Our Weak Recovery in One Graph

Government Spending During RecessionsThis graph comes via Kevin Drum, Here’s Why the Recovery Has Been So Weak. As he points out, it isn’t new. I have written about this many times myself. But it is really really annoying.

Part of this is Obama’s fault. I remember in 2010, he was spouting the same conservative nonsense as the Republicans, “Families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same.” No! No! No! That’s not how macroeconomics works. The entire economy is not like a household. In the entire economy, one person’s reduced spending is another person’s reduced revenue. It was not the right time to tighten the federal budget when the unemployment rate was 9.8% and the inflation rate was 2.6% and heading down.

But the bigger issue is that Republicans always decide that we just can’t spend any money when a Democrat is in the White House. They have been determined to harm the country until a Republican is elected president. And you can count on them racking up huge deficits the moment that happens. And then the economy will quickly improve and everyone will say, “The Republicans saved the economy!” This is all so predictable that it makes me want to do physical harm to myself — like bang my head against a stone wall.

What the graph above shows is that even since World War II, we have all agreed that the government must spend more money during a recession. That’s certainly what we did under George W Bush during the 2001 recession. But we don’t do it now. And it makes me angry. I don’t really blame the Republicans. They are traitors, but I understand that they are just looking out for themselves and they’ve never claimed to be anything else. They are really awful — but honest.

What makes me angry is that the American people keep voting for them. How low does the Republican Party have to sink before the American people will say, “Enough!” Sadly, I think the answer is that there is no level. If the Republicans created a debt crisis by refusing to raise the debt ceiling, it would throw the global economy into recession. But as long as it was done more than six months before an election, the American people would not punish them.

In fact, we’ve already seen this. The world economy is still struggling because of the economic policies forced on us by the Republicans over the last six years. Of course, there are two sides to this. First, there is the ignorant, hateful conservative base that comes out to vote because the only thing that they have to stop them is the fact that they might miss one of their favorite Fox News shows. Second, there are the liberals like Carey Wedler who can’t manage to show up to vote when it isn’t a presidential election.

I wonder if the American people realize just how close we are to fascism? Or even if they care? The Nazis didn’t come to power in Germany because a majority of the people wanted them. If the people of a country can’t be bothered to care for their democracy, they will see it go away very quickly. And if you don’t have a job right now or if you haven’t received a raise in 8 years, all you need to know is in that graph above. And it is mostly thanks to a political party that cares only about getting power and doesn’t care if it has to destroy the nation and its people to get it.

Vote, damn it!

Guns Don’t Kill People, But Cars Do

Brian BeutlerFor years, in response to political pressure, the Centers for Disease Control have been effectively prohibited from researching gun violence as a public health and safety issue unto itself. Two months ago, in the immediate aftermath of the Emanuel AME church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, when a powerful House panel torpedoed a piece of legislation that would’ve permitted the Centers for Disease Control to study the root causes of gun violence, House Speaker John Boehner defended this sort of interference.

“The CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect public health,” Boehner told Todd Zwillich, The Takeaway’s Washington correspondent, at a Capitol press briefing. “I’m sorry, but a gun is not a disease. Guns don’t kill people — people do. And when people use weapons in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual and not blame the action on some weapon.”

Guns are not microbes, but neither are automobiles, unhealthy foods, slothfulness, or any number of other unhealthy things that the CDC researches, unencumbered. When a bullet pierces human flesh, that body becomes extremely ill right away, no less than when a body flies through a windshield or experiences a severe electric shock. But where government actively regulates cars and construction sites — indeed is applauded for doing so — it simultaneously takes steps to abstract guns from the harm they cause, and silence public officials who refuse to play along.

—Brian Beutler
More People Should See Vester Flanagan Kill His Coworkers on Live TV

Using Statistics for Bigotry

Stupid Terrorism Stat

I found this table on a vile but (unsurprisingly) popular blog called The Religion of Peace. Get it?! The Muslims killed 2,996 Americans on 9/11, but only 1 Muslim-American was killed in response. I don’t know about these statistics. There have been other terrorist attacks, so I suspect we could up that number of Americans killed (some of which were Muslims). (Actually, they do increase the number: 3,106 currently.) And it seems to me that there were more Muslim-Americans killed in response. But the numbers don’t matter. I’ll grant them. The point is that this is an incredibly skewed way of looking at the results of 9/11.

