The Senator With the Snowball

Sheldon WhitehouseYou can believe NASA and you can believe what their satellites measure on the planet, or you can believe the Senator with the snowball. The United States Navy takes this very seriously, to the point where Admiral Locklear, who is the head of the Pacific Command, has said that climate change is the biggest threat that we face in the Pacific… you can either believe the United States Navy or you can believe the Senator with the snowball… every major American scientific society has put itself on record, many of them a decade ago, that climate change is deadly real. They measure it, they see it, they know why it happens. The predictions correlate with what we see as they increasingly come true. And the fundamental principles, that it is derived from carbon pollution, which comes from burning fossil fuels, are beyond legitimate dispute… so you can believe every single major American scientific society, or you can believe the Senator with the snowball.

—Sheldon Whitehouse
Climate Skeptic Senator Burned after Snowball Stunt

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Republicans Signal Support for King v Burwell

Orrin HatchRemember the good ol’ days when Orrin Hatch was considered a right wing loon? That was fun. Now, of course, he’s one of the more reasonable Republicans in Congress. Well, he and Lamar Alexander and John Barrasso took to The Washington Post on Sunday to trumpet the news, We Have a Plan for Fixing Healthcare. And contrary to the repeated claims of Jonathan Chait, these three establishment Republicans are cheering on the Supreme Court in King v Burwell. If the Supreme Court finds that “the administration acted illegally” and “[m]illions of Americans may lose these subsidies,” well never fear: “Republicans have a plan to protect Americans harmed by the administration’s actions”!

I hit back on the idea that Republicans were coming around to see that this case was toxic, It Is Still Best That King v Burwell Fail. This recent OpEd by the three amigos shows that the Republican Party thinks that in this case, as in all others, they can finesse their way through any problems that arise. Basically, they are just pushing Ben Sasse’s idea that Congress would pass a temporary funding bill until they replaced Obamacare with something that doesn’t turn the nation into North Korea. And they have a plan!

Just kidding! As Ezra Klein reported, Republicans Say They Have a Plan if the Supreme Court Rules Against Obamacare. They Don’t. But before I talk about that, let’s suppose that they did. This Congress is going to pass a temporary funding bill?! They can’t even manage to pass a bill to embarrass the president. Are we really supposed to believe that they could manage to get half of the Republican majority in the House to sign onto extending Obamacare? You’d have better luck getting them to pass a resolution that Satan is their lord and master. And I don’t use that comparison lightly, given that most of those Republicans think that Obama and “his” law are Satanic.

So what is this cunning plan? First, as mentioned, they will extend the existing subsidies for some length of time — Sasse mentioned 18 months, so let’s figure that, because the three elephants of the apocalypse didn’t tell us. Then, they will replace it with a new plan. Are you ready for it? Because this is it in its entirety:

[W]e will give states the freedom and flexibility to create better, more competitive health insurance markets offering more options and different choices.

The rest of the article is just the usual boilerplate about “Obamacare’s costly mandates and rules.” And there is this exciting news, “We have had many discussions with our Senate and House Republican colleagues on this issue, and there is a great deal of consensus on how to proceed.” There is apparently so much consensus that this is why they only mention one thing that Obamacare already allows! And that shows what the real point of the article is. It is meant to signal to the Supreme Court that it is okay to gut Obamacare with this silly lawsuit.

Remember, this isn’t Ted Cruz and Louie Gohmert writing this OpEd. This is a trio of establishment figures. This is the Republican Party giving its okay to the conservative hacks on Supreme Court to screw over 11.5 million people (it’s only 6 million if you only look at those directly effected). I still think that the lawsuit will be defeated. In which case, The Washington Post has given the Republicans an opportunity to claim that they too want to help working Americans, even though they clearly could not care less.

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The “Moderate” Voter and the Selfish Pundit

William SaletanDigby wrote an interesting article over at Slate yesterday, Attack of Radical “Moderates”: How Tea Party and Liberals Are Both Being Swindled. It focuses on an Ezra Klein article from last year that somehow I missed, No One’s Less Moderate Than Moderates. And this, in turn, involves some recent research by a couple of political scientists who demonstrated something that really should have been obvious: statistical techniques were grouping together as “moderate” people who actually had extreme views on both the left and the right.

