Rhino Horror Story

RhinosThis is the horror story, but it takes me a while to get to it…

In general, I’m not a Twitter fan. At first, it was great because I followed people I normally read, so it kept me up to date on what was going on. But it got to be too much. I wasn’t getting anything done other than reading. The main thing I use Twitter for is to publicize this blog, and it does about as good a job at that as I can expect given the small number of followers I have. On the other hand, when I piss off someone with a large following, literally thousands of people will come and read me. I have tried to avoid allowing this to make me write any differently than I normally do. And I think I’ve succeeded, because the truth is, as much as I like the traffic, I don’t like it when people yell at me and call me stupid. (Not that I’m thinking of anyone in particular, Josh Barro.)

Anyway, when Andrea got on Twitter, she took to it like a fish to exactly the kind of water that it prefers. As she has become something of a prominent atheist, she quickly gained a following. This resulted in my getting some atheist followers. It also resulted in my getting into some discussions with theists and atheists alike. And I have to say: both groups are in general made up of awful human beings. They both prove that if God exists, he is not a loving god. Slowly, and delicately, I untangled myself from this group.

Soon, I came into contact with another group. A much better group! Film geeks! Well, these are my people! This very evening we geeked out over filmmaker Walter Hill. On another occasion, I was not ridiculed for making the nerdiest of film geek tweets, “Neo would say “00100000 00100001″ Nanook would say ” !” And Mork would say, “Nanu!” Get it? Of course you don’t! Neo from The Matrix is saying in ascii binary ” !” Nannook of the North was a silent film, so he is saying ” !” And the Mork comment is just silliness because “Nanu” sounds like “Nannook.” Ah, my people.

After this, I became involved with a number of wildlife people—not just people who love wildlife, but people who work to save and protect wildlife. The connection was that I had just seen the film Blackfish and it had a profound effect on me and I think I started tweeting things out. This introduced me to Ms.OpRoar, who kept tweeting out these absolutely beautiful wildlife photos. In fact, I got an article out of one of her photos, Orcas In the Wild—Free! She has a great love of and concern for rhinos.

I guess this is the great thing about Twitter, because I don’t know this woman. In fact, I only assume she is a woman based upon her account name. I know she likes wildlife and I know that rhinos are a special thing for her. So this evening, as I made dinner, I was watching Al Jazeera America (because I don’t watch MSNBC anymore) and they had a segment on rhino poaching. So I ran to my computer and tweeted to Mr.OpRoar, “Rhino discussion right now on @ajam.” Sadly, by that time, it was over. But I promised to see if I could find it online. Most likely, I will be able to find it tomorrow.

Tonight, however, and this is where the horror story starts, I found a video “Al Jazeera Correspondent – The Last Rhino.” It is less than an hour and I really think you should watch it. It shows humans are their worst and at their best. And a whole lot in between. My regular readers know: I do not think death is the worst thing; pain is. I was prepared for a lot of senseless killing. I was not prepared for the senseless cruelty. After ten minutes, I had to turn it off. I was writing my birthday post and sobbing while I watched the video. I couldn’t work. The worst of it is at the beginning. The rest is about people who are trying to stop the poaching.

The story is very similar to that of the drug trade. The people who do the actual work of poaching, are incredibly poor. They are well compensated, of course. But I have a hard time seeing them as the true villains, even though I don’t especially mourn their deaths. But the true culpability is further up the chain. As a young poacher says, “They make a lot of money and we don’t get much. We get almost nothing out of poaching.” These are the words of the desperate. Compare him with John Hume who has a ranch of 700 rhinos. He “harvests” their horns, and I will admit that it all seems to be done properly. But as a rich man, he has that luxury. I think he’s vile. I don’t want to go into it in detail here, but in addition to everything else, Hume is wrong about what would happen if they allowed a legal rhino horn trade. Buyers would soon conclude that the wild rhino horns were more powerful for whatever the use. I know that a legal trade would not reduce the killing of wild rhinos, but it very well might increase it.

It is the oldest story in the world: the rich getting the poor to do their dirty work so that the rich can get even richer. Or at least feel richer. But here it is causing the extinction of a wonderful animal species in the most cruel way imaginable. I highly recommend watching the video.


Also: three cheers for Al Jazeera. They do really good work, and you should check out Al Jazeera America!

Chris Christie Is No Laughing Matter

Chris ChristieYesterday, when I saw Chris Christie’s press conference, one line really stood out to me, “I was done with my workout yesterday morning and got a call from my communications director…” I had a feeling that was going to make a lot of people laugh. “Chris Christie working out?” But I know that’s the truth. He’s an ambitious guy. He wants to be president and he knows that his weight stands in his way. What’s more, like most fat people, I’m sure he is painfully aware that most people think that his weight reflects poorly on character—incorrect as that belief may be. So I’m sure he is trying to do a Mike Huckabee.

