About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

Absurd Commentary on the Lab Leak Theory

Lab Zombies

I think we have a problem when we talk about the lab leak theory. There is not one. The original theory was a full-out conspiracy: China had developed it as a biological weapon and then they released it on the world to harm us.

Now the same people who pushed that conspiracy theory want us to believe that the notion that the virus may have leaked from a lab proves them correct. Well, it doesn’t.

So let’s look at the theories here. The Chinese government:

  1. Created a biological weapon that they knowingly released to the world.
  2. Created a biological weapon that they accidentally released to the world.
  3. Was doing work on viruses that was accidentally released to the world.

The first one is absolutely ridiculous. If the Chinese government wanted to release a biological weapon on the world, they wouldn’t do it to their own people much less to the people right outside the lab where they created it.

The second one is less ridiculous but still absurd. This is a really inefficient biological weapon. But more important there’s absolutely no evidence that this virus was created as a biological weapon. This is pure conjecture.

Reasonable Theory

So this leaves us with the third possibility. Scientists were studying this virus and it got out of the lab. This kind of thing does happen. And we should be concerned about this regardless of whether or not it happened in this instance.

Lab safety is an important issue. I’ve heard people suggest things like locating these labs far away from populated areas and requiring quarantine periods for travel from the facilities.

But note that this is never been a concern of the loudest voices regarding the lab leak theory. The number one concern of these proponents is simply to blame China. Implicit in this is to exonerate the Trump administration.

(Note the absurdity here: as though the source of the virus justifies a terrible response. New Zealand was attacked as much as the United States and yet they did a good job of managing the pandemic. No origin story justifies the terrible governmental response to COVID-19.)

Liberal Response

What bugs me about all this is not that Republican apologists are weaponizing it. What bugs me is that liberals are so quick to jump on board. They are so concerned about being seen as anti-science that they jump to the other side of this issue. And then they criticize the left for dismissing this theory in the first place.

In addition to this unfortunate tendency of liberals to attack their own side, there are major problems here. The first is that most people on the left always said that it was possible that COVID-19 came from a lab leak.

Second we still have no actual evidence that it was a lab leak. We are in exactly the same position we were a year ago. It’s possible it was a leak but it still looks unlikely.

The truth is if we get ironclad evidence that this was a naturally occurring virus, the usual suspects will never accept it. And decades from now, we will continue to hear about how the Chinese government released the virus to get rid of the Trump presidency.

Note that this would never happen if the sides were reversed. Conservatives never take the very possibility that they might have been wrong to turn on themselves. In fact, conservatives rarely take ironclad evidence that they were wrong to criticize themselves.

What actually happened was that there was no reason to believe that the source of COVID-19 was a lab leak so it was generally ignored. The theory was used on Facebook and other places to push absurd conspiracy theories. And a year later, we have liberal-ish commentators attacking the left.

That’s almost as absurd as the conservative conspiracy theories.


Lab Zombies image (cropped) by Pop Culture Geek via CC BY-NC 2.0.

There Is No Trump Exceptionalism

Nicole Hemmer

The idea of Trump Exceptionalism — that Donald Trump just rode in and blew up the whole system — I think ignores some really important continuities. George W Bush made some comments recently after his book came out that push this false narrative.

The 2000 election and the fight to declare victory, to stop the count in Florida, not just through the courts but through localized disruption — that was pretty anti-democratic. That was a really troubling moment. And the Bush v Gore decision is a really challenging one for people who want to embrace this idea of democracy and liberalism.

But there’s also the 2004 election and the decision to lean into the anti-marriage equality initiatives and referenda across the country as part of a campaign strategy to win that election. It modeled the way that you could mobilize resentment. And mobilize exclusionary politics in order to win an election. This is something that George W Bush did.

So when he talks now about this idea that the Republican Party won’t win elections if it plays the politics of exclusion, well, he played the politics of exclusion. And he won an election that way. He played minoritarian politics and he gained the presidency that way.

There have certainly been massive shifts in the Republican Party since the days of George W Bush. But he is not exempt from the story we’re telling about where the Republican Party is today.

–Nicole Hemmer
The Ezra Klein Show


Quote edited for readability. Image taken from National Antiracist Book Festival under Fair Use.

Can We Agree That the Republicans Are Disingenuous and Move On?

Marco Rubio Official Portrait

I’ve long known that the Republican party is disingenuous. That was clear long before the negotiations for Obamacare in 2009. But now we have such a clear example of this in the negotiations for the January 6th investigation.

