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It’s Not the Economy, Stupid

Despite Bill Clinton’s famous catchphrase that he rode to two terms in the White House, and despite its echo in the 2016 campaign when Trump voters were described as acting out of “economic anxiety”, politics in the United States in my lifetime comes down, first and foremost, to racism. Yes, in Trump’s case and for most Republicans in office, there is a hefty dose of misogyny mixed in, but the animus against those who are not old, rich, white males unites their hatred.

Russia affected the 2016 contest. Clearly. But one of their primary tools was to stoke racial animus. Another huge impact on the actual outcome of the election was the outright suppression of minority votes by Republicans. It now appears that they may well have tipped the Wisconsin vote through suppression. And all those millions of votes for Trump, in the end, amount to nothing more than a huge endorsement of his outright racism. In the end, they came out on top with a little help from Republican policies expressly developed to prevent minorities from voting.

Trump is America’s racism unmasked and he would not be President if there weren’t a huge racist component to American culture today. The primary home for that racism is the Republican party.

The last few days have shown Trump revealing both his deep-seated racism and his cynical understanding that virtually his only support now is rooted in America’s racism. He tried his best to make his response to NFL protests be about the flag and patriotism. But that is most definitely NOT what Colin Kaepernick was protesting when he started this movement in August of 2016:

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has willingly immersed himself into controversy by refusing to stand for the playing of the national anthem in protest of what he deems are wrongdoings against African Americans and minorities in the United States.

His latest refusal to stand for the anthem — he has done this in at least one other preseason game — came before the 49ers’ preseason loss to Green Bay at Levi’s Stadium on Friday night.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Making matters even worse, NFL teams and even billionaire NFL owners–the very parties responsible for Kaepernick still not being on a roster despite abysmal quarterback play on several teams–came out with what some folks saw as admirable statements and actions in response to Trump calling for owners to “fire the sons of bitches” who kneel during the national anthem. The best response to that development came from Shannon Sharpe. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the entire statement, it is a thing of beauty and something that every American needs to hear:

So what are we to do?

First, those of us who carry the advantage of being old, white males who are at least comfortable if not rich must speak up every time there is an instance of racial injustice. Especially at the local level, when the police treat minorities without respect, make it known that this will not stand. Support larger groups that are working to promote racial justice.

But perhaps it is also worth taking look at our own lives. What aspects of our own lives help to perpetuate racial injustice? Even simple actions can accumulate. The next time you reconcile a credit card statement, take a look at your choices. Do you only eat at faceless chain restaurants? When was the last time you had a meal at a locally owned restaurant with a minority owner? Those are likely some of the best eating establishments in your town if you take the time to look around and try some new cuisines.

How about schools? Do you send your kids to private schools, most of which have been established to get around integration? Worse yet, do you send them to charter schools, which are set up expressly to take money away from public schools?

How about your place of worship? Is it integrated? Does it have any activities or programs aimed at racial justice?

One small action that I’ve decided to take is that I won’t watch another down of NFL football until Colin Kaepernick has been signed by a team.

Trump is the poster child for American racism, but we could all benefit from spending a little time thinking about our own roles both in how he came to be President and what we can do to make sure his sort never gets there again.

The Banality Of Evil Access Journalism

A tweet from a talented, but maybe Stockholmed, journalist favorite of Mr. Trump:

This reporter is old enough and smart enough to know and understand exactly what Rudy and Trump are, but still evinces this blithe acceptance bullshit?

Please stop, yer killing me. With every passing day, the initial criticisms as to the lameness of Haberman, Baker and Schmidt’s on and off duality of record “interview” of Trump look smarter. Greg Sargent was early with this:

President Trump’s extended, rambling new interview with the New York Times provides perhaps the clearest picture yet of his conviction that he is above the law — a conviction, crucially, that appears to be deeply felt on an instinctual level — and of his total lack of any clear conception of the basic obligations to the public he assumed upon taking office.

There are numerous worrisome moments in this interview, from his incoherence on the health-care debate (“preexisting conditions are a tough deal”) to his odd asides about history (Napoleon “didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death”).

But, frankly, the entire tenor and credulity of the interviewers – and the interview – as a whole is simply beyond belief. NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen hit on the latter in a very cogent tweetstorm, as to the interview itself.

But I have to ask the same questions about the journalists conducting this interview. There were a lot of knee jerk defenses, mostly by other journalists, of the manner in which the interview was conducted sans followup questions and factual corrections of Trump’s blatant and rampant absurdity and lying, early on Twitter. The thin skinned “interviewers” of course blanched and professed how much they were just “doing their job”.

At what point does it become journalists’ “job” to stand up for truth, have the guts to speak it to power actually during their access, and not just in seeking it? But, hey, maybe these NYT journalists can deflect it all by comparing the current American crisis to the not even close to analogous bogosity from 20 years ago in the Clinton era. You know, the same misdirection horse manure their access point Donald Trump relentlessly tries to foster.

The United States is not dealing with the same paradigm of politics it was even as recently as seven months ago. Both the citizen public, and the press that supposedly serves them, need to understand the fundamental change and adapt. The presumption of normality still being afforded Trump and his Administration is a disservice to both the people and their democracy. It is, in this critical living breathing moment, the banality of evil.

