Here’s something I’ve been thinking about: the harm conservatives do to themselves with their “all or nothing” approach and how Democrats need to stop allowing it.
Groups We Fear
I’m talking here about groups like the NRA. For a long time, Democrats were terrified of the NRA. But over time, the NRA became a Republican-only group. Since they would brook not even the smallest concession, only extremists went along with them — even if more reasonable politicians still feared them.
A good example of this is my Representative: Mike Thompson. I consider him ridiculously pro-gun. Yet the NRA gives him a C+ rating. So is it any wonder that the House Democrats have now passed a gun control bill? (Sponsored by Mike Thompson!)
We see the same thing with Israel. I think that Netanyahu will go down in history as the guy who screwed Israel by picking a side in US politics. Maybe this had to happen because Likud has become as extreme as the Republican Party. But to be so explicit about it was a bad tactical move.
I don’t think it is a surprise that the Democratic Party is now seeing a pushback to “Israel right or wrong.”
We Never Should Have Feared Them
Of course, it never mattered. For decades, Democrats did nothing on gun control and the NRA still vilified them and encouraged their members to almost always vote Republican. And most American Jews (Ben Shapiro — God’s elder brother — calls them JINOs) are more skeptical of Israel than the Democratic Party.
So we see two things. First, conservatives being unwilling to accept anything but complete capitulation. Second, we have had Democrats who capitulate in exchange for nothing.
De Rigueur Calls for “Realism”
The Democratic Party is slowly learning that it doesn’t need to get permission to stand-up to vile interests.
I hear a lot of people complaining that the younger, more aggressive, Democrats are being unrealistic. But it seems that it is the conventional wisdom that turning ever to the right would lead to power that was actually unrealistic. What exactly did we get from all Bill Clinton’s triangulation? Cries of “Socialism!” NAFTA and welfare “reform”? What did we get for electing Blue Dog Obama? Cries of “Socialism!” a near debt default and Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch?
The Democratic Party is slowly learning that it doesn’t need to get permission to stand-up to vile interests. It goes way beyond the NRA and Israel. Warren’s plan to break-up Facebook and others is a good start. But it doesn’t go nearly far enough; even still, many Democrats think it is outrageous because they have been living in a cave made out of money the last 25 years.
The Battle Is On
The battle is on for the soul of the Democratic Party. And may I never again see an article about how young Democrats need to be realistic. It’s funny how we never saw articles saying that the Tea Party had to be more realistic. And after Trump, what is “realistic” anyway?
 The stolen Gorsuch nomination doesn’t matter. There will still be articles about how the Democrats are misbehaving once they have the White House. The mainstream media all stood around twiddling their thumbs while McConnell stole a seat. But anything a Democrat does to correct that will get a loud and sustained, “Foul!” Sadly, the next Democratic president will likely be in the old mode and do nothing. When they go low, we bend down so they can better kick us in the face. But that is changing.
In my recent Odds and Ends Vol 24, I noted that I think the #NeverBernie brigade should be more respectful of Bernie Sanders because his millions of supporters are very much part of the Democratic Party’s coalition. Indeed, a big argument against Sanders in 2016 was that on policy issues, there was no difference between his voters and Hillary Clinton’s voters. The fact that this is now ignored is one of many aspects of what I’ve come to see as “Bernie Sanders just can’t win.”
Many people make a big deal of the fact that 12 percent of Sanders supporters voted for Donald Trump. I’m going to dig into this. But there is a bit of confusion on the matter. When this number comes up, I am sometimes also told that many Republicans voted for him in open primaries. That certainly means that Sanders actual support was less than is indicated by this vote total.
Personally, I just don’t think there are that many Republicans who voted for him. Sanders got over 13 million votes. It is absurd to think that even one million of those votes were from Republicans. But even granting that, it’s only 8 percent.
More importantly, if a lot of Sanders voters were really Republicans, that means that a much smaller number of actual Sanders supporters voted for Trump — more like 4 percent. But as I said: this is nonsense. To a first approximation, we can assume that all the people who voted for Sanders actually supported him. And that means that roughly 12 percent of them voted for Trump over Clinton.
Now 12 percent sounds like a lot. But it actually isn’t. Sure, in a ridiculous race like 2016, just a few votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania could have turned the election. But I don’t think we can blame Sanders voters generally.
As political scientist John Sides points out in an article in The Washington Post, far fewer Sanders voters voted for Trump in 2016 than Clinton voters voted for John McCain in 2008. Did you get that? Let me repeat: far more Clinton voters in 2008 refused to vote for Obama than Sanders voters in 2016 refused to vote for Clinton.
How many more? According to polls, 24-25 percent of Clinton voters in 2008 refused to vote for Obama. So double. That’s pretty amazing.
Conservative Sanders Voters
But let’s return to the “Republicans voted for Sanders” idea. Sides presents some evidence that even if Sanders supporters weren’t Republicians, there were a number of conservatives in his coalition. It makes sense. There were people who would simply never vote for Hillary Clinton. So in the primary, they voted for Sanders.
For example, only 35 percent of the Sanders-Trump voters voted for Obama in 2012. Compare this to 95% for Sanders-Clinton voters.
What are we to make of this? I think it is clear. There was a small but important fraction of Sanders support that came from people who were conservatives and so just didn’t like Clinton. Some were Republicans and independents, but mostly they were simply conservative Democrats. They were never going to vote for Clinton, and had Sanders won the primary, most of them wouldn’t have voted for him in the general election. Most important: the vast majority of Sanders supporters will support whoever the Democrats nominate.
