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?

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Once More, No, You Aren't Middle Class

     There is no middle class in managerial feudalism. There are tenants/workers, bosses and landlords. The middle class is a right wing trick that has been unfortunately perpetuated by many who represent themselves as being on the left of American political thought. While I don't think that Elizabeth Warren really thinks mega-millionaires are "middle class" I do believe she thinks there is a middle class, and that she is including people better described as bosses or landlords within it.

     The idea of the middle class is a legacy of the Cold War attempt to create some quasi-left wing ideology that would support social and economic progress without undermining the basic ideas of capitalism. The most privileged members of the working class were convinced that their interests were separate than those of blue collar factory workers. That's precisely why the addition of "tenant" is so important. The tenant/worker class is defined by work for wages and paying rent. As I explained in my last essay, mortgage loans are de facto rents to a de facto landlord. Therefore I am including home owners still paying on their mortgage in the category of "tenants."

    Even such bastions of capitalist thought as the Brookings Institution still can't clearly define the middle class. There's a reason for this and it's because the concept is just wrong. If you admit this it becomes much easier to admit that you have interests in common with nebulously defined people like "the poor," "criminals," and "immigrants." They're all working people trying to pay their rent, just like you. The poor are having trouble paying their rent consistently. The criminals are only able to do so by breaking the law. Immigrants have been fooled by middle class snake oil the same as you and I, regardless of whether they are documented or not. We're all trying to pay the rent.

    Our power is in numbers. There's a reason we write or tweet about the 99% all the time. In the end, there are a lot more of us than there are of them. It's our only protection against the landlord and the boss. So we have to stick together. Solidarity is the only weapon we have.

     Middle class identity is a false identity used to alienate us from our own best interests. We think of ourselves as few steps down the ladder from wealth when we are really in danger of falling into poverty at any moment. Not recognizing this cedes an immense about of power to the right and center. We can't afford to do that. The left has to be class conscious.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Landlord and the Boss

     The last essay I wrote was on the idea that our workplace (and much of our life) is governed by a system of managerial feudalism. Managerial feudalism is defined by owner-landlords who collect rents/profits from the tenant-employees whose lives they increasingly dominate. This domination is enforced by bosses, the executives and politicians who manage the property of the landlords. The result is a corporate government whose power over our daily lives is far greater than the imperfect representative government we often bitch about.

     The boss runs our life for at least forty hours a week if we're fortunate enough to work full time. The actual achievement of the forty hour week is considered mythical by some and many people have to work more to make ends meet. Forty to sixty hours a week is a significant sacrifice of personal freedom to the boss. Every hour you spend working is an hour you could spend living instead. The fight for freedom of personal time to pursue life is one of the long struggles of radical workers' movements. We still haven't won our freedom.

     The landlord's power is most obvious to those of us who rent. Rents have spiraled out of control for years now. We pay an increasing share of our income to the owners of our homes, so they can get richer. This keeps us poorer than we would be if we didn't have to pay rent. If our homes were truly ours then we would not be gifting this large chunk of our personal wealth to people who are already rich. Understanding this concept may blow your mind. You may also respond, "but it's not actually that easy for people who really own their homes, is it?"

     The answer is another question: how many people really own their homes?

     One liberal site famous for its numbers suggests that 32% of homeowners have paid off their mortgage. To do the math in the other direction, this means 68% of homeowners are paying a mortgage. People who are still paying their mortgage cannot be said to truly own their homes. Instead their home is owned by a landlord (the bank or mortgage company) to whom they pay rent (their mortgage payments) every month. The role of banks as landlords and home owners still paying their mortgage as renters requires us to take a hard look at what we laughingly call "the American dream."

     Under our existing housing arrangements, a home owner spends either twenty or thirty years paying off their mortgage. If they are lucky they truly own their own house by the time they retire. At this point they borrow more money and relinquish ownership back to a landlord in order to have enough money to pay for retirement. Middle class success is revealed as a precarious trap that can be easily snatched away from working people at any time. Home ownership is still an elaborate rentalk contract favoring the landlord.

    If you think of the repayment of debt as another form of rent then banks' role as landlords is even more important to the core economic policy of the United States. Our money is built on credit, with money being issued to pay interest on the debt owned by banks and billionaires. The means of doing so is the payment of interest on the national debt to billionaires who own the majority of US government securities. Central banks simply issue money to private banks to pay the interest on the government's debts.

     In the most real sense, our taxes consist of removing money from circulation again in order to control inflation. Our taxes are rent paid to the government for the Public, even as the government pays interest on public debt to enrich billionaires. To put it simply: our government pays rent to billionaires with our money.

     Do you understand who the real landlord is yet?

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Managerial Feudalism: The Real New World Order

     Capitalism is dead! Long live managerial feudalism!

     I see that you don't know what that is. Let me explain.

     A long time ago on this blog I used to use "corporate feudalism" to describe our economy because I believed the problem was that our society wasn't properly capitalist and needed a lot of regulation to make capitalism work better. As I fell out of the habit of writing regularly I also became more convinced capitalism was the problem and that our system was capitalist after all. When I started writing again I was long out of the habit. "Capitalism" has been my go to description of our economic disease. I have come to reconsider.

     Approximately a year ago now, Professor David Graeber wrote the simple and yet profound book "Bullshit Jobs." That's pretty direct for an academic type isn't it? I'm not going to give a recap or review of the book because I am far more interested in plugging the book's existence out of respect for the author and swiping Profressor Graeber's excellent scholarly term and using it to make my own point about the modern, post-capitalist society; naturally, also out of respect for the author! If you want to read a review of the book there's a really good one at Current Affairs!