Republican Representative John Katko managed to make a deal with the Democrats. But once it was made all the Republicans turned against it. The most absurd was Marco Rubio.

At first, Rubio was against the commission because there could be partisan subpoenas. When he was told that couldn’t happen because Republicans would effectively have veto power, he simply changed his position to be that the Democrats would leak the fact that Republicans used their power.

Of course, Rubio was just the guy who got caught most obviously. Strangely, there hasn’t been much reporting on the fact that Rubio was against the bill for one reason before reading it and then against it for a different reason after reading it. But this is what’s going on with the vast majority of the Republican caucus.

They are against the commission because they are against it. Any reasons they give are just bullshit post hoc rationalizations. This was also true of the American Rescue Plan. And it is true of the infrastructure bill.

Bad Faith Infrastructure “Negotiations”

Look at how that’s gone. The Democrats offered a $2.3 trillion bill. The Republicans “countered” with $568 billion. Before going on, I want to point out how ridiculous this is.

Imagine that you were selling your car for $5,000 and someone offered you $1,000. Would you negotiate with them? Or would you tell them to come back when they were serious? Obviously, you’d send them away. (I saw someone on Twitter point this out but I can’t find the source.)

The $568 billion was not a good-faith offer. But Biden negotiated and revised his offer down to $1.7 trillion — a 26% cut. And the Republican response? No thank you!

We know what would have happened if Biden had said, “Great! Let’s do $568 billion!” McCarthy and McConnell would have come out against it for some reason. It doesn’t matter what! These negotiations are just PR. They want the press to report that Republicans are negotiating and that any problems are just the result of good-faith disagreements. (The media, as they have for decades, reward them for this obvious game!)

No Bipartisanship to Be Found

So let’s just move on. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema need to get past their fantasies about bipartisanship. And we need to get on with the infrastructure bill. And if this isn’t a clear sign that the filibuster must be eliminated, I don’t know what is.

Democrats have wasted decades trying to work with Republicans. There is nothing Republicans want to do other than lower taxes on the rich and gut the regulatory state. It’s not even a question of what they think they can do. They literally have no ideas for broader policy.

Sure if someone presses them on how we’ll deal with our broken healthcare system, they’ll trot out the same old ideas that we know won’t work. They’ll talk about buying insurance across state lines. They’ll talk about catastrophic policies. And, of course, bring up those wonderful health savings accounts!

But the truth is then unless they’re asked about it, they won’t bring it up. Because they don’t care about it. The way things are is just fine with them except that the rich have to pay any taxes at all and that they are ever held accountable for their antisocial acts.

Time to Move On

So it is time to move on. The Biden administration must take the Republicans actions on the January 6th Commission as the final nail in the coffin of bipartisanship. It was always a bullshit idea but I guess it polls well.

No reasonable person can look at the Republicans and say that they are honest brokers in any matter that faces the American people.


Image of Marco Rubio is his official government portrait and in the public domain.

Republicans Don’t Understand Identity Politics and Assume No One Else Does Too

Generic Woman
Generic woman: perfect for Republicans who think women are interchangeable.

Liz Cheney has been removed from Republican leadership in the House. And it was very telling. But I’m not talking about the Big Lie. There has been enough discussion of that. It’s horrible. But I want to discuss what it says about the Republican idea of identity politics.

Cheney was replaced by Elise Stefanik. Cheney is, of course, far more conservative than Stefanik. Big surprise there! Who would have thought that the Republicans don’t actually believe all the conservative bullshit they preach. The main thing is that Stefanik is a woman.

To the Republican leadership, the only thing that mattered was her gender. They did not want to take the heat of having a leadership team that was just a bunch of white men. Despite what they say, they get embarrassed when major American newspapers report that their party is so unrepresentative of the nation.

But this is also the alpha and omega of what Republicans think of identity politics. It is as crude as that. Women are interchangeable. Blacks are interchangeable. The only people who are individuals are old white guys.

Any Old Trans Woman ‘ll Do!

We see this all the time where conservatives offer up some terrible candidate who is female or Black or otherwise part of a marginalized group. We’ve seen it most recently in Caitlin Jenner being put forward for governor of California. She has vile beliefs and no experience whatsoever in politics. But Republicans think that Democrats will vote for anyone of the right oppressed group. Because they have such a limited understanding of identity politics.

