Surprisingly Limited Libertarian Writer’s Concept of Freedom

Patrick HowleyBack in December, Patrick Howley wrote an article in The Daily Caller, Liberals Want to Stop Men From Checking Out Women. It’s a very short article intended to offend, and it did. It’s also plain dumb. Just as conservatives have some mythical idea of “America” that doesn’t exist, hasn’t existed, and can’t exist, they have some weird idea of what “progressives” are.

Normally, I would not even bring him up. But last night, I came upon a 40 minute interview he did with Sam Seder on The Majority Report. I was just looking for something to listen to for a few minutes while I did some cleaning. But I was drawn in and I ended up listening to the whole thing. It was hypnotizing. It didn’t become better over time. It was just the same thing over and over again.

At first, I felt sorry for Howley. He sounded about as bad as I would if Rush Limbaugh invited me to debate on the show. The guy clearly has no experience in live media. He sounded nervous and, frankly, like a teenager. Seder was extremely nice to him until almost the very end. It wasn’t necessary to counter him. Seder just clarified what he was saying. And that was more than enough.

Howley is a very typical libertarian. By that I mean that he’s fairly smart (subgenius) but he has never thought outside the bounds of the Ayn Rand essays he’s read. The best example of this was his take on sexual harassment. Basically: he doesn’t think it exists. His opinion is that if your boss is hitting on you, you can just get another job. The boss will be punished by the market because he won’t get the best employees. This is the kind of theoretical notion of freedom that makes libertarianism so toxic. And coming from a conservative affirmative action case like Howley, it’s disgusting. What does he know about the economic problems of the working class? Being 25 years old and working his whole life in conservative media, I can safely answer: nothing.

But what was most striking was how mad this young man was about the things that he had decided that “progressives” were going to do to him. Soon, they were going to make it illegal to ogle women. How did he know that? Because that’s what progressives are always doing! How would such a law work? Because that’s what progressives are always doing! How would you define ogling? Because that’s what progressives are always doing! Really: it was hypnotizing.

His real complaint, although he won’t admit to this is that people complain about things he writes. He calls this “suppressing his free speech.” This is a common tactic of conservatives: when people don’t like what they say, conservatives claim liberals are trying to suppress them. What’s really going on is that liberals are having a debate and the conservatives generally do poorly. When Rush Limbaugh is one of the great thinkers of your movement, you are in trouble. Regardless, last year I attacked Howley in an article, Humor Attempt Turns Racist. Many other people attacked him too. But the article he wrote is still online. He was not fired, much less arrested. His free speech was not suppressed.

But this is his idea of freedom: he should be immune to any criticisms. But some woman who works at McDonald’s should have to put up with sexual harassment because she’s “free” to find another job. This is Rob Portman logic. You may remember that Portman had always been against same sex marriage. But then his gay son came out to him. And suddenly Portman was for same sex marriage. That was because it suddenly affected him. He didn’t like the idea of his son being discriminated against. It was fine as long as it was only other people’s sons.

It’s the same thing with Patrick Howley. (In general, it is the same thing with all conservatives, most especially libertarians.) He wants to maximize his freedom, which he assumes is freedom in a general sense. He can’t even understand what life is like for a woman whose best job prospect will only ever be a job at McDonald’s. I imagine Howley in a Marie Antoinette haze, “The poor are struggling with their jobs at fast food restaurants? Then let them work at The Daily Caller!” Meanwhile, Howley is out there fighting those “progressives” who are planning to do terrible things to “freedom.” Because that’s what progressives are always doing!

The Problem With Block Grants

Kevin DrumI hate it when a commentator does his job so well that he leaves me with nothing to add. That was the case yesterday with Kevin Drum, Chart of the Day: Welfare Reform and the Great Recession. What I think I can do, however, is make his point a bit more clear. The issue here is how “block granting” is destroying welfare in this country and how conservatives want to use them to destroy most other programs that help the poor and middle classes.

You should remember that Bill Clinton campaigned in 1992 to “end welfare as we have come to know it.” And he followed through with that promise but in an abbreviated way: he simply ended welfare, although it wasn’t particularly clear at that time. He got a whole lot of plaudits for this “reform” because the welfare rolls really did go down. But that had nothing to do with the law; it was all due to the smoking hot economy. Of course people got off welfare: there were jobs available!

Once the economy tanked in 2000, people lost their jobs and slid back into poverty. But now the main welfare programs did not respond as you can see in the following graph from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP):

Results of Welfare Reform: More Poverty, Less Welfare

There are various reasons that welfare isn’t available for people when they want it. For example, there are now limits to the amount of time any person can get certain kinds of welfare. But the biggest problem here is that Clinton’s welfare “reform” turned federal welfare into block grants to the states. As as I’ve talked about many times around here: when the federal government provides money for programs it doesn’t administer, there is little incentive to maintain the funding. And that’s just what happened. According to CBPP:

Because the block grant has never been increased or adjusted for inflation, states received 32 percent less in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars in 2014 than they did in 1997. State minimum-required contributions to TANF have declined even more. To receive their full TANF block grant, states only have to spend on TANF purposes 80 percent of the amount they spent on AFDC and related programs in 1995. That “maintenance of effort” requirement isn’t adjusted for inflation, either.

