First Steps Towards Change

I’ve written extensively about the path to neoliberalism, and there’s more to come. But with the House of Representatives now under Democratic control, I want to offer some ideas about moving towards a new understanding of the role of government in the US. In Capitalism: Its Origins and Evolution as a System of Government Bruce Scott explains the situation:

As articulated in [Chapter 13], the story of early US capitalist governance is on of a nearly 300-year commitment to a laissez-faire model of economic development. It is a story that begins and ends with the decisions of political, legal and economic actors promoting this model, thus disputing the assumption that actions were largely shaped if not quite controlled by “natural” market forces. P. 431

He thinks that after a brief Keynesian interruption, laissez-faire returned in the early 80s. Replacing a centuries-old ideology is really hard. So here are concrete steps the Democratic-controlled House could take. In each case, the House can do its work and force the Senate and its repulsive leadership to deal with the results, heightening the differences between the parties and enabling all voters to understand where their economic and social interests lie.

1. Taxes. The Trump tax bill is historically unpopular. Of the nine House Republicans representing the 25 largest users of sales and local tax deduction, six lost and one more is in danger as the vote count procedes in CA-45. Voting against the bil didn’t help either. Voting against the bill didn’t help either. At least four of those Republicans lost. The bill is widely regarded as grossly favorable to the rich and their corporations. The House has the Constitutional power to originate all tax laws. Richard Neal, D. Mass, is the ranking member. He says his priorities are health care, protecting Social Security and Medicare, and getting Trump’s tax returns. He should add a new tax bill to his list. Some suggestions:

A. Raise tax rates on the top earners. There should be several new brackets for the highest earners, with a top tax rate of 60%. The current capital gain tax rate should stay the same, but it should be raised in each bracket above $250K to a top level of 50%.

B. Corporate tax rates should be increased to 35%. For companies reporting to the SEC, the tax base should be the higher of the amount computed under the tax code and the amount reported as income to the SEC. For the largest private companies, the top tax rate should be based on income computed in accordance with the reporting requirements of the SEC. Income should be taxed at the same rate regardless of where it is earned. Audits should be increase so that at least half of all people in the top brackets are audited every other year.

C. There should be a wealth tax, computed at the rate of 1% of the wealth of individuals in excess of $25M with some higher brackets. A similar tax should be imposed on all taxable entities at higher levels. Foundations and all dynastic transfer entities should be taxed at much higher rates unless they distribute their assets at very high rates per year. PACS and other dark money groups should be taxed at 60%, or 40% if they publicly disclose the true donors.

D. Every taxpayer with adjusted gross income equal to or less than the median income should get a check from the government for $2000 regardless of the amount of taxes they pay. That should be phased out over the next $100K in income. Each check should be accompanied by a letter from the Treasury explaining it and noting that it was paid for by adjusting tax rates to a more fair level.

E. The cap on FICA and Medicare taxes should be reduced to $100K, and should be re-imposed on incomes in excess of $250K. The funds would be given to the Social Security Trust Fund and the Medicare Trust Fund, then to fund Medicaid, then to pay for increased audits.

2. The House Financial Services Committee will be chaired by Maxine Waters. it should investigate the connections between all banks and Russian oligarchs. This would include Deutsche Bank. This will enable a careful look at Trump’s relationships with those entities, and who knows what we will find out.

3. The House Judiciary Committee will be chaired by Jerry Nadler. It should obtain transcripts of the testimony of Samuel Alito, Neal Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh from each hearing in which they were confirmed to any judicial post. Then there should be a subpoena-powered investigation to determine just how much each lied and whether to impeach. The steady drumbeat of this testimony and investigation should lay the groundwork for reforms, including court-packing in the future. It may also impact the willingness of these hacks to strike down legislation on ideological grounds.

4. The Environment Subcommittee will be chaired by Peter Tonko, NY-20. None of the members are senior in rank. Nancy Pelosi should elevate this Subcommittee to Committee status and install an aggressive younger Member as Chair. A highly aggressive group of staffers should be hired, including scientists. We cannot live on this planet unless we start taking serious action. Noisy hearings should be held immediately forcing fossil fuel executives to explain their support of science denialism and continued pollution of the air and water. Renewable energy execs should be brought in to offer expertise in expansion of their efforts. I don’t know enough to offer better ideas, but this is critically important, and immediate action must be taken.

