Monday, February 25, 2013


If governments cannot be led to understand the ideas presented here, then their citizens may be denied vital health, education, and other benefits because they appear to be unaffordable, when in fact they are not.

-- William Baumol, The Cost Disease (2012)

This week everybody was talking about the sequester ...

... which I admit has gotten tedious. We've had so many of these artificial crises.

Oversimplifying only slightly, let's review: Since the summer of 2011, Snidely Whiplash (the Republican majority in the House) has been trying to provoke the final showdown with Dudley Do-Right (President Obama) by tying Nell (the American economy) to the railroad tracks. Dudley showed up, but the fight keeps taking longer than either expected. So they keep agreeing to move Nell further and further down the tracks to give themselves more time.

At the end of each episode, they're still fighting, the train is coming, Nell is struggling ... but it gets harder and harder to take the whole melodrama seriously.

What the Republicans have been demanding since Episode 1 is spending cuts. OK, the sequester delivers spending cuts. But they're really stupid spending cuts, so the Republicans are trying to convince everybody that it's all President Obama's fault. For some reason, few people are buying that line.

You might wonder why we need to keep having these artificial crises. Simple: so far the deficit isn't causing any real problems. For four years now, Obama's critics have been predicting inflation, high interest rates, a crash in the dollar, and "bankruptcy" because nobody would buy our bonds any more. If any of that were happening, nobody would have to gin up an artificial crisis.

Second, people who want to cut spending keep running into Truth #1 from my Six True Things Politicians Can't Say: Most government money is well spent. For decades they've been building the myth that the government budget is this vast rat hole that consumes money and helps nobody. That makes for great rhetoric, but runs you into trouble when somebody wants you to cut some real waste, because the waste just isn't there: Even the politically disastrous Ryan Budget had a whole bunch of blank spaces in it where the real cuts happened.

So instead we've wound up with across-the-board cuts. The idea is that if the CDC is spending billions of dollars, there must be waste in there somewhere. And the best alternative the Republicans have come up with is to give President Obama the power to specify the cuts instead.

Republicans giving Obama more power? Anything is better than having to take responsibility for foolish cuts.

but I wrote about Baumol's cost disease

In a very interesting book, elderly economist William Baumol explains why long-term increases in government spending may not be the problem everyone seems to think it is. My review of his book is in What if there's no spending problem?

and the Cruz/McCarthy similarity

Senator Cruz: Do you now or have you ever resembled Joe McCarthy?

The Cruz/McCarthy comparison started because of Cruz's innuendo-laden attacks on Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel. National Review delivered a characteristically mature I'm-not-but-what-are-you response:
Senator Cruz has ably and aggressively executed his duty as a United States senator to advise on and consent to a nominee to the momentous post of civilian head of the United States military. He has not, as Senator McCarthy was reputed to have done, slandered an honorable man by cavalierly associating him with an odious and politically radioactive “ism.” But we can think of some Senate Democrats and cable-TV hosts who have.

[Notice the "reputed to have done". These days it's controversial on the Right whether McCarthyism is anything to be ashamed of. Maybe Tailgunner Joe was just a maligned patriot.]

Jane Mayer of the New Yorker then pointed out that it's not just this one incident. Cruz has a history of McCarthyism, most overtly in a 2010 speech he gave to the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, when he claimed that 12 members of the Harvard Law School faculty "would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government." Like McCarthy's 57 Communists in the State Department, Cruz's 12 seemed to be a number plucked out of the air, based on nothing.

Rachel Maddow covered this extensively Friday, and did something conservatives practically never do when they throw words like Marxist, socialist, and communist at President Obama -- she defined her terms.
McCarthyism isn't just a generic term for boorish behavior, for boorish right-wing behavior even. McCarthyism is a particular thing. It is making outlandish scandalous allegations against people in public life, and distracting from the fact that you have no evidence to back up those allegations by making the allegations really specific, which makes it seem like they must be coming from some factual basis, when in fact you are just making it up. After making the allegation publicly in a big showboaty way, you then demand that the person against whom you have made this allegation clear his name.

It's not name-calling when you define the term in a precise and historically appropriate way, and then establish that it applies. At that point it's just categorization: Cruz practices McCarthyism.

A Cruz spokeswoman answered Mayer's article -- not to Mayer, of course, or to Maddow, but to Glenn Beck's The Blaze (which sees McCarthyism only as "a reference to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s notorious and aggressive pursuit of Communists in the 1950s." As if the problem was that Cruz is pursuing Harvard Law School communists too aggressively.)
Senator Cruz’s substantive point was absolutely correct: in the mid-1990s, the Harvard Law School faculty included numerous self-described proponents of ‘critical legal studies’ — a school of thought explicitly derived from Marxism – and they far outnumbered Republicans.

