Authoritarianism, Fear, and Bigotry from Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm

Kathleen O'Brien WilhelmRemember Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm? She’s the Deer Sign Lady. I try to check in on her from time to time to see what she’s ranting about. It is always a real eye-opener. Most of us living in the real world are not aware of much that is going on in Right Wing Nutjob World. But all you have to do is read a Wilhelm column and you’ll learn what is Big News in that alternate reality.

Voter Fraud

On 13 March, Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm offered us, America’s Vote. She starts by proposing the reasonable, but simple minded idea of making election days national holidays. But she’s against allowing multiple days to vote. Why? “We appear to have no problem with jobs, plans and all that is life when it comes to December 25.” Or rather: she has no reason. She just thinks it is wrong to give people “four to fifty days” to vote. But that’s okay, because she thinks that making elections a national holiday will solve all our problems, because, you know, no one works on national holidays.

But extended voting days (or lack thereof) is not really what her article is about. There have been a few cases of people accidentally voting twice by voting absentee and in person. In general, these were just mistakes made by confused people. But there is one case where a woman may have done it on purpose. Of course, the reason we’re hearing about these things is that this is a form of voter fraud that is always caught. In other words: it isn’t a problem. But this stuff is getting a huge amount of attention on right wing websites and Fox News. And Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm, who seems to only get her news from Fox, certainly got this story from them.

Grand Statements, No Facts

As usual with her articles, she makes grand statements that are not only undocumented, they are untrue. Consider:

Voter fraud is not new, and it is becoming more. It’s often a laughable cliche that many dead people vote in Chicago. America’s vote has become tarnished? It was bad when women and Blacks were prevented this right, but the US Constitution resolved this injustice. It is time something be done to protect America’s vote.

There is absolutely no evidence that voter fraud is getting worse—in fact, it looks like just the opposite. The Constitution did not resolve the injustice of white-male-only voting; the Constitution had to be amended to resolve this injustice—and in the case of African Americans, the Constitutional change did not actually allow them to vote in many places for a century. But note the underlying argument here: if one person votes who shouldn’t, then the entire system has been tarnished. When a rightful voter is denied, that doesn’t tarnish the system at all.

The more I read Wilhelm, the more I think she is just a bigot. Here she is again (1) using right wing sources without quoting them; (2) stating things as fact that are not true; and (3) showing intense fear for “the other”:

Voting has become marred with Black Panther’s threatening voters, and a great deal of voter fraud. Illegal aliens, nuns, the educated, those unregistered, and dead people—all voting many times, many days.

Scary black people: check! Scary Latinos: check! College kids: check! Nuns?! Oh, bqhatevwr! (Note: if you search for “nuns voter fraud” you will, of course, find the right wing blogosphere buzzing about a case!)

Gay Rights

On 17 March, Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm again delighted us with, Government, Get Out of America’s Way! I thought it was going to be more Tea Party pseudo-free market babbling. How wrong I was! I think. It actually isn’t at all clear what she is talking about. But I’ll give you my best guess. If I’m right, it is by far the most stunning piece of writing we have seen from Avon Patch Savant.

How will we ever trust Rob Portman again? He has voted consistently against gay rights and now he says he’s for marriage equality. The government should just stay out of the way of the people “to be as good as he or she works and aspires to be.” Allowing same sex marriage is the government getting in the way by (!) changing the way that the government has traditionally gotten in the way.

To sum up:

It’s not pick on Portman day, but a reminder to Americans that government has ulterior motives beyond moving America forward. Government works for us and must be accountable. Government collects freebies, benefits, healthcare, stock tips, and more at the expense of taxpayers. Too many government hires are stamping on the US Constitution and making laws to their advantage not Americas.

Can’t you just feel the Tea Party passion: something is wrong and although Wilhelm doesn’t know what it is, she feels very strongly that something ought to be done about it. This is prima facie evidence of why the Tea Party has been such a useful tool for the rich. Situation: they are angry about the rich being bailed out with TARP. Resolution: they push the government to lower the taxes of the rich.