And this is why conservatives love “block granting.” It has nothing to do with the oft-claimed conservative principle that local governments are more responsive to their people. As you see from the CBPP quote, most states do only the bare minimum to get the federal dollars. So the real reason that conservatives like block grants is that they are a politically viable way to destroy programs they don’t like.

Of course, there are ways to make block grants actually work. Here’s Kevin Drum on what we aren’t going to see coming from Paul “Poverty Slayer” Ryan:

If Paul Ryan ever seriously proposes—and wins Republican support for—a welfare reform plan that includes block grants which (a) grow with inflation and (b) adjust automatically when recessions hit, I’ll pay attention. Until then, they’re just a Trojan Horse for slowly but steadily eliminating federal programs that help the poor. After all, those tax cuts for the rich won’t fund themselves, will they?

No they won’t! Don’t buy the conservative propaganda about block grants.

The “Uncle Tom” of the Animal Kingdom

Walter MondaleI wonder what would happen if we sent out a questionnaire—which incidentally, is one of the things we do best in this country—to all the other animals in the kingdom asking whether or not they would be upset if their brother, homo sapien, were to disappear from the earth. My guess is that we would get back a nearly unanimous answer that not one among them would shed a tear for our passing, since we have created such an unlivable environment for them… Except, maybe the dog who is sort of the Uncle Tom of the animal kingdom.

—Walter Mondale, on the first Earth Day
Via: Charlie Pierce’s wife

Odds and Ends Vol 13

Odds and EndsIs it ever time for a new Odds and Ends. I have so much stuff lying around, my desktop is getting out of hand. It’s interesting though. When I first started this series, it was to present stuff that I didn’t have much to add to. But I think everything today represents stuff I have an awful lot to say about. But enough is enough!

Third Languages

One of Frankly Curious‘ friends Infidel753 Blog turned eight this last week, so congratulations! I think that according to Catholic dogma, this means the blog is now officially responsible for its sins. But since Infiden753 (the human, not the site) is quite an outspoken atheist, it will be consigned to fire that never dies along with him. On the plus side, that’s where all the cool people go.

I found the following graph from the most recent of Infidel753′ great link round-ups. He does this kind of stuff much better than I can, because I just can’t stop myself from going on and on. Anyway, for this one I don’t have much to add. English is the most used language in the United States. Spanish is the second. [Spanish is not the most popular language in every state; see the article. -FM] But what is the third? Well, Slate put together a really great map of the third most used language in each state, Tagalog in California, Cherokee in Arkansas.

Third Most Used Language By State

Check out the article because there is a lot more to it. For those who don’t know it, “Tagalog is an Austronesian language spoken as a first language by a quarter of the population of the Philippines and as a second language by the majority.”

Kevin Sorbo: Christian Racist

Via The Young Turks, actor Kevin Sorbo called the protesters in Ferguson “animals.” On his Facebook page, he wrote, “It is an excuse to be the losers these animals truly are. It is a tipping point to frustration built up over years of not trying, but blaming everyone else, The Man, for their failures. It’s always someone else’s fault when you give up. Hopefully this is a reminder to the African Americans ( I always thought we just Americans. Oh, well.) that their President the voted in has only made things worse for them, not better.” From my perspective, he made matters far worse when he apologized on TMZ. You can see it all in this video, which I completely agree with.

What I find interesting is that Sorbo is an outspoken Christian. Why is it that Christianity in this country is so often tied to racism? I’m not just ranting here. We know that the foundation of the religious right was racism and not abortion—an issue protestants really didn’t care about until well after Roe v Wade. I understand that for most Christians, their religion has almost nothing to do with theology. It is just a cultural signifier: they are the “right” kind of people. But how is it that their beliefs can be in direct opposition to the Gospels? I don’t get it.

Everyone In America Is Middle Class

Anat Shenker-Osorio proposed to answer an interesting question earlier this month, Why Americans All Believe They Are “Middle Class.” I’m afraid her answer was not all that interesting, however. She noted that regardless of how much money people get, they still see other people who they consider rich. On the other side, she posits that because even the poor have things that once were only available to the rich, people feel like they are living the middle class dream. I suppose those are true enough.

I’m more interested in the fact that only 2% of Americans consider themselves part of the upper class. Including upper-middle class still only gets you to 17%. That means that at least 15% of the people who are technically in the upper class claim they are in the middle class or below.What I hate about this is that people in the upper class have very nice standards of livings at the same time they tell themselves (And the world when a pollster calls!) that they are just a working stiff.

