Martin Longman wrote a very interesting article, Maybe a Clinton/Sanders Ticket Does Make Sense. He spends most of it talking about why it would be a bad idea, but it is appealing to imagine this kind of instant unity. I don't think it will happen because I don't think Sanders wants to be Vice-President anyway. And as Longman himself says, I'd rather have Bernie in the Senate. I'm sure there are other ways to get instant unity. But it's critical for Clinton to win California, even though I won't be helping her in that endeavor. Losing in Indiana made it very hard to say that Sanders should drop out. Even if he loses everything from now on, he will still be in a better situation than Ted Cruz was ever in. The only real argument for Sanders dropping out is that we should all just accept the inevitability of Clinton, a month before the biggest state in the union gets to vote. (And the argument has been made for at least two months already.) I do want unity. But I also want some semblance of democracy.
In American experience, ethnic and religious conflicts, with their threat of the submergence of whole systems of values, have plainly been the major focus for militant and suspicious minds of this sort, but elsewhere class conflicts have also mobilized such energies. The paranoid tendency is aroused by a confrontation of opposed interests which are (or are felt to be) totally irreconcilable, and thus by nature not susceptible to the normal political processes of bargain and compromise. The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular political interest — perhaps because of the very unrealistic and unrealizable nature of their demands — cannot make themselves felt in the political process. Feeling that they have no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception of the world of power as omnipotent, sinister, and malicious fully confirmed. They see only the consequences of power — and this through distorting lenses — and have little chance to observe its actual machinery. L B Namier once said that "the crowning attainment of historical study" is to achieve "an intuitive sense of how things do not happen." It is precisely this kind of awareness that the paranoid fails to develop. He has a special resistance of his own, of course, to such awareness, but circumstances often deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him. We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.
As I checked in every day at New York Magazine, I kept seeing that the top story was, "America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny." I figured it was just another story about Donald Trump, and frankly, so what? I really don't like Trump, but I don't see how he is really any different than the other people the Republicans had on offer for the presidency. But finally, I clicked over — probably more because of the Zohar Lazar's Bernie Wrightson-esque illustration. What I found was an article by Andrew Sullivan with the actual title, Democracies End When They Are Too Democratic.
Oh brilliant! Now Andrew Sullivan comes back to explain to us that Donald Trump is the result of too much democracy. Oh, and he read The Republic in graduate school! And maybe read It Can't Happen Here at some point too! Oh, what an erudite man, Sullivan is! But the almost 8,000 word essay is a mass of contradictions. In particular, there is too much democracy that is allowing the people to elect a man who will bring tyranny; and the people are angry because the elites haven't been listening to them since the early 1990s. But what does any of that matter?! Andrew Sullivan is a perfect example of a Very Serious Person.
And it is in this capacity that I found the article most hilarious. He noted that, "The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually try to govern by popular passion and brute force." Obviously, this doesn't really go along with the "too much democracy," but whatever. Andrew Sullivan thinks that the people want "compromise." They aren't upset about a lack of compromise. They are upset about things like NAFTA — a great example of compromise — and something that Sullivan has always been a big supporter of.
The idea of "compromise" for Very Serious Idiots like Andrew Sullivan is that it is a way for them to get their preferred conservative economic policies. His list of elite failure is "massive and increasing public debt," "a disastrous war in the Middle East," and allowing financial markets to crash the economy.
The first item is standard Very Serious Simpson-Bowles nonsense. If only we could get conservative Democrats and standard Republicans together, everything would be wonderful! Is Sullivan for raising taxes on the rich? Is he for raising the cap on Social Security? In general, no. Sullivan is a Thatcherite to the core; he hasn't changed, it is just that the Democratic Party has moved to him.
We did get a disastrous war in the Middle Easy — one that was cheered on by Andrew Sullivan. And the fact that he thinks it was financial markets that crashed the economy rather than the bursting of an $8 trillion housing bubble is typical of the Very Serious People in that they all "know" what the others "know" which is usually wrong.
