Ides of March in America

“You know, people have totally forgotten the true spirit of the Ides of March. It’s not just about vilifying the great. You have to create a power vacuum when you dump them so that everybody gets sucked into the dirt.”
~ Nialle Sylvan, Owner of The Haunted Bookshop

This is why it’s so important to treat politics as preventative medicine.

If we had the long-term vision and moral courage to have fought hard for progressive reform in recent history, there never would have been Reagan voodoo economics, Clinton New Democrats, Bush security state, Obama more of the same, and now crazy Trump populism. If not for decades of lesser evil voting that shifted politics right and built the corporatist state, we wouldn’t be worrying about a possible power vacuum. If instead we Americans had voted for the greater good, there wouldn’t now be righteous outrage whipping up fears of greater evil.

There are different ways of thinking about the Ides of March.

It is the infamous day of Caesar’s assassination, by his friend and fellow ruling elite. In that light, it can be seen as our past choices and actions coming back to haunt us. We are betrayed by the very system we’ve become invested in. But this also represents a change of power and of the social order.

The Ides of March originally was the Roman new year celebration and a time of religious worship and festivals. It did represent the death of the old, but also the birth of the new or else rebirth and transformation. So, it is a time to contemplate the past and an opportunity to dedicate oneself to a different vision and course of action. It is a reminder that change can be a good thing and often much needed.

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks

One century has ended and now here we are in this new century wondering what the future holds in these tumultuous times. Resisting change won’t stop it. Might as well embrace it and make the best of it.

Word of advice to the ruling elite: You might want to watch closely the rest of the ruling elite. While you’re worrying about the growing mob with pitchforks, there might be a dagger at your back. During times of change, those with the most to lose are often the first to go. Remember, the French Revolution that beheaded a king began with an uprising led by aristocrats.

As for the rest of us, onward and forward. It’s a new day.

Bernie Sanders and Civil Rights

A blogger I follow has said he is voting green again. I have no problem with that whatsoever. But the specific reasons he gave were unconvincing, not to mention unfair. He writes that,

“Sanders to his credit has condemned Emanuel. I’m just not sure what to make of a northeastern senator that thinks he deserves ally cookies for being involved in the Civil Rights Movement a half century ago. The Sanders campaign has not actively reached out to non-white voters, instead expecting them to fall in line behind him because of his past. That’s not good enough. I’m also not sure what to make of a senator that was too politically cowardly to endorse marriage equality in Vermont in 2006.”

I feel a need to respond. What he wrote is dismissive and uninformed. Sanders has never asked for ally cookies. That is tearing down a straw man.

I prefer third party candidates myself. And I voted for Nader in the past. There are endless reasons to despise the two party system. I very well might vote Green this coming election as well.

Yet for the moment I’m supporting Sanders’ campaign because it forces many issues into public debate that would otherwise be ignored. If not for Sanders long and extensive personal history and voting record on civil rights issues, the mainstream media (and Hillary Clinton) wouldn’t even be talking about it.

I may not vote for Sanders in the end. But, either way, I want him treated fairly. To dismiss him is to play right into the hands of those who also dismiss third party candidates.

Plus, don’t ignore economic issues, as if they are separate from civil rights issues. MLK understood how inseparable they were. MLK wasn’t selling out or giving up on civil rights when he decided to focus on poverty that harmed all Americans, including many whites.

Before deciding, look at all the info and analysis. Sanders civil rights involvement has been continuous over the decades. It wasn’t a one time involvement a half century ago. I don’t deny that Sanders could do more, but that goes for all of us. Besides, he has done more for civil rights than most people complaining about him.

In US history, there has never been a major presidential candidate that was stronger than Sanders on civil rights. This is a historical moment, simply for his ability to get such massive support. This will permanently change the debate. Civil rights is Sanders strong point.

If you genuinely want to criticize Sanders for plausible reasons, you’d be better off focusing on his foreign policy record. The reason many of his critics don’t focus on foreign policy is because on that issue Hillary Clinton looks truly horrific.

Sanders is a moderate in this area. He isn’t a pacifist by a long shot. And he isn’t going to speak in the language of anti-authoritarianism, anti-statism, and anti-imperialism. But he did speak out against the Vietnam War. And he voted against wars of aggression such as the Iraq War. Considering wars of aggression are both unconstitutional and illegal, that isn’t a minor issue. Sanders, unlike Clinton, doesn’t take lightly the act of the US military killing people. He is much more supportive of diplomacy and multilateralism. This is an extension of his civil libertarian approach to politics.

Anyway, it is on foreign policies that third party candidates really shine, far beyond even an independent like Sanders. To me, that is an extremely important issue. It very well might lead me to vote Green. My point is that, if just going by civil rights, I’d find arguments against Sanders less compelling. All you have to do is look at his record. I’m not sure why so many people don’t bother to look closely at any of this. It’s not hard to find.

I get the sense that some people are looking for a reason to dismiss Sanders. It’s not limited to people who are attacking him because of another candidate they prefer. It seems that it is hard for quite a few to imagine that something good can come from an old white guy who is a professional politician, especially when he is running in one of the major parties. They can’t get past this in order to consider his record on its own terms.

* * *

Where does Bernie Sanders stand on civil rights?

Bernie Sanders on Civil Rights

12 Examples Of Bernie Sanders Powerful 50+ Year Record On Civil Rights And Racial Justice

20 ways Bernie Sanders has stood up for civil and minority rights

Here’s What Bernie Sanders Actually Did in the Civil Rights Movement

The radical left has Bernie Sanders all wrong

Sanders wins nod from noted communist leader

Bernie Sanders Was Slapped for Supporting Jesse Jackson in ’88

Jesse Jackson Comes to Sanders’ Defense on Civil Rights: ‘The Movement Was So Broad Based’

MLK associate and Civil Rights Icon Rev. Harold Middlebrook endorses Bernie Sanders

BERNIE SANDERS ON LGBTQ RIGHTS

Watch Bernie Sanders Shut Down a Homophobic House Member in This Video From 1995

Bernie Sanders Was for Full Gay Equality 40 Years Ago

32 Years Before Marriage Equality, Bernie Sanders Fought For Gay Rights

NBC’s Chuck Todd: Bernie Sanders was ‘there’ on same-sex marriage 20 years ago

Rachel Maddow: ‘There Is a Difference’ Between Sanders, Clinton on LGBT Rights

Can ‘capitalism’ be free and democratic, fair and inclusive?

I came across an article from Reclaim the American Dream: Issue Brief: Inclusive Capitalism. It offers a progressive critique of present capitalism and a progressive vision of what a fair market would look like. It’s not a deep analysis, but some good points are brought up.

Here is an issue brought up just yesterday by my business management, capitalist-loving, fiscal conservative father:

“In that era, CEOs of America’s corporations did not pay themselves vast sums of company stock, as they do today. That was frowned upon as unethical insider trading, because obviously top corporate executives have inside information on new products about to appear or other major moves on the horizon.”

This is about how and where companies invest their money. Obviously, CEOs have come to see one of the best ways to invest money is by paying CEOs more. That is problematic, even ignoring the charge of “unethical insider trading” and the related moral hazard my dad mentioned. The problem isn’t just that CEOs make more money than they are worth (i.e., more than the value they contribute to the company), but that money invested in CEO pay could have been invested elsewhere.

Companies used to invest more in workers, for example. Besides ensuring their workers were healthy and safe, they did on-the-job training. It wasn’t just a time when economic mobility was high in the larger society. Mobility within companies was also higher. It used to be much easier for someone to start with an entry level job and work their way up into management.

Companies used to see employees as long term investments and employees tended to stick around for that reason. As my dad has told me, some Japanese companies still have this attitude, looking to hire people who will be long term members where the company commits to the worker in expectation that the worker will commit to the company. It’s an ethos of social trust and responsibility, a company as a kind of community.

But it goes way beyond just about the value seen and invested in employees. There used to be a mentality that a company should go to great effort to reinvest back into the company itself. That has changed so now it is seen as a priority to ensure shareholders get profit, no matter the long term damage done to the company. There has been a loss of not just social responsibility but also long term vision.

“Trillions of dollars that could have been spent on innovation and job creation in the U.S. economy over the past three decades have instead been used to buy back (company) shares for what is effectively stock-price manipulation,” economist William Lazonick reported in the Harvard Business Review in late 2014.

“The contrast between what business does today and what it used to do is stunning. In a study of hundreds of major U.S. companies, Lazonick found that in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, major U.S. companies ploughed close to half of their profits into expanding their businesses, funding R&D, retraining workers and paying them more, and paid out the other half of profits to shareholders.

“But from 2003 to 2012, Lazonick found, shareholders got 91% of corporate profits and growth got only 9%. That is a disastrous ratio the American economy.”

The focus of companies used to be on making the best products possible. Now the emphasis is more on sales and profit, with little sense of pride in doing quality work that contributes to society.

Drug companies, for example, spend more on advertising than they do on R&D; and that doesn’t even count the money they spend on lobbying, campaign donations, and maybe some astroturf. As the above data shows, this shift from investing money back into companies has become the norm.

That reminds me of what made early Quaker businesses so distinct, as they put quality of product before all else and on religious grounds were against manipulative and deceptive advertising. For a Quaker, being a businessman was a divine calling, not just a way to make money. The good and the goods of a business couldn’t be separated from moral goodness of religion and the social goodness of community.

Then again, there is the left-wing perspective. My favorite voice from the left is Joe Bageant. His writing is always amusing and insightful. One of his pieces on capitalism is Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball. With his typical style, he begins by getting straight to the point:

“As an Anglo European white guy from a very long line of white guys, I want to thank all the brown, black, yellow and red people for a marvelous three-century joy ride. During the past 300 years of the industrial age, as Europeans, and later as Americans, we have managed to consume infinitely more than we ever produced, thanks to colonialism, crooked deals with despotic potentates and good old gunboats and grapeshot. Yes, we have lived, and still live, extravagant lifestyles far above the rest of you. And so, my sincere thanks to all of you folks around the world working in sweatshops, or living on two bucks a day, even though you sit on vast oil deposits. And to those outside my window here in Mexico this morning, the two guys pruning the retired gringo’s hedges with what look like pocket knives, I say, keep up the good work. It’s the world’s cheap labor guys like you — the black, brown and yellow folks who take it up the shorts — who make capitalism look like it actually works. So keep on humping. Remember: We’ve got predator drones.”

From that perspective, it is, always was and always will be a sham. I’m sympathetic with that. When the US economy was doing its best, the US military was being ruthless around the world and even back at home the police state was being ruthless toward minorities and the poor. The American Dream was never fully a thing of substance for so many.

I do think ‘capitalism’ has become a problematic word at this point. There is no way to separate it from its long history of imperialism and colonialism, exploitation and oppression. If we honestly care about being free people in a free society with free markets, whatever that might mean, we probably better drop the baggage of capitalism.

Looking back, the capitalism of generations past can seem like a wondrous thing, at least for those who weren’t one of the many being trampled upon. It is true that many benefited and the economy grew. No one doubts that. But at what cost? Maybe what we have become was an inevitable result of what we once were. We just couldn’t see it coming. The tide that raises boats also drowns, and when the tide goes back out as it always does we are left with a bunch of stranded boats and dead bodies.