5. Every committee and subcommittee should commence oversight hearings of the agencies under their jurisdiction, focused on whether the agency is carrying out Congressional intent and on corruption. Each ashould focus on a crucial problem faced by the agency. For example there should be hearings on Flint water, the VA computer fiasco, and Puerto Rico after the hurricanes, including recovery, debt, and possible statehood. There are plenty of other issues that are not being addressed. Hold hearings.

6. The rules of the hearings should be changed. At least one younger member should be put in charge of asking at each hearing and be given at least 30 consecutive minutes. That member should also be responsible for public appearances. That way we can find out the skills of each member. Are they better at questioning, or staffing or public appearances? Which ones are charismatic even in routine matters?

7. There should be a steady stream of public appearances by Members forcing their actions into public awareness. Pelosi should make sure that the olds are not the public face of the Democratic Party; we don’t need her or Steny Hoyer or James Clyburn on the TV. We need the energetic younger people to step up and act. Democrats need to show their faces so that every American feels represented in government. This is how the bench is deepened.

Each of these steps will demonstrate that government is working and doing something necessary. That is the first step to changing the framework people use to understand the government. I read somewhere recently that most people’s lives are not affected by elections. That may have been true once upon a time, but now failure to act will have terrible consequences. Left alone, capitalism will kill democracy and then the planet. Government is our only defense against overwhelming greed.

What else?

Now back to Scott and Wood on the future of democracy in a capitalist world.

[Photo: Seth Doyle via Unsplash]

The Wingnut and the Comedian

In this post I suggested that Fox News has found a way to exercise corporate bio-power directly against a large number of white men aged 55 to death. The formula calls for stoking the viewer’s rage with a smug libtard and then relaxing him with a paid hitman who verbally crushes the libtard in a scripted debate, a formula worked out by professional wrestling. This cycle is designed, according to Toby Smith, to take advantage of the brain chemistry of viewers. It works for these older viewers in part because dopamine levels drop with age, and can be influenced by a number of other factors. People with lowered dopamine levels react with more anger than those with more normal levels. Serotonin and dopamine released when the Conservative Hitman crushes the Libtard is a pleasure to these people. It’s addicting, says Smith, and some of the materials I’ve read agree.

But lefties don’t watch Fox; and they must not watch a lot of cable news shows because MSNBC, supposedly the liberal channel, is slowly drifting to the right. Speaking solely for myself, I don’t watch cable news because TV takes forever to convey information. I like to read. But I do watch some late-night TV: Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyer, occasionally John Oliver, and, of course, Sam Bee on Full Frontal. How is my response to their brand of humor different from the behavior I described for the Fox garbage?

Of course, the response I have is different in one respect, it makes me laugh, both at myself and at the problems. Apparently laughing and smiling release dopamine, serotonin and several kinds of endorphins, all of which make people feel good, and scientists currently think they help us deal with anger. Here’s a nice description from a Harvard institute devoted to neuro-science. The main difference between the laugh cycle and the rage cycle might be that jokes require the involvement of the thinking part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. The rage cycle doesn’t seem to involve that part of the brain, but something deeper. The rage was already there, and this Libtard/Hitman just pushes the buttons directly.

Or, I could be completely wrong. A few minutes of research on the internets isn’t enough to give me any certainty about this or about the Fox attacks. So all this feels like rank speculation. But it’s fun, and seems to be releasing some extra dopamines for me. So, onward.

What I do know is that I am enraged by the Republican assault on our institutions and norms of governance, and even more by their anti-intellectualism, their irrationalism, their rejection of Enlightenment values. And I am outraged by the fact that we are governed by a minority, and that lots of the people in that minority are racist, homophobic and hateful greedy people. Even worse, some of them are violent pigs, both towards those they hate and towards their own families. And I’m angry with the spineless Democrats who seem to have no idea of how to respond to these attacks.