I’ve been saying this for years. Digby calls the views incoherent, but I don’t think that’s generally true. In my experience, people are fairly conservative in their social beliefs and fairly liberal in their economic beliefs. There is nothing inconsistent about being virulently anti-immigrant and being in favor of taxing the rich more. And if you think about it, criticizing this viewpoint is kind of offensive. Rich business owners are pro-immigrant and anti-tax. In both cases, the people with those views think that these beliefs are in their best interests. (Working class people are probably wrong to be anti-immigrant, but the economics of the matter is certainly not obvious.)

DigbyBut what neither Digby nor Klein talk about is what I see as the major disconnect: why is it that most people are of the social conservative and economic liberal type, while the standard “moderate” in the media is a social liberal and economic conservative? If you’ve been reading me these past many years, you know my answer: it is that the media we get is not a function of what consumers want; it is a function of the interests of upper class journalists.

Way back in 2012, I wrote, Serious Centrist Saletan’s Selfishness. (I like alliteration too much sometimes.) My point was that William Saletan’s “centrism” (he actually self identifies as a “liberal Republican”) is just a function of what is best for the greater good… of William Saletan:

The reason that Saletan and his peers share this kind of political outlook is clear enough: it speaks to their personal interests. They are socially liberal because the corresponding views improve their lives. They have friends who are gay. They’ve had girlfriends who have had abortions. Their careers depend upon a strong first amendment. So their lives would be poorer and their bank accounts too, if the social conservatives got power in the United States. As a result, they are socially liberal—even extremely so.

On the other side of things, they are rich. Whether on the TV, in newspaper, or increasingly even on the internet, pundits are rich. They are all well inside the top 20% of earners. As a result, Saletan finds it easy to be a booster for so called free trade. No Chinese worker is going to take his job. (Not that there aren’t about a million who could do it as well.) But unionized IT professionals might reduce his income. And increased taxes on the upper class could certainly reduce his income. So it just makes sense to argue that Social Security must be cut while ignoring the obvious fix of increasing the payroll tax cap, which it just so happens would increase his tax burden.

Of course, as Klein quoted one of the researchers as saying, “When we say moderate what we really mean is what corporations want.” It’s more or less the same thing. For example, no one I know thinks that Thomas Friedman is anything but a joke. However, in the upper-middle and upper classes he has a reputation as a sage. And this is why his next book — “The World Is Shaped Like a Taxi Driver In Dubai”? — will have a media campaign with only slightly fewer resources than the invasion of Normandy.

Think about it this way: people don’t demand this or that person become a columnist. In the pre-web days, newspapers couldn’t even know who was popular with readers. (Although they could tell who was popular with other columnists and the elite!) Now it’s different. But not that much different. When Forbes listed the Top Liberal Pundits, many of the people on the list were not liberals: Andrew Sullivan, Maureen Dowd, Christopher Hitchens, Chris Matthews, Fareed Zakaria, Jon Stewart, Thomas Friedman, Fred Hiatt, Arianna Huffington. Some of these people are conservative — the rest of “moderates” — usually of Saletan mold. This is what Sullivan had to say about being on the list:

For the record, I support a flat tax and, as my liberal readers know, find progressive taxation unjust and counter-productive; I’m skeptical of universal healthcare on European lines and have long defended a free market in healthcare and pharmaceuticals… [And on and one and on. -FM]

The “top” liberal was Paul Krugman and I rather wonder if Krugman would have developed his following and influence in a pre-web world. As I recall, he was brought to The New York Times to write about international economics. It was only because George W Bush was such a terrible president that Krugman turned to domestic matters. But even with all that, I really wonder how long he would have lasted under Fred Hiatt.