When “They” Go Low, The WHCA Grovels In The Gutter With Them

So, Trump accused the American press of being “enemies of the state”:

“A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are — they are the enemy of the people,” Trump told the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

Well, golly, what did that mean?? Yes, it is soooo hard, hard, to tell….OH, maybe not!

The White House on Friday barred news outlets — including CNN, the New York Times, Politico and the Los Angeles Times — from attending an off-camera press briefing held by spokesman Sean Spicer, igniting another controversy concerning the relationship between the Trump administration and the media.

Yes, it is so hard to tell, for the press, when all your love is in vain. But it is. From the WaPo:

President Trump will not attend the White House correspondents’ dinner this year.

Trump announced his decision on Twitter late Saturday afternoon. The dinner is scheduled for April 29.

Despite many people long advocating that the White House Correspondents Association get out in front of this, they, via their “leader”, Jeff Mason, remained cluelessly behind the Trumpian Eight Ball. The ostrich like action by Mason and the WHCA is almost comical, if not a total clownshow.

Here is the deal Mr. Mason, if you and the WHCA want to get your collective heads out of your asses, there are a LOT of people that would fund your scholarships at a LOT higher level that you do from your craven “Nerd Prom”.

So, does Jeff Mason and the WHCA continue on in the face of total humiliation, or do they do the right thing, cancel their yearly shitshow, and direct the resultant love to their precious scholarships?

I, personally, will be waiting to hear from the recalcitrant Jeff Mason. America wants to love the press. But not if they are unrepentant stenographer fools. So, Jeff Mason, what kind of leader of the WHCA are you? A stenographer, or a fool? Times have changed. If you cannot, you and the organization you purport to lead are dead fish.

What are you going to be, Mr. Jeff Mason? A toad, or a hero that reacts positively to strife? You could have gotten out in front of this blindingly obvious shitshow, but you diddled and twiddled your thumbs. What are you going to do now Jeff?

Ask Uncle Ed 3A

Dear Uncle Ed*,

I’m a moderate Democrat living in a nice suburb of Philadelphia. My family and I are members of XX Presbyterian Church, PCUSA, where I sing in the choir. Quite a few members of the choir are Republicans, and it seems that almost all of them voted for Donald Trump, as did a majority of the non-singing members. This has made me very sad and also angry. I realize we don’t have to talk about politics, and really in the past we haven’t much, though I wish I had done more. Since the election I can hardly stand to be around them. But I love singing in the choir, and I think the Church does some good in the community. I’ve been seriously thinking about leaving the Church. What do you think?

Signed, Sad singer.

Dear Sad Singer,

Uncle Ed has twice written responses to people he doesn’t know, people he doesn’t live near, people whose lives he hasn’t lived, people whose education and training and life experience are completely different from Uncle Ed’s own life. This one hits close to home. Uncle Ed has similar experiences, though from a different bizarre Presidency, that of Bush 2. Many of the members of the Church at which Uncle Ed sang for over 20 years were business people or professionals; all were well educated, bright, and almost all had money. A solid majority were reasonable Republicans, people whose politics Uncle Ed didn’t share but at least could understand. Uncle Ed saw them as friends, if loosely. And they voted for Bush. So this is a tough question for Uncle Ed. There are two possibilities. You could leave, covered in this post. Or you could stay, covered in the next,

This is a common problem. Democrats and Republicans serve in civic groups, volunteer in community service groups, participate in trade groups and professional groups, help out in kid sports, and live in the same neighborhoods. In the past this hasn’t been a real problem. It’s easy to serve, as Uncle Ed did, on the board of an opera company with lots of Republicans. We didn’t talk about politics. We talked about opera and how to encourage people to come to our productions. In social settings we talked about sports or travels or investments or just about anything besides politics.

That doesn’t work any more. Voting for Trump feels like a betrayal of a shared concern with the future of the country and of our children and grand-children. How could anyone vote for that seething pile of ignorance, intolerance and narcissism? How could people you know and respect, people who have benefited from our economic and legal systems, vote for him.

The central question is how you can continue to sing. Are there Churches near enough that sing the kind of music you enjoy and would meet your spiritual needs? Are there other choirs you could join that sing different music but that you would enjoy, so that you could move to another Church that would work for you?

The first step is to get together with other people in the choir and maybe other friends in the Church who have similar concerns. In Uncle Ed’s experience, singers as a group are more liberal than other people you know at Church. Maybe you can ignore the Trumpists and hang out with the sane people. What are their thoughts? Are you overreacting? Is there some concerted action you could take that would make staying possible? And if you are leaving, where are you going?

If you decide to leave, the next step is to talk to the Choir Director and explain. You may be surprised by the response. Many Church musicians are much more liberal than the congregations they serve. The leader may be able to help you find another Church or choir, and may have sensible advice based on knowing you and your role in the Church. In any event, you won’t want to leave the Choir Director wondering where you are.

You also must think about the time to leave. You don’t want to leave too close to a big service, like Easter or Reformation Sunday or before the choir sings a major work. That wouldn’t be fair to the Choir Director and the other singers.

The next question is what you say to your friends and acquaintances at Church. In normal circumstances, Uncle Ed would point out that you shouldn’t burn any bridges, that you may need these people in the future and therefore you should go quietly. Later, when they notice you are gone, they may ask, but more likely they won’t. Especially if a group of people leave, others can work it out if they care, which they probably don’t.

