Category Archives: Capitalism

The Myth of Bootstraps

There have been several podcasts in my feed over the last year dissecting and observing the subject of poverty. This is probably because of the over-hyped evidence that the majority of Trump (OHM) supporters were poor, rural whites. The podcasters in their turn feel they need to address the issues raised by these people. The issues that made these poor, rural whites feel so desperate that they would hazard the welfare of us all on a known liar and con artist.

I say over-hyped with no intention of belittling the plight of the poor, or the fact that poverty runs rampant in the modern United States. Poverty is more widespread and more painfully felt now than it has been at any point since the end of World War Two. The disparity between rich and poor today is comparative to 1929, in the time leading up to the crash and the Great Depression. People are poorer now and paid worse than at any point in modern American history.

But it isn’t trade deals that are causing this problem. It isn’t illegal aliens in the US taking our jobs. It isn’t any of the things the OHM says is causing poverty; and his solutions to fix poverty are solutions that not only have been tried before but failed to work previously. So why do them again?

No, I say over-hyped because the rural poor more than likely voted for Trump because the rural poor have been the largest viewing block for reality TV. The rural poor have little other entertainment they can access aside from television. The Apprentice was popular with the same people who voted for Trump. Why is it so hard to admit that these people thought that the character on that show was the guy they voted for in the election? That the lack of broadband access in the rural areas of the US have lead to an information gap that resulted in the election of a con artist to the presidency? That poverty is merely a factor in the larger problem of inequality in America?

All of these podcasts have struck a chord with me. I have blogged both directly and tangentially about this subject in the past. It is not a subject I like writing about. The nerves are raw and the wounds are kept fresh in my current situation of disability and poverty. The series from On the Media, Busted: America’s Poverty Myths brought me to tears. I recognized so many tropes from my own childhood. Things family members and friends both have uttered in my hearing. Things that I have been guilty of believing in the past. In this article I will take a more purposeful walk down that  memory lane, painful as it is. I want to do this in the light of these discussions by scholars, writers and journalists.

…and I will start this journey of introspection with the writer/journalist Stephen Dubner and his podcast Freakonomics,

James Truslow Adams, born in 1878 to a wealthy New York family, became a financier and, later, an author. He won a Pulitzer Prize for a history of New England; and later he wrote a book called The Epic of America. Even though it was written during the Great Depression, Adams took a fundamentally bullish view of the United States. 

His book was hugely popular, and as best as we can tell, it introduced the phrase “The American Dream.” Adams defined this as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”  The phrase caught on, and not just a little bit. Especially among our presidents…

…The Stanford economist Raj Chetty has been working with large data sets to try to understand why so many Americans are no longer living the American Dream. When it comes to economic opportunity, Chetty and his colleagues found huge regional and even local differences throughout the U.S.

As he told us, kids growing up in San Francisco have about twice the chance of living the American Dream as kids from just across the bridge, in Oakland. Why? One easy explanation would be that the people in those different areas are just different – they have different abilities, different cultures, different job opportunities. And that certainly has some explanatory power. But Chetty and his colleagues found the story isn’t that simple… 

…This is hardly a new idea – that growing up in a poor neighborhood isn’t the best launching ground for economic success. This idea, in fact, led the Clinton Administration to experiment in the mid-1990s with a program called Moving to Opportunity. 

Okay, so young kids who move out of a high-poverty neighborhood do much better later on. What, exactly, does this signify? What’s going on in the poor neighborhoods to depress income mobility and what’s going on in the better neighborhoods to increase it? Answering those questions has become a big part of Raj Chetty’s work. 

The above hits the high points without getting into the meat of the episode, which is excellent. The scholar Raj Chetty‘s five factors address my personal experiences of poverty directly. It was because of this episode that I felt the need to write more on this subject, but the title of the post comes from a segment of another podcast, which was introduced to me through this episode of Radiolab,

In a 5-part series called “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” On the Media picked apart numerous oft-repeated narratives about what it’s like to be poor in America. From Ben Franklin to a brutal eviction, Brooke gives us just a little taste of what she learned and shares a couple stories of the struggle to get ahead, or even just get by.

This episode features an excellent overview of the 5-part series; enough for the casually interested, but not enough for someone who remembers the shock of sudden poverty as a child. A now old man who lives in poverty due to illness, disability, a truly lackluster US economy, sexism/ageism in the workplace directed at the Wife, etc. But I don’t want to get ahead of the narrative, and discussing the particulars of my experience in poverty even in the general sense gets ahead of the introduction provided in the full five part series from On the Media.

“You had a population that wanted to cling to those things because it justified them not sharing.” – Jack Frech Athens County welfare director

As the Freakonomics episode mentioned, It is actually twice as easy to move up the income ladder in Canada as it is in the US. This is a travesty, an ongoing insult to America, this delusion we live under. What delusion is that? The delusion that the US is the best country in the world to live in, that we provide more access to social mobility than anyplace else in the world. It simply isn’t true. Hasn’t been true for a good, long time.

The first episode of the On the Media series is an introduction to the reality of poverty in America. It is the boxing glove on the fist of the next three episodes that drive home the fact that we Americans really don’t have a clue what it is to be desperately poor in the US. Even I only vaguely recognize the lives that the truly poverty stricken must live. The reason for this is; I profited from the status of my parents. My parents, in their turn, benefited from the status of their parents; white, working class, upwardly mobile christians with land. My paternal grandparents had enough property that they farmed at first, and then sold land to the city and to new families moving into the bustling township that Leoti, Kansas was after the dust bowl. They sold and profited as the town grew around them, just like the dreams of all Americans play out.