Gun Rights

On 21 March, Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm applied her usual white and black moral reasoning to an issue that gets far too much serious and careful discussion, Americas 2nd Amendment Must Never Be Compromised—Ever! (That’s right: a grammar error in the headline.) This was especially fun because gun rights is an issue that I have very complex thoughts about. And those thoughts do not fit into any simple box: I side with conservatives on some things and I’m far more extreme than liberals on other things. Avon Patch Savant, of course, makes everything very simple:

  1. Something must be done to stop bad guys from harming good people.
  2. Lucky we have police who are always right.
  3. Sometimes police are not around to kill the bad guys.
  4. We must have guns so we can kill the bad guys.

Deer CrossingShe again goes back to her deer sign point: “‘No gun’ signage is on most schools, malls, banks. Criminals do not seem to read as guns continue to be part of crime.” Now, I understand that as with the deer sign article, she is trying to be cute. But her entire argument is that “bad guys” have guns; all will be well if “good people” are armed so that they can kill the “bad guys.” This goes right long with what seems to be Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm’s guiding philosophy of life: everything is simple. She does not allow that maybe people can’t be neatly categorized as good and bad. Or that a “good guy” with a gun might get mad over something small and end up killing another “good guy.”

Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm Is Typical of the Tea Party

All of her writing reminds me of a 2011 paper from the American Sociological Association that looked at the beliefs of those in the Tea Party movement. The researchers found that Tea Partiers shared four cultural and political dispositions:

  1. Authoritarianism: respondents believe that obedience by children is more important than creativity, and that deference to authority is an important value.
  2. Libertarianism: respondents believe there should not be regulations or limitations on expressions such as clothing, television shows, and musical lyrics.
  3. Fear of change/ontological insecurity: respondents sense that things are changing too fast or too much.
  4. Nativism: respondents hold negative attitudes toward immigrants and immigration.

Wilhelm demostrates three of these tendencies in the articles here. She doesn’t exhibit libertarianism. But I question just how seriously the Tea Partiers are about libertarianism generally—especially given the way the study defines it. They may well associate these kinds of limits with schools and might answer very differently if a Republican were in the White House. Regardless, Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm comes off like a frightened child who wants a grown-up to protect her. And what frightens her: just the modern world with all those people coming into it. Of course, the problem is not that Wilhelm is the way she is; it is that there are tens of millions of people just like her. The more I read her, the less I find her amusing. Now she makes me despair for our society.

The Op-Ed Page

Editorial and Op-Ed Pages

Will asked me what an “OpEd” was—probably because I had used the term in an article that I’d written. It was a good question, because I had been asking myself the same question. Of course, I knew what an OpEd was, just like the Supreme Court knew what obscenity was: I knew it when I saw it. But I didn’t know why it was called that.

I had an idea, though. I thought that “OpEd” was short for “opportunity editorial.” There were two kinds of OpEds as far as I could tell. There were those by columnists like George Will or Paul Krugman. And there were those by people who had nothing to do with the paper like Liz Cheney’s ignorant and vile article in the Wall Street Journal last week.[1]

Because Will asked, I decided to look up “OpEd.” I was surprised to learn that “OpEd” (or “Op-Ed”) is a very recent word: it dates back only to the 1970s. And “Op” does not refer to “opportunity” but rather “opposite.” The term refers to the editorials that run on the page opposite the editorial page. So in the image above, the editorial page is the one on the left and the op-ed page is on the right.

So now we (Will and I) know. I continue to be amazed at how much I stay ignorant about for lack of picking up a dictionary.


[1] She writes the following that is every bit as hysterical and fact-free as the most extreme Tea Partier:

President Obama is the most radical man ever to occupy the Oval Office. The national debt, which he is intent on increasing, has passed $16 trillion. He believes that more government borrowing and spending are the solution to every problem. He seems unaware that the free-enterprise system has lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system devised by man…

The president has launched a war on Americans’ Second Amendment rights. He has launched a war on religious freedom. He has launched a war on fossil fuels. He is working to nationalize one-sixth of the economy with job-killing ObamaCare. He wants to collect a greater portion of every American paycheck, not for the purpose of paying down the national debt but to expand his governing machine. He doesn’t believe in creating a bigger pie with more opportunity for all. He believes in greater redistribution of a much smaller pie. If you’re unsure of what this America would look like, Google “Cyprus” or “Greece.”