These aren’t ordinary times. People who don’t see that Trump is a horrid person and a horrifying president, especially after the press conference of February 16, are not fit co-workers. Their judgment cannot be trusted, and their common sense has been overwhelmed by some psychological disturbance. Uncle Ed would rather starve in the street than ask them for anything.

You may not want to, but you have to say something. If you want to be marginally polite you could say something like: I feel awful about what’s happening in this country with Trump, and I’ll feel more comfortable with people who feel the same way. It’s simple and true, and tilts the balance of feelings towards you, so that the other person is unlikely to be too offended.

Uncle Ed would probably be more direct: Trump is everything I despise. It’s not his policies, such as they are; policies always change. It’s that he is mentally and emotionally unfit to be president. Trump is the is the antithesis of every value I hold. I don’t want to offend people who think he’s just fine, so I’m leaving.

Uncle Ed is pretty sure he wouldn’t say: I don’t want to be around Republicans any more. But he’d be thinking that. And he knows some people to whom he would say just that.

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* This is one of an occasional series in which I try to come to grips with the Age of Trump. Sad Singer’s letter is based on my personal experience in a volunteer choir at a PCUSA church, and in other singing groups that included a substantial number of conservatives. By extension, it applies to other groups where sane people have to deal with Trump voters.

Ask Uncle Ed 3B

This is a continuation* of Uncle Ed’s response to Sad Singer regarding continued participation in a Church choir full of Trump voters. In Part 3A Uncle Ed considered the possibility of leaving.

Dear Sad Singer:

Uncle Ed knows that leaving may not be possible and it may not be what you want to do. Here Uncle Ed offers ideas out what to do if you decide to stay.

Uncle Ed suggests that you first rethink your definition of “friends”. Before the 2016 election, you probably considered as “friends” most, if not all, of your co-workers, the people you know at Church, the people you work with on civic projects or in community groups or Little League. The connotations of that word made it possible to ignore aspects of people that you didn’t care for or even accept. Cooperating on a project, just like being on a team, smoothes over significant differences. In our minds, we distinguish this kind of friend from the categories of close friends, or personal friends.

Uncle Ed thinks that’s not a good definition now. We aren’t friends with people just because we have to work with them. You might decide to cooperate with choir and church people you don’t like or respect. But they will never be your friends. You have to keep them at arms length to protect yourself.

You mention that you wish you had talked more to people before the election. Uncle Ed is certain you are not at fault. There are norms of behavior in your church and in your choir, and talking about politics is almost certainly off limits. Uncle Ed has 25 years of experience in choirs and choruses, and each has its own unspoken rules. For example, in one singing group, arguments about politics were common. No one’s mind was changed, but the exchanges gave Uncle Ed insights into the thinking of conservatives and fundamentalists that Uncle Ed would not have had in his workaday life. In other groups, the conversations were more mundane, and more fun. Raising politics would have bored Uncle Ed’s friends (and these people were friends) stiff. If Clinton had been trailing in the polls, you might have felt forced to act differently, but there was no reason for you to think she wouldn’t win, and thus no reason to even consider violating the norms.

In the prior post, Uncle Ed urged you to get together with like-minded choristers and others from the Church to talk about what to do. That’s the first step if you decide to stay, too. Here are some things to consider.

1. Sane Republicans knew before they voted for him that that Trump is a bully, a narcissist, a racist, a misogynist, an anti-Semite, that he is bad at business and that he is vulgar and ignorant. They must have come up with reasons to vote for him in spite of this knowledge, and Uncle Ed is pretty sure those reasons begin with Democrats are evil, and Hillary Clinton is the Devil. It might have been emails, or some other fake scandal, or her slight turn to the left during the campaign. Maybe they didn’t think Trump could win, so it was safe to vote for him. Maybe it was some Republican policy position like lower taxes on themselves, smaller government, fewer regulations, abortion, guns, who knows.

Now they see him flailing in surreal press conferences, all his neuroses on display. They watch him installing Dr. Strangelove characters and white nationalists and other dregs of society into high government positions, instead of the nice Republicans they respect. They see the ridicule heaped on him around the world, and the way other nations respond to his incompetence and boorishness. They must be experiencing a sickening case of buyer’s remorse. Your goal is to figure out how to exploit that buyer’s remorse and persuade the sane Republicans to vote for Democrats in the mid-terms, or at least not to vote for Republican legislators. That would create a check on the worst instincts of Trump, and keep him from wrecking the country.

2. Do not discuss Clinton. Don’t say she would have been a better choice, don’t explain her policies or talk about how foolish she made Trump look in the debates. If someone else raises her, say something like: You would never have had to defend her intelligence or her knowledge or her mental stability. She would have done things you didn’t like but she wouldn’t embarrass you like Trump does.

3. listen closely to the things about Trump they make them nervous and push those ideas harder than they do. For example, many Republicans are worried about Russia. Don’t rant. Agree with them with short sentences that they can hook onto and expand. If they don’t expand, then you do, again with short sentences. If you read Emptywheel you know more about this than they do. Use that information to increase their concerns.

