Al Franken’s Shame and Evil’s Gain

Al FrankenI watched Al Franken’s resignation speech on Thursday. It was broadcast live on local news here in Saint Paul. My wife watched the last half of it with me. Like me, she’d been an ardent Franken supporter before he was accused repeatedly of sexual misconduct. The speech seemed sincere, and Franken appeared to be fighting back tears through most of it. He did not admit to abusive sexual behavior, yet he affirmed how all such accusations must be taken seriously.

When his speech ended, my wife said, “At least he didn’t make his wife stand behind him.” And this is true. By announcing live on the Senate floor, Franken avoided using her as a prop, the way so many politicians do at press conferences when pleading innocent to similar charges. (Frannie Franklin was in the gallery, along with the Senator’s soon-to-be-unemployed staff.)

The contradiction was jarring. Here is someone who obviously respects his wife enough not to make her publicly bear his disgrace. And yet his disgrace centered around accounts of demeaning women. Franken’s political service itself remains a contradiction. He was a great Senator for Minnesota, and a good one for America. Yet his personal failings resulted in our losing a key progressive voice, who could work easily with both wings of the Democratic Party, right when such figures are needed the most. His fall almost feels like an abandonment — even if it was deserved.

Did Franken Deserve It?

In his speech, Al Franken pointed out the irony of his resignation when Republicans are backing politicians accused of far worse — one of whom was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault.

In his speech, Al Franken pointed out the irony of his resignation when Republicans are backing politicians accused of far worse — one of whom was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault. Feminist writers such as Dahlia Lithwick and Ramona Grigg have defended him to some degree. They have argued that, given such a vast degree of difference between the criminality involved in these accusations, Franken’s resignation represents a gift to the forces of evil.

Make no mistake, Franken’s ouster is the GOP’s gain. There are several highly principled and intelligent individuals Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton can appoint to fill Franken’s seat. (My favorite is apparently not on Dayton’s shortlist.) Yet none would be able to match Franken’s legislative influence. (That’s particularly so as the appointment will only last until next November when a special election will be held.)

However, those accusations — if true — indicate a kind of behavior that cannot be tolerated in any workplace.

Was Franken Guilty?

This is, of course, the pertinent question. The opinions of people in Minnesota are varied. Some believe it’s all slander. Others believe he’s probably gotten away with worse. My opinion is, “I don’t know what happened.”

Eyewitness testimony is, as we know, an unreliable form of evidence. Human memory isn’t that good. And that’s just the beginning. It’s entirely possible that Franken’s alleged groping behavior at photo shoots was accidental. It’s harder to believe the instances of forced kissing were accidents.

The Guardian quoted Larry Jacobs, a University of Minnesota political scientist. He said, “I didn’t know of any of these accusations but he’s a very self-confident person who thinks of himself as special. With some of the accusations you see that: what he felt was being goofy or having his way was clearly unacceptable.”

Self-Confidence or Harassment?

I could see that being the case. Al Franken, after all, got away with books titled Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot and his anti-Fox News Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Those titles were meant to be provocative, and they were. (Unlike similarly-provocative titles “written” by right-wingers, Franken used fact-checkers.) Also, Franken spent years working at Saturday Night Live, described as having a backstage environment where “everyone hates everyone else and is jealous of everyone’s success.”

Where Franken Came From

If you can thrive in the vicious worlds of political polemics and a Lorne Michaels program, you may very well become accustomed to getting away with Alpha behavior that less competitive people rarely display. I’ve had jobs where I was extremely valuable, and I knew it. At that time, I got into heated arguments about how correct my plans were. I cringe now to remember this behavior. I’d hopefully never talk to a colleague like that today.

But no matter the degree of gray areas in accusations against Franken, I believe it was time for him to go.

The Perils Of A Persona

Some politicians (LBJ, any mayor of Chicago) present themselves as tough guys who “know the game.” Consummate insiders. They don’t expect voters to approve of them personally. Instead, they promise to deliver policies the voters want enacted. And they remind us about how the sausage gets made.

That was not Al Franken’s style.

He claims to have had no interest in politics before the death of (still beloved) Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone in a plane crash in 2002. Franken said he was particularly incensed by Wellstone’s successor, Norm Coleman, a career opportunist who told one reporter “I am a 99 percent improvement over Paul Wellstone.” He said it while waving a cigar — the very picture of DC corruption.

Al Franken’s Rise

Franken beat Coleman by a handful of votes. But he took office and established a reputation as one of the hardest working, most dedicated liberals in Congress. He frequently toured every last corner of Minnesota, holding town halls even in non-election years. He made nice with local Democratic Party insiders who’d tried their hardest to defeat his primary nomination. When in Washington, Franken would post, on his website, hours where he’d be having coffee in publicly-accessible Senate spaces. If you were in town, you were welcome to join him.

Al Franken’s image was one of absolute political integrity. He was in office, not for power, not to secure some board membership once he’d delivered favors to donors, but to serve his constituents. He was re-elected by a far larger margin. Even some conservative Minnesotans who disagreed with his politics believed in his sincerity.

And so, once the sexual accusations began to accumulate, Franken’s shine was tarnished. (His first, most famous accuser originally said she forgave him; had that been the only instance, he wouldn’t be stepping down.) Even if his statements about “I remember the incident differently” were 100% honest, they sounded exactly like what any other politician would say. Al Franken wasn’t supposed to be like any other politician; he was supposed to be something different.

Come Back, Shane

I bought it. And I’d enjoyed Franken ever since his days on the old Bill Maher program Politically Incorrect. (You remember: back when Maher was willing to let his guests do most of the talking.) I’d heard his radio show; I’d read his books. And Norm Coleman was (And still is!) human slime — your typical ex-liberal who switched sides when it became convenient. He ran one ad which featured an honest-to-God cancer kid; it would have made Elvis Costello sick.

A Personal Recollection of Franken

The man aspiring to good ruined, perhaps deservedly so. The man wallowing in evil triumphant, and certainly not deservedly so.

At the time of Franken’s first campaign, I was working at a residential facility for adults with disabilities. We took all of them to the State Fair, as every Minnesotan except me loves the State Fair. We went very, very early in the morning — 6:00 am! — because the crowds are thinner that early, and pushing wheelchairs is difficult in a big crowd.

At one point, we ran into Franken. We were taking a break — it was still early, but we needed coffee — and I spotted Franken similarly caffeine-ing up a few feet away with his wife. I walked over; he looked exhausted. “Hi, I’m sorry to bug you,” I said, “but this guy I know over there is a big politics junkie, and if you could just take a picture…”

Now, that individual isn’t just a politics junkie (which he is, he’ll watch city council meetings on public-access cable), but one of the most outgoing souls I’ve ever known. Half the time he looks like he’s about to die of pure old age right there in his wheelchair. Then he meets someone he’s happy to see, and his whole face glows with joy.

Al Franken came over, got the Joy Face at full strength, and you could see Franken’s spirits lift. A corncob tasting at some unholy hour on a Sunday morning, that’s the drag of campaigning, but the good moments — they’re worth it.

The picture of them together still hangs in that person’s room. When frustration or physical pain or low pay was getting me down at work, sometimes I’d go look at that picture, and remember one time when my feeble efforts helped make someone very happy.

Tarnished Memories

And now that memory is partially ruined.

As is the memory of how much my wife enjoyed listening to Franken’s last book, Giant Of The Senate on CD. She particularly liked Franken talking about how, in that 2008 campaign, his adult children asked him if the opposition would dig anything up they needed to know — and Franken said no, their family was safe from that shame.

The day after my wife finished that book, the first accusations came out. Her response was very angry and straightforward, “He lied to his family.”

The Scum Also Rises

So, quite likely through faults of his own, Al Franken is gone. While worse certainly remain, and worse certainly served a full career without any accountability for their darkest behavior.

Bob Packwood

In 1995, I was living in Oregon, during the forced resignation of senator Bob “The Tongue” Packwood. (He not only was accused of worse than Franken, he kept a diary about it.) A GOP congressman who pressured Packwood to resign later said, “we had a choice: Retain the Senate seat or retain our honor. We chose honor, and never looked back.” That was Mitch McConnell, current Senate majority leader and apologist for Donald Trump and Roy Moore. Honor, indeed.

Norm Coleman

Our old friend, Norm Coleman? He’s doing great! He became a lobbyist, naturally, serving all kinds of wonderful clients, including a stint pimping for Saudi Arabia. Now he’s chairman of a Israeli lobbying group (show me the money, honey!) which shared on their website Coleman’s bliss over Trump announcing that America would no longer recognize Palestinian claims on Jerusalem as a historic capital. “No more false news,” Coleman was quoted. (Lord, he can’t even get his dogwhistle catchphrases right.)

Sheldon Adelson

This group, the Republican Jewish Coalition, is funded by scumbucket Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. They threw an exclusive gala at the Trump International Hotel in DC Thursday night. What a glorious day for Coleman; knowing how lushly he’s been rewarded for stooping so low, and how disgraced his old opponent was, who tried to behave with such dignity.

Aspirations Aren’t Enough

The man aspiring to good ruined, perhaps deservedly so. The man wallowing in evil triumphant, and certainly not deservedly so. I’ve always liked to believe this recurrent American story would someday change. But I am considerably less hopeful about the possibility than when I used to look at that smiling Al Franken State Fair picture.

Notable Female Intellectuals

This is a compilation of a four-article series that I unfortunately titled “Beautiful, Intelligent, and Learned.” But I rarely talked about the beauty aspect of it. It wasn’t generally my intent for beauty to be seen as physical beauty. I only wanted to feature women who were doing work that improved the world. A better word would have been “grace,” but I feel certain that would have been as misunderstood too.

I have long gotten into trouble by using idiosyncratic language. (Usually, the words I used were exact in their definitions, but I was using less-common definitions.) If I say I have a crush on Kory Stamper, it means I want to discuss grammar with her over tea, not that I want to date or have sex with her. You will notice in the Kory Stamper article that I also refer to having a crush on Peter Sokolowski, and have never been particularly attracted to men in a sexual way.

I’ll think I can leave it at that. If people read all my work, they will certainly understand. That’s especially true given that I’ve been very open about my vow of celibacy eight years ago. (Friends will note that wasn’t a huge sacrifice given that I’ve never been much interested in sex.)

Salima Ikram

Female Intellectuals: Salima Ikram

Ladies and gentlemen: Salima Ikram. She is professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo. So in addition to being really smart and learned, she’s really cool. I discovered her on a mediocre documentary Egyptian Secrets of the Afterlife.

Originally Published: 13 October 2011

Melissa Harris-Perry

Female Intellectuals: Melissa Harris-PerryLadies and gentlemen: Melissa Harris-Perry.

I know her from MSNBC news shows where she is often an analyst and sometimes a guest anchor. And as I’ve stated before, I wasn’t that taken with her at first. But like many things (from movies to food to people), those I like best I often started out by not liking.

She was on The Last Word last night. As I watched highlights of the show, I was impressed, as usual, by the historical context she put current events into (in this case, Herman Cain’s sexual harassment problems). I was impressed, as usual, by her insights into these events (in this case, she noted that the sexual harassment charges may actually improve Cain’s standing with Republican primary voters).

Dr Harris-Perry is Professor of Political Science at Tulane University and the author of such books as Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought and Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America.

Originally Published: 1 November 2011

Barbara J Fields

Female Intellectuals: Barbara J FieldsWhen I first watched Ken Burns: The Civil War 20 years ago, like most people, I was very taken with Shelby Foote’s southern charm and great storytelling. But this last week when I watched the series again I was blown away by Barbara J Fields, the historian at Columbia University. She speaks more incisively about the Civil War than anyone else when it comes to its broader meaning. Certainly, Foote is still the best when talking about the war on the micro-scale — about individuals caught up in it. But I’m not really interested in that anymore. In that way, the war was a catastrophe. It is only in the broader context that all that suffering means something.

In Her Own Words

Here is Fields talking about exactly that:

I think what we need to remember, most of all, is that the Civil War is not over until we, today, have done our part in fighting it, as well as understanding what happened when the Civil War generation fought it. William Faulkner said once that history is not “was” it’s “is.” And what we need to remember about the Civil War is that the Civil War is in the present as well as the past. The generation that fought the war, the generation that argued over the definition of the war, the generation that had to pay the price in blood, that had to pay the price in blasted hopes and a lost future, also established a standard that will not mean anything until we have finished the work. You can say there’s no such thing as slavery, we’re all citizens. But if we’re all citizens, then we have a task to do to make sure that that too is not a joke. If some citizens live in houses and others live on the street, the Civil War is still going on. It’s still to be fought and regrettably, it can still be lost.

I’d never thought about this, but we are at war with each other. And this is why the claims of Romney that raising the top tax rate is “class warfare” are so offensive. There is a class war in this country, but it isn’t found there. But then, I don’t suspect that Romney and his ilk see many homeless people.

Barbara Fields is a great intellectual. And is also a very compassionate person.

Originally Published: 9 May 2012

Afterword

In 2011, Fields gave a speech at the 150th anniversary of the South Carolina Low-country Sesquicentennial Observance. Unfortunately, I can’t embed it. But you can see it on C-SPAN.

Originally Published: 9 May 2012

Update

I have come to see Ken Burns: The Civil War as a fundamentally racist documentary. I don’t think that Ken Burns is any more racist than I am or than pretty much any American white person is, and a majority of American blacks. It’s almost impossible not to have to deal with subconscious racist thoughts bubbling up from time to time when we live in a society that is based on racism and still is so overwhelmingly racist. But a big chunk of the racism in The Civil War comes from Foote and the way that he completely removed slavery from his narrative of the war. It was just “War Is Hell!” from him. And again, I don’t think he was especially racist. But it’s people like him who keep the poison flowing.

