Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Republican love for the poor

I had a discussion with some conservative relatives recently that got me thinking.  I asked if they supported Trump's tax cut for the rich that would kick millions of people off their health care plans.  Is that what our country needs right now?  Give people making over $250K a tax cut and kick 20 million people off of health care?  Seems obviously terrible.

"Well, they aren't being kicked off.  They are choosing to not buy insurance.  They now have a choice that they didn't have before.  Before they were forced to buy insurance they didn't want.  Now they can spend money as they choose."

You see how brilliant these conservative think tanks are?  That's probably where this argument originated.  From there to Fox News, to my brother's head.  The think tanks get paid to craft arguments.  Arguments that advance the agenda of the rich.  This is the kind of stuff they come up with.  The rich want tax cuts.  How to make this palatable to the public that doesn't think this is a good idea?  Pretend it is our concern for the poor that drives us.  We only want these poor people who can't afford health insurance to have the choice of not buying it.

I realize that this is a strategy you get over and over.  You know why we shouldn't raise the minimum wage?  It will hurt the poor.  The first person to lose his job when minimum wage goes up is the person with the least amount of skills.  Probably the poorest person.

Isn't it strange that poor people advocacy groups don't advance arguments like this?  They're always flowing from the right wing think tanks whose goal is to advance the arguments of their wealthy backers, like the Koch brothers.

I asked my brother to think this through with regards to health care.  Families making less than $25K get full medical coverage for free right now under Obama Care (if they are in a state that accepted Medicaid expansion).  These people are obviously not better off when you take away their subsidy and they lose health coverage.  People that make between $25K and $60K get a subsidy that phases out the closer you get to $60K.  So people making $30K or $35K are getting a significant subsidy.  We're taking away that subsidy to make the tax cuts for the rich possible.  We're doing this because we're concerned about the poor rather than the rich?

"Yes.  When you take away a person's subsidy this motivates them to stand on their own two feet and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps."

Grrrr.  Again, isn't it strange that Oxfam or other anti-poverty groups do not advance arguments like this (to my knowledge).  They don't say "When can we strip the poor of Medicaid so we can finally see some improvement in their lives."  It's the institutions representing the interests of the rich that advance these arguments.

And it's a common strategy.  We need fewer environmental protections.  Removing regulations will cause the economy to blossom, providing jobs desperately needed by the poor.  We need to invade Iraq to relieve the suffering of the poor, oppressed Iraqi people.  Wealth trickles down.  Tax cuts for the rich, like a reduction in environmental protections, is a shot in the arm for business and will allow them to hire more people.  It's a mere happenstance that my wealthy backers from the coal industry don't want us to pursue reductions in fossil fuel emissions.  What I'm really concerned with is the poor miners in West Virginia.

One thing we know about our government generally is that it is not responsive to the concerns of the non-wealthy.  They justify their policy positions by pretending they do it all for the common man, the poor man.  It's total crap.  What's frustrating is that many common men buy it.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Bryan Caplan Podcast Thoughts

So HP, I thought I'd share some thoughts on this podcast you recommended.

Wow, these guys are smug.  And I don't think you are ashamed to say that it rubs off on you.  But man, it's tough to take because to me their ideas are so terrible.  It's ignorance combined with arrogance.  A bad combination.

I was struck in the early part with this contrast.  "YOU are the best arbiter of how your money should be spent, YOU are the better judge as opposed to government."  YOU are super smart and we don't want the government to get in your way.  Later we'd learn that people are pretty smart in signing away their right to sue a corporation and agreeing to settle disputes as dictated by corporate sponsored arbiters.  People are really good judges of whether or not they should acquire health insurance.  I guess people are really good at predicting if they might slip and fall somehow, or maybe develop an infection that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat.  People are super smart.

But then what do you think about the general population?  What's their general understanding of matters like this?  Yuck, yuck, people are so STOOPID.  OK, so people are really wise when it comes to signing away their rights, balancing risk vs cost, etc.  Generally though people are really stupid when it comes to matters related to this.  In fact Caplan wrote a whole book about how people are stupid.  So let's have a free market where concentrated corporate power on one side comes to terms with individual stupid people on the other without any checks by an entity like a government.  Doesn't that seem like a strange conclusion?

