Live Blogging the Voters First Forum

Republican Debates

Welcome to the first debate for the Republican presidential nomination! It is the “Voters First Forum” put on by the New Hampshire Union Leader and hosted by Jack Heath of WGIR-AM Radio in Manchester, New Hampshire. But it isn’t on the television machine. You will have to go over to C-SPAN to watch it. Luckily, I’ve provided you with this handy link: 2016 Republican Candidates Voters First Forum.

Sadly, Donald Trump will not be taking part. And Mike Huckabee had a prior engagement to drown some kittens. But 14 of the others will be: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker.

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Jimmy Carter on Citizens United

Jimmy CarterIt violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and US senators and congressmembers. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over… The incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody’s who’s already in Congress has a lot more to sell to an avid contributor than somebody’s who’s just a challenger.

—Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter: The US Is an “Oligarchy With Unlimited Political Bribery”

Economic Mobility and the Genetics Myth

Economic MobilityLast week, I published a quote from an academic paper, Poor Little Rich Kids? The Determinants of the Intergenerational Transmission of Wealth. The researchers looked at the economic standing of adopted children and compared it to that of their adopted parents. The reason they did this was to take genetics out of the equation. A normal thing that apologists for economic inequality claim is, “Of course the children of the rich are also rich; they are smarter and harder working…” The fact that this line of reasoning has a very strong connection to racist arguments over the centuries is generally ignored in polite debate. But if that’s the truth — if it is all about genetics — then adopted children of the rich should not end up rich.

What the researchers found was that environmental factors were far greater than any genetic factors. And this was true before looking at inheritance. It’s even more after inheritance. But the factors of wealth — like not growing up in a stressful environment, having enough to eat, getting a good education — have a huge effect on the children. So it isn’t genetics. And we really need to get past this idea. Like I noted before, it is ultimately a racist argument that one could have heard coming from any eugenicist a hundred years ago.

Given this background, an article by Anne Kim at Washington Monthly has a very big punch, The Myth of Mobility. It summarizes a paper by two Stanford researcher, Pablo Mitnik and David Grusky. They looked at the income of parents back in the late 1980s — when the children were in their late teens. Then they compared these data with the income of the children 20 years later. Their conclusion: “children raised in low-income families will probably have very low incomes as adults, while children raised in high-income families can anticipate very high incomes as adults.” Welcome to the American dream!

Of course, many other people who have looked at the data have found the same thing. And it goes along with our intuitions. The people you went to high school with are doing about as well as you are. You probably work with the kind of people you went to school with. If you grew up poor, you probably aren’t working with many people who grew up rich. And vise versa. In fact, the way our society works is so well known that it is surprising that people even study it. I’m glad they do, of course.

But studies won’t matter. Conservatives are dedicated to maintaining the status quo — as though the way things are is the way that God intended them to be. (It isn’t surprising that modern conservatives are overwhelmingly believers in one of the Abrahamic religions.) The idea that the current ordering of society is more or less random would destroy their view of the world. And they aren’t going to give that up without a major fight. But that’s why I think we need to really focus on the genetics issue. Because no level of inequality is bad if it is the case that the winners are simply that much better than the losers. If Mitt Romney really is 400 times as smart and 400 times as hard working as the average person, then maybe he does deserve to make 400 times as much as the rest of us. But we know that isn’t true. And we have actual data to prove it. Conservatives can ignore it, if they wish. But we should be shoving it in their faces at every opportunity.

Update (2 August 2015 3:52 pm)

That’s right: an update that is before the publication date. I’m three days of publishing ahead. But in the meantime, Mark Thoma came out with a blog post that combined the same two articles. So damn him to hell!

Harder and Harder to Support Israel

Ali Dawabsheh FuneralI’ve never understood the outrage that erupted over Helen Thomas’ comments about Palestine. That’s not exactly surprising, because I’ve never understood a lot of thing that people get outraged about. I think there is a lot of outrage for its own sake: people wanting to feel outraged so they purposefully misinterpret statements. When asked where the Jewish immigrants to the occupied lands should go, she said back to Russia or wherever they had come from. I think most people took this as some kind of reference to World War II or something. But I’m pretty sure she was referring to the Israeli government’s policy to push recent immigrants into these areas.

