGee”: freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. As I’ve written before, my mother didn’t think there was a problem that couldn’t be fixed with the appropriate application of a song lyric.

There’s just one problem with that story: the timing is off. My parents had been married for over ten years when Janis Joplin had her megahit with it. But maybe my mother was referring to the Roger Miller version of the song, but that only gains us a year and a half. I’m not doubting my mother. I’m sure she did mention this to my father at some point. But for all my parents problems, I don’t recall my father’s lack of commitment to the family being one of them. So I’m going to give him a pass on this one. Anyway, maybe I have the story all wrong and it wasn’t even about my father. I’ve got a lousy memory for that kind of stuff.

Anyway, here is what I still think is the best version of the song off by far Joplin’s best album, Pearl:

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Anniversary Post: Death of Henri Paul

Henri PaulI am not one to wish anyone dead. Well, except for Antonin Scalia — I really wish he would have a heart attack and die — quickly, painlessly, but completely and irrevocably. But on this day back in 1997, Henri Paul died. So did Dodi Fayed. And that other woman: Diana, Princess of Wales. For the record, I never liked her. I don’t like any of the royal family. They are good for tourism in the United Kingdom?! Great! Disneyland is good for tourism here. I’m all for that. But would it be news if Mickey and Minnie Mouse had a baby? I don’t think so. And I similarly think that people who care about what’s going on in the royal family are idiots.

This isn’t to say that I don’t think that the royal family is useful. They are a great example of how screwed up we humans are. There was a time when Queen Elizabeth would have total power over her nation — a time when she could kill anyone she wanted just because she was in a bad mood. And this was thought to be perfectly acceptable because the royalty were thought to be better than other people.

It’s good that those times are gone. Except that they aren’t. It is just that today — in America most especially — being rich means that you are special — better than other people. If you are poor, it is because morally you are a lesser soul. It might even mean that God doesn’t like you. If you are rich, well, you must be doing something right in God’s eyes.

We humans are followers. And it is not rational at all. We do not follow the smart when we need the smart and the wise when we need the wise, but we do follow the strong when we need the strong. But that’s just because we follow the strong always. I’ve noticed it in my life recently. As my working life has become better, I’ve felt better about myself, and people treat me better — even though if anything, I’m more of a jerk. But I’m no more smart or wise than I was before.

When Princess Diana died in the car crash, so did Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul. It’s sad they died. But no one cares about Fayed and Paul, so why care about Diana? No reason at all.

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My Solution for Saving the Racist Joke

Oompa Loompa -- People We Can HateEd Kilgore wrote a really good article over at Political Animal, Tell Us What You Really Mean By “Political Correctness,” Conservatives! It is mostly an attack on little brain SE Cupp. (I mean that: she is dimwitted; she wouldn’t have a job if she weren’t conservative.) She claims that the rise of Donald Trump is because of political correctness on college campuses. “If not for the loony sensitivities foisted upon us by the left, someone like Trump would be immediately dismissed as unprofessional and unserious, an incoherent blurter.” That’s actually quite funny. Because school kids aren’t able to shoot pretend guns, old people are voting for Trump. There is something unprofessional and unserious here, but it ain’t Trump.

Kilgore fired back, “Is that the source of all this hysteria?” Of course, it isn’t. It is just another excuse for a conservative pundit to blame the dysfunction of the Republican Party on the liberals. According to this view, if it weren’t for liberals being such meanies, the Republicans would be nominating people like Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Well, Kilgore called bunk on that:

The Trump supporters and proto-Trump supporters I know are upset by things like having to listen to Spanish-language messages on customer service lines, not being able to call women “chicks” without someone frowning at them, and having to stop telling racist jokes at work. That’s what “political correctness” is code for: having to worry about the sensitivities of people who were invisible or submissive not that very long ago.

That’s exactly right. Since the 1970s, I’ve been hearing the same thing about the LGBT community: “I don’t care, but do they have to rub it in my face?” This same exact thing was told to me less than a month ago by a young social conservative who was about to go into the military. What the “it” that is rubbed in everyone’s faces is the fact of their identity. When we see an old heterosexual couple holding hands, it is charming. But two old gay men?! Oh. My. God! It’s somehow not a sign of personal affection but a political statement. “Look at us! We’re gay!” And this is what Kilgore is getting at: conservatives want those gay men back in the closet.

