Happy Labor Day?

Happy Labor Day!Happy labor day, comrades! Do you know why labor day is today and not on May Day — International Workers’ Day? Well, it’s because of the commies and anarchists. President Grover Cleveland was afraid of associating the international worker movements with the American movements. Of course, Cleveland wasn’t all that keen on the labor movement. But he made Labor Day a national holiday! Why? Because he was trying to make nice after totally screwing up in the government’s response to the Pullman Strike.

Pullman Company Screws Workers

This is an interesting but totally typical story. The Pullman Company made railroad cars. Following the Panic of 1893, Pullman lowered worker wages. There is nothing especially wrong with this. It can be much better than laying workers off. Of course, Pullman did lay off workers. It probably only lowered wages because it had an excuse. But all that was probably okay.

The problem was that the workers lived in a company town. They paid the company for rent and food and more. But when the company lowered wages, it did not lower the cost it was charging workers for their necessities. The workers were, not surprisingly, unhappy about this situation. But George Pullman refused to lower his company town prices and refused to even arbitrate the matter.

The Rich Are Never Allowed to Suffer

Eugene DebsNotice the situation here: Pullman thought that his workers should suffer because of the bad economic conditions. But he didn’t think he should suffer at all.

During the first years following our financial crisis and the bursting of the housing bubble, there was endless repetition that what the country needed was “shared sacrifice.” Obama loved the idea. But if you dug down even a little into these pleas, you saw that it was all sacrifice by the lower classes — none by the upper. For example: we heard constantly that we had to cut Social Security, but we couldn’t even mention raising the payroll tax cap. (That would be class warfare!) The bankers were bailed out without much fuss but homeowners were just left to their foreclosures.

And there were large cuts to social programs but only a tiny increase in the very top marginal tax rate and only because it was going up anyway. Then the Republicans took over Washington in 2017 and again lowered taxes on the wealthy. Shared sacrifice!

Pullman Workers Strike

More desperate than we are today, many of the workers joined Eugene Debs’ American Railway Union (ARU). And they went on strike. It got ugly. Union members eventually stopped railroad service in a number of places. Then Grover Cleveland used the interruption of mail delivery to justify sending in federal troops. This did eventually end the strike — at a loss of 30 striker lives and almost twice as many wounded. This is generally the way it goes.

The government does not like organized labor. It is too much of a threat to the status quo and the wealth of the elites. When organized, workers have enormous power. That was why, in 1947, we got the Taft–Hartley Act, which outlawed “jurisdictional strikes, wildcat strikes, solidarity or political strikes, secondary boycotts, secondary and mass picketing, closed shops, and monetary donations by unions to federal political campaigns.” That basically neutered unions — it was just a matter of time. Then, Reagan savaged unions and basically made the remaining union rights void through lack of enforcement.

Grover Cleveland Tries to Mollify Workers

Grover ClevelandIn 1894, of course, the government was scared. Grover Cleveland and the rest of the government wanted to make nice with organized labor. They probably had Louis XVI of France in mind and were trying to hedge their bets. So only six days after the strike ended, Cleveland signed the legislation making Labor Day a federal holiday.

As for old George Pullman, well, a national commission was appointed to look into the causes of the strike. It found Pullman culpable and said his company town was “un-American.” In 1898, the company was forced to sell off the land, which became part of Chicago. It didn’t matter to George Pullman, however; he died the year before.

Debs Is Held Accountable

After the strike, Debs was arrested and charged with conspiracy to obstruct the mail. You know: it wasn’t enough to have your strike crushed; Debs was a little man and so the government needed to crush him too. But Debs was represented by one of the great heroes of that period: Clarence Darrow. Darrow argued that Debs didn’t conspire to do anything and that it was the railroad that conspired against the workers.

(This is something that doesn’t seem to be understood by my libertarian enemies who almost to a man hate unions: if workers aren’t able to organize, it isn’t fair; the company management is very organized.)

The prosecutors knew they were going to lose the case, so they dropped the conspiracy charge. Debs was later convicted on the lesser charge of violating a Supreme Court injunction and was given six months in jail. (This too is always what happens; if the government wants to get you, it will.)

Debs Becomes a Socialist

Although he entered jail what we might call a liberal, Debs left a socialist. While in prison he read a whole bunch of Marx and that changed his outlook. He was also influenced by visits from Victor L Berger. Along with him and others, Debs founded the Social Democratic Party of America. He went on to run for president as a socialist five times — the last time in 1920, he did from prison. He was serving a ten-year sentence for violating the government’s new favorite bullshit law to attack anyone they don’t like, the Espionage Act of 1917. He violated it by giving a speech that “obstructed recruiting” for World War I.

Do I need to note that what he was doing is the very definition of free speech?

Labor Day Was Hard Won

In 1921, The Bridgemen’s Magazine wrote:

Labor Day evolved from the aspiration of the labor movement; it was not handed down as a present. Its recognition as a legal holiday was won by labor: it was not given as a present.

