Sunday, January 19, 2020

Dinner Plate Joe Is Not Your Uncle

     I don't consider Joe Biden to be an electable candidate. I think his strength in the polls is soft. I think his record is full of glaring cracks that will cause that support to fall apart under close attention. I think when Bernie Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire, black voters who have been saying Biden is their first choice and Bernie is their second will flip it around because they will believe Bernie is a winner. His record is what interests me here. I think Joe Biden's unelectability is less important the high likelihood that he would be a very bad President for the American working class if he were elected. Joe Biden is not your blue collar uncle. He's a career politician who has built his success on standing on the other side of the door and pushing progressive ideas out of the room all his life.

     To quote the linked 2018 piece for Paste Magazine by Walker Bragman,
    "One of the main criticisms of Hillary Clinton this past election was that she was inexorably close to Wall Street, having accepted campaign contributions from the likes of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, and of course, her paid speeches. Well, Biden may just be worse."

     Walker likes fancy words. I do too sometimes. What he said in plain language is that if you thought Hillary Clinton was on your boss and your landlord's side, good old "Uncle Joe" is worse. Biden's very first event after launching his campaign was at the home of a Comcast executive and Republican donor. Another of these donors is a high level lobbyist for my old employer, a business services contracting firm called Conduent that runs toll roads and call centers. Conduent used to be "Xerox Services." We're talking about a major player. So much for the myth of Working Class Joe. Lobbyists and donors were the people who mattered to him when it was time to kick things off.

     Ordinary working class people aren't going to like this and Joe, via the media, will keep rubbing it in our faces until we want to bathe. He's not going to magically shift everything to appeal to grassroots donors at this stage in his career. He's not even pretending to do so. He's taken over $3M from the "lawyer/lobbyist" donor category already. Dinner Plate Joe is deeply tied to the American oligarchs. He's running to keep the status quo firmly in place for the corporate landlords who dominate that oligarchy. If he named Mike Bloomberg is running mate, would you really be surprised?

     This should hurt his chances. Whether it will or not depends on how successful the Bernie Sanders campaign is at genuinely organizing, harnessing, and directing a working class, progressive movement. If working class, millennial turnout is high then Joe Biden will not be the nominee. That's good news.

      The most telling evidence against Biden's working class street cred is his career long crusade to make big deals with Republicans to cut or means test Social Security and Medicare. As Ryan Grim writes in the linked Intercept piece,
"AS EARLY AS 1984 and as recently as 2018, former Vice President Joe Biden called for cuts to Social Security in the name of saving the program and balancing the federal budget."
     That's right, Joe Biden called for cuts to Social Security as recently as 2018. That's something to keep in mind when trying to decide whether he still intends to do what he said he wants to do. In 2018, Joe Biden was presumably getting ready to run for President. If he was speaking off the cuff on Social Security at the time, it was very likely in the context of a future Biden Presidency. Why else mention it at all?

     This is the famous video that the Biden campaign said was doctored and Politifact says was not shown in context. My cat's hairballs smell better than those excuses.

     If you watch the full video included in the Intercept piece, this completely falls to pieces. Biden very specifically recommends exactly the same policy solutions that had been recommended by Paul Ryan. Joe Biden thinks we're spending too much money on retirement benefits and medical coverage for senior citizens. Joe Biden thinks we need to cut social spending on retirement benefits and healthcare coverage for senior citizens.

     Let's be very clear and politically incorrect. Cutting spending on retirement benefits and healthcare coverage for senior citizens means letting old people die. You can't pretty it up or hide that fact without lying. If you pin liberals who recommend such actions down on their reasons, they will refuse that budget cuts equal responsibility for deaths rather than deny that people will die. Think about what this means: the people who advocate for budget cuts know people will die but don't want to accept responsibility for those deaths, despite advocating for the cause of those deaths.

     Do the candidates think about these things the same way their supporters do? Is it worse if they do or worse if they are out of touch and blissfully ignorant?

     Dinner Plate Joe isn't our uncle and he isn't our friend. Just say no to Dinner Plate Joe.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

How Money Works: Why we can pay for nice things!

