Police as a Tool of Elite Power

Jail Killer CopsI find it curious that over the last few months as police officers have (bizarrely) felt attacked, one point they’ve fallen back on is the tired, “Well the next time you’re in trouble, maybe the police won’t come!” During my colorful life, I have found myself in far more dangerous situations than the vast majority of my fellow countrymen. At no point did I think a situation would have been made better by the presence of a police officers. About the only thing I’ve ever wished for is that I had a gun. But the last thing I wanted was someone armed who was jittery and convinced that his job was so dangerous that he needed to start shooting. (Check out the statistics from 2013: officers are much more likely to die in car accidents than in shootings.)

But all this discussion of the matter is telling. It shows that the police really do think they are critically necessary. I think the history of the world shows that this isn’t true. We’ve seen huge rises in policing because crime is so low — not the other way around. People in the lowest crime areas are the least tolerant of any crime and the most punitive towards those people who do commit crime. What’s more, there is always a reason to increase the police force. Is crime up temporarily? We need more policing to stop it! Is crime down? We need more policing because it’s working! It is all madness.

So a crazy man goes on a shooting spree and kills two police officers. And this means… What exactly? Crazy people kill others all the time. When right-wing nutjob Eric Frein killed a police officer, it didn’t have any significance. All the right wing politicians with their “don’t retreat, reload” rhetoric weren’t responsible for that. And no one claimed that they were. But an even crazier man kills a couple of officers and suddenly it is Bill de Blasio’s fault. It’s an amazing but common double standard: right wing politicians are never responsible for anything; left wing ones always are.

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a good article yesterday, Blue Lives Matter. It is about how we don’t have a “policing problem”; we have a society problem. The police are, after all, just doing what the people want. I do, however, disagree in one way: we don’t actually live in a democracy. In the modern world, it is all too easy for the power elite to manipulate the electorate. If they manage to do it with economic policy that directly harms those who vote for it, it is trivial to do it on policy designed to keep the underclass as the underclass.

And that starts with the media. The best example of this occurred over the weekend. I learned of it by Miserable Shitehawk at Gawker, Slimy Baltimore FOX Affiliate Caught Faking “Kill a Cop” Protest Chant. A group of protesters was chanting, “We can’t stop! We won’t stop! Til killer cops are in cell blocks!” I understand that it can be hard to understand chants. So the Fox45 newscaster could be forgiven for hearing, “We can’t stop! We won’t stop! So kill a cop blah blah blah!” But that doesn’t explain why she cut off the recording of the chant after “cop.” Amazing.

The station has since issued an apology. But it is ridiculous. They claimed, “Although last night’s report reflected an honest misunderstanding of what the protesters were saying, we apologize for the error.” That’s just not credible given that they did not use the whole chant. But even if it were an honest mistake, what does that say about the media that they think people are out in the streets calling for the murder of police officers? That would be illegal, for one thing.

We have twice as many police officers as we ought to have. We have ten times as many prison cells as we need. We have far too many prosecutors and they have far too much power in the criminal “justice” system. After freeing up these resources, we could use them to help society become better. I’m afraid this “instant death penalty for disrespecting a cop” thing has about played itself out. The only question is whether the people really will continue to think that we must keep our police state going to keep the underclass down. But if we do that, Ta-Nehisi Coates has a warning we should take very seriously, “[O]ne does not have to work hard to imagine a future when the agents of our will, the agents whom we created, are in fact our masters. On that day one can expect that the tactics intended for the ghettos will enjoy wider usage.”

How Republicans Intend to Destroy Congress

Doug ElmendorfIt has begun. One of my biggest concerns about Republican control of Congress was that they would turn the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) into a partisan outfit. And now the process has begun. The idea of the CBO has always been that Congress ought to have access to real economic analysis. If they don’t have it, they will just do what they do in every other area: depend upon lobbyists. That’s not to say that the CBO has been perfect since its creation in 1974, but it has done a better job than I would have expected. And that is all about to change.

Yesterday, Dave Weigel reported, Republicans Block Reappointment of CBO Chief Doug Elmendorf. While it’s true that Elmendorf was appointed by Democrats, he’s never shown any preference toward them. In fact, he has acted the way anyone heading the office is supposed to: as a boring bean counter who drives pretty much everyone crazy. But it isn’t that the Republicans really care about him. It is just that they want to replace him with a partisan hack who will do “dynamic scoring.” This is the idea that tax cuts will so stimulate the economy that they will at least be partially paid for.

The CBO has never done dynamic scoring for a really good reason: by and large the economy doesn’t really work that way. One of the reasons that the 2009 stimulus worker poorer than it needed to was because it a good chunk of money was spent on tax cuts (much of which wasn’t spent) instead of direct spending. Once the Republicans get a partisan hack installed at the CBO, then they can propose Paul Ryan’s tax cutting rich-guy giveaway “budget.” And the CBO will say that it will reduce the budget because it will cause 6% growth from now until the second coming of Reagan.