Just the fact that so many Clinton supporters went for McCain in 2008 should be enough to put a halt to all the #NeverBernie nonsense. But there is another, much more troublesome, way of looking at it. It could be that roughly a quarter of the Democratic Party (its more conservative members primarily) simply don’t support the party if it nominates someone considered too liberal. Or just “not who I want.”
Note that for all the screaming about Bernie Sanders not being loyal to the Democratic Party, he has been. He campaigned often and well for Hillary Clinton. He’s told his supporters not to harass his opponents. And he has said that he will support whoever the Democratic nominee is.
Not that I think any of this will matter. For a lot of Democrats, Sanders is simply “the bad child.” Everything that is bad will be taken as confirmation that Sanders is horrible and everything that is good (in as much as it is acknowledged at all) will be taken as an exception.
What if Sanders Became President?
This brings up something very concerning. I believe that if Sanders became president, he would get the same kind of support that Labour has shown Jeremy Corbyn. Most of the party will provide him with lukewarm support while a notable fraction will actively undermine him. And then he’ll be accused of alienating the party.
The truth of the matter is that there are liberals who would rather see Trump get another term than allow Sanders to become president. And God knows, they have their reasons. We all have our reasons, even if they will look pretty weak as we watch Trump start his sixth year in office.
The truth is that I would have liked it if Sanders had formally joined the Democratic Party in 2016 and stayed in. I find his claims to independence and socialism annoying. But I don’t think it would have mattered. There is just a set of people who will always hate him just as there is a set of people who will always hate Hillary Clinton.
I’m not looking forward to this upcoming election. And if Democrats don’t watch out, we’ll have a repeat of 2016 — one way or another. And I can’t even feel good about the obvious hypocrisy of many in the Democratic Party. They’ve already shown who they are.
But there’s time to realize what I’ve been saying for years: there are two alternatives in the coming election. And that’s it. I noted in 2016 that people who thought there was no difference between Clinton and Trump were delusional. And in 2020, people who can’t choose between Sanders and Trump are equally delusional.
And if Sanders Loses?
On the other side, pretending that Sanders is some kind of villain probably will cause him to lose. But at what cost? One idiotic #NeverBernie person tweeted:
How many Dems support Bernie as opposed to socialists, Russians, bots and nutjobs? We won in 2018 without Bernie.#NeverBernie
We know how many Dems support Sanders: millions. We also know that if the vast majority of Sanders supporters hadn’t supported Clinton in the general election, she would have lost profoundly.
But this tweet shows that in this particular echo chamber, people just “know” that Sanders supporters don’t matter. But they do.
In their scorched-Earth approach to Sanders, the #NeverBernie brigade threaten the entire Democratic Party. No one needs to like Sanders if they don’t want to. But it would be really helpful to the party if they didn’t act so stupidly.
So let me say it: all Bernie Sanders supporters are critically important. And they are welcome by the vast majority of party members. That’s because the vast majority of them are party members. I don’t remember all this fuss when the Democratic Party marched to the right for three decades.
There are lots of things on my mind these days. In fact, two of the sections below were going to be full articles. (It shouldn’t be hard to figure out which ones.)
But as serious as some of these issues are, three of them also come with a lot of humor. Humor seems more and more the only way to process political events — especially with Republicans constantly gaslighting us.
Ilhan Omar and her Pro-Israel, Anti-Jewish Detractors
Is the Democratic Party going to normalize dual-loyalty accusations as part of the Israel debate — not directed against Jews per se but against American Zionists?
Note that Omar never said anything about dual-loyalty, but let’s leave that aside. What’s interesting here is that it is no longer about antisemitism; it’s now about anti-Zionism.
Chait himself has said that he’s getting soft on support of Israel because of the behavior of its hard-right government. Somehow, that’s okay but Omar’s beliefs are not. (This is typical of Chait: anyone to the left of him is an extremist.) That in itself is interesting.
But his comments destroy an important myth among the chattering class: that they make any distinction between being against Jews and being against Israel. This is something that Chait shares with many on the right, although those on the right are generally pro-Israel and anti-Jewish. The charge of antisemitism is just a club wielded to attack anyone who isn’t a booster for Israel. And this tactic only makes real antisemitism worse.
Facts Don’t Care About Ben Shapiro’s Feelings
I have a visceral hatred of Ben Shapiro that goes well beyond his vile beliefs. Mostly, it is that he is the ultimate snowflake while being completely intolerant of others’ vulnerabilities. In order for him to admit racism against, say, blacks, Shapiro requires overwhelming evidence over years. But when it comes to himself, one needs only give him the wrong look to start him screaming, “Antisemitism!”
There’s nothing new about this. What’s annoying about Shapiro is what’s annoying about conservatives generally. We see this with the constant complaining about “political correctness.” Student’s not wanting bigots speaking at their school? Political correctness! Outrage at sports figures kneeling during the national anthem? Simple patriotism — in fact, there should be a law against that!
Ben Shapiro’s comments about Ilhan Omar show what a snowflake he is. And I would accept it if he would show one-tenth of the concern for different oppressed groups. This meme shows what’s going on.
Brad DeLong Embraces the Left — Kinda
In a Zack Beauchamp interview with neoliberal economist Brad DeLong, he says that it is time for the old guard of the Democratic Party to allow the younger, most leftist, members lead. It’s gotten a lot of coverage. But most people miss what he’s actually saying.