So they had ideas "derived from Marxism". But what about "the Communists overthrowing the United States government"? The Blaze makes this excuse for Cruz:
It’s not clear precisely what kind of Communist “overthrow” Cruz said the professors supported — an actual physical takeover or, given the academic setting, a kind of intellectual one with an emphasis on ideas.

So HLS professors had legal theories that reminded Cruz of Marx, and they were hoping those ideas would be adopted if enough people in our democracy came to support them. And so Cruz was totally justified in saying that they were "Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government."

I'm glad he cleared that up.

and you might also be interested in ...

Speaking of slandering Chuck Hagel, a reporter explains how he became the source for the Friends-of-Hamas rumor.

It's hard to know what to do with the level of crazy that slithers just below the surface of the gun debate. It's wild enough that the NRA's Wayne LaPierre can't talk about universal background checks (which the NRA used to support) without jumping straight to gun confiscation, which no one seems to be proposing, as best I can tell. (I haven't even run into liberals fantasizing behind the scenes about gun confiscation. As best I can tell, there is no constituency for it.)

But then you run into discussions like this one on the Talk to Solomon Show on the Conservative Political Network. Here, gun confiscation is just the first step in a long series of speculations that seem to be based on nothing, leading up to a race war. The confiscation order is supposed to turn gun-owning white patriots into criminals who can then be killed in a series of Ruby-Ridge-like incidents. And here's the ultimate phase of Obama's fiendish plan:
I believe they will put together a racial force to go against an opposite race resistance, basically a black force to go against a white resistance, and then they will claim anyone resisting the black force they are doing it because they are racist.

A federal force of armed blacks is coming for your guns, and you'll be called a racist if you resist. And you're imagining this because ... why, exactly?

This is a real challenge for democracy, I think. What can you do when one side just refuses to debate anything that's actually being proposed?

The same people who will tell you that separation-of-church-and-state is bogus will also tell you that teaching kids yoga violates separation-of-church-and-state.

The Onion explains a great mystery: Chinese hackers have been been vandalizing the Drudge Report for 15 years.
“They make the whole site look like garbage, they publish all this incendiary trash, and meanwhile I have to sit here with my name on this thing—it kills me,” said the popular blogger

I would have made sure this report got out in time for Valentine's Day:
Bottlenose dolphins call out the specific names of loved ones when they become separated, a study finds.

In These Times calls attention to the perennial problem of wage theft: What if your employer just doesn't pay your wages?

One of the ways that we've been cutting "wasteful government spending" and "job-killing regulation" in recent decades is to severely cut back -- or even eliminate entirely -- the government offices a short-changed worker can complain to. Whatever you may think about President Obama's proposal to raise the minimum wage, it's not going to mean much if an employer can just refuse to pay.

A self-described white guy explains why there's no White History Month.

And finally, a mind-reader gives a lesson in internet safety.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Right to Continue

No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.

 -- President Franklin Roosevelt
Statement on the National Industrial Recovery Act (1933)

This week everybody was talking about the State of the Union

It was a good speech (text and video here) that has been well covered elsewhere. Immigration reform and gun control were already on the national agenda, but President Obama also made some new proposals:

Do something about climate change. Ideally, Congress would pass something like the old McCain-Lieberman cap-and-trade bill. "But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will." Grist suggests that threat/promise is empty, but David Roberts lists things Obama could do.

Preschool available to all. The research behind early education is impressive. In the Perry Preschool study, "123 African Americans born in poverty and at high risk of failing in school" were randomly divided into two groups; one got an intensive pre-kindergarten program at ages 3 and 4, and the other didn't. The groups have been followed (so far) until age 40.

(More details in this Chris Hayes segment.) If that's any measure of what can be accomplished, then making the program available to anybody who wants it -- especially at-risk kids from poor families -- is a no-brainer. Independent of any improvements to the kids' life experience, the government might ultimately save money by spending less on them (for prisons, welfare, unemployment ...) over their lifetimes.

Raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 and index it to inflation. Obama framed this as a moral issue:
a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong.

Republicans mostly responded with economic arguments: Raising the minimum wage would kill jobs and cause inflation. The inflation claim effect isn't that worrisome, because minimum-wage work is a vanishingly small part of the cost of production of most products, and the price of many products has little to do with the cost of production anyway.

Whether the proposal would kill jobs depends on why people are making minimum wage. If it's because an hour of their labor adds only $7.25 to their employer's output, then employers will fire them rather raise them to $9. On the other hand, if they produce more than $9 of value, but they make $7.25 because they are powerless people competing against a large pool of other powerless people for whatever jobs they can get, then businesses will just suck it up and pay them more.

The fact that wages in general haven't been keeping pace with productivity for two decades tells me we're probably in the non-job-killing situation, and economists (at least the ones driven by data rather than ideology) mostly agree. (BTW, this either/or analysis also answers the snarky comment: If it's that easy, why not raise the minimum wage to $50? The reason people don't make $50 is probably different than the reason they don't make $9.)

