Is “Maggie’s Farm” a labor song? Well, it’s a Bob Dylan song. And it certainly is calling for worker autonomy, even if that worker is only Dylan himself. Apparently, it is seen as Dylan’s complaint about the constraints of folk music. But I think that reading is all hindsight — based upon the arc of his creative life. But regardless how you see the song, it is about a man saying that he isn’t going to live his life according to others’ ideas. It is a song about self-empowerment. And that is ultimately what the labor movement is about. That’s why the current workingman’s worship of the rich is so dangerous: it is un-empowering. Just like with Christianity that tells workers to suffer now for a great future, the hope of future riches is just a lie.
On this day in 1965, Lyndon Johnson signed the Social Security Act of 1965 — thus creating Medicare and Medicaid. It is hard to imagine what we would do today if it weren’t for these programs. The society has changed so much since that time. Workers who get pensions are now incredibly rare. What would the elderly do for healthcare? What’s more, the ability of anyone to get treated at just about any hospital is due to the fact that hospitals that take Medicare are required to treat all patients. I’d like to think that if we didn’t have Medicare, we would have had to have come up with something similar. But there’s no certainty of that.
What’s more, Medicare could never be passed today. But in 1965, it was a different matter. In both the House and the Senate, it passed with overwhelming support from the Democrats and about half of the Republicans. So yes, even back then, a lot of the Republicans were jerks. But that’s the thing: the parties were diverse then. Since then, all the jerks in the Republican Party stayed, and all the jerks in the Democratic Party moved over to the Republican Party. Now it is as pure in its makeup of jerks as it is its makeup of whiteness — not perfect, but close!
As I noted last week, the Republicans still want to kill off Medicare, Jeb Bush Wants to End Medicare Like Them All. They always claim this is because it isn’t sustainable and that it is inefficient. Of course, the real reason that they want to kill it and Social Security is because they are prime examples of extremely efficient government programs that are popular. And the Republicans have always claimed that — contrary to all evidence — the government is always the problem. Paul Krugman provided this graph on the issue of sustainability:
And he provided the next graph that shows that actually Medicare has consistently kept costs down compared to the private insurance industry:
So at 50 years old, Medicare is looking pretty good. But don’t expect conservatives to stop ranting about how it is killing us. And don’t think for a moment that if the Republicans get control of Washington in 2017 that they won’t turn Medicare into a block grant and then starve it to death. They are eager to do it. Government may not always be the problem, but if we put the Republicans in charge, they will make sure the government is always the problem.
Happy birthday Medicare and Medicaid!
Dylan Marron has put together a Tumblr called, Every Single Word. It is subtitled, “Every Single Word Spoken by a Person of Color in [Mainstream Film Title]” where we are supposed to insert film titles like The Lord of the Rings. It’s a good idea. And it is, in general, pretty stark. The Tumblr is just a series of videos with everything but the dialog spoken by a non-white person cut out. It doesn’t leave much.
Now clearly, in one way, this is unfair. Most mainstream films don’t have much dialog at all — maybe 5 or 10 minutes, I would guess. But this is a good way of highlighting the lack of diversity of characters in mainstream feature films. For example, the only non-white character in the movie Black Swan was the physical therapist. And it turns out, that was just a fluke — a white actor was originally cast for it, and they ended up using the actual physical therapist they had on the set who just happened to be non-white.
The Every Single Word version of Moonrise Kingdom is just ten seconds long and features three lines by Andreas Sheikh. I’m actually surprised that there was that much. Wes Anderson tends to make very white films and this was a particularly white film for him. Getting a ancestrally Pakistani actor in the film was a good bit of casting.
But there are a number of them that contain no dialog at all. I was quite surprised that Noah was such a film. I would have thought that it would be a film that could easily have featured a diverse cast. So the fact that this is what Every Single Word does with Noah does not speak well of the filmmakers or of Hollywood generally:
The Tumblr is worth checking out. It contains a video that combines all of The Lord of the Rings movies. It has a bit of dialog, because apparently they hired non-white actors to play orcs. You can always depend upon orcs — and Klingons — to provide a little acting work for non-white actors.