     The main point is that in this book, Professor Graeber coined the phrase "managerial feudalism." Like any good writer I came to an immediate conclusion. "I remember I used to say something like this to say something similar, but this sounds better so I'm going to steal it!" Being neither a gentleman nor a scholar, I am too far beneath Professor Graeber for it to be socially acceptable for him to challenge me to a duel. So here we are.

     I have referred to our political system as a "stakeholder democracy" and I still think this term is good. Feudalism and a form of democracy among the aristocratic landlords who controlled the country held up far longer than it had any right to expect to last in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This is actually an excellent model for our modern corporate society, where billionaires take the place of barons. Our constitutional government is the hapless King of Poland in this system, easily checked if a single baron chooses to exercise their veto.

     Managerial feudalism is its economic twin. When capitalism ate our social democracy in the 1970s, it died of indigestion in the 1980s and was replaced by managerial feudalism in the 1990s when Bill Clinton broke the government's half of the New Deal.

     You're still looking at me like you don't know what that is. I suppose I had better tell you then, hadn't I?

     Feudalism is a system in which economic power is based on property ownership and economic produce is controlled by landlords who own the property on which it occurs. This is actually very similar to capitalism, except property and the control of labor bound to that property matter more than ownership of the means of production. Our form of modern feudalism is managerial for the self-explanatory reason that the greatest economic power is often wielded not, directly, by the owners of the property but by employees who manage the labor. If billionaires take on the role of barons in this system, CEOs and the tight circle of high level executives around them are the knights who enforce their will. These managers have the most contact both with the labor force and the governing elite while their billionaire liege lords engage in a life of leisure and political skullduggery.

     Managerial feudalism works in simple, straightforward fashion based on the right of contract. In theory, rational individuals engage in binding agreements in a free market. Only their enlightened self interest and their means restrict their freedom. In actual fact, economic coercion forces unequal agreements in which the employer holds all the real rights and the employee has only their freedom to quit. Even then, if they do not give their agreed upon two to three weeks notice, they may not get their final paycheck on time. In a country where we are constantly a $400 expense away from bankruptcy or homelessness, not getting your final paycheck on time is a big deal.

     In effect, employees are peasants bound to their agreed upon employment until they are fired or voluntarily quit. Since employees rarely become billionaires, all these peasants do when they do voluntarily quit is to exchange one corporate overlord for another. This happens fairly frequently as alienation and tedium wear at the employees. The frequent turnover helps keep wages low and allows the worst employers to hire and fire people on regular schedules to maintain the ideal sized workforce at all times. This increases economic coercion in the whole system.

     It is this system of managerial feudalism that governs most of our day to day working lives. Small business owners are frequently involved in this system as franchise holders or "owner-managers" within a larger organization. Others exist outside it like the merchants, tradesmen and yeoman farmers of the Middle Ages, surviving as best they can through cooperation or pure cussedness. Most small business, remember, fails. If unable to maintain their economic independence their owners are forced back into the peasantry.

     There are three classes in this society, not counting the proto-bourgieousie that tries to survive outside it. There are landlords (billionaires and mega-millionaires, mostly board members and large shareholders but numbering some CEOS of particularly successful corporations as well), bosses (the various executives who fill the roll of corporate knights to the billionaire barons) and employees.

     I'm going to try to remember to be consistent in my use of this language going forward. Thanks for indulging me.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

What's With All the Vote Splitters?

     Norman Solomon recently wrote an excellent piece about the importance of credible primary challengers in Truthdig. I couldn't agree more. I think he's dead on and I'm glad he gave shoutouts to great challengers like Mark Gamba and Jessica Cisneros; but he touched on something that I have been thinking about a lot lately too. As Solomon says, "... it's best to field only one progressive challenger; other the chances of ousting or jolting the incumbent are apt to be greatly diminished." So, to put it in plain English, splitting the progressive vote is usually bad. It makes it harder for progressives to win.

     Yet we have a lot of progressive candidates splitting the vote in quite a few district primaries. There are several reasons for this embarrassment of riches. I believe the biggest is that there really aren't a lot of ways for aspiring civic leaders to make their mark anymore. The gutting of local media to satisfy corporate greed means that you need to make it onto television to get attention. That usually requires a national profile that the local city councilman just doesn't have. Local tv news still exists, of course, but it's increasingly controlled by the corporate robber barons as well. Running for Congress can get one an audience. That audience can get the candidate into media, politics or business in a variety of ways that weren't open before.

     A more disturbing reason is that some candidates may be running to split the vote in order to stop someone else from winning. The best example of this is the CA-12, where the strongest of 2018's band of progressive challengers to Nancy Pelosi is facing two rivals for the progressive vote. Shahid Buttar is, on paper, a perfect focus for progressive energy in the district. He performed much better than expected in 2018 despite a late entry. He is a lawyer, activist and writer who has massive credibility as an advocate for civil liberties. So why are there two other candidates?

     The answer rests in the shadowy alleyways of San Francisco politics. Buttar's late entry into the race engendered bad blood from the progressive candidates who he outperformed. In the style unfortunately common in the Democratic Party today, he was blamed for taking "their" votes and "giving the second spot in the general election to the Republican." Indeed, this is Tom Gallagher's rationale for running and he clearly expressed it during a debate between the three progressive candidates. It's also the reason one of those candidates, Stephen Jaffe, has endorsed the third entry, Agatha Bacelar.