This goes along with what I’ve long argued about the supposed war on Christmas. It isn’t enough to be inclusive of Christians, they must be held up as uniquely right. It’s perfectly fine for there to be atheists and Muslims — as long as they are quiet and don’t mess up the illusion that everyone is a Christian. But this is part of a broader conservative complaint. And it is what is behind the “take our country back” meme. This is because they actually think that “our country” belongs to white Christian men and the women who are subservient to them.

But I have an idea for how we can maintain at least a little of our homogeneous culture: we can make up outsiders. And I recommend the Oompa Loompas. As Paul Bibeau reminds us, they are just “green-haired freaks.” So let’s take my very favorite joke when I was a kid. It was originally an Italian joke. When I got older, I made it a Portuguese joke, because my family is from Portugal. But it works great with the Oompa Loompas:

There was a joint space mission between the Americans, the Russians, and the people of Loompaland. And as will happen in these situations, the three of them were talking and getting a little boastful. The Russian said, “We were the first in space.” The American countered, “Well, so what? We were the first to land on the moon!” And the Oompa Loompa said, “That’s nothing! We are going to be the first to land on the sun!” The Russian and American burst out laughing. “You can’t do that,” said the Russian. “You’d burn up. The Oompa Loompa sighed, “You think we’re stupid?! We’re going at night.”

So you see: we can maintain our hateful bigotry at almost no cost to society. That is assuming that we don’t discover of a orange faced green-haired freaks. Oh my God! I just thought: what if John Boehner starts swimming in over-chlorinated water? Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.


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Piketty’s Quiet Revolution

Thomas Piketty - LionOver a certain wealth level, particularly if you are Bill Gates, if you have several dozen billion dollars, you know it’s not very useful for society if you keep it forever. So you should return part of it each year. In a way, it’s like permanent land reform. It’s like a permanent revolution, but it’s a quiet revolution because it takes place within the rule of law.

—Thomas Piketty
A Property Crisis: Interview With Thomas Piketty

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Did the Soviet Empire Reduce US Inequality?

Branko MilanovicI’m well aware of just how self-impressed I am. It’s because whenever I see someone writing what about what I’ve been thinking, my impression is, “What a brilliant thinker!” That’s what I thought when I saw Branko Milanovic’s article, Did Socialism Keep Capitalism Equal? What he’s getting at is the idea that as long as there was the Soviet empire, capitalists in the west had to be careful. They couldn’t allow inequality to get out of hand for fear that the people would just choose the other side. But now, without the threat of communism, the capitalists are going wild, because, hey, what options do the people have?

Well, there is one obvious answer to that: there was no communism before there was communism. There was no French Revolution before the French Revolution. This is part of a lesson that I’ve been trying to teach conservatives for years. It is hard to find a serious conservative who doesn’t think that FDR turned our capitalist utopia into a dystopian socialism. They just can’t see that what FDR most likely did was save capitalism in the United States. Otherwise, there probably would have been a revolution. And the US would have become a fascist state. (Because let’s face it: that’s where we tend to go as a people.)

But I think that Milanovic is really onto something. The rise of the whole “greed is good” mentality went along with the decline of the Soviet empire. In the 1950s, many people in the US government were worried that the Soviets could win the Cold War because of its centralization of power. It might not be so wonderful to live under, but such a system could — in theory — have been more effective in accomplishing its strategic goals. And that was a valid opinion — especially after Sputnik.

But by the 1970s and 1980s — regardless of the rhetoric of Nixon and Carter and Reagan — everyone knew that wasn’t true. And as a result, the rich grabbed more and more wealth and more and more power. As Milanovic points out, “Now, this idea comes from the fact that rich capitalist countries experienced an extraordinary period of decreasing inequality from around 1920s to 1980s…” But of course, the decline and fall of the Soviet empire is not the only possible reason for this. But I think the union story is hard to refute: the true decimation of unions is not due to skills-based jobs and globalization.

