Sunday, December 9, 2018

Logan Mohtashami is a smart guy!

Logan Mohtashami, who lives in Orange County, CA, friended me on FB some years ago. I consider him one of the brightest people I know, but have never met. I love his latest FB analysis of the deficits and debt he just posted twenty minutes ago. It is a free form sort of talk, with an irrelevant aside about the Trump nominees to the Supreme Court, quickly forgotten, thank goodness. I believe it is well worth watching, and hope it is not too hard to follow.

Where I would love to have a face to face conversation or debate with Logan is on the edges. I would ask, how are Democratic Party politicians lying about the debt/deficits in any way comparable to the Republicans? The austerity Dems are a pain, but they are not as reckless and harsh as the Republicans. More substantively, I would ask, Wouldn't lifting the cap on Social Security and Medicare lessen the deficits coming in those programs?  Wouldn't an investment in infrastructure redevelopment dramatically increase payroll tax revenue which would improve at least somewhat significantly the hockey stick on deficit and debt growth we both see coming? Wouldn't wiping off the books the student loan debt immediately improve cash flow for lots of people who would spend money on consumer goods and expand the economy, and sales taxes, and eventually income tax revenue increasing? 

Logan, on this point about erasing student loan debt, is one of those who uses gross numbers to say only wealthier professionals would be helped with wiping out that debt. However, I think he misses the manner in which young people, with little assets, face much more limited prospects with even $30,000 in debt, for example. He is too macro and not enough micro-economic on this issue. Again it is an argument among the rational at that point.

Both Logan and I recognize the GDP and assets of our nation, our nation's size and military capacity, make it so we are not the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain), which are nations too small to be able to overcome bond market vigilantes who would demand high yield rates for borrowing. Both of us recognize the EU can be helpful, though at this point, I dissent from him and enter Varoufakis territory to say reform the EU so it helps the PIGS, not punishes the people there. It is the reason I want to help Mississippi, not punish the people there.

For those who fetishize the national debt and deficits as if this was akin to our household budget, Logan helps us recognize what Alexander Hamilton was one of the first people in Western society to understand: The issue is nation building and nation sustaining. It is far more important to concern ourselves with what the government spends money on than whether debt is accumulated. One may suppose, theoretically, a point where the public debt is no longer something to ignore, but Trump was channeling Keynes, wasn't he, in saying in the long run, we're all dead?* The difference is Trump is a carnival barker, and Keynes was only expressing, in an exasperated way, those who refused to support priming the pump and using the government to get people working again.

* The link is worth reading because it shows why Niall Ferguson is sometimes an out and out jerk. Simon Taylor (of the Cambridge Business School) schools Ferguson if not skewers him on the context and meaning of the Keynes quote. 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The continuing tragedy of Israel

I wish American Jews still enamored with Israel would have the temerity to read beyond the headline of this Gideon Levy article from Ha'aretz, which is still in my view the NY Times in Israel. This article is not praising Netanyahu; the closest to praise is calling him a poor man's consolation. The thrust of this article is Levy's disgust with Labor Party and assorted liberal and even left Zionist politicians, several of those quoted who are merely defectors from the Likud Party in the guise of being for peace, but time and time again, show their true Jabotinsky-tinged colors. 

One has to put in the front of the article, from the near ending, to see what Levy is getting at: "Only a complete lifting of the Gaza blockade will solve Gaza’s problem, which is also Israel’s problem, and only a direct dialogue with Hamas can bring this about."