I found it interesting that Rubin subscribes to this myth of the besieged conservative professor on campus, how it's overrun with liberal hordes that must terrorize someone like Caplan, and Caplan had to burst that bubble based on his experiences.  No problems.  In fact economics departments are dominated by conservatives all over the country, not just at George Mason, and it's not much of a problem.  This is part of the side benefit of removing public funding from schools.  It allows right wingers to shower universities with money so they hire the kind of people the corporate world prefers.  Among the conditions of acceptance of money at Florida State from the Koch brothers was:
Teachings must align with the libertarian economic philosophy of Charles Koch, the Charles Koch Foundation would maintain partial control over faculty hiring and the chairman of the school’s economics department—a prominent economic theorist—must stay in place for another three years despite his plans to step down.

It's tough for libertarians to win when the university is publicly funded because if the amount of money coming in doesn't depend on whether the conclusion is what the funder wants to hear the conclusion might as well be based on the evidence.

What do you think of this discussion on policing?  Police departments should be privatized and paid for by the local community.  Rubin asks a good question.  Wouldn't this mean that rich areas, like Beverly Hills, would have a robust police force, even though they have less need for these services, and poorer places will lack police forces even though they need them more?  Caplan's response:  "Well, they just have to make it a priority if they need it and just come up with the money."  This to me is the frustrating thing about libertatarians.  What about the real world?  They do not have the money.  In reality the resources are sent where they are not needed.  Are you concerned?  He doesn't seem to care.  And for me that's a general critique of capitalism.  The resources go where they are not needed.  It's super inefficient.

Or health care.  We're the richest country in the world.  Other first world nations cover all their people with care that the people are generally happy with, and they do it at about half the price.  There was no mention of that fact.  Instead he offers no government support for ordinary poor people.  If they break their leg, tough luck.  Hope charity can help you resolve it.  Rubin asks another great question, but unfortunately when Caplan ignored the question Rubin didn't push him.  Has any place in the real world had charity step in when government help was removed?  Caplan talks a lot but doesn't answer.  He's going to implement a solution that has never worked.  He'd have real people with broken legs and easily treated infections walking around without help and he'd say "tough luck."  Not for him of course with his good salary and benefits, just for the poor.  In the world's richest country where a few crazy rich people have mountains of wealth that they could hardly spend if they tried.  This bizarre lack of empathy is really psychotic.  His priorities are to get tax cuts into the hands of the rich, like the heirs to the Walton fortune.  This is the greater good for him I guess.

Another laughable concept is his idea to pay everyone to take a civics test every year and you get $100.  "How would that be funded?"  He has no idea.  Who would profit from that?  Nobody.  There's nothing preventing that from happening today via charity, but it isn't happening.  This guy is a professor?  I get that he was just saying this is a better way than the current way, but it's interesting to note that on his system this would not happen.

Here's another thing that seems strange to me.  A professor should never call himself an "anarcho-capitalist".  Capitalism is the opposite of anarchy.  As a professor you should know what anarchy is and how it is capitalism's opposite, and how it has been aggressively opposed to capitalism for it's entire history.  It means without hierarchy.  Go to the sweat shops that Caplan probably likes so much and tell the young girls forced to perform sexual favors for the boss how they are the boss's equal and are not the boss's subordinates.  Subordination is hierarchy, not anarchy.

It's a similar story for the world "libertarian".  This was a word that was long identified with leftists.  Now it means someone that somehow sees property rights as some sort of foundational principle, how rich people should continue to acquire wealth from the labor of others.  Rothbard bragged of co-opting the word from leftists.  Businesses are tyrannies.  If you like more power for tyrannical institutions that's fine, but don't call it liberty.  I saw a somewhat good video on this circulating Facebook, here if you missed it.