Two years ago, I wrote an anniversity post for the Thirteenth Amendment. And I still think this is true and sadly sums up so much of what is wrong in this country:

I keep remembering this line from Ken Burns: The Civil War. When poor southern soldiers were asked why they were fighting, they replied that it was because the northern soldiers were there. Well, first: they weren’t northern soldiers, but the soldiers of all of them. Second: isn’t that typical that the elites could convince poor southern whites to fight and die for an institution that doubtless made them poorer than they would have been?
Originally Published: 8 December 2017

Elizabeth Warren

Female Intellectuals: Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Warren has been on my mind for a long time. I think most people know that she’s a Harvard Law School professor, an expert at bankruptcy law, and the reason we have the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — something so good it makes Republicans apoplectic. And, of course, everyone knows that she’s running for the Senate in Massachusetts against Scott Brown. If she loses it will greatly reduce my opinion of that fine state.

What most strikes me about Warren is her combination of erudition and empathy. Even after this evil political campaign, she still radiates sensitivity — especially compared to the plastic Mr Brown.

A week and a half ago, one of Bill Maher’s “New Rules” was that “Elizabeth Warren has to stop dressing like the ‘before’ woman in a beer ad.” It is a funny line. But it is hardly fair. For one thing, I think that Warren is very attractive. But more to the point, what does Bill Maher (at 56 years old) want? He mostly dates women who are in their twenties. (Note: well below the creepy line.) Warren is 63. And I think she has more important things to do than worry about what 20-year-old boys (and Bill Maher) think of her looks.

Originally Published: 16 September 2012

Update

The the most recent poll shows Warren ahead of Brown by 6 points. It’s too early to tell, but this is good news.

Originally Published: 17 September 2012

The Wisdom of Matt Bruenig

Matt BruenigMatt Bruenig is a very interesting guy. Most people know of him because of his spicy twitter feed. I never followed him on Twitter and it wouldn’t have mattered if I had. I don’t check out Twitter very often. In fact, I get annoyed when people complain this or that person said something stupid or unfair or whatever on Twitter. What else is Twitter for. But it’s telling that Bruenig had almost a quarter million followers on Twitter. But his blog, where he shows himself to be one of the greatest young intellectuals in the world, didn’t have that much more traffic than Frankly Curious.

So when he had his little fight with Neera Tanden, I tended to side with him. So he said something rude? Why was it all these outraged people weren’t reading his insightful articles at Demos.com and MattBruenig.com? To make matters worse, Tanden didn’t seem terribly bothered. (I’ve found Tanden to be a very reasonable person who understands the difference between an enemy and an ally, even when they disagree on minor points.) Sadly, Bruenig lost both his jobs, and as a result, shut down his website for almost a year.

When he first shut-down his website, I wrote this:

The MattBruenig.com Downtime Clock

MattBruenig.com came back online on 1 April 2017. He’s been publishing frequently since then.

As I alluded to last week — Josh Barro Is Blinded By His (Elite) Privilege — Matt Bruenig lost his job at Demos. In the process, he put his blog, MattBruenig.com, into maintenance mode. Go to any page on the site, and all you get it, “Contact me at matthewbruenig@gmail.com.” This caused a problem for me. For one thing, despite the fact that Bruenig is young enough to (barely) be my grandson, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from him. So I want him to be around. I relished each time one of his articles showed up on my RSS feed.

But there was another issue of a more practical nature. So I wrote to Bruenig about it. Part of it is a fan letter. I’m not above that:

Hi Matt Bruenig-

Over the years, you’ve been one of the most important public intellectuals for me. (Dean Baker is probably the only other writer who has had a more profound effect on my thinking.) As a result, I’ve written about you a lot — something on the order of 50 articles. My focus was almost always on your writing at your personal blog. But now that you’ve put the site in maintenance mode, all those links are useless.

I am more than willing to take the time to replace them with links from archive.org. But I don’t want to do that if your site is going to go back online soon. And I do hope that it is.

You are an important political voice in this country. And I hope this Demos nonsense doesn’t deprive us of your insights about the American political system. On the other hand, I don’t want to see you and your family suffer.

If you could let me know your plans for your blog, I would be most grateful.

-Frank

Matt Bruenig responded:

It will come back soon in exactly the same form. I just need to take it down for a bit.

Well, one man’s “bit” is another man’s, “Oh my God! Your site has been down for over a week!”

I certainly don’t want to get Bruenig into any trouble with his main employer. Just the same, I can’t imagine my little blog adding to places like Vox and Salon.

So here it is: The MattBruenig.com Downtime Clock. It counts time since Archive.org noticed that MattBruenig.com was put into maintenance mode. Each morning, I check to see if the site is back up. Once it is back up, I will stop the clock and take this post down from the menu bar. Until then, it will tick away.

The MattBruenig.com Downtime Clock

MattBruenig.com Was Down for 300 Days!

Your MattBruenig.com Fix

For those of you who just can’t wait, here are some articles that spring from Bruenig’s thinking:

The Wisdom of Matt Bruenig

It’s a little bit embarrassing to admit that I’ve learned so much from Matt Bruenig when he could easily be my son. To most of the people in my life, I’m a really smart and knowledgeable guy. But it is perhaps a function of this that I have a fairly good idea of all that I don’t know. I don’t see myself as the guy who comes up with great ideas. I’m the guy who can appreciate great ideas when they seem to radical to others.

So the rest of this article consists of Matt Bruenig quotes that I’ve highlighted on this site. The idea of my quotes pages was always supposed to be like what The Progressive does in its “No Comment” section. Mostly, it is something I think is simply brilliant. Somethings it is something I find interesting, but don’t necessarily agree with. And sometimes it is something so vile that I don’t think it needs elaboration.

All of the quotes from Matt Bruenig are in the first category. Anyone who is serious about liberal or socialist politics should read Matt Bruenig. Unless you are a lot smarter and well-read than I am (and with absolutely no humility: that’s a very small group), you should read him. You should hang on every word. You should hope he starts writing books. You should hope that this country gets to the point where it lionizes him. Because Matt Bruenig combines great empathy for the poor with a scary intellect. A society that admires him is one that is doing okay.

2017

The Violence Inherent in Capitalism

(17 April 2017)

United Airlines violently removed a passenger from an airplane earlier this week. …

No matter how you cut it, there does not seem to have been anything wrong with what happened here, under the logic of capitalist institutions. It may not have been a good PR move for the airline. They probably could have avoided it all by gratuitously offering more money to get the trespasser to leave. But none of these points turns the thing into a violation of capitalist ethics. It wasn’t.

Instead of soothing ourselves with the idea that this particular application of violence was illegitimate or extraordinary, we should instead confront it head on as a necessary feature of capitalist society. This kind of violence (or threats of it) is operating all the time.

Why does the homeless man sleep in the doorway of an empty office building instead of inside the building itself? Because the police has threatened to attack him just like they attacked this airline passenger. Why does a poor family go to bed hungry when they could just grab food from the supermarket a few blocks away? Because the police has threatened to attack them just like this passenger.

Of course, these threats of capitalist violence are so credible that few dare to act in ways that will trigger them. But the violence is always there lurking in the background. It is the engine that makes our whole system run. It is what maintains severe inequalities, poverty, and the power of the boss over the worker. We build elaborate theories to pretend that is not the case in order to naturalize the man-made economic injustices of our society. But it is the case. Violent state coercion like what you saw in that video is what runs this show.

–Matt Bruenig
Come See the Violence Inherent in the System

Funding Social Wealth Fund: Mandatory Share Issuances

(15 February 2017)

Right now, the US taxes corporate income at a statutory rate of 35 percent (the effective rate is much lower). The way this works is corporations determine what their profits are and then take 35 percent of them (actually less) and remit that money to the state. If we wanted to build up the wealth fund quickly, we could replace the corporate income tax with mandatory share issuances.

There are two ways to do this. The first way, favored by Dean Baker, is to have companies give a one-time grant of shares to the government equal to whatever we think an appropriate tax rate would be. So, instead of taxing corporate income at 20 percent, we could have each corporation give the state shares equal to 20 percent of its outstanding shares. This would make the state the 20 percent owner of the company and would entitle it to 20 percent of the dividends, buybacks, and any other payouts to shareholders.

The second way, favored by Rudolf Meidner, is to have companies give an annual grant of shares to the government equal to some percent of their annual profits. So, instead of taxing corporate income at 20 percent every year, we would have companies give over shares equal in value to whatever their corporate income tax liability would be that year. So, if a company had profits of $100 million, the 20 percent mandatory share issuance would require them to give the state shares equal to $20 million. This is a much more aggressive strategy than the one favored by Baker because, in the long-run, it would result in far more of the company’s equity getting transferred into the social wealth fund.

–Matt Bruenig
Nickel-and-Dime Socialism

2015

Here Come the Idiots

(19 October 2015)

One of the things I am not looking forward to in the coming elections are people who become sudden experts on the Nordic Model and the social democratic history of the Nordic countries. Partisans of various stripes, uninterested in understanding how the Nordic countries actually developed, will mobilize their considerable googling skills to conclude whatever they want about the election.

—Matt Bruenig
Here Come the Idiots

Matt Bruenig on “Clever” Libertarians

(01 May 2015)

I thought it would be fun to also shoot from the hip and theorize on why libertarians… behave as they do as youths and later in life, especially regarding [Frédéric] Bastiat. Young libertarians are smug, arrogant, and contrarian. Above all else, they love to be the smartest and cleverest guys in the room. So they latch on to simplistic arguments that cut against what most people think in order to mock others as stupid and unlettered. I’ve met plenty of libertarians in my life, and a good 90% of them seem to regard themselves as the smartest and cleverest person in any room they happen to be in.

Bastiat is super-helpful for those pursuing contrarian cleverness. His little stories are comprehensible and allow you to laugh heartily at someone who supports things like the minimum wage. The problem arises when the dumb minimum wage supporter actually ends up being right for a more complicated reason. That enrages the libertarian because even though he was clearly cleverer than the average minimum wage supporter, he is ultimately wrong. That insufferable reality drives the ashamed libertarian to clutch on to Bastiat even as Bastiat is shredded. Bastiat still allows them to point out how stupid the reasoning of the bulk of minimum wage supporters is even if their policy conclusions wind up being right. In that way, Bastiat allows the libertarian to preserve his status as super-clever even if he is actually wrong.

Libertarians love really flashy simple arguments that ultimately fall to pieces. A sophisticated debate doesn’t score the big humiliation points because it’s so complicated. Since Bastiat is truly irrelevant when it comes to modern debates on the kind of issues he discusses, the libertarian is in a bad spot. He wants to pretend to be clever and better than everyone else in his grand powers of reasoning, but he cannot really do that anymore. So instead the modern libertarian brings up Bastiat to show how clever he is and how stupid everyone else is, and then makes up some post-hoc bullshit about how discussing Bastiat is actually meaningful when it isn’t.

—Matt Bruenig
The Never-Ending Libertarian Quest to Appear Clever

Don’t Blame Unions for Police Brutality

(07 May 2015)

Recently, much attention has been paid to cops behaving the way cops often behave: killing blacks, harassing blacks, abusing blacks, and so on. One line of commentary on this newfound interest in long-standing cop abuse is that this abuse is the fault of (or cannot be stopped because of) police unions. While I have no particular interest in police unions per se, I must say that I find this a rather laughable simplification.

For starters, police are unionized basically everywhere in the world. Canada has police unions. The United Kingdom has police unions. Australia has police unions. The Nordics (Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland) all have police unions, which are then further organized into a broader Nordic police union federation (Nordiska Polisförbundet), which itself is further organized into the broader European police union federation (EuroCOP).

Despite this rampant police unionization all over the world, you don’t see police abuse on anywhere near the scale you see in the US. Why might that be? I speculate that it’s because the issue is really something else entirely, perhaps unique levels of sadism, racism, urban soldier nutcase mentalities, and a political society that is, in fact, heavily supportive of police abuse directed at non-whites.

—Matt Bruenig
Cop Unions

How to Vote Properly

(14 April 2015)

Are you big into economic policies that deliver for the poor and working classes? In much of Europe, that means you vote for the party that says “labor,” “social democratic,” or “socialist” in the name. In the US, that usually means you have no real option, but you vote for the Democrats because at least they aren’t the Republicans. Are you big into ethno-nationalism? Vote for the party that’s always going on about how immigration is super bad. You got options in nearly every European country, and they appear to be getting more popular by the day. In the US, that’s the Republicans. Are you super into environmental stuff? Look for “green” in the name. You mostly mad about gay marriage and abortion and whatnot? Usually, you can’t go wrong with a Christian Democratic party, or in the US stick with the Republicans.

—Matt Bruenig
If Clueless People Shouldn’t Vote, Then Should Damon Linker?

Matt Stoker BruenigThe Wisdom of Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig

Another great thing about Matt Stoker Bruenig is that he is married to another insightful intellectual: Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig. So I’m going to present some of the wisdom that I’m published from her. She does not generally write about economics. She is a liberal Christian, and it is really nice to be read someone talk about modern politics from that perspective. When I read her, I feel Jesus in her heart. There is no dogma. There is just a commitment Jesus’ teachings. It’s really refreshing.

2015

The Purpose of Vaccination

(2 July 2015)

Parents who identify vaccination as a personal choice made for themselves and their own children misunderstand vaccination as a concept. Most people will survive childhood illnesses without the aid of a vaccine; vaccines are not administered on behalf of these people, though they do help them avoid the non-lethal downsides of disease, such as temporary discomfort and long-term injury. Vaccines are rather administered on behalf of people who cannot receive them, and people who would not survive the illnesses they protect against based on deficits in their own immune systems. These people include the very old, the very young, and those already suffering: people with HIV/AIDS, people going through chemotherapy, pregnant women, and people who have never had strong defenses of their own. Widespread vaccination of healthy people creates “community immunity” or “herd immunity,” which prevents illnesses from penetrating groups where vulnerable people live, thus saving their lives.