This is shocking coming from a major figure in one of America’s major political parties.

Grapes Sweet and Sour

Cesar ChavezOn this day back in 1878, boxer and civil rights martyr Jack Johnson was born. In 1885, the great artist Pascin was born.

Brilliant actor William Daniels is 86 today. Bonnie Bartlett and he have been marriage almost 62 years. I’ll mention two people for my mother: author John Jakes is 81 and actor Richard Chamberlain is 79; I don’t have much use for either. Shirley Jones is also 79. The Tin Drum director Volker Schlondorff is 74. Barney Frank is 73. Christopher Walken is 70. Gabe Kaplan is 68. Al Gore and Rhea Perlman are both 65, so we won’t be seeing much of them anymore. AC/DC guitarist and snappy dresser Angus Young is 58. And Ewan McGregor is 42.

The man of the day is Cesar Chavez, who was born in 1927. He co-founded the United Farm Workers with Dolores Huerta. Like Martin Luther King Jr, Chavez has become more a symbol than a man. But also like MLK, he did much great work during lifetime. He was also a curious guy, not believing in money and being a strict vegan.

Happy birthday Mr. Chavez! You died much too young.

Update (31 March 2013 6:20 pm)

I don’t know how I missed it, but the great Joseph Haydn was born today in 1732. Cesar Chavez still would have won, of course. But there is this:

Update (31 March 2013 11:17 pm)

I noticed that I made a mistake ten days ago. I wrote that Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday was on 21 March. That is the old calendar. His real birthday is today. Sorry about that!

Great Long-Distance Runners

Usain BoltI got the following information from an article in Popular Mechanics, The Animal Kingdom’s Top Marathoners. It lists the six fastest long distance running species. What I find most interesting is the comparison between the speed of these animals in the short and long distance categories. For the animals that run long distances at the same speed humans do, their short distance speeds blow us away. When it comes to short distance running, we kind of suck—even Usain Bolt.

The reason this is interesting is that our ability to run long distances quickly is how we’ve survived the last million years or so. We can barely catch any animal in the short distance, but we can chase down just about any animal over the course of a day. We tend to think of human survival depending upon our being smart. But we’ve survived as much because we can sweat as anything else.

Speed (mph)
 Animal    Short Dist       Long Dist   
 Ostrich 50 30
 Pronghorn Antelope 55 30
 Camels 40 25
 Humans 27 13
 Dogs[1] 45 10
 Horses 54 10

[1] The article provides a speed of 20 mph for long distance sled dog speeds. Looking elsewhere, this number seems to be wrong and so I put down 10 mph. It is also difficult to know which numbers to use for the short distance speed. Greyhounds can run up to 45 mph, but sled dogs can’t. With humans, we present the fastest short distance runner and the fastest long distance runner. The best short-distance runners are large and the best long-distance runners are small. So to be consistent I put the Greyhound speed in there.

The Gorgeous Mask of Zorro

The Mask of ZorroThere are certain men who define different kinds of ideals of male beauty. Cary Grant and George Clooney are one kind. Another kind of ideal is represented by Antonio Banderas. In addition to being just plain gorgeous, he has a quiet confidence that is irresistible. Like most people, I first noticed him in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and I’ve come to like him more since then. So I generally enjoy watching any movie that he is in, as long as it doesn’t go out of its way to annoy me. And so it was with some hope that I sat down to watch The Mask of Zorro.

