Saturday, December 02, 2017

The Senate Tax Vote: A Farce in Both Competence And Democracy.

Tonight's Senate vote (51-49 for passing) on the tax plan is the most hilarious thing ever.  It is also one of the most cruel, heartless and greedy acts by the US Republican Party, ever.

Note, first, that the tax bill is almost 500 pages, and that it seems to be a first draft.  Note, second, that Democrats were not allowed to read what they were supposed to vote on.  That is perhaps not the best way to do the business of the American people, right?

But because the real goal of the tax plans is to benefit the rich Republican donors, the new oligarchy in this country, it doesn't matter that few people seem to have been able to read the enormous stack of papers:

The above tweets demonstrate sheer incompetence.

But the next two tweets demonstrate something far worse:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Today's Mulvaney Quote

Mick Mulvaney is now the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  This is what he said about his plans when it comes to protecting consumers*:

"We're going to try and limit as much as we can what the CFPB does to sort of interfere with capitalism and with the financial services market."

It's nice that he has taken off his carnival mask so that we can all see he is on the side against which the CFPB was created.

The front page of the CFPB website tells us how the bureau is trying to stop payday loan debt traps.  It also gives you tips about what to do after the Equifax data breach.

Are those the types of things which interfere with capitalism?

That depends on the definition of capitalism.  If klepto-capitalism is included, sure.  But we really shouldn't include the exploitation of consumers under the definition of capitalism.

Mick Mulvaney's role at the CFPB is the by-now familiar one of the fox guarding the chicken coops.  That's because the corporate donors which rule the Republican Party want consumer protections to disappear.  Business is better for them that way.


*  Wish to know Mr. Mulvaney better?  Here's an earlier post on his budgetary views.  In this post he talks about private responsibility for diabetes.  And in this one he suspects that able-bodied people are taking advantage of disability insurance.  It's remarkable how Mulvaney can see ethical problems among the poor but cannot seem to spot any in klepto-capitalism.

The Blog Anniversary. Third Take. On The Angle of Our Inquiries. And Free Lunch, Which Does Not Exist.

The planned series of post about the blogiversary has been delayed by my exhaustion and existential ennui.  A year of Trump is exhausting, as all of you probably know, and life's ordinary punches will not help.  So I have been taking time off, reading fun books about history, physics and astronomy, and eating a lot of chocolate.

Still, I want to extend this series into December, so that I can address a long-term issue that I have wrestled with:  The meaning of feminism.  I finally got a few workable models of what differentiates and unites various current feminist streams.  Those who share my predilection for analytical thought over other types of equally valuable thought forms might like my planned posts on that topic.

For today, I want to talk about something different:  The angle we adopt when trying to understand some political or economic event.  The choice of that angle is crucial, and because of that, the powers-that-be try to force one particular angle on us.*

Take the Republican tax reform plans.  They can be evaluated by choosing the angle of calendar time and income levels.  Thus, the results on various income groups' tax liabilities can be calculated for the near future and for later years, and if we do so we find the results to vary, with the lower income groups seeing their taxes rise earlier.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Three Topics For Tuesday, 11/28/2017: US As An Oligarchy, the Hillarization of Elizabeth Warren and Fake Information As Warfare

1.  I still can't fathom if the Republicans truly see what their tax plans are going to do to this country.  Income and wealth is already very concentrated in the hands of the richest, a situation which last prevailed right before the Great Depression, but the Republicans think it's a good idea to make it even worse.

A very unequal country will look like a banana republic.  The more money the small group of the super-wealthy will hold on the top of the distribution, the more political power they will have.

It's a vicious cycle.  The rich donors have bought the Republican Party (and to some extent the Democratic Party), and as part of what they have bought they get the tax reform!  That, in turn, will give them even more money, even more power.  The rest of us are given the promises of many more similar tax "reforms" in the future, much less government spending (on anything but on defense and on those parts of the legal system which protect the wealth of the rich), less health care, less old-age security and more suffering*.

Ultimately all this will create the kind of a country where even the rich don't really want to live, because they need personal police forces to guard their private enclaves against the hordes of have-nots.

2.  Trump is the gift that keeps on giving.  Most recently, this:

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Nice Nazi Next Door

The Gray Lady, New York Times, had one of those close-up-and-personal (remember Olympics coverage?) articles about, Tony Hovater,  a white supremacist  and Nazi sympathizer,  who is ultimately just your average kind of guy.  He used to play in heavy metal bands!  He just got married!  He and his wife eat pasta!  And

On a recent weekday evening, Mr. Hovater was at home, sautéing minced garlic with chili flakes and waiting for his pasta to boil. The cats were wandering in and out of their tidy little rental house. Books about Mussolini and Hitler shared shelf space with a stack of Nintendo Wii games.