     Bacelar's reasons for running, and her progressive bona fides, are less cut and dried. She used to work for the Emerson Collective, a combination philanthropic trust and venture capital concern founded and run by Steve Jobs' widow Laurene Powell Jobs alongside managing partners Arne Duncan and Michael Klein. This is the kind of fake progressive influence shop popular with American billionaires today. The fact that Bacelar used to work for them and still vocally advocates for them raises serious questions about her credibility as a progressive. The Emerson Collective has deep roots in national politics and may have an interest in making sure Nancy Pelosi is re-elected.

     A very different dynamic exists in the NJ-06. Javahn Walker previously challenged incumbent Frank Pallone in 2018 and is running again. Russ Cirincione announced his candidacy because he didn't think Walker could win a second attempt and he believed he would stand a better chance. Yet I have spoken to both candidates since they started running and have only the best impressions of both. While he thinks he has a better chance of winning, Cirincione has nothing bad to say about Walker and quite a bit of good. The two candidates are amicable and their campaigns aim to remove all the oxygen from Pallone's campaign by proving the district is progressive now. I can't help but think just one candidate would be better, but both men are determined to take their shot for now.

     The immediate way to solve the problem would be for candidates to sit down like adults and make mature decisions. Perhaps state office would be a good choice for some of these vote splitters. Progressive Democrats have never focused on statehouses the way conservative Republicans have and it's time for that to change. The simple fact of human ambition make that kind of maturity impossible in today's political climate. The media loves the concept of "the next AOC" and this encourages young candidates like Agatha Bacelar to run as progressives even if they may not be.

     In the long run we need more cohesive and coherent progressive movement with a basic litmus test and enough organization to channel the right candidates into the right races. The problem is that such an organization would need to avoid the corporate taint that inevitably overtakes progressive groups. Is that possible in today's political world?

Sunday, September 1, 2019

When Is A Bill Bad? When It Isn't Any Good!

     I want to start by thanking Dr. Christine Eady Mann for telling me to read the Feinstein Assault Weapons Ban that she supports. It was very educational. I would not have known what a colossally bad bill it is if Dr. Mann had not been so clear that I needed to read it to understand her position. Now that I do understand her position I'm afraid that it either leaves a lot to be desired or she really hasn't read the details of the bill she asked me to read. I don't want to assume which.

     The first thing you have to understand about the Feinstein crime bill is that it doesn't ban semi-automatic handguns (which kill the majority of people killed by guns) or even require their registration beyond existing state licensing and registration requirements. Why is this important? It's important because it ignores the biggest part of the gun violence problem in America (64% of gun deaths are caused by handguns, according to the FBI) entirely in favor of making political points by banning "semi-automatic assault weapons."

     It's a gun violence bill that does nothing to prevent gun violence and they're not really even pretending.

     "Wait," you cry! "But what about the 4% of gun deaths that actually are caused by assault rifles?" You're impassioned and you know this a small number but you are sure it must do something to prevent a tiny bit of gun violence. This was what I thought before I actually read the bill, as Dr. Mann asked me to do. I was wrong.

     The one thing that most frightens centrist Democrats is the idea that the NRA's biggest talking point, "They're coming for your guns!" can never be allow to come true. If this right-wing talking point actually came to be, the centrists fear, the political consequences would be disastrous. By which I mean that they are worried they might stop getting donations from various corporate lobbies allied to the gun lobby. If your secret dream is that liberals really will come for conservatives' guns, prepare to be disappointed.

     A grandfather clause exempts every single banned weapon currently in someone's possession. So the bill only bans the sale, manufacture, transport and import of the weapons on the list. It does nothing about the guns waiting to be sold illegally, loaned to a friend or stolen. It may prevent gun deaths in a few years, that might otherwise have happened at the muzzles of weapons not yet manufactured or imported. It prevents the legal sale of the weapons you already own but it doesn't even include a buyback provision if you actually want to be rid of them!

     So it won't prevent a mass shooting with an AR-15 today, tomorrow or next week and it won't ever prevent a drive-by shooting with a handgun or a pump action shotgun. It won't ever prevent a violent spouse from shooting their partner with a revolver. It's an empty shell of a bill. It's exactly the sort of centrist do-nothing "Problem Solver" approved solution to a major social problem that the corporate robber barons of our modern society can donate money to pass! It's the bill I would expect to see on Dianne Feinstein's website.

     Congress can and should do better than this bill! The background check provision should be strengthened by making them free to both the buyer and the seller of the weapon; let law enforcement eat the coast because we certainly give them more than enough to pay for it! The bill should require registration for all grandfathered weapons and all semi-automatic pistols not covered by the Assault Weapons Ban! The bill should require mental health evaluations and gun safety exams to maintain registration and these should also be free to the gun owner.

     The bill should specifically allocate funds for the exams and evaluations; the bill should also fund a buyback program so that guns can be removed from circulation if the owners want to sell them to the government. My friend Steve Cox has a great argument for why it won't actually recover many guns, but I believe it's fair to let buyback advocates have a chance to prove it can work. If it doesn't, we save some money.

     What's really important is that the common sense gun reform I noted above should be combined with a robust single payer health care system and laws requiring higher pay and greater workplace democracy. People who are healthier, happier and less financially strapped are less likely to shoot up the neighborhood!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Democratic Leadership Is The Problem

     I'm going to take a moment to say that the Congressional leadership of the Democratic Party really sucks. That's my firmly held opinion and I stand by it. They're to blame for much of their own inability to properly deal with President Trump. They're to blame, in many ways, for his election in the first place. They've gotten us into this fine mess.