But the people I genuinely feel rage against are the billionaires and centi-millionaires who actually run our political system. You can take your pick of the monsters who plow money into a system of liars and frauds who purposefully lie to the ignorant voters they stoke with Rushbo and his stinking ilk. They expect a huge return on their money. So, yes, I feel rage. It’s probably not that different from the rage that the men 55 to death feel about libtards like me.

When Colbert shows clips of Trump and his flying monkeys lying or spewing bile, it sets me on edge, and the punch lines do the job of the conservative Hitman Toby Smith describes. The resulting laughter is also at least partly tribal. Laughter is a sign of group belonging, and I’m one of many feeling the rage and the release.

One thing these jokes do is to open a space for me to think clearly, and to remember that I really don’t hate the people who vote Republican. I don’t feel sympathy either, more like pity and a kind of resignation that at least they asked for the kick in the face they get. I do despise the Republicans who figured Trump would be good for their wallets and ignored the damage he would do. But my real anger is directed at the rich people who manipulate all of us and who intend to benefit from it in cash and power.

But, all of us plebes, from the far left to the far right should give a big hand to dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. Let’s keep those levels high, dampen the rage and open a mental space for thinking. Even our oligarchs, Russian and American, can join that round of applause, thanking heaven for natural Soma.

The SCOTUS Healthcare Decision Cometh

[UPDATE:Okay, from the SCOTUSBlog “The entire ACA is upheld, with exception that federal government’s power to terminate states’ Medicaid funds is narrowly read.” Key language from the decision on the mandate:

The money quote from the section on the mandate: Our precedent demonstrates that Congress had the power to impose the exaction in Section 5000A under the taxing power, and that Section 5000A need not be read to do more than impose a tax. This is sufficient to sustain it.

And, boy howdy, was I wrong. I steadfastly maintained that CJ Roberts would never be the swing vote on a 5-4 majority, but would only join a liberal majority on the heels of Tony Kennedy. WRONG! The mandate survives solely as a result of Roberts and without Kennedy. Wow.

Final update thought. While I think the mandate should have been constructed as a tax, it clearly was not in the bill passed. You want to talk about “legislating from the bench”? Well hard to see how this is not a remarkable example of just that. I am sure all the plebes will hypocritically cheer that, and fail to note what is going on. Also, if the thing is a “tax” how is it not precluded as unripe under the AIJA? don’t have a fine enough reading of the opinion – read no reading yet – to discern that apparent inconsistency.

As to the Medicaid portion, here is the key opinion language on that:

Nothing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the ACA to expand the availability of health care, and requiring that states accepting such funds comply with the conditions on their use. What Congress is not free to do is to penalize States that choose not to participate in that new program by taking away their existing Medicaid funding.

Oh well, people on the left have been crying for this crappy law, now you got it. Enjoy. I will link the actual opinion as soon as it is available.


Well, the long awaited moment is here: Decision Day On The ACA. If you want to follow the live roll out of the Supreme Courts decisions, here is a link to the incredibly good SCOTUSBlog live coverage. Coverage starts at 9 am EST and the actual Court proceedings starting at 10 am EST.

This post will serve two functions. The first is to lay just a very brief marker, for better or worse (undoubtedly the latter I am afraid), going into decision day, hour and moment, and a ready location to post the decision of the court and link the actual opinions. The minute they are known and links available, they will be put here in an update at the top of the post. That way you can start the discussion ahead of the decisions, lay a record of your predictions ahead of time AND have a place to immediately discuss the rulings as they come in and immediately afterward.

Many friends and other pundits involved in the healthcare SCOTUS discussion have been working for weeks on alternative drafts of posts and articles to cover every contingency so they can immediately hit the net with their takes. That is great, and some of them will be a service. But I have just been too busy lately to expend that kind of energy on something so canned. Sorry about that. So my actual analysis and thoughts will mostly have to come later, but they will be on the merits, such as they may be, when the actual decisions are in. Also, I will be in comments and on Twitter (under “bmaz” of course).