Maybe we need to rethink the whole thing, not just pine for what used to be. Still, might we salvage some lessons learned from the past?

Dreams of Anarchism

There is a debate between Larken Rose and Mark Skousen. It is amusing, if not enlightening. It is an argument between two radical right-wingers.

Larken Rose is an anarchist and not the pacifist live-and-let-live kind. He seems to be a hardcore anarcho-capitalist, where capitalists instead of government rules the world. He also argues for shooting cops when one feels their rights infringed, a rather subjective standard. This is the kind of guy who fantasizes about violent revolution and overthrow of all authority.

Mark Skousen is related to the even more infamous W. Cleon Skousen. That other Skousen is his uncle, a crazy right-wing Mormon who is a favorite of Glenn Beck. Theoretically, Mark Skousen is a libertarian, but I suspect of the authoritarian variety—i.e., a pseudo-libertarian. Maybe he is an aspiring theocrat like his uncle. Whatever he is, he doesn’t exude the principled dogmatism and righteous outrage seen with Rose. But both believe in violence in resolving conflict—see Skousen’s honor culture attitude.

I don’t normally bother with such things. But I do get curious in exploring worldviews outside of the mainstream. What got me thinking was something said by Rose in the debate:

The best attempt ever in the history of the world at creating a country based on ‘limited government’ created the largest authoritarian empire in the history of the world, with the largest war machine in the history of the world, and the most intrusive extortion racket in the history of the world.

Invariably minarchists, at this point, pull a page out of the communist handbook and say “Well the theory works, if just wasn’t done right!”

I have a tip for you, if every SINGLE time your theory is applied to the real world it FAILS COMPLETELY, maybe your theory SUCKS.

At this point, this could be said pretty much of every political theory. Maybe political theory is not the answer. I’ve always thought the least anarchist thing one could ever do is to turn anarchism into an ideology to worship and bow down to. But I have some fondness for what might be called epistemological anarchism, a whole other creature. The kind of anarchist I prefer is Robert Anton Wilson, the complete opposite of a dogmatic ideologue.

I find it amusing when anarchists like this complain that others are disconnected from reality. The only reason they can make their arguments is that they are offering utopian visions. No one can point to the failure of anarchism because there is no great example of anarchism ever having been attempted.

When anarchists try to bring up real world examples, they come off as entirely unconvincing. They are so lost in abstractions and imaginings that they can’t look at the evidence for what it is. This kind of right-wing ideological certainty fascinates and frustrates me. I’ve been down this road before (see herehere, here, here, here, and here). I know all the arguments made. I know the mindset.

There is a careless thinking in much of this. There are left-wing examples that are similar. But in the US the right-wing examples are more prevalent and in your face. It’s harder to ignore them. Unlike left-wing fantasies, right-wing fantasies hold immense power in our society. Confronting these fantasies is important. This requires engaging them, not just dismissing them.

Ancaps have a few favorite things they like to cite. History doesn’t offer them much in the way of evidence, and so they have to cling to what meager evidence they can find. They’ll bring up such things as ancient Ireland. But they end up cherrypicking the facts to fit their ideology and then molding them into a vague resemblance of what their advocating.

Consider the interpretation of the historical and archaeological evidence. It demonstrates the problem when you try to make anarchism into an ideology and then try to apply that ideology to complex social reality. Ancient Ireland wasn’t anarchist in the normal sense of the word—certainly not anarcho-capitalist.

Not only laissez-faire capitalism wouldn’t have existed, but neither would individualism, land ownership, etc. These were highly communalistic societies with strict hierarchies and powerful authority figures. If you disobeyed tradition and broke taboos, you’d quickly find that you weren’t free to do whatever you wanted. The modern idea of individual civil rights was simply nonexistent.

Yes, they were small-scale, local, and decentralized. But that isn’t the same thing as anarchism. Many confuse anti-statism with anarchism. What anarchism means is no rulers. These ancient Irish societies didn’t lack rulers, even if they operated differently than in statist societies. They also didn’t lack violence and oppression. The ancient Irish regularly fought one another—including wars of aggression, not just wars of defense. They didn’t simply respect each other’s liberty and freedom.

We need to speak more clearly and not filter reality through our ideas and ideals.

At a Youtube video, one person left this comment:

Er… There was no individual property ownership in Medieval Ireland. Land was controlled by the nobility as heads of collectives known as “túaths”. These collectives were based on kinship and regional proximity. The vast majority of the people were peasants, or “Churls”, who worked the land for the nobility. Yes, the membership of the túaths was fluid, but this system was based on fealty (oath and allegiance), to break an allegiance was not a simple matter.

These societies had rulers. An anarchist society would lack rulers. By definition, these ancient Irish societies weren’t anarchist. Plus, the cost of leaving one of these societies would be extremely high, including the clear possibility that one wouldn’t survive for long. These were extremely authoritarian societies. There was nothing libertarian about them.

From the same video, someone else wrote:

Under that definition, every economic arrangement imaginable is capitalism. Socialism is capitalism, merchantilism is capitalism, feudalism is capitalism etc. It’s fallacious.

People traded. But trade alone is not capitalism. There wasn’t much if any notion of individual ownership. One community might trade with another, but it was typically a collective action as decided by the king and nobility.

Plus, most daily activity would have included more along the lines of social exchanges, not necessarily even barter as we think of it, but more likely a gift society. See David Graeber’s writings.

As all this demonstrates, anarchists are going to have to take their own arguments more seriously. It’s not a matter of convincing others. The best way for them to convince others would be to create an anarchist society somewhere. They could buy an island and start their own non-statist society. No one is stopping them, at least in a legal and economic sense.

Of course, they would argue that the statists are stopping them or making it difficult. Sure, statists have no reason to make it easy. That isn’t the responsibility of statists. If your anarchism can’t withstand the power of statism, then that is proof of why your beliefs have never succeeded in reality. State governments aren’t going to roll over and die. An actual functioning anarchist society will have to be able to fight and win a war against the militaries of nation-states…. or otherwise somehow defend and prevent such attacks.

The problem here isn’t ideologicaly. It isn’t about finding the right principles and being unswerving in one’s conviction. What anarchists face is a whole world of people, a global population growing ever larger on a planet that is staying the same size. Telling most people that they are wrong doesn’t really achieve anything, however satisfying it might feel to express one’s righteous outrage.

If anarchists hope to find real world applications for their utopian ideals, they will have to confront human nature and not just in theory. That goes for anyone with an ideological agenda, even those who claim to have none. As for utopian ideals, I have my own that I favor and that is the reason I spend so much time thinking about human nature. I want to understand what might lead a mere potential to become manifest. This is the tough questioning and self-questioning that I rarely see anarchists willing to take on.

Despite my criticisms, I support anyone with utopian aspirations. Go right ahead. Dream those crazy beautiful dreams. Think big. You are right to not confuse what is and what ought to be. We need more people with daring imaginations and the courage of their convictions. The next step is to experiment, find out with an open mind whether what you believe is a possibility. Prove all your detractors wrong, if you can. I’ll cheer you on in your bold quest for humanity’s future.

Just don’t fool yourself that analyzing a problem is the same thing as offering a solution.

Quote

Note to Cynical Liberals and Useful Idiots

“Cynicism is nothing but intellectual cowardice”.
~ Henry Rollins

“Cynicism is not realistic and tough. It’s unrealistic and kind of cowardly because it means you don’t have to try.”
~ Peggy Noonan

“A cynic is a coward …. Cynicism always takes the easy way out. It is a form of laziness that provides someone with an excuse for not making any attempt to change the world …. Cynicism is a way to hide …. Cynics are afraid …. So, instead, they pass judgment on anyone who is trying to make a difference. They ridicule the efforts of individuals and organizations that are working hard under incredibly difficult circumstances …. Being cynical is often thought of as being composed and detached. It is considered to be a sign of sophistication. Cynics are mistakenly given credit for possessing a deep awareness regarding the limits of what humans can accomplish which is somehow lacking in those who spend their time in passionate efforts to change the world …. Being filled with cynicism is indeed a cowardly and sad way to go through life. ”

~ Michael Crawley

I came across one of the best examples I’ve seen of what is wrong with US politics and the American public. It’s a blog post by someone who calls himself the Rude Pundit.

He theoretically is for Bernie Sanders, but in the end he is a blind ignoramus partisan Democrat. As a Sanders supporter, he said to someone who voted for Hillary Clinton in the Tennessee primary that he should tell those feeling the Bern that, “Oh, tell them to shut the fuck up. They’re gonna vote for Hillary and they fuckin’ know it.”

This guy is the Rude Pundit. And he lives up to the name. But I’d just call him a clueless asshole. The motto of his blog states, “Proudly lowering the level of political discourse.” Well, mission accomplished! Not just the level of discourse, reading his blog will also lower your level of intelligence.

Explaining a bit of where he is coming from and the swell kind of guy he is, he writes:

Look, this here blogger is a future Bernie Sanders voter when the primary rolls around. He’s not a slavering Bernie whore, ready to take all the Bernie chowder he can handle the way he was with Obama in 2008. But, as the Rude Pundit’s said before, Bernie’s beliefs line up with his own better than Hillary’s, so logic would seem to dictate that he vote his heart here. However, he is well aware that Hillary Clinton may end up winning the Democratic nomination for president. In that case, he’ll go to the middle school down the street in the fall and hit a button for Hillary. How is this even a question?

Jesus Freakin’ Christ! Did he really admit to being an Obama knob gobbler? I saw right through Obama’s bullshit in 2008. That didn’t take a genius. Sanders is pretty much just a moderate progressive, somewhat in the New Deal tradition, although nowhere near as far left as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Compared to Sanders, Obama looks like a right-winger. I never thought Obama was going to particularly change anything and I wasn’t disappointed. Anyway, because the Neutered Pundit was stupid and gullible in 2008, he has learned his lesson and so will vote for Clinton if she is nominated. WTF!?!

This is why I despise Democrats and all partisan politics. I barely can get excited by Sanders’ campaign. The only reason I support him at all is because he is broadening the range of possible issues to be discussed in this campaign season. But for damn sure I’m not behind him because he is a Democrat. As far as I care, the Democratic Party and all of the lame liberals who suck on its teats can go to Hell, riding along on their road paved of good intentions.

I’m not a Democrat. And I’m not a welfare cutting, corporatist deregulating neoliberal. Nor for that matter am I a war hawk, tough-on-crime neocon. I don’t particularly favor oligarchy, plutocracy, crony capitalism, big money special interests, or any other such crap. So, why would I be so idiotic and masochistic as to vote for the likes of Clinton? To be honest, Trump is more of a progressive than entire Clinton dynasty combined. The Donald might end up reforming government just by accident.