The main takeaway here is simple: “moderate” in the media environment is nothing more than code for “what is believed by the elites.” That’s not to say that there aren’t actual moderates. Jon Stewart is certainly one of those. The fact that he is generally seen as “liberal” is an indictment of our political system. But it is clear that we should be very careful in using the “moderate” label — especially as it applies to the American voter. Because very few of them are actually moderate. What they are is populist. And given that what they want is exactly the opposite of what the elites want, it is no wonder that reporting on them glosses over this important distinction.

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Morning Music: Diamonds and Rust

Diamonds and Rust - Joan BaezI asked Will to recommend a song for today and he said he was fond of Joan Baez’s cover of Jackson Browne’s “Fountain of Sorrow.” I would like to say that I told him there was a Jackson Browne ban in the morning music — that we don’t want to ruin anyone’s day. But snark aside, I don’t have anything against Browne — except for “Running on Empty” and “The Load-Out” and actually a whole lot of songs where he produces nothing but well crafted pretense. I know it’s only rock and roll but I don’t like it. I’ll have to revisit this issue. Where was I?

The truth is, I’m not a big fan of Joan Baez. I find her voice kind of annoying. But I do rather like “Diamonds and Rust.” And the interesting thing is that the song has been in the my head the last several days. (That’s probably not a coincidence, since I have been around Will this last week.) I was doing to it what I do to most songs that I know only some of the lyrics to: I was making up my own really foul-mouthed lyrics.

But I knew that I could find a fine performance of it. What’s more, how can you not love a songwriter who tries to get away with this slant rhyme:

I remember your eyes were bluer than robin’s eggs
My poetry was lousy you said.

That’s actually really great. Bob must have been proud.


For the record, you all can recommend songs. This whole thing could get very boring. I get stuck in ruts. I was seriously thinking of going back to France today.


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Birthday Post: William Green

William GreenOn this day in 1873, the labor leader William Green was born. At the age of 16, he went to work in a coal mine. By 18, he had become a union representative. And he went on to head the American Federation of Labor (AFL) for almost three decades — including the whole of the Great Depression. He is known for pursuing a “cooperative” strategy where labor tries to work with management. I think that’s really interesting, because he took the reins of AFL in 1924. Listening to people talk about labor now, you would think that the idea of labor working with management was only something they did recently and very reluctantly.

I’m not sure that it was the correct way to go. As far as I can tell, businesses are run by people who are not really able to cooperate. They are kind of like the Republican Party during the early years of Obama’s presidency: when offered cooperation, all they see is weakness. It doesn’t seem to matter how reasonable and helpful labor is, the capital class always wants to take power away from labor. And this is why we need a major rethink of our economic system.

Still, Green managed the AFL through an incredibly difficult economic period. He was probably the best man for the job at that time.

Happy birthday William Green!

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Lagunitas NightTime

Lagunitas NightTimeOn Thursday, Will paid me for some work I had done for “our” company. (Let’s face it: it’s his company and I just work for it.) I won’t tell you how much I was paid, because it would be embarrassing. But on our way back home, he was going the wrong direction. I asked him and he said, “I thought we were going to get you some beer?” That’s Will-speak for, “I want a beer and you are paying.” So we found ourselves at the grocery store. Will has little taste, but I decided to get a six-pack of Lagunitas NightTime. I’m very fond of Laguitas and I had never tried this particular brew — probably because it sells for about ten bucks a six-pack.

I explained to Will that I had reached a point in life (about twenty years ago) that I would rather spend twice as much to get a beer that I really like than get a beer I don’t especially enjoy. Will then proceeded to explain to me how he is just fine with this lemon beer he buys for $1.99 per six-pack. I told him I was not. But when we got back to my place, even Will had to admit that NightTime is a hell of a beer. (He knows quality when it is forced on him!)

Indeed, it is an amazing beer. Is it as good as the standard against which all beers are measured, Arrogant Bastard? I can’t say. Let’s just say that it is right around there. It’s impossible to say, regardless. They aren’t the same kind of beers. Like the philistine I am, I don’t know much about beer, but I know what I like. Let’s see if I can give you some idea of what it is like.