     Yes, I know, the last piece I wrote for this blog was about how the United States of America is already well into the constitutional crisis starting our slide toward fascism. I stand by it. Resistance is about a lot more than simply defeating Donald Trump and installing a Democratic President. Resistance is about fighting those fascist tendencies in society, in business and in politics. This is a much bigger project than any one President or party and it's unfair to a host of other American villains to place all the blame on Donald Trump's broad shoulders. The usual suspects of the Bush Administration should not escape our rage just because so many of them have been given new respectability as Never Trumpers. Nor should we forget that President Obama chose not to prosecute them and, indeed, gave important jobs to several war criminals.

     Yet it's very important to remind everyone that none of this lets Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer off the hook. It makes their guilt that much worse. They knew what had happened under Bush. Nancy Pelosi had been given the heads up on the CIA torture program in 2002. In 2006, when she became Speaker for the first time, she declined to impeach George W. Bush for crimes she knew he had committed. In 2006 we didn't know that she had been aware of the CIA torture program for four years. Now that we do know, what does that say about her refusal to take the necessary Constitutional steps to address those crimes?

     Steny Hoyer is guilty of his own complicity. Where Pelosi at least voted against the Iraq War in the first place, Hoyer voted for it. In 2007 he still had no regrets and thought it had been the right vote. To call Steny Hoyer anything other than a nakedly imperialist stooge for Republicans, as it relates to the Iraq War or the War on Terror, would be a lie. I don't want to lie to my readers. It sets a bad precedent. So: Steny Hoyer was a nakedly imperialist stooge for Republicans during the Iraq War. He's still way too supportive of the Israeli military's brutal repression of the Palestinians.

     Can we really say that the One Who Kept The Secrets and the Warmonger are progressive when it comes to foreign policy? I think we can safely toss any such ideas out the window. They're RINOs on this shit when it really matters.

     When we take a look at domestic policy and more recent Democratic Party squabble the evidence only piles up that much higher. Nancy Pelosi is against impeaching Trump. She has absolutely no enthusiasm for the Green New Deal. She doesn't even support Medicare For All! What are Steny Hoyer's postions on impeachent, Medicare For All and the Green New Deal? Pretty much the same as Pelosi's at best!

     With Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer we don't even need Republicans to oppose us. Our own leaders will oppose us out of fear! This isn't really very good for our chances of actually winning on any of these issues, you know that?

Saturday, June 22, 2019

All This and Concentration Camps Too!

     I wrote on Wednesday about Rich Lowry's rather stupid decision to attack Rep. Alexandria Occasio-Cortez (D - NY) in a ridiculous little shit post on the magazine's website. The topic was whether or not temporary detention centers for asylum seekers coming to the United States from Central America qualify as "concentration camps." The definition is as follows: "a place where a large number of people, particularly political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities, sometimes to provide forced labor or too await execution."

    Rep. Occasio-Cortez, naturally, came down on the side of rational common sense. We can all see how legal asylum seekers being treated as illegal aliens qualify as "political prisoners." The only reason they are being imprisoned at all is because the Trump Justice Department made the entirely political decision to lock them up! The idea that Rep. Liz Cheney (R - WY) chose to take issue with AOC's description was anything other than shit-posting is pretty silly. Yet Rich Lowry chose to double down despite the facts. Masha Gessen, of the New Yorker, chose instead to get to the real heart of the problem: that conservative denials of the facts are a gas-lighting of history that renders real atrocities as something unimaginable and unique instead of things that happen all the time.

     Nor are concentration camps the only ongoing assault on our liberties. As Chris Hedges wrote for Truthdig, the ongoing political persecution of Julian Assange by the Trump Justice Department is a very real attack on the fundamental underpinnings of our so-called Constitution. The fact that there is no powerful free speech movement in the streets, protesting in Assange's defense, is proof of how well the Ministry of Propaganda of the United States of Authoritarianism has successfully twisted our perceptions of Assange. This brutality towards the free press is only magnified by what is happening to journalists on the US-Mexico border. What will happen to reporters covering the concentration camps if Assange is convicted? If you have ever read Stephen King's "The Stand," you have seen images of the narrow line between committing atrocities and committing new atrocities against those who expose them. Will the reporters try to tell us the truth about those concentration camps end up the next people sent to them?

     I hear you shouting about alarmism, conspiracy theories and tin-foil hats. No one is more critical of the "Illuminati" model of political opposition than I am. I would say that conspiracy theories end up serving the robber barons a lot more than they help us defeat them. The Illuminati are both all-powerful and totally incompetent so all we have to do is eradicate the conspiracy. Do you see how that plays right into the hands of someone like Trump rather than helping us? I definitely don't believe in the Illuminati; but not believing in ridiculous conspiracies about secret governments doesn't mean that I don't understand how the government we have works.

     Much of the legitimate Resistance's time has been wasted by Russia conspiracy theories without a lot of clear facts to back them up instead of the obvious targets: one of the most corrupt and incompetent administrations in history. Have any of those allegedly criminal cabinet secretaries been brought to justice yet or have the Congressional authorities bothered to refer Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke for prosecution? Has the Trump Justice Department begun to prosecute them? It's easy to see why at least one CNN writer thinks Trump's administration is succeeding beneath the utter shit-show. Can we really argue with his logic?

     We've got a massive lack of accountability for corruption and public fraud going back to the Reagan and H.W. Bush administrations.Trump's cabinet shit-show is just one symptom. The way former Bush supporters all guilty of lying us into war with Iraq have been rehabilitated by the opposition media is another symptom and we can't blame it on Trump. Nor can we blame the way past Democratic congressional criminals like Jane Harman are treated by the opposition media on Trump. The Obama Justice Department never prosecuted the grifters and war criminals of the Bush Administration and Obama-friendly media has washed them clean of their sins.