Okay, with the logistics out of the way, I have just a few comments to lodge on the front end of this gig. First off, the ACA/PPA started off as truly about health insurance, not about health care from the start, and that is, still, never more true than today. Marcy laid out why this is, and why a LOT of people may get, or be forced into, purchasing health insurance, but there is a real question as to whether they will be able to afford to actually use what they will be commanded to buy. See here, here and here as a primer. Those points are pretty much as valid today as they were back when she wrote them.

Secondly, I have no real actual idea how the ruling will come down as to the merits. But, just for sport and grins, I guess I should take a stab at what I think after all the briefing and oral arguments, so here goes. The Anti-Injunction Act argument that the issue is a tax matter and therefore cannot be ripe for consideration until implemented and applied, will be rejected. The individual mandate is struck by a very narrow majority in a very carefully worded opinion written by John Roberts. The remainder of the ACA is deemed severable and is left to stand, and the Medicaid provisions are left intact, again by a narrow majority. Here is the thing, I would not bet one red cent of my own money on the foregoing; but if I could play with your money, I guess that is how I would roll. Maybe. Note that, before oral argument, my prediction was that the mandate would be upheld; I may regret not sticking with that call.

The real $64,000 question is the mandate, and that could just as easily be upheld, in which case it will likely be by a 6-3 margin (I still think Roberts writes the opinion, and if that is to uphold that means it will be 6-3). Here is what I will unequivocally say: however this goes down as to the mandate, it is a very legitimate issue; the arguments by the challengers, led by Randy Barnett, are now, and always were, far more cognizant than most everyone on the left believed or let on. I said that before oral argument, I said that after oral arguments and I say that now. Irrespective of what the actual decision turns out to be. Oh, and I always thought the hook liberals desperately cling to, Wickard v. Filburn, was a lousy decision to start with.

I have been literally stunned by the ridiculous hyperbole that has been blithely bandied about on the left on the ACA cases and potential striking of the mandate. Kevin Drum says it would be “ridiculous”, James Fallows says it would be a “coup!”, Liz Wydra says the entire legitimacy of SCOTUS is at issue, So do the Jonathans, Chait and Cohn. A normally very sane and brilliant guy, Professor David Dow, went off the deep end and says the justices should be impeached if they invalidate the mandate. The Huffington Post, and their supposed healthcare expert, Jeffrey Young, ran this insanely idiotic and insulting graphic. It is all some of the most stupefyingly hyperbolic and apoplectic rubbish I have ever seen in my life.

Curiously, the ones who are screaming about, and decrying,”politicization of the Court”, my colleagues on the left, are the ones who are actually doing it with these antics. Just stop. Please. The mandate, and really much of the ACA was ill conceived and crafted from the get go. Even if the mandate is struck, the rest of the law can live on quite nicely. Whatever the decision of the court, it will be a legitimate decision on an extremely important and very novel extension of Commerce Clause power that had never been encountered before.

One last prediction: Irrespective of the outcome today, the hyperbole will continue. So, there is the warm up. Let’s Get Ready To Rumble!

emptywheel’s Quickie Analysis

Many of you no doubt disagree. But I’m not crying about an Obama victory (then again, I wouldn’t have been crying about an Edwards or Clinton win, either).

But here are the details that I think are most important.

Crazy, record turnout–reportedly well over 200,000. And reportedly, perhaps two-to-one for Dems, compared to the Republicans.

Crazy, record turnout among youth.

Crazy, record turnout among women (MSNBC just announced that Obama actually beat Hillary among women).

I don’t care who you support–this crazy record turnout is nothing but a huge win for Democrats.

(Four years later and I still sound like goddamned Howard Dean, bless his soul.)

And among Republicans? Some 45% voted against corporatist America. Add that to Edwards’ turnout, and you’ve got a solid majority sick of government by the corporation, for the corporation…

Update: One more point. It’s been decades since I took a math class. But by my calculations, 29% of 220,000 (Hillary’s results) is significantly more than 34% of 120,000 (Huck’s results), right? If my math is correct, we just elected three Presidents to one for the Republicans.