The Mask of Zorro is a superhero film. But unlike most films in that genre, it is actually quite good. The opening fight sequence sets the mood for the whole film. It shows that while Zorro fights for the people, the people also fight for Zorro. Repeatedly, we see that Zorro would be killed if this or that peasant hadn’t prevented it. So his most important trait is the love and commitment of the people he defends. This is just the opposite of most superheroes, where the people are just bystanders. What is particularly bad about this portrayal is that if the superhero turned on the people, there is nothing that could be done. With Zorro, he simply wouldn’t be a superhero if he turned against the people.

In addition to getting to stare at the handsome Mr. Banderas for two hours, we also get to watch the gorgeous Catherine Zeta-Jones. In fact, I had forgotten just what a beautiful woman she is. Those two actors light up the screen when they are together. In particular, there are two very sexy scenes: one a very provocative dance and the other a playful sword fight. Of course, none of this is very serious, which is the best part of the film: it doesn’t take itself very seriously.

While watching The Mask of Zorro, I was really struck by how much it felt like the Pirates of the Caribbean films. I brushed this off as having to do with all the sword play. There are parts of the film that hearken back to Samurai films as well. But when the film was over, I saw there was more than just this that connected the films. Both were written by the screenwriting team Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio. Although I don’t think of them as great screenwriters, they create wonderful, fun films. What’s more: they have a good sense of humor. One thing I hate in action films are the “clever” comments by the hero. Example: as the hero pushes the bad guy off a roof, he says, “Drop in on somebody else!” Pathetic. Elliott and Rossio don’t do that much. Instead, they provide genuinely funny bits and dialog. And this is seen throughout The Mask of Zorro. It is a funny and often silly film.

In addition to the plot, the film is beautiful to look up. The director, Martin Campbell, is mostly known for directing standard (uninteresting) action films. But he manages to do a good job here. Each shot is pretty enough that you want to climb into it. All the departments are working at peak form: costumes, sets, crowd control, lighting. Unlike most two plus hour long films, I wasn’t bored at all. I wanted it to continue on and on.

When it comes to straight Hollywood entertainment, you can’t do better than The Mask of Zorro. I highly recommend watching it if you are looking for a fun action film that will appeal to both woman and men.

Afterword

Yes, in this article, I am being an ombudsman. And there is nothing wrong with that. The problem is with ombudsmen thinking that they are art critics.

Idiotic “Freedom” Map

Freedom Map

Regular readers know where I stand on libertarianism. I understand its appeal, but it is a silly philosophy and does not hold up to even a cursory examination. And nothing is quite so silly as the professional libertarian. Enter William P. Ruger and Jason Sorens of the Mercatus Center and their idiotic (I do not use that word lightly!) “freedom rankings” of the 50 United States.

These guys have put together a list of things that make us free and then tabulated them to see which states are the most free and which states are the least free. Can you say “setting up a model so it provides the outcome you want”? I sure can! Before we look at their criteria, let’s look at their results. The freest states in the union? North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plains. The least free states in the union? New York, California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Rhode Island.

Wow! Blue states are unfree and red states are free! How do you suppose that happened? And this brings up one of my biggest complaints about libertarians: when you push them for details, they always end up with conservative policies because they are conservatives, they just don’t like the moniker. Let’s look at one notable missing element to their list of policies: reproductive rights. They aren’t on the list at all, because the authors claim that you can’t distinguish between the rights of the mother and the rights of the fetus. But Matt Yglesias notes an interesting inconsistency: after a fetus has been born, they have no rights at all. At birth, suddenly all the rights are with the parents. That’s not very libertarian, that’s more, oh, what do you call it, social conservatism.

The rankings get even more nutty when you look at the criterion. For example, people are more free if they can get less education. Apparently, they would be most free if 5-year-olds could just decide they don’t want to go to school at all. Oh, I’m sorry; not 5-year-olds; they don’t have any rights after they are born; their parents decide. So the most free place in terms of education is Afghanistan where religious fanatics can decide that girls don’t need an education.