—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
The Christian Case for Vaccinating Children

Convenient Republican Catholicism

<23 June 2015>

Jeb Bush wants you to know he won’t be taking marching orders from Pope Francis when it comes to political or economic matters. “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” Bush said at a campaign stop Tuesday. “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.” Bush’s comments echo similar statements made by Rick Santorum, who said in a June 7 interview that the Church should stay away from matters of science and policy and stick to “theology and morality.” As election season commences, questions about Pope Francis will likely surface repeatedly in candidate question-and-answer sessions, in no small part because the Republican primary field is stocked with Catholics: George Pataki, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio (who also doubts Francis’s capacity to contribute to political matters), along with Bush and Santorum.

The categories Bush and Santorum rely on to restrict religious reasoning to convenient subjects are, of course, porous and unstable. Bush has shown no signs of attempting to exclude religion from politics per se; during the ugly, protracted 2005 struggle over the life of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman on life support in a persistent vegetative state, Bush campaigned fiercely to keep Schiavo alive. As governor of Florida, Bush was also a reliable anti-abortion advocate. The same is true of Santorum. Both have linked their pro-life politics to their faith. These politicians appear to have no principled objection to religious reasoning governing aspects of political action; the objection that church and state should scarcely mingle only arises when religion becomes inconvenient to capital, as in the case of Francis’s entire papacy.

—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
Pope Francis’s Vision of a Moral Ecology Will Challenge Both Republicans and Democrats

Is the Pope Christian or Communist?

If you pay much attention to the media in the coming weeks, you might find yourself wondering whether or not Pope Francis is a communist. Bad-faith political mislabeling of Francis is, by this early point in his papacy, already distressingly common: Rush Limbaugh has accused the pontiff of espousing Marxism and socialism, a pair of claims that Fox host Sean Hannity later echoed. These feverish charges arose as a result of several of Francis’ statements about the failures of trickle-down economics and the ravages of inequality. But the latest round of McCarthy-esque red-spotting is due to conservative nervousness about Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on the environment, expected to be released June 18.

Though yet unreleased, the encyclical has already engendered anxious rightward fretting about Francis’ socialist and/or Marxist tendencies from the National Review Online, Catholic journal First Things, and even the BBC, which featured a June 7 article declaring that “[Pope Francis] will be a polarising presence, and the question ‘Is the pope a communist?’ will really matter.”

There are several reasons why this question will never really matter, and an almost infinite plenitude of reasons it is an absurd one in the first place. For starters, those probing whether or not Pope Francis is himself a communist, socialist, or Marxist (these terms are interchangeable on the right) are not really interested in discovering what Francis’ own personal politics are. After all, that information is readily available. As longtime Vatican reporter John L. Allen wrote last week in a Crux essay on Francis’ forthcoming encyclical, “If you asked, [Francis would] probably tell you he comes out of the moderate wing of Argentina’s Peronist movement.” Biographies of Francis, including The Great Reformer by seasoned Catholic journalist Austen Ivereigh, have similarly turned up no evidence that Francis has ever held membership in any communist party.

But the pundits accusing Francis of communism do not really seem to view communism as a political orientation, wherein one advocates for reform through participation in routine political activities, like campaigning, fundraising, electioneering, and so on. This is because in the United States, there are only two partisan avenues to political impact: Republican and Democrat. The presence of any partisan communists in America is so vanishingly small that communism is instead interpreted as an ideological pose, specifically opposite of the pro-capitalist priors common to both Republicans and Democrats. In other words, you don’t have to actually partake in any communist politics to qualify as a communist in the United States, you just have to show insufficient satisfaction with capitalism…

Suspicion of the types of accumulation that characterize capitalism — including the massive build-up of wealth among a small number of unimaginably rich plutocrats — is therefore more common to Christianity than the unreserved embrace of the same that is now typical of American right-wingers. Rather than asking if Pope Francis’ positions on reducing inequality and protecting the environment are products of communism, it would be much wiser and more insightful to ask if conservative rejection of environmentalism and egalitarianism are really products of Christianity. This would at least provide context for the tidal wave of rueful tears that will undoubtedly follow the publication of Francis’ encyclical on the environment, which will rankle the pontiff’s critics not because Francis’ thought is communist, but because it is Christian.

—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
Pope Francis Is a Christian, Not a Communist

Fighting Nepotism With Welfare

<13 May 2015)

The sudden swell of praise for filial favoritism among conservative pundits comes as no surprise: combine a heavy emphasis on family values with an equally intense desire for money, and the outcome is what we from the South recognize as good ol’ boy networks, wherein a hapless dweeb who can barely manage a baseball team stumbles into the presidency because his daddy made a good run of it. Examples of the perils of nepotism are scattered throughout history, with lunatic kings and savage tsars and incompetent princes galore. But these are extreme cases. And furthermore, I suspect Williamson and Brooks are correct when they suggest that there really is neither an effective nor humane way to put an end to the many unearned advantages some lucky offspring glean from their kin.

Families will always prefer their own, and parents will always be inclined to do whatever is in their power to secure a future for their children. None of this is inherently wrong; indeed, these are the same impulses that have perpetuated the human race. The trouble is that some dynasties accumulate so much wealth and influence that the social mobility of other, less fortunate children becomes increasingly unlikely. Where Williamson and Brooks are wrong is to presume the solution to this problem needs to involve some tinkering with families themselves…

So I guess that, in the end, I’m with Williamson and Brooks: nepotism is here to stay, and there’s no sense in fighting the partiality of parents for their children, especially when it comes to jobs. To respect the sanctity of those family relationships — and to save the conservative commentariat the horror of anti-nepotism policies — we need only to make sure no other person’s future is compromised, which means putting a strong system of wealth transfer programs in place. Thus, poor kids everywhere can rejoice: welfare is (rich) family-friendly after all!

—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
Welfare Is the Best Weapon Against Nepotism

Improve Morality by Lowing Poverty

(15 March 2015)

In his Tuesday column, “The Cost of Relativism,” The New York Times’ David Brooks cites a new book of research on “the growing chasm between those who live in college-educated America and those who live in high-school-educated America,” and highlights several “horrific” profiles from the latter group. Brooks uses their stories — which feature drugs, violent crime, unintended pregnancies — to argue for the reintroduction of social norms, which “were destroyed by a plague of nonjudgmentalism.” …

Now, if Brooks imagines that improving social norms is just a sliver of the solution, then he’s right: making poor families better off won’t erase all behavioral differences between the wealthiest and poorest. But it would go a long way. Despite all paranoia about poor people nursing addictions and indulging themselves before spending money on necessities, programs that distribute cash to the poor have been repeatedly proven as wise investments. People who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or “food stamps,” tend to make healthier food choices than those who don’t use SNAP; they also tend to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables when provisions (such as small credits for buying fresh fruits and veggies) are made that account for the extra cost of cooking multi-item meals. And, as a 2005 British study found, low-income parents who are given benefits to help raise young children “increased spending on items such as children’s clothing, books, and toys, and decreased spending on alcohol and tobacco.” In other words, reducing poverty through infusions of cash appears to correct many of the behaviors poor people are regularly maligned for, including neglectful parenting and unhealthy lifestyles, bringing them more in line with the habits of the well-to-do.

Morality should teach us how to live a good life. But to impose the easy virtue of the well-to-do on the poor is to request the most stressed and vulnerable members of society to display impossible moral heroism. To abstain from relationships, sex, and childbirth until financially secure enough to raise a child without assistance would mean, for many, a life of celibacy; to pour limited resources into education in order to score a respectable job would mean failing to make rent. If the problems plaguing poor communities persist after poverty is drastically reduced, that would seem an appropriate time to pursue the matter of a better “moral vocabulary,” as Brooks calls it — and even then, the participation of low-income communities would be essential. But before that conversation can happen, the obvious solution to the “chaos” Brooks observes among poor communities is to reduce poverty, and let its moral quandaries resolve on their own.

—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
Poor People Don’t Need Better Social Norms. They Need Better Social Policies.

Christian Ethics and the Environment

(4 February 2015)

In Forbes, Steve Moore accused Pope Francis of advancing a “modern pagan green religion,” and proclaimed that the encyclical will, through circuitous routes, “make the poor poorer.” On a December 30th edition of Fox‘s Special Report, correspondent Doug McKelway surmised the letter would put Pope Francis in line with “environmental extremists who favor widespread birth control.” Crisis Magazine, a hard right Catholic publication, featured a piece by Rachel Lu suggesting the unpublished encyclical “smack[s] of intellectual faddism,” while Maureen Mullarkey opined in a First Things post that Francis’ letter is evidence that “he is an ideologue and a meddlesome egoist.” …

I’m sure most of these people have no idea why they reject this stuff strongly enough to accuse Pope Francis of being a narcissist, pagan, and supporter of eco-terrorism based on an encyclical they haven’t read a word of because it hasn’t been published yet. However, it is pretty clear to me why the issue is such a nightmare for rightwing thought-generators.

The liberal story on property is that civil society, and thereby the flourishing of all, is premised upon a kind of absolutized system of property rights, in which the self-sovereignty of each person is guaranteed by their right to self-ownership and ownership of goods…

Of course, as I have repeatedly shown, the Christian theory of property has always been premised upon the good of humanity and the flourishing of all people; the Lockean-liberal story on property, on the other hand, “includes a neat justification of gross inequality,” as per [Ellen Meiksins] Wood. If Pope Francis’ encyclical says we are obligated to use all our tools (states included) to regulate the use of property so that future generations and persons outside our immediate geographic zones don’t endure the runoff of our carelessness, then his statement will be entirely in keeping with Christian tradition.

Which is precisely why the rightwing should be afraid.

—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
Property-Based Ethics: Environment Edition

Doug Jones: Alabama’s Only Choice — America’s Only Choice

Doug Jones: Alabama's Only Choice -- America's Only ChoiceRight now, Roy Moore and Doug Jones are deadlocked in the Alabama Senate race. In one way, this is really good: a Democrat might actually become Alabama’s junior Senator. But in another, it’s awful. Roy Moore is clearly guilty of having sexual relationships with high school girls while he was in his 30s, yet most Republicans could not possibly care less.

I ask my fellow countrymen in Alabama, “Are you going to allow this?

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t too much care about the personal lives of politicians. And although I think even flirting with a 14-year-old girl unconscionable, it certainly isn’t something like raping a six-year-old. But even though I’m not even that outraged about hypocrisy, this case is different. This is a man who would never justify such behavior on a defendant who came before him.

I don’t much mind hypocrisy coming from people who show mercy. But Roy Moore shows no mercy. His reading of the Bible makes it a vile document. And I understand, any long religious document like the Bible can be used to say whatever you want. But what you make it say says a whole lot about you. And what it says about Roy Moore is that he is a vile man who should never be given any power.

The Attacks on Doug Jones

Pedophile Christian Roy MooreIt’s been funny to hear the attacks on Doug Jones because we’ve heard these same things so many times before. I especially like this, “He’s weak on crime!” Donald Trump said this. Of course, Donald Trump is the man who still thinks the Central Park Five should have been put to death despite the unquestioned evidence that they are innocent. So for Trump, like most Republicans, being “tough on crime” really just means locking up and killing dark-skinned people.

The thing is, Doug Jones used to be a prosecutor. He was the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. But he prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan members, so I guess that doesn’t count. The Republican Party does almost nothing but harm its base. Just look at the new tax bill. The one thing that the Republican Party does do — and the only reason it has a base — is because it is racist and it tells its base in every way that it is perfectly fine to be racists.

Locking Up the Wrong People

Interestingly, The Daily Beast reported, Doug Jones Locked Up Men Who Did What Women Say Roy Moore Did. But again, none of this matters because the Republicans don’t believe in equal protection. They believe in the kind of government where their allies get to do anything they want while all others are robbed, locked-up, and killed. When listening to Republicans, you have to bear in mind that words mean different things to them. The way almost everyone defines “weak on crime” indicates that Doug Jones is strong on crime. To Republican elites, it’s only people like Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence A Rainey who are strong on crime.

Of course, Doug Jones is also accused of wanting to raise taxes. He doesn’t. But this is a very funny criticism coming from a political party that just raised taxes on the poor and middle classes and took healthcare away from 13 million people, all in the name of enriching the already rich.

But most of all, they attack Doug Jones for not being a Republican. He will vote with the Democrats. Well, I guess they’ve got that right. What a horrible thing that would be! To trick the people of Alabama into voting for someone who will actually look out for their interests! The horror!

Where Doug Jones Stands on the Issues

Doug Jones is, literally in a word, a Democrat. He’s pro-choice, but like all other Democrats, it isn’t because he wants to see more abortions. As Anna Almendrala wrote earlier this year, We Already Know How To Safely Reduce Abortions. “Hint: It has nothing to do with restricting access.” If those anti-choice people really want to reduce abortions, they wouldn’t be restricting access to abortion; they’d be increasing access to sex education and birth control — two things they are also against. Regardless, Doug Jones is no radical on this issue. Like most Democrats, he’s just a pragmatist who wants to decrease abortion in the ways that actually work.

When it comes to economic policy, Doug Jones goes right along with Republican voters. Polls consistently show that Republican voters are economically liberal. It’s just that the Republican elite are so good at getting them to focus on things like bad abortion policy, bad immigration policy, and racial animus, that they don’t even think about the economy. Unlike Roy Moore, Doug Jones will vote the way that Republican voters want him to.

When it comes to immigration and the environment, Doug Jones does disagree with a lot of Republicans. But he’s hardly an extremist. And I think that Republicans really need to ask themselves, “How much longer am I going to vote on issues that have no relevance to my life and ignore the issues that do?”