He’s not saying that the New Democrats (and don’t kid yourself — they are still powerful within the party) should roll over to the left. Rather, he’s saying that there is no point in even trying to work with the Republicans. In fact, he said one thing that warmed my soul:
Barack Obama rolls into office with Mitt Romney’s health care policy, with John McCain’s climate policy, with Bill Clinton’s tax policy, and George HW Bush’s foreign policy. And did George HW Bush, did Mitt Romney, did John McCain say a single good word about anything Barack Obama ever did over the course of eight solid years? No, they fucking did not.
Of course they didn’t! As John Dean explained over a decade ago, the Republican Party is authoritarian. They aren’t not against the Democrat because of their policy; they are against the Democrats because they aren’t Republicans.
So all DeLong is saying is that neoliberals should form a coalition with leftists. And in a sense, this is radical because there are a lot of Democrats who have looked at the way many in the Labour Party have sabotaged Jeremy Corbyn and thought, “Good idea!” So DeLong’s awakening is a good thing.
Speaking of Democrats who would rather Republicans win than elect someone too far to the left:
Now I understand: some in the Democratic Party have what seem to them to be substantive criticisms of Sanders. I’m not going to litigate that here, but my experience is that the anti-Sanders hysteria is the result of online echo chambers. People can believe whatever they want about Sanders.
When I came upon #NeverBernie on Twitter, I responded as modestly as I could:
I was afraid of this. Best case scenario is that Sanders doesn't win the primary. Even then, this alienates Dems who support Sanders. I just want Trump out of office. And I don't want to again write something like this about any part of the Dem coalition:https://t.co/57lP9hnkpx
Overall, the response was positive. But I did get an interesting response, “And are you telling the Bernie people that too??” I have, of course. And she would have known that if she had simply read the headline of my article.
My point is not about Bernie Sanders, per se. My point is that there are a lot of Democrats who support Bernie Sanders. These are people who overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election. (And note: Sanders supporters appear to have abandoned Clinton less often than Clinton supporters abandoned Obama.)
So is it really a good idea for the Democratic Party to vilify dependable Democrats who just happen to like Bernie Sanders?
Obviously, I don’t think so. These #NeverBernie people are doing exactly what they themselves (rightly) complained about Sanders supporters doing in 2016.
This skit isn’t nearly so funny now:
Brazil’s New President
Back on 25 Feb 2019, Brazilian actor José de Abreu announced that he was the president of Brazil. He is making fun of both Brazilian president Bolsonaro and Venezuelan opposition leader and — according to hypocritical and evil countries like the US — the “real” president, Juan Guaidó.
Right after this announcement, someone changed the Wikipedia entry for Brazil’s president to “disputed.” This is great because that’s what Wikipedia did the moment that the US decided that it could say who controls the Venezuelan government.
The thing is, Abreu has a stronger claim than Guaidó — at least when it comes to the validity of the current presidents. It is often reported that Maduro’s election was invalid because the opposition didn’t run. But it didn’t run because it chose to boycott the election. Maduro didn’t stop it from voting. And there is every indication that it could have won.
Bolsonaro, on the other hand, only won because Lula da Silva was wrongly imprisoned and then forbidden from running. Polls indicate that he would have won in a landslide.
Of course, the US won’t take Abreu seriously for the same reason they don’t care about the imprisonment of da Silva: they aren’t the right kind of leader — the kind that gives away all its resources to corporations.
Fact-Checking Trump’s State of the Union Address
This is from last year, but it’s very funny and insightful. If only our regular media outlets were this good.
Not another song post! Sorry. It just turned out that way.
My favorite Peter Gabriel song is “Solsbury Hill.” There have been other songs of his that I’ve liked more, but “Solsbury Hill” is the song that continues to engage me.
Part of this is just the lyrics. Despite being very “literate,” I don’t usually pay attention to lyrics. It’s only after a long time that I can get past the much more profoundly moving music to note them.
But in the case of “Solsbury Hill,” the lyrics are so clear and musically connected that I followed them from the start. What’s more, the refrain says it all:
“Hey!” he said. “Grab your things, I’ve come to take you home!”
There is obvious religious subtext here. But it’s deeper than that. Acceptance is a great thing. Recently, I became accepting of losing my biggest client. I knew if it happened, it was going to be painful. But my relief in accepting it was so profound that the future looked easy. And my client is still around. Things are going well.
That’s a relatively trivial example, of course. And acceptance isn’t always a good thing. For example, a sudden improvement in the mood of a depressed person can be an indication that they have decided to kill themselves. In general, I think that’s a bad thing. But it isn’t always. And we all should work on accepting death.
I bring up the song now, however, because it has an interesting rhythm.
It’s said to be in 7/4 time with a bit of 4/4 at the end of the chorus. What this means is that it has the same 7-beat patterns over and over with a 4-beat pattern during the refrain.
But this is not quite true.
The song alternates 3/4 and 4/4. Yes, 3 + 4 = 7. But consider Pink Floyd’s “Money”:
It’s in 7/4 time. It is built on that irresistible 7-beat bass line. You can divide it into 3-beat and 4-beat sections. And although the 4-beat section would work on its own, the 3-beat section would not. It really only works as a 7-beat line.
“Solsbury Hill” is very clearly a three-beat section and then a four-beat section.
Notice both the repeated guitar and synth/flute phrase: they are three beats and then four. In the case of the synth/flute, it is 3 beats and then a whole note.
This is key to what make the song work. This switching causes the listener to yearn for some kind of resolution. There is a feeling that things aren’t quite right. And then, on the refrain, it resolves with two measures of 4/4. And it is done with the same lyrics that define the song:
“Hey!” he said. “Grab your things, I’ve come to take you home!”
Why It Works
This is an exquisite musical orgasm. But it is brief. Almost as soon as it happens, we are dragged back to that nagging 7/4 section.
