Quick Note About Tonight’s Debate

Democratic Debate 2015Brian Beutler was definitely right, The Adults Take the Stage in the Democratic Debate. I’m a Sanders supporter, but not enough to want to see any of the candidates attacking each other. So I didn’t like seeing that. But in an absolute sense, there was very little of it. And it was all substantive. Overall, I thought it was a great debate.

I agreed with Lincoln Chafee when he said that he hadn’t changed — it was the Republican Party that had changed. He’s right. I’m constantly amazed at the people who stay in the Republican Party, even though it has clearly gone on tilt. I welcome former Republicans into the Democratic Party — often they are more liberal than long time Democrats.

Speaking of long time Democrats, what’s up with Jim Webb? After Chafee made his statement about the Republican Party, Webb implied the same thing about the Democratic Party: that somehow he was the guy who represented the tradition of the Democratic Party. How can anyone seriously think that?! But if the purpose of the debate was to mention Vietnam and veteran the most times, Webb won!

Martin O’Malley had a strong debate. I don’t think he answered the question about his “lock ’em up” policies, but otherwise, he was good. And his final statement was the best of any of them. Was it enough to move him in the polls? I doubt it. And it certainly wasn’t enough to move me. If he becomes the nominee, I’ll support him. But he doesn’t shine when it comes to my issues — economics.

Clinton and Sanders did about as well I expected them to. Clinton came off as serious and competent. But she also lacked a great deal of passion for the most part. Sanders was full of passion — especially on economic issues. And he’s absolutely right. At the same time, he came off a bit scattered and, frankly, old. Still, I will be donating some money to his campaign tomorrow.

Overall, I think the Democratic Party did itself proud. We don’t have to be embarrassed by our candidates. Even the worst of them is better than the best that the Republicans have to offer: Marco Rubio. It was a good night. But will the American people notice? I doubt it.

Romanian Gypsies and the the Secret to Nazism

Romanian Gypsy WomenAs I was looking for something to write about for today’s anniversary post, I came upon a mention of a massive one day murder of Gypsies at Auschwitz. I didn’t write about it, because it turned out that the date was wrong. It turned out that on 1 August 1944, the entire population of the “gypsy camp” was murdered — some 4,000 adults and children. It’s staggering to think about, although looking at some of the pictures of the victims, it was probably the most humane thing the camp personnel ever did to them.

I don’t bring this up to point out yet again just how awful the Nazis were. But after all these years, I find myself still trying to understand the Nazis. I don’t think the Germans are different than any other people. Certainly there are problems with its culture, but it isn’t any different in this way than any other culture. And I largely think that the vast majority of the German people were also victims of Nazism — even while they were culpable. So what makes people respond to a call for genocide with a shrug as they pick up a pitchfork?

Several years ago, I had a really uncomfortable experience. I was head of software development at this startup. And we had hired five Romanian programmers. They worked in Romanian, and I set up our system in such a way that they could work with the hardware remotely. I was totally against hiring them, but it was forced on me. Still, I found that it worked remarkably well. For one thing, the programmers were fantastic. But a couple of times we flew the Romanian team leader here to work directly with me.

“Do you think Americans wouldn’t think so lowly of Romania if it weren’t for the Gypsies?”

He was a brilliant young man — and very nice. You absolutely couldn’t ask for a better person to work with. But one day, he asked me the most peculiar question, “Do you think Americans wouldn’t think so lowly of Romania if it weren’t for the Gypsies?” I was shocked by this blatantly racist question. But despite how I appear online, in real life, I’m very much a placater. I might be different today, but then, I was not interested in finding out why this young man thought so lowly of this particular ethnic group. So I gently told him that the only thing any Americans were likely to know about Romania were Nadia Comăneci and Dracula. And that was the end of that conversation.

I assume that my Romanian colleague had about as much direct direct experience with the Gypsies as I did. Even at the time, I immediately thought of African Americans: an underclass deprived of opportunities and then shamed for their lack of success compared to the “white” class that is given every advantage. In fact, not long before that, I had had a conversation with some young immigrants to America who were asking me the same kinds of questions with regard to blacks. They are valid questions that deserved answers, and I think I did a decent job with them.

The problem we have is not with the questions, but with the assumptions that many if not most people have: those who are struggling in our society are simply worse people. The specifics of who “those people” are don’t matter. I’m sure that few Americans could tell the difference between Gypsies and the non-Gypsies in Romania. We humans create more or less random groups that we put great significance into. It is the source of our greatest strength in that it is what binds us together. But the dark side is that we become exclusive, and it really isn’t necessary; there are more than enough non-human things that might kill us.

In the end, I suppose I’m not that surprised that the Nazis happened. It’s more surprising that we don’t see more of it. But I do think that we are getting better; we are more inclusive than we have ever been. But looking around at America, it is clear that we have a very long way to go.

Photo by Adam Jones adamjones.freeservers.com

Why Republicans Turned Against Conservative Economic Policy

Bruce BartlettProbably my favorite conservative, Bruce Bartlett wrote a very interesting article over at The Financial Times, Is the Fed Being Goaded Into Raising Rates Too Soon? As I’ve talked about a fair amount here, there is no economic reason for the Federal Reserve to even be discussing raising interest rates. And it seems so bizarre that I once thought I had missed something, so I asked Dean Baker, and he backed me up. There really isn’t anything behind it. So the question that Bartlett has raised is why.

