Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Complexities of Cruelty

Now that nearly two-thirds of Americans declare themselves in favor of true universal health care, or Medicare for All, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts finally acknowledges that the time is ripe for the Democratic Party to follow suit. 
 President Obama tried to move us forward with health-care coverage by using a conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by a Republican governor in Massachusetts,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.”
Tell that to the party leadership. The way a group of them showed their loathing for the now-delayed Better Call the Undertaker Act proffered by the Republicans was to literally sit down and "raucously" sulk for the cameras. 
“So John Lewis and I (Sen. Cory Booker) are going to sit down on the Capitol steps for a while to protest Senate Republican’s efforts to repeal health care and give voice to millions of Americans who believe that affordable health care is a human right,” Booker posted alongside the Facebook live stream. “Watch, share & join us.”

“By sitting in, by sitting down, you’re really standing up,” Lewis said. 

Ben Wikler, the Washington director of activist group Moveon.org, tweeted how he became part of the sit-in, describing the organic growth of the event as “kinda magical.”

Unlike the protesters who were cruelly yanked out of their wheelchairs last week and arrested for blocking Mitch McConnell's office, the supine and able-bodied establishment Democrats were deemed harmless enough by Capitol police to remain in place, despite blocking the entire building. It was really kinda magical. Who knew that some forms of protest are more equal and acceptable than others?




Nonetheless, Warren is gently and belatedly urging liberal lawmakers to get up off their slacktivist butts and take that next organic step and start running on single payer health care for human organisms living in the United States. She understands that Hillary Clinton's vow during her campaign that single payer "will never, ever come to pass" is probably not a winning strategy for her party. All it did was help stimulate those all-important collective passions right into the arms of Donald Trump - who, as a private citizen had himself voiced support for government-sponsored medical insurance as the sanest, most cost-effective solution.

Trump, who only a few weeks ago called the GOP reform plan "mean," put a noncommittal spin on his latest word salad:  “This will be great if we get it done. And if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like, and that’s O.K., and I understand that very well.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was forced to delay voting on the Better Care Reconciliation Act when a handful of GOP senators balked - either because the measure isn't sufficiently cruel, or because its draconian cruelty isn't sufficiently hidden from voters. Mainly, they were miffed that Mitch operated behind closed doors, without their own input. How can they sell a bill to their constituents when they're being kept as much in the dark as their constituents?

 The Congressional Budget Office scoring reveals that under the Bitterly Callous Retrogression Act, 22 million fewer Americans would be covered by insurance by the year 2026. It's so bad that even the arch-conservative American Medical Association, which has always lobbied heavily against any kind of government involvement in health care, calls BCRA  a clear violation of the Hippocratic Oath of "first, do no harm."

As Mitch cynically drawled to the TV cameras after temporarily yanking the bill, who could have guessed that big complicated cruelty could be so complex? Therefore, his most immediate challenge is to get enough of his cohort "comfortable" enough with the unprecedented cruelty for the oligarchic job to get done.

Senator John Tester cynically put in that all they really need is more flexibility to rescue the most vulnerable citizens from the pain of Medicaid covering all their health care needs. That way, the protesters in wheelchairs won't even have to travel to Washington and block Congressional offices. They'll be blissing out in a permanent state of health care Nirvana freedom.





These malevolent GOP clowns remind me of the feckless characters in Demons, Fyodor Dostoevsky's scathing 1872 novel which critiques both nihilism and supine, often complicit, liberalism. The "debate" really is just about how much sadism radical right-wing ideologues think they can get away with.

One of the characters in the novel argues for "a final solution of the question, the division of mankind into two unequal parts. One tenth is granted freedom of person and unlimited rights over the remaining nine tenths. These must lose their person and turn into something like a herd, and in unlimited obedience, through a series of regenerations, attain to primeval innocence, something like the primeval paradise - though, by the way, they will have to work."


To which the other, more pragmatic nihilist counters, "I'd take these nine-tenths of mankind, since there's really nothing to do about them, and blow them sky-high, and leave just a bunch of learned people who would start living happily in an educated way."
“President Obama tried to move us forward with health-care coverage by using a conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by a Republican governor in Massachusetts,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.”
“President Obama tried to move us forward with health-care coverage by using a conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by a Republican governor in Massachusetts,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.”
“President Obama tried to move us forward with health-care coverage by using a conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by a Republican governor in Massachusetts,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.”
“President Obama tried to move us forward with health-care coverage by using a conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by a Republican governor in Massachusetts,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.”
“President Obama tried to move us forward with health-care coverage by using a conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by a Republican governor in Massachusetts,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.”
“President Obama tried to move us forward with health-care coverage by using a conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by a Republican governor in Massachusetts,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.”
“President Obama tried to move us forward with health-care coverage by using a conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by a Republican governor in Massachusetts,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.”
“President Obama tried to move us forward with health-care coverage by using a conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by a Republican governor in Massachusetts,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.”