I think this is key to why I continue to yearn for this song. It’s about acceptance both lyrically and musically. It’s about resolving conflict. And it doesn’t just show it; it takes us through an actual journey of acceptance and resolution.
“The First Cut Is the Deepest” was a huge hit song for Rod Stewart in 1977. It reached #21 on the US charts but stayed at #1 for four weeks in the UK. But even if you haven’t heard that one, you must have heard some version of it. Singers love it. I’m pretty sure every pub band knows it.
But there’s something interesting about the song. It was brilliantly written by Cat Stevens (Steven Demetre Georgiou, Yusuf Islam) back in 1965. Yet I have yet to find a version that I really like.
Before Stevens could release a version of the song, it was recorded by PP Arnold. In 1964, she became a background singer and dancer for the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. She was just 18 years old — already with two children. Two years later, she quit the band and went solo. She was in the UK at the time and her career has been focused there.
The following year, she released the first version of “The First Cut Is the Deepest.” Supposedly, she paid Stevens £30 for the song, but I doubt that means anything other than the right to record it first. Stevens would still get royalties.
The version is good. Arnold has a great voice. But the production leaves me cold. It’s produced by Mike Hurst who goes full Phil Spector Wall of Sound in the chorus. That’s especially true with the background vocals, that destroy the strength of Arnold’s voice.
That same year, reggae singer Norma Fraser released a version. Bob Marley asked her to join her band, but she remained solo even though she recorded with him, Peter Tosh, and just about everyone else in the reggae scene. She was part of the Studio One stable, which pretty much says it all.
Her version of “The First Cut Is the Deepest” is fine. But I’ve never found reggae to be able to milk all the emotion from a song. And that’s what I’m looking for in the song. It appears to be what most producers are looking for too — hence the common over-production of the song.
This is a simple version and, frankly, one of my favorites.
Cat Stevens didn’t manage to get the song out until the end of 1967 on his second album, New Masters. Like Arnold’s recording, this version is produced by Mike Hurst. And it’s better. the chorus isn’t overwhelming (although I could do without the strings, which become unbearable toward the end). The lead guitar is also annoying. And Cat Stevens just doesn’t have a very compelling voice at this point in his career.
Still, it’s listenable.
On Love Affair’s debut album, The Everlasting Love Affair, they recorded “The First Cut Is the Deepest.” It features a horn section in the chorus. I rather like it. It’s no wonder it didn’t become a hit. (Love Affair released a very good version of “Everlasting Love.”)
The song has been recorded too many times to mention. But the next notable version was by Keith Hampshire in 1973. (It was recorded in 1971.) That was three years after Stevens conquered the world with Tea for the Tillerman. I love Hampshire’s voice, but I hate this version. It was produced by Bill Misener but is Phil Spector all the way. It’s worse than “The Long and Winding Road” — pretty much the gold standard in over-produced, sentimental trash.
I suppose it triumphs a bit just because of Hampshire’s voice. But even if Spector wasn’t a murderer, he belongs in jail.
This version has the advantage of being recorded in 1976 (released in 1977). This is after the British invasion and everyone trying to sound like Phil Spector. It’s still the time of the singer-songwriter, so the production of this song gets that treatment. So it’s not as annoying as most of the 1960s versions.
Just the same, it’s pretty anemic. Despite the swelling string section, the chorus always feels like a letdown. But Stewart was always chasing the current top-40 sound, so it isn’t surprising that this version of the song doesn’t hold up.
I wasn’t aware of this version of the song. Papa Dee is a Swedish musician — kind of soul with some rap although he does straight reggae too. He’s really good. He doesn’t do the song quite the way I would prefer, but it works better than any other version I’ve heard.
Sheryl Crow released a cover of “The First Cut Is the Deepest” because of course she did. It is a solidly inoffensive cover of the song. It’s basically just an update of the Rod Stewart version with predictable results (mega-hit). I don’t find it compelling. And really, Crow’s affected voice has not worn well.
Maybe It’s the Song
Maybe I’m wrong to think that “The First Cut Is the Deepest” is a great song. After all, some of the best musicians of the last 50 years have recorded it without my liking it. And I’ve heard tons of other versions and they are all derived from one of the above.
I see two problems with all the versions of the song. First is that with a line as great as “the first cut is the deepest,” I think it should have an edge. The second is that the chorus should attack. Most all the versions are too “nice” and they depend upon the production to make the chorus work.
Now I wonder if it isn’t that I just love that line. It deserves a more appropriate song, I’m afraid — Maybe written by Dee Dee Ramone or Iggy Pop or Nick Cave.
When talking politics, I seem forever to be told that my egalitarian ideas just don’t work. This usually takes a simple form. “Socialist can’t work because ‘Stalin’!” But then I dig down into people’s thinking. It is all the same: humans naturally depend upon incentives. If people can’t become rich they won’t work. This kind of argument shows just how much mainstream economics has poisoned our society. There is nothing “natural” about modern society.
Çatalhöyük represents a stable and successful egalitarian system. So why don’t capitalists engage with it as an example of socialism?
Look at the history of humans. Through most of our time on Earth, we have lived in extremely egalitarian communities. Paleolithic cultures (small nomadic groups) had very little hierarchy — especially regarding gender. It was only during the Neolithic (when humans lived in non-nomadic settlements) that hierarchy began to rise. At first, this seems to have been the result of increased fertility. Women spent more time pregnant. But specialization meant that a religious class could rise up. This ultimately destroyed the traditional egalitarian and democratic basis of earlier societies.