But let's be clear of what's actually going on with Trump. Nate Silver wrote a very interesting article yesterday, The Mythology Of Trump's "Working Class" Support. It turns out that Trump voters are quite well to do — not as well to do as Kasich voters, but much more well to do than Clinton and Sanders voters. So Trump voters aren't these poor working class people who are getting screwed; they are resentful whites who don't like seeing their group identity lose its supremacy.
This is particularly interesting because in his own article, Andrew Sullivan pushes this same kind of white resentment. He used the phrase "white working class" five times. He only used the phrase "working class" without the white modifier once. And this is, after all, the guy who pushed Black People Are Stupider Than White People into the (Liberal!) mainstream.
After all those words, there really is nothing of value in Andrew Sullivan's article. But it is funny that he seems so unaware of his own complicity in the false narrative he created.
Afterword: Andrew Sullivan on Bernie Sanders
Sullivan claims that Bernie Sanders' core critique is that money in politics is destroying it. That is not his core critique. That is part of his core rhetoric. But his core critique is about economic inequality. Of course, Sullivan isn't interested in that. He also refers to Sanders as "the demagogue of the left." Sullivan should have put down The Republic in graduate school and picked up a dictionary. What a fool! So of course he's taken Very Seriously.
I think there are a couple of songs by The Go-Go's in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion. But I picked "We Got the Beat" because I know it was in there and I don't want to go back to the film and search around. Anyway, it's an amazing, and maybe even great, song. Writing something that charmingly awkward is really hard. I can do the awkward, but certainly during the last 20 years, no one thinks what I write is charming — in fact, they can't even bear it.
But I was wondering earlier if I considered The Go-Go's a punk band. Being of limited skill is really not what punk is about. For example, Minutemen were amazing musicians. And overall, I don't think The Go-Go's were a punk band. But they definitely had those roots. You can definitely hear this on the original Stiff Records version of "We Got the Beat" from 1980. The music is raw; it reminds me of early Kinks. But more than that, it pays explicit tribute to the "girl groups" of decades previous. And that is very much one kind of punk music. I would say that is ultimately what makes Velvet Underground and Modern Lovers punk.
The later recording of We Got the Beat (the one in the film) is much more polished. It's still arguably a great tune in the tradition of Martha and the Vandellas' Dancing in the Streets. (According to Wikipedia, the song "evolved" from The Miracles' "Going to a Go Go," but I don't especially hear it.) Regardless, it's a fun song. But I think this earlier version is more fun because I can imagine them in Beehive hairdos. Just click "play" and close your eyes and imagine.
On this day back in 1987, the Congressional hearings on the Iran-Contra affair started. I was back in college full time, but I was glued to the radio for it. To me, it was so obvious: Republican presidents abuse their power. There was Nixon and now there was Reagan. And I was right. We saw it moving forward. Not only was the George W Bush administration totally corrupt — it didn't even wait until it was elected. They really are the fascists of our our time.
Of course, what I was wrong about was that it would matter. Nixon was unpopular with his party, so he was abandoned. Reagan was very popular with his party so even today they won't admit to this treasonous behavior in the Iran-Contra affair. (Bush Sr was probably much more guilty, but we just don't talk about that.) And when Reagan claimed that he didn't remember, it wasn't hard to believe him. But by far, the most shameful thing was the testimony of Oliver North. He should have been court-martialed and then died in jail. Instead, America — in what has become typical — supported him. It apparently doesn't matter what you do as long as you defend it with sufficient belligerence. That is also how we got Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court for life.
Not to worry. It would only be 11 years later that Congress would finally get around to doing something about presidential malfeasance: Bill Clinton lied about a sexual liaison. Sure, it isn't treason. But it was a Democrat. And that's all that apparently matters. If the Republicans had the votes, they surely would have impeached Obama. And once they do have the votes, they will impeach whatever Democrat happens to be in the White House.
But back in 1987, the Congress tried — however feebly — to do something about actual presidential treason.
Matt Yglesias wrote an article that at first struck me as obvious but now seems profound, Donald Trump Could Be a Generation-Long Disaster for the Republican Party. He made a branding argument. The Republican Party already struggles with support from any group that isn't white and dying off fast. The key to Trump's success in the GOP primary has been that he's made text of the party's long used subtext. And this doesn't just speak for Donald Trump; it speaks of the Republican Party. As Yglesias conjectures, Latinos (but also African Americans, Muslims, and even young people) will not soon forgive and forget.