Sunday, June 25, 2017

What Good Is the Democratic Party?

What good, for that matter, is any political party?

In this country, we have two major oligarchic political parties, otherwise known as the Duopoly. The Republicans, at this moment led by a thuggish reality TV star posing as a populist, devolved into two separate factions early in the regime of Barack Obama. The first group are "moderate" Republicans who aim to reward the rich under as much platitudinous cover of darkness as they can get away with. The second are renegades of the astroturf variety who do the dirty deeds as flamboyantly and as enthusiastically as possible. 

The first squabbling (moderately sadistic) faction aims to rip just enough government-subsidized health care away from just enough people so as to avoid inordinately hurting the obscene profits of private insurers, drug companies and other health profiteers - not to mention their own re-election chances. The other faction, of the Koch/Libertarian persuasion, wants to rip away all the subsidized health care from patients and predators alike. This is because they don't believe that government should be involved in any level of health care at all.

 Members of the first faction exist to give away the whole public store to the rich, who then, legend has it, will create some trickle-down prosperity for those who are mainly white, and work hard, and show proper admiration for the rich. The second faction are members of the so-called Freedom Caucus. They represent the freedom of the rich to ignore the whole trickle-down B.S. altogether and instead enjoy the All Against All spectacular from the freedom of their private islands. Ultimately, the intraparty GOP squabbling is just about the intensity and methods of the sadism. Judiciously placed leather whips, or waterboarding? Quick annihilation, or deferred pain for purposes of re-electing the Good Cop torturers?

On the Democratic side, meanwhile, are the centrists and the progressives. The centrists, known alternately as conserva-dems, Republican-lites and neoliberal New Democrats, also exist to serve the plutocracy while pretending to care more about the Commons than do their reasonable GOP friends across the aisle.  

Slightly less intense and dogmatic than their moderate Republican colleagues, the centrist Dems began forming their own faction way back in the 70s, just as the New Deal and the Great Society first began coming under attack from the extreme right wing.

To avoid the leaching off of their voters to Richard Nixon's racist "Southern Strategy," they tried to out-Republican the Republicans by also bleating out the  message that government is the problem, not the solution. The problem, of course, is that the poor are too selfish.

The centrist Democrats and the "moderate" Republicans have enjoyed varying degrees of success in their cooperative shreddings of the social safety net and their poor people punishings over the decades. While Bill "The Era of Big Government Is Over" Clinton was able to kick millions of poor women off the welfare rolls and send a record number of their mainly Black mates to prison with the help of a then-more reasonable GOP Congress, Barack Obama's own efforts at a similar "Grand Bargain" went down in defeat. The newly-ascendant Freedom Caucus, which gained power in large part because of Democratic coddling of Wall Street, deemed Obama's proffered cuts to Medicare and Social Security not sufficiently cruel.

Now, with the country fallen into a dystopian spiral in the aftermath of the neoliberal austerity reforms which rewarded the rich and punished the poor, it's now the progressive wing of the Democratic Party that's in the "ascendant," battling the We're Not Trump centrists with demands for universal health coverage, a living wage, free higher education, and enhanced Social Security, among other goals.

Notwithstanding the recent "unity tour" conducted by the leadership of these two Democratic factions (Tom Perez and the corporate DNC on one side and Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution on the other) the crack widened into a chasm this past week with the defeat in Georgia of Jon Ossoff, a centrist funded by the DNC establishment to the tune of more than $50 million.

Rahm "Mayor One Percent" Emanuel, who once out-Trumped Trump when as Obama's chief of staff he called the party's progressive base "fucking retarded" for daring to criticize the neoliberal Obama administration, is now belatedly urging his party to generate voter enthusiasm by voicing some concern for the downtrodden as well as for the upper middle class voters whose main source of anxiety is being personally offended by Trump's personality.

But look what happens when they try to ram milquetoast candidates like Ossoff down our throats. The Democratic establishment's buffed and carefully manicured scolding centrist finger has been rendered into an ossified vestige. It's turning into a parody of Rahm.



