The Necessity of Socialism

Imagine, if you will, an economic system in which 99% of the people make 50% of the money and 1% of the people own the other 50% of the money. Imagine further that the share of the 1% keeps increasing because they control so much of the economy that they can buy the legislators, subvert regulation by buying the courts, and provide most of the money necessary to elect a chief executive who promises to perpetuate their wealth. Imagine further still that the wealth acquired by the 1% is allowed to be passed down from generation to generation, snowballing to immense proportions over the years. Imagine now that you are in the bottom 99% of this economic system. Would that sound to you like a fair or a just or even a stable system?

I’ve been reading a commentary by evangelical Christian and capitalist apologist Cal Thomas, one entitled “Why Socialism appeals to young voters.” Right off the bat, the editor who assigned the title betrays an ignorance of the demographics of socialism’s appeal. But leave it to Mr. Thomas himself to betray an ignorance of what socialism is in fact, rather than what it is in his febrile imagination.

FreeStuffHis first argument, that socialists say it isn’t fair that some people make more money than others, is a straw man: no socialist makes such an argument. What socialists actually say is that vast disparities of wealth distort democracy by allowing a small minority to make the policies and the rules under which the majority, with little or no input, must live. That’s what is not fair – in a democracy.

Then Mr. Thomas goes on to conflate liberalism and socialism, so that he can assign “failures” to socialism that are more properly failures of liberalism. Apparently, his history reaches back only to LBJ’s “Great Society,” not the New Deal of FDR, under which an economy in Depression was injected with the cash and the employment needed to save capitalism from its worst failure. But FDR’s greater achievement was to save the USA from a violent revolution, because the capitalists of the time would not share a fair portion of the wealth created by the working class and the working class had had enough of it.

When government has to do what capitalism will not, or cannot, that’s socialism. Another way of putting it, in today’s terms and under today’s tax system (where the burden is increasingly shifted to the shrinking middle class), is that socialism gives taxpayers their money’s worth.

Mr. Thomas’s next argument follows the lead of a critic of the Great Society he cites: that employers like McDonald’s and Starbucks are leading the explosion in job creation. Really? Low-wage employment may be good for the stats, but what matters is not that you are employed, but that you make enough money through your employment to sustain a family. That’s just not happening.

Furthermore, McDonald’s and Starbucks are leading the explosion in automation, which is causing a collapse in employment. Where does all the surplus labor go? Capitalism fails to answer.

ShelleyMr. Thomas goes on to praise “markets” for their salutary effect on economic prosperity. But markets are a human creation, not a law of nature, and must not be conflated with capitalism. Markets are merely mechanisms of distribution: under slavery, there were markets; even under feudalism, goods and services were distributed via markets.

Mr. Thomas blames socialism for certain failures, but fails to cite specific examples. He even goes so far as to cite both bias in education, and a failure to remember history, for most Americans not acknowledging this supposedly self-evident truth. But determining that an economic system is a success or a failure depends on how you measure it. Under capitalism, we are experiencing a level of income inequality in the USA not seen in 100 years. Would you call that a success of capitalism?

The most famous examples of socialism that right-wing critics like to cite are the Soviet Union and Communist China. But if they can be measured by economic growth, the USA took almost 170 years to transform from an agrarian backwater into an economic superpower. On the other hand, from 1917 until its conversion to crony capitalism in 1989, it took only 70 years for the Soviet Union to achieve a similar transformation; from the communist revolution in 1949 to the present day, it took China a mere 70 years to become the number two world economic power. To say flatly that socialism in Russia and China has failed is not accurate.

Capitalism works bestBut there are significant failures of capitalism, chiefly its failure to end poverty. Indeed, the system has resisted every effort to mitigate poverty. Capitalists have vigorously opposed minimum wages, living wages (by moving jobs offshore or replacing workers with machines) and increasing pensions. Capitalists have also opposed unemployment insurance, Social Security, and Medicare. One might conclude from this that poverty is not a “bug” but a feature in capitalism. Did capitalism even lessen poverty? Arguing that capitalism made poverty less severe is like arguing that slavery made the lives of slaves better.

More significantly, capitalism is an enemy of democracy. Concentrated wealth has a way of distorting the politics of a nation. Capitalists are traditionally uncomfortable with democracy: too much public participation is not good for the bottom line. And as for capitalism’s treatment of organized workers, somebody should probably tell the rich that workers banding together peacefully to present formal grievances is the alternative we worked out a long time ago to breaking down the factory owner’s front door and beating him to death in front of his family. I feel like they forget. Having no democracy in the workplace makes it easier to subvert democracy in society.

