Archive for the ‘Trampling on Conventional Wisdom’ Category.

A Real Conversation on Race

I am sure you have heard about Bill Maher making a poor joke and using the N-word.  Many have complained that the brouhaha is about political correctness and Democrats are too politically correct.  If blacks can use it, so can we right?  Well to Bill’s credit he focused his next show on it, and while he may not have gotten it, Ice Cube probably made the clearest and direct distinction between political correctness and real understanding of racial sensitivity.  It was the only real conversation I have yet heard on TV on this subject.

I tried to explain this with this to my son as one white guy to another:

I hope you watched Bill Maher last night as there was a real discussion about race and why Bill can’t be one of the boys or comedic license does not cut it.  It is not about being politically correct, it is about experience that informs the meaning of that word.  The closest analogy I can come up with which crosses all racial lines is war experience.  While my experience is different from an Iraq or Afghan veteran, we do have something in common that is not shared and cannot be co-opted by those who have not been there.  You may think you know, but you don’t really.  With the N-word it is the same thing, reserved to those who are black as an experience none of us in a white world can fully appreciate.

But here is the real wisdom from Ice Cube which I think was a real moment in the racial dialogue, not a pretend one:

“I accept your apology. But I still think we need to get to the root of the psyche, because I think there’s a lot of guys out there who cross the line because they a little too familiar—or they think they too familiar—or its guys that, you know, might have a black girlfriend or two who made them some Kool-Aid every now and then, and they think they can cross the line. And they can’t.

It’s a word that has been used against us; it’s like a knife, man. And you can use it as a weapon, or you can use it as a tool. It’s been used as a weapon against us by white people, and we’re not gonna let that happen again by nobody, because it’s not cool. Now, I know you heard [it], it’s in the lexicon and everybody’s talkin’, but that’s our word now. That’s our word now. And you can’t have it back. I know they’re tryin’ to get it back.

And I’m not talkin’ about you, Bill. But I’m talkin’ about guys who cross the line every day because they got some black homies, they got some friends, they think it’s cool. And it’s not cool because when I hear my homies say it, it don’t feel like venom. When I hear a white person say it, it feels like that knife stabbin’ me, even if they don’t mean it.

So, I like your show—and it’s a great show—I just don’t know sometimes, is it a political show, or is it a show about jokes? This, to me, is a political show. And I think you just have to not step on some of the political messages that you sayin’ with a joke, because some things just ain’t funny, you know what I mean? This is real right here that we’re going through. And I’m not tryin’ to get on your case, Bill. I’m tellin’ you: I like your show and I like you. But I think this is a teachable moment, not just to you but to the people who are watching right now.”

Yes we did just have an amazing teaching moment, but in a Trump world this probably is hitting on deaf ears.  We need to change that.

Another One of Those Flashing Lights We Are Ignoring

From the Atlantic Daily email:

The French Election: Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and her independent centrist counterpart Emmanuel Macron advanced to the second round of the French presidential election yesterday. As neither Macron nor Le Pen is from a major party, the vote looks like a clear rejection of the political establishment; it also marks the decline of the French Socialist Party, whose candidate trailed far behind the winners. As the country prepares for the next round, Macron is expected to win by far—yet in expanding her populist party’s influence, Le Pen has already succeeded.

Let’s see, the establishment was rejected in Britain in the Brexit vote, the establishment (both Republicans and Democrats) was rejected in selecting that nitwit Cheeto-Head in the United States, and now the French have rejected their political establishment in both their runoff candidates.  There is something going on here and it is not what you think. It is economic malaise across the board.  The sad thing is that Brexit and Cheeto-Head were elected to attack the wrong targets, change and immigrants.  That is what Marine Le Pen is also running on, but the French may be way smarter than we are.  We will see in a couple of weeks.

Here is what I think, no, know what is going on.  Our economic system does not work for most of us anymore.  It has nothing to do with immigrants, or rapid change, sending jobs overseas.  Okay, they do cause problems, but easily fixable, and yet not much will change.  As long as the wealthy keep sucking up all the air in the room, nothing is going to get better.  That is what establishment politics has missed.

There is a reason for that. I will borrow here from Upton Sinclair via Paul Krugman, “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” They are all part of the system that profits from wealth accumulation.  So they can’t imagine that our economic system throughout the world today is the problem.  They just want to tweak the system, which is why establishment politicians are being roundly rejected.  Nothing changes.

Anybody remember French economist Thomas Piketty?  Back in 2014 he was all the rage when he pointed out that our economics of wealth accumulation is maybe a natural outcome of capitalism and it usually leads to the decline and fall of empires.  He was attacked from all sides.  See Upton Sinclair’s wisdom above.  But Piketty’s data holds and we continue to concentrate wealth.  The chasm between the super rich and the working class is obscene.  There is no coincidence that the two most pressing threats to our survivability, global warming (because it is changing the climate and upsetting economies everywhere) and increasing economic inequality are both disparaged by Republicans.  They got theirs.

Yesterday, or was it Sunday, anyway I blog about what the Democratic Party needed to resolve, what are they really about.  Well the warning lights are on and flashing.  People are turning away from political establishments for new solutions to their problems because nothing ever changed.  The stage was set for the hucksters, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, and Marine Le Pine, selling their fear, hate, and isolationism.  But they are not looking at the real issue, reinventing our capitalist system to more fairly distribute the bounty.  And that has to be the core of the Democratic platform.

That will be a tough message because the moderates do not want to hear it.  That is the Howard Dean crowd, and actually most of the establishment Democratic Party.  Hillary was the classic example. Even President Obama was an establishment Democrat when it came to economics.  None of them really wanted to take on a runaway economic system.  Bernie did and then he got slammed by Black Lives Matter about not considering their interests.  His first reaction was the same as mine, that economic inequality and making the system fairer includes blacks, women, gays, you name it.  But he was a savvy enough politician to try to bring them in.  But it is interest group pandering that gets us nowhere and generally doesn’t really change anything.