There are three broad categories of freedom: fiscal, regulatory, and personal. In other words, freedom for these bozos is heavily tilted toward what businesses can do. Fiscal is the largest single category and it includes: Tax Burden (28.6%), Government Employment (2.8%), Government Spending (1.9%), Government Debt (1.2%), and Fiscal Decentralization (0.9%). You can forget everything but “tax burden,” even though the rest make precious little sense. It is all about taxes. But as usual with conservatives, there is no sense in which the programs that the taxes pay for increase freedom. Are we more free because of public roads, libraries, a judicial system? I think so. But for the liberty boys, paying taxes just reduces freedom. That alone delegitimizes their their rankings, but I will move on.

Regulatory is probably the most perverse category. It includes: Freedom from Tort Abuse (11.5%), Property Right Protection (7.6%), Health Insurance Freedom (5.4%), Labor Market Freedom (3.8%), Occupational Licensing Freedom (1.7%), Miscellaneous Regulatory Freedom (1.3%), and Cable and Telecom Freedom (0.8%). Pretty great, huh? Freedom from tort abuse. Tort abuse is, in case you don’t know, what companies who are getting sue call any lawsuit. Again: there’s no plus side: reducing individuals’ ability to sue has no down side. I’m sure you can figure out what “property rights protection” is. But what about “health insurance freedom”? That’s the freedom of businesses to not provide health insurance to their employees.

“Labor market freedom” is “right to work” legislation. As I’ve written before, Right-to-Work Limits Employer Freedom. Libertarians always claim that people ought to be able to make any contracts they like. But the moment those contracts give power to workers, libertarians pretend like contracts are a bad thing. This is a great example of how libertarians are not pro-liberty and not pro-individual; they are pro-business, and when it comes to it, pro-big-business over small business. In other words, they’re just conservatives. Moving on.

The Personal category includes: Victimless Crime Freedom (9.8%), Gun Control Freedom (6.6%), Tobacco Freedom (4.1%), Alcohol Freedom (2.8%), Marriage Freedom (2.1%), Marijuana and Salvia Freedom (2.1%), Gambling Freedom (2.0%), Education Policy (1.9%), Civil Liberties (0.6%), Travel Freedom (0.5%), Asset Forfeiture Freedom (0.1%), and Campaign Finance Freedom (0.02%). I don’t have a problem with “victimless crime freedom” although I would think that ought to be even more important. Paying someone to have sex with you can result in you being put in a cage for a long time. Unlike the “freedom” to pay less in taxes, this is a real issue of freedom. But I’m glad they highlight it. (Note, however, that being able to sue is a bigger threat to freedom than victimless crime laws.)

“Gun control freedom,” of course, is the usual 2nd Amendment loon complaint: any restriction on my ability to build an army is tyranny! Again, no thought is giving to the other side: the freedom not to be murdered by a nutjob or angry family member. And then there is “alcohol freedom.” This is the freedom not to pay alcohol taxes. And it is more important to the liberty boys than the government disallowing same sex couples to marry.

By far the biggest problem with these rankings is that they don’t provide any freedom value from government programs. This is ridiculous. A libertarian could make the argument that the decrease in freedom from taxes is greater than the increase in freedom from, say, Social Security. But they absolutely cannot make the argument that Social Security adds no freedom. As a result of this, these rankings are worse than meaningless. All they demonstrate are the prejudices of the men who put this “study” together.

Afterword

As a former scientist myself, I think the presentation of their data is poor. If I had done it, I would certainly have provided a table that showed the actual numbers. Also, there is no way to reproduce these results. I don’t suppose this too much matters, because this isn’t actual research. It is just a couple of libertarian idiots throwing out some slapdash notions of freedom and judging states based upon them. Anyone who wanted to do this work seriously would just start over; there is nothing in the work done here that is worth saving.

Oy Vey, Goya Day

Courtyard With LunaticsThe Italian composer Tommaso Traetta was born on this day way back in 1727. Vincent van Gogh was born in 1853. I’m fond enough of him, but I really don’t understand his stature among art collectors. Could it be as simple as, “Pretty colors!”? There are remarkable aspects of his painting. I especially like how he deals with light and shadow. But I find him wanting in terms of design. However, it is always a pleasure to see his actual paintings, as I did recently at the Getty Center.