     With all this, the concentration camps are really just the cherry on top of the sundae. Our freedom is at stake. We have never had much of it but we have the opportunity to win more now!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Rich Lowry Is A Tool

Rich Lowry is the editor of the National Review. Why does this matter?
It matters for a few reasons. The first is that the Review is still considered the creme de la crème of intelligent conservative writing. The second is that the National Review is still a major mouthpiece for conservative thought in this country. With the many conflicts of Trumpism, libertarianism and traditional conservatism going on right now one would expect a flowering of debate, ideas and moral conflict on the right!
That's not happening. Why?
That brings us to the third reason it matters that Rich Lowry is the Editory of the National Review.
Congresswoman Alexandria Occasio-Cortez rightfully accused the Orange Troll of operating concentration camps on the US-Mexico border. Was this language inflammatory? Absolutely and I'm very glad that Congresswoman Occasio-Cortez is willing to be inflammatory! Her willingngess to put herself out there like this allows us to see what the enemy really thinks.
Rich Lowry has been kind enough to show us what he really thinks. We should believe him. He’s an intellectually dishonest Nazi apologist who is willing to split hairs in order to score political points with an uneducated audience that prefers owning the libs to facts or truth.
All the internal conflicts brewing in his own bedroom and Rich Lowry is using a nationally read platform to troll a Congresswoman he doesn't like!?
That's right. What's more is he is stepping into this fight knowing that it's a loser. The simple fact is that there was a distinct difference between the phrases “concentration camp” (which can be used to describe everything from a PLO refugee camp in Lebanon in the 1970s to the German internment camp at Crystal River, TX during WWII) and a “death camp.”
Has Rich Lowry never seen Conspiracy? It was kind of a big deal when it came out. He might want to go back and watch it.
I will raise the stakes. Not only are we building concentration camps on the border but we put our citizens in actual gulags and set them to forced labor to enrich corporations! How will Rich defend gulags?

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Original Sins: White Supremacy in America

