Easter Sucked!

JesusIt occurred to me that I haven’t written anything to spoil Easter. The truth is that I don’t hate Easter so much. It’s on a Sunday, and things are always crummy on Sunday anyway. And it is mostly just a morning holiday, so it doesn’t get in the way of the little life there is normally on Sunday. And perhaps most of all, even though it is the hardest core of the hard core Christian holidays, mostly Christians just celebrate it amongst themselves without bothering the rest of us.

Really, where is the outrage about the “war on Easter”? No one seems to care that we secularists don’t understand the “reason for the season.” I don’t suppose it is much of a mystery why we don’t get this. Easter is basically a zombie story. Jesus is crucified on Friday where he suffered a whole six hours for all the sins of humanity. Then he was entombed. Then his body rose from the dead and a few people saw him, but not all recognized him.

You know, that’s an interesting thing. The story from Luke is that a couple of Jesus’ followers meet up with a man. They chat, they eat, he vanishes. Then they think, “Hey, I’ll bet that was Jesus!” This is typical of the reaction of believers to failed prophecies. After the prophecy fails, they justify how it actually did happen, it’s just that it happened differently that they had thought it would. So a guy comes around and they don’t know him. But after he’s left they convince themselves that he was Jesus. Not that I’m suggesting that the story is true.

Anyway, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ after three days in the desert sounds like something out of a horror movie. When he appears to the women, he tells them not to be afraid. You can understand why: his rotting flesh hanging from his bones. In addition to everything else, the smell must have been incredible.

But apart from the religion of the day and all the cute bunny rabbits and eggs, the nature of today being a holiday did, in fact, really screw me up! I was coming back from San Francisco on the bus. Had it been late, I would have ridden the bus all the way to the Golden Gate Transit base. That would then give me about a two mile walk home—nothing too bad. But since it was early, I got off downtown, figuring I would take the city bus straight to my place. I really had to go to the bathroom anyway, but as I got off the bus, I noticed that the place was strangely vacant. When I went to the bathroom, I found it locked. Then I realized it was Easter and none of the city buses were running. So I went over to the mall. It was closed! Anyway, I managed to finally get a ride home. But it made me resent Easter in a whole new way.

Now, had Jesus pulled up in a car and given me a lift home, I’d have to rethink my entire theology.

David Brooks Plays Centrist

David BrooksWow, David Brooks wrote a really smart column. No, I’m just kidding! If ever there were one man who demonstrated the lie of “meritocracy,” it is David Brooks. On Friday, he wrote, When the Circus Descends. And I should be clear: by Brooks’ standards, it is not bad because it is not utterly and completely evil. Instead, it’s boring. He is lamenting that some people are complaining about the Common Core Standards, even though they’ve been approved in 45 states.

But in as much as he has something to complain about, it is still really vile in the way that we have come to expect from him. Because according to him, he knows the truth: Common Core is a great thing. Anyone just looking at the facts (Anyone like David Brooks!) would just see that it’s great. After all, the business community is clamoring for it. And if the business community isn’t selfless, then who is? But the only group he actually quotes for how great Common Core is, is the Thomas B Fordham Institute. And who are they? Just a conservative think take with an ideological ax to grind. See: its the best practical approach to education reform because an ideological group is in favor of it!

I don’t especially have an opinion about Common Core. I don’t mind educational standards. But I expect this will all mean in practice more cookie-cutter teaching, with lots of incentives based upon a lot of tests. My philosophy of education is liberal: train people to love learning and they will educate themselves. Too much, our educational system trains people to know very limited facts and skills, with the added disadvantage of coming to hate education. But there is nothing wrong with having goals. (Although note: it is hard to look at some of the new testing and think it is anything but a joke.)

Brooks would also have us believe that there are crazies on both sides that just can’t get past their ideology. Again: that places him in the mythical center that is beyond ideology. But the two sides in this fight are hardly equivalent. On the right, you really do have loons. Although it is rarely stated, the real fear is that if the government can dictate that kids learn basic math, it can also dictate that they learn evolution. There is no doubt that the concern is about the idea that there might be some objective reality that conflicts with their religious beliefs. They can cloak it all they like in concern for local control, it’s all about religion.

On the left are actually very few people. If it weren’t for those on the right who are making a whole lot of noise, there would be no debate. These are the states not adopting the standards: Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Nebraska and Indiana. They are all red states, except for Virginia, which is a purple state. It isn’t the teachers’ unions who have stopped Common Core from making it into law. But even as much as it is an issue on the left, the people are against it because of its effect on education. It isn’t that they don’t think there should be no standards outside the Bible. They just disagree about what should be expected of the children.

