It Took One Mass Shooting To Ban Assault Weapons in NZ. American Exceptionalism Means Exceptionally Corrupt, Fearful and Suckered

Just one really big shooting and done.

We know why it hasn’t happened here.  Money in politics, legal bribery, made the NRA  an exceptionally powerful lobbying group.  Using that money to keep politicians from listening to the majority of their constituents, along with stoking a constant banshee yell from the rabid gun owning minority has kept both parties (although now it’s largely just one party), has kept US from achieving the obvious.

Americans who are used to their government reacting to mass shootings with no more than “thoughts and prayers” may be surprised by the swift reaction. It’s partly because the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its sway over the gun control debate is an American phenomenon. But the fast changes are also possible because New Zealand’s parliamentary system makes it possible for the ruling coalition to turn ideas into reality quickly.

It’s not just guns, it’s of course why we’re behind the rest of the industrialized world on climate change, health care, child care, worker’s rights, etc. and why trying to bring us up to the level of the happier nations in the world seem so radical. We are suckers. We are absolutely being taken by our own society, owned by the elites or self-owned by our own cowardice, but we are living like rubes.

What this phenomenon feeds is the soul shattering fear that trying to do what we need to do, what other countries did decades ago, is radical and we have to shy away from asking for too much from our government.  Even advocating for these very simple things will make you unelectable.  Of course that’s a self-fulfilling prophesy whereby the  modest,  so-called centrists are said to be more serious and more electable.  So we’ve elected them and they’ve accommodated the fearful and achieved little.

By the way, this is mostly a phenomenon for Democrats and leftists.  Being archly conservative has made you more electable to the Republican base without all that much push back from the media who are loathe to call way out of the mainstream Republicans or their proposals “radical.” Lots of very radical, profoundly damaging legislation has been passed over the last 40 years, on a state and federal level, that caused the great disruptions to the middle class, the rising inequality, the diminution of unions, the rollbacks on access to health care for women, etc.

Initiatives to fix the improvements, ie. restore the middle class and common sense and just fucking make American life easier, less stressful and happier are always a hard sell even to the people who recognize that they’re fine ideas… but, you can’t try to push those ideas or we’ll looooooooose.  Starting to ask what winning means if the winners won’t fix anything and we continue down the conservative/neoliberal road to middle class serfdom.

For the third year in a row, the U.S. has dropped in the ranking and now sits at No. 19, one spot lower than last year, according to the report produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a U.N. initiative. The top three spots this year were occupied by Finland, Denmark and Norway. At the bottom were Afghanistan, Central African Republic and South Sudan.

 

 

When a Neoliberal Makes the Case For the Left, You Listen

As we get into the 2020 Democratic nomination fight it’s important to get into the nitty gritty of policy, not just who is hard on their staff or whose single payer healthcare plan is more progressive.  Of course it will be awful, we’re already splitting hairs on whether a candidate that prioritizes economic fairness for everybody is not sufficiently devoted to racial equality, when they marched and protested for such racial equality before the other candidates were born.  We’re approaching that fork in the road where “Morning Joe” resumes being unwatchable for liberals again as they go from 2 years of “we hate Trump as much as anybody” to “you better nominate a moderate or you’ll give us more Trump” for the next 2 years.  Well, that’s a debate we will have between now and July 2020.

Brad DeLong is an economist I’ve read for a long time despite being a reasonable, but reliable neoliberal on a lot of issues.  He was part of the Clinton administration and teaches at U.C. Berkeley.  He describes himself as a “Rubin Democrat” referring to Clinton Treasury Secretary and Citigroup Chairman Robert Rubin – which must be to neoliberals as redheads named O’Riley are to the Irish – hardcore brother, hardcore.   In an interview in Vox, DeLong explains why neoliberal policy thinking has been an utter failure and “the baton rightly passes to our colleagues on the left.”

DeLong largely recognizes that the political reality that made any sort of bipartisanship, or what Clintonites called “triangulation,” the savvy, inside the beltway way to govern has been rendered foolish because of the militarization of the Republican party.

We were certainly wrong, 100 percent, on the politics.

Barack Obama rolls into office with Mitt Romney’s health care policy, with John McCain’s climate policy, with Bill Clinton’s tax policy, and George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy. He’s all these things not because the technocrats in his administration think they’re the best possible policies, but because [White House adviser] David Axelrod and company say they poll well.