          This weekend I’m writing about America’s original sin. Everyone knows about it. Black people, Native Americans and Latinx people deal with it on a daily basis. Asian-Americans face it less brutally, but no less real, in a variety of stereotypes that have become cultural tropes. Most white people either actively participate in it or perpetuate it by trying to ignore it. Every white person in this country benefits from it in some way. This sin touches everything in the United States in some way. Until we face it, confess it and atone for it we will never be a free land of free people.
            It’s called white supremacy and it has been the engine that drives America from the very beginning. In the very first report that Columbus sent back to the Spanish Court he said that he thought the Arawak natives of the Bahamas, Virgin Islands, Jamaica and Hispaniola would be excellent slaves. He took advantage of the Arawak’s hospitality, murdered several of their citizens, took more hostage in attempt to extort gold from them and left an armed band behind on San Salvador when he returned to Spain. When he came back he found that his armed party had angered the Arawaks by raiding and had been killed to a man by a unified Native force.
            Rather than stay on San Salvador he instead established himself as Governor of Hispaniola and set about trying to prove his hypothesis that the Arawak would be excellent slaves. Unfortunately for the Arawak it turned out they had no immunity to communicable European diseases. So the slaves died a lot. Columbus was forced to raid for new slaves almost constantly, which killed more Arawak in the fighting. Eventually it was so hard to find slaves that Columbus forced Spanish colonists to do the work the slaves had been doing. So they fired his ass immediately. Treating white people like “Indians” was monstrous!
            The downfall of the first would-be American emperor came from the same white supremacy that had motivated his imperialism in the first place. His successors would solve the labor shortage by buying African slaves from the Portuguese in exchange for Caribbean sugar. The lesson from this is that we can’t treat the Native American genocide and the Pan-Atlantic Slave Trade as isolated historical events resting in their own beds until checked upon. Columbus intended to create a slave society from the very beginning. The Native Americans died faster than they could be replaced. The white Spaniards did not want to work. African captives were purchased instead. The empire began to flourish.
            America was built on this foundation of white supremacy and imperialism. When the first Spanish colonists settled Florida they brought slavery with them and drove the native Seminoles away from their settlements. When the first English and Dutch colonists arrived in what are now Virginia, New England and the Mid-Atlantic States, they bought slaves from the Portuguese and the Spanish. They couldn’t enslave entire Native American populations but they could and did enslave the prisoners they took and didn’t simply massacre.
            Slavery and Native American displacement became the story of the original expansion of the Thirteen Colonies and the catalyst for independence. The number one resentment against the British government by wealthy Colonists of property was that the British crown had placed limits on their westward expansion by virtue of agreement with Native allies. It was easy for them to use the propaganda of opening new western lands for poor farmers to form a power bloc with poor white tenant farmers and indentured servants who might otherwise be more sympathetic to their fellow oppressed, the slaves.
            It could be argued with some credibility that white supremacy and imperialism, in this specific form, were the real catalyst for American independence. 
            During the fight for independence white supremacy was only strengthened by the British promise to American slaves that they could have their freedom if they joined the British Army or Navy to fight their masters. The first black Canadians were Loyalist soldiers who couldn’t stay in the newly independent United States without being returned to their masters. The Treaty of Paris included a clause (never fulfilled by the British, because the king believed slavery was morally wrong) to compensate Americans for “stolen property.” This didn’t mean the Redcoats were looters. It meant Thomas Jefferson wanted to be paid for slaves who had run away and joined the British army.
            Once independence was won imperialistic white supremacy was soon enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. The Battle of Fallen Timbers and the Louisiana Purchase vastly increased the size of the United States of America. All of this meant that Native Americans died. All of this meant a greater need for black slaves. Even after the Trans-Atlantic Trade ended, there were still plenty of surplus slaves available from Virginia, North Carolina and the Caribbean. Soon the Southern slave-owning class became the unofficial aristocracy of the nation. Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk, and Zachary Taylor owned slaves. Washington, Jackson, Polk and Taylor largely became wealthy(-ier) by the selling of slaves. Jefferson used the selling of slaves to keep himself out of debt.
            Whether or not the active conspiracy imagined by many Northerners ever existed it is not inaccurate to refer to the American political class of the time as the “Slave Power.” The Slave Power certainly drove the Mexican War during the Polk administration. It was pushed upon the country by a largely pro-Slavery Democratic Party that wanted to channel immigrants into the army to “Americanize” them while carving out new lands for slave-holders. The (very weakly) anti-slavery Whig Party opposed the war and then consistently opposed appropriations for spending for the war. This opposition cost them their Congressional majority and sowed the seeds for the death of the party.
            It’s very important to understand that both the Slave Power and the government of Mexico saw this as a war for imperial might. The difference was that what we now call the US/Mexican border was then a largely rural mestizo society ruled by creoles who saw themselves as “white” but who were seen as “Mexicans” by the Anglo-Americans who still formed the dominant U.S. culture. For this reason, in addition to slavery (which Mexico had already abolished and the U.S. hoped to expand), the notion of fighting heathens who were not quite truly white people added a strong element of white supremacy to the Mexican War.
            There were two consequences of American victory that created opportunities for the U.S. to begin to throw off its basis in white supremacy. The first was an alliance between the U.S. Army and the caballero class in Texas and California that insured these territories were conquered with a minimum of actual fighting compared to the rest of the war. Anglo-Americans in the new territories had married into these families and purchased land from them even before the war. This should have created a sense of common clan that admitted at least the Mexican upper classes into “polite society” in the United States. That’s not what happened.
            The second was the Northern opposition to the Slave Power that would lead to the Civil War. These included genuine moral abolitionists and even a small number of genuine antiracists. It also included a general theory among Northern businessmen that slavery was ultimately bad for capitalism by making the stakeholder class lazy and arrogant. This united rich and poor against the Slave Power and allowed them to forget their problems with each other. This faction of the Antislavery Opposition was no less racist than the Slave Power and often attempted to exclude even free black people from “free soil.” Capitalists have always used white supremacy to unite white people against black people and prevent poor white people from naturally siding with black people against the stakeholders. The Civil War, Emancipation and Reconstruction presented a bold chance to make amends for black slavery. That’s not what happened.
            Instead a double tragedy occurred. First the Latinx people of California and Texas were largely dispossessed of their lands and properties by a combination of legal action and direct violence. A prime example of the former was Mariano Vallejo, who went bankrupt fending off lawsuits claiming title to his family lands. He had to sell the land to pay his legal debts and the Anglo developers won. An example of the latter is legendary California outlaw Joaquin Murrieta, who engaged in retaliatory killings and robberies against Anglo-Americans until his death at the hands of the California Rangers after his wife and brother were killed by land-grabbers who accused his brother of stealing a mule.  The unfortunate antihero’s head allegedly ended up pickled in a jar. Whether or not it is a true story it certainly captures the white supremacy that changed Murrieta’s life and then ended it.
In the words of our president, he was an animal and was treated like one.
Black people were no more fortunate than Latinx people. Reconstruction offered some efforts at enforced equality in the South but fell due to Southern opposition and a lack of real Northern commitment to racial equality. Though President Rutherford B. Hayes spent the rest of his life, after his single term, trying to get the vote for black men his ascent to the presidency destroyed Reconstruction and any hope of racial justice at the time. The freed slaves and their children were terrorized and brutalized until they fled the South in large numbers. In the South, Jim Crow laws and work permits continued slavery. Worse, penal slavery revived it in the North.
There is a lot more for which I don’t have space. The Chinese Exclusion act, the imposition of quotas on immigration from Roman Catholic and Orthodox Catholic countries in Southern, Central and Eastern Europe, the imperialism of the Spanish-American War and the Philippine War and the internment of the Japanese during WWII all figure prominently. So does the shameful treatment of the people of Puerto Rico by the US government since the end of the Spanish-American War.
It’s very important to understand that this white supremacy is not just something from the past. It’s not a series of historical incidents that we have put behind us. The Native American genocide is still ongoing. The state of Massachusetts recently declared the Wampanoag Council extinct despite the fact that its members are still alive. DNA tests showed they weren’t “really Native American.” Is it any wonder some Cherokee intellectuals are so angry at Elizabeth Warren right now?
Black slavery is still ongoing in its own way as well. The police violence that terrorizes much of the black community is a descendant of the Fugitive Slave Law and the Southern slave patrol. The prison-industrial complex and prison slavery have taken the place of chattel slavery. They are no less important to the economy now than chattel slavery was in its own day. The words “tough on crime” are particularly weighted against black people and in favor of these forces that hold many poor black people in a form of de facto slavery.
Likewise, the white-washing of the American Southwest continues in a very obvious way in the administration of President Donald Trump. The Orange Troll has ascribed all the stereotypes to Latinx immigrants that were ascribed after the Mexican War to ethnically cleanse many portions of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. ICE attacks immigrants and deports them in a fashion clearly designed to send Latinx (and other non-white immigrants) people back to their countries of origin.
When you understand how central white supremacy is to every political and economic fiber of this country you will begin to understand the problem we face. Solutions for these problems have to be found if we wish to overthrow our stakeholder democracy and achieve social democracy. Frederick Douglas said it best, at the United States’ 100th birthday. Reconstruction had ended and white reconciliation had begun between North and South.
“What will peace among the whites bring?”
            Defeating white supremacy means accepting a simple motto and really learning to live bit. Solidarity with the oppressed and no peace among the whites.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Politics and Democracy