He isn’t the first. Paul Krugman spent about a month recently obsessing over the question. And his conclusion was that the Fed is understandably closely tied to the banking community — in fact, 5 of its 12 members are appointed from the banks. And bankers make less money when interest rates are low. So the Fed is pushed by these “reasonable” and “objective” people who think that interest rates should go up. There is much to this theory, and I’m sure it is going on to one extent or another.

Bartlett offers the other side of this, which is basically that the Republican Party has gone insane. He noted three of the more thoughtful Republicans — John Taylor, Martin Feldstein, and Alan Greenspan — all argued that the Federal Reserve was going to cause inflation to go up in 2009. This, of course, goes against what conservatives of the Milton Friedman variety have always said. The liberals wanted fiscal stimulus (because, let’s fact it, it is the most direct way to address recessions) and conservatives wanted monetary stimulus. But in 2009, suddenly that was all wrong. The right thing to do was what we did during the Great Depression: nothing. Or even better: cut both government spending and the the flow of cash.

“Had the Fed followed their advice earlier, the economy would undoubtedly be in worse shape — good for Republican electoral prospects, but bad for everyone else.” —Bruce Bartlett

Apparently, the Republican Party itself has gotten so insane that even Ben Bernanke has decided that he is no longer a Republican. And really: how could any scientist who wants to be taken seriously continue to associate with the modern Republican Party. That’s especially true of economists, who show themselves to be complete hacks like Greg Mankiw who is for Keynesian stimulus as long as a Republican is in the White House. Of course, much of the blame has to be laid on the economics profession itself. Mankiw should have been shunned from the profession. But let’s face it, selling out is one of the big perks of becoming a successful economist.

Bartlett never got around to discussing just why the Republicans turned into such idiots on this issue. It’s certainly not, as Bernanke claims, that “the crisis had helped to radicalize large parts of the Republican Party.” They weren’t radicalized until a Democrat became president. Bartlett understands this, he finished his article with an allusion to what is really going on, “Had the Fed followed their advice earlier, the economy would undoubtedly be in worse shape — good for Republican electoral prospects, but bad for everyone else.” And that’s what is all about. The Republicans are traitors. They don’t care about the country in the least. This is why we constantly have to worry about them crashing the economy: they care more about their political aspirations than they care about the good of the country. They are reactionaries who think that it may be necessary to destroy the country in order to save it.

There is no theory that underlies what they are doing. This is just power for power’s sake. It’s tempting to think that they will be reasonable once they get into power. But I think all the rational Republicans have been chased away. The inmates really are running the asylum. And we could end up with a Republican president who thinks that we don’t have to worry about breaching the debt ceiling because he can just cut spending. This is the final act of the GOP — and maybe the country.

Morning Music: Beethoven

BeethovenLook at that Joseph Karl Stieler portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven. If that was all you had to go on, you would say that Beethoven was a Romantic. Indeed, he was a revolutionary force in the Classical period, and effectively the beginning of the the Romantic period. In fact, I’ve long had this idea that Beethoven was the cause of so much that I don’t like of that period. Because it is relatively easy to be overwrought like Beethoven but without much of his talent. And the Romantic period is indeed filled with with that kind of work.

But I don’t want to look at his later work, because that, it seems to me, is clearly Romantic period stuff. But even at the beginning of his career, he was making important changes. In fact, I’m presenting his Symphony No 1 — which he probably started when he was 25, but wasn’t first performed until he was 30. There are a couple of things to note here. First, the harmony is more complicated. In fact, I think Beethoven liked messing with the listener’s expectations. You can especially here this in the beginning of this piece. Also of interest is the expanded use of dynamics — it gets louder and software than Mozart generally did. And then there is much more use of the wind instruments, which adds a lot of color — something that becomes more clear as time goes on.

Anniversary Post: Claudius’ Poisoning

ClaudiusOn this day in 54 CE, Emperor Claudius was murdered. I regret to inform you that he was not as charming as Derek Jacobi in I, Claudius. But the series is mostly right. He did have some handicaps that might have been the result of cerebral palsy. His family was incredibly cruel to him as a result. I mean, they were Romans, after all! But this was his secret weapon. It is because of his ailments that he was kept to the side of things and managed to not get murdered. He was also apparently smart and a very good historian.

He was also something of a drunk and a big fan of gladiatorial “games.” And he had a hot temper. I suppose all of this could be smoothed away in a couple of ways. First, none of this makes him particularly different from the rest of his family. And the cruelty that he experienced would tend to have negative effects on a person. He was, regardless, a decent emperor — by the standards of the job and the time.

He was almost certainly poisoned by his last wife, Agrippina. Of course, she wouldn’t have done it — just called for it to be done. She really wanted to get her son (from another marriage) Nero to become emperor. And it was looking like Claudius might put a stop to that, given that he hated her by the end. Of course, Claudius didn’t do badly. He was 63 years old at his death. Compare that to Caligula, who came before: stabbed to death at 28. Or Nero, who came after: committed suicide (The first Roman Emperor to do so!) at the age of 30.

See also: All Told a Nice Emperor Claudius.