Google analytics

Monday, December 5, 2016

Reality, truth, & facts, versus the Republican will to power

by John MacBeath Watkins

Some on the right seem to regard reality as a mere inconvenience. Recently, Trump supporter and CNN commentator Scottie Nell Hughes went so far as to assert that "There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts."

It would be interesting to know when there ceased to be facts. Was it during George W. Bush's first term, when an administration official (almost certainly Karl Rove) claimed that "we create or own reality?" Certainly Republicans had a history long before that of acting as if facts were irrelevant. They've continued to assert that lowering taxes increases tax revenue long after that was shown to be untrue.

Now, there is a philosophical position that "truth" is impossible. In The Will To Power, Friedrich Nietzsche asserted as much:
Against [empiricism], which halts at [observable] phenomena—‘There are only facts’—I would say, no, facts is precisely what there is not, only interpretations. We cannot establish any fact ‘in itself’: perhaps it is folly to want to do such a thing. 
‘Everything is subjective [for example, a figment of your reasoning mind],’ you say; but even this is interpretation. The ‘subject’ is not something given, it is something added and invented … [Is] it necessary to posit an interpreter behind the interpretation? … 
In so far as the word ‘knowledge’ has any meaning, the world is … interpretable, otherwise it has no meaning behind it, but countless meanings—‘Perspectivism’. 
It is our needs that interpret the world; our drives … Every drive is a kind of list to rule; each one has its perspective that it would like to compel all the other drives to accept as a norm.
Nor is this rather malleable notion of the truth new to the right. As I've noted before, German fascism did not consider even science to be capable of objective truth:
Each nation had a science natural to them, they maintained, and any science that claimed to be universal was "Jewish" and false. The "science" of racial hygiene was far more acceptable.
I believe the source of the error here is a failure to understand the relationship between reality, facts, and truth.

Truth is a species of belief. It is a word we use to describe that which we believe without question. Reality is what is there whether we believe it or not. As I write this, it is winter, and the thermometer in the room I currently occupy reads 63 degrees Fahrenheit. That is a simple, observable fact. I know that the thermometer in question is not the most precise, but I can report what it says without fear that my interpretation has contaminated the reading, and I can be certain that it accords to a reasonable degree with reality.

Now, lest you think I've taken the statement from Hughes out of context, or that I'm being pedantic about "facts," here is her statement in context. As a call-in guest on the Diane Rheme show, she was asked what she thought about some fact-checking that showed much of what Donald Trump tweets is lies.
“On one hand, I hear half the media saying that these are lies. But on the other half, there are many people that go ‘No it’s true,’" Hughes said. "And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people who say ‘facts are facts,’— they’re not really facts." 
“Everybody has a way—It’s kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not true. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts,” she added.
I think here we see the basic problem between those of us in what Rove termed the "reality-based community" and those in the conservative bubble. We think there are facts -- observable, objective representations of reality -- while Hughes and her ilk think there is only opinion.

Given the definition of "truth" I've given above, it should be clear that I think it is possible for people to maintain that something is "true" -- that they believe it without question -- while not being in accord with the facts -- objective representations of reality. Hughes seems to mean that if people claiming a thing is true actually believe that, and are not lying, that's as good as having a belief that aligns with observable reality.

Those of us in the reality-based community tend to think people saying this are in effect claiming their ignorance is as good as actual knowledge. In fact, they think their ignorance is better if it wins.

That is a very Nietzschean notion of truth (well, rather cruder than Nietzsche.) Donald Trump himself, asked if his dishonest and heated rhetoric during the campaign had gone to far, replied in this same mode:
"No. I won," he said.
This is perhaps the clearest statement yet of how conservatives have come to regard claims made in the political sphere. In Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea, Irving Kristol wrote of supply-side economics,  "I was not certain of its economic merits but quickly saw its political possibilities."

The political possibilities involved being able to lower taxes on the rich while claiming they were neither cutting programs for those less fortunate nor exploding the deficit. The fact that supply-side economics never worked was a feature, not a bug. It allowed conservatives to argue that the deficit they had created was too large, and we needed to cut programs like Social Security.

Neoconservatives have long believed themselves a sort of intellectual vanguard, who have no merely the option, but the obligation, to mislead people in order to lead them.

Paul Krugman is fond of saying that "reality has a well-known liberal bias." But why is that? Perhaps it's because conservatives and liberals have a very different relationship with reality and truth.

Conservatives are all about conserving traditional values, beliefs, and power structures. Their truth is already established, through long-standing tradition. Liberals are trying to discover the world and human nature, and discover the best way for people to interact with the world. Liberalism is a child of the Enlightenment, conservatism has been with us as long as culture has.

We see this in their relationship with the press, as well. Starting with Nixon, the conservative take on the press has been that the important thing is, are they with us or against us? Prior to the advent of Fox News, when reality conflicted with traditional values, beliefs, and power structures, the press would present facts, which might establish that the truth was not what we had believed before. This is very annoying to people who know the truth without reference to the facts.

This became particularly noisome from the conservative point of view when they were reporting on the civil rights movement or the Vietnam War. Fox News found an opportunity here, providing "news" that did not conflict with traditional values, beliefs, and power structures; if the facts were a problem, they ignored them or changed them.

When Donald Trump claimed he would "Make America Great Again," he was not talking about greatness in the sense of some objectively quantifiable fact. He was promising to restore -- wait for that phrase again -- traditional values, beliefs, and power structures.

No, he can't bring back the jobs lost in the West Virginia coal mines, and perhaps the West Virginians who voted for him don't really expect him to. In fact, they may not expect him to change objective facts in their lives at all. What he represents to them is the will to power for the formation of a different kind of truth, about traditional sex roles, about the power structure that existed in that lost world of the 1950s.

As L.P. Hartley wrote, "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." The world has changed too much for us to return to a time when being white and male and willing to work made the world your oyster, or any other mollusk you chose. It's no accident that the 2016 election took place against the backdrop of a controversy over transgender bathroom use and white backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement. Nor is it an accident that the champion of tradition did badly among the young.

Those who can adjust to reality are doing so. For the rest, truth is known from tradition, and reality is an inconvenience.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

On being a blue monster

by John MacBeath Watkins

Among the autopsies of the recent election, the largest group blamed the result on people who didn't vote for Donald Judas Trump: Liberals.

Apparently, if you live in a city near salt water (and not in the Southeast) you are part of a blue bubble whose occupants, through their smug condescension, "created" Trump. Politico outlines the process (dare I say it, with smug condescension) in this article.

The prism of history changes the meaning of events, and nothing could show this more clearly than the Politico article. It begins:
Well before Donald Trump declared he was running—to the amusement of the liberal media and Washington establishment, who didn’t stop laughing until Nov. 8—and long before Hillary Clinton dismissed half of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables,” the right had gotten used to being looked down upon by liberals. The general attitude of the left was: Disagree with us? You’re probably racist, xenophobic, sexist, bigoted or all of the above. Indeed, for many liberal Americans, these prejudices have come to be seen as inseparable from identity of the Republican Party itself.
Now, perhaps Politico has a different view of David Duke and other "alt-right" characters, but I think they are deplorable. And while the right seems never to pay a price for stereotyping their opponents, liberals never seem to stop apologizing when they do it.