            What is politics?
            Didn’t expect that one to be so hard did you?
            Merriam-Webster offers a variety of definitions for the word. The ones that matter to us are “the art or science of winning and holding control over a government,” “political affairs or business, especially: competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership” and “the total complex of relations between people living in society.” But if we really tighten our definition up a little we can discard the first. Then we can combine the two that remain and strive for a bit of universality.
            Let’s call politics “the total complex of power relations between people living in society.” Then we make it very clear. Politics is about who has power, how they use it and who benefits from it.
            We talk a lot about democracy when we talk about politics these days. We assume we have democracy and we assume it’s under threat. The media tells us that it’s under threat by Donald Trump and his supporters. The Democrats tell us it’s under threat by Republicans in general. Everyone takes it for granted that we know what democracy is too.
            So what is democracy?
            Back to our good friend Merriam-Webster we go. Once again we’re given a few choices but one of them really appears to apply to us: “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people (emphasis mine) and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” It’s even clear and doesn’t require a lot of alteration or mashing together to be clear and universal.
            A democracy is a government in which “the people” have the power. Politicians run for office, everyone votes and the winners of elections take power. It sounds pretty fair and above board. Majority rule may have its drawbacks and folks may have to compromise a lot, but the people will get to decide what happens in their society. The trouble is how to decide who “the people” are. We hear this in our elections as people talk about “the real America” and “real Americans” with a clear view that these are the people.
            The US government was formed by a gentleman’s agreement between political and economic elites. It didn’t represent the whole of the people so much as it represented the interests and views of those who considered themselves the natural leaders of the people. They put their stamp on the constitution that created our system of politics and government. Their system was democratic but it very carefully defined who “the people” allowed to participate were. Our Constitution was written for people who saw themselves as major stakeholders in the country. It was written for people like them.
            What are some features of this stakeholder democracy? Capitalism is the most obvious. The crushing stress of capitalism is used to force us to do what the capitalists want because we need money. Actual violence isn’t usually necessary. When political violence does happen it’s very easy to see who benefits. Our stakeholder democracy uses the rule of law to support capitalism. This leads to the second feature of stakeholder democracy: the state’s power to decide whether violence is justified and whom it is justified to use violence against.
            The immediate alternative to stakeholder democracy is social democracy. This requires a reorientation of the state from the interests of those with significant property to the political equality and economic welfare of the society as a whole. This doesn’t necessarily mean state ownership of industry. It could mean strong labor protections and a robust welfare state. It does mean shifting power away from capitalists and toward the working class. This will rebuild the middle class that decades of corporate piracy have hollowed out.
            The problem is that “resistance” is more than just getting rid of President Trump. The Republican Party will still be there. Even if the Democrats take the presidency in 2020, they don’t exactly have a track record of rejecting capitalist stakeholders do they? Resistance is something that doesn’t stop until we have taken back our power. The political elite are scared of that. That’s why you see and feel so much pressure to fall behind the best candidate, no matter what.
            Falling in behind the leader someone tells you to follow is not resistance. Real resistance means fighting to change our political system for the better.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Everybody is Spartacus: Solidarity is a Weapon

           During the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, Joe Scarborough and many of his guests referred to various Democratic Senators’ “I am Spartacus” moments. It was clear they meant a chance to stand up and be the hero. They pictured a moment where the spotlight shone solely on the “star politician” seizing that moment to ask something impressive. It shows how liberals totally fail to understand the point of that scene in the movie and the book it was based on.
            The point was to protect the real Spartacus from Roman vengeance and humiliation. “I am Spartacus” was not a declaration of heroic victory but a willing to share the bloody price of defeat in the place of another. It’s not about individual heroism. It’s about solidarity. If everyone claims to be Spartacus then Rome is denied the proof of their triumph over the true Spartacus. It’s about standing together in crisis.
            So what is solidarity anyway?
            My online dictionary says that solidarity is “unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.” It also says something about a labor union in Poland. While related, we’re going with the definition I quoted above. That’s pretty much exactly how I mean it. It’s the single most important word on the left right now. It’s more important than “resistance,” “impeachment” or even “2020.”
            We live in a world that makes it very easy to feel lonely. Whether it’s work, travel, or taking care of the necessities of subsistence much of our life is reduced to temporary and transactional relationships. I work in an industry where my personal role is literally to make the person on the other end of the phone so happy with me they forget about their problems. I experience transactional relationships on a constant basis at work. I sit at a desk and tend to be isolated from everyone but those transactional relationships while doing my job. It’s a very lonely feeling and it makes me feel like a machine; not a person. I’ve had anxiety disorders in the past and I experience depression periodically now.
            Does that sound familiar to you? Will you take it personally if I take a stab in the dark that you feel this way at least some of the time? Our jobs are designed to make our lives about nothing but work for a set period of time each day. They pay just enough for us to meet our basic needs but we can never escape the worry that an extra $400 will derail our entire lives. Our loved ones (or ourselves) have spent time in the hospital and we are struggling to pay those medical bils. It grinds us down. We feel like we are alone in a constant struggle against meaninglessness.
            This leads to anxiety and depression like I have experienced. It leads to suicide when we feel as if we have failed. We are trapped in a mechanized life that supports our own subsistence and those of a family we see less often and argue with more because of life’s stress and conflict. We feel isolated. No one understands us. We are alone with our pain.
            Solidarity is knowing someone understands. Someone knows that our interests are one with theirs and they will fight for us. It’s the satisfaction of knowing you’re not alone anymore. It’s the comfort of reaching out to offer someone else help and receiving help in return. We are stronger when we aren’t alone. If we support each other we all have a better chance of emerging from life’s struggles victorious.
            So now you’re looking at me and asking, “Don’t you usually write about politics? Aren’t you just talking about a group hug?”
            No. I’m not.
            President Trump’s government shutdown ended because the air traffic controllers didn’t come into work. The flight attendants soon made noises that they supported the air traffice controllers and wouldn’t come into work either. I know you heard a lot about the political prowess of Nancy Pelosi (and it’s fair to acknowledge that solidarity would not have had the chance to win the day if she had not remained firm throughout) but it really comes down to the flight attendants supporting the air traffic controllers.
            In another important recent example of labor solidarity, the LA Teachers’ Union when they won their strike because the LA County Firefighters’ union threatened to strike in support of the teachers. That broke the bosses’ backs. So solidarity isn’t just a comfort. It’s also a weapon. We’re all stronger when we stand together against an authority that wants to crush our diverse individuality. We help each other to be ourselves instead of who the system wants us to be by standing together in solidarity.
            The stakeholders who control daily life in our society understand this. That’s why they isolate us at work. It’s why they take away our public spaces to isolate us at home or in our booths at restaurants. It’s why they demonize immigrants and glorify military adventures abroad. All these things keep us apart and prevent us from achieving solidarity. It’s not a conspiracy. It’s how the system is designed to work for the stakeholders.
            It’s also why conservative Democrats make politics about the identities of many of these marginalized groups. By keeping the black, white and Latinx members of the working class fighting at cross purposes on cultural and social issues they sustain the status quo that empowers the stakeholders over us. The scandals that divide us are often designed to fit into the cultural wedges. So are the issues that our politicians run on. Dividing people is good for the status quo.
            We overcome this by understanding what solidarity means. The interests of white feminists can’t sacrifice the interests of black feminists or LGBTQ feminists. The interests of black and Latinx people can’t be sacrificed for one another. The interests of the working class are the interests of all the working class. Solidarity is the weapon the landlord and the boss can’t overcome. When the firefighters stood with the teachers, when the flight attendants stood with the air traffic controllers, the good guys won.
            That’s the point. We’re all Spartacus.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Howie Schultz and Mikie Bloomberg are not your friends!