The more savvy Republicans like such candidates because they think it makes Democrats squirm. I’m not sure why they think this, however. They go on TV and argue that Democrats are hypocritical because Democrats don’t jump at vile Republican candidates from marginalized groups. Clearly, Democrats are doing identity politics wrong!

Republican Gambit

Today, conservatives’ favorite MLK quote is, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (When he said it in 1963, of course, conservatives hated it and thought it meant King was a communist.)

They are angry that liberals do not (explicitly) judge political candidates on the color of their skin. This is because they think that identity politics is just that: judging people from the color of their skin. It’s not about policy and opportunity.

If this gambit were one that Republicans tried a few times and then abandoned, I’d understand. You try to highlight the hypocrisy of your opponents. But when it doesn’t work over and over, you should stop. When you don’t, it means you judge people on the color of their skin. Conservatives can’t see past skin color to even hear what people from disadvantaged groups are saying.


Image cropped from Woman at Desk by Ernesto Eslava under Pixabay License.

Derek Chauvin as Villain, Victim, and Symbol

Derek Chauvin

I didn’t follow the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd. And I managed to never watch the video of the murder. The truth is that I find these things very upsetting and I don’t think they do me any good. I already know that American policing is irredeemably broken. But I think Derek Chauvin shows us a lot about the problems in our society.

Villain

I am glad that Derek Chauvin was found guilty. And second-degree murder sounds about right. I think it is a mistake to vilify him too much. I do not believe that he wanted to kill George Floyd. But I think he is a terrible person because he doesn’t seem to have cared whether Floyd lived or died.

An analogy has occurred to me recently. It’s like holding a beetle down on the ground so it can’t crawl away. Doing so presses on its back. You don’t mean to kill it. But you realize that it might. It’s just a beetle. If you do kill it, who cares? Certainly not you.

Yes, I’m saying that Chauvin thought of Floyd like an insect. He should never have been allowed in a position of power. And he deserves harsh punishment.

Police Hide Villainy

But let’s be clear. The initial report told a very different story — one that Chauvin assumed would be the final word. The press release from the Minneapolis Police Department was titled, “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” It stated:

Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.

If there had not been video of the incident, Derek Chauvin would not have been held accountable in any way for this. And that’s even true if there had been a dozen eyewitnesses. He is in jail now entirely because of the video.

Men like him should never be put in any situation where they have power over other people. They lack fundamental empathy for other people.

Victim

Derek Chauvin is also a victim. But in saying that, I do not mean that we should show him sympathy. I just mean that the environment in which he existed made him a worse man than he could have been.

Chauvin’s actions indicate a long history of him thinking that this kind of behavior is acceptable. We know there had been many complaints against him. And they were never acted upon in a substantial way. It was completely rational for Chauvin to think that he would not be held accountable for this killing.

But the fact that this crime was particularly egregious speaks to a larger problem with police culture. I don’t think that Chauvin would have kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for so long had there not been a crowd there. The fact that there was a crowd pointing out his misbehavior made Chauvin act like a spoiled child, “You can’t tell me what to do!”

And, of course, that’s what he did! We see this again and again. Police officers are far more concerned about getting the respect that they think they deserve than they are about doing their jobs. If you are rude to a barista, they might spit in your coffee. If you are rude to a cop, they might kill you. And if no one is around to record it, they will face no consequences.

Symbol

And it’s that way that Derek Chauvin is a symbol for modern American policing. I don’t care what kind of a cop it is — good, bad, or indifferent — they all act this way. I know a few cops who are friends of the family. They all have this same personality.

I think they are deeply insecure people. Certainly I don’t need other people constantly kissing my ass to know that I have value. Anywhere someone does need that is the source of untold problems — whether it is from cops or grammar school bullies.

The irony is that our society does kiss the asses of cops. Except for rare cases like this, society goes out of its way to claim that these under-educated, over-paid mediocrities are heroes right out of Homer. (And even in this case, most conservative outlets are treating Chauvin like a wronged hero.) Yet it’s never enough. How could it be? Self-worth is something that comes from the inside. Flattery is just a band-aid.

I’m not hopeful. I do hope that we can make systemic changes to policing. But even with them, we will have major problems until we stop allowing cops to think that they are anything but paid workers who do not deserve our respect.

I’m open to respecting individual police officers — just as soon as one of them earns it.


Derek Chauvin Murdering George Floyd image used under Fair Use.