The theme that will create a new Democratic party is to recognize that economic inequality is the mother of all the other inequalities.  To start to share the wealth of our economy with all those that participate creates spending.  To do this means taking on the whole establishment.  But if you are seeing all the flashing lights, the establishment is being resoundly rejected.  We don’t need a more tweaked and refined establishment with better tactics and talking points.  They need to recognize that there is a new message altogether and start reforming capitalism.  If they don’t, it will not be pretty.  Brexit and Cheeto-Head were just the beginning.

What The Democratic Party Should Become

There has been some confusion on who is the Democratic Party and what they Stand For.  In the “Unity Tour” road trip that DNC chairmen Tom Perez and Bernie Sanders were on, the DNC got booed and Bernie clearly identified himself as an Independent.  Joy Reed of MSNBC had an interesting segment on Saturday about what and who the Democratic Party should be.  In the Georgia race that Jon Ossoff, the Democrat may just have a shot, Bernie was asked if Ossoff was a Progressive and he kind of took a pass which he took back later.  But that really encapsulates the issue, who should be the face of the Democratic Party and just because they can win, will they support Progressive policies? Joe Manchin comes to mind on that one. Why we call him a Democrat is beyond me.

So if we are having a Unity Tour, what are we unifying around.  Note that Keith Ellison and Bernie were in Omaha Nebraska supporting a Mayoral candidate who has been wishy-washy on pro-choice.  Say what?  Right now all we can tell is that Bernie has a large following and Perez is using that to get face time.  But we are still left with what and who are Democrats.  Where is the rallying them that defines our vision? In the discussion that followed on Joy’s show she had four panelists, Howard Dean, establishment Democrat and former DNC Chairman, L. Joy Williams, President of the Brooklyn NAACP,  Krystal Ball, Senior Fellow at the New Leaders Council (and ex-MSNBC pundit), and  Marcus Farrell, former director of African outreach in the Bernie Sanders Campaign.

Bernie has said something I agree with:  “Our job is to radically transform the Democratic Party. …It can’t be just symbolic, it has got to be real. …It has got to be that those ideas are allowed to become the dominant theme of the Democratic Party, and that’s the chice that Democrats are going to have to make.”  I agree with him because right now the Democrats are defined across the board from conservative to progressive and nobody knows that means or what that foretells for a plan for the future. Joy asked what I think was a revealing question when she asked if Bernie is holding the Democratic Party hostage, keeping his supporters independent until the Democratic Party buys into his ideas?

My thought is yeah!  What we have been has failed miserably.  You can talk all day about tactics and strategy, but at the end of the day, what is the message?  I still don’t know, but I do know what Bernie stands for.  Krystal made the point that Bernie focused is on economic issues and how that rang across party lines. Krystal argued that we can be a party that is more diverse on cultural issues, and will have to be if we want a 50-state strategy (doesn’t mean we jettison diversity and rights), but progressive economics is where we draw the line.  Both representatives of black communities argued that we need more outreach to black communities if we expect them to vote.  Hmm.  Exactly what does outreach mean?  Howard wanted to keep people in the Party who are economically moderate.  I think this is the failure of the Democratic Party to think this way.  We are so big tent, we stand for nothing.

So what would I recommend?  It is always about the money.  Bernie has a vision for the future that I think rings across all partisan lines.  We need a healthy safety net much as Europe has to free Americans to be more innovative and productive.  Our vision should be a nation where the free market still offerors the competitive edge to many solutions, but for those left behind by large rapid shifts in technology and markets, they are protected.  I believe Howard Dean represents the economic moderates who  have truly hurt the party.  Krystal represented her point of view well when she pointed out that the Democratic Party had become controlled by Wall Street and Bernie represented that clean break.  After all, where is the stock market today and where are the well paying jobs?  Economic inequality is the issue and Progressivism is the only ideology that takes it on.

Okay, on the black thing, I am still angry that they did not get out and vote. In my mind, if you don’t vote, you simply don’t matter.  That is the one way you can change the world and to fail to do that makes you irrelevant.  Black Lives Matters further angered me by demanding what Bernie was going to do for them during the election (the economic justice he was campaigning on wasn’t enough) and I was thinking the real issue is you getting out the vote.  See Ferguson, Mo.  There was a clear difference.

Trying to understand where they were coming from, I found this article by a black man, Jack Brewer, who voted for Trump.  While he makes excellent points about why he and the black community were less than enthused about Hillary, and was tired of the status quo in black communities, Trump had absolutely no policies, was a lying, ignorant human being and you threw the nations fate into his hands, a proven racist.  Here is his logic as he explains it:

Of course, the internet recorded Donald Trump’s history of racial discrimination and his divisive tone toward women. But, what transcended that was Trump’s anti-establishment stance. That has finally taken the wool from over the eyes of many African-Americans — including myself — in relation to the Clinton family, media and the establishment.

It’s been hard to face the facts on how our underserved black lives have gotten worse, not better under our beloved President Obama. The undeniable truth about the Clintons has been disappointing to many because they’ve prided themselves on improving the lives of African-Americans for decades, even as their incarceration policies crippled our communities at its core.

When I finally got into the ballot booth and checked away at local, state and national Democrats on my ballot, I chose a different route for president. I voted for the hundreds of thousands and black non-violent criminals incarcerated as a result of the mandatory minimums. I voted for a more transparent system of deploying aid to underserved countries. I voted for the dream of seeing black millennial and general unemployment rates reach the levels of other races in America. I voted for the hope that entitlements will put accountability measures in place in order to keep low income black parents involved in their kids education as well as help spur job creation over well fare in some cases. I voted for a hope of making black America great again too. I voted for an end of 30 years of establishment rule in America.