     This past Friday, the Dow topped 29,000 for the first time in history. The tone in which the story was reported was breathless and triumphal. It was clear that NBC News writer Lucy Bayly was very impressed by the record.
    "The Dow hit 28,000 on Nov. 15 and needed just 48 points Friday to breach the 29,000 mark, having flirted with the number all day Thursday after a de-escalation in the conflict with Iran soothed investor fears, energy prices settled, and Apple posted record gains on higher-than-expected sales in China.
Gains in Apple, Goldman Sachs, and healthcare stocks helped push the index upwards." 
     Notice how specific those reasons are. Energy prices settled, we didn't have a war, and Apple did really well. Gains by Apple, the biggest investment firm in the country, and the healthcare industry pushed us over the top. Great work team!

     Except they don't mention that these numbers were purchased with $128B from the Federal Reserve. This was the first time the Fed had taken this kind of action since 2009, when it was done as part of the Obama era financial stimulus package. This time it was done so the Fed could cut interest rates and banks could keep lending.
   "Separately on Wednesday, the Fed is expected to announce it will lower interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point as officials look to insulate the economy from a downturn. Though hiring and spending remain solid in the US, investors have grown increasingly jittery about slower global growth and trade tensions."
     Apparently the September investment by the Fed soothed those investment jitters. Yet this was done solely to enrich stock and bond holders, while keeping banks lending money to corporations. We are not benefiting from this decision in any meaningful way because most of us don't have significant money in the stock market. 10% of the population owns 84% of share value. While many working class Americans "own stock" through their 401k retirement accounts, these shares are part of the remaining 16% of total share value. That's not significant at all and the investment firms that manage those accounts are keeping a lot of the value on profits.

     When we can casually drop $128B into the stock market for the benefit of Wall Street bookies and billionaire landlords, it's ridiculous to say that we can't afford policy that would benefit the American people directly instead of indirectly. Especially since we just print money to pay the interest on the bonds held by those billionaires. The right hand holds up the stock market, the second prints money to keep up interest payments on bonds. The federal debt just enriches the same people borrowing the money in the end.

     Bring the Pentagon budget under control, end the Forever War, and turn the power of the coinage into a tool for the benefit of the working people of America instead of the landlords. If we can do that then we can issue the money needed for a Green New Deal, Federal Jobs Guarantee and Medicare For All without fear. We're going to pay for it whether we do it or not.

     This is really the important part. The federal government will continue to sell bonds and to pay interest to the holders of those bonds with our without a Green New Deal. If we are proceeding with the Green New Deal anyway, then interest payments on debt created along the way will continue to benefit the same billionaires they do now. The only difference is that we will have clean fuel and workplace democracy.

     The landlords will be a lot less powerful, however, and that's the real root of opposition to progressive Congressional candidates and Bernie Sanders. If they lose their power then they will again have to provide the federal revenue instead of successfully leaving the working class with the bill. That scares them more than anything else.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

A Late New Year's Resolution

     Dear Readers,

     I'm behind on my New Year's Resolution. This is January 4th, after all, and I'm three days late. Still, I think it's a good idea to make one. Then I have to do my best to try to stick with it. So here we go. Please do your best to hold me to it as the year goes on, if you read this and pay attention!

     First, I resolve to write something every Saturday like I originally intended to do when I started blogging again! I think it's really important to be consistent and to work on my technical process. I also need to write longer essays and work on my fiction. This means blogging every Saturday and writing, consistently, on other projects every night before bed. I believe I can do this, so I will do this. This is the one I will need you guys to push me on the most!

     Second, I resolve to avoid fighting with Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang supporters and to focus on going after Joe Biden the way he should be gone after. There is so much good material for writing and tweeting there that I just have to put that energy where there is the most productive work to be done for the most rewarding returns. This is important because Biden is the one we need to stop right now. If he actually wins the nomination, I see it being very difficult to pass any progressive policy. I also think he hurts our chances to take back the Senate. We need to nominate strong progressive candidates and run Bernie Sanders at the top of the ticket if we want to win the Senate!

     Third, I need to work on connecting the two separate focuses of my Twitter output and writing more effectively. I need to refocus on teaching a libertarian socialist critique of capitalist authoritarianism and then connect it directly to my project of promoting a progressive Congressional revolution. I resolve to do this and to put teaching first, then connecting lessons to the promotion of a Progressive Wave in 2020.

   Finally, I need to not let Twitter interfere with my work so much. I also smother my own tweets and prevent them from taking off the way they could with too much output sometimes. So I resolve to try to put just a little more space between important tweets, to focus on my day job while at work and to put time into my writing and tweeting with more discipline.


