It’s fall and midterm elections are only a year away. Once again Trump is “too much with us near and far” (Wordsworth). Echoes of past lies, rallies to entertain the Trump peeps with bogus claims about fraudulent elections in states all over the nation in 2020, taunts about President Biden’s senility hidden by his staff (the childish “I’m rubber, you’re glue” defense), repetition of all his ‘oldies but goodies’ (I am the most stable genius, I alone can do that), sniping at liberals, and nary a sign of a policy because the guy is not interested in politics, just in winning. Just that voice coming over the media far too frequently is enough to give us the heebie jeebies.
Maybe it’s because it’s almost Halloween and he keeps popping back up like Freddy Krueger, or because his style with women resembles that of an old school vampire. (There is a new school of vampires.) Our anxiety is returning, the Trump-as-President anxiety.
The man is spooky. He can apparently commit any of the sins that usually spell disaster for politicians and, since he is soulless, never experiences guilt or remorse, these sins just do not slow his roll. He abuses women, a sin which has cost a number of politicians their jobs and the conversation disappears into a black hole.
He fires all of the inspectors general, attorneys general, and anyone else who might criticize or curb his bad behaviors and the accusations gain no traction in the media.
He pretends a pandemic is no big deal in order to maintain his supposedly strong record on the economy even though his lack of an organized response causes many deaths, and half the nation agrees with him and refuses to take a preventative vaccine.
He (with the help of the Republicans) trashes voting in America and then walks away a bit and says, as if he had nothing to do with it, “look at our flawed elections.” We all know elections were fine before Trump got his fascism going and made half of Americans doubt our free and fair elections. Then, he tells “The Big Lie” and half of America, at least, piles on pretending they believe him. How he does go on! Once he gets what he believes is a winning tactic he expands on it – now he has multiple states involved in auditing election results from 2020, even though there was no fraud and 2020 is almost over. And he is making sure that no one will have any trust in future elections – a true authoritarian move.
He foments a riot at the Capitol on January 6. He denies any responsibility and once again walks away, not only without being charged with sedition or impeached in the Senate, but here he is once again, bold as brass, planning to run to be our president again in 2024 and he is treated in the press like an acceptable candidate.
So, we are seeing that ‘Bob’s Big Boy’ face everywhere again and bracing ourselves for more election insanity. Biden is being prevented from any accomplishments so Republicans can say he and the Democrats did nothing. It is easy to believe that 2020 may be the last election Dems ever win.
Americans, who have been taught to see liberals as their enemies are flying black flags, some pure black, some a black and white version of the American flag used in the Civil War by the Confederacy to serve as symbolic threats to neighbors that if they are liberals, they will soon be toast. Is it time for liberals to arm themselves?
If your nightmares bear the face of Trump, pray to whoever created the planet and the universe to please stop Trump from ever again being the President of the United States, or any splintered off segment of the United States, and hope (or believe) there is a caring God out there in the void.
Orange County oil spill cleanup – From a Google image Search – ABC7
In May 2015 I wrote:
“We sort of view our oceans, seas, rivers, and lakes as a giant purification system. We can empty any dirty old thing in there and it will come out clean. But we have been fooling ourselves with this science of wishful thinking. When our population was smaller, and the waste we emptied into our water was mainly organic, this faux water science sort of worked. But with 7 billion plus people on the planet even organic wastes are taxing our water systems, fresh and salty.”
We seem to be trying to keep our freshwater resources cleaner and fresher, although there are still too many environmental accidents. But, most individuals have little or no control over what is happening in our seas and oceans. We are still presented with so much plastic as consumers. Getting rid of plastic bags is finally happening and that’s great. Plastic take-out containers, plastic straws, plastic wraps and packing materials are still making mountains of trash, and although much of it can be recycled, some places that used to accept plastic to recycle like China, no longer accept our plastic waste. Tons of plastic waste ends up in our waterways and oceans. There is that great group, “4Oceans”, that is working to clean up plastic waste on beaches. There is the guy who invented the giant plastic vacuum cleaner to pull plastics out of water using nets, similar to the way fishermen pull fish from the oceans. Plastic waste is a problem we can help with, by innovating ways to replace each piece of plastic we use.
We have learned a lesson we already knew, and we have learned it repeatedly – everything is interconnected. Plastic waste doesn’t stay in the ocean. Plastic finds its way around the necks of birds; it destroys a fish’s quality of life by getting wrapped around its mouth and head. There is usually no person around that poor fish to remove the plastic. It stays there as an irritant, or perhaps the fish can no longer eat properly, and the plastic becomes a killer.
The ocean grinds plastics down into tiny pebbles the size of grains of sand, birds who eat by scooping up tiny organisms in sand have ways to filter out the sand, but not the plastic. Then they feed their babies with the food they have scooped up, but the plastic is passed on too, the babies starve, and the entire family dies off. We have lost 3 billion birds in the last census taken by bird counters. If plastic kills birds which are pretty high up on the food chain, imagine what happens to those tiny critters that birds eat that rely on even smaller things that live in the sand at the bottom of ocean. If birds die and fish die, then eventually we die. Everything is interconnected.
This past week in early October 2021 a pipeline was breached near the beautiful beaches of Orange County, California – Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Laguna Beach, Dana Point Harbor, Newport Harbor. It was an underwater oil pipeline possibly scraped by anchors in a high-volume shipping harbor. At the bottom of the ocean oil coats seaweeds and living things and kills everything that it covers. On the beach it smells and makes enjoying a beautiful natural environment dangerous and unpleasant. Near the beach are the wetlands, biological nurseries, environmental safeguards; protected sanctuaries designed to act as buffers against man’s voracious desires for development and biome destruction. But the oil cannot be kept away, at least until the booms are placed that block the oil from traveling across the water. We mourn every time we see the birds drenched in black raw oil and see the habitat workers cleaning them off. We sometimes are shown the ones that die, sometimes not. Plants are killed off too which can hopefully regrow if the soil is not too poisoned. This happens over and over.
