Sunday, November 12, 2017

A politics based upon our best, shared values should lead with economic justice

I hope people do not misread this article in The Nation as saying do not speak to white racists about economic injustice in universal terms.  It is an excellent article because it is saying, do not worry about being for sanctuary cities as it is not necessarily political suicide, for example.  

The perhaps ironic key take from this article is that too often in the 1980s through somewhat recently, it was the Clintonian type of candidates who were the ones who tacked right on race.  The article pointedly does not mention the following examples, but let's remind ourselves: Who should forget Bill Clinton's gratuitous attack on a woman rap star during the primary, and his eagerly supporting the electrocution state murder of Ricky Ray Rector during the lead up to his running for president in 1992?  Who should forget it was Hillary Clinton publicly using racist code language during the debate over the 1994 Crime Bill or the 1996 Welfare Bill her husband eagerly and cynically signed?

What I am concerned about is these above examples are not in the article and so, a Hillarybot like Amanda Marcotte or her ilk are likely to say, "See?  Bernie should not talk economic injustice because it is pandering to white racists."  It is not.  What we need is a politics that embraces our best, shared values regarding overcoming economic injustice with specific policies that in fact help people across racial and ethnic and even religious lines.  And along the way, but very firmly and forcefully, we speak about the racist injustice inherent in the current institutions that comprise our so-called Criminal Justice system or the immoral deportations that break up families or put people in jail who are otherwise wonderful people who have something to add to the mosaic that is American culture.  That is the language we need to develop, foster and support.  

Again, the irony of this article is that it shows how it was often corporate Democrats who were tacking away from anti-racism policies for which the modern Democratic Party should be most proud.  

And it is vital to remember that it was Bernie Sanders who voted against the misnamed "Defense of Marriage Act" in 1996.  It was Bernie Sanders who voted against the Welfare Bill in 1996. And Bernie stood with many in the Congressional Black Caucus, stating loudly they were reluctant to join the Clintons and conservative Dems and the screaming Republican banshees in supporting the Crime Bill of 1994. 

As my wife said to me last night as she saw there is a new documentary about Dolores Huerta playing in the local theater here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, "Before the primary campaign last year, I would say, let's go to this.  But I have not forgiven Dolores Huerta for the way she treated Bernie and Bernie's supporters."  Yes, I replied. I understand.  It is how I feel about John Lewis and his lies against Bernie as a civil rights activist, and Gloria Steinem's ridiculous attack on young women who were early and ardent Bernie Sanders supporters.  But, I said, too, I recall how beautifully Rosario Dawson wrote in her open letter to Huerta, which really is the way to go.  As we are tight economically ourselves right now, we will end up watching that documentary on Netflix, Amazon or Hulu, I think...

"Oh, don't relive the 2016 primary, Mitch!" I hear people cry.  I am not reliving it.  I am wanting us to make damn sure we learn the lesson from it, which is that we must no longer belittle, disrespect or attack economic populism. It is not 1992 or 1996 or even 2008 anymore.  We need to recognize that. especially with the deep inequality in our society, and with it, the rise of social media, we are in an economic populist moment.  And economic populism is the basis for a successful politics that promotes our best values and best public interests, and allows the space to continue to move forward to ensure we are promoting policies that respect people regardless of their race, ethnic heritage or religion.  It is a politics that demands we recognize racism in institutions even when finding individual racism may not be as easy as it was in the days of George Wallace and Bull Connor.   

Michael Harrington often wrote about the fact that the Civil Rights movement succeeded with the laws that began to break down racist attitudes and institutions across the land at a time when the white majority felt most economically comfortable.  For fear, he understood and wrote, is a powerful motivator for racist feelings and actions.  Harrington's insight should guide us in how we promote racial, ethnic and religious justice across our land.  And we have new evidence for his insight with this study from a Yale psychologist about conservative attitudes changing if they are told they are superheroes who cannot be shot or killed.  Corporate Human Resources Department liberalism is not the winning political formula right now for the national party, though the DNC remains in the throes of corporate donor influence.  What we need is Labor Union liberalism, where, a not so by-the-way, many public employee unions consist of minority leadership--something the wine and cheese donor class of the Democratic Party seems to forget.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Larry David stealing my material from eighth grade in 1970...