To continue with the Clueless Pundit:

Everyone pretends like there is some Rosetta Stone to understanding some aspect of Hillary Clinton’s putative corruption or criminality, some email that says she personally ordered the Benghazi attack, some document that says she killed Vince Foster to protect her lesbian cocaine affairs, some speech where she explicitly promised endless golden whores to Wall Street executives. This shit is like searching for Bigfoot. You see something move in the forest and instead of being satisfied chasing a deer, it’s gotta be a giant, mythical man-beast. Except it’s always just a deer unless you are delusional or full of shit.

Apparently, he is both delusional and full of shit. Wanting information to be released so that voters can make an informed decision is what is called democracy. He is pretending to be obtuse about why this matters.

‘Cause, see, this Sanders voter understands the motherfucking system as a shitstorm of mindless, violent jingoism competing with people who are trying to keep the whole fucking place from falling apart. The Rude Pundit wants Sanders to be the nominee. But he wants Donald Trump or Ted Cruz not to be president even more. Like his support of Sanders over Clinton, it’s just that simple, logical an equation. And if his vote for Clinton in the general will prevent the nation from being ass-raped by the cruel nativism and brutalist capitalism of the GOP, then he has a moral and ethical obligation to do it, even if we take every negative thing said about Clinton as true. It’s still not as bad as Trump running the joint.

It’s pure cynicism, realpolitik all the way. It’s lesser evil voting, no matter how evil it gets. So, if Hitler and Mussolini were the two main choices for president, the Cynical Pundit would be forced to hold his nose while voting for the latter because at least Mussolini didn’t send a bunch of Jews to death camps. How about not voting for either?

I’m not joking. It’s lesser evil voting that pushes the US ever closer to all out authoritarianism. It’s decades of lesser evil voting by Democrats that has made possible the rise to dominance of the reactionary right-wing and has made inevitable someone like Trump.

Like nearly every Bernie voter, he’s gonna line the fuck up, shut the fuck up, and punch that touch screen for Hillary. Or he deserves whatever fucking hell awaits on the other side.

He should wake the fuck up instead of lining the fuck up. Democracy really does matter. We either defend democracy or it dies a horrible death.

People like this, I just don’t understand. Did they ever care about democracy? Heck, do they even understand what democracy is and why it matters? Or have they simply given up on everything but fear, endless fear? This guy expresses no sense of hope. If the Democratic Party is the best we’ve got going for us, then we’re doomed anyway. What’s the point?

It’s like being in prison. There are all these dangerous and violent criminals surrounding you. Knowing you’re a wimp, you fear for your life. So, you look for the biggest, meanest looking goon around and you offer yourself up to be his personal bitch to take his big cock up your ass, in exchange for protection. You don’t fight the system, you don’t challenge why you were imprisoned in the first place, you don’t try to escape. No, you accept this horrible, unjust fate and try to make the best of it. Hey, maybe decorate your cell to make it feel more like home.

I came across the Rude Pundit’s post because a person I know posted it on social media. It seems this expressed their own views. In the comment section, my acquaintance wrote:

Resolved: Many of the Bernie supporters who would never, ever sully themselves with a Hillary vote are hipster dudebros trying to get laid.

This guy is smart. He is politically informed. Way above average. He is even a professional writer and makes a living publishing his own magazine—small and independent alternative media, I might add. But, Lordy Lordy!, that comment is beneath him… or so I hope. It’s just snarky and condescending, not to mention trying too hard to be clever or something. The sad part is, in making a statement like that, he comes off sounding like a hipster dudebro.

I’m familiar with this kind of person. They are liberals of a particular variety. It’s what happens to liberals when cynicsm comes to rule their minds. Their souls have shriveled up like a man’s ding-a-ling in icy cold water.

There are few things more sad and pathetic than a liberal turned cynical. Such cynicism easily becomes intellectual cowardice. That is what makes it dangerous, for a liberal under the influence of cynicism has no limit beyond which they won’t descend. Like a beaten dog the come cowering back. Like Charlie Brown, they think this time Lucy will let them kick the football.

Let me be clear. I’m not in the mood to be tolerant of intellectual cowardice. Democrats have been dismissing me for my entire adult life, telling me that I’m wasting my vote or else blaming me for the failure of the two party system. I’m plain tired of the endless bullshit. I can’t take it anymore… and I won’t.

If you want to criticize Sanders in favor of third party candidates, then I’m listening. If you think that the corporatist duopoly is beyond being saved, I’ll nod my head in agreement. There are reasonable arguments to be made. People have a right to be angry, maybe even a moral responsibility. But don’t give me hipster cynicism, an ironic stance of being too cool and above it all. Don’t hide behind intellectual cowardice and clever words. Get mad and get righteous, rant and scream. Just don’t be led quietly along. Don’t keep in line, never questioning where it leads. Take a stand and hold your ground.

Here is where I stand. My fight isn’t for a particular candidate nor for a particular party. Rather, my fight is against ignorance, apathy, and cynicism. I’m not a Bernie knob gobbler. But I am a slavering democracy whore.

No one will ever convince me to vote against democracy. I won’t compromise democracy, for without democracy there is nothing left to fight for other than the coming revolution. I’m one of those weirdos who would like to prevent revolution. But there will be no preventing revolution if worthless liberals remain lapdogs of power, rolling over at any potential threat.

Bernie Sanders isn’t a step too far. If we are to be honest, he is nowhere near far enough. We need a stronger political left and grassroots movement to keep liberals honest. Don’t get me wrong, though. We can’t dismiss anyone in our seeking change. The last great American populist movement cut across ideological lines, not just the divide between left-wingers and liberals, but reached far even into the political right. Liberals who think they can go it alone are delusional. Then again, the same goes for left-wingers and right-wingers that hope to force change from the fringe.

We need a new vision, one radical enough to inspire and yet broad enough to bridge ideological chasms. What we don’t need is yet more of the same cynicism that brought us to this point of crisis.

* * *

 

VIDEO: Chris Hedges: In Extreme Times, ‘Liberals Are a Dead Force’ (Part 1 of 3)
interview by Paul Jay, Truthdig

But Paine understood power in a way that Benjamin Franklin, Jefferson, all of the leaders leaders, Adams, didn’t, because if you go back and look, when they began their revolt, they were hoping to make an accommodation with the British Crown. And Paine said, you don’t understand how imperialism works, you don’t understand the hubris that comes with that kind of power, you don’t understand that these people are not interested in making an accommodation with you. And so he served many vital functions, not least of which was articulating the call for revolution, not only in Common Sense, but in the Crisis papers. He was by far the most read author of the 18th century, both in Britain and the United States.

Hedges Laments The ‘Death Of The Liberal Class’
interview by Neal Conan, Talk of the Nation, NPR

Economic collapse almost certain to spiral into violence and totalitarianism, environmental disaster. Writer Chris Hedges argues that he knows who’s responsible for that bleak future: the Democratic Party.

Churches, unions, the media, artists and academia, the liberal establishment, as he calls them. Whether the motive was fear, careerism or self-preservation, Hedges argues that timid liberals marginalized themselves, purged the radicals in their own ranks and sold out.

Without a powerful liberal class to check the excesses of capitalism and corporate power, global warming and class warfare could inaugurate centuries of barbarism, he writes.

Liberals Are Useless
by Chris Hedges, Truthdig

Liberals are a useless lot. They talk about peace and do nothing to challenge our permanent war economy. They claim to support the working class, and vote for candidates that glibly defend the North American Free Trade Agreement. They insist they believe in welfare, the right to organize, universal health care and a host of other socially progressive causes, and will not risk stepping out of the mainstream to fight for them. The only talent they seem to possess is the ability to write abject, cloying letters to Barack Obama—as if he reads them—asking the president to come back to his “true” self. This sterile moral posturing, which is not only useless but humiliating, has made America’s liberal class an object of public derision.

I am not disappointed in Obama. I don’t feel betrayed. I don’t wonder when he is going to be Obama. I did not vote for the man. I vote socialist, which in my case meant Ralph Nader, but could have meant Cynthia McKinney. How can an organization with the oxymoronic title Progressives for Obama even exist? Liberal groups like these make political satire obsolete. Obama was and is a brand. He is a product of the Chicago political machine. He has been skillfully packaged as the new face of the corporate state. I don’t dislike Obama—I would much rather listen to him than his smug and venal predecessor—though I expected nothing but a continuation of the corporate rape of the country. And that is what he has delivered.

“You have a tug of war with one side pulling,” Ralph Nader told me when we met Saturday afternoon. “The corporate interests pull on the Democratic Party the way they pull on the Republican Party. If you are a ‘least-worst’ voter you don’t want to disturb John Kerry on the war, so you call off the anti-war demonstrations in 2004. You don’t want to disturb Obama because McCain is worse. And every four years both parties get worse. There is no pull. That is the dilemma of The Nation and The Progressive and other similar publications. There is no breaking point. What is the breaking point? The criminal war of aggression in Iraq? The escalation of the war in Afghanistan? Forty-five thousand people dying a year because they can’t afford health insurance? The hollowing out of communities and sending the jobs to fascist and communist regimes overseas that know how to put the workers in their place? There is no breaking point. And when there is no breaking point you do not have a moral compass.”

I save my anger for our bankrupt liberal intelligentsia of which, sadly, I guess I am a member. Liberals are the defeated, self-absorbed Mouse Man in Dostoevsky’s “Notes From Underground.” They embrace cynicism, a cloak for their cowardice and impotence. They, like Dostoevsky’s depraved character, have come to believe that the “conscious inertia” of the underground surpasses all other forms of existence. They too use inaction and empty moral posturing, not to affect change but to engage in an orgy of self-adulation and self-pity. They too refuse to act or engage with anyone not cowering in the underground. This choice does not satisfy the Mouse Man, as it does not satisfy our liberal class, but neither has the strength to change. The gravest danger we face as a nation is not from the far right, although it may well inherit power, but from a bankrupt liberal class that has lost the will to fight and the moral courage to stand up for what it espouses.

An Interview with Chris Hedges
interview by David Barsamian, The Progressive

The press doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s one of the pillars of the liberal establishment. So I decided to write about all of the traditional pillars of the liberal establishment—not just the press, but liberal religious institutions, higher education, culture, labor, and, of course, the Democratic Party—and show how the foundations of the liberal state have been degraded or destroyed.

When you have a liberal class that no longer functions, when those people who traditionally defend and care about a civil society no longer do so, then you cede power to very frightening, deformed figures, all of which we are watching leap up around the fringes of our political establishment—this lunatic fringe, which has largely taken over the Republican Party. And the legitimate rage on the part of working men and women is directed not only towards government but, I think quite correctly, towards liberals, who speak in a very hypocritical language about caring for their interests and yet support institutions that carry out an assault against working men and women. […]

The disappointment with Obama comes from people who don’t understand the structure of power. The charade of politics is to make voters think that the personal narrative of the candidate affects the operation of the corporate state. It doesn’t really matter on the fundamental issues whether the President is Republican or Democratic. The imperial projects will continue, Wall Street will be unimpeded in its malfeasance and criminal activity, social programs will continue to be cut, maybe not at the same speed as under a Republican Administration, but it’s all headed in the same direction. […]

He never presented himself as a peace candidate, to be fair to him. This was just wishful thinking on the part of the left. He talked about downsizing in Iraq. But, remember, at the time he was saying that Afghanistan was the war we really have to fight. So the failure was not Obama but the fecklessness of the left, which was seduced by the propaganda. People believed somehow that he didn’t really mean what he was saying, that once in office he would carry out a progressive agenda. But if you look at the two-year voting record he had in the Senate, it’s awful. It’s one corporate giveaway after another. There wasn’t a bill he supported that wasn’t an embrace of corporatism. I got the voting record, I read it, and I made my decision to vote based on that voting record. And that’s what we all should have done. […]

I think that it was an understanding that the two-party system, the corporate duopoly, no longer functions to further the rights or interests of citizens, and that the longer we’re fooled by this belief that reform can come through these formal structures of power, the more disempowered we’re going to become.