So enjoy your Labor Day. But don’t forget the suffering and loss that it represents. And don’t stand for people showing such great disrespect to it. We know conservatives hate the labor movement. We know that many so called liberals are at best apathetic towards the labor movement. But the least we can demand is that they all show a modicum of respect one day of the year. Now go enjoy your barbecue or whatever.

Should Russia Have Ever Been in the G8?

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump

Trump constantly embarrasses the US on the world stage. But that is nowhere as true as when he acts as Putin’s lap dog. This was on full display at the Group of Seven meeting last weekend. He not only begged to let Russia back into the group publicly, he did it in private too.

To our friends overseas, it must seem as though Americans elect presidents randomly. Sure, we occasionally elect someone like Obama, but that’s more than countered by the election of people like Trump. And Bush Jr. And Reagan. And Nixon. Really, you have to go back to Eisenhower to find a Republican president who isn’t an embarrassment for one reason or another. (Bush Sr wasn’t a fool; but he was a spook.)

Russia Isn’t a Major Economic Player

But it got me thinking. Why was Russia ever in the Group of Eight? China isn’t. And I think there’s a much better case to be made for China. The Group of Whatever is about economic development. China is the second-largest economy in the world. (The largest if you look at the economy based on purchasing power.) But I get why China is not included. I just don’t get why Russia ever way.

Let’s look at some economic data of the G7 along with Russian:

Country GDP Total
(trillions)
GDP Per Capita
(thousands)
USA $19.5 $59.9
Japan $4.9 $38.2
Germany $3.7 $44.7
UK $2.6 $38.2
France $2.6 $39.8
Italy $1.9 $32.0
Russia $1.6 $10.8

There are three countries not in the G7 that have higher GDPs. Of these, India has a very low per capita GDP. But both China and Brazil have per capita GDPs that are roughly the same as Russia’s. So why not them? I can’t determine any reason why Russia would be allowed in while these two wouldn’t. Must be a nuclear power? Then why not India or China? Must be a “free market” economy? Then why not India or Brazil (and let’s face it: China)?

It’s clear from the table above, that Russia really doesn’t fit into the Group of Whatever. It makes far more sense to include China.

Why Was Russia in the G8?

It seems clear that Russia was only allowed into the G8 because Boris Yeltsin was being rewarded for all his neoliberal changes to the Russian economy that screwed over the vast majority of Russian citizens. And given that this is partly to blame for the rise of Vladimir Putin, it makes a certain amount of internal logic to let Russian back in. But just because the Group of Whatever is a sham neoliberal project designed by the most powerful countries to keep everyone else down doesn’t mean the rest of us need to go along with it.

Russia is a two-bit economic power that only matters because of their nuclear arsenal. The group itself serves no ethical purpose as Russia’s previous inclusion shows.

The Real Reason Trump Wants to Buy Greenland

Nuuk, Greenland

Like most of us, I am sick of hearing, reading, or talking about Trump. Friends will ask if I’ve heard of the latest outrage he’s committed, and I’ll usually answer, “No.” What’s the point? It’ll either be bigoted, ignorant, dishonest, or utterly destructive to civilization’s future. Usually all of the above.

It’s standard-brand Republican politics, as practiced for at least 40 years, but with more boorishness. Trump’s fans love him for these things, and I have no interest in trying to discern their motives. Some sort of psychological disorder, no doubt, and not a particularly compelling one.

So I was overjoyed to recently read that Trump has been pestering aides with questions about whether the United States can buy Greenland. That’s the kind of amusing, harmless stupidity I hope for from Republican administrations. Like Bush II mispronouncing “nuclear” or Reagan telling Gorbachev that if aliens attacked Earth, America and the USSR would work together.

Even better were the responses of semi-sane people. The Guardian had a fun article quoting Greenlanders and Danes, both politicians and average citizens. (Greenland is self-governing, but still technically a protectorate of Denmark, which provides what military defense the island requires.) Their comments ranged from the sensible (“Why on Earth would anybody want to be an American colony?”) to incredulous (“It must be a joke!”). A member of Denmark’s “nationalist” (read: anti-immigrant) party said, “It is definitive proof that [Trump] has gone crazy.” Again, that’s the far-right, anti-immigrant party speaking.

Note to Danes: it’s not a joke, and he’s been crazy for a looooong time before this.

What the Danes Have Told Me

We have several old Danish friends. (When Mrs James left for college, her father developed empty-nest syndrome and had a series of exchange students; she’s stayed in touch with the ones she liked best.) One spent a few years living in Greenland, another is a communications specialist in the navy.

The com specialist has observed in the past that Denmark and every other nation with Arctic territory maintains a naval presence in the Arctic Ocean. “Basically,” she said, “we just sail around and let each other know we’re there.” Reduced thickness of sea ice has made it possible for oil companies to put oil rigs in places where, before, the ice would crush them like tinfoil. As some of the sites oil companies are interested in lie well offshore, the question comes up of whom has sovereignty over which international waters. “I like it when we sail up north,” she told us. “It’s not so damn hot.”