“Cultivation is at least one of the greatest natural improvements ever made by human invention. It has given to created earth a tenfold value. But the landed monopoly that began with it has produced the greatest evil. It has dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural inheritance, without providing for them, as ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that did not exist before.” – Thomas Paine Agrarian Justice The Writings of Thomas Paine pg 331

The possession of land leads to wealth, if one is lucky enough to own the right piece of land at the right time. The Steele family in Wichita county, Kansas were those people. The fact of their ownership of land made them powerful within the township. The location near a then-growing town gave them a chance to sell off some of their property for cash, something that there is never enough of in any small town. People have to eat, after all. They have to have somewhere safe to sleep. All of this costs money in the modern economy, and the only way to get money is to work or be born into it. So I wasn’t born into poverty, at least.

I was born overseas to a father who was stationed there in the military, a mother who enjoyed being overseas for the first time but really didn’t enjoy the constraints of a military wife in the 60’s. She returned to the states not too long after my birth, and my father left the military as soon as his mandatory term of service was up. They returned to my father’s home on the high plains of Kansas as I mentioned. My father grew up in a little town named Leoti that would be so small you would miss it if you blinked, if only the main roads went anywhere near the place. My father’s family had settled there a few decades previously and Grampa had several thriving businesses in the town. One of those businesses was sold/given to my father when he left the military, and he settled down with my mother for the happily ever after that all young people believe in.

Did I say “happily ever after?” Yeah, that never showed up. Dad took to drinking a fifth of bourbon every single day as he struggled to deal with bringing in enough cash to support his growing family. Mother was unhappy because the family kept growing and her husband didn’t seem to be around much to help. The fighting got worse until it damaged the furnishings and frightened the children, and the divorce wasn’t long after that. Coming out of the 40’s and 50’s and the attitudes about women and families, the ridiculous notions of money and politics, wealth and poverty and the meaning of all these things all wrapped up together, the surprising part of this story is that some women put up with the way life was for them. They put up with it instead of leaving. Maybe they had better husbands?

The story of my pre-teen life was pretty common for the time. By the mid-70’s when the divorce happened fully half of all marriages went that way. Prior to World War Two women were expected to stay home, raise children and provide for the running of the household which encompassed pretty much everything you can imagine. Everything you can imagine, if you imagined a self-sufficient household operation that was a day’s horseback ride from the next nearest town, a train ride away from the nearest city with running retail businesses in it. A household without running water or electricity. That is what frontier life was like just two generations into the past for me, four generations now. My grandparents remembered towns without electricity, the introduction of indoor plumbing and the automobile.

Automobiles made the difference. This fact is spelled out in the heaps of rusted metal you can find dotting most older farmsteads. When the old car dies you leave it where it sits and buy another one, just as you did the tractor and the harvester. On the Wife’s family farm you can still see her dad’s first tractor, parked on the edge of the field where it died, rusting into nothing as the decades fly by. It still sits there even though the farm itself has changed hands twice since her mom sold it. Sold it because there just wasn’t any reason to keep it any longer.

We weren’t farmers. We were never going to sign up for that life. The automobile made city life bearable because you could live in the outskirts of the city and commute downtown for work. In the city you don’t need to make your own clothes, you can go to the store and buy them. You can go to the store and buy them, that is, if you have the money. Money has been the limiting factor imposed on the poor for longer than any of  the now living can remember. Longer than those who came before us can remember. Further back than even our great-grandparents and their parents time.

Brooke meets Carla Scott, a young woman in Cleveland forced to sell her plasma for bus fare after a series of events derailed her life, as well as Carla’s nonagenarian grandmother, Grace, a hard-line believer in “personal responsibility.” 

Personal responsibility or paying for every mistake you’ve made for your entire life. That would be costly, and hasn’t been my experience. This is the privilege of white skin in the United States. It certainly hasn’t been luck that has seen me through to now. I’ve told myself all my life I make my own luck. I make my own luck because 50/50 chances almost never fall my way.  Even so, there are many behaviors that I have engaged in that would have resulted in imprisonment and probably death, had I been caught doing them while black.

While I was near homeless for a few years living in friend’s spare rooms and sleeping on enclosed porches, I never had to sell plasma. I didn’t have children of my own to tend to before I was ready largely because I knew what a pain children could be. That was one of the many lessons I learned being raised by a single mom.

The benefit of city living masques the machinery of poverty creation. Having everything you want or need available at a store for purchase makes the delusion of self-sufficiency seem quite real. Self sufficient, if you have the money to buy these things. Self sufficient, if you have work that pays money. I have always had work because I would do just about any job offered to me. White, young, male, with no tattoos and no piercings. This was important above all things; maintain the illusion of a fine, upstanding middle class status. That illusion kept me working.

Poverty waits for those who fail to maintain the illusion. Jobs that go to others. Careless sex that leads to children. Drug addiction. Tattoos and piercings that announce your rejection of white bread America. That inner-city poverty of slums and ghettos? The tattooed and the peirced? The drug addicted and the ne’er-do-well? That poverty that has moved out into the country from the cities. The rebellion that motivated the election of the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) was generated in rural America, in the persons of the last victims of a grinding poverty that has plagued the poorer neighborhoods of cities since their creation. I noted the rural American bellyaching rang hollow to me in the essay I named after him,

Listening to the people who attempt to defend their affinity for the Orange Hate-Monkey in the podcast isn’t helping. Oh poor, misunderstood me whining by rural whites strikes me as just this side of pathetic. As if urban blacks don’t have problems, haven’t had worse problems for the better part of two hundred years. The fact that the researchers on this podcast are so divorced from the truth of the matter, that the reality-disconnected people they have been interviewing actually turned out to be the ones who had the last laugh, that they got their American Psycho candidate on a collision course with the White House, in the face of the researcher’s own blithe belief that Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in for the presidency, isn’t helping with the surreality of this moment in time.