The key to the argument is Pete Wilson. He is well known in California and now more or less a cautionary tale. He was twice selected US Senator and then twice elected governor. On paper, he's an incredibly successful politician. But he is also largely responsible for destroying the Republican Party in California. And that is due, in large part, to his association with Proposition 187.
Proposition 187 was passed in 1994 — at the same time that Pete Wilson won his second term as governor. It was the first ever state anti-immigration law that was supposed to stop, for example, undocumented children from using our public schools. It was a really vile law that was quickly found to be unconstitutional and was never put into effect. It was also an embarrassment. It was much like Proposition 8 in 2008 that made same-sex marriage illegal. People voted for it, but the state as a whole quickly saw it as a mistake.
So even though Wilson won in 1994, he branded the GOP as the party of intolerance. It is a little funny as a Californian. The state isn't nearly as liberal as others think. But more important, the state isn't as liberal as its own residents think. It isn't just demographic factors that turned Prop 187 into an embarrassment. And it isn't demographic factors at all that turned Prop 8 into one. Californians work themselves up into a froth over issues like that and then, in the clear light of day (without the drumbeat of an election), we are embarrassed because we don't see ourselves as the intolerant people our voting often suggests.
California used to be a swing state. As I remember with great annoyance, George Bush Sr beat Michael Dukakis by over 3.5 percentage points. (Note: where I live in the Bay Area, Dukakis won; Prop 8 lost; and Prop 187 lost.) But now it is one of the bluest of states.
Barbara Boxer used to be a US Representative from liberal Marin County. She was widely considered a liberal extremist. I never thought she would be able to win any statewide election. She did win in a fairly close race in 1992, largely because of Bill Clinton. But since then, she's been reelected by large margins: 10 percentage points in 1998, 20 in 2004, and 10 in the Republican's huge year of 2010.
What's more, the state assembly and senate are both currently 65% Democratic.
The issue for the Republican Party nationwide is whether this will happen to them. Pete Wilson and the Republicans won the battle in 1994, but lost the war — and quickly. In Donald Trump's case, it doesn't even look like he will win the battle. But he is doing a great job of branding the party as intolerant jerks. If you look at the data from Gallup, Trump has had strong approval from Republican voters from the beginning. His net favorability right now is 24 percentage points!
George Will hopes that the Republican Party can just put Trump behind it, lose in 2016, and come back strong in 2020. And maybe it can. But there will be even fewer white people then. And there will be more Latinos. And as much as they may be seen more and more as "white," they are not likely to forgive and forget what the Republican Party is all about.
Update: Pete Wilson's Endorsement
I wrote this early morning yesterday, not thinking about the Indiana primary. A few days ago, Pete Wilson endorsed Ted Cruz. Well, that's all over now.
I'm going to veer off the Romy and Michele's High School Reunion soundtrack and go back almost a decade to present "Just What I Needed" by The Cars. But let's face it: it would fit in fine in the film. And there is much to recommend it. The truth is that music hadn't change over that period of time, although admittedly, this song sounded pretty new back in 1978.
I've long favored guitar focused pop music, unless you are going to do something as pretty as Breaking Us in Two (although Joe Jackson was rather good at doing guitar based songs as well). But that's the great thing about 1978: it was still before the explosion of FM synthesizers. There's no pretense! "Just What I Needed" is using something very much like the Minimoog. Blessed be the analog god! I also like the guitar work on it — well, the lead work, which gives me chills. The rhythm guitar is pretty standard pop-rock.
What's problematic is the lyrics. They are entirely typical of everything Ric Ocasek would ever write. He gets a good idea and then takes it nowhere. The best example of that is My Best Friend's Girl, an idea that is so rich with emotional potential that he mines for exactly nothing.
Similarly, "Just What I Needed" means, what? I never get the impression that Ocasek knows. I guess we are supposed to take "I needed someone to bleed" as meaningful. But all I can find in it is that the word "bleed" rhymes with "feed." Does he mean suggest that he needed someone who loved him so much that she bled?