So Larry David was on Saturday Night Live last night and offended people with his Holocaust humor.

Here is a personal story people may find perhaps amusing and perhaps move the debate forward a bit: When I was in the eighth grade, in 1970,  the Jewish teacher in the English public school class I was attending was considered a "radical" because she thought Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon were poets--unlike a lot of English teachers elsewhere at the time. Also, because she was so "radical," she liked to say to the class that they should feel free to say what they wanted, and she would accept anything from a student with the only proviso that it was to be well-spoken and well-written. She therefore properly agreed that decorum was important in a public school class, but she wanted us to free our minds and explore the  outer reaches of creative and critical thinking.  

Anyway, sometime during the school year, she assigned the class "The Diary of Anne Frank."  By that time, I had been force fed the diary (of course it was, we later learned, the misleading expurgated version, which also had some changes designed to turn Anne into Franz Werfel's "Bernadette" character) since I was seven years old in Hebrew school and into my bar mitzvah that year.  And starting in 1969, I became acquainted with Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl, and by 1970, a young comic named Richard Pryor.  So, for my paper on the book, I was told we could be "creative."  And I decided I had enough with what the late Peter Novick called the sacralization of the Holocaust that was underway (I of course did not know about him or his later book on the subject), and wrote a parody based upon what happened to Anne Frank once she and her family were caught and placed into separate death camps.  I wrote it as a play, as I was fond of doing at the time.  In the story, I included the brutality of the camps, but I then took a sharp turn into Lenny Bruce-land and had the women's side raided by the guys' side because they got tired of not hanging more with the women. My folks went nuts when they saw it the night before it was due, and even my closest friend at the time, Barry Haberman, who agreed with me in most things at the time (Barry still loves "Harold & Maude" as my wife does, while I find myself more recently sympathetic to Harold's mother's pain), said, Oh boy, this may be too much, Mitch....

We were supposed to read our reports or plays to the class, and I did so.  It turned out everyone was shocked, especially as I was of course Jewish. What I realized is that the world is a bigger place than my own life, and one has to recognize that what had become trite and old hat to me was new to these non-Jewish students in 1970.  They were crying when they read the Diary and learned about the Holocaust, and I was like, what the hell do you mean that you don't know this already?  I also learned that comedy can be really scary sometimes.  I scared the teacher that day, as she had to confront the limits of her own sense of radicalism (she was a Lenny Bruce fan, as I recall, too).  

And what I learned is maybe keep certain levels of humor inside the room, so to speak--something the Wayans Brothers made a lot of money not following, I should say.  Yes, I considered the Wayans Brothers' humor in their show, "In Living Color," to be a send up of minstrel humor directed at African-Americans that I felt much of the white audience ended up going to themselves, "See?  Even they admit that blacks are lazy and shiftless."  So, yeah, I am calling out the Wayans Brothers though I know their defense is they were being "ironic."

I will also say the following:  Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is not a favorite at all of mine as I grew tired in the past 25 years of the "Seinfeldian" style of mean humor of "You fell in the mud, ha-ha," which is a different humor form than, "I fell in the mud, and I am laughing too, because at some point we all fall in the mud."  It is a difference between Nelson Muntz going "Ha-ha" and us recognizing shared experiences together.  It is also the difference between Howard Stern's humor attacking women, homeless and minorities and Lenny Bruce's humor going after those in power, as Paul Krassner recognized early in the Howard Stern mania years of the 1980s.  I also grew tired of the whiny Jewish guy, who makes these sort of tasteless jokes, and get the "shiksa" (non-Jewish blond or otherwise beautiful woman) in the end.  I realized it was becoming tiresome, as whines do, and the indirect attack on Jewish women became more and more abhorrent to me.  So, don't get me started on "Meet the Fockers," either.  At some point, in the late 1980s, Woody Allen's films became laborious and tired, and frankly unwatchable.  And as a I said, I dissented from revering Larry David's "Seinfeld" shows and David's subsequent career, though I find myself laughing at some points when I see an interview with him, and I know, if we knew each other, I would enjoy his company.  