I know what grinding poverty looks like even though my experience with it was mercifully brief. That time was right after my parent’s divorce. For a time my mom made the best of life in rural Kansas. We got to keep the house. Dad moved into a trailer parked behind his service station. He managed to wrangle down his child support to $300 which wasn’t enough to cover the cost of keeping a roof over our heads, even though that roof had been home for as long as we could remember. Mom took her first job outside the house since going to college, a job teaching Head Start to Leoti preschoolers, a job that was taken from her because she didn’t have a teaching certificate. She left college to get married and had no saleable skills aside from homemaking, a job she couldn’t do anymore without a husband.

So mom remarried. He was a nice enough guy when we met in Leoti. As soon as we left Kansas and moved to Texas, the trouble started. The poverty got worse. Dad stopped paying the child support and only restarted it after mom sued him to get it. The stepdad started drinking heavily, and he was a mean drunk. There were a number of times where my mouth got me in trouble and I ended up on the floor. The last time I saw him was the day he brought another woman to the house. After watching him abuse my mother wordlessly for months, after being the victim of his abuse during that time, having him show up and flaunt his girlfriend in my mother’s face was too much. When mom sent us into the house and told us to hide, I waited behind a door I knew he would come through if he did come in for his stuff. I waited with a high vantage point and a heavy blunt object. I wanted to make sure that if the opportunity presented itself, there would be a near guarantee of killing him. I hated him that much.

Luckily for both of us, the opportunity never occurred. He left without his stuff. I was on a plane to stay with my father in Kansas within the week. Psychotherapy was part of that process. I was the lucky one. The luckiest of the four children who endured the stepfather. I had a room of my own in my father’s house. I had running hot water at the tap. I had a mother and father who were concerned for me. I never appreciated this fact, this blessing, until visiting my mother in Texas and seeing what hitching her cart to the stepfather’s wagon had wrought in the end.

The unlucky ones? They had one bed for the four of them to share. Mom went through another divorce, which means those three siblings went through it with her. The garage apartment they found in the tiny town they had ended up in didn’t have a reliable roof or much in the way of indoor plumbing. They had to heat water on the stove to fill the bathtub so that they all could bath each night. My mother had taken the next of dozens of jobs she would eventually hold, working the night shift running that blight of the American landscape, a convenience store. Virtually the only profitable business in yet another small town whose only claim to fame was being on the road to somewhere else.

When I saw how bad their living conditions were, I cried. We siblings then made the first of several pacts that followed over the years. After a few weeks of mutual badgering, our parents in their separate hostile camps were convinced to let the rest of the kids move back up with dad and his new wife. I didn’t appreciate having to share a bed with my brother again, but at least they had hot water to shower with. Television to watch. Decent schools to attend, back in the good old days, when Kansas still believed in investing in young people.

For the first time in my mother’s short life, she was free. No children to supervise. No husband to cook for or tend to. Free to try and advance her skills by returning to school. So she did that. She moved to a larger town in the area, a town called Sweetwater. It was a town with a school, a town big enough for a trade school, but not so big that it became expensive to live in. She took business classes and worked odd jobs. She was probably about as happy as she had ever been.

This happiness was short-lived. This is a section of the story that I wrote about at length here,

Dad had remarried, but found the chore of raising 5 unruly children too much to deal with so he sent us back to our mother in Texas to live. The 5 of us crammed ourselves into whatever housing she could afford on the wages for whatever jobs she could get.

…She just went back to working at fast food joints, bars and restaurants, the odd convenience store job as the demands for housing, clothes and food for her growing children required.

It was a point of pride to my mom that she never took food stamps. That she never had to go on welfare. Her memory is a bit more selective than mine. We may never have needed food stamps, but we certainly ate a lot of government bread and cheese. Drank a lot of government milk. I got a job as soon as I could after moving back in with mom. I knew even before she explained it to me, there was no way we’d survive if I wasn’t working. So I started sacking groceries and cleaning up at night at one of the two grocery stores in that mid-sized Texas town. I took a lot of food that the store was going to throw away home with me instead, one of the benefits of being the flunky who throws out the trash. We never went hungry, but that is just barely the truth.

I spent my senior year in high school as a stranger in a school I didn’t really want to attend. I preferred the Kansas schools of the time. Kansas’ investment in higher education (now abandoned) Kansas’ belief in better times ahead (ditto) Texas was meaner. Texas was harsher both in climate and attitude. That mythical Southern hospitality is the velvet glove over the iron fist of crony capitalism and repressive social structures designed to keep the poor in their place.

I attended the same trade school my mom had moved to Sweetwater to attend and I made the best of the illusions I had been fed as a child. That I could be whatever I wanted to be. That I had no limitations. That all I had to do was work hard and I would make the grade. That I could live happily ever after, too.

It’s not about IQ… it’s the context you inhabit

In the third installment of our series, “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we take on one of our country’s most fundamental notions: that America is a land of equal opportunity and upward mobility for all. And we ask why, in spite of a wealth of evidence to the contrary, does this idea persist?