Warren Beatty is 76 today. Fine but overrated guitarist Eric Clapton is 68. Robbie Coltrane is 63. And that is enough of a reason to present his brilliant performance of “The Stone Golem”:

Alaska Senator Mark Begich is 51. Normally, I don’t mention politicians, but Begich has a great idea for Social Security reform—real reform, not benefit cuts. MC Hammer is also 51. The thing about Mr. Hammer is that I really don’t know who he is. I’ve listened to a few of his songs and they were well done, but I’d never heard them before. Oh well. Tracy Chapman is 49. Most of my friends have an attitude towards her, but I rather like her work. Piers Morgan doesn’t even deserve mention. And beautiful Israeli actress Mili Avital is 41.

With all my mixed feelings about van Gogh, you may still be wondering, “Who beats him as birthday champ today?” The answer is every Kafka fan’s favorite painter: Francisco Goya. He was born on this date back in 1746. Now there’s an artist who understood design! But the reason I’m so fond of his work is that he painted interesting subjects like Courtyard with Lunatics above.

Happy birthday old man! Here’s Tommaso Traetta’s Overture in D-Major to celebrate:

Republicans Take Care of Their Own—Only

Steve GundersonI just looked at the voting roles of the Defense of Marriage Act. There were only 14 Senators and 67 Representatives who voted against it. Of those 81 members of Congress who voted against the bill, only one was a Republican. And that man, Steve Gunderson, is gay.

Gunderson is an old fashioned conservative with some policy positions that are not terrible. For example, he wanted to reduce military spending. Of course, that was in 1992 when we supposedly had the end of the cold war and a lot of people were in favor of that. But mostly, he was a status quo kind of conservative, wanting to give more to those with much and less to those with little. And he was hardcore anti-choice. It is also of some interest that his vote against DOMA was after he had been outed. So who knows how he would have voted before.

The main thing of interest here is that this is yet another example that shows that Republicans may be worse than they’ve ever been, but they’ve always been bad. Over 16 years ago, the only Republican who was willing to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act was himself gay. Thus, just as with Rob Portman today, the only Republican who was willing to stand up for minority rights was he who was a member of that very minority group.

The Republican Party should be ashamed. But they aren’t. They just shamble along muttering their talking points about freedom and justice, apparently unaware of (or at least carefree regarding) the big world around them. They really don’t care about the country. Their sole interest is doing right by themselves and those close to them. And in that regard, they are highly successful. As of 2015, they will probably control both houses of Congress.

I weep for our country.

Are Humans Better than Neanderthals?

Nova: Becoming HumanI just watched the Nova series Becoming Human. I love these kinds of programs, but increasingly, they annoy me. Again, it is over the issue of the Neanderthals. Somehow, when talking about most species, we have no problem being objective. But when it comes to the one species that we are closest to, we can’t help but make comparisons. Watching these documentaries is like listening to 19th century whites compare themselves to Africans.

Don’t misunderstand: I don’t know if the Neanderthals were stupider, poorer communicators, or lacking in creativity compared to humans. The point is that neither do any of these scientists and documentary makers. But just like bigots everywhere, they cherry pick data to make the case that humans are superior and Neanderthals inferior.

This particular documentary talks about spears incessantly. It goes on and on about how the Neanderthals never made throwing spears. Of course, humans only started to make throwing spears around the time that Neanderthals went extinct. What’s more, there is no evidence that humans would have behaved any differently had their range been limited to the same place as the Neanderthals. The truth is that the Neanderthals were extremely well adapted for where they lived.

The biggest problem with all this human self-congratulations is the fact that most humans did die off when times got bad. Our population got whittled down to less than a thousand people. This small group seemed to figure out that they could eat sea food and that is what saved them. That’s cool, but it’s also mostly dumb luck. It is most certainly not the case—as is claimed in the documentary—that humans learned to predict the lunar cycle and thus were able to eat shellfish. You don’t need to understand the moon at all to know there are two low tides per day separated by roughly 12 hours.

