Clueless Confederate Flag Apologists

Chris OliverI am so done with the Confederate flag. As you all should know, I’ve been complaining about it for years. It is not just because it was retrieved from the dustbin of history for specifically racist reasons. It was the flag of treason. Yet we did not punish the south for this horrible act of treason. We looked forward, but there are certain people in the south who have done nothing but look back. So I’m glad that there is a more concerted effort to get rid of it. But I hadn’t figured that I would be writing about it again — at least not so soon.

But this is just too amazing a story not to pass along. David Edwards over at Raw Story wrote, Man Calls Cops After Mostly Black Town “Hurts” His Feelings by Disrespecting Confederate Flag Parade. The man in question is Chris Oliver. He, his wife Angela, and about 100 other people in Virginia took part in a Confederate flag “parade.” Basically, they outfitted their cars with big Confederate flags and drove around. The problem is that they drove through Petersburg, a majority African American town. And not surprisingly, the people of Petersburg did not appreciate this display of “southern pride.”

According to Oliver, “There was people protesting, throwing bottles, hit my truck, hit numerous other vehicles, people yelling, yelling racial slurs.” His wife noted that they had brought their Confederate flags to Petersburg as a “peaceful ride.” And the result? “People throwing bottles at our vehicles, our property that we worked for.” Apparently, the local police weren’t too keen to help when Oliver went to the police. After all, a few plastic bottles thrown and some unkind words? The Olivers come off as pathetic. But I suspect in their minds, this is just what “those people” are always doing. So it makes sense.

But that’s not the worst of it. Oliver said, “The racial slurs are really what hurt me. You know, it’s uncalled for. There’s no need for that in today’s society.” Yes, can’t we all just get along? I mean, there these people were just minding their own business. Just taking a flag with a long history of racial oppression, and parading it through a town that is overwhelmingly populated with African Americans. What’s the big deal? Haven’t the people of Petersburg heard of a little thing called southern hospitality?

I can only assume that the Olivers are in earnest — that they really don’t see that they’ve done anything offensive. If that’s the case, this is an amazing example of white privilege. If the situation were reversed, certainly they could see it. It really doesn’t matter what the Confederate flag represents to fans of The Dukes of Hazard, to the people of Petersburg, it represents a long history of slavery, lynching, and oppression. But okay, maybe the Olivers didn’t know that when they started their parade. But they certainly should have known it afterward. And they should be ashamed.

Jeb Bush: Socialist

Dean BakerFormer governor Jeb Bush’s announcement this week that he thinks people should work more hours puts him in direct opposition to the two leading contenders on the Democratic side — both of whom are pushing proposals that will allow people to work less. This could mean that 2016 will be an election in which work hours play a central role…

The leading Democratic contenders are proposing policies to bring the US more in line with the rest of the world’s work weeks. Secretary Clinton indicated that she will support paid family leave and paid sick days, although she has not yet produced specific proposals. Senator Bernie Sanders, the other leading contender, also supports paid family leave and paid sick days, and he recently offered a proposal that would guarantee all workers two weeks per year of paid vacation. That might seem like small change compared to the five to six weeks a year that is now standard in Europe, but it would be a huge gain for tens of millions of workers.

There is a long way yet before the parties select their nominees, but if the general election ends up being a contest between Jeb Bush and either Clinton or Sanders, it will present the country’s workers with an unusually clear choice. We will have one candidate who wants to ensure that people can work less but keep the same standard of living, and another who wants people to work more hours and retire later for the good of the country’s economy — and the latter candidate is the one who doesn’t identify as a socialist.

—Dean Baker
Jeb Bush Wants Us to Work More for the Collective Good. Who’s the Socialist Now?

We Could Stop Doing the Very Least for Children

Hillary ClintonHillary Clinton has announced some of her economic policies, and I have to admit that I find them compelling. I’m sure I will write more about it later. But for now, I want to focus on some of her family friendly policies. Yes, of course, we should make it easier for workers to have families. I’ve always found this very interesting that social conservatives don’t get on the liberal economic bandwagon. Instead, they seem to think that family values are something that only the rich should be able to afford. Similarly, they want to outlaw abortion, while both making access to birth control difficult and then not providing for mothers after the children are born. So great: let’s make work better for young mothers.

But Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig has an even better idea, Liberate Women From Full-Time Work. She noted that it would be good if new mothers were not pushed out of the work place. So Clinton’s ideas are certainly welcome. But maybe we should also create a system where new mothers don’t feel that they have to work. Bruenig pointed out that in the very happy Netherlands, 76% of women work only part-time. In the US, it it is more or less reversed: 80% of prime age women work full-time. And that is not what they would prefer.

Elizabeth Stoker BruenigI find it constantly amazing that the liberty caucus is not the least bit interested in actual liberty. To them, liberty is something that the government takes away from rich people. If a poor woman works 70 hours a week and has to have her children raised by institutions, well that’s not a lack of liberty. That’s just the laws of economics and there is nothing that can be done about that! Of course, that is nonsense. We are at a curious point in social evolution, where we actually have a lot of choices, but we are denied them because the rich are afraid they might lose a couple of pennies.

The great American lie is that things are pretty much the way they must be. And the only way forward is to take more rights away from workers — to make the whole of civilization more like the law of the jungle. Even if that made sense — and it makes absolutely none — in the jungle, everyone is born more or less equal. No chimpanzee is born owner of a whole section of jungle with a police force and judicial system dedicated to protecting those property rights.