I'm more than willing to interpret songs. That is, after all, what the listener is supposed to do. But the songwriter has to do their part and provide something to work with. I know emotionally what's going on here: it's about the beginning of a relationship that is a bad idea. But none of that much matters, as it doesn't matter in any of Ocasek's songs, because his mastery of pop songwriting is perfect.
On this day way back in 1675, King Charles II ordered that the Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO) be built. If you've ever wondered why we have the random Greenwich Mean Time, it is thanks to this iconic observatory — the first specifically built one in Britain. It really isn't an observatory anymore. Slowly, work at the RGO was moved to other, more appropriate locations. Since 1998, it is a museum. But what a museum! That's my idea of a good vacation — as long as there are pubs close by.
Oh, what a long way we've come! Just 340 years ago we had kings who cared about theoretical and practical science. And now here in the United States, we have a major political party for whom science is but a play thing to be used when it furthers its ideological goals but mostly just ignored and treated with derision. A civilization cannot long flourish when half of its people look down on the smart people "who think they're better than us." I've written about that before.
But it is nice to look back on a time when the power elite of the world weren't quite so evil and parochial as we are here in the United States. I often wonder: would we be worse off with crazy King George III or with "reasonable" Republicans like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and John Kasich? It probably would be the same. It doesn't matter if a leader is insane or he simply thinks he must pretend to be to maintain power to do what he sees as his most important work: taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich.
Happy anniversary Royal Greenwich Observatory!
Matt Bruenig wrote a great article over the weekend, Does It Matter That Blacks Oppose Marriage Equality? It counters what is a very common argument on the left: that we shouldn't sympathize with the white working class because they are just a bunch of bigots anyway. There are many problems with this thought.
One issue is that the white working class may over all be bigoted toward black and brown skinned people, a large percentage of them are not bigoted in the obvious way that, say, Donald Trump supporters often seem to be. This is where Bruenig got the title for his article. It turns out that as a group, African Americans are really bigoted toward the LGBT community. While blacks and whites were pretty much together on the issue of same-sex marriage back in 2001, support has almost doubled among whites, but has barely changed among blacks.
Given this, should we say that the African American community does not deserve our sympathy because it does not have the same beliefs that we do? It sounds absurd when put that way. And it is especially true when it was the "liberal" president Bill Clinton who signed the Defense of Marriage Act. And given that in 2001, only about 30% of Americans were in favor of marriage equality, does it mean that no Americans deserved sympathy in 2001?
But to me, the bigger issue is just how class-based this idea is. The issue isn't about the bigotry of the white working class; it is about the form of that bigotry. Because here is the unfortunate truth: we are all bigots. And if we are going to slice and dice the acceptable from the unacceptable bigotry, then we are lost.
I can find plenty of reasons to excuse the LGBT bigotry of the African American community. But I can do the same thing about the racial bigotry of the white working class. And doesn't it say something of the educated liberal class that it finds one group more acceptable than the other? After all, among the educated liberal class, marriage inequality was the default position quite recently.
It's interesting that this issue is at the core of Thomas Frank's new book, Listen, Liberal. The rise of the New Democrats (and related groups) was based in large part on the idea that the white working class was made up of a bunch of pro-war bigots. And that's how we get to our current Democratic Party that is liberal on social issues but most definitely not on economic issues. (Good God: Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist when he's just a traditional, New Deal liberal.)
But there is something that Eric Alterman has written about in this regard that I think is really important. In the 1960s, when we decided that we needed to reverse segregation, it wasn't upper class whites who were asked to sacrifice. It was working class whites. And although northern whites might not have been as offensively and outwardly bigoted as southern whites, anti-segregation programs worried them.
So it is a little much for the same class of people who were were willing to do nothing themselves to fight against our country's long racist tradition to stand up now and say that white working class people don't deserve our sympathy. The educated class has been making this argument for decades. You might even say that they are bigoted toward the white working class.
In a sense, this Romy and Michele's High School Reunion Morning Music week has been a bust. The idea was that we would have a lot of terrible music from the 1980s, but thus far, the music has been pretty good. Today does not help matters: "Don't Get Me Wrong" by The Pretenders.