Doug Jones Is No Extremist

The bottom line regarding Doug Jones is that he is no extremist. He’s a politician who will legislate in a way that he thinks will be best for most of the people of Alabama. You can’t say that about Roy Moore or almost any Republican on the national level. Look at the new tax bill: almost every Republican voted to raise taxes on the poor and middle class, and to increase the national debt, just so that they could give more money to the rich.

The fact that Roy Moore is a pedophile is probably enough of a reason not to vote for him. But I think an even bigger reason is that Roy Moore will not do what he thinks is best for the people of Alabama. He will vote for what he thinks is best for his super-rich donors. And if that means allowing children to unnecessarily die from disease so that the Billionaire Class can have even more money, he will do it. And that is even worse than what he was doing to high school girls when he was a 30-something district attorney.

Vote for Doug Jones. See what it’s like to have someone in the Senate who is actually looking out for the interests of the people of Alabama.

Bay Area Baying for Blood in Garcia Zarate Case

Jose Ines Garcia ZarateEarlier today, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was found not-guilty of murder.

Here in the Bay Area, there has been a big case going on for two years. Zarate, an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco, shot and killed 32-year-old Kate Steinle. I hated the case from the beginning because it was a brown man killing a white woman. And let’s be clear: if a white man had killed a brown woman, this wouldn’t have been a big deal.

But oh was it a big deal. Ever since the case finished, one of the local news channels was pushing an app that would tell you the verdict the moment it came in. Really! As though this case was that important.

Biased Local Coverage

And since the verdict, the local coverage has been anything but objective. The newscasters just can’t believe that he was found not-guilty. They seem truly upset about this fact.

This is the modern equivalent of a crowd with torches and pitchforks. To these people, it seems impossible that the jury knows a whole lot more and that Zarate is in fact innocent.

The Poor Case Against Zarate

When the killing first happened, the reporting on it made it sound like he was clearly guilty. But the more information I got, the more it became clear that there was at very least reasonable doubt.

The biggest thing is that he had no motive whatsoever. But there were many other things. He shot her from a very long way away; he would have had to have been a sharpshooter. And he isn’t.

The story that the defense told sounded reasonable: he had found the gun; he was playing around with it; the gun went off and tragically killed Ms Steinle.

He shot once — just once. If the prosecution was right and that he fired the gun intending to kill or harm someone, why did he fire only once?

The truth is that the prosecution never had much of a case. I think if it hadn’t been for the racist reaction to the case and the fact that it involved “illegal immigration,” he never would have been charged with murder. But as I’m seeing with the reaction to the not-guilty verdict, had there not been a murder trial, the people of “liberal” San Francisco would have been outraged.

We Are Small Minded People

The truth is that we really aren’t good people. Give us half a chance and we will be baying for blood.

It’s not like they’ve lived in a cave the last two years. They’ve read and heard the same information I have. They should have at least become less certain that Zarate was guilty.

There was not one piece of evidence that came out over the last two years that made it more likely that he was guilty. Yet they ignored it all because they wanted “justice.” And by “justice,” I mean they wanted someone to pay.

Here there was this attractive blond-haired young woman who was dead. And here was this dark-skinned man who did, in fact, kill her. So he had to pay. I’m sure if he had been convicted, most people would have been upset that he didn’t get the death penalty.

The Results for Garcia Zarate

Zarate was found guilty of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. But given he has already been in jail for two years, they will likely just ship him back to Mexico.

Of course, I hear a lot of chatter about Zarate being tried in a federal court. I don’t know if that’s just to pacify the mob or if it really will happen. It seems to me that any reasonable jury will find him innocent. As I said, there isn’t much of a case against him. But often, that doesn’t matter much.

Changing Political Ideology — Why Some Do and Why Mine Won’t

Changing Political Ideology: Plutocrat/Fox News Created Tea Party Astroturf ProtestI often think about changing my political ideology: turning conservative. I wonder if I will ever become conservative. And I actively think about it. I go through what they think and try to imagine myself thinking the same things.

Of course, it’s hard in modern America. The truth is that the Republican Party and the conservative movement itself are so delusional that I can’t imagine ever becoming one. But I suppose I can imagine myself being the kind of person who writes or reads The American Conservative. Those are reasonable people who I already agree with a lot of the time.

Thoughtless Ideological Orientation

But whenever I hear about some conservative who has turned liberal or some liberal who has turned conservative I always think it’s the same thing. These people have not changed their beliefs. Instead, they have made up their minds. These are people who were only liberal or conservative in the most facile of ways.

They got their political ideology from where they grew up, the people they hung around with, their parents, or whatnot. It is extremely unusual that someone has read all three volumes of Das Kapital and then decides the Milton Friedman was right all along.

Why My Political Ideology Won’t Change

As a result, I don’t think that my political ideology will ever change. The truth is that even though I’m a liberal, most liberals annoying me. I find that they have not thought very clearly about their belief system. They’re often extremely ignorant about the issues of the day. And I find I need to educate them as much as I do conservative. The only difference is that it actually does some good with liberals.

For Most, Politics Is Tribal

Most politics is tribal. So when someone supposedly changes from Liberal to conservative it is more likely the case that they used to hang out with liberals and now they’re hanging out with conservatives. And vice versa.

So we really shouldn’t make much of the fact that people change political ideologies and parties. The only thing I will say is that when someone changes a party they are more likely to take the new political ideology more seriously. That’s not always true. In fact, that’s not usually true. But it is true often enough to be interesting.

Change Leading to Seriousness

Sometimes people who do take the new ideology seriously annoy they’re new friends. Because their old friends are just tribal about it too. They don’t like to be around someone who takes their political ideology seriously. Such people often get shunned and find themselves in a political realm of one.

The truth is that I would love to be conservative. I think of myself as personally conservative. Of course, even the most cursory look at how I act and what I think and so on shows that I’m a liberal.

The Difference Between Real Liberals and Real (Non-American) Conservatives

I’ve come to see the fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives as being determined by whether they value mercy or justice more. That’s not American conservatives, of course. People of both types are in the Democratic party now. It’s just the loons who are in the Republican Party.

You can tell this because there are about 30 percent Republicans. And the truth is that there are always 30 percent of Americans who will believe any wacky thing you can mention. The Earth is flat? 30 percent. Part of the population is actually lizards living inside of human suits? 30 percent. Trump is doing a good job? 30 percent!

I’m Stuck Being Me

So I will die a liberal. Even if liberalism goes on to hold opinions that would today make me a conservative. I will always be a liberal because I’ve thought about it a lot. And that’s true of people who are conservative or liberal. In general, I don’t like hearing that people have changed ideologies because it just reminds me that they had no political ideology to begin with.

But I might very well stop being a Democrat. There’s no telling what the Democratic party will become. I already like the Democratic Party far less then I did 40 years ago. It’s possible that the Republican Party will start living up to its propaganda. And it’s possible that the Republican party will become populist. It’s even possible that the Republican party will become the party of working people, instead of the party of the rich.

I can easily change parties because parties change. But I’m afraid that changing my political ideology in a substantial way is out of the question.

The Wisdom of Paul Krugman

Paul KrugmanThere was a time when I posted 6 (maybe even 7) articles every day on Frankly Curious. And one of those posts was always a quote that I found interesting. Sometimes they were old, but more often, they were recent quotes about the modern world. Usually, they dealt with politics. It generally meant that I had found something that expressed something that I thought, but that didn’t need anything extra for me to add.

My Changing Relationship With Paul Krugman

This article contains such quotes from Paul Krugman, the columnists at The New York Times. At one time, I quoted him a great deal. But at that time, I said I was looking forward to the time when I disagreed with him. Because the truth is that he is a good deal more conservative than I am. That time finally came during the 2016 Democratic Presidential Primaries when he showed a ridiculous bias against Bernie Sanders. In those days, I didn’t quote him; I wrote articles arguing with him.

Now that Donald Trump is President, I’m back to agreeing with him. But his anti-Sanders opinions still slip in, even though he surely knows that (1) Sanders would be a far better president than Trump, and (2) Sanders probably would have beat Trump. I don’t say this second part because I think Sanders is so great. I’ve just come to the conclusion that Trump won because 25 years of conservative lies made a great many people hate Hillary Clinton for no reasons at all.

Anyway, these quotes will be posted in reverse-chronological order, but it will probably take me days, weeks, or even months to complete it.

–FM (05 September 2016)

2017

Trump Terror

(15 October 2017)

Right now, I’m feeling more terrified than at any point since the 2016 election. Why? It’s time for some game theory! Start with a clear-eyed assessment of Trump’s character: he basically has negative empathy — that is, enjoys seeing others hurt. Normally, however, one would expect him to pretend to care and maybe even do some good things out of ambition and self-aggrandizement.

At this point, however, it’s clear to everyone — probably even him — that he just can’t do this president thing, and won’t get better. The prospect that he will be removed, say by the 25th Amendment, are getting realer by the day. And again, he probably knows this at some level. So we’re getting into the end game. He can’t save his presidency. He can, however, still hurt a lot of people — and he surely wants to.

So from now on, until he’s gone, I’m going to fire up my computer every morning in a state of existential dread.

–Paul Krugman
13 October 2017 Tweet Storm

Why GOP Thinks It Can Get Away With Trumpcare

(9 May 2017)

Why are they doing this, and why do they think they can get away with it?

Part of the answer to the first question is, presumably, simple greed. Tens of millions would lose access to health coverage, but — according to independent estimates of an earlier version of Trumpcare — people with incomes over $1 million would save an average of more than $50,000 a year.

And there is a powerful faction within the GOP for whom cutting taxes on the rich is more or less the only thing that matters.

And on a more subjective note, don’t you get the impression that Donald Trump gets some positive pleasure out of taking people who make the mistake of trusting him for a ride?

As for why they think they can get away with it: well, isn’t recent history on their side? The general shape of what the GOP would do to health care, for the white working class in particular, has long been obvious, yet many people who were sure to lose, bigly, voted Trump anyway.

Why shouldn’t Republicans believe they can convince those same voters that the terrible things that will happen if Trumpcare becomes law are somehow liberals’ fault?

And for that matter, how confident are you that mainstream media will resist the temptation of both-sides-ism, the urge to produce “balanced” reporting that blurs the awful reality of what Trumpcare will do if enacted?

In any case, let’s be clear: what just happened on health care shouldn’t be treated as just another case of cynical political deal making. This was a Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength moment. And it may be the shape of things to come.

–Paul Krugman
Republicans Party Like It’s 1984

What “Coal Jobs” Really Mean

(04 March 2017)

Why are people so fixated on coal jobs anyway?

Even in the heart of coal country, the industry hasn’t really been a major source of employment for a very long time…

Even in West Virginia, the typical worker is basically a nurse, not a miner — and that has been true for decades.

So why did that state overwhelmingly support a candidate who won’t bring back any significant number of mining jobs, but quite possibly will destroy healthcare for many — which means jobs lost as well as lives destroyed?

The answer, I’d guess, is that coal isn’t really about coal — it’s a symbol of a social order that is no more; both good things (community) and bad (overt racism). Trump is selling the fantasy that this old order can be restored, with seemingly substantive promises about specific jobs mostly just packaging.

One thought that follows is that Trump may not be as badly hurt by the failure of his promises as one might expect: he can’t deliver coal jobs, but he can deliver punishment to various kinds of others.

–Paul Krugman
Coal Is a State of Mind

Trumpcare Is Anti-Populist

(15 March 2017)

Obamacare helped a large number of people at the expense of a small, affluent minority: basically, taxes on 2 percent of the population to cover a lot of people and assure coverage to many more. Trumpcare would reverse that, hurting a lot of people (many of whom voted for Trump) so as to cut taxes for a handful of wealthy people. That’s a difference that goes beyond political strategy.

But one way to say this is that Obamacare was and is a truly populist law, while Trumpcare is anti-populist. That’s reflected in the legislative struggles.

And yet, and yet: Trump did in fact win over white working-class voters, who thought they were voting for a populist; Democrats, who did a lot for those voters, got no credit — rural whites, in particular, who were huge beneficiaries of the ACA, overwhelmingly supported the man who may destroy their healthcare.

–Paul Krugman
Populism and the Politics of Health

Why Trump Won’t Invigorate the Economy

(18 February 2017)

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Trump administration’s budget planning assumes very high economic growth over the next decade — between 3 and 3.5 percent annually. How was this number arrived at? Basically, they worked backwards, assuming the growth they needed to make their budget numbers add up. Credibility! …

The claimed returns to Trumpnomics are close to the highest growth rates we’ve seen under any modern administration. Real GDP grew 3.4 percent annually under Reagan; it grew 3.7 percent annually under Clinton (shhh — don’t tell conservatives). But there are fundamental reasons to believe that such growth is unlikely to happen now.

First, demography: Reagan took office with baby boomers — and women — still entering the work force; these days baby boomers are leaving. …

Just on demography alone, then, you’d expect growth to be around a percentage point lower than it was under Reagan.

Furthermore, while Trump did not, in fact, inherit a mess, both Reagan and Clinton did — in the narrow sense that both came into office amid depressed economies, with unemployment above 7 percent…

This meant a substantial amount of slack to be taken up when the economy returned to full employment. Rough calculation: 2 points of excess unemployment means 4 percent output gap under Okun’s Law, which means 0.5 percentage points of extra growth over an 8-year period.

So even if you (wrongly) give Reagan policies credit for the business cycle recovery after 1982, and believe (wrongly) that Trumponomics is going to do wonderful things for incentives a la Reagan, you should still be expecting growth of 2 percent or under.

Donald Trump Plays a Populist on Reality TV

(30 January 2017)

Cardiff Garcia has a nice piece trying to figure out what might happen to the economy under Trump, taking off from the classic… analysis of macroeconomic populism in Latin America… Nice idea — but I suspect highly misleading, because Trump isn’t a real populist, he just plays one on reality TV.