We really need to start thinking differently than we have been in the past. We live in a society in which liberty is not a right of all humans. Liberty is a right inherited from one’s parents. The children of the rich have happy childhoods filled with exposure to all the greatest things that humans have accomplished. The children of the poor have unhappy childhoods filled with standardized testing and inconsistent nutrition. When the children of the rich grow up, they do whatever they want. When the children of the poor grow up, they will be lucky to get a soul crushing job and become technologically unemployable by the time they reach 50.

I’m for doing anything that will help. Clinton’s proposals are mostly great. But Bruenig is right: we can do a lot more. The least we can ethically do is make sure that all children have happy childhoods filled with exposure to all the greatest things that humans have accomplished. Doing quite a lot less than that would be to allow mothers to actually raise their children. And the least we could possible do is what we are doing: nothing. Because: liberty!

Morning Music: The Manhattan Transfer

Extensions - The Manhattan TransferIn 1977 Weather Report released the song “Birdland” on their album Heavy Weather. It’s the band’s keyboardist Joe Zawinul’s composition. I know the song more from the version by The Manhattan Transfer. That’s because I went to a music festival, and in between bands, the sound person played the same set of music over and over. And one of the songs was this version of “Birdland” off their Extensions album.

The two versions of the song are actually quite similar. But the vocal harmonies on The Manhattan Transfer version — with the vocal slides — are really fantastic. And I’m not that fond of the Weather Report live version I found. So here is The Manhattan Transfer doing the song live, with lots of stage business, which I never would have expected, given the great care they show their music. It’s impressive that they can do this live. And the scatting at the end is incredible.

Anniversary Post: Fête de la Fédération

[I wrote this two years ago, but it seems worth reposting. The only thing that has changed is that I think even less of François Hollande. -FM]

Bastille DaySo It’s Bastille Day. Although it isn’t technically a celebration of the storming of the Bastille, I still think of it that way. And thus it is the perfect holiday from my standpoint. First, it involves the people attacking the aristocracy. And regardless of what Edmund Burke thought, that’s generally a good thing. Second, it isn’t an American holiday so I don’t have to deal with a disruption to my mail and library access.

The official purpose of Bastille Day is to celebrate Fête de la Fédération. I know what you’re thinking, “The what’s it?” This was a feast held exactly one year after the storming of the Bastille to celebrate the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. But it didn’t last long. France had, what you might call, growing pains. But once constitutional democracy was finally established in France, it held on, unlike in other countries like, I don’t know, America?

François Hollande has been a bit of a disappointment as the president of France. But most of his problems stem from being stuck with the shared European currency. Here in America, we elected Barack Obama and a Democratic majority in the House and a super-majority in the Senate. Combine this with the fact that Obama really was a very conservative guy and you have a prescription for the federal government really getting some stuff done — not just with his own caucus but with the Republicans as well. But instead, getting anything done was very difficult. Add to that, what did get done was excessively watered down. If that kind of thing happened in France, the people would storm the Bastille.

Over the years, I’ve come to think that the idea of the rugged American is just a myth. The true American is a guy who kills himself just to get by, but still loves the inheriting wealthy because he’s too stupid to realize that his father is not George Romney. I’ve long dreamed that the middle class in this country would eventually push back against a government by, for, and of the rich. But now I think as long as the government isn’t actively doing drone attacks on the suburbs, the rich will be just fine. Not that it matters; by that point the entire middle class will consist of one family in Queens.

So let us celebrate a country were the government really has to be concerned that the people will rise up if conditions get bad enough. I’m feeling kind of depressed that Americans only ever revolted in defense of chattel slavery. And many still think they ought to revolt over that — even if they don’t put it that way.

Vive la France!

New Horizons Closest Approach to Pluto

[I decided to go live with this ahead of schedule. The following text is based upon it being published at the usual 9:05 am. See the “Afterword — Live Blog” section below.]

Pluto - 13 July 2015As this is published, New Horizons will have made its closest approach to Pluto. It’s closest approach will be at 4:49 am local (Pacific!) time. Even Google is celebrating it with an unfortunately fairly boring Doodle to mark the occasion. But it’s the thought that counts. We already know so much more than we did before about the planet, dwarf planet, or space debris — depending upon how you see it. I tend to be in the “space debris” camp, but I think it is wonderful space debris. This is a great moment. We can’t manage to feed all our children. We can’t manage to stop fighting wars. We can’t even manage the European economy, but at least we can fly out to Pluto and take some measurements.

Speaking of which, the big news as I write this is, How Big Is Pluto? New Horizons Settles Decades-Long Debate. It turns out it is even bigger than we thought: almost 1,500 miles across. But just to be clear: that’s still a hell of a lot smaller than our Moon. Interestingly, Pluto’s biggest moon, Charon, turns out to be just about what we thought from ground based observations. And the reason for that is really interesting!

The problem with Pluto is that it has an atmosphere. True: not much of an atmosphere. Pluto’s atmosphere makes Mars’ atmosphere seem thick. Nonetheless, it is thick enough to cause all kinds of light disturbances. As a result, when we were observing it from the earth, we had to assume a certain level of atmospheric distortion. But it turns out that Pluto is less dense — likely containing more ice. And its atmosphere is even thinner than we had assumed before.

Meanwhile, New Horizons has been able to get better estimates of Pluto’s next two biggest moons. Hydra is about 30 miles across and Nix is about 20 miles across. We are still waiting to get better images of the two smallest moons: Kerberos and Styx. And I assume we are going to discover other small moons as well. We will see.

Afterword — Live Blog