Ultimately, I think that Milanovic thinks that the threat of the Soviet empire (basically: fear of revolution) wasn’t the reason that we saw a decrease of inequality until about 1980 and then an increase. But it is certainly one of the reasons. And it is something that we who are not part of the power elite need to think about. We need something that will keep the rich in line. But the only thing that I can think of is solidarity. And the power elite have been fiendishly good at keeping the rest of us at each other’s throats, rather than focusing on how it is the power elite itself that is keeping us down. It would be sad indeed if we needed another Soviet empire for ordinary Americans to share in the wealth of this country.


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Why Silicon Valley Doesn’t Get Politics: Because It’s Filled With Idiots

Sloppy Thinker Tim UrbanAt Vox on Thursday, David Roberts wrote an exceptional article, Tech Nerds Are Smart. But They Can’t Seem to Get Their Heads Around Politics. But there is a fundamental problem with the article: Roberts really doesn’t understand “nerd” culture. (Still, you should read it.) He started the article by talking about how nerds in the past were at the bottom of the pecking order, but now the “coolest kids” are the nerds. No, not really. When you watch Shark Tank, do you see a bunch a nerds? No. You see a bunch of alpha jerks passing judgement on people who are generally not pushing any new ideas. I think the single biggest “idea” that people come on the show with is some kind of new fashion. Then, as now, the true nerds are lucky if they get a decent job where their nerd abilities can be used.

So just because the billionaire class in Silicon Valley pretend to be nerds, doesn’t mean that they are. Bill Gates? Even at his height, I never would have hired him as a programmer. Steve Jobs? He has a better claim to fashion designer than technological innovator. And don’t even get me started about Mark Zuckerberg — who I will admit is a nerd, but his success has nothing to do with it. So when a writer goes searching around Silicon Valley looking at all the “smart people” and wondering why they are so stupid about politics, I just laugh. They are stupid about everything — except “business,” which is far more about being ruthless and soulless than it is about being smart.

But Roberts does get to the heart of the matter in a section titled, “The quasi-libertarian anti-politics of the tech nerd.” I would use the word “glibertarian” — a person with a vague sense that the government is bad but without having given it any thought at all. But Roberts is actually focused on the fact that these high tech wunderkind just dismiss politics and assume that the two “sides” are equally wrong. Take, for example, the following image from Tim Urban’s Wait But Why:

Wait But Why - Politics

Obviously, this is the kind of graph that shows a complete lack of interest in the subject. The main problem is not that it is wrong. The main problem is that it is conventional wisdom. It is what you will read on the opinion page of USA Today everyday. It shows that that the writer might be able to dig into the science of climate change. But he has absolutely no interest in digging into politics because he doesn’t think that there is anything to know. In other words, when it comes to politics, someone like Tim Urban is totally postmodern: there is no truth — just opinion.

Think about that for a second. Because if there is no truth in politics, there is no truth in nature. If the proper policy on global warming is just whatever is between the Democrats and the Republicans then why are we even talking about the science? The Republicans have good ideas? Well, I would have agreed with that 20 years ago. But since then, they’ve abandoned even the idea of revenue neutral carbon taxes. And who are these Democrats in the “crazy zone”? Really, what are those people saying that is equivalent to the total denial of decades of climate science? That the Earth is going to turn into the sun? I really don’t know. But I do know this: Tim Urban doesn’t have a clue either.

The fundamental problem is that people like Tim Urban aren’t that smart. I know that I’m a minor league genius. I’m not boasting — it’s just a fact. But that isn’t why anyone should read me. There are far smarter people than me around. But the one thing that I’m really good at — the one thing that people like me (smart but not that smart) are good at — is knowing what I know.

The problem with the Silicon Valley whizkids — and successful business people generally — is that they think that success in one area means they are brilliant at everything. And the society buys it! This is why we constantly listen to idiot billionaires tell us what we should do about the macroeconomy.

So will it matter if people like David Roberts keep pounding on people like Tim Urban about what is actually going on in politics? I can’t see how. One of the reasons that libertarianism appeals to “smart” people is because it is so simple. It isn’t tainted by the real world. And so the kind of people who can explain global warming are generally not the kind of people who have the intellectual tools to deal with something are messy as politics. And they don’t even want to deal with the fact that half of the American political system is effectively fascist and post-fact. That would screw up their very notion that knowledge can save the world.