And that brings me back to my original question: What good is the Democratic Party? (Since it is a truth, almost universally acknowledged, that the Republican Party's own, more wickedly honest purpose is the total destruction of everybody except the oligarchy it represents, we needn't ask the same question of them.)

"The only legitimate reason for preserving anything is its goodness," wrote the late socialist philosopher Simone Weil. "The evils of political parties are all too evident; therefore, the problem that should be examined is this: do they contain enough good to compensate for their evils and make their preservation desirable?"

Let's examine the current agenda of the Democrats. Although the Sanders faction did eventually force the inclusion of some of the most progressive goals in party history into its latest official platform, there is no Democratic leader calling for an end to wars and American imperialism. If endless war and the slaughter and displacement of millions of innocent people are not pure evil, I don't know what is.

So, should the championing of bathroom rights, and limited, subsidized, market-based, and profit-intensive health care for about 20 million out of 50 million uninsured people outweigh or mitigate the evils of pollution-based climate change, joblessness, poverty, mass incarceration, deportations and chronic hunger? Precisely how much death and human collateral damage can a political party orchestrate, fund, or be complicit with, and yet still call itself a force for good rather than a criminal gang?

Since, as Simone Weil notes, one of the main functions of a political party is to generate collective passions, Democrats in the Age of Trump are stuck between a rock and a hard place. How do they counter and surpass Trump's method of transforming collective anxiety about surviving in a cold neoliberal world into a collective hatred of The Other? Since the centrist Democrats' pressure campaign of Russophobia doesn't seem to be working - neither winning them any new elections nor ginning up public enthusiasm for another war or two - they're stuck between the rock of pleasing their struggling voting base and the hard place of placating the wealthy donors who don't want to help the struggling voting base beyond the artificial and stingy parameters of voluntary philanthrocapitalism.

Besides generating collective passions and exerting pressure on voters about what these collective priorities and passions should actually be, the ultimate function of any political party is its own growth, without limit.

It's fairly obvious that it's not only the Democrats' centrist finger of neoliberal fate which is atrophying to the point of getting chopped off. It's their whole body of consultants and other experts for whom more Democrats winning more seats outweighs whatever agenda it is that they're trying to sell. It's worth quoting Simone Weil some more in this regard: 
"In principle, a party is an instrument to serve a certain conception of the public interest. This is true even for parties which represent the interests of one particular social group, for there is always a conception of the public interest according to which the public interest and these particular interests should coincide. Yet this conception is extremely vague.... No man, even if he had conducted advanced research in political studies, would ever be able to provide a clear and precise description of the doctrine of any party, including (should he himself belong to one) his own.... A doctrine cannot be a collective product."
Weil observes that even victorious parties exist in a permanent state of impotence, always claiming that they have insufficient power. Just witness the first two years of the Obama administration. Here was a president swept into office on an overwhelming mandate to effect change for the greater public good, punish the thieves of Wall Street, and end the ill-advised Bush wars of imperialistic aggression. Despite having a majority in both houses of Congress for his first two years, he continued Bush's policies, including international aggression, domestic surveillance on citizens, tax breaks for the rich and the coddling of Wall Street.

 And then the Democratic Party and its media flacks had the chutzpah to inform us that it wasn't Obama who failed us. It was we who failed Obama.

They ignore the fact that when progressives did dare challenge Obama's right-wing policies, they were dismissed by a short middle-fingered vulgarian in language that eerily and chillingly presaged Donald Trump's own Tweets.

As Simone Weil so scathingly writes,
 "Political parties are organizations that are publicly and officially designed for the purpose of killing in all souls the sense of truth and of justice. Collective pressure is exerted upon a wide public by the means of propaganda. The avowed purpose of propaganda is not to impart light, but to persuade. Hitler saw very clearly that the aim of propaganda must always be to enslave minds. All political parties make propaganda. A party that would not do so would disappear, since all its competitors practice it... Political parties do profess, it is true, to educate those who come to them: supporters, young people, new members. But this is a lie: it is not an education, it is a conditioning, a preparation for the far more rigorous ideological control imposed by the party upon its members."
It's no wonder, therefore, that politicians like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders are so despised by party establishments and declared "unelectable" despite their overwhelming popularity. In Bernie's case, the standard criticism is how dare he criticize the Democrats, when he himself is not even a member of the party? Thus do they unwittingly confess, as Weil points out, that "when one joins a political party, one gives up the idea of serving nothing but the public interest and justice."

We need to stop looking for the right political savior in the less offensive political party to save us. We need to all join together and save ourselves. Just as trickle-down prosperity is a cruel myth, so is trickle-down politics.