But there is at least one Neolithic city that remained egalitarian. And it did so for roughly 1,800 years. Çatalhöyük. It was founded 9,500 years ago in southern Turkey. At its peak, it had a population of 10,000 people. It’s remarkable for a number of reasons. As I’ve discussed before, the people developed farming after the city was settled. This is the opposite of what archaeologists had long thought was always the way Neolithic cities came into being.
Economic Egalitarianism at Çatalhöyük
What’s most notable about Çatalhöyük, however, is the absence of “great houses” — temples and so on. This isn’t because they lacked religion. The houses are littered with religious objects. And different houses have different levels of religious iconography. But the people who had higher levels of religious status did not have higher levels of economic status.
This is remarkable. It’s almost as though the people of Çatalhöyük thought that all people should have the necessities of life. Their people didn’t have to hunt around the garbage heaps to find food. Indeed, there were no poor people.
Ian Hodder is the current head of excavations at Çatalhöyük. In the following half-hour video, he provides an overview of what we know about the city:
I’m not saying that Çatalhöyük was some kind of utopia. But it is an example of people forming what seems very much like an anarcho-communism system. And they didn’t find it necessary to allow their most productive members of society to live in large houses inside fences. Somehow, everyone managed to get by without roaming police to incentivized economic policy.
Stalin vs Capitalism
Recreated Çatalhöyük Home
One thing most Americans forget about the Soviet Union is that it started in an economic hole. Russia was a very poor country. Under Stalin, the people became richer at a faster rate than Americans did. I’m not saying this justifies the brutality of Stalin. But why do we focus on it when apologists justify capitalism in the same terms? “Yes, millions starve each year because of capitalism, but it is justified because of all the poor people who get pulled out of poverty!”
If the justification for capitalism is that it “works” then there is nothing to criticize Stalin about, right? I personally have a problem with both. But capitalists pretty much never engage with the problems of the system. And when they do, they simply brush away all the deaths associated with it. In these arguments, capitalism never fails. When there is a failure, it is because capitalism isn’t being done right. The fact that capitalism has never been “done right” is not engaged with.
Çatalhöyük as Socialism Example
Çatalhöyük represents a stable and successful egalitarian system. So why don’t capitalists engage with it as an example of socialism? I think it is the same reason they always rush to Stalinism: they don’t know of any other socialist system. The entire basis of their critique of socialism is based on Cold War propaganda.
But if these people did defend against the troubling example of Çatalhöyük, I know roughly the lines of their argument. They would say that this is just one city and the model would not scale up to the world. But that begs the question. Humans have invaded all parts of the world — creating untold environmental damage — because of capitalism. Do we really need 7+ billion people on this planet?
Çatalhöyük was not some isolated city. It traded far and wide. It was a major exporter of pottery.
But I still don’t see how this model does not scale up. It’s not like Çatalhöyük was some isolated city. It traded far and wide. It was a major exporter of pottery.
“Ha!” I hear the capitalists say. “It was involved in trade so it wasn’t socialism!” I am constantly shocked at how ignorant people who defend capitalism are. Markets are not a thing that capitalism created. Capitalism is simply a system in which people can own infrastructure and thus make money for doing nothing. (It doesn’t speak well of the defenders of capitalism that they are economically ignorant about the very systems they defend and attack.)
An Example Nonetheless
But Çatalhöyük is a good example of socialism regardless of any holes that can be poked in it. That is because it shows that there is nothing natural about the social Darwinian model of human behavior. Humans live good lives without being incentivized by huge profits.
Today, we assume that people won’t work unless they are constantly under threat of living on the streets. This is what Paul Ryan was getting at when he said, “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into complacency and dependence.” Why did he think this? It isn’t based on evidence. It is just something everyone “knows” in modern America.
Çatalhöyük proves this is not true. The fact that we have trained generations of humans to live awful, meaningless, competitive lives doesn’t make it natural. And it also provides hope. We can untrain people. We can allow them to see the truth. Humans are social animals. We take care of each other. We don’t need the promise of millions of dollars to go to work.
Rutger Bregman is the Dutch writer who recently went to Davos and created a stir by telling the rich assholes, “Just stop talking about philanthropy and start talking about taxes.” This matters because as of what Anand Giridharadas has been talking about: the rich see themselves as problem solvers. It is just that they can’t imagine proposing solutions that might cost them any money.
This got even more attention when Tucker Carlson interviewed Bregman for his show, only to freak out when Bregman noted (among other things that Carson’s concern for the poor was only quite new and that he had “jumped the bandwagon.” He said, “You’re like, ‘Oh, I’m against the globalist elite, blah blah blah.’ It’s not very convincing, to be honest.”
What Bregman talks about is research that demonstrates that people aren’t poor because they are stupid; they are stupid because they are poor. One of the studies is shocking. Researchers look at farmers who get paid once a year at harvest. As a result, they are relatively rich for half the year and relatively poor the other half. So they were given IQ tests before and after harvest. And there was an average 14 point increase during the rich time over the poor time. Fourteen points!
The Marshmallow Test
“For a child accustomed to stolen possessions and broken promises, the only guaranteed treats are the ones you have already swallowed.”
The elite of this nation love Walter Mischel’s marshmallow studies because it supposedly proves what they want to believe. It supposedly tests how long children can forgo a pleasure (one marshmallow) for a better pleasure (two marshmallows). Children that can wait for the second marshmallow did better in school. QED, am I right?!
The problem is, this trivializes Mischel’s work. For one thing, Mischel found that ten years later, there was no difference between the children in terms of their self-restraint. But it turns out, Mischel wasn’t even testing self-restraint (“grit”) but the ability of children to find their own self-distraction strategies.