George W Bush would never have had the political support to invade Iraq without the 9/11 attacks. As we know from Richard Clarke, in the first 24 hours after the attack — and for months afterwards — senior administration officials wanted to use the attacks as a pretense to invade Iraq. The Iraq War is a direct result of the 9/11 attacks, even though Iraq had nothing to do with those attacks. So we can’t even say that the Iraq War was a response to the 9/11 attacks. It was just an excuse. So if we want to look at Muslim vs anti-Muslim violence, we’ve got to look at the Iraq War.

The Iraq Body Count project found that between 112,000 and 123,000 Iraqi civilians were killed during the Iraq War. So that’s at least 36 times as many Muslims killed as Americans. When you put it that way, it doesn’t look so good for the Americans. But I get it: there are lots of ways to do the accounting. But I’m pretty sure that the United States — with just slightly less in military spending than the rest of the world combined — will turn out to look pretty bad regardless of how you look at it. Or at least it will unless you decide to present data in an absurdly skewed way as The Religion of Peace has.

If you read the “About Us” page on their website, you will find out that it “is a pluralistic, non-partisan site concerned with Islam’s true political and religious teachings according to its own texts.” This goes back to the article I wrote the other day, Religions Reflect Not Define. Anti-Muslims just love to pick through the Quran and find whatever passages they can to make their case that Islam is a horrendous religion. The same thing can be done to pretty much any religion, and I’ll admit, that Quran has lots of great blood thirsty garbage in it. But just as very few Christians believe that homosexuals should be stoned to death, very few Muslims believe similar passages in the Quran.

None of this means much of anything except that there are a lot of bigots out there. It works the same way regardless of who is doing it or who it is being done to. The violence that we perpetrate is excused as defensive and thus justified; the violence that they perpetrate is unacceptable because it is aggressive. A handful of impotent guerrilla fighters is justification for a hundred thousand uniformed troops to kill thousands of civilians.

So the narrative that our friends at The Religion of Peace are offering is that the US was just minding its own business and we were attacked on 9/11. That’s a simplistic but acceptable claim. But then, we start two wars as a result — killing many tens of thousands of civilians. But we are the good guys! The people we killed were not in response to 9/11. They were just unfortunate casualties of war. The score is 2,996 Muslim murders and just one American murder. When people can’t take responsibility for their actions, they don’t grow. When countries can’t take responsibility for their actions, they die. It isn’t hard to see America dying.

The Basis of Trump’s Appeal: Authoritarianism

Donald TrumpAt The New York Times, Frank Bruni was scratching his head, Trump-ward, Christian Soldiers? He wants to know how it is that such an un-Christian man as Donald Trump can be doing so well with evangelical voters. After all, “He just about runs the table on the seven deadly sins. He personifies greed, embodies pride, radiates lust. Wrath is covered by his anti-immigrant, anti-‘losers’ rants, and if we interpret gluttony to include big buildings and not just Big Macs, he’s a glutton through and through. That leaves envy and sloth. I’m betting that he harbors plenty of the former, though I’ll concede that he exhibits none of the latter.” By Christian dogma, you really only need one of the deadly sins and Trump gets at least six. (I’m not as inclined as Bruni to give him a pass on sloth.)

Bruni isn’t just talking about Trump. He also discussed Ted Cruz who spoke publicly about the “misery, stagnation, and malaise” of the Carter presidency the day Carter’s health problems were made public. Before discussing this, remember that what Cruz said is factually wrong. The economy did better under Carter than it did under Reagan’s first term. But thinking that everything was terrible under Carter is just something that all Republicans “know.” Regardless, Bruni contrasted Cruz’s and Trump’s public un-Christian behavior with Carter’s humble Christianity, “His own Christianity is not a bludgeon but a bridge.”

But is it the case that evangelicals support Trump (and to a lesser extent Cruz and Huckabee) because he makes a big public deal about his supposed faith? Certainly Paul Krugman doesn’t think so. He wrote a great, short blog post, The Reactionary Soul. He noted, “Conservative religiosity… [was] never about living a godly life.” He also talks about the conservatives who believe in the “free market” supporting a mercantilist like Trump. Conservatives don’t support these things that they claim to. Krugman quoted Corey Robin:

[Conservatism is] a reactionary movement, a defense of power and privilege against democratic challenges from below, particularly in the private spheres of the family and the workplace.