The GOP Bipartisan Hoax

Susan Collins
“Moderate” Republican Susan Collins doesn’t know what she wants but she knows it should be less than what the Democrats want.

There’s a big reason why the Democrats can’t do anything bipartisan at this point. And that’s because Republicans don’t have any ideas. We saw this most clearly with the rescue package. The big compromise offered by the 10 Republicans headed by Susan Collins was just: “What the Democrats want — but less.”

It’s what we’ve heard from them for years about wanting a smaller government. They don’t want smaller government for any reason. They want smaller government as an end in itself. And that makes no sense!

What is the right size of government? The size that allows it to do what we want it to do. Smaller government is just a talking point for Republicans. So if Republicans get together and come up with a compromise on infrastructure it will be the same thing. It will be about a quarter of the size that the Democrats want. And there will be no rhyme or reason for it.

If the Democrats want a hundred billion dollars for roads and bridges, the Republicans will want $50 billion. Why? Will there be a reason why we need less infrastructure spending? Of course not!

Branding!

It’s really more a branding exercise than anything else. Jonathan Chait cleverly pointed out how this worked with “moderate” Republican Olympia Snowe (who, you may recall, was even more “moderate” than Susan Collins) on her retirement:

When George W Bush proposed a huge, regressive tax cut in 2001, Snowe, sitting at the heart of a decisive block of centrists, used her leverage to support the passage of a modestly smaller and less regressive version. When Barack Obama proposed a large fiscal stimulus in 2009, Snowe (citing fears of deficits that she had helped create) decided to shave a nice round $100 billion off his figure and call it a day.

If a Gingrich administration proposed spending a trillion dollars to erect a 100-foot-tall solid-gold Winston Churchill statue on Mars, Snowe would no doubt decide, after careful deliberation, that the wise course was to trim the height down to 90 feet and perhaps use a cheaper bronze alloy in the base.

Let’s all stop believing that the Democrats have anyone to negotiate with. The most “reasonable” Republicans only have this to offer: “What the Democrats want — but less.”


Image of Susan Collins is in the public domain.

Marine Brand vs Marine Reality

When It Absolutely Positively Has to Be Destroyed

On my walks, there’s a house that has American, Army, Navy, and Marine flags displayed over its garage. They are out 24-hours per day in all weather. It’s a classic case of easy patriotism. Or to put it in a way that my conservative friends might understand: virtue signaling.

But what really struck me was the bumper sticker on their very big and very clean truck. (Read: it is not used for anything a truck is normally needed for.) The bumper sticker is shown above. It says, “United States Marine Corps: When It Absolutely Positively Has to Be Destroyed.”

The most obvious thing about this is that the bumper sticker is a mistake. The original read, “When It Absolutely Positively Has to Be Destroyed Overnight.” You know, like the old FedEx slogan, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”

Bullshit Branding

But the more important thing about the bumper sticker is how it shows the lie of Marine branding. Clearly, this bumper sticker does not come from the USMC. In fact, I’m sure that as an institution, they hate it.

All the branches of the military push a brand that they are just out in the world trying to help people. And they only kill and destroy when there is absolutely, positively no other option.

But the people who admire the Marine Corps (and this very much includes a lot if not most if not the vast majority of Marines themselves) love this stuff. And regardless what conservatives will tell you, it is also what they love about the Marines and all the other military outfits.

The idea is that they are badasses. They don’t go along with Clausewitz, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” They like war in the same way that a gorilla likes beating its chest.

I obviously have my own opinions about what our military should be used for. But everyone should be in favor of being honest about what they think the military is for. Secretly liking the military because it allows us to bully the rest of the world while claiming to only care about preserving peace? That is bullshit. Even Trump was more honest than that.

Never Forget “Crack Babies”

Sleeping Baby

People of my age well remember the freak out over crack babies. Crack users were having babies and they were supposedly destroyed for life. It turns out that it wasn’t true. Cocaine-using mothers gave birth to babies with low weights. That’s it. But I think we should always remember crack babies because the truth is we repeat this same error over and over again.

And it’s not a coincidence the things like this so often are associated with black people. Society at large loves things like crack because they provide a quick-fix for inequality. Dealing with America’s past and ongoing systemic racism is hard. Even worse, it’s something that all of us white folks will be required to change to facilitate.