The man who lived in Greenland left because he broke up with his girlfriend there. Besides, he said, he was drinking too much. The largest town has 17,000 people, and in smaller ones it’s common to stock up goods for the winter before basically hunkering down. If one’s relationship is going sour, there really isn’t much else to do but drink. (Rationing would be key here.)

His response to Trump’s proposal was the simple text message “Why?!”

Seriously, Why Would America Want Greenland?

Several writers have addressed this question, with varying levels of seriousness. A columnist covering European affairs for Bloomberg actually typed about “reviving the market in sovereign territories, which once made America great.” Brian Kahn, usually a environmental writer for Gizmodo UK, said the idea was “plainly, batshit,” but addressed some of the possible geopolitical advantages (world’s largest supply of freshwater, mineral deposits under a melting ice sheet, military location, etc.) My favorite was by Matthew Walther at MSN, who noted that Greenland is essential territory in the boardgame Risk:

So far the Danes are insisting that they are not interested in a sale. We should remind them that they are spending $600 million a year to subsidize the fantasy that the most remote part of North America is actually European. We should also offer them an absolutely ridiculous amount of money — paying off their entire national debt, a match of whatever their GDP is for the next 20 years, the rights to the next five Super Bowls, Trump’s second-favorite son changing his name to “Erik.” As far as the Greenlanders themselves go, they could get the Armageddon deal: no taxes ever, for the rest of their lives.

No one is going to feel bad about the price tag in 50 years when Helge Damsgaard and her Sirius Patrol shield-mate Kaj Knudsen successfully defeat Russian forces off the coast of Uunartoq Qeqertaq armed with only a pair of laser axes.

Right you are, sir. Yet, just to pretend, let’s look at the “serious” reasons one-by-one.

Seriously, These Reasons Make No Sense

Mineral deposits/oil reserves: Greenland does have these. So why would Denmark have any conceivable reason to sell? They’re a perfectly wealthy country, with a diversified economy (and a better standard of living than that of most Americans) — they don’t need our money. Their asking price would be well what the territory is worth and more; it’d be cheaper for us to just bomb some suffering nation and steal their stuff.

Strategic military location: we already have bases in Greenland. Denmark is part of NATO, as we are (for now). In fact, one of our planes once caught fire and crashed while carrying huge atomic bombs. The bombs didn’t go off (these near-misses have happened more often than most people know), but the crash spread toxic radiation over a wide area. Needless to say, Greenlanders were not pleased.

Besides, we’re not living in 1964, Dr. Strangelove days anymore, when B-52s were our primary nuclear delivery threat: we have submarines that can shoot missiles from anywhere, and ICBMs which can shoot missiles to everywhere. One decommissioned silo in South Dakota, now the Minuteman National Historic Site, features a giant blast door painted by USAF staffers to resemble a Domino’s Pizza box. The tagline: “Worldwide Delivery In 30 Minutes Or Less / Or Your Next One Is Free.”

That’s from a Cold-War era missile silo. I promise you today’s missiles go much faster.

Water: Neither Trump nor any other Republican cares remotely about America’s drinking water supply (ask Flint, Newark, etc). If most of the water on Earth gets poisoned, rich people will have access to the last good stuff.

What Trump Does Care About, Bigly

Once you count territorial possessions, the United States is Earth’s fourth-largest country, geographically, behind Russia, Canada, and China. Purchasing Greenland would make us a solid #2.

Would anyone really put such an idiotic motive past Trump? He wants the biggest military parade and biggest wall. He lies about having the biggest audiences and largest fortune and greatest electoral victory. (If Trump consciously lies, which I doubt; I suspect he thinks that whatever he thinks is true.) He’s said that the World Trade Center attacks made his Trump Tower the biggest building in downtown Manhattan. He brags about TV ratings and Twitter followers. Let’s not forget his ridiculously oversized neckties.

Maybe this is some kind of Freudian thing, or simply the twisted mindset of aspirationally rich people — keeping up with the Joneses taken to psychotic extremes. I don’t particularly care. Serial killers are far more interesting than rich people (and ultimately far less dangerous).

In any case, this explanation makes the most sense to me. So I’m officially calling it the best. And the biggest.

Charlie Pierce Can Torture With the Best of Them

The Torture of Prometheus - Gioacchino AsseretoCharlie Pierce wrote:

“‘It’s hard. It’s really, really hard because my husband died by gun suicide,’ said Judy Schneider-Wallace, a former schoolteacher from Seattle.”

Okay, Pierce: bring it, you’ve already broken my heart past repair.

“She and her husband, Paul, were double victims of the economic collapse and of the financial-services vampires who both caused it and then profited by looting the lives they’d already ruined.”

No, Charlie! No more!

“They were in the process of renegotiating their mortgage with Wells Fargo, a process that brought grief to thousands of people across the country whose personal economies already were in tatters.”

Okay. I’m far past the point of being able to handle this.

“While they were wrestling with financial ruin, Paul shot himself to death on the first day of school.”

No. You cannot do that, Pierce. You cannot lead readers down that path to a place so gruesome and grim, even though it is the truth.

I would never do so. And that’s why I’m a baseball writer and Charlie Pierce is, funny names for politicians aside, a real writer. I don’t always agree with him, but does he ever leave pretenders like Chait or Yglesias in the damn dust?