It is officially an “ale” — although darker than pretty much any ale I’ve seen before. It is notably darker than Arrogant Bastard. But its head is surprisingly light. It reminds me of Guinness, except that Guinness looks brown to me, and this looks black. (Note: it doesn’t taste at all like Guinness.) It doesn’t have that much in the way of a smell — some hops is all. And the flavor is “hoppy.” It also seems to have just a hint of — oh, I hate to say it — lemon. But there is a big difference between a hint and an overwhelming taste of lemon. NightTime has other flavors as well. That’s what I like about it: it has a complex taste. But I am not in a position to tell you what those flavors are.

This is a situation that I run into all the time. I’m just not very good at breaking down things into component parts. I’m intuitive. That’s even true with writing. Certainly I know a lot more now than I did twenty years ago. But there are cases when I just know one construction is better than another. The difference with beer is that I really don’t know more more than I did twenty years ago.

But NightTime is a really good beer. On the other hand, most of the people I know would hate it. It is the kind of beer that my grandmother would have noted, “It’ll put hair on your chest!” Of course, that isn’t literally true. I’ve made it all the way to saggy middle age without any notable hair on my chest. But that isn’t actually why I drink these kinds of beers.


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Political Context of the Gospel Fictions

Who Wrote the New Testament? - Burton L MackVery serious reflection had to set in when the war ended. As we have seen, both the Jesus movements and those engaged in the Christian mission had been eagerly seeking ways to justify their existence as heirs to the grand traditions of Israel. The burning questions had to do with how Jesus fit into the picture, where to locate the kingdom of God, and how to relate the new, unlikely communities of Jesus and Christ people to the various forms of being Jewish in the first century. Now that the temple-state was no longer the central institutional form of Judaism, the epic would have to be revised, for it could no longer be read as if its promise had been fulfilled in Jerusalem. And since the failure of the second-temple establishment was easily laid to the account of its sins, the stage was set for others more righteous to take its place as the rightful heirs of the epic’s promise… We now need to recognize the options taken by Christians.

The congregations of the Christ were not as deeply affected by the Roman-Jewish war as were the Jesus people. The Christian congregations had quickly developed their own system of myth and ritual on the model of a Hellenistic cult of a dying and rising god. But the Jesus movements had thought of themselves on the model of schools and had stayed in touch with their Galilean origins and generally Jewish cultural environment. These movements were caught in the confusion created by the catastrophic events and found themselves forced to rethink everything. It must have been a distressing time but also one of great, exhilarating intellectual challenge. The thought that commended itself to several of these groups was to distance themselves from the “sins” of the recent Jewish past and reread the epic of Israel to end with Jesus instead of with the temple-state. That thought was revolutionary, and the reason for bringing judgment upon the recent Jewish establishment began to take on a very critical edge…

For the history of Christianity, the most important shift in postwar thinking took place in the Markan community. It was there that a dramatic change took place in the memory and imagination of Jesus, one that laid the mythic foundation for the Christian religion. The change is documented in the Gospel of Mark, a literary achievement of imcomparable historical significance. Before Mark there was no such story of the life of Jesus. Neither the earlier Jesus movements nor the congregations of the Christ had imagined such a portrayal of Jesus’ life. It was Mark’s composition that gathered together earlier traditions, used the recent history of Jerusalem to set the state for Jesus’ time, crafted the plot, spelled out the motivations, and so created the story of Jesus that was to become the gospel truth for Christianity. All the other narrative gospels would start with Mark. None would change his basic plot. And the plot would become the standard account of Christian origins for the traditional Christian imagination. What an achievement! Mark succeeded in collapsing the time Jesus in the 30s and destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Ever after, Christian would imagine Mark’s fiction as history and allow this erasure of time as a wink in the mind of Israel’s God. And yet, Mark’s fiction could not have been conceived before the war. It would not have made sense before the war had run its course and the tragic fate of the city was known.

—Burton L Mack
Who Wrote the New Testament?