For too many supporters of Israel, who tend to skew older among both Jews and evangelical Christians, the most difficult point for such folks to grasp is the blockade of Gaza is a continued attack on Gazans. And worse, the blockade enables the worst elements in Hamas to demand revenge.* 

From America's stance, the immediate answer is to end all military and economic aid to Israel and say, We mean it this time. Get to the damned peace table. Stop this slow moving ethnic-cleansing land grab. Israel's military destroyed settlements in Sinai when peace was achieved in Egypt, and Arik Sharon destroyed settlements in Gaza at the time Israeli troops pulled out of Gaza (before formally enacting the blockade), and settlements in the West Bank can still be dismantled along with ending the Gaza blockade. If the "two-state" solution is lost, then the most likely choices will be either pro-apartheid or pro-BDS, as both favor a single-state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. Right now, the two-state solution is, practically speaking, dead because of Israeli leadership and the views of at least half of Israeli Jews who vote (Palestinians, having seen what happened after the Oslo Accords, with more settlements built and more control of water and other resources than before, have been cynical about the two-state solution for some time now). So why won't Israel act? Because the people running things in Israel know they are "winning," as they look at these admittedly somewhat exaggerated anti-Zionist maps and only see more opportunity, not disgust at what has happened with respect to the Palestinian people. 

And so, the stop-start-bombings- retaliation-all-while-building-settlements-throughout-the-West Bank, goes on.  And I retreat into reading liberal Zionist novelists who share my hopes, my fears, and my resignation regarding what was supposed to be a light unto the nations.

*There has been a nascent non-violent movement among Palestinians, including in Gaza. It has been there for a longer time than too many of us ever imagine.  However, American corporate media does not talk about this in any sustained way, if at all, and Israel's response remains as violent as if the protesters are acting violently--so the canard of "Well, Israel has no peace partner" remains a self-delusional, yet effective propagandistic mantra.

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Chanukkah Message

To me, this recognition of the dark side of the Macabees is merely an allegoric expression of the unease a growing number of American Jews feel about the actions of modern Israel.  I believe a growing number of American Jews see Israeli leaders as acting unjustly, and the Israeli Jews who support those leaders, as acting as zealots who disdain the best rabbinic universalist and pluralistic values (recognizing the Talmud is full of contradictions and things we like in certain times, not so much in others, and outright horrid positions vis a vis those who are non-Jews).

People in my and my parents' generation had hope for Israel as "a light unto nations,"* and coming into being with the vanquishing of Haman, as if we were living in a real live Purim, where Israel represented the triumph of Jewish people against a tyrant and tyranny in general. And the idea that the Jewish girl in the Purim story, Esther, marries the non-Jewish king, was seen as a triumph of assimilation while maintaining one's identity as a Jew, which is the story we like to tell each other in America.  But, as the Palestinian issue continues to wear on, and with the rise of religious zealots in tandem with right wing Zionists controlling the policies of the Israeli government, this dark side of Hanukkah becomes more and more salient to more and more American Jews.

It is wrong to push too much presentism on an ancient world, but it is interesting to me how some aspects of the ancient world become illuminators for us in the present.

* The great early 20th Century American political writer, Randolph Bourne, wrote often about his disdain of the excesses of the nation-state, particularly in the context of his opposition to the rampant nationalism which led us into World War I, which he also opposed.  His one hope for an exception to his transnationalist position was his support for the Zionist movement.  To say this colloquially, he had hope the Jews would do nationalism right.  Alas...

Thursday, December 6, 2018

South Park Season 22 has been on fire

The Son says the last three years of South Park (Seasons 20-22) has had the best writing in the series, and I fully agree. The last two seasons were extraordinary in their meditation on the culture of the Internet, political correctness, and growing anomie in our society. This season has been even more amazing. The two episodes about climate change denial/skepticism were brilliant, and last week's South Park's insight into how we are slaves to our cellphones broke ground on the topic while being side-splittingly funny. The idea of wearing boxes on our heads so as to avoid anyone interfering with our cellphone activity is a perfect and profound metaphor. 

This week, South Park took on Amazon and gave us a wildcat labor strike, with a short homage to "Billy Elliott," and lots of Marxian analysis. Literally Marxian. As with the ManBearPig/climate change episodes, it is a two-parter. 