With the help of historian Jill Lepore, Brooke traces the history of the “rags to riches” narrative, beginning with Benjamin Franklin, whose 18th century paper manufacturing business literally turned rags into riches. We hear from Natasha Boyer, a young Ohio woman who was saved from eviction by a generous surprise from strangers… only for the miracle to prove fleeting. And we consider the efficacy of “random acts of kindness” and the fateful role of luck — where you’re born, and to whom — in determining success.

Much like Benjamin Franklin in reality, as detailed in this segment of the story, I moved away from the family that was a drag on my ability to succeed on my own. Their poverty making my poverty that much harder to ignore, that much harder to escape. After a brief, heartbreaking few months trying to establish myself in Kansas back living with my father, trying to make good on promises made to a girlfriend I had left in Kansas and failing at that rather spectacularly, I returned to Texas and moved up the road from Sweetwater to Abilene for a brief time, living on my own. Like everyone who transitions to life on their own, that was quite a shock. I think it was the month driving on a leaky tire because I couldn’t afford a new one that brought home just how hard it was going to be to make the grade. Just how remote the possibility that happily ever after might ever occur.

“It’s alright to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” Martin Luther King Jr.

It was while living in Abilene that I noticed that I effectively had no boots and thusly no bootstraps to draw myself up by. I had limited education, most of which I provided for myself through voracious reading. I clearly had a problem producing work in my chosen profession, a barrier that I had never realized was mine alone until that time. There was no one with money in my immediate family. I knew no one in Abilene aside from co-workers at jobs I no longer had, and I wore out their welcomes in pretty short order. I even had to borrow mom’s pride and joy, the first new car she had ever bought for herself, just to get myself out of the rut I’d made in Abilene and move myself to a new, hopefully more promising locale, San Angelo.

It was in San Angelo that I met the Wife, working at one of the many odd jobs that came my way. It was there that I dragged the rest of my Texas family, after I finally found a job that paid money and had rented a house that would fit all of them. It was there that all of them eventually went to college. It was a long, hard struggle even getting to that level, the level where I felt I could attempt to repay a debt to my mother that I knew I still owed. But I was still poor, just not as poor as I had been. In order to not be poor I knew I was going to have to find a bigger city. Bigger cities require more architecture, more planning, more design, and I knew that was a demand that I could help satisfy if I could just get there.

In the fourth installment of our series “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we examine the strengths and shortcomings of our nation’s safety net. Government assistance does help lift millions out of poverty each year — indeed, without it, poverty would be twice as high — but those in the most dire circumstances often slip through the cracks.

With the help of Linda Tirado, author of Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, and Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, we consider how anti-poverty programs can actually keep people poor and offer little hope for a way out.

Also, Brooke meets Margaret Smith, a Columbus woman made homeless after a violent crime derailed the life she’d carefully built with her six children. And we visit an Athens County food pantry that provides not just meals to the community, but also school supplies, clothing, furniture, job training, home repairs, disaster relief…even burial plots.

In the city there is no illusion about the temporariness of prosperity, of hearth and home. If there is any real difference between city life and country life, it is the illusion of permanence that country life affords. In the city you pay by the month for everything including hearth and home. You never stop paying for anything, ever. New cars, bigger houses, longer commutes, more roads, taller buildings, denser usage. The city is a meatgrinder, and the meat it grinds is human. Best not to watch it happen if you have a weak stomach.

It’s true, there are more opportunities in the city if you can afford to go there and look for them. I took that leap almost thirty years ago now. Left what I see now as a quiet little town of a hundred thousand people; ten times the size, and more, of my hometown of Leoti at its peak. Austin boasts more than a million citizens now. if you incorporate its far-flung suburbs, there is something closer to two million people who work and live here because of Austin being here and pretty much for no other reason. It certainly isn’t for the weather, which is Texas hot nine months out of the year.

There is a little joke in Austin that if you move here and don’t have allergies, wait five years. You’ll have them, just wait. I had allergies before moving here and I never intended to stay here. Fate has kept me here, year after year in spite of my intentions to leave as soon as I was assured of an ability to provide for my family. I was ill before I got to Austin, and my illness has gotten worse every year I’ve been here. The symptoms which had no name eventually got so bad that I found a name for them, Meniere’s. Finding that my symptoms had a name is the only reason I’m alive to write this uplifting little post today. Having a name for what keeps me from working is what gets me disability payments that kept my now-grown children fed while they were still growing. The disability made me worth more alive than dead; so I’ve kept living, to the consternation of many.

Disability isn’t a carefree life of freedom and bliss. Ill health is generally hard to endure even without the grinding poverty that accompanies it in most cases. The poverty is inflicted on those of ill-health by the system itself, not as a function of their relative worth. The cost of treating illness is itself a function of building the wealth of countless millions of healthcare professionals, people who would be as poor as I am without people like me coming to them for treatment. Without Social Security and Medicare paying my bills, I’d have taken my own life years ago. All those thousands spent to educate my children, house, clothe and feed them, would never have existed. Their promising careers, the careers of my Texas family who went to college because I brought them somewhere that had a college, all of the people who benefitted in some way from the work that I’ve done if not by the simple existence of my health issues, none of them would be where they are now had I simply not existed. Had I been cast aside like the poster-waving homeless visible on every city street corner in the US.

Nothing hits so hard for me as being in my car pulling up to an intersection, and having someone come to me with their hand out. I can’t look because I know that if I give in to my desire to help everyone around me, I will soon be the one standing on the street corner holding a sign. See to your own needs first, as any properly trained triage attendant knows. You can’t help others if you end up needing help yourself. I have clung to the top edge of a vertical drop into non-existence for more than a decade now. Every single cent of every dollar spent in the last ten years having to be justified in some way. Kicking myself for ever frivolously spending anything in the years that I had money, not realizing that those years would be the briefest of all.