Even at $9, the purchasing power of the minimum wage would still be lower than it has been many times in the past. Tennessee Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn embarrassed herself by saying that Obama's proposal would keep teen-agers out of the workforce, and then reminiscing about working for $2.15 when she was a teen. Of course, that was "somewhere between $12.72 and $14.18 an hour in today's dollars."

A nonpartisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. This was either a too-timid response to a serious problem or an attack on the sovereignty of the states (who have a God-given right to make people in minority neighborhoods wait as long they want) depending on who you listen to.

and the unresponsive responses ...

Tea Party Republican Marco Rubio gave the Republican response (text, video), and Tea Party Republican Rand Paul gave the Tea Party response (text, video). The main thing I learned was that Republican still live in a bubble.

Instead of responding to the President's actual speech, Rubio and Paul continued the Clint Eastwood tradition of debating an Obama only Republicans can see. Apparently, the invisible President Obama denounced the free enterprise system and called for government to take over the economy, so Republicans were proud of Rubio's and Paul's able defense of the American way of life. But if you live outside the Republican bubble and watched the visible President, you had to wonder what the hell they were talking about.

Marco, I can't let this lie pass:
In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.
In actual fact, no, unless you mean reckless de-regulation of Wall Street, which I think is the opposite of what you're trying to imply. The Barney-Frank-did-it version of the financial collapse is some of that "math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better." No one can stop Republicans from blaming regulation for a crisis brought on by de-regulation, but they can't make it true no matter how many times they repeat it.

And that's what's really wrong in GOP-land: They've never come to terms with the failures of the Bush administration. (Also they haven't understood the young voter or embraced 21st-century technology, as Robert Draper pointed out in the NYT Magazine this week.)

When Democrats got clobbered in 1980, 1984, and 1988, they did some genuine soul-searching and decided they had to overcome the big-government mindset of LBJ's Great Society. They had to own up to the stagflation of the Carter years and get past the Vietnam Syndrome that made the electorate unwilling to trust a Democrat as commander-in-chief. The result was President Clinton's move to the center in the 1990s, his announcement that "the era of big government is over", welfare reform, fiscal seriousness that eventually led to a budget surplus, and Senators Kerry, Clinton, and Biden voting to authorize the Iraq War.

Whether you agree with that shift or not, it was real and had consequences. So far, GOP reform isn't and doesn't. Nothing in Rubio's speech (or Romney's campaign) would have been out of place in the Bush administration. Hell, Republicans still listen to Dick Cheney.

Voters can't forgive them if they won't repent.

but I want to talk about evolution ...

In honor of Charles Darwin's birthday (last Tuesday), I thought I'd address the swing voters to whom creationist arguments sound sort of reasonable. Evolution/Creation for Non-Eggheads.

and food ...

Fascinating Supreme Court case about Monsanto's ability to control its seeds. Legally, genetically engineered seeds are treated like software. They're sold with a licensing agreement that prevents farmers from using their harvest for next year's seeds. Growing one seed into many seeds -- as farmers have done since dawn of agriculture -- is like making your own copies of copyrighted software.

But Monsanto's Roundup-ready soybeans now dominate the market to such an extent that if you buy a random truckload of soybeans from a grain elevator, chances are most of them are Roundup-ready. A 300-acre farmer did that, and planted the beans he bought. Monsanto is suing him.

As I've occasionally pointed out before, our food system has gotten really crazy. A new book Foodopoly describes it as an hourglass: lots of farmers at one end and lots of eaters at the other, but between them a narrow bottleneck controlled by a few big corporations. Increasingly, corporations make the major decisions and people are powerless.

Genetic engineering is a good case in point. Chances are you never decided to start eating Monsanto's genetically engineered grains; maybe you don't even realize you do. But most corn seed is Monsanto's now, which means most high-fructose corn syrup is GE. And HFCS is in everything.

Farmers are controlled on one side by seed corporations, who are closing off all other ways to get seeds. On the other side, the market for farm crops is controlled by big suppliers who serve big retailers like WalMart and McDonalds. They impose their standards on the farmers, who have no alternative buyers. This is a detailed example of the general monopsony problem described in Barry Lynn's Cornered.

and you might also find this interesting ...

Hubris: Selling the Iraq War -- tonight at 9 on MSNBC. Rachel Maddow hosts.

This kind of thing was just what I was hoping for when Elizabeth Warren ran for the Senate. She's not rude or abusive. She's not a Joe McCarthy-like bully. But she's got a good question to ask and she's going to stick with it.

You've got to wonder if the NRA is even trying to win elections any more. Maybe the whole point is to pander to the tiny slice of the population that buys lots and lots of guns. In an op-ed for the Daily Caller (fact-checked by Joe Nocera), Wayne LaPierre presents a personal arsenal as the only rational response to the looming collapse of America into post-apocalyptic barbarism.
Nobody knows if or when the fiscal collapse will come, but if the country is broke, there likely won’t be enough money to pay for police protection. And the American people know it.

Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to face—not just maybe. It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival.

Don't forget the zombies, Wayne.

Slate explains why pro-gun people keep saying that bats and hammers kill more people than guns (as a Georgia congressman did after the State of the Union). A long time ago someone made the true point that in America bats and hammers kill more people than AK-47s. (That would probably change if every Little Leaguer carried an AK-47 or they became a standard part of every home toolkit, but never mind.) Exaggeration took over from there, and since fact-checking is a liberal conspiracy, this absurd claim is now a permanent part of the public discussion.

But some guns really are cool, like this supersonic ping-pong-ball gun.

The folks at Saturday Morning Breakfast Comics understand that S&M might be a little different after you've had ten years to figure out what really tortures your spouse.

During Winter Storm Nemo, Brian Maffitt pointed a movie projector out the window and projected "The Lorax" onto the falling snow. He added music and got something that isn't recognizable as Dr. Seuss, but it's beautiful and peaceful in that log-burning-in-the-fireplace way.

Monday, February 11, 2013


What we need to do is optimize transparency on these issues, but at the same time, optimize secrecy.

-- CIA Director nominee John Brennan, testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee

Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.

-- George Orwell, 1984

I believe that every American has the right to know when the government believes it has the right to kill them. 

-- Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), letter to John Brennan

Catch-22 states that agents enforcing Catch-22 need not prove that Catch-22 actually contains whatever provision the accused violator is accused of violating.

-- Joseph Heller, Catch-22

This week everybody was talking about targeted killings

In particular: When can a president send a drone or a strike team to kill an American citizen he thinks (or says) is a terrorist? How can we square the war-fighting power the Constitution grants a president with a citizen’s constitutional right to due process of law? When does traitorous-death-in-battle shade over into execution-without-trial?

And the answer is: It’s a secret. Maybe if you discovered the conditions under which the government could kill you, the government would have to kill you.

OK, that was flip. Here’s what’s actually true: The memo that explains the Obama administration’s reasoning process on killing Americans has not been released to the public. It hasn’t even been released to Congress, though by Friday the Senate Intelligence Committee had received a copy, and the parallel House committee has been promised one. The rest of Congress will remain in the dark.

Like most liberal bloggers, I was all over this kind of thing when President Bush was doing it. A few (notably Glenn Greenwald and Marcy Wheeler) stayed on it when Obama continued (or sometimes even expanded) Bush’s policies. I came back to the topic now and then (Execution Without Trial when Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in 2011, and again last June in Who Can Obama Kill?), but never gave it the week-in-week-out attention that I had in the Bush years.

This week, the hearings to confirm John Brennan as CIA Director brought it all back to center stage. Reading and watching the coverage, I think it’s important to keep the right issues in mind. Don’t get distracted by the technology of drones, because this isn’t a technological issue. And while you should definitely pay attention to the who-can-Obama-kill issue, there’s something even more important to keep your eye on, because it concerns one of the deepest and oldest principles of democracy and the rule of law: The law should never be secret.

I lay this out in more detail in Secret Laws II: It’s just as bad when Obama does it.

and the weather …

We had some snow in the northeast. Maybe you heard about it.

and guns and immigration …

About that path to citizenship: House Republicans would rather have a permanent underclass.

The NRA says we don’t need new gun laws, we just need to enforce the laws we have. But it also lobbies to undermine the enforcement of gun laws at every turn, both by underfunding the ATF and by tying ATF agents up in red tape. USA Today has the details.

Republicans still live in their own universe. PPP asked 508 Republican primary voters “What do you think is a bigger safety threat in America: guns or violent video games?” [It comes late in the survey. If you follow the link, scroll way down.]

Guns 14%
Video games 67%
Not sure 19%
Steve Benen, God bless him, responds as if evidence and logic matter.
Gaming is a huge cultural phenomenon in countries like South Korea, England, Japan, and Canada – and they’re all playing many of the same games Americans enjoy – and yet, none of these countries comes close to the U.S. when it comes to deadly shootings. … [S]ocieties with fewer guns have less gun violence, whether they’re playing “Halo” or not.

(Benen also responded with evidence and logic when a Fox News “expert” claimed that solar energy works in Germany because it’s so sunny there.)

Being more cynical, I question whether any Republicans believe video games are more threatening than guns, or if ideology just obligates them to say so. If there are two open seats on the subway – one next to a stranger with a gun, the other next to a stranger with a video game – do two-out-of-three of Republicans really feel safer taking the seat next to the gunman?

Anti-NRA political advertising seems to be working in Illinois.

and you also might be interested in …

If the Pope expected his resignation to make his critics let up, I’m sure he’s disappointed.

