Fox News Sandra Bland Apologetics

Elisabeth HasselbeckOn Fox & Friends, Elisabeth Hasselbeck interviewed former NYPD officer John Rafferty about the Sandra Bland traffic stop. Media Matters reported, Fox’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck Suggests Sandra Bland’s Lit Cigarette Could Have Justified Police Conduct. I don’t think that’s quite correct. The main thing about Hasselbeck is that she is an incredibly stupid person. But there is no doubt, she is pushing the idea that a lit cigarette is a dangerous item. And Rafferty goes with it in a big way, having himself been a police officer and thus being a perpetually frightened person.

What I find interesting about the segment is that it is pure apologetics. The point of it is to find a way to justify the officer’s behavior. And Rafferty is really interesting in this regard. For one thing, he mentions that people have “tried to” put cigarettes out on him. I just don’t believe that. It just seems like such a facile thing to say. In modern America where a police officer cannot even risk a hang nail, the issue isn’t people going after officers with lit cigarettes, but officers killing people for moving suddenly.

Also really interesting at the end of the segment is what Rafferty says after talking about how he (very very afraid) wouldn’t want a dangerous black woman getting out of her car with a lit cigarette, “But the way you say it, unfortunately you’re locked into it. Because now, it’s being recorded. Unfortunately, these officers have to remember that.” What is he talking about? Locked into what? Following the law? This comes directly after, “I’ve had somebody try to put a cigarette out on me. It happens. I guarantee, you speak to many cops out there.” He seems to just be saying, “It’s too bad we have these cameras so we can’t just attack people like Sandra Bland.

Ultimately, the whole segment is about going over the the video to find a reason to justify what the officer did. And there’s a reason for that. One of the main things that Fox News does is make old white people feel good about the world. I wrote about this before, Why My Father Watches Fox News. To admit that the police are a bunch of crybabies who jump when they see a black woman would be to admit that those minorities might have a real complaint. So Fox News is there to sooth away those worries, “It’s okay to believe that the only thing wrong in the world is that big bad Obama.”

If someone wanted to understand the Sandra Bland traffic stop, they would not bring on a police officer. At best, what that provides is the idea that this particular police officer “stepped over the line” and “took this too personal.” It’s just this one guy. It isn’t a systemic problem and we know that because the nice calm officer is on the television to explain the way it always is except for some minor exceptions like with Sandra Bland.

The right thing to do is to bring on a sociologist or a civil rights lawyer — or anyone who can put the stop in the context of policing throughout the United States, throughout time. But that is the last thing that Fox News wants to do. Their purpose to to dismiss Sandra Bland as an example of anything but this one “exceptional” case. Hasselbeck and Rafferty were acting as the equivalent of a police officer on the street after a car accident, trying to disburse the onlookers, “Move along! Nothing to see here!”

Public Opinion and the Iranian Nuclear Deal

No Nukes for IranOver at Vox, Zack Beauchamp tried to make sense of, What Americans Really Think About the Iran Deal. You see, some polls — like Pew — find that only 38% of Americans approve of the deal while 48% disapprove. But other polls — like PPP (pdf) — find that 54% approve while only 38% disapprove. What’s going on with that? Well, Beauchamp noted that the main difference between the polls is that when people are primed with some actual information about the Iran deal, they are much more in favor of it.

I think it is pretty simple. The US media is just terrible. So “Iran” is not the name of a particular country. It’s just a pejorative. So asking people if they approve of the Iran deal is like asking them if they approve of the Festering Maggot deal. But there is another aspect of it too: it is only the right that is making a big deal of it. On the left, it’s an important bit of diplomacy. But it isn’t our salvation. No one thinks that the world would have ended if the deal hadn’t been made. But on the right, it is presented as a big deal — as an existential threat.

Consider for a moment, Jade Helm 15. It is a standard military exercise — the kind of thing that the American military does all the time. But it wasn’t that on the right. Instead it was a prelude to marshal law! The United States was going to “take over” Texas — because apparently, a lot of conservatives think that Texas won the Civil War and thus isn’t already part of the United States. Regardless, Jade Helm 15 started almost two weeks ago, yet just a couple of days ago, I heard from a conservative about this great threat. When it is over on 15 September, I’m sure that I will still hear about it — but slowly the fever will lessen until the new Greatest Threat to America™ is announced.

Jade Helm 15The same thing is true with the Iran deal. Assuming that Congress doesn’t derail it — in a few years, the freak out will be a distant memory. Because this is what happens to everything that the right freaks out about. Nothing is just a matter of disagreement. It is that they are the last line of defense and the liberals are actively trying to destroy America as they have known it. So Obamacare is not a bad idea; it is the end of freedom. Wall Street reform is not a bad idea; it is the end of freedom. Increased fuel efficiency standards is not a bad idea; it is the end of freedom. And of course, the Iran deal is the end of freedom and literally the end of Israel.

But that’s the conservatives. For the rest of the American people, they are going to see that after this deal goes into effect, their lives are… exactly the same. So when they are asked about this in five years time, they will respond, “What Iran deal?” They won’t care about it then, just as they don’t care about it now. Sure, if you ask them their opinions, they will give it — the only thing in greater supply than American opinions is American ignorance. But regardless of their opinions, they do not care about the Iran deal.

The only question is whether this will be an issue in the 2016 presidential race. And it will be! It will be a very big deal to some people who would never vote for the Democrats. Being concerned about the Iran nuclear deal is like being worried about Jade Helm 15 in the 2016 election — there will be people it matters to. But even they aren’t going to change their votes based upon it.