It is super easy to assume that the problem is really black women doing cocaine. Then it’s a simple matter of passing some laws and paying more cops to lock them up. Then we’ll have equality! Or rather, we’ll have an excuse for doing nothing for a decade or two before we find out that we destroyed a bunch of lives for no reason and we’re faced with the same problems as ever.

Assume the Newest Outrage Is False

Whenever I hear of an outrage in the news I always remember the crack babies. I remember that at worst whatever people are hysterical about is a much smaller problem than is claimed. And it’s most likely not to be a problem at all. Admittedly, it does kind of suck being the person always throwing cold water on everyone’s dopamine highs.

As mythical as these outrages may be, they result in very real consequences. Today there are laws on the books all over the nation that allow the government to prosecute women if they don’t treat their pregnancies well enough. These were laws that came onto the books, at least in part, to fight the mythical problem of crack babies. Today, people mostly know there were no crack babies, but the laws remain.

Note how absurd this is. Although I think it is often overstated, fetal alcohol syndrome is an actual problem. But it was never associated specifically with blacks and so it didn’t result in mass hysteria. And it didn’t result in new laws penalizing women.

Scratch an outbreak of hysteria and you are more likely than not to uncover yet more systemic racism.


Image cropped from Sleeping Baby by Realt0n12 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Odds and Ends Vol 35

Odds and Ends

Sorry for being absent so much. The truth is that I’m just a lot more focused on horror films these days. I’ve started a Diary over at Psychotronic Review. It’s the one place on the site where I allow myself to vent. The idea of the site is to appreciate what is good in any given film. But it is true that I get annoyed from time to time.

A problem I’ve been having a lot recently is watching a good film that is at least lessened by a terrible ending or coda. For example, The House of the Devil is pretty good and then they add a coda that destroys a good ending and offends me by making explicit what was clear in the film. Ugh! But it’s still better than American politics…

Impeachment

I was shocked that 7 Republicans voted for impeachment. I wasn’t even certain that Mitt Romney would vote to convict. I’m pretty sure it all came down to the big news (which wasn’t new) that Trump talked to Kevin McCarthy during the Capitol siege and he was indifferent. He reportedly said, “I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”

Of particular note is Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) who said that he voted to convict Trump because he thought he was guilty. It’s a shockingly simple statement compared to the likes of McConnell who come up with procedural reasons to acquit. It’s always the same: if they want to vote a certain way, a politician can always come up with a plausible reason to justify it.

But the truth is that it doesn’t matter what individuals in the Republican Party do. The party itself is committed to Donald Trump because the base is committed to him because he provides the clearest expression of why they’ve been voting for Republicans all along: he hates the people they hate.

How I Would Vote

I would have voted to convict Trump for the same reason that Cassidy did. But I will admit that I don’t find the case that compelling that Trump incited an insurrection with his acts on that day.

Trump incited an insurrection for months — going back well before the election itself. The problem with this is that this means that the majority of Republican office-holders also incited an insurrection. And they did! But threading the needle and talking mostly about January 6th didn’t stop Republicans from seeing their own culpability.

GOP at the State Level

We’ve seen all kinds of censure announcements of Republicans from state-level organizations. This is nothing new, of course. The GOP has always been fanatical about purity in a way that can only exist when a party has a huge systemic advantage at the polls.

But it’s interesting that these censures have nothing to do with ideology. All those decades of the GOP dog-whistling to their authoritarian base has come home. It is no longer a political party. It’s now a cult of personality.

I wonder what happens if Trump dies.

Mitch McConnell — Impeachment Next Time

If this situation comes up again to impeach a Democratic president who is out of office, McConnell will make a 180° turn and vote to acquit. I know what his argument will be. He’ll say, “The Senate established that you can convict a president after he’s left office. Live by the sword, die by the sword.”

And the media will report it as though McConnell is making a good argument. Sure, people at The Nation will note that McConnell voted against conviction because he said it was unconstitutional even though the Senate voted that it wasn’t. (Not that it is up to the Senate.)

People claim McConnell is brilliant but that isn’t the case. It’s just that our media system is hopeless. In my dark moments, I think any system that can be so effectively manipulated by the likes of McConnell deserves to die.

Mitt Romney — Again

I paid over 18 percent of my income in federal taxes this year. It would have been over 20 percent except for a special COVID-19 tax credit. That’s on less than $27,000 in total income. I want to put that into perspective.

When he was running for president, Mitt Romney released his 2011 taxes. He paid 14.1 percent in federal taxes on his $13.7 million in income. I’ve always assumed (with good reason) that he paid more that year because he knew it would be public.