If we don’t hold fast to our moral principles, nobody’s going to. We don’t have to have a majority, but once ten, fifteen, twenty million people start voting left, we’ll scare the piss out of the Democrats, and they’ll have to respond. But they’re not going to respond to us until that happens.

We are facing another economic meltdown. The ecosystem, on which the human species depends for life, is being destroyed at a rate that has not even been anticipated by climate scientists. We don’t have a lot of time left. So either we get out and fight or we’re finished. Fear is the only thing the Democratic Party has to offer—fear that the Republican Party is worse.

The question is, how do you stop the power elite from doing as much damage to you as possible? That comes through movements. It’s not our job to take power. You could argue that the most powerful political figure in April of 1968 was Martin Luther King. And we know Johnson was terrified of him. We have to accept that all of the true correctives to American democracy came through these movements that never achieved formal political power and yet frightened the political establishment enough to respond.

The last liberal President we had was Richard Nixon. He signed the Mine Health and Safety Act, and he agreed to create OSHA and the EPA, not because he was a liberal but because we still had the remnants of movements that scared him.

So it’s time to turn your back on the Democrats and begin to regain a new kind of democratic militancy. If we don’t do that, if we remain fearful, then we will be further stripped of power as we barrel towards this neofeudalistic state where there is a world of masters and serfs, a kind of permanent underclass. That’s what’s happening; that’s what’s being created. Rapacious corporate business interests have shattered all kinds of regulations and controls. They have carried out a coup d’etat in slow motion. And it’s over; they’ve won.

Liberal Pundits Aren’t Amused By Bernie Sanders’ Campaign Anymore—They’re Terrified
by Kevin Gosztola, In These Times

Democrats, along with President Obama’s administration, have spent the last eight years protecting capitalism from populist calls for reform, which would diminish the power and influence of corporations. The Affordable Health Care Act was a prime example, where Medicare for All was immediately taken off the table, and the political party manipulated citizens into believing requiring private insurance companies to offer insurance to all consumers was the best that could be accomplished.

It is one thing to vote for Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, who are more than happy to serve the moneyed elite, if you actually believe in what she stands for as a presidential candidate. But it is quite another thing to delude people into voting for her simply because it is your view that Bernie Sanders’ vision is difficult to make a reality. That position accepts the status quo and embraces a politics of low expectations, where the best elected officials can do is triage the effect of wealth and power becoming more and more concentrated in the hands of the few.

Is Bernie Sanders an American Empire Denier?
by Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

Setting himself up as a one-man vanguard to define socialism on behalf of the benighted and brainwashed masses, Hedges preaches with the certainty of those who have seen the light and know the way to secular salvation, whether in Athens, Barcelona, or Peoria. But he loses himself in a sectarian wilderness, offering no way to get from where we are to where we want to go.

Welcome to the old-time religion. In nearly every American election, purists like Hedges push the left into the same sterile debate. Should we fight within the Democratic Party, where we will likely be co-opted? Or should we create a third party, where we will likely be ineffective? Both are usually dead ends, convincing many of us to put the majority of our energy into organizing and direct action outside the electoral and Congressional arena, as we did in the civil rights, free speech, and anti-war movements of the 1960s.

But that was then, this is now. Thanks primarily to the energy and common-sense proposals of Bernie Sanders, millions of Americans have opened their minds to the possibility of a democratic and egalitarian control of the economy, which is not a bad working definition of socialism for the 21st century. We need to talk to, work with, and learn from these Americans, and most of them will vote in the Democratic primaries.

A Response to Chris Hedges Concerning Bernie Sanders
by Vincent Emanuele, ZNET

Without doubt, a lot of smart and talented organizers are working on Sanders’ campaign. It would be useful to challenge these folks. The Left can do so, but only by approaching these activists and organizers with respect, not by mocking or dismissing their efforts.

If the Left consistently isolates itself during election cycles, or sits on the sidelines, making armchair critiques, while offering very limited alternatives like voting for the Green Party/Jill Stein, how can we expect people to become radicalized? Moreover, why should people even pay attention to us?

Leftists can formulate devastating critiques, but we can’t organize for shit. And that is the Left’s primary dilemma: the inability to provide alternatives to the dominant political parties and institutions of our time. When people are exposed to the Left, they are often turned-off by the experience. Until the Left can provide serious alternatives, we’ll be relegated to the sidelines.

In the end, the Left should spend more time looking in the mirror, and less time critiquing liberals.

Liberalism and the Millennials
by Corey Robin

The only reason Clinton and her supporters on Twitter can so reflexively attack Sanders over this issue—not his support for the Sandinistas or Castro, but his opposition to US intervention—is that, thanks to two decades of liberal support for regime change and humanitarian intervention, the whole discourse of liberal anti-interventionism has practically disappeared from the scene. Today, the only solid and reliable anti-interventionists you can find are either left-wing anti-imperialists, paleo- or other brands of conservative at outlets like The American Conservative, or an ever narrowing circle of IR realists like Steve Walt.

Which brings me to the millennials. I know a number of young leftists, in their 20s or early 30s, who have no experience or memory of this liberal anti-interventionism that I’ve been describing here. When they think liberal, they think of the Clintons and their allies, who are not only terrible on the issue of US power around the world, but also terrible on the question of economic justice and equality at home. They have no memory of a generation of left liberals who fought firmly for labor unions, who pushed hard for universal health care, public housing, and the like. They have no memory of a young Arthur Schlesinger rejecting Communism but nevertheless affirming that “class conflict is essential if freedom is to be preserved, because it is the only barrier against class domination.”

For liberals or leftists of my generation, or for even older liberals and leftists, the discourse of anti-liberalism on the left has a resonance. It calls to mind some of the most bruising battles of the 20th century—Communists against parliamentary socialists, Popular Fronters and Henry Wallace Progressives against the Americans for Democratic Action, Irving Howe-style socialists against the New Left, and so on. For someone like myself, who identifies with the left but who nevertheless has a great deal of respect for the tradition of liberalism, it is imperative that there be a good and productive tension between liberalism and the left.

So I can imagine when liberals and leftists of my generation, or those who are even older, hear the flat refusal of millennials on the left to even entertain the possibility of a dialogue with liberalism, it can seem scary, like a return to some of the worst moments of intra-liberal/left fratricide. But this is where history can get in the way. For the millennials, the bankruptcy of liberalism is not Walter Reuther or Hubert Humphrey or A. Phillip Randolph or Bayard Rustin; it’s Clinton, Clinton, and Clinton.

The gulf today between liberalism and the left is not of the millennials’ or even of the left’s making; it’s the product of a liberalism that has been moving right for decades and that, whatever feints to the left it has been making more recently, still has some way to go before there can be a useful and productive dialogue of difference.

 

Politics On My Mind: March 1-8, 2016

March 1

There is one thing I suspect many don’t understand. It took a long time to get where we are now. Someone like Trump didn’t come out of nowhere. And it can’t be blamed just on crazy right-wing rhetoric.

Decades of lesser evil voting by Democrats made someone like Trump inevitable. It’s because the political left was unwilling to offer real solutions and reform that the American public finally has become so frustrated and angry that they are willing to take serious a ranting demagogue.

That is the problem of always being distracted by the short term results of the next election. Those in power have taken a long view. You want to see successful strategy, consider the Southern Strategy. Those who gained power didn’t do so by constantly compromising.

I understand the seeming failure of the Democratic Party is in reality a success for the Establishment. Those like the Clintons don’t want solutions to problems because, from their perspective, the status quo isn’t a problem. But what perplexes me is that average Democrats who claim to want solutions haven’t figured out this game yet, even though it keeps leading to the same sad results.

When will Democrats get as frustrated and angry as the supporters of Trump are right now? Will it take Trump getting elected before all the good liberals will finally get serious about what they claim to believe in? But when they do wake up, will it already be too late?

Another set of questions that are neither hypothetical nor idle. These are genuine concerns. People should be asking themselves these questions and taking serious the answers. The hour is getting late.

I think about earlier times in American history: American Revolution, Civil War, and Great Depression. It goes in about 80 year cycles or 4 generations. We are at such a point again. How bad will it have to get this time?

I understand the reasons.

The Democratic base consists of two groups: liberals and minorities. Liberals on average are wealthier, well educated professionals who live comfortable lives. They generally don’t experience the problems other Americans face. It’s not personally real to them. It is real for minorities. But they have a long history of getting a bad deal. They’ve come to expect that they either accept the lesser evil or else the greater evil may win and they will suffer for it.

Both liberals and minorities realize how precarious is progress in this society. And the earlier assassinations of major leaders was collectively traumatizing. For a half a century now, the American political left has been paralyzed in fear, playing dead in hope that the grizzly bear would stop mauling them.

It is changing. The divide between supporters of Clinton and Sanders isn’t race or gender. It is a generational divide. And not just the very young. Sanders has the 46 and under demographic, a large part of the population. These are the Americans who have little to no memory of the Cold War. The old fearmongering, red baiting, and culture wars don’t have as much power over their minds.

March 2

One reason it is hard to talk about politics in America is because everything has become so skewed. The political spectrum is far to the right than it was in the past.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was way more of a left-winger than is Bernie Sanders. Someone like Dwight Eisenhower is more equivalent to Sanders, at least on domestic issues. The Birchers did call Ike a commie, but back then the views of Birchers were considered radical and yet today they are part of the mainstream.

The moderate centrist position from earlier last century now looks left-wing. I suppose Sanders calls himself a socialist because it is the only way to communicate what people used to mean when calling themselves a liberal. In the rest of the Western world, Sanders would still be considered centrist and moderate.

As for Clinton, in many ways she is to the right of Nixon. Americans often forget how liberal he was, such as creating the EPA.

Back in that era, Clinton was a conservative and a Goldwater Republican. It was Goldwater who helped end the liberalism that dominated both parties back then.

There used to be a left and a right wing in each party. The liberal centrism could operate back then because the liberal framing of politics acted as a moderating force that allowed compromise and cooperation.

Without that center, American politics can’t hold.

Eisenhower made a statement that was representative of his time. He said that conservatism is good for the private sphere, in how people live their lives and in their own economic concerns. But in the public sphere, liberalism is the proper attitude for politics. This is to say liberalism should frame the public good and how society operates over all.

