Conservatives Define “Equality of Opportunity” Out of Existence

David WeinbergerI just read a really insightful article over at the Heritage Foundation website, What Does Equality of Opportunity Mean? The article is by David Weinberger and he explains that to conservatives like him, “equality of opportunity” means “no equality of opportunity.” According to him, it is all about the government. As long as there is no law saying that certain kinds of people are prohibited from doing something, then there is equality of opportunity.

Consider how brilliant this is! If conservatives got their way, there would be no public education. So the only people who would be certain to get an education would be the rich. So Mitt Romney’s kids would have no more opportunity than, say, the child of a junkie who never knows life off the street and has never seen the inside of a classroom or learned to read.

I’m not a big fan on even the best definitions of “equality of opportunity.” They strike me as little more than a nice way to justify social Darwinism. But Weinberger’s definition completely throws out the idea of opportunity. Or at least he defines it so narrowly as to be meaningless. By this definition, slavery provided equality of opportunity because a slave could buy himself out of slavery and go on to succeed just like the child of a slave owner.

This is an extreme statement, but that’s what’s called for. After all, this conservative definition of the term “opportunity” has already been pushed to its limit. Why would slavery get in the way? It was, after all, a legal institution. It was possible to get out of slavery using that very legal system. Was it hard it do? Yes! Was it impossible? Absolutely not! Working one’s way out of poverty in the conservative hellscape that conservatives so admire, without a basic education or decent nutrition, is also possible. I don’t see how the systems are fundamentally different. (It’s also worth noting that Weinberger’s intellectual forebearers would have made the same argument in 1850s Virginia.)

What is most interesting about this definition is how conservatives keep changing the rules of how society is supposed to work. First they claimed that they didn’t want equality of outcomes, only equality of opportunity. But now it turns out that the term itself was a smokescreen. All they mean by it is that they don’t think that the government should make any laws that have been universally considered repugnant for at least 50 years. How farsighted of the conservative movement!

Afterword

Note that by this definition, preventing gays from teaching would still be just fine. Most conservatives would just define the issue out of existence. Gays are not “born” like African Americans. They get no such protections! This would go right along with slavery, of course. Slaveholders were all for equal rights. It was just that slaves weren’t people; they were property. There is always a way to keep the weak down and elevate the powerful. And the young David Weinberger has provided yet another example of it!

Paris Street; Rainy Day; Caillebotte Was There

Gustave CaillebotteBefore getting to birthdays, we should sit back and savor an anniversary today. Given what’s happening with Glenn Greenwald and his crew, it just makes sense that 60 years ago today, the CIA managed to overthrow the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh. The CIA did it at the request of MI6, so I guess the whole Greenwald thing is just returning the favor. Mosaddegh was a progressive and the British especially hated him because he nationalized the oil industry. This all came home to roost 25 years later.

When I was a kid, I wondered why the United States was always supporting dictators. Mosaddegh, for example, was democratically elected and mostly did right by his people. But we couldn’t support him because he wasn’t doing right by the only constituency that we care about: global corporate and American military power. So he had to go. But the United States has by far the biggest military in the world so our entirely fucked up foreign policy is never held accountable. And most Americans are not even aware of it because we have a press that does nothing so well as yield to power.

On this day back in 1570, the early Baroque composer Salamone Rossi was born. Here is his very pretty Adon ‘Olam:

One of Rembrandt’s favorite students, the great Golden Age painter Gerbrand van den Eeckhout was born in 1621. Epistolary novelist Samuel Richardson was born in 1689. The longer lived of the brothers, Orville Wright was born in 1871. Fashion designer Coco Chanel was born in 1883. Poet Ogden Nash was born in 1902. Novelist James Gould Cozzens was born in 1903.

Gene Roddenberry was born in 1921. He wasn’t great in any way that I can see, but he did create Star Trek and even with its many faults that’s something. Interestingly, when he created Star Trek: the Next Generation, he tried to fix many of those faults. And he destroyed it. Sure, it makes no sense to send the captain out on missions—that’s just not the way things are done! So send out the first officer! But by far the biggest problem was that he made all the characters so well adjusted that there was no human drama.

Co-inventor of the CCD, Willard Boyle was born in 1924. And one of the few jockies I’ve ever heard of, Bill Shoemaker was born in 1931.

Musician Ginger Baker is 74 today. Singer-songwriter Johnny Nash is 73. This is unquestionably a great pop song (slightly out of sync):

Bill Clinton is 67. Actor Jim Carter is 65, so no more acting for him! Speaking of bad Star Trek, the first officer who is always going out on missions, Jonathan Frakes is 61. Actor Peter Gallagher is 58. He was in the terribly under appreciated Tune in Tomorrow. Actor Adam Arkin is 57. And comedic actor Matthew Perry is 44.