So, by hurting the feelings of "real Americans," the headline on the story tells us, "the left created Trump.".

What kind of monster would create Donald Trump? Apparently, a blue monster, one who lives in an area where Trump got few votes. The New York Times went so far as to quote from a 1998 book that supported the the blue-blaming theme. That book, Richard Rorty’s Achieving Our Country, published in 1998, said the following:
Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers — themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else. 
At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. …
I've known postmodern professors.  They did not call the shots, and most taught as adjunct faculty, the temp workers of the academic world. As we move on to whatever is post- postmodernist, they will become ciphers even more than they are now. Smug bureaucrats? Rorty wrote that description in a book published only three years after a right-wing nut killed 168 people by setting off a truck-sized bomb outside the Oklahoma City Federal Building. It was a bit of a clanger to have written, at about the time the jury was sentencing Timothy McVeigh to death for the bombing, that the real problem was smug bureaucrats.

I know exactly why I hadn't heard of Rorty's book before. It came out claiming there was an economic crisis at one of the few times in recent decades when we had full employment and real wages were rising, in those sunny days near the end of the Clinton Administration. It was only the application of the right's favored formula for economic success, banking deregulation and tax cuts that favored the rich, that things got worse, bringing on the worst recession since the Great Depression, and the election of our first African-American president. After eight years of liberal policy, unemployment got down to below 5%, and real wages started to rise again. So, obviously, they needed to get someone to push the old snake oil again.

But the problem isn't that the right sometimes does something wrong. It's always the fault of the left, for having made them do something wrong. How dare they connect the Republican party to racists, just because the Republican Party nominee for president was re-tweeting stuff from white supremacists on a regular basis?

And how could the left think conservatives were in any way connected to racism? Was it just because the Republican Party pursued a Southern strategy, going after the voters and politicians who felt their racism was better accepted in the Republican Party after Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act?

After all, conservatives did what the left would not. They made people feel comfortable and accepted for their attitudes about race and gender preference. The party has been doing that since about 1964, when Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater, who opposed the Civil Rights Act.

And Trump won by doing what the Republican Party has been doing for more than 50 years. He made it feel okay to be racist, and fight against being oppressed by smug postmodernists who we all know wield much more power in our society than people like the Koch brothers.

Did Republicans "have" to do this? Well, if they'd managed to nominate a more normal candidate, along the lines of Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, they'd have likely been well ahead in the polls as the election resulted. It's quite normal when a party has held the presidency for eight years for them to lose it.

Allan Lichtman, whose model had correctly predicted the winner of the popular vote for president from its invention prior to the 1984 election through the 2012 election, faced a model that said Donald Trump would win in 2016. This time, he hedged his bets.

Why did Lichtman, who teaches history at American University in Washington, D.C., feel a need to hedge?

His model is based on 13 key facts, and he figures if six of the keys are met, the party in power will lose. One of those keys was whether people were sufficiently disenchanted with the major parties that someone else would get 5%. While the polls prior to the election showed Libertarian Gary Johnson getting more than 5%, Lichtman recognized that this could flip. And, Lichtman told the Washington Post:
The second qualification is Donald Trump. We have never seen someone who is broadly regarded as a history-shattering, precedent-making, dangerous candidate who could change the patterns of history that have prevailed since the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.
Those keys are linked, because of the possibility that many people would see Trump as too dangerous to take a chance on and vote for Clinton rather than cast a protest vote.

As it happened, it looks like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein together will finish with less than 5% of the vote. Therefore, the model would say that Hillary Clinton would win the popular vote, as she did. But to predict the election, Lichtman would have had to make that assumption before the election, which he does not seem to have done.

But in the end, Trump has been elected, and we'll have to live with that, whether we are the sort of blue monsters that hurt the feelings of the people who voted for him or the sort of people who actually voted for him. His administration has the potential to change the patterns of history that have defined our country for more than 150 years, and it's easy to see why, for example, a publication like Politico might want to shift the blame from their own failure to vet Trump the candidate.














Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Non-representative democracy for an undemocratic republic

by John MacBeath Watkins

From Vox:

More Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. More Americans voted for Democratic Senate candidates than for Republican Senate candidates. And while we don’t have final numbers yet, it looks likely that more Americans will have voted for House Democrats than for House Republicans.

The senate was designed this way, giving two senators to every state, whether they represent the 582,658 people of Wyoming, or the 38,332,521 people of California. Each senator represents 291,329 people in Wyoming and 19,166,260.5 in California. This means that in the senate, Wyoming voters are 65.8 times as powerful as California voters in any decision made by the senate.

The remedy designed for this is that the House of Representatives is allocated by population, with each state having at least one House member. Therefore, Wyoming's one House member represents 582,658 people, and each of California's 53 House members represent 723,255 people.

Notice I say people, not voters. When the constitution was written, some slave states had more slaves than free men. This remained the case up to the end of the Civil War: South Carolina, the first state to secede, had a total population of 703,708 and a slave population of 402,406 in the 1860 census. The compromise that helped bring the slave states into the union allowed them to count slaves as 3/5 of a person for purposes of determining how many congressmen they were allocated, and electoral college members as well.

There are 538 members of the electoral college, one for each House member, one for each senator, and three for Washington, D.C., since the 23rd Amendment passed in 1961. This means that each of the 55 electors from California represent 696,955 people, while Wyoming's 3 electors each represents 194,219 people. In electing a president, Wyoming's voters are roughly 3.6 times as powerful as California voters.

And since this power structure is based on population, not votes cast, during the Jim Crow years, states paid no penalty for preventing African Americans from voting. Nor do states in the present day pay any penalty for suppressing the votes of African Americans and Hispanics.

The result of all this is that a party that gets a minority of votes can elect the president and gain majorities in the senate and house. The problem is made worse by gerrymandering. After the election of our first African American president in 2008, Republicans were looking at a demographic death spiral as the country became more diverse and more urban.

Their response was a concerted effort to make America less democratic. They recognized that the backlash against the election of a black president gave them an opportunity, and outspent Democrats 3-1 on an all-out effort to capture enough state legislatures and governorship to control a large part of the redistricting that was done based on the 2010 census, as Pro Publica detailed here. The results have been extraordinarily successful.

Republican now control the senate, the House of Representatives, the presidency, and the power to appoint judges who will favor them. They also control most state legislatures and governorships. They have the power to change the rules of the game so that they can prevent those who would vote against them from voting.

The question that remains is, how long can a minority party successfully rule a republic where a majority of the citizens don't agree with their program?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The unpatriotic right keeps cooperating with foreign powers

by John MacBeath Watkins

Donald Trump tried to make himself seem patriotic by literally groping an American flag. But his victory owed something to the Russian hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

And having dealt with some Trump trolls on the internet, I can tell you, there are many on the right who have no problem with this Russian intervention in an American election. As long as it helped their guy beat Hillary Clinton, they are fine with a foreign power trying to tip an American election.

