Tag Archives: Bernie Sanders

Sucks to be Tom Friedman

FriedmanIt must suck to be Tom Friedman right now.

Mr. Friedman is clearly wigging out, and I think I understand why. He recently wrote an NYT Op Ed in which he railed against the extremist positions of the current Democrat candidates (see here).  In it, he grossly misrepresented their positions in ways that surely he knows rise to the level of outright lies and he resorted to wildly exaggerated “end of the world” ravings about the dangers they pose.

But think of it from his perspective. Thomas Friedman has made a huge name for himself as a leading champion of radical centrism (see here). So for him, the current times are an existential threat. For him, it must be viscerally tribal. That was apparent when he appeared on Lawrence O’Donnell to discuss his article. He seemed panicked and frustrated and angry and defensive. In short, he seemed to be speaking from a place not of intellectual authority, but of gut-level lash-out emotion.

I suspect he is in this berserker frenzy because his radical centrist worldview, his tribe, is under serious attack for perhaps the first time in his long occupation of the middle ground. He has seen Donald Trump defy his radical centrist prescription for success on the Right and winning. He also sees the Progressive Left winning a lot of hearts and minds with their left-of-center ambitions. He sees that Joe Biden, the current flag-bearer of radical centrism, may not win the day. And most of all, he fears deep down that radical centrism is no longer a tenable position, suggesting that maybe it never was.

If non-centrist newcomers and their “radical” ideas continue to take hold and show success, that threatens the very foundations of radical centrism. The success of a progressive agenda would undermine a lifetime of preaching for moderation. He cannot allow his entire career, his very faith in radical centrism, to collapse around him.

So he lashes out.

And it is not just Tom Friedman, but also the many newscasters and pundits and politicians who are emotionally married to the radical middle. They cannot allow the Progressive Left to ascend. So they dismiss Elizabeth Warren as too ambitious, they call the Squad naive, and they label Bernie Sanders as a Socialist at every opportunity. They rush in quickly to defend Capitalism and all the tenants of centrism including incremental change and pragmatism and realism.

In his famous letter from the Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King identified “well-meaning moderates” as the most frustrating obstacles to meaningful change (see here). Similarly today, we still have a huge number of radical centrists like Tom Friedman who insist that it is too early, that we are asking too much, and that we should just be patient. They use any manipulation to make you feel afraid of any course other than radical moderation.

Unfortunately the planet Earth will not show us any further patience. Fortunately, more and more leaders are stepping up and refusing to defer to the evangelists of radical centrism like Thomas Friedman. More and more refuse to accept the artificial limits these “pragmatists” impose on what dreams we are allowed to dream and what bold new solutions we are allowed to embrace.

Personally, I hold no animus toward Thomas Friedman or all those passionate devotees of the radical middle, but I hope their worldview is discredited and crumbles beneath their feet. If not, the best we can hope for is too little too late.

 

Is it finally safe to discuss Socialism?

smaug

May I ask, oh great and powerful Smaug, when thy gold will begin to trickle down upon us?

I was once at a high school party where the prolonged silence became painfully awkward and uncomfortable. Suddenly one precocious girl blurted out, “So, what do you all think about premarital sex?” Just like that, the party got lively with everyone talking about a wide range of topics.

Sometimes all it takes is one person to break the ice and make it acceptable to discuss what were previously taboo topics. Bill Maher made it allowable to talk openly about atheism, and Bernie Sanders made it acceptable to speak honestly about Socialism.

But this new open talk of Socialism frightens a lot of people, especially older people and rich people – and older rich people most of all. To them, and most Americans, Capitalism is tantamount to a religion that requires unwavering faith despite any evidence to the contrary. Therefore, it is not surprising that they spew out a lot of hyperbolic fear-mongering and misinformation in hopes of nipping all this Socialist talk in the bud.

These Capitalist fanatics spread so much misinformation about Socialism that responding to it all in one overview article is nearly impossible. Therefore I’m not going to take the time here to discuss every point in detail. I’ll simply put forth what I feel are the ethical and empirically supported viewpoints. Feel free to investigate each one more thoroughly on your own.

First, let’s talk about what Socialism is today. Let’s not allow opponents to sucker us into explaining whatever Karl Marx had in his mind a century and a half ago nor into defending the aberrant government that emerged out of the Socialist transformation in China under Mao Zedong in 1949.

Modern Socialists do not want to destroy Capitalism. The difference between a modern Capitalist and a modern Socialist it is simply a matter of where the balance point should be between the governmental and private domains.

Capitalists believe that the government is useless and ineffectual and that virtually all problems should be left to the private sector to solve; all needs should be left to the private sector to meet; and that the private sector should not be restrained in any way. They lie routinely about how much social programs like universal healthcare would cost, by failing to subtract the savings from the frightening numbers they cite. 

Socialists believe that government can and must do good things and that some things like healthcare, public infrastructure, utilities, social services, food and drug safety, and education can be best handled by government, and further can only be handled effectively by the government or through a high degree of regulation and oversight.