The most fascinating follow-up test primed the children by disappointing half of them with a similar test. “Sorry kid, but I can’t give you want I promised.” When the children were then given the marshmallow test. The half who weren’t previously disappointed waited (on average) 12 minutes; the disappointed kids waited 3 minutes.
The implication to poverty is obvious, as the study’s authors pointed out, “For a child accustomed to stolen possessions and broken promises, the only guaranteed treats are the ones you have already swallowed.”
Double Punishing the Poor
What’s especially awful about the elite’s position on this is that in addition to letting the poor suffer, we blame them for that suffering. (At the same time, in addition to letting the rich live in ridiculous luxury, we tell them it is because they are so great.) And that’s wrong.
After his speech, the TED audience gave Rutger Bregman a standing ovation. But I have no doubt that after a month, all those elites had totally forgotten about it and returned to normal: assuming the poor are poor because they just aren’t good enough.
But even if not, the Davos crowd showed what’s really going on. It’s one thing to say that the poor shouldn’t be poor. It’s quite another thing to say that the rich need to foot the bill. The first claim is airy and might mean that the middle class needs to pay for the solution. The second claim leaves no doubt.
And Bregman didn’t even give them an out. He said that philanthropy was not nearly good enough. They needed to do something that wouldn’t give them glowing articles in The New York Times. They need to accept that they don’t deserve their riches. Above all, they need to accept that they need to pay much more in taxes — not because they are good people but because it is the law.
Bregman is in favor of a Universal Basic Income (UBI). I have a bit of a problem with it. It’s fine the way that he thinks of it. The problem is that tons of conservatives have been attracted to the UBI. Why? Because they see it as a way to get rid of the safety net. So they are fine with giving everyone $10,000 per year but at the cost of education, healthcare, and everything else.
So be careful when you talk to people about the UBI. A lot of them are not proposing it in good faith. It’s a great idea. But when Rutger Bregman and Martin Friedman agree on a policy, it is certainly because they are talking about different things.
 I disagree with Giridharadas in that he seems to think they are good people who just don’t see their own blind-spots. That’s clearly not true; their blind-spots allow them to think of themselves as good. And they clearly aren’t. You work out if their convenient blind-spots are natural or manufactured.
The situation in Venezuela is really bad. It’s hard to know what’s going on. But the western media has always been extremely biased against it since Chávez took over. So I find it hard to believe all the anti-government news articles. And the truth is, the coverage just doesn’t pass the smell test. Is the Maduro government so bad that there is nothing good to say about it? Is Guaidó so great that there is nothing bad to report about him? I don’t think so.
Get beyond the mainstream western media, and you will find that there is quite a lot bad about Juan Guaidó. I’ve been hearing that he is really a leftist. Yet he is very keen to open the Venezuelan oil reserves to American companies. So I think we know what happens if the west gets its way and Maduro is deposed. It’s the same thing that happens whenever a left-wing government is squeezed to death by the US. Suddenly it is foreign money for the rich and death squads for the poor.
Western media are a propaganda mill for US policy in Venezuela. This is especially evident in the way that violence is reported. It doesn’t matter if you watch Fox News or MSNBC. Based on it, you would think that the Maduro government is out killing peaceful protestors who are all aligned against the government. In fact, people still largely support the government. And most of the violence is being committed by the opposition. (Admittedly, the people are slowly turning on the government because things are very bad — mostly because of US sanctions.)
Why Won’t Maduro Let Aid Through?!
The coverage of the USAID trucks coming through Colombia has been particularly appalling. Everyone knows this is just a stunt designed to make the Maduro government look bad. If the US cared at all about the Venezuelan people, it wouldn’t have just increased sanctions.
The only explanation for this is that the US thinks that getting rid of Maduro is so important to the Venezuelan people that short-term suffering is justified. But if that’s the case, you can say the same thing about the Venezuela government more easily. After all, it is not Maduro who is intentionally harming his people. It is the Trump administration and the Obama administration before it.
The Aid Fire
Now, western media is reporting — without evidence — that the USAID was burned by the Venezuela national guard firing teargas. Additionally, anti-Venezuela politicians are using it to call for Maduro to step down. This includes my own disappointing senator Dianne Feinstein.
Max Blumenthal has been reporting from Venezuela. According to him, this is nonsense. He noted that no one had seen the national guard set this fire. Instead, it all comes from an anti-Venezuela media group known for making stuff up. He presented proof that the fire was set by violent opposition youth. There is even video of an opposition supporter throwing what looks like an incendiary device.
More on Venezula
Check out Max Blumenthal’s twitter feed. It is filled with great information. Also, the CEPR’s Americas Blog is must-reading. Go over to their home page, because there is often stuff there.
Finally, check out this great video for an overview of what’s going on in Venezuela:
I’ve noticed that Vox has finally stopped calling Maduro a “dictator” and is now calling him President. That’s good, but my opinion of Vox really went down as a result of this. One can make the argument that Maduro is illegitimate. But you have to make that argument and it is still open to debate. Regardless, he is no dictator. But this is a good example of just how bad media coverage of Venezuela is in the west.
The image of Nicolás Maduro taken from the Russian Kremlin. It is in the public domain.
Germany has been one of the most annoying countries over the past decade. It dominates the EU. And when countries like Greece and Spain got into economic trouble after the 2008 crash, you could count on German leaders to hector them. If they had just been more like Germany then everything would be fine! Well, right now, Germany’s economy has stagnated and is looking to go into recession.