This isn't the first indication we've had that many Republican care more about gaining power than about their country. There was Richard Nixon's campaign, which contacted the South Vietnamese government to tell them that Nixon could get them better terms than Johnson if they would scuttle the peace talks, at a time when Nixon was claiming he had a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam war.

From Politico:

Did Richard Nixon’s campaign conspire to scuttle the Vietnam War peace talks on the eve of the 1968 election to capture him the presidency? 
Absolutely, says Tom Charles Huston, the author of a comprehensive, still-secret report he prepared as a White House aide to Nixon. In one of 10 oral histories conducted by the National Archives and opened last week, Huston says “there is no question” that Nixon campaign aides sent a message to the South Vietnamese government, promising better terms if it obstructed the talks, and helped Nixon get elected.
Delaying the peace treaty until the end of the war was close enough to benefit Nixon in his re-election campaign turned out to be the secret plan, but the lives lost as the war ground on were incidental to the larger cause of getting and keeping Nixon in office.

Gary Sick, a Middle East specialist, wrote a 1991 book called October Surprise that claimed Ronald Reagan's campaign contacted Iran to delay the release of the hostages taken when the American Embassy was attacked in 1979. I would discount that, except that the Reagan Administration later illegally sold arms to Iran (in the Iran-Contra scandal) in part, apparently, to get the release of seven hostages held by Iranian allies in Lebanon.

And, of course, we have the example of the last eight years, when Republicans did all they could to ensure President Barack Obama would fail, hindering efforts to help the country recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression. Republicans who helped pass a stimulus bill for President George W. Bush in 2008 balked at approving a stimulus bill in 2009, when the country was in much worse shape, because it would be a success for President Obama. Suddenly, they felt that the appropriate response to a recession was austerity.

They even shut down the government in 2013 in an effort to defund the Affordable Care act, also known as Obamacare. After Republicans won majorities in both the house and senate in the 2010 election, Mitch McConnell, who would soon be the Senate Majority Leader, said "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

More important than the good of the country was Republican dominance of the national government.

And now, it's not just harm to American citizens they will countenance. It is the assistance of a foreign power.

Republics can be vulnerable to foreign intervention in their politics. One reason the Polish-Lithuanian Empire fell was that its legislative body, the Sjem, could be subverted by foreign powers. One feature of the Sjem was the liberum veto, which said that any one legislator could nullify legislation that had just passed and end the session by showing "I do not allow!"

Foreign powers soon discovered that they could bribe legislators to use their liberum veto to nullify anything the foreign power did not like. Rather than eliminate the liberum veto, Poland kept it and was overrun by its enemies.

With modern republics, the opportunity comes more in the electoral process. From the Daily Beast:
For nearly a decade, Russia has established ties with far-right parties in Eastern Europe, including Hungary’s Jobbik, Bulgaria’s anti-EU Attack movement, and Slovakia’s far-right People’s party. 
The Eastern European far-right parties have returned the love, whether by supporting the 2008 Russian war against Georgia or by vocalizing support for Putin, as the Bulgarian Attack party has. In 2012, Attack’s leader, Volen Siderov, even popped over to Moscow to ring in Putin’s 60th birthday. Siderov also threatened to withdraw his party’s support from the coalition government if it supported further sanctions against Russia, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. 
However, in recent years Russian influence has been moving west. In a 2014 report, the Budapest-based research institute Political Capital argued that Russia’s meddling in political affairs of the European far right has become a “phenomenon seen all over Europe.”
And now, we're seeing it here. The American right used to see Russia as the enemy, but since it made its transition from communism to fascism, the far right seems willing to embrace the Russian bear. They seem to care less about being American than about what Vladimir Putin represents -- a white strongman running his nation without regard to what minorities want.









Saturday, November 12, 2016

The rise of illiberal democracy

by John MacBeath Watkins

Francis Fukuyama, in his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, said that:
What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.
He failed to anticipate the resiliency of authoritarianism. They still hold elections in Zimbabw, Russia, and Iran, but not just anyone is allowed to run and not just anyone is allowed to publish opinions about who people should vote for.

Elections, the press, and the judiciary are subjugated to a strong leader or oligarchy. Russia, for example, now has a record of not just silencing its critics, but of killing them, even if they live abroad. People like Vladimir Putin, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, or Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe may think they need the trappings of democracy to have legitimacy as a government, but they do not tolerate its substance.

One of the marks of such regimes is that they silence the press or find ways to bend it to their will. A tactic often used is to set people against each other, Mugabe, for example, instigated genocide against the Ndebele people, killing about 20,000 people. Claiming there was an internal threat enabled him to consolidate one-party rule.

An internal threat can be used to silence critics, as Turkey's Recep Erdogan is doing in Turkey, detaining lawmakers from the opposition party based on claims that they were associated with Kurdish militarists and arresting the editor and about a dozen journalists from a left-of-center newspaper which had embarrassed him. He claimed the newspaper had ties to a cleric living in exile in the United States, who is supposed to have been the inspiration for a failed coup attempt.

It has long bothered me that some on the far right seem to regard the constitution as a rough draft, constantly wanting to change it to comply with their agenda on issues like same-sex marriage and the balanced budget (legislators could, of course, simply pass balanced budgets if that's what they want.) Would-be strongmen take this approach as well, for example when Erdogan decided the Turkish constitution needed to give the Turkish president more power, or when Chavez, at the peak of his popularity, held a referendum to revise Venezuela's constitution to give him more power.

The problem is, when you vote in someone who does not really believe in democracy, it's hard to get rid of him (and it usually is a "him.") When the same party controls both the legislature and the executive branch, and allows only its own picks to get on the courts, only the leader's own party can control a drift to authoritarianism. And, if they are getting their agenda passed by the strongman, why would they?

Only a strong commitment to democratic principles on the part of all powerful parties in a system can stem the authoritarian drift. The question for our nation is, do we have that?



Thursday, November 10, 2016

Globalization and its discontents

by John MacBeath Watkins

One of the villains of the conspiracy buffs is the Bilderberg Group, a bunch of influential people who meet together to discuss an agenda to "bolster a consensus around free market Western capitalism and its interests around the globe."

Denis Healey, one of the group's founders, said of it, "Those of us in Bilderberg felt we couldn't go on forever fighting one another for nothing and killing people and rendering millions homeless. So we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing."

Now, that sounds reasonable, doesn't it? So why are they villains? I mean, aside from the fact they ignore, which is that only people who interact with each other fight (World War I happened at a peak in international trade and travel, so the notion that you can achieve world peace through trade and internationalism is suspect to start with.)

Well, a lot of people are not comfortable with the idea of a single community throughout the entire world. It would, after all, make existing groups obsolete. For example, if you are British, and consider Britishness inexorably linked to being white and speaking English with a certain range of accents, you might be uncomfortable with the open borders policy of the European Union, and vote to exit it.