My wife is good at talking to people and hearing their stories; it’s never been a thing I’m skilled at.

Why Conservatives Are Calling El Paso Massacre Terrorism

Ted CruzTed Cruz said that the El Paso massacre was “a heinous act of terrorism and white supremacy.” This is representative of what I’ve seen throughout the day from conservatives. And I’ve seen a lot of liberals applaud what seems like a change coming from conservatives that used to believe these things only happened because of insanity.

But isn’t it obvious that calling this terrorism is just the newest way for conservatives to ignore the main problem that there are too many guns floating around?

After the Sandy Hook massacre, many on the left (including me) discussed the effect of mental illness and access to care. That’s because the shooter was, in fact, mentally ill. But conservatives quickly picked up on this idea. “The problem isn’t guns! It’s the mentally ill!”

In general, this narrative has worked with most mass shootings because most of the perpetrators end up dead — often at their own hands. It’s harder to do that in the case of the El Paso massacre because the perpetrator survived.

But it doesn’t matter whether you want to say that some guy started killing a bunch of people because he was insane, just bad, or a terrorist. Each of these cases reduces a systemic problem to one of bad actors. If you accept this idea then there is no point in trying to change the environment. Instead, you just have to get the bad actor.

Don’t Expect Change

If this causes any changes in the law, it will be around the edges. But even this is unlikely to happen. In a few days, after reporters stop asking politicians about this, the conservatives will go back the NRA line that universal background checks are one step from tyranny.

And even if we did get background checks, I wonder how much good it would do. Guns are widely available outside of legal channels. We are decades past the point where minor tinkering around the edges is going to do much good.

Not that I’m against trying. But like I said: nothing is going to change.

It’s bad to watch Ted Cruz and the rest of the conservatives in this country stonewalling against doing anything about gun violence. But it’s worse to watch that while the nation gives them credit for being so reasonable.

Why Has Matt Yglesias Forgotten Political Science?

Matt YglesiasOne thing I’ve learned over years of blogging (Coming up on our 10 year anniversary!) is that it is wrong to be vague about things you criticize. More than wrong, it’s boring. You see this all the time with conservatives. “Libtards are saying white men should be killed!” Really? Who is saying this? So I find it a little worrying that I say this: Matt Yglesias has been arguing for the Democrats to nominate Joe Biden.

I’ve been following Yglesias’ on Twitter and on The Weeds podcast. And he has this overarching idea that Elizabeth Warren is more popular than she should be and that the people who support her shouldn’t. And below all this is, I think, the idea that she can’t beat Trump. You know: because people don’t actually support her ideas. The people (as though Yglesias has any more of a clue what “the people” want than I do) just want to get rid of Trump and don’t actually want any structural reform of the American economic system.

For all I know, Matt Yglesias will vote for Elizabeth Warren. But he’s fond of the “hot take.” He loves to play the informed iconoclast. So I’m not arguing anything about what’s in his heart. But his “take” on Warren seems to be ill-advised.

Why Does Matt Yglesias Think Warren Will Lose?

Elizabeth WarrenDoes he really think that people are going to choose to vote for Trump over Warren because of these policy issues? She’s talking about making structural changes to the economy when Trump is talking about nuclear war with Iran. I wonder how the American people will vote?!

But what really bugs me about this is that we have loads of political science data on this question. Unless 2020 is somehow completely different from every other election for almost 50 years, Trump will win or lose based on the economy.

And it’s worse than that. The economy is the most important thing. Pretty much everything else runs against Trump. If the economy slows down, Trump is toast. It doesn’t matter what Democrat runs against him.

On the other hand, if the economy heats up to a point that none of us can even imagine now, no Democrat will be able to beat him.

Remember: my simple political science model predicted that Trump would win in 2016. Trump’s election to president doesn’t change the underlying political science.

Why Has Matt Yglesias Forgotten Political Science?

This political science is exactly the kind of stuff that Vox writers live and breath. So why does Yglesias seem to have forgotten it all?

I suspect that it all comes down to him playing the part of a journalist rather than living the part — you know, where he actually looks for the truth?

There’s not much point in focusing on political science since it doesn’t change much over time. Instead, focus on your own ideas about electability!

And that’s what Yglesias is doing. He’s far too smart to fall into the trap of thinking “electable” means “white man.” But he isn’t so smart that he can’t fall into the same trap with a more sophisticated notion of electability.

But really: it isn’t that sophisticated. Despite all evidence, he’s assuming that people vote based upon policy rather than what we know: people base their policy ideas on the candidate they vote for.

This is sad to see because, despite it all, Matt Yglesias is still an interesting and insightful writer. His problem is simply that he, like far lesser journalist, is being blinded by the narrative he has landed on.

Erik Satie Makes a Joke

Erik Satie by Suzanne ValadonFor most of my life, I’ve dismissed Erik Satie as a composer who created pretty but ultimately uninteresting music. Like most of the opinions I developed as a teen, this was wrong. And over the last few months, I’ve been listening to a lot of his work. It’s magnificent.