It’s not just the filibuster or voter suppression or rigging the electoral college, Republicans have a comprehensive strategy for minority rule.

That hype about energy independence: to the extent it happens at all, it’s only temporary.

Sam Killermann is compiling examples of privilege: middle-to-upper-class privilege, male privilege, and Christian privilege.

My father was a white farmer (well, ethnically European farmer – the exposed parts of his face and arms got pretty brown by August) who drove a tractor and a pick-up truck, so I was touched by the Dodge Ram Super Bowl commercial based on the Paul Harvey prose-poem “So God Made a Farmer”.

But that points to one more example of privilege: A Super Bowl commercial full of people like me seems normal. Here’s the same Paul Harvey narration with a slideshow of (the far more numerous) Latino farmers.

I like that response. It expresses no hostility towards white farmers or Paul Harvey or even Dodge. It just rights the balance.

And TV critic David Hinckley provided what Paul Harvey used to call “the rest of the story”.

[F]or almost a century America has been driving the person Harvey and this ad are celebrating, the family farmer, out of business. … [The ad] felt a little like erecting a beautiful statue to a species we are hunting into extinction.

And of course there were parodies like, “So God Made a Banker.

This week in hypocrisy. Ron Paul is using the machinery of world government against his fans.

For years now, has been a Ron Paul fan site, promoting Paul’s ideas, books, candidacy etc., but not owned or run by Paul himself. It’s been an active site, with numerous postings getting thousands of comments.

Now Paul has decided he wants to own the URL. The current owners have offered him (which they also own) for free, but they want $250,000 for – and they’ll throw in their 170,000-name mailing list, which they claim is worth the quarter million on its own.

Instead, Paul has filed a case with the World Intellectual Property Organization under rules designed to root out cyber-squatters – the kind of people who register for no other purpose than to sell it to the band for an exorbitant price.

“Ron Paul,” his filing claims, “enjoys a national reputation in the United States as premier advocate for liberty in American politics today.” Or at least he used to.

Dick Cheney, the mastermind behind the Iraq War, criticized President Obama for appointing “second-rate people” like John Kerry and Chuck Hagel to key national security posts.

My current supply of snark is insufficient to generate a proper response.

Bill Maher schools Donald Trump on why you should never start an absurd argument with a comedian. It’s their turf.

Every now and then you see an idea that has to be somebody’s ultimate fantasy. Here’s one: a TED talk by a supermodel. It’s actually pretty good.

And every now and then, people convince you that they’re even worse than you thought. Here’s one: a writer at cuts through all that nonsense about concussions and dementia and gets to the heart of why liberals seem to be down on football: President Obama wants us to be a nation of pansies, because real men with balls threaten his power.

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern keeps it real: The pro-gun “Sandy Hook father” isn’t really a Sandy Hook father. And the actual anti-gun Sandy Hook father didn’t really get “heckled”.

If nobody is dancing at your Occupy/Tea Party Unity party, cue this up.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Being Them

It's easy sometimes for the [immigration] discussion to take on a feeling of us versus them. And when that happens, a lot of folks forget that most of us used to be them.

-- President Barack Obama (Tuesday)

This week everybody was talking about immigration

The early part of a new presidential term is a magic moment for discussing the country's real problems and what might be done about them. At the beginning of Obama's first term we talked about how to stimulate the economy and expand access to healthcare. This time we're talking about guns, immigration, and (maybe soon) climate change.

There's no guarantee anything will get done, but isn't it wonderful to be talking about something real? "Why can't we do this all the time?" you wonder, and I have no answers.

So this week a bipartisan group of senators presented their immigration framework and President Obama responded by presenting his. (A bipartisan group in the House is still working on its plan.) Each has four parts, and the parts are remarkably similar: border security, a path to citizenship for people currently in the country illegally, and stopping undocumented workers from getting jobs are mentioned in both. Obama talks about "streamlining our legal immigration system" while the senators' proposal seems a little more specifically business-focused: "admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs" -- but those goals seem compatible.

At this point, both proposals are just lists of principles; there is no actual immigration bill yet. So a lot can still go wrong. Maybe the details will be hard to hash out, or maybe the two sides aren't as serious as they look. We'll see.

Republicans and the Hispanic vote. The one lesson Republicans seem to have learned from November is that they need more Hispanic votes. But opinions on how to get them vary.

Some think it will be enough to showcase more Hispanic names and faces. Put Marco Rubio or maybe Ted Cruz on the 2016 ticket, they think, and the Hispanic problem goes away. (The same people thought Sarah Palin would bring Hillary Clinton's female supporters to John McCain. It didn't work out.)

Another school believes Republicans just have to change their rhetoric. Stop talking about "sending them all back" or "anchor babies", stop taking public stands against immigration reform, and presto!