When reporting on poverty, the media fall into familiar traps and pundits make prescriptions that disregard the facts. So, in the fifth and final installment of our series, “Busted: America’s Poverty Myths,” we present a Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook: Poverty in America Edition. It’ll equip you with the tools to spot shoddy reporting and the knowledge to identify coverage with insight.

With help from Jack Frech, former Athens County welfare director; Kathryn Edin, co-author of $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America; Greg Kaufmann, editor of TalkPoverty.org; Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City; and Linda Tirado, author of Hand To Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America.

This brings me full circle. From bootstraps to bootstraps. How can you lift yourself with your own bootstraps when you have no boots? Casey Gerald asks that very question in a TED talk that I favorited over a year ago. I love this talk. It makes me cry and laugh and cry.

“The gospel of doubt does not ask that you stop believing, it asks that you believe a new thing: that it is possible not to believe.”Casey Gerald

Like him I really don’t have any answers aside from the plain observation that what we have attempted so far in the realm of aid to the poor has failed, utterly.  We must begin again if we ever hope to improve the human condition. The only sane way is to approach the problem with the knowledge that we don’t know what will work before we try it. So it will profit all of us to make sure that what we are attempting can be tested for effectiveness before we embrace it as true and real. 

Money in the Internet Age

I keep getting links to The Wall Street Journal articles. This is a regular occurrence on Nuzzel, one of the news aggregators I rely on for my daily news. These links are useless to me; I never pass them on and I never read them. Why? Because  The Wall Street Journal has erected an impenetrable paywall around their site and I simply don’t have money to give to publications in general, being a person living in poverty.

Even if I had money I wouldn’t pay a subscription fee to most publications (except maybe The Atlantic) because 9/10’s of what they report is available on Reuters or the AP feed. Why would I pay to read stuff on  a newspaper’s website that can be read other places for less money? Micro-payments for specific articles, if I had money to spend, would be something I would agree to, but not subscription.

I won’t pay subscription fees for other cities papers. I’ve never paid for the daily paper in my hometown (currently the Austin American-Statesman) I have never paid a lump sum for delivery of a daily paper; a paper whose content is actually paid for by advertisers who want to sell me cigarettes or alcohol or some other addictive substance that I couldn’t afford to use even if it wasn’t addictive. I borrowed newspapers at lunch or listened to the radio (NPR) for my news.

After the internet became available I started reading more news than I had ever read before and my understanding of the world improved. But this understanding came at a cost to the journalists and publishers of the newspapers who hadn’t figured out how to monetize information consumption on the internet. They’ve tried, and failed, to make advertising work on the internet. It doesn’t work because people like me don’t want to be sold to. We aren’t here to be pigeons targeted by businesses that want to make money off our browsing habits, although many of us (including me) don’t mind if Google (Now Alphabet) makes money off our information in exchange for providing services.


NPR, Hidden Brain, Buying Attention

Unfortunately for most internet businesses, there’s only so much room on the internet for businesses like Google, and competing with Google is hard work. Ask Microsoft if you don’t believe me. So how are the businesses going to make money online if advertising (the backbone of information delivery since the invention of the printing press and the mural) doesn’t work online? If the internet is (as I say in The Information Tollway) a replacement for the library, newspaper, radio and television? We’re going to have to admit that everyone who lives and consumes in society deserves some kind of stipend, some basic cost of living allowance.

They deserve it, and we need them to have it, because their consumption habits need to be accounted for. The easiest way for this to occur is for them to be able to spend money for what they need, just like everybody else does. Go to the doctor? spend money. Go to the grocery store? spend money. Read an article online? spend money. I doubt we will ever evolve to not need money for accounting purposes, but it is pointless for us to continue believing that money comes from work when not everyone can work, and the most important work (raising children) continues to be done essentially for free.

In the meantime, places like the Times, the Post and the Journal will have to do without cash from people like me, because people like me have to save what little cash we have to keep roofs over our heads and food in our stomachs. We already economize with our health unless we have medicare, and the GOP tax bill will cause seventeen million more people to do without healthcare in the near future, if passed. So there will be more people getting sick and just ignoring it as time progresses. We will economize with our knowledge and understanding as well if forced to. You can see that in the #MAGA‘s (Misguided Appallingly Gullible Americans) election of people like the OHM and the GOP congress that is shafting the same misinformed people who put them there. But that is a story for another article. 

The Information Tollway, With Demand-Based Pricing

I could have sworn we nearly had a revolution not even two years ago because the information delivery services we’ve tied ourselves to thought they could meter our internet consumption habits. Has everyone forgot how Comcast throttled Netflix until they coughed up millions of dollars? Are American memories so short that they can’t even remember what happened in recent history? SOPAPIPA? Is the average American really that clueless they can’t remember?

Trump’s plans through his designated stooge, Ajit Pai, are for a return to the days where essential services can be withheld from the American people in the name of profit. What is next? Will they poison our water in the name of profit? Oh, wait, that’s already happened under Republican leadership and was only ferreted out when the stink of bad water got so bad the president himself got wind of it. It’s going to happen again if we don’t wise up to the threat that the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) represents.

 The FCC under the OHM’s direction intends to go against the will of the majority of the American people, and the informed technologists, on the subject of the necessity of information to the proper functioning of democratic government. I’m not sure why I’m surprised, it’s been profit over sense since day one for the OHM. He’s not going to change now just because he’s transparently defying the will of the people.