The other night, I was listening to Embryons Desséchés. It’s pretty typical of his mature work. But right at the end of the piece, he makes a joke. And it was wonderful for me to hear because I don’t usually get musical jokes. While it’s true that I know a lot more about classical music than most people, I don’t actually know that much about classical music.

What’s more, musical jokes are like regular jokes: they don’t age well. Satie’s joke only works in the context of the move out of the Romantic period. And I only get the joke because I’ve spent so much of my life fuming about the excesses of this most-played and least-fulfilling period of classical music.

Find the Joke!

Before I explain the joke, see if you can’t hear it in the third movement. You should at least note that the ending seems out of place with the rest of the piece.

Slapping Romantics for Fun and Profit

Even in this one movement, you can tell that Satie is messing around. He skips around in terms of style — as he does in the piece as a whole. The first movement even previews what he will ultimately do in the third.

So as I listen, I enjoy hearing Satie having fun bouncing around stylistically. And then he says, “Hey! Remember this?!” And he provides one of these ridiculously extended endings that I love to hate.

This is usually said to be a direct attack on Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. That does seem to be the case, but I think Satie means for his attack to be broader:

Erik Satie’s Other Jokes

Apparently, Satie was making more jokes than this one. In particular, he ridicules the music-hall song “Mon rocher de Saint-Malo” (“My rock of Saint-Malo”), which you can hear quoted very clearly in the first movement.

This isn’t really a musical joke, however. You can only see it in Satie’s notes on the score such as, “‘It was a very nice rock! Very sticky!” But even if musically it had been more than a quotation, I wouldn’t have noticed it. I don’t recall hearing the song before. And I have no context within which to find it funny. Apparently, the song was very popular at that time and Satie was not a fan.

Humor Ages Poorly

This is a problem with all humor. In fact, I developed my approach to theater in an effort to find an audience for my jokes. I found that people didn’t find my jokes funny because they couldn’t understand them. So I got the idea of creating theater to teach the audience so that they would then laugh at my esoteric jokes. How well that works is open to debate.

The good thing about music is that by the time people don’t understand any jokes placed in a piece, they’ve also gotten to the point where the joke doesn’t stand out as odd. A great example of this is Mozart’s Ein Musikalischer Spaß (A Musical Joke). Most people think it sounds fine. To me, it sounds clunky and certainly not the work of Mozart at this late stage of his career. But I have little doubt that he and his friends screamed with laughter when they performed it.

I’m just glad that I was able to pick up a notable musical joke for a change. And I did laugh — a lot!

The New UK Prime Minister Will Have Exactly the Same Problem as the Old One

Boris JohnsonThe UK’s new prime minister will be announced on Tuesday. And it will make absolutely no difference at all to anyone.

Even if Jeremy Hunt had a chance of winning, it would not change the political situation one bit.

Not that he has a chance, of course. Everyone knows Boris Johnson will become prime minister despite being totally unfit for the job.

Brexit continues to be a time-sucking, resource-leeching distraction for the entire country. Because of Brexit, UK campaigners and politicians cannot direct appropriate attention to climate change, the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster, or the desperate lack of funding for public services.

Businesses have no idea whether they will still be importing goods in four months’ time. Even the people who voted for Brexit and want it passionately now say, “Just get it over with!”

If I had to bet on an outcome, I’d say we are in for at least ten more years of not knowing what will happen.

There is No Brexit Agreement That Will Pass

Parliament will not pass the agreement with the EU that Theresa May negotiated.

When she attempted to arrange a compromise within the UK parliament to get it through, she was immediately ousted by her own party, which shows just how little room there is for movement. It just won’t happen.

In parallel, the EU will not renegotiate her agreement. It has wasted many months attempting to negotiate with hapless British ministers, and presumably has no desire to prolong the agony.

Besides, the agreement is just the first in a very long, protracted process of debating and negotiating with the UK, so it wants to get to stage two as soon as possible.

The UK’s Three Options

Theresa MaySo without an agreement that can be passed by Parliament, or constrained by the EU, the UK has three options.

  1. Leave without a deal. This is essentially where all laws governing trade and travel cease to exist overnight. Some planning has been done, but nowhere near enough to prevent a massive economic shock. The other main issue with this is the island of Ireland, which is then almost impossibly split by a land border that is currently invisible.

    The border weaves through people’s houses and fields of livestock; one family home has its front door in one country and its back door in the other. It would have to be somehow marked and patrolled, undoing the fragile peace facilitated by the Good Friday agreement, which currently allows freedom of movement and choice of nationality.

  2. Cancel Brexit altogether. The UK can revoke its application to leave the EU without EU agreement, but it cannot unilaterally postpone the decision. So canceling is really the only guaranteed way to halt the process without having to seek anyone else’s permission.

  3. Have another vote. A prime minister with time and inclination could re-run the referendum now that we are further down the line. Of course, Boris Johnson has neither the time nor the inclination.

    I’d love to believe that this provides an easy way forward. But there’s nothing stopping either side from lying or cheating, because the laws on that are the same as they were last time. If anything, the loopholes are just going to be more obvious now, and the campaigns more ruthless, because both sides have had a practice run.