So he made over 500 times as much money as I did and paid a smaller percentage in taxes. This is the man who was complaining about poor people paying no federal income taxes. This is the man that the mainstream press holds up as a good Republican.

Fuck. Mitt. Romney.

Note: I don’t think there is anything wrong with my paying this amount of tax. And I do it happily because I am a patriot.

Jonathan Chait’s Lazy Apologetics

Jonathan Chait wrote an article defending Gina Carano’s firing. I’m sympathetic about this because I really don’t like to see people fired. I’m not keen on public shaming either, to be honest. But Jeet Heer pushed back on Chait’s argument in a way I very much agree with (I admire Ilhan Omar and the freak-outs about her are racist):

Check out the image on the right that shows one thing that Gina Carano tweeted. In a response to Heer, Chait wrote a whole article in response. And this is what he says of the image:

Is this image anti-Semitic? On the one hand, it suggests certain populist conspiratorial themes that are consistent with anti-Semitism. On the other, it lacks any identifiable Jewish features.

As regulars around here know, I’m not very good at recognizing people and I don’t know much about what’s going on in pop culture. But the most obvious figure in that image is George Soros. Chait is incapable of admitting error and this claim shows the lengths that he will go to avoid it.

Tonya Harding

Tonya Harding is the reason that I lost all respect for institutional figure skating. She made me see that it wasn’t really a sport. At her peak, she was probably the best figure skater in the world — certainly in the US. Yet she struggled because she wasn’t the right kind of person and body type for the sport.

I’ve always thought she got a raw deal. So I was thrilled to hear about a new podcast called You’re Wrong About. They look at past events and show that what people think they know is actually wrong. They did two shows about Harding (part 1, part 2).

I highly recommend the podcast. I’ve listened to a ton of episodes now on a lot of things (they get far afield of their stated mission). Check it out!

TTYL

I’ll talk to you later!

Odds and Ends Vol 34

Odds and Ends

I’m a bit scattered these days. Just when I was going to file for divorce, I was served with divorce papers from my wife. Good news, you might think. And in some ways, it is. But my wife is asking for $2,000 every other week in alimony. It’s ridiculous in the sense that, this is roughly what I make in a month before taxes. But also: we haven’t even seen each other in over a decade.

But the whole thing brought the phone calls and texts back. She’s screaming and threatening. So I blocked her number. Then she started emailing me. More threats. It’s very stressful. Anyway, on to the odds and ends.

Kathleen Parker

I saw a very annoying headline at The Washington Post last week, The GOP isn’t doomed. It’s dead. It was written by “moderate” conservative Kathleen Parker.

Every time the Republicans lose an election, establishment-types declare it dead or in need of reform. Instead, the party just moves further right and becomes more loony and they win control of Washington and a majority of states.

You would think that The Washington Post would hire political columnists who know at least a little political science. If they did, there wouldn’t be ridiculous articles like this. Because there are systemic qualities of the US (both planned and accidental) that allow Republicans to be far more conservative than the country itself.

But the reason I bring this up is because Parker wrote the following, “The party’s end was inevitable, foreshadowed in 2008 when little-boy Republican males, dazzled by the pretty, born-again, pro-life Alaska governor, thought Sarah Palin should be a heartbeat away from the presidency.” Oh, I see! This started all the way back in 2008!

Mitt Romney

Over the past four years, Mitt Romney has been allowed to rebrand himself as the sensible, truth-based, Republican. But that’s ridiculous! I was blogging full-time during the 2012 presidential election. I remember what a mendacious campaign he ran.

Michael Cohen (not that one) in The Guardian expressed it well:

Granted, presidential candidates are no strangers to disingenuous or overstated claims; it’s pretty much endemic to the business. But Romney is doing something very different and far more pernicious. Quite simply, the United States has never been witness to a presidential candidate, in modern American history, who lies as frequently, as flagrantly and as brazenly as Mitt Romney.

As you know, I don’t like PolitiFact. Like most fact-checkers, they work really hard to find “lies” from people on the left to balance out the abundance of actual lies on the right. But despite this, Romney has far more lies than Obama:

RatingRomneyObama
True14%20%
Mostly True16%27%
Half True28%26%
Mostly False16%11%
False15%11%
Pants on Fire9%1%

Happy Birthday, Ronald Reagan

And speaking of the mythical past, Ronald Reagan would be 110 years old today. Most things we’ve said about Trump over the last four years was said about Reagan. In particular, Reagan was a champion norm-buster. Like Trump, he didn’t know any better. And when he was told, he didn’t care.