There are different kinds of intelligence. It isn’t surprising that the tech wunderkind don’t have a clue about politics. And let’s not forget: the world is working fairly well for them. Thus far.

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Morning Music: Mom’s Favorites

This Is Sinatra!Well, it’s another week and that means that I have to come up with another theme for the Morning Music posts. And I’ve come up with a great one. But it’s dangerous, because I haven’t thought a whole week through. And I really want to get this one right. I’m going to do some of my mother’s favorite songs.

My mom was a big popular music fan. And there was pretty much never a situation in which she couldn’t pull a pop music lyric out to help explain. This is going to be an eclectic collection — spanning a few decades. I’m afraid the last decade or two, I don’t know much of what she liked.

But let’s start with a song that she sang all the time. And I hate it. It’s a Frank Sinatra tune — one of the few of his that I don’t like. And it was made famous to a new generation of people as the theme song to Married… with Children — a show that I also hated, but might appreciate more now. The song is, of course, “Love and Marriage” off the album, This Is Sinatra!:


Given the state of my parents’ marriage, I always sang it, “Love and marriage… go together like a horseless carriage.”

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Anniversary Post: Ruby Ridge

Randy WeaverOn this day in 1992, the Ruby Ridge standoff ended with the surrender of Randy Weaver. I certainly think that this is one of many examples of where the federal government didn’t deal well with a volatile situation. Just the same, why is it always the right wing loons who cause these kinds of stand offs? Weaver’s family was given millions of dollars for the death of his wife. But it was fully his own fault. But these “live free or die” types are always the first to go running to the government when they feel that they’ve harmed.

But I’m really not interested in Weaver as a violent extremist. I’m interested in how he became a hero to so many people on the right. These are people, after all, who claim to be such patriots. If Weaver had been a Muslim, they would have fully backed the government. What’s more, Weaver would undoubtedly be spending the rest of his life in prison — if not having been put to death. But when it comes to right wing bigots, well, the conservatives think that they are the great defenders of freedom.

I don’t know what the right wing thinks of Ruby Ridge at this point. It seems that they have mostly forgotten it. But if it happened again, they would think the same thing. It’s also interesting that even though Ruby Ridge took place under Bush and the Waco siege took place before the Clinton administration was fully settled into the job, on the right, both cases were blamed on Clinton. Because regardless what they say, the extreme right wing is ultimately loyal to the Republican Party.

Regardless, people like Randy Weaver are not patriots; they are traitors to the aspirations and the facts of America. They should be shunned and hated. And they are by me.

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Union Busiting: No News; Stock Market: Big News!

United SteelworkersThe American steel industry is still highly unionized. And the United Steelworkers (USW) union is coming to the end of its current contract at the beginning of next month. As a result, the steel businesses are doing everything they can to break the unions. Hey, why not? That’s the American way, right? The rise of unions, wages, and the middle class was just an aberration that went totally against the true nature of America, which is the extreme inequality and strife of a banana republic. And we are almost there. As I note often, most people who aren’t in unions have given up hoping they will one day be in one, and instead focus on being angry at the few people who are still in unions.

Allegheny Technologies Inc (ATI) is trying to bust the union in a big way. According to USW, “More than 2,200 members of the United Steelworkers have been locked out of their jobs by Allegheny Technologies since August 15, 2015. Workers have offered to continue working while negotiations proceed, but ATI’s management team has rebuffed the offer and demanded that the union submit to deep concessions before allowing workers back to their jobs.” Charming. But that’s the way it is in modern America. There is no sense of community, and now CEOs are applauded for destroying thousands of jobs.

I’ll make a guess that this is the first that you’ve heard about this. It certainly is the first that I’ve heard about this and these people have been kept from working for two weeks. But I know something that you have heard about: the big stock market plunge earlier this week. Oh. My. God. You would have thought that Armageddon had arrived and Jesus was riding a horse through Galilee wielding a sword — lopping off the heads of nonbelievers everywhere.