Although this is certainly true, what really defines conservatives is their authoritarianism. And Krugman even gets at this. “Trump is admired for putting women and workers in their place, and it doesn’t matter if he covets his neighbor’s wife or demands trade wars.” Conservatives like Trump and their other heroes because they are “strong.” I talk a lot about the Republican Party being proto-fascist. But the truth is that the Republican voters are full out fascists. They are looking for exactly what the German, Italian, and Spanish fascists offered.

Let us not forget the love affair that conservative had with Vladimir Putin. Last year, Ishaan Tharoor posted a number of comments from conservatives as to why they liked Putin and it is illuminating. This was following the Syrian crisis. It’s all the same: Putin is “strong” and a “leader.” And what that mean is that Putin is an authoritarian. It reminds me of an episode of This American Life, Swing Set. It was during the 2004 election, and Ira Glass had a series of conversations with a conservative doctor James Hackett. Hackett hated everything that Bush had done. But he kept coming back to the same idea: he hated what Bush did, but at least Bush did what he thought was right. (This is a ridiculous contention — Bush was one of the most fake politicians ever — but let’s go with it.) So it was worse to vote for a politician who panders to the wishes of the people than to vote for a man who went against them. So “strength” is more important than being right — or even democracy itself.

Trump is the ultimate conservative politician. It doesn’t matter what his policies are. It doesn’t matter what his character is. Whether the conservative is a Christian evangelical or a libertarian “free” marketeer, Trump is what really matters to these voters: he’s an authoritarian leader. The conservative base is made up of authoritarian followers. And there are enough of them to elect just about anyone under the right conditions. And if that makes you think of Germany in the early 1930s, it should. It’s terrifying.


As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the reason that the Republican establishment is against Trump is not because of his policies. And it certainly isn’t because he’s an authoritarian. It is because they think he can’t win the general election. So don’t be fooled by the fact that Charles Krauthammer is against Trump. It’s purely tactical.

Morning Music: Waylon Jennings

Folk-Country - Waylon JenningsMoving on with our week of “Man of Constant Sorrow,” I thought we would visit Waylon Jennings. Yesterday, I wrote that he turned the song into “an easy listening monstrosity.” And that’s true. But I listened to it again, and I was right to add that it “is good in its way.” Part of the problem we have is that as time went on, the people singing became more removed from the subject of the song. Jennings was not a man of constant sorrow.

This song is off Jennings’ second solo album, Folk-Country. The album isn’t bad. It’s got that late-60s sound that I associate with people like Bobby Goldsboro. But it has nothing of what I love this song for:

Anniversary Post: Rebecca Clarke

Rebecca ClarkeOn this day in 1886, the great violist and composer Rebecca Clarke was born. Sadly, she didn’t write all the much — her longest piece is the twenty odd minute Rhapsody. But because of this, it is all the more notable just how complex her tonal pallet is. The Rhapsody is especially intriguing given the way it supplements her traditionally impressionist style with atonal elements. But unlike Schoenberg, these elements come and go — adding to the dramatic structure of the piece. It’s quite an amazing work:

Clarke faced what can only be described as comical sexism. In 1918, she performed a recital with a number of new pieces by her. One of the pieces, Morpheus was credited not to her, but to “Anthony Trent.” The critics all praised it and ignored the ones she had put her own name to. Now, it is true that Morpheus is a heartbreakingly beautiful piece, but undoubtedly it would have been criticized for that very fact had it been presented under Clarke’s own name. Here it is; it is a wonderful piece:

The following year, she entered her Viola Sonata into a composition competition. She ended up tying with the great composer Ernest Bloch. There was much speculation at the time that “Rebecca Clarke” might be a pseudonym used by Bloch. According to Wikipedia “or at least that it could not have been Clarke who wrote these pieces, as the idea that a woman could write such a work was socially inconceivable.” Of course, even at that time there were great female composers, most notably (for me), Germaine Tailleferre. But facts never stand in the way of prejudice.