“We sort of view our oceans, seas, rivers, and lakes as a giant purification system.”
When does the challenge become too great? What is the tipping point? When do our oceans die? Can oceans clean up oil? Oil and water don’t mix. Water requires additives to clean up oil, additives we can’t put into our water because they will alter water’s chemistry. Where does the oil go in the long term? What knock on effects does that oil have years later? Oil spills have happened near every nation that has a coastline and imports and/or exports oil. Here’s a short list of some of the largest oil spills.
Orange County pipeline spill, 2021
Deepwater Horizon blowout, 2010
Exxon Valdez tanker grounded off Alaska, 1989
Ixtoc, spill off Mexico, 1979
Gulf War spill, collision, 1981
Amoco Cadiz, tanker ran aground, 1978
Castillo de Beliver oil fire after spill, 1983
Atlantic Empress, collision off Trinidad and Tobago, 1979
There was a spill in the Mediterranean Sea off Lebanon, the Emerald Marine Ltd. spill, there have been oil spills off the China coast-in 2021 a collision between oil tanker and bulk carrier off China’s east port city of Qingdao into the Yellow Sea, in 2018 when an Iranian oil tanker sank in the East China Sea. Most of this info is available online as a search answer on Google.
An article in Environmental Science and Technology at pub.acs.org is entitled, “Long-Term Ecological Impacts from Oil Spills: Comparison of Exxon Valley, Hebei Spirit, Deepwater Horizon”. Scientists found long term effects on seabirds, sea otters, killer whales, and subtidal communities. Near the Deepwater Horizon spill they found effects on a diversity of complex aquatic communities in the deep ocean and offshore biologic areas, coastal environmental impacts to deep ocean corals, failed recruitment of oysters over multiple years, damage to coastal wetlands, reduced dolphin, sea turtles and seabird populations. In the Hebei Spirit spill off Western Korea, environmental conditions that were different and extensive cleanup resulted in limited long-term impacts. This last example offers some hope that human intervention can work although in open ocean situations the consequences may not be as easily ameliorated.
Living on a planet with dead oceans will eventually kill us all. This is not even global warming, which is having other effects like slowing the Atlantic current, but this is a fossil fuel effect because oil and gas are being moved around the globe and accidents happen, drunk captains happen, storms happen, wars happen. This is a repetitive tragedy that individuals cannot resolve. This is an industry problem, so we need the help of everyone in the oil and gas chain, all those who are least likely to want to help. This is a problem that will cost money, so it is the province of billionaires and millionaires. We’ll help if we have clear guidance about what to do.
Obviously, the biggest problem of all is that we don’t have enough clean energy sources to generate all the energy we use without gas, oil, and even, perhaps, coal. We don’t want to lose our comforts, but we want to keep the planet functioning. Keep working on this everyone. Perhaps the universe will offer up a solution if they see that we really want to save our planet. Keep finding biodegradable alternatives to plastics. Keep creating better batteries or other ways to store power. Keep inventing alternative energies. Meditate. Speak to a higher power. We may be locusts, but we are locusts with brains, and we can do this.
“The Pandora Papers documents — more than 11.9 million records from 14 offshore entities, including law and wealth-management firms — illuminate a hidden world that has allowed government leaders, a monarch, billionaires and criminals to shield their assets.”
The Pandora Papers hit the news yesterday. I saw the story in The Washington Post, but it was also available in other media sources. It’s not all that shocking, since we knew wealth was being hidden to avoid taxes, but the scope and complexity of the way trusts are structured and the fact that most of it is legal suggests that hoping for a balanced economy anytime soon is a pipe dream. (It is now legal in many American states to talk openly about pipe dreams.)
Not many Americans were exposed in this tranche of data, perhaps because they use different places to shelter their wealth and different lawyers to set up their irrevocable trusts. Many trust structures are so complex that flow charts and spread sheets must be used to keep track of the legal and illegal shenanigans. Maybe there are even some disorganized hoarders who lose track of all the money and assets they have stashed away. Some American states have become “islands” where assets can be stashed without penalties or oversight. South Dakota, Nevada, and others were mentioned.
The Panama Papers gave us a peek into these vast caches of assets, but the Pandora Papers exposé is “huge” (a descriptive adjective made popular by a recent impeached president). If money becomes useless and the world moves to digital money systems, will all these assets disappear? Only if the transformation takes them totally by surprise. Rumor has it that certain ancient members of Congress are trying to learn the ins and outs of bitcoin and cybercurrency.
Can we change laws enough to make these sequestered assets visible to the IRS once again? Can we do such a thing when people in our government have a vested interest in continuing to improve the Machiavellian twists that have made trusts so useful? Can we do it when all around the world powerful people are deeply invested in “creative” financing? Read all about it in your favorite media source.
In a capitalist system “a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.”
“Capitalism is often thought of as an economic system in which private actors own and control property in accord with their interests, and demand and supply freely set prices in markets in a way that can serve the best interests of society. The essential feature of capitalism is the motive to make a profit.”
Capitalism has been around for ages. The stock market began when the Dutch East India Company began selling shares out of Amsterdam. When other countries saw how this increased profits, they adopted the same model in their own countries. Even in nations governed by monarchs there was some private enterprise, small businesses offering the services of artisans, bakers, farmer’s markets, cobblers, tanners, silversmiths, and so on. Although the king or queen took a share, the owner of the business kept most of the profits.
However, when steam engines and then combustion engines came along, as monarchies began to fail, get overthrown, or become less responsible for governing and more titular in nature, we started to see capitalism on steroids. This was an age of invention and innovation, with machines, improvements on machines, improvements on ways to fuel machines, new designs to produce with machines, and finally assembly lines which followed immediately after Ford’s example. Wheels turned on new cars, on railroad trains, boats got engines, the world practically bustled with industry, at least in Europe, America, Canada, and some of South America. Streets turned gritty with ashy remnants of burning coal and later gas and oil. Even electricity often had to be fueled with fossil fuels, although hydropower was also used and did not foul the air. There was work for everyone and there were no rules.