As chief economist of the World Bank in the late 1990s, I saw firsthand in East Asia the devastating effects of the programs imposed on the countries that had turned to the IMF for help. This resulted not just from austerity but also from so-called structural reforms, where too often the IMF was duped into imposing demands that favored one special interest relative to others. There were hundreds of conditions, some little, some big, many irrelevant, some good, some outright wrong, and most missing the big changes that were really required.
Back in 1998 in Indonesia, I saw how the IMF ruined that country’s banking system. I recall the picture of Michel Camdessus, the managing director of the IMF at the time, standing over President Suharto as Indonesia surrendered its economic sovereignty. At a meeting in Kuala Lumpur in December 1997, I warned that there would be bloodshed in the streets within six months; the riots broke out five months later in Jakarta and elsewhere in Indonesia. Both before and after the crisis in East Asia, and those in Africa and in Latin America (most recently, in Argentina), these programs failed, turning downturns into recessions, recessions into depressions. I had thought that the lesson from these failures had been well learned, so it came as a surprise that Europe, beginning a half-decade ago, would impose this same stiff and ineffective program on one of its own.
Greece, the Sacrificial Lamb
Last weekend, I learned that Pope Francis’ approval rating in the United States has gone way done. I guess like all his predecessors, he will be a one term pope. The big fall in his numbers comes from conservatives. Last year, 72% of them liked the pope. But now that number is just 45%. Compare this to Donald Trump who has a 49% approval rating among conservatives. But that makes sense: Trump demonstrates the values that conservatives Christians hold dear: bigotry, selfishness, hubris, vindictiveness — all the things that Jesus preached about during his Sermon on the Mount. (“Blessed are the rich, for they are not losers…”)
I have ranted quite a lot around hear about liberals and their reactions to the pope. It isn’t really their constant whining about how disappointed they are that the pope hasn’t come out and said, “I’m not really religious, but I’m spiritual.” The problem is not understanding what the pope and the Catholic Church are. All Pope Francis has done is shift the focus of what he talks about. There is no doubt that he — like his predecessors — is against contraception, homosexual relations, and divorce. And equally, there is no doubt that his predecessors — like Pope Francis — were in favor of helping the poor, managing the environment, and showing mercy even to murderers.
Now the conservatives can get a little of my ire. The fact that they claimed to widely approve of Pope Francis last year but don’t so much this year just goes to show that their opinions are meaningless. At least the liberals have an honest complaint: Pope Francis is indeed not revolutionizing the Catholic Church in the way they want. (He is however doing so as a practical matter in terms of making it less corrupt and dealing with the decades — or centuries — of child rape.) The conservatives are unhappy because they think that Francis is revolutionizing the Church in a liberal way. And that just isn’t true.
It is amazing that conservatives could be so clueless about what Christianity has stood for all these years. It has always been a mixed bag of liberal and conservative ideas. And it doesn’t matter at all that most of the conservative Christians are protestants. The theology is still the same. But modern American Christianity really has lost its way. It would be more correct to call it a political party than a religion. I saw a little video of Mike Huckabee explaining how he didn’t believe the government should feed the poor, because that’s not what God wants. He apparently wants the church to do that. But somehow God does want the government to stop women from having abortions. He should just admit: he has political and cultural opinions which he wedges into his religion — not the other way around.
The main thing is that I want everyone to leave the pope alone. I was raised Catholic. But I managed to get through the whole thing knowing shockingly little. And I literally never believed — it just isn’t in me. But I’m familiar enough with the Catholic Church to know roughly what goes on inside. I know what real debates inside the Church look like. And there just aren’t major disagreements. So if liberals want to be disappointed, I think they are silly, but their disappointment is real. Conservatives, on the other hand, have nothing to be disappointed with. They’ve just fooled themselves into think that the Church was something that it never was. And they should really rethink just what their own religious beliefs mean to them.