Or, if you are American and consider whiteness and Christianity to be essential to Americanism, you might be uncomfortable with Muslims, or with allowing people from Latin America to immigrate.

There are other issues, of course. You may oppose free trade because you see too much of what you buy being made in other countries. You may oppose immigration because you think your wages are suppressed by competing with immigrants for jobs.

But the biggest problem might just be that you feel your identity is threatened, what it means to be a part of your tribe. I've described this before as ethnic panic, a psychological reaction similar to homosexual panic, in which someone snaps because a homosexual makes an advance to them and they respond violently because they are faced with their own suppressed homosexual desires.

As in homosexual panic, the person suffering from ethnic panic is faced with an identity they are uncomfortable with, for example, an identity in which you can be American, gay, brown, and Muslim. The more America looks like the world, the more the identity of American as being white and Christian is lost.

I say good riddance to it, but then, I lived abroad as a child, and have a different relationship to identity than many Americans.

Now, consider this idea in the context of Sigmund Freud's Civilization and its Discontents. Freud argued that there is a natural tension between the individual and civilization.

He said that the development of the ego in differentiating one's self from the world around us, toward an erotic interaction with the world in which we seek to maximize the pleasure principle, doing that which nature intended by doing what feels good, puts us in conflict with society. This is because we must suppress our desires in order to have a stable, working society. We cannot, for example, have sex with whomever we please, because it might not please them (or their mate.)

We sublimate our desires because we have a need for order and protection. Infants, after all, need the father's protection as much as the mother's nurturing, in the Freudian scheme of things.

Compare this to liberal theory: Humanity in the state of nature is free, but cannot exercise freedom because of all those other assholes trying to exercise their freedom on the food you wish to eat and the mate you wish to take. The only way to resolve this is with a social contract that reigns in the individual so that they may have freedom from the war of each against all, and to enforce that social contract, they need the leviathan, who has the power to enforce laws.

In short, Freud's theory is liberalism plus psychology, which gives us a way to look at the issue of identity within civilizations.

Most of the progress in civilization has consisted of a broadening definition of who belongs to our group. To a hunter-gatherer from 10,000 years ago, the notion that there could be 325 million people in the world would have been unimaginable, let along there being 325 million people in a tribe called "American." Rome became immensely powerful in its day in part because you didn't have to be from the seven hills of Rome to be a Roman citizen. Allowing those who joined them to become Roman soon meant that Rome had more people and larger armies than their enemies.

But progress can leave people feeling dislocated. Foreigners joining the tribe can make people wonder what defines the tribe. And if the new members are very different, people can suffer from unease. They can feel that the tribe is changing, and their own definition of the identity "American" (or, for that matter, Iraqi) is being left behind. Even well short of a violent reaction to ethnic panic, they may suffer a discontent with the changing face of their nation.

Of course, there are other aspects of the current discontent in our nation. Part of the reaction to immigrants is connected with the fact that white men in this country haven't seen real wages rise in real terms since about 1973. And those who have actually been getting the money -- the very rich -- have managed to avert a rebellion against themselves by blaming the "other" -- all those people who do not meet the definition of what it means to be American that so many people have in their minds.

The real reason real wages haven't risen has more to do with something I've written about before, the political movement to create inequality. The grievance is real, and seeing manufacturing go to other countries enforces the idea that globalism is the problem, but solving the problem of more and more money going to the people at the top of the income stream does not necessarily mean getting rid of globalization, and getting rid of it won't solve the problem of inequality. Getting real wages to rise is a separate question.

Both the economic grievance and the discontent over the changing identity of the nation are real problems, not just excuses for bigotry, as some liberals suppose. Granted, bigots may find common cause with people suffering from this discontent and grievance.

The line between discontent and prejudice can be hard to define. If you think you need to keep African Americans from voting to defend your identity, for example, you've crossed that line. My feeling is that both bigots and economic elites have been exploiting people with real problems to advance their agendas.

They still await real solutions.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

They want you cynical and passive

by John MacBeath Watkins

Well, you can't say he didn't warn us. Donald Trump said this election was rigged, and he unexpectedly won it, so this begs the question, how did he and his party rig it?

Paul Krugman has published his own list of how the election was rigged in Trump's favor. He blamed voter suppression aimed a minority voters, Russian hackers transmitting stolen emails through Wikileaks, the FBI statements about Clinton's emails, news media's obsession with those emails, partisan media that spewed lies, and mainstream media that refused to report on policy.

What it all comes down to is this: The moneyed class who finance the Republican Party wants those who oppose them cynical, passive, and disenfranchised. They aim to disparage any leader their opposition might find to make them seem even worse than the sad parade of characters the Republican Party puts up. They've spent a generation investigating and demonizing the Clintons, never finding any criminal behavior, but subjecting them to a death of a thousand cuts, spreading the perception that there was some real wrongdoing because Republicans had made so many accusations.

How many Clinton supporters have justified their support only after first saying that she was a flawed candidate? And the real flaw was that so many accusations, never finding any wrongdoing, were leveled at her over the years.

Give him credit, Donald Trump was able to energize his base and get some low-propensity voters to the polls. But the big story is that Clinton's voters did not turn out in big enough numbers in the right places for her to win. It appears she will win the popular vote -- the 5th time in the last six elections Democrats have taken the popular vote -- but those voters were inefficiently located, so that she did not garner enough electoral college votes.

I don't think anyone thought Clinton had the charisma of President Obama, but she was running against a cartoonishly evil man who did his best to offend a wide variety of voters.

Yes, Trump energized his base, but there was more to it than that. His party has spent decades trying to make voters cynical and passive, so that they could be manipulated.

And it's working.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Dylan's Nobel Prize and the nature of poetry

by John MacBeath Watkins

I'm glad to hear that Bob Dylan is happy to accept the Nobel Prize for literature. This is a major stick in the eye for the American poetry establishment, which it seem to me has destroyed poetry as a popular medium.

Dylan's lyrics were sometimes allusive, sometimes bitter, sometimes funny, but always aimed at a wide audience.

He revolutionized folk lyrics with Subterranean Homesick Blues.

Johnny's in the basementMixing up the medicineI'm on the pavementThinking about the governmentThe man in the trench coatBadge out, laid offSays he's got a bad coughWants to get it paid offLook out kidIt's somethin' you didGod knows whenBut you're doing it againYou better duck down the alleywayLookin' for a new friendThe man in the coonskin cap, in the big penWants eleven dollar bills but you only got ten

Motorpsycho Nightmare was excellent light verse, and All Along the Watchtower is strange and mysterious, a song that ends as if it were beginning:

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl 
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

Those lyrics are old, from the 1960s, but Dylan has continued to work, striving to fulfill the role of the balladeer.

It's easy to forget that poetry was once a popular medium, not the cloistered, academic artifice that it had become by the time Dylan came on the scene. Casey at the Bat first ran in a newspaper. Can you imagine a newspaper running such a poem today?