These days capitalism may be a problem the world faces, rather than the engine of prosperity. Both definitions I found use the term control. Private owners control trade and industry, supply and demand. Both definitions claim that the state (the government) does not have a role in business. Capitalism would be fine, but capitalism with no controls, no rules, no regulations is untenable. Conservatives stridently insist that we must have free markets, we must have an unregulated business scenario if we want booming profits. America’s economic problems are not necessarily with capitalism. It is just a system for doing business. The system doesn’t require any ‘purity’ in order to function, and since it is an idea, it has no values of its own. The values belong to those private owners who say that profits are highest when business is unregulated. It is the way humans interpret capitalism that makes the system problematic.
If profits are all that matters, then every nation could just be run by corporations, and everyone would buy from the company store, and all the profits would accrue to the owners. Since there would be no central government corporations would probably run their own little kingdoms and perhaps have wars with each other. Capitalism does not, in and of itself, offer any governance, allow for a civilized society, leave room for small businesses. Left to their own devices corporate owners would not concern themselves with anyone’s quality of life, except the owner’s own quality of life.
But capitalism is not our system of government; it is simply the way we do business. Totally unregulated capitalism is incompatible with democracy. We see what happens with too much market freedom. Wealth pools at the top. A system for conducting business may not be greedy, but the people who own the parts of the system can be. They can be cruel and uncaring, and they can begin to feel that they are above government and above workers; above it all. Even people who seem civil may still believe that all the wealth accruing to them is theirs by right. After all, they started the company, or s/he started the company. Owners forget that their business could not have expanded to provide ever greater profits unless they hired people to help them. They did not see the people as helpers; they are workers, lesser beings, to be paid as little as the owner can get away with and still attract the quality of help s/he needs.
Conservatives have come to be the American citizens who insist that business can only operate if government keeps hands off. They act as if the definition of capitalism is absolute and not mutable. They act as if business profits everyone if there are no rules and regulations, if we let supply and demand control the marketplace, if trade is freely determined by owners of corporations, and if it is up to corporate leaders to decide how trade will be conducted. (Do they get together and decide, or is it every business for itself?) Conservatives insist that if governments keep their “mitts off” business, the profits will be so great that they will overflow and trickle down on workers. They never describe how small that trickle will be.
It is a myth that capitalism only functions or functions best when there are no rules. Free markets and unregulated capitalism have not produced market stability or enough trickle down to reach those at the bottom of the culture. We have seen markets experience cycles of boom, recession, and even depression without some oversight. These cycles don’t always exempt the wealthy owners either. Even the rich can lose everything and, in fact, they have a lot farther to fall.
Our economy will not survive the current conservative messaging on corporations and businesses. Just as conservatives seek an originalist interpretation of the Constitution, they seek totally unfettered capitalism. “Fettered” capitalism works just fine. Harness capitalism a bit and it can serve everyone in a society and not just those at the top. If the thirst for profits of those at the top of corporations gets too heavy, then it robs everyone at the bottom. If those on the bottom cannot perform their role in a capitalist system as consumers, then there is no demand for goods. Regardless of the supply side options no one can afford to buy whatever is on offer, and capitalism dies, the economy dies. Greed at the top will kill the economy just as surely as too much regulation.
Conservatives say that Democrats will ruin the economy. They want to allow the government to exercise control over business by making rules and regulations about things like masking and vaccinations. Even before the pandemic, Conservatives said that Democrats liked to make up all kinds of rules to hamstring owners of businesses. They want to raise taxes on the wealthy. Conservatives say, if we call it “redistribution” and label it as “socialism” people will climb on board with us to fight the Democrats, even if they are low wage workers. This is exactly what has happened.
Too much regulation can also be bad for a capitalist economy, but there is a whole lot of room between no control and too much control. The economy will show us when the balance is right. There will be a more even distribution of money, a prospering middle class, and no poverty. But those at the top will still be wealthy, just a bit less wealthy. These are the signs of a healthy economy. These are signs that taxes and regulations are set at appropriate levels.
If you look at our historical record on booms, or prosperous times, and recessions and depressions, it tells a tale. Recessions and depressions tended to occur after Republicans were in power. Steady progress tended to occur when Democrats were in power. Capitalism should not conform to an absolute definition, it should conform to reality, to conducting the system in a manner that will achieve balance, and a healthy planet. With all the great minds that have delivered us to the brink of the technological age you would think there would be a plan for a sustainable business model that is not totally out of balance, as well as a sustainable planet. Those of us who are not wealthy could stop enabling wealthy corporations that are hoarding profits. We could support laws that help workers, and we could insist on more balance in pay and in taxes.
Friday evening, September 24, 2021, I happened to stop channel surfing to watch Jonathan Capehart and David Brooks on the PBS News Hour. They were discussing the $3.5 trillion bill that I like to call the For the People Bill (but that name is really reserved for HR1-the Voting Rights Bill). The $3.5 trillion bill was joined with the American Jobs Plan which is now the separate Infrastructure Bill. So far, the larger worker-centered bill is mainly referred to as the “reconciliation bill”, or the “Build Back Better bill.”
David Brooks has been a Conservative writer for many years. He is a ‘bespoke’ 61-year-old, perfectly groomed American man, and worth 20 million dollars as of September 2021. He was born Jewish, but news sources suggest that he has evolved to a loosely Christian orientation. He speaks in terms of morality and community. Brooks seems to see the current extremism in the Republican Party as a temporary aberration that will go away any day restoring Reagan Conservatives as the appropriate voice of reason and flag-carriers of the true American identity. So, he traces a straight line from “saint” Reagan to now and ignores the Tea Bags and the Trump-sized garbage bag hanging from that line in recent years. He does not seem to accept that it is the nature of Conservatism that enabled the extremism in his party. For now, he is a man without a party.
