“Coincidence” Republicans Often Racists

Michael TomaskyMichael Tomasky wrote a very funny article over at The Daily Beast, Republicans Are Racists? No, It’s Just All a Big Coincidence. Actually, it would have been a lot funnier, but I think he is genuinely angry. And so am I.

The article is divided into two parts. First he catalogs all the ways that conservatives so often just happen to be unmasked as bigots. “Those rancidly racist T-shirts and posters one sometimes sees at Tea Party rallies? They’re just a coincidence, too. I mean, Tea Party people might not be Republican, strictly speaking, and it’s totally unfair to assume that! OK, Tea Party candidates run in Republican primaries, not Democratic ones, and the Tea Party caucus in the House doesn’t include one Democrat. But still. Guilt by association!” It goes on that way at some length talking about many things you probably know about: racist Republican comedian, racist Republican judge’s email, all the racists that the Paul family hires to write for them. Of course, even all that only scratches the surface of a very racist organization.

The second part of the article goes through the typical Republican counter, “I know you are, but what am I?” You see, a long time ago, the Democrats were the racists. Similarly, the Republicans were not. And Tomasky’s favorite example (which he uses several times to good effect), “Robert Byrd was in the KKK! That it was 60 years ago and that he recanted 40 years ago and that he hasn’t been a truly leading Democrat since 30 years ago and that he’s dead now, well, none of those things matter. Robert Byrd was in the KKK!”

Cliven BundyIt is well worth reading the whole thing because it is pretty typical of how conservatives generally try to keep attention away from a very clear reality. But what it made me think of was how my arguments with libertarians (which are getting far less civil these days) so often degenerate into claims that we should move most things the federal government does down to the states. It’s a strange request because it doesn’t make much sense. Medicare and Social Security are highly successful because they are run at the federal level. Attempts to give more local control have been mixed at best.

I’ve long believed that when libertarians request local control it is only a tactical request. After all, California is huge—it’s bigger than most nations. So if control went to California, the libertarians would then ask for county control. And so on until they had destroyed all government, which is their stated desire anyway. But I now think that is only true of some libertarians.

Today on Majority Report, Cliff Schecter and Sam Seder brought up the idea that most libertarians really aren’t keen on the whole theoretical basis of the movement. Their interest is practical. They are actually just neo-confederates. Ultimately they are for libertarianism because it is the only relatively major political philosophy that tells them what they want to hear: the states should be able to keep their darkies in check however they want.

I am not saying that this means that all libertarians are racists. I am saying that as much as libertarianism is popular, it is popular because of racists who like some of its practical policy prescriptions. So Cliven Bundy can talk all he wants about the overreach of the federal government; ultimately, he has a vision of how the world ought to look. That vision is shockingly racist. And that vision, with all of its racism, is what makes him libertarian leaning and Republican voting. And he is hardly alone.

Allow me a coarse analogy. If you find that you are farting a lot accidentally, it is because you have a lot of gas. So many conservatives turn out to be racists because such a large part of the conservative movement is racist. As I’ve argued here again and again: the greatest racism comes from the movement’s leaders. And they don’t necessarily feel the racism themselves. But they are happy to use it and encourage it in the name of their goals. And that is the worst kind of racism.

Afterword

I haven’t seem much commentary on what Bundy said. I think it is because everyone is just so shocked. But to me, the worst thing is not the suggestion that slavery might be good for blacks. He clearly has some kind of Gone With the Wind idea of slavery where people were not mercilessly beaten and even killed, and couples and children weren’t ripped away from each other in the name of commerce. The worst thing to me is the belief that blacks are just sitting on porches waiting for their welfare checks. That is probably the most pernicious lie in American politics. And it is widely believed in the Republican Party.

After-Afterword

I’m no fan of Ayn Rand, but she was onto this problem. This is one of the reasons she was against the Libertarian Party. She understood that freedom without a moral core of belief was just chaos. This is why you will often hear libertarians like Rand Paul grousing about the Voting Rights Act or the Civil War itself. Note the argument: white power to keep slaves trumps black power to be free. It really is a mess. Of course, Ayn Rand was a racist herself.

Stop Assuming All Felons Are Murderers

Nina Berman Gun Rally - CroppedI guess I have to talk about this new extension of “stand your ground” in George. But it isn’t because of the conservatives. That isn’t to say the law isn’t awful, because it most certainly is. My understanding is that it allows people to carry guns wherever they want. Now they can’t carry them into a church if the church doesn’t want guns there. But doing so would be equivalent to a parking ticket. So if some white supremacist wants to bring a gun into a black church, it isn’t really against the law until he starts firing at people.

But I’m afraid that that too many liberals are concerned that “stand your ground” will now apply to ex-felons. Cliff Schecter mentioned that on today’s episode of Majority Report. But more concerning is what Digby wrote yesterday:

So, they are basically giving felons a right to kill if they “feel afraid.” They can’t vote but they can carry guns and kill people with impunity. Sure, that makes perfect sense.

There are various things wrong with this. The most basic is that I don’t understand why ex-felons shouldn’t have “stand your ground” rights if other people do. If the state of Georgia has decided that the world is just an awful place that people need to be packing heat and killing lest they be killed, how is that not just as true for ex-felons as anyone else? Does their history of crime make them less deserving of life?

