Crack Babies and Bill O’Reilly

Bill O'ReillyAnd one last thing. On All In, Chris Hayes did a great segment about the same old racist ideas about blacks all being a bunch of drug addicts and that’s why the inner city is so messed up. And he mentioned a study about “crack babies” that he mistakenly claimed shows that being born poor is worse than being born to a crack addicted mother. What the study actually shows is what many of us have known for at least a decade: there is no such thing as a “crack baby.” This study shows that given parents of a particular income level, children do as well regardless of whether or not the mother was on crack during the pregnancy. But his take away is correct: poverty is the killer.

This segment also has some really great, really angry, really racist Bill O’Reilly ranting. In a just world, the man would be a social pariah. But instead, when he’s out in public, his liberal friends like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart pretend that he’s just one of them. Of course, in terms of being part of the power elite, he is one of them. If your liberal views are so shallow that you’ll pretend that someone like O’Reilly isn’t a bigot, then you should just give up the pretense of being liberal, because you clearly don’t give a shit.

Two Things I Don’t Care About

Royal BabyI have no interest in the royal baby. In general, I have no interest in a royal family—at least until the sons start killing each other in order to become king. To me, we had a war so we wouldn’t have deal with this bullshit. And then when we created this country, we specifically didn’t create our own explicit class of people who are better than the rest of us. It’s all a big joke and people who are caught up in it really need to get a life.

The other thing I don’t care about is Anthony Weiner’s newest sex scandal. But I do care about how the Democratic ecosystem reacts to it. It isn’t new, of course. We all know that when something like this happens to a Republican, they circle the wagons. Eventually, they may abandon the man (It’s always a man!) in the middle of it. But they will assume the best and try to play defense. The Democrats are just the opposite—they have no loyalty at all. It doesn’t matter if it’s former IRS head Steven T. Miller or Shirley Sherrod or Weiner. Democrats might think that we should be understanding of the unnamed masses, but if it is a named person who is part of our team, they have to go.

Anthony WeinerThere is something incredibly childish about this. On tonight’s All In, Chris Hayes was joined by three others to discuss how horrible Weiner is. And then Rachel Maddow went even further. I do wish that she wouldn’t cover sex scandals. She has a really childish understanding of adult sexuality. Of course human sexuality in the modern world is kind of sad and unsettling. But that doesn’t mean we can’t empathize and (God forbid!) sympathize.

In addition to this, I can’t get past the whole idea that we could not have a worse government if the only people who represented us were straight laced people who never deviated from what is acceptable behavior on primetime network TV. We are already limited in terms of what we can watch and what we can say. And now these people (The supposed liberals!) want to limit us to vanilla politicians?

Look, I don’t know if Weiner would be a good mayor. I tend to think he would be. One of the people on All In mentioned that he never much liked being in the legislature. But mayor is an executive job and it seems more appropriate to his narcissistic personality. But I don’t know. And I don’t have to know because I don’t live in New York. But his sex scandal strikes me as irrelevant. And it’s sad that the Democratic establishment can’t seem to see that.

Now if it turns out that he was sexting with Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, well, then I might care.

Lyrics of “Watching the Detectives”

Elvis CostelloElvis Costello’s first album My Aim Is True was released 36 years ago yesterday. And that got me thinking about one of the songs on that album “Watching the Detectives.” So I got my guitar out and fiddled around with it. Soon I checked online for the lyrics, which are fairly complicated; I certainly didn’t have them memorized. And one line really stood out, “He stares at you, and you mash a cigarette.” But that isn’t what anyone but me thinks the line is.

Let me explain. “Watching the Detectives” was the song that made me take notice of Costello. And it was that one line about mashing a cigarette that caught me. I thought that it was a wonderfully simple description that perfectly brought to mind those old Humphrey Bogart detective movies. I’d never heard the term before, but it was right: people mash their cigarettes out when they are done. So was I wrong when I thought that? Who knows! I’ve listened to every version I could find this evening and none of them are any more clear than this one:

Opinions on the whole line are varied. No one I’ve found agrees with me on the line. In fact, no one agrees with me on “mash.” Everyone else has “match.” But note that not one of the following lines makes any sense:

  • You snatch a chill, and you match a cigarette
  • You snatch a chew, you a match his cigarette
  • You snatch a tune, you a match a cigarette
  • He snatches at you, and you match his cigarette

My line probably is wrong, but it doesn’t appear to be as wrong as all of these. Also, the next lines follows it thematically, “She pulls his eyes out with a face like a magnet.” The song has two narratives: the guy trying to get the attention of his girl friend and the TV detective show the girl friend is watching. So at this point, more or less the same thing is happening in both narratives. He’s staring at his girl friend as she puts out her cigarette. And on the screen, some detective is salivating over a femme fatale.

