Conservative Voter Suppression Is Elitist

Jonathan BernsteinI don’t know about you, but I could really use some good political news. It isn’t new; I wrote about it last weekend, Oregon Increases Freedom in Our Democracy. It was about the new law in Oregon that would automatically (unless they opt out) register people to vote. But I mentioned that there was little reason to think this would mean that more people would vote. Still, as the title indicates, I thought it was a great thing. It made voting easier and that’s wonderful. Democracy is a good thing. But before getting to the good news, let me briefly discuss why democracy is a good thing.

The standard take on democracy from conservatives is that if voting is too easy, all these idiots who aren’t engaged in politics will vote. “Idiots” is defined in the conservative world as, “Anyone who doesn’t hang on every word of conservative commentators.” But I am a big believer in The Wisdom of Crowds. The big problem that I see is that, for example, the rich generally are much better educated than the poor. But they are blinded by their own class interests. It is only by including everyone that we assure that the interests of everyone are taken into account.

But it is curious. While I was growing up, the big thing that made the US special was that unlike the USSR, we were a democracy. But today, conservatives are really quite outspoken in their opposition to this foundational idea of our republic. In fact, it is interesting: when Glenn Beck was a huge thing on Fox News I kept hearing people talk about how the US was a “republic” not a “democracy.” At first, I was confused, “It’s a democratic republic.” But it was really just the mainstreaming of the devaluation of the concept of democracy. It went along with Glenn Beck’s belief that America died when we started direct election of US Senators. Really what it means is, “My ideology is unpopular, so I don’t like democracy.”

I’m thrilled when America becomes more democratic. In that way, I am entirely typical of the Democrats. Just the same, under normal circumstances, I would be typical of most Republicans. The anti-democracy push of recent years has come the way most things come in the conservative movement: from the top down. Of course, don’t expect to hear any Republican politicians talk about how terrible democracy is. Just expect them to do everything they can while in power to limit democracy. But I think we need to talk openly about this kind of stuff. What kinds of laws are being enacted in Republican controlled states? Modern poll taxes — laws to limit democracy. What kind of laws are being passed (or at least considered) in Democratically controlled states? Laws that increase democracy. As an American, you really have to ask why you would support a party that doesn’t believe in democracy.

On Thursday, Jonathan Bernstein wrote, Voting Is All About Registration. It is about a recent research paper that found that if people were automatically registered to vote (or could do so the same day), 3 to 4 million more people would have voted in the 2012 election. Now that’s not a huge amount. In fact, Romney lost the election by 5 million votes, so even if all these voters had been Romney supporters, he still would have lost. But it still represents roughly 2-3% of the vote.

I’m not going to lie to you. I think that a strong majority (maybe even a vast majority) of these voters are liberals. And the truth is that if 4 million more Democrats had voted in 2014, the two parties would have roughly tied for the total popular vote in House and Senate races. But even if most of those voters were Republican, I would still be thrilled that they got to vote. I would think that my job as a liberal was to make my policy ideas (which I know are better) more appealing to the people. In general, conservatives don’t think this way. And why would they? They’ve used fear and hatred very successful for decades. Winning on actual policy has never been their way.

But in the public consciousness, it is liberals like me who are elitists. I’ve never really understood that. It’s true, I scoff at ignorant people pushing stupid ideas. But conservatives do the same thing toward people like me, claiming that our good ideas are stupid or, hilariously, elitist. Contempt is something we all share. But conservatives think that the whole democracy thing is a joke. And that is absolutely the most elitist opinion that there is.

Galileo on Ted Cruz

Galileo GalileiDear Ted…

[Y]our grasp of history is as secure as your grasp of science.