The day, however, belongs to painter Gustave Caillebotte who was born in 1848. He died at only 45, but left quite a lot of great work. Surprisingly, he was not considered an important member of the impressionist movement until rather recently. I’ve always found his work incredibly compelling. I especially like his sense of composition, which is much stronger than many of the other painters of the movement. His most famous work is probably Paris Street; Rainy Day:

Paris Street; Rainy Day

I had long known and loved this painting. But I was totally unprepared for seeing it. For one thing, it was far more carefully painted than I expected. Normally when you see a painting close up, you can see the shortcuts that painters use. I definitely got the impression that Caillebotte took much more care than most painters of that time. He also didn’t use an excessive amount of paint. But the biggest surprise was how big the painting is: it is roughly 7 feet by 9 feet. It is a thing to behold for so many reasons.

Happy birthday Gustave Caillebotte!

Update (19 August 2013 8:33 pm)

Great minds fret alike!

More on Police State Abuse of David Miranda

Scotland YardToday, the Guardian had a live feed of information about yesterday’s detainment of Glenn Greenwald’s husband David Miranda. When I reported on it yesterday, I was a bit concerned that as the facts came out, the situation might get a bit more cloudy. After all, why would the United Kingdom government detain a person with such a high profile defender as Glenn Greenwald? It seems like a move designed to provoke a reexamination and rollback of the government’s police powers. But I guess you really can’t underestimate just how stupid the police are wherever you go, because the only indication that this action was anything but a vulgar abuse of power is a statement by Scotland Yard claiming that the detention was “legally and procedurally sound.”

Meanwhile, just about everyone is enraged by what has happened. I was very taken by a letter written by Keith Vaz, the Labor chair of the Commons home affairs committee, to Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan police commissioner. He asked ten questions. Most interesting are, “Why this decision was taken, and upon what grounds it was deemed justified?” And, “Whether any foreign authorities asked us to take this decision?” And, “Why Mr Miranda: (a) had his personal effects confiscated? (b) Was detained for the full 9 hours?”

On these issues, Miranda has no doubt. He gave the Guardian an interview earlier today. He said that he believed this all came from the United States. Josh Earnest, White House deputy press secretary, claimed that the United States had nothing to do with it. (He said they were given a “heads up.”) But I suspect this is either an outright lie, or just a legal truth. For example, if the NSA was working with Scotland Yard, I doubt the press secretary would see it was the “United States.”

Miranda also said that during the interrogation he was asked random questions—none of which had anything to do with terrorism. Most important though, he was intimidated into providing the password to his computer and phone. He was apparently told he would be arrested and jailed throughout the 9 hours of detention. That strikes me as a hollow threat, but for a young man who has no experience with such matters, I’m sure it sounded very serious. This is one of the reasons that the police should not be given the wide latitude they have to lie: it most harms the young and innocent and does not further the cause of justice.

We’ll see where this goes from here. The story is getting surprisingly little coverage in mainstream American press. I couldn’t even find it on Fox News, although Fox News Latino is covering it, probably because Miranda is Brazilian. That’s not just to pick on Fox. Normally, it has the most relentless coverage of any outlet, regardless of the story. However that may be, it is a very important story that relates directly and indirectly to this country. Stay tuned.

Lessons from Other Countries’ Minimum Wages

Minimum Wages Around the World

After the recent fast food worker organizing, Business Insider decided to look at minimum wages all over the world. And when you compare us to, you know, comparable countries, we don’t look too good. Australia (those rugged individualists) have a minimum wage that is $1.88 higher than the wage the fast food workers are asking for. You know: the wage that pretty much everyone scoffed at? France, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and Canada all have a minimum wage that is in the ballpark of what the president has called for.

Of course, you can also see that the minimum wage in poor little Sierra Leone is only 3¢. But that’s the funny thing about conservatives when it comes to this kind of stuff. When it comes to spouting off about our country, America is always number one! But when it comes to having a fair judicial system or reasonable pay, somehow we just can’t cut it. The country is just getting by! We need to lower Social Security benefits. We need to kill off Medicare. (Better to kill Granny with neglect than with Death Panels!) We just don’t have the resources to educate our children. In other words, these people think America is a third world nation if it comes down to asking the rich to pay the smallest amount.

Of course, as Dylan Matthews reported, not all countries have minimum wages. Denmark, Germany, Italy, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, and Switzerland, for example, do not have them. But all advanced countries have policies designed to provide workers with more leverage than they would have in the social Darwinian hellscape that conservatives so admire. For example, most countries have not spent the last 60 years enacting policies designed to destroy unions. As Matthews noted, “Most of them make up for it with widespread collective bargaining, which sets de facto minimums.” De facto minimums that are higher than ours.

