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.