I must also say here I got a kick out of David's Weinstein joke on SNL last night as I have felt the same way he has from the start.  Bad publicity about Jews is not a good thing (the old saying "Is it Good for the Jews?", something this novel played with, had some solid insight and was a good read, too)...so thank you, goyish Kevin Spacey!  Time for the gay-goys to get defensive too!...

At some point, though, maybe we can decide, once and for all, it is not the ethnicity or sexual orientation that accounts for the bad behavior. It may be though that it is about giving men, in particular, power and money over others without the protection of sexual harassment laws, and overcoming a culture where the "casting couch" continued to exist despite those laws. The last time I checked, Nero and Caligula were not Jews--nor gay in the way we think of today.  At the end of the day, it is about money, power and testosterone.  

But let's also say something else here: The outrage here is just one more example of the manner in which social media has become oppressive itself.  I frankly don't care that someone on Twitter is outraged by something.  It is just humor and yes, I know it re-enforces stereotypes.  But really, enough with the outage machine already.  If Lenny Bruce was alive today, he would be literarily crucified by the outrage machine.  At some point, the outraged are too often people who are oversensitive and ultimately can't laugh at a joke.  My only exception to that anti-political correctness line of thinking concerns humor or speech referencing and promoting stereotypes regarding African-Americans.  For me, the history of the United States is deeply grounded with the oppression, repression of, and injustice against, African-Americans that resembles in many ways the history of European Christian treatment of Jews.  And after the Holocaust and World War II, many European nations, trying to come to grips with the cruelty and hate that fueled the Holocaust, appear to have been wise to limit speech preaching hatred of Jews or denying the genocide now known as the Holocaust.  There should be some cultural suppression of the mores that led to the degrading and eventual killing of Jews.  It goes against my principles for free speech, but I also recognize that when one is attacking groups within a national history that deeply oppresses that group, maybe it is not the wisest thing to allow speech that re-enforces what the nation needs to learn from and avoid.  I think it has worked fairly well in Germany without doing damage to the commonweal and its freedom of speech in all other matters.  As for the humor here, I would say it is appropriate for African-Americans to keep in their own rooms their own style of humor that David uttered on television about Jews last night.  It works better around the kitchen table among one's own "tribe," perhaps.

So, yes, if you want to say how offended you were at Larry David, I am good with that.  I myself winced a bit at David's bit, but in the end, it's comedy.  Comedy is sometimes not pretty, and the outrage is more petty than anything else.  My not humble advice is this: There are lots of other things in matters of public policy with which we should be concerned. So turn off the outrage machine already.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

How prog rock bands nearly always get me thinking....

A week from tomorrow is November 12. It is the 46th anniversary of the release of "Nursery Cryme," the third Genesis album.

This song from the album, the last track, is called "The Fountain of Salmacis." The first time I heard Genesis was on WNEW-FM 102.7 (NYC). It was this song, and I will always remember it was on the Jonathan Schwartz show, shortly after the album's release. I remember just being mesmerized, amazed listening all the way through. And I still get a similar reaction inside me whenever I listen to early Genesis albums. 

November became Genesis month for US fans for several years, with "Foxtrot" being released in the US in November 1972, "Selling England by the Pound" in November 1973, and then "Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," a double album, in November 1974.

Of course, the more relatively famous of the songs on the "Nursery Cryme" album, which became staples for many a Genesis concert for years later, is the opening song, "The Musical Box."  Here is Genesis playing it in 1971 or early 1972 for a Belgian television show.  And here too is a 1973 live recording, where Gabriel wears the mask that was so freaky and scary to see in real time.  My regret in life was not fighting my folks more when I wanted to shave the middle of the top of my head to be like Peter Gabriel.  Yeah, man!