But don't get me wrong: it isn't a great song. But it works very well. The first part of it seems to be a very cheery celebration of being in love. The second part of it is about the volatility of love. The key line is, "Don't get me wrong if I fall in the mode of passion." The "mode of passion" is, put simply, lust. And the singer seems to be saying that she should be forgiven the ebb and flow of her love just as she forgives it of her lover.
Regardless of how you want to read the song, there is always something incredibly compelling about Chrissie Hynde when she's singing something that is sweet as in perhaps my favorite Pretenders' song, Kid. But today, it is the much more straightforward "Don't Get Me Wrong." It's nice. Nothing that Elizabeth needs to be ashamed of liking. But I will search the film for something really awful. There is at least some material that is mediocre.
Oh, and regarding this video: I had never seen it before, so it's interesting that I should have mentioned the British television series The Avengers in yesterday's Odds and Ends post. Although I think the video matching is terrible in it. But it was doubtless state-of-the-art at the time.
It is very possible that on this day in 1921, West Virginia enacted the first broad sales tax. Do you know who loves the sales tax? The rich. I'm sure that the push to get sales taxes all over the United States was the result of the federal income tax enacted in 1913 via the Sixteenth Amendment. The federal income tax remains the only truly progressive tax in the United States. And the sales tax is regressive. This is why conservatives always go on about the federal income tax. They are just fine with the state sales taxes. In fact, many of them want to get rid of the federal income tax and replace it with a value added tax — basically a federal sales tax.
I should be clear, however. West Virginia legislated the sales tax at that time. But it apparently took the state forever to actually getting it working. That great bastion of liberty and supporter of the "common man," Mississippi was the first state to actually get it going — in 1930, just when the common man could least afford it.
Here in the United States, we have a taxing system that is a mess. It is designed so as to take the maximum amount from the poor, but not make it look like this is what is happening. So everyone focuses on 15 April — the one day when our only progressive tax is collected. But every day — Every minute! — the poor and middle classes are being regressively taxed. But that's just fairness. Unlike that terrible federal income tax, which is downright un-American!
Happy anniversary to the first broad-based sales tax — the beginning of a terrible American tradition.
Even though I don't get nearly enough time to read normal stuff, I find things are piling up without my having the time to write articles about them. So it is time for another edition of "Odds and Ends." And in this case it is indeed a varied collection of things from cat gun safety to productivity to the Gymkhana Girl, so I guess we ought to get to it.
The Only Thing that Stops a Cat With a Gun...
Elizabeth sent me this article, Cat Shoots Owner With 9mm Handgun. This happened all the way back in 2005, but apparently, Joseph Stanton of Michigan was cooking with his loaded gun sitting on the counter. One of his cats jumped up on the counter, knocking the gun off, causing it to discharge, shooting Stanton in the lower torso. He seems to have survived and no cats were harmed.
What I find interesting about these kinds of cases is that they show how one-sided people are about looking at benefits and risk. I'm sure that Mr Stanton, like most gun owners, felt that he was safer for having that loaded gun around. I suspect he had visions of some intruder coming to attack him. But the truth is that the odds of some accident (like your cat jumping on the counter) are far more likely. This is why I don't have a gun; I play the odds.
Night Owls Are Diseased
Over at Vox, Brian Resnick reported, Late Sleepers Are Tired of Being Discriminated Against. And Science Has Their Back. It turns out that chronobiology shows that we all have our own internal clocks, and some people are getting tired (!) of being expected to live according to other people's idea of the proper time to be active.
I've never thought about any of this in terms of when I wake up. Growing up in a family inclined toward late nights, I've always seen it in terms of when I was awake. But I've lived a charmed life in that I've gotten away with going my own way. At most places I've worked, I've been important enough that management was willing to put up with my eccentricities. But even if that were not the case, it's kind of hard to get too upset. There are a million ways that the majority oppresses the minority; just look at the world from the perspective of left-handed people. What's more, I don't find this chronobiology all that interesting because I'll always felt my sleep patterns were biological.