I voted for President Donald Trump, with hopes that God frees his mind of the bias and division long enough to do great things for blacks and all the citizens of our great nation.

I guess I see his point about Democrats and the status quo, but Trump? He voted against the status quo and what he got was the dumber crueler version of the status quo. If blacks want to see change, they need to quit asking what Presidential candidates will do for them, but become a voting force in local elections.  Their real salvation is in their hands.  We can fight against voter suppression and outright racism, but to change the real environment where they live, they have to vote.

So where does that leave us?  I think Krystal has it about right, but I will need to read her book to tell.  The key element is to understand that our belief in wall street as the bellweather of the economy and the source of economic wisdom is over.  Balanced budgets and debt have to be evaluated in terms of the economic circumstances not as absolute good or absolute bads.  That for capitalism to thrive for all of us, we need a much better safety net (guaranteed education, health care, retirement system).  Sorry Howard, we can’t afford not to do these things.  Economic “moderates” are the problem.  Bernie got that.

As far as the cultural issues, I think we can’t give an inch on the rights of blacks, gays or whoever.  Certainly we have to have a plan to move the ball forward for blacks because Jack Brewer made some excellent points.  Abortion to me is not about birth control, but individual freedom to make a choice about your own body.   While I understand that maybe we have to be more flexible in Red states, how do you be flexible about whether we enslave women or not?  How do you be flexible about global warming in coal states?  How do you be more flexible about gays, and transsexuals?  Aren’t they people with the same basic rights as the rest of us?  Religion has no place in government and there is no compromise there.  Religious freedom does not mean the right discriminate.

So flexible maybe, but clear lines of where that flexibility ends. That I think is the only way to define the Party or Bernie is right to stay Independent.  I will join him if they don’t learn the lessons of the last election.  It’s about the economy stupid.  We get economic inequality right, we get science and reinstate rational governing, and all the rest will fall in place.

Look! He is Moderating!

That is the lead all week as Cheeto-Head flip-flopped on multiple issues.  Actually they weren’t flip-flopping as acceding to reality in foreign affairs.  But one has to ask why the obvious truths did not dawn on him sooner and is he just so ignorant that his view of reality is shaped by the ones nearest him.  And on North Korea, while he now understands a little more of the China-Korean relationship, does his twitter pugnacious brain simply further goad the situation into a show down?  And with two nut jobs, one ours, who can’t stand losing, and theirs, one who needs confrontation to survive, this could get very ugly.

Meanwhile what is happening in domestic land to show us how he is now presidential?  Well, it is not pretty:

  • President Trump signed legislation Thursday allowing states to withhold federal family planning dollars from clinics that provide abortion services, a move that could deprive Planned Parenthood and several other family groups of tens of millions in funding.”  (WaPo). Now note that federal money cannot be used for abortions and Planned Parenthood has been audited millions of times and have never used federal money for abortions, but well, screw women.  Planned Parenthood is like any other medical provider and bills the government for covered services and I don’t see how this is constitutional, but what do I know.  Also, while we seem to accept that federal money cannot be used for abortions (Hatch Amendment), why not?  Is it not a legal and in many cases a justified medical procedure? Again, what do I know?
  • With the stroke of a pen this week, Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s new education secretary, thrust the future of the government’s system for managing federal student loans into confusion.” (NYT).  President Obama had signed an order to combine the confused administration of student loans into one simplified system.  But that would hurt all those vendors who are trying to make a killing off kids going to college.  Progress is only for Progressives must be the motto.  As an aside, while I was having a basal cell carcinoma removed from my leg, I was discussing single payer with my dermatologist and she said she had mixed emotions because the government always makes things too complicated.  It is not the government, but politicians. Note that with advanced stage prostate cancer I no longer fear talking politics with those welding knives.
  • President Trump’s top environment official called for an “exit” from the historic Paris [climate] agreement Thursday, the first time such a high-ranking administration official has so explicitly disavowed the agreement endorsed by nearly 200 countries to fight climate change.” (WaPo). That is what we elected, science ignorance and they are carrying it out.
  • The Trump administration will not voluntarily disclose logs of visitors to the White House complex, it announced Friday, breaking with the practice started under former President Obama.”  (The Hill)  I wonder what they are afraid of?  Kind of like the tax thing.
  • In an interview with The Wall Street Journal this week, Mr. Trump threatened to withhold the subsidy payments [in Obamacare] as a way to induce the Democrats to bargain with him.” (NYT) Really.  He has a majority in both houses and he needs Democrats to wreck healthcare?  I know this has been beat to death, but the bad parts pay for the good parts.  There is no Republican fix and Democrats would be insane to help dismantle it.
  • “Donald Trump’s travel to his private club in Florida has cost over an estimated $20 million in his first 80 days as president, putting the president on pace in his first year of office to surpass former President Barack Obama’s spending on travel for his entire eight years.”  (CNN) Where is Michelle Bachmann when you need her.  Here is the tip of the iceberg on Republican hypocrisy as none of them see a problem and imagine what they would say (and did) if this was Obama.
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions went to the border in Arizona on Tuesday and declared it a hellscape, a “ground zero” of death and violence where Americans must “take our stand” against a tide of evil flooding up from Mexico.” [NYT]. The beginning of the border Gestapo and prosecutions of families just trying to stay together and make a living.  No mention of a rational change in our immigration laws that would allow a free flow of workers we badly need, or treating the cause of all that drug traffic, demand.  Just another mindless day at the beach (on the Rio Grande River).
  • One of the first things this administration did was to rescind a government proposal to ban a pesticide used on much of the fresh food we eat — a chemical compound, chlorpyrifos, found to be harmful to the brain and nervous system of children. This move didn’t get a lot of attention. But when you’re throwing out a half-dozen major lies and missteps a day, it’s tough to compete for airtime.” (Timothy Egan NYT).  Yeah, we don’t need no stink’in regulations if they get in the way of profits.  Who cares who dies if it increases profits?  Unless of course it is your child.  “With his proposal to gut the E.P.A., Trump would make it much more difficult for the Great Lakes to be great again. His budget would eliminate restoration projects in the iconic waterways of America, from Chesapeake Bay to Puget Sound. Plus, he would decrease grants to monitor unsafe tap water, creating future Flints.  He also wants to cut research into harmful chemicals — some linked to breast cancer and birth defects — found in things most Americans keep in their cupboards. The tobacco companies must sense a comeback in the offing… ‘We’re doing an amazing job on regulations,’ Trump said this week. ‘We’ve freed it up. We’ve freed up this country so much.’” Nope, we don’t need no stink’in regulations. Free at last, free at last.

