Live Blogging CNBC Republican Debate

Knight on Horseback - Don QuixoteHello folks! I guess I’m going to kind of live blog this thing. I have beer, so it’s okay.


I ended up watching the rest of it. But I couldn’t continue commenting. It is all nonsense. But what most comes out is how complaining about the media is the biggest applause line. What is that all about? The Republicans don’t seem to care about any policy. It is all culture war stuff.

What’s more, there was all this nonsense about the candidates patting themselves on the back over their discussion of “policy” and “ideas.” There are none. It is all reactionary. They are against what the Democrats are for and they are for… They don’t say. And that’s because the only thing they really believe in is lowering taxes on the rich. Yet one of them will get roughly 50% of the vote in just over a year.

Do I Really Have to Argue That Slavery Was Bad?!

Paul BibeauPaul Bibeau wrote a great, but deeply disturbing, article yesterday, I Actually Spent the Day Arguing With a Conservative About Whether Slavery Was Bad. Now this is the guy who writes ghost stories about Ronald Reagan, first person notes from a psychopathic Willy Wonka, and Tom Cruise as an immortal Übermensch. So you never know. But this article was straight reporting. And really, we all know its true because we’ve all interacted with these kinds of people. The internet is filled with them.

The argument was over at The Federalist — generally considered a place for smart conservatives. So if you think that Corey Robin is wrong and that conservatism isn’t just a reactionary movement against non-elites, think again. This kind of racism is at the very core of conservative thought. It’s just that it mostly stayed unspoken until the anonymity of the internet arrived. In this case, what most bothered me was this bit, “They got houses or cabins with food, and someone to draw water for them. Most of them were healthier than Africans at the time, and economically, they were better compensated than white workers.” The “they” in this case are slaves in America.

I’ve heard this exact same argument made multiple times by people around the internet. It is usually not made by people who think of themselves as white supremacists (although the guy in question didn’t seem to have a problem with the moniker). But for whatever reason (eg, they are racists) they find it necessary to apologize for slavery. The argument usually goes something like, “Slaves were incredibly valuable! Slave owners treated them very well!” This is at best extremely ignorant. But mostly, it is ideological commitment. They don’t want to admit that anything was wrong in the past.

Well, I did a little research. There are various estimates about the the health of American slaves. I wish all these people would read Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told. But our white supremacist friend claims that slaves were healthier than they would have been in African. I think it is worth while to look seriously at life expectancies. According to Our World in Data, the life expectancy in Africa in 1850 was roughly 26 (or perhaps mid-30s); in America it was 35. But of course, that number for America isn’t for slaves.

Luckily, I found the following nifty data from the 1860 US census. It provides a breakdown of slaves by age for 1850. (The 1860 numbers are similar, but there is a typo in the table, so I’m not using it.) Here it is:

Age Range Percent
Under 15 44.9
15-19 11.1
20-29 18.0
30-39 11.3
40-49 7.1
50 and Over 7.5

Based upon this, we can see that slaves didn’t live long. They tended to die very young. Data from Louis Israel Dublin’s Length of Life (see the same website) indicates that in 1850, African Americans in Massachusetts had a life expectancy slightly higher than that of whites: just short of 40 years. In Maryland, the number for slaves was a bit lower: 38. But in Louisiana, it was 29. This is, of course, due to child mortality. Blacks in the south had a 50% child mortality rate compared to 25% for whites. Slaves were not treated well — especially compared to whites.

The most screwed up people I’ve ever known have always been those people who can never admit to being wrong about anything. It is only through admission of error that we can learn and grow. This happens with societies too. You would think after all these years, we would be beyond arguing if slavery was a good thing or not. But as far as I can tell, this argument is coming back. Slavery was unbelievably barbaric and cruel. Slavery is one of our two biggest sins. We didn’t do a favor for anyone. We enriched ourselves using the sweat and blood of others.

Benghazi and the Dehumanization of Liberals

Matt TaibbiMatt Taibbi put last week’s Benghazi hearing into a broader context that I think is really important, Trey Gowdy Just Elected Hillary Clinton President. If you know Taibbi’s work, you know that he is no fan of Clinton. And he is none too happy that Trey Gowdy and company made even him sympathetic to her. In fact, this is exactly what I was thinking, “Actually many people would have lost it early on and grabbed Gowdy by his goofy silver fro-hawk somewhere in hour six or seven, a fact that made Hillary by contrast look patient and presidential, in ways her campaign had been unable to achieve all year.” I believe I wrote the same thing last week, although mine involved a knife.