Here is a performance of the Viola Sonata with Molly Carr on the viola and Yi-Fang Huang on piano:

Happy birthday Rebecca Clarke!

This is a reposting from last year.

Adam Ward and Alison Parker and 20-Odd Others Were Murdered With Guns Today

Alison ParkerSo it seems that some guy killed a couple of television news employees while they were broadcasting. It’s interesting that here in the US this kind of thing has become a “dog bites man” story. Steve M linked to an old story in The Onion, “No Way to Prevent This,” Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. That was in reference to a mass shooting. And let’s be honest: in today’s tragedy, there wouldn’t be much coverage of it. After all, it only involved two murders. According to the FBI, mass shootings happen about one every two weeks. But that doesn’t include all the data. And even more important: a “mass shooting” must involve four or more people. So two deaths doesn’t even count.

But I’m not going to talk about gun control or any of that here. This is because I’ve learned that now is not the time to talk about these things. I used to think that “now” meant the time right after one of these horrific crimes. But since then, I’ve come to the conclusion that “now” means literally “now”: at the current time. We cannot talk about the easy access to guns and our over supply of guns unless it is not now. And since it is always now, we can never talk about it. Thus, I won’t talk about it, because as it turns out, it is now right now.

But I was struck by this bit of reporting by CBS News, Gunman in Deadly On-Air Attack Dies After Manhunt:

Virignia Governor Terry McAuliffe told WTOP-FM in Washington that authorities believe the shooter was a “disgruntled employee” and that the shooting was “not a case of terrorism.”

Thank God for that! It would be terrible if it were terrorism. If it had been some Indonesian Muslim we would have been required to talk about terrorism and immigration. But we aren’t. It’s strange though. There are roughly 10,000 gun homicides per year in the United States — 25 per day — one per hour. There are more than double that many suicides. Since 9/11, there have been 26 jihadist murders in the United States. There have been 48 (generally right-wing) terrorist murders. That’s a total of 74. For those arithmetic fans out there, in 14 years, we’ve had as many terrorist murders as we do on a typical three day weekend due to all causes.

Adam WardI only mean to compare these numbers because people get so freaked out about terrorism while we can’t talk about gun violence in a general sense. If this attack in Virginia had been about Islamic terrorism, we would get nonstop coverage of how we must do something about the terrorists and how the Iran nuclear deal is to blame and all kinds of other nonsense. On the other hand, if it had been right-wing terrorism, we would be hearing about how terrible it is that there are still pockets of racism in our country — and that it wasn’t terrorism. But as it is, this will just be about a disgruntled employee or a mentally unstable man. One thing it will not be about is guns, because after all, he could have used a knife or a pipe bomb.

I say we should either care about the causes of senseless killing or we shouldn’t. We could go with not: “Adam Ward and Alison Parker and twenty odd other people were killed with guns today — no story there.” Or we could go with caring: “Adam Ward and Alison Parker were tragically murdered and we must do something about it.” I think the former approach is the better one, because we all know what we are actually going to do about this horrible crime: the same thing we always do: nothing.


Despite the tone of this article, it is a tragedy that Adam Ward and Alison Parker were murdered, and my condolences go our to their friends and families.

The True Margaret Sanger

Imani GandyIt is true that Sanger was a proponent of eugenics, and pro-choice advocates do themselves no favors by attempting to whitewash this fact and paint Sanger as some infallible feminist hero. Sanger was passionate about contraception — perhaps to a fault — and her fervor about promoting her birth control agenda led her to align herself with eugenicists, along with racists and an assortment of people of questionable character.

But it is simply untrue that Margaret Sanger wanted to exterminate the Black race. This is a flat-out lie. Yet it is one that is repeated ad nauseam, both by anti-choice activists and the politicians who support them, most recently Ben Carson.

In propagating this lie, anti-choicers infantilize Black women and strip them of their agency: they portray Margaret Sanger’s birth control agenda as something that was done to Black women, rather than something in which Black women and much of the Black community as a whole enthusiastically participated.