The water protectors of Standing Rock know this. So do the activists of the Black Lives Matter movement. So do the global climate marchers. So do the people demanding safe public housing. So do the people who were sadistically yanked out of their wheelchairs by police and dragged away for daring to protest the sadism fermenting in the Capitol Dome of Doom.

If we can't shame politicians and their parties into doing the right thing, we can instill fear into them. We can interrupt their town halls, we can inundate them with our phone calls, we can mock them with our satire, we can withhold our votes and our campaign contributions, we can resign our party memberships and disown Groupthink, we can even boycott their rigged elections with our independent campaigns and write-in candidates. Why settle for trickle-down, when there's a whole geyser of human strength and resolve ready, willing and able to explode right back at them?

There's plenty of goodness to go around. You just won't find it in the Uniparty, or what Christopher Hitchens aptly described as "two cosily fused buttocks of the same giant derriere."

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pity the Poor Upper Middle Class

By the time I finished reading the third page of Richard Reeves' Dream Hoarders (Brookings Institution Press, 2017) I realized that I was an interloper. At worst, I felt a bit like a burglar rifling through the silver in a McMansion; at best, I felt like the hired help eavesdropping at a centrist Washington cocktail party That's because the author of this neoliberal cautionary screed makes it abundantly clear right at the outset that I, a widow on a fixed disability income, am definitely far, far outside his target demographic.

But rude upstart that I am, I barged right in.  Somebody had better call the Class Police before this slim volume gets into even more unqualified hands than mine! Seriously though, I did learn a lot of Inside Info, much of it distinctly unflattering to the "American dream-hoarders" of the top quintile. Their enrichment, by about 44 percent over the past half-century, is largely the result of the decline of trade unions, a shift away from full employment, downward pressure on wages from globalization and job outsourcing, and something Reeves calls "skill-biased technological change."

Reeves studiously avoids mention of the class war and class struggles originating from the bottom, and he never mentions the dread phrases "democratic socialism" or "income redistribution". Instead, we learn that "human capital development gaps" begin in the womb, because wealthier, more educated parents are more likely to have planned for a baby from within a distinctly Brave New World-ish framework. The following segment is apparently not parody:
"A couple I know gave a name to the task of raising their daughter successfully: Project Melissa. This began with the vitamins they both took before they even started trying to get pregnant., continued through the educational games of the early years, selection of great K-12 schools, vibrant family dinners, help with homework and college applications, through to helping Melissa land a plum internship. Project Melissa has lasted a quarter of a century (so far); but it started with the care with which she was brought into the world in the first place."
Reeves' stated purpose in writing his book is not so much to champion the struggling and the destitute as it is to warn the "merely rich" that their privilege does have some built-in dangers and social costs. Consider it a friendly reminder to the haute bourgeoisie that without a little more voluntary empathy and a little less conspicuous snobbery,  the rabble will only grow more boisterous. After all, enough of them voted for Donald Trump.
"Trump exuded and validated blue collar culture and was loved for it. His supporters have no problem with the rich. In fact, they admire them. The enemy is upper middle class professionals: journalists, scholars, technocrats, managers, bureaucrats, the people with letters after their names. You and me."
Roughly defining the upper middle class as the top fifth of the population who earn six-figure incomes, Reeves gently admonishes his readers to at least become more "woke." Anything less than solicitous finger-wagging on his part might hurt his book sales, after all. He even mentions that a friend had begged him to hold off on publication last month until his daughter secured an unpaid internship at an organization which his charitable foundation funds.

Aspirational critic of haute bourgeoisie greediness though he may be, Reeves still can't avoid more than a little humble-bragging snobbery of his own. In case you missed the exclusivity message the first time, he keeps reminding you of it at regular intervals. Take this placatory goo for the unduly sensitive:
"As a Brookings senior fellow and a resident of an affluent neighborhood in Montgomery County, Maryland, just outside of DC, I am, after all, writing about my own class. This is not one of those books about inequality that is about other people - either the super-rich or the struggling poor. This is a book about me, and likely, you, too."
I think that might have been my cue to quit reading a book that is above my pay scale and social station. But I forged ahead anyway. It's a very slim volume, and about a quarter of it is footnotes from other neoliberal sources, like the New York Times and the Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation.

So let's get right to it.

The prelude to Reeves' seven-step recovery program for the merely rich is to simply acknowledge that they - oops, I mean you - have an addiction to advantages, and that everyone else is being left behind in the dust. So please do stop your whining, Upper Middles. Just because you're not a plutocrat doesn't mean you're a pauper. After all, $2.7 trillion of the gains since the economic crash went to the 19 percent right below the top 1 percent. You now hold more than half of America's wealth, So stop being so resentful, claiming that the oligarchs are gaining at your sole expense. Believe it or not, there are actually people worse off than you.