Lacking this liberal frame, conservatism will fall out of balance and become extremist. This is because liberalism has never actually been the left-wing to conservatism’s right-wing. Liberalism instead has always been about moderation. You still see that in how, in polls, a majority of liberals support compromise while conservatives don’t. And in how Democrats, in polls, state stronger support for the presidency no matter who is in power whereas Republicans only support when Republicans are president—although this would have been different earlier last century when the GOP was more liberal and moderate.

What we have seen in recent decades is a severely weakened liberalism. Liberals know they don’t dominate politics. They are constantly on the defense. The thing about liberalism is that it wilts like a flower when the temperature turns freezing. Conservatism can operate in a liberal frame, but liberalism can’t operate in a conservative frame. A social democratic free society simply is not possible under anti-liberal conditions. This is why even conservatives are better off in a liberal society.

I was thinking about Sanders warning about the CIA. He stated the CIA was dangerous to a free society more than four decaes ago and he still stands by that strong criticism. It is reminiscent of Ike’s warning about the military-industrial complex. Neither Ike nor Sanders were/are doves on foreign policy, but both have expressed a wariness about the radical neocon vision of military imperialism, specifically in its corporatist form. That is an old school liberalism that sought moderation between the extremes of isolationist pacfism and expansionist militarism. That view was drowned out in recent years with the post-911 revenge fantasies dominating politics and the revival of Cold War style dreams of globalization. Sanders is a calm voice of sanity in insane times, refusing to bow down to fear.

I was also thinking of Reagan. He was a union leader and a FDR Democrat. He never lost his admiration for FDR and, even after becoming a Republican, kept a picture of FDR above his desk. Like FDR, Reagan believed in an activist government, but instead of that activis being directed to the people it was directed to the military and corporations. He helped further establish what Ike had warned about. The right-wing turn for Reagan represented a right-wing turn for the entire political and economic system.

It was the Goldwater campaign that allowed the right-wingers to take over the GOP and this made possible the election of Reagan. Hillary Clinton worked in the Goldwater campaign. Even when switching parties, she remained a Goldwater conservative. Goldwater and Reagan were both quite socially liberal on many issues, but this was contained wthin a larger conservative worldview. The same goes for Hillary. The innovation of the Clintons was to bring that conservative sensibility into the Democratic Party,what came to be known as the New Denocrats who cut welfare, deregulated markets, and were tough on crime. Conservatism became the new dominant paradigm, replacing the old liberal worldview that had been in place for generations.

March 3

I don’t think Trump is quite comparable to Hitler. Born into immense wealth, Trump is invested in and a part of the system. He has always had close ties to the political establishment.

OTOH Hitler was an outsider with humble beginnings: common soldier, failed artist, poor, even homeless at one point. The same goes for an authoritarian like Stalin, another outsider who had experienced poverty and social problems: hounded by the police, imprisoned, etc.

Trump’s life is too comfortable and he has too much to lose by overturning the entire social order, along with the political and economic system. But as a highly effective demagogue, Trump could set the stage for an authoritarian movement to further develop.

March 3

There is an unusual dynamic in this campaign season. The wild card isn’t just that there are outsider candidates challenging the two main parties. A greater uncertainty is how the political establishment will respond to this challenge and what results it will lead to.

I’ve argued that some of the Democratic political elite would rather lose the election than to lose power to the Sanders campaign. They fear the threat of political reform as demanded by the political left.

A similar fear is seen among the Republican leadership. They know how easy it is to lose power. The right-wing took control of the party with the Goldwater campaign. And more recently the Tea Party seized yet more power. Fighting Trump is the GOP establishment’s last stand.

The entrenched ruling elite on both sides wants to defend their respective political machines and to maintain their respective party’s brand image. With this motivation in mind, I see a possible convergence of forces. Many Democratic leaders might rather Trump be elected than take a chance on Sanders. On the other side, many Republican leaders might prefer Clinton to either Trump or Sanders.

As such, the two party system might put its full support behind Clinton. The establishment on both sides will place defending the establishment before all else. Clinton just happens to be the only viable establishment candidate.

Trump and Sanders are pitted against the entire Washington status quo. The last thing the establishment wants to see is a contest between these two outsiders. This could mean that a Clinton presidency is more inevitable than I first thought. Trump probably could beat Clinton, if the GOP leadership doesn’t turn against him, but that is seeming unlikely at this point.

A Clinton presidency is the only way the two party establishment can guarantee nothing will really change. We might be looking at a Clinton presidency, after all.

This is something I hadn’t considered before. But it makes sense. The establishment ultimately doesn’t care about parties, except to the extent they are useful. All establishment politics is realpolitik.

I originally didn’t think Clinton had a chance aginst Trump, but if she gets the full force of the two party establisment behind her she’ll have campaign to be reckoned with. That would be a game changer for standard American politics.

Will partisanship keep the ruling elite divided? Or will they make a historical truce to fight the outside challengers? I don’t know the answer to that.

How would either Trump or Sanders defend against a unified establishment? It would be hard, not impossible, but quite challenging.

Part of the difficulty is that the populist vote is split between two candidates. There are a surprising number of frustrated Americans who could just as easily vote for either Trump or Sanders. So there isn’t a unified voice to the populist unrest.

Sanders is holding his own at the moment. He has a good chance, but it depends who ends up backing him. I keep waiting to see if the tide will turn.

March 4

What would either tank Clinton’s campaign or guarantee a victory? I was wondering about that.

If enough of the establishment supports her, even drawing some odd bedfellows from the political right, she will be in a strong position. But if something like legal issues become more central and get media attention, she might really struggle. Or if Sanders with the support of black leaders starts drawing away black voters, she might not get the nomination.

Even if she gets the nomination, can she compete against Trump? She has so many weaknesses for Trump to attack. Does it matter that Republican leaders are now trying to tear Trump down? Or will that just make Trump even more popular and make him harder to defeat?

Sanders has the best chances against Trump. He first has to win the nomination, though. If black leaders had come out earlier for Sanders, I doubt Clinton would have had any chance of winning anything. But the Clinton-supporting mainstream media has so effectively shut Sanders out that it took so long for most Americans to even learn anything about him.

There are all these factors that could shift in different directions. It’s not really a matter of the best candidate winning. The election process isn’t a meritocracy. It isn’t even a popularity contest. It’s about maintaining or gaining control of the political narrative. Trump, of course, has been a master at that.

March 4

The media and political elite obviously underestimated Trump. And so they miscalculated their strategies. This is most clear with the mainstream media. They were manipulated and played like fools by Trump.

I suspect much of the media thought that, if they gave him enough rope, he’d hang himself. Or maybe that the novelty would eventually wear off. But likely they weren’t thinking at all, beyond the entertainment value for selling advertising.

Many have watched Trump like a car race. They’ve been hoping for a crash and burn. Trump has disappointed his detractors by not self-destructing.

The guy is a media mastermind. He controls the media. He stays on message. And he dominates the competition.

Unknowingly, the maistream media helped him every step of the way. Now no one knows what to do with the monster they helped create. But it is getting late for any effective counter-measures.

The other Republican candidates are weak sauce. Clinton can’t cobble together a coherent political narrative to save her life. And the mainstream media and Democratic political machine has done everything in their power to ignore and undermine Sanders.

We are moving toward the home stretch of the nomination process. Unless Sanders can gain strong support and pull to the front of the pack, Trump could easily slide home into the presidency. More people should have backed Sanders earlier, of course.

Some maybe are still hoping that God will intervene and take Trump out of the race. But it is hard to imagine what could stop him at this point, without some amazingly effective organizing to fight back.

More Americans should have taken Trump’s challenge more seriously. Instead, too many people who could have made a difference played right into his hand.

March 4

Along with underestimating Trump, I think others may overestimate him. Or else mischaracterize him.

He isn’t just a joke or a clown. He is a smart guy. I bet he understands more than he lets on.

I do give him credit for being a media mastermind. But he is no evil genius like Hitler scheming to take over the world. Just a standard American egotistic plutocrat who happens to be a talented media personality.

He is also not really an outsider. Yes, he became a Republican candidate from outside the GOP. But he didn’t come out of nowhere. He was born into wealth and power, automatically a part of the establishment. He has been schmoozing with the political and economic elite for his entire life, both in the US and around the world, including wealthy Arabs.

Everyone wants to categorize him, as though that will help deal with him. He is many things. But first and foremost he is a plutocrat. All the rest is mere rhetoric and spectacle.

Trump represents American hyper-indivdualist capitalism. He is the dark side of the so-called American Dream.

Even though Trump’s rhetoric fits more closely to the populist ethno-nationalism of Mussolini and Hitler, I worry more about the kind of fascism has become normalized through the ruling elite. A demagogue is probably less of a threat in the present US than the oligarchy represented by the Bush family and Clinton family.

The latter is a creeping almost invisible fascism, growing like an undetected cancer. Trump is like going to the doctor and finally being diagnosed with cancer. Now that we know, are there enough Americans willing to get treatment? Or are we just hoping that the cancer will go away on its own?

March 5

Some people wonder why Hillary Clinton does so well in the South, specifically among minorities. I’d argue it isn’t centrally about the Civil Rights movement and the role of the Democratic Party.

It’s important to keep in mind that the South is extremely conservative. Even minority Democrats in the South are conservative. Hillary Clinton is a conservative Democrat. It’s why Bill won the presidency. He brought Southern conservatism back into the Democratic Party, and so was able to compete against the GOP’s Southern Strategy.

The fight between Clinton and Sanders isn’t between mainstream liberalism and radical socialism. Sanders supposed socialism is simply what used to be called liberalism earlier last century.

It is also important to keep in mind that Clinton is mostly getting support from the older demographic. This is even shown in how support is split among women and minorities. The Clintons have been strong defenders of the conservative policy of tough on crime. But older blacks also wanted this, because of the violent crime increases in their communities, no one understanding at the time that it probably was caused by lead toxicity rates.

Once you realize that Clinton is a conservative, everything begins to make sense. She isn’t a radical right-winger, like Ayn Rand libertarians and Evangelical theocrats. But she is what used to be considered a standard conservative, before the word was taken over by right-wingers.

I have nothing against conservatives, Southern or otherwise. I just like truth in advertising. Clinton is a conservative.

If she represents your beliefs and values, then embrace your conservatism openly. We’ll have more honest debate that way. Then the likes of Sanders can drop the socialist label. Let’s have a real debate about real liberalism and real conservatism.

The muddled language and thinking in US politics is the opposite of helpful.

I also understand why a certain kind of liberal finds Clinton appealing. Some of it is compromise and lesser evil thinking. But there is more to it than that.

In the South, even liberals are relatively more conservative-minded. I see the same thing in the Midwest as well. Midwestern liberals will use conservative style arguments, invoking values of community, family and work ethic.

My hometown of Iowa City is a center of liberalism in Iowa. One resident, Zach Wahls, gained public attention a while back because of his defense of same sex marriage. What was interesting was that his use of Midwestern values that much of the rest of the country would consider conservative.

Politics get messy like that. But this messiness doesn’t really effect the issue I was dealing with in my post above.

Blacks, in and outside of the South, don’t generally identify as liberal. Just because you’re a Democrat, it doesn’t follow you have to be a liberal. Minorities are among the most socially conservative and religious of any demographics in the US, far more fundamentalist and evangelical than the average white.

It’s just that we’ve forgotten about this strain of conservatism. Or rather the mainstream has ignored it, as minorities tend to be ignored, except when their votes are being considered.

March 7

It seems strange that Hillary Clinton gets so much support. From a strategic perspective, her campaign is a disaster. Many polls show her being weak against republican candidates, compared to Sanders showing as strong. She is facing major legal issues that could blow up at any moment. And if this happens, this could tarnish the party for a generation.

Last but not least, the younger demographics are against her, and this include GenXers in their 40s (not exactly youngins). Even young minorities are shifting away from mainstream politics. Hillary is heavily corporatist, something that the younger generations despise, including young minorities, as seen in polls.

The young have a more favorable view of socialism than capitalism. Of course, socialism like progressivism has largely just become a new way Americans speak of genuine liberalism, i.e., not corporatist neoliberalism. A corporatist professional politician like Clinton does not represent the world that most Americans want to live in, especially not the young.

The one demographic that Clinton should be winning are women. But the same generational divide is seen there as well.

It’s true that older people tend to vote at higher rates. Elections can sometimes be won entirely focused on the older demographic. Republicans have used that strategy for a long time, although now they are up against a demographic wall. I doubt Democrats want to emulate Republican strategy, even it would lead to short term gains for the party establishment.

For Hillary to win the nomination would mean for the Democrats to lose the future. That is not a recipe for success. Or is the Democratic ruling elite betting on that, no matter how much they fail, that the game will be won by failing a little bit less than the Republicans. Are they just hoping that the GOP will be utterly destroyed and Democrats will then be able to rule without competition?

That doesn’t seem like a safe bet. Both parties could be mortally wounded in this contest. There hasn’t been a time so ripe for a third party challenge as right now. No matter who wins this election, we might be seeing different political parties competing more strongly in the coming elections.

March 7

Most Millennials don’t believe that Social Security benefits will be there when they are old. Yet 90% of Millennials, like most Americans, see Social Security as good for America.

The moral of the story is that Americans realize that Social Security is broken. But they don’t want to eliminate it. Instead, they want it fixed.

Part of the reason is that they see how their own grandparents are being helped with these benefits. It’s the same reason Social Security was created in the first place.

The Lost Generation had high rates of old age poverty. For this reason, the Lost Generation promoted Social Security, even though they knew few of their generation would ever benefit from it. The Lost Generation believed in sacrificing for others. It’s why they promoted the younger generations to get the public education they themselves rarely had.

Sacrifice is an American value that gets forgotten about and dismissed in mainstream politics. Many Americans still believe in improving the world, no matter how cynical politicians are. Most Americans want to revive the American Dream that was created with the New Deal.

Sacrifice and the American Dream are two sides of the same coin. The more people are left behind the harder it is for individuals to get ahead. In low inequality and high mobility societies, everyone does better, both poor and wealthy. That used to be what America stood for, why so many immigrants came here.

Despite the bad times, Millennials still have hope for America.

A certain kind of person on the political right argues that Americans only vote for what benefits them personally. They say this is what inevitably causes democracy to fail. This is a view promoted by pundits and professional politicians, along with reactionary activists.

That might be true for how the most far right-wingers think, out for themselves and their own. But right-wingers might want to keep in mind that not everyone thinks like them.

In fact, most Americans, including most conservatives, are fine with sacrificing for their fellow Americans. Polls show this to be true. It’s time for mainstream politics and media to reflect this strong public opinion.

March 7

Some people have predicted that we are seeing the self-destruction of the Republican Party. It’s possible.

The Republican establishment has been tempting fate for a long time. They brought in the reactionaries and allowed them to gain power. In the process, they increasingly became disconnected from most Americans. This has forced them to rely upon an ever aging base.

In some ways, Republicans have had the more dynamic party, in how much the party has changed over relatively short periods of time. Being dynamic can be both a strength and a weakness. The Democratic Party is the oldest political party in the world and has changed more slowly over its history. Both parties used to have a left and right wing, but now only the Democrats have maintained this balance, however imperfectly.

The Democrats have an old lineage of being part of the establishment. It has roots going back to the founding generation. It would be much harder, though not impossible, for it to be mortally wounded. Republicans, on the other hand, began as a radical third party. Early on, many people referred to them as Red Republicans because of this radicalism, which included free labor, feminism, abolitionism, and Marxism.

The Republicans are at a dangerous point. Maybe the party of the Southern Strategy is doomed. There will likely have to be a new strategy that flips it in an entirely new direction if they are to survive. Maybe they should consider returning to their roots. They are already partway there by returning to populist rhetoric.

I’m not a fan of the Republican party failing. It creates a power vacuum. Democracy requires many options. Even limited to two main parties isn’t enough for a functioning democracy. A single party dominating certainly wouldn’t be desirable. I want loyal opposition—in an ideal world with multiple parties across the political spectrum. That is the only way to ensure genuine public debate and so an informed public.

March 7

There was a snippet on tv of the debate between Clinton and Sanders. It was about the gun issue. I was reminded what distinguishes the two candidates.

Sanders was interested in actually debating the topic. I could tell that he was concerned about finding real solutions. But Clinton just wanted to rile the crowd up with empty rhetoric. It really doesn’t matter what Clinton says, because it won’t change her behavior in Washington.

Sanders refused to play that game. He wasn’t scapegoating. He wasn’t trying to rally the base. Instead, he was speaking to all Americans. His view was that this is a problem that isn’t left vs right. It is a shared problem and we can only solve it by seeking a shared solution.

The thing is most Americans, according to the polls, agree with Sanders. Most Americans simultaneously support stronger, more effective gun regulation and support strong protection of gun rights. But such a unifying message of majority opinion doesn’t fit the narrative of partisan politics and mainstream media.

It is hard to communicate a message of real solutions. That is the challenge we face as a society.

Clinton doesn’t mean anything she says. She’ll attack the NRA in the campaign. But once back in Washington she will never do anything to make the NRA unhappy. It’s all a show that is put on for the public.

This is what bothers me. I realize that politicians lie and obfuscate. But the media is supposed to be a free press that challenges those lies and obfuscation.

Shouldn’t the media be doing their job by informing the American public that Sanders is giving voice to majority opinion? Shouldn’t they explain that neither the extremes of the NRA or Clinton represent more than a minority of the population?

On the gun issues, most of the political right doesn’t agree with the NRA and most of the political left doesn’t agree with Clinton. Most Americans are closer to the middle on these issues.

March 7

There is a reason why this campaign season interests me more than most.

I’ve been paying close attention to demographic and polling data (along with social science research) for a long time now. My interest goes back at least to the early years of the Bush jr presidency, although my interest in generations theory might go back to the mid 1990s. I’ve been particularly focused on the thorough Pew data, specifically Beyond Red vs. Blue.

I’ve been watching developments happen for a long time. I saw the various shifts begin to click into place years ago. Much of what we are seeing now has been predictable for a long time. For a decade or longer, the favorable opinion of ‘socialism’ has been increasing, among the youngest generation most of all.

I always wondered why most of this data has received so little mainstream attention. All of this is easily found data from respectable sources. Yet I notice how many people in media and politics act surprised at the changes finally becoming too obvious to ignore.

Even more important, I’ve stated again and again for years that the majority public opinion doesn’t fit what gets portrayed in the mainstream. A while back, I scoured the internet and books for all the data I could find. I was amazed at how increasingly liberal the public is on so many major issues, a consistent trend across decades. But I was also curious how indifferent so many Americans were about issues that were supposed to be divisive, such as simultaneously supporting gun regulation and gun rights or such as simultaneously supporting abortion limits and abortion rights.

Often, the politicians in neither party represents the views of most voters. Special interests and big money dominates nearly all public debate and the political narrative. The average American doesn’t seem to realize how deceived and manipulated they are. The mainstream media and politics leaves so many people uninformed and disinformed.

It wasn’t that long ago when outsiders like Ralph Nader and Ron Paul were being condescendingly dismissed. And their supporters were ignored or criticized for wasting their vote and not submitting to partisan groupthink. Where we are now has been a long time coming. But many in the mainstream wanted to pretend the status quo could last forever. It was naive.

No matter who wins the election this time around, the changes that have occurred will be permanent. There is no way for the establishment of either party to win this election, for even in winning they will lose. This leaves many people scared and others demoralized. But instead people should look at it as opportunity.

March 8

I must admit I have a hard time getting excited about who will get elected. It’s not that it doesn’t matter. I’ve just lost faith in the US having a functioning democracy. No matter who becomes president, it doesn’t change the larger system of entrenched wealth and power, dysfunction and corruption.

The entire government needs a complete overhaul, one way or another, reform or revolution. Elections can hardly put a dent in this problem because the whole system is rigged. But change has to start somewhere.

How do we get the leverage to make that change? How do we get the American public to realize we need real change? And how do we get people to be willing to demand change with the force of threat behind it?

Will the rising populist movement finally be enough to awake America’s conscience and moral imagination? If not, what will it take?

I know how many Americans would take these as the words of a crank or conspiracy theorist. It just doesn’t seem real and relevant to so many.

If it was really so important, wouldn’t the MSM report on it? Well, no, they wouldn’t. That is a major part of the problem. The people who understand what I’m saying are the poor, struggling, and disenfranchised. But those people have no voice or influence in our system. Yet another major part of the problem.

How do we break through the contented haze of the mainstream and the middle class? We are long past the point of pretending this problem doesn’t exist.

These are the kinds of questions I’ve been asking my entire adult life. But few people take any of it seriously, much less try to answer them. And that is why we are now at a point where someone like Trump has a real chance of becoming president. Almost no one wants to take responsibility for having helped create this situation. People act like this came out of nowhere, as if it hadn’t been utterly predictable all along.

Sanders will sometimes speak of the need for a political revolution. If and when people hear this, I wonder what they think it means. Are more people beginning to realize this state of affairs? How many people does it take to get to a tipping point?

It isn’t just that many don’t think about these problems. Even among those who are aware, informed and concerned, few are willing to speak out and to act according to what they know.

So many people feel isolated in silence, afraid of what would happen if they stood up for what is right. Others might judge them. Or it might lead to arguments and unhappy feelings. Some worry about how it might effect their relationships or their job, if others found out what they truly think.

I know many people who have similar thoughts as I have but for various reasons they don’t speak up.

Conservatives Pretending to Care About Economic Problems

Here is how a recent Wall Street Journal article begins (The Partisan Tax Policy Center):

For centuries discussions of tax policy centered on the collection of government revenues. As Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, famously wrote: “The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing.” This was the received wisdom until Adam Smith pointed out in 1776 that the wealth of nations—not the wealth of governments—is what really matters. The debate about the proper ends and means of taxes has raged ever since.

The authors, Marc Sumerlin and Noah Williams, invoke Adam Smith. They are relying upon the ignorance of their readership in not knowing what he actually wrote.

