Whereof One Can Speak 🇺🇦

Nothing special, one post at a time since 2012

They Want Him To Smite Their (Supposed) Enemies

It doesn’t help that typical Republicans think the economy is much worse than typical Democrats do (that’s understandable, considering where so many Republicans get their “news”). But a consensus seems to be developing that downplays their warped perception of the economy as a reason they support the Orange Menace.

From Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

I’ve spent a lot of time since the 2000s listening to people on the right — on my car radio, or at Tea Party gatherings and outside [political rallies — and their message is pretty unambiguous. Their movement isn’t defined by what they want but by whom they hate, and [DT] is the first politician who could articulate that rage with crude bluntness.

From Paul Waldman of The Washington Post:

As [he] rambled his way for over 100 minutes through a stream-of-consciousness speech [in early March], there was at least one moment of clarity. “In 2016, I declared I am your voice,” the former president said. “Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.”

“Retribution” wasn’t an explicit catchword in [his] previous two campaigns, though the idea was implicit in much of the argument he made to voters. Now it might as well be the campaign’s explicit slogan: If you want revenge, vote for [me].

The vow of “retribution,” which is now everywhere in right-wing politics, is another sign the Republican Party has put victimhood at the center of its identity, perhaps to a greater extent than ever before. To be on the right today is to believe yourself oppressed by impossibly powerful forces, including the government, the news media, the education system and a changing society that increasingly rejects your beliefs.

Every part of who you are — your race, gender, religion, ideas about the world — supposedly makes you a victim. Every “Happy Holidays” sign is an attack, every openly gay person an affront and every election you don’t win a theft of what is rightfully yours.

Enter the vow of “retribution.” This does not mean wrongs will be righted, that conditions will be improved or that if you’re hoping for concrete, material benefits from the next presidency, you’ll be satisfied. It’s not about you at all. Retribution is about the enemies who oppressed you. It’s about making them suffer, at least as much as you think you have suffered, if not more..

While [he] always got the most attention for his most repugnant beliefs and utterances about immigrants, members of minority groups and women, he made an argument that powerfully resonated with large swaths of the country: You have been wronged by an economic and political establishment that didn’t care about you. Vote for me and we can do something about it.

Retribution was the mostly unspoken part of that argument. First, [he] would bring boundless prosperity to neglected small towns and rural areas. Next, he would “drain the swamp” of entrenched elites so the interests of ordinary people would prevail. And if the “establishment” that never did anything for you was appalled by him, that was proof he was your best choice.

Even if he didn’t bring boundless prosperity and even if draining the swamp turned out to mean installing grifters and cronies in the federal government, you might count his presidency a success, at least on a symbolic level, if revenge was what you were after. [He] was a giant middle finger thrust in the face of everyone you hate, and he continues to drive them to distraction. Isn’t that a kind of success?

From E. J. Dionne, also of The Washington Post:

It’s bad enough to be silent about [his] abusive rants, but to make a chamber of Congress part of [his] defense team reveals the depth of the rot.

Unfortunately, the incentives and current architecture of politics make it unlikely that any of this will change. Two studies this month highlighted why. An analysis of all 435 congressional districts conducted by the Equity Research Institute … found that 142 of the House’s 222 Republicans represent districts … are dominated by White voters without college degrees….

Another study released last week … traced the dramatic change in the makeup of the American electorate over the past 40 years. The study, published by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, found that “racial and cultural issues, rather than economic ones,” have driven the enormous gains Republicans have made with noncollege Whites….

A substantial majority of the country would like to be done with [him] and the nastiness he sows. Many Republican leaders may quietly agree, but their electorate and the nature of the places they represent push them toward timidity. Until the incentives change or the party’s leaders discover the fortitude to defy them, we’re stuck in the world that [DT’s] neuroses create for us.

Finally, from Tom Tomorrow’s This Modern World (you can support his work here):

TMW2023-03-27colorXLGiven the above, the Menace’s most ardent followers will probably love him even more as indictments roll in. I don’t expect to see many images of him hanging on a cross, but it’s not out of the question:

PS: These days, I can’t vouch for the validity of that video, but it shouldn’t surprise anybody if it really happened.