Mention the Saturday Night Live skits with Trump and Putin. Talk about the late night mockery of his stability in minor things like losing the first round of the lawsuit over the travel ban, or Nordstrom dropping Ivanka’s line. Ask how he will deal with the Russians if they provoke him. Mention the unknown relations between Trump’s businesses and Russian banks and Russian partners. Eventually point out that If we had Trump’s tax returns we’d know for sure. Keep your side of the conversation short.

4. There are many rich Republicans who viscerally hate liberals. For them, Uncle Ed suggests a different approach. Don’t talk to them at all. If you can’t avoid talking and can’t avoid politics, use words like vulgar, tasteless, boorish, common. Say those words with the sneer your mother used when she caught you picking your nose. Sneering puts them in the position of defending him, which they won’t, and should end the discussion. Don’t leave. Make them walk off.

5. Any effort to act on these ideas will violate the norms of the choir and the Church. It has to be done. Normal people cannot pretend that Trump is a normal, and that this is just a routine change in government. He isn’t normal. This isn’t a normal government. Nothing can be the same including personal relationships. And they are at fault, not you.

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* This is one of an occasional series in which I try to come to grips with the Age of Trump. Sad Singer’s letter is based on my personal experience in a volunteer choir at a PCUSA church, and other singing groups that included a substantial number of conservatives. By extension, it applies to other groups where sane people have to deal with Trump voters.

Ask Uncle Ed 2

Dear Uncle Ed*

I’m a white working class guy. I voted for Trump because I don’t think that government should help undeserving people. Especially women who pop out babies like Pez dispensers with different baby daddies so they can get welfare every month and their housing and food paid for. They are living large, while people like me are struggling to put food on the table. My neighbors who are less responsible than me are receiving nearly free insurance through Medicaid. They can go to the emergency room for a headache.

This has nothing to do with race. So, why do all the liberals just assume I am a racist? I just want to be treated fairly and have my hard work acknowledged.

Signed, Unhappy in Iowa**.

Dear Unhappy in Iowa

For starters, when you talk about women popping out babies with different baby daddies, it sounds like you mean African-Americans, just like Ronald Reagan did with his fables about strapping young bucks buying T-Bones with food stamps. This kind of talk makes it hard for Uncle Ed to completely ignore the possibility that maybe there is just a bit of racism here.

But since you don’t think it’s about race, you could use different words. Just think of the people in your extended family and your neighbors who benefit from those programs. Use language that is based on them instead. After all, the majority of people getting food stamps, welfare and Medicaid, and even Obamaphones, are white.

We probably agree that there are plenty of people who need the welfare system to work for them, like this woman whose body is broken after years of grinding labor.

Resident Christa Cossey found work at age 20 as a long-haul truck driver, a well-paid job for someone without a college degree. Now 51, she’s been on disability since 2008 because of ailments related to her years of driving: obesity, asthma, atypical chest pain, diabetes, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, and arthritis in her neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers. She also suffers from degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease, and bulging discs in her lower back.

We also agree that too many people abuse the system. And you know as well as Uncle Ed does that every system can be and is abused. But let’s be honest. Some of the people abusing the system are your kin and your white neighbors. It isn’t just Black and Brown people.

Uncle Ed has another suggestion. Next time you go by the food court, look at the people cleaning up the tables and emptying the trash cans. Next time you see a garbage truck, look at the guys picking up that nasty stuff and muscling it into the truck. Next time you visit your grandmother in the nursing home, look at the aides who wash and dress her, who turn her over, and who hold her hand when she’s crying and you can’t be there. See how many of them are Black and Brown.

Ask yourself this question. Do you think these hard-working people aren’t just as angry as you are about the people in their own communities abusing the system? Do you think they don’t have family and friends who are on disability thanks to a cheating doctor? Don’t you think it makes them furious when they see white people cheating the system?

It’s true they probably don’t like the same TV shows you do, or the same music or the same movies or go to the same churches, bars and restaurants you do, and they don’t support the same politicians you do. Of course, they probably root for the same teams you do. But when it comes to money, they work hard and they care just as much as you do how the government spends their taxes. If it weren’t for that color thing that keeps you apart, they’d be your natural allies. Trump frequently asked them to vote for him on that basis, and a lot of them did, so you know that’s true.

The stuff you are complaining about isn’t about race. It’s about who works and who doesn’t. Don’t make it about race or you’ll lose your natural allies.

Uncle Ed suggests you look at the big picture: the overall economic system that’s beating you and your allies into the dirt, and that hasn’t given you or any other working guy a decent raise in decades. At root the things that got you to vote for Trump aren’t about race, they’re about an unfair economic system that forces millions of people to struggle to make any kind of living and abandons them when they get sick or get laid off when the plant moves to Thailand. It’s a system that serves you and your neighbors and your kin badly, and wallops Black and Brown people even harder. You need all the allies you can get.

You say that the current safety net gives undeserving people something you don’t get. For example, you have to pay for a lousy health policy while they get free Medicaid that’s probably better. When the Republicans repeal Obamacare, do you really think the replacement will be better for you? You know it won’t: you aren’t rich. Maybe secretly you hope the Republicans will set up a plan that gives you something other people don’t get?