It is so satisfying to see Parker and Stone, South Park's creators, graduating from their early intelligent and funny libertarian petulance to this global Marxian sensibility, with less petulance and more pathos. It is perhaps a sign of middle age in Parker and Stone, one may suppose, or perhaps left writer/activist Naomi Klein and the right wing libertarians who deny climate change are correct: A belief in anthropomorphic climate change can sometimes congeal into a socialist sensibility. Klein agrees with the scientific consensus because she is ultimately an empiricist. The right wing libertarians deny climate change because they view any belief in using the government as a tool to fight the effects of climate change to be a succumbing to socialism. This is becoming a bit less true, as shown here

In any event, if you can find South Park on Comedy Central, or if you have Hulu, this season, Season 22, is must see television. Bravo South Park!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Reagan 1980; Bernie 2020?

The Week's Brendan Morrow thinks Bernie is running again.

People can say all they want against Bernie Sanders: He's too old; he is not a registered Democrat; he's too far left, in that phony corporate media parlance where the words liberal, conservative, moderate, etc. are never defined; etc. 

But what amazes me about Bernie are: (1) his stamina as he continues a grueling travel schedule supporting progressive Democrats around the nation, showing he is in great shape to run for president; and (2) the way in which Bernie continues to contribute to a positive discourse about public policies which, as I have long noted, a majority of Americans now agree. Bernie changed worldviews of people across our nation, and did so while not even winning the Democratic Party's 2016 primaries.

For those searching for historical parallels, I am wondering if Bernie Sanders is Ronald Reagan in this respect: In 1976, Ronald Reagan mounted a primary challenge to Gerald Ford, the incumbent president. Reagan lost to Ford, and there was much bitterness in the Republican Party as Ford lost a close election to the Democratic Party's candidate, the upstart Jimmy Carter. In 1980, Reagan ran again, and faced multiple challengers, including the establishment Republican's favorite, George Herbert Walker Bush. Reagan was older than nearly any other candidate running, and was one of the oldest presidents ever elected president. Reagan was also a hard right ideologue, but it was Reagan's likability that helped him with swing voters, the way I think Bernie keeps topping polling as the most popular politician in the nation ("He speaks his mind; he's honest", etc. is what people tend to think when they think of Bernie). 

And let's play out this historical parallel a bit further: Would Reagan still have won if third party "liberal" Republican John Anderson not run an independent campaign in the fall 1980 campaign, after Anderson was one of the Republicans Reagan beat in the very rancorous Republican primary? I think the final election result in a Carter v. Reagan election race would have been much closer (The 1980 results were:  Anderson with roughly 7%, Reagan 49% and Carter 42%, with less than 1% for the Citizen's Party of Barry Commoner and Ladonna Harris) but Reagan would likely have won in any event. Note, too, Reagan had some coattails in Senate races as people like George McGovern (D-SD) and John Culver (D-IA) lost to much more ideologically conservative Republicans. 

The one thing I would say to those wanting to repeat this historical incident is my advice to Bernie is pick a like minded but young progressive for VP almost immediately to run to Iowa and NH and elsewhere, and a person who is a woman or a person who is not "white." Reagan, of course, had given in to Establishment Republicans and chose Bush as his VP, hoping Bush would coalesce ideologically, which Bush, sad to say, did.  This, however, is a different time in one respect: Bernie's ideas and platforms, as noted before, are what the majority of Americans want to see enacted.  Bernie has no reason to compromise with neo-liberals and corporate Democrats.  The point is to win the majority of Americans' support, and to show America Democrats mean what they say as a party of the "people" or as I like to say, let's have a true Labor Party the way we thought of Democratic Party policies in the New Deal and post-New Deal era.

All in all, I say, let's roll, Bernie.  Let's roll!