Not the Good Old Days

If you want to understand the rabid craziness of today’s MAGA Republican Party, you can read books like:

But there’s another one I want to call your attention to. It describes events from a century ago that parallel much of what’s happening now. The book is American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis by Adam Hochschild. This is from a review for the Times Literary Supplement:

Even now there are American liberals who look back on [President Woodrow] Wilson’s first term in 1913–17 as a golden age, with its trust-busting, tax and banking reform, and eight-hour day for railway workers, making it the last presidency of the Progressive Era. That left little time for international affairs, and when Americans heard the distant thunder of war from Europe in 1914, most of them had no wish to join it….

Barely had he been inaugurated the next spring than he took America into it…. Whatever American entry did to the balance of the war, it had a most drastic effect in and on the US itself. The country was convulsed by a spasm of nativist hysteria and hatred – as Hochschild says, “Never was the raw underside of our nation’s life more revealingly on display than from 1917 to 1921”. For him, the events of these years amount to a crisis in America’s democracy, one that he thinks too few people know about today. 

The first victims were German Americans. Over the previous century six million Germans had emigrated to the US, more than any other nationality apart from the British… Now anyone with a German name was treated as potentially disloyal, and many such names were quickly changed: Koenig became King, the frankfurter became the hot dog….

But changing names didn’t stem the violence. A Methodist minister said that it was “the Christian duty of Americans to decorate convenient lamp posts with German spies and agents of the Kaiser, native or foreign-born”; a Minnesota pastor was tarred and feathered after he had been heard praying in German with a dying woman; and in Collinsville, Illinois, a gang set upon Robert Prager and killed him. The murderers were tried, holding little American flags in court, and were acquitted by the jury in forty-five minutes.

When a war bond was floated, anyone who failed to buy bonds was liable to be denounced or subjected to physical violence…. In Britain conscientious objectors were sometimes harshly treated, but the American story was more savage, with conscientious objectors hanged all day by shackled wrists, with their feet barely touching the floor, and sometimes forced to watch military executions.

War fever intensified the persecution of radicals, socialists and labour unions, or one union in particular. The Industrial Workers of the World or IWW, otherwise the Wobblies, was a unique syndicalist body that mounted a challenge far beyond its numbers of barely 150,000 members. Or so it certainly seemed to business, newspapers and politicians, with headlines predicting a “Reign of Terror” and the irrepressible Theodore Roosevelt calling the Wobblies “unhung traitors”.

In fact, plenty were “hung” or attacked in other ways. After the tarring and feathering of a group of Wobblies in Tulsa, National Guardsmen and corporate detectives killed dozens more. When Frank Little, a Wobblie organizer, was brutally lynched in Montana, Thomas Marshall, Wilson’s vice president, quipped that “A Little hanging goes a long way”.

An Espionage Act and a Sedition Act were passed, giving the state wide powers to curtail free speech, but Albert Sidney Burleson, the postmaster general, hadn’t needed that to suppress socialist journals, of which there were more than 100, daily, weekly and monthly. He simply withdrew their mailing privileges and destroyed their circulations, while William Lamar, the chief legal officer of the Post Office, said, “I know exactly what I am after … pro-Germanism, pacifism, and high-browism”….

A new Bureau of Investigation, forerunner of the FBI, energetically kept watch on political meetings and infiltrated radical groups, its men sometimes acting as agents provocateurs…. Even before American entry into the war, Albert Briggs, a Chicago advertising man, had created, with official encouragement, the American Protective League, a vigilante group “organized along military lines” and appealing to “men beyond military age seeking martial glory”. They were issued with a badge and codenames such as A-372 or B-49 as they went hunting for spies, saboteurs and dissidents.

With American communism as yet unborn, the objects of official and semi-official persecution were democratic socialists or anarchists, notably Eugene Debs and Emma Goldman….The gentle Debs combined democratic socialism with Christianity and pacifism….Now his opposition to the war ensured that Debs would be hounded and imprisoned under the Espionage Act. In the words of one police informer, Goldman was “doing tremendous damage…. If she is allowed to continue here she cannot help but have a great influence”. She was not allowed to, but was likewise imprisoned and finally deported to Russia, where she was lucky to survive….