The [original] essay focused on the examples of Allende’s Chile and Garcia’s Peru; an update would presumably look at Argentina, Venezuela, and others. But how relevant are these examples to Trump’s America?

Allende, for example, was a real populist, who seriously tried to push up wages and drastically increased spending…

Is Trump on course to do anything similar? He’s selected a cabinet of plutocrats, with a labor secretary bitterly opposed to minimum wage hikes. He talks about infrastructure, but the only thing that passes for a plan is a document proposing some tax credits for private investors, which wouldn’t involve much public outlay even if they did lead to new investment (as opposed to giveaways for investment that would have taken place anyway). He does seem set to blow up the deficit, but via tax cuts for the wealthy; benefits for the poor and middle class seem set for savage cuts.

Why, then, does anyone consider him a “populist”? It’s basically all about affect, about coming across as someone who’ll stand up to snooty liberal elitists (and of course validate salt-of-the-earth, working-class racism). Maybe some protectionism; but there’s no hint that his economic program will look anything like populism abroad.

—Paul Krugman
The Macroeconomics of Reality-TV Populism

There Will Be No Significant Infrastructure Spending

(23 January 2017)

Let me be less gentle: there will be no significant public investment program, for two reasons.

First, Congressional Republicans have no interest in such a program. They’re hell-bent on depriving millions of health care and cutting taxes at the top; they aren’t even talking about public investment, and would probably drag their feet even if Trump came forward with a detailed plan and made it a priority.

But this then raises the obvious question: who really believes that this crew is going to come up with a serious plan? Trump has no policy shop, nor does he show any intention of creating one; he’s too busy tweeting about perceived insults from celebrities, and he’s creating a cabinet of people who know nothing about their responsibilities. Any substantive policy actions will be devised and turned into legislation by Congressional Republicans who, again, have zero interest in a public investment program.

So investors betting on a big infrastructure push are almost surely deluding themselves. We may see some conspicuous privatizations, especially if they come with naming opportunities: maybe putting in new light fixtures will let him rename Hoover Dam as Trump Dam? But little or no real investment is coming.

–Paul Krugman
Infrastructure Delusions

2016

On Trump “Saving” Carrier Jobs

(03 December 2016)

Will there be a political backlash, a surge of buyer’s remorse? Maybe. Certainly Democrats will be well advised to hammer Mr Trump’s betrayal of the working class nonstop. But we do need to consider the tactics that he will use to obscure the scope of his betrayal.

One tactic, which we’ve already seen with this week’s ostentatious announcement of a deal to keep some Carrier jobs in America, will be to distract the nation with bright, shiny, trivial objects. True, this tactic will work only if news coverage is both gullible and innumerate.

No, Mr Trump didn’t “stand up” to Carrier — he seems to have offered it a bribe. And we’re talking about a thousand jobs in a huge economy; at the rate of one Carrier-size deal a week, it would take Mr Trump 30 years to save as many jobs as President Obama did with the auto bailout; it would take him a century to make up for the overall loss of manufacturing jobs just since 2000.

But judging from the coverage of the deal so far, assuming that the news media will be gullible and innumerate seems like a good bet.

–Paul Krugman
Seduced and Betrayed by Donald Trump

Irving Kristol and the Myth of the Serious Conservative Intellectual

(01 November 2016)

Irving KristolBoth Ross Douthat and David Brooks have now weighed in on the state of conservative intellectuals…

I’d argue that they and others on the right still have huge blind spots. In fact, these blind spots are so huge as to make the critiques all but useless as a basis for reform. For if you ignore the true, deep roots of the conservative intellectual implosion, you’re never going to make a real start on reconstruction.

What are these blind spots? First, belief in a golden age that never existed…

We’re supposed to think back nostalgically to the era when serious conservative intellectuals like Irving Kristol tried to understand the world, rather than treating everything as a political exercise in which ideas were just there to help their team win.

But it was never like that. Don’t take my word for it; take the word of Irving Kristol himself, in his book Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea. Kristol explained his embrace of supply-side economics in the 1970s: “I was not certain of its economic merits but quickly saw its political possibilities.” This justified a “cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit and other monetary or financial problems,” because “political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government.”

In short, never mind whether it’s right, as long as it’s politically useful.

—Paul Krugman
Conservative Intellectuals: Follow the Money

Media Coverage of Clinton Foundation

(5 September 2016)

I and many others have the sick, sinking feeling that it’s happening again.

True, there aren’t many efforts to pretend that Donald Trump is a paragon of honesty. But it’s hard to escape the impression that he’s being graded on a curve. If he manages to read from a TelePrompter without going off script, he’s being presidential. If he seems to suggest that he wouldn’t round up all 11 million undocumented immigrants right away, he’s moving into the mainstream. And many of his multiple scandals, like what appear to be clear payoffs to state attorneys general to back off investigating Trump University, get remarkably little attention.

Meanwhile, we have the presumption that anything Hillary Clinton does must be corrupt, most spectacularly illustrated by the increasingly bizarre coverage of the Clinton Foundation.

Step back for a moment, and think about what that foundation is about. When Bill Clinton left office, he was a popular, globally respected figure. What should he have done with that reputation? Raising large sums for a charity that saves the lives of poor children sounds like a pretty reasonable, virtuous course of action. And the Clinton Foundation is, by all accounts, a big force for good in the world. For example, Charity Watch, an independent watchdog, gives it an “A” rating — better than the American Red Cross.

Now, any operation that raises and spends billions of dollars creates the potential for conflicts of interest. You could imagine the Clintons using the foundation as a slush fund to reward their friends, or, alternatively, Mrs Clinton using her positions in public office to reward donors. So it was right and appropriate to investigate the foundation’s operations to see if there were any improper quid pro quos. As reporters like to say, the sheer size of the foundation “raises questions.”

But nobody seems willing to accept the answers to those questions, which are, very clearly, “no.”

—Paul Krugman
Hillary Clinton Gets Gored

Liberal Commentators Like Himself

(16 August 2016)

So, there’s a new conservative take on who’s to blame for Donald Trump — and the answer, it turns out, is liberal commentators, and me in particular. Yep, by denouncing the dishonesty of people like Mitt Romney, I was crying wolf, so that voters paid no attention to warnings about Trump.

Actually, even if you leave aside the substance, this is bizarre. Do you really think that the fraction of the Republican primary electorate that selected Trump cares what New York Times columnists, me in particular, have to say — that they would have been warned off if only I had been nicer to establishment Republicans? That doesn’t even rise to the level of a joke.

—Paul Krugman
Lies, Lying Liars, and Donald Trump

The EU’s Ridiculous Morality Play Has Hurt Its People

(19 June 2016)

The so-called European project began more than 60 years ago, and for many years it was a tremendous force for good. It didn’t only promote trade and help economic growth; it was also a bulwark of peace and democracy in a continent with a terrible history.

But today’s EU is the land of the euro, a major mistake compounded by Germany’s insistence on turning the crisis the single currency wrought into a morality play of sins (by other people, of course) that must be paid for with crippling budget cuts. Britain had the good sense to keep its pound, but it’s not insulated from other problems of European overreach, notably the establishment of free migration without a shared government.

—Paul Krugman
Fear, Loathing and Brexit

2015

Deficit Spending Crowds Investment In

(06 October 2015)

If weak demand leads to lower investment, which it does, and if fiscal austerity is contractionary, which it is, then in a depressed economy deficit spending doesn’t crowd investment out — it crowds investment in. Or to be more explicit, austerity policies don’t release resources for private investment — they lead to lower private investment, and reduce future capacity in addition to causing present pain. Conversely, stimulus in times of depression supports, not hinders, long-run growth.

—Paul Krugman
The Investment Accelerator and the Woes of the World

GOP Can’t Attack What’s Truly Vile About Trump

(09 September 2015)

So Jeb Bush is finally going after Donald Trump. Over the past couple of weeks the man who was supposed to be the front-runner has made a series of attacks on the man who is. Strange to say, however, Mr Bush hasn’t focused on what’s truly vicious and absurd — Viciously absurd? — about Mr Trump’s platform, his implicit racism and his insistence that he would somehow round up 11 million undocumented immigrants and remove them from our soil.

Instead, Mr Bush has chosen to attack Mr Trump as a false conservative, a proposition that is supposedly demonstrated by his deviations from current Republican economic orthodoxy: his willingness to raise taxes on the rich, his positive words about universal health care. And that tells you a lot about the dire state of the GOP. For the issues the Bush campaign is using to attack its unexpected nemesis are precisely the issues on which Mr Trump happens to be right, and the Republican establishment has been proved utterly wrong.

—Paul Krugman
Trump Is Right on Economics

Why So Little About Economy at GOP Debates?

(14 August 2015)

What’s the common theme linking all the disasters that Republicans predicted, but which failed to materialize? If I had to summarize the GOP’s attitude on domestic policy, it would be that no good deed goes unpunished. Try to help the unfortunate, support the economy in hard times, or limit pollution, and you will face the wrath of the invisible hand. The only way to thrive, the right insists, is to be nice to the rich and cruel to the poor, while letting corporations do as they please.

According to this worldview, a leader like President Obama who raises taxes on the 1 percent while subsidizing health care for lower-income families, who provides stimulus in a recession, who regulates banks and expands environmental protection, will surely preside over disaster in every direction.

But he hasn’t. I’m not saying that America is in great shape, because it isn’t. Economic recovery has come too slowly, and is still incomplete; Obamacare isn’t the system anyone would have designed from scratch; and we’re nowhere close to doing enough on climate change. But we’re doing far better than any of those guys in Cleveland will ever admit.

—Paul Krugman
GOP Candidates and Obama’s Failure to Fail

Mainstream Media Value Style Over Substance

(05 August 2015)

Just about the entire political commentariat has been caught completely flatfooted by Donald Trump’s durable front-runner status; he was supposed to collapse after being nasty to St John McCain, but nothing of the sort happened.

So now the conventional wisdom is that we’re witnessing a temporary triumph of style over substance; Republican voters like Trump’s bluster, and haven’t (yet) realized that he isn’t making sense.

But if you ask me, the people who are really mistaking style for substance are the pundits. It’s true that Trump isn’t making sense — but neither are the mainstream contenders for the GOP nomination…

So why is Trump regarded as ludicrous, while Bush and Walker are serious? Again, on the substance they’re all ludicrous; but pundits are taken in by the sober-sounding personal style of the runners-up, while voters apparently are not.

—Paul Krugman
Style, Substance, and The Donald


See also: No More Mister Nice Blog.

The Mythical Serious, Honest Conservatives

(28 July 2015)

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.

—Paul Krugman
The Donald and the Delusional

The UK Austerity Myth

(09 May 2015)

What nonsense am I talking about? Simon Wren-Lewis of the University of Oxford, who has been a tireless but lonely crusader for economic sense, calls it “mediamacro.” It’s a story about Britain that runs like this: First, the Labour government that ruled Britain until 2010 was wildly irresponsible, spending far beyond its means. Second, this fiscal profligacy caused the economic crisis of 2008-2009. Third, this in turn left the coalition that took power in 2010 with no choice except to impose austerity policies despite the depressed state of the economy. Finally, Britain’s return to economic growth in 2013 vindicated austerity and proved its critics wrong.

Now, every piece of this story is demonstrably, ludicrously wrong. Pre-crisis Britain wasn’t fiscally profligate. Debt and deficits were low, and at the time everyone expected them to stay that way; big deficits only arose as a result of the crisis. The crisis, which was a global phenomenon, was driven by runaway banks and private debt, not government deficits. There was no urgency about austerity: financial markets never showed any concern about British solvency. And Britain, which returned to growth only after a pause in the austerity drive, has made up none of the ground it lost during the coalition’s first two years.

—Paul Krugman
Triumph of the Unthinking

The Folly of Cherry Picking New Economic Ideas

(18 April 2015)

But while European policy makers may have imagined that they were showing a praiseworthy openness to new economic ideas, the economists they chose to listen to were those telling them what they wanted to hear. They sought justifications for the harsh policies they were determined, for political and ideological reasons, to impose on debtor nations; they lionized economists, like Harvard’s Alberto Alesina, Carmen Reinhart, and Kenneth Rogoff, who seemed to offer that justification. As it turned out, however, all that exciting new research was deeply flawed, one way or another.

And while new ideas were crashing and burning, that old-time economics was going from strength to strength. Some readers may recall that there was much scoffing at predictions from Keynesian economists, myself included, that interest rates would stay low despite huge budget deficits; that inflation would remain subdued despite huge bond purchases by the Fed; that sharp cuts in government spending, far from unleashing a confidence-driven boom in private spending, would cause private spending to fall further. But all these predictions came true.

The point is that it’s wrong to claim, as many do, that policy failed because economic theory didn’t provide the guidance policy makers needed. In reality, theory provided excellent guidance, if only policy makers had been willing to listen. Unfortunately, they weren’t…

But back to the question of new ideas and their role in policy. It’s hard to argue against new ideas in general. In recent years, however, innovative economic ideas, far from helping to provide a solution, have been part of the problem. We would have been far better off if we had stuck to that old-time macroeconomics, which is looking better than ever.

—Paul Krugman
That Old-Time Economics

When “Responsibility” Is Irresponsible

(24 January 2015)

The terrible thing is that Europe’s economy was wrecked in the name of responsibility. True, there have been times when being tough meant reducing deficits and resisting the temptation to print money. In a depressed economy, however, a balanced-budget fetish and a hard-money obsession are deeply irresponsible. Not only do they hurt the economy in the short run, they can — and in Europe, have — inflict long-run harm, damaging the economy’s potential and driving it into a deflationary trap that’s very hard to escape.

Nor was this an innocent mistake. The thing that strikes me about Europe’s archons of austerity, its doyens of deflation, is their self-indulgence. They felt comfortable, emotionally and politically, demanding sacrifice (from other people) at a time when the world needed more spending. They were all too eager to ignore the evidence that they were wrong.