So if you are not paying attention, and most of our pundits are not, swept up into group think, he is becoming presidential.  If you are paying attention, he is destroying the America we all love.  Stay tuned.  Maybe he will get us in a war with North Korea and millions will die.  Maybe that will wake up the clueless.

I am a Stupid Idiot

I know that because John McCain said so.  Reporters were questioning Senator McCain about the invoking of the nuclear option (end the filibuster) for approving Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme court:

McCain dismissed the notion Tuesday that changing the Senate rules to prevent a filibuster on Supreme would put the chamber in a better position, saying anyone who thinks it would be beneficial is a “stupid idiot.”

“I would like to meet that idiot, I’d like to meet the numskull that would say that,” he told reporters. “That after 200 years, at least 100 years of this tradition, where the Senate has functioned pretty well, they think it would be a good idea to blow it up.”

McCain said changing the rules would be a “body blow to the institution,” adding he thinks it puts them on a slippery slope. “Whoever said that is a stupid idiot who hasn’t been here and seen what I’ve been through and how we’ve been able to avoid that on several occasions — they’re stupid and have deceived their voters because they’re so stupid,” he continued.

Well now I am labeled, and I look forward to meeting Senator McCain. While I think his politics stink, I respect his service in my war. If you read my blog yesterday you know I thought the Democrats should have got rid of it, or at least modified it so that it did require a talking filibuster, a long time ago  You remember Mr. Smith goes to Washington

But that is not where we are at, and Senator McCain and his brethern forgot how we got here, with the Republicans and then a divided country turning the filibuster into a weapon of obstruction of all government.  But let’s stop and think a minute.  He and his buddy Lindsey Graham are probably going to vote for removing it, so who again is the stupid idiot?  And that my friends is to show the insanity and how out of touch McCain and his brethern are.

He calls it a “body blow to the institution” and then tells us the Republicans have to confirm Judge Gorsuch.  Anybody beside me see the failure of logic here.  The rule was set up so the Senate could do just what they are doing if they find a bill or candidate just not acceptable or mainstream.  So the Democrats use it and Republicans can’t live with the rule.  Make no mistake who is takening this down. It is Republicans who claim a love for the institution, but have failed it so miserably that overcoming the filibuster is now the bar for progress, conservative or liberal.  

So I am a stupid idiot.  I wonder when I can get on Senator McCains calendar since he so wants to meet me.  Should I just introduce myself as that idiot>

Where They Get It Wrong

In the upcoming vote to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch*, the two Democrats that will be jumping ship to vote for him are Senators Joe Manchin (West Virginia) and Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota).  Here is the current pundit thinking from WaPo:

So far, Manchin and Heitkamp — from states that Trump won last year by more than 35 percentage points — have joined all 52 Republicans in supporting Gorsuch. The result is that a dozen liberal groups are rounding up signatures to try to prevent the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from supporting the senators. It could be a self-defeating move for Democrats: Manchin and Heitkamp are widely considered the only possible members of their party who might be able to win in those deeply conservative states.

Yeah, and then they vote Republican so what is the point?  Manchin is famous for his anti-gun votes, his warm support for coal, and against the environment.  He even said he would defect to the Republicans if the Senate was evenly split last November.  Heitkamp is in the same vote and when you need a strong liberal stand they are nowhere to be found.  So why do we have this numbers game when it is in name only?

This I think has been the fatal flaw with the Democrats.  We want a big tent so we don’t stand for anything.  At this point the climate should be non-negotiable (global warming).  Same with equal rights for, well, everybody.  A right to choose is non-negotiable.  What really drives politics is money and on economic policy, we have been far too right leaning trying to be Republican Lite. It is why middle America slam dunked us.  Balanced budgets are a disaster, and debt is okay.  How much debt would be the only real question driven by facts (how it drives interest rates and inflation, not just fear of debt) and right now the issue driving everything is increasing economic inequality.  Our economy will never be strong until we address how this country shares its wealth.  I would think at this point health care should be a no-brainer, single payer.  Immigrant bans are just stupid.  So why do we tolerate people in the party that straddle these positions, and think they help the party?

We should be for growing Social Security, not falling for the false arguments that we can’t afford it.  We raise taxes and reform taxes to be fairer, but understand that you cannot promise lower taxes and pay for the things we must.  We need to make education affordable again, get rid of student debt, we need to pay for a single payer system, and we need to fully fund Medicare.  If more of the spoils from our economy were not going to the few, we could easily bear this burden, which is really an investment in our future.  This should be the battle cry of the Democratic Party, not a numbers count to get members you cannot depend on in a pinch.  They simply water down what we stand for. Then people know what they are voting for, and more of them might actually vote.  It is not self-defeating, it is self empowering.