Between the two sides, it is the Capitalist viewpoint that is far more extreme, dogmatic, and radical. Socialists still want mostly a vibrant Capitalist system, with only some exceptions and regulations as warranted to protect society at large. Capitalists want to extract profit from everywhere without exception and with minimal or no regulation that would ensure that the public good is considered.

The devotees of Capitalism point out that Capitalism made us great. That is not completely true. Yes it was important, but most of our important achievements like worker safety, environmental protections, and many others came about only through violent opposition to the forces of insatiable unbridled Capitalism. Major projects like our highway system were government funded. And even if we give Capitalism all the credit it deserves for bringing us to where we are, that does not make it the right approach – or even a viable approach – to carry us forward into a more sustainable economic model.

And let’s be clear. Unbridled Capitalism is not sustainable. As Marx predicted long ago, the inevitable outcome of unrestrained Capitalism is growing wealth inequality and instability as all wealth is scooped into the coffers of fewer and fewer individuals. You end up eventually with one Pharaoh and a multitude of economic slaves. That level of inequity cannot be maintained for long. But worse, our planet can no longer sustain a humanity driven by a religion of unbridled Capitalism.

Contrary to everything the devout Capitalists try to claim, trickle down economics is really nothing more than voodoo economics. Socialism is not evil, and Capitalism is not “the best system possible.” Grow or die is a lie. Competition does not really yield the best products for the lowest prices, and what is good for the stock market is usually bad for regular workers (see here). Economic Darwinism is not tough love. Intellectual property rights mostly just retard real innovation. In the real world, free-market competition often breaks down completely. Tax breaks to the wealthy do not create jobs or increase wages. Highly progressive taxation on wealth is necessary and essential. A minimum wage – and a maximum wage – are good economics. And you only need sufficient, not unlimited, wages to motivate and reward talent and work. Private corporations are not inherently more cost-effective than their government-run counterparts, especially since they must extract as much profit as possible.

Taxes, by the way, are not “giving away your money.” Taxes are how we agree to fund philanthropic and charitable causes and joint ventures for the essential public good. Taxes are what we pay for our roads, and police, and all the other services that our government provides for us. Make no mistake, under a Capitalist model, all those services would be far more expensive, if they were provided at all. If left to a purely Capitalist system, all our lives would be horribly diminished.

Capitalism simply has no mechanism to fund essential public services when there is too little profit in it. Even worse, in areas like healthcare, the profit motive is fundamentally and intractably in opposition to providing the best outcome. Capitalist fiduciary responsibility requires that healthcare providers provide the lowest level of care for the highest possible price to maximize profit for their shareholders (see here). Anything less would be antithetical to the Capitalist religion.

The kind of extreme Capitalism that many Americans have been convinced they would prefer is nothing more than “I got mine” economics in which every man (and woman) are out for themselves, and screw everyone else. The idea that good can come from selfishness and greed is a morally bankrupt tenet of our Capitalist religion.

Socialism, on the other hand, is simply how we do things together. It is how we pool our efforts for the good of all. Socialism is the “let’s work together” system of economics. Socialism does not inhibit or replace Capitalism. It merely acknowledges that there are some vitally important things that Capitalism cannot do well enough and it provides the model to work together to achieve those services that Capitalism simply cannot address.

So let’s continue to carry on this discussion that Bernie started and continue to work to find the healthy balance. But do start to question the Capitalist catechism that we have all been taught, and don’t let the fanatical Capitalists convince you that you are the extremist if you defend elements of Democratic Socialism.

Maximum Voting Age

Lots of young folk under the age of 18 are perfectly capable of registering sound, informed votes in elections. But notwithstanding our many child geniuses, we still acknowledge that on average enough young folk are not yet capable of voting intelligently. This justifies our imposition of a minimum voting age.

SeniorVoteBy the same logic we ought to have a maximum voting age. Of course many old folk (like you and I obviously) are perfectly competent to vote intelligently right into our 100’s. But on average, age makes us old farts increasingly likely to make really, really stupid voting decisions. And when it comes to elections, even slight statistical tendencies are all that matters, not the presence of exceptions.

Look, we old folk can’t run a 4 minute mile like we used to. And although it is politically incorrect to point this out, our brains are just physical organs as well. They wear out too and while some age more badly than others, our mental faculties invariably degrade with advancing age.

This is evidenced in innumerable ways that tangibly impact elections. We don’t necessarily get wiser, but we do get slower-witted. We definitely get more gullible, increasingly more likely to fall for transparent scams by Nigerian Princes or Donald Trumps. We get more jaded and senile and closed-minded and angry and embittered and are more likely to respond to similar Tea-Party appeals. We are more likely to vote out of fear and to be swayed by the angry voices of Fox News or Rush Limbaugh. We are more likely to cling to old racist and bigoted and homophobic attitudes. We are less likely to understand the nuances of the modern world and imagine that a loaf of bread is still 25 cents and that the Internet is “a series of tubes.”