Net Neutrality: Done Deal, Open Question

Ah Nick Gillespie. A cherished source of much misinformation in my past years as a libertarian. How to explain to you Nick just how dominated by polemic you are? I’m not sure why On The Media thought that his was the voice to go to, the voice to promote the OHM’s internet agenda. Aside from the fact that he is a vocal critic of everything government, the way a proper libertarian propagandist would be, he has little to no experience doing anything aside from being an apologist for capitalism’s excesses. In all the years I’ve read his work, he solidly comes down on the side of the corporate donors who generously fund his monthly rag.

I would offer a quote from Nick Gillespie’s blog article on Reason magazine, if there was anything quote-worthy about it. That article and the interview Reason conducted with Ajit Pai seems to be the justification of having him speak for the pro-OHM policy side of the open internet argument, but I don’t accept any of his conclusions since he offers not one shred of evidence showing that Net Neutrality rules have in any way limited the internet aside from acknowledging that providing a service as essential as the internet means that the provision needs to be available everywhere in the US equally to all citizens.

If I were to hazard a counter-argument (and since you are reading this, I have) I think I would say that libertarianism as a philosophy is absent any relevance to the information delivery service that is the internet. The proof of libertarianism’s irrelevance to the subject is that the Electronic Frontier Foundation is opposed to everything that Nick Gillespie says on the subject of Net Neutrality and they are also at heart a libertarian organization.

I want to make one thing perfectly clear here. I am not shy about demanding the government secure the internet against all threats, including government oversight of internet content. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should be strapped down by regulations which prevent them from doing anything other than provide access to the information. They should not under any condition be content manufacturers, as so many of them currently are. Failure to enforce this ban on content creation by the providers leads inevitably to things like Comcast’s shakedown of Netflix, and the permanent throttling of competitors in the near future if the new rules are allowed to go through. Their promises to not throttle their competitors in the online world are worth every bit as much as the OHM’s promise that Mexico would pay for the border wall; as in, not worth a thing and probably indicative of the complete opposite in reality.

The ISP’s make and are still making bucket loads of money in the internet world. What they don’t want is to be forced to provide service to areas that are not profitable for them, something that President Obama’s FCC rules on Net Neutrality and Title 2 designation forces on the ISPs. The same kinds of rules that made telephones and electricity things that are available throughout the US. Regulations that require the provision of services to all households in the country whether provision of those services is profitable or not.

I don’t think I can put too fine a point on this argument. This is the future of democracy in the world that we are talking about. The internet is the new library, newspaper, radio and television rolled into one. It is possibly even a replacement for the postal service itself, aside from the delivery of physical goods to locations, a job capably done by other private sources. The internet has to be available to everyone everywhere all the time or it will fail to do its job. What these new proposed rules portend is that information will be made available only to the wealthy, with the rural areas of America left rotting without infrastructure they have every right to expect the government to provide.

An information tollway with demand-based pricing. That most libertarian of libertarian ideas, paying for access to work, shelter food and clothing up front by making everyone pay for the roads they are forced to use just to satisfy basic needs. It was a libertarian idea first, this lame brained scheme to make everyone pay for freeways by turning them into tollways. Here in Austin, we are saddled with several of these bullshit toll roads. There is no way to get from here to there without paying a fee if the road didn’t exist before the tollway was created. This leaves several new developments unreachable without paying a toll, a painful fact that new homeowners will discover only after they buy their houses and learn local routes to and from work. To and from the supermarket.

This is what they propose for the internet. None but the wealthy may pass. Everyone else, get in line.



Tim Berners-Lee on the current proposals from the FCC,

I want an internet where content businesses grow according to their quality, not their ability to pay to ride in the fast lane. I want an internet where ideas spread because they’re inspiring, not because they chime with the views of telecoms executives. I want an internet where consumers decide what succeeds online, and where ISPs focus on providing the best connectivity.

If that’s the internet you want — act now. Not tomorrow, not next week. Now.

 The link in that snippet goes to battleforthenet.com, an online petition and protest organization designed specifically to stop these new FCC rules dead in their tracks. If you want to preserve the promise of an open internet, then I suggest you click on that link and do what you can to help them. Now is the time to act to save the internet from the OHM and his henchmen. 

If This Was Mandatory Reading

I just finished reading (actually, listening too) Bernie Sanders’ book Our Revolution and I should give a hat tip (h/t) to DecodeDC and Jimmy Williams for suggesting it.

There really is only one problem with this book. The people who should be reading it will never willingly pick it up. Every Trump supporter, Clintonista (been called that myself) and Bernie bro who thinks Clinton betrayed Sanders and the revolution he rode almost to a successful nomination should read this book. He explains in graphic detail how his campaign succeeded beyond his initial aspirations when starting, and how we need to correct the system as it was before January 20th in order to make it serve the American people as it was intended.

Unfortunately that system, like his candidacy, is part of history now. The book is still worth reading, but I have serious doubts about there being much of a system left to fix after we pry His Electoral Highness out of the White House.

A better and probably still more relevant book is Robert Reich’s Saving Capitalism,

Here is the review I published on Audible.com over a year ago when I read his book;

Prof. Reich crystallizes the trends of today’s economics quite clearly, allowing us to inspect what the future holds if trends are not altered. it can be a scary future, or it could be a kinder future if we simply tweak the system in such a way that all can gain benefit from collective human progress. As all of us should benefit, being the product of previous generations of struggle. Everyone should take pause to contemplate this future, whether they agree with the forecast or solutions or not.