Oh and one more thought.  The article noted that Trump won those states (North Dakota and West Virginia) by more than 35%.  Think about this:  Trump was the anti-Republican Party establishment candidate.  Moderate Republicans are the establishment Republican Party so how again do they help Democrats?  Also ask you self this.  How many people in the nation do they really represent?  If we got rid of the electoral college, that 35% is meaningless.  More important, if we reformed the Senate to more accurately represent the American Republic, they like Wyoming, could take a flying fucking leap. Happy Sunday.

*On the Gorsuch vote there are two things to consider.  One was the denying of President Obama a Supreme Court pick.  That should not go unpunished or it is going to set a precedent for all future nominations that should not stand.  The second is that Gorsuch played coy in his hearings clearly hiding how he would rule and his history tells us that he is a corporations supporter, not the equal rights of citizens.  Another John Roberts if you will.  Remember the famous firing of the truck driver case where he ruled that the driver, freezing to death in an unheated truck, went against company orders to get warm and they fired him.  Gorsuch upheld that firing.  What a tool.

Living in Reality

Most of us don’t.  We have all kinds of tricks to fool ourselves.  Most of the time the only person we are fooling is ourselves.  I like to pretend I am young and fun, but I nod off after 9pm.  Oh, and I have cancer, but I like to pretend I don’t and life will go on forever.  My point is simply that if we are going to make good decisions about our future, we have to live in reality.  Brexit and the election of Donald Trump was a classic example of not only not recognizing reality, but living in a fantasy world where up is down and down is up.

Staying in the real world takes hard work.  For me, and recognizing my age and cancer, it involves staying in the moment.  Buddhism focus on that very thing.  It is called mindfulness.  The fact that it takes mental discipline tells you something about how our mind works.  It spends most of its time reinventing reality so that we see the world as we want to see it, not as it is.  This can be harmless to deadly for the individual.  For our politics, it is just deadly and that is where we are right now.  Donald Trump, a.k.a. Chetto-Head, and his party has a dim grasp on reality.  Watch Sean Spicer reinvent reality on the fly.  That this goes on in the White House tells you how far we have fallen. There were some things in the news today that really brought that home.

Let’s look at jobs.  The Washington Post pointed out that there are less coal jobs than there are jobs at Arby’s:

Looking at the level of individual businesses, the coal industry in 2014 (76,572) employed about as many as Whole Foods (72,650), and fewer workers than Arby’s (close to 80,000), Dollar General (105,000) or J.C. Penney (114,000). The country’s largest private employer, Walmart (2.2 million employees) provides roughly 28 times as many jobs as coal.


And note that solar energy employees more people than coal, oil, or gas combined, so why in fantasy land are we destroying the environment, hurting those other jobs to try to bring back jobs that are not coming back?  Or as Paul Krugman poses the question, why do people in West Virgina vote against their own best interests?

Why does an industry that is no longer a major employer even in West Virginia retain such a hold on the region’s imagination, and lead its residents to vote overwhelmingly against their own interests?

…Coal country” residents weren’t voting to preserve what they have, or had until recently; they were voting on behalf of a story their region tells about itself, a story that hasn’t been true for a generation or more.

Their Trump votes weren’t even about the region’s interests; they were about cultural symbolism.

Now, regional cultures that invoke a long-gone past are hardly unique to Appalachia; think of Texans wearing 10-gallon hats and cowboy boots as they stroll through air-conditioned malls. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

But when it comes to energy and environmental policy, we’re not talking about mere cultural affectations. Going backward on the environment will sicken and kill thousands in the near future; over the longer term, failing to act on climate change could, all too plausibly, lead to civilizational collapse.


So it’s incredible, and terrifying, to think that we may really be about to do all of that because Donald Trump successfully pandered to cultural nostalgia, to a longing for a vanished past when men were men and miners dug deep.

Want some more?  Well you are going to get it.  Cheeto-Head is all about jobs, jobs, jobs, or so he said. And he spent his time pitching lies about bring back middle American jobs.  How do I know it is a lie and this cannot be fixed attacking trade agreements (although they could be a lot better from an economic inequality point of view)?  Here is the Washington Post again:

Industrial robots alone have eliminated up to 670,000 American jobs between 1990 and 2007, according to new research from MIT’s Daron Acemoglu and Boston University’s Pascual Restrepo.

…The latest study reveals that for manufacturing workers, the process of adjusting to technological change has been much slower and more painful than most experts thought. “We were looking at a span of 20 years, so in that timeframe, you would expect that manufacturing workers would be able to find other employment,” Restrepo said. Instead, not only did the factory jobs vanish, but other local jobs disappeared too. Acemoglu and Restrepo say that every industrial robot eliminated about three manufacturing positions, plus three more jobs from around town.

…How do we even know that automation is a big part of the story at all? A key bit of evidence is that, despite the massive layoffs, American manufacturers are making more stuff than ever. Factories have become vastly more productive. Many factors contributed to these changes and Acemoglu and Restrepo focused on one in particular — the rise of the industrial robot.


What’s my point?  That to understand how to fix a problem, you have to understand what the problem is.  You have to be in reality.  Cheeto-Head is cutting regulation and destroying the environment to save jobs that can’t be saved.  People vote for Cheeto-Head because they are oblivious to the reality of the world we are living in. And most importantly, the fix is to realize that reality and then do something about it.