Another faction thinks it's pointless even to try. National Review promotes the same you-aren't-good-enough-to-vote-for-us message that worked so well for Mitt Romney:
While many [Hispanics] are in business for themselves, they express hostile attitudes toward free enterprise in polls. They are disproportionately low-income and disproportionately likely to receive some form of government support. More than half of Hispanic births are out of wedlock. Take away the Spanish surname and Latino voters look a great deal like many other Democratic constituencies. Low-income households headed by single mothers and dependent upon some form of welfare are not looking for an excuse to join forces with Paul Ryan and Pat Toomey. Given the growing size of the Hispanic vote, it would help Republicans significantly to lose it by smaller margins than they have recently. But the idea that an amnesty is going to put Latinos squarely in the GOP tent is a fantasy.

Finally, somewhere inside the GOP may lie a faction that genuinely wants to represent Hispanic Americans and solve the nation's immigration problem. Maybe they will succeed, or maybe the party will be happy just to have a plausible way to blame the Democrats when immigration reform fails yet again. We'll see.

Guest workers. Most pundits are focusing on border security, but I think the detail most likely to sink the whole plan is how to handle "guest workers" -- people we allow to enter the country to do a job, and then send back home without any chance for permanent residency or citizenship.

Guest workers make sense in two circumstances: if our need for workers is genuinely temporary (as it was when so many of our citizens were overseas fighting World War II), or if the workers themselves have no interest in staying. (A young Mexican might want to come north for the tomato harvest or to work in a kitchen for a year or so, and then go home with a little spending money.) But if we're bringing in workers to fill a long-term need, then it should be up to them whether they want to stay and pursue citizenship. Otherwise we're just giving the business community an exploitable working class that can't vote.

The labor market. I am sick of hearing about "jobs Americans won't do". This is the only kind of market failure conservatives believe in. I believe that there are many jobs Americans won't do for a Mexican wage, but there is a market-clearing wage that will get those jobs done in America by Americans.

People who believe in jobs-Americans-won't-do point to the experience of Georgia and Alabama, where anti-immigrant laws resulted in crops rotting in the fields. To me, this is what would happen in any import-dominated market if imports (in this case, imported workers) were suddenly cut off. If we banned imports of, say, laptop computers, there would be a shortage in the stores until the domestic manufacturers tooled up. But that wouldn't imply that "there are products American companies won't make".

What we found out in Georgia and Alabama is that low-skill work like harvesting vegetables isn't no-skill work. You can't take random people out of the unemployment line and expect them to have the required skill and stamina. Again, if you are paying an illegal-immigrant wage and people aren't sure whether the immigrants will come back or not, native Alabamans and Georgians are not going to invest a lot of effort in improving their harvesting.

If growers had to pay an American wage to get their vegetables harvested, a lot of current arrangements wouldn't make sense, and it would take a while for the market to adjust. (Maybe there are some crops that it doesn't make sense to grow in America, or maybe consumers will have to get used to paying higher prices.) But many industries suffer cost shocks of one sort or another, and the market works it out eventually.

That's exactly what markets are good at, as conservatives ought to know.

If we discover that we are generally short of workers after the market settles on an American wage for jobs currently being done by undocumented immigrants, then we need more documented immigrants who have the option of seeking citizenship, not guest workers.

... and we're still talking about guns

which is kind of amazing when you think about it. Six weeks after Sandy Hook, the NRA still hasn't managed to shut this down.

Increasingly, the NRA is having trouble defending itself and its minions, much less achieving its goals. Groups like the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Mayor Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns (whose SuperPAC also has Mayor Bloomberg's financial backing) are making politicians pay a price for their NRA A-rating. Here, CSGV goes after Georgia Democratic Congressman John Barrow, using footage from his own pro-gun campaign ad.

IndependenceUSA ran this ad against Debbie Halvorson, a candidate running in a special election congressional primary in Chicago.

In a debate, one of Halvorson's rivals said, "I got an F (grade) from the NRA, something I’m proud of."

This doesn't work all over the country yet, but it doesn't have to. In recent years, the NRA's agenda has gotten support from representatives whose constituents lean the other way, just because there has been no perceived price to giving in to the powerful gun lobby. Now there is.

The NRA itself is facing an increasing level of criticism. Long-term, the most damaging charge is probably this one, taken from an article by Tim Dickinson in the current Rolling Stone:
Billing itself as the nation's "oldest civil rights organization," the NRA still claims to represent the interests of marksmen, hunters and responsible gun owners. But over the past decade and a half, the NRA has morphed into a front group for the firearms industry, whose profits are increasingly dependent on the sale of military-bred weapons like the assault rifles used in the massacres at Newtown and Aurora, Colorado.

