“Besides Several Things My Brother Kept Us Safe!”

Jeb BushJeb: “There’s one thing I’ll tell you about my brother: he kept us safe!”

Lib1: “9/11?”

Jeb: “Yeah, he didn’t keep us safe from that. That’s true, yeah.”

Lib2: “And the anthrax attacks.”

Jeb: “All right, I’ll grant you 9/11 and the anthrax attacks are two things my brother didn’t keep us safe from.”

Lib3: “And the further destabilization of the Middle East.”

Jeb: “Yeah, obviously the destabilization of the Middle East. I mean the destabilization of the Middle East goes without saying, doesn’t it? But apart from 9/11, the anthrax attacks, the destabilization of the Middle East…”

Lib4: “Hurricane Katrina.”

Lib5: “Nuclear North Korea.”

Lib6: “Torture of innocents.”

Jeb: “Yeah, yeah, all right, fair enough.”

Lib7: “And the financial collapse.”

Jeb: “All right, but apart from 9/11, the anthrax attacks, the destabilization of the Middle East, Hurricane Katrina, Nuclear North Korea, torture of innocents, and the financial collapse, my brother kept us safe!”

H/T: The Majority Report. Cliff Schecter brought this up. I just filled it in.

About Bernie Sanders’ $18 Trillion

Dean BakerThe Wall Street Journal decided to take Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign seriously enough to calculate the cost of the programs that he proposed. Their price tag was $18 trillion over the next decade. This is presumably supposed to scare people because, let’s face it $18 trillion is a really big number.

Much of the fright factor disappears when we realize that $15 trillion of this $18 trillion comes from the WSJ’s estimate of the cost of Sanders’ universal Medicare program. That is a considerable chunk of change, but as Kevin Drum and others have pointed out this will not be new money out of people’s pockets. For the most part this is money that employers are now paying for their workers’ health care insurance. Instead, under a universal Medicare system the government would get this money in tax revenue. Since Canada and the other wealthy countries with universal Medicare-type systems all have much lower per capita health care costs than the United States (the average is less than half the cost), in all probability we would be paying less for our health care under the Sanders’ system than we do now.

—Dean Baker
Bernie Sanders and The Wall Street Journal’s $18 Trillion

Could the GOP Be About to Destroy Itself?

Martin LongmanIn The Sun Also Rises, Bill Gorton asks Mike Campbell how he went bankrupt. Mike replies, “Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly.” It is often quoted because it is generally true — not just in finance. Things tend to gradually worsen and then suddenly fall apart. Think of a bad marriage. But it can be anything. Martin Longman recently wrote, Gradual and Sudden Bankruptcy. It follows from a recent interview with Stuart Stevens, where the line was used to describe what many think of as Donald Trump inevitable collapse. But Longman sees it as indicative of the Republican Party as a whole.

His argument is that the GOP has been slipping for a couple of decades now. And it certainly looked like the election of Barack Obama was going to cause the sudden collapse to take place. But it didn’t. Instead, they doubled down and pushed forward with the same ideas. They even made the argument that it wasn’t deregulation that causes the crisis but the fact that there was still too much regulation. But maybe all that stuff that came before wasn’t the gradual part; maybe that was just conservatism. Maybe it was that doubling down that brought on the gradual part:

So, that whole bit, and the tea parties and the Romney Lie-o-Rama and the drunk Speaker weeping into his cufflinks…

…that was the gradual part.

What we’re getting geared up for at the moment is the sudden part.

There are certainly reasons to believe this. They could put together a Trump-Carson ticket that would be a total joke and the party would go down in flames in the general election. Or there are countless other variations. It could cause the party to break up into the “populist” part that is based mostly on racism and the “libertarian” part that is based upon big business getting handouts. It could bring about a revolutionary realignment of the parties. But I’m not so sure.

What I fear is that the Republicans do get control of Washington in the next election. And I really don’t see where the Republicans go from here. If they actually get power, are they really going to do all the radical stuff that they seem to have primed themselves to do? The common wisdom on this is if they do it, they would destroy their party in the long term. But the history of politics over the last several decades seems to indicate that the Republicans wouldn’t pay that big a price for such a thing. Sure, maybe they would lose the next election — very possibly in a big way. But the party would live on and it would be impossible for the Democrats to turn back much of the damage that the Republicans had caused.

I want to believe that Longman is right. The modern Republican Party is an extremely dangerous institution. And it really has backed itself into a corner. It’s come out strongly against all kinds of things that Obama has done that it would have been in favor of if a Republicans had done them. Jonathan Chait has argued that the party will just go back to the George W Bush days of tax cuts and big deficits. But I’m not at all certain the party is still able to do that with the expectations that it has created in its base.