This is what he had to say about the $3.5 trillion dollar plan when Judy Woodruff asked him about it.
“[W]hat strikes me is how so many people are drawing red lines. The progressives are saying, we want $3.5 trillion. We’re not going under. Manchin and others say $1.5 trillion, we’re not going over.
“And so that’s a gigantic gap. They can’t even agree on when to vote on what. And so, I think what they need to do is look at, what is the key insight of each side? The progressives are right that we need something big. We’re a nation in decline. We’re a nation — because of disunity. Lots of people have been left behind by this economy. And they’re right to do something big to try to jolt us back to unity.
The moderates, in my view, are right that we’re not going to have a European-style welfare state. We’re just not that kind of country. We’re an individualistic country. We like to tie benefits to work and have a work obligation. We’re never going to give away as much money in taxes as the Europeans do. The Norwegians give away about 46 percent of their GDP to taxes. If this passed, it would get us up to 19.
We’re just not that kind of country. So, if you take the scope of the progressives and the values of the moderates, I think you can get a deal, but they’re pretty far away from it right now.”
There is a lot packed in there. 1) We need something big, 2) We are a nation in decline, 3) So, Progressives are right 4) Moderates are also right 5) We (Americans) are not going to have a European-style welfare state.
“We’re an individualistic country.” What does that even mean? How individualistic does someone who is making $7.25 an hour feel? Do you think they would turn up their nose at free childcare? Do you think they would feel the same if childcare was a tax rebate? Do you think someone who will be burdened by the relatively low costs of a community college degree would be too proud to accept free tuition? Do you think any of these Americans would mind if we raised taxes on the rich?
Does someone with $20 million dollars in his bank account think he is truly able to judge how individualistic people are in this country? Does he think a senior would turn down help with dental work that becomes more expensive as we age? It would not stretch his budget at all if he wanted dental implants. For most seniors they are out of the question. Even good dentures are a stretch. If David Brooks needs new hearing aids every few years, he just buys them. Most seniors are lucky if they get one pair.
Does he admire Cliven Bundy who grazed his cattle for free on land other ranchers paid a fee to graze their cattle on, who then welcomed the ersatz militia guys who faced down the feds from a federal highway and who hauled out the old Posse Comitatus laws from Reconstruction to say that he only answers to the local sheriff? Is that the kind of individualism we revere in America? Although some Americans think Bundy is a hero, I don’t think David Brooks is one of those Americans.
“We like to tie benefits to work and have a work obligation.” This is David Brooks speaking for all Americans. The Protestant work ethic is a Conservative touchstone. No work, no eat. Can’t get a job. That’s on you. Brooks does express empathy for people who are poor, and he does suggest that we are a connected community and individuals should lift-up the less fortunate, just not government. If government lifts people up, they will not work. They will become lazy deadbeats living off the government dime. We will raise taxes on hard working people who have been successful to fritter money away on people who will not need to work. If we do subsidize those who are low wage workers, we need to make it as degrading as possible so that they will get off the public dime as soon as possible. Of course, “saint” Reagan is the one who came up with the term “welfare queens.”
But research into the future of work suggests that leaving benefits tied to work will not be useful for future workers. Workers will have to be more mobile; they may have to change jobs more often, even move to different cities. Some have suggested a ‘benefit’s passport’ that travels with a worker from job to job. But who pays? This would suggest private companies would offer benefit plans that would only be available to workers, but not paid by individual employers or the government. Without unions to represent workers what will those benefits be like? It could result in “the incredibly shrinking benefits”. Studies of the future of work also suggest that as AI and robotics become more common many may lose their jobs through no fault of their own, at least for a while. What economic guarantees will apply in a situation like that if all benefits must be tied to work?
Lastly Brooks argues that America is not Europe. (Conservatives think that turning into Europe is scary for Americans, but it’s probably not something we spend a lot of our time thinking about.) “The moderates, in my view, are right that we’re not going to have a European-style welfare state. We’re never going to give away as much money in taxes as the Europeans do. The Norwegians give away about 46 percent of their GDP to taxes. If this passed, it would get us up to 19. We’re just not that kind of country.”
Such arrogance from a man who has no party. Such arrogance from a man whose conservative policies led to Trump who is a man with no ideology and no empathy. Brooks does not seem to see that the times may call for a new ideology, a more progressive, less work-ethic-above-all kind of ideology. He’s very educated but not very flexible. Perhaps it’s because he has become a brand.
I think people like to work when they are treated well. I think they need work. Without some way to earn their own money and support a family, people are bereft. If there are people who don’t like to work perhaps it is because they have no good examples to call on, or they need to be trained to work productively, or they need to feel that their work has value. If there are large numbers of people who don’t work, there is a societal reason for that, and it needs to be explored and changed.
Europe has its own problems with benefits. Many European nations are far less diverse than America. The argument about giving money to ‘others’ is not as important. However, some benefits go to people who don’t need them but are protected by such powerful groups within the society that the structures that exist cannot be rearranged. Public employees are protected and cannot be fired but other workers are not so fortunate. Tax dollars are collected and then placed back in the same hands that paid those dollars which is inefficient and costly and not the point of a system of benefits. Europe has even more difficulty changing the “welfare system” as it exists than America does. If this $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill puts our number at 19% of our GDP to taxes it hardly seems outrageous, especially compared to the 46% in Nordic countries.
The times are against Conservative messaging. Our economy is in chaos. Our supply chains are broken. We are still in a pandemic, especially in ‘red’ states, (look it up). People can’t decide if they should return to their old jobs or take advantage of a fluid market and switch jobs. This is leaving employers short-staffed. Even employers are thinking about offering more paid leave. We need this bill to pass. We need to ignore conservative voices that led us to a right-wing that refuses to govern, that campaigns for conspiracy theorists and congress-people intent on sedition who pass their actions off as free speech.