Since the Espionage and Sedition Acts had been drafted by the justice department under the attorney general, Thomas Gregory, his resignation in early 1919 came as a great relief to progressives, [who] welcomed the appointment of Gregory’s successor, A. Mitchell Palmer, a Quaker who had called the American Protective League “a grave menace”, and recommended clemency for several hundred people imprisoned under the Espionage Act… 

Those hopes were soon dashed. In November 1919 the affable Quaker gave his name to the notorious Palmer Raids, conducted on radical or merely suspect offices and meetings, particularly where recent immigrants were to be found. The offices of the Union of Russian Workers in a dozen cities were raided [and often destroyed], and in Detroit agents interrogated all 1,500 theatregoers watching a Russian-language play….

If Wilson insisted that this would be a virtuous war in contrast to all the evil previous wars in history, he personified a hypocrisy that amounted to almost psychopathic cognitive dissonance. Wilson was preaching self-determination and democratic rights in Europe, but what of his own country?

A Virginian and the first Southerner to be elected president since the Civil War, …. Wilson had done everything he could as president of Princeton to stop Black students entering the college, and his administration actually re-segregated the civil service… [The postmaster general] said it was “intolerable” that Black and white employees should work together….

The Ku Klux Klan had been re-formed in 1915 and there were lynchings across the South year by year, some almost too horrible to describe in detail. Many Black men enlisted in the army, … but Southern politicians were alarmed that they were being taught to use firearms. Senator James Vardaman of Mississippi said that Black veterans should be prevented from returning to the South, as their contacts with French women must have raised their expectations.

When Blacks tried to escape northwards they merely met more racist violence. In July 1917 there was a ferocious race riot in East St Louis, in which as many as 100 Black people may have been killed, while many hundreds more fled. The Amsterdam News in Harlem pointed to the irony that Black soldiers fighting for the rights of Serbs and Poles would return to lynching at home…

By 1920, with the war won, peace made after a fashion, and Wilson lying incapacitated in the White House, the great fear persisted. A panic spread that on May Day there would be a Red rising throughout the country. In many cities the National Guard as well as armed police were out in force, with machinegun posts installed on the streets of Boston. As Hochschild’s next two-word paragraph reads: “Nothing happened”. The threat was entirely imaginary….

If nothing happened that May Day, something worse had happened, as America drew in upon itself. Behind the assaults on radicals lay a deeper resentment or even hatred of immigrants. Tens of millions of immigrants had arrived in the US in the forty years before the First World War: Italians, Poles, Jews and many others. They had been greeted with intense hostility. Albert Johnson, a congressman from Washington state, railed in the House against “wops, bohunks, coolies and Oriental offscourings” (as a further plus ça change, a newspaper he owned derided conservationists “who tremble every time a tree is cut down”).

Nor was he a lone crank. Theodore Roosevelt insisted that “This is a nation, not a polyglot boarding house”, and Wilson himself said that “Men of the sturdier stocks of the north of Europe” had given way to “multitudes of men of the lowest class from the south of Italy and men of the meaner sort out of Hungary and Poland”….

One awful coda to the story is described by Hochschild, the massacre of Black residents in May 1921 in Tulsa, the town where the Wobblies had been persecuted four years earlier. Tulsa had an unusually (if comparatively) prosperous Black community… On the usual spurious rumour that a Black man had threatened a white woman, white mobs rampaged through this quarter for two days, killing, looting and setting scores of buildings on fire. The National Guard intervened only to arrest Blacks, although it’s reckoned that at least 300 were killed. The best explanation the Los Angeles Times could offer was that “Bolshevik propaganda … was the principal cause of the race riot”….

In December 1920, The Times reported that “America is seriously alarmed by the wave of immigration from the poverty-stricken portions of Europe … In Poland alone 311,000 persons have applied for passports to the United States…“The leaders of the Republican Party regard the flood of immigrants as a menace to America and the Americans, and have decided to give it immediate attention in Congress”.

