Apologia for David Weigel’s Apologia

Cognitive DissonanceEarlier today, I wrote what I thought was an unexceptional article about a David Weigel column. The only thing that worried me was that the last time I had written about Weigel, he retweeted my article announcement. The thing about this is that when I’m ragging on a public figure, I don’t mean anything personal. So I make a point of not including their twitter handles in the tweet. But somehow, they always find out. This time, I figured surely he wouldn’t do so. After all, the article isn’t even really about him. But I was wrong. I don’t know quite know how to take it. It is either that he is a far better man than I am and really wants an open conversation; or he thinks I’m such an idiot that retweeting me makes that fact sell-evident.

Whenever this kind of thing happens, of course, the small trickle of Frankly Curious “readers” becomes a deluge. I put the scare quotes there because I wonder how many of these people click, see that the website is not decorated with animated gifs from Evil Dead and leave. But I got a really cryptic tweet from Abenomix. This is not unusual. I generally think I was not meant for the last two centuries, I’m certainly not meant for Twitter. So a lot of stuff just goes by me. But his profile read, “Math dork…” Well, that was all I needed to read so I asked for clarification. For the record, the original tweet was, “Why? Access. Acela=Hollywood for ugly people, & in showbiz sometimes gotta pretend the turd is a blossom, for work, nbd.”

After a two-part tweet, what he meant was crystal clear. He was saying that since Weigel has to report on the conservative movement, he can’t come right out and say that they are a bunch of bigots. He needs to see them in the best possible light. And Abenomix added that this probably isn’t something that Weigel is doing intentionally. That makes sense. It’s easy enough for me to imagine followers of Chris McDaniel to be drooling racists who could have been extras in Deliverance. “Squeal like a pig!” But Weigel actually deals with these people and I’m sure they don’t come off as any more racist than anyone else.

It makes me think of the film Flock of Dodos where much time is spent interviewing proponents of Intelligent Design. They are stone cold wrong and in their way, disingenuous. But they’re nice people. They are like my Christian conservative aunt, who has some of the most vile opinions in the world. But on a personal level, she is nice as could be. And let’s face it, I know where the Mississippi Republicans are coming from. When the Republicans did more or less the same thing to Ned Lamont in 2006, I was mad as hell. Not that this doesn’t excuse what is often explicit racism coming from the Mississippi Republicans, but I understand the anger and it is certain that politics is more racially polarized there than it was in Connecticut.

There is, of course, the other issue: the JournoList scandal. That was how Weigel got fired from The Washington Post (A good career move!) because he had made private disparaging comments about the right wing fringe, which of course, is just the right wing. Weigel is what I call a bleeding heart libertarian—the kind of libertarian I was when I was young. Libertarians of this ilk tend to think that they aren’t conservatives and so tend to disdain Republicans. (Note: Weigel is a registered Republican and even when I was a libertarian, I hated the Republicans and always thought it was better to have a Democrat in office.) So I can see that Weigel would be extra sensitive to the feelings of the conservatives that he covers.

Just the same, apologia is apologia. I never said that Weigel was a racist—in fact I explicitly said that I thought he wasn’t. But I think the facts are very clear in this case. Most of the support for the Republican Party is based on racism and misogyny. When given the chance, state Republicans have made it harder for minority groups to vote. They aren’t interested in courting the black vote, for example; they are interested in stopping the black vote. If David Weigel feels that he has to report this behavior in such a way as to make it seem reasonable, that’s his choice. He has to work with these people. But in terms of the country, it isn’t healthy to pretend that fringe groups aren’t fringe. And I will continue to make note of it when I see it. Because I care a lot more about the country than I do Weigel’s career. I suspect he doesn’t see the same danger as I do. Cognitive dissonance. Regardless, he is right to be concerned about his own career.