There was a time in the early 1970s when those of us who loved progressive rock felt that there was a progression of great albums one after another. And then of course, the progression stopped. It hit the proverbial wall, as Stephen Jay Gould wrote about in his brilliant evolutionary science book, "Full House" (1996). Fortuitously, for me, in 1976, as the premier British prog bands were running out of steam and some starting to search for more commercial success, I came across J.S. Bury's "The Idea of Progress: An Inquiry into its Origin and Growth" (1920). I loved that book and wish I had not sold it after a semester at Rutgers. It captures the essence of a time when historians were still seeking to prove History was a hard science, like physics.  However, there was already an understanding of how much of what we want to think about culturally is itself a social construct subject to ebb and flow in ways that are as much fortuitous as intended by men (mostly men) of means and power.

See, this is what happens to me after I listen to Genesis' "Nursery Cryme." Maybe that is why I had so few dates in the 1970s when everyone else in the white suburbs seemed to be having such a grand time...:).

I lose the medical expense deduction so rich people can have even more money....

Considering I had two surgeries and other related medical costs this year, it looks like I will be completely losing the medical tax deduction so that Trump and Mnuchin can have no alternative minimum tax, the financiers get to keep the carried interest deduction, and rich corporations can lower their cooperate taxes from 35% at the top (too many of the largest corporations pay zero due to loss carry forwards and other tax loopholes) to 20% at the top, the complete repeal of the estate tax (which is already not applying to any estate less than $5 million or so), and other goodies for the super rich.

Yes, draining the swamp, and making America great again.

It was already bad enough that a person such as myself could not deduct medical expenses until it reached 10% of my income (It was one of the tax increases for the ACA that it went from 7% to 10%). But I lived with that because I knew that the ACA was providing insurance subsidies for those who were previously unable to procure insurance at all. But this change of a complete repeal is simply malicious to those already vulnerable with high medical costs each year. And, again, this year was a particularly expensive year where we are expecting over $25,000 and possibly as much as $30,000 in medical expenses, and my income is down from being off work and taking a lower salary to move to New Mexico. I created a lot of jobs for doctors, nurses, physicians' assistants, hospital staff and insurance company staff, didn't I? :)

Yes, draining the swamp, and making America great again. Thank you President Trump. Thank you Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. And thank you Speaker of the House Ryan, with your lies about the typical family to cover up the giveaways to people already rolling money galore.

The Mueller indictments cannot come soon enough, I suppose...and we will live with President Ryan so that the natural Democratic Party constituencies who do not vote in mid-terms will finally see that none of this happens without a Republican dominated Congress, and it would then be more exciting to vote in a mid-term election. Yes, we are governed by greedy, venal fools, but it just gets worse and worse, and now, truly cynically worse.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Dumb analogy by mean spirited Trump spokesperson

Watch this starting at 1:17 into the video.  Then, see below.
Sorry Ms. Trump Spokesperson.
America is not a bar. American public policy programs are not beer. And she never once tells us how much each reporter makes each year. The first misdirection in the allegory starts at the beginning with the assumption....Ten reporters...as if they are all making roughly the same money. This is even more important than we may initially think because...
Another misdirection is what taxes she is talking about. It is not like there are no other taxes out there besides the tax on the drink of beer. How much of the income of each reporter in her allegory goes to other taxes besides income taxes? The reporters each pay, for example, the same exact sales tax on every item they buy besides beer in the allegory, and there are state and local taxes to consider. And the richest reporter may be paying a higher income tax rate on the beer in the allegory, but what about the other income received from passive and active investments, which are subject to a much lower capital gains tax, so that more money remains in the richest reporter's pocket. And why should the richest reporters children get the benefit of no tax whatsoever when the richest reporter dies, which is not mentioned in the allegory.