I should also point out that capitalism is socially divisive. Nothing serves corporate profits better than to see black, white and brown workers scramble in desperation for scraps, forgetting they have more in common with each other than they do with their capitalist masters. And consider this: it was the capitalist focus on profits over people that cost my brother his job at a major corporation. And, just to be clear, it wasn’t a Muslim, or a black person, or a gay person, or a woman, who fired him. My sense is that it was a straight, Christian white guy in a suit.

MLKAnd if we really want to get into “How do you pay for it all?” socialists should respond with: “The same way you pay for endless wars.” It seems there is always money enough for the military (i.e., welfare for capitalist defense contractors), but never money enough for the masses. The bloated US war budget is where the real money is.

Socialism is not about taking money from people who work hard and giving it to those who don’t. That describes capitalism – especially when you consider the nearly $2 trillion in tax cuts Mr. Trump gave to corporations and the wealthy in 2018. If Mr. Thomas wants to defend that giveaway, he might want to recall what Jesus thought of the money changers in the temple.

Posted in Economics, Rant

Quick Comment: The Bloomberg Blues

I quote from The Guardian this morning:

Sanders said last month he was “disgusted by the idea that Michael Bloomberg or any other billionaire thinks they can circumvent the political process and spend tens of millions of dollars to buy our elections”. Warren has warned that elections should not be “for sale”.

In response Bloomberg argued his wealth would prevent him from being swayed by outside donations.

“I’m not buying anything,” Bloomberg told CBS. “I’m doing exactly the same thing they’re doing, except that I am using my own money. They’re using somebody else’s money and those other people expect something from them. Nobody gives you money if they don’t expect something. And I don’t want to be bought.”

BloombergAside from the arrogance evident in Bloomberg skipping debates and early voting, and aside from his obvious deficits – such as his being a Republican, his problems with women, his racist “stop and frisk” policy, his failure on affordable housing in NYC, his fascist clampdown on Occupy Wall Street (forget winning Sanders voters), and that he has not promised to sell Bloomberg News, a serious conflict of interest (although failure to divest never hurt Mr. Trump) – Bloomberg’s expressed sentiment is problematic in two ways.

First, it signals that Bloomberg knows that politicians do the bidding of their donors, but because almost all of the donors to Sanders and Warren are people and not corporations, isn’t that whose bidding we want our elected officials to do? Second, it shows that Bloomberg’s money insulates him from all “outside” influences, including the influence of voters. We can count on him to do his own bidding!

The Guardian article itself goes on to say, “[A] Monmouth poll, however, also showed Bloomberg is not popular among the public at large, with more than twice as many registered voters viewing him negatively as positively.” So, what’s the point of a Bloomberg run? That’s easy. Biden will fail. And the establishment in the DNC are scared to death of a progressive win in the primaries and next November. Anybody but Bernie or Liz.

Even Trump isn’t that scary.

Posted in Politics, Rant

Quick Comment: “Why the Democratic Party Is So Fed Up with Tulsi Gabbard”

Why the Democratic Party Is So Fed Up with Tulsi Gabbard

My take on an 11/22/19 Yahoo News article—

Pete Buttigieg did say he was willing to send our troops to Mexico to fight the cartels. Trump said much the same after some Mormon missionaries were murdered there. Only Mayor Pete had to walk back the comment when the history of US-Mexico relations was explained to him. Talk about naïve!

And Kamala Harris was indeed swimming in lies and smears and innuendo. Rep. Gabbard has heard the charges before: that she is a Russian asset for opposing regime-change wars; that she is an Assad apologist for trying to research peaceful solutions to the illegal regime-change war in Syria; that her criticism of St. Obama was unwarranted when his warmongering is well established (he came into office with a Peace Prize, Guantánamo open and two wars; left office with Guantánamo still open and seven wars ongoing); that merely talking with the enemy is tantamount to alliance.

This was the president who, with his Secretary of State and hand-picked successor, turned Libya into a failed state and subverted the elected government in Honduras. This is the party, after all, that says Trump is a threat to democracy, but voted to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act, anyway, continuing to “resist” Trump by giving him frightening surveillance authority and other powers inimical to a free society. Tulsi Gabbard, on the other hand, had the courage to quit the corrupt DNC and support the only candidate who is not beholden to the donor class.