It is this strange resentment which the merely rich harbor for the super-rich that makes so many Upper Middles determined that their own children will one day reach the ranks of the plutocracy, if not the actual Forbes 400. Reeves describes the manufacture of a "glass floor" to both shield merely rich kids from downward mobility, and to prevent poorer children from upward mobility. This glass floor/ceiling can take the form of wealthy school districts funded by high property taxes on big houses, private lessons and activities, and the cult of unpaid internships giving richer kids an unfair head start in the job market.

Reeves views this institutionalized privilege as undesirable because after awhile, the less intelligent Upper Middles will end up running things to the ultimate detriment of the Upper Middles as a class. "We have to stop rigging the market in our children's favor," he warns.

Since Mister Meritocratic Market God will remain our Lord and Savior, we can forget about a new New Deal, when neoliberal concern-trolling of the poor can serve as a glossy substitute. Because goodness knows, the poor cannot help themselves, especially since "we" are so averse to legislation guaranteeing a living wage, a universal guaranteed income, and universal guaranteed health care. Privilege has its privileges, and human rights have little or nothing to do with it.

Flitting off into the safe space of the Extreme Center, Reeves suggests seven steps to close the "class gap."

1. Since poor women shouldn't be reproducing themselves so much, give them more contraception. Meanwhile, let the Upper Middles turn marriage into an affluent "child-rearing machine for the knowledge economy." Thus we may avoid what Nobel economist James Heckman has called "the biggest market failure of all: picking the wrong parents."

2. "Invest in" visiting the abodes of the poor in order to lecture them on proper Upper Middle parenting skills. Reeves gives a plug to programs which outfit indigent parents with language pedometers to bring their children's vocabulary up to satisfactory levels and bridge the "word gap."  Besides being demeaning to poor people and an invasion of their privacy, it's been largely discredited, based as it is on a study of only six families.  But maybe Project Melissa can lend a hand.

3. Pay "the best teachers" to work in poorer schools. He doesn't say where, how much, and when. Vagueness suffices; what else is a Post-Truth Society for?

4. Make college funding "more equal." Remember, though, that some animals are more equal than others. Rich people with high IQs tend to marry other rich people with high IQS and thus they tend to have high-IQ children. All the children are at least above average, and some children are more above-average than others. Although, of course, if given the right opportunity, high-IQ poor children can also succeed once given a ladder and a level playing field and an equal head start.

5. Make land use regulation more fair by doing away with "exclusionary zoning" and related tax breaks based solely upon property ownership. This doesn't actually include guaranteed housing, of course, but it is a warning to affluent zoning boards that the rabble is noticing what they're up to.

6. Abolish "legacy admissions" to expensive colleges and universities. Reeves specifically points to Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner who, despite  his "less than stellar" grades and SAT scores, got into Harvard based mainly upon his father's generous donation to the institution.

7. Open up internships to the lower classes by subsidizing a few of the positions.

Sure, there are "price tags" to these trickle-down incremental policies, but the Upper Middles can help. "We" can afford to. The only thing standing in the way is a resistance to recognizing one's own privilege. Do we want to be selectively and minimally generous, or do we want to be downright mean, yanking up all those ladders of opportunity to keep the Lessers out? Do rich liberals really want to come off looking like a watered-down version of the Trump dynasty?

The main thing to worry about is the reputation-salvaging of the "elites" during this perilous time of Trump-inspired resentment. While the Upper Middles are easily ridiculed for such things as the Melissa Project, they should not be mocked for treating child-rearing in terms of the stock market. They are indeed superior parents. After all, they've actually succeeded in turning "parent" into a verb.
"It is easy to parody overzealous affluent 'helicopter' parents shuttling our children from after-school tennis practice to cello lessons to a Chinese tutor. But the truth is that we are doing a lot of things right. High-income parents talk with their school-age children for three hours more per week than low-income parents, according to research by Meredith Phillips of UCLA.
This investment goes well beyond numeracy and literacy. The skills required to ensure upper middle class status are not just 'book smarts' but also social skills, self-regulation, and a wide cultural vocabulary. Oh, and a strong work ethic, too. This is an important point: we are not talking about a leisure class here. Most of us in the upper middle class work very hard indeed, both at our day jobs and also at our evening and weekend job of cultivating our children's life chances."
Methinks Reeves might be protesting a bit too much here, not least because he never explores in his book why poorer parents allegedly don't spend as much time with their children. He doesn't mention that too many moms and dads have to work several low-wage jobs or "gigs" simply to make ends barely meet. Many are just too dog-tired and stressed out to have sparkling dinnertime conversations with their offspring. Many are too cash-strapped to even buy, cook and serve decent, regular meals. At least a fifth of all American children are considered food-insecure, with lack of nourishment a prime cause for their failure to learn. Level playing fields are the least of their problems.