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It Is Still Best That King v Burwell Fail

Ben SasseLast week, I wrote, Chait Is Wrong — We should Fear King v Burwell. This was in reference to a Jonathan Chait article, Why the New Lawsuit Won’t Kill Obamacare. And then, as usual when Chait is pushing a controversial idea, he quickly came back with an “I’m right!” article, Republicans Realize Obamacare Lawsuit Would Destroy Them, Not Obamacare. Despite everything, I enjoy reading Chait. But I can’t do it without a lot of loud sighs. How many Republicans realize Obamacare would destroy them? Well, Chait only mentions two. And that’s one short for a standard college essay.

What’s more, one of his examples argued that the Republicans should create a temporary change until they could “repeal and replace” the law. Given that the Republicans have come up with precisely zero alternatives to Obamacare, I think we can count that Republican in the pro-King v Burwell camp. So really Chait only has one Republican who is concerned. But it doesn’t really matter. He could come up with a dozen Republicans who are concerned about this case succeeding. It wouldn’t mean anything. There are always Republicans around who think that the party ought to be a tad less crazy. Just ask Josh Barro.

The problem is that it is hard for the Republican Party to back away from its opposition to Obamacare when they’ve spent the last six years telling their base that it is worse than a Soviet takeover of the government. And what about the “death panels” that so many conservatives still believe in? Ben Sasse might be right in his OpEd, “Chemotherapy turned off for perhaps 12,000 people, dialysis going dark for 10,000. The horror stories will be real. What will happen next is predictable: A deluge of attacks on Republicans for supposedly having caused this.” What is this compared to the millions that the Republican base thinks Obamacare is actively killing? There are lots of things that many in the Republicans establishment would like to move on. But we don’t see much of that.

There is also just the politics of it. At the end of 2013, the Republicans shut down the government. The people didn’t like that. But did they come to the polls in 2014 and vote the fools out? No! They voted more of them in! (One was Ben Sasse.) It would be the same thing here. The people who died for lack of dialysis would be in the distant political past. And let’s not forget: if 11.5 million people lost their health insurance, it would really harm the economy. And that would happen just in time for the 2016 presidential election. King v Burwell may well be the Republicans’ best chance to take the White House in 2016.

Michael Hiltzik has a more nuanced take on the situation, Is GOP Finally Getting Nervous That the Supreme Court Might Gut Obamacare? He is certainly correct that we aren’t hearing Republicans crowing about the law as we were a couple of months ago. I think that they realize not that the law will be bad for them but rather that it is like Pandora’s box: it is going to make the situation unpredictable. And that is bad because the up side is nothing compared to the down side. (Whether that’s true or not, I can’t say; but that’s the way human psychology works.)

I actually think that the Republican Party itself is pretty much done with Obamacare anyway. They had their chance in 2012 with NFIB v Sebelius and they lost. The law is now in place. People have it. But much more important to Republicans, the healthcare and insurance industries are fully vested in the new system. It wouldn’t just be a big hassle to change, it would also rip billions of dollars in profit away from these industries. So I don’t think they like the double bind that King v Burwell would put them in. Does this mean that the bozos on the bench will get the message and decide to kill the challenge? I will believe that when I hear Rush Limbaugh talking about how bad this case will be for the Republican Party.

The bottom line is that we want King v Burwell to fail. Under the best of circumstances (the Chait case), it would cause a lot of harm to innocent Americans. And in the end, politics is about people. I care about good things happening a hell of a lot more than I care about winning an election. (And that is probably a big reason why I’m not a politician!)

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Rich Succeed Setting Worker Against Worker

LongshoremanHave you heard about those awful longshoremen? I have. And from people who ought to know better. The longshoremen have staged a work slowdown in their negotiations and USA Today calls foul, Longshoremen Hurt Blue-Collar Brethren. Do you know how much they make?! “The Pacific Maritime Association, manager of the ports, says an average full-time worker makes $147,000 a year, with very generous benefits on top of that.” But not to be one-sided, the article claims, “The ILWU says longshoremen aren’t always able to work as many hours as they’d like, putting a typical income at $83,000.” Who can say?