And [Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel and company say we’ve got to build bridges to the Republicans. We’ve got to let Republicans amend cap and trade up the wazoo, we’ve got to let Republicans amend the [Affordable Care Act] up the wazoo before it comes up to a final vote, we’ve got to tread very lightly with finance on Dodd-Frank, we have to do a very premature pivot away from recession recovery to “entitlement reform.”

All of these with the idea that you would then collect a broad political coalition behind what is, indeed, Mitt Romney’s health care policy and John McCain’s climate policy and George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy.

And did George H.W. Bush, did Mitt Romney, did John McCain say a single good word about anything Barack Obama ever did over the course of eight solid years?

No, they fucking did not. No allegiance to truth on anything other than the belief that John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell are the leaders of the Republican Party, and since they’ve decided on scorched earth, we’re to back them to the hilt.

What Obama didn’t seem to learn until his second term was that when the other side is taking scalps, there’s little room for moderation and accommodation.  The situation with the GOP has only gotten more dire since then with the party’s further devolution to a cult of personality around a madman.  There is no dealing to be made. There is only winning and losing and that is only done by convincing the broader electorate that you have policies that will make their lives better and inspiring them to come out to vote in overwhelming numbers.

DeLong notes an interesting nuance to what works in politics now that is relevant to the moderate’s cry that you better not go too far or you alienate the mushy middle of the electorate.

The first lesson is the Gingrich lesson: If you’re in a swing state, you lose your seat if the president of your party is perceived to be a failure. The highest priority for Blue Dogs in red and purple states — in 1994 and in 2010 — ought to have been making it clear the president of their party was a great success.

If there is a good state of the world in 2021 — the Lord willing and the creek don’t rise — everyone and all Blue Dogs in office needs to recognize that and act on that.

2020 should be a continuation of the 2018 Blue Wave as the GOP has to defend an ocean of indefensible failure and corruption.  The impulse of the Morning Joes and, yes, many many Democrats  will be to play prevent defense – just don’t overreach and you’ll win this thing.  Any sports fan will get my reference to “prevent defense” as a pejorative – it rarely works and it’s a bad strategy for Dems too.

DeLong’s observation absolutely applies to the Dems in this election cycle as it did to the outsider party in 1994 and 2010 midterms.  In 2020 those moderates across the country in purpler districts will not succeed if they abandon their party and go mealy mouthed.  It’s go big, and stay united in a cause – get the Senate and the WH and expand the majority in the House.  To do that you get on board with the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, etc. and explain the fuck out of it to their constituents in ways they can grasp as being important and beneficial priorities for a country that needs big bold ideas.  Ideological collaboration with the GOP will doom them.  That will seem counterintuitive to many who are fearful of the Sanders/AOC left.   But time has come to trust the left, they have the baton.  Root like hell.

Little Trinity Church in the Middle of Wall Street is So Quaint… And Has $6 Billion Bucks!

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Trinity Church, Lower Manhattan circa 1850.

Trinity Church is a little marvel because it was built in Colonial times in lower Manhattan and is still standing there as it has been surrounded and shadowed, more each year, by the glass and steel skyscrapers that represent the heart of modern capitalism.  For perspective, in 1885 the Trinity Church steeple was the tallest building on the island of Manhattan.  It was surpassed by the Woolworth Building and now it’s like a toddler in the middle of a giraffe stampede.

Besides being a curiosity in the Financial District as the Church and its ancient cemetery persisted through centuries, besides its great claim as an anachronism, its greatest calling card is as the last resting place of Alexander Hamilton, our first secretary of the treasury.  He would be so proud of the little Church as it now has a trust fund that has $6 billion dollars in real estate holdings.

Trinity’s current affluence can be traced to a gift of 215 acres from Queen Anne in 1705. (The church was first chartered, under King William III, in 1697, a few decades after the British took over New Amsterdam.) Trinity still owns 14 acres of that original land grant, mostly in Hudson Square.

It’s a very interesting story.  But it must be kept in mind…

Trinity has been able to do all this because it’s been a savvy manager of its resources. It is also, as a church, exempt from taxes.

But some wonder about the ethics of a religious institution being such a power player in the world of New York real estate.

Yes, let’s wonder about that.  Why does freedom of religion mean freedom from taxation?  That anachronism should probably be rethought.