So go ahead, be “fed up” with Tulsi Gabbard: she will pronounce your eulogy.

Posted in Politics, Rant

Quick Comment: “Obamacare Is Working”

Obamacare Is Working

“The uninsured rate has dropped from 19.3% before the ACA to 12.4% now.”

My take on a 11/21/19 Yahoo News article…

Number of uninsured + underinsured (that is, people with health insurance who can’t afford to use it): 87,000,000 (2018). Number of medical bankruptcies: 62.1% of all bankruptcies were caused by medical bills (Harvard study); later studies put this number at a still-horrific 26%. Without a public option—(not to say Medicare-for-all), which Obama could have put into the plan if he had been willing to stand by his slogan of “Yes We Can,” and take the side of his voters instead of his donors—there is no way to stop the avarice of private health insurers.

But keep telling me Obamacare “works.”

Posted in Politics, Rant

Quick Comment: “Obama Warns Contenders About Leaning Too Far Left”

Obama Warns Contenders About Leaning Too Far Left

My take on a 11/16/19 Yahoo News article…

This is rich coming from a president who, in eight years, saw the loss of 1,000 Democratic seats at all levels of government. I suggest he (and Hillary Clinton) shut up.

Mr. Obama’s legacy is exactly why we got Trump: when you run a corporate-financed centrist (who will do nothing for the people) against a populist, the populist wins. Left is the only direction to go. Is it any wonder that, in national polls, two of the top three Democrats are progressive?

Posted in Politics, Rant

The Problem with Joe Biden

I received a mailing (pictured here) from former Vice President Joe Biden. I admit, I live in a conservative voting district in Maryland, so it’s understandable that his appeal for donations was misdirected. I registered Independent three years ago, but I re-registered Democrat ahead of the 2016 Maryland primaries so that I could vote for the one candidate in my lifetime for whom I have attended a political rally. And donated money.

BidenMailing
But I digress. Joe Biden wasn’t running in 2016. He is running in 2020. And he is running not only on his record, but on (former president) Barack Obama’s record. I believe it might be useful to point out that, for Joe Biden, there are a few problems with both records, problems that he and his supporters need to own—

• In 1991, at the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas, Mr. Biden gave Thomas the benefit of the doubt regarding sexual harassment allegations by Anita Hill. He refused to call corroborating witnesses on her behalf. Mr. Biden now says, “To this day I regret I couldn’t give her the kind of hearing she deserved.” He may have forgotten that, at the time, he was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now-Justice Thomas’s rebuttal, consisting of outrage rather than argument, was effectively echoed by Brett Kavanaugh 27 years later. Thanks, Joe.

• In 1994, Senator Joe Biden co-wrote and sponsored a crime bill, which, to this day, he calls his “greatest accomplishment.” What his greatest accomplishment accomplished was a dramatic rise in mass incarceration, especially among black people.

• In 1995, Mr. Biden wrote the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act that later became the core of the USA Patriot Act – permitting secret evidence to be used in prosecutions, expanding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and wiretap laws, classifying “terrorism” as a federal crime (that could be invoked based on political beliefs), permitting the U.S. military to be used in civilian law enforcement, and allowing permanent detention of non-U.S. citizens without judicial review. In 2001, Mr. Biden completed his destruction of civil liberties by voting for the USA Patriot Act.

• In 1999, Mr. Biden supported the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, effectively demolishing a Depression-era fire wall that had separated investment banks from commercial banks. With no legal limits on gambling with federally insured money, this paved the way for the 2008 financial crash.

FavoriteJoeBiden

• Mr. Biden, since 2002 one of the Iraq War’s most enthusiastic backers, is currently the only candidate in the field to have voted for that illegal war. Worse, Mr. Biden fought against provisions that would have required President Bush to first win U.N. authority for an invasion, or else seek a war resolution from Congress, apparently forgetting that only Congress has war-making power.

• While Mr. Biden makes much of working “across the aisle” to get things done, in 2005, he voted with Republicans to end bankruptcy protection for students. Worse, as he said in a speech in May 2018, “I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. The folks at the top aren’t bad guys.” Mr. Biden has a record reaching back to 1978 of making it more difficult for poor and working people to declare bankruptcy and get a fresh start. For corporations, however, no problem.