But the bigger issue is just that regardless what the Republican Party does, the country seems incapable of punishing it in a major way. Maybe it isn’t the Republican Party that falls apart gradually and then suddenly. Maybe it is America itself.

Bigotry and the Convenient Scapegoat

No More Chinese GraffitiAbout a week and a half ago, someone started spraying graffiti in the Portola neighborhood of San Francisco — in the southeast of the city. The graffiti said, “NO MORE CHINESE.” This was done at six locations. I was pleased to see that people had painted over and crossed out the “NO” so the signs read “MORE CHINESE.” That’s a great response.

Last Tuesday, the police arrested John Schenone for the crimes. He’s a 62-year-old man whose photo makes him look like a prototypical angry old white man. On Friday, he pleaded “not guilty,” but was refused released because the acts are being considered a hate crime, and four guns were found at Schenone’s home. The bail was set high enough that it is likely he will stay in jail until his trial.

To people who don’t know the history of the Bay Area, this may seem bizarre. But the truth of the matter is that people of Chinese descent have long been targets of the local community. The Chinese Exclusion Act was largely the result of goings on in California. And after the law was passed, the state passed a number of even more extreme laws that were ultimately found to be unconstitutional. The first drug law in the United States was passed in San Francisco, which outlawed opium dens. The main target was not the drug but the Chinese population.

“Welcome to America! Do our most backbreaking work. Then go home.”

It reminds me of those old bumper stickers that we used to see up in Oregon, “Welcome to Oregon! Now go home.” With regard to the Chinese, it would have been, “Welcome to America! Do our most backbreaking work. Then go home.” The Chinese of the late 19th century were very much like the Mexicans of today. And we here exactly the same arguments: both cultural and economic. None of them are valid. But it is always so easy to blame all your problems on the weak instead of the strong.

Among most people, it has become totally unacceptable to say racist things about African Americans. That’s a good thing. But I’ve noticed something recently that really bothers me: people seem much more open about saying bigoted things about other minority groups. And I think that’s what’s going on here. Let’s assume that Schenone did this. Without this trend, he still would have hated his Chinese neighbors — but he would have been quiet about it. Instead, he felt that it was acceptable to express that hatred in such a public way. I think that’s why norms against using things like the n-word are important. Not having them normalizes hatred and thus makes public and private racism more common.

Schenone could not afford an attorney, so he was given a public defender. It’s hard for me not to see him as a victim too. That’s not to excuse these crimes. It’s more along the lines of molesters becoming molesters. If we had a society in which people were helped to find meaningful lives, maybe they wouldn’t be so eager to find scapegoats.

Morning Music: Parasite

Nick DrakeI just read about some of the initial reviews of Nick Drake’s final album, Pink Moon. They weren’t all that eager. And it is interesting to see how later it has come to be seen as a work of genius. It reminds me of studies that have been done with teachers. When told that a paper was written by another teacher, they give it a pass; when told it was by a student, they savage it. This is an idea that guides so much of my life — it is the one thing that film critics and atheists are rarely willing to engage with: we are not very rational.

But where does that put me with my love of Nick Drake? The truth is that I associate him strongly with a very good period of time in my life. Is that all it is? I like Nick Drake because I like Nick Drake? Certainly that’s a large part of it. I can’t say that his voice and style of singing is objectively good. I just like it. I can, however, say that he was an awesome and creative guitar player. And I can say this in an absolute sense: Nick Drake’s music works on its own terms — and that is the highest complement that I’m capable of giving.

Today, we listen to “Parasite.” If you don’t consider the refrain, the song tells the story of a man observing others around him from afar — disconnected. But the refrain is mysterious: “For I am the parasite of this town.” Does that mean that the singer feeds off the life around him? That he is, in a sense, dead without their nourishment? I really don’t know. I don’t think it matters. It’s a beautiful song.

Anniversary Post: Germany Calling

William JoyceOn this day in 1939, the English language Nazi propaganda broadcast Germany Calling first aired. It is known today for the character of Lord Haw-Haw, who was primarily played by Irish-British Fascist William Joyce. He had recently fled the United Kingdom and become a naturalized German citizen. After the war, he was captured and returned to the United Kingdom. There, he was tried for high treason and executed.

I’m not going to be the guy to defend Joyce. But isn’t this what we liberal democrats are supposed to believe in: the right to dissent? He didn’t stay in the UK. He fled to Germany. He became a citizen. He fought for his new country. I believe he was wrong. For one thing, he was virulently antisemitic. But I believe he had a right to do that. And it seems to me that his prosecution was wrong. People are allowed to be wrong — even publicly.