Just like Bernie Sander’s book, the people who could profit most from reading this book will probably never be willing to read it because of the politics of who it comes from and the president with whom Robert Reich is associated.

I find I am a complete weirdo on the subject of what I will listen to or read. I actively go out and try to understand the opposing views so that I can see what I’m fighting against. I understand that Trump voters are not openly racist or probably even homophobic. They are mostly evangelical and pretty certifiably stupid since they fell for the machinations of a con artist like Trump, but they don’t understand the forces that they have set loose upon this country. Yet. In their blind desire to have their own pain addressed, they have caused pain and suffering across a broad swath of America, and will not get one moment of relief from their own pains. I hope they can live off the schadenfreude, because that is about the only benefit that they will receive from their victory.

I took the time to listen to and understand conservative thought during my process of evaluating, supporting and finally rejecting libertarianism. I spent several aggravating months listening to Rush Limbaugh (as this blog can attest) as a part of this process. You cannot hope to defeat an enemy that you do not understand. Take the time to read their books, listen to their media, and understand their fears. Only then can you possibly present an argument that they will listen to. 

Authoritarianism vs. Humanism -Or- The Orange Hate-Monkey vs. A Village

What you’re reading now is a multiple-concept piece amalgamated from several other pieces, reworked and re-edited so many times I’ve lost count. The fact that several of my Facebook friends are now openly endorsing an unapologetic authoritarian, that I have severed my long-time association with the Liberty Dollar over their new commemorative coin, pushes me to complete this piece even though I remain dissatisfied with the way that it firms up.

I am troubled by undercurrents in politics that are presenting themselves these days. I have been troubled since I wrote the article Obama Best President Since Eisenhower and my tepid acceptance of who the next president should be, titled Hillary for President? What troubles me is elusive. It is hard to give it a label. It is even harder to find people discussing the perturbations that aren’t actually trying to cover them up in some way. This tendency to hide true motivations has made the process of expressing my concerns even harder to elucidate, to solidify into words, than they normally are.

I’ve written and rewritten this article more than a few times now with various titles and themes. It started out as Feudalism vs. Socialism, but I couldn’t get a handle on what precisely feudalism was based on the judgement of historians. None of them agree on what it was, when it started and when it ended. The death blow was that The Wife hated the original piece. She essentially forbade me to publish it because it was beneath me. I almost did publish it, but I knew I could do better.

While contemplating what it was I was trying to say with this piece, I ran across the concept of kyriachy; specifically it was this article on DailyKOS The Battle Over the Meaning of America: We Have to Fight It, and We Have to Win that got my attention, made me start reworking the article the first time around.

Colin Woodard’s American Nations

To imagine that our times are defined primarily by the struggle between “liberalism” and “conservatism” or between the Democratic and Republican parties is to be dangerously distracted and misled. There is a struggle that defines our times, all right, but it’s a struggle over what the United States of America is all about—what “America” means. And we have to be aware of this struggle and recognize it for what it is.

Here’s our task: We have to begin framing the debate not as liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican, but as equality or neo-Confederacy. We have to do this every time we speak, every time we write.

We have to do this because we have to push the Democratic Party to stand for equality, not for equality-except-in-politics-and-economics.

We have to know what a progressive, pro-equality position is and what a neo-Confederate position is on every issue—which position promotes freedom for all, and which promotes only the “liberties” of a lucky, privileged class. We have to present those positions to every Democratic candidate and ask her to choose one, and if she chooses the patrician position, we have to ask her why she’s favoring inequality over equality. We have to make her see equality as sensible and popular and inequality as radical and unthinkable.

Because unless we have a Democratic Party that unequivocally stands for equality and rejects inequality—social, political and economic—we can’t have an America that stands for equality.

The Republicans have gone all in for neo-Confederate authoritarianism. We have to go all in, too, for liberty, equality, justice and dignity for all—or the long arc of the moral universe will bend away from us, away from justice, and back into the darkness of rule by force and fear.

Equality is the founding principle of socialism, of humanism, no matter how poorly attempts to bring the notions of socialism into the world have failed, equality remains its basis. I tossed the idea out to see if it floated at a BBS I’ve been known to frequent with the title Egalitarianism vs. Kyriarchy, and got some interesting (and not so interesting) feedback. I just couldn’t get it to gel the way I wanted, so I disgustedly shelved the piece again. 

Continuing my exploration of concepts, I ran across this Vox article The Rise of American Authoritarianism. That was when it hit me, the label for at least one of the forces at play in the world.

The political phenomenon we identify as right-wing populism seems to line up, with almost astonishing precision, with the research on how authoritarianism is both caused and expressed

After an early period of junk science in the mid-20th century, a more serious group of scholars has addressed this question, specifically studying how it plays out in American politics: researchers like Hetherington and Weiler, Stanley Feldman, Karen Stenner, and Elizabeth Suhay, to name just a few.

The field, after a breakthrough in the early 1990s, has come to develop the contours of a grand theory of authoritarianism, culminating quite recently, in 2005, with Stenner’s seminal The Authoritarian Dynamic — just in time for that theory to seemingly come true, more rapidly and in greater force than any of them had imagined, in the personage of one Donald Trump and his norm-shattering rise.

Authoritarianism is old, as old as humanity. Everyone in some corner of their mind can find some kinship with the notions of the great man, someone we can turn to in order to fix the problems that trouble us. If we can hand it all to him, he will make it all right. That is authoritarianism, in a nutshell. It manifests in the current election in the two counter-culture Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, but the dream of the great man predates all of us.

