Bill Cosby and the Delusions of Powerful Men

Bill CosbyAt one time, I was trying to write some children’s nonfiction. It was a book about “nice guys” who “finished first.” Each chapter was a biography of someone who was very successful who was also known to be a good person — “nice guys” (and gals). The problem was that whenever I did enough research on a person to write about them, they turned out not to be so nice. The best example of this was Milton Hershey. He is widely praised for being decent to his employees, and for making his company town, Hershey, Pennsylvania, into the town that had no depression, because he kept everyone working.

The problem with Hershey was that his niceness was highly paternal. He was virulently anti-union. Why? You would think that he would be in favor of that. But he didn’t want workers to have rights and make demands. He saw them as children and himself as a benevolent father. There is no doubt that he would have been happier paying his employees more without a union than less with it. And this doesn’t make him much different than George Pullman — who no one mistakes for a teddy bear. I tend to think that Hershey never turned on his workers because he never had to. If things had been worse — if he hadn’t been able to sail to Cuba and be a high stakes gambler — things would have gone quite different for the people of Hershey, Pennsylvania.

The problem isn’t really with Hershey or Pullman or any of the many others like them. It is well known that power corrupts when it comes to government. But most people don’t see that it is just as true (maybe more so) when it comes to the private parts of the world — economic and not. The more power people get the more they abuse it. And that’s why I thought that Jenée Desmond-Harris’ article at Vox Wednesday was so amazing, Bill Cosby’s Disturbing Love of Power, From Race Rants to Drugging Women.

The standard response to the recent evidence that Cosby raped women via drugging is to think it shows a great deal of hypocrisy. Before these allegations became a big deal, Cosby was primarily know as a scold of the African American community. Gone was the silly and kind Dr Cliff Huxtable. Now it was this angry old man talking about how the black community was responsible for everything that was done to it. You know, “Five or six different children, same woman, eight, 10 different husbands or whatever, pretty soon you’re going to have to have DNA cards so you can tell who you’re making love to.” That kind of stuff.

But Desmond-Harris puts it into a single quite consistent frame: power. Cosby liked to tell people what to do. Think about the drugging of women — which he’s admitted to. Why would a man of Cosby’s fame and money have to drug women? I suspect that he didn’t. But he wanted a kind of guarantee — even more power than he already had. The truth is that I’m not very interested in this side of the whole thing. It’s creepy and sad. But it does provide insight into the public scolding.

The basis of Cosby’s criticism seems to be the Twice as Nice concept, where racism would disappear if only all blacks were perfect. This totally misses the way that racism works. Treating one “bad” African American as representative of other African Americans is racism. There is no way that African Americans are ever going to be good enough. And no one would ever require such a thing from whites.

So Cosby’s criticism of the African American community seemed to be all about how that community ought to serve him. It’s shortsighted, obviously. But even more, it’s all about making Bill Cosby’s life better — it’s something he couldn’t buy with his half billion dollars. At the same time, all this scolding won him loads of love from conservatives, who could always be depended upon to use Cosby as an excuse for their own racist stereotypes. Bill Cosby isn’t primarily a black man; he’s rather a powerful man who wants everything — just like all powerful men.

Crow T Robot Channels Howard Beale

Crow T RobotQualified? Qualified? Wow, what a question! Me, Crow T Robot, what do I think? Am I qualified? Wow. That’s a heavy burden! How can I make a difference? Can I make a difference? Surely, I’m but a single bot, alone as it were in the vast universe thing. Maybe I can change the world. Perhaps I’ve looked at life from upside down…

What would Joel do in a situation like this? No, I’ve got to learn to think for myself — to stand on my own two foot like appendages. Seize the day. Think globally, act locally. Yes, by God, I can do it! Why I could start a letter writing campaign. Yeah, that would help. And I could organize a bake sale. Or… Hey, we could all help! Come on friends, run to your window and shout, “I’m really cheesed and I’m not gonna hang around til this thing gets better!” Organize an improv group and do guerrilla theater at the food court of your mall. Dress a little differently — make it more exciting for you and your spouse. Or, here’s an idea: pour a little Cajun spice into the party mix and watch the fun. Put on a one man show and talk about your true inner feelings in an emotionally charged, gut wrenching autobiographical account of your warped adolescence, and then watch the grant money come in. Woo! But don’t snap judge me. And then, I know, put a drop of vanilla behind each ear and then you’ll smell like a cookie all day. Or eat an apple — nature’s toothbrush. Ask Mr Owl how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie center. Have you met everyone on your block? Now would be a nice time to start, don’t you think? Hmm? In the classroom, slide your desks together and create an ecology symbol. Police the lives of those around you, and get your sensibilities way the heck out of wack. Parade up and down the street in your underwear. Impose your ideals on others — it’s easy! Crush someone with an emotional word or enigmatic look. You decide. You do it! I’m sick of this! I can’t make a decision. I’m no good at this sort of thing. It’s up to you. I’m passing the buck. To you.