The automation article in the Washington Post made clear that the transition from manufacturing to other jobs did not happen as quickly as we thought as automation continues to take over.  So someone has to step in and help with that transition.  You think that is going to be the market place? It is called government, the very thing that Republicans want to gut.  Now you see why they live in a fantasy land.  Reality is a bitch.  But if we are really going to help middle America and coal miners, it is not through false hope and fantasy, it will be through managed programs to increase our manufacturing efficiency while supporting displaced workers.

So back to that mindful thing.  In order to be mindful you can’t just stop and smell the roses.  You have to have an understanding and respect for the reality all around you.  For too long we have been living in La La land.  Nothing will change as long as we stay there, and will only get worse.  It is time to ignore what we want to believe and see what really is.  That would mean dumping Cheeto-Head and the Republicans, and we would be so much better for it.  Happy Saturday.

The Way Forward

The DNC has picked Tom Perez over Keith Ellison to lead the DNC to rebuild.  Tom did a really smart thing by acclaiming Keith Vice-Chairman.  I am not really sure how I feel about that yet.  Keith was the candidate of Bernie and Tom was the candidate of Barack.  Maybe some Democrats will have a temper tantrum like they did when Bernie got beat.  But I don’t think the issue is Democrats, it is all those who want change and rejected the Establishment of either party whether Democrats or Independents.  

I hear language like we have to fight a 50 state strategy and engage in every state.  We need to get out their and listen to everyone and show that the Democratic Party represents them.  What I don’t hear yet is a grand strategy, a vision of what we stand for, a vision that presents a very different vision than Republicans.  I know what that is, but I am not sure they do yet.  That is why I wrote the series The Real Fight.  I am an intellectual guy (I am not claiming to be smart, but I think about things), but the key here is to understand where we as Democrats went wrong (Listen Liberal), how we failed Progressivism, and to provide the logical foundation for rejecting Republicans and their economics (Economism).  Oh, and along the way I tried to show how the Republicans created a Fifth Freedom* (separate from FDR’s Four Freedoms), freedom of the market place which is in conflict with the other four freedoms except for the very wealthy.

Thomas Frank took us on a journey in Listen Liberal to explain how we lost the New Deal and the economics we used to believe in.  This is important because to rebuild the Democratic Party you have to really understand why it is not appealing to more people.  To make a long story short, Listen Liberal, showed how we bought into Economism and became Republican Lite, all the while the market place is failing millions of Americans and economic inequality grows by leaps and bounds.  

In Economism, James Kwak basically explained why our view of what is possible is now controlled by an underpinning of conservative economic theory that makes government the problem and free markets the solution.  Then he lays out why that does not work and gives us the ammunition we need to push back. It turns out that the Fifth Freedom is a self serving belief that allows economic inequality to grow exponentially.  Democrats going forward are going to have to connect with white working class millennials and get people back to the polls.  They have to have a vision (Progressive) and the arguments to show how that is their only path to control the Fifth Freedom (freedom of the market place) and put a dent in economic inequality.  

I just hope Perez and Ellison have read this stuff, and have a plan to turn it into an approach to give Democrats the arguments to win our future.  Frank and Kwak have done an amazing job of allowing us to put this into a logical construct to begin to dismantle Republican Economism so we can move the country forward.  Most Americans are not cerebral.  Logical arguments are not going to win the day, but as Hillary found out, without a overarching narrative, policies don’t make Progressivism.  Relating to people and making them understand that we have a a vision they can share is the key.  And now we understand where we went wrong, and how to fight.  Let’s get at it.

*The Fifth Freedom concept came from a lecture by Professor Jeffery Engel from SMU.

The Real Fight Finale

A continuation of the discussion in The Real Fight, and The Real Fight Part 2

The current political situation is in chaos.  Democrats were shattered in the last election and Republicans have a leader that is certainly not a Republican, but a populist with Republican leanings.  There is all kinds of nationalism and autocracy in play on the Republican side besides the economic arguments.  But the Nationalism and autocracy that is part of Steve Bannon’s philosophy are really a harking back to times that no longer exist.  Democrats see a more integrated and diverse society whereas Republicans see chaos if the old order is not restored.  But Trump won on the economic argument as reliable Democrtic working class voters bought into Donald Trump’s lies about restoring jobs and renegotiating trade agreements.  Democrats are navel gazing right now trying to figure out what went wrong.  Sadly a lot of this discussion is about listening and engaging more with the white middle America and sounds an awful lot like pandering.  “Well after all Hillary did win the popular vote.”  Frank Bruni put it this way this morning:

Have Democrats learned and implemented all the right lessons from Trump’s victory and from the party’s brutal fade during Barack Obama’s presidency? As the race for the D.N.C. chairmanship lurches toward its conclusion later this month and as Democratic lawmakers sweat the smartest strategy against Trump, I wonder. I worry…They routinely remind me and reassure themselves that Clinton won the popular vote and that if you subtract James Comey, Julian Assange and Vladimir Putin, she might have triumphed as well in the Electoral College, where Trump prevailed by just 77,000 votes…This is no moment for mere tinkering, and the party can’t afford the internal divisions on display in the D.N.C. race. After Joe Biden endorsed Perez last week, Bernie Sanders, who supports Ellison, shot back, “Do we stay with a failed status quo approach or do we go forward with a fundamental restructuring?”

Timothy Egan put it this way on one Saturday:

The way out is not that difficult. Yes, they should engage in hand-to-hand combat in the capital. And certainly, Democrats must turn to the courts when the rule of law is broken. But they have to be for something, as well — a master policy narrative, promoting things that help average Americans. The old Broadway adage was how it will play in Peoria. For Democrats, they should think of Joe Biden’s Scranton, Pa., every time they take to a podium.