Well, here’s the thing. There are never ever going to be any government programs or regulations or loopholes that give you something while denying it to groups you don’t like. That is unconstitutional. Even Trump can’t make that happen. I can promise you that the Coastal Elites will crush any attempt to do that in the courts, no matter how many Justices Trump appoints.

You have two choices. You can let the Republicans destroy the safety net that protects you and the people you think are deserving.

Or, you can figure out a way to do politics in your own interest without regard to who else might benefit, and at the same time limit the cheating.

For example, suppose everyone got Medicare at fair and reasonable premiums, maybe related to income, and you could buy private insurance to cover whatever Medicare didn’t. Our income taxes might go up to cover the cost, but the rich would pay more and that that would be fair. We’d probably have to do something more for really poor people. Whatever plan we come up with, everyone, regardless of merit, is going to be covered. That would get rid of most of the cheating.

One thing is for sure, you’ll find lots of allies among the African-Americans and Hispanics who want the same thing. With them and the liberals, you are a huge majority of voters. And that’s how you get what you need from both political parties.
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* This is part of a series in which I try to take Trump voters at their word and work out ways of responding. After I wrote the first draft, I ran across this essay in the Washington Spectator by Matt Hartman that clarified my thinking, and the current draft tries to reflect the ideas in that article.

** Closely follows this Washington Post article by Catherine Rampell, and this one by Sarah Kliff at Vox.

Politicians Did Not Get Rich From Hollowing Out the Economy

In his inauguration speech Trump said:

For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have born the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs and, while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

He claims that politicians got rich by off-shoring jobs and driving up trade deficits. This is an instance of a standard Republican lie, that our problems are caused by politicians. In fact, all the profits from off-shoring went to corporate executives and owners of corporations. They made political contributions, sure, but that doesn’t enrich anyone. The gains to citizens were some lower prices at a cost of whatever wars and worse-paying jobs.

The decisions to off-shore and outsource jobs are made by corporate executives and controlling owners. They had many reasons to invest in other countries, ranging from a desire to protect their own businesses from being underpriced by foreign entitiesk, incentives offered by foreign countries, lower labor costs, and access to foreign markets among others.

US policy in both parties since at least WWII has been generally sympathetic to foreign investment for many reasons, not least the belief that nations linked by commerce and trade are less likely to go to war.

Foreign investment is always dangerous. The risks include expropriation, local governments that won’t or can’t stop violence against plants and equipment, lack of protection of intellectual property, and others. Karl Polanyi discusses these risks in The Great Transformation. Hannah Arendt agrees in The Origins of Totalitarianism. In different words, and with different emphasis, they say Western European capitalists solved this problem by enlisting the government to protect them when they invested abroad. The same thing happened here. Thorstein Veblen saw it clearly in 1904:

… [W]ith the sanction of the great body of the people, even including those who have no pecuniary interests to serve in the matter, constitutional government has, in the main, become a department of the business organization and is guided by the advice of the business men. Chapter 8, Principles of Business Enterprises.

Here’s a discussion of the implications of that statement for foreign investment.

Right down to today, capital enlists the support of the government to protect it so it can make profits in other countries, and government responds for its own reasons. We have always used military force for that purpose, but now the primary tool is trade treaties. The recent example of the TPP stands out. It was written by corporations and their lobbyists and lawyers, and supported by mainstream economists. It was opposed by working people and unions and most progressives. It was supported by a bipartisan majority of legislators. It should be noted that it was rejected by Trump and Sanders and disparaged by Clinton.

I won’t try to untangle all the interlocking interests, or to discuss the negotiations between the two camps, government and capital. But Trump’s assertion that Washington politicians got rich off foreign investment is stupid and false. The people who got all the money from from foreign investment are the executives and the obscenely rich people who own and control these corporations.

The incoherence of Trump’s statements in his inauguration speech and in his campaign speeches about corporate overseas investment is displayed in this New York Times article discussing Trump’s meeting with CEOs of giant US manufacturers. The reporters, Nelson Schwartz and Alan Rappeport, say that Trump told the “titans of American business” that they had better move manufacturing jobs here, threatened them with taxes that look like tariffs, and offered rewards like lower taxes and fewer environmental regulations. The reporters say that this is pointless, because taxes and regulations do not determine where corporate investment are made.

The reporters say that the real cause of overseas investment is Wall Street, by which they mean Capitalists, including hedge fund managers, giant Banks, and the richest investors.

In some cases, Gordon Gekko-like hedge fund managers are to blame, but much of the time, it is the drive for bigger returns on 401(k) accounts, pension plans and other retirement vehicles that depend on steadily rising corporate profits and, in turn, a buoyant stock market.

That’s just wrong. Many pension funds are operated by private Wall Street firms through Gordon Gekko-like managers. The largest funds spread management around among several management firms, and invest with hedge funds, and get investment advice from Wall Street firms for the funds they manage themselves. The idea that Wall Street cares about small investors or their IRAs is silly. I’ll just ignore the stupidity of using a movie character when it’s easy to identify the real perpetrators. You could just read this article to find one, Daniel Loeb.

The actual problem is that the federal government let the interests of the rich set our industrial policy with no public input, and actively ignored the interests of US workers and citizens, and sometimes even the security interests of the nation.