Last weekend was the Straight Pride Parade up in Seattle. Anthony Rebello organized it and then turned out to be the only person in it. It’s sad. I think he just wants a friend. I mean, really, he couldn’t find a single person — a date — to go with him? Be that as it may, the idea of the parade was to spread the word about heterosexuality being okay and “to encourage younger heterosexuals that they should be proud of their heterosexuality.” Clearly, Rebello thinks he is being clever, and I have to admit that his parade colors — white and black — is pretty good. But it might be too telling.
It is something worth thinking about. When people don’t like liberation movements, they often come up with these kinds of responses. This is what we see with a lot of white nationalism — people not claiming to be against other groups but just to be “proud” of being white. And here, our paragon of Seattle heterosexuality just wants to be “proud” of being straight. But we don’t accept such claims, because they are exclusionary. And things like the gay rights parades are not. They have always been extremely welcoming of others.
Does anyone really think that heterosexuality is something that people should be ashamed of? Or that people are being discriminated against for it? Actually, my experience is that there are a lot of people who think just that. I hear from people about how their kids are being taught about homosexuality in school and how heterosexuality is being treated as some kind of aberration. But it really is just the same old complaint of the privileged: I’m no longer being held up as special! This is what is going on with Christians who get mad when department stores say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
This brings us to the issue of Black Lives Matter. On one level, the retort makes sense that “all lives matter.” It isn’t, after all, some childish parody of the type that Mr Rebello is going for, “White Lives Matter!” But it is still offensive on a number of levels. To start with, it implies that the Black Lives Matter movement is a racist one — that the slogan means, “Only black lives matter.” And clearly they isn’t the case. But more important than that is simply that “all lives matter” delegitimizes the complaint of Black Lives Matter. After all, there is a reason for the movement. I am a white guy and I absolutely don’t worry that some police officer is going to shoot me because he’s scared because I moved too quickly to scratch my head. But it isn’t just a question of anecdotes, the data are really clear.
But everything that is wrong with “all lives matter” is wrong with any attempt by powerful majority groups to take on the mantle of “pride.” It questions the motives of minority groups that gather in solidarity. And it says that the minority complaint is invalid. Anthony Rebello’s straight pride parade reminds me of an early Peanuts cartoon where one of the kids asks, “There’s Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day, why isn’t there a Kids’ Day?” And the answer is, “Every day is Kids’ Day.” Well, there you go: every day is a straight pride parade. And in addition to the other problems, not knowing this is just clueless.
I have long maintained that the true target of the capitalist class against unionization is not higher wages and better working conditions. It is solidarity. The greatest threat is that the workers will bind together. Nothing can stop the workers if they are united. And that is why it is not surprising that unionization in this country is all but dead: the power elite have managed to convince the workers that unions are the enemy, even while the power elite pick the pockets of every worker.
It also isn’t surprising that the last great hope for workers in this country comes from the weakest: the fast food workers. They have little to lose. They can see that their only option is to bind together. I am not a man of faith. But if there is faith to be had, surely it is to be found in this movement. So this morning, I offer up to you the song, “Solidarity Forever.” It is another Wobblies song — this time written to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Here it is performed by the Almanac Singers along with Pete Seeger:
On this day in 1973, the people of Greece voted overwhelmingly to abolish the monarchy and establish a republic. It was a gambit by the military junta leader, Georgios Papadopoulos. He figured he could finesse the resulting democracy. But what actually happened was no democracy and much chaos. Almost a year and half later, the people of Greece got to vote again and they created more or less the system they now have.
But as I was reading about it, I couldn’t help but think it sounded very familiar: the Greeks vote overwhelmingly for something — and then they don’t get it. But at least in 1973, they were living under a dictatorship. Now it was their own elected officials who called for an election, celebrated its victory, and then did the opposite.