My point is that we have to take on all Republicans, not just because they are supporting Cheeto-Head, but more importantly because they have their economics wrong, and with that, just about everything else.  Their brand of the Fifth Freedom (freedom of the market place) is tainting everything and as we get the economics wrong, the world is ripe for Trumps and blaming which leads to all the racism, nativism, xenophobia, and division in this country.  Democrats need to take on the Republican ideas about the economy and change the narrative around the Fifth Freedom. Just being against Cheeto-Head won’t change anything (see Hillary’s campaign). Thankfully James Kwak came along to do that for us.  So I am going to give you a short couple of paragraphs course on where James took us in his book, Economism:  Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality.  I really recommend you read it.

His basic premise is that the lessons we learned in Econ 101 about supply and demand (In a competitive economy, prices automatically direct effort and investment where they can do the most good— a feat that no government agency can match) are models and concepts in a perfect system that do not apply when markets aren’t perfect and the players aren’t rational.  Or said another way, welcome to the real world.  It is just a logical construct that needs to be adapted to real world complexities.

Here in his own words is that premise:

This invocation of basic economics lessons to explain all social phenomena is economism.  It rests on the premise that people, companies, and markets behave according to the abstract, two-dimensional illustrations of an Economics 101 textbook, even though the assumptions behind those diagrams [supply and demand curves] virtually never hold true in the real world…And while superficial economic arguments can serve multiple purposes, in today’s world they most often justify the existing social order— and the inequality that it generates— while explaining the futility of any attempt to change it.

…the conclusion that we must accept [according to economism] is that the world is as it is, because our attempts to make it better are doomed to fail…[we need] only to accept the principles of Economics 101. This makes economism a supremely convenient tool for the 0.1 percent, the perfect comeback to the Occupy Wall Street protesters. You understand why well-meaning do-gooders want to make taxes more progressive, subsidize health care, provide free higher education, and regulate Wall Street. But they simply don’t understand economics.

…My goal is not to show that one side is right and the other is wrong, but to demonstrate that an unwavering adherence to simplistic models has had a pernicious impact on debates and policies that affect hundreds of millions of people. Most of the time, that impact has the effect of increasing inequality or legitimizing the inequality generated by our economic system.

It is a self-serving philosophy for the conservatives and you hear them argue it every day. Professor Kwak then presents Econ 101 basic concepts and then annihilates them in the real world. Real economists, not shills for the status quo, believe in markets in general, but “they are continuously identifying instances of market failure and then designing government policy responses that can make these markets work better (Mark Thoma).”  See the tension here?  Conservatives and many Democrats who bought into this stuff, want government out of the market place (the Fifth Freedom) and they use Econ 101 arguments (Economism) to show that the government will only screw it up.  The reality is just opposite, but it is complex and most of us don’t do complex.

A great  example of he application of Economism is to the arguments around raising the minimum wage.  In the perfect world of Econ 101, markets find the right price to employ the most people.  Using supply and demand curves you can argue that raising the minimum wage (government interference) simply results in some getting higher wages, but fewer employed.  On the other hand the real result in the real world is a mixed bag depending on many other factors.

Take a store like Starbucks. Most of its clients are affluent and are more than willing to pay the few cents added to their cup of coffee for passing that wage hike onto the customers.  And in instances where it does cause a decrease in employment, it raises many more out of poverty.  So unlike conservatives who believe it is an open and shut argument, it is really a complex issue. Note President Cheeto-Head (Lord Commander Marmalade from Trae Crowder) has told us he is against minimum wages all together.  That is where Economism will get you.  The market will find the right wages to emply the most people. Slaves worked out so well for the South.

Healthcare is my favorite, as Paul Ryan was out spouting all the Economism arguments that the free market would provide health insurance tailored to the individual needs of the market place at the most reasonable price.  Choice and competition became the magic words that would end all our health care woes. Just get the government out of it. There is only one problems with all this.  Reality tells us that health care does not behave like any other market.  We do not incur medical expenses regularly, and we don’t have the medical knowledge to decide the best course for our own care.

The Economics 101 model in which financial incentives turn people into discerning consumers turns out not to work in the real world.”  And here is the thing, before Obamacare we had a system that did not work.  Were we paying attention?  I could make arguments that the business model for Health Insurance companies make them the customer to be served, not the person needing health care, but you get the drift.  In a perfect world it might work, but in our world, every other country has seen the light and moved to single payer systems while we still make Economism arguments.  These systems are not perfect but they provide universal care at a cheaper cost and with better outcomes than our system.

Anyway you get the point here.  Economism arguments make perfect sense and appeal to all of us, but then when applied to reality where the complexities of the markets are not examined, in many cases they give us just the opposite answer to what will actually work.  Professor Kwak takes us through Supply Side economics, free markets in the banking industry, and free trade to show how the arguments of Economism fail, yet we continue to buy into them for simple answers.  Again I have a favorite and that is free trade.

Economism will tell you that international trade simply is a win-win. There is a thing called the theory of comparative advantage which I am not going to go into here, but it basically shows that in the aggregate, trade is always good.  But we just had an election where trade agreements became the bogey man.  Conventional Republicans are free traders (as are many establishment Democrats) and Trump and Bernie were very popular being against it.  So what gives?  Well two things.  First, as always reality is more complex than theory.  If you look at NAFTA, in the aggregate we gained, cheaper products and more trade increasing net GDP.  But the local effects were horrendous, with a loss of jobs in the portion of our population with blue-collar workers, and the least likely to find new work.  In a word, it increased economic inequality.

When a rich country like the United States increases trade with a poor country, some industries will lose jobs because of competition from cheaper foreign labor. This can mean concentrated layoffs in specific sectors, as has happened to American manufacturing. Although those job losses may be balanced by gains in other parts of the economy, longtime assembly-line workers at automotive parts manufacturers in the Midwest cannot easily get hired by New Jersey pharmaceutical companies or Silicon Valley software firms…Within a rich country, in short, the primary winners are people who are already well-off, and therefore one result of increased trade with poor countries is greater inequality within the U.S. workforce.