David Brooks said this on Twitter, one day before speaking with Judy Woodruff:
“Progressives are right about one thing. We need a big spending infusion to reverse national decline.” 9.23.2021
Another Conservative, Andy Smarick, from the American Enterprise Institute (A Koch funded organization) popped up to offer this thread, proving that Brooks is not alone:
I have a piece coming out tomorrow that agrees with two of
points: 1) America is not Europe, and 2) America is struggling in important ways. But I disagree strongly with the third point–that American needs a massive federal package. I argue there’s another way…
And then he added:
My latest. “Consolidated power, centralized tinkering, and a bossy Washington are incompatible with American conservatism because the American character and the American experience teach us they are incompatible with American success.”
Do you sit around your kitchen table and talk like this about the American character and what is and is not compatible with American success? If you do discuss such things, do you arrive at the same conclusions? Or do you just go over your budget, what is happening at your child’s school, the grocery list, who will be home when your children arrive home from school, and wonder if you will lose your job if your child is exposed to COVID and has to quarantine at home.
Conservatives still have free speech but the failures of their chosen party, their flirtations with authoritarianism, should warn us that they may be too certain that they know all the answers, that they lack hubris, and their answers may be too outdated to help us make useful decisions about the next American century (if we last that long).
Why are Welfare States in US and Europe Different by Alberto Alessina, Edward L Glasser, Cairn Info, 2006
Much has been said about the wealth gap in America and in nations around the planet. History suggests that enormous gaps between a wealthy few and the many whose lives are limited by their finances leads to unrest and eventually revolution. History also suggests that once the revolution is over, although a few may change their economic circumstances, things quickly revert to the same inequalities that pertained before the bloody upheaval. This leads to the conclusion that revolution may not be the best way to resolve the recurring problem that makes all the cream rise to the top. Money gives people power over governance and allows the privileged few to make sure that laws are passed which keep money flowing into their pockets – that taxes are structured to their advantage – and allows them to broadcast the “big threat” – if we take away or redistribute their wealth it will mean that they will take the whole economy down with them, not necessarily from malice they assure us, but because without them the entire economy will not work.
Forbes tells us that since the pandemic the rich have gotten richer. Just seven Americans are worth $996 billion. The seven are Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Elon Musk (Tesla and Space X), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google) and Larry Ellison (Oracle). “That’s a group small enough to fit in an SUV,” says Forbes. Some of the graphs from Inequality.com show how skewed our economy has become.
This first graph shows the gaps in wealth between top and bottom of US citizens:
This graph shows how similar wealth inequality now is to wealth inequality just before the Great Depression:
This third graph shows the differences between CEO’s and workers in terms of paychecks:
Clearly, once you have money it is difficult to think about giving it up. Those who have it believe the money is theirs. They earned it, they don’t intend to share it with the untalented, the uncreative masses, the worker bees, or the deadbeats. They resist arguments that show how the wealthy stacked the deck in their own favor. They refuse to accept that when their own profits grew, they could have raised employee’s wages to close the gap. Many refuse to use “their” fortunes to fund societal needs that will reduce their profits, such as oil and gas millionaires and billionaires who refuse to believe they are changing the earth’s climate and refuse to give up their addiction to fossil fuels even though they share the dangers extreme climate changes bring. Homogeneity might work with milk, but they have no wish to join the masses. They like being the cream.
The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was shocking, although most Americans were very clear about what Republicans had wanted for over a decade. Despite clear evidence that “trickle down” doesn’t work, Republicans insisted that if we cut taxes for corporations and wealthy families, corporations would be beating down doors, transporting factories back across oceans to bring manufacturing back to America. It was quite easy to see that corporations would not be likely to come back to a nation with such high overhead costs and labor costs, at least until there was no cheap labor left in the world.
Of course, not everyone saw this. They believed the story that the Democrats killed American business with unions and their strident demands, although globalization was the real reason factories migrated to Asia. They wanted the fifties back, although the fifties lasted for a very short time and represented a postwar boom. After the 2017 Tax Act was passed the economy did pick up a bit, but certainly did not take off enough to bring us a new boom. Even if the pandemic did not come along, the economy did not show any signs of recreating the 50’s, or even the “sigh” 80’s, halcyon days of that economic genius Ronald Reagan (mythic or myth).
This graph shows wealth distribution after the tax act became law:
So, Mitch McConnell is supposedly protecting America when he refuses to increase the budget to meet the needs of the moment or raise the debt ceiling in a mean snit to throw more shade against those spendthrift Democrats who actually think that lifting up the ‘bottom dwellers’ will be good for the economy. Kentucky accepted the expanded Medicaid offered in the Affordable Care Act and would benefit from the programs offered in the For the People Act. Why do they keep sending McConnell to Congress when he doesn’t even back things his constituents need? It’s a mystery.
Henry Olsen is a conservative opinion writer that The Washington Post offers a voice to, perhaps out of respect for his longevity. He swears that passing a $3.5 trillion dollar act that supports people in a time of economic transition, when many are not necessarily trained for the jobs that will be available, will do incalculable damage to the American economy. However, it seems that if the American economy must be this skewed to survive, then our nation is already on its last legs.
How can we bring the American economy back into some semblance of balance? There are many options. Wealthy Americans finally won exemption from paying taxes on capital gains, thus insuring generational wealth. We could back track on this. We could raise the corporate tax rates to something reasonable. We could beef up the IRS to enforce taxes on the wealthy. We could raise wages. And for starters we could pass the For the People Act, which is not nearly as progressive as progressives would like it to be. Our wealth distribution does not have to be this out of whack. No one deserves to hoard enough money that it will threaten the survival of everyone on the planet.
We are so divided that we can’t do what is necessary to beat a devious virus that keeps spinning out mutations as we procrastinate about getting it under control. This pandemic is destroying the American economy, and our divisions over simple health measures like masks and vaccines are destroying the American spirit. But our divisions are not real. At least we were not this divided until one political party decided to gin up our differences because it offered an engineered political advantage.