Of course, there is a real question of whether Greece still has a democracy. It seems that once a country enters the eurozone, it is no longer a democracy. This is actually why I don’t think that the eurozone is going to survive. In the 1930s, European countries had to fall militarily to Germany. This time, they’ve just surrendered to Germany. I can’t imagine that the people of Europe are going to continue to enjoy living under Germany’s thumb — especially with the way that Germany gleefully abuses its power and tells everyone they would be fine if they were more like Germany. The last thing we need are more countries acting like Germany.
But we mark this day 42 years ago when the people of Greece voted and then were ignored.
I’ve long admired Bruce Bartlett. But like all the truly reasonable people who continue to call themselves Republicans, I do think he has a screw loose. If I had been a Democrat my whole life, but it kept changing to the point where what I had always thought the Democratic Party represented was now found in the Republican Party, I would become a Republican. I’m not wedded to the name. Bartlett is a man whose beliefs place him clearly in the mainstream of the Democratic Party, and yet he continues to hang onto the Republican Party. In this way, he is like Josh Barro and David Cay Johnston.
But I knew what Bartlett was up to earlier this week when he wrote, The Moderate Republican’s Case for Trump. It wasn’t necessary even to read the subtitle, “Only Trump can make the GOP sane again — by losing in a landslide to Hillary Clinton.” He’s such a smart guy, how can he think this? It must be like a father who just doesn’t want to believe that, in fact, his son is a serial killer. Bartlett so wants to believe that his party really is what he’s so long thought. But he couldn’t be more wrong.
Bartlett argued that a Trump nomination would lead to a “defeat of Barry Goldwater proportions” and this would “prove beyond doubt that the existing conservative coalition cannot win the presidency.” But this is not how elections work. Take the 1964 election where Goldwater lost by almost 23 percentage points. Did that cause the Republicans to moderate? Not at all. They nominated Richard Nixon — a hardcore cold warrior who ran on the idea of the “silent majority” — those people who weren’t demonstrating against the Vietnam war and who supposedly loved it — and “law and order” — basically oppression of the weak and suppression of speech. Yeah, those Republicans really learned their lesson!
But there is an important connection here. Bartlett claims that John McCain and Mitt Romney lost because they were encumbered “by the right-wing baggage essential for winning the nomination.” But this is total garbage. First: they lost because the economic environment favored Obama. Second: neither man was a moderate. But this is what passes for Republican moderation in polite society. It’s like that argument I got in with “danny” over racism: unless someone is explicit about their wanting to dismantle the New Deal and Great Society, we are all expected to pretend that they would never do such a thing. So what Bartlett is saying is that Donald Trump would prove to Republicans that they can’t talk like Trump, even though the actual policies of Trump would likely be more moderate than any of the “moderate” Republicans that would come later.
Bartlett then goes on in his article to recount the history of Ronald Reagan — a totally ahistorical history, but the standard one that Republicans tell themselves. And he repeats the true, but deceptive claim that Reagan raised taxes 11 times, as though that makes up for the fact that the top marginal income tax rate was 70% when he came in and 28% when he left. In terms of domestic policy, Reagan was more conservative than any president. But Bartlett’s false memories of the time (he was in the administration) are doubtless what keeps him thinking that the modern Republican Party has been hijacked, rather than having just evolved the way that Reagan would have wanted.
But what is most ridiculous about Bartlett’s article is his cluelessness as to why people vote Republican. He understands that his side of the party is elitist. He repeats the joke, “Republicans could never understand why they lost an election because all their friends at the country club voted Republican.” But somehow he thinks that the “yahoos” (His term!) will just continue to vote Republican in the name of truly conservative foreign policy (which is what the Democrats offer) and a truly conservative economic policy (which is also what the Democrats offer).
The argument that Bartlett is making is the same argument that pundits made after John McCain lost by almost 8 percentage points. And it is the argument that pundits made after Romney lost by 4 percentage points. “The Republicans will have to moderate now!” But they didn’t and they won’t. And the idea that political parties move that quickly is ridiculous anyway. If the Republican Party is going to stop being a revolutionary power, it is going to take decades. And that’s especially true given that it can continue being a regional power where racism is still a big motivator of the electorate.