The sense of unfairness about our tax system is rarely explained to the American people in corporate media to begin with. We are never told that when we add up all the different taxes, we find a relatively flat tax already exists for about 80% of income makers (look at far right column chart in link to show percentage of income paid in all taxes, which is around 30%) since the dawn of Mr. 666's reign (Ronald Wilson Reagan, count the letters in each of his names). And rich people are making a killing these past nearly 40 years and have much less tax to pay overall than they did in the previous nearly 40 years. And the income growth for the middle and lower sectors has been abysmal. So no trickle down, even as automation from computers and other technologies have made each worker's productivity go up rather dramatically--and most of those workers do not share in that productivity the way they did in the days of unions.
This allegory is pernicious and is designed to appeal to those most ignorant of how the overall tax system functions, and belittles the foundation of governance and policy. Again, what the government largely spends money on is based upon public policy, not beer. It may be dumb spending in some areas, but the biggest dumb area we should look at is the cost of the Empire, which does not buy much for regular Americans at this point at least. 
For fun, here is a more enlightening allegory about three people and twenty cookies. It is enlightening because it is very clear about the level of wealth or income owned by each of the three people. It is also subject to similar criticism as I did above, but at least it has the salutary effect of talking about unequal wealth that is at an outrageous level compared to where we were when supposedly America was "great."

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Varoufakis trusted the Eurogroup's good faith when they were in bad faith. But he understood the need to default when recognizing that bad faith.

In this review of the new Yanis Varoufakis memoir, Doug Henwood confirms Varoufakis was against Grexit, but explains why Varoufakis was against Grexit, and why he then became an advocate of defaulting. Henwood also shows that the Eurogroup had people who wanted the Greeks to exit as way to punish the entire European social welfare state, starting with the French welfare state. If anything, Henwood's reading of the memoir shows why Jeremy Corbyn and others are spot on about the bankers and banker-acolytes who control the European monetary system are enemies to economic decency.  I have long believed Varoufakis' one and true mistake of judgment was to trust in the good faith of the Eurogroup.  I felt it in the early months of 2015, too, which is why I still think Eric Toussaint's much more critical and longer essay-review of Varoufakis' memoir is correct about the need for an early confrontation to leverage the negotiations--and that the Greek government should have been taking active steps to re-create a currency to show the Eurogroup that the then-new left government mean...shall we say, business.  The missing element in Toussaint's article is what Henwood highlights, which is that Varoufakis wanted to have Greece default on the loans, and the left leadership for whom Varoufakis worked for blinked.  
And for those of us who wonder, here is a snapshot from May 2017 as to how the Greek economy is doing these days post-austerity measures the nominally leftist government accepted over Varoufakis' objections, which had led Varoufakis to resign in mid 2015.   Funny how Greece was in the corporate media orbit here in the USA in those first six months of 2015, and then, when the Greek government capitulated to the banker interests, the corporate media glare was removed from our gaze.  One struggles to find information in corporate media in the US about the Greek people's suffering post-June 2015.
Overall, I remain a major fan of Yanis Varoufakis. I believe him one of the most important and insightful minds in international politics today.  Here is Varoufakis from April 2016.  Worth watching and hearing.  Also, here is Varoufakis on negotiating Brexit.

So what's a little Roundup in our bodies?

The people who blindly support the introduction of GMOs into our agricultural system may one day have to explain themselves. I have never hid from the reality of the many studies that show no adverse effects of GMOs led by people such as Professor Pamela Ronald at UC Davis. What I have consistently said, however, is that I have yet to see a competent, long term epidemiological study that explains why people have developed far more gluten and peanut allergies in our nation, for example.
This article about a recent UC San Diego study raises a concern but admits there is still no known consequence to the weed killer remnants found in people. But it should raise some alarm bells.
Due to corporate Democratic Party and Republican Party officials in general, our nation have been guinea pigs in this GMO experiment. It is the Bi-partisanship of Evil.