Lyric poetry was all about performance. It was a way of making literature that could be memorized and repeated with great accuracy, because if you busted a rhyme or missed a beat the mistake was at once evident, and the meter and rhyme assisted memory. Modern poetry, which often abandoned meter and rhyme, is more dependent on the written word. A poet that the academics might have favored for the Nobel is W.S. Merwin, one of the best of the free-verse poets. But it is much harder to remember this...



From Our Shadows

This has caused poetry to lose much of its audience. Fortunately, there are better judges of poetry than academics, such as audiences for music or poetry slams.

I graduated from high school with credits from five different schools, because my family moved around. As a junior, it appeared I would be short of credits to graduate when my senior year ended as a result of my peregrinations. Fortunately, I wrote a sonnet that won me a scholarship to a createive writing class taught by three University of Washington professors at the Cornish School of Allied Arts, which I attended as one of about a dozen high school students the summer between my junior and senior year, gaining enough credits to graduate.

The most important thing they taught me was that I did not want to be like my professors. They seemed to spend all their time trying to get published in incestuous little poetry journals which had an audience consisting almost entirely of people trying to get published in them.

I wanted to write for a broader audience, so I studied journalism. Perhaps, if I'd learned to be a musician, I might have had another outlet for the kind of thing I liked to write.

This is the point of giving the Nobel to Dylan rather than someone like Merwin. The Nobel committee was trying to reward lyrics written for a large audience, to encourage a return to poetry that sings.

Poetry is now more audience-driven than it was when I studied with those three professors. I can only hope the trend continues.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Trump can only win if the election is rigged

by John MacBeath Watkins

In the Bizarro world that American politics has become, everything seems to the the opposite of what it is, at least in Donald Trump's mind.

Howard Dean says Trump might have been snorting coke, so Trump says Hillary should take a drug test.

Trump has a record of disrespect to women, so he attacks the Clintons for disrespect to women.

Trump can only win the election if the voting is rigged, so he claims his opponent can only win if the voting is rigged.

His chance of winning is now 1 in 8 by the most popular measures. If he should win, wouldn't people suspect something? Unless, of course, he had some way of immunizing himself.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Donald and the primal scream

by John MacBeath Watkins

I've just witnessed the ugliest presidential debate ever seen, at least until the next one. And the worst thing is, it's exactly what one would have expected of a debate in which Donald Trump participates. The reason it happened that way is that a large minority of voters agree with Trump's statement that "I am your voice," and want him to scream their rage at the world.

Trump got a big rise out of his supporters in the audience when he said that if he were in charge of the country's laws,. Hillary Clinton "would be in jail."

This was reminiscent of Chris Christie's performance at the Republican Convention, when he had the crowd chanting "lock her up!"

Now, Hillary Clinton has been investigated repeatedly by the Republican-controlled senate and by less political agencies such as the FBI. No one has found a legal case against her that would hold up in court, and given the effort that has gone into it, if she were really guilty of a crime, she would have seen the end of her career by now.

But "you would be in jail by now" is exactly the sort of thing Trump's supporters want to hear.

But why? Not because it will help get Trump elected. While the fever swamps of the far right seep out a miasma of allegations which, if true, would certainly merit prosecution, these are a symptom, not a cause, of the hatred Trump's followers have for her.

Hillary Clinton has spent her adult life fighting for social justice. She is that figure greatly derided on the right, a Social Justice Warrior, or SJW.

Wikipedia defines an SJW as "a pejorative term for an individual promoting socially progressive views; including feminism, civil rights, multiculturalism, [citation needed] inclusiveness, and identity politics."

But who would oppose social justice? Those who perceive themselves as benefiting from social injustice. Not that they would put it that way, even to themselves.

Arlie Russell Hochschild, a sociology professor at the University of California at Berkeley, researched the sort of people who became Trump supporters, interviewing 60 people over a period of about five years. She wanted to research an area as far to the right as Berkeley is to the left, and she chose Louisiana as the place to do her research. (Nationally, 39% of whites voted for President Obama in 2012, in Louisiana it was 11%.)

Horchschild describes a world in which a "feels like it's true story" is "...a story of unfairness and anxiety, stagnation and slippage—a story in which shame was the companion to need."

It's a world where people aren't doing well, and they want to know who's to blame. This makes them vulnerable to mountebanks peddling conspiracy theories. One example she gives is that 66% of Trump supporters think President Obama is a Muslim.

Horchschild appeals to me in part because her portrait of this group is sympathetic. She describes a "deep story," a sort of central myth, that describes how they feel.
You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black—beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you're being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He's on their side. In fact, isn't he a line-cutter too? How did this fatherless black guy pay for Harvard? As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the line-cutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It's not your government anymore; it's theirs.
Of course this story isn't true in any conventional sense. But it feels true to the people she's talking about.

Now let me tell you another story about standing in line. I was born in 1952 in Louisiana, on an Air Force base. My parents, both from Oregon, experienced a certain amount of culture shock. One story my mother tells is about standing in line to get a Louisiana driver's licence in 1952 outside the base.

She joined the end of the line, behind a black man. As time passed, white people would join the line ahead of the black woman. At last, near closing time, only two people remained in line. The clerk looked around the black woman and said to my mother, "can I help you?"

"He's ahead of me," my mother said, indicating the black woman.

The clerk closed her station and left.

The only thing unusual about that story at that time and place was my mother's behavior, which was completely out of keeping with the norms of local white culture. You can see why people born into that culture would feel the world turned upside down, with a black man in the white house. A world that relied for so long on giving one group rights over another is not well constituted to deal with equality -- it feels all wrong.

The Trump campaign, like the tea party, is a backlash against our first African-American president. The same people who think Barack Obama got into Harvard because of minority preferences yearn for a time when all the preferences were for whites, because without those preferences, they feel their place in the world is precarious. The people they've looked down on all their lives could end up doing a lot better than them, and that's really not okay with them.

This is not a policy-driven group of voters, and they are not part of a coalition to accomplish some carefully thought-out agenda. These are desperate people who feel their world is not just threatened, but disappearing. They are angry, and they are less worried about whether the person who represents them is electable, than whether he will truly represent them, shout out their rage, give expression to their sense of grievance and their sense that their enemies are those who have made an alliance with those they fear will supplant them.

Donald Trump represents the primal scream of an injured group. He is an almost perfect symbol of white, male privilege, exactly what his followers wish they were. His privilege is what they wish they shared with him, his resentment against the allies of minority groups is what he has in common with them.

How is our country to deal with these people? By making them better off. White males working for wages haven't seen real incomes rise since the 1970s, as illustrated by this chart from the Washington Post's Wonkblog. 



I encourage you to follow the link and read the Wonkblog entry in full, because it has a lot of information on the economic basis for the Trump phenomenon.

The thing about this is, looking at the relative status of white men in relation to the other people in the Wonkblog chart shows that their relative position has been eroded, even as they continue to do better than other groups. This isn't about objective poverty, it is about positional status.