It could be about the room temperature, tobacco product types, a song request, or snatching at you, whatever that might mean. And it could be that the two people are comparing or exchanging cigarettes. God knows that Elvis Costello doesn’t make the issue any easier. But really: “snatch” and “match”? Really?! What ever it was, I’m at least sure that Costello is a good enough writer to have avoided that.

Raymond Chandler

Raymond ChandlerOn this day in 1777, the German painter Philipp Otto Runge was born. Much of his work is typically Romantic. But his religious painting seems to me more neoclassical. And it is much more interesting. Romantic composer Franz Berwald was born in 1796. His work is not bad, especially for a saw mill manager. One of the Skagen Painters (basically the Danish Impressionists), Peder Severin Kroyer was born in 1851. The great physicist Walter Schottky was born in 1886. He did not invent the transistor and he was not a racist. (That would be William Shockley.) He did however have one of those little Hitler mustaches. (Shockley did not.) He also invented the ribbon microphone. And the Portuguese singer Amalia Rodrigues was born in 1920. Here she is singing one of her own pieces, “Estranha Forma de Vida”:

Literary critic and long-time editor of Norton Anthology of English Literature, M. H. Abrams is 101 today. That’s what you want in your critics of Romantic era literature, people who actually knew John Keats. Distinctive architect Richard Rogers is 80. Conservative bigot (Redundant?) Don Imus is 73 although he looks more like 113.

Appellate court judge Alex Kozinski is 63. Normally, he wouldn’t merit attention. But he wrote the opinion overturning the conviction of Debra Milke. I’m glad to see that the website devoted to her is back up. They have an article written by Milke last year discussing the day she entered prison (now 22 years ago) on death row, The Day I Arrived… Check it out. Kozinski isn’t exactly a hero. It is just that the Milke case is so screwed up that anyone just doing their jobs properly helps. Meanwhile, despite the fact that the prosecution has no case as far as I can tell, she is set for retrial and the court will not allow her to have bail.

Comedian Jo Brand is 56. Actor Woody Harrelson is 52. I found out two things about him today. First, he has the same birthday as his father, Charles Harrelson who was born in 1938. Second, his father was in the mob and died in prison for killing federal judge John H. Wood Jr. Woody and his father were apparently not close. Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is 46. And Monica Lewinsky (who I think has been unfairly criticized) is 40.

The day, however, belongs to hard-boiled detective fiction pioneer Raymond Chandler who was born on this day in 1888. At this point in my life, I find all of that stuff pretty hard to read. It is so over-written. Everything is described in much too much detail. And really, can you tell me the difference between Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade? (Marlowe was probably a nicer guy; that’s about it.) Still, I think it is great and I liked it quite a lot when I was younger.

Happy birthday Raymond Chandler!

The Next Three Election Cycles

Karl RoveI’ve been thinking what the coming elections will bring. And I’m going to present them now, although obviously they are highly uncertain. In 2014, I expect the Republicans to make small gains in both the House and Senate. I figure they have about 50% chance of retaking the Senate. (On the other hand, if the Republicans manage to force the federal government into a default over the Debt Ceiling, it will decimate the party and the Democrats will control both houses at the beginning of 2015.) After this reasonable showing, Republican conventional wisdom will be that they won’t have to do anything to reform. Karl Rove will increase his daily dose of Prilosec.

In 2016, the Democrats will have a huge year. They will retain the White House and get or retain control of Congress. At this point, all of the pundits will say that surely now the Republican Party will reform itself. But the party will not make any changes for the same reason they aren’t now: they don’t want to offend the base of support (which will still be substantial) that they already have. This is when the chance of a Karl Rove heart attack really increases.

In 2018, the Democrats will make small gains. Given that it is an off year elections, the Republican Party will be forced to reconsider. They will note that their gerrymandering is no longer helping. What’s more, if they don’t do anything, the Democrats will be able to gerrymander them out of existence in 2020. They will note that their efforts at voter suppression have failed. They will see their base dying off and their policies seen as medieval. And they will, at long last, rebuild the tattered remains of a once great American political party. If Karl Rove is still alive, he won’t be of much help. Just the same, lots of Republicans will tell him, “We should have listened to you!”