—Crow T Robot
From King Dinosaur episode.

Bernie Sanders as Successful Legislator

Bernie SandersLee Fang wrote a really good article over at The Intercept on Monday, GOP Officials Publicly Denounce Bernie Sanders’ Obamacare Expansion, Quietly Request Funding. It is about Sanders’ work since his days as the mayor of Burlington on community health clinics. And while he’s been in the Senate, he’s been very successful at getting funding for clinics. That is most true of all regarding the ACA (Obamacare) where he managed to get $11 billion of funding “extending the number of people served by clinics from 18 million before the ACA to an expected 28 million next year.”

The great thing about these clinics is that they provide a kind of universal (if rationed) healthcare. They accept all people who come, regardless of their ability to pay. I used one of them myself a few years ago. It required showing up at the clinic before 6:00 am to stand in line in the cold winter air. (Yes, it was California, but Californians are wimps!) And the treatment I received was excellent. Obviously, such clinics make sense in a nation that refuses to even consider a single-payer system. This is a far more efficient way to provide healthcare than having people show up at hospital emergency rooms.

Lee FangFang provided some history of these clinics. I had assumed they went back forever. But that’s not true at all. They started in the early 1960s. Apparently, people who came to the south to work on voting and other civil rights were seen as “outside agitators.” As a result, the good doctors of these areas refused to treat them. (That’s one way of interpreting the Hippocratic Oath!) This lead to the formation of the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR). They set up clinics. But the doctors noticed that the African American populations did not have much or any access to medical care. Eventually, this grew to providing clinics throughout the nation in poor communities.

As with most things involving Obamacare, of course, the funding of clinics is not branded. So the great expansion of clinics over the last couple of years has not been seen as due to Obamacare — for good or bad. But as Fang noted, “That relative invisibility has shielded health clinic funding from the hyper-partisan attacks faced by other provisions of the law. But it has also allowed Republican opponents of Obamacare to play a two-faced game.” Every single Republican in Congress has voted to Repeal Obamacare — that’s why they’ve voted on it so many times. It is like a rite of passage: all Republicans in Congress must have the experience of voting to repeal the law. (Yes, it is silly — even pathetic.)

But that means that these Republicans have also voted to repeal this funding for the clinics. Of course, there are all kinds of things that everyone loves in the law. But Republicans are not deep thinkers. If you had to describe what Republicans are in one word, it wouldn’t even be close: demagogues. But these same votes to repeal funding for the clinics has gone along with — What a surprise! — these same politicians taking credit for the clinics.

Of course, conservative hypocrisy is hardly news. But unfortunately, the fact that Bernie Sanders is a highly successful legislator generally is news — even to his supporters. I’m troubled by what I see as the Dennis-Kucinich-ization of Sanders. That’s the idea that he’s just ideologically correct but that he doesn’t have great skills outside of that. And Sanders isn’t just a good legislator; I’ve been impressed with just how good a politician he is. This doesn’t mean that he’s going to win the nomination, much less the presidency. But I think people should take him more seriously and look at who he really is.

The Republican Approach to Minority Groups

Rick PerryBrian Beutler wrote a very insightful article, The Republican Party Is Still Trying to Decide if Minorities Matter. He noted that the Republicans had three options regarding outreach to minority voters. The first was to actually, you know, reach out to minority voters. They obviously didn’t do this. I wrote about this a lot after the 2012 election. The truth is that it wasn’t an actual option. Reaching out to minority voters would have required embracing policies that are anathema to the party.

So the only practical options for them were the two others that Beutler mentioned. First, they could reach out in purely symbolic ways and generally not try to offend them. Let’s call that the “Pretend!” approach. Second, they could try to offend minority voters and believe that all the Republican Party needs is an ever increasing percentage of the white voter. Let’s call that the “Screw you!” approach.