Guess what?  Hitler, in Mein Kampf,  praised his self-sacrificing mother who stayed at home caring for her children.  Hitler was a vegetarian (though not for ethical reasons) and he loved dogs.  None of that makes him any less of a monster.

The  NYT article created a lot of outrage.  The Times has been accused of trying to normalize* Nazism by implying that Nazis or white supremacists are just ordinary people, people who have families and pets, people who eat turkey sandwiches and so on.  Given that we have a president who has tiptoed in the same direction, the danger of such normalization is real.

So what did the writer of the article, Richard Fausset, and the Times try to accomplish with it?  Fausset writes in another explanatory piece:

There is a hole at the heart of my story about Tony Hovater, the white nationalist and Nazi sympathizer.
Why did this man — intelligent, socially adroit and raised middle class amid the relatively well-integrated environments of United States military bases — gravitate toward the furthest extremes of American political discourse?
 Fausset thought that delving into the minutiae of Hovater's life would produce an explanation, that a sinister demon would suddenly look at him from a doorway or from Hovater's eyes or suddenly materialize from the fascist books in Hovater's library.  But, alas and alack, Fausset found nothing, and concluded:

Mr. Hovater was exceedingly candid with me — often shockingly so — but it seems as though his worldview was largely formed by the same recombinant stuff that influences our mainstream politics.

So why write or publish the original article at all, if it didn't contribute anything to our understanding about the reasons for Hovater's extremism?

The Times responded to its readers' criticisms of the piece as follows:

Our reporter and his editors agonized over the tone and content of the article. The point of the story was not to normalize anything but to describe the degree to which hate and extremism have become far more normal in American life than many of us want to think.
We described Mr. Hovater as a bigot, a Nazi sympathizer who posted images on Facebook of a Nazi-like America full of happy white people and swastikas everywhere.
We understand that some readers wanted more pushback, and we hear that loud and clear.

Bolds are mine.

The trouble I have with the bolded sentence is that describing Hovater's private life does not tell us one single thing about how "normal" hate and extremism are in American life**.  To show us that, we need numbers of the people who hold Hovater's views, not information about his musical taste or his recent wedding.

No.  The more likely reason for the publication of the piece is that showing how a white supremacist really is "normal" in some areas of his life would be shocking enough to get a lot of readers, a lot of advertising revenue, a lot of attention and debate.  All publicity is preferable to no publicity.

Finally, I'd like to return to the reasons why someone like Hovater turned into an extremist.  Fausset may not have my experiences of spending time on various online hate sites***, and that could be why he believes that Hovater was baked into his current form by the same forces which operate in mainstream politics, despite writing this:

It was midday at a Panera Bread, and Mr. Hovater was describing his political awakening over a turkey sandwich. He mentioned books by Charles Murray and Pat Buchanan. He talked about his presence on 4chan, the online message board and alt-right breeding ground (“That’s where the scary memes come from,” he deadpanned). 

The emphasis is mine.

Anyone who has spent an hour or more on 4chan and similar hate sites can tell you that Hovater's most extreme beliefs would be supported and validated there by others, that his beliefs would become much more extreme there, that he would learn about the planned marches and other events there, and that there he would be offered the kind of literature which would further strengthen his fascist tendencies.   That, my friends, is where his beliefs were "normalized."


*  The term "normalizing" is tricky and must be interpreted carefully in this context.

It can mean "average," as in the most common type in some population, or it can mean something more normative (heh), such as in medical literature where normal ranges in test findings mean that the diagnosed patient does not suffer from certain medical conditions.

And it can mean "mainstreaming," which is the meaning I use here:  The idea that if Nazis are just average folks (which they are, in some ways), then their beliefs are also somehow acceptable (which they are not).

**   Unless one believes that people with vile values can easily be distinguished by just looking at them, because they have red pupils in their eyes, because they drink blood for breakfast, because they dismember flies for entertainment and so on.

*** I have had similar experiences with misogynistic sites and various ISIS sites.  I have immersed myself in all sorts of hate sites (send money for mental care), and though they didn't drown me they made me understand how others can easily drown in that bogmire and never surface back into whatever we regard as decent normalcy.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Johnstown, Revisited. Or The Plight Of The White Working Class Trump Voters.

Isn't it fascinating how much the media writes on the Trump voters, even a year after his crowning as the Emperor of Everything?   These stories are not about the average affluent Republican voters who did go for Trump, but about one type of Trump voters:

Those living in dying ghost towns which once had thriving factories, those living in the epicenter of the meth and opioid abuse epidemics, those who are white, often older and retired or permanently unemployed, those who are grieving for the death of the local economy and the premature deaths of many, those who fear (and therefore hate) immigrants and minorities and those who have been reduced in standing by the changes happening in the global economy.

