Daily Archives: 06 Jan 2015

Global Warming and Polar Bear Attacks

Polar Bear Before AttackCastañeda-Mendez was walking barefoot, halfway across the stream, when Dyer saw something lumbering toward them. “Polar bear!” he shouted. “Get back here! Get back here!” Chase yelled at her husband. “We have a bear!”

The animal was about 150 yards away and walking toward them. Castañeda-Mendez tromped back through the water and the group clustered together on the side of the stream, following the protocol Lagacè had rehearsed with them: Stand together. Make yourself seem big. Make loud noises, especially metal on metal, like the banging of poles.

The bear was larger and had a fuller coat than the female they had seen that morning. Slowly it walked toward them, nose in the air and tongue sticking out, apparently trying to assess the two-legged creatures it had stumbled upon. Despite the group’s banging and shouting, the bear kept coming. While Castañeda-Mendez fired away with his camera, Gross pulled out his flare gun. “I’m gonna shoot,” he told Chase when the bear was within fifty yards. “I think that’s a good idea,” she replied calmly.

The flare shot forward with a flash of light, but the bear kept advancing. It wasn’t until the shell landed in front of the animal, causing a second burst, that the bear turned and took off in a dead run. The group cheered, clapped, and banged their poles together, celebrating their victory. But the bear didn’t go far. It settled on a ledge about 300 yards from their camp and lay there quietly, watching them.

—Sabrina Shankman
In the Jaws of Climate Change (You should read the whole thing!)

Voting for Our Best Interests

Vote Here TodayOver at Hullabaloo this morning, Tom Sullivan wrote, Thank You for Not Voting Your Best Interests. He made a excellent and important point, but I think there is quite a bit more to it. His primary argument is that we liberals should stop saying that the working class “vote against their best interests.” He noted that this is an Ayn Randian, social Darwinian framing of voting. He asked, “Is that who we are? Is that the kind of country we want? Does that reflect our values?”

I have to admit to being guilty of occasionally using this language. And it has long bothered me that it goes against what I believe. I actually have a certain fondness for the fact that many Christians vote against their best economic interests in the name of what they think is their religious faith. That’s noble. And I often vote against my own best interests. But the statement doesn’t mean we are talking about the best interests of the working class — as in low skilled workers as opposed to its literal meaning of roughly 99% of the population that makes most of its money for work.

If we are talking about non-college educated whites, then he is most definitely right that “You’re voting against your best interests” is just a dog whistle for, “You’re a stupid hick.” But let’s remember: in general, it is not the poor who are voting for the Republicans. I discussed this in, It’s the Poor, Stupid. Poor voters in every state in the deep south voted for Kerry in 2004. The middle income voters are more inclined toward the Republicans and upper income voters go with the Republicans everywhere but California, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

The issue is that the poorer voters tend not to vote at all — not that they vote against their interests. But I’ve always been careful not to blame them for this. There are a few things going on. The first is that our country goes out of its way to make voting hard. For example: why is it is necessary to register to vote? We all have social security numbers. Why isn’t that enough? Then, when you move, you must register again. And who moves a lot? The poor. But the problem is far deeper than that. Consider a working class family where both parents work — perhaps even multiple jobs. They are paid by the hour. They have children they must care for. People in that situation have to be very dedicated to vote. Compare that to a family where just the man works at a salaried job where his boss will be just fine that he comes in an hour late because, “The line to vote was terrible!” (Of course, the line to vote will not be terrible — that is reserved for where the poor vote.)

When it comes to what I care most about — economics — almost everyone who votes for the Republicans is voting against their best interests. The only people who are not are those people who get special benefits from the Republican Party. Otherwise, everyone does better under the Democrats — and that most definitely includes the owning class. And why do they vote against their own best interests? Well, Sullivan nails that:

[P]eople don’t vote their interests. They vote their identities. This is standard [George] Lakoff stuff. People vote for candidates they believe share their social views, not necessarily their economics. People vote for candidates they feel they can trust. People wanted to have a beer with recovering alcoholic, George W Bush, for godssakes.

This is why Wall Street turned against Obama in such a big way. He’s surrounded himself with Wall Street hacks. He’s done everything that Wall Street could hope for. But they hate him for one reason: he called them fat cats. Those people probably would have done worse under a McCain administration, but at least he would have played along and never countered their self-images as the brilliant and beneficent Masters of the Universe that they see themselves as.