And moreover, we old folks are the very idiots that voted-in morons like George Bush who lied us into war (at least 33 well-documented lies) and also voted-in a whole insane asylum full of climate change deniers to Congress. So what specifically is there about our track record of wise decisions that suggests that we same old folks will make better voting decisions in the future?

Besides, we old folks had our chance and it’s time to let the younger generations have more say in their future and stop dominating elections already. If advancing age made us generally more likely to vote for a stable future planet for our descendants, that would be different, but age seems to only make us even more likely to vote according to our VERY near term self-interest.

So my very politically incorrect recommendation is to establish a maximum voting age of say 65. Once we retire from working life we should retire from voting as well. I acknowledge that this has no chance of becoming law, but we could still think about voluntarily stepping back from deciding the future of others. At the very least, we should strongly consider deferring to younger voters and supporting their candidates like Bernie Sanders whom they can see quite clearly is a better choice to serve their longer-term interests and those of the planet.

Fellow old folks, you’ve had your chance to screw up the country and have nothing more to prove in that regard. Step out of the way now and let the younger generations have their chance!

 

WE HAVE NOT YET BEGUN TO SHOUT!

gunPresident Obama’s press conference after the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon yesterday set the right tone – one of barely contained anger and frustration. In appropriately subdued Presidential tones Obama screamed as passionately as he could for people to get angry and make their voices heard by our leaders.

Later in the day, when Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders gave his obligatory post-massacre interview on the Chris Hayes Show, he also conveyed evident outrage but his message was substantively less compelling:

Condolences are not enough, we’ve got to do something, we have to stop shouting at each other, we need sensible gun control legislation, and by the way we need to significantly improve mental health services.

Don’t get me wrong. I will vote for Bernie. You should vote for Bernie. He is the only one with any inclination to make substantive positive changes to the status quo. But in statements like this even Bernie merely reiterates the endless feckless calls for “sensible legislation” and again diverts the focus toward mental health. This is nowhere near the level of outrage and action that even the President understands is warranted and necessary.

Look, I’ve railed against guns for going on 40 years. I’ve argued with family, friends, associates, and even random strangers whenever the issue of guns has come up. I write impassioned articles whenever I can (see here). But none of these even begin to “shout.” These are all attempts at rational, reasonable debate about sensible gun control legislation. But here’s the thing. Calls for sensible gun-control legislation have never worked and never will. Any “sensible” regulations accepted by the killing-industry would only be those that actually do nothing at all.

Bernie, here is what shouting looks like…

BAN EVERY FUCKING GUN IN AMERICA! MAKE IT ILLEGAL TO MANUFACTURE, SELL, OR OWN ANY FUCKING GUNS WHATSOEVER! COLLECT THEM ALL UP AND MELT THEM INTO SCRAP AND DROP THE SCRAP DOWN A PIT THAT LEADS INTO HELL. FUCK THE RIGHT OF HUNTERS TO SLAUGHTER WHATEVER FEW NOBLE BEASTS REMAIN ON THIS PLANET. FUCK THE DISTORED AND PERVERTED AND ARCHAIC SECOND AMENDMENT. FUCK THE IDEA THAT GUNS ARE PATRIOTIC. FUCK THE ENTIRE GUN INDUSTRY AND GOOD RIDDENCE TO EVERY FUCKING GUN MANUFACTURING JOB. SUE OR PROSECUTE EVERY FUCKER THAT MANUFACTURES OR TRAFFICS IN GUNS EVERY TIME THEY ARE USED TO CAUSE HARM!

Now that is shouting. See the difference Bernie? The upper case and profanity kind of give it away. Perhaps now you can see that we have not actually yet even begun to shout. But we need to start. Unless we take the most extreme position, and unless we shout that extreme position in every hall of government and on every street, gun-lovers and their merchants of death will never give so much as an inch. The only way we can make any changes is if we are so extreme about gun control that they must crawl to us with hats in hand in the hopes that we might give them an inch. Maybe, if they can pass the background checks and mental health exams and buy sufficient liability insurance and jump through every other hoop we can think of, maybe we will let them keep a gun locked safely away in their house.

Readers, we need to show this country what shouting really looks like. We need to shout so loudly and with so much vitriol that the gun industry shits their pants and finally becomes willing to accept a modicum of social responsibility and accept a bit less profits.

Link this article to join my “WE HAVE NOT YET BEGUN TO SHOUT!” anti-gun movement and show our leaders and the gun-industry what shouting really sounds like.

POST-DEBATE ADDENDUM

The first Democratic Debate was held last night and Bernie doubled-down on his “stop the shouting” rhetoric. His hypocrisy on this issue is incredibly disappointing. His entire brand is the red-faced chest-thumper calling for us to get angry and shout our outrage on a wide range of issues he cares about. But when it comes to the blight of guns, he admonishes us to calm down and stop the shouting. Bernie, we are going to keep shouting until even YOU cannot ignore us!