Daily Archives: 11 Sep 2015

The World Didn’t Change on 11 September 2001

Siva VaidhyanathanWell, since it is the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I guess I should say something. As horrific as it was, I will admit to it not greatly effecting me. It was a terrorist attack. Those are awful. And it was an amazingly successful one. I’ve always figured that it out performed Osama bin Laden’s greatest fantasies. But that was just it: it was an exceptional event in the literal sense of the word. It wasn’t like the attack on Pearl Harbor, which was done by an actual powerful country with lots of money and a big military.

But I get it. The people I know from New York have a whole different attitude about it. But frankly, pretty much everyone has a different attitude about it than I do and did. As I wrote on that very day, “The result [of our response]: a huge tragedy — a bigger tragedy than even today’s — though, admittedly, not as concentrated.” I didn’t know about Afghanistan, much less Iraq. And it continues on because the “war on terror” continues on. It justifies continual war. In an important sense, we are never at war now because we are always at war.

Scott Eric Kaufman posted a great sort article by Siva Vaidhyanathan, What We Should Never Forget on 9/11. It is a list of eight things we should never forget that are not on most people’s lists of what not to forget. For most people, the thing we shouldn’t forget is that we were attacked for no reason at all. It’s the usual American myth: we were just standing around minding our own business and people got mad at us! Nothing justifies murder, but just as our country justifies all the killing that it does based upon past wrongs, so too does al-Qaeda. They have their reasons and we would be a whole lot better off looking at just how valid our own reasons are than in feeling superior to a bunch of angry terrorists.

One thing on Vaidhyanathan list really struck me, “One security technology could have prevented the hijackings — secure and solid cockpit doors. The airlines fought FAA proposals for them for decades.” This was something that really bugged me. Not long after the attacks, I flew with my wife to Florida and there were the flimsy cardboard doors that wouldn’t stop a determined toddler. It wasn’t until recently that I found out that the planes had eventually been retrofitted with these solid doors.

But I had no idea that the FAA had been pushing for these doors for decades. And you would think that would have been big news. Almost 3,000 people died and they wouldn’t have if the airline industry hadn’t been so powerful and so determined not to spend a dime on safety that could go to profits. But you see, that would have been making the case that the bureaucracy ought to be more powerful and independent. And as everyone “knows”: the government is the source of all our problems and the answer to none.

In the end, we got the doors. The government did make some of the changes that were necessary. But mostly, we got a lot of nonsense. We got the Patriot Act. We got mass surveillance. We got lots of propaganda about how we ought to all act as police officers and rat out anyone who didn’t look right — or be on the lookout for any suspicious packages like accordions.

I don’t think that the world changed on 11 September 2001. And the sad thing is that I don’t think anyone else really thinks so either — although I’m sure many did at the time. But it sure is used to make America even less like its ideals than it used to be.

Children in High Union Areas Do Better

Noam ScheiberIt is well established that unions provide benefits to workers — that they raise wages for their members (and even for nonmembers). They can help reduce inequality.

A new study suggests that unions may also help children move up the economic ladder.

Researchers at Harvard, Wellesley, and the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, released a paper Wednesday showing that children born to low-income families typically ascend to higher incomes in metropolitan areas where union membership is higher…

The authors posit a variety of reasons for why higher rates of unionization tend to coincide with greater mobility, beyond the effect on parents’ wages, which would seem to be the most obvious way unionization could matter.

Their most interesting explanation is that unions are effective at pushing the political system to deliver policies — like a higher minimum wage and greater spending on schools and other government programs — that broadly benefit workers. Perhaps not surprisingly, three cities that appear to reflect the union effect — San Francisco, Seattle and New York — are all jurisdictions where the minimum wage is rising substantially (though for New York it is only for workers in fast-food chains.).

—Noam Scheiber
How an Area’s Union Membership Can Predict Children’s Advancement

P M Carpenter Is Reaching With Joe Biden Fantasy

P M CarpenterI’ve been a reader and, frankly, fan of P M Carpenter for a long time. But lately, I wonder about him. I’ve noticed that a lot of liberal bloggers seem to be unable to see reality when it comes to their pick for the Democratic presidential nomination. I suppose there is some of that with me too. I’ve defended my personal choice: Bernie Sanders. But I’ve also been clear that I think he has a relatively low ceiling of support. I hope I’m wrong, but that seems to be the case. Maybe it is because I rather like backing losers, but I’m certainly not going to make up stories about how Sanders is going to win the nomination, become president, and end up the first man over 70 on the moon.