And Europe will be paying the price for their self-indulgence for years, perhaps decades, to come.

—Paul Krugman
Much Too Responsible

2014

Clinton Couldn’t Be Worse Than Obama

(29 December 2014)

Among liberals in America, there’s actually fairly widespread dismay over actually what I think of as Clinton-Blairism; the kind of ’90s liberalism that is not really taking on economic inequality, not really taking on Wall Street. And there’s a sense that Hillary Clinton might be a return to that.

But I don’t think Hillary Clinton is going to try and make it 1999 again. I remember in 2008… I was skeptical of Obama at a time when a lot of people on the Left were very, very high on him. I heard a number of people saying, oh, God, if Hillary is elected, she’s going to bring in the old Rubin crowd, people like Larry Summers, to run the economy. And then Obama got elected and did exactly that. I think, if anything, he was more conventional on economics than she was.

I think at this point, Elizabeth Warren is now the visible embodiment of the wing of the Democratic Party that’s determined not to return to Clinton-Blairism. That makes her useful even if she doesn’t run, as — I don’t know — a ghost or something looming over Hillary.

—Paul Krugman
What Is Paul Krugman Afraid of?

Solyndra and Successful Government

(17 November 2014)

Remember Solyndra? It was a renewable-energy firm that borrowed money using Department of Energy guarantees, then went bust, costing the Treasury $528 million. And conservatives have pounded on that loss relentlessly, turning it into a symbol of what they claim is rampant crony capitalism and a huge waste of taxpayer money.

Defenders of the energy program tried in vain to point out that anyone who makes a lot of investments, whether it’s the government or a private venture capitalist, is going to see some of those investments go bad. For example, Warren Buffett is an investing legend, with good reason — but even he has had his share of lemons, like the $873 million loss he announced earlier this year on his investment in a Texas energy company. Yes, that’s half again as big as the federal loss on Solyndra.

The question is not whether the Department of Energy has made some bad loans — if it hasn’t, it’s not taking enough risks. It’s whether it has a pattern of bad loans. And the answer, it turns out, is no. Last week the department revealed that the program that included Solyndra is, in fact, on track to return profits of $5 billion or more…

American political discourse is dominated by cheap cynicism about public policy, a free-floating contempt for any and all efforts to improve our lives. And this cheap cynicism is completely unjustified. It’s true that government-hating politicians can sometimes turn their predictions of failure into self-fulfilling prophecies, but when leaders want to make government work, they can…

Conservatives want you to believe that while the goals of public programs on health, energy and more may be laudable, experience shows that such programs are doomed to failure. Don’t believe them. Yes, sometimes government officials, being human, get things wrong. But we’re actually surrounded by examples of government success, which they don’t want you to notice.

—Paul Krugman
When Government Succeeds

The UK Austerity Myth

(29 December 2014)

2013

One Point Economic Plan

(26 October 2013)

Actually, if describing what you want to see happen without providing any specific policies to get us there constitutes a “plan,” I can easily come up with a one-point plan that trumps Mr. Romney any day. Here it is: Every American will have a good job with good wages. Also, a blissfully happy marriage. And a pony.

—Paul Krugman
Pointing Toward Prosperity?

Obamacare’s Small Portions

(30 October 2013)

Paul KrugmanHas anyone else noticed how much the GOP position on Obamacare resembles the classic borscht belt joke about the two ladies at a Catskills resort? Lady #1: “The food here is so terrible, it’s inedible!” Lady #2: “And the portions are so small!” Republican #1: “Obamacare is slavery!” Republican #2: “And it’s so hard to sign up!”

—Paul Krugman
Borscht Belt Republicans

2012

This Is What I’ve Been Saying About the DMV

(21 November 2012)

I’ve recently had fairly extensive dealings with both our health care system and with the New Jersey DMV. In one case, I encountered vast amounts of paperwork, mind-numbing bureaucracy, and extremely frustrating delays. In the other, my needs were met quickly and politely.

So far, then, it’s DMV 1, private health system (and I have very good insurance) 0.

—Paul Krugman
Stifling, Destructive Bureaucracy

Krugman’s One Point Economic Plan

(26 October 2012)

Actually, if describing what you want to see happen without providing any specific policies to get us there constitutes a “plan,” I can easily come up with a one-point plan that trumps Mr. Romney any day. Here it is: Every American will have a good job with good wages. Also, a blissfully happy marriage. And a pony.

—Paul Krugman, Pointing Toward Prosperity?

Thanksgiving 2017

ThanksgivingAs you may have noticed, I’m consolidating articles. A big part of this is Google. They will give me a lot more credit for one 10,000 word article than 20 500 word articles. That’s what I did for my Christmas posts. I will create a whole new post on Christmas that includes the old posts and then I won’t have any old articles on the subject of Christmas itself. (I’ll still have articles about specific issues that relate to Christmas, however.)

I’m doing the same thing for Thanksgiving. This is really hard, because work is a nightmare around Thanksgiving because of Black Friday and something you may not even know exists, Cyber Monday. So this Monday I worked 11 hours. Tuesday, I worked only 9 hours — but just because I was too exhausted to go on.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s one of the few times of the year that I get to cook for a large collection of people.

This year, we are having a ham and tri-tip. That’s all very easy. I’m responsible for the tri-tip as well as pretty much all the side dishes: green bean casserole, potatoes au gratin, macaroni and cheese, and strawberry cupcakes with vanilla frosting. I was going to make a cheesecake, but I decided that I was going to make something for myself instead. So cupcakes it is! Also: cheesecake takes a long time to make. The truth is that nothing on my list is all that time-consuming.

The Serious Business of Thanksgiving

Most of my writing about Thanksgiving is historical, however. I’m very interested in the European invasion of America. Mostly, the Europeans acted very badly. But even when they didn’t, they brought so many diseases that it didn’t matter.

Check out this great video by CGP Grey, Americapox: The Missing Plague:

So much of what follows will be along these lines.

–FM (23 November 2017)

Thanksgiving Without Cynicism

Peanuts ThanksgivingWell folks, I’m pushing today. There is so much to do. First, I have to write my normal stuff for today. And then I have to write at least my morning stuff for tomorrow. And, I have all this cooking today. As usual, I’m going to my older sister’s place for Thanksgiving. I’m not in charge of cooking. But I’m still bringing: my au gratin potatoes, which are now kind of a staple that no family gathering can be without; my absolutely great macaroni and cheese; the great mushroom quiche from The New Moosewood Cookbook; and a pumpkin pie, which I have never made before and I don’t vouch for. All of this is a good deal more complicated than you might imagine. The macaroni and cheese in particular, takes a long time; it is very complex. Really, I can’t stress this enough: it is fantastic.

But here’s the thing that I think you can probably tell from that last paragraph. I am really looking forward to this holiday. In fact, I keep thinking that it is Christmas. And in fact, it pretty much is for me. The only difference is that I give the kids money and try to lobby everyone beforehand to not buy presents. Otherwise, it is an opportunity to cook for a bunch of very grateful people. And it is an opportunity to hang out with my family.

Everyone in my family is about as annoying as I am. We are imperfect people. Yet on holidays, it all seems very much like a game to me. Mostly it is just one long tease, but very good natured. And we laugh a lot because it just doesn’t take much to get us to laugh. We are the sort of people who laugh at stand-up comedians performing in an empty bar on a Tuesday night with a blizzard outside. And the only one who has strong opinions about things is me. I, of course, have strong opinions on everything. But I keep them to myself.

Speaking of lobbying, I successfully lobbied against turkey this year. Other than on sandwiches, I don’t see the point of eating turkey. Ever. But on special occasions, I really don’t understand. What is special about turkey? It’s just a really big chicken with less tasty meat. My preference is to have prime rib. And the cost is basically the same! We aren’t having it tomorrow, however. For one thing, it is a pain to cook. I’m willing to do it, but I’m not cooking. So we are having tri-tip. Why? I don’t know. It just is the case that my brother-in-law likes to cook it and he does a good job of it. So I’m sure it will be delicious — especially with my side dishes!

Does this mean that tomorrow there will not be the usual “Frank tries to destroy your holiday” post? Not at all, although I have to admit that I don’t have any idea what I’m going to write. But holidays are very disruptive of my work. This week has been really difficult. And then Friday, the libraries are closed. There is no national political news except the turkey pardon. (That give me an idea for an anti-Thanksgiving post!) But overall: family, food, and some excellent alcohol (I’m still deciding). It really doesn’t get much better.

Afterword

And before someone says something: yes, my expectations have gone down over the years…

–FM (27 November 2013)

The Myths of Thanksgiving

Indian SkeletonJohn Green is an internet phenom. He and his brother Hank make highly produced videos that seem that be educational while being very entertaining. But if you watch them enough, you’ll come to see that they are neither. Or maybe it’s just me. If I already understand the subject, then I can follow along and see that they are in fact hitting the high points. If I don’t already understand, I might pick up one or two things, but I end up wishing that I had spent the time reading Wikipedia. As for entertainment value, let’s just say that John Green is a one trick pony who gets old fast. (In fairness, I can put up with Hank a lot longer.)

But now and then, a John Green video is just what the doctor ordered. And I’m desperately looking for things to post on this Thanksgiving Day. I figured that he would have something interesting to say about the history of the day. Surprisingly, he didn’t. But he did make the following hodgepodge video about the European colonization of America. It all goes by rather fast and I can’t help but think that at this point he isn’t trying very hard. It is more schtick than anything else. Still, it’s kind of fun and interesting in as much as it make sense:

The most interesting thing about the whole Thanksgiving story is the ex-slave Squanto, who is probably the only reason any of the Plymouth colonists survived. Something that I don’t think is highlighted enough is that only half of the people who came over were Pilgrims. Included in their cargo was beer and opium. And most of all: the Pilgrims weren’t searching for religious freedom. They had religious freedom in Holland, but it wasn’t going well. Many of the older members of the congregation were going back to England and the children were leaving to start new lives. Moving to the new world was their way of surviving as a going concern. That’s fine, but I get really tired of the happy horseshit about the brave Pilgrims coming to America in search of religious freedom.

Recently, I’ve seen a lot of Christians trying to claim Thanksgiving as a religious holiday. Where does that come from? Even the standard story they tell to children doesn’t indicate that. The Native Americans saved the colonists from all starving to death. So to pay them back, they had a big old party with turkey. To me this says that the colonists were gracious, but clearly the natives are the heroes — you know, the pagan natives. In retrospect, they’ve got to have regretted that.

I like to think of it happening like this:

–FM (28 November 2013)

Capitalism, Productivity, and Thanksgiving

Peanuts ThanksgivingHappy Thanksgiving everyone! It is actually a holiday that I kind of like. That’s because it is just about eating. I think we could use more holidays like this. In fact, as time has gone on, I’ve become more fond of holidays. The reason is simple: the oligarchs are trying to destroy the very idea of holidays. Americans work far too much. We need to take more time off. Part of our economic problems come from the fact that those who do have jobs work a lot, leaving an unreasonable number of people with no work at all.

In other countries, the people have chosen to exchange increasing productivity for more leisure time. This makes sense. But Americans have not in general made that decision. They’ve taken all of the increased productivity in a higher standard of living. I think that is likely not an actual choice. In the United States, not “living to work” is seen as a moral failing. But at some point, the “family values” crowd might consider what is better: being able to afford a better television and iPhone or being able to spend more time with their kids?

Of course, for the last four decades, American workers haven’t traded their productivity gains for either more leisure or a higher standard of living. All those productivity gains have gone to the owners of capital. The whole social contract in America has broken down. And I’ve been waiting for decades for the people to do something about it. But they seem too busy just trying to make ends meet to do anything else.

In addition to this, conservatives have gotten really good at defining as “normal” and “moral” the current system that enriches the powerful at the expense of the weak. It reminds me of Newspeak in 1984. The idea of the language was to make it so that people weren’t even able to think heretical thoughts. The very idea of freedom would be gone from people’s minds. I run into people all the time who are poor but somehow think that the capitalist system is God given. We have embraced capitalism in the past because it worked — for both owners and workers. Now it has stopped working for the vast majority of people. But capitalism is embraced for ideological reasons rather than practical ones. And that is evident in the fact that most workers don’t think that capitalism has to prove itself. Capitalism never fails — it is only failed.

So on this Thanksgiving, I hope that you did not have to work. What’s more, I hope that you took care of all your shopping before today so that you don’t have to go down to Safeway to pick something up. All that does is convince our corporate masters that everything must be open on Thanksgiving. But most of all, I hope you don’t sneak down to one of those horrible pre-Black-Friday sales. Trust me: you don’t need all that crap anyway.

Enjoy Thanksgiving! We may not have it much longer.

Thanksgiving Poetry

Thanksgiving TurkeyI figured there must be some fun Thanksgiving poetry out in the big world. And I was sadly disappointed. That’s not to say there isn’t such poetry. It is just that the vast majority of what I found was pretty lame. But I did find a decent amount of stuff that tickled me — at least a little.

One website, You Can Be Funny, had Funny Thanksgiving Poems. There are basically just two things that the poems discuss. One is the fact that people eat a lot on Thanksgiving. The other — and main — category consists of those that discuss the fate of the turkey. Here is a typical, but better than average, example:

Turkey, Turkey, look at you
Please be careful what you do.
Thanksgiving day is almost here.
We eat turkey every year.
Go and hide out in the woods.
We’ll eat pizza like we should.

Better is a poem by Jane-Ann Heitmueller, “Reprieve.” It is the turkey equivalent of Poe’s “The Raven.” It is a little funny, but mostly it is profound. Thanksgiving is always a good time to think about death:

While sauntering down an oak filled lane one bright, crisp autumn day,
I sensed a quiet, hidden gaze directed in my way.
With searching eyes I scanned the limbs to find the Peeping Tom,
And sure enough, though well concealed, the turkey sat… so calm.