By being “more like Germany” it was meant that these countries should run budget and trade surpluses. There were a few problems with this.
Everyone wants economics to be a morality play. Everybody wants it to be a tale of sin and excess and then the punishment for sin –Paul Krugman
First, Germany was pushing Greece and other struggling economies to balance their budgets at the worst possible time. When a country already has an under-performing economy, cutting back on government spending will only cause the economy to shrink. Germany (and many other Very Serious types) called for expansionary austerity. This is the idea that by cutting back on government spending, the economy would grow. This idea may work in extremely rare cases, but it never worked during this crisis.
This is just a minor change on supply-side economics. The idea is that if businesses see the government “getting its house in order” they will have confidence and start spending. Anyone who has ever run a business knows this is nonsense. Business people look at what the demand is in the economy. It’s very simple: will people buy their products and services?
Now business people can be twisted by propaganda like anyone else. So we get a constant diet of business people claiming that they are most concerned about government debt. But polls from that time showed again and again that what they really worried about was the lack of demand.
In the wake of the 2008 crisis, Germany saw its exports go up: from 1995 to today, Germany’s economy went from exports of 15 percent to almost 50 percent. This was a time when, as the best economy in the EU, Germany should have been importing more. But no. Germany had to show everyone how it was done!
Of course, it is ridiculous to ask other economies to export more. Every country can’t run a trade surplus. And the way things normally work is that weaker economies import from stronger economies. During the crisis, the strongest economy was hurting the weaker economies and claiming that doing so was moral.
(It’s also interesting that the whole world made out that Greece was horrible from having borrowed too much money. Yet very rarely did anyone note that it was German bankers were at least as much to blame for loaning money to a bad credit risk. But somehow it’s easier to criticize the poor and weak than the rich and powerful.)
Economics Is Not a Morality Play
As Paul Krugman said back in 2013, “Everyone wants economics to be a morality play. Everybody wants it to be a tale of sin and excess and then the punishment for sin.”
Thinking of the economy in these terms has been the single most important impediment to getting the world economy back on track. No less than President Obama said that the government had to “live within its means.” Even if that is sometimes true, it certainly wasn’t in 2011.
And now Germany, so proud of its economic morality play, is experiencing a bad economy despite being so “good.” Its good economy was because Germany had the best economy going into the crisis and so were able to prey upon the weaker economies of the EU.
Sadly, I doubt that the German elites will learn anything from this. Like elites everywhere, they will find a rationalization for why they were right all along. But the facts are clear.
Image taken from Wikipedia. It is in the public domain.
Last week, Colin Kaepernick and the NFL agreed to a deal over Kaepernick’s lawsuit about the league’s conspiracy to not hire him. For those who do not know, he is the former San Francisco 49er quarterback who nealed during the national anthem to protest racist policing policy toward blacks in the United States. Regardless of what happened, this was a great example of what a myth “freedom” is to those on the right.
Before I get to that, I want to note a few things. While I’m happy for Kaepernick, I am sad about the situation. I would have rather seen the NFL be dragged through the mud on this. But had that happened, the result would almost certainly have been that the NFL won the case. This is because the standard for proving conspiracy is ridiculously high. And even with all the bad publicity, the NFL would surely have used the court win to clean up any damage that had been done to their reputation.
According to libertarian dogma, only the government can oppress you. Only the government can put you in a cage, they say. Yet this is a delusional belief if you look at how society actually functions. People do not have a choice to not work. And since employers enjoy a monopsony, people don’t get to choose who they work for. And they certainly don’t have the right they did 10,000 years ago to go out and hunt and gather.
So the idea that Colin Kaepernick didn’t have his rights infringed upon is just nonsense. But don’t get me wrong: I understand that the NFL owners saw this as simply an economic issue. They were afraid that there would be fewer fans watching games if such a divisive person played. But that doesn’t mean they were right. As Les Carpenter noted, the NFL continues to rake in money.
Don’t Let Markets Dictate Morality
Colin Kaepernick was not free. And he was not free because of the “free market.”
The question is: should it matter? In this country, we just assume that if the market pushes in a certain direction, that is the direction we should go. But the truth is: there is quite a good demand for whites-only restaurants. Forget the ridiculous libertarian apologetics that “racism is bad for business.” There are plenty of people who are proud of their racism. Just look who’s president!
Should it matter that a good economic decision means making a bad moral decision? I think it should. It means that we are taxing morality. We are saying, “Standing up for what you believe in will cost you your livelihood.” Rather than be guided by what the market dictates (as though it were our god) we should fix the economy where it encourages immortality.
Colin Kaepernick was not free. And he was not free because of the “free market.” He isn’t alone. Most of us have to work jobs we aren’t keen on. We’d rather have actual freedom to do what we want. And I’m certain if that happened, we’d have a society that is just as rich and far less exploitative as the one we now have.
You don’t have to agree with me, of course. But the least we can do is stop pretending that the capitalist system provides us with real freedom. It just provides us with an unaccountable system of control. And I do not accept theoretical “freedom” as a replacement for actual freedom.
Colin Kaepernick Is a Hero
There are some who claim that Colin Kaepernick is not a hero because he doesn’t vote. Let me just say that democracy is not the same as voting. Plenty of countries have voting without democracy. Kaepernick did far more for the cause of democracy than I will with my lifetime of voting. Police mistreatment of blacks, voter disenfranchisement, and Donald Trump are all part of the same thing. I have faith that things will get better and Colin Kaepernick is a big part of that process. Thank you Colin Kaepernick!