Still, Reeves plods on, alternating between pretend-scolding his cohort and defending them. Although he and his fellow Upper Middle dads absolutely adore the hit TV series Mad Men, for example,"we don't come home to drink a cocktail, we come home to help with the homework: to Mandarin, rather than to a martini."

Well, good for him.

No wonder that Reeves includes those subtle yet implicit "may not be suitable for all readers" warnings at the beginning of his book. Not only is parent now a verb, but you can only be a successful parenting unit if you're proficient enough in Mandarin to help your kid with it.

If his class really were that virtuous, of course, Reeves never would have needed to publish his book in the first place. But I'll give him credit where due: he does at one point chide the parents in his own wealthy school district for some pretty grotesque selfishness:
"Suggestions a few years ago from our local school board members that parental contributions should be pooled so that resources could be channeled to those most in need were met with a combination of incredulity and fury. And this is a liberal area."
He is careful to somewhat disown Randian writer Charles "The Bell Curve" Murray, while agreeing with him that the merely rich merely should consume less conspicuously and develop better moral sermonizing skills in order to keep themselves secure in their class niche and the lower orders in theirs. But Reeves boldly brings it up one meager virtue-signalling notch:
In fact, Murray explicitly says, 'I am not suggesting that they should sacrifice their self interest'. I (Reeves) am suggesting that we should, just a little.
That is also the agenda of the Democratic Party, of which the Brookings Institution is an integral, policy-making part. Rather than the "fierce urgency of now," the Upper Middles are merely advised to press the pause bottom, and reflect upon a further bare minimum of cosmetic sharing in order to keep the neoliberal idea (and the Democratic Party serving it) surviving against all odds.

Meanwhile, there's still the inconvenient bottom 80 percent of us.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Put the Politeness Back in Predation

The political/media complex were making another spectacle of scratching their groupthink heads today. In one of those periodic discussions about why people are getting so damned irate and uncivil, they're appalled that "it" has now even escalated to the point of anti-VIP violence in a bipartisan baseball field. It's the tone, it's the divisiveness, it's the un-American way! The pat solution, once again, is for the millionaires of Congress to learn to get along. And then we proles would automatically follow our leaders' high moral example, and we could all get along too.

What they don't admit is that the Uniparty absolutely does already get along when it comes to funding the wars, rewarding the wealthy, and preying upon the vulnerable. The dreaded Gridlock they love to bitch about is mainly a scam for them to get donations and lobbying cash.

Meanwhile, there was this inconvenient spanner in their propaganda works from the New York Times' Gretchen Morgenson:
Even as Wells Fargo was reeling from a major scandal in its consumer bank last year, officials in the company’s mortgage business were putting through unauthorized changes to home loans held by customers in bankruptcy, a new class action and other lawsuits contend.
The changes, which surprised the customers, typically lowered their monthly loan payments, which would seem to benefit borrowers, particularly those in bankruptcy. But deep in the details was this fact: Wells Fargo’s changes would extend the terms of borrowers’ loans by decades, meaning they would have monthly payments for far longer and would ultimately owe the bank much more.
Just in case you were still wondering why Congress and the Security State are also so united and so hell-bent on fingering Donald Trump for "collusion with Russia to meddle in our elections," it's to deflect attention from the series of fresh hells they're creating for ordinary people at a near-constant clip. Politicians from both sides of the Uniparty have bent over backwards to protect Wells Fargo and other TBTFs. Because without the tycoons to fund their campaigns and write their laws, where would they be in the intervals not devoted to calling for unity and civility and solidarity among thieves? If they were to go after Trump for his real crimes and misdemeanors  - garden variety fraud and larceny going back for whole generations - then they would also have to implicate themselves. The unpleasant truth would definitely out.

Trump has been taking advantage of this protection racket for years. He and the political establishment have been partying hearty in a decades-long orgy of mutual greed. Their lobbyists write the tax and bankruptcy laws benefiting only the wealthy. Nobody has any qualms about preying on the most vulnerable people. As Jared Kushner bragged recently about his slumlord enterprise, the poor and the struggling and the bankrupt are considered a very lucrative "asset class" for the Predatory Industrial Complex.