Smith was a strong critic of economic inequality. He didn’t think a free market and a free society was possible when inequality was allowed to grow. It corrupts the moral sentiments and destroys the social fabric, as he explained in great detail.

For this reason, Smith thought the upper classes should be taxed at a higher rate than the lower classes (i.e., progressive taxation). He also supported other progressive ideas such as public education to counter the negative consequences of industrial labor, and of course that public education would be paid for with progressive taxation.

It is either ignorant or dishonest of the authors to not mention any of this. I understand it’s an opinion piece, but that is not an excuse for disinforming the public. It is the job of journalists to know what they’re talking about. These two writers are acting as experts about the topic, and so they should hold themselves to a higher standard.

They then go on with stating that,

This year’s presidential election is no different. High marginal personal income-tax rates provide a disincentive for work, and the tax system heavily penalizes saving. American corporations face the highest statutory tax rate in the developed world. The disincentives to invest lead to slower growth, fewer jobs, lower wages and a less vibrant economy; and the fundamental purpose of tax reform should be to achieve broad prosperity.

This is further dishonesty. I’m not even going to pretend it might be mere ignorance at this point.

No one could honestly say that US corporations have the highest actual tax rate in the developed world. They are being misleading in what they say. There are so many loopholes and offshore accounts that many corporations avoid a lot of taxes.

Plus, corporate profits are higher than they’ve ever been, even after taxation. If there is a lack of investment, it isn’t because of a lack of money to invest. Part of the problem is some corporations spend more money on advertising, lobbying, astroturf, etc than they do in research and development.

What creates disincentive for work is the fact that there are more people than jobs. Also, there are more people who would like to start a business than can afford to start a business or can get a loan to do so. There is a reason the black market is one of the biggest sectors of the economy. People are willing to work, but when they can’t find legal work they look for illegal work. This has the sad side effect of landing many people in prison, which then further economically devastates these communities of high unemployment. Between offshoring and mechanization, the old good jobs are unlikely to come back.

These authors attack the Tax Policy Center. They do so not because they actually believe the data is wrong. It just doesn’t fit their ideological agenda and political narrative. They see it as an extension of the Democratic Party, as if the TPC simply speaks for the campaigns, which isn’t even accurate considering Sanders’ criticisms. Their attack on the TPC is simply a partisan tactic—the authors just dismiss the political left:

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are more focused on redistribution of income and have proposed higher taxes on capital gains and on high-income earners.

That goes back to my point about Smith. Redistribution has been a part of capitalism from its beginning. It was considered a necessary part of creating and maintaining a free market.

Neither Clinton nor Sanders is against capitalism. Clinton is a full on capitalist, to the point of being a globalist, corporatist neoliberal. As for Sanders, I just heard him make a strong defense of corporations in a debate, when discussing gun manufacturers. His ‘socialism’ is of an extremely capitalist-friendly variety… some might not even call it socialism. Sanders’s view is basically a moderate form of New Deal politics.

Many older conservatives who fear Sanders have themselves benefited earlier in their lives from redistributionist programs and funding, from cheap housing to cheap education. The older generations grew up at a time of the highest rate in US history for taxes on the rich and corporations. That was what paid for all the opportunities they had and helped so many of them get into the middle class. So, now they want to pull up the ladder behind them, really?

Like Smith, Sanders points to inequality as a central concern (and then Clinton parrots Sanders rhetoric). It turns out that Smith was right about inequality, and hence so is Sanders. I’ve previously pointed to a ton of data that shows that many social problems are directly correlated to inequality, and that for this reason decreasing inequality ends up benefiting the poor as well as the rich. Free markets function better to the degree inequality is decreased, as that guarantees economic mobility, grows the middle class, and incentivizes hard work—all of which most American conservatives and libertarians claim to value.

If one hates redistribution, then one should really hate inequality. In Redistribution, Inequality, and Growth, an interesting point was made by the authors (Ostry, Berg, & Tsangarides). After looking at a cross-country dataset, they concluded with three points:

First, more unequal societies tend to redistribute more. It is thus important in understanding the growth-inequality relationship to distinguish between market and net inequality.

Second, lower net inequality is robustly correlated with faster and more durable growth, for a given level of redistribution. These results are highly supportive of our earlier work.

And third, redistribution appears generally benign in terms of its impact on growth; only in extreme cases is there some evidence that it may have direct negative effects on growth. Thus the combined direct and indirect effects of redistribution—including the growth effects of the resulting lower inequality—are on average pro-growth.

The first point is most important. It is in an unequal society that redistribution is the most needed. This is why the US states with the highest inequality are the same states that receive more federal funding than they give in federal taxes. Partly, this is because these are the states with the highest per capita of welfare recipients. But also inequality exacerbates all of the related problems of poverty, such as health conditions which also need government funding to deal with. The US states with lower inequality tend to better solve their own problems in the first place and so are less dependent on federal redistribution.

Another paper titled The China Syndrome by Autor, Dorn and Hanson has related findings:

“Rising imports cause higher unemployment, lower labor force participation, and reduced wages in local labor markets, … [and] contemporaneous aggregate decline in U.S. manufacturing employment. Transfer benefits payments for unemployment, disability, retirement, and healthcare also rise sharply in more trade-exposed labor markets. … Reductions in both employment and wage levels lead to a steep drop in the average earnings of households. These changes contribute to rising transfer payments through multiple federal and state programs, revealing an important margin of adjustment to trade that the literature has largely overlooked. … The largest transfer increases are for federal disability, retirement and in-kind medical payments. Unemployment insurance and income assistance play a significant but secondary role.”

About inequality, there is another WSJ article by Lawrence B. Lindsey, How Progressives Drive Income Inequality. It’s more the same:

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are promising all types of programs to make America a more equal country. That’s no surprise. But when you look at performance and not rhetoric, the administrations of political progressives have made the distribution of income more unequal than their adversaries, who supposedly favor the wealthy.

It’s endless ignorance and ideological rhetoric. Timothy Noah, in an MSNBC article (Has income inequality lessened under Obama?), points out that,

The Tax Policy Center data show that the top 1% would get 6.5% more in income if Bush administration tax policies were still in place, while the bottom 20% would get 1.2% less. Relative to an imaginary Republican president, Obama has reduced income inequality. That’s something to be grateful for.

Only a complete ignoramus would blame Obama for inheriting the greatest economic problems since the Great Depression. It takes years for a presidents’ policies to take effect. If you want to know what the real impact is of Obama’s presidency, you’d want to look in the first few years of the next presidency who will likewise inherit the results of the prior administration. I’m no fan of Obama, but let’s do an honest appraisal.

It really pisses me off that these kinds of asshole conservatives even pretend to give a fuck about inequality. They’ve endlessly denied that it even matters. Now they have the audacity to say it matters after all, constantly backpedaling (just like with their denialist climate change arguments). They go so far as to say that inequality grew faster under Clinton than Reagan, when it was Reagan who created the permanent debt that all following presidents were forced to deal with. Can’t these people be honest for even moment?

Inequality, like the permanent debt, just keeps growing exponentially. The more it grows the faster it grows, worse leading to worse still. It’s a problem that has immense momentum for it isn’t just inequality of wealth but also of real world opportunities and political power. It just goes on and on, until something is done to stop the original cause and undo the harm done. But it is relevant that this growth slows down under Democratic administrations, as the data shows.

It is true that this slowing down doesn’t stop it, though—a valid point. Still, only a worthless piece of shit would try to blame this on ‘progressives’. The main blame recent Democrats must accept is that of embracing neoliberal voodoo economics. Clinton took up the policies of Reagan: welfare reform, deregulation, tough on crime, etc. Clinton may not have been a crazy right-winger like George W. Bush, but he certainly wasn’t much of a progressive, if we are to be honest. Both parties are corporatist at this point. Even so, the data shows there is a difference (see the work of James Gilligan, as quoted below).

I don’t get the point of these ideological games. Let me repeat one thing. I despise the two party system. They are part of the same problem. Nonetheless, the two parties aren’t exactly the same. We should acknowledge this simple fact, if we want to make any headway with these problems. It might be useful to know why rates of inequality, unemployment, homicides, suicides, etc get better or at least get less worse when Democrats win the presidency. It’s such a consistent pattern over more than a century.

Just imagine if we had an actual left-wing party, rather than just a slightly more moderate form of corporatism. If progressivism supposedly fails, then why do so many progressive countries and US states do so well? Why do Nordic social democrats do so well? Or how about social democracy in Canada, a country that by some measures has even greater diversity than the US? And what about one of the most successful local governments in US history, the Milwaukee sewer socialists?

Conservative response: *crickets chirping*

* * *

Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others
By James Gilligan
Kindle Locations 801-830

Why has unemployment increased and then lasted longer, and why have recessions occurred so much more frequently and then lasted longer, during Republican administrations than during Democratic ones? And why have declines in unemployment and growth of the economy been so much greater when there was a Democratic president rather than a Republican in the White House? Is this simply a matter of bad luck for the Republicans and good luck for the Democrats? Is it a function of the “business cycle” that operates independently of human political choices, like a force of nature or an act of God that just happens to coincide with times when Republicans are presidents? A misfortune , to be sure, but not their fault?

As opposed to that supposition , many experts on the relationship between the political parties and the functioning of the economy have concluded that the latter is very much a function of the difference between the economic policies of the two parties. This has been shown, for example, with respect to why economic inequality increases under Republicans and decreases under Democrats. Writing in 2007, the Princeton political economist Larry Bartels 8 concluded that:

“The most important single influence on the changing US income distribution over the past half-century [has been] the contrasting policy choices of Democratic and Republican presidents. Under Republican administrations, real income growth for the lower- and middle-income classes has consistently lagged well behind the income growth rate for the rich – and well behind the income growth rate for the lower and middle classes themselves under Democratic administrations.”

Furthermore, Bartels observes that “these substantial partisan disparities in income growth … are quite unlikely to have occurred by chance.… Rather, they reflect consistent differences in policies and priorities between Democratic and Republican administrations.”

Bartels also points out that one measure of inequality, “the 80/ 20 income ratio, increased under each of the six Republican presidents in this [post-World War II] period.… In contrast, four of five Democratic presidents – all except Jimmy Carter – presided over declines in income inequality. If this is a coincidence, it is a very powerful one .” 9 He then goes on to show reasons why it “seems hard to attribute this to a mere coincidence in the timing of Democratic and Republican administrations.”

To extend the argument, the political economist Douglas Hibbs 10 points out that “Democratic adminis-trations are more likely than Republican ones to run the risk of higher inflation rates in order to pursue expansive policies designed to yield lower unemployment and extra growth.” Hibbs notes that “six of the seven recessions experienced since [1951] … occurred during Republican administrations. Every one of these contractions was either intentionally created or passively accepted … in order to fight inflation.” The cruelest irony of all, in this regard, is that from 1948 through 2005 the inflation rate during Republican administrations has been virtually indistinguishable from that achieved under Democratic ones (3.76 percent vs. 3.97 percent), while the degree of overall prosperity (real per capita GNP growth per year) has been 70 percent higher under Democrats than under Republicans (2.78 percent vs. 1.64 percent), as Bartels 11 has documented. So, while the Republicans have pursued economic policies that have increased unemployment, recessions, and inequality, all ostensibly in order to prevent inflation, they have not in fact succeeded in preventing inflation noticeably better than the Democrats have.”

Kindle Locations 850-853

Referring to a more recent period, Daniel Hojman and Felipe Kast14 have shown that during the 1990s (the decade when Clinton was president), significantly fewer people entered poverty and more escaped it than during the 1980s, the Reagan– Bush years.

Kindle Locations 927-95

The greatest increases in the concentration of wealth in the twentieth century occurred during the Republican administrations of the 1920s, which led to the Great Depression, and during those from the late 1960s into the 1990s (especially during the 1980s, the Reagan years). The polarization of wealth attained by the Republicans during the “Roaring Twenties” was reversed by the New Deal Consensus from 1933 to the late 1960s. This was accomplished by introducing income supplements for the needy (social security, unemployment benefits, etc.) that had not existed before, reducing unemployment, and creating not only a “minimum wage” but also what was in principle a “maximum wage,” by raising the highest marginal income tax rates above 90 percent. The result of these and other policies was what some economic historians have called the “Great Compression” in incomes and wealth that occurred during the most prosperous – and also the most economically equal, and the most non-violent – period in American history (at least with respect to domestic or intranational violence), from roughly 1940 to 1970. Once the Republicans returned to power in 1969, however, that period ended, and inequalities in wealth and income once again reached the same – or nearly the same – levels under Reagan as they had in the 1920s (as did the rates of lethal violence). The rate at which inequality was growing slowed down during the Clinton administration in the 1990s to only about a third of the rate at which it had been growing under his Republican predecessors. This may have been because he succeeded in reducing both the rate and the duration of unemployment, and increasing the highest marginal income tax rates, the Earned Income Tax Credit (the negative income tax which gives money to those who are poor despite having a job), the median and minimum wages, and applying other policies whose effect was to redistribute at least a bit of the national collective income and wealth from the rich to the poor. However, the momentum of the forces producing inequity was still so strong that by 1998 the wealthiest 1 percent of US citizens still owned 38 percent of the total household wealth of the country and 47 percent of the total financial wealth. In other words, the richest 1 percent owned nearly 40 percent of the country’s real estate and almost half of its money and other liquid assets (stocks, bonds, etc.).

Although we do not have comparable data yet for rates of lethal violence during the last year of the second Bush administration or the first two years of Obama’s presidency, we do know something about their economic policies, and their results. First of all, the current “Great Recession”—as it has been called, in acknowledgment of the fact that it is the worst economic failure the US (and perhaps the world has suffered since the “Great Depression” of the 1930s (a description that would also describe recessions that occurred during the prior Republican administrations of Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush Sr., although this one is even worse)—occurred right on schedule—after one of the most conservative Republican presidents in US history had been in office for seven years. we also know that when Obama cut a deal with Congressional Republicans to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, and to renew ax cuts for middle-class and poor families, he spoke of those groups as being taken hostage by the Republicans, who would not agree to help the unemployed and the two lower classes unless the Democrats would agree to continue the comparatively enormous income tax cuts that the Bush administration had given to the extremely rich, and to give an even larger cuts in the inheritance taxes that would primarily be of benefit only to the wealthiest 1 to 1/10 of 1 percent of the American population.

Kindle Locations 2130-2139

But even when looking only at domestic actions, I have to admit that, yes, it is true that Democrats often do the will of their corporate masters—how else could they persuade them to donate to the campaign funds without which they could not win any elections? For example, under Clinton, economic inequality continued to increase, which it had been doing since – and only since – the Republicans ended the 37– year period of Democratic hegemony that had lasted from 1933 until Nixon took office in 1969. But this inequality was increasing only about a third as fast under Clinton as it had been under Reagan and Bush Sr. 4 And there were many other indices of economic equality, which I have mentioned before, that did improve during Clinton’s terms in office. But most importantly, for the purposes of this book, lethal violence rates during Democratic administrations going back to the beginning of the twentieth century had fallen, not risen (as they had done under the Republicans). In that respect, the two parties were not merely different, they were opposite to each other! The same applies to the rates and duration of unemployment, both of which have, like the rates of suicide and homicide, also increased during Republican [administrations]

* * *

Conservatism, Murders & Suicides
Republicans: Party of Despair
Rate And Duration of Despair
Poor & Rich Better Off With Democrats
Unequal Democracy, Parties, and Class
‘Capitalist’ US vs ‘Socialist’ Germany

‘Capitalist’ US vs ‘Socialist’ Finland
Problems of Income Inequality

Immobility Of Economic Mobility; Or Running To Stay In Place
Not Funny At All

Mean Bosses & Inequality
The United States of Inequality
Economic Inequality: A Book List

Incentives of Individualism

There are some childhood studies that offer a useful insight about human nature and society. They indicate certain behaviors that appear to be inherited, rather than learned.

The specific behaviors are a natural response to be helpful and cooperative. Kids, when presented with an opportunity, want to open the door for someone with their hands full or to pick up an object someone drops. They don’t need to be told to do this. This is basic social behavior, without which early societies would never have formed.

These studies, however, demonstrated something even more telling about our present society. If you give kids a reward for good behavior, it actually ends up disincentivizing good behavior. Yet the belief in incentives is the basis of our entire capitalist society. Selfish individuals aren’t born. They are created. It is inevitable that strong communities, civic society, and culture of trust weakens as capitalism takes over more and more aspects of life.

That gave me an insight. There are various theories, Julian Jayne’s bicameralism being the most famous, that individualism as we know it didn’t always exist. What if the development of systems of incentives was a major factor in creating individuals.

This would have been a slow process. Monetary systems were developed in the ancient world. But at that time they would have had little use to the average person. And it was limited to only a few societies. Most of daily living for most people in most societies would still have involved the even more ancient traditions of gift economy and/or barter. It wasn’t until after the collapse of bicameralism (or however one wishes to explain that transition) that monetary systems became more central. It was centuries into the post-bicameral Axial Age before coins began to be minted.

Like writing, the early monetary systems would only have initially and directly effected a small number of people. Think how long it took from the invention of writing to when the majority of most societies were literate, two to three millennia. Barter was the main economic system in some American communities well into the twentieth century. It was in the major cities where these kinds of things took hold first and even there it developed first among the upper classes. Writing and currency did co-develop to some extent, as writing was earliest used for purposes of accounting. And accounting would in ancient societies would only have been a concern for governments and the elite of large-scale business owners and traders.

The trader, in particular, would have been in a position to develop individualistic behavior the earliest. Traders not only dealt most directly with the developing monetary systems, along with writing and accounting, but they also were the people who spent the most time outside of their home communities. This was at a time when most people spent their entire life never leaving the community into which they were born.

So, if my hypothesis is correct, this is where we would want to look for the initial developments of individualism. It’s also in the modern world among businessmen, stockbrokers, etc where we’d want to look for the most extreme behaviors of individualism.

It might be interesting to anthropologically study business management schools and corporations to see how they help further individualize people. Then we might want to consider what happens when a society becomes so individualistic that the social bonds that hold society together begin to fray, as we are now seeing.

What and where is memory?

Memories May Not Live in Neurons’ Synapses
By Roni Jacobson, Scientific American

“If memory is not located in the synapse, then where is it? When the neuroscientists took a closer look at the brain cells, they found that even when the synapse was erased, molecular and chemical changes persisted after the initial firing within the cell itself. The engram, or memory trace, could be preserved by these permanent changes. Alternatively, it could be encoded in modifications to the cell’s DNA that alter how particular genes are expressed. Glanzman and others favor this reasoning.”

Mice Inherit the Fears of Their Fathers
By Virginia Hughes

“Now a fascinating new study reveals that it’s not just nurture. Traumatic experiences can actually work themselves into the germ line. When a male mouse becomes afraid of a specific smell, this fear is somehow transmitted into his sperm, the study found. His pups will also be afraid of the odor, and will pass that fear down to their pups.”

 

Galen and the Roman Empire

I listened to the audio version of a biography about Galen, and reading sections of the text. The author is Susan P. Mattern. The title of the book is The Prince of Medicine: Galen in the Roman Empire.

The title is fitting. The author does a great job of describing and explaining the society Galen lived in, the early Roman Empire. I’ve read a fair amount about that time, but this is the first book that gave me a clear sense of how different it was compared to the world today.

Mattern also made clear what this meant for a Greek like Galen. It was tricky business navigating that often dangerous world. As a physician and anatomist, he had a career that was highly respected and ruthlessly competitive. It meant not just having the skills and knowledge to heal people, but also to be a philosopher, performer, and much else.

There was one thing that stood out to me more than anything. Everything was social. Our notion of individuality would have been incomprehensible to them. They seemed to have done everything as a social activity.

When a person needed medical care, friends and family would accompany the patient. And if they needed long term care, those friends and family would stay with the patient for as long as it took, someone constantly at their bedside. These friends and family would advocate for the patient, even arguing with the physician.

That was the easy part of the job. Someone like Galen had his own entourage of students, followers, and friends. Either with Galen or out in a group, these social groups would roam the streets and public spaces of whatever city they were in. There were many other social groups with other leaders. It wasn’t easy to distinguish physicians, philosophers, monks, and other similar types. For example, Jesus and his disciples would have been just one group among endless groups.

These groups constantly were seeking other groups to challenge and debate. Anyone who wanted to be a leader was forced to accept challenges and to deal with hecklers. Sometimes physical fights broke out.

Another interesting thing relates to my other readings about ancient societies. Others have noted that even into the Roman Empire evidence of the bicameral mind could still be found. In Christian religious texts, body parts were sometimes described as having minds of their own.

This carryover of bicameralism apparently even was found in the medical theories back then. Here is a description of this from Mattern’s book, although the author doesn’t acknowledge its strangeness (pp. 232-233):

“He mentions speaking with many women who described themselves as “hysterical,” that is, having an illness caused, as they believed, by a condition of the uterus (hystera in Greek) whose symptoms varied from muscle contractions to lethargy to nearly complete asphyxia (Loc. Affect. 6.5, 8.414K). Galen, very aware of Herophilus’s discovery of the broad ligaments anchoring the uterus to the pelvis, denied that the uterus wandered around the body like an animal wreaking havoc (the Hippocratics imagined a very actively mobile womb). But the uterus could, in his view, become withdrawn in some direction or inflamed; and in one passage he recommends the ancient practice of fumigating the vagina with sweet-smelling odors to attract the uterus, endowed in this view with senses and desires of its own, to its proper place; this technique is described in the Hippocratic Corpus but also evokes folk or shamanistic medicine.”

This bicameralism (or whatever one wants to call it) was already in decline at this point. It’s unlikely that many Roman citizens actually experienced bicameralism. But bicameralism was still recent enough that the traces of it survived in the cultural heritage.

The Roman Empire existed through the late Axial Age. It was a time of transition. The seeds were being planted for modernity. Yet much of the ancient world still held immense power.