Justice in America – Not

A central dogma of American politics and culture is the rule of law. The ever present blind scales of justice are trotted out with such regularity that the briefest glimpse serves to remind us that we live in a country with a uniquely fair and just system of law. Of course, if you have ever had the slightest encounter with the reality of this system you will already know that it is only those with money for whom this system produces any justice, and for them more money assures more justice.

Recently I came across the Prison Policy Initiative as a new source of information on how our judicial system actually works. PPI just released a new pie chart and other graphs, “How many people are locked up in the United States?” Continue reading

Congressman Faso and the proposed American Health Care Act

Congressman Faso

Today I received an email from my Congressman, John Faso, concerning the proposed American Health Care Act. It included a link to a Republican website that speaks to their proposed legislation and a link to the the actual legislation. Asking me to read the legislation is insulting because though I am fairly literate it is well known that the language of legislation is a swamp of references to other pieces of legislation frequently calling for comprehensive knowledge of the topic to even begin understanding its implications. 

The site also spends a lot of time bad-mouthing Obamacare. I get it. Republicans don’t like Obamacare. The question is how will they improve upon it??

Continue reading

Job (Business) Killing Regulations

Ever since Ronald Reagan told us in his 1981 Inaugural Address, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” government bashing by right-wingers, Republicans and many Democrats has been a constant drumbeat of political rhetoric. Now we have Trump with his “Kill 2 regulations for every new one” and a government dominated by Republicans for whom destroying government has been an objective for decades. We are faced with the probable destruction of many government agencies whose job it is to protect us from capitalism.

Someone Else Will Pay – A Basic Feature of the Capitalist Economy

One of the basic features of capitalism is the requirement that businesses avoid any costs that they can. Basically they are required by the rules of the competitive game to get someone else to pay for anything they can shirk off. Without countervailing forces, the government, unions, and other social organizations, stepping in, capitalists will externalize any cost they can. This results in capitalist firms destroying the environment by unsustainable exploitation of the earth (see mines, forests, rivers, oceans); polluting the environment (air, water, landscape); maintaining unsafe working conditions; paying wages below that required for people to have a sustainable life; engaging in speculative risky gambling (see our financial sector for the most recent egregious examples of this); creating and marketing products and services based on manipulating demand through false, misleading and manipulative advertising.

None of this being done because capitalists are evil people.

This happens because the rules of the capitalist game require it to happen. If another firm, lets say a paper mill, is avoiding the costs of cleaning the water used in production before returning it to the river, the competitor paper mill must do the same. Otherwise, their paper would cost much more and they would not survive in the marketplace. Without government, unions, and social groups setting the rules of the game with regard to “external costs” capitalist firms must cast off as many costs as possible. This is the simple inescapable law of capitalist competition.

The EPA is a favorite target of government bashing. Let’s look back to why the EPA was formed in 1970 by Republican President Nixon. Many readers are too young to have first hand knowledge of how widespread environmental pollution used to be.

From the Empire St building – photo by Neil Boenzi originally published in NYTimes.

New York City looked like this in 1966. That’s not fog, that is smog, a noxious pall of automobile exhaust and emissions from power plants, petro/chemical plants and others. These days you have to travel to Beijing and other places without an EPA to experience this first hand

Another example

Here is a comparative shot from Los Angeles – 1968 – 2005.

From: http://geoprojectgrp7.blogspot.com/2015/03/air-pollution-in-los-angeles-location.html

Rivers on Fire

Industry polluted water so badly that some burned. Here is a short documentary on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. It begins with a snip from Randy Newman’s song “Burn On”1 :

The catalog of capitalism’s inevitable sins is way too long for this brief piece. The breadth of the costs of this central feature is quite astonishing and in some perverse way, inventive. In recent years we have seen new forms of externalized costs unthought of earlier. Do a search on “farm waste pollution” or “chemical pollution” for more examples from our current situation.

You Eat the Next Cost Avoidance Every Day

Another cost that capitalists seek to reduce, or eliminate, is labor, wages and salaries. The food industry is a good example of where non-union, minority workers are exploited because no one will protect them from the cost avoiding behavior of the capitalist system. Without government protections capitalists will pay as low a wage as possible regardless of whether the wage allows workers to live a reasonable life, raise their families and educate their children. Capitalism is not concerned with how the human resources of society survive and reproduce the next generation of workers.

The food we eat every day is plentiful and comparatively inexpensive because the farms that grow it are largely outside the protections of fair labor and minimum wage laws. Many farm workers are undocumented migrant workers from Mexico and other countries to our South. “Annually, the average income of crop workers is between $10,000 to $12,499 for individuals and $15,000 to $17,499 for a family. To give you an idea, the federal poverty line is $10,830 for an individual or $22,050 for a family of four (in 2009). Thus, according to NAWS, 30% of all farm workers had total family incomes below the poverty line.”2 Many are migrants and therefore their children do not have stable school lives. 

This is not a new story. In 1960 Edward R. Morrow reported on this exploitation in one of the most famous documentaries of the TV history, Harvest of Shame. The facts today are only marginally better than 57 years ago.

Externalized costs, cost avoidance and shirking wherever possible are structural features of capitalism that people can and must control. Capitalism is structurally unable to control these outcomes. It has no capacity to see or react to the consequences of the actions of it participants. It requires perpetual mindless growth with no regard to any needs outside of its own needs. People and nature be damned.  With the present weakness of unions and other social forces, government is the tool. We must take the government back from the rich and corporations. Capitalism was created through the joint action of government and private entrepreneurs. It is not some ideal system, rather the result of struggle between various elements in society.  Its present structure is the result of more than forty years of political action by the rich and corporations furthering their ends. Time now for the vast majority to assert their needs to be expressed in the economy.

  1. audio of song here: https://youtu.be/VtW8RkI3-c4 []
  2. http://nfwm.org/education-center/farm-worker-issues/low-wages/ []

The Internet and Demand Management (Advertising)

My friend Joe Keenan recently sent me an article by Vicki Boykis, “Fix the internet by writing good stuff and being nice to people” from her blog Woman.Legend.Blog

Today’s internet is mean. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when everyone online became a jerk, but to me it seems that the tipping point occurred right when making money off content started being worth more than the content itself.

Ms. Boykis devotes a lot of attention to the fate of the internet to be just another platform for grabbing our attention to deliver advertising messages.

Of course, since the election, many people, including myself, have finally internalized that Facebook is a burning dumpster fire of memes and political messages that physically exhaust everyone and cause social anxiety, to the point of directly influencing our political process. But, we’re so wired to check for positive reinforcement that we can’t tear ourselves away.

Which brings me to the saddest thing about these platforms: they are taking all of our input and time, and our thoughts, energy, and content, and using all of that for free to make money. Think about how many times you’ve tweeted. Or written or commented on a Facebook post. Or started a Medium draft. These are all our words, locked in proprietary platforms that controls not only how our message is displayed, but how we write it, and even more worrying, how we think about it.

 None of this is new. It is all a predictable extension of the gigantic advertising industry that began its dominance of our culture and our visual landscape in the first decades of the 20th century. It gained strength and penetration into our lives with each communications revolution, radio, TV, now the internet. The internet brings such a granularity of messaging that if you do a few searches in Google for information about Iceland while in Hudson NY you will quickly see advertising pitches for hotels in Iceland appear all around you.

Since we have all grown up in the same corporate fish tank it is hard for us to recognize how complete the reach and scope of the demand management industry is. (Advertising executives referred to their industry with this term back in the 1920s – some economists have continued – see J.K. Galbraith New Industrial State 1978 for example)

Here are a few numbers about global spending on demand management. In 2016 all paid media spending was by region: North America: $202 billion (5.9% of world population), Asia-Pacific: $171 billion (59% world population), Europe: $98 billion (4% of world population) ROW: $90 billion.1  So you can see how intensive the bombardment is here.

This intense focus on demand management is reflected in the amount of retail space there is here compared to other developed countries.

Since 1995, the number of shopping centers in the U.S. has grown by more than 23% and GLA (total gross leasable area) by almost 30%, while the population has grown by less than 14%. Currently there is close to 25 square feet of retail space per capita (roughly 50 square feet, if small shopping centers and independent retailers are added). In contrast, Europe has about 2.5 square feet per capita.
…….The primary and underlying reason for this condition, and why it will continue ad infinitum, is that growth expectations/demands of shareholders, independent owners and Wall Street are higher than the growth of the real economy. And this has been the case for at least the last 25 years2

I point out these facts to suggest that our troubles with advertising on the internet fits into the long-term strategy of capitalists to grab our attention and shove their messages down our throats with ever increasing intensity. This is not new, we are just in a new technically more sophisticated era.

One idea about controlling advertising might be to require the facts and claims mentioned in advertising to in fact be verifiable. We are all intensely upset over our new age on non-fact, counter-fact, alternative-fact politics. Yet, for decades we have allowed advertisers to lie and cheat without bounds in their promotions. An effective enforcement of the  Truth in Advertising Law would be a start.But that would require a government controlled by the people not the corporations and rich.

  1. https://www.emarketer.com/Article/Worldwide-Ad-Spending-Growth-Revised-Downward/1013858 []
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/robinlewis/2015/03/17/retail-in-2015-a-reality-check/#517594ca27ef []

Diversity and Identity Politics Is A Deadend

Progressives have to declare class war as a central strategy. Otherwise we will all be sitting at the dinner table basking in our glorious diversity with nothing to eat.

For many good reasons identity and diversity have dominated our politics for decades.  Progressives celebrate its expansion and Republicans and their brethren on the right pretty universally engage in either dog whistle or outright racist politics. 

Simultaneously the rich and corporations have been fighting a class war. They have succeeded beyond belief. As is well known, for 90% of the population real incomes have been flat for the past 40 yrs. Meanwhile, the rich and corporations have gotten fabulously rich. Richer than at any time in history. And, to make things worse they have done this while hiding behind free-market (neoliberal) ideology that has impoverished the government and the public sphere of our lives. Our infrastructure is crumbling, education is outrageously expensive, sending many students to decades of indebtedness. Our health system costs more than twice any of our developed country cohort and delivers third world results. 

Progressives, time to fight back. Diversity and identity without a fair share of the pie is not going to make you happy.

White Privelege – White Racism

Borrowed from: http://greenlining.org/blog/2016/white-privilege-sequel/

James Baldwin pointed out repeatedly that racism is a white issue. In the US, only white people can end the 400 years of racism against black people. To that end there has been talk of coming to grips with white privilege. This would be an important first step for white people to engage in, to recognize their privileged state This can then lead to concrete efforts to undue the embedded racist structures in our society.

Recently I ran across a 1990 article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh. 

“I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group”

Though some of the privileges she lists are the obvious ones, like to having to worry about DWB. I found it enlightening about some dimensions of my own privilege.

A short version featured 50 examples of white privilege. Download here (very small file): White Priviledge Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

How Much Money Would It Take To Eliminate Poverty in the US?

This 2013 article “How Much Money Would It Take to Eliminate Poverty” (http://prospect.org/article/how-much-money-would-it-take-eliminate-poverty-america) addresses this question. The answer then was $175 billion. This is a ridiculously small number in the context of a $16 trillion GDP.

As someone who is on the homeowners gravy train I was stuck by this part of the article:

“The utterly ridiculous tax expenditures directed toward the disproportionately affluent class of people called homeowners—mortgage interest deduction, property tax deduction, exclusion of capital gains on residences—by themselves sum to $115.3 billion in 2012.”

Of course we live in a society that knows that poor people are poor because they are shiftless, drug addled and lazy. We certainly can’t reward those people with any help. Meanwhile the rich and corporations are worthy recipients of government handouts without fear that we will be corrupting them.

I’ve often thought it would be a salutary exercise if we handed out these tax breaks at a universal government payout office. Here, everyone receiving funds from the government would line up. As they received their check a big sign above the window would flash out the amount of their check. I think people on SSI would be outraged at how their measly few hundred dollars a month compared to the payouts to the rich and corporations. 

So much of this is a question of what and whose priorities are being met by government action/inaction. Presently we don’t have a political system even vaguely responsive to the vast majority of Americans. In fact it is serving the rich and corporations quite admirably.

Is Trump Showing Signs of His Age??

Trump ~1980

Ever since Trump came into my view as a candidate for President I have thought that his speech is strange. Choppy, half thoughts, repetitions of words and phrases, very few polysyllabic words, in short lacking in fluidity and continuity.

Is this the way Trump has always spoken. Or, Is it just his lifelong speech pattern ?

Being Trump and always casting himself into the public eye there is quite a bit of tape of him speaking from 30 and more years ago. Listen to one or all of these snippets. Forget about the content. Just listen to his speech. It is fluid, normal, conversational speech. Is our Trump at age 70 showing signs of his age?? Early indications of dementia or some other plague of old age? 

https://youtu.be/0-w47wgdhso – 1980 – news interview

https://youtu.be/A8wJc7vHcTs – Larry King Show 1987

https://youtu.be/W5kA2r2SE7g – Joan Rivers 1990

 

Neoliberalism – a term that needs never to be used

Dollars and Sense has been around since the 1970s. Always a source of well researched critiques of capitalism. I recently, after a more than 30 year hiatus, re-upped a subscription

Dear Dollars & Sense,

Your new issue showed up the other day with the word “neoliberalism” in bold type on the cover. The continuing use of this term is not helpful. When I first saw this word a few years ago I wondered how the word “liberal” and “neoliberal” are connected? Then, I remembered the little I can recall about 19th century European political philosophy. Oh, its that liberalism that is new!

Really, outside of academic circles no one knows what this word means. Most in my circle find it off-putting, obscure and boring.

Free Market Religion

I prefer to refer to this ideology as “free market religion”. “Free market” is a widely used term as in “free market capitalism”.  And “religion” gets across the fact that this is a counter-factual pile of BS.

If you don’t like my term, come up with something better. Please stop using “neoliberalism”.

Congressman Faso’s Challenge

Today I received an email from Congressman Faso’s campaign committee. It read in part:

Friend,

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) today released a memo claiming Democrats are “starting the 2018 election cycle on offense.” This is an alarming statement on many levels. For one, they really do see the future of our nation as nothing more than a political game. They are also choosing to completely ignore the American people by not acknowledging the sweeping Republican victories from just two months ago.

The most worrisome item in the memo is that the DCCC listed my seat as a “Round One Target.” I was sworn in less than a month ago and already the Washington Establishment is targeting my district as one to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into in order to install the liberal candidate of their choice.

The email then went on asking me to donate to his re-election campaign!

Here is my reply: Continue reading