I suppose it’s possible that Trump meant that the rich have too much influence in government, and he means to change that. But seriously, can anyone imagine that the Republicans or the neoliberal Democrats will allow Trump to initiate trade wars over protectionist tariffs? Does anyone think that Trump will do anything to harm the interests of the rich, or that Trump doesn’t personally identify with the rich and their interests?

And exactly how is this different from that time President Obama chewed out the banksters over their greed in April, 2009? Nothing changed then. Why should this time be different?

It won’t be different until a solid majority of voters come to grips with the fact that the dangerous elites in this country aren’t college professors or scientists or liberals. The dangerous elites are the rich people who control the giant corporations and the people who support them, in and out of government.

Ask Uncle Ed

Dear Uncle Ed,

I feel very, very badly for the people who are very scared for their way of life. From what I’m understanding, [Trump is] only really wanting illegal immigrants that have committed crimes to be deported, which I agree with. I feel bad for the lesbian and gay and transsexual community that fear for their way of life. From what I understand, he says he’s not going to mess with that.

Somebody called me a racist because I did vote for Trump. Hold on, you don’t know me. Doesn’t that make you a racist by calling me a racist when you don’t know me? I’m looking for a brighter future for me and my children, and honestly I felt l like our country was kind of at risk if we did elect Hillary.**

Signed, K.H. in AL

Dear K.H.

Uncle Ed is glad to see you acknowledge that lots of people are likely to be harmed by the election of Trump. As to immigrants, you are right to be careful in stating Trump’s position, because he has several. As to his position on the LGBT community, again, you may be quite right. Who knows?

But you seem to think the only issue is what Trump thinks. That’s just not true. Trump was elected as a Republican, and now the federal government is controlled by Republicans. As a group, they have repeatedly promised to get rid of immigrants, as did Trump mostly, and have relentlessly opposed decent treatment of immigrants who live here and their children born here or brought here. They support laws and rules treating the LGBT community as second class citizens.

You didn’t mention the risks facing African-Americans, who are already mistreated by the police, and treated unequally in education, safety and hiring. Trump calls himself the “law and order” candidate, which is Republican-speak for even more aggressive policing and mistreatment of Black communities.

You are offended that someone called you a racist. Uncle Ed is glad you don’t want to be thought of as a racist. But, here’s the thing. Your vote empowered known racists like Steven Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager and now a policy adviser in the White House. The Republican party will do its best to hurt immigrants, the LGBT community, and people whose religion or lack of religion they don’t approve, not to mention Blacks and Latinos.

Uncle Ed doesn’t know what’s in your heart. Uncle Ed doesn’t care. Uncle Ed cares about how you act. If you vote for a racist, if your vote emposers racists, then there is no functional difference between you and the most rabid KKK member in terms of the political outcomes for the outgroups. You are operationally a racist.

The most that can be said is that you are willing to accept racism if it makes your life better. That’s how you defend your vote. You claim just you want a brighter future for yourself and your children. As you put it: “…our country was kind of at risk if we did elect Hillary.” Again, what makes you different from self-acknowledged racists?

What about all the other minorities who will be harmed directly by installing racists in the White House and racism in Congress? You are willing to sacrifice all of them and their children. You are willing to deny them their claims to equal dignity and equal rights in whole or in part.

Equal dignity and equal rights are a crucial part of what it means to be an American. The Declaration of Independence says that all of us are entitled to equal dignity. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution says that all of us have equal rights under law. Those ideas, however imperfectly we have lived up to it, are the heart of our democracy.

Now, thanks in part to you, we are governed by a party that flatly doesn’t believe in that kind of equality. They are perfectly willing to ignore some or all the rights and interests of vast numbers of Americans. the LGBT community, women, Muslims, and who knows, maybe even white male coastal elites like Uncle Ed. They don’t think we are real Americans. They expect those despised groups to follow all their laws, to respect their politicians, and to pay taxes, but they do not intend to treat us equally in rights or dignity.

You violated a core American principle. It was thoughtless of you to act this way. Uncle Ed wishes you hadn’t. Calling you a racist seems like a mild reproof when you consider the likely consequences for millions of your fellow citizens. Uncle Ed hopes you continue to think about people other than yourself in the future, and refuse to vote for any politician whose first principle is to deny any of us our rights as Americans to equal dignity, and to be treated equally by our government.

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* This is perhaps the first of an occasional series. I’ve been trying to figure out how to respond directly to the stated reasons people give to explain their vote for Trump. It’s mostly a way for me to justify my own position. I’ve been debating whether to post this, but today I saw the movie HIdden Figures, which helped me make up my mind.

Lefties, liberals, coastal elites, all of us are constantly told we need to understand and sympathize with the concerns of Trump voters. Trump voters are never told they must work to understand and sympathize with people who voted for the Democrat. In fact, Trump voters are told that liberals are their enemies, that we hate them and want to hurt them. Of course, they don’t read my posts, and I know I won’t ever persuade anyone that they made a terrible mistake. But I do wish they were forced to think about why those they believe are The Other might be so angry.

** This is quoted from this New York Times article.

2017 Divisional Playoff Weekend Trash Talk

Thank you to Marcy for handling Trash Talk last weekend. That was one hell of a NCAA Championship game between Clemson and Alabama. I was at the 1997 Rose Bowl, which I thought previously was the greatest college football championship game I had ever seen, whether live or on television, and I think the last second Clemson win eclipses that pretty easily. Wow.