I hate to go on and on about this, but I’m an out-group kind of guy. I don’t dig on feeling superior just because I’m a member of one group. What’s more, the Neanderthals were a really cool species who should be celebrated for their own accomplishments rather than relegated to the “Why humans rock!” game. If humans manage to survive another 200,000 years and thus outlast the Neanderthals, then I might accept that humans really are the great species we claim to be. Wake me up when that happens.

Afterword

Here is Part 3 that commits this sin:

Obama’s Just Not That Into You

Obama NopeI’ve know for a while that Obama just isn’t that into me. Actually, I’ve known that pretty much from the start. Liberalism in the United States is in a death spiral. We nominate moderates to be president in the hopes that they will get elected. When they do manage to get elected, they govern like moderates or even conservatives. They give us NAFTA, welfare “reform,” and Republican healthcare laws. And while they’re in power, the conservatives scream, “Socialist!” So next time when we nominate a Democrat for president, he or she will be even more conservative. Where did my country go? It was hijacked by conservatives cloaked in liberal talking points.

People wonder why Obama negotiates with himself and gives so much away to the Republicans. Here’s the dirty not so secret: that’s what he believes. Sure, he believes in a more egalitarian economy, but only if it can be done without much government interference, and only around the edges. I’m sure when he looks at the graph of income distribution that Americans think would be right, he’s horrified. You mean the people think I shouldn’t have made $2 million on my last book? The horror, Mr. President!

The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that Obama is hell bent on giving the country Chained-CPI. This is new way of calculating the consumer price index. It will affect Americans in two ways. First, it will be a substantial cut in the amount of Social Security retirees receive over the course of their lives. Second, it will allow the government raise income taxes by gradually pushing people into higher tax brackets. Note: this is from an administration that defined middle class as anyone making less than $400,000 per year.

Before, Chained-CPI was a bargaining chip for the administration. But now, Obama plans to put it in his budget due out next week. The inclusion in the budget “would be aimed at breathing new life into bipartisan talks on reaching a deficit-reduction deal.” On its surface, this makes absolutely no sense. It implies that he has apparently learned nothing negotiating with the Republicans for the last four years. After all, he has done the best when he’s taken a strong position with them. Whenever he’s negotiated with himself, it has been disastrous.

This is why I am convinced that this is not what’s going on. Instead, it is that Obama wants to cut Social Security benefits. He wants to raise taxes on the middle class. Obama, just like Mitt Romney, is a man who is above all else, looking out for the interests of his own class. And that class includes Mitt Romney; it does not include you. He’s just not that into you.

Please contact the White House. Maybe there’s hope.

Afterword

My letter to the president this morning:

Dear Mr. President:

There seems to be no bottom when it comes to the current administration selling out its supporters. I read in the WSJ today that you plan to put Chained-CPI into your upcoming budget. We Don’t Want That!

What’s more, are you still so naive as to think that the reason Republicans won’t negotiate is just that they don’t know what you have offered in regards to extremely unpopular entitlement cuts? Putting CHained-CPI into the budget will not help negotiations (in fact, it may hurt them). What it will do is make future Democratic politicians look bad because of the party’s history of not standing for liberal policies and not doing what those who elected them expected.

Please Mr. President, it is us the voters who you should be trying to woo, not a Republican Party that is only interested in destroying you and your legacy.

-Frank Moraes

Don Young on the Fruits of Productivity

Alaska Representative Don YoungHave you heard about Alaska Representative Don Young? People are having a lot of fun with him today because he said, “My father had a ranch; we used to have 50–60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes. It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.” Oh so much to unpack here! But the focus of most of the discussion (as usual) is about trivial stuff.