David Weigel Tries Too Hard to Explain Away Conservative Racism

Dave WeigelDavid Weigel is a smart commentator, but he really doesn’t get it when it comes to racism in the Republican Party. I wrote about this before, Dave Weigel’s Racist Apologetics. And I’ve written about it in a more general sense, Why My Father Watches Fox News. The fact that Republicans get behind people like Allen West and Herman Cain is because they are black men who ask nothing of the party. They are iconoclasts who are willing to pretend that racism is a thing of the past. A black conservative who was upfront about racism would be marginalized. Just look at Colin Powell, who probably couldn’t win a Republican primary in a single state of the union.

This seems to be a foreign concept to Weigel who wrote today, What Conservatives Mean When They Talk About “Race-Baiting” in Mississippi. He’s right in a certain way: Mississippi conservatives don’t hate all blacks, just the ones who make the slightest demands on their fantasy world where racism was abolished 9 April 1865. I really do mean to go back that far, because it is clear that the conservative movement now thinks the civil rights laws of the 1960s were a form of tyranny. That is, after all, what was behind John Roberts’ decision to gut the Voting Rights Act: to pretend that racism is that thing that used to occur in the United States.

If Mississippi conservatives were really concerned about fairness and not just stopping blacks from voting, they would have changed their voting system. Instead of requiring voter identification, they would have required partisan primaries. Instead, they did the opposite. And their most conservative voters then freaked out when the blacks who they had intended to stop from voting at all went ahead and voted for a Republican that they didn’t like. I’m sorry, but this is racism pure and simple.

This is how Weigel sums up the complaints of the Mississippi Republicans, “The ‘racist’ party is the one that wins black votes by promising largesse, and the colorblind party aims to win them by talking free markets and social values.” This in itself is a racist view of the situation. What, after all, was Medicare Part D, but a giveaway to a Republican coalition? What was the attempt to privatize Social Security, but a giveaway to a Republican coalition? What was the recent farm bill, but a giveaway to a Republican coalition and an attack on a Democratic coalition? The whole idea that it is just blacks who are won over by a party’s pandering is racist. And add to that, the idea that rich people vote for the Republican Party because of their embrace of “free markets (!) and social values,” and you have a frighteningly racist statement.

I don’t know how long Weigel can go on making excuses for the clearly racist attitudes on the party of conservatives. And what’s more, I don’t know why he does it. There is no indication that Weigel harbors any more racist attitudes than we all do. And he is certainly smart enough to know what he’s doing. Does he think that he needs to be the one to always be out in front making the best case for the Republican Party’s racist language and policies? Or does he have a real blind spot where he can’t see that even his best case apologia for conservative racism is itself racist.

Let me make it easy for Weigel. The Mississippi conservatives are complaining because they know there are not that many black makers, so it must have been all those black takers who won the election for Thad Cochran. That’s the blunt way of putting, “The ‘racist’ party is the one that wins black votes by promising largesse, and the colorblind party aims to win them by talking free markets and social values.” I really want to know if Weigel would still claim that the conservatives making that argument aren’t really racists.

Welcome to Neo-Feudalism

Feudalism Then Now - Via The Amendment Gazette

You probably know the idea of “creative destruction.” Basically, it means that smart people come into a poorly performing company. They get rid of the dead wood—they fire people. Then the company’s prices go down so that consumers have money they can spend on other things, increasing demand elsewhere. Then the fired people and even more can be better employed doing something else. The idea is that it may be disruptive, but in the long run, everyone is better off.

I have always had a problem with this idea. The reason is that prices do not reflect costs. Let’s suppose that I manufacture chairs and they cost me $5 each to make. I’m not going to sell them for $10 because that’s a reasonable markup. If I can get people to pay $100 for them, I’ll sell them for that price. On the other hand, if people will only pay $2 for the chairs, I will sell my existing inventory at that price and discontinue the line. So the only way that costs matters to me is if I’m not making enough. Otherwise, if people want to pay a million bucks for my $5 chair, that’s just fine.

Those of you who know a little economics will say, “Yeah, but you aren’t the only person who makes chairs!” And this is right. In the perfect markets of Chicago School models, other producers will come in and beat down my price. We will go back and forth until we get a price that is some reflection of the cost of bring the product to market. But such truly free markets are almost nonexistent. Let’s look at the way things normally work.