My understanding is that a big part of the stock crash was automatic, computer trades. These are really a pox on the world. They don’t do anything. The purpose of the stock market is to get capital to where it is needed. It is a special kind of bank. But these micro-trades are just a way that people use the system to siphon off money from other traders. In other words: it is just a way of making less capital available to do its work in the regular economy. As Dean Baker wrote this last week, The Stock Market Is Not the Economy. So really: who cares?

Of course, sadly, we all care! That’s because what is happening in the stock market is crammed down our throats. The S&P 500 went down 12% (and then almost immediately gained it all back, but let’s table that for now). Did that mean that the US was going to produce 12% less steel? Certainly not. It meant that a bunch of rich people whose wealth doesn’t represent much that is real were going to be slightly less rich (for a day or two). Meanwhile, ATI is advertising for scabs to replace the workers they refuse to use:

Must be able to lift up to 50 lbs and work in a standing position for entire shift (12 hours/day) in a high heat/temperature manufacturing environment. Workweek is 84 hours/week.

Previous experience in a metal manufacturing or processing facility is required. All positions require working for unknown duration and are temporary. THIS IS A LABOR DISPUTE SITUATION — EMPLOYEES WILL BE TRANSPORTED ACROSS A PICKET LINE.

But this isn’t news because people like you and me are being badly hurt. But if a rich person gets a hangnail, well, stop the presses!


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What Americans Want on Both Sides

David Cay JohnstonThose turning out to hear Sanders and Trump may not understand the economics of aggregate demand and the government policies that prompt their anxiety. However, they do know that 35 years after Ronald Reagan won the presidency with promises that lower income tax rates and the handcuffing of government regulators would make America prosper, the results are dire: falling incomes, flat to falling wages except at the very tip top, a severe narrowing of asset ownership, slow job growth, and job insecurity — all while the rich get ever richer.

Thus while Sanders and Trump draw people with very different perspectives, in many ways their underlying appeal is similar. They both speak to anxieties about jobs, pay, and Social Security, even if they propose divergent solutions. Sanders, 73, promotes democratic socialism, under which government regulates business for the public benefit and provides education, more Social Security, and other services that reduce individual economic vulnerability. Trump, 69, promotes a government that would block offshoring jobs, round up undocumented immigrants in the US to open more jobs to Americans, and protect Social Security and Medicare benefits to reduce the individual economic vulnerability of citizens only.

Numerous polls show broad agreement across the political spectrum on economic issues that vex people. Vast majorities want to increase Social Security benefits, reduce offshoring of jobs, close corporate tax loopholes, and impose higher income taxes on those making more than $1 million annually (a position that even millionaires favor).

This broad agreement means that except for those in Congress who would block it, plenty of room exists to build a larger, more solid American economy.

—David Cay Johnston
The Antidote to Economic Anxiety Is Better Government

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Why Wouldn’t Evangelicals Like Trump?

Elizabeth Stoker BruenigElizabeth Stoker Bruenig asks a good question, Why Is Donald Trump Winning Over Evangelical Voters? The truth is that evangelicals are not actually more interested in Trump than other Republicans. Still, it is telling. And they have other good choices. They have Ben Carson, a man who got through college and medical school while still believing the universe is only 6,000 years old. They have a minister (who is friends with the writer of “Cat Scratch Fever”). They have the guy who said, “And it’s only by the blood of Jesus Christ that I’ve been redeemed from my sins.” She noted, “And yet, with all of these perfectly serviceable choices, evangelicals still appear curiously interested in Trump, whose Christian bona fides add up to exactly nothing…” Yet it is Trump they prefer.

Bruenig has a curious answer to the question. She thinks evangelicals have spent so much time getting lip service from the Republican Party, that they are revolting. They like the fact that Donald Trump isn’t offering them anything, because they know that nothing is what they are going to get regardless. I love this theory, but I think it has a huge problem: it depends upon the idea that the Republican Party has used evangelicals and given them nothing in return. That just isn’t true. In fact, it isn’t close to true.

Donald TrumpOn the federal level, conservative Christians got the Defense of Marriage Age and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The entire country has turned against the Christian conservatives on LGBT issues, but that is hardly the fault of the Republican Party. And the Republicans have done everything they can to counter Obergefell v Hodges — which would now require a Constitutional amendment. And on the Supreme Court, Republicans have put on four extreme social conservatives. On the state level, abortion has been effectively made illegal in many places — all thanks for the Republican Party.

