Helen Keller Saw Clearer Than We

Helen KellerFrench composer Napoleon Coste was born on this day in 1805. Check out his Andante in D-Minor for a good example of his work. The anarchist political philosopher Emma Goldman was born in 1869. And poster artist Paul Colin was born in 1892.

Social activist Grace Lee Boggs is 98 today. Ross Perot is 83. Meera Syal is 52. She played Sanjeev’s over-sexed grandmother, Ummi on The Kumars at No. 42. It is a great show that not many people know about. And note: Syal is married to the actor who plays Sanjeev, Sanjeev Bhaskar. Here is a funny clip that is entirely typical of the show:

Director J. J. Abrams is 47. And actor Tobey Maguire is 38.

The day, however, belongs to “that deaf, dumb, and blind” girl, Helen Keller who was born in 1880. She was a remarkable woman. Her thinking was far ahead of its time and our time too. She really didn’t like war monger Woodrow Wilson. She was a socialist, a pacifist, a feminist, and a proponent of birth control. Of course, she was also a big advocate for the rights of the disabled. She was in a unique position to understand both the difficulties suffered by the disabled and their value to society. Here she is with Anne Sullivan from a 1930 newsreel:

Happy birthday Helen Keller!

Immigration Reform Still Unlikely

Pathway to CitizenshipI’m sure you’ve heard that the Senate managed to pass their little immigration reform bill with a vote of 68-32. Let’s think about that for a second. That means that 32 of the 46 Republican Senators voted against the bill: 70%. This is what passes for a huge bipartisan compromise. And notice: the bill itself is extremely conservative. Bernie Sanders voted for it, but with a great many misgivings. Yet despite giving in on all kinds of issues, the Democrats only managed to get 14 Republicans to vote for it. And these were Senators: the more moderate of the congressional Republicans.

Now it moves to the House where many of our liberal friends in the pundit world are cautiously optimistic. Somehow, they think that winning 30% Republican support in the Senate will put pressure on the House to pass the bill. Maybe! Stranger things have happened. But Dylan Matthews wrote an article this afternoon that made me think it is highly unlikely, Immigration Reform Has Passed the Senate. Here’s How it Passes the House. In the article, he provided three ways that the immigration reform might make its way through the House.

The first way is that the House “Gang of Seven” bill might be able to get majority Republican support. But it contains a path to citizenship, so that isn’t going to happen. The second way is for one or more of Bob Goodlatte’s proposals—none of which include a path to citizenship—might be able to pass. Then that bill could go to conference with the Senate. If the resulting bill had a path to citizenship (which is hardly certain), it would only allow the Republicans to vote for a path to citizenship once. This is down right funny. Does Matthews really think that Representatives are going to be able to sneak one vote past their constituencies? They would be primaried as much for one vote (especially the one that caused the bill to become law) as they are for a dozen votes. The third way is for the House to get a discharge petition and force a vote. The problem here is that they’ve tried to get discharge petitions before and have failed. There would be hell to pay by Republicans who signed it.

For the umpteenth time: nobody, including me, knows what is going to happen. But this just doesn’t look good for the immigration bill. I’m not wedded to it either way. I think it would be good to provide a path to citizenship for all of these people. It is the right thing to do. But the bill has a lot of baggage and the path to citizenship is ridiculously long and punitive.

Rand Paul Thinks Dog Marriage is Next

Rand PaulAs you all know, I have major problems with real libertarians—to a large extent because most of them have a good understanding of the problems of governing and I don’t see why they don’t recognize their very clear blind spots. But people who claim to be libertarians who don’t understand the philosophy and just throw the word around because it sounds cooler than “conservative” are another matter. I hate them.

The most prominent pretend libertarian is Rand Paul. This doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with him from time to time. Hell, I agree with Rick Santorum now and then. One nice thing about real libertarians is that you can usually predict where they stand on any given issue. But not so with Paul. He is anti-abortion, for example. Now I understand that some libertarians are anti-abortion. But I don’t get it. A 16-cell zygote has equal human rights to the mother? Really?!