But it’s interesting. After Brooks complains about the teachers’ unions being against the Common Core Standards, he writes, “A large survey in Kentucky revealed that 77 percent of teachers are enthusiastic about the challenge of implementing the standards in their classrooms.” But that’s typical of conservative thinking. No one wants to appear to be against teachers, because all of us remember that at least some teachers were really important in our lives. So he pretends that teachers’ unions are something other than groups of teachers.

I know that David Brooks thinks that unlike other pundits, he just looks at the facts. You can see this if you ever watch him on The News Hour. But as I’m fond of noting: modern conservatism is an ideology in a way that modern liberalism just isn’t. A good example of this is Dean Baker. He’s a liberal. Yet no one—at least, no conservative one—is as dedicated to using the free market for the benefit of society. David Brooks is just a conservative ideologue who talks nice. And occasionally, he pays tribute to “centrism” by comparing school teachers to Glenn Beck and Elisabeth Hasselbeck.

The Plutocrats Are Not on Our Side

Michael BloombergEveryone around here knows where I stand on politics. I am a liberal on social as well as economic issues. But I don’t think much about the social issues. Without a decent amount of economic equality, how ever we go about accomplishing that, the social issues are of limited importance. Regardless, as long as we live in an oligarchy, we don’t have the ability to affect social policy anyway. As the Princeton study pointed out: poor people occasionally get the policies they want because they just happen to agree with the policies that rich people want. It’s coincidence, not power.

It was in this context that I heard last week that Michael Bloomberg was planning to spend $50 million to start a group to counter the NRA. This was not exactly news, because Bloomberg started a political campaign after Sandy Hook. And I noted at that time that he was going after some good economic liberals. I’m not keen on the NRA. But I would much rather a representative be beholden to them than to be beholden to Wall Street—as most politicians are. So I figured it made sense for Bloomberg to spend that kind of money on this cause. He is, after all, a one-issue guy. He can offer some crumbs to liberal mindedness, as long as no one gets in the way of his money.

Thomas FrankIt seems there are very few issues that I disagree much with Thomas Frank, but today I felt like he read my mind when he wrote about Bloomberg’s new venture, “I’m a strong supporter of gun control, so hooray, I guess.” It’s part of a larger argument, Straight into the Fox News Buzzsaw: Why Elite, Billionaire Liberalism Always Backfires. After taking a scalpel to Bloomberg, he gets to his main point: we can’t depend upon rich liberals because their interests are not our own.

Think about Milton Hershey, who was one of the most beneficent plutocrats ever. There was nothing that he wouldn’t do for his workers. But when they wanted to start a union, he fought them with everything he had. It was all fine as long as he was the great patriarch who showered his employees with living wages. But when the workers demanded independence, that was just too much. And Hershey was far greater than plutocrats then, and light-years ahead of plutocrats now.[1] Frank sums up the plutocratic as only he can:

We’ve returned to the Gilded Age, laissez-faire is common sense again, and Victorian levels of inequality are back. The single greatest issue of then is the single greatest issue of now, and once again people like Bloomberg—a modern-day Mugwump if ever there was one—have nothing useful to say about it, other than to remind us when it’s time to bow before the mighty. Oh, Bloomberg could be relentless in his mayoral days in his quest for sin taxes, for random police authority, for campaigns against sugary soda and trans fats. But put a “living wage” proposal on his desk, and he would denounce it as a Soviet-style interference in private affairs.

During the Occupy Wall Street protests, he declared that we should stop criticizing investment banks; it would cost us jobs: “If you want jobs you have to assist companies and give them confidence to go and hire people.” Later on, when confronted with a successor who didn’t share his views, he graduated to straight-up trickle-down: “The way to help those who are less fortunate is, number one, to attract more very fortunate people.” Only by helping the rich, and helping them more, and then helping them even more, can we ever hope to do something for the poor.

Unusually, Frank’s article actually ends on an upbeat note. And I agree with him that as individuals we really do have power if we work together. I have long thought that the key to saving our country is unionization. But at this point, the only way that’s going to happen is if we all get out there and vote, because for the last 60 years our rights to organize as workers have been steadily destroyed.

Unfortunately, I am not upbeat nor am I very hopeful. And the reason I’m not is the current state of the Democratic Party. It has become primarily a socially liberal party. In terms of economic policy, the Democrats are now far more conservative than any Republican could have ever hoped for in the late 1960s. And voters seem to have largely accepted this. I don’t think it is a knowledgeable acceptance. I think most people—young people especially—have come to believe that having no real choice on economic policy is not only the way things are, but the way they should be.