The poor always have to pay their debts to the rich. It's the law. It's legal. It's desirable. It's painful, but there is no alternative. If you think otherwise, then you're a unicorn fetishist, or even worse, a Bernie Bro or a Deplorable. And you are definitely a convenient scapegoat.

In its latest guilt-by-association attack on the left, the New York Times tried to counterbalance the fact-based article by Morgenson with yet another smear job (h/t Jay-Ottawa) on Bernie Sanders supporters. Progressives allegedly face a day of reckoning because Wednesday's assault on the VIP ballers was committed by a former Sanders volunteer.

Nina Turner, the prominent Bernie campaign surrogate, quickly and unfortunately caved under this accusation, obsequiously telling the Times' Yamiche Alcindor: "Both sides need to look in the mirror. We have to decide what kind of language we are going to use in our political discourse."

So calm the hell down and look over there, TV audiences of America!  Stand politely united as we catch the Trump family canoodling with the Russian ambassador and the same Russian oligarchs who robbed their own country blind before they were permitted by the American ruling class to quasi-legally launder billions in stolen loot in American luxury real estate -- with much assistance from the TBTF banks. Donald Trump might well be considered a TBTF bank in his own right. He knows how to play the leverage game to the bombastic hilt. If his head ever rolled for the right, fact-based reasons, then so would a lot of other heads. This must not be permitted to happen.

And it probably explains why Senate Democratic leaders are acting so curiously sanguine about their GOP colleagues destroying Medicaid in a secret rampage of sadism. As long as the Republicans are agreeing to play along with their RussiaGate charade, it simply makes no sense for Democrats to "fight back against" the AHCA when they'd only succeed in delaying a vote by a couple of weeks anyway. This nefarious wheeling and dealing is criminal collusion - euphemised by them as collegiality and solidarity and unity - at the very highest levels.

And still, they pretend to marvel that ordinary people are becoming so irate and so uncivil. They still pretend to wonder why they get the occasional death threat on their Facebook pages.

Pretending is what they do. How else could they ever live with themselves?
 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

American Tragedies

My thoughts go out today to wounded Majority Whip Steve Scalise.

The House leader's life was saved not only by his heavily armed security detail, who killed the alleged shooter, but by some of the physicians who have given up practicing medicine in order to practice nihilistic politics. Who knew that among the reactionaries who'd gathered to practice their baseball skills were medical doctors whose version of the Hippocratic Oath is first, do no harm by withholding medical care from as many poor people as possible?

As Donald Trump initially Tweeted in reaction, today's event was a true American tragedy, ostensibly because a manly GOP man was wounded right in the hip. In keeping with solemn presidential tradition, Trump added the obligatory prayers to what passes for his thoughts.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans, under cover of darkness, were busily trying to make life worse for ordinary Americans by throwing some 20 million of them off their market-based health care and plotting the morbidity and mortality of tens of millions more through the vicious gutting of Medicaid. The only point of contention among them is whether to kill poor and elderly people slowly and mercilessly, or quickly and mercilessly.

As Axios reports, they're refusing to release a draft of their death panel legislation because they're not stupid. It would be "premature" of them to warn people that they can now expect to die even more prematurely than they already are.

Meanwhile, Steve Scalise was said to be in "good spirits" as he prepared to undergo surgery. And why wouldn't he be? Not only was he blissing out on I.V. painkillers, he will likely never even have to look at a hospital bill.

Meanwhile, the Democrats still seem more interested in searching for the ephemeral "smoking gun" in #RussiaGate than they are in speaking up for some actual gun control and agitating for some actual single payer health insurance.

 But several of them did gather on their own baseball practice field to pray for the cameras.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Desperate Dollar Democrats

Russophobia and Hillary Clinton's blame game tour must be losing a little steam, because the anti-Bernie Sanders concern trolls are back. Too many people are still Sanders supporters, and that's making the party leadership a tad nervous.

So the New York Times has been performing its own due diligence with several prominent articles in recent days gently "raising questions" about the legitimacy, if not the basic sanity, of the Bernie faction. On Sunday, the newspaper groused on its front page that Democratic "militants" are making it so hard for the Wall Street faction to achieve the real goal: winning. The Times version of a Democratic militant is somebody who is crazily demanding health care for everybody.