There are a bunch of little drug stores and they employ a whole bunch of people. A Walmart comes into town and puts them all out of business for both good (Walmart really has perfected the supply chain) and bad (Walmart illegally suppresses unions and can provide lost leaders) reasons. So there is lots of disruption but consumers really do get better prices. But the extra savings in the community is not equal to the loss wages. So creative destruction creates profits for the already rich and destroys the incomes of the community.

I was thinking about this after reading a great interview at Truthout between Jason Hickel and Alnoor Ladha, Are Economic Growth and Social Justice Incompatible? I recommend reading the whole thing, because it discusses the way the economy actually works and not the myths that we are constantly told. Take this frightening bit of information from Hickel:

We can see this level of corporate power being advanced even further by the new free trade agreements that are in the pipeline. Take the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), for example, which is set to become a global version of NAFTA. It includes what are called “investor-state dispute mechanisms” that allow corporations to sue sovereign governments for passing laws that reduce corporate profits. Corporate lawyers will judge these cases in secret tribunals that operate above the laws of any nation.

So let’s say politicians in Malaysia pass a law that increases the national minimum wage. This means that sweatshop owners will lose some marginal part of their profits, which gives them the right to sue the government of Malaysia for lost future earnings. What’s amazing about this is that it essentially gives corporations the power to regulate democratic states, rather than states regulating corporations. So it’s a total inversion of our existing regulatory logic.

That’s right boys and girls. In the mind of my father’s generation, “capitalism” was the same as “democracy” and “freedom.” But the oligarchs want to create a new kind of system. Feudalism became capitalism, but it seems very much like we are headed to what I call neo-feudalism.

What’s most upsetting about all this is that it has always been a farce. There have never been “free” markets. The system has always been geared to maintain the status quo. On the whole, the rich are not rich because they are smarter or more knowledgeable or harder working. They are rich because they are rich. They are rich because their parents were rich or simply because they were lucky. Being brilliant brings many rewards, but great wealth is not usually one of them. Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds truly revolutionized computing, but it was the subgeniuses Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who became billionaires.

So unless we stand up and do something about it, we will end up not only serfs, but serfs who are beholden to mediocrities. Kind of like we are now, but worse.

Image taken from The Amendment Gazette, Feudalism Then and Now.

Satchel Paige

Satchel PaigeOn this day in 1906, probably the great baseball pitcher ever, Satchel Paige was born. I think it’s funny that after the recent steroid scandal in Major League Baseball, people were wondering what this was going to do to the hallowed baseball statistics. Yet for many decades, blacks were not allowed to play for MLB teams, but when blacks and whites did play together as they did in the California winter league, the blacks very often totally out-shined the whites. That was more true of Paige than anyone.

When the Sporting News put out its Baseball’s 100 Greatest Players, it rated Cy Young, Grover Alexander, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson ahead of him. As much as I admire Walter Johnson, all he did was pitch fast. He never developed a decent curve ball. Paige threw everything well. Of course, in that regard, he had the advantage of having such a long career. As he got older and his speed lessened, he increasingly used other pitches including the knuckleball.

Because Paige was black he was forced to pretty much play year round. At the beginning of his career, he played as a freelancer—something that he couldn’t have done in MLB. And he played outside the country on a number of occasions, causing various problems with his relationship with the Negro League. The end of that was when he played the 1939-40 season in Puerto Rico where he ended the season with a record of 19-3, 1.93 ERA, and 208 strikeouts over the course of 205 innings. In one game, he struck out 17 batters.

The next seven years he played with the Kansas City Monarchs and “barnstormed” in the off season. It wasn’t until 1948 that Paige was allowed in MLB with the Cleveland Indians. He was 42 years old—the oldest rookie ever. His first season he had a record of 6-1 with an ERA of 2.48. He played four more seasons where he wasn’t as good, but he was a decent relief pitcher. He was in his late 40s by then. It’s just sad to think of what he would have been able to do had he been allowed to play 20 years earlier. Of course, lots of people got to see him play. He was a huge star. But the man doesn’t get as much respect as he deserves. I mean: Christy Mathewson? Really?!

Happy birthday Satchel Paige!