So they did, with harshly restrictive immigration acts passed in 1921 and 1924 designed to maintain the predominance of those sturdier stocks… No one who reads Adam Hochschild’s admirable but sombre book … will feel quite the same about the land of the free or the Statue of Liberty. 

That’s true. You can’t read American Midnight without seeing today’s MAGA movement as the latest outbreak of anti-progess, anti-tolerance, anti-immigrant, anti-Black, anti-labor, anti-reality Americanism.

The Percentage of Poor People: A Correction

A couple days ago, I shared a NY Times article that claims the percentage of poor people in the US hasn’t changed much in 50 years, despite the fact that we have lots of government anti-poverty programs now. Dylan Matthews of Vox quickly responded to the Times article. He argues that it all depends on how we measure poverty, a claim that Matthew Desmond, the author of the Times article, rejected. From Vox:

To come up with a poverty measure, one generally needs two things: a threshold at which a household becomes “poor” and a definition of income. For instance, in 2023, a family of four is defined by the government as officially in poverty in the US if they earn $30,000 or less. That’s the Official Poverty Measure’s threshold….

But what does it mean to earn $30,000 or less? Should we just count cash from a job? What about pensions and retirement accounts? What about Social Security, which is kind of like a pension? What about resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that aren’t money but can be spent in some ways like money? What about health insurance?

These aren’t simple questions to answer … but I think it’s fair to say there’s a broad consensus among researchers that income should be defined very broadly. It should at the very least include things like tax refunds and SNAP that are close to cash, and simpler to include than benefits like health insurance.

That’s why there’s also near-unanimous consensus among poverty researchers that the official poverty measure (OPM) in the United States is a disaster. I have … never heard even one expert argue it is well-designed. I was frankly a little shocked to see Desmond cite it without qualification in his article.

Its biggest flaw is that it uses a restrictive and incoherent definition of income. Some government benefits, like Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), count. But others, like tax credits, SNAP, and health care, don’t count at all. So many programs designed to cut poverty, like SNAP or Medicaid or the earned income tax credit, therefore by definition cannot reduce the official poverty rate because they do not count as income.

The Census Bureau now publishes a supplemental poverty measure (SPM), which uses a much more comprehensive definition of income that includes the social programs the Official Poverty Measure excludes. It also varies thresholds regionally to account for different costs of living….

Using the Official Poverty Measure, poverty hasn’t changed much since 1970. From the Times article:

As estimated by the federal government’s poverty line, 12.6 percent of the U.S. population was poor in 1970; two decades later, it was 13.5 percent; in 2010, it was 15.1 percent; and in 2019 [before COVID], it was 10.5 percent. To graph the share of Americans living in poverty over the past half-century amounts to drawing a line that resembles gently rolling hills.

For 2021, the last year for which the government has released official numbers, the rate was 11.6%, only 1% less than in 1970.

However, researchers using the updated Supplemental Poverty Measure calculated the poverty rate people between 1967 and 2020. They found that 25% of Americans were poor in 1967 (roughly twice as many as the Official Poverty Measure calculated), but — taking into account income from government programs created since 1967 — the percentage had dropped to 11.2% by 2019.

One odd thing about these numbers is that the official poverty rate, which is supposed to be obsolete, and the new, improved rate were almost the same for 2019 (10.5% vs. 11.2%). That’s even though the old calculation doesn’t include income from government programs and the new calculation does. Maybe that’s a statistical fluke, because the official rate is calculated very strangely. As Mr. Matthews explained in an earlier Vox article, “The Official Poverty Rate Is Garbage. The Census Has Found a Better Way”:

It’s worth dwelling on this for a second. The way we measure poverty is based on a 51-year-old analysis of 59-year-old data on food consumption, with no changes other than inflation adjustment. That’s bananas.

Yes, the official government calculation was devised in 1963 based on an estimate of what people ate in 1955. A few things have changed since then.

I conclude from all this that, using the best measure of poverty we have now, the one that takes into account income from government programs, the poverty rate has been cut in half in the past 50 years. (The government releases both sets of numbers these days, although which numbers are reported is another story.)