It's cool that he's a pacifist, but this is another one of those "Who cares about the real world" views.  Capitalism is why we have wars.  Capitalists want access/control of cheap resources and labor.  They do what they can do get access in a peaceful way, but when that fails they will just go to war.  It is property rights that drive war.  So he can be pacifist all he wants, but what he's advocating is the foundation of war in our world.  Did you ever read "Confessions of an Economic Hitman"?  You should, but I know you're busy, so maybe watch this video.  We are at war all over the world because of the needs of the most powerful economic interests in this country, and Caplan wants to strengthen these players.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Post Election Thoughts

I can't say I saw this coming.  I thought it was possible, as anybody did.  I knew Hillary is not an appealing figure.  She doesn't generate a lot of enthusiasm.  But at the end of the day I figured since all of the money and all of the power was behind her the rich wouldn't let her lose.  Even if they had to cheat.  It would seem our elections are fair.

I was planning to vote for Stein, but as Michigan tightened I decided to go for Hillary.  I thought it was pretty important that Trump not win, so if you are in a swing state you have to consider that.  We are at a critical point on the environment, or maybe we're beyond critical.  Yet Trump said he'd cancel the Paris climate agreement.  He wants more coal.  He'll likely ram through the Dakota access pipeline.  He's for the Keystone pipeline.

I said in 2012 that I think scientists understate the severity of the problem we face.  Unfortunately I think what we're seeing with Arctic ice, with glaciers, with global temperatures records, is bearing that out.  We're already heading towards the cliff.  The Paris agreement isn't going to prevent massive suffering, but it may buy us enough time to provide some mitigation.  Trump pledges to block even these modest measures.

The future seems pretty grim.  Along the way to climate disaster Trump has some other painful items in store.  Remember the debt ceiling battles of the past?  The sticking point for Republicans is they wanted to end Medicare.  Make no mistake about it.  They'll say "privatize Medicare" as if Medicare would still exist.  Medicare is a single payer health care system for the elderly.  You privatize it and it's no longer Medicare.  They'll provide vouchers, but not at the federal level as the federal government has enough clout to push back against corporate profit gouging patients and denying them coverage.  You send block grant money to the states, who are very easy to push around.  Profits will go through the roof, money spent on actual care will decline.  Your death panels will have arrived.

Trump wants to scale back the EPA.  Clean air and clean water will then be less regulated.  Apparently he trusts the "free markets" to take care of it.  Now when your kids start having poor brain function you won't know why.  Republicans have long wanted to reduce funding to NASA, as NASA data makes us aware of global warming.  Trump could help them succeed.  It's not enough that they do damage to the planet.  They want to make sure we lack knowledge about the details of the damage.

Obviously repealing Obama Care on day 1, as Trump has promised, is going to be a disaster for millions of Americans that now do have health care they would otherwise lack.

On the flip side some have argued that this is for the best.  With Hillary you're on a disastrous climate path, but you also have a progressive movement lulled to sleep under the delusion that we have someone on our side as President.  It was Obama trying to ram through TPP.  He's the one that has locked in the surveillance state and rescinded habeas corpus.  These are tools now being handed off to an authoritarian, as real progressives warned they would be eventually.  Maybe this galvinization of the left creates space for a true progressive movement, one that brings about the real, urgent change that can no longer be delayed.  That may happen.  If it doesn't Nov 8 could go down as the most important date in human history, the day we sealed our fate.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Why Such a Close Election?

The latest polling at realclearpolitics has Trump down to Clinton by 6.7 points.  If the election were today Trump might win 20 states.

Mondale won 1 state and lost to Reagan by 18 points.  Dukakis lost to Bush by almost 8 points and won 10 states.  Does this make sense?

I don't think it's especially controversial to say that Trump is the worst human being and candidate that has been nominated for President in my lifetime, at least in terms of his moral character and temperament.  I think it's pretty obvious he's incompetent, but some might debate that.  On the issues opinions will differ.  Overall on non-issue related categories he's unbelievably bad.

It truly seems unreal to me.  You have the genital grabbing, the inappropriate talk towards 10 year old girls, saying his accusers aren't attractive enough to be groped, admission of imposing himself on naked teenagers in a dressing room.  Hillary is running against a true monster.  A dangerous abusive sexual predator that should be locked up to protect women.

And yet he's doing better than Mondale, Dukakis, or McGovern.  He's going to win more than one state, which is more than some nominees could say.  How is he doing so well?