But I do understand where Digby is coming from and I do largely agree. She’s thinking of murderers and rapists and other violent criminals. But she’s got to know that these are generally not the kind of crimes people get labeled felons for. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 49.9% of the people in custody are there for drug offenses as of 29 March 2014. Another 10.5% are there because of immigration crimes. Less than 25% are there for rape, murder, or weapons charges, and those in that last category are 63% of the prisoners.

One of the big problems in our country is that we’ve decided that some unfortunate junkie or unlucky pot smoker should be saddled with the exact same label as a serial killer. But that’s a societal problem. As liberals, we need to push against that and see that there is no such thing as an “ex-felon” much less a “felon”—a term used for the rest of a person’s life regardless of what he might go on to do.

Another issue with what Digby wrote is that it is not true that ex-felons can’t vote in Georgia. The rights of ex-felons are different from state to state. But because this misinformation is so often mentioned, ex-felons all over the nation think that they can’t vote when they can. Pro Con has a great webpage that lists all the laws in all the states, State Felon Voting Laws. I was even surprised that in two states—Maine and Vermont—current felons can vote via absentee ballot. And even in the 11 states where felons might lose their rights for good, there are remedies. So let’s not continue to repeat the myth that ex-felons can’t vote.

The more important point to this discussion of “stand your ground” in Georgia is whether ex-felons can own guns. The laws here are all over the board, but as 2011, ex-felons in Georgia could only own guns if they were granted a pardon. But it just so happens that the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles seems to hand them out for the asking. But they don’t seem to give them to murderers and rapists. So it does seem that the Georgia ex-felons that we should be most concerned about will not be legally walking around with guns.

I don’t mean to minimize these “stand your ground” laws. They are a pox on society. And Digby made the important point, “Sadly, the way these things work is that something truly horrible will have to happen before they reverse this crazy law.” But the issue is the law, not that people who made mistakes in the past are treated like everyone else.

Vox Pushes Weak Venezuela Attack

Timothy B. LeeTimothy B Lee is young journalist over at Vox. He mostly writes about intellectual property where his work is quite good. I noted this in an article last year, Vague Patent Trolling. But being a libertarian, when he gets outside of that issue, he tends to go very, very wrong, Libertarian Fail on Birth Control. And I’m afraid that is the case with his article today, Venezuela’s Silly Gimmicks Can’t Fix Its Disastrous Inflation Problem.

I’ve been very impressed with Vox thus far—especially the work by Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias. But this article by Lee is incredibly weak. It is the nationalistic equivalent to hippy punching. American journalists love to complain about Venezuela. That in itself would be okay, but I always get the idea that these journalists thinking that they making a bold stand for Truth rather than just following the herd and pandering to nationalistic prejudice.

This is sad to see from someone as smart as Lee. I’m sure that if he had been writing about Bolivia, a country without so much ideological baggage, Lee would have provided some facts. Instead, he makes two points. First, he presents the central bank not releasing an annualized inflation number as an attempted conspiracy, even though he admits all you have to do is compound the numbers to get the annualized rate. Second, he pushes the old CATO Institute idea that the inflation rate is really much higher because of black market currency. Dean Baker countered this idea almost two months ago:

The basis for the difference is that the Cato rate effectively assumes that items are paid for in dollars. As the black market price of Venezuela’s currency plunges against the dollar, this leads to a very high measure of inflation. This measure is of dubious relevance to the people of Venezuela, since only a tiny portion of their purchases involve payments in dollars.

But one can’t deny that Venezuela has an inflation problem. And there are a lot of parts to it. If you want to know about it, you had better go over to Reuters, where Eyanir Chinea explains the situation rather well, Venezuela March Inflation Speeds Up Amid Street Protests. Lee’s article reads like the product of a slightly more reasonable The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

What most annoys me is why Lee is even covering the issue. After all, it isn’t big news that Venezuela’s high inflation rate is roughly what it was last month. And other than pushing a highly questionable CATO Institute study, he isn’t adding anything to the debate. He says that the way the central bank is reporting its inflation rate won’t help the situation. But is the central bank doing anything that will help? Or hurt? We don’t know because Timothy B Lee isn’t interested in the subject. On the other hand, if Venezuela’s inflation rate had come way down I doubt that he would have covered it at all.

This is not data journalism. This is ideological opportunity-strafing. And if it is going to be in Vox, it ought to at least have a little intellectual heft. One CATO Institute graph and one monthly inflation rate from Venezuela’s central bank is not enough.

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella FitzgeraldOn this day in 1917, Ella Fitzgerald was born. She was one of greatest singers of the 20th century. Her subtle control of pitch is beautiful and amazing. But she is probably best known for her scat singing, which shows that the voice really can be used the same way that a saxophone or a trumpet can be. You can hear this in her performance of One Note Samba. In addition to creating very impressive melodic lines, she sings faster than anyone I had ever heard before her. Unlike other singers like Holiday who had jazz bands accompanying them, Fitzgerald was an actual jazz singer.

Even though Fitzgerald had a reasonably difficult childhood with her mother dying and abuse from her step-father, she doesn’t seem to have been greatly scarred by it. She managed her career masterfully. She worked with Dizzy Gillespie where she perfected her jazz chops. And then, while at Verve Records (pretty much created for her), she went into the “great American songbook” phase of her career.

Here is her version of Gershwin and Heyward’s song “Summertime”:

Happy birthday Ella Fitzgerald!