But that’s just politics. That’s not the broader context. As much as Taibbi might have major problems with Clinton — far bigger than my policy disagreements — he doesn’t doubt her basic humanity. But that is the base assumption of the Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi. Taibbi put it perfectly, “Hillary has a lot of flaws, but we’re supposed to believe that she doesn’t have a problem with dead Americans? Seriously?” Well, yes: seriously. Of course Taibbi knows that. And it isn’t just Clinton.

Trey GowdyTaibbi mentioned the fact that certain people had a tendency to dehumanize Bush when he was in office. “This is the same kind of abject stupidity we saw in the 9/11 Truth movement, which believed unquestioningly that a whole bund of Bush administration officials was willing to see Americans murdered en masse in order to further some convoluted world domination scheme.” But as Taibbi well knows, this was a very small group with no actual power. And of course, they weren’t liberals — conspiracy theorists tend to be in some incoherent realm that is both extreme right and extreme left.

Today, we live in a world where the Republican base — created largely by Fox News and hate radio — believes that liberals are at best naive in allowing the evil doers to take over the US, or actively evil and treasonous in trying to do that very thing themselves. This is not, of course, new. We saw it throughout the Clinton presidency and it was simply recycled for Obama. Some people claim that we shouldn’t elect Clinton because it will just create more scandal mongering from the Republicans. This is indeed a naive notion. Regardless of what Democrat becomes president, there will be more of this. That’s because Democrats are traitors by definition in the Republican mind.

So that is what was most horrifying to watch last week. It wasn’t an attack on Hillary Clinton but on all liberals — and even conservatives who are not of the crazy persuasion. We are not real citizens or even perhaps humans. And this is what allows the Republicans to continue to get elected despite only have policies that benefit the rich and powerful. Their voters believe that voting for that kind of thing is better than the alternative where they lose everything. And they would be right, if that were the actual choice. Of course, it isn’t.

What’s most interesting is that the Republican base ultimately acts the way the conspiracy theorists do. A couple of months ago, I wrote about this, Conspiracy Theories and the Yield to Real Power. By focusing on fake threats, these people allow real threats to have their way. And that is what the Republican base does: better to vote in favor of real threats to their livelihood and freedom rather than vote for Hillary Clinton who literally wants to kill ambassadors — and by extension, other regular Americans.

Morning Music: Bombino

Nomad - BombinoToday, we move just east of Mali to Niger with the great singer, songwriter, and guitarist Bombino. He’s more in my comfort range regarding artists because he exists in the context that I know of the music profession. He writes pretty much all his own songs. And the songs are very western in their structure. But it still sounds very different from anything I’ve ever heard before.

Here he is performing for NPR in what looks like a tiny radio station somewhere. The people playing with him seem to change in each performance I see. But they are all very good. I think it is always easy for people to think this kind of relaxed, assured music is easy to play, but it isn’t; it is absolutely the hardest thing in the world. And they really let Bombino fly off with some exceptional guitar solos. Here we have three songs off his 2013 album, Nomad. They are “Tamiditine” (My Darling), “Her Tenere” (In the Desert), and “Imuhar” (Freeman).


If you like this music, check out this entire performance, Live From Breakglass.

Anniversary Post: Scooter Libby Indictment

Scooter LibbyIt was exactly ten years ago today that Scooter Libby was indicted over the Valerie Plame affair. For those of you who don’t eat and breathe this stuff, top people in the Bush White House leaked Plame’s identity as an undercover CIA agent to the press in order to soil the credibility of her husband, Joseph Wilson, who had questioned some of their claims about Iraq. It’s notable because it shows that Republicans, who claim to be the most patriotic party, are actually willing to commit low level treason in the name of power.

But let us not focus on that. I want to talk about Scotter Libby. He was given 30 months for his crimes. But President Bush commuted that part of his sentence. So he still owed a fine, had to be on probation for a couple of years, and had to complete some community service. But as anyone who has studied the criminal justice system knows, none of that — including the 30 months in prison — is the worst thing that happens. The worst thing is being labeled a felon and basically never being able to get a good job ever again.

Did that happen to Scooter Libby? Did he have to lie on employment applications? Did he have to cringe at the idea of a background check? Of course not! I don’t know what he’s doing now. There’s nothing much about him other then a bunch of articles about him getting his voting rights back, because he lives in the vile state of Virginia where they think people should be punished for the rest of their lives. But I assume that one of two things are going on with Libby: (1) he’s rich enough that he doesn’t need to work; or (2) he was set up in a cushy job paying hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by his friends.

It is this kind of thing that shows most clearly that we live in a class based society. This kind of conviction would largely destroy the life of a normal person. For Scooter Libby, it was just a bump in the road.