Oh, and if someone wants to say Hillary Clinton's parallel is Richard Nixon, who lost in 1960, lost a gubernatorial election in 1962, and then roared back to squeak out the presidency in 1968 with 44% of the vote, in an election where third party candidate George Wallace won 13% of the vote, and Humphrey the Democrat won 43% of the vote, I would call that a stretch.  Hillary Clinton is more akin to that other HC in American history, Henry Clay.  Henry, like Hillary, had done too many compromises so that nobody really trusted him, and Clay was never able to convince a majority of Americans he would have their overall interests at heart.  I liked Henry Clay in lots of ways as his best biographer, Carl Schurz, explained in an 1888 biography (never have I seen a better bio, and one should be written with Schurz's gravitas), but he was still a compromised candidate.  So, sorry to Hillary Clinton fans, which have dwindled considerably, as I always said her support is a mile wide and inch deep, but this nation cannot afford a Hillary Clinton candidacy in 2020.  It is a dangerous time, and we need to go with our best hopes, not compromised candidates, when going up against a candidate who emotionally affects people the way Trump does.  Trump runs on fear and hate. The best candidate must run, substantively and stylistically, on trust and love.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Dream until your dreams come true

This is a rare moment for me to say something like this: Someone on cable news had something important to say. Imagine that.

CNN corporate media pundit Jeffrey Toobin's points: The evidence is now largely gathered to demonstrate (1) Trump was trying to cut a deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow during the presidential campaign; (2) Trump was in consistent contact with Roger Stone about what Wikileaks was up to in terms of illegally releasing private emails from the DNC or those high up in the DNC, when there is also evidence of Wikileaks contact with Russian operatives in this regard; and (3) Trump was aware of his son's meeting with the Russians, and it was about more than adoption policies; and instead about foreign policies including the sanctions Obama had enacted against Russia, and about Russian policies in Ukraine. Of course, Trump's position on both policy subjects has been out in the open, which is to support Russia's position on both counts.  The evidence is sufficiently solid for a fairly sober reporter, Craig Unger, to connect the dots as to Trump's long time alliance with Russians and the obvious desire of Putin to install someone like Trump at the top of the U.S. government.

For those who think, well, isn't it still largely circumstantial, it is important to recognize that fraud and conspiracy are often proven with circumstantial evidence. And conspiracy is a very broad legal concept where one may be held strictly liable for the overt acts of others, even when one does not participate in that particular overt act. And consider how the normal hearsay prohibition is no protection in conspiracy cases because of the manner in which one person is held liable for the statements of others which constitute an "overt act" in the conspiracy.  This is also how and why the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Act (RICO) have come into view with respect to Trump's actions during his campaign for president, not only with respect to paying off a prostitute but trying to do business with Russia when running for president. 

If the evidence and understandings already publicly reported concerned a president who was a Democrat or, say, Bernie Sanders, and this was during the time of the Soviet Union's existence, with Gorbachev or especially Brezhnev as the Soviet leader, we know exactly where the Lee Greenwood song fans who so adore Trump would be standing, and what they would be saying. The articles of impeachment would already have been approved, with Blue Dog Democrats joining in, and the Senate Republican leaders would have said this impeachment trial would easily result in conviction.

I know, I know. I have never liked the criminalization of policy differences. I have never liked the Espionage Act of 1917, the Sedition Act of 1918, or the Smith Act of 1940. And I have shared some of Justice Stevens' misgivings of the broad interpretation of the RICO Act, as in his dissent in Boyle v. United States, 556 U.S. 938 (2009).  But, considering how most right wingers in this nation believe they are the true patriots, and "libtards" are the ones who don't love their country, and considering how the Cold War discourse in our national and local corporate media was structured in a manner that made anyone left of center feel less than American ("Oh, you like national health insurance? So does the Soviet Union. You must be one of those Commie traitors!"), it is time, well, really past time, to put that shoe on the feet of these so-called patriots who support Traitor Trump.

Maybe, once Trump is vanquished, we can recognize that maybe criminalizing politics is not a good thing. We can further recognize secrecy is overrated, and only primarily helps the power of the National Security State. We can also then begin to recognize one can be against the Empire and still be pro-American. I know, I know. Cue Aerosmith's Dream on....But wait, isn't the full line, "Dream on. Dream on. Dream until your dreams come true?" Yes. Yes, I think it is. So, I dream. 