Donald TrumpBeutler provided two examples of politicians pursuing these options. Donald Trump is pursuing the “Screw you!” approach. But he isn’t alone: Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Ben Carson are right there with him. Now, I don’t think it is any coincidence that none of these four is a serious candidate. The “Pretend” approach is exemplified by Rick Perry, who gave a campaign speech on the issue highlighting the fact that the Republican Party has been too focused on the Tenth Amendment (limit of federal powers) and not focused enough on the Fourteenth Amendment (equal protection under the law). I would quibble with the conservatives fetishization of the Tenth Amendment; they almost always mistake it for a similar sounding part of the Articles of Confederation. But Perry’s speech was good, and to some extent, the viable candidates are following in the same vein.

But it doesn’t really matter which approach is being used by the Republicans, they all amount to the same thing: trying to win with almost exclusively white voters. Since the Republicans are willing to do basically nothing of any substance for oppressed minority groups, their push for a “kinder and gentler” rhetoric is intended for consumption by whites. These are the whites that don’t actually care about minority groups, but who still don’t think they should be actively insulted and don’t actually think that they are all rapists (with some, I assume, good people). So as it has been for the last 45 years, the Republican Party is devoted to a southern strategy.

Clearly, the “Pretend!” approach is better than the “Screw you!” approach. But the most important point about the Republican Party at this point is that there is no advantage to truly courting minority voters. I think that is why a lot of people in the media were excited by Ron and Rand Paul. Their kind of Republican libertarianism seemed like an easy way for the party to move so that it remained conservative but could appeal to a broader base. But this was always a pipe dream for two reasons. First, the base isn’t fooled. The base is defined by its anger and fear. Libertarians might as well be hippies. But on the other side, it is even worse. What defines minority groups is not race. Race is just a concept made up to justify the oppression of certain groups. Minority groups are defined by their relative poverty. And what, after all, does the Republican Party stand for if not helping the rich?

There has been a lot of chatter on the left that people like Donald Trump actually help the Republican Party by making people like Jeb Bush seem moderate. I doubt that’s the case. Overall, people like Trump just feed into a narrative that although all Republicans may not be bigots, the Republican Party is where bigots are welcome. And that taints the party. Regardless of who gets the nomination, they will be washed clean by the nomination and given the official media stamp as “not a bigot.” So it hardly matters that Trump is around.

Morning Music: Joe Tex

Joe TexJoe Tex was one of the greatest soul musicians ever. People know his music, but they don’t tend to know him. One of the reasons is that he died so young — just 47 years old. But he also lived and performed in the shadow of James Brown. But it is hard to argue that Tex wasn’t just as great as the Godfather of Soul. The two of them had quite the rivalry. I explained this last year in post about Tex:

This reached a peak in 1963, when Tex opened for a Macon, Georgia homecoming concert for Brown. “Tex, who opened the show, arrived in a tattered cape and began rolling around on the floor as if in agony, and screamed, ‘Please—somebody help get me out of this cape!'” Brown was understandably not pleased, but as much as I admire Brown, that’s funny as hell. Allegedly, James Brown found Tex later and shot at him.

Anyway, here is “I Gotcha,” which is a pretty great way to start a day:

Anniversary Post: John Paul Getty III Kidnapping

John Paul Getty IIIOn this day in 1973, John Paul Getty III was kidnapped. While living in Italy, he was kidnapped by a bunch of mafia affiliated people, trying to get some money out of his billionaire grandfather. They asked for $17 million. So the guy’s father asked granddad for the money, but he refused. He claimed that it was to protect his other 14 grandchildren, who would all be threatened if the ransom was paid. It was just hogwash, of course; Jean Paul Getty Sr simply cared more about his money than did about any human being.

Four months later, Getty Jr got a letter from the kidnappers with a his son’s ear. But they had reduced the price to $3.2 million. Getty Jr again went to granddad, who agreed to give him $2.2 million — because that was as much as he could write off. The rest of the money he provided as a loan at 4% interest. Remember: Getty Sr had a couple of billion dollars. But note that he was no longer concerned about his other 14 grandchildren. John Paul Getty III was returned alive, but missing an ear.

I’ll write about Bill Cosby later today with regard to the way that great power corrupts people. But with people like Jean Paul Getty Sr, I wonder if it isn’t that psychopaths like him are just really good at making money. Of course, it’s not like Getty was that great at making money. His father was a rich oil man. Jean Paul Getty Sr was born into the business. Regardless: what a waste of a life.

We mark this day 42 years later for the fascinating glimpse it gives us into the messed up lives of the rich and famous.