In effect, that makes the majority of the United States one big pitchfork-wielding mob, given that eight in 10 Democrats want single payer insurance, and three out of 10 Republicans do. Therefore, "hippie-punching" is being elevated to a whole new level by the increasingly desperate Neoliberal Thought Collective of which the Times is such a faithful mouthpiece.

As Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin inform their readers:
 Democrats are facing a widening breach in their party, as liberal activists dream of transforming the health care system and impeaching President Trump, while candidates in hard-fought elections ask wary voters merely for a fresh chance at governing.
The growing tension between the party’s ascendant militant wing and Democrats competing in conservative-leaning terrain, was on vivid, split-screen display over the weekend. In Chicago, Senator Bernie Sanders led a revival-style meeting of his progressive devotees, while in Atlanta, Democrats made a final push to seize a traditionally Republican congressional district.
All that centrist Democrats are saying to voters is, please, give the superior knowledge class of the plutocracy one more chance to do right by you. All they want is to govern you as responsibly, as freshly as a sprig of plastic-wrapped mint. The Berniecrats, on the other hand, are just a ragtag bunch of tent revival militants smoking a lesser herb. Sound familiar?

Since that particular article didn't go over so well within the reader commentariat, the Times has now proceeded to play the age card. "Is Sanders, At 75, Too Old for 2020? His Fiercest Fans Say No" is the headline of the piece written by Yamiche Alcindor.

This headline contains two implicit messages: yes, of course Bernie is too old, you dolts! And you progressives who agree with his policies can't possibly be serious, mature voters. You are "fierce fans" who operate with your emotions rather than with your rational minds and your own agency. You see Bernie not as a politician in a representative oligarchy, but as a Mick Jagger-type rock star in a democracy who will instantaneously grant your most whimsical wishes.
With their idol turning 79 in 2020, some fans of Senator Bernie Sanders who had gathered for the second annual People’s Summit were thinking wistfully about the next progressive hero who could take the presidential baton: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts might make a good next leader, though she at times appears too cautious.
The subliminal message: you're smoking way too much hash. Grow the hell up.

The Times did not mention that many Sanders supporters have increasingly been urging him to forget about reforming the Democratic Party from within, and instead help them form a brand new party. But as Sanders explains to Nina Turner in this Real News Network interview, he is still taking a wait and see approach. He's actually acting pretty cautiously and conservatively for such a "radical" politician.




Here's my published comment on Alcindor's story:
 In general, all politicians on the national stage are "too old." And too rich, and too esconced in near-permanent power to have any earthly idea how their putative constituents are struggling just to get by.

The divide between the centrist Democrats and the more progressive Sanders faction has as much to do with class and ideology as it does with age. And given that the rich are living longer, chronological age becomes moot. When you're a multimillionaire member of the Senate, for example, you have all the affordable health care you could possibly want.

The average age of the Democratic House leadership is 72. Unfortunately for us, the GOP leaders in that body are slashing the social safety net with youthful abandon: they're in the prime of their misbegotten lives, averaging out at just 42 years of age.

Eighteen of the 33 Senators running for re-election in 2018 will be 65 or older.

Even Elizabeth Warren will be close to 70 should she choose to seek her party's presidential nomination. In order for younger people to succeed at electoral politics, we have to get the money out. We should also impose term limits on congress critters, so that younger, poorer candidates have a fighting chance to get elected locally and then eventually run for president before their Medicare kicks in.
Down with the Oldigarchy.

http://blog.quorum.us/the-115th-congress-is-among-the-oldest-in-history-1

(Incidentally, the Times just announced that it has radically changed its commenting system. No more pre-publication human moderation, no more waiting for your remarks to be printed, no more preference given to elite green check commentators: a Google algorithm shall set you free, and most articles will now be open to comments. An explanation, of sorts, is here).

Saturday, June 10, 2017

People's Summit

The Real News Network is broadcasting a livestream of this weekend's People's Summit. You can watch it here.

Bernie Sanders was scheduled to be the keynote speaker tonight.

Update -- Bernie's entire speech:

 

Jeremy Corbyn's unexpected, de facto victory in the U.K.'s snap election has given added impetus and new optimism to stateside lefties, to say the least. The Guardian reports,
Bernie Sanders was among those to praise Labour’s result, saying it showed “people are rising up against austerity and massive levels of income and wealth inequality,” while left-leaning members of Congress said the victory would have major implications for the future of Democrats.
The question of course remains whether the "Democrats"  will also go enthusiastically left, embracing such programs as Medicare for All, or whether they will continue indulging their obsessive-compulsive Russophobic Disorder to their own ultimate detriment.