In a hypothetical second vote, the remain side could expect — at best — a slight swing in their favor. This is hardly going to settle anything, although it might fuel the compromise position for some sort of half-in, half-out option that pleases nobody.

I personally think the first vote should have been voided once the massive illegal overspending came to light. But that opportunity is long gone.

No Border No Barrier
Sinn Féin protest against a hard border post-Brexit.

It’s All About the Conservatives… Again

Boris Johnson, the man who will likely win on Tuesday, is unconcerned about the outcome of Brexit. The Conservative Party likes the noises he makes on Brexit, mainly because it has new competition: the Brexit Party.

For those who lost interest in Brexit many months ago, you may have missed the bit when Nigel Farage set up the Brexit Party Limited — a public company — after failing to be elected as an MP for Ukip seven times.

Along with his rebrand comes a rather appropriate “optimization” of what being a political party actually means in Brexit Britain; the Brexit Party has no manifesto, and takes untraceable donations via PayPal.

(One of its MEPs, David Bull, recently complained that he had to travel to Strasbourg to do his job as an MEP on his first day, having presumably failed to look up the location of the office before applying.)

The Conservative Party is rapidly losing ground to the Brexit Party because Farage wants to get Brexit over with, and doesn’t care what happens during or afterward. This is fitting, because a very large proportion of the electorate feel much the same, as does — Hey! — Boris Johnson.

The New PM Cannot Solve Brexit

On Tuesday, the new prime minister will be faced with exactly the same shitty situation the old one was faced with, but with less time to do something about it. (The EU warned the Conservative party not to waste time; the Conservatives know that wasting time is the only thing keeping them in power.)

To find its way out of this mess, the UK will need to do something that it so far has failed to do. It will need to look back at the reasons Brexit came about: inequality, an outdated voting system that doesn’t represent left or right adequately, and a generation that enjoys the workers’ rights and benefits of EU membership without really being clear on how they were won.

Of course, the fact that various Conservative politicians have part-time jobs with prominent right-wing newspapers plays a part in this mess as well.

Right now, the only positive outcome I could hope for from any of this would be a modernization of the voting system in the UK. That way, at least voters would be better represented in normal Elections, more able to have their voices heard without fear of a “wasted” vote, and less likely to move to extremes to be counted. And — like in Germany — I’d like to see a total ban on referendums.

Support HR 763: The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act

Jenga

If someone were to head to the farthest visible galaxy, it would take 13.3 billion years traveling at the speed of light to get there. Obviously, there is not yet the means to accomplish such a trip, but this scenario gives us an idea of the vast scale of the universe.

We live within this unfathomable space on the outskirts of the Milky Way Galaxy in a solar system on a small lonely planet that is currently our only home. Earth is effectively an island, and, like all islands, it has limited resources.

Unfortunately, humans have been depleting these resources. In some ways, it is done directly, such as by razing entire forests and all the flora and fauna that exist within them.

Indirectly it is done by pulling out carbon-rich decomposed plants and animals in the form of coal, oil and gas from deep within the earth so they can be burned for energy, releasing greenhouse gases. This creates the insulating blanket that is causing the planet to rapidly heat up and is leading to detrimental and far-reaching consequences that affect many aspects of life.

Coral Bleaching

When I was in college in the late 1980s, one of my biology professors discussed a relatively new and very concerning phenomenon, coral bleaching, which is what happens when coral-producing polyps expel the algae living inside them.

Coral Reef

The problem with this is that algae provide 90% of the nutrition for coral. Without algae, coral dies, and when coral dies it can lead to the destruction of many ocean ecosystems. Coral polyps do so much. They provide habitat for over a million species, food and jobs for humans, potential medicines for life-threatening illnesses, and protection for coastal areas.

At the time I was taking the aforementioned class, no one knew what was causing the coral bleaching. Research had begun, however, and scientists have since learned that it is due to a rise in ocean temperatures caused by the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which is, again I add, the result of human activity.

Ocean Acidification

Another very troubling matter is associated with too much carbon in the atmosphere: ocean acidification.

Oceans have been doing a decent job of absorbing carbon from the air — about 25% of it — but this makes water more acidic, and the way it affects shellfish is particularly worrisome because acid corrodes their protective calcium carbonate shells. This has been causing many mollusks and crustaceans to die.

Sometimes shells are unable to form at all, so these creatures do not even make it to adulthood. Entire populations of shellfish are suffering, and that is spilling over and detrimentally affecting the animals that eat them. The decimation of these creatures is also extremely problematic for people who rely on the shellfish industry for their livelihoods.

We’re in This Together

The examples I have mentioned are just two among many in which the use of fossil fuels is having far-reaching and negative consequences for the planet. It is like humans are playing a game of Jenga with nature. We are taking pieces out one by one, and at some point, the tower will come down.

No species lives in isolation. Any we can name is tethered in some way to at least one other species. When one is adversely affected, others are adversely affected as well. In 50 years some of us will not be here, but our children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and that 6-year old down the street, hopefully, will be.