What I would argue is key to this situation — and, in particular, key to understanding how the conventional wisdom on Trump/McCain went so wrong — is the reality that a lot of people are, in effect, members of a delusional cult that is impervious to logic and evidence, and has lost touch with reality.
I am, of course, talking about pundits who prize themselves for their centrism.
Pundit centrism in modern America is a strange thing. It’s not about policy, as you can see from the many occasions when members of the cult have demanded that Barack Obama change his ways and advocate things that… he was already advocating. What defines the cult is, instead, the insistence that the parties are symmetric, that they are equally extreme, and that the responsible, virtuous position is always somewhere in between…
On one side, they can’t admit the moderation of the Democrats, which is why you had the spectacle of demands that Obama change course and support his own policies.
On the other side, they have had to invent an imaginary GOP that bears little resemblance to the real thing. This means being continually surprised by the radicalism of the base. It also means a determination to see various Republicans as Serious, Honest Conservatives — SHCs? — whom the centrists know, just know, have to exist.
We saw this a lot in the cult of Paul Ryan, who was and is very obviously a con man, whose numbers have never added up, but who was nonetheless treated with vast respect — and still sometimes is.
But the ur-SHC is John McCain, the Straight-Talking Maverick. Never mind that he is clearly eager to wage as many wars as possible, that he has long since abandoned his once-realistic positions on climate change and immigration, that he tried to put Sarah Palin a heartbeat from the presidency. McCain the myth is who they see, and keep putting on TV. And they imagined that everyone else must see him the same way, that Trump’s sneering at his war record would cause everyone to turn away in disgust.
But the Republican base isn’t eager to hear from SHCs; it has never put McCain on a pedestal; and people who like Donald Trump are not exactly likely to be scared off by his lack of decorum.
The Donald and the Delusional
One thing that has bothered me about the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign is that the people who support him are overwhelmingly white and highly educated. I don’t like to be part of such a homogeneous group. And this has caused a lot of people to call into doubt Sanders’ ability to mount an effective challenge to Hillary Clinton. But is that description of Sanders’ coalition even correct?
Earlier this month, Nate Cohn wrote, Why Bernie Sanders’s Momentum Is Not Built to Last. Basically: it’s just the strong liberals, stupid! In a companion article, he wrote, What the Hispanic Vote Says About Bernie Sanders’s Chances. He noted the whiteness of Sanders’ coalition and claimed that it didn’t include African Americans and Latinos because they were more socially conservative.
If that seems like an odd criticism, that’s only because you’ve been paying attention. The one thing that most defines Bernie Sanders is that all he talks about populist economic issues. Everything else is in that context. True: Bernie Sanders is a consistent liberal down the line. But like me, he is focused on economic issues. And economic issues are — you know — the most important issues for all groups. So are African Americans really not supporting Sanders because he’s in favor of same sex marriage — even though he rarely talks about it?
I was very pleased to read an article on this subject by Matt Bruenig, How “Consistent Liberal” Deceives. In it, he noted that it obscures what’s really happening to lump economic and social issues together — especially when talking about a candidate like Bernie Sanders who is all economics, all the time. This is something I’ve written about a lot around here over the last six years. One of my great disappointments with the Democratic Party has been its abandonment of economic issues in favor of social issues. I just don’t care that much about social issues — and neither do the voters.
So Cohn claims that African American and Latino Democrats are not supporting Sanders because they are less liberal. But they aren’t less liberal on the issues that Sanders focuses on. He isn’t running on same sex marriage or reproductive rights or criminal justice reform. So is it really the case that these voters aren’t flocking to Sanders because he’s too liberal? Or is it the case that upper middle class white New York reporters are so stuck in their own paradigms that they can’t see the truth of what’s going on?