But even after seeing this, I wondered: does this take into account the cost of living that people experience in different countries? Helpfully, Business Insider offered another article that addressed this issue, Here’s How Many Minutes Of Working Minimum Wage It Takes To Buy A Big Mac All Around The World. Now the “Big Mac Index” is far from perfect, but it does provide an idea of just how well workers are doing in the various countries:

Big Mac Index

What’s interesting here is that if you look at the labor cost component of the Big Mac in each of these countries, you will see that it is quite stable. It is about 20% higher in Australia and about 10% lower in the United Kingdom. And about the same in the US, France, and Japan. As I’ve argued so many times before, raising worker wages does not not not increase prices by the same amount. So we really could raise the minimum wage and it would not only help the workers, it would help the economy!

But there is one big reason that conservatives are against it: it would hurt profits a little. But the rest of us have to ask: are we going to continue electing politicians who do the bidding of the 1% or are we going to elect those who support the rest of us?

Hoping Won’t Make Chamber of Commerce Hate GOP

Chamber of CommercseI doubt that in 1945 anyone said, “In 1944, the Nazis wanted to kill all the Jews, but this year actually takes us into new territory because they want to kill all the Jews this year.” You see, it’s pretty much the same thing; it is just a slightly different business plan: kill all the Jews in the next couple of years or kill all the Jews this year. Thus, I am having a difficult time with all the recent hysteria about the business community suddenly being unhappy with the Republican Party. Is it really true, as Greg Sargent said this morning, “The crusade to shut down the government to defund Obamacare actually takes us into new territory“? (Emphasis, mine, of course.)

Who would believe such a thing? After all, it is only two years since the Republicans forced a debt ceiling crisis for less concrete, but no less ridiculous reasons. Now I understand: the business community should care. The 2011 debt ceiling crisis led to the Sequester and that has led to slow economic growth that is very bad for the American business community. But they didn’t care then; why would they care now? As Matt Yglesias just pointed out:

They looked at the behavior of congressional Republicans in 2011 and decided that they really loved Republicans and that Republicans holding power in Congress was “what organizers call ‘the first insurance policy’ if Obama were to get reelected.” And now they’ve had even more time to observe congressional Republicans’ behavior and they’ve decided that they still love Republicans. So far 100 percent of Chamber spending on 2014 campaigns has gone to Republicans, including Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

But Yglesias is an iconoclast who almost defines the #SlatePitch: “What’s the giraffe’s most distinctive feature? Hint: It’s not the neck!” Regardless, he stands out here. Everyone else seems to think that the business community is very upset with the GOP. Two Huffington Post reporters similarly wrote, Lawmakers Backed By Chamber Of Commerce Spending Stall Business Lobby’s Legislative Priorities. They claimed, “Nonetheless, the question remains whether chamber-supported candidates have yielded an ample return on investment. Despite a few successes, the chamber has enjoyed few major legislative victories from its lobbying and campaign muscle in the Obama era. If anything, the lobbying group has incurred major setbacks in its mission to boost business by electing lawmakers who have been counterproductive to that cause.”

This is just silly. For one thing, what the Chamber of Commerce cares most about is stopping change. The Republicans have been damned good at that. But if you look at what it really cares about, it is not minor changes to immigration law. Again, Matt Yglesias laid it out:

If you look at their Jobs & Growth Agenda the number one item is to cut taxes, the number two item is to do less regulation of fossil fuel pollution, and the number three item is to gut Obamacare. Immigration isn’t even on the list.

What I think is going on with these liberalish reporters is the usual happy horseshit. They really want to believe that finally the business community is doing what the mainstream press won’t: calling out the Republican Party for its nonsense. But this is not happening. And it won’t happen. Since Clinton at least (and really as far back as Carter), the Democratic Party has been totally in the pocket of the business community. The Democrats are, I believe, more pro-business than the Republicans when it comes to results. (For example, Obamacare will, in the end, be great for business, even if the community now doesn’t think so.) So if the Chamber of Commerce hasn’t noticed this yet, they never will. And no number of reporters hoping will make it so.

It’s All About You—Or Mostly Anyway

Hillary Clinton 2016Paul Waldman is a writer for The American Prospect and I quite like him even if I disagree from time to time. And this morning, he wrote a cheeky little article, Seven Reasons You Will Click on This Article about 2016. Basically, it is an apologia for writing about elections that are far in the future. What I find interesting about it is that I don’t think of Waldman as particularly the kind of journalist who writes about this kind of stuff all that much. The article is probably just an indication that Waldman is at least a bit on an iconoclast. Lots of people complain about the “coverage” of the 2016 election, but few provide a full-throated defense of it.