I think Democrats should think about this question right now.  If they can't put away a candidate like this, what does that say about them?

In my discussions with Trump supporters and in my own mind I can think of several reasons Trump gets this level of support.

1-Some just feel that strongly about the issues.  Abortion is one.  True, Trump may not be genuinely pro-life.  He probably doesn't even care about the issue.  But he'll nominate a pro-life Supreme Court justice anyway.  At least to please the base.  Hillary of course will not do that.  Some people continue to believe in trickle down economics.  He will cut taxes for corporations and wealthy people and a lot of people continue to believe this is how you improve an economy.  A lot of people think illegal immigration is a serious threat to their life and livelihood.

Progressives should think about it this way.  What if our candidate was the sexual predator?  What if we nominated Bill Clinton and the worst said of Clinton and his treatment of women was true?  But his opponent thought climate change was a liberal conspiracy, wanted to torture the children of terrorists, wanted to cut taxes for the wealthy, wanted to strengthen rulings like Citizen United to maintain the corporate control of government?  I'd probably vote for Clinton anyway.  I wouldn't degrade myself as Trump's supporters are doing and make excuses for the behavior (it's just locker room talk, people talk like this all the time, he's telling the truth now even though we have audio of him saying the opposite, he asked for forgiveness so we should let it go).  I would own it and just say the issues are too important.

2-Hillary is this bad of a candidate.  I don't think she's the monster she's portrayed to be.  But she is an insider.  So was Obama.  That doesn't have to mean she's a terrible person.  She might have simply concluded that there's no way to win without the support of billionaires, so you have to do their bidding to some degree or lose forever.  That may be what she and Obama concluded.  On the other hand they may genuinely be insiders that care more for the interests of the wealthy than ordinary people.  Regardless of what they think deep down they actually do the bidding of the wealthy first.  They do not punish bankers.  They do push trade deals the billionaires want.  Their tax increases on the wealthy are half measures.  Not even.  They have sustained for-profit health care, which is killing thousands of Americans every year.  They do it because the owners want it.  They go to war for reasons that have nothing to do with our national security, but really either the security of Israel or for the interests of money.  People are sick of this.  I know a Muslim that intends to vote for Trump and he says "I know Trump hates me and people of my religion, but I'm sick of the corrupt insider government we have here."  That's how tired people are of the cesspool Washington has become.

3-Citizens United.  Some billionaires want their tax cuts and regulation cuts, so they will pump money into elections to help Trump win.  This is part of the reason Hillary can't put Trump away.

4-Some people are really racist and misogynistic.  They don't even mind the revelations.

Personally there is one major issue that causes my support for Hillary to be very tepid.  I think she could provoke a nuclear war.  Russia is taking steps that indicate they fear this outcome.  Hillary is such a committed hawk, such a committed apologist for Israel's aims, that she's risking a nuclear confrontation.  Trump talks about getting along with Putin.  I think he's quite right about that.  We are the ones arming what was Al Qaeda in Syria.  We have played a critical role in provoking the devastation in Syria, which is all the more reason I think Americans have an obligation to help the refugees.  Sexual harassment is terrible.  But nuclear war is worse.  So there are going to be some on the left that might prefer Trump despite his unbelievable behavior towards women.  I'm not saying I'm in that camp.  I think Trump is even more dangerous with nukes at his disposal than Hillary.  But there are reasons Hillary is not trouncing him right now, and some reasons have merit in my view.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Marxist Business Consulting

What would you say you do?  Apparently the women in red is Ayn Rand.

In case you don't know the movie scene this references, it's here.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Election Thoughts

It's been kind of fun over the last few months fantasizing about Bernie actually winning the Democratic nomination.  Really it's like thinking about winning the lottery.  Not gonna happen, but indulging the fantasy is enjoyable sometimes.  But Jill Stein I think captured it well back in December.  There's just no way the Democratic establishment and the DNC are going to let that happen.