Is this happy horseshit? I don’t think so. But it does reflect what I think it will take for the Republican Party to accept the hit from its base: three election cycles. There are lots of other things they could do, but for a party that has been so good at using fear and resentment to political advantage, they’ve been strangely clueless about everything else. Think of the Democratic Party coming into the the 1960s. It was a racist party! But it saw an opportunity to grab the civil rights mantel.

Republicans could have grabbed the marriage equality mantel. God knows the Democrats were reluctant to do it. And it would have cost them so little. In my experience, the Christian community is far more obsessed with abortion and birth control than they are gay rights. But the Republican Party let it pass. And I suspect that the Republicans will do the same thing with the libertarian anti-war or anti-bank possibilities. The reason is that to its very core, the conservative movement in this country thinks its purpose is to hold the line against modernity. And that just isn’t going to work. One day, being against same sex marriage will seem as bigoted as miscegenation laws do today.

It will take three election cycles for Republicans to find their way forward. I just hope that the Democrats don’t use this opportunity to become even more the party of big business.

Elderly Increasingly Democratic

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner ResearchCharlie Cook wrote a really interesting article over at National Journal yesterday, Both Parties Need to Keep an Eye on Older Voters for 2014 Elections. Most of the article is stuff that we all know. As I’ve been arguing for a long time, the Democrats need to stop focusing on the mythical “moderate” voter and focus on turn out. It is very simple: when turn out is high, liberals win. That’s because America is a liberal country. Unfortunately, it is not a country that believes much in democracy, and so it has gone out of its way to make voting difficult. And that empowers the rich and disenfranchises the poor.

Cook’s article is based upon a briefing that he got regarding a new poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. Unfortunately, the poll is not online, so I’m left with some questions. But there are clearly two interesting results. First, Republicans have a 3 percentage point advantage going into the 2014 election. That’s better than they had in 2012, but nowhere near as good as they had in 2010. So generally speaking, the upcoming election will probably not be a blowout like 2010 was.

The second result is that older voters seem to be turning off to the Republican Party. In 2010, Republicans had a 21 (38-59) percentage point advantage with them. But in 2012, they had only a 12 (44-56) point advantage. In January, the poll found an 11 point advantage. By March it had dropped to 6 points and is now down to only 5. It’s early, of course. But here’s the thing: Republicans managed to get the huge advantage in 2010 by saying that the Democrats were taking away their Medicare in order to give it to the poor. They haven’t been able to say that recently.

Now, Ed Kilgore (who directed me to the Cook article) is perhaps even more cynical than I am. He noted, “It’s time for another big Mediscare effort linked to attacks on Obamacare that encourage white retirees to view the Affordable Care Act as a raid on their hard-earned benefits and hard-earned tax dollars to show welfare on those people.” That’s good advice. But I’m not sure that’s on the table. The issue isn’t so much what Republicans say but what the media will report as credible. Another round of “Obama is stealing your Medicare” just doesn’t sound like news.

There are many reasons why the elderly could be cooling off on the Republican Party. For one thing, the most conservative among them are quickly dying. Also, the Republicans aren’t making it easy to love them. How long can you scream about the coming apocalypse before people just yawn. Add to that a big conservative talking point over the two years before the last election. It went like this, “Sure, Obama hasn’t acted as a radical, but just wait until he’s re-elected!” Well, he’s been re-elected and he is the same old middle of the road Milktoast that he always was.

The main thing is that I suspect that the trend in elderly voters is real. Time will tell, but one thing is certain: the Republicans are not going to have the blowout election they had in 2010. For one thing, they already have about as many seats as they can given gerrymandering and the advantages they naturally get when only the more wealthy show up to vote. I think what we are seeing is that slowly (for now) the whole electorate is pulling away from a party that long ago became too extreme and beholden to their very limited base.

Liberals Finally Wake Up: GOP Will Destroy Economy

John Boehner“It’s almost as if spoiled children seized control of part of the federal government and don’t appreciate just how much damage their recklessness can do.” That was written this morning by Steven Benen. He is one of the prominent members of the Happy Horseshit Caucus (HHC), a group of liberal pundits who are far better than I at ignoring all the evidence and assuming the best about the Republicans.