This is so wrong. This is more wrong than the geocentric model of the universe, the thing I actually spent my life debunking. (We knew Earth wasn’t flat, dang it. Columbus had already sailed!) What I battled wasn’t a ruling scientific theory, either. It was religious dogma. I am not saying that those are opposites, but mistaking one for the other is like mistaking you for someone with an understanding of climate science…

It’s like saying “by opposing vaccinations, I am just following in the footsteps of a heretic called Edward Jenner, who as we all know invented the light bulb.” This is like invoking Elizabeth Cady Stanton to support Men’s Rights Activism, but crediting her with Prohibition. It’s like saying, “I am a Democrat, just like Ronald Reagan, who of course won the Civil War.” You might as well thank Tesla every time you perform dark magic…

And I don’t care what you believe about the climate. I mean, I’m dead already. I don’t care what you do with the place. Just don’t use my name to lend yourself credibility. Once being forced into a lot of inaccurate statements by people whose grasp on science was lacking is enough.

Eppur si muove…

—Galileo Galilei (as told to Alexandra Petri)
An Open Letter From Galileo to Ted Cruz

Modern Immigrants the Same as Always

Dream ActPew Research put out a great report this week, A Majority of English-Speaking Hispanics in the US Are Bilingual. What I love about it is that it counters most of the stereotypes that Americans have about our Spanish speaking immigrants. In particular, there is this idea, “Immigrants today don’t want to integrate with the rest of society!” This is such a tired complaint, that it is almost funny. This is what has been said about every immigrant group at every time in our country. It is true in a sense. What is distinctly not true is that there is anything different about “immigrants today.”

Think about it from the perspective of a new immigrant. If you settled in Russia, for example, don’t you think that you would naturally hang out with other American immigrants? They speak your native language; they share your culture; they are more inclined to help you out. This is not rocket science. It wouldn’t mean you weren’t committed to your life in Russia. But really, where are you going to go if you want a decent hamburger? Your becoming fully part of Russia is not something that you would do; it is something that your kids would do.

Both my father’s parents came to the United States from Portugal. It is almost the very definition of “immigrants built America.” My grandmother worked a maid and my grandfather worked odd jobs — eventually working for Luther Burbank. They were eventually able to buy a small farm and lived off that and traveling around the area bailing hay for other farmers. Yet most of what I remember as a kid are Portuguese parades and a bunch of old people arguing in Portuguese. My father, on the other hand, doesn’t even speak the language. His older brother and sister are bilingual, however. And that’s entirely typical of immigrants to the United States.

So what do we see with those horrible “immigrants today”? It’s exactly the same. People who immigrate from another country tend to stick with their mother tongue — but note that this doesn’t mean they don’t also know English. Their kids tend to be bilingual. And their grandkids tend to be just as mono-linguistic as the rest of the country:

Spoken Language of Recent Immigrant Groups

Strangely, the Pew article discussed the potential effect of the large Latino community in keeping Spanish alive as a language in the United States. I have no problem with that, but even discussing it seems to be somewhat racist — as though there really is something different this time with these immigrants. The data in the report itself show this really isn’t the case. In the graph above, we see that Spanish is dying out as a primary language. What’s more, census data indicate that Spanish is dying out as the primary language at home. But it may be the case that it will die out slightly slower than other languages have.

The main thing here is that we need to remember that our recent immigrants are the same as our past immigrants. Trying to put new immigrants into a special category is just doing what we’ve always done to immigrants. We need immigrants — desperately — but we hate them. And that isn’t right or helpful.

Comparing State Economies Is a Fool’s Game

Kevin DrumI like Kevin Drum very much, but I think he was a bit deceptive in an article last week, Three Cheers For the California Miracle! It is a comparison of the Texas and California economies. In 2014, California actually added more jobs than Texas. So much for the “Texas miracle.” Drum is correct that the whole business of the Texas miracle was nonsense from the beginning, “It was mostly just PR bluster.” Just the same, there is something good about Texas and other backwater states with regard to business: the cost of living is cheap and so companies don’t have to pay their workers as much.

This brings up what I think is a really important question, “Who wants to live in Texas?” I’ve been to Texas many times. I’m sure for some people it is just wonderful. But for most people, it is a hot place that is far better characterized by George W Bush than Jim Hightower. On the other hand, California is overall fantastic. Yes, I am a left coast boy and I’m mostly thinking of northern California and our adjuncts, Oregon and Washington. But I can’t imagine leaving the state because I could pay my employees a bit less. And apparently that is how most people feel because California has never seen the mass exodus of companies claimed by conservatives.