That dynamic may explain why his defense of the practice is so lame. The seven reasons are: (1) it’s easy; (2) it’s easy; (3) it’s easy; (4) it’s easy; (5) it’s easy; (6) it’s easy; and (7) elections matter but maybe not three years out. He wrote, “I’ve been doing this blogging/column-writing thing for about a decade, and let me tell you, my job gets a lot easier once a presidential campaign gets rolling.” Never a truer statement was made. Just with my blogging here, it is amazing how much easier it was last year at this time. Every day was a smorgasbord—even Sunday. There is much less happening this year. And now that Congress is in recess, I can’t even write articles about how Congress isn’t getting anything done!

But I think that Waldman is wrong to focus on reporters in his apologia. The truth is that readers really like the election coverage. It is kind of hard to compare readership on this site because it has increased so much over the last year. But nonetheless, readership went way up in the two months up through the election. (It never went back down, but that has to do with the increasing trend.) Now I understand, this too is about the writer. All writers want to please their readers. But it is wrong to think that writers would just do what comes easy despite a lack of interest from readers.

In fact, people often ask me why I write so much about politics. And the truth is that in the early years, I thought that I was being lazy when I wrote about politics. I’ve always found politics a lot easier than science or literature or even film. But politics has gotten the most readership. And even more, my writing about political media figures has gotten the most of all. Nothing seems to please my readers so much as ragging on Josh Barro or Ezra Klein. (When I say nice things about them—which is most of the time—no one really cares.)

On the other hand, I do not write the kind of articles that Waldman is talking about. While it is true that I think they are stupid, that isn’t the reason. I just don’t think I have anything to say about what Hillary Clinton should do to secure the nomination in 2016. Anyway, when it comes to elections, I’m more of a “fundamentals” kind of guy. For example, I wrote, The Next Three Election Cycles. There I was speculating all the way through 2018. But I didn’t talk about who the people involved might be. For one thing, I really don’t know. But far more important, I don’t care because I don’t think it matters.

When it comes to this stuff, I really think we ought to depend upon the free market. If people want to read articles about how Hillary Clinton needs a “message,” then I think people should write those articles. When it comes to actual news reporting, we should expect something more. Important stories should be covered just because they are important, even if they are not popular. Of course, that sort of stuff too has been going away. But among the opinion ranters, what does it matter?

Racist Apologetics and Voter Suppression

Let People VoteThis morning, Jonathan Chait flags three voter suppression apologias. Rich Lowry at Politico accuses Hillary Clinton of playing the “race card” in her criticism of the recent voter suppression law in North Carolina. Jonathan Tobin in Commentary claims that these voter ID laws are not a civil rights cause. And the National Review dismisses the whole issue with, The Good Sense of Voter ID.

I’m especially taken with Tobin’s argument because it show a shocking level of historical ignorance. His claim is that voter ID laws just inconvenience people; they aren’t like Jim Crow where the government was making laws to stop people from voting. That’s a silly statement because these voter ID laws are the government making laws to stop people from voting. They may not be as extreme as Jim Crow, but they are as extreme as the politicians can currently make them. What’s more, Jim Crow and slavery itself were not primarily about racism. They were about power and money for those who already had a lot of power and money.

Think of it like this: wasn’t Jim Crow just an “inconvenience”? After all, African Americans in Mississippi could have moved to New York were there would have be no problem registering to vote. Everyone now accepts that poll taxes were a real issue meant to stop poor blacks from voting. What are voter ID laws other than a poll tax by another name? What’s more, the whole argument comes down to something like this, “There is nothing wrong with cutting off a man’s foot; now if you cut off his whole leg, that would be a problem…” Voter suppression is very much a civil rights issue.

What this recent wave of voter suppression apologetics reminds me of is the lead up to the Iraq War. The administration claimed that they didn’t want to go to war and that they would do anything to avoid it. But the truth is—And this was obvious even at the time, Peter Beinart!—that this was totally disingenuous. The Bush administration was hell bent on war with Iraq, as they had been at least since 9/11.

The same thing is true with the recent conservative push for voter ID laws. The proponents don’t generally say, “We’re trying to disenfranchise Democratic leaning voters!” (Although, as Chait notes, often they do say just that.) Instead, the conservatives are just trying to make voting pure. Sure, it may inadvertently disenfranchise Democratic voters, but that’s only because there is so much voter fraud going on within the Democratic Party. I’m talking to you ACORN!

The big problem with all of this is that the conservative movement has found a great loophole in the mainstream media. The conservatives are fine as long as not too many of them scream in the streets, “Let’s get the darkies!” The press will just pretend that that the conservatives are honest brokers who really believe their talking points. After all, what could go wrong? Other than a war. Or a fascist take over of the country. But these are minor risks compared to having a “biased” media or letting the mythical voter fraud threat go unchecked.

Afterword

This article has gotten this song stuck in my brain: