Beating Trump Isn’t Enough

Beating Trump Isn’t Enough

 

we have to beat the conditions that got him elected to begin with

 

When I was 14 I was asked by a friend of my parents if I was proud of being a Puerto Rican. I said, “No.” He said, “What, are you ashamed of it?” I said, “No, I’m not proud of being Puerto Rican or ashamed of it. I can’t be proud or ashamed of it because I didn’t do anything to be Puerto Rican. I didn’t earn it. I was just born that way.”
I still think that way. So if a candidate for President was Puerto Rican, I wouldn’t care either way. That’s not what I look for in candidates. I don’t need my identify validated in that way, and I’m not so tribal in my thinking that I will support someone just because they’re part of my tribe. I’m also not naive enough to think that I can trust someone just because they share that point of identity with me.
I started supporting Bernie Sanders in late 2015 because I’m a political pragmatist, not because I deeply self-identify with a white socialist Jewish male from the NE who is 20 years older than me. There’s not a single descriptor in the line above that connects with me: I’m not white (at least not to the racist whites I’ve known), not socialist (I support distributed private ownership), not Jewish (raised Catholic, briefly atheist, now broadly ecumenical Protestant), and not from the Northeast (Southern California in the 70s!). I started supporting him because I saw how his platform would directly benefit me, and by extension, literally tens of millions of people just like me. And I saw that he meant it: he didn’t develop his platform just to get support. He really is committed to his platform because he really is committed to working and middle class Americans.
I also saw how Sanders’s platform solved numerous problems that we’re facing, and I see how the coronavirus crisis illustrates how his platform points — such as Medicare for All — are desperately needed right now. We have the highest unemployment rate since the onset of the twentieth century, higher even than during the Great Depression, and millions of Americans are still dependent on employer-based healthcare. Does that even remotely make sense? Not to mention savings in costs by having one administrative system over all fifty states, rather than fifty different administrative systems, and not to mention the fact that it seems almost literally suicidal to trust your healthcare to companies that make their profits by collecting premiums and not paying out claims. So long as private health insurance companies are running our healthcare system, they will be trying to pay out as little as possible. They will always try to cut coverage for pre-existing conditions, for example.
I’ve been saying for weeks now that Biden needs to pick a black woman as running mate — for a number of reasons — so I do get that identity politics matter in national politics. But I’ve also been reading some detailed examinations of Harris’s record that have been out there since at least early 2019, and most of them say that she talks progressive but then actually does the opposite on a consistent basis, when it really counts. For example, she talks police reform but has been said to protect the police officers who commit acts of police brutality.
I haven’t followed up on this reporting to verify it for myself, but she was never my first pick, and if these reports are true, she may be another Amy Klobouchar: she may have at some point protected an officer who will be involved in some future killing that provokes more riots. What would that do to the Democratic ticket if that happens between now and November? My impression from her Twitter feed over the past year or two has been that as well: she’s never been a committed progressive so much as a politician committed to advancing her career. She constantly tests the waters to see what policies have the most traction rather than advocating for policies that will address our real problems.
But there’s a bigger picture than even this: we need to account for the fact that Trump was indeed elected president in 2016. He won the popular vote in forty-nine out of fifty states combined, in fact: HRC’s popular vote lead was entirely from the state of California, which she won by over 4 million votes. Biden and Harris represent a political mainstream that many Americans distrust and rejected in 2016.
So, does Harris’s gender and multiethnic identity matter? Not in terms of her politics. There’s no reason to trust her just because of that. We need to look at her record and her donor base. That’s all that matters. After 8 years of Obama, though, I can see that it mattered culturally to have a black president. It outed our racists and gave black America hope. And I have to admit I’m looking forward to the Harris/Pence debate even more than Biden/Trump. She has demonstrated the ability to fight: in her debates with Biden, in the Kavanaugh hearings, and at other times.
The question remains, though: who is she really going to be fighting for? Biden and Harris need to do more than beat Trump. They need to address the situation that led to Trump’s election to begin with, and that’s a political mainstream made up of people who care more about the wealthiest Americans than the rest of us in almost every way that counts. They need to do it through the DNC platform, which I think is not going to give me everything I’d like to see, but which will still be pretty good, but then they need to do it by enacting the platform. That is what will matter.
Only time will tell. If they don’t come through, Trump can always run again. And when he’s gone, there will be others like him. He’s proven that people like him can win, and the next Trump that comes around may be smarter, more savvy politically, and by extension, even more dangerous.

Politics, Numbers, and Government

I have two British friends who dwell on the conservative side of the political spectrum. One of them lives here in the States and the other over in the UK. Less than two years ago  my US Brit friend ran for local office as a Republican. Since then, he’s become increasingly horrified with his party and has started looking into independent conservative parties.

My UK friend, though, living at a greater distance, still seems (to me) to think it’s business as usual in US conservative politics. I tried to disabuse him of that idea — that today’s GOP is nothing like the GOP of the 90s. Or, rather, it’s only like the fringe elements of the 90s’ GOP that were mainly useful for hating the Clintons within boundaries but were otherwise kept on a leash, the ones who tried to put on a good show at Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings. I tried to explain to him that the things these members of the GOP are saying are completely falsified by all available numbers.

And in our little email exchange he blithely dismissed the numbers: “Don’t trust them.” Our conversation ended shortly after that, but it stuck with me because I think it demonstrates widespread conservative misunderstanding about the US government. For one thing, he seems to think that the Federal government is a single entity. But we need to comprehend scale here. The Federal government employed about 2.7 million civilians and about 4.4 million people overall, if we include the military, as of just a couple of years ago.  As of the beginning of June 2017, Trump had appointed maybe a handful of people to posts: certainly less than 100. The US federal government is a vast complex of different departments largely staffed by people who stay in these positions for years, regardless of who holds the Office of the President or who is in Congress.

That is also true of the entities that gather our data, like the Congressional Budget Office or the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This independence has been painfully illustrated by the recent numbers coming out of the Congressional Budget Office about the GOP’s latest iteration of their attempts at health care reform. According to the CBO’s latest numbers, the current GOP plan would cause 32 million people to lose health insurance over the next ten years.

Now keep in mind that the GOP currently controls all three branches of government. It can’t grease its wheels much more than that. And this control extends to Congress, which oversees the office producing these numbers.

If government numbers weren’t to be trusted, the CBO would be working for the party in charge right now by spitting out falsified numbers that make the GOP healthcare plan look good. But, it’s not.

The fact is, for the most part the federal government, as an entity, carries out business as usual regardless of who is in power. If it didn’t, this country would be in a much bigger mess than it is. The entities that gather our data attempt to do so to the best of their ability, and being who they are, remain the best source of information about the US economy, jobs, education, and a host of other segments of our society. This general distrust of “government numbers” can only proceed from an inattention to the facts or, in other words, ignorance.

Pay attention to the numbers. They mean something.

Why Donor Base Matters: Leeches vs. Producers

We all know that there are companies that produce things, like Apple and Google and Microsoft and GM, and there are people who work for them (represented by unions). These companies that produce things are who I’m calling the “producers”: tech and manufacturers and their employees. They are the representatives of our real economy, the ones who make up not only the workforce but the material nature of our everyday lives. Every building you work in, car you drive, road you drive on, and bit of technology that you use are produced by this group.

But I’d like to focus on a different component of our economy: the money handlers. These people take money from one group and distribute it to another. This group is commonly referred to as the FIRE sector: finance, insurance, and real estate. They don’t produce anything: they make all of their money by taking it out of the transaction somehow. They’re like someone who slices a piece of cake owned by one person and then serves it to someone else — all of their wealth consists of the amount of cake they can get to stick to their fingers during the transfer. The difference between the size of the piece of cake they initially collect and the size of the piece of cake that they eventually pass around is their profit: the bigger the cake starts out and the smaller it is when distributed always means more cake for them.