The Eclectic Radical

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The More Things Change: We need to vote Nancy Pelosi out

     We need to vote Nancy Pelosi out. Let's get that out there now. I'm going to tell a story and reference some things I wrote before, but it's really important you understand that we need to vote Nancy Pelosi out of office. She's far more of a quisling than a resistance fighter.

     You know you have fans when someone goes through your blog and posts something 11 years old on Twitter with a comment about how well it's aged. The essay, grandiosely titled after Anne Coulter's apologia for Joseph McCarthy, was critical of Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic House for not impeaching President George W. Bush or seriously investigate his war crimes. It has since turned out that Pelosi knew about the lies that led to the war but didn't consider the misconduct impeachable. Suddenly a lot of things make sense that I didn't know about then and I feel justified in being hard on Pelosi then.

     I should admit that it's very gratifying to have fans. Does that make me a bad person?

     The fact that Pelosi didn't act to enforce the Constitution when Dubya was in office is one of the reasons that we should vote her out, but it isn't the only one. In July of this year, I wrote about how Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer were actively opposing the Democratic Party agenda. Since then Pelosi and Hoyer have led the Democratic Majority in voting $1.4B for Trump's Border Wall, voting to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act, massively funding ICE while doing nothing to hold them accountable for concentration camps and giving the Pentagon a nearly $8B budget. So that essay has aged pretty well too, in my opinion.

     These were the kinds of deals Nancy Pelosi made with Dubya too. This isn't new. She did it before in 2007. Her behavior now is exactly what we can expect from an abusive partner like her. She's hitting us again 12 years later, just like she hit us 12 years ago. It's really the Democratic Party's fault for continuing to trust her as Speaker. Steny Hoyer was the House Majority Leader then too. He needs to go the same way Pelosi does.

     The good news is that Nancy Pelosi has a strong primary challenger in Shahid Buttar. He is a civil rights activist, a democratic socialist, an advocate for our civil liberties and a genuinely good man. He's the best possible candidate for his district at this point in time, especially if they are ready to once again embrace a robust Public. Yet Twitter trolls swear Nancy Pelosi is a hero. It's simply not true.

     From the linked article above:
     "As Silverstein tells me, “People project their good intentions onto Pelosi. They’ll say she’s playing a long game, but there’s simply no evidence that that’s true. It might just be that she’s more moderate than we hope she is.”
     I would argue that she proved that was the case in 2007. Everything that is happening now is just a little bit of history repeating. The more things change...

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Poverty in Modern Society: Who are the poor?

     Who are the poor?

     I am seeing a lot of supporters of Andrew Yang use the promise of eradicating poverty and "uplifting the poor" to argue in favor of his political program and his candidacy for President of the United States. Though many of these supporters were clearly taught the arguments in a troll farm somewhere, the arguments are so common as to require a response. So I'm going to provide one. First, though, I'm going to ask the question again. Who are the poor?

     Modern neoliberal economics does its best to throw sand in your eyes when you try to go looking for an answer. That's because modern neoliberal economics in in service to a political agenda rather than the economic facts of our society, but that's a topic for another blog. Still, any discussion of poverty must start with how hard it has become to define the poor. The United States government does provide a definition, but I find it lacking.

     In 2018 the poverty line was drawn at $12,784 for a single adult. It was $16,247 for two adults sharing expenses. If the Andrew Yang campaign or individual Yang supporters are using 2018 poverty stats then they appear to prove their point: two roommates or a cohabitating couple will never be "poor" again if we judge poverty by the Federal government's stats. Every pair of roommates or cohabitating couple in the US will make $24,000 a year even if with no other job or income! That's $8000 above the poverty line! This must be the #MATH they are always talking about, right?

     All of this gives me an idea for a piece on how economic need traps people in dangerous situations. I'm going to risk sidetracking myself to say that the number one reason victims of domestic violence stay in an abusive situation is money and fear of poverty. Yang's Freedom Dividend requires two incomes to uplift the poor from poverty as defined by the federal government. One Freedom Dividend isn't enough for one person, it takes at least two.

