Fox News Sandra Bland Apologetics

Elisabeth HasselbeckOn Fox & Friends, Elisabeth Hasselbeck interviewed former NYPD officer John Rafferty about the Sandra Bland traffic stop. Media Matters reported, Fox’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck Suggests Sandra Bland’s Lit Cigarette Could Have Justified Police Conduct. I don’t think that’s quite correct. The main thing about Hasselbeck is that she is an incredibly stupid person. But there is no doubt, she is pushing the idea that a lit cigarette is a dangerous item. And Rafferty goes with it in a big way, having himself been a police officer and thus being a perpetually frightened person.

What I find interesting about the segment is that it is pure apologetics. The point of it is to find a way to justify the officer’s behavior. And Rafferty is really interesting in this regard. For one thing, he mentions that people have “tried to” put cigarettes out on him. I just don’t believe that. It just seems like such a facile thing to say. In modern America where a police officer cannot even risk a hang nail, the issue isn’t people going after officers with lit cigarettes, but officers killing people for moving suddenly.

Also really interesting at the end of the segment is what Rafferty says after talking about how he (very very afraid) wouldn’t want a dangerous black woman getting out of her car with a lit cigarette, “But the way you say it, unfortunately you’re locked into it. Because now, it’s being recorded. Unfortunately, these officers have to remember that.” What is he talking about? Locked into what? Following the law? This comes directly after, “I’ve had somebody try to put a cigarette out on me. It happens. I guarantee, you speak to many cops out there.” He seems to just be saying, “It’s too bad we have these cameras so we can’t just attack people like Sandra Bland.

Ultimately, the whole segment is about going over the the video to find a reason to justify what the officer did. And there’s a reason for that. One of the main things that Fox News does is make old white people feel good about the world. I wrote about this before, Why My Father Watches Fox News. To admit that the police are a bunch of crybabies who jump when they see a black woman would be to admit that those minorities might have a real complaint. So Fox News is there to sooth away those worries, “It’s okay to believe that the only thing wrong in the world is that big bad Obama.”

If someone wanted to understand the Sandra Bland traffic stop, they would not bring on a police officer. At best, what that provides is the idea that this particular police officer “stepped over the line” and “took this too personal.” It’s just this one guy. It isn’t a systemic problem and we know that because the nice calm officer is on the television to explain the way it always is except for some minor exceptions like with Sandra Bland.

The right thing to do is to bring on a sociologist or a civil rights lawyer — or anyone who can put the stop in the context of policing throughout the United States, throughout time. But that is the last thing that Fox News wants to do. Their purpose to to dismiss Sandra Bland as an example of anything but this one “exceptional” case. Hasselbeck and Rafferty were acting as the equivalent of a police officer on the street after a car accident, trying to disburse the onlookers, “Move along! Nothing to see here!”

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Poor Little Rich Kids?

Rich ChildWealth is highly correlated between parents and their children; however, little is known about the extent to which these relationships are genetic or determined by environmental factors. We use administrative data on the net wealth of a large sample of Swedish adoptees merged with similar information for their biological and adoptive parents. Comparing the relationship between the wealth of adopted and biological parents and that of the adopted child, we find that, even prior to any inheritance, there is a substantial role for environment and a much smaller role for genetics. We also examine the role played by bequests and find that, when they are taken into account, the role of adoptive parental wealth becomes much stronger. Our findings suggest that wealth transmission is not primarily because children from wealthier families are inherently more talented or more able but that, even in relatively egalitarian Sweden, wealth begets wealth.

—Sandra E Black, et al
Poor Little Rich Kids? The Determinants of the Intergenerational Transmission of Wealth

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Public Opinion and the Iranian Nuclear Deal

No Nukes for IranOver at Vox, Zack Beauchamp tried to make sense of, What Americans Really Think About the Iran Deal. You see, some polls — like Pew — find that only 38% of Americans approve of the deal while 48% disapprove. But other polls — like PPP (pdf) — find that 54% approve while only 38% disapprove. What’s going on with that? Well, Beauchamp noted that the main difference between the polls is that when people are primed with some actual information about the Iran deal, they are much more in favor of it.

I think it is pretty simple. The US media is just terrible. So “Iran” is not the name of a particular country. It’s just a pejorative. So asking people if they approve of the Iran deal is like asking them if they approve of the Festering Maggot deal. But there is another aspect of it too: it is only the right that is making a big deal of it. On the left, it’s an important bit of diplomacy. But it isn’t our salvation. No one thinks that the world would have ended if the deal hadn’t been made. But on the right, it is presented as a big deal — as an existential threat.

Consider for a moment, Jade Helm 15. It is a standard military exercise — the kind of thing that the American military does all the time. But it wasn’t that on the right. Instead it was a prelude to marshal law! The United States was going to “take over” Texas — because apparently, a lot of conservatives think that Texas won the Civil War and thus isn’t already part of the United States. Regardless, Jade Helm 15 started almost two weeks ago, yet just a couple of days ago, I heard from a conservative about this great threat. When it is over on 15 September, I’m sure that I will still hear about it — but slowly the fever will lessen until the new Greatest Threat to America™ is announced.