And for those who say, Whoa, what about "President" Pence? That is easy at the point where even Nancy Pelosi (known as The Follower Who is Somehow Leader) agrees with impeaching Trump: (1) Pence is the fruit of the poisonous tree and (2) I think ol' Mueller has got some stuff on Pence for his cavorting with the treasonous general, Mike Flynn. So, let's talk about all of this and let's see what happens.  The noise may be enough to swing the 2020 elections harder toward Dems anyway, just as the Republicans used the impeachment of Clinton in a manner that led Al Gore not to have Clinton even near him for much of his 2000 campaign, though the economy was hot at the time and the federal government had a surplus, not a deficit, for a couple of years at that point. In any event, the evidence is sufficient for a legitimate impeachment investigation, though I think it may be better to allow Mueller to complete his investigation so we avoid undermining Mueller's criminal investigation as happened to some extent during the Iran-Contra scandals when Ollie North received partial immunity to testify in the Congressional investigation.  My sense is Mueller will complete his report in the next few months, as he completes his review of the Deutsche Bank records and Trump's tax returns, and finishes connecting dots as to how Trump ran his companies and how he ran his presidential campaign.  This will make it easier for congressional investigators to get up to speed as they consider whether to issue articles of impeachment. And again let's not worry about how Republicans in Congress behave, and how venal and cynically they act.  The key is to talk about it, agitate, and educate.  The pressure will get stronger each day this occurs.  Jeffrey Toobin is correct.  These are significant developments and it is time to agitate against those still calling the investigation a witch hunt or a hoax.

Friday, November 30, 2018

How we end most of the debate over immigration

I love this video from Robert Reich because it explodes the most ridiculous, hateful myths we see and hear in the "immigration" discussion. Reich is absolutely correct that undocumented workers are a net gain for the overall economy, pay billions in taxes, particularly Social Security, for which they will never receive the benefits for what has been paid, and are less of a drain on anti-poverty programs than Republican politicians and right wingers lead us to believe. 

However, Reich would admit, on my cross-examination, that employers hire undocumented workers because they are willing to work for less money and are more easily exploited than American citizen workers. Also, if we look at the history of immigration in our nation, we would see how American citizen laborers were continually undermined in their attempt to secure better wages, in part, due to  each successive wave of immigrants, particularly as our nation industrialized after the US Civil War. The only positive and perhaps ironic outcome of the 1920s draconian anti-immigration laws was that those terrible laws stabilized the population of workers so that, in the period of the 1930s through 1960s, American workers were able to more successfully negotiate collectively to procure better wages and then benefits. This is not the only reason, as the primary reason was the initial success of the National Labor Relations Act and Fair Labor Standards Act (labor union and labor law standards) from the New Deal in 1935 and 1938, respectively, and American productivity exploded after WWII, partly through government subsidized innovations, as well as New Deal and then US Highway Act of the 1950s investments in infrastructure. 

However, with America's wars against Central America in the 1980s, and then the NAFTA in 1993, our nation saw a steep rise in immigrants without proper paperwork. Why? From Central America, we saw and continue to see people desperately fleeing murderous regimes and now corporate fascistic economies in Central America, which regimes we actively supported. Then, millions of Mexican peasants, who had long been engaged in subsistence farming, were kicked off their lands due to American agribusiness flooding Mexican food places with cheaper fruits and vegetables, because of provisions in the NAFTA which kept government subsidies for American agribusiness, while opening Mexico to American agribusiness products.  The 1965 immigration reforms had some impact, but it would not have been significant had we not pursued these wars against Central American nations and developed the type of trade deals that beggared low scale workers and union trade jobs in the US, and peasants in Mexico. This article has a useful chart for immigration patterns, but the article's discussion masks the effect on low end workers in the late 1800s and early 1900s from free flowing immigration impeded growth in American wages in that era.  I must admit that, even as I recognize both sides of my family immigrated from Europe in the first decade of the 20th Century, with my grandmother and her mother literally fleeing murderous Cossacks.