For a while, it’s been apparent that Carpenter is a supporter of Joe Biden. That’s fine. As should be clear to everyone, Democrats are very fond of all of them: Clinton, Biden, and Sanders. I really like Biden and as I’ve said publicly many times before: he’s the best retail politician around — distinctly better than Bill Clinton, who is no slouch. But Carpenter recently published, My Biden Scenario. And in it, he looks at — Wait for it! — approval ratings. What’s more, he looks at approval ratings in Iowa and New Hampshire. Ugh!

My political science professor used to talk about “yellow dog” districts where you could run a yellow dog and as long as she was a Democrat, she’d win. Well, that is akin to the way I see the 2016 election. As long as the economy continues to grow, it won’t matter who the Democrats run and even more, it won’t matter who the Republicans run, the Democrats will keep the White House. This may explain why I don’t much care who gets nominated. I have my choice, but the others are fine.

My liberal colleagues seem to be so concerned about who gets nominated because they don’t believe what I do about the economic fundamentals of presidential elections. I’ve never gotten the impression that Carpenter hates Hillary Clinton. I assume that he will happily vote for her in the general election. It is all about vague notion of electability. But even with that, does it make any sense to talk about favorability ratings between an announced candidate and a vice-president who no one is paying attention to? Clinton’s favorability rating was sky high before she started running.

Of course, Carpenter is no fool. He realizes that Biden’s approval rating will go down after him announcement. But he piles so much hope on top of this as to make it a useless analysis. In his speculation, Clinton’s approval rating will continue to go down. But will it? I mean, her husband had terrible approval numbers before he didn’t. As all these fake scandals move to the background, her numbers are likely to improve. But regardless, Carpenter is looking at the two states that Sanders is hammering on. And most national polls that include Biden show Clinton with a clear lead with Sanders and Biden a distant second and third.

As I said, I really don’t care. But I also don’t think that the Democratic nomination contest needs Joe Biden. I’m looking forward to the debates, which I think will be good — and substantive. If Biden joins in, they will be that much better. But approval ratings? In Iowa and New Hampshire? I love P M Carpenter’s work, but he’s reaching further than the minions.

Immigrants and Non-Immigrants Alike Get Welfare Because They Are Under-Paid

Ben NortonLast week, USA Today published an article, Report: More Than Half of Immigrants on Welfare. When I first saw that, I scoffed. The truth is that almost all Americans are on welfare. So I was sure that the “report” didn’t take the mortgage interest deduction into account. I was sure that they were using the standard and incorrect definition of welfare as direct aid — the definition that just so happens to make the poor look bad and the rich look good. Funny that!

But there was some push-back on the “report.” On the left, FAIR wrote, USA Today Provides a Platform for Anti-Immigration Think Tank’s Flawed Study. And on the right, the Cato Institute reported, Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) Report Exaggerates Immigrant Welfare Use. It turns out it was a typical “study” in which the conclusion was predetermined and they just played around with the data to find a way to justify it.

In particular, they looked at “immigrant-headed households.” This is a way of inflating the numbers, because children are very often US citizens. The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of welfare is not available to immigrants. Take, for example, Obamacare. But USA Today couldn’t even keep this distinction clear; it used “immigrant” and “immigrant-headed household” interchangably. So even if you accept the study as valid, the reporting by USA Today was not.

In addition to this problem, the fraction of households getting welfare does not mean much. If one immigrant-headed household has a (US citizen) child who gets free milk at school, is that equivalent to a non-immigrant-headed household that gets a couple thousand dollars per month from disability? As FAIR noted, “CIS does not provide a comparison of the cost of welfare going to immigrant and non-immigrant households — presumably because such a comparison would have weakened its anti-immigrant case.”