Embracing the Obama Legacy

*There is more: While Joe Biden clings to the “Obama Legacy,” that legacy is tainted. Mr. Biden must own many more problems. As Barack Obama received more in campaign contributions from Wall Street sources than his Republican rivals during both the 2008 and 2012 campaign cycles, it should not be surprising that Mr. Obama’s economic policies were a continuation of the neoliberalism of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Joe Biden must own this.

• Mr. Obama made permanent Mr. Bush’s temporary tax cuts for the wealthy. He continued Mr. Bush’s bank bailout following the financial crisis of 2018 – and failed to put even one banker in jail. In fact, Mr. Obama instituted a process Noam Chomsky has called “socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor.” Joe Biden must own this.

• Mr. Obama supported the secretly negotiated TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), a disastrous international deal that would have made investor profits supreme over national law, and scuttle environmental protections and labor regulations. Working-class hero Joe Biden must own this.

• Mr. Obama failed to shut down the illegal Guantánamo torture site and failed to prosecute anybody who committed “enhanced interrogation” (i.e., torture) in the pursuit of terrorists. Indeed, the torture, renditions and indefinite detention-without-trial initiated under George W. Bush continued under Barack Obama. Joe Biden must own this.

• Mr. Obama failed to shut down our forever wars. Indeed, he started a few of his own (even after winning the Nobel Peace Prize). He doubled U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan, ramped up Mr. Bush’s campaign of covert drone strikes, doubled down in support of the two greatest human rights violators in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Israel, and played a hand in the coup against the democratically-elected government of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. Joe Biden must own this.

On the contrary, instead of owning any of this, Mr. Biden has voiced not an ounce of regret over the Obama Legacy.

Biden MentalIf that were not enough, there is this: Joe Biden is a two-time loser: In 1987, he quit the Democratic primary race within three months, after being accused of plagiarizing parts of his speeches. Mr. Biden dropped out in 2008, after coming in fifth in the Iowa caucus and winning less than 1% of the vote.

Yes, his current poll numbers are high, but they are declining. And with his inability to formulate coherent sentences and to recall basic facts, he is not just prone to gaffes. Although he never claimed to be a “very stable genius,” Mr. Biden, mentally, is quite clearly declining. There is no reason to believe former Vice President Joe Biden will even be in the race when the first primary season ballot is cast. That’s why the voices in Hillary Clinton’s head keep telling her to run; and that’s why Republican convert Michael Bloomberg wants to run: class solidarity. That is, any blue will do. Unless the blue is progressive.

Has the Democratic Party learned nothing from 2016? They still think they can win by running a corporatist against a populist? If we vote for Joe Biden, or anybody of his class, we all must own the fallout of a second term for Trump.

*Still more—
• In 1996, Mr. Biden voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. He also supported the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays in the military. He has since “evolved” on the issue, but not before great harm was done by his repudiation of gay rights.
• How about saving the Supreme Court from its rightward decline? As Counterpunch pointed out, “There will be one salutary effect of Biden becoming the Democrats’ nominee. It should obliterate the old sawhorse that, no matter how odious the candidate, we must hold our noses & vote for him because the future of the Supreme Court hangs in the balance. Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and [Samuel] Alito have their seats largely thanks to Biden, who was one of the ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.” Joe Biden must own this.
• How about regime-change wars? On Venezuela, Joe Biden said, “The violence in Venezuela today against peaceful protesters is criminal. Maduro’s regime is responsible for incredible suffering. The U.S. must stand with the National Assembly & Guaidó in their efforts to restore democracy through legitimate, internationally monitored elections.” Joe Biden must own this.
Almost every statement in this quote is false or context-free. The protesters were not peaceful – they were counter-revolutionary thugs; the incredible suffering was caused by a drop in world oil prices coupled with crippling US sanctions originating under Obama and ramped up by Trump. As for the 2018 Venezuelan election, the opposition declined to participate and Maduro won a victory that was internationally recognized as more open and honest than the 2016 US elections!

Posted in Politics, Rant

Bill Maher is a Republican

The supposed ‘left’ comedian is left behind

I keep watching Bill Maher’s “Real Time” show on HBO, and have done so, Religulous-ly, almost since its inception in 2003. Although Maher was always irreverent toward religion, this was made crystal clear in his 2008 documentary, Religulous. I liked that about him, especially when he criticized the Big Three religious delusions pretty much equally. He was especially snarky toward Mormonism and Scientology, which they richly deserve. I also like his progressive political stances on social issues I care about, such as abortion, gun control, drugs, and racism. Bill Maher is political without being politically correct, a concept he also disparages with regularity – but, as a comedian, he has a dog in that fight.