In 1982, Rolling Stone noted, “Two years into [Reagan’s] presidency, federal regulations go unenforced, poor and middle-class incomes have decreased and social services were slashed.” The only thing that was different were the times. I don’t think Trump harmed the country any more than Reagan did. It was just that things were worse when Trump came in.

Some Leftists

But lest you think I am only going to be attacking conservatives today, there are some leftists who are really annoying me. Or maybe I should say “leftists,” because I’m not at all sure where these people are coming from.

There are a number of people in this small but vocal group, but I’m going to highlight Briahna Joy Gray. She has Opinions about the minimum wage!

There’s no doubt that the minimum wage should be higher. The Center for Economic and Policy Research calculated that if the minimum wage had been raised at the rate of productivity growth since 1968 (which is the rate it increased before then), it would now be $24.

But this is a political fight, not an economic analysis. If we can get a $15 minimum wage, that would be great. Then we can work on raising that. But Gray’s take is not helpful. It’s a way of telling the Democrats that they shouldn’t even work on winning over progressives because we will never be happy anyway.

Obamacare

I’ve seen this a lot with respect to Obamacare. People claim that it means nothing because millions still don’t have healthcare. Well, I’m one of the millions who do have it because of Obamacare. So it is something.

But this is relatively new. I don’t remember people on the left saying it was nothing at the time. What’s changed? Patreon, I think. There are a lot more people on the left who can make money online grandstanding like this. Clearly, Sam Seder and David Pakman fill the thoughtful niche. So people like Gray and Jimmy Dore are working the Howard Beale lane.

Rant On

And I get it. I feel like Beale a lot of the time too. But if you’ve watched the film, you know that Beale didn’t bring change. People just liked an excuse to get angry. And when Beale started preaching degeneration, people tuned out. People were only ever mad as hell. They were definitely going to continue to take it.

These leftists are not helping. They are actually harming the cause. It doesn’t look like we are going to get the $15 minimum wage after all. But with it or without it, Briahna Joy Gray’s position is the same: Democrats suck.

FOLE

Last weekend, I got a call to write an article (quickly) about what was going on with GameStop, Dogecoin, and other related stuff. You can check it out: GameStop, AMC & Dogecoin. The whole thing is just a pump-and-dump scheme. But I do think it matters who’s doing it. Millionaires sticking it to billionaires is good. My concern is that regular people get caught up in it.

I’ve felt rather good that the two things I said should go up early last year — silver and Ethereum — did. Of course, I didn’t invest in them. I’m not a speculator. “Fear of Missing Out” is also “Fear of Losing Everything.” Get it? “FOLE”? Pronounced “folly”? People should think more in terms of FOLE than FOMO.

It’s sad that we live in a society organized in this way. It isn’t a great way to allocate resources.

TTYL

I’ll talk to you later!

Treat the Flag Like Shit But Don’t Burn It!

American Flag

I find it curious that there are still people who think that burning the American flag is some terrible thing. A lot of people want to make it illegal. But could there be any form of speech that the First Amendment most clearly applies to?

If you think that the United States has betrayed its own ideals, what better way is there to say so than to burn the American flag?

When I was a kid, it was widely believed that if a flag fell on the ground, it had to be destroyed — by fire. Or maybe burying it. Certainly, you wouldn’t want to throw it in the trash. Regardless, this was the kind of thing that you supposedly did out of respect for the flag.

It turns out that most people say you do not have to destroy a flag that touches the ground. But it doesn’t matter. It shows that how one treats the flag is open to opinion. And it changes over time.

I know it’s shocking to many, but we all show our patriotism in our own ways. What I don’t like is people who get angry at others while they show a facile kind of patriotism themselves.

Flags in My Neighborhood

The neighborhood I walk each day features dozens of American flags flying outside houses. Almost all of these houses feature multiple trucks and badly managed lawns, so I know they are owned by conservatives. And not one of these flags is taken down at night or in bad weather. I know because I take walks in the early morning and at night.

I also know because many of these flags are badly worn. One is obviously fraying when viewed from across the street. And I’m sure that these people think themselves very patriotic. “Remember last year when I bought a flag and hung it up?!”