But there are many more clear examples. He isn’t, for example, in favor of drug legalization—just cannabis. Now, I’m all for legalizing cannabis. But at this point, the argument isn’t the libertarian one that people should be allowed to make their own choices. It is the (true) conservative argument that cannabis is no more dangerous than other legal drugs. At least Paul’s father, Ron Paul, acts like a true libertarian in this regard.

And now, Rand Paul is making the media rounds to complain about the Supreme Court’s overturning the Defense of Marriage Act. He was on Glenn Beck’s show (another pretend libertarian) warning that same sex marriage would lead to polygamy. I actually agree with him that this ought to lead to polygamy. I’m very much a libertarian on this issue: people should be able to enter whatever contracts they want with each other. But Paul brought this up as a note of caution: polygamy is bad.[1] This is clearly not a man who believes that people’s lives are their own.

Of course, Paul didn’t stop there. He said that soon marriage equality proponents may ask, “Does it have to be humans?” Well, as a matter of fact Dr. Paul, yes, it does have to be humans. This is a settled issue. Humans can’t marry dogs for the same reason that they can’t marry children. Marriage is a contract. It requires that all parties being legally able to consent. This is Rick Santorum level “man on dog” thinking. As low as I’ve thought of Rand Paul, he’s actually reached a new quantum level.

[1] I am concerned about certain aspects of polygamy—mostly pushing young girls into marriage before they are old enough to make an informed choice. I could imagine it becoming a form of slavery. But I’m sure these issues could be dealt with.

Lessons of Zimmerman’s Defense

Trayvon MartinIt is said that the Florida “stand your ground” law is confusing. And I can see why based upon the little that I’ve seen of the George Zimmerman trial. Today, Rachel Jeantel, the girl who was talking on the phone with Trayvon Martin moments before he was killed, was on the stand. The defense were really pushing on the fact that Jeantel couldn’t say who had thrown the first punch. All I could think was, “Really?!” Is that all this comes down to?

By that interpretation of this confusing law, one could use a very simple process to murder any number of people. Go up to a guy in a bar; really get in his face; tell him that his wife or mother is a whore; when he punches you, pull out a gun and shoot him in the face. If this is what this law allows, it is an evil law.

In the months since this incident, I’ve come up with what I think is a pretty reasonable sequence of events. Zimmerman was following Martin. Eventually, Martin noticed and said something like, “Why are you following me?” This quickly escalated from words to pushing to an all out fight. Martin was getting the best of Zimmerman. So Zimmerman pulled his gun and killed Martin.

To me, this means that Zimmerman is culpable. But according to the defense, and apparently even Florida law, the first person to hit the other is in the wrong. That’s outrageous, but hardly surprising. There is a lot of law like that in America, because we don’t dig on ambiguity or complexity. But this strikes me as an egregious example of this.

There are three things that are clear. First, the Florida “stand your ground” law needs to be changed, or even better, repealed. Second, wannabe cops like Goerge Zimmerman should not be allowed to carry guns around. And third, George Zimmerman (based upon justice and not the details of Florida law) should be convicted of manslaughter and given five to ten years in jail. But I suspect if anything, we will see the law stay as it is, nothing will be done to limit fools carrying guns, and Zimmerman will be acquitted.

It is tragic that Trayvon Martin is dead. But I fear we will further disrespect him by providing no justice in this case and no justice in the law generally moving forward.

Sean Trende is Right: Republican Is a White Party

Sean TrendeThere have been a number of articles responding to Sean Trende‘s articles over at Real Clear Politics where he has been arguing that Republicans don’t need to make any changes; they just need to get more white people out to the polls and get a larger percentage of the white vote. For example, yesterday, Ed Kilgore wrote Doubling Down on the White Man’s Party. But I think that Trende’s basic idea is right, although I would put it in a different way. Given that the Republicans have backed themselves into an ideological corner and are unwilling to change any of their positions, their only choice is to go all in on their white strategy.