But now we are into week two of the NFL playoffs, and there are four games on tap. First up is Seattle at Atlanta. On the surface, this seems like a great game and you would have to think the Squawk’s savvy and playoff experience winning games is every bit the match for Atlanta, and their history of losing them. I don’t think so this year. Something is deferent about these dirty birds. I’ll take Matt Ryan and his crew today.

The night game for Saturday is the Texans at the Pats. I am not sure this is the total mismatch a lot of the national sports media are making it out to be, because the Houston defense has really grown and coalesced since early in the season. Yes, Bill Bel and the boys waxed them early in the year, even with Jacoby Brissett at QB. Houston is better now. But that ain’t enough, irrespective of the final score, just cannot see the Pats not moving on.

First up Sunday is, now thanks to heavy weather in KC, the game that was supposed to be the late Sunday featured NBC game, the Packers at Cowboys. I honestly don’t know what to think about this one. Both the Cheese and Boys have serviceable, and at times good, defenses. But neither are world beating; slight edge to the Cowboys because the Pack secondary is being manned by a few Game may well come down to the QB’s, as NFL games usually do. As good as Dak Prescott has been, that edge goes to Mr. Rodgers, who has been on a roll of all time historic proportion lately. But, if Prescott avoids turnovers and Elliott gets going on the ground, that can keep Rodgers off the field. In Lambeau, I’d take the Pack easy, In Big D, I dunno. No clue what turns out, a serious pick em in my book.

The new finale is Scribe’s Steelers in KC to face the Chefs. The weather has been so foul that the NFL moved the game time. What kind of bad weather can this be? Thanks to Peterr, we have the official forecast:

PERIODS OF SIGNIFICANT ICING ARE LIKELY ACROSS THE AREA THIS WEEKEND…STARTING FRIDAY MORNING ACROSS AREAS MAINLY SOUTH OF HIGHWAY 50 AND SPREADING NORTHWARD THROUGH THE AFTERNOON AND EVENING. PERIODS OF FREEZING RAIN WILL CONTINUE THROUGH SUNDAY EVENING ACROSS NORTHERN MISSOURI. THE MOST SIGNIFICANT ICING IS EXPECTED SATURDAY NIGHT INTO SUNDAY MORNING.

ICE STORM WARNING NOW IN EFFECT FROM NOON FRIDAY TO MIDNIGHT CST SUNDAY NIGHT…

* TIMING…LIGHT PRECIPITATION WILL BEGIN FRIDAY AFTERNOON… WITH PERIODS OF FREEZING RAIN THROUGH SUNDAY AFTERNOON OR EVENING.

* ICE ACCUMULATIONS…TOTAL ICE ACCUMULATIONS DURING THE MULTI-DAY PERIOD OF ONE-QUARTER TO THREE-QUARTERS OF AN INCH.

* MAIN IMPACT…MAJOR IMPACTS TO TRAVEL ARE LIKELY AS ICE ACCUMULATES ON AREA ROADWAYS. BRIDGES AND OVERPASSES WILL BE MOST SUSCEPTIBLE TO ICE ACCRETION. ICE ACCUMULATION ON TREES AND POWERLINES MAY RESULT IN SCATTERED POWER OUTAGES.

Gulp, that doesn’t sound good! But presumably the game goes on anyway, even if at a new time. Like Houston/NE and GB/Dallas, this is another rematch of an in season game. Early in the year, the Chefs were blown out by the Stillers, at Heinz Field. (Thanks for the editing Peterr!) Lot of people think KC can, and will win at home against the AFC North Champs. Not me. Big Ben, Bell and Brown are healthy and clicking in synch better than they ever have. That is saying something. KC is a great team, and Andy Reid is a seriously underrated great coach. But that is not enough with the way Pittsburgh is rolling right now. And Harrison, Bud Dupree and the Steel Curtain, while maybe not what that name once implied, are still pretty damn good, and playing well together. Stillers move on.

So, that is it for now. Have a GREAT Martin Luther King weekend and holiday folks. And, may I point out that John Lewis is an American hero for all ages, and Donald Trump is a worthless piece of shit.Music this weekend by Stanley Clarke, Al Di Meola and Chick Corea, i.e. Return To Forever.

The Great Transformation Part 6: Labor as a Fictitious Commodity

Previous posts in this series:

The Great Transformation: Mainstream Economics and an Introduction to a New Series

The Great Transformation Part 1: The Market

The Great Transformation Part 2: More on Markets

The Great Transformation Part 3: Neoliberalism Before It Got Its New Name

The Great Transformation Part 4: Reaction and Counter-Reaction To Self-Regulating Markets

The Great Transformation Part 5: Polanyi on Marxian Analysis

In Chapter 6, Polanyi says that the theory of the self-regulating market, which is at the heart of laissez-faire and neoliberal economics, requires that all of the elements of production and consumption be subject to the price-setting mechanisms of a market, and that government is not allowed to interfere with those markets in any way. Polanyi defines commodities as things produced for sale; and markets are “contacts between actual buyers and sellers”. Following that definition, commodities are generally subject to market pricing, and that was generally true at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, say the late 1700s. But three crucial elements of production were not at that time fully subject to markets: labor, land and money. In order for the self-regulating market to function, these three elements had to be brought under market control and freed from government regulation.