We live right next door to each other. We used to be family and neighbors. Now we are enemies. Now we don’t know what we can and cannot say to each other. The right-wing media used the way workers felt cheated when factories left their towns to move South or to move overseas. They whipped up a vague sense of grievance into a movement of defiance. They made sure that this group of angry Americans would be armed, and they used guns as an issue to divide us, to make us feel afraid of each other. They enlisted the aggrieved as an army to make a war between Democrats and Republicans. They escalated feelings of xenophobia brought on by terrorism (when we lost our invincibility on 9/11/2001) and they turned our fear of terrorism into an argument for nativism and white supremacy.
It all happened in the minds and hearts of Americans. The only way to trace that it happened at all is in the battlelines we face over every issue that concerns us as Americans. We see it in the way we insisted that our schools switch to common core, that we stress nonfiction materials over literature. We see it in the movement to charter schools designed to perpetuate segregation. We see in attitudes towards police reform and bail reform intended to end racism in our justice system. We see it in the way people who needed health care still were persuaded to reject the Medicaid expansion.We see it in the Wall. We see it in the fight over whether there is election fraud in America or not. We see it in the willingness to break with Constitutional law in order to exploit our differences over the issue of abortion and increase our divisions. We saw it starkly during the pandemic when half of American became convinced that wearing a mask would destroy their freedom – freedom to do what, die? We see it again in the refusal of half of our population to get a vaccine that has proven to be safe and effective.
These divisions are fake, they are a product of some of the most successful propaganda that America (possibly the world) has ever seen. One political party has turned common sense upside down and inside out to gain political advantage. They have whispered in people ears over air pods and car radios. They have ranted and raved over televisions and computers, and whipped people into a frenzy about the supposed hypocrisy of the Democratic Party, while their own hypocrisy has been downplayed and explained away with twisted logic — logic which forces a wedge between the convinced and those who are not susceptible to the harangues of obvious demagogues.
Neighbors and family who loved Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, and even discredited sources like Bill O’Reilly, have been offered a constant menu of replacements. Tucker Carlsen is the new darling they listen to all day in living rooms, kitchens and garages. Sean Hannity, best friend of Trump is still around offering up his smarmy harangues to make sure Americans can no longer trust each other, to make us want to feel such levels of angry frustration with each other that we want to brawl in the streets or shoot each other, although (and thank goodness) most of us stop short of that so far. This propaganda has been so successful that it is now self-sustaining and, perhaps, permanent.
This disingenuous attack on the United States of America may have succeeded even beyond the imaginations of those who began it. It may have begun as a political ploy to turn a minority party into a force that defied elections and stayed in office reliably. The party had objectives that they knew would help them succeed. They planned to stuff the courts and were dismayed when Obama was elected, twice. But after two years GOP machinations held and they controlled Congress, pursued a policy of obstruction and were able to minimalize the ‘damage’ to the courts. Republicans were able to block Obama when he should have been able to fill a seat in the Supreme Court, using a political argument they abandoned at the first opportunity. They allied with Evangelicals and Catholics on the issue of abortion, enlisting churches to preach propaganda from pulpits (which violated their tax-free status) partly from genuine conviction, partly for reasons of political exploitation.
By recruiting individual states and making sure that their statehouses were run by Republicans, the GOP was able to use the old Civil War states’ rights fight, used to defuse Reconstruction, to further divide us into ‘Red States’ and ‘Blue States’. (Of course, these governments do not accurately reflect the attitudes of all the residents of these states). They argued for small federal government while also enabling an omnipotent federal executive branch headed by an all-powerful President, backed up by his own Justice Department dedicated to defending the President’s all-powerful state. Republicans were, in this manner, willing to switch out a democracy/republic for a dictatorship and their brainwashed crew did/does not even flinch, did/does not see the seditious intent in invoking two incompatible approaches to American governance.
Civil War resentments nursed for over a century, bubbled to the surface as they had in the years of our battles over civil rights. Rich southerners had never accepted that their ‘slaves’ were free and equal citizens of America. They consistently offered faux evidence that black folks were mentally inferior and only suited for physical labor. They have kept up a drumbeat of racism as a bass line in America since they lost the Civil War in 1865. This ‘Southern pride’ was kept alive by our entire nation when the federal government stepped away from interfering in violence during Reconstruction and Jim Crow, when they left matters up to local sheriffs. The Civil War has reared its divisive spirit to add intensity to more modern grievances and has added to contemporary racial animosities resulting from segregation, what appears to be racist policing, and generational inequality.
How do we heal our divide? How do we get our disaffected family and friends to recognize how they are being used by one political party to kill off a rival party? How do we help those who live among us realize that what the Republicans have to offer them will not prepare them in any meaningful way for the changes America must own and adapt to? Computer chips changed everything. Since this is being written on the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and possibly on Washington DC, there is much talk of how 9/11 changed America, how it made us less self-assured, more vulnerable. But our parent’s way of life had already been changed so much by job losses and Vietnam and the 1960’s, and climate change, perhaps 9/11 was just the last straw. Perhaps anger was in some American hearts just waiting to be stoked by those among us who were most hungry for power.
If we can’t unite over a pandemic, over something that is clearly apolitical, how will we unite over anything? Our national sadness and frustrations are with us every day, and this is tearing our nation apart. People are determined to pretend that it is fine to be joyful even in the face of so much upheaval and grief, but there is probably a price to pay for keeping up a pretense of pleasure and personal indulgence at such a moment. So far, no one has appeared with a recipe that will heal us, but we can always hope. The dialectic, if there is such a thing, may eventually predict a swing towards unity once again. However, it is scary to think what might happen to unite us if a pandemic doesn’t.