So what exactly is the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS)? Well, it certainly isn’t a group that objectively studies immigration. It is a fanatical anti-immigration group that puts out faux-studies for propaganda purposes. (This is distinct from Cato that does real studies, and if they don’t further the libertarian causes, they are simply buried.) In 2009, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote, “CIS was started in 1985 by a Michigan ophthalmologist named John Tanton — a man known for his racist statements about Latinos, his decades-long flirtation with white nationalists and Holocaust deniers, and his publication of ugly racist materials.” And last year, The Daily Beast described the group as “the immigration false-fact think tank.”

But in another FAIR article, Ben Norton looked at the wider context of all this, Ignoring the Cause of Welfare: Not Laziness but Low Wages. He pointed out that the mainstream press tend to use “welfare recipient” and “freeloader” interchangeably. At one time, that might have been understandable. But there has been excessive coverage — in the mainstream press itself — of all the welfare that workers qualify for because wages are so low. Consider this, “Research conducted by the University of California at Berkeley shows that 73 percent of Americans who receive welfare are members of working families.”

It turns out that immigrants actually work more than native born Americans. What more — and I find this shocking — “American Immigration Council found that immigrants spend 45 times more in taxes than they receive in public benefits.” This is because undocumented immigrants have taxes automatically taken out of their paychecks, even though they are not allowed to benefit from most government programs. In addition, at the state level, they pay an average of 8% of their income in taxes; this is substantially higher than the 5.4% that is paid by the top 1%.

Here is the bottom line:

Even if the CIS study were true — and, as the aforementioned methodological criticisms indicate, it likely is not — a high number of immigrants on welfare should be seen as an indictment of corporations that exploit immigrants, not of immigrants or of welfare. Immigrant workers often do not have good job opportunities available to them. And undocumented immigrants in particular are frequently forced to work arduous and often dangerous jobs. Because they fear deportation or discrimination, they are pressured into taking jobs in which their legal rights as workers are violated.

Times are hard, economically, not just for immigrants — although immigrants are particularly hard hit — but rather for the vast majority of Americans. US corporate media rarely mention that the inflation-adjusted wages of the bottom 70 percent of American workers either remained stagnant or decreased from 2003 to 2013. Academic research shows it is low wages, not laziness, that cost US taxpayers $152.8 billion each year in public support for working families.

But it is so much easier, and so much more pleasant for the power elite, to pretend that people are poor because they won’t work. It would upset our whole way of thinking if we had to grapple with the idea that our system is unfair and that for decades, we’ve been blaming the victims.

Morning Music: Gun Money

Well Kept Secret - John MartynNow we move up to 1982, with John Martyn’s Well Kept Secret. It is a full out pop-jazz album. It’s amazing to think that the guy who made it is the same guy who made London Conversation 15 years earlier. Most people slow down, but not Martyn.

The song I’ve decided to highlight is “Gun Money.” It’s a rocker. And the lyrics are pretty angry. He refers over and over to his “dead end face” and seems to be mocking producers who will give you the sound of a Rolls Royce. But I’m not sure about the phrase “gun money.” Is he talking about the hired guns in the music business? Or is he whining about the high taxes and the fact that in his mid-30s he has nothing? I don’t know. I’m not sure he did either. But it’s quite a song:

Anniversary Post: Battle of Stirling Bridge

Old Stirling BridgeOn this day in 1297, the Scots beat the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. This was William Wallace’s big victory, although he was working with Andrew Moray and his troops. In fact, Moray was fatally wounded in that battle. It was toward the beginning of the First War of Scottish Independence — a war that went on for over three decades. The Scots were heavily outnumbered, but they destroyed the English. This was due in part to good strategy by Wallace and Moray and by English errors and by lots of luck.

Moray died within days. Wallace next met with the English six months later at the Battle of Falkirk, where he lost badly. He resigned and spent much of the rest of his life (about seven years) trying to get France to intervene on behalf of Scotland. And then he was captured by the English and killed about as brutally as you can imagine. What I find interesting about this is that Edward I was actually a rather good king. But I’m not sure the torture death of Wallace said as much about Edward’s desires as the English people’s.

Regardless, I only bring the whole thing up because it is nothing like Braveheart. That movie say more about Mel Gibson’s personal problems than it does about William Wallace and the war. Heroes are meant for books and films, I suppose. But we should never take them for truth. Who was William Wallace? A failed diplomat.