Trivial Stuff

First, the racial slur. It was insensitive and idiotic, but not important. Jonathan Chait had the best response, “Also, dude: ‘Wetback’ is not the preferred nomenclature.” That is a reference to The Big Lebowski. Here’s the scene—just 21 seconds long:

This got me wondering where the term “wetback” comes from. I had always thought that it referred to all Mexicans or Latinos, which for most Americans are the same thing. It turns out that “wetback” refers to people who came to the the United States illegally by crossing the Rio Grande. The word was first used in 1929. My question: why focus on their backs? After all, the Rio Grande is a “large river,” so I would figure their whole bodies would be wet. “Wetfeet” I can see. And for those of you who think that the “back” doesn’t refer to physical backs? If they were referred to as “wetbacks” after they returned to Mexico, that would make some sense. Otherwise, I’m not buying it.

Important Stuff

Young’s broader point is valid, although it is clear from the original interview that he doesn’t have a clue what to do about it or that anything can be done about it. In a world in which more and more production is automated, how are we to employ everyone so that there will be people who can buy all the crap that machines make? I have some ideas about this, but I’m no economist. The problem is that most economists don’t treat the issue seriously.

Traditionally, it has been the case that when people were put out of work due to technological innovation, the increased productivity rippled through the economy leading to better jobs for everyone. And that’s true under the right conditions. Those right conditions are an economy in which workers share in the benefits of productivity gains. Unfortunately, that only happens in economies where workers have the power to force capitalists to share. And in modern America, the government pretty much forbids that.

Dean Baker spends a lot of time countering people who say that our aging population will bankrupt us because there are fewer and fewer workers supporting each retired person. He notes (rightly) that with productivity gains, we will have no problems. But there is a caveat: the productivity gains must be shared by workers. For roughly the last 40 years, this has not been the case. And so we might have a problem with our aging population in the future.

There are two resolutions to this problem, both of which Republicans hate. We can strengthen labor law and enforcement, and allow workers to get their rightful share of what they produce. Or we can tax the rich. There are no other solutions. Those two “webacks” on Young’s father’s farm who are now doing the work of 60? You can bet they aren’t making 30 times what they did when Don Young was a kid. In fact, they almost certainly aren’t even making twice what they did. And that, more than the automation itself, is the real problem.

And it is certainly a bigger problem than an unfortunate racially charged moniker.

Be More like Thomas Coram

Thomas CoramIt’s another one of those days. While looking at lists of birthdays, I’ve noticed that if a name is listed from the 18th century, then that person really did something. If they are listed from the late 20th century, they are probably just a soccer player. This goes along with our celebrity culture. Now that we have nine million cable channels, we have had to lower our expectation of what a celebrity is. It used to be that you had to actually, you know, do something. Now, being the ex-girl friend of the bass player of a band that had a song briefly dip into the top 40 in Luxembourg is enough to get you harassed by the folks of TMZ.

On this day in 1867, Cy Young was born. He spent the last 43 years of his life farming and generally being poor. A lot of people look back at this time and think, “That’s the way it should be!” Unfortunately, that’s the wrong way to think about it. I’m as much against winner-take-all markets as anyone. But Young did so poorly because the players did not share in the money that they were helping to produce. That is the plight of the American worker. At least in modern professional sports, that isn’t a problem.

Also born today in 1878, was Albert Von Tilzer, writer of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Philip Ahn, Master Kan on Kung Fu, was born in 1905.

Eric Idle is 70 today. The supremely overrated Vangelis is also 70. Terry Jacks, destroyer of all that is good, is 69. Bud Cort is 65 so he won’t be making any more movies. And Brendan Gleeson, the Irish actor who plays the guy with the mechanical eye in the Harry Potter films, is 58.

Thomas Coram was born on this day back in 1668. Who? He was a sea captain who made a fortune in the New World. I’m sure he had his bad side, but he wasn’t a slave trader, so there’s that. And once he got all rich, he founded the Foundling Hospital in London. It was basically a home for orphans and quite a successful one. According to Wikipedia, “As a philanthropist Coram was appalled by the many abandoned, homeless children living in the streets of London. On 17 October 1739 he obtained a Royal Charter granted by George II establishing a ‘hospital for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children.'” It was operating in this capacity until the 1950s and works for the betterment of children to this day.

And this begs the question, “What the hell are you doing with your life?!” But at least we can all wish Coram a happy birthday.