Dave Rubin Hates Poor People

This article was originally written in 2013. This is before Dave Rubin became a major star on the right. When he announced that he had “left the left,” it didn’t surprise me. As this article shows, he was never on the left in a substantial way. -FM

Dave Rubin

I like The Young Turks and I check in on them as much as I can. But there is much about them that I find really annoying. If it weren’t for Cenk Uygur, it would be useless, but I connect well with his anger, even if I often disagree with him.

My issue is mostly with the others. The biggest problem with them is that they are all sub-geniuses. They are smart, but not smart enough to be terribly interesting or insightful. What’s more, they all share a very vanilla middle-class mentality. The show is desperately in need of a little life diversity.

It is in the context of this that I saw the following clip that was posted today, “Drug Testing Catches Shocking Number Welfare Recipients.” It’s about Utah’s law that drug tests welfare recipients.

It turns out that Utah isn’t catching many people but depending upon how you run the numbers, the program is paying for itself. But of course, stopping people from using drugs is not what these laws are ever about. It is about humiliating people on welfare.

Now you know a whole lot more about the story than you would have if you had watched the TYT segment. That’s partly because the show has no wonks and so they aren’t in a position to dig into the numbers and explain anything that isn’t reported straight to them from the Huffington Post. Ever. You would think they could hire a mathematics graduate student or something, but I don’t think they are even aware of their deficit.

Dave Rubin Chimes In

The biggest problem with the story was that it was hijacked by Dave Rubin.

He has the airy demeanor of a liberal who has never thought much about politics. And so he starts out with, “I don’t have a major problem with this, actually… If people are going to be getting government subsidies, for whatever the reason, then having to be drug tested doesn’t strike me as something that’s that intrusive.”

For the record, this is a typical bit of “get the poor” argumentation. If it makes sense to drug test people who are getting welfare, it makes sense to drug test every person who gets any kind of support from the government. And that means it makes sense to drug test every person.

It especially means we should drug test all bankers because they get enormous support via the Federal Reserve and elsewhere. We should drug test everyone who works at Stanford University because that college gets all kinds of support through student loans and grants. If you want to take it far enough, you should drug test everyone who wants to use public roads.

That’s the problem: no one ever passes laws that are consistent in this regard; it is just applied to the poor.

Do you see what I mean about sub-genius? Dave Rubin is just smart enough to be dangerous. He sees half of the problem and is blinded by political framing that others create.

Ana Kasparian and John Iadarola were not much better. Their problem was only with how the program reinforced stereotypes. That’s certainly true. In fact, that’s why the programs exist! If conservatives weren’t convinced that the poor are all drug addicts, they never would have come up with this new humiliating program.

Thank God for Desi Doyen

The only one who made sense was Desi Doyen, an environmental blogger who incidentally is not a member of the TYT network.

She laid out pretty much my case, which she summed up pithily, “This is about punishing the poor.” That cuts through all of the crap.

With people like Dave Rubin leading the liberal movement (which is more or less true), we will always be falling for some clever conservative framing of these issues. And it is already terrible.

In California, getting a hundred bucks in food stamps requires about 50 pages of forms. Bankers getting billions of dollars from the federal government required just 2 pages. That’s where the idiotic, anti-empathic thinking of Dave Rubin gets us.

Image cropped from Dave Rubin by Gage Skidmore under CC BY-SA 3.0.

MSNBC Cheer Leading for War—Again

Alex WittIs liberalism dead? It is if you get it from MSNBC. Yesterday, Alan Grayson was on Weekends with Alex Witt. And it seemed like he was on a Fox News. Really, it was quite a spectacle. It was almost to the point of Witt saying, “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Grayson!”

First she wanted to know how much push back he was getting from his constituents. The implication was that of course everyone wants to bomb Syria. The facts are counter to that. This is (As usual!) a war that the power elites want. The people don’t want it. Despite the full court press from the White House and media, most people are still against bombing Syria. Of course, Grayson (who is really great in this interview and generally) pointed that out.

Next Witt countered him with the charge that he didn’t believe there was a chemical attack. He replied that with the new information, he did accept that there had been an attack but that it didn’t change things. What he didn’t mention was that he never said there was no attack. He only said that the evidence was ambiguous. Again, this stuff is right out of the Fox News playbook.

This is the point during the interview that it really got good. Alex Witt was clearly coming unglued because she started using the word “sir” a lot. It started with, “Do you question, sir, the president saying that this is a threat to our national security?” In the video she looks quite angry. As though what she really wants to say is, “Who are you—a mere Congressman!—to question our great and powerful leader—Mr. Hope and Change himself!—Barack Obama?!” Then she started listing allies in the region and Grayson just shot them down one after another, “They haven’t been attacked.” She does get him to admit that if one of our allies were attacked, we would be obligated by treaty to defend. But then he added, “That’s not this situation.”

When none of that worked, she went to a 30 second clip of Obama’s press conference. Then she glowered into the camera and said, “So what’s your response to that?” And, of course, Grayson had a very good response to that. The whole interview is Witt pushing, trying to find some place where Grayson will agree to the “bloody good war” that I guess all good Democrats now want. It’s an amazing bit of television.

MSNBC would not be reporting this stuff this way if a Republican were in the White House. And it shows where the political lines are. The “liberals” think bombing Obama rocks because he wants to bomb Syria and the “conservatives” think Obama stinks because he hasn’t done it already. Meanwhile, the American people are well to the left of our policymakers. As usual.