At this point, I have to admit to not being sure where I stand on Israel. I greatly admire Max Blumenthal, but I also think he’s a tad naive to think that just because Jews are doing so well in America that there is no need for Israel as a Jewish state. I have no problem at all believing that in ten or twenty years the conservative Christians could turn against American Jews. It could become as uncomfortable a place for Jews as it is for Muslims. So I think that I am still broadly supportive of Zionism.

But I don’t see why Zionism has to involve the oppression of Palestine. What’s more: this isn’t a fair fight. Israel has almost all of the power. So the fact that there hasn’t been a two state solution is because of one thing and one thing only: Israel doesn’t want it. But of course, it keeps a pretense up about it. And here in the United States, it is accepted. The same apologetics for racism here is applied to it there: if only the Palestinians were twice as good, then there would be a deal.

I read a heartbreaking story over the weekend, Ali Dawabsheh Was Killed Too Soon. It’s about an act of terrorism committed by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. They set fire to a Palestinian home, resulting in the death of Ali Dawabsheh, an 18-month old boy. Now, of course, everyone is outraged. And obviously, this does not speak to the way that “Jews are” any more than rocket attacks out of Palestine speaks to the way that “Palestinians are.” Just the same, it isn’t getting much coverage in the United States. We have narratives here! Palestinians are terrorists, not Israelis! And Israel is an Ally™. So that’s that.

Over at Vox, Max Fisher wrote, The Murder of Ali Dawabsheh Is a Direct and Predictable Consequence of Israel’s Occupation. He pointed out in his article, it doesn’t much matter that the Israeli government has condemned this attack without reservation. Its policies make this kind of thing inevitable, “Israel’s occupation of the West Bank empowers and abets settler extremists, who have been increasingly violent for years.” To put it bluntly, Israel hates such acts, but not enough to halt its expansion project into the West Bank.

The more I learn about the situation in Palestine, the worse it gets. Yes, the terrorists firing missiles into Israel are horrible. But they are also largely impotent. And the Israeli government is anything but. And so much that it does is designed to make the situation worse. Eventually, I can see myself getting to the point where I say, “Yes, the global Jewish community needs its own place where it can be safe; but just look at what they’ve done with it; it just isn’t worth it.” And I think younger people — like Max Blumenthal — are already there. If I were running Israel, I’d be really worried about that.

Morning Music: Do the Clam

A Fuller Life - Dolores FullerI promised silly Elvis this week, and I doubt I will be able to top “Do the Clam” from Girl Happy. The song was written by the songwriting team Sid Wayne and Ben Weisman along with Dolores Fuller. You may know her, because I’ve written about her, Why Sarah Jessica Parker is a Bitch. Fuller was Ed Wood’s girlfriend and collaborator in the early days of his career.

Fuller wrote a number of songs for Elvis, starting in 1961 with “Rock-A-Hula Baby” off Blue Hawaii. She wrote for a number of other people, including Nat King Cole and Peggy Lee.

Anniversary Post: Harvard–Yale Regatta

Harvard–Yale RegattaOn this day in 1852, the first Harvard–Yale Regatta took place. I know: who cares?! I certainly don’t, except for one thing: it was the first intercollegiate sporting event in American history. And I think that’s bad. I know that part of the idea behind sports was to make colleges less insular. The idea isn’t bad: colleges getting together to do things. But the least of the problems at colleges is that people at Harvard don’t interact enough with people at Yale.

The problem is that sports became too big a deal. In fact, for the most part, college athletics now makes students more constrained. But even if the Harvard-Yale Regatta did bring students together, it would just create a different kind of elitism. You may have read about Ted Cruz, “As a law student at Harvard, he refused to study with anyone who hadn’t been an undergrad at Harvard, Princeton, or Yale.”

When I was college age, I was extremely naive. I thought that all that really mattered was that you were bright and hardworking. That really isn’t the way the world works. But I doubt that I would recommend that a young person go to Harvard or Yale. They really are filled with the worst people on the planet. They’re committing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. But that’s true of the University of Pennsylvania too.

Happy anniversary American intercollegiate sports. Even truly horrible things deserve to be remembered.