In Chapter 6, Polanyi calls these three elements “fictitious commodities”. That’s because they aren’t produced for consumption as the definition requires. Labor is human beings, who are part of society, not some product. Land stands for our natural surroundings, the place we live, and if we treat it like a cornucopia of goodies we’ll foul our own surroundings and make our lives miserable. Money is a social creation, not a commodity produced for sale.

And yet, for the self-regulating market to work, any element of humanity that extends beyond slavery, all efforts to preserve our home planet, and social control over our social creations must be stripped out, and the remains shoved into the same mold of one-dimensional value as potatoes and shoes. Anything less gives the defenders of laissez-faire and today’s neoliberals room to argue that the self-regulating market has never been allowed to do its magic and provide us with a material heaven on earth.

Polanyi discusses the impact of bringing the three fictitious commodities into market control in Chapters 14, 15 and 16. We start with the market in labor, which means the market in people’s lives. In Chapter 10, The Discovery of Society, Polanyi explains the separation of the economic and political spheres, starting with Joseph Townsend’s 1786 A Dissertation on the Poor Laws. Townsend tells the story an island populated by dogs and goats. The dogs eat the goats until there are too few to support the number of dogs. Then the dogs die down and the goats thrive. Then the dogs thrive and eat the goats, so the population of goats goes down. Here’s Townsend’s moral:

The weakest of both species were among the first to pay the debt of nature; the most active and vigorous preserved their lives. It is the quantity of food which regulates the numbers of the human species.

Here’s how Adam Smith explains it in Book 1 Chapter 8 of The Wealth of Nations:

Every species of animals naturally multiplies in proportion to the means of their subsistence, and no species can ever multiply be yond it. But in civilized society, it is only among the inferior ranks of people that the scantiness of subsistence can set limits to the further multiplication of the human species; and it can do so in no other way than by destroying a great part of the children which their fruitful marriages produce.

The liberal reward of labour, by enabling them to provide better for their children, and consequently to bring up a greater number, naturally tends to widen and extend those limits. It deserves to be remarked, too, that it necessarily does this as nearly as possible in the proportion which the demand for labour requires. If this demand is continually increasing, the reward of labour must necessarily encourage in such a manner the marriage and multiplication of labourers, as may enable them to supply that continually increasing demand by a continually increasing population. If the reward should at any time be less than what was requisite for this purpose, the deficiency of hands would soon raise it; and if it should at any time be more, their excessive multiplication would soon lower it to this necessary rate. The market would be so much understocked with labour in the one case, and so much overstocked in the other, as would soon force back its price to that proper rate which the circumstances of the society required. It is in this manner that the demand for men, like that for any other commodity, necessarily regulates the production of men, quickens it when it goes on too slowly, and stops it when it advances too fast.

It’s an unpleasant picture, but with decent nutrition and good medical care along with birth control and abortion, it’s an accurate description today. Birth rates decline in recessions and increase when the economy is booming. The difference, of course, is the element of choice available today, as this recent Wall Street Journal article explains:

While the uptick in fertility and birthrates is modest and could reverse, it appears the country’s improving economy is encouraging more couples to have children. The lingering financial toll of the recession prompted many young and less-educated Americans in particular to delay childbearing.

In Chapter 14, Polanyi describes the technique for bringing labor under market control.

To separate labor from other activities of life and to subject it to the laws of the market was to annihilate all organic forms of existence and to replace them by a different type of organization, an atomistic and individualistic one.

Such a scheme of destruction was best served by the application of the principle of freedom of contract. In practice this meant that the noncontractual organizations of kinship, neighborhood, profession, and creed were to be liquidated since they claimed the allegiance of the individual and thus restrained his freedom. To represent this principle as one of noninterference, as economic liberals were wont to do, was merely the expression of an ingrained prejudice in favor of a definite kind of interference, namely, such as would destroy noncontractual relations between individuals and prevent their spontaneous reformation.
P. 171.

Could that be closer to the neoliberal view of humans? Economic freedom is the only kind that matters, say the neoliberals. And government is to be used to enforce the kinds of contracts the neoliberals want, and strike down all contracts neoliberals don’t like. All debts are to be enforced to the letter against human beings and cities. All cooperation among workers is a restraint of trade, and is stopped by courts. All labor is available for consumption by employers, and if you don’t want to work, you are free to starve.

Corporate Profits as Percentage of Gross National Product

Corporate Profits as Percentage of Gross National Product


Meanwhile, the capitalists will not accept the possibility of any reduction in their take from the system, currently at absurd levels. When Donald Trump, who represents the Republican consensus, says that wages are too high, he means that returns to capital must be kept at the highest possible level. In order for profits to remain high, we have to keep wages low. Then we have to destroy the social safety net so workers will be forced to work for whatever wages are available. The lash of hunger should do the job, along with a militarized police force. This is the society envisioned by the early economists.

And, this is what Polanyi means when he talks about the dangers of treating labor like any other marketable commodity. It means the subordination of every aspect of the lives of workers to the maintenance of the wealth of the filthy rich.