So the question really is why so many people — rich people mostly — vote against the best interests of the country. There are lots of reasons for this. The one that seems primary to me is the Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman idea that making as much money as possible is doing what is in the best interests of your country. As a result, the rich have come to think that just by being rich they are being patriotic. And the rest of the nation has largely gone along with it, even though it really doesn’t have much of a historical legacy. In the past, the rich at least gave lip service to noblesse oblige; now they act like gods — deserving of both their privilege and worship.

We as liberals do need to be careful about the language we use. The “own interests” lament does sound like we are calling for selfishness. But I think it is deeper than this. A more accurate question would be, “We do they vote against our best interests?” But it is not a question for the lower classes. It is a question for the upper classes. And we shouldn’t be asking ourselves the question. We should be asking them, “Why do you vote against our shared interests?” I don’t think they have an answer for that.

Cons Complain About Con Healthcare Reform

Jonathan ChaitJonathan Chait is back, which is good news because I still look forward to reading him every day. And his first article of the new year is a good one, Harvard, Obamacare, and the Conservative Information Bubble. What it is about is the conservatives’ newest claim that Obamacare is failing. This time it refers to a Robert Pear article in The New York Times, Harvard Ideas on Health Care Hit Home, Hard. I believe the original title was, “Healthcare fixes backed by Harvard’s experts now roil its faculty.” Apparently, they decided that maybe that was too provocative a title.

The main “fix” that is roiling the Harvard faculty is the idea that healthcare consumers should have “skin in the game.” This means higher co-pays and deductibles. It is thought that if people have to pay $25 to see the doctor, they will only go to the doctor when they really need to. I’ve always found this a questionable contention because (1) most people avoid going to the doctor just because it is time consuming and painful; and (2) this is throwing a lot of pressure on the consumer to know when is the “right” time to go to the doctor. But maybe it works.

In the past, Harvard has provided 100% coverage of faculty. (I’m sure that Harvard is like most colleges in using a lot of adjunct faculty who are paid almost nothing and given no benefits — but that’s another issue.) Now the college is paying only 90% and the faculty are not pleased. Conservatives have pounced. Chait quoted Red State, “One imagines how all these pampered academics would feel if they were forced to use a silver (70% covered) Obamacare plan.” I love that: “pampered academics”; these intellectual elites who fly coach to conferences are so pampered but the financial elites in their private jets and the gated mansions are not pampered. Regardless, it is clearly a reduction in compensation, even if a fairly minor one.

But as Chait noted, conservatives have no cause to feel good about this development. This idea of having “skin in the game” is their own conservative idea. In fact, about the only healthcare reform idea that conservatives have that is not totally ridiculous is their health savings accounts. This is the idea that people put tax-free money in a savings account that they use for medical expenses. This goes along with some catastrophic insurance policy — with maybe a $10,000 (Or more!) deductible. Since the money in the savings account is yours if you don’t use it, you have a real incentive to chew Advil all year long and not have the doctor look at that pain in your lower right abdomen. Incentives!

That’s all that is going on at Harvard. The only thing that conservatives should complain about is that the school is paying too much of the faculty’s healthcare costs. Of course, this is just the conservative way. Anything that people don’t like in Obamacare proves that it is hopeless and must be repealed. And this is even true when what people don’t like is their conservative policy idea, “You hate having to pay 30% of your healthcare costs, but you are going to love it when you have to pay 70%!”

It is important to remember where conservatives are in terms of knowledge about Obamacare. The only information that they get is negative. This is why they truly believe that the law is on the verge of collapse. It is very much like conservatives in the 2012 election where they were just sure that they were going to win. Contrast that with liberals during the 2014 election who might have grasped on to any hopeful bit of evidence, but who were completely prepared for the slaughter that came last November.

There are lots of things to not like about Obamacare. Steven Brill is out with a new book that highlights many of the problems, America’s Bitter Pill. But those problems are the conservative aspects of the law. And it is embarrassing for conservatives to throw rocks at the law while showing a complete lack of knowledge about their own “plans.”

The “Police Work Is Dangerous” Myth

Military PoliceOptional musical accompaniment, Isn’t It Romantic:

Isn’t it pathetic?
Journalistic hacks
Just following the herd!