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Song for Horace Silver

Horace SilverOn this day back in 1661, Baroque composer Georg Bohm was born. He isn’t bad but he wrote a great deal for the organ, and I just don’t much care for that instrument. English poet William Somervile was born in 1665. Economist Henry George was born in 1839. There was a man working 150 years ago who was grappling with the problems of income inequality. And what was his solution: taxes. But somehow the “smart” conservative economists of today just know that won’t work, even though, you know, it does. One of the founders of physical chemistry, Wilhelm Ostwald was born in 1853.

Multimedia artist Romare Bearden was born in 1911. The founder of catastrophe theory, mathematician Rene Thom was born in 1923. The great film director Hal Ashby was born in 1929. The great musician Billy Preston was born in 1946. Here he is doing “Nothing from Nothing”:

Actor Mark Harmon is 62. Keanu Reeves is 49. And Salma Hayek is 47.

The day, however, belongs to the great jazz pianist and composer Horace Silver who is 85 today. He is technically a hard bop artist, but his influences are very broad. You can hear this in “Song for My Father,” which is kind of a bossa nova. You will probably recognize the opening (played much slower on his album cut) which Steely Dan used to open their hit “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” Even though Silver stopped playing publicly about 15 years back, he left a great recorded legacy.

Happy birthday Horace Silver!

We Should Negotiate an End to Syrian Civil War

SyriaI came upon an amazing article this weekend. It was from McClatchy back on 3 June 2013, Assad Backers Reportedly Make Up 43 Percent of Dead in Syria. It is based upon work by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) which is based in London. The article claims that, “The observatory… is considered the most authoritative source for reports on the daily violence in Syria, and it’s the only group that routinely attempts to categorize deaths according to whether the victims were civilians, rebels or government fighters.”

The results are exactly what you would expect if you don’t have an ax to grind. War is hell, and civil war is especially so. According to SOHR, 43.2% (41,648 total) of the deaths are Asaad forces and aligned militias; 36.8% (35,479 total) are civilians; and 17.3% (16,699) are anti-Asaad forces. We can’t say who is responsible for the civilian deaths, but even if we assume that Asaad is responsible for all the civilian casualties, the deaths are pretty equally shared.

Of course, these numbers are not without doubt. The Syrian Network for Human Rights counts only rebel and civilian deaths, but their numbers are quite different: 75,992 civilians and 7,606 rebel deaths. I don’t think that this changes the picture much, even if these numbers are correct. It is clear that there are massive casualties on both sides and among the civilians.

Yesterday, Straits Times reported that SOHR now estimates that 110,371 people have been killed in Syria since the March 2011 uprising. For these, at least 40,146 are civilians. A common liberal complaint about all this talk of war with Syria is in the context of all the people who have died while we’ve stood by. The argument for war is something about national credibility.

So the question to me is why our focus is not on ending the conflict. What we are doing is further indicating that we really don’t care about Syria at all. We don’t even care about the chemical weapons attack. We just want an excuse to attack Assad. The situation is terrible for everyone. We have a great opportunity to work with Russia to put an end to the Syrian civil war. So why aren’t we doing that?

Debt Obsession and Labor Day

Happy Labor Day

On Saturday, Dean Baker wrote an interesting article, Labor Economics 101: Few Jobs Means Bad Jobs. In it, he shows that bad labor markets lead to bad jobs. This isn’t hard to understand. If there is a big surplus of workers, employers have no incentive to pay well, it is easy to find qualified people who will be glad to have any job at all.

I remember when the opposite was the case. In the late 1990s, during the dot-com bubble, companies were so desperate for employees that you could get a job in a single day. Now, you go through numerous interviews, background checks, employment checks, credit checks. And if all goes well (that is, you’ve never lived an actual, you know, life) they will hire you at half the rate they would have 15 years ago.

None of this should surprise us and I don’t actually think it is a bad thing. What I do think is a bad thing is how the power elite try to keep unemployment high. Since the bursting of the housing bubble, unemployment has been very high while inflation has been low—too low if what you want is to stimulate the economy. And for a good two years of the last five of this employment crisis, even the supposedly liberal Democrats were obsessed with—Wait for it!—the budget deficit.

Also on Saturday, another of my favorite economists, Paul Krugman wrote, The Arithmetic of Fantasy Fiscal Policy. In that article he looked at how big the 2009 stimulus should have been in order to get the economy back on track. This is done by looking at the difference between what the economy was actually producing and what it would have been producing at full employment. He calculates that it would have taken another trillion dollars in spending. And that is making assumptions that are unreasonably conservative, so the amount would likely be substantially less—0.75 trillion by my calculations. Regardless, that would change our current federal debt from 72% of GDP to 76% of GDP. Not exactly a crisis, right?

But we didn’t do that and I really don’t think it is about a general fear of government debt. Sure, the power elite get the media to scream about it and the prols gets scared. But the reason that the power elite feed the fear machine about the debt is that they don’t want the government to improve the economy. Doing that will put more people to work. The more people who have jobs, the more workers have power to demand better pay and working conditions from employers.

So on this Labor Day, let us make a commitment to improve the job situation in this economy. Politicians who talk about the national debt are just the minions of the power elite. All of their rhetoric about fiscal rectitude is just falderal to distract from their real objective of prohibiting workers from sharing in the American Dream.