     Let's ignore the federal government's official definition of poverty now. Throw it right out the window and forget it. Why? It's simply inaccurate. The whole US Poverty Index is wrong. It wasn't worth the paper it was printed on in the analog world of its birth. It's never been accurate because it doesn't reflect the real cost of housing in the US. Nor does it properly rate the importance of housing costs in American life. Instead it is based on the dollar value of a 1950s "economy food plan" multiplied by three. This has been increased over the years but, to quote the linked source,

"The plan was meant for “temporary or emergency use when funds are low” and assumed “that the housewife will be a careful shopper, a skillful cook, and a good manager who will prepare all the family’s meals at home.” The decision to multiply the cost of the economy food plan by three was based on a 1955 food consumption survey showing that families spent about one-third of their income on food at that time. Since then, the measure has stayed the same, adjusted only for inflation."

     Two things jump out at me when I read this.

     1. They really flaunted their open sexism without any bloody shame in 1955, didn't they?
     2. None of this bullshit says anything about rent, does it?

     In addition to the sexist assumption that the housewife would be able to masterfully juggle the household budget to the stringent demands of government tax accountants, the federal government's definition of poverty doesn't take rent into account. Home ownership rates rose from 1950 to 2000 and have gone down again since but the people who can't afford to own homes pay rent, unless they're homeless. Let's look at CA: in 1950 the home ownership rate was 54.3%. By 2000 it had risen to 56.9%. What was it in the first quarter of 2018? 55.1 %. Most of a 50 year increase was wiped out between 2000 and 2018. So since 1955, just under half of CA's population has been paying rent or homeless. Can we safely assume that renters and the homeless, on average, are poorer than homeowners who have paid off their homes?

     My biggest expense every month is rent and the poverty index doesn't count it. It never has. A 54.3% home ownership rate in 1950 means that the numbers were wrong from the very beginning in the states with the most renters (I'm looking at you New York, California, District of Columbia Illinois, and Florida) per capita. I want to add, at this point, that the federal poverty index is also racist because black people are less likely to own their homes than white people and therefore less likely to be properly counted as "poor" because of their rent. So an inaccurate definition of poverty has harmed a higher number of black people than white people because of the home ownership differences. Contrary to the myth of the welfare queen, it is harder for a black renter to be classified as poor than a white home owner. Think about that for a moment.

     So how should we decide who is poor?

     Fortunately, Karl Marx has a convenient definition!

     I'm not a Marxist, I'm an anarchosocialist/communalist. Yet I find that Marx's class structure serves as a good starting point for my own. The important classes, to Marx, are the capitalists and the working class. There are also the "dangerous class" of criminals, the homeless and the unemployed and the "little capitalists" of the so-called middle class. In my own work on the topic of managerial feudalism in modern America, I have translated this into landlords, bosses and employee/tenants.

     According to Marxist class theory, capitalists are rich and the working class are poor. Middle class small business owners might be rich or poor at various times and will often believe their interests are aligned with larger property owners. The dividing line between the capitalists, middle class and working class was property ownership. Capitalists derive their wealth from private property, the middle class attempts to subsist from private property and the working class typically has no private property. Simple.

     My system is also simple. Landlords derive their wealth from their private property. Bosses earn a greater share of the remaining wealth by managing private property for landlords. Employee/tenants both earn wages from the last remaining pot of wealth and pay rent to maintain the wealth of landlords. I imagine that's most of us reading this. If that's you, then welcome aboard. We're the poor. The landlords and bosses are rich.

     It's also important to recognize, by this definition, Andrew Yang's Freedom Dividend does nothing about poverty!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Is There Value In Nationalism?

     I'm an anti-nationalist. That means I am opposed to the existence of the nation-state. I believe the concept that "the people are the nation and a nation is a people" causes far more harm than good in the so-called Developed World. Yet I am familiar with the argument that nationalism in the so-called Less Developed World is often a useful counterweight against Western imperialism. Is it true? Is there value in nationalism and does the nation-state assume a necessary position in a wider evolution from subject of a monarch, to citizen of a nation-state, to a member of a democratic society? Is nationalism in one part of the world good if it stops imperialism from overwhelming that part of the world?

     Civil society is older than the modern concept of the nation-state. Yet participation in civil society has been more democratic under the nation-state model, in a significant portion of the world, than under feudal monarchy or classical forms of either oligarchy or despotism. Since a nation-state is not necessarily more democratic in the political sense, does that mean this is correlation rather than cause and effect or is there some concept of family underlying "nationhood" that makes civil society more democratic?