Well, according to Mark Brenner in that very same USA Today, “Longshore workers on the West Coast earn $26 to $41 an hour…” And that puts the ILWU quote at the very top of rate. Regardless, the $147,000 figure is ridiculous and USA Today should be ashamed of quoting it.

Basically, the entire argument of the USA Today editorial board is that the longshoremen should just get used to the way that it is with other workers where they don’t share in the economic gain. If profits rise, they should all go to the owners. Don’t these workers know that they don’t matter? Haven’t they been paying attention these last four decades?!

The editorial concludes:

If the port workers took the long view, they might conclude it’s not worthwhile to rock the boat so much. Things are very good for them. Why draw so much attention to that?

It is good, if selfish, advice. It is taking this kind of advice that now has California Safeway clerks earning $10 per hour. Bear in mind that if the minimum wage had gone up with the rate of productivity growth since 1968 (and it always did before), it would now be almost $22 per hour. The lower rate for longshore workers — $26 per hour — is barely above what the minimum wage ought to be. And the upper value is not even double it. But our expectations for what workers should earn have been so lowered that now $83,000 per year sounds like a fortune. I mean, imagine that: you could buy a home, send your kids to school, retire comfortably. What a shocking vision of life!

Brenner sums up the situation well:

We live in the richest country in the history of humankind. But in our upside-down economy, CEOs make 331 times as much as the average worker, and far more folks will face a lifetime of Walmart wages than will end up on Easy Street.

The primary reason? Just one in 10 workers belongs to a union today, down from a peak of one in three. Unions are the only reliable way to ensure that working people share in our nation’s dizzying wealth.

Of course, this is why the entire conservative movement has been out to kill off unions from the moment they appeared. Sadly, the Democratic Party’s position on unions has pretty much been that of the USA Today editorial board, “Don’t ask for anything! Be grateful you aren’t working at Walmart!” And that is the surest road to working at Walmart. I have to say, I respect the ILWU members because I doubt I would have the guts to do this. But it is going to take braver people than me to bring back labor unions.

What’s sad, though, is that workers are not just fighting against the owners. Non-unionized workers are, with relatively few exceptions, the worst enemies of unionized workers. And this is the reason that unions are so important. It isn’t primarily about negotiation and wages and so on. It is about solidarity. By destroying unions, the rich have managed to turn workers on each other.

So in discussing the work slowdown, all that is really necessary is for some manager to say “$147,000!” and 90% of the country is outraged. “Oh, you workers are never satisfied!” Imagine this. What if I told you that New York stock traders made $83,000 per year. Would you think that an outrageous amount of money? Of course you wouldn’t. You would think it was really low. Yet almost anyone would rather work on Wall Street than have a very difficult and dangerous longshoreman’s job. But somehow, they make too much money.

Divide and conquer. The rich have been doing this for centuries to the rest of us. And the only reason they are able is because we allow them to.

H/T: Michael Hiltzik

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Morning Music: In the Pines

MTV Unplugged in New York“In the Pines” is a folk song that dates back at least a century. It was first noted in print in 1917, and was first recorded by an ethnomusicologist in 1925 where it was sung by a field hand. From that point on, it became quite popular among folk singers. But the first iconic recording of the song was by bluegrass legend Bill Monroe in 1941. But in 1944, Lead Belly recorded his own version that — at least until the 1990s — was the version that most people knew.

Lead Belly’s recording hearkened back to the much earlier version. And it is much darker. My take on the story is that a young woman is fleeing for her life after her husband was murdered in a particularly gruesome way. Now, the implication could be simply that this was a work related accident. But then, why is she hiding out? If I wanted to stretch it, I could argue that her husband was killed working on the train, but she had been stepping out on him and the singer is shaming her for this fact. But I don’t accept that telling. I understand that there are versions that use this story line, but I’m curious about the Lead Belly version.

Anyway, Mark Lanegan introduced Kurt Cobain to one of Lead Belly’s versions of the song. And so Nirvana performed the song. This version from MTV Unplugged in New York is probably the best known version of the song now. And since I don’t have any video footage of Lead Belly doing the song, here is Kurt and the boys:


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