Valentine’s Day is an old holiday but that doesn’t make its modern incarnation any more profound. It is now just a coercive exercise in gift giving. And the business community has really stepped up. Everything is more expensive and every place is more crowded. Valentine’s Day is, above all, a pain for all of us who are not interested in celebrating it.
But I understand the argument in favor of it. “While Valentine’s Day may have the philosophical depth of the greeting cards people buy in its honor, it’s great for the economy!” I used to go along with this reasoning for all holidays. But in the modern world, I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
Dictated gift-giving usually represents the purchasing of garbage. Most people know the experience of getting useless gifts on Christmas. That’s even more true of Valentine’s Day except that the expectations are more rigid. But that only means that people know they will get things they don’t want ahead of time.
Among the people who involve themselves in Valentine’s Day, there just isn’t much need. By and large, people have what they want — at least that’s true of the people who find themselves going to expensive restaurants today. Valentine’s Day is the second busiest day of the year at restaurants — only Mother’s Day is busier.
Capitalism and Forced Consumption
This is a problem with capitalism. It doesn’t matter how much people consume, the nature of capitalism is to always push people to consume more. There is no end. People are never sated because consuming does not fulfill any need.
And we are well past the point where we should know that our consuming habits are hurting us. Whether it is global warming or global trash, capitalism does us no favor in pushing us to consume in the name of profits for people who don’t need them.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against gift giving and restaurant going. Indeed, there are few things as wonderful as coming upon some little item and thinking, “My friend would love that!” I had that experience once with the complete New Yorker on disc for a friend of mine who loved the magazine. Delighting the people you love is great.
But these opportunities are rare and never come about in the brief period of time you are looking to fulfill some obligation for Valentine’s Day or Christmas. And so people get boring or awful gifts.
What people really want is some acknowledgment of their importance in our lives. And a quick trip to the store doesn’t really indicate that.
I remember a scene in The Four Seasons (1981) where Carol Burnett complains that Alan Alda doesn’t bring her flowers when she’s feeling down. He responds that he does bring her flowers. But she says he only does it when it makes him feel better — it is never done for her.
What We Get for Valentine’s Day
I suppose that some people take events like Valentine’s Day as a reminder to show their love. But in the vast majority of cases, people participate to avoid pain. They know that they are supposed to celebrate it, so they do. Even if their romantic partners don’t care about it, they look bad to others.
Romantic love is a myth anyway. It’s just infatuation and it dies quickly. So Valentine’s Day perpetuates a childish myth.
And what do we get in return? Overcrowded restaurants with harried servers and subpar food. Unwanted candy, flowers, and jewelry for her; unwanted candy, wallets, and aftershave for him. Environmental degradation. And disappointment all around.
According to Katy Tur at NBC, Trump’s El Paso rally wasn’t very local. “The majority of people that she’s seen walking in … were not from El Paso. They were driving from hours away.” I think that’s interesting because it seems that this has always been the case.
There were two rallies in El Paso last night. One was Trump’s rally in the El Paso County Coliseum. Beto O’Rourke, Veronica Escobar, and others held a counter-event outside near the Bowie High School. Always classy, Trump had to boast about his supposedly bigger crowd, “We have say 35,000 people tonight, and he has, say, 200 people, 300 people.”
As usual with almost every sentence Trump utters, it is completely wrong. First, he said “10,000 people” earlier during his speech. But even worse, the El Paso County Coliseum only holds 6,500. Trump told his crowd that he got special permission from the fire department to squeeze 10,000 people in the stadium. The fire public information officer, Enrique D Aguilar, said that wasn’t true. “It might be 10,000 with the people outside,” he said.
Meanwhile, the anti-Trump event drew 10,000 to 15,000 people according to the El Paso police. But it hardly matters because Trump only ever preaches to the choir. And they will always believe whatever he says. And even without him, they’d be online right now claiming that there were a quarter million at the rally. (Trust me: I know!)
Trump’s Bloated Rallies
But I’m struck with the fact that people came to see Trump from many miles away. Of course, it isn’t surprising. As much as the media has made out that Trump supporters are people struggling in this economy, that’s just not true.
My experience is that the typical Trump supporter is a guy with one of the last remaining good union jobs who is pissed off because people don’t think it’s okay to pinch waitresses. But the data bears me out. According to FiveThirtyEight, the median income of Trump supporters is $72,000. And Psychology Todaypresents a profile of angry authoritarian bigots who think they are being screwed even though they aren’t in any absolute sense.
Given that these people have lots of money, they have the ability to drive a hundred miles to see their prophet. And they always have!
This means that Trump’s events have always presented him as more popular than he really is. Note, in this case, I’m not talking about Trump paying people to support him as he did for his campaign announcement. These are actual supporters.
Trump’s Intense Support
And even if there are not a lot of Trump fans who follow him from event to event, the people at his events seem to indicate the depth of his support, not its breadth. And we already know that. Trump isn’t like a normal politician; he’s like a cult leader. And he has exactly the kind of supporters you would think.
Ultimately, this is bad for Trump unless he can get non-supporters to not vote. As I said, Trump is only interested in pleasing his base. And in doing that, he slowly loses more and more of his non-hard core supporters.
But don’t let the intensity of Trump’s support blind you do the fact that it is a mile deep but not very wide. His events are like magic tricks for the media. And Trump doesn’t even care because these events are only to make him feel good. It’s indicative of our dysfunctional media environment that these events are even covered.
Thousands of sycophants drive up to hundreds of miles to see Trump? Now that’s a dog bites man story!
Image cropped from one at WhiteHouse.gov. Should be in the public domain but might be licensed under CC BY 3.0. Image of Beto O’Rourke is in the public domain.