But it would certainly feel better to those experiencing this if their income were increasing, even if not as rapidly as other groups. The real problem here is that wages as a percentage of GDP have been declining for decades.


The top earners are getting their income based on things like stock options, not salaries or wages, and more and more money is going to the top. This is by design. The Republican agenda for the entire period of white male wage stagnation has been to lower taxes on the very rich and jigger the rules in their favor. Republican leadership has been getting the money to run campaigns from the people who benefit from these policies, but they've been getting their votes from people who have been hurt by them.

How is this sustainable? In the long run, it probably isn't. But it has gone on for a long time based on getting the people hurt by these policies to blame those they compete with directly, such as women and minority groups, rather than the people who have actually benefited from the policies.

Even as we've recovered from the worst recession since the Great Depression, those at the top of the income ladder have benefited more from the recovery. Only very recently have wages started to rise. Somehow, we've got to fix the imbalance that we see in the chart above, where less and less of the GDP goes to wage earners.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Grand reopening Oct. 1 at 2419 NW Market


The pteranodon is hung by the till with care...

We're definitely going to be open Oct. 1 at noon. The shelves are up, we're getting the books on them, and customers are trying to wade through a barricade of boxes insisting, against all evidence, that we are open. Once we're sure nobody will kill themselves tripping over boxes, and get the section signs in place and a number of other tasks, we will welcome all.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Pictures of our new location

by John MacBeath Watkins

Here are some pix of our new, magnificent locations, which will give us twice the room we've had before:


This is what the outside looks like now. We need to figure out the signage.


This is the inside looking out.


And this is what it looks like from the doorway. So much room!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Twice Sold Tales/Ballard is moving to 2419 NW Market

by John MacBeath Watkins

Well, we have at last signed a lease for our new location, at 2419 NW Market St. We will be out of our current digs at 2001 NW Market by the end of September.

The new space will be about twice as large as our current space, and will have a storefront with a big window, so we're pretty happy about it.

We're still open to volunteers to help move, just call us between noon and 7 p.m. at 206.545.4226.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Twice Sold Tales in Ballard is having a moving sale!

by John MacBeath Watkins

Twice Sold Tales in Ballard is moving from our current location in the back of Bauhaus Coffee at 2001 NW Market to either a location three blocks east of there or one four blocks west of there. We will still be on Market Street. Our lawyer is currently reviewing both leases before we make a decision.

We've got to be out of here by the end of September, so we need to decide soon! Either location will give us a lot more visibility than the windowless back room we currently occupy.

So, we're having a moving sale, currently 30% off. It applies to the books on the open shelves, not to the stuff that's cataloged on the internet.

The next question is, how the hell am I going to move all these books and shelves? Anybody out there willing to help? If so, drop me a line. The shop email is twicesoldtalesud@gmail.com.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

If Trump stiffs the Russians, what will they do to him?

by John MacBeath Watkins

Donald Trump has a well-earned reputation for stiffing vendors, creditors, and investors. But what about the Russian money that's been flowing into his business? Could exploiting those investors have far worse consequences?

Most American banks won't lend to him, according to the Wall Street scuttlebutt.  And, as the Washington Post has reported, Trump has found a new source of financing.

Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Bayrock, a company that helped finance the Trump SoHo project, was accused of getting its money from some questionable sources. From the New York Times:
Shortly before the condo buyers’ lawsuit was filed, another suit appeared, this one by Jody Kriss, a former finance director of Bayrock. It claimed that by concealing Mr. Sater’s criminal record, Bayrock had committed fraud on banks and investors with which it did business. Mr. Trump is not a defendant in that case, which is continuing. 
Mr. Kriss’s lawsuit was filled with unflattering details of how Bayrock operated, including allegations that it had occasionally received unexplained infusions of cash from accounts in Kazakhstan and Russia.
Now, Donald Trump's finances are fairly opaque, because he has refused to release tax returns either for last year, for which he's being audited, or from any of the years for which he is not being audited.

But the fact is, there is virtually no clean Russian money. If you are rich, you support Putin, or you won't be rich for long, as some have discovered. For example, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once the richest man in Russia, financed parties critical of Vladimir Putin. He was arrested, tried for a series of crimes that were either not illegal when he was alleged to have committed them or were still not illegal, convicted, and imprisoned. He has since been released and lives in exile on a much diminished fortune.

So, if you are getting much Russian money, it probably has ties to Putin and his ruling clique. This may explain Trump's constant praise of Putin, and his financial interests being tied to Russian sources of finance may have something to do with his heterodox views on foreign policy, like questioning our commitment to NATO.

But Trump is unlikely to win the presidency, and it is quite likely that his Russian investors will be as disappointed as some of his past investors.

How will they respond?

Well, consider what Masha Gessen, who wrote a book (The Man Without a Face)about Putin, described his background, starting with the period in East Germany prior to the fall of the Wall:
'Everything Putin had worked for was now in doubt,’ Gessen writes. 'Everything he had believed was being mocked.’ He would not return home until after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. 
'I think a lot of his resentment goes back directly to that period,’ Gessen says. 'Having been in the KGB at a bad time, having been outside the country when everything was changing… He’s a very vengeful man – that’s one of his particular traits of character. And that vengefulness has carried through. He’s pursuing a vendetta against everybody who was ever opposed to the Soviet Union.’ 
Putin returned to St Petersburg, where he became assistant to the mayor, while continuing in the KGB. For all the reforms that were taking place in Russia, St Petersburg, Gessen writes, was 'a state within a state’: a place where the KGB remained all-powerful, where local politicians and journalists had their phones tapped, and the murder of major political and business players was a regular occurrence.' 
In other words, very much like Russia itself would become within a few years, once it came to be ruled by the people who ruled St Petersburg in the 1990s.’ In other words, Putin.

I think the nature and extent of his ties to Russia may have a bearing on Trump's business future and even on his own health and that of those close to him. Suppose he were to change his tune, and start to criticize Putin, and stiff his friends who invested with Trump.  Here's some guidance from Gesson:
'There is a theory that is popular among journalists that to Putin there are enemies and there are traitors. And enemies have a right to exist; he might not like them, but they have a right to exist. Traitors don’t have a right to exist. It’s a nice theory. I like it because I’m such a clear-cut enemy that I should be safe.’
Can Trump afford to have Putin see him as a traitor? He's not going to win the election, and he won't always have the protection of the Secret Service. So I think we can expect to see him continue to toady to the Russian leader.

Trump is heavily in debt to Deutsche Bank AG, but the Russians seem to have taken equity stakes in his ventures. We don't know how much money is involved, or which Russian oligarchs are involved, or how close all that money is to Putin. We don't know how his Russian investors will react if they suffer as badly as investors in his casinos did, or how dependent the continuation of Trump's empire is on their continued investment.