That’s what I thought when I saw this at The New York Times last night, Two New York Police Officers Are Shot in the Bronx. It came in my email and that’s why I think it is pathetic. Obviously, this is a real news story. But The Times on average sends me maybe two notices per day. So this is Big News™ because, “Cops’ lives matter!” Of course, no one ever questioned that the lives of police officers mattered.

This is all a response to the murders of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. After that, apparently, the senseless shooting of kids by police officers don’t matter. As Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote yesterday, “If the public appetite for police reform can be soured by the mad acts of a man living on the edge of society, then the appetite was probably never really there to begin with.” The recent rallying around the police is business as usual — we’ve been seeing it for years and it is in no sense any different from the tired demands for conformity found in, “Support the troops!”

But this recent bit of voluntary government propaganda is really a bit too much. The two officers — Aliro Pellerano and Andrew Dossi — were not killed. That’s good news, even though they were seriously injured. Like I said: this is a perfectly acceptable news story, but not one that the paper of record should be sending out to its email subscribers. The headline implies that this was another ambush attack as had happened to Liu and Ramos. But it wasn’t. The officers simply got into an altercation when approaching two men who were suspected of a robbery. Also: the suspects are Latinos.

What is particularly troubling about this is that it is pushing a false narrative. Police officers are not under assault. Police work has done nothing but become safer over the last twenty years. The facts are clear. Back in 2011, after a rash of shootings of police officers caused a similar outbreak of deceptive reporting, Radley Balko wrote, The “War on Cops” That Isn’t. And late last year, he followed it up with, Once Again: Police Work Is NOT Getting More Dangerous. Just in terms of raw numbers, there were fewer police officers killed in 2013 than there had been since World War II. And that is with a population that is 2.25 times the size.

I don’t think the problem is primarily that the public is deceived about this. The problem is that police officers are deceived about this. It causes them to use excessive force because they live on a knife’s edge — constantly thinking that they are in danger. Another factoid from Balko’s work is that it is more dangerous to simply live in one of the 50 highest crime cities than it is to be a police officer. Yet no one ever says, “When a waitress in Oakland drops off her kids at school in the morning, she doesn’t know if she’ll ever see them again!” But this kind of nonsense is constantly thrown out about the police.

One thing I’ve focused on in my writing is that the police have become a bunch of pussies. They aren’t willing to subject themselves to even the slightest danger. For example, there is the 2003 case of a woman who was fatally shot by police offers because of her threatening gestures with a vegetable peeler. But I seem to be about the only person willing to call the police pussies. And this is because the police have convinced themselves and the nation that their jobs are so dangerous it makes sense for them to constantly be on guard so that occasionally overreaching is understandable.

It isn’t. Because police officers do not have terribly dangerous jobs. I mean, they aren’t cabbies — who are four times as likely to die on the job!

Update (6 January 2015 6:10 pm)

Unbelievable: Cop Wounded in Shootout Not Happy About de Blasio’s Visit.

Heinrich Schliemann

Heinrich SchliemannOn this day in 1822, the great archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann was born. He was one of the most important ever in the science. In particular, he was the first person to dig at Hissarlik, which later archaeologists were able to prove was the actual site of the Trojan War, which by the 19th century was thought to be pure myth.

His interest in archaeology started late. Early on he made his fortune as in the import and finance business. The one thing that links his business and archaeology careers is that he had an amazing facility with languages. By his death, he could conversant in over a dozen languages — including Greek, Russian, and Arabic. He retired in 1858, but didn’t start pursuing archaeology for another ten years — when he was pushing fifty years of age. At around this time, he divorced his wife — apparently because she wasn’t willing to travel with him. Then he advertised for a wife in a Greek newspaper and married Sophia Engastromenos, who was his assistant and constant companion to the end.

In his work, Schliemann unfortunately destroyed much of the site because of his belief that old sites had to be deep. He was, after all, self taught. But I’m not sure that the professional archaeologists would have done much better. Still, many people did encourage him to go slowly — advice he rejected. It may have also been a question of temperment. It turned out that seven main cities had been built on top of the site dating from about a thousand years before Troy. The whole story is amazing, and I highly recommend watching In Search of the Trojan War. Here is the first episode of it, which deals with Schliemann and the work that he did:

Happy birthday Heinrich Schliemann!