Until yesterday, I would have said that this is a clear loser, however. The problem is that Trende is fooling himself in thinking that the Republican Party can get 70% of the white vote. In 2012, they managed to get 60% of it and that is pretty much the limit to what what they can get. Let’s remember that by and large, whites do not vote Republican for racist reasons; they vote for the party because they are older and thus richer. Poor whites still vote for the Democratic Party overall. These whites have not been waiting to join the Republican Party until it got even more racist and elitist.

Along these lines, Jonathan Chait wrote an article that showed how white demographics go against Trende’s idea of getting a higher percentage of white voters. Younger white voters tend to split over Democrat and Republican preferences. It is only as they get older that their preferences turn hard toward the Republicans. Now this could indicate that the young white voters will move more and more toward the Republicans as they get older. Certainly this will happen to some extent. But most of the difference between the old and the young is the legacy of the Great Compression. Now we see ever greater income inequality, so far fewer of today’s young white people will be affluent when they get old. Thus far fewer will turn Republican as they get older.

But what Trende is right about is that the Republicans may indeed be able to grow the percentage of the white electorate. And that became a whole lot easier yesterday when the Supreme Court effectively abolished Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Republicans probably don’t want to increase the raw number of whites who vote. Those who tend not to vote probably tend to vote Democrat anyway. Much better is to keep the current white vote and simply suppress all the other voters. And Republican state legislators are working hard to do just that.

It is wrong to think of Sean Trende as some kind of loon who can be dismissed. He is a smart and knowledgeable guy. I wrote about his debunking of the six-year myth a couple of months ago—the best discussion of the issue I’ve ever read. And given what the Republican Party is willing to do in the next couple of elections, the “maximize the white vote” strategy is the only one that could conceivably work. As long as there is hope, the Republican Party will hope. They will only change when there is no other option.

Say it now, and don’t be tardy
Republicans are a white party!

No Conspiracy on Inflation

Poor RetireeThere is a line of argument that I hear all the time from conservatives. It states that inflation is totally out of control but that it isn’t taken into account with regular measures because they weed out volatile items. In other words, “Have you seen what is happening to the price of milk?!” This is nonsense. There are two kinds of inflation measures: headline and core. Headline inflation is the inflation of all products—including things like food and energy that are highly variable. Core inflation is the inflation without these highly variable products. The government estimates both kinds of inflation.

Here is a little graph that I put together with the help of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis data tool. The red line is the headline inflation and the blue line is the core inflation. What it shows is that there isn’t much of an effect. It also shows why we use core inflation: headline inflation has a lot of ups and downs that economic policy should not respond to. Note also that since the financial crisis, the headline inflation was generally less than the core inflation.

Long Term Gold Prices

This belief among conservatives that inflation is terrible and that the government is hiding it from us is part of a larger belief that monetary policy at the Federal Reserve is destroying our economy. These people have been screaming for years that all of our efforts to stimulate the economy are going to lead to inflation. That hasn’t happened. So all they can do is claim that we really do have high inflation, it is just that the government is lying to us. (Note: other non-government estimates of inflation agree with the government numbers.)

Recently, Bernanke announced that he will start cutting back quantitative easing (QE) as soon as we get to 7% unemployment and that he thinks the unemployment rate target should be the unreasonably high 5.5%-6%. Since then, bond prices have risen modestly. This should not happen. In fact, it hasn’t happened the last two times that QE programs were ended. According to Elliott Orsillo at Season Investments, this is just an irrational blip in the market. Bond prices are not on the rise because the economy is not on the rise (not much, anyway).

But back on the main point: food prices are not increasing. In a blog post this morning, Paul Krugman provided two graphs that show a time series of prices for bread and milk since the financial crisis. Bread prices are basically flat whereas milk is down significantly. The problem is that people focus on every up tick in milk and gas prices. These just don’t represent a large part of one’s expenditures. What’s more, we note increases much more than decreases. But if you are looking for a reason to justify thinking that the Federal Reserve is destroying the American economy, they provide a plausible (but incorrect) explanation.