Undocumented workers compete most often with citizens at the bottom of the wage scale, and are a factor (not the only one) that keeps down wages in that wage scale, which is why those of us in the upper middle class of professionals have a hard time understanding why workers at the lower wage scales have such rage and, if white, buy into the hateful rhetoric of Republicans on the topic of immigration.  For me, I support rights for undocumented workers and sanctuary cities and states.  I am appalled at the behavior and policies of the Trump administration, especially with the tear gassing of these desperate people at the border who need our love and support, not be attacked. So, what do we do public policy wise to get out of this conundrum that so often spews racist hatred from white folks here against darker skinned immigrants from Mexico, Central and sometimes South America? 

First, we should support increases in the minimum wage and enforcement measures to ensure employers are not undermining those wages. This will keep employers from using undocumented workers to keep down wages. Second, and most importantly, we should support the massive infrastructure re-development proposals from the Army Corps of Engineers (states can do this if the feds won't).  As I have long said, what we will see almost immediately, if we pursue the Army Corps of Engineers' proposals, is we actually need more immigrant workers, undocumented or otherwise, as we lack sufficient numbers of able bodied, younger citizens to perform this infrastructure work. And lots of Americans who are young and not interested in college would become immediately employed in good paying infrastructure re-development work. Infrastructure is one method of helping young people in our nation and free public college tuition is the other.  They work in tandem, not at odds with each other.  In any event, the number of jobs that will be created will defeat the concern I have voiced here about employers preying on undocumented workers to work for less, simply based upon where our present population demographics stand. Thus, in enacting the Army Corps of Engineers' infrastructure program, we can simply wave our legal wand and say, "All you undocumented folks, come on in and join the citizenry!" The number of jobs and the velocity of money being spent by consumers who are working will spin into even more jobs across the board--and if the kiosks have to come to McDonald's and Wal-Mart because there are not enough people to fill the jobs, then so be it, as we can then start a more robust discussion of UBI. This is, at the end, why I also support making it easier for workers to form and join labor unions (card-check) as we would demand, in the infrastructure program, prevailing wages/union wages. 

As we analyze the immigration issue in this manner, we begin to see why Republicans, starting with Trump, sometimes mouth interest in infrastructure, but never want to follow through.  They do not want to follow through because they know a truly massive infrastructure program destroys their anti-immigrant argument and would end up promoting labor unions, or higher wages even without more labor unions. I can't think of one Republican politician who claims to support infrastructure redevelopment who, in my cross-examination of them, would not reveal themselves as liars. 

The first thing we need, however, is we have to be kind with respect to the desperate people from other lands fleeing physical oppression or economic oppression, and we have to be kinder to undocumented workers who are already here.  Demonizing these people, depriving them of benefits to which they are entitled, starting with their children in our public schools, is wrong from any moral sense. What we have to do, public policy wise, is come together, citizens and non-citizens alike, to promote a healthier, stronger shared economy. If we are going to enforce any anti-immigration laws, it should be against those employers who hire them, not the people who have been so victimized. And if we go back to Reich's points, the idea that that these undocumented people are a net negative to our economy overall, or with respect to anti-poverty program usage and taxes paid, is simply a lie.  

To summarize, the public policy answers are: (1) minimum wage increases to $15 an hour; (2) infrastructure redevelopment consistent with the Army Corps of Engineers; (3) card check to promote labor unions; and (4) labor law enforcement increases against employers in industries which rely on undocumented workers who are being exploited.  And then wave the wand and officially welcome all immigrants who are here already as citizens.  There is no need for any wall, and no reason to behave in any way other than kind and supportive of people who are in need.  Oh, and if we think we will see too many people come from Central America, maybe this time we should promote policies and politicians there who actually want to help the people.  In Mexico, Obrador and his political party are expecting to pursue a major infrastructure program that may ironically cause Mexican immigrants to return to Mexico.  Imagine if we promoted such politicians and policies in Central America.  Yes, imagine all the people, living life in peace....You may say I'm a dreamer, but maybe I'm not the only one anymore. It is time to pursue these policies with boldness and vigor, and to push back against the hateful policies and rhetoric that demonizes people we should be embracing. 

Logan Mohtashami is a smart guy!