Now, of course, I have no problem. I go to sleep late and wake up early. It's because I'm old and apparently my brain doesn't need as much time to process information. That's probably helped by the fact that I rarely leave this room.
Spying Makes Us Timid
Glenn Greenwald reported, New Study Shows Mass Surveillance Breeds Meekness, Fear, and Self-Censorship. It's not a shock. If people know that they might be under surveillance (We all know that we might be now, right?) it tends to makes us more conformist. And you have to wonder if that isn't the main point. Would the world be notably less safe if the NSA wasn't recording and storing every conversation we were having?
This reminds me of something that internet titan Eric Schmidt was asked back in 2009, "People are treating Google like their most trusted friend. Should they be?" He replied, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." Oh yes! That's the way to run a democracy! It's an especially chilling statement when you consider how cozy Silicon Valley has been with the government and how the government's greatest spying accomplishments have been to disrupt anti-war groups.
In the first episode of That Mitchell and Webb Look, there were three skits about the crime fighting duo Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit. It makes fun of lopsided superhero combinations. I keep returning to Marvel's the Avengers, where you have a god teamed up with a guy who is apparently really good with a bow and arrow. I've discussed it before, but I learned something new:
At the end, after the BMX Bandit is killed, the announcer tells us to tune in next week for the adventures of "Angel Summoner and..." But I couldn't make it out. It sounded like "Jim Conner Girl." The woman reminded me of the women on the old British television series The Avengers. I got the joke: they were teaming up Angel Summoner with yet another inappropriate character. But it still bugged me that I didn't know what a "Jim Conner Girl" was.
Finally, I looked it up. The word is not "Jim Conner" but gymkhana. And that is "competitive games on horseback." In other words, they switched from someone who was good at riding a bike to someone who was good at riding a horse. And that, well, is hilarious.
Cheap Labor Leads to Low Productivity
Dean Baker wrote a really good article last week, Reason #4 for Weak Productivity Growth: Labor Is Cheap. Like most economics in the public sphere, it ain't complicated. Productivity has been low for a long time. And a big reason for that is that businesses have little reason to invest in automation because they can get labor so cheap. If you want to increase productivity, make the political environment more conducive to unionization.
It's funny that most people (Most Democrats too!) like to blame inequality on automation. But if that were the case, per capita productivity would be high. As I've written about a lot, if the rich were smart and farsighted, they would want more economic equality because it is better for everyone. But they aren't smart and farsighted; they are just greedy.
Land of the Lost
I was given a bag of DVDs — most of them television shows of my youth. Of particular interest was the first two seasons of Sid & Marty Krofft's Land of the Lost. I liked that show when I was a kid, so I sat down and watched the first seven episodes. It's curious. The stop-motion animation is really good. But it's so disjointed, going from filmed animation to videotaped segments on tiny sound stages. I could go on and on about things that are wrong with it. But it does have a certain charm, even after all these years.
Well, that's all for now. I'm glad to get some tabs down, although I could easily add five more entries here.
Romy and Michele's High School Reunion starts with a song that is not from the 1980s, because it is supposed to reflect their lives now. It's a good song, "Just a Girl" by the band No Doubt. It isn't great, like Trapped in a Box, but still.
What's interesting about "Just a Girl" is that it is the perfect song for the film. Although it sounds light and pleasant, it is a highly political song. Slow it down and perform it with an acoustic guitar and you have a Natalie Merchant song. Although "Just a girl" is repeated more often, technically the refrain is, "I've had it up to here!" And that is, ultimately, what Romy and Michele's High School Reunion is all about.
"Just a Girl" starts with what was always a curious lyric to me, "Take this pink ribbon off my eyes." Now it seems ridiculously obvious what that's all about. The trappings of femininity are used to blind women from their subjugation. And the line is followed by a far more disturbing line, "I'm exposed and it's no big surprise." I see "exposed" as a synonym for "naked." The song makes many references to the objectification of women. But it also indicates that regardless of the pink ribbons, women still know their situation on a more fundamental level.
Of course, "Just a Girl" is also exactly the kind of music that Romy and Michele would have been dancing to in the mid-1990s.