Then there is the China effect:

“The reality of adjustment to the China trade shock has been far different. Offsetting employment gains either in export-oriented tradables or in non-tradables have, for the most part, failed to materialize.”…the fact that the U.S. economy has adjusted to Chinese competition so slowly and imperfectly calls into question the simple case for free trade.

In other words we get and buy into the Economism arguments and then reality tells us it is a much more mixed and complex picture.  The Establishment, both Democrats and Republicans were supporting trade agreements on Economism arguments when the people rebelled.  And that is the lesson I am trying to get across here.  The problem is not the man, Donald Trump, although he is a true threat to democracy.  The problem is that we as Progressive and Democrats have not challenged Economism as it has been applied to almost every political argument we see by conservatives and are winning those arguments.  Instead, every time Democrats have a big loss they start pandering to kinder gentler Economism.  It is time to take these ideas head on and fight them on the ideological battle field the conservatives have set up and are winning.  It is only when we finally expose these falsehoods and complexities can we progress.

Thank you James Kwak for taking us on an ideological journey to show how we have been duped.

 

Watching a Man Unfit to be President be Unfit to be President

I am sure by now you have read the leaks out of the White House were the orange buffoon used his telephone calls with world leaders to put us in the category of bully-in-chief.  This face of America whom the Republican Party has tied themselves to makes the term Ugly American seem kind in comparison.  He threatened war with Mexico and hung up on the Australian leader.  We have no idea what he did with his call with Putin, but I expect a move by Putin soon to test his leash.

You know when President Obama, a man who is always polite and deferential to almost everyone, calls Donald Trump unfit for office, we should have woken up.  This was not campaign mud slinging, this was an honest assessment, but the rubes in Middle America and the South did us all in.   But that is all water under the bridge for now, because the Trump wrecking machine is in full operational mode.  It is only a matter of time till we get into some sort of conflict.  When his Chief of Intelligence comes out in a presidential press briefing and puts Iran on notice (whatever that means), you know we are going to be in a war with the Middle East sooner than later.  They are greasing the skids.

As far as the Republicans, they have attached their star to the man and there is no backpedaling now.  But that should not surprise us either.  While Trump is doing everything he said he would and his ignoramus supporters said, nah, he won’t do that, the Republicans have completed eight years of trying to destroy our government and democracy.  There is just no other way to look at it.  There are no “principled” Republicans anymore.  They serve their base and their base is a mindless minority saturated with lies and misdirection fed them by Republicans for years.  A quick review of the Trump Cabinet and how Republicans literary lied about their nomination’s accomplishments (Jeff Sessions) to get them confirmed (by mostly Republican votes) should tell you everything. Betsy DeVoss is a joke and yet only two Republicans (both women) have question that she is not only out to destroy public schools but that she is also  totally incompetent. In any other time they simply would not even be considered as too unqualified.

So here we sit with a total buffoon whose hand is on the nuclear switch, and he continues to prove this buffoon point every day while the media is still trying to normalize him. Sadly, Democrats still do not quite understanding the battle they are in and we have only the people in the streets to save us, if we can be saved.  I think we are entering a period where Trump is so reckless that we could actually see an insurrection (not violent) within government itself if he goes too far.  I actually think he already has and most of the Justice Department needs to walk away, along with State.  Of course they have families and mortgages like the rest of us, but still…  Certainly the generals may someday refuse an order, and at that point our government crumbles.

The only way to restore normalcy is to remove all Republicans from office.  They got us here and they all co-opted themselves for power.  They started with the total disregard for democratic norms when President Obama was elected after their last boy wonder got us in a war we are still fighting in the Middle East and wrecked the economy.  Along with obstructing government, they developed a miss-information machine that fed their base lies and total nonsense, fueled by corporations and businesses that profited from their policies at the expense of the rest of us. They created a Tea Party, and who can forget their motto, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare”.  In 2010, with their successful obstruction and Democratic timidness, they took over Congress and democracy as we know it was over.  They did not care about governing, only winning and implementing their ideology.  Compromise was dead.  The Senate soon followed suit.

Donald Trump, incompetence and chaos, are a direct result of their hard work, when they lost control of what they had created, an ignorant mob (rubes).  So here we are with a totally incompetent and dangerous President, and a Party holding both the House and the Senate, incapable of leadership, democratic norms, or moral or ethical behavior.  Their only goal is to institute their version of conservative and religious hell on the rest of us.  They answer only to their base, not to the American people or the Constitution. There is just no other way to put it, Republicans are evil. They got us here.

If you are like me, you dread getting up in the morning to see what Cheeto Head has done today that destroys the very essence of America.  This morning was the announcement that he put Jerry Falwell Jr in a position to advise the Department of Education.  Then Trump wants to remove the political gag from religious tax exempt organizations.  Theocracy anyone? Who needs the Establishment Clause of the Constitution?  Charles Blow, a columnist for the NYT, gave some strong advice to Democrats today, similar to mine yesterday and I will leave with his quote:

Democrats have grown too soft. They are still trying to fight a gentleman’s war in the middle of a guerrilla war. Their efforts to reach across the aisle keep being met by hands wielding machetes; their overwhelming impulse to take the high road ignores the fact that Republicans have already blown up the bridge on the high road.

Democrats want to point to the civility and decorum with which government is supposed to work, but this ignores the fact that government is broken and completely overtaken by the people who broke it…Senate Democrats, grow a spine. Buck up! Fight like your lives depend on it, because in the end, the lives of your children, and ours, just might.