Congress is back in session after Labor Day, and it will be time for holiday recess before we know it. For Democrats this may be a now-or-never moment. This is the moment when we either put some accomplishments on the Congressional Record and implement them in the real world, or possibly lose seats in the 2022 midterms. Democrats’ margins are already so thin in both the House and the Senate that if we lose any seats we will be locked out of action by partisan Republicans and there will be no legislation to take America forward into new opportunities that could replace inequality with some balance. If Democrats lose not only do the American people lose, but the Democrats will lose, and not just in 2022 but in 2024. Republicans are frantically working to fix elections so that Democrats cannot win. If laws passed by Democrats have a chance to show Americans that Democratic initiatives will improve their lives, all the fixes in the world might not help the Republican Party.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (S.4263) is coming up for a vote. It will attempt to stop states from passing laws that suppress the right to vote by forcing any new voting rules to seek preclearance in a federal court before they can become laws. This restores a procedure that was subtracted from the Voting Rights Act of 1965, prematurely, based on the bills we are watching red states pass.
Since the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is unlikely to pass the Senate, Democrats propose that the “For the People Act” could do the job (although it would be even better if both bills passed). This House Bill is HR-1, showing the priority Democrats place on this bill. It would expand voting rights, change campaign finance law to reduce the influence of money in politics (overturn Citizens United v FEC), ban partisan gerrymandering, and create new ethics rules for federal office holders.
The Infrastructure and Jobs Act – HR.3684 which passed the Senate on August 10, 2021, and affects highways, rail – both rail safety and freight, public transit, airports, electric vehicles, water infrastructure, energy and Western water infrastructure, broadband infrastructure, resiliency for the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA funding, and cybersecurity, environmental remediation, and ‘pay-fors’. (Holland and Knightlaw.com)
The 3.5 T “Human Infrastructure” Package which focuses on family, climate and health care. This bill is still in committees but includes universal pre-K, free community college tuition, paid family leave, climate priorities, public housing, job training, new Medicare benefits and extends expansion of the Affordable Care Act, and immigration policy.
Only one of these bills has any support from Republicans and there are at least two Democrats who say these bills are too expensive and too progressive. (Kristin Sinema – D-AZ and Joe Manchin – D-WV). America needs all these bills to pass and become law.
Nancy Pelosi is aware that Republicans will use their barely bipartisan participation in passing the infrastructure bill as a point in their favor in the midterm elections. She knows we need to get the “human infrastructure” bill passed if we expect Americans to understand the advantages of a Democratic administration. She says she will not advance the Infrastructure and Jobs Act until the ‘Human Infrastructure’ Bill is also ready to be signed by the President, either by a bipartisan vote or by using the reconciliation process to pass the bill with only Democrats. Nancy Pelosi understands the legislative process far better than anyone, but the pressure is on. Timeliness is important and timeliness is not something Congress is noted for.
Can we get this all done before the holiday recess?
Most Democrats are anxious to end the filibuster rules that can be used to block legislation in the Senate. Filibuster rules are not part of our original documents, so it’s odd that the ‘originalist’ Republicans are desperate to hold on to this holdover from Jim Crow days, yet not so odd given the difficulty Republicans are having because their racism is showing. Unless we want to leave American jobs and social opportunities to powerful corporations who do not want to pay taxes because they don’t live in the America the rest of us live in, we need to end the filibuster. Even without the filibuster it will be difficult to pass these important bills into budget priorities. Considering the difficulty states have had distributing COVID funds to renters and landlords, designating money does not necessarily mean that all these programs will be administered properly in every state. We need to show that government can step up and step up quickly.
Everyone throws their hands in the air when someone timidly proposes added four seats to the Supreme Court, but Democrats also need to pursue that path. The current makeup of the Supreme Court is part of the Republican coup (not the Trump coup, although he got to implement that strategy and that’s why they love him so). The Supremes can block every law the Democrats pass and that should not be allowed if Dems intend to block the coup.
Perhaps we will have to accept that endless cycles of progress are not good for people or for the planet, that growth cannot be a giant spiral, but perhaps a slow and thoughtful process of change and adaptation. Republican policies are far more likely to stall human progress and even make the economy more unequal than it already is. If wealth remains this skewed or gets further out of balance, there really will be a few aristocrats and most of us will be their serfs. We will be cut off from the rest of the world and we will be paranoid, constantly spending our money on military and intelligence priorities. We will have strange new allies who will not be our friends. From now until Thanksgiving is a crucial time for Democrats. We are sending you positive energy, hope it helps.
Abortion is not the real issue in the pitched battle between the prolife folks and the proabortion contingent. No one is forced to have an abortion. Roe v Wade does not make abortions mandatory. This is a fight about morality. This is an attempt to legislate morality for every woman in a nation that has always professed to be about freedom of religion, separation of church and state. This is also a fight about the role of women in the world.
Most Americans of past generations were born in the Christian tradition, although in the twenty-first century many question the existence of any deity given overwhelming evidence that suggests that we are alone in this world. Many others feel that if there is a divine being s/he does not interfere in world events. But there is a minority group, who believes that they must fight against abortion, which they classify as murder, or they will be guilty of a mortal sin and will be unable to ‘ascend into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father almighty’. They are putting God before country, as their religion requires. But in a nation that has sworn to give its citizens the right to worship as they see fit, in order for these people to honor a Schrodinger’s box sort of God who only exists if one has faith, they must try to overturn what they see as a bad law, or if that doesn’t work, they must violate Constitutional law.
Not everyone who opposes abortion does it for religious reasons. It has become a political football by those who seek to win the votes of this minority group which may represent almost 42% of Americans according to data presented on Meet the Press this morning. Republicans have long used a prolife stance to win an election in a region of the country where religion is an important aspect of culture. Democrats have used a proabortion stance to win elections in regions where women’s rights are an important issue.