It is not that these stories shouldn't be written.  All marginalized people deserve some publicity, and the declining real incomes and shrinking life expectancy of many working class whites is important to cover.  But few similar stories are written about the troubles in the lives of women of African ancestry, to pick one example.

That silence is partly due to Trump's seeming victory (with a little help from Vlad the Impaler Putin).  That he managed to win must be explained, preferably in interesting tales.  But even if Hillary Clinton had won I doubt that we would read equal amounts of reporting on those African-American women, the spine of the Democratic Party.

That could be because stories about the death of small white towns and the despair of their inhabitants make for more click-worthy news:

Something new in its focus on white poverty (when whites are less likely to be poor than most other demographic groups), something different in what kind of a political protest that newfound poverty seems to have caused (the support of a crooked playboy millionaire born with a silver foot in his mouth, the song of white supremacy as the anthem of the movement),  yet something familiar in its focus on white Americans, still the numerical majority.  It's as if the familiar stories are turned upside down, but only superficially.

I understand the appeal of those plots in story-telling, I do, and I even understand the importance of answering the question how the Emperor of Everything ended up running this country.  If that understanding requires us to repeatedly visit the Johnstowns* of this country, so be it.

But do those frequent visitations really clarify?  The reference in the previous sentence to Johnstown has to do with a Politico article earlier this month.  It described the dying white factory town in Pennsylvania and interviewed many of its Trump-voting inhabitants, concluding that they were still enamored of Trump, that they still got most of their news from Fox and that they regretted nothing about their vote.

The article left its readers with the impression that the problems of Johnstown are not amenable to any quick fixes and that the inhabitants of Johnstown are not reachable by Democrats.**

And all that may be true.  At the same time, the piece fails to pursue these important sentences:

George is a Democrat, but he voted for Trump, and he would do it again, he said. His whole adult life, essentially, he’s watched potential customers leave, as the population of the city has plummeted from more than 70,000 to less than 20,000. Now he sees the names and faces of some of his customers in the newspaper. In the obituaries.

The emphasis is mine.

A town that used to have 70,000 people now has less than 20,000.

This is very important.  It isn't the case that Johnstown and all its residents just went down the drain.  Rather, when the writing was on the wall about bad economic times coming, the majority voted with their feet and left an area where jobs were disappearing.  Those who left were more likely to be young, more likely to have training and skills which allowed them better economic prospects elsewhere, more likely to be healthier.

Thus, what we see in Johnstown now is not the suffering of all its initial residents, but the suffering of those who could not or would not leave.  As I wrote above, it's worth describing their plight.  But that plight is not the plight of all working class white voters, including the ones who left.  Journalists should make that clear in a way they mostly have not, because failing to do so exaggerates what is going on.


*  Why not the Flints of America?  What is different between Johnstown and Flint in terms of poverty and suffering? 

** Both because they have been captured by the Fox News and other right-wing sites of similar ilk, but also because of opinion like these, from the Politico story:

More than anything, what seemed to upset the people I spoke with was the National Football League players who have knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality.
“As far as I’m concerned,” Frear told me, “if I was the boss of these teams, I would tell ’em, ‘You get your asses out there and you play, or you’re not here anymore.’ They’re paying their salaries, for God’s sake.”
“Shame on them,” Del Signore said over his alfredo. “These clowns are out there, making millions of dollars a year, and they’re using some stupid excuse that they want equality—so I’ll kneel against the flag and the national anthem?”
“You’re not a fan of equality?” I asked.
“For people who deserve it and earn it,” he said. “All my ancestors, Italian, 100 percent Italian, the Irish, Germans, Polish, whatever—they all came over here, settled in places like this, they worked hard and they earned the respect. They earned the success that they got. Some people don’t want to do that. They just want it handed to them.”
“Like NFL players?” I said.
“Well,” Del Signore responded, “I hate to say what the majority of them are …” He stopped himself short of what I thought he was about to say.
Schilling and her husband, however, did not restrain themselves.
“The thing that irritates me to no end is this NFL shit,” Schilling told me in her living room. “I’m about ready to go over the top with this shit. We do not watch no NFL now.” They’re Dallas Cowboys fans. “We banned ’em. We don’t watch it.”
Schilling looked at her husband, Dave McCabe, who’s 67 and a retired high school basketball coach. She nodded at me. “Tell him,” she said to McCabe, “what you said the NFL is …”
McCabe looked momentarily wary. He laughed a little. “I don’t remember saying that,” he said unconvincingly.
Schilling was having none of it. “You’re the one that told me, liar,” she said.
She looked at me.
The NFL?
“Niggers for life,” Schilling said.
“For life,” McCabe added.

Added later:  I should have pointed out that Johnstown actually narrowly went for Hillary Clinton, according to this story.