But you still have to give Texas its due. During 2014 (roughly), “California gained 498,000 new jobs, almost 30% more than the Lone Star State’s total of 392,900 for the same period.” 498,000 new jobs in Wyoming would mean a lot more than in California. The contrast is not so large with Texas, but it is still notable. California added 27% more jobs than Texas. But California’s population is 44% higher. Similarly, it total employment is 44% higher. Its GDP is 40% higher. Even its non-farm employment is 35% higher. None of this means that California is doing worse. I would say it is more or less a wash.

The real takeaway from Drum’s column is that all this stuff about a Texas “miracle” is rubbish. He provided the following helpful graph that shows the unemployment rate of all of the states around Texas. And what it shows is that Texas is right in the middle of the other states. In fact, if you look carefully, you can see that Colorado has actually seen a greater decrease in unemployment, even though it started at the same level. Obviously, there are reasons for everything, but Texas’ low taxes and “blowed up real good” regulations are not the reasons.

Unemployment in and Around Texas

We’ve seen this a lot. If there is a state that is doing well, conservatives claim that it proves that conservative economic policy is the cause. Usually, it is just random fluctuations. But roughly what we are seeing is a zero sum game. When State Farm moves from California to Texas (which it recently did), there aren’t more jobs created. State Farm did this to lower its costs and increase its profits. Those profits will go overwhelmingly to people who are already wealthy. And that just leads to more of what we’ve had over the last four decades: middle class stagnation and increased economic inequality. But that’s great! Just ask George Will.

But let’s not make the same mistake that the conservatives make. The Texas economy is doing okay. Without digging into the numbers, it seems to be doing as well or slightly better than California. Of course, the median household income in California is 25% higher. The main thing is that the US economy is improving, so things are getting better everywhere. This business of comparing different states is a fool’s game.

Morning Music: 99 Luftballons

99 LuftballonsIn general, new wave songs do not hold up. There is just something about real (non-synthetic) instruments that never gets old. You may not like classical music, but a violin doesn’t sound stupid. And it isn’t really that synthesizers sound stupid. Listen to Dark Side of the Moon. But in the early 1980s, there was a change going on from analog synths to digital synths. And those early digital synths sucked. They sounded fine at the time but now they make me want to rip my hair out.

But there are songs that manage to overcome this. I’ve discussed this before. But today I offer another such song, Nena’s “99 Luftballons.” I don’t know, maybe it is just one of my blind (Deaf?) spots. Or more likely, the over-polished pop sound of the song just works in contrast to what is actually a really depressing song.

It tells the story of 99 toy balloons being mistaken for alien aircraft. So the military send some fighter jets to check them out. When the pilots find that they are just balloons, they attack them, thinking of themselves as “Captain Kirk.” But everything goes astray as this playful activity is mistaken for an act of war. Thus the 99 balloons lead to 99 years of war and the destruction of the earth.

In some ways, the English translation of the song is better in a purely artistic way. Just the same, it pulls a whole lot of punches. The German song shows far more contempt for the ruling elite. This is a funny thing about Americans: we think of ourselves as such individuals but we yield to power more than most people. And that’s especially true when it comes to the military, which we are supposed to never counter. I’m not too keen on Germany, but this is a damned good pop song.

Birthday Post: Mario Vargas Llosa

Mario Vargas LlosaThe great Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa is 79 years old today. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature back in 2010. I don’t read much modern fiction, so I only know him from one book, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. I first read it upwards of twenty years ago. I liked it, but I thought it was a tad dense for a comedy. But just a couple of weeks ago, I got it from the library. It sat around until the day it had to go back. So on my way to the library, I finally opened it and read the first couple of chapters. I was wrong before, the books is hilarious and perfectly rendered. It probably also helps that I’m older now. When I read it before, it seemed kind of harsh. I don’t get that from it now.

After I turned the book back in, I immediately requested it. As a result, it has been sitting at the library for me for almost a week. I will pick it up tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to it. There is not a great deal that I read that can be termed truly enjoyable. If I read any of his other work, I’m sure it will show up here.

Happy birthday Mario Vargas Llosa!