Apparently, ’twas in his heart approaching Turkey Day,
So he was hidden with the hope to be nobody’s prey.
I couldn’t help but sympathize, as I went strolling by,
And know I too would be in fear thinking I soon might die!

Striking a pose of nonchalance, my pace, I kept it steady,
Deciding this Thanksgiving Day—
My meal would be spaghetti.

Will and Guy’s Humor (“Funny Clean Jokes”!) provides some very sentimental poems, but we must have one poem about food in general:

May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!

Let’s end with a couple of more sophisticated poems from MadKane. This first one is from one of her limerick competitions. She asked people to write one about eating. And as always, she provided her own example:

A man was attempting to eat
When he spotted a mouse near his seat.
So he smashed down his foot,
And the mouse went kaput,
As his kid cried, “You killed little Pete!”

And then there is this Thanksgiving limerick from 2012 when Washington was approaching the “Fiscal Cliff”:

It’s time for some serious talk.
Please don’t bitch or complain, and don’t balk.
Our issues are great—
Act before it’s too late.
So kindly talk turkey. Don’t squawk.

Just to show you how beneficent I am, I have decided to not leave you with a poem. But I could totally create a poem using turkey, perky, quirky, murky, and beef jerky.

–FM (27 November 2014)

Morning Comedy: Thanksgiving

PortlandiaThis week is Thanksgiving. When I was a kid, I didn’t think much of it as a holiday. Now, it is one of my favorites because it is an excuse to cook in a very ostentatious manner. Of course, I’m spending this Thanksgiving with my younger sister who is kind of a vegetarian, so I won’t be doing a prime rib. Instead, it will be a couple of very nicely treated chickens. So I thought that we would do a week of Thanksgiving songs.

But given that at the moment I don’t know how many Thanksgiving songs there are, I figured I would hedge and start the week out with this sketch from Portlandia. I’m pretty sure someone mentioned this to me recently in the comments. And frankly, I’m very pleased whenever I’m able to rip off one of my readers for an article.

This is a very funny sketch that speaks both to the over-concern of many people about animals and also my odd love of chickens. Because, frankly, I’d love to see one chicken with its wing around another chicken.

–FM (22 November 2015)

AskForgiveness Day

It is Thanksgiving. And given that this post will go up at 11:05 am local time, I should already be cooking and, more important, drinking. But as I write this, it is days earlier and I am sober. So let me tell you a little about the Thanksgiving celebration. Don’t get me wrong: any excuse for a party. And our society is sorely lacking in rituals that bring people together. So that’s great. You should enjoy this day. And you should give thanks, because if you are able to read this, it probably means that your life isn’t too bad. But that doesn’t give an excuse to the bastards who run the world.

Anyway, I came upon an interesting article at Indian Country Today Media Network, Six Thanksgiving Myths, Share Them With Someone You Know. It wasn’t like I was shocked or anything. But I did learn a great deal. One thing I did not learn, but that is very important is that the Wampanoag and Pilgrims were not all that friendly. In fact, the Pilgrims had chosen a former Wampanoag settlement. The tribe had abandoned it because previous European traders had caused an outbreak of plague that killed as many as two-thirds of the roughly 100,000 Wampanoag people who lived in 69 villages. Of course, it wasn’t just the plague; traders also kidnapped tribesmen and sold them into slavery.

What I did not know is that the Indians and the Pilgrims seem to have gotten together because the latter group were acting like typical American idiots. They were happy about harvest, so they were shooting off guns and cannons. “The Wampanoag chief and 90 warriors made their way to the settlement in full warrior mode — in response to the gunfire.” Since the Pilgims were vastly outnumbered, I guess they figured they should invite the concerned warriors to hang out and eat.

But the most interesting thing is that this didn’t become a regular event. The original meal took place in 1621. But there were no similar celebrations for more than a decade. In 1636, a white man was murdered. Now, usually, that means he was murdered by another white man. That’s the kind of thing that happens. If you look at the statistics in modern America: whites kill whites and blacks kill blacks and so on. But the Pilgims blamed another local tribe, the Pequot people. So in retaliation, the good Christian Pilgrims massacred them — burning many of them alive and killing many others by different methods. It is this massacre that the Pilgrims started celebrating each year:

The day after the massacre, William Bradford who was also the Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, wrote that from that day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanks giving for subduing the Pequots and “For the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.”

Apparently, Thanksgiving didn’t become the G-rated celebration of how super-keen things were between the Pilgrims and the Indians until the Civil War, when Lincoln used it to try to united the nation. And it is a nice story! But it should be treated like Santa Claus: a nice story, but not the truth. This nation has never come to terms with its treatment of the hundreds of native tribes. Maybe we should rename this holiday AskForgiveness Day.

–FM (26 November 2015)

Thanksgiving 2016

I do like Thanksgiving in the sense that I like cooking and I like eating. But it’s hard to get past the mythology of the holiday. You know what I’m talking about: the Wampanoag and Pilgrims getting along and singing Kumbaya. One day out of hundreds of years and we pick up on it. The reason is clear enough: our European ancestors were awful. And the room that I write this in — much less the house that I will be cooking Thanksgiving dinner in — is the result of straight-up theft, combined with unthinkable acts of cruelty and murder.

That’s not to say that the hundreds of American tribes were perfect people. I don’t buy into the noble savage myth either. Humans are, all things considered, pretty awful. But when the first Americans came here, they weren’t invading; they were settling. And they ended up with a diverse system of cultures. Most important, they interacted very much like the countries of Europe: sometimes they got along and sometimes they didn’t. It’s sad to say that today, most people just assume it was one or the other. Either these original Americans were peace-loving peyote eaters. Or they were constantly at war with each other.

The truth is that the first Americans were just people — like any others. When Europeans invaded, they won because they had more firepower. And by “firepower,” I’m talking more about disease than guns. Cortés didn’t manage to destroy the Aztec empire by his brilliance. It’s just that all his men, coming from disease infested Europe managed to wipe out 90 percent of Moctezuma’s troops by breathing on them. This, of course, was typical of meetings between Europeans and Americans.

European Invasion

I’ll discussed this below, AskForgiveness Day. I note that, “The Pilgrims had chosen a former Wampanoag settlement. The tribe had abandoned it because previous European traders had caused an outbreak of plague that killed as many as two-thirds of the roughly 100,000 Wampanoag people who lived in 69 villages.” But don’t get the wrong idea; it wasn’t just inadvertent death and destruction. Those earlier Europeans kidnapped many Wampanoag people and sold them into slavery. You should read the whole thing; it’s got some other nice tidbits of information that are worth thinking about today.

It isn’t my intent to beat up on the Europeans. As I said: humans are awful. But the whole European invasion of America always makes me think of a platitude from my youth, “Might doesn’t make right.” But unlike most platitudes, this one is so obviously wrong. Might indeed makes right. If it didn’t, certainly all our presidents going back to at least Ronald Reagan would have been hanged for war crimes. And does anyone think but that Churchill would have been tried and hanged if the Nazis had won World War II?

Hard Truths

We humans try to avoid hard truths. So we come up with fairy tales to justify why we are rich and others are dead. But fairy tales are for children. After a while, we tell children that Santa Claus is a fable. But we never get around to admitting that the Thanksgiving story is equally one.

–FM (24 November 2016)

Billy Bob Neck and Paul Day

Billy Bob Neck and Paul DayI’ve written a lot about the comedian Paul Day and his character Billy Bob Neck over the years. So in my attempt to consolidate this blog, I’m putting everything I’ve written here.

It’s brilliant comedy. It’s another example of work that is just too good to get a very large audience. But that doesn’t mean you have to lose out.

Billy Bob Neck Makes the Rachel Maddow Show

For three years, Billy Bob Neck has been on YouTube spreading the love and wisdom of Jesus. Before I say any more about him, however, here he is with “The Burn a Koran Song”:

Okay. Billy Bob Neck is a character created by comedian Paul Day. This is the best satire since A Modest Proposal. He has 130 similar videos — always wearing the same clothes — on his “The USA Patriotic Freedom Channel.” They just get funnier. “George W. Bush is the best President since Winston Churhill!”

I discovered him via The Rachel Maddow Show which ran his The Shocking Truth About Rachel Maddow where he proves conclusively that Rachel Maddow is not just a lesbian, but a vampire.

Most people think that Billy Bob Neck is for real. Based upon the comments, I would say about 80%. When I first saw him, I didn’t know for sure and I had to do a bit of research — even watching several of his videos did not nail it for me. In the age of Terry Jones (not the guy from Monty Python) and the Westboro Baptist Church’s “God-Hates-Fags-Dot-Com (Not even Dot-Org!) it is hard to tell. But many people when first presented with A Modest Proposal don’t see the irony. But once you see what Paul Day is doing, it is hilarious. I hope you enjoyed the song!

–FM (18 September 2010)

Billy Bob Neck in Heaven?

Here is Billy Bob Neck‘s most recent video. At 1:37, he disappears — obviously raptured (a man like Billy Bob). The remaining 13:35 is just his empty seat so don’t wait for it.[1]

My question is: does this mean that Paul Day has decided not to do Billy Bob Neck any more? After three years of doing it, I can imagine that he’s tired of it and I wonder how much more he could do with it.

Comedian Paul Day

I wrote to Paul Day, the comedian who created and sustains Billy Bob Neck. I asked if this most recent video meant the end of Billy Bob. He responded that the character, “Will be back. Actually, if you check his FB page, he’s back already. God sent him back to get GWB a third term as POTUS to finish the war on terror.” So there is no fear that we will have to go on in a world without Billy Bob Neck.

I also asked if there was any non-BBN Paul Day on the internet[2] He directed me to another YouTube channel called Virtually Paul’s. Unfortunately, I am out of town, fighting with a terrible internet connection. I can’t say more than that there is some interesting content. I didn’t see much — perhaps five videos.

Videos

Here is the first video that he posted, which I think it is pretty funny:

Writings

He also provided the following links that I haven’t spent much time with. After I’m back with a decent internet connection, I may write an article about his work in a general sense. Until then, you can check them out yourself:

  • Paul Day’s Blog – He said it is under used, and indeed he has only posted once in the last month. One entry is called In Which Jesus Is Not An Objectivist. It contains an editors note indicating that an audio version will be available soon on The Pod Delusion.
  • The Pod Delusion – He said he’s been doing some work on this podcast. I haven’t heard it, but the site describes itself as follows: “The Pod Delusion is a weekly news magazine podcast about interesting things. From politics, to science to culture and philosophy, it’s commentary from a secular, rationalist, skeptical, somewhat lefty-liberal, sort of perspective. A bit like From Our Own Correspondent but with more jokes.”
  • Paul Day’s Facebook Page – I haven’t check this out, because (as regular readers know) I am afraid of Facebook.

Larry Sinclair

Paul seems to have been fascinated by Larry Sinclair a couple years back. Sinclair is this guy who claimed to have some encounter in a limo with then State Senator Obama. This supposed encounter involved drugs and sex — of course. Sinclair has no credibility, even with people like Rush Limbaugh who have notably low standards for truth. Thus there are at least two videos over at Virtually Paul’s and a whole website dedicated to him: Free Larry Sinclair!!! It has obvious similarities to Billy Bob Neck.

He also sent me direct links to two very good articles about the technical side of doing Billy Bob Neck. The first is In Which I’m Taking A Request. In it, he answers two questions: does he feel bad when people don’t understand the act and how he keeps from laughing. The second is In Which I Muse On Why They Get It Wrong. This was written back in early 2007, so it is BBBN (Before Billy Bob Neck). He discusses the blog Shelley The Republican, defending it against the attack that they are, “Satirizing homophobic, racist creationists by being homophobic, racist creationists.” Both articles are well worth reading if you are interested in the inner workings of Billy Bob Neck.

Paul Day is a very funny, insightful, and passionate man. I could have guessed that, given the depth of his characterization of Billy Bob Neck. But it really comes through in his writing. He was also very nice to answer all my questions. I’m sure this will not be the last time I write about him or his fascinating character.

God Sent Billy Bob Neck Back

What can I say? God works in mysterious ways:


[1] I posted a comment on the video asking if it was really necessary for this video to be almost 15 minutes long. I did watch the whole damned thing waiting to see if anything would happen. It certainly wasn’t necessary to make this video more than 5 minutes long, except as a sick joke. And given that Billy Bob Neck is a sick joke, maybe that’s okay.

[2] The Frankly Curious editorial board just decided that we will no longer capitalize the word “internet” — unless it comes at the beginning of a sentence.

–FM (28 May 2011)

More Than Ever We Need Billy Bob Neck

After 190 videos spanning more than five years, Billy Bob Neck is no more. Earlier this month, Paul Day — the man behind this inspired creation — posted the a video (now deleted) claiming that the beloved character had killed himself.


Many people, myself included, thought this was just a ruse. You see, Billy Bob Neck went away before: he was raptured. But then God sent him back to earth to help George W. Bush win a third term. This time is more serious, because Billy Bob took his own life.

No Warning

There were no real signs that Neck was headed for a fall. Sure, he had just released his soul-rap Songs to Stop People From Bein’ Gay. But who would have thought that a man like Billy Bob Neck would following in the footsteps of an evil sodomite like Nick Drake?

If I had to guess, I would say that Day just got tired of doing the videos. He has received roughly a million total views, but his videos have not been as watched recently as they used to be. This is not because the quality has declined. If anything, it is quite the opposite. I think there are a couple of reasons for the decline in viewership. The most obvious is that Bush is no longer in office. In fact, I fear that for many people, watching a Billy Bob video may result in bad flashbacks of that period.