So insurance companies, for example, take your money in the form of premiums and then distribute it to doctors, medical facilities, and pharmaceutical companies in the form of negotiated payments for services. Insurance companies make their money — and they make billions upon billions of dollars every year — by collecting more money in premiums than they pay out in services. So they are motivated to charge premiums as high as the system can bear and pay for as few services as the system will allow. That is where their profit comes from.

The nature of the system motivates insurance companies to pay out very little, of course, and it’s well-known that insurance companies often deny payment not because denial of payment is justified, but because they save money that way: too many people will just pay the bill rather than fight the denial of payment. I worked for the American Arbitration Association briefly in late 1999, and I saw first hand how evil the insurance industry can be as the AAA was moderating a class action lawsuit against Prudential for predatory insurance practices.

That’s the thing with an industry that just sucks money out of a system without producing anything: it only cares about its own short term profitability because its only money comes from there. On the other hand, producers understand that they need educated employees, so they care about education. Producers know how much money they lose from sick workers, so they care about healthcare too. But insurance companies? They don’t benefit at all from an educated populace and don’t care about healthcare except for minimizing payment.

That same kind of thinking extends to the financial sector (in large part) and real estate: they just suck money out of a transaction between parties that are actually interested in and invested in the system as a whole — and I mean as a whole. All of our infrastructure, technology, healthcare, and education are needed by the producers to conduct their business. They may grumble about having to pay for it, but they still need it, and they know it.

So the FIRE sector is essentially a leech on our system that doesn’t benefit from the operations of the system itself. It just needs a host to suck on to stay fat and happy.

During his term in office, Bill Clinton helped deregulate the leeches. Some of the leeches working for Bill then got jobs in the financial sector, working for companies such as Goldman Sachs that were at the center of the 2008 financial crash — who then became major donors to Hillary’s budding Senate career. As we see, the problem is that a leech will just suck and suck and suck and suck until its host is dead, if it’s allowed to do so. It doesn’t matter that the leech will die when the host dies. Leeches are too stupid to understand that. They just want to get as fat and happy as they can as quickly as possible, so all they care about is an unrestricted blood flow.

And that is why we nearly had another worldwide Great Depression in 2008. The leeches ran wild.

So do you understand now why so many people are saying Bernie’s plans are impractical? Bernie’s plans cut out the leeches, and many times the leeches are funding economists and think tanks and even university economic departments.

Under our current system (let’s just look at health insurance), the money flows this way:

  1. Everyday people and businesses pay high premiums to insurance companies.
  2. Insurance companies collect these premiums, usually from employers (cost of administration plus MASSIVE PROFITS)
  3. Doctors, etc., receive payment for services from insurance companies.

Sanders’s plan would collect a 2.2% tax on individuals plus a 6.8% tax on businesses (in PLACE OF premiums) to support this cash flow instead:

  1. Everyday people and businesses pay a relatively low tax (compared to premiums — you are in the top 5% of the population at least if your premiums and the amount of your employer’s payment is more than 8.8% of your own salary).
  2. The federal government collects taxes (cost of administration only, but no profit)
  3. Doctors, etc., receive payment for services from the federal government.

That is why Bernie’s plan will help grow the economy. It will put more money into the pockets of people at the bottom and in their employers’ pockets. It will grow the economy from the bottom up. Obviously: because these are the people who spend their money within the system itself rather than hide it in overseas tax shelters.

Now I know some of you are thinking that big corporations (both leeches and producers) shelter their money too, and they do. But saving money on health insurance premiums benefits small businesses that keep their money here in the US, in the system. Small business accounts for almost 50% of all workers and 60% of job growth since the 2008 crash. The money saved under Sanders’s plans for health insurance and education will benefit a significant number of Americans who live and work in this country and spend their money within its borders. It will help their employers too, because small businesses pay higher premiums (think about that logic for awhile: who benefits from it?). Yes, it will grow the economy.