Fossil Fuels Have Long Been Uncompetitive

Chris HopeLast week, the IMF put out a report, How Large Are Global Energy Subsidies? It found that worldwide, we subsidize the energy companies (mostly fossil fuels) to the tune of $5.3 trillion per year. Okay, okay. Brad Plumer is right that these are not actual subsidies. All this money is just an externality. If it were taken into account, some of it would result in lower profits but some of it would result in high prices. But even Plumer noted that worldwide, the fossil fuel industry gets $500 billion in direct subsidies — and that doesn’t take into account all the externalities that benefit them.

The externalities matter a great deal. They distort the energy market. They make clean energy sources like solar far less competitive than they would be in a properly functioning market. It makes sense to subsidize new technologies and infant industries. But it makes no sense whatsoever to subsidize mature industries. It is a sign of nothing but the use of economic power to distort the political process. In fact, here in America it is hard to find a rich person who doesn’t owe large parts of her fortune to one kind of government welfare or another. So the idea that solar energy has some unfair advantage is rubbish — it’s just the opposite. And nuclear power — after all these years — still requires subsidies.

At Vox last Friday, David Roberts wrote, Fossil Fuel Companies Impose More in Climate Costs Than They Make in Profits. It is about another recent study by Chris Hope that looked at the various companies in the years 2008 through 2012 to see if they were profitable if the externalities were included. It turns out that they aren’t. In fact, for coal companies, the costs were ridiculously high: “varying between nearly $2 and nearly $9 per $1 of revenue.” The cost was not nearly as high for oil companies: taking into account the cost of carbon represented between 10% and 50% of their total revenue.

The problem with these studies is how exactly we account for the future damage that is done by these emissions. We can’t assume that carbon pollution today will always harm us. Carbon dioxide is eventually removed from the atmosphere after all. Hope assumes a 2.3% per year decrease in the cost of it. This is quite reasonable. Assuming a 33 year half life for carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere, my calculation is that a 2.1% per year decrease should be consistent with this. So he is assuming less of an impact that I think is reasonable.

What’s shocking about Hope’s findings is how they lay all the blame on our corrupt political system. It is only now that solar is becoming competitive with fossil fuels. But if it hadn’t been for the direct subsidies and the extreme externalities, solar would have been profitable long ago. And that’s not to mention all the other effects of “cheap” fossil fuels like resistance to efficiency and conservation.

What we’ve had instead, is a system designed to hurt the vast majority of people for one purpose alone: enriching the already rich. To personalize it, we’ve allowed the rich Koch brothers to get even richer. And they’ve used that extra money to buy more influence to skew the economic system even more to get more money. The question is not just how much longer we will allow this to go on — it is how much longer we can allow it to go on.

Morning Music: Bob Dylan

Bringing It All Back HomeIs “Maggie’s Farm” a labor song? Well, it’s a Bob Dylan song. And it certainly is calling for worker autonomy, even if that worker is only Dylan himself. Apparently, it is seen as Dylan’s complaint about the constraints of folk music. But I think that reading is all hindsight — based upon the arc of his creative life. But regardless how you see the song, it is about a man saying that he isn’t going to live his life according to others’ ideas. It is a song about self-empowerment. And that is ultimately what the labor movement is about. That’s why the current workingman’s worship of the rich is so dangerous: it is un-empowering. Just like with Christianity that tells workers to suffer now for a great future, the hope of future riches is just a lie.

Anniversary Post: Medicare and Medicaid

Medicare and Medicaid 50th Anniversary

On this day in 1965, Lyndon Johnson signed the Social Security Act of 1965 — thus creating Medicare and Medicaid. It is hard to imagine what we would do today if it weren’t for these programs. The society has changed so much since that time. Workers who get pensions are now incredibly rare. What would the elderly do for healthcare? What’s more, the ability of anyone to get treated at just about any hospital is due to the fact that hospitals that take Medicare are required to treat all patients. I’d like to think that if we didn’t have Medicare, we would have had to have come up with something similar. But there’s no certainty of that.

What’s more, Medicare could never be passed today. But in 1965, it was a different matter. In both the House and the Senate, it passed with overwhelming support from the Democrats and about half of the Republicans. So yes, even back then, a lot of the Republicans were jerks. But that’s the thing: the parties were diverse then. Since then, all the jerks in the Republican Party stayed, and all the jerks in the Democratic Party moved over to the Republican Party. Now it is as pure in its makeup of jerks as it is its makeup of whiteness — not perfect, but close!

As I noted last week, the Republicans still want to kill off Medicare, Jeb Bush Wants to End Medicare Like Them All. They always claim this is because it isn’t sustainable and that it is inefficient. Of course, the real reason that they want to kill it and Social Security is because they are prime examples of extremely efficient government programs that are popular. And the Republicans have always claimed that — contrary to all evidence — the government is always the problem. Paul Krugman provided this graph on the issue of sustainability:

Medicare Costs

And he provided the next graph that shows that actually Medicare has consistently kept costs down compared to the private insurance industry:

Medicare Cost Growth

So at 50 years old, Medicare is looking pretty good. But don’t expect conservatives to stop ranting about how it is killing us. And don’t think for a moment that if the Republicans get control of Washington in 2017 that they won’t turn Medicare into a block grant and then starve it to death. They are eager to do it. Government may not always be the problem, but if we put the Republicans in charge, they will make sure the government is always the problem.

Happy birthday Medicare and Medicaid!