Facile Patriotism

This is very much like the yellow ribbons that I saw on cars during the George W Bush administration. It showed that you supported the troops! It’s set-it and forget-it patriotism.

This fetishization of the American flag is thus literal “virtue signaling.” It the kind of patriotism that signals that you are a Good Person as opposed to people like me who have a more nuanced but active patriotism.

And by and large, these flag-wavers are the people who are most offended by the burning of the American flag. In Shoe0nHead’s video, these free-speech champions were mostly all for laws against flag burning. The people who didn’t think it should be illegal were mostly military, who I would hope would also treat their flags well.[1]

I have little doubt that many of the insurgents on 6 January 2021 had well-worn flags outside their own houses. They don’t love America so much as “America.” Easily won patriotism is just as easily lost.

But I totally defend their right to treat their flags badly. I’m just not as accepting of the way they treat our country.


[1] It’s amazing how many people bring up the burning of the BLM flag without understanding the issue at all. It was stolen from a church and then burned. The issue was never that you can’t burn a BLM flag. Yet in their minds, there was some special law that protected BLM. It’s amazing! It’s like the old NRA bumper stickers, “I’m ignorant as fuck, and I vote!

Image via PxHear — it is in the public domain.

The Public Square Must Be Public

George Caleb Bingham - Stump Speaking

A lot of things people say are both true and wrong. A good example of this is the claim that the First Amendment only applies to government censorship. This is true. But are we also going to say that this is good? I don’t think so.

In a world where the commons is now owned by private companies, we need to expand upon the First Amendment. And we need to be broader when we talk about free speech.

None of this should be seen as a defense of Donald Trump or conservatives more generally. The major social media platforms have been doing nothing but helping the conservative movement. Just look at the top shared articles on Facebook in any given week. It’s always overwhelmingly conservative articles with a couple of mainstream news items and nothing leftist at all.

Just as with the War on Christmas, what conservatives think is fair is for there to be great limits on everyone else while they get special rights. But there are major (Real!) free speech issues with the private ownership of the public square that greatly harm leftists.

Who Controls Speech?

The biggest political story since Republicans stormed the Capitol is that Amazon kicked Parler off their servers. The power of Amazon in the web hosting business has been a huge problem for years. If you pulled the plug on AWS, the internet as we know it would be gone. They host everyone! This is the biggest problem with Amazon, not its retail sales.

Parler seems to be a toxic entity on the internet. I have no problem with them being shut down. In fact, I’m happy about it. However, I don’t think Amazon should be the one to make that decision.

Similarly, I don’t have a problem with Trump being kicked off Twitter. But this example is illustrative.

Had Trump been an ordinary person, he would have been banned from Twitter years ago. In fact, I think that had Trump been a Democratic politician with leftist ideas, he would have been banned from Twitter.

So the question is not, “Why was Trump banned?” It was, “Why did it take so long”? And I think we know the answer to that. It’s because Trump is good for the bottom line. Fuck any concerns about the public good.

The Obvious Solution

Some people think that the big social media companies should become utilities. But to my mind, utilities are just a bullshit way of allowing the private sector to make a profit on things that are effectively collectivized. I’ve certainly not seen it working well here in California with PG&E.

So I say we just collectivize all of these things. We democratize the process of algorithms instead of allowing our country to be destroyed just so Mark Zuckerberg can add a few dollars to his store of wealth.

Now some may wonder why I had to write an article about this. What I’m proposing is really simple after all. And that’s the thing. Nationalizing general social media companies is distinctly outside the Overton Window. And that’s bizarre because the status quo is to allow the public square to be completely controlled by a few very rich individuals who have very different incentives from what is best for the public.

The Public Square Must Be Public!

So it’s obvious that the public square should be public. Yet we don’t generally talk about this because we are so caught up in a paradigm of socialism vs capitalism. But the progression of capitalism over the years has been to make more and more public space private.

When people like Adam Smith and Thomas Paine were writing, the world was far more public than it is today. It was still possible to go and find farmable land that didn’t belong to anyone. Not so today. Try farming an unused piece of land somewhere near you and see how long it takes for the police to come and arrest you.[1]

This isn’t rocket science. It isn’t brain surgery. It’s something that a toddler could understand. The public square should be public.


[1] Note that so-called libertarians are in favor of everything being private property. It shows that libertarians don’t really care about liberty. They care about private property. This is why a world run by libertarians would be a dystopia.

Image cropped by Stump Speaking by George Caleb Bingham in the public domain.