I think the answer to Bruenig’s question is much simpler: there isn’t anything different between evangelical and non-evangelical conservatives. The evangelicals may whine about the gays and about abortion, but they primarily care about one thing: those people. They want to “get” those people because those people are the reason that their lives are so bad. It’s a great irony, of course, that what has most hurt the lives of these conservative voters are the policies of the party that gets them to vote for it by promising to get “those people.”

For years, I’ve been writing about the fact that for the vast majority of people religion is nothing more than a cultural signifier. I know that Bruenig takes religion very seriously herself. And so she doesn’t want to think that for most Christians, their religion is just a reflection of them being the right kind of people. But it’s true. And there is another irony, because Mexico (and when conservatives talk about immigrants, they always mean Mexicans) is more religious than the United States. Meanwhile, Canada is much less religious than we are. But they are okay. I wonder why that is? I don’t mean to suggest that it is racism; I mean to say it right out: it’s racism.

So it doesn’t even make much sense to ask why evangelicals like Donald Trump. They may be evangelicals, but that doesn’t mean that they are religious in the way that the early Christians would have understood the word. But that’s okay, because the evangelicals would have hated the early Christians as much as they hate the Mexicans today, even though some, I assume, were good people.

See also: Why Donald Trump Appeals to Evangelicals.

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Peggy Noonan Thinks She Has a Latino Friend

Peggy NoonanPeggy Noonan seems to think that Donald Trump can win the Latino vote, America Is So in Play. She thinks this because she spoke to a Dominican who listens to a Hispanic radio station and people called into say how much they liked Trump. I guess it isn’t quite as bad as Thomas Friedman thinking globalization is good because a cab driver in Dubai complained about regulation. Still, it’s pretty dumb. But I’m not interested in that. Trump, Noonan, Hispanic radio stations. I’m interested in one sentence from Noonan’s article, “My friend Cesar works the deli counter at my neighborhood grocery store.”

I’m a friendly guy. I’m also polite to a fault. But my friends are people I have over for dinner. We go to see movies. We exchange email. When I’m almost dead in the hospital, my friends come and visit me. I buy them (or their kids) presents — at least when I’m not too poor. So unless Cesar is such a person in Peggy Noonan’s life, and he just happens to work the deli counter at her neighborhood grocery store, he isn’t her friend. The conversations she has with him always involve a deli counter between them and what they talk about is equivalent to, “How ’bout them Mets?!”

Noonan of course thinks that Cesar is her friend because she could, if she wanted, invite him to a dinner party and because she is a minor celebrity, he would probably come. But she never would do that. He isn’t part of her class. And imagine if it were reversed. If Cesar asked Noonan over for dinner: it would just be weird. Noonan would probably start going to a different neighborhood grocery store and Cesar might well get fired.

I have some experience in this regard. For years, I stood behind a deli counter where I had many pleasant conversations with people who were overwhelmingly of my own class. Yet I never referred to them as “friends.” Well, that’s not exactly true: sometimes my friends came into the deli, but that’s obviously a different matter. But I have more recent experience with my older sister who has spent almost her whole working life as a grocery store clerk — which just so happens to include a lot of time working behind the deli counter.

My sister will often tell me stories about the people she serves. She refers to them in a general sense as “the regulars.” If she is referring to a specific person, she will say something like, “There’s this one customer who I really like.” Never, in a decade and a half of listening to my sister have I ever heard her refer to a customer as a “friend.” It would seem bizarre to her for a simple reason: if she stopped working at the store, she would never see them again. In fact, she talks about how older customers sometimes disappear and she assumes they died. It’s sad that people die, but it is different when friends die.

What Noonan’s claim about her “friend” Cesar reminds me of is the master who thinks, “Of course my slaves love me!” It is a delusion that only those with power have. If Cesar were her actual friend, she wouldn’t only have conversations with him when she “went by” the deli counter at her neighborhood grocery store. I’m sure if you asked Peggy Noonan, she would say, “Some of my best friends are Latinos!” What she means is, “I’m friendly with a number of Latinos who are paid to serve me.”

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