Jade Helm 15The same thing is true with the Iran deal. Assuming that Congress doesn’t derail it — in a few years, the freak out will be a distant memory. Because this is what happens to everything that the right freaks out about. Nothing is just a matter of disagreement. It is that they are the last line of defense and the liberals are actively trying to destroy America as they have known it. So Obamacare is not a bad idea; it is the end of freedom. Wall Street reform is not a bad idea; it is the end of freedom. Increased fuel efficiency standards is not a bad idea; it is the end of freedom. And of course, the Iran deal is the end of freedom and literally the end of Israel.

But that’s the conservatives. For the rest of the American people, they are going to see that after this deal goes into effect, their lives are… exactly the same. So when they are asked about this in five years time, they will respond, “What Iran deal?” They won’t care about it then, just as they don’t care about it now. Sure, if you ask them their opinions, they will give it — the only thing in greater supply than American opinions is American ignorance. But regardless of their opinions, they do not care about the Iran deal.

The only question is whether this will be an issue in the 2016 presidential race. And it will be! It will be a very big deal to some people who would never vote for the Democrats. Being concerned about the Iran nuclear deal is like being worried about Jade Helm 15 in the 2016 election — there will be people it matters to. But even they aren’t going to change their votes based upon it.

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Fossil Fuels Have Long Been Uncompetitive

Chris HopeLast week, the IMF put out a report, How Large Are Global Energy Subsidies? It found that worldwide, we subsidize the energy companies (mostly fossil fuels) to the tune of $5.3 trillion per year. Okay, okay. Brad Plumer is right that these are not actual subsidies. All this money is just an externality. If it were taken into account, some of it would result in lower profits but some of it would result in high prices. But even Plumer noted that worldwide, the fossil fuel industry gets $500 billion in direct subsidies — and that doesn’t take into account all the externalities that benefit them.

The externalities matter a great deal. They distort the energy market. They make clean energy sources like solar far less competitive than they would be in a properly functioning market. It makes sense to subsidize new technologies and infant industries. But it makes no sense whatsoever to subsidize mature industries. It is a sign of nothing but the use of economic power to distort the political process. In fact, here in America it is hard to find a rich person who doesn’t owe large parts of her fortune to one kind of government welfare or another. So the idea that solar energy has some unfair advantage is rubbish — it’s just the opposite. And nuclear power — after all these years — still requires subsidies.

At Vox last Friday, David Roberts wrote, Fossil Fuel Companies Impose More in Climate Costs Than They Make in Profits. It is about another recent study by Chris Hope that looked at the various companies in the years 2008 through 2012 to see if they were profitable if the externalities were included. It turns out that they aren’t. In fact, for coal companies, the costs were ridiculously high: “varying between nearly $2 and nearly $9 per $1 of revenue.” The cost was not nearly as high for oil companies: taking into account the cost of carbon represented between 10% and 50% of their total revenue.

The problem with these studies is how exactly we account for the future damage that is done by these emissions. We can’t assume that carbon pollution today will always harm us. Carbon dioxide is eventually removed from the atmosphere after all. Hope assumes a 2.3% per year decrease in the cost of it. This is quite reasonable. Assuming a 33 year half life for carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere, my calculation is that a 2.1% per year decrease should be consistent with this. So he is assuming less of an impact that I think is reasonable.

What’s shocking about Hope’s findings is how they lay all the blame on our corrupt political system. It is only now that solar is becoming competitive with fossil fuels. But if it hadn’t been for the direct subsidies and the extreme externalities, solar would have been profitable long ago. And that’s not to mention all the other effects of “cheap” fossil fuels like resistance to efficiency and conservation.

What we’ve had instead, is a system designed to hurt the vast majority of people for one purpose alone: enriching the already rich. To personalize it, we’ve allowed the rich Koch brothers to get even richer. And they’ve used that extra money to buy more influence to skew the economic system even more to get more money. The question is not just how much longer we will allow this to go on — it is how much longer we can allow it to go on.

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Morning Music: Bob Dylan

Bringing It All Back HomeIs “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.

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Anniversary Post: Medicare and Medicaid

Medicare and Medicaid 50th Anniversary

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:

Medicare Costs

And he provided the next graph that shows that actually Medicare has consistently kept costs down compared to the private insurance industry:

Medicare Cost Growth

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!


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Every Single Word

Every Single WordDylan 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.

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How the IMF Ruins Economies

Joseph StiglitzAs 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.

—Joseph Stiglitz
Greece, the Sacrificial Lamb

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Now Conservatives Are Wrong About Pope Francis

Pope FrancisLast 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.


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Straight Pride and the Slighting of Minorities

Anthony Rebello - Straight Pride ParadeLast 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.

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Morning Music: Almanac Singers

Solidarity ForeverI 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:

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Anniversary Post: Greece Democracy Denied 1973

Greek ReferendumOn 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.

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