What hope I have is found in the recent Democratic Party embrace of raising the minimum wage. But we have to look at this clear-eyed. Getting a (still too low) minimum wage pegged to the inflation rate will only happen with a Democrat in the White House and Democratic control of both branches of Congress. And even then, it wouldn’t surprise me that a Democratic president would veto a minimum wage increase—if that Democrat was someone like Andrew Cuomo, who claims to be for it but always finds a way not to support it in practice. What’s more, I’m sure there are at least three people on the Supreme Court that would love to find the minimum wage unconstitutional.

But whatever hope I have is dependent upon all of us. We can’t depend upon rich benefactors. We have to do it ourselves. We have to vote. We have to organize. And above all else, we have to stop believing this nonsense that the laudable improvements in gay rights make up for ever increasing poverty and an ever shrinking middle class. We mustn’t mistake our own issues that just happen to overlap with those of the plutocrats as any indication that they are on our side. They aren’t. We are alone in this struggle.

[1] I’m not an expert, but I’ve read quite a lot about that period. In general, the plutocrats of the Gilded Age were concerned about wealth inequality. It was mostly only because they didn’t want to look like jerks to other plutocrats. But largely because of Ayn Rand, today we have this philosophy that just being rich is doing good works. That is what’s behind the “job creator” myth and it is why the myth is so damaging to society. Anyway, this is why I think today’s plutocrats are worse than they were a hundred years ago.

Rich Kid “Reporter”

Jamie JohnsonFriday in the fashion section, The New York Times published, Including the Young and the Rich. The nature of the article is clear from its first sentence, “On a crisp morning in late March, an elite group of 100 young philanthropists and heirs to billionaire family fortunes filed into a cozy auditorium at the White House.” But the United States doesn’t have social classes, right?

The article gets worse. It goes on to talk about, “Patrick Gage, a 19-year-old heir to the multibillion-dollar Carlson hotel and hospitality fortune.” He presented a talk about human trafficking. Here is an actual quote from the young billionaire-to-be, “The person two seats away from me was a Marriott. And when I told her about trafficking, right away she was like, ‘Uh, yeah, I want to do that.'” Of course she wanted to do that; all the hip young billionaires are doing it!

But what most struck me in the article was who wrote it: Jamie Johnson, heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune. We all know Mr. Johnson because of his dreadful little documentary The One Percent, which I discussed in Rich Kid Guilt. His whole career is based upon the fact that that he is rich. He has become a representative of the rich who think maybe they should be taxed a bit more.

The problem is that there is no recognition in any of Johnson’s work that his privilege is manifested in far more ways than his money. He is an intellectual and creative mediocrity. There is no way that anyone would invite him to appear on MSNBC or write for The New York Times if it weren’t for his inherited wealth and position. He isn’t around to report on the super rich; he is around to represent them.

The article contained the following disclosure:

Although the event was closed to the media, I was invited by the founders of Nexus, Jonah Wittkamper and Rachel Cohen Gerrol, to report on the conference as a member of the family that started the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company.

So much for the pretense of exposing the super rich, which we saw in his movie. I suspect that after the rich saw his film, they figured he was safe. This is not a guy who is going to rock the boat. And so when all the future billionaires got together, they didn’t want any reports around. But Jamie Johnson was just fine. The New York Times should be ashamed.

Harold and Adolf and Ted

Harold LloydAdolf Hitler was born on this day in 1889. I have a hard time thinking that Hitler was a remarkable man. Obviously, he had a profound effect on history. But violent, hateful sociopaths are not that unusual. I tend to think he was just the right vile human being at the right time. When I look around the political landscape, I see a lot of people who, given the right environment could have as evil an effect as Hitler did. It’s probably unfair, but when I see Ted Cruz, I see the same kind of charm that Hitler had mixed with his vile will to power and the associated demagoguery. And Cruz isn’t the only person I see in this light. I see this in a lot of politicians. I even see it in liberals, although it is much more a contagion among conservatives. But am I saying that Ted Cruz and his ilk want to start a genocide? No. I’m saying that what made Hitler is deeper than his racist and genocidal policies. The thing that links Cruz to Hitler is their shared wish to use fear and anger of a weak minority for political gain.

Since I’m already depressed, just like last year, I note that in 1893, the great film comedian Harold Lloyd was born. Unlike Hitler, Lloyd actually was unique. And he wasn’t just amazing; he was a very funny guy:

Happy birthday Harold Lloyd!