I think it's a pretty good bet that he is more financially beholden to foreign investors than any previous presidential candidate, and that it's likely his investors are heavily entangled with the Russian kleptocracy. That, if true, would mean that Trump is himself entangled with a government that has shown a willingness in the past to poison or otherwise kill its critics.

Now, there is a way for Trump to set our minds at rest, and assure us that he is not entangled with a foreign power. Let's see some transparency on his finances, starting with those pesky tax returns.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The science of creating ignorance and the Republican dilemma

by John MacBeath Watkins

Agnotology, or the science of creating ignorance, is now firmly entrenched in our politics. The Republican Party, which has become associated with the use of this science, is facing a dilemma as a result.

Once they had used it to undermine the legitimacy of other elites, they discovered that they had also undermined the legitimacy of the Republican Party elite. They have created so much ignorance and distrust, they are not trusted to be informed about what is best for their constituents.

The name of this science dates from 1995, but its use in public discourse started in the 1960s.

It started with the tobacco industry, after the Surgeon General's Report tying tobacco use to cancer. The industry responded by trying to undermine the science behind the report.

First, they said that the research had been done on mice, and did not indicate that humans would suffer similar problems. Then, they engaged in a program of sponsoring studies to put against the science the Surgeon General used. Some of it was to show that other things cause cancer as well, so why blame cigarettes? Some were shaky science to put against more solid studies to argue that "some scientists say one thing, some say another."

A 1969 memo called the Smoking and Health Proposal, written by an executive of the Brown & Williamson tobacco company, said “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

If the notion of "establishing a controversy" after the science has been settled seems familiar, it's because this is the tactic used by climate change deniers to argue that "the science isn't settled" on climate change.

Agnotology entered the political realm when a corporate lawyer who had represented the tobacco industry laid out the game plan for business interests to take control of public discourse.

Lewis Powell, who Ronald Reagan later appointed to the Supreme Court, wrote the memo at the request of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1970.

In it, he suggested a series of steps to take, including founding think tanks, funding seats on university faculties, and using radio and television to spread their message.

Powell suggested a sort of ideological siege of academia by establishing a staff of friendly faculty, speakers, speaker's bureau, and attacking views they didn't like that were expressed in textbooks. 

He had a special place for business schools:

The Chamber should enjoy a particular rapport with the increasingly influential graduate schools of business. Much that has been suggested above applies to such schools.Should not the Chamber also request specific courses in such schools dealing with the entire scope of the problem addressed by this memorandum? This is now essential training for the executives of the future.

In short, business schools were to indoctrinate future business leaders. He also thought there was a neglected opportunity in the courts:

American business and the enterprise system have been affected as much by the courts as by the executive and legislative branches of government. Under our constitutional system, especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court, the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change.

Appointing Powell to the Supreme Court can be viewed as one way business took action on this proposal.

Most of what Powell proposed was to change what people thought they knew about their world.

Flash forward to the present. The Republican Party, funded to a surprisingly large extent by the fossil fuel industry, contended for years that climate change was a hoax, that the president of the United States wasn't a citizen, that the Affordable Care Act was a socialist job-killer, that President Obama was a Muslim, & etc.

Every half-baked conspiracy theory could get a hearing from the party elite as long as it stirred up the base and got more Republicans elected.

But a strange thing happened. One of the conspiracy theorists was a rich man with a need for attention. Donald Trump entered Republican circles through his adherence to the Birther conspiracy theory -- the outlandish notion that our president was born not in the United States, but in Kenya. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for president, even courted his endorsement.

The idea was clearly racist, an attempt to delegitimize our first African American president. But party leaders never disowned the theory, or that of President Obama being a Muslim. Instead of ridiculing the conspiracy theories and trying to win based on reality, they allowed the mechanism Lewis Powell had called for -- the radio, news, and now the internet conservative echo chamber -- to spread these theories far and wide.

Believing this nonsense became a tribal marker for conservatives, adhered to even by seemingly intelligent people who should have known better.

When Donald Trump came for the Republican Party elites, they had no other elites trusted to speak up for them. The party base of whites without a college degree had no faith in any of the elites, including that of their own party. They had been asked to believe in lies so often that the nature or even possibility of truth seemed to be illusory, as if all that continued to exist was the Republican Party's reptile brain, threat sensitive and emotional, raging against unfairness with no clear notion of how they had been betrayed, but aware that in their lifetimes, they were one group for whom things had gotten worse. For them, there was no longer any real truth, just whose side you were on.

The party had taught them not to blame the rich, but to blame the people they competed for directly for jobs and prestige -- immigrants, people of other races -- and the people they might have turned to for information -- those intellectuals they had been told time after time not to trust.

And now, the Republican Party faces the dilemma they have created. The party's base no longer trusts any elite, even their own. They can no longer tell the rank and file, "this guy's a nut, he can't win and shouldn't be nominated." They have unwittingly abdicated the party's role as the gatekeeper who gets them to select a viable candidate.

The people who thought they were running the party aren't in control any more. They can see the cliff, but they can't reach the wheel, can't press the brake. They know that to save the party, they must get control again, but they have created too much ignorance in the service of temporary goals.

The base is acting as if it believed all the convenient lies, all the conspiracy theories that were just supposed to be used to manipulate them. They don't even care if they lose, they just want a voice to shout their rage at their supposed enemies.

They are the beast who shouted hate at the heart of the world.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

How to buy a used cat

by John MacBeath Watkins

In a universe parallel parked just two down from ours, buying a used cat is just like  like buying a used car.

We will illustrate the pitfalls with the case of Bill.

One day, Bill's old cat died. We need not dwell on the causes of his old companion's death, and we turn away from Bill's private grief. However, when the tears had fallen, Bill was left with a universal truth. To paraphrase Jane Austen:

"IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a cat."

But the search for the cat is like the search for a used car, so this will not exactly be Pride and Prejudice. Not even Pride and Pedigree.

Bill set out hoping he could afford a new cat. He looked into the exotics, just because a man can dream, even if he can't really afford something fast and dangerous that isn't really suited to his lifestyle.

The Savannah cat struck his fancy, but it cost about half as much as a hose in flyover country, and he was still renting.

A brand-new Manx kitten had a muscular, aggressive stance with a sort of Kammback look that enticed him, but after it ran up his pants leg leaving a trail of fresh wounds on his leg, he realized that even if he could afford the sticker price, the insurance on his drapes would be ruinous.

This is when he fell into the hands of a used-cat salesman.

"This is your lucky day," said the salesman, clad in cheap, chequered sport coat and polyester pants. "I've got a used cat that will just knock your eyes out."

It was an old cat, sleeping rather noisily in the back row of the cat lot. Aside from the snoring, it had long, tangled fur and more than a few notches in its ears.

"This cat looks like it's got a lot of city miles on it," Bill said.

"Let me tell you about this wonderful feline," the salesman said. "It would never have come on the market at all, were it not for a fortunate accident. I mean, fortunate for you."

"What's that smell?" Bill asked.

"This cat was the beloved companion of a large and demonstrative family, the kids carried it everywhere and it never once scratched them," the salesman went on.