   It's pretty clear that Howard Schultz's nascent presidential campaign is headed for a trip down the toilet of history pretty fast. If you clicked that link you know even Michael Bloomberg doesn't want him to run! Though Bloomberg might run himself as a Democrat if the party doesn't get its act together...

  That's a lot to unpack isn't it? I'll do it as plainly as I can. Based on his appearance on Morning Joe today (during which he humiliated himself repeatedly, including not knowing the cost of a box of Cheerios) Howard Schultz likes the Trump tax cuts and doesn't want the Democrats to reverse them. So he's thinking about running for president as an independent. As illustrated by the previous links, Michael Bloomberg thinks that's a bad idea but agrees with Schultz about the Trump tax cuts and may run for president himself to save them! He's just smart enough to understand you have to have a major party nomination to mount a successful political campaign in today's American and being an asshole to Schultz about it.

   But what do we care about a couple of billionaires who are clearly so out of touch with the grass roots of even the most NIMBY liberal corners of the Democratic Party? Frankly it's because these kind of "common sense" business candidates are dangerous. Wendell Wilkie was motivated to seek and win the Republican nomination because, fundamentally, of his fear of the empowering of labor unions by the New Deal. Wilkie was in favor of 99% of the New Deal. The one part of Roosevelt's platform he really disagreed with was unions. A millionaire businessman wanted to protect his cost margins to maximize his profits so he ran for president. Wilkie lost but he arguably pushed Roosevelt to the right on labor after the election by making a deal to transform his supporters into the core of what would become the WWII "Republican for Roosevelt" movement. H. Ross Perot ran as a spoiler to insure a business friendly Democrat's victory because he was mad at George H.W. Bush for raising taxes above the levels of Reagan's tax reform deal with Tip O'Neil.

   Indeed we are already seeing tangible results of Howie and Mikie having a temper tantrum. Before Howie humiliated himself on Morning Joe, Kamala Harris appeared to back off her previous commitment to Medicare for All at a CNN Town Hall on Monday. As several Twitter friends and I decided in an impromptu discussion Tuesday evening, if it's not "Medicare" and it's not "For All" then how can it be "Medicare For all?"The simple answer is that it cannot possibly be "Medicare For All" under these conditions. So we have to wonder why Medicare For All suddenly became a slogan instead of a policy to Kamala Harris.

   The answer lends itself to a magic word used by both Howie and Mikie to describe Kamala Harris's current leading rival for Democratic front runner status, Elizabeth Warren. What was the word? It was "socialist" of course. Howie spent a significant amount of time on Morning Joe bashing 70% marginal income tax rates (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's idea) and Elizabeth Warren's Wealth Tax. Both ideas "will never pass" because "Americans don't want socialism." Mikie had very nearly identical words on both topics and both singled out Warren as what they believed to be the "mainstream of the Democratic Party." It's fairly clear that a Bloomberg Democratic nomination campaign and a Schultz independent campaign would primarily be "Stop Warren" or "Stop Sanders" campaigns rather than serious projects bringing real policy ideas to the table.

   So Kamala Harris tacked right to align herself with the billionaires and not with us. If neither Bernie Sanders nor a genuine progressive candidate from the African-American portion of the Democratic Party establishment (opposed to Kamala Harris on the issues of penal slavery and police brutality) enters the race then we have a clear choice. Howie/Mikie/Kamala or Elizabeth Warren, which do you trust more?