The DNC has certainly been in Hillary's corner, but I'm not sure it would have changed anything if they had been neutral.  Hillary gets plenty of corporate media support and that probably would have been enough.  Paul Krugman, Rachel Maddow, and other supposed liberal commentators I think would have gotten it done.  For Ellen Degeneres Hillary is the ONLY candidate running that has stood for equal rights for everyone (even though Hillary was against gay marriage and said so on Ellen's show in 2007 which could be contrasted with Bernie's record).  Here's Joy Behar on The View.  Bernie, why are you still harping on this Iraq war thing?  What's the big deal?  That reminded me of a question put to Lincoln Chafee about Hillary's Iraq war vote.  She said she was sorry.  Why isn't that good enough?  This is the way the corporate media frames these debates.

So it's Hillary for the D's even though every poll I've seen shows Bernie has a better chance of beating Trump.  And of course it could get even worse for Hillary as a recommendation to indict from the FBI could come at any moment.  That's how strong the oligarchy is.  The D's will put up a very weak candidate against Trump, and he is an extremely dangerous character.  We really could end up with a Trump presidency, which I think most establishment people understand is extremely risky.  But Bernie has this hostility to bankers and a desire to bring medical care to ordinary people at the expense of corporate profit.  This is unacceptable.  Profit is more important than keeping Trump away from the nuclear codes.

Hillary's email shenanigans would certainly be a serious problem for an ordinary person, but she's powerful so rules tend to not apply.  I don't see that her recklessness in securing secret and top secret information will be a problem for her.  What could be a problem though is other information that is revealed in the emails FBI investigators are reviewing.  It seems Hillary thought in establishing a private server she was going to prevent the world from seeing what she was up to.  Who knows what crimes she might discuss when she assumes nobody will see.  My feeling is there is something major there and the FBI is going to recommend an indictment.

It's not unlike the Whitewater investigation.  The accusations are the kind of thing that would be a big deal for an ordinary person, but not necessarily a powerful person.  While Whitewater itself didn't damage the Clintons the information revealed as a result of the Whitewater investigation did.  The same could happen here.

Whether the justice department actually follows through of course depends on the severity of the crime, the strength of the evidence, and the power of the Clinton's within the Democratic establishment.  But what I see from the D's is regardless of what happens they are going to go forward with a very unlikeable Hillary Clinton who is further wounded by this whole email problem.

The outcome seems bad no matter which way you slice it.  Trump could win.  Or alternatively Hillary could win despite everything.  People either decide her crimes don't matter or Trump is too dangerous.  Imagine what the midterms will look like for the Democrats with Hillary as president.  Liberals have a hard enough time getting out the vote under the relatively likeable Obama.  2018 could be a crazy Republican sweep.  We get another decade of gerrymandered districts as before among other problems.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Why Power Hates Unions

I'm really just posting this image because I saw it a long time ago and later couldn't find it when I wanted to show someone.


But what the hell, let me just say a couple of words about the arguments you hear against unions all the time.

"Unions are corrupt!!"

All powerful organizations have corruption problems.  Corporations, government.  Why are unions so often singled out in this way?  The image above I think explains it.  But on the plus side unions are democratic.  So there is at least a check on corruption.  Corporations are tyrannies and governments often get captured and controlled by tyrannical corporations.  So corruption in these cases can be more difficult to deal with.

"I know a lazy guy that should have been fired but the union protected him."

When you aren't a slave and you have some power sometimes you do things that aren't great because you can.  This is not perfect, but the alternative is worse.

It's like a parent and child.  In most healthy families sometimes children act up.  Sometimes they don't do what they should.  They get away with it because their parents love them and aren't going to crush them.

Unhealthy families can be different.  For some families the children fear their parents and almost never disobey.  When they go to church and all are at strict attention, never acting out, one might look at that and think it is admirable.  But maybe it isn't.  Maybe it's better when there is a little more balance, a little more equality in the power relation.  The price of that equality is the children don't always do as they are told.  They don't always do the right thing.  But it's better this way.  It's worth the price.

Salary negotiations should be left to the free market.  That's why I oppose the fight for $15.  You should only make $15 if you can command that salary based on market demands for your skill set.

Organizing and fighting for $15 is a free market activity.  When Walmart wants to get a good price on paper towels they consolidate their purchasing power.  Workers are doing the same.  They are consolidating their labor in order to negotiate the best labor rate they can get.  If it's good enough for Walmart it should be good enough for workers.