"Is it leaking fluid?"

"No, no, we had another cat parked here before we sent it to be repaired. Can't sell defective merchandise, can we?"

"Can't you?"

"So, anyway, the family so loved this cat, they would never let it out of their sight. They took it to church of Sunday, and the rest of the week, I tell you, they worshiped that cat like ancient Egyptians."

"So how did it end up here?"

"Well, one day, the whole family was walking to church, and little Willie, who had fallen in with fell companions on the second-grade playground, said a naughty word. Well, you know how God feels about that, he sent a bus to run them all down and wiped out the whole family."

"That's terrible, but wouldn't that have killed the cat, too?"

"God so loved the cat, he spared it. And now, it's your good fortune that the cat is here, before you, ready to begin a new life with you."

"Um...I kind of swear a lot, is that a problem?"

"You go to Church every Sunday?"

"Not so's you'd notice."

"I wouldn't worry about it."

"Think I'll pass, anyway."

"Well, sir, what will it take to put a cat in your arms today?"

Bill told the salesman his budget.

"What else have you got in my range?" he asked.

"Yer lookin' at it."

So, Bill bought the elderly, flatulent cat and began waking home with it in his arms. It woke, farted again, and began to purr. He began to like it, when suddenly, he stubbed his toe.

"Fuckshitcuntcockpiss!" he said, before considering the consequences. "Oh, God, that hurts," he amended.

Just then, a severely depressed neighbor with bad aim tried to kill himself, and instead took off Bill's hat. Bill picked up his ventilated hat and looked reproachfully at the cat.

"Did you tell God I said that?" he asked.

The cat yawned hugely, revealing some bad teeth and breath that would make a passable paint stripper.

"Well, God dammit, I don't believe a word that salesman said," Bill declared. The cat scratched him, causing him to lurch away from the road just as a dump truck ran into a light pole next to him. Bill realized that the truck would have pinned him against the light pole if he hadn't lurched.

"Cat, are you cursed?" Bill asked.

The cat avoided his gaze, nonchalantly licking a paw.

Bill went back to the cat lot, where the salesman showed himself extraordinarily agile, dodging him and locking himself in the office.

"Open up, you sold me a lemon, dammit," Bill shouted. The salesman dived under a divan just before an eagle dropped a turtle on Bill's head, crushing his battered, bullet-riddled hat and leaving him dazed.

"Don't curse!" the salesman called from under the divan, "one lightning bolt could wipe out this office!"

"I want my money back!"

After a moment's consideration, the salesman said, "You can have your money back if you take the cat with you."

"Fine."

The salesman wouldn't open the door. He slid an envelope under it and dived back under the divan.

Bill checked the amount in the envelope, then put down the cat and walked away. "Serves the S.O.B right," he thought. That only resulted in distant thunder.

As he neared his home, Bill stepped into the crosswalk without looking, and a car screeched to a halt inches away from him.

"Watch where you're going, you God-damned idiot!" the driver yelled, and the engine of the car immediately caught fire. That's when Bill looked around, saw that the cat had followed him home, and resigned himself to cleaning up his language.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

A unified theory of Brexit and Trump

by John MacBeath Watkins

One of the puzzles of this election year is why long-standing elements of the Republican platform aren't resonating this year.

Republicans have long advocated small government and free markets, including free markets in foreign trade. But Donald Trump won the most delegates in the primaries by advocating higher tariffs and promising not to cut Social Security.

The theory has been that both tariffs and the social safety net are government interfering in the marketplace. But there is now a clear division between the Republican donor class, which believes this, and the white blue-collar base that wants government to protect them from  both foreigners and foreign competition.

For decades, the donor class of rich Republicans have dictated the economic agenda of the party while working-class whites have provided the votes, based on promises that the economic program would benefit everyone and the exploitation of culture war issues such as "the war on Christmas," gays, and abortion, and guns.

They've also exploited racial resentment. The Southern strategy Nixon used grew out of the Republican right's rejection of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the party at this point has managed to purge itself of the sort of moderate Republicans who voted for that law.

But the basic economics were always against that strategy. Even prior to World War I, the nations most open to foreign trade have had the largest governments.

Kevin O'Rourke, in a July 1 post on The Irish Economy blog, explained how this works:


The main point of my 1999 book with Jeff Williamson was that globalisation produces both winners and losers, and that this can lead to an anti-globalisation backlash. We argued this based on late 19th century evidence, but opinion poll evidence (citations here) suggested that something similar was at work in the late 20th century as well, a hunch confirmed in the early 21st century by the 2005 and 2008 French and Irish referenda. 
What was missing from all this was an analysis of what, if anything, governments can do about this. Which is where Dani Rodrik’s finding that more open states had bigger governments in the late 20th century comes in. Dani’s interpretation is that markets expose workers to risk, and that government expenditure of various sorts can help protect them from those risks. In a series of articles, and an important book, Michael Huberman showed that this correlation between states and markets was present before 1914 as well: countries with more liberal trade policies tended to have more advanced social protections of various sorts, and this helped maintain political support for openness.

In short, liberal trade policy requires liberal government policy. One reason Donald Trump became the voice of the white working class was that he was more explicit in exploiting racial resentment, of course, but another reason was that he did not buy into the Republican orthodoxy regarding free trade and small government. He doesn't really favor either.

Those who favored both free trade and small government tended to be those rich enough to insulate themselves against the risks free trade exposes the economy to. That's the donor class which has always set the economic agenda for the party.

In Britain, whatever the polls might say, the areas that voted most in favor of leaving the European Union have been those most impacted by competition from competition with Chinese manufacturing. From The Monkey Cage blog at the Washington Post:

Regardless of what voters or pundits might be saying, we find that Leave votes were systematically higher in regions more affected by the surge in Chinese imports over the last three decades. And we find no evidence that the presence or influx of immigrants correlates with a region’s support for Brexit.
So, the solution to problems caused by competition with China is to distance Britain from Europe, where a lot of its exports go. It doesn't make sense on an economic level, but it motivates voters on an emotional level.

And in America, workers who feel economically insecure because of economic globalization often support Donald Trump, who as Forbes magazine notes, outsources items produced for the Trump brand.

We are reaching for the wrong solutions because we are misunderstanding the problem. The problem is that if we are to have free trade, we need to provide a reliable safety net for workers, and if we're going to cut the safety net, we need to reduce the risk to workers by having less free trade.

This is a much bigger problem for Republicans than for Democrats. Most of the supporters for the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement are Republicans, not Democrats, and Democrats generally consider it a no-brainer that workers need a good safety net.

Now, it might seem odd for the party that most supports the safety net to be the one that also is less enthusiastic about free trade. After all, they support what is needed to have free trade without excessive backlash. But both things are part of the Democratic Party's history of supporting working families.

And Trump is just another stage in the long history of Republican's using cultural and racial issues to get working class whites to vote against their economic interest. For all his bluster, the economic plan he has presented is just designed to make the rich richer.