What is the other force though? The other codifying idea that people coalesce around. It really isn’t socialism per se. Those with authority want you to believe that capitalism vs. socialism is the fight that continues. The holders of old money, the inheritors of new money, the powerful who want to retain power. They raise the specter of socialism like a bogeyman to scare those of us who remember when socialism was the masque worn by dictators across Europe and Asia.

The mind reels at trying to communicate the fear that the word socialism engenders in the minds of people who remember the Berlin wall as a real barrier people were shot crossing. How to communicate the history? Twenty-eight years before 2001, the events that today’s generations remember as 9/11. Back in the time when 2001 was a symbol of a bright future in a film yet to be made, I was born. Born the same year Camelot came to an end. JFK was shot three months after mom gave birth. My mother escaped from Europe on the heels of what she figured was the beginning of WWIII, the general suspicion being that the USSR had a hand in the death of our president.

The end of an age, the beginning of another one.

What were those years like, what was the feeling during that time? It’s hard even for me to say. From 1963 to 1969 there was assassination after assassination in the political sphere. JFK. MLK. RFK. The riots. The marches. Vietnam. Then the 70’s. Nixon and Watergate. The fall of Saigon.

Carter and the oil embargo. The Iran hostage crisis. The return of Ronald Reagan.

When and where I graduated high school in flyover country, Red Dawn was seen as prophetic when it premiered in 1984. I mean really prophetic, not some kind of hokey, campy the Russkies are coming to get us kind of joke you hear so often these days. We knew the commies were coming to get us, it was just a matter of time, and the feds in DC were the real joke, because they had no idea what was going on in the world.

Saying it that way it seems like a substantial conflict, cognitive dissonance on steroids. How could there be a bright future in 2001, while Red Dawn was a real prophecy of the failure of capitalism, both at the same time? That was/is the kind of discord present in every mind that thinks there is a grand conspiracy out there somewhere running things. There is the world that is, and the world as it really is, and you have to decode the one to find the secret other world.

Besides, 2001 was nearly 20 years away. Who can see 20 years into the future?

It was all a lie. All of it. There were no (still are no) grand conspiracies and the USSR which had survived on graft for generations finally collapsed under its own weight. Not long after I got a job and started working for a living they redrew all the maps I memorized in school, and life went on as if we hadn’t spent the last 40 years afraid of our own shadows.

The war machine though, it went on without stopping. With no enemies to fight, the machine still wanted us to act like we were at war. Reagan was AWOL in his own head virtually from the day he took office. His VP barely squeaked out a win on Reagan’s coattails and had to raise taxes to pay for the killing machines conservatives wanted him to build. Bush I lost to Bill Clinton because of the fiscal reality of who pays for the war machines, the wars, but Slick Willy still had to appease the conservatives who held power and the majority, scared in their own beds at night of the commies waiting to get them. Bill fought every battle he found an excuse for just to keep them quiet and still couldn’t justify the military budget, which he had to cut.

Then came the surprise that created the world we know now; created it out of silicon and electricity. PC’s became widely available. Suddenly everyone had the ability to wax verbose across the entire US. Not too long after the US was wired, the whole world was wired. We went from having to do research that took months and years to complete in dusty libraries across differing regions, to being able to access virtually all of human knowledge with the click of a mouse.

Not all of the knowledge is real, though. Very little of it actually is.

It became possible to find news on your own, invent news on your own. No longer force-fed nightly at 6 and 10, you could binge on news 24/7. News that you wanted to read/watch/listen to, not the things that the media determined were things an educated public should know. The doors started to come off the media machine, the carefully crafted machine that fed the US and the world the news it wanted us to hear. Out of that chaos was born the conservative echochamber as we know it today.

The conservative echochamber elected Bush II. Conservatives fed off other conservatives, on channels they created to coordinate what it was they wanted done, how they wanted their arguments to proceed. What they wanted the grass roots to believe. Small government. Low taxes on the wealthy so they would spend more. Low taxes on everybody so that they had more to spend. A war machine to rival all others. Jobs for everybody. All of it born out of the half-baked plans that came to power with Reagan, that influenced Reagan. Neoconservatism. Libertarian economics. A perversion of Goldwater conservatism that even Barry Goldwater would be hard pressed to back.

With Jesus and the prosperity gospel, they brought their selected candidate to office.

I never did credit W with a wealth of brains. Familiarity breeds contempt, and as a Texan I knew what kind of lackluster thinker the Junior Bush was. He did know at least one thing, because it wasn’t that hard to figure out. Any human group works better together with an enemy to fight, and he started off his term in office with every intention of dealing with Iraq and Saddam Hussein, even before that fateful day in September of 2001.

A relative of his Saudi business partners, Osama Bin Laden, had similar if opposing goals. Having been betrayed by the US at the end of the Cold War when we abandoned the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, outraged by the stationing of infidel troops in the holy land, OBL hatched a plan to start a war with the US by destroying the icons of US capitalism and dominance in the world, the trade center in NYC.

The towers fell and the wars started, and the jobs never came and the debts mounted.

That is what it has been like, from then to now. Conservatives afraid of commies, of socialism, suspicious of even their countrymen, especially their liberal countrymen who didn’t see the threat, backing whatever horse showed up, because they prayed to their god to send them a saviour. Faith in the supernatural, reliance on the unknowable, fear and betrayal and more betrayal. That is why the conservative base is backing a demagogue in the current election. They are tired of being betrayed by complex people with complex arguments, and they want a war to destroy their enemy (whoever that is) before they are themselves destroyed.

Dissolved into history.

Returning to the narrative, that is why socialism is a non-starter in fly-over country, the vast angry red areas of