On the other hand, there are a lot more of us now. In 1967, when there were 197 million of us, a poverty rate of 25% meant America had 49 million poor people. In 2021, there were 332 million of us, so a rate of 11.2% meant the number was still 37 million.

Should there be almost 40 million Americans living in poverty today? According to the Times article, which I still recommend, there wouldn’t be that many if there wasn’t so much exploitation, so many people being taken advantage of, especially poor people, in the labor, housing and financial markets. Or if, for example, Republican senators and one “Democrat” (Joe Manchin of West Virginia) hadn’t refused to keep the expanded Child Tax Credit in effect after it expired at the end of 2021. That change in the law is said to have lifted 3 million children out of poverty. President Biden wants to restore the expanded credit in his 2024 budget but will have to overcome the usual opposition from politicians who claim to support family values.

Why the Percentage of Poor People in America Hasn’t Changed in 50 Years

If you don’t subscribe to the New York Times, you might not be able to read an important article called “Why Poverty Persists in America”. But the Times and some other papers are making it possible to share “gift” articles, like this one to the poverty article.

By making the article available, I’m not exploiting you and you aren’t being exploited. I’m not making any money out of the transaction and you aren’t spending any. If anything, you’re exploiting the New York Times (it was their idea and they can afford it).

The thesis of the article, however, is that exploitation is rampant in America and it’s the key reason why poverty persists. The author, Matthew Desmond, a Princeton sociologist, discounts the idea that the poor aren’t really poor (“you can’t eat a cellphone”). He argues that the poor (and others) are being taken advantage of.

The primary reason for our stalled progress on poverty reduction has to do with the fact that we have not confronted the unrelenting exploitation of the poor in the labor, housing and financial markets.

… Social scientists have a fairly coolheaded way to measure exploitation: When we are underpaid relative to the value of what we produce, we experience labor exploitation; when we are overcharged relative to the value of something we purchase, we experience consumer exploitation….When we don’t own property or can’t access credit, we become dependent on people who do and can, which in turn invites exploitation….

The author explains in detail how exploitation works in these three markets and how we might insure there’s less of it. Maybe I’ll share more of the article later. For now, here’s how the article ends.

In Tommy Orange’s novel, There There, a man trying to describe the problem of suicides on Native American reservations says: “Kids are jumping out the windows of burning buildings, falling to their deaths. And we think the problem is that they’re jumping.”

The poverty debate has suffered from a similar kind of myopia. For the past half-century, we’ve approached the poverty question by pointing to poor people themselves — posing questions about their work ethic, say, or their welfare benefits — when we should have been focusing on the fire. The question that should serve as a looping incantation, the one we should ask every time we drive past a tent encampment, those tarped American slums smelling of asphalt and bodies, or every time we see someone asleep on the bus, slumped over in work clothes, is simply: Who benefits? Not: Why don’t you find a better job? Or: Why don’t you move? Or: Why don’t you stop taking out payday loans? But: Who is feeding off this?

Those who have amassed the most power and capital bear the most responsibility for America’s vast poverty: political elites who have utterly failed low-income Americans over the past half-century; corporate bosses who have spent and schemed to prioritize profits over families; lobbyists blocking the will of the American people with their self-serving interests; property owners who have exiled the poor from entire cities and fueled the affordable-housing crisis.

Acknowledging this is both crucial and deliciously absolving; it directs our attention upward and distracts us from all the ways (many unintentional) that we — we the secure, the insured, the housed, the college-educated, the protected, the lucky — also contribute to the problem.

Corporations benefit from worker exploitation, sure, but so do consumers, who buy the cheap goods and services the working poor produce, and so do those of us directly or indirectly invested in the stock market. Landlords are not the only ones who benefit from housing exploitation; many homeowners do, too, their property values propped up by the collective effort to make housing scarce and expensive. The banking and payday-lending industries profit from the financial exploitation of the poor, but so do those of us with free checking accounts, as those accounts are subsidized by billions of dollars in overdraft fees.

Living our daily lives in ways that express solidarity with the poor could mean we pay more; anti-exploitative investing could dampen our stock portfolios. By acknowledging those costs, we acknowledge our complicity. Unwinding ourselves from our neighbors’ deprivation and refusing to live as enemies of the poor will require us to pay a price. It’s the price of our restored humanity and a renewed country. 