Education works the same way. The cost of college isn’t just tuition, fees, and room and board. It’s tuition, fees, room and board, and interest on student loan debt (i.e., leech profits).

Just as our health insurance is being run to benefit the insurance leeches, education is being run to benefit banking leeches.

We need the leeches, don’t get me wrong. Health insurance allows us to distribute the risk of serious injury or illness. Loans allow us to buy cars and houses before we’ve had time to save for them, which would be virtually impossible for most of us before retirement. But, the federal government can do the same thing just as well, and we certainly don’t need the leeches running things, because we’ve already seen what leeches do when they have their way. Remember the 2008 financial crash.

Now, the leeches have been supporting the Clintons, including Hillary, and the producers have been supporting Sanders. I’m talking about lifetime donor base. Bernie has every right to make videos like these, and to give speeches like these:

And that’s why I don’t think it’s all that great that Hillary has been raising so much money for downticket Democrats: she’s selling out the whole party to the leeches.

Here’s an overview. Let me start with Bernie Sanders’s donor base. Of his top twenty lifetime donors,

  • 15 are unions. They represent the working and middle class. Producers.
  • 3 are in the tech sector, including Google (his top donor), Microsoft, and Apple. They represent people who actually produce stuff rather than just shift money around. Producers.
  • 1 is the UC system, and educators are well represented on this list in unions as well. Producers.
  • 1 are the trial lawyers, which has for a long time been supporters of the Democratic Party. Service industry.

Now let’s compare that to Hillary Clinton’s top twenty lifetime donors:

  • Her top donor is Emily’s list, an organization working for women’s rights. That’s admirable. Service industry.
  • 2 of her top donors are the UC system and Harvard University. Like the trial lawyers, they have traditionally given to the Democratic Party. Service industry.
  • 2 are major media corporations: Time Warner and 21st Century Fox, the owner of Fox News of all things. Keep in mind that six umbrella corporations control 90% of American media and you’ll understand why news coverage has been so pathetically biased in favor of Hillary Clinton. Producers? Service industry? A little of both?
  • There are 8 large, international, very specific law firms on Clinton’s top 20 list: DLA Piper; Skadden, Arps et al; Kirkland & Ellis; Paul, Weiss et al; Greenburg Traurig LLP; Sullivan & Cromwell; Akin, Gump et al; Ernest & Young (large, multinational audit firm). I have not had the time to research each one specifically, but most of them seem involved in representing the interests of multinational corporations around the world. Trial lawyers as a group don’t appear in the top 20. Leech support.
  • There is 1 manufacturing company: Corning, Inc. Producer.
  • There is 1 entertainment company: National Amusements, Inc. Producer.
  • There are 5 firms from the financial sector, four of them very high on the list: Citigroup, Inc.; Goldman Sachs; J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.;  Lehman Brothers; and Morgan Stanley. Nothing but leeches.
  • And, of course, there are no unions. Workers aren’t represented here.

It’s that last group of five that is the most problematic, but of course we should see the law firms as folded into these and the media giants. As you know, in 2008 the world experienced the largest financial crash in history since the Great Depression. The U.S. Senate’s “Levin–Coburn Report concluded that the crisis was the result of ‘high risk, complex financial products; undisclosed conflicts of interest; the failure of regulators, the credit rating agencies, and the market itself to rein in the excesses of Wall Street.'”

Bottom line: Wall Street caused the crash. But who do we mean by “Wall Street”?