Look: I loath the man. He is a great example of what’s wrong with American politics. He talks populist, but his politics are entirely elitist. He got the people of New Jersey to vote for him despite the fact that they disagree with him on every major policy question in modern America. And above all, he’s a bully. I don’t really care about his physical weight, but he throws his metaphorical weight around and abuses the least among us. The fact that those calling themselves Christians voted for him is sad. The fact that he calls himself a Christian is absolutely unbelievable.

So I think the man should be despised and has no business being in our public life. But I don’t think we should laugh at his attempts to get his weight under control. The truth is that being on the pudgy side is actually much more healthy than being “sit-com fit.” But I’m afraid that Chris Christie is quite a ways past the optimal weight. (Even still, his high weight and excellent healthcare will doubtless beat my optimal weight and terrible healthcare.) So we should applaud Christie’s efforts to deal with his weight.

Good God! The man is waking up early and working out. Do you know what I’m doing at that hour? Trying to stay asleep so I don’t have to deal with the day. Hey, we all have our crosses to bear. Christie apparently eats a lot and I don’t really like leaving the house. I tried to start an Agoraphobics Anonymous group, but no one would ever come to my house; and I couldn’t go to theirs. Sorry about that, the joke just came to me and I had to share it. Moving on…

I got around to watching last night’s The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Neither show was so low as to make a joke about Christie’s morning workout. But each of them included that part of the press conference. And on both shows, the line got a big laugh. And I understand. It is all about what we as a society think of fat people: they are lazy and gluttonous. Well, I don’t think that’s Christie. The seven deadly sins are: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Based upon everything I know about Christie, I would have to put wrath, greed, and pride well above sloth and gluttony. It does, however, highlight what an awful human being he is.

But I think it is wrong to laugh at the man about that. That’s especially true when I’m pretty sure his wrath (hatred of his enemies), greed (power lust), and pride (just listen to him) will win out over gluttony and sloth. In fact, I think I already see it. He looks better than he did a year ago. Regardless, Christie should be taken very seriously—just like a venomous snake.

Robert Reich Is Optimistic About GOP Failure, I’m Not

Robert ReichDespite what it says on the sidebar, I do not read Robert Reich every day. For one thing, he only posts about twice a week. But for another, I find his optimism inspiring but exhausting. Among my friends, I am considered the optimist. This is faint praise. Still, I think of myself as vaguely optimistic. I really do think that things will get better. Sometimes; I mean on good days; when I’m drunk. No, no, no! I’m more optimistic than that. But I consider myself a realist, and Reich’s optimism at least borders on the unreal.

Let us look at his article yesterday, Why The Republican’s Old Divide-and-Conquer Strategy—Setting Working Class Against the Poor—Is Backfiring. His argument is that the Republicans were very effective at portraying the poor who used SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid as just those “shiftless blacks” driving around in their government paid-for Cadillacs. That wasn’t even true then: the poor have always been primarily white. But what was true is that if you had a job, it was good enough that you didn’t have to be on SNAP and Medicaid. Now most of the poor who qualify for these programs are people who are working—many of them working multiple jobs! His conclusion: it is going to be hard for the Republicans to get middle class whites to vote against their own interests in the name of “getting” those “shiftless” poor.

The article is a good one and it lays out what I think is an even bigger problem: insecurity in the middle class. It used to be that if you had a decent middle-management job at some corporation, you knew that as long as you did your job well, you were set for life. That’s no longer the case. Pretty much the conservatives have gotten what they always wished for: a nation of contractors—at least as far as the middle class goes. This isn’t a situation that anyone except the very wealthy like. But unlike the poor, the politicians do listen (a little) to the middle class.

Where I think that Reich gets a bit too optimistic is in saying that the Republican divide-and-conquer strategy is backfiring. He’s right that it is hard to use this particular strategy of convincing workers that people on welfare are the enemy. But the Republicans have been very inventive in coming up with different ways to divide and conquer. After all, their think tanks don’t spend their time coming up with policy. They can use 100% of their resources on coming up with ways to set different sets of people against each other.

Now, it is true that the great conservative propagandist Frank Luntz seems to have given up the project. According to him, there are no longer magic words that can convince people to support policies that go directly against their interests. But give the Republicans time. I certainly think that cracks have appeared on what was always an unstable dam. Their evil geniuses are working on the problem, however. And right now, they have real power in Washington. And even if they lose that, the courts will be conservative for many years to come.