Jonathan Bernstein is not a man to make outlandish claims, but even he wrote today, Republicans’ Latest War on Facts. He made three points. First, the Republican obsession with the budget deficit is “phony.” See how careful he is? This one could have been called in the early 1980s under Reagan. So: of course these mendacious jerks don’t care about the deficit. They only care about it in as much as it allows them to hurt the poor. Money given to the rich is sacred, and no sacrifice is too great to do that holy work.

Bernstein’s second point is that the Republicans have no interest in facts. He’s particularly focused on the supply side garbage thinking and the idea that tax cuts pay for themselves:

Few theories have had more real-world testing than supply-siders’ claims that tax cuts pay for themselves. The outcome is conclusive: They don’t. Instead of accepting the results, Republicans choose to get rid of neutral expertise.

What do facts matter when they get in the way of things you simply want to believe? Want to cut food stamps? Scream about the budget deficit! Want to fund a war? Scream about how Reagan proved budget deficits don’t matter! Want Tinker Bell to come back to life? Appoint a Director of the Congressional Budget Office who really, really believes in fairies!

And his third point is perhaps the most damning, “Republicans in Congress don’t care about Congress.” Like most political scientists, Bernstein really cares about political institutions. And the Republicans don’t. They are just trying to push their ideological agenda by any means necessary. It reminds me of the Nazis when they took power in the legislature: they abolished it. If there were a way to do that in the United States, I have little doubt that the Republicans would have done it in January of 2003.

GDP Growth Doesn’t Improve Your Life

Working PoorThe Commerce Department has revised the third quarter GDP growth rate up to 5%. People are happy. Ed Kilgore is happy. Paul Krugman is happy. Matt Yglesias is happy. But I’m not. Who really cares about increases in GDP when it has become uncoupled from wages?

It’s remarkable to think about this. Roughly four decades ago, the wages of American workers broke off from its strong correlation with GDP and flat-lined. But in that time no one has seemed to care. It goes along with the announcement of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which is announced every night on the news. Does a smoking hot stock market mean that more people are employed? No. Does it mean wages go up? No. So why do we care?

The truth is that “we” — as in, actual people who work for a living — don’t care. But newscasters do. The power elite care. And that is all that matters in the land of the “free” and the home of the “brave.” It’s an outrage that people remember the 1970s because of the high inflation as opposed to the beginning of deregulation. It is an outrage that people remember the 1980s as “morning in America” and not the decimation of unions and the end of even small gains to worker standards of living. It is an outrage that people remember the 1990s as a good economic time instead of yet another bubble economy and the end of welfare as we know it.

Democracy is not just a matter of voting. In fact, it isn’t even primarily about voting. No one really thinks that democracy is where an autocrat is the only person people can vote for. But in America, where we get to vote from two (!) people with exactly the same economic policies, we do call it democracy. It isn’t. It is oligarchy. We let the prols decide how long they can abort fetuses — but not whether they can join a union at work. Have a good same-sex wedding — if you can afford it, which you can’t.

So a 5% increase in GDP is a good thing in theory. But it could be 50% or 500%. What does that matter to you?! Are you going to get a job or a better job because of it? Are you going to get a raise? No you’re not. Our GDP could be cut in half and most people would be far better off if the economy were more equally divided among the people. So who cares? Caring about this is just more indication that we see everything through the lens of the power elite. We need to stop doing that.

Minimum Wage Globalization at the Airport

Thomas FrankNow consider the people who actually work in this environment. Do they feel like joining in the hymn to the market system? Well, there are the flight attendants, whose job was once widely thought to be glamorous but who are in fact notoriously overworked and who took a huge hit to their pensions in the big airline restructuring after 9/11.

Matters worsen as you descend from there, taking into account the people who handle the baggage, who help with the wheelchairs, and who mop up the platinum puke in the bathrooms. Years ago, according to a report issued by the Berkeley Labor Center, such work often paid a middle-class salary; today, thanks to outsourcing and other ingenious techniques of wage-suppression, the people who toil at these occupations can expect to spend their lives in a condition of near-poverty. There is a reason residents of SeaTac, Washington, the municipality that surrounds Seattle’s Sea-Tac airport and its several first-class lounges, voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour — and there’s a reason the entity leading the opposition to them was Alaska Airlines.

—Thomas Frank
First we kill All the Diamond-Class Five-Million Milers

Adrian Belew

Adrian BelewThe great guitarist Adrian Belew is 65 today — so he won’t be performing anymore. He’s had a fairly successful solo career, but most people know him from his work with other acts — most notably King Crimson. I don’t think that much of him in terms of the music he plays, but he is a master of guitar in terms of sounds. He’s kind of like The Edge: more a synth player than a guitarist. But that is to take nothing away from his wizardry. He’s an amazing guy.

I first noticed Belew because of his work on one of the greatest rock albums ever: Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. So here is “Crosseyed and Painless” from the tour he did with the band in 1980:

Happy birthday (And retirement!) Adrian Belew!