On paper the NRA is governed by its members, but member-power is hard to exercise. NRA members did not, for example, elect their most visible spokesman, CEO Wayne LaPierre, who has served since 1991. He was chosen by a 76-member board. One-third of that board comes up for election each year, when members who have been paying dues for at least five years are presented with a slate of candidates chosen by a 10-member nominating committee (which I think is also chosen by the board). Theoretically it would be possible for the members to change leadership by electing write-in candidates, but in practice it's hard to imagine. One charismatic reformer in one election couldn't do it. A reform movement would have to field a slate of candidates over several years, and by the second year gun-industry money would pour into the incumbent campaigns.

Dickinson lays out the money trail, estimating that corporate donors like Ruger, Beretta, Browning, and Remington have given the NRA $52 million in recent years.
Much like elite funders of a major political party, these Golden Ringers enjoy top access to decision-makers at the NRA. Their interests, not the interest of the $35-a-year member, rule the roost. "They've got this base of true believers that they mail their magazines out to," says policy analyst Diaz. "But the NRA is really about serving this elite."

It's one thing for a politician to point to an A-grade from the NRA as support from America's sportsmen. It'll be a different matter entirely if the public comes to see it as evidence that s/he has been bought by the firearms industry.

This kind of thing -- turning an organization's support into a negative -- has happened before: Conservatives did it to the ACLU, most notably in the Dukakis/Bush race of 1988. ACORN was driven out of existence entirely. They're trying -- unsuccessfully, so far -- to do the same to Planned Parenthood.

I can't remember liberals ever pulling this trick off against a conservative organization. But it deserves to happen to anybody, it deserves to happen to the NRA.

Stephen King has written a very interesting piece called "Guns". It's available as a Kindle single for 99 cents, or Amazon Prime members can borrow it for free.

The most interesting section is when King discusses his own role in school shootings and what he did about it. As a teen-ager, he wrote a school-shooting novel called Rage. More than one school shooter, King discovered years later, had been reading Rage.

He does not apologize for writing it, because he believes it expresses a certain truth about the teen-boy experience. And he doesn't believe that his novel "broke" the shooters; rather "they found something in my book that spoke to them because they were already broken."

Nonetheless he did take Rage off the market, because it's an "accelerant", as he puts it.
I didn't pull Rage from publication because the law demanded it; I was protected under the First Amendment, and the law couldn't demand it. I pulled it because in my judgment it was hurting people, and that made it the responsible thing to do.

Ultimately, King's proposals are similar to President Obama's: background checks, assault weapon ban, ban on large magazine clips, and so on. But what's most interesting is how he imagines these changes coming about: Gun owners (like him) need to demand them -- in spite of the NRA -- because it's the responsible thing to do.

The Atlantic takes on the argument that the Second Amendment is a defense against tyranny. When people make that claim, they're usually picturing the Minutemen, who really were a "well-organized militia" accountable to the community. (They also didn't have much to do with winning the Revolutionary War.) But self-selected gangs of armed civilians are only effective defenders of democracy in fantasies like Red Dawn.

The right parallel in American history isn't Lexington and Concord in 1776, it's Bleeding Kansas in 1856-58, when pro- and anti-slavery gunmen traded atrocities.
a citizen uprising at any point in the foreseeable future would probably not involve like-minded constitutionalists taking up arms to defend democracy and liberty. It would more likely be a matter of one aggrieved social group attacking another. And for the most criminal and vicious members of society, the rationale of "protecting" their own rights would be a convenient justification for straight-up looting, robbery, and bloodshed.

The week's stupidest controversy happened after the New Republic asked President Obama "Have you ever fired a gun?" and Obama replied "Up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time."

Since this off-hand remark was apparently the most important thing happening in America, conservatives from Fox News to Congress to CNN's Erin Burnett demanded proof. Even the WaPo's fact-check column weighed in, as if this were a claim about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction or something.

"If he is a skeet shooter, why have we not heard of this?" asked Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn. "Why have we not seen photos?" -- a question that Jon Stewart rephrased as: "Why won't the black man half the country lives in fear of release a picture of himself with a gun?"

Maybe they were hoping for another Dukakis-in-a-tank photo. But Obama doesn't look too bad. BagNews (a blog focused on analyzing political imagery) comments:
the critics and conservatives have short-sightedly forced Obama into releasing one of the most advantageous photos of his presidency.

Are they happy now? Or can we expect Donald Trump and Sheriff Arpaio to declare the picture a fake? notes that the photo was posted "after all the uproar" and says that in spite of the White House's claims  "When this photo was taken is anybody's guess." Why didn't I think of that? Obama must have flown someplace where the leaves are still green so that he could fake a photo to end this damaging "uproar".

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Wednesday, the Sift's most popular post of all time ("The Distress of the Privileged") got its 200,000th page view.

As the fiscal debate shifts to the defense cuts in the looming sequester, it's worth taking a look at how our defense spending compares with the rest of the world.