 

Warren and Sanders the Philosophical Divide and Why the Situation Renders it Meaningless

Despite the bad HuffPost headline “The Real Dem Divide: It’s About Power” (its not about a power struggle between Sanders and Warren, please), this is a good piece by Zach Carter that looks at the philosophical divide between the Sanders approach to fixing inequality (more socialism) and the Warren approach (fixing capitalism)  Which is in all practical respects moot right now because the system’s lights have been blinking red for so long, with only inaction and regressive action, that underlying philosophy notwithstanding, the vast majority of Americans from all over the spectrum see a need for structural reforms in our economic system.  For Warren and Sanders the bottom line is pretty much the same answers to the same problems.

But they’re not alone at all anymore.  In fact, those opposed look out of touch now as the Howard Schultz roll out with Bloomberg side show illustrated (we need fundamental tax code reform but not raising taxes on billionaires ’cause that would make us Venezuela – JEEEEZ!).  The newly elected 2018 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez led faction in the House are all on the same page with Sanders/Warren.  Even the Democrats of moderate stripe are ready to talk about the really modest proposals that the media and the GOP’s billionaire relief caucus will call radical.  Polling shows that people get that we need real action and put their hopes in the Democrats to push initiatives that can level a playing field that has been actively tilted for the “economic royalists” for decades.

The government shutdown showed real time examples of what studies have been saying for years in that a huge faction of Americans really do live pay check to pay check and missing even one check can start a Jenga tower of catastrophe.  40% of the country cannot deal with a sudden $400 emergency.  And what is $400 in this day and age?  That’s a few hours of emergency plumbing or an emergency room visit.  It’s a minor car repair, not a middling one.   There are millions of economic potholes Americans can fall into  that $400 wouldn’t even cover.  The situation is pretty goddamn dire.

“The two senators disagree over the best method to give the working classes a leg up,” according to David Dayen. “You can restructure markets so everyone benefits, or you can break down the market system, either eliminating the profit motive or giving everybody a public option.” For Jacobin founder Bhaskar Sunkara, Warren aims at “seeking to construct better policy but not an alternative politics,” rejecting “the class-struggle, worker-centric approach of Sanders.”…

The trouble for leftish intellectuals is a confusion over the terms “socialism” and “capitalism.” Both words are extremely flexible, and their meanings shift with political currents. In an American context, it has never been easy to distinguish between socialism and reformed capitalism ― and committed capitalists have denounced both with vigor. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was condemned as a socialist by congressional Republicans. In the 1940s, American conservatives viewed the social safety net in Britain and the Stalinist Soviet Union with almost equal alarm. By the 1950s, Herbert Hoover had concluded that the words “liberalism” and “socialism” really just meant the same thing.

So Howard Schultz can say FDR was his favorite Democrat in the last 50 years (who died 75 years ago), but not square the circle that his top marginal tax rate was 90% as he rejects AOC’s 70% proposal.  History has shown that FDR saved American capitalism – as the hard core right wing at the time considered him a socialist – those marginalized right wingers are now the mainstream of Republican conservatism.  Before the 2020 election is over, every Democrat will be called a socialist.  And the public for the most part will yawn as they did in the 30s because of the situation.  Solutions like Medicare for All, that was hardly spoken before 2016, will become commonly accepted planks in the Democratic platform in 2020.

It depends on the problem they’re trying to solve. In practice, they end up supporting an awful lot of the same solutions. In addition to Medicare for all, breaking up the banks and taxing the rich, both Warren and Sanders are advocates of a federal job guarantee, postal banking and a bill making it easier for workers to unionize.

Nobody talks about postal banking.  I have.  But until AOC mentioned it in the last month the last time I saw it in print was likely when I blogged about it.  But it’s a really no-brainer, simple solution to  a big problem for millions of people at the bottom of the economic ladder.  And like raising the top marginal rate, it’s NOT A NEW IDEA, WE HAD IT TILL 1967.  It’s bringing back things that worked that were removed through the lobbying of big banking interests.