Ayn Rand and L Ron Top “Best Novels” List

Speaking of delusional people, in 1998, Modern Library published a list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th century. It’s filled with the sort of things you would expect: Joyce, Fitzgerald, Nabokov. But the following year, they did a non-scientific poll of readers and got their opinions. In the top ten novels include four by Ayn Rand and three by L Ron Hubbard. It also includes The Lord of the Rings, which as you may be aware, is not a novel; it is three. But Rand and Tolkien being in the top ten reminded me of this quote:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

The books in the bottom 90 of the list are much more like the editors’ choices. But there are some odd choices like The Satanic Verses. Also there are seven Robert Heinlein novels. That’s interesting because I don’t think much of him as a writer or science fiction thinker. Also: he was very conservative with a military outlook on life. But he was nice Philip K Dick, so there’s that.

Judicial Confirmations

A few months back (See how it is?), Jonathan Bernstein wrote, McConnell’s Nuclear Blunder Haunts Republicans. At that time, there were fewer than 80 unfilled judicial vacancies. Bernstein’s point is that the McConnell game of just grinding the process to a halt has ended in the Republicans losing any power they had in the process. By blocking every nomination that came by, the Republicans have lost the ability to stop the handful that they have actual problems with.

Of course, it probably doesn’t matter for long. The Upshot‘s Senate Forecast now gives the Republicans a 65% of taking the Senate. Up until recently, their model has been pretty positive toward the Democrats. In fact, back in June it gave the Democrats almost a 60% of keeping the Senate. But no more. The only good news is that the model still predicts the most likely outcome to be a 51-49 division. If that holds, the Democrats will certainly take the Senate back in 2016—barring economic catastrophe.

Are Liberal Billionaires Good?

Even further back in time, Paul Waldman asked, Are Liberal Mega-Donors Just as Bad as Conservative Mega-Donors? My answer to this question is: in general, yes. He is pretty much on board with that, but he notes that this is really just a process story and what most people care about is results. He gives a great example:

Let’s say, for instance, that a billionaire had a company that developed a new energy technology that was so remarkable it provided low-cost, zero-carbon energy that could power every car, home, and business on earth, putting an end to the need for all fossil fuels and stopping climate change in its tracks. And he swooped into the election, spent half a billion dollars, and got a whole bunch of people elected who would ease the way for approval and adoption of his technology. And then let’s imagine that his girlfriend gave TMZ a tape on which he said that he didn’t give a crap about the planet, all he knew was that this was going to make him so much money he could spend the rest of his life snorting blow and having Nazi-themed parties at his estates while reclining on rugs made of baby harp seal pelts.

In that case, you’d have 1) a distorted election, producing 2) a wonderful result for humanity, 3) done for atrocious reasons. How would you feel about it?

I would only add that this is generally not the option. The reason we want to get money out of politics is that the big donors are not doing things that are good for our country. And it doesn’t matter in the least to me that the Koch brothers on the right or George Soros on the very moderate left think they doing what is best for the country.

Whitey on the Moon

And finally, this Gil Scott-Heron song “Whitey on the Moon” has been going through my head. The song was release in 1970, right at the time of the Moon landings. You can’t help but accept its logic: the Apollo missions were about the white elite class’ self-aggrandizement when there were so many problems here on the ground. Just the same, that was a time when the federal government was really trying to do something about poverty. What’s more, the Apollo missions were an expression of the best that humanity is. Still, I appreciate the resentment of this song:

That’s all for now. I’ll talk at you later today…

Sarah Frances Whiting

Sarah Frances WhitingOn this day in 1847, the science educator Sarah Frances Whiting was born. She is best known for starting the physics department at Wellesley College and building the Whitin Observatory. (Note the different spelling: the observatory is named after the woman who provided the funding, Sarah Elizabeth Whitin.) Her father was a science teacher, but did not provide her with a formal education. She learned a lot, however; at 18, she received a Bachelor’s degree from Ingham University, the first women’s college in New York.

For a decade after graduating, she taught at the Brooklyn Heights Seminary for girls. She also became known among the scientists in that region. Today there are relatively few women physicists. At that time, there were almost none. So after Henry Fowle Durant started Wellesley College, it was logical that he turned to Whiting to set up the physics department.

Although primarily an educator, Whiting was very much a scientist. When Wilhelm Roentgen discovered x-rays in 1895, she put together the equipment to take the first x-ray photograph in the United States. It was of coins inside a change purse. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find the image online. But this is a telling moment. The best scientists are the ones who jump at new opportunities.

She was a member of the American Physical Society at a time when women weren’t even allowed at their banquets. She was later elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And in 1905, Tufts College gave her an honorary PhD for her contributions to science education.

Happy birthday Sarah Frances Whiting!

Addition information from: Women in Meteorology Before World War II