I first came up with the name when writing about Greg Sargent’s repeated claims that we didn’t have to worry about the Republicans destroying the world with the Debt Limit. He would always say something like, “Boehner has already admitted Republicans won’t allow default.” As I said back in May:

It is true that Boehner said, “I’m not going to risk the full faith and credit of the federal government.” But one can only read so much into that. To begin with, Boehner is talking about himself, not the party. But far more important, the statement sounds like a hope more than a commitment. If he is signaling, it is to his caucus, not to the rest of the nation. It’s more like, “Please guys, don’t do this!” And since saying it, he’s been pretty quiet.

Well, all that has changed! Today Boehner said, “We’re not going to raise the debt ceiling without real cuts in spending. It’s as simple as that.” Quelle surprise!

Now, it seems that the HHC is having trouble maintaining its optimism. Greg Sargent is at least wavering. This afternoon he wrote lots of column inches about the Obama administration’s strong commitment to not negotiating. And he seems to be holding out some home that John McCain will save the day. Steven Benen seems to have completely collapsed. But even he ends his article on a positive note, “The last time the White House stuck to its guns, the GOP backed down. Stay tuned.”

The problem as I see it is that the Republicans will do damage regardless. Obama may say that he won’t negotiate over the Debt Ceiling, but he will still negotiate about the budget and that is never a good thing. In the end, I expect that we will see the Debt Ceiling raised and the Republicans will get something for doing it. Obama has shown himself to be too twitchy a negotiator and the Republicans have shown themselves to be every bit as crazy as their reputation would indicate. Where this all ends is anyone’s guess. And that’s what’s so terrifying about this situation. I don’t think that Boehner has any idea how this all going to end. He’s like a bad chess player who starts a major attack without any notion of where it leads: he will ultimately lose, but there will be huge loses on both sides.

Automation Reduces Unionization

Union Yes!Sheva Diagne at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) wrote a really interesting article on social scientist Tali Kristal’s recent paper, The Capitalist Machine: Computerization, Workers’ Power, and the Decline in Labor’s Share within U.S. Industries (pdf). There are many aspects to explain how automation decreases the income share of workers relative to business owners. But the main way, according to Kristal, is that it leads to lower unionization rates.

The finding isn’t exactly surprising, but the mechanism is. Those industries that were highly unionized are the ones that have been hit hardest by automation. So as automation came into manufacturing, unionized auto plant workers (for example) became non-unionized fry cooks. This hammers home just how important unions were to the shared gains in productivity from the 40s through the 60s. No one can really question this fact. Traditionally, conservatives argued that it was all right because a rising tide lifted all boats. But that just isn’t the case anymore. According to John Schmitt (also at CEPR), from 1979 and 2012, average American worker productivity rose by 85%. But average worker pay rose by only 6%. What’s more, the minimum wage fell by 21%.

There is an obvious question. Why does Canada still have roughly the same unionization level that it had in 1960? After all, America isn’t alone in automation. I think there are two reasons for this: the Taft–Hartley Act and Ronald Reagan. The Taft–Hartley Act made unions far less powerful than they were. And interestingly, it did it in ways that would be unconstitutional if the Supreme Court were at all consistent. Remember, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court found that it would infringe on the constitutional free speech rights of businesses. Well, much of what Taft-Hartley did is stop unions from the right of free association. But I don’t see the Supreme Court ever considering this logic.

As for Reagan, what little power the unions had when he came into power was destroyed by him. It isn’t that he changed the laws. He just stopped enforcing them. And no one (Including our great Democratic presidents) has since changed that. To some extent, the labor movement got what it deserved with Reagan. Carter only barely won the labor vote. And I know, Reagan had some nice things to say about labor while he was campaigning. But it really wasn’t mysterious where he really stood. And just like my brother-in-law, many union members were more interested in going after that mythical welfare queen than in protecting their very real interests. But I still feel sorry for all of them—all of us.

So the big problem is not that union jobs are being lost due to automation. The problem is that the new jobs created are not unionized. For example, there is no reason why Walmart workers shouldn’t be unionized. In fact, in other countries they are. But they aren’t here because the government allows and even encourages it. Somehow, Walmart can make money with unions in Brazil, but would go bankrupt if it had to allow unions here.

There are a lot of things that the federal government could do to decrease inequality in his country. It could, for example, make income taxes more progressive. It could make the payroll tax less regressive. It could use the extra revenue to help the poorer classes. And all of that would do a great deal. But by far the biggest thing that the government could do is to allow workers the right to unionize. Because effectively, that right is dead.