     Arguably there is and it's very difficult to ignore its possible contributions to political democracy as well. Civil society requires certain unspoken agreements among its members. Respect for these agreements creates a solidarity. Pre-existing solidarity makes this easier. The nation-state, the Protestant church, the private club and the corporation all create an exclusive sense of "us against the world" solidarity than fosters democratic relationships between the members of "us." This same sense of exclusive solidarity, however, makes us reflexively hostile to "the world." It's the reason that the United States and Australia are willing to house refugees in concentration camps while reviewing their asylum claims.

     This suggests that the bad in nationalism always outweighs the good in the end and that nationalism should not be considered an ends. When considered as a means, a question must be asked: what next?

     The problem is that we're still figuring that out, aren't we? We have ideas about what a democratic society might look like but a lot of them come across as pretty utopian even to us. Only a utopia chosen by democratic consensus will be worthy of the name in the first place. Otherwise someone is being oppressed to maintain our freedoms. We don't know how we're going to replace our liberal capitalist system of managerial feudalism with a democratic society and we have to find our way to a social democracy first.

     This means we have to be cautious when judging other countries. It also means we have to be clear in voicing that judgment when it is warranted. If someone isn't willing to call genocide in Rojava or Kashmir genocide then they aren't an ally. We need to all be anti-nationalist enough to express opposition to its most toxic forms. This is particularly important in the case of nationalism in Israel, our Middle Eastern sock puppet, and in the US itself.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Elizabeth Warren and Dr. Christine Mann: Trying to Have it Both Ways

     The biggest surprise about Elizabeth Warren's so-called "Medicare For All" transition plan is that I have seen it before. Nor did she get this policy tidbit from Bernie Sanders or Jay Inslee. Instead this policy gem was sitting cheerfully on the website of a candidate for Congress in the Texas 31st Congressional District, Dr. Christine Eady Mann. The differences are that Dr. Mann's plan lowers the Medicare age to 55 rather than 50, enrolls "all infants" immediately when the law goes into effect and doesn't require a second vote. It includes Medicaid expansions and increased subsidies to insurance companies through the ACA not included in the Warren "Medicare For All" transition.

     Most important, both Senator Warren and Dr. Mann's plans are based on the idea of selling a public option for the first three years before everyone is covered. This is the poison pill that ruins any idea of either being truly Medicare For All. Dr. Mann's has the added problem of actually strengthening the insurance companies and their ability to ultimately cause the public option to fail. If the public option fails, single payer will not be introduced. The failure of the public option will then be cited as proof of why single payer should not go into effect.

     Why will the public option fail? The glib, sarcastic answer is that it will fail because the insurance companies want it to fail. If Dr. Mann's idea of incorporating increased subsidies for purchasing private health insurance into the transition to single payer goes into effect then we are literally paying the insurance companies to keep fighting single payer. We will be prolonging their existence instead of phasing them out.

     Even if we don't essentially expand the ACA framework in opposition to the future single payer plan, selling a public option puts the government in the business of selling health insurance. What will the premiums and deductibles of the plan be? Dr. Mann doesn't say while Senator Warren call is it "true Medicare For All." If the public option is "true Medicare For All" then how does the buy in occur, what changes when the system becomes fully single payer and how does one pay for "true Medicare For All" until that happens?

     Dr. Mann names the public option as such. This is the Obamacare public option, a health insurance plan sold by the government. It is easy to see the public option becoming a high risk pool paid for by the government while younger, healthier, more profitable people are covered by the private insurance industry. The result would by that private insurance would be more profitable, and harder to get rid of, than ever while government insurance would be seen much as providers see Medicaid now. The public option would be labelled an expensive failure and single payer would never happen.

     The only good faith reason I can imagine for this kind of plan is to convince the insurance companies that they will remain profitable until their doors close. A golden parachute for the insurance companies will produce a bill more moderates will vote for. This may be why Pramila Jayapal have been willing to lend their support to the terrible Warren "Medicare For All" plan. If they see it as more broadly popular with other Dems and equally practical in the real world they will lend it support for pragmatic reasons.

     This is precisely why these plans are dangerous. We know the insurance industry and Big Pharma act in shockingly bad faith. We understand that health insurance companies make a profit by accepting payments and denying care. So why do you any good faith progressives think they are worth appeasing?