They will have to live with the horrible fallout from our actions if we are unwilling to change.

At the risk of facing critical responses from readers, I believe most of us can do better. I promise to do better, to buy less, reuse and recycle more, and use what I already have.

Additionally, we can all help in a very easy and practical way by writing a letter, emailing, or calling our politicians and voicing our concerns.

HR 763

Specifically, we can contact Rep Katie Hill [or your own representative], asking her to co-sponsor HR 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. This is a bill that will effectively help to combat climate change by rapidly reducing the excess greenhouse gas emissions warming the planet. It is also supported by many well-respected financial experts because it will be good for the economy.

If it is for the sake of future generations, I feel these are small things we must do.

Kim is a member of the Santa Clarita Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Rod Dreher: Serious Christian Thinker and Homophobe

Rod DreherEzra Klein’s most recent interview sounded really interesting, “Rod Dreher on America’s post-Christian culture war.” Dreher is a writer for The American Conservative — a journal I have a fairly high opinion of. And at first, I was onboard for what he had to say. Dreher talked about something that’s important to me: that most religious people are facile and don’t take their beliefs seriously. But then he talked about his own political beliefs and they were no impressive.

Rod Dreher Cares About Poverty — Sometimes

Klein asked Dreher the classic question: why the focus on sexual matters and so little on, say, poverty. As Klein noted, sexual matters don’t hurt anyone but poverty does. Dreher went on to explain why sex was so important to people like him who think it is a good idea to base their morality on an ancient religious text and tradition. But before he got to that, he said that he felt that Christians should talk more about poverty.

But the question is not why that amorphous group of facile Christians focus on sexual matters; it is why the Very Serious Christian Rod Dreher does. Because looking at his writing he doesn’t seem that concerned about starving children. Like unserious Christians, he is most concerned about the brave martyrs forced to bake a cake for a same-sex couple.

Rod Dreher Persecuted by LGBT ActivistsSaint Sebastian! You knew nothing of pain! American Christians might someday not be able to fire employees for being gay!

It’s Not Homophobia — It’s Religion!

Ezra Klein pushed Dreher many times on why his homophobia is okay when racism is not. (He didn’t put it in such a coarse way, of course.) Dreher has a theological argument for why there is a difference. But I don’t see how it matters.

If things were switched and now homophobia were something no respectable person would admit to but racism were, a racist Christian could now make a theological argument for why homophobia was un-Christian but racism was not.

Rod Dreher’s argument comes down to this: because he has a Biblical rationalization for his beliefs they aren’t bigotry; they are just his faith. I don’t see how this helps him. Racists have reasons for their beliefs too. That’s what all the conservative obsession with IQ tests is about.

Rod Dreher: Alarmist

He’s also an alarmist. Ezra Klein explicitly stayed away from this because he didn’t want to have a debate and wanted to share Dreher’s thoughts that were worth listening to. I’m not sure any of them are. Dreher really isn’t a serious thinker.

Here is some of the “evidence” that Rod Dreher presented for how the secular society is destroying Christians and why he writes so much about religious liberty (and by extension, so little about child poverty):

“We’re being made to care!” That’s Erick Erickson’s line. You can’t ignore it when the freedom of your religious school is put at risk by lawsuits by the advance of gay rights… I’ll tell you a story here. A pastor here in Baton Rouge here where I live, which is pretty much deep Trumplandia, came to me and said that a woman came to him and his congregation and said, “I need your help here. My middle-school daughter has come home and said that she thinks she’s a boy. And I went to the [public school guidance counselor] and asked what was going on with my daughter and she told me quite firmly, ‘You had better accept your son how he is.'” This is a huge thing.

There are a couple of things worth noting here. First, the guy is quoting Erick Erickson. I’m surprised that any thoughtful person would associate with Erickson. While it is true that Erickson was once a never-Trumper, like most he eventually supported Trump (after seeing that Trump was just a typical bigot-Republican and thus of no threat to the status quo).

God Wants Anecdotal Evidence

The main thing to notice is that this is a three-level story. Are we really to believe that the counselor said “quite firmly” given it came through two men who would just assume it? Plus, this woman wasn’t even a member of this church! (What are the odds that she has a religious reason for her concern?) Is she credible? She might just be some crazy person.

It sounds like the kind of case that the church would have made a big deal about had the woman been credible. Yet I haven’t found any news stories about it.

I would think that anyone who really thought that Christians were being oppressed would look for actual data. But of course, Rod Dreher doesn’t look for actual evidence. He don’t need no stinking evidence. He feels that Christians are being oppressed and those are the only (Ben Shapiro-approved) facts he needs!

America’s Sunny Delusions

U-505 at Museum of Science and IndustryI am in Chicago, the Muggy City. Yesterday, we visited the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI). It’s an impressive museum, but its audience is the American family and I found myself bristling about its treatment of history. I know people would say it is done “for the kids.” But I don’t think so. Most of what I hated was there to make adult Americans bask in their delusions of superiority.