  • Citigroup, Inc., Hillary Clinton’s no. 2 biggest donor: Massive recipient of federal bailout money after the 2008 crash. The people who were the architects of loosening regulations in the late 1990s under Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin and Charles Prince, later found themselves on Citigroup’s board of directors pushing it toward the risky practices that led to its insolvency.
  • Goldman Sachs, Hillary Clinton’s no. 4 largest donor: Profited from the financial collapse and was later fined $550 million by the SEC.
  • J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.: Hillary Clinton’s no. 5 largest donor, which has been involved in a long list of controversies. It was fined $88 million by the Office of Foreign Assets Control in 2012 and was investigated by the Department of Justice for its role in the 2008 financial scandal, which found in preliminary investigations that it violated federal securities laws. The SEC has also been investigating this firm, which is also implicated in the Bernie Madoff scandal.
  • Morgan Stanley: Hillary Clinton’s no. 6 largest donor. This firm also has a long list of actions against it, with the Federal Reserve announcing a Consent Order against the firm on April 3, 2012 for “‘a pattern of misconduct and negligence in residential mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure processing.’ The consent order requires the firm to review foreclosure proceedings conducted by the firm. The firm will also be responsible for monetary sanctions.”
  • Lehman Brothers: Hillary Clinton’s no. 18 largest donor, this firm is now bankrupt and was found guilty of major financial malfeasance in the 2008 financial scandal, for reasons that included gimmicky bookkeeping.

Four of Clinton’s top six donors and a fifth in her top twenty are implicated in the 2008 financial crash and guilty of massive and destructive financial malfeasance. It’s not just that she’s taking Wall St. money. It’s that she’s taking Wall St. money from its biggest criminals. The Clinton campaign is being supported by large donors: 100 donors alone had contributed $195 million to Clinton’s campaign as of February 2016 while the Sanders campaign has been supported by over 5 million contributors — the largest donor base in history — who have averaged gifts of $27 each.

While the middle class is being squeezed, the largest transfer of wealth in history has been taking place, and it is primarily benefitting the top 1%.

Bill Clinton doesn’t take this at all seriously. He doesn’t take the damage caused worldwide by his policies and donors seriously. He recently, glibly said Sanders supporters believe we should “Shoot every third person on Wall St.”

When he said that, some people who have been paying attention thought, “No, every one of them should be shot,” while others thought, “Yes, and jail the other two.”

There is rampant, destructive criminality at the heart of the Clintons’ donor base, and everyone who observes it has a right to be concerned. Dismissing it just makes it worse. That’s been a common pattern within pro-Hillary discourse: to diminish the negative effects of these measurably destructive policies.

Please, NY voters: vote for producers and not for leeches. In other words, vote for yourself. The leeches have caused enough damage.

And in homage to our current political environment, a video:

NaPoWriMo: Day 9

"And did those feet..."
Guest poet: William Blake

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land

Great Commentary on the Charlie Hebdo Tragedy

The following video is commentary on the Charlie Hebdo shootings by John Ficarra, editor of Mad Magazine. To me, the most important thing that he said is that whenever Mad Magazine criticized Jerry Falwell or the Roman Catholic Church it assumed a shared set of values: that the worst that would happen is a stern letter from a lawyer (which they love getting). He never feared violent retribution.

I think that’s very important. We don’t critique or satirize things that we hate. We critique them because we want them to be better, because we believe that they should be better than they are — that the people who are the objects of our critique are one of us, so we expect that they should act like it. 

Yes, the Pope is right, people get irrationally angry when you criticize their wives or their mothers or their religion. That comparison is interesting to me, as it seems to assume the immediate emotional reaction is deeply personal and so somewhat unthinking. But all but the criminally insane manage their anger enough to restrain from even wanting to kill anyone over such criticisms, much less actually carrying out a murder.

I think it’s fair to say that most Charlie Hebdo images are satire in poor taste at best, and simply pointless and in poor taste at worst. Freedom of expression means that we have the right to say so. But freedom of expression also means that writers and illustrators have the right to be tasteless if they so choose without fear of violent retribution. Violence as a response is off the table even while we debate the social value of such humor.

Anyway, thank you, John Ficarra, for a thoughtful response to a horrible situation, and my condolences and sympathy go out to the friends and families of those so unjustly killed in France.

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