You'll sometimes see a smaller number -- something in the $525 billion range -- but that's just "core" defense spending. It leaves out the cost of the wars we're fighting, plus defense-oriented spending that appears in the intelligence or energy budgets. Columbia Journalism Review lays out the range of numbers that have some claim to measure "defense spending". Even the $711 billion pictured above leaves out stuff like military pensions.

If you watched the Super Bowl, maybe you saw an ad for SodaStream, the company that wants you to save money and the environment by carbonating your own water, adding flavorings yourself, and reusing the same bottles many times.

But you didn't see this cute ad, because CBS censored it, apparently because it directly makes fun of Coke and Pepsi, who are much bigger CBS advertisers.

It was OK for Pepsi to make fun of Coke in past Super Bowl ads, but that's Goliath-on-Goliath action. In the "free" market (where CBS is "free" to censor ads it doesn't want to show), Davids have to play by different rules. If you want a marketplace where everybody plays by the same rules ... that requires government regulation. And (as we all know) regulation kills "freedom".

Be careful what "news" articles you share on Facebook; the satire at The Daily Currant is getting harder and harder to separate from real life. I was almost fooled by Lehman Brothers CEO Arrested For Accounting Fraud, and the headlines Ann Coulter Refuses to Board Airplane With Black Pilot and Rush Limbaugh Denied Service at Mexican Restaurant are kinda-sorta plausible (especially if you never liked those two anyway). As you get deeper into the stories, though, you ought to catch on -- like when Tim Pawlenty is quoted saying this about the Lehman arrest:
"I don't mind being tough on crime. But I would prefer if the government stuck to prosecuting black and Latino people for drug offenses."

But the pastor who stiffed the waitress at Applebee's -- that really happened. And the story just keeps getting worse.

It wasn't enough for Pastor Alois Bell to cross out the 18% automatic tip that Applebee's computer generates for large parties. (The $34.93 is Bell's part of a split check, not the total.) It wasn't even enough to add "I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?" and append "Pastor" to her signature.

When a photo of the ticket went viral on Reddit and the story was picked up by news sites all over the country, Bell had a chance to turn the other cheek, or maybe even treat the waitress to a Triple Chocolate Meltdown and see if they can't laugh about this together now that it's in the past. I mean, WWJD?

[OK, Jesus probably wouldn't stiff a waitress and then brag about tithing in the first place, but WWJD is supposed to apply to all kinds of situations Jesus would never get into.]

We all picture Jesus in our own ways, but I doubt he would call Applebee's and demand that everyone responsible for the embarrassment be fired, as Bell did. So the $3.50-an-hour waitress who photographed and posted the check (not the stiffed waitress, at least) is out on the street. I'm sure that will solve Bell's public relations problem.

Fortunately for Pastor Bell, her God is more merciful than she is. A less forgiving deity might demand that everyone responsible for His embarrassment be "fired".

I don't watch HBO's Girls. I tried in Season 1, but I'm not young enough, female enough, or New Yorky enough to get into it.

But Season 2 has sparked some fascinating discussion of Lena Dunham's nude scenes. Now, naked women on HBO is old news. (Game of Thrones rarely makes it through half an episode without somebody's breasts getting into the picture somehow.) But unlike the babes of Westeros, Dunham doesn't have the kind of body you see in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. She looks ... the way the rest of American 20-somethings look without their clothes.

Apparently that's a problem for some people. And their problem is an interesting topic for the rest of us. The Independent's Nat Guest (a woman) writes:
there’s something progressive – almost revolutionary, in fact - about the approach to nudity in Girls. Rather than being sexualised flesh, designed to titillate, this is matter-of-fact flesh; uninhibited flesh that owns its own sexuality, and reminds us that there can be other reasons for nudity other than satisfying the male gaze.
The Atlantic's Ta-Nahisi Coates (a man) described Girls as
one of the most democratic - and everyhuman - depictions of sex to ever exist in pop culture. The more I thought about this, the more important it became to me.

This head-slapping video demonstrates that we've all been using Chinese take-out containers wrong.

What does "white privilege" mean? It means being able to carry a nice TV a few blocks to your friend's house after dark -- without worrying how you'll look to the police. What does "Christian privilege" mean? Crystal St. Marie Lewis explains:
For Christians in America, religious privilege means boarding an airplane while holding their Bibles in plain view without incurring suspicion. The same isn’t true for people who “look like” Muslims in our country.

Privilege is seldom the kind of thing that makes you strut around thinking, "Damn, I'm privileged." Usually it's the stuff that you can do without thinking about it at all -- and other people have to be very careful about.

Since I'm unlikely to make it to Kamchatka myself, AirPano watches the erupting volcanoes for me.

Spiegel explains how remarkable this is:
Given that volcano experts don't believe that the four volcanoes are being fed from the same magma source, the parallel eruptions would seem to be the geological equivalent of winning the lottery.

And finally, can you watch an Oscar-nominated romantic comedy in six and a half minutes? Yes, you can.