This is in contrast to the Chicago History Museum (CHM), where there was a great exhibit about the struggle for minority rights. It was excellent in presenting things as diverse as slavery, the Indian Rights movement, Japanese internment, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Similarly, the International Museum of Surgical Science was a horror show of medical progress topped off with an exhibit about the use of medicine in perpetrating the Holocaust. I’ve spent a great deal of time studying the Holocaust and I still broke down three times.

Vacation Is a Time to Cry

You might think this odd. I’m on vacation. Why would I enjoy being tortured by the villainy of humanity? Well, I’m not. I just don’t like being lied to.

For example, the CHM had a great and fun exhibit on Chicago blues. But it too didn’t shy away from uncomfortable truths. See the image on the right, “Help Save the Youth of America: DON’T BUY NEGRO RECORDS.” And this was a thing: record companies had race record lines — designed to be sold to blacks but clearly appealing to white youths.

I don’t like knowing this. But I actively dislike being lied to. And I most of all hate seeing American myths presented in museums as fact. And that brings us to the German submarine U-505.

U-Boat Sailors Are People Too

U-505 was captured by the US Navy in June 1944. It wasn’t the first U-boat to be captured. It wasn’t the last. But it’s interesting all the same. But it was presented in the museum the same way TV presented the Moon landing: America wins!

To me, the story of the U-boat capture is much more interesting from the perspective of those on the U-boat. There was very little of that. There was an enormous amount of information about the US attacks on it but almost nothing on what damage was done to the U-boat.

But more important, after the crew was captured, they were hidden so that the Nazis would not know that the Allies had the Enigma codes. But these were of limited value. So why exactly it was necessary to defy the Geneva Conventions is not clear to me.

I get why it was done. You never know. But it highlights the nonsense of the concept of the “rules of war.” And it is certain that this story would have been told very differently if the Axis powers had won the war.

No Nuance When It Comes to America

Regardless, at the MSI, there was little nuance. The decision to hide the Germans was presented as though there were no alternative. Indeed, the families of the German sailors were told they were dead. This was presented as a good thing in that they all had a great surprise when the families found out 3 years later that the men were alive.

I guess this all annoys me because as a child, I really believed all this American mythology. We were the Good Guys who never tortured and just wanted people to be Free! So I was devastated when I learned that the US was the biggest bully in the world only interested in its own gain. (See my article on Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.)

So beyond the fact that places like the MSI feed the delusions of American adults, I really hate the fact that children are lied to before they have any defenses against this corrosive nonsense.

What If All Elizabeth Warren’s Plans Fail?

Elizabeth WarrenIn a recent interview, Elizabeth Warren was asked by Ezra Klein what she could do if Republicans maintain control of the Senate and she can’t get any of her plans through Congress. (And let’s be honest: even if the Democrats do gain control of the Senate, she may have problems because the Democratic elites are still far to the right of the party itself.) Her answers were good — discussing the importance of putting people in charge of federal agencies who actually believe in their missions.

But she didn’t mention the single most important reason that presidents have a profound effect on the economy: the Federal Reserve Board. This is something I discussed years ago, Why the Economy Does Better Under Democrats. It was based on an article by economist Mark Thoma where he explained why, since World War II, the economy has done much better under Democratic than Republican presidents. There are a number of reasons for this but control of the Fed is one that the president has complete control over.

Trump’s Policies

I suppose I should clarify a few things. The economy has done fine under Trump. But that appears to be due to the tremendous amount of slack in the economy. Most of what Trump has provided has only hurt it: tariffs and political uncertainty. Even the tax cut was designed so as to have a minimum effect on the economy in the short-term.

One place Trump has complained (rightly so) is that the Federal Reserve has been raising interests rates and thus slowing the economy. The reason for this is that the Fed chair, Jerome Powell, believes that we are on the verge of an inflation spiral. It’s funny because this is pretty much what all the establishment types have been thinking for half a decade.

But it’s Trump’s own fault. He could have appointed a Fed chair that would have pursued the kind of expansive monetary policy Trump wants. But like the judges he nominates, Trump has no idea who to nominate to the Federal Reserve. So he just listens to the establishment Republicans that he surrounds himself with. Actually, we are lucky we got Powell. He’s really no different from the last Fed chair, Janet Yellen. It really raises the question of why Trump replaced her. But I think the answer is clear: he thought he was getting something different.

Warren’s Choices

Unlike Trump, Elizabeth Warren knows stuff — especially when it comes to the economy. I don’t expect she would make radical appointments to the Fed. But she would know what she is doing. And the monetary establishment might think her appointments were radical. I know she wouldn’t appoint the kind of hard-money zealots that conservatives prefer.

And she’s right that her policies and appointments will make a huge difference. Putting someone in charge at the EPA who will clamp down on polluters will mean corporations have to spend some of their profits on mitigation — you know, forcing them to employ workers rather than simply making the rich even richer.

Additionally, she can help our economy by reversing many of Trump’s policies like his tariffs — and threats of tariffs.

Elizabeth Warren has a plan in case Republicans stymie all her legislative plans. She can use executive power to make the world better — just as Trump has used it to make it worse.