All of these proposals transfer money and power from the super-rich to the not-rich. Take postal banking. About 32.6 million households rely on a check-cashing service, payday lender or other expensive, small-dollar financial bottom-feeder at least once a year, according to the FDIC. On average, these households earn about $25,500 a year and spend nearly 10 percent of their income ― $2,412 ― on these sketchy financial products. That’s over $82 billion going from hard-up homes to predators every year. You can deal with payday lenders a lot of different ways: ban them, regulate them or, the preferred tack of Warren and Sanders, have the government make them obsolete. If every household can get a low-fee bank account with the Post Office, they won’t have to turn to legalized loan sharking to get by. That’s bad news for payday loan executives, like ACE Cash Express CEO Jay Shipowitz, who made almost $4.5 million in 2004 alone. Is postal banking socialism or reformed capitalism? Yes.

Democrats have to make the argument that taking some of the power from the banks and corporations and restoring a modicum of protections for the working class will actually inure to the benefit of the people at the top as well.  They’re taking an ever larger slice of a static pie and starving the source of their wealth.  Give a bigger slice to the consumers and the pie grows.  Make productivity matter instead of squeezing pennies out people and everyone benefits.

Those that fear monger and call it a plan to create Venezuela will just look silly.

The Blue Wave Has Actually Continued as Repubs Defect

Quietly, under the news radar, with all of the big churn stories about shut downs, foreign policy insanity and the 2020 candidate roll outs, despite the media bothsidesing every damn thing, the strength of the Democratic message has continued to resonate in statehouses around the country.  In one of the signs of the GOP apocalypse, Republicans with a conscience have switched parties.

Over the past two months, as lawmakers were sworn in and this year’s statehouse sessions got underway, Republicans in CaliforniaKansas and New Jersey switched their party affiliations to become Democrats.

They cited various reasons, but the party-switchers have one thing in common: They say the GOP under President Donald Trump has become too extreme.

One of the little mentioned stories of the GOP takeover of statehouses during the Obama years, when wonks cite the around 1,000 seats that switched from D to R over those years, is how many of those were not electoral losses but individuals switching parties to catch up to the political currents in places like Alabama and West Virginia. Into the 2000s those states were still vestigially Democratic on a local and voter registration level, but wildly Republican on the national electoral level.  During Obama’s 8 years hundreds of conservatives from the South finally made the formal move over to the Republican Party.

By the same token, places like California, Virginia, New England, etc. shed Republicans slowly, but in 2018 there was a big blue anti-Trump churn that continues and promises to carry through 2020 as well.

 

The Dems Next Move

The Senate kinda, sorta, halfheartedly tried today with two doomed votes on (1) Trump’s terrible proposal and (2) the same spending bill Republicans approved unanimously before the shutdown, but now is unacceptable.

So the next move has to be a counter proposal from Pelosi and Company.  I think they should have made a counter proposal earlier in the week already.  But now they have to, ASAP.  It should include:

  1. A vote on HR 1 the House bill on electoral reforms
  2. A vote on a $15 minimum wage
  3. Permanent DACA and TPS
  4. $5.7 billion in spending on border security and humanitarian relief, the moneys to to be spent by the decisions of a Bipartisan Commission on Border Security which would include experts and border state lawmakers.

This is both a reasonable proposal and a great PR strategy to intravenously inject the first 2 Democratic planks into the public debate.  Everybody should know what the first bill the Democrats passed in the new Congress was.  Everybody should know Democrats stand for a $15 minimum wage.  And Republicans should be made to vote on those things, which they would never do if McConnell had his way.

So far the shut down has been just awful and painful, but is almost completely being blamed on Trump (although not enough on McConnell) and pressure should continue to build on them.  Nevertheless, to stay on the right side of the public on this Dems have to be be seen to be willing to negotiate in good faith to end this.  There’s no both sides on this.  Trump closed the government and McConnell has enabled it.  But for this to be a total win for the party, which it is so far, in a media landscape that just can’t help bothsidesing, Dems have to play the game.

Documenting the Evidence of Toxic Inequality

NYT front page.  Sometimes the juxtaposition of stories tells it all.

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Link to the important story.

As the dismissal of the Davos denizens shows, there’s a myopia among the super privileged that the structural reasons for their immense wealth can’t possibly be part of the problem.  Surely, they think, I’m not greedy, look at how much I give voluntarily – how dare you make me do it involuntarily!  Likewise, with the Blairs and Bushes of the world, the long lasting profound consequences of their world changing actions are never to be acknowledged – that I kind of understand, like a form of psychological denial they have to suppress the reality of their actions or the horror would be too much.

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