One funny note. This is the article’s subtitle: “A Pulitzer Prize-winning sociologist offers a new explanation for an intractable problem”. I guess whoever wrote that has never heard of Karl Marx or Das Kapital.

They’re Hard at Work All Around the Nation

The political party that claims to support workers and “family values” is thinking not enough school children work in slaughterhouses. From The Guardian:

The governor of Arkansas signed a bill that rolls back protections against child labor, eliminating state requirements to verify that children are at least 16 before they receive a job.

In Ohio, lawmakers are considering a bill that would let 14- and 15-year-old children work year-round until 9pm each day.

Lawmakers in Minnesota have filed a bill that would permit children aged 16 and 17 to work construction jobs.

In Iowa, legislative proposals would allow children at least 15 years old to sell alcohol and children at least 14 years old to work specific jobs in meatpacking plants. The Iowa bill would also protect companies from liability if a child got sick or injured or died while at work.

Reports by the New York Times have exposed the hiring of migrant children to work dangerous jobs at factories and elsewhere, flouting federal law.

Meanwhile, the forced birth movement forges ahead. Who else can we jail when a woman ends a pregnancy, aside from doctors, nurses, pharmacists and Uber drivers?

For decades, the mainstream anti-abortion [i.e. forced birth] movement promised that it did not believe women who have abortions should be criminally charged. But now, Republican lawmakers in several US states have introduced legislation proposing homicide and other criminal charges for those seeking abortion care.

The bills have been introduced in states such as TexasKentuckySouth CarolinaOklahoma and Arkansas. Some explicitly target medication abortion and self-managed abortion; some look to remove provisions in the law which previously protected pregnant people from criminalization; and others look to establish the fetus as a person from the point of conception.

Finally, the Sunshine State’s mini-Mussolini promises great things ahead. From press critic Margaret Sullivan:

The Florida governor Ron DeSantis likes to brag that he’s just getting started with his rightwing agenda…. He means it as a promise, but it ought to be heard as a threat. That’s particularly true for women whose abortion rights already are being dangerously curtailed and for gay and transgender students who are already being treated as lower life forms. It’s particularly true for those who care about voting rights and press rights, and for those who cherish the power of books and free expression as a foundation of societal well-being….

“DeSantis rules by an authoritarian playbook,” wrote Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago….

Let’s review some of what has happened on his watch with the help of a rubber-stamp Republican state legislature.

The Parental Rights in Education Act, better known as “don’t say gay”, prevents teachers from talking about gender identity and sexual orientation in some elementary-school grades.

The so-called Stop Woke Act restricts how race is discussed in Florida’s schools, colleges and even private workplaces.

Another law pulled a slew of books from public school libraries while they are reviewed for their supposed suitability…. 

Florida’s medical boards now bar transgender youth from gender-affirming medical care such as hormone therapy. State law bans most abortions beyond 15-weeks gestation; a new bill would tighten that to only six weeks.

And, of course, never forget that true liberty means ready access to guns: Florida residents may soon be able to carry firearms without a state license.

Governor courage-to-be-free also wants to limit press rights, including supporting a challenge to the landmark US supreme court decision that for decades has given journalists enough protection from defamation lawsuits to let them do their jobs.

When DeSantis signed into law new restrictions on voting rights, he did so in a room where local reporters were shut out. Fox News, however, got special access….

DeSantis also got his legislature to establish a new and completely unnecessary election crimes office. After the first few cases turned into a legal embarrassment, he got his rubber-stampers to change the law again.

That’s why it’s appalling to see the media lavish him with so much fawning coverage…. The media should be delving into the substance of [his] record, including the kitchen-table economic issues that have nothing to do with performative anti-woke nonsense, instead of letting DeSantis play at will on his favorite field of divisive social issues….

Given all of this, it’s a scary thought that he’s just getting started.

It’s said that the individual states of the Union are “laboratories of democracy”. They’re where policies are often proposed and tried out before they reach the national level.

It’s bad enough Republican experiments like these are happening all over the country. We’ve got to make sure they never escape the labs.

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