It turns out that Bruenig was able to dig up some data on what Latinos actually think about Sanders. You would have thought that a number cruncher like Cohn would have used actual data on this question rather than just assume that Latinos aren’t keen on Sanders. It turns out that in the one poll Bruenig could find, Latinos are more fond of Sanders than whites. In a poll by The Economist/YouGov, they asked people how they would vote in a match-up between Clinton and Sanders. In it, Sanders got 38% of the white vote and 41% of the Hispanic vote.
Now it is true that Clinton’s support among African Americans is amazing. She got 79% of it and Sanders got only 11%. There are a lot of reasons why this might be. For example, it could be that the Clinton brand is just really strong and that she will get strong numbers until the campaign gets under way and people learn more about the candidates. It could have something to do with being in the Obama White House. It could be that being part of the underclass has made the African American community skeptical of candidates like Sanders who sound too good to be true. It could be scores of other things. There is one thing that most definitely isn’t the reason that African Americans aren’t supporting Bernie Sanders. It isn’t because he is too liberal.
Bernie Sanders is really only too liberal for one group: vaguely centrist pundits in the mainstream media. (I’m not really talking about Nate Cohn here, but I think he’s been poisoned by this attitude.) It is them, after all, who define centrism as economic conservatism and social liberalism. These people usually don’t see even the most extreme social liberalism as anything but common sense. But move even a bit to the left on economic issues, and they start freaking out. Maybe Bernie Sanders will never appeal to the African American community. But that isn’t what all this wringing of hands is about.
Brian Beutler asked a good question, Would Republicans Support the Americans with Disabilities Act Today? When the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed 25 years ago yesterday, it was supported by just about everyone. Sure, some business lobbyists claimed that it would cost money and destroy capitalism as we know it. But people liked it and politicians liked it. It passed the Senate 76-8 and by unanimous consent in the House. I don’t think it is surprising. I think most humans understand that it would really suck to be disabled, and so the least that we as a society can do is make it as painless as possible.
But would it pass today? Probably not. Beutler reminded us of the Senate vote on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Bob Dole, Republican icon, then 89 years old and in a wheelchair, came to the Senate for the vote — hoping to sway some votes. But it didn’t work. The treaty was not ratified by the Senate because 38 Republicans stood strong against helping the disabled all over the world. Those 38 Republicans included three current presidential candidates: Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. What brave men they are!
So there is little doubt that if the ADA came up for a vote today, we would hear screams about socialism and how the law would destroy the economy and this was just the first part of the attack on American sovereignty and is that a black helicopter on the horizon! But it brought to mind an argument that I was hearing a lot a few years ago. It was claimed that the Republicans had not, in fact, gotten more extreme. Liberals had been saying that since at least Barry Goldwater. I found that argument pretty compelling. But now I wonder.
It’s probably just a question of expectations. Yes, Ronald Reagan raised taxes seven times — blah, blah, blah. But he also lowered the top tax rate massively compared to where it had been. And he lowered the top tax rate down to 28% — a rate that Bush was forced to raise back up to the still ridiculously low 31%. Yes, Nixon was president while the country looked seriously at a single payer healthcare system. But that was being forced on him by a liberal Congress. The best you can say about him is that he didn’t especially care. And overall, Nixon’s focus was on international matters.
I don’t think that the Republicans are necessarily more ideologically conservative than they used to be. But they are just more crazy — less serious about what they are supposed to do. There is a breakdown of norms. I don’t actually think that Republicans of old cared that much about the disabled. But they knew that all human beings do care about the disabled and the weak more generally, so they supported common sense measures like the ADA. But now, most of them don’t.
And I think I know why from 1994 onward, the Republican Party has lost all touch with humanity: they’ve learned it isn’t necessary. The average American doesn’t pay that much attention to politics. And as much as they do, they assume that the truly vile things that the Republicans say is all for show. “They don’t really think we should let people without insurance die, right?” No, they really do. But given that the mainstream media never calls them out on this, everyone assumes that they don’t. And as a result, one norm after another falls. And the end of this road is fascism. The Republican Party is already pretty far down that road.