But what I really think doomed the Neck videos to a smaller audience than they deserved is a combination of “satire is dead” and “Day is too good.” Billy Bob Neck is an uncompromising creation. The videos always amused me, but they also angered me. Day created a character who is an uncomfortably accurate portrayal of a shockingly large part of our country.

We need Billy Bob Neck. I asked Paul Day what he was planning to do next. He wrote back, “I’ve got no idea what I’ll do. I’m sure something will come up. I’m just going to enjoy being a civilian.” I like that last sentence because it indicates that doing Billy Bob Neck was something more than comedy — something more like a war.

I have two ideas for what Day can do next — both involving Billy Bob Neck. One seems obvious, since Neck killed himself: Billy Bob in hell. I’m not sure how the other would be done, but it amused me to think about: zombie Billy Bob Neck.

Come back to us, Billy Bob.

–FM (23 April 2012)

Billy Bob Back from the Dead

Billy Bob NeckAs some of you may know, Billy Bob Neck is inexplicably back. He is the intolerant Christian literalist character created by comedian Paul Day. After almost 200 videos, Day killed off the character. This wasn’t too surprising; previously Day had “raptured” Billy Bob Neck. But soon he was back — God having sent him back to earth to get George W. Bush a third term. But after a while, it was clear that Day was serious; Billy Bob Neck was no more.

Wha’ Huppened?!

Then a few weeks ago, Billy Bob Neck came back as if nothing had happened:

Now he’s churning out videos at a faster pace than ever. I tried posting a comment on one of the videos asking Paul what had happened. Billy Bob responded, “Who you talkin’ to, boy?” So I sent Paul a letter directly.

Paul Day Responds

He responded at some length:

The party line on what happened is that BBN never left and there is no evidence that he killed himself.

What actually happened is

1. Thanks to Todd Akin, I finally wrote the rape song I’d been trying to write for a very long time. I’d made several attempts but they were either not funny, too blatant or just too off-putting. I’d considered putting it up on Rape Babies for Romney but it was just too BBN not to do it as him.

2. When I first ducked out, I didn’t miss him at all. I didn’t have to pay attention to wingnuts and felt much more relaxed. Thanks to Todd Akin, that started changing.

3. As I said, one of the reasons I stopped is that it wasn’t fun any more. I started having expectations that he might start getting wider recognition. That was a major mistake… When thinking about bringing him back, I had to do a lot of soul searching and give up on the notion that BBN can ever rise above sub-minor cult status. It’s not that I don’t think it’s smart enough or funny enough because my ego says it is.

The crux of the matter is that I have to want to do it solely for myself. I have to ignore the view count on the videos. I have to see the few bucks that come into PayPal as gravy, not as measure of success…

And I got to that point. So BBN came back, humbled and somewhat re-invigorated.

I think that Paul Day is a bit too gloomy about the Billy Bob Neck project. It exists in the netherworld where people don’t know whether to laugh or scream. It is a brilliant creation and we are all better off for it.

Afterword

The official line from Billy Bob Neck may be that there was no suicide. And sure enough, the suicide video is now private. However, if you look at this screen capture of my More Than Ever We Need Billy Bob Neck article, you can see the residual of it: “He Will Be Missed.” I think it would be best to say that some liberal butt sex fans hacked into Billy Bob’s account to spread malicious lies. Because the evidence exists!

He Will Be Missed

Update (24 October 2012 8:50 am)

Billy Bob Neck has received a total of just under a million views. That’s a hit for videos that don’t involve cats.

–FM (24 October 2012)

God Is the Real Victim

Billy Bob NeckBilly Bob Neck sings, “Hey, little Tommy: if you believed in God you wouldn’t be dead.” This is satire of highest form, but I think even Paul Day (the actor) knows he is really pushing against people’s revulsion tolerance on this one. To make it clearer, he throws in a clip of Bryan Fischer saying, “I think God would say to us, ‘I’ll be glad to protect your children, but first you have to invite me back into your world first. I’m not going to go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentleman.'”

With comments like that, you can see why Paul Day has had such a hard time getting traction for the Billy Bob Neck character. How do satirize people who claim that God is too much of a gentleman to stop the murder of 20 little kids? On You Tube, there is a lot of push back on the video. It’s kind of sad. Liberals have learned that it is just a political tactic when conservatives say it is too soon to talk about gun laws. But a number of them are saying that it is too soon to satirize the likes of Fischer and Huckabee who claim that the real problem is that we don’t have school prayer. Amazing.

We all use the tools we have, and Paul Day’s tools are humor and satire. Watch him do his thang:

–FM (17 December 2012)

Republican Politicians Do Not Believe What They Say

Jeb Hensarling - Republican Politicians Do Not Believe What They SayWhen it comes to politics the one thing you can say about me it is that I tell the truth. That’s not to say that I’m always right. But when I say I believe something it is what I believe.

But take, for a counter-example, Jeb Hensarling (Congressional Republican from Texas). He has been talking about how the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has hurt consumers more than it has helped them. This is of course factually wrong. And Hensarling knows this. He’s against the CFPB because his business donors are against it. He’s just making up this claim that it is hurting consumers.

But this is entirely typical of Republicans. He hates the CFPB because it protects consumers and hurts those businesses that harm consumers. He wants to help these businesses.

Jeb Hensarling Can’t Say What He Means

But he can’t come right out and say that because no one supports that — not even the elected Republicans who claim to. So he has to pretend that he believes something that he absolutely does not.

With all my problems with politics at least I don’t have to worry about which lie I told. My opinions may change over time but what I tell you at any given time is what I believe.

It must be awful being a Republican. I could not deal with having a to constantly lie about what I actually believed.

What’s amazing is that Republican voters don’t wake up to this. It is plain as day that Republican politicians are not saying what they actually believe.

The Lies of the New Republican Tax Plan

Take the new Republican tax plan. Republicans are going all around talking about how it is this great big wet kiss for the middle class. But they know very well that it is no such thing. They also know that those who are going to get a tax cut are going to see it go away and turn into a tax increase over the next 6 or 7 years.

But they can’t say what they actually believe because it is so extremely unpopular. They can’t say that their actual plan is to give a huge amount of money to people who already have too much money. And they can’t say that they have to do this so those campaign contributions continue to flow from these ridiculously rich people.

Democrats Can Be Themselves — Mostly

So I feel pretty good in terms of my politics. And in general Democrats do. It’s so much easier to just be yourself.

This is why Democrats were wrong to abandon the gun control issue decades ago. Because the truth is that most Democrats are for gun control. And let’s forget this assault rifle business. It is an issue, certainly; but handguns are the real problem. That’s what I’m most concerned about. That’s what most Democrats are concerned about.

But this is really the only issue that Democrats are like this. Republicans are like this on pretty much every issue you can think of. Even look at abortion and you will not see an actual interest in fetuses. Read my article on Bob Jones University and you will see that it is about racism.

And when not about racism, it is about controlling women — especially poor women. Because as we all know a rich woman can just fly to France and get her abortion there.

But this is a fairly minor sin compared to the outrageous lies told by Republican politicians.

Will Republican Voters Every Wake Up?

Most Republican voters are socially conservatives from economically very liberal. Yet they continue to vote for these lying Republican politicians like Jeb Hensarling who do little about abortion, nothing about same-sex marriage, but a whole lot that they hate about economics.

Will they ever wake up? It doesn’t seem like it. It’s gotten so that even Jeb Hensarling is going to retire. Because Repubblican voters will apparently vote for a politician who promises to burn children alive as long as they also promise to “get the darkies!”

It’s Time to Stop With the Bigly

It's Time to Stop With the BiglyIt’s the evening of 15 November 2017. Donald Trump was elected President of the United States over a year ago. It is time for us liberals to stop using the word “bigly” as an ironic critique of the man. We’ve had our fun. But the word has now reached a point were it hardly refers to Trump and acts in a silly and idiosyncratic way as “in the day” does (for me anyway).

Yes, of course, “bigly” is a word. So are “um” and “uh” and “irregardless.” Just because something is a word doesn’t mean sensible people should use it.

“Big” is an adjective. It modifies a noun. And understandably so. Things have sizes. But if we take “bigly” to be an adverb, it would generally modify a verb. And how often do we talk about the size of an action? Not often. “Tianna Bartoletta jumped bigly at the 2016 Olympics”?! No one says that. It’s not even really correct because “bigly” is not really modifying her act of jumping but the result of it.

Now I’m sure that people can come up with sentences in which “bigly” works just fine. But there’s a reason that it sticks out when Donald Trump uses the word. It’s unnatural. It doesn’t sound right.

Did Trump Say “Bigly” or “Big League”? Both

There are two ways you can look at Trump’s use of the word. He could be a lover of language who enjoys playing with it. I am such a person, and I’ve written a number of songs that play with language in this way. But regardless (or irregardless) of what you think of the President, we all know that he isn’t a language lover who lies in bed at night reading modern poetry.

The truth is that when he said it in the first presidential debate, I’m pretty sure he said “big league.” That’s what it sounds like to me. It’s also a tired colloquialism, which pretty much sums up Trump and, really, pretty much all politicians in the US. To speak well and originally is “elitist” and therefore bad for anyone who wants to win the contest of being “most enjoyable drinking partner.”

I Hate —ly

But if President Trump did say “bigly,” (and at other times it sounds like he is saying “bigly”) he didn’t mean to create an adverb; he meant to intensify “big.” In Nineteen Eighty-Four, it would have been “double plus big.” In most places I find myself, it would be “f—ing big.”

And really: why not? I hate the use of of —ly to create an adverb. It is almost always obvious from the context if a word is an adjective or adverb. Is there anything wrong with, “He ran quick up the hill”? If I had the the power, I would make all —lys optional. Unfortunately, I live in a world where I would have put up hordes of very opinionated people whose grammar knowledge stopped after Mrs Benson’s 5th grade English class.

Let’s Rid Our Speech of “Bigly”

Love Trump or hate him, you must know that he is not an intellectual. So making fun of his using the word “bigly” is only fun for a limited period of time. And that time is over. Using it today is like using “Well excuuuuse me!” in 1990 or “Now isn’t that special?” in 2000.

Trump has already done enough damage to our society. Let’s not add to it an odd new grammar construct that completely lacks charm.

So it’s 15 November 2017 and “bigly” is done. Anyone who doesn’t agree with me can kiss my grits.

The Carnagie Hero Award: Reclaiming the Word “Hero”

The Carnagie Hero AwardWilliam sent me some information about The Carnagie Hero Award. He sent it because he knows how much I hate the way we tend to turn everyone into heroes. I’m sick to death of hearing that everyone in the military and every police officer on the beat is a hero. The award literature puts it beautifully, “We need to stop throwing hollow praise on people doing the job they are paid to do: cops, firefighters, and military.”

That’s the thing. Most people don’t know just how well police officers and firefighters are paid. These are, after all, people who need no education or much in the way of special training. A friend of my family failed as a police officer because he couldn’t do the paper work. Basically, he was functionally illiterate. And the biggest part of an officer’s job is doing paper work. So the hardest part of an officer’s job is doing what pretty much everyone with a corporate job does. Except police offers retire early with a nice pension. Corporate workers usually get fired in their 50s because hiring someone fresh out of college is cheaper. And there is no pension. Go into a McDonald’s sometime and spot the ex-corporate workers. They’re the old people sprinkling salt on your fries.

I would never be a firefighter, because fire is my greatest fear. But the vast majority of firefighters’ time is spent doing nothing. They do a lot of stuff like showing up when someone has a heart attack. There’s already an ambulance and a couple of police cars, but they also need a firetruck — apparently because the firefighters don’t have anything else to do. Looking at stories from firefighters, it seems they have to deal with about one real fire per week. But it depends. Firefighters in cities see more action than firefighters in rural areas. Regardless, the job can be dangerous, but mostly it isn’t.

And then we have the military. They aren’t paid particularly well. But they serve for 20 years and then retire quite comfortably. I think a lot more people would go into the military if they knew what work was like in the private sector. We may have a culture that worships youth, but in business, it is even worse. You aren’t seen as more valuable as you get older — as you should. You are seen as too expensive.

Some Professions Are Dangerous

Regardless, all the people who go into these professions — police, firefighting, military — know what they are doing. And they are compensated well given that none of these jobs take anything as demanding as a college degree to qualify. Yet our society insists upon calling these people “heroes.” I am so sick of hearing police officers saying, “When I leave for work in the morning, I don’t know if I’m coming home that night.” Yeah, paper cuts can be really dangerous! Really: this is something that anyone could say. And truck drivers (who are more likely to die on the job than police officers) never say this. No one makes a note of what heroes Walmart truck drivers are.

During the recent Tubbs Fire where I live, everywhere I went, I saw signs saying things like, “Thank you firefighters!” You know, there were a lot of people who fought that fire that didn’t get any recognition: California prison inmates. “The first inmate crews to the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County and Atlas Fire in Napa and Solano counties worked for 72 straight hours.” They get paid $1 per hour when they are actively fighting a fire. They got little recognition. As far as I know, none of them were called heroes. And rightly so. They did sign up for the job.

Reclaiming the Word “Hero”

But The Carnagie Hero Award would like to take back the word “hero” and use it correctly. If I know there is an old woman in the house across the street and I rescue her from her burning house, I’m a hero. But if I do the same for my infant son in my house, I’m not; I’m just a normal father. But most of all, if I’m a firefighter and I save one from a burning house, I’m not a hero; I’m just doing my job.

As it is, the word “hero” has no meaning in our society. It’s just something we throw around for any police officer, even if they have a desk job. Or for an Army Sargent wo works in the motor pool. There are heroes in the real world. But it doesn’t matter as long as we apply the word “hero” to anyone with certain job titles.

Update

I just realized that I published this on Veterans Day. This was not intentional. But given that I think most US wars are simply to protect our empire, I’m not that keen on the holiday. But I meant no offense.