The role of religion in American culture is another factor contributing to the divides we see between red states and blue states. Red states are not monolithic in terms of religion or politics, and neither are blue states. However, it seems that state houses often are either predominantly Republican or Democratic and this is determining the kinds of legislation on offer, and even the way to treat a pandemic. Whoever thought we would be fighting in school boards about wearing a mask to prevent infections from a virus that is proving intractable? Whoever thought that school boards would become a political battlefield on a national scale, as opposed to the usual local personality or culture wars? It is mind-boggling to see how passionately we are pursuing some fairly petty battles where it seems that there should not even be two sides when there are larger issues to discuss.
Are women equal to men or not? Are women and men partners taking on a complex and not always kind world, or are women meant to be submissive to men? Throughout history it made some sense to divide tasks between men and women, but does that still make sense now? Why were women given brains with the same mental capacity as those given to men if they were meant to simply run a home? Raising children seems to work better when women are permitted to use their intelligence. Children value themselves more when they see both of their parents contributing to the society in which they live. They tend to assume that they will one day make their own contributions to making their society sensitive to the needs of all the citizens.
Why were women denied the vote until 1920? Why did they have to pitch decades of fits in order to win the right to vote? Why do they now have to fight to control their own bodies? The pandemic has offered new fodder for discussions among women about how they wish to conduct their lives. For centuries wealthy women wanted to have some control of their own lives. Since the 1960’s, better methods of contraception that did not hinder the enjoyment of men, gave even middle-class women the idea that they were now free to have lives outside of housekeeping and child-rearing. This freedom has filtered down to even poorer women.
If women have children, should they have to stay home to raise them? If women marry, should their husbands decide how many children they will bear? Men were often tyrants in their homes and women had to cope or not, depending on the level of bullying behavior. Are we still basically a hunter-gatherer culture where men do the hunting and gathering and the little woman stays home and tends the fire and the laundry and raises the children, feeds the animals, sews the clothing, plants the crops and accepts whatever moods are presented by her husband?
Many Christians who follow the teachings of a Bible that is now centuries old long to return to nuclear families, with a husband and a wife producing offspring to make sure that white Americans do not become a minority. What do women do when men choose not to stay in a marriage, or no suitable partner appears but they want to raise a child? What do women do when they don’t wish to put up with a dominating male, when they want to be an equal to their partner? More women stay single because men are unable to change the internal or external messaging that tells them that they are weak if they give into a woman who wants to share equal ground?
This discussion does not even pretend to cover all the complexities that women and men face in America, and the world, since the ‘sexual revolution’. Women had to work from home during the pandemic because workplaces closed, but they also had to work from home because schools were closed. From studies reported on sites like Linked In it appears that women took on more of the duties related to child rearing, home schooling, keeping children on-task; while also doing much of the housekeeping, and working on Zoom or other digital workspaces.
Women are once again analyzing how they wish to rate the priorities among their many responsibilities. Do they want to spend more family time? Do they want more flexible work rules? Do they think that it is time to have comprehensive childcare options in our nation? Would having these options even work if there was another pandemic, or if this pandemic keeps evolving and mutating? Why would men in government choose this moment to add to the dilemmas around the shifting nature of women’s rights? Why are we allowing a minority to dictate morality for all? Why are we pretending that this is really about babies and mothers, when it is just about finding one more tool to widen the divide between Americans so one party can win election after election, and take us back to a male dominated society that we have been trying to equalize for decades, even centuries.
Today people assumed that the Supreme Court would say something about the new Abortion law that just passed in Texas. The Supremes said nothing (crickets). This law says that as soon as there is a fetal heart beat an abortion becomes illegal. This happens at around 6 weeks when most women don’t even know they’re pregnant.
This law also says that anyone can report a woman who asks about an abortion, anyone who answers questions of a pregnant woman about abortion, the doctor who anyone suspects may have provided an abortion, or anyone connected with an abortion. Anyone who files such a case will be paid $10,000 (if they win).
Heartbeat laws are not new but until now have been overturned by the courts. Vigilante enforcement of a law is new and very frightening. It sets household against household and person against person. Any person who just wants $10,000 can hunt down even someone who has had a miscarriage and claim their bounty. This could be the end of American democracy. This is a true witch hunt, which turns women into outlaws and even some men, as in the case of doctors. If these laws stand that is the end of Roe v Wade. That is not how a Supreme Court decision is usually overturned.
In addition, Texas joined 19 other states in saying you do not need to show a permit to open carry. Anyone who got a gun legally is allowed to carry it, but since no one will ask to see your permit, I guess it will be fine for anyone to carry a gun openly.
As of today, we will find out whether it matters if America has a president or not. This is the day that we see why Republicans fought so hard for states’ rights and why they wooed and won 30 states as red states. Republicans refused to allow a Democratic president (President Obama) to appoint any more justices to the Supreme Court. We all watched it happen. Ruth Bader Ginsburg tried to live forever, but her death happened at the worst possible moment. Now Republicans have the Supreme Court of their dreams.
The US Senate can still be held in a state of suspension, especially since Democrats are not voting as a single bloc. Republicans have managed to keep control of Washington politics without having a Republican president in the Oval Office.
People who supposedly believe in unregulated capitalism will not wear masks so that our economy can recover. They may not feel any empathy for their new enemies, those of us who mask and get vaccines, but it would seem they would see the advantages for the economy. Apparently, we are supposed to just let diseases rage and just keep walking that hamster wheel. They don’t even seem to care about protecting their own children. They want to see their faces. What if they lose the faces of the people they love most through their own inability to show some common sense? I don’t wish it for them, I will grieve with them, but I assume they will feel the guilt of knowing they did this.
It looks like Democrats in blue states might have to live in an America with laws and regulations dictated by red states. If it looks like we are headed in that direction (which it already does) what are Democrats willing to do? Will we go along to get along? Do we wait for the 2020 elections to see if all the new voting laws make it impossible for Democrats to win? That could be too late. I hope someone has some ideas that will allow us to avoid another Civil War. My solution has been to write about it. That barely made a dent in the national dialogue.
Read my books about 2028. They are meant to be social commentary. They liked the first one in Japan.