RealTimeBillMaherOne question nagged me over the years: although his guest list often includes conservatives, people to the right of him, he somehow never invites anybody to the left of him. That, for me, progressively tarnished Bill Maher’s progressive halo over the years. He can deliver insightful comedy. But more and more, over time, while Bill Maher sucks the wind out of windbags and blowhards, he has demonstrated that he sucks at politics.

Case in point, Maher’s October 25 episode of “Real Time.” His big-name guest was entrepreneur and former ad executive Donny Deutsch, star of the failed TV shows “Saturday Night Politics,” “The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch,” “(Get to) The Point,” and the sit-com “Donny!” This is the same Deutsch who said, “I find Trump reprehensible as a human being, but a socialist candidate is more dangerous to this country as far as the strength and well-being of our country than Donald Trump. I would vote for Donald Trump, a despicable human being.”

Both Maher and Deutsch warned us not to go for the socialist alternative to capitalist greed, exploitation and violence (i.e., Bernie Sanders). That would be so much worse, it seems, than running a centrist against Trump in 2020. Maher wants a centrist like, say, the Minnesota Senator who has never polled above 5%, Amy Klobuchar.

Wait. Democrats ran a centrist in 2016. Democrats lost.

Last Friday night on “Real Time” (November 1), Maher goofed up real time. First, in his opening interview, he interviewed anti-vaxer Dr. Jay N. Gordon to confirm his own anti-vaccination talking points from years past. He even brought up the supposed link between MMR vaccines and autism, based on a since-retracted 1998 study of only 12 children – a study conclusively debunked by 16 more studies conducted in seven countries across three continents involving hundreds of thousands of children. It isn’t worth discussing settled science; it isn’t even good entertainment. And children dying of preventable diseases like measles isn’t funny – even for a politically incorrect comedian.

In his signature segment called New Rules – which really aren’t new—or rules – Maher tells those damn, stupid voters that it’s their fault we have Trump as president because Democrats “got nowhere else to go” – as Richard Gere wailed in An Officer and a Gentleman. Yes, nothing succeeds like blaming the voters for failing to turn out for a repulsive candidate who promises nothing to make their lives better. Better to blame Susan Sarandon and Jill Stein. Or the Russians.

In fact, the largest voting bloc in 2016 was people who stayed home. The next-largest bloc were independents. Where were the Democrats? Most of them believed the “nowhere else to go” lie because we have only two parties (when other countries have many). And both of our parties are pro-war and pro-corporate. What Bill Maher doesn’t get, and as Jimmy Dore pointed out in his October 31 podcast: when voters have nowhere to go, they go nowhere.

I think Bill Maher has demonstrated time and again that he is a Republican pretending to be a liberal. And he’s also more pussy than pushback. On his November 1 show, Dennis Prager, one of his conservative panelists, matched Bill Maher crazy for crazy. A Daily Beast article by Marlow Stern, reprinted by Yahoo News, recapped the episode. After exposing Dennis Prager’s nutcase curriculum vitae, and giving some well-deserved criticism of his other points, Stern called Prager’s denying the evidence-free Russiagate conspiracy theory “a stunning denial of reality.”

Waiting For EvidenceI hate to agree with a conservative on any point, but on this one Prager was right. As Aaron Maté and others have demonstrated, the influence of Russian government actors over the 2016 election was negligible, at best, based on the evidence. I keep waiting for Maher to put this in his “I Don’t Know It For a Fact… I Just Know It’s True” segment – but no. Rather than face the fact that American voters wanted the change that Obama promised but never delivered – a disappointment that cost the Democratic Party almost a thousand seats at all levels of government during Obama’s eight years, which he devoted to protecting corporate interests and ignoring voter interests – the Democratic party settled on the failed Russiagate conspiracy theory to evade self-examination.

Bill Maher could benefit from some self-examination. I’d like to ask the privileged pseudo-liberal, who has no problems government can fix, what he asked of journalist Ronan Farrow on that same episode: ‘You do own a mirror?’

Posted in Famous Freethinkers, Politics, Rant, Religion
John Mill