Robert Rubin and the Villainy of the New Democrats

Robert RubinSome people don’t like that I’m so hard on the New Democrats. I don’t want to over state it, but there is a reason: they have been destroying the nation for two decades! So now we find Robert Rubin ranting on about “financial discipline.” On the pages of the Financial Times he tells us, Sound Government Finances Will Promote Recovery. He thinks he is threading the needle. More or less he is saying, “We don’t have to make a choice between job creation and economic austerity because economic austerity will create jobs!” This is a funny attempt to thread the needle give that this is exactly the argument that those calling for economic austerity have always made. I’m afraid Rubin has missed the eye of the needle by quite a ways.

As I discussed last year in, Alberto Alesina Wasn’t Right, the idea of “expansionary austerity” has been shown to be a cruel joke. Alesina argued that if businesses saw that governments were balancing their budgets, they would decide that the future looked bright and start spending. This is, of course, a supply side story of how the economy works. By this way of thinking, what drives the economy is the supply of goods rather than the demand for goods. It doesn’t work that way at all. Even a child should see, businesses create the products that they believe their customers will want. Thus, if a business owner sees that most of his customers are unemployed and have very little money, he will not hire more people to produce more products that his customers won’t buy.

But I’m not an economist, so let’s hear what a great economist has to say about the rubbish that Rubin is shoveling. Brad DeLong wrote, Department of “Huh”?!: Where is the Arithmetic in Robert Rubin’s Financial Times Piece?[1] So DeLong provides the math and it turns out that stimulus is a great idea and austerity is not:

Right now the US government can issue a 30-year inflation-protected maturity with a yield of 1.5% per year. Right now if the U.S. spends an extra $100 billion next year it gets $200 billion of increased real GDP and $67 billion of additional tax revenue next year, for $33 billion of additional debt and $500 million of additional annual debt interest in the further future. If $200 billion of additional GDP next year has a long-term boost to GDP of even 1/100 as large–either as extra workers set to work brush-up on their skills, as organizations and capital learn more about how to produce, or as greater corporate cash flow leads to productive private or as government purchases are diverted to productive public investment, the extra annual debt service is more than covered by extra taxes produced by higher potential output. Rubin says that stimulus is “no substitute for fiscal discipline.” But as long as interest rates and economic slack are at their current levels, stimulus is fiscal discipline. It is the failure to undertake fiscal stimulus right now that is long-run fiscal profligacy.

Of course, I have an answer to DeLong’s question. There is no math in Rubin’s op-ed because austerity is a matter of faith, not economics. When business owners are asked why they aren’t hiring, they say it is lack of demand for their goods. It isn’t that they think the government is going backrupt. It isn’t that they are concerned about “regulations” (although I’ll admit with all the right wing propaganda, a lot of businesses are unnecessarily worried about Obamacare). It is that they don’t have the customers and cutting spending will—Are you ready to be shocked?!—make the situation worse.

For four and a half years, Robert Rubin was Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary. And as such, he was the architect of Clinton’s strong dollar policy. I understand that people who don’t know much about economics immediately think, “But don’t we want a strong dollar?” And the answer is, “Yes! If you don’t want a job!” A strong dollar is great for people who already have lots of money. It means they can buy imports very cheaply. But it also means that our exports are very expensive. Thus, other countries don’t buy as many of them. Thus, fewer Americans are employed. When you hear “strong dollar” just think “gift for the rich from the poor.”

This is a great example of why our government is so messed up. The Democrats are supposed to be liberal. But the last two Democratic Presidents and the current one are all economically conservative. This is why the Republican Party has stopped being conservative and is now radical. Given that the Democratic elites have taken over all the old conservative economic policies (and in many cases made them even more conservative), what are the Republicans to do? Truly, I don’t know what their options were, but the one they picked was, “Go crazy!”

So we are left with a country where even conservative voters are to the left of the Democrats on economic issues. Yes, I still think we must vote for the Democrats. If the party wins presidential election after presidential election and controls huge majorities in Congress, the party will move to the left on economic issues. But the Democrats are currently not much of a choice. If you only care about gay marriage, then the Democrats are not bad. If you care about abortion rights, then the Democrats are pretty good. If you care about birth control, the Democrats are very good. But if you care about anyone who might exercise those rights having a decent job, then the Democrats are really quite bad. And Robert Rubin’s career and recent op-ed proves that.

[1] DeLong is a great economist, ’tis true. As a writer, not so much. That should have been, “Huh?!” Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.