—Imani Gandy
How False Narratives of Margaret Sanger Are Being Used to Shame Black Women

We Make Teaching a Worse Profession and Then Whine About Teacher Shortages

Andrea GaborNot surprisingly, Jonathan Chait wrote a big article swatting at the teachers unions, How New Orleans Proved Urban-Education Reform Can Work. It is based upon a recent Tulane University study that found that children in New Orleans are doing better since Hurricane Katrina was used to destroy teachers unions and rev up those charter schools that Chait’s wife gets paid to push. I’ve written about this before, Jonathan Chait Should Stop Writing About Education Reform. The truth is that Chait has no objectivity when it comes to this issue.

In contrast, Andrea Gabor wrote an op-ed in The New York Times, The Myth of the New Orleans School Makeover. There are a few aspect to it. But the bottom line is that the system is not working for the children that most need it. They are allowed to fall through the cracks via “tools” such as “suspensions, pushouts, skimming, [and] counseling out.” So hooray! The statistics on this are pretty clear: if you exclude the students who are doing most poorly, test scores will go up. That’s basic arithmetic that I suspect even the charter school cheerleaders understand.

Jonathan 'I know cause my wife told me' ChaitIn addition, there’s this, “A key part of the New Orleans narrative is that firing the unionized, mostly black teachers after Katrina cleared the way for young, idealistic (mostly white) educators who are willing to work 12- to 14-hour days.” There are a couple of things to think about here. First, this is the modern corporate world’s approach to cutting costs: get rid of experienced middle aged workers who cost more and replace them with inexperienced young workers who cost less. But if they are willing to work 14-hour days, isn’t that a good thing? No, it isn’t. First, we shouldn’t expect that of any workers. But more important is that as those young teachers get older, they will not be willing to kill themselves for the job. Now it may be that the schools will just replace them with a new round of young inexperienced teachers who will work 14-hour days. But this brings up a related issue: teacher shortages.

I have been flummoxed over the past few years to see two parallel things happening in public education. First, we have the education “reform” movement doing everything it can to make teaching a worse profession. Jonathan Chait is a great example. He simply lies when he claims that the current system “gives teachers high, and virtually absolute, levels of job security.” This is the old hysteria about not being able to fire bad teachers. Instead, Chait wants teaching to be the way it is for fast food workers where teachers can simply be fired without cause. He also has a problem with the system that “pays them based on years of tenure.” Because, you know, paying older, more experienced, and loyal workers is something that only applies to teachers.

Gates ProtestBut even while the education “reformers” are doing everything they can to make teaching a worse career move, we find that it is getting harder and harder to find qualified teachers. Carol Burris wrote, When it Comes to the Teacher Shortage, The New York Times Got it Wrong. She’s referencing an article that I discussed a couple of weeks ago, Schizophrenia of Education “Reform” Movement. The Times article claims that there are teacher shortages because the economy is improving and teachers have other options. That’s a nice story, and probably has a small amount of truth in it. But as usual when discussing education “reform,” the obvious cause is ignored.

Burris quoted a shocking statistic: over the last decade in California, there has been a 74% drop in students entering teacher education programs. A much bigger issue is that, “Common Core and its battles, high-stakes testing, the erosion of tenure, and the evaluation of teachers by test scores, have all contributed to the crisis.” In other words, being a teacher is not a compelling profession. We are turning teaching into exactly the kind of job that will not appeal to the kinds of people who would make the best teachers. We could still get teachers the old fashioned way — by paying them more — but, of course, that isn’t on the table either. The education “reform” movement wants miserable students who are great at taking tests and thinks that this should be facilitated by miserable teachers with low pay and no job security.

Everyone agrees that our educational system can be improved. But what we are doing is not designed to better educate our children. In as much as it is about the children at all, it is designed to create a better trained workforce so that our corporations don’t have to invest in worker training. But primarily what we are doing is making teaching a worse job and then whining that not enough young people are choosing it as a profession.

Building Economic Inequality — What Will We Do?

Mark ThomaOver at The Fiscal Times, Mark Thoma wrote a really interesting article, The Politics of Income Inequality. He noted that, “The calls to cut government spending to avoid disastrous, though largely imagined consequences, and the push to cut taxes to avoid harmful economic distortions that supposedly lower economic growth are, in the end, about the desire to reclaim income lost to taxes.” In other words, all the claims about improving the economy and balancing the budget are just about the rich wanting to lower their taxes. That should come as no surprise to anyone around here. By and large, the rich are rich because they don’t care about anyone but themselves.

But a really big question remains, “Why do so many non-rich people go along with this?” After all, there are very few people who are rich. Clearly they are not supporting these policies out of a sense of greed. One big way that we are seeing in the Republican presidential nomination is immigration. More immigration is certainly to the benefit of the rich. But it isn’t that big a deal. They can easily bypass it if they can use immigrants as the reason why this generation of American workers is not doing as well as the last. “It’s not that the rich are taking all the productivity gains; it’s that immigrants are mowing laws for cheap!”

Thoma put it well:

The incomes of working class households have been stagnant for decades while those at the top have soared. These households struggle to pay the bills each month, to send their kids to college, and provide the healthcare their families need. They sense rising economic insecurity due to globalization, digital technology, and the constant chatter about robots taking their jobs. Something has gone wrong. Their children are supposed to do better than they did, incomes are supposed to rise over time as we become more productive, but that isn’t happening. They want someone to blame.

So people blame the poor and the immigrants. Of course, it is nonsense. The truth is that the middle class and the rich get huge largess from the government. It is just, as I have discussed many, many times before, that our system is set up so that the richer you are, the less the help you get looks like welfare. The poor get special cards that they use in public so that their government assistance comes with a big dose shaming. The rich get billions in bank bailouts, set up so that they can say they were forced to take them and didn’t actually need them. The middle class, of course, don’t see the thousands of dollars they get from the government to pay their mortgages as welfare — it is just a tax deduction! (Uber-conservative Milton Friedman would disagree.)

The question is whether conservative policy would actually improve the lots of the working class. “Republicans will close the borders, slash spending that requires the redistribution of income to the undeserving, and when all is said and done the belief is that there will be more income and opportunity available to hard-working, upstanding, moral households.” I think the answer to that should be obvious. This isn’t an ideological conclusion of mine. It is empirical. The Republicans made this claim under Reagan, and not only did the working class do no better — they ended up paying higher taxes. The same policies were pushed under George W Bush and again, the working class got nothing. It’s kind of funny, actually, because the Republicans run around saying the Democrats have no new ideas, but the Republicans are pushing the exact same policies they’ve been pushing for 40 years. But there is an extra irony: those policies clearly haven’t worked, but they still push them.

Thoma’s argument is that we must do something about income inequality. Currently, it is just getting worse. And the worse it gets, the more pressure builds to do something about it. It would be nice to think that the economists are busy working on solutions. And I know that the so called liberal economists are working on it. The conservative economists are too busy giving well paid talks to groups of hedge fund managers. But ultimately, I think we will need to reevaluate the entire idea of capitalism.

Morning Music: Bob Dylan

Bob DylanDuring the folk revival of the early 1960s, many people did “Man of Constant Sorrow.” Both Joan Baez (pretty good) and Judy Collins (meh) did versions of Gunning’s. Peter, Paul and Mary turned it into a dirge. Waylon Jennings managed to turn it into an easy listening monstrosity, which is good in its way. And Rod Stewart did his thing to it in 1969, before “his thing” became harming otherwise good music. But the most interesting, because he really does mold the song to himself, is Bob Dylan:

Anniversary Post: Rufino Tamayo

Rufino TamayoOn this day in 1899, the great Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo was born. He is from that great period of revolutionary art in Mexico. But he rebelled against it. This was not because he was conservative. But any clear-eyed view of revolution shows that it almost always most hurts the people it is intended to help. Certainly during his early years, Tamayo was criticized for this although no one seems to have ever questioned the brilliance of his work.

As a result of this, he left Mexico in 1926 to live and work in New York. In 1949, he moved to Paris for a decade. But after that, he returned to Mexico for the rest of his long life—he died a couple months short of his 92nd birthday in 1991.

It’s hard to categorize Tamyao’s work. Wikipedia calls it “figurative abstraction,” which I suppose is as true as anything. But his work is quite varied over his long career, so any one description is certainly insufficient. I see a lot of Paul Klee in his work—especially in Tamyao’s use of colors. See, for example, Watermelons. But I’m fascinated by this painting that is rather different, Hombre Mirando Pajaros (“Man Looking at Bird”):

Hombre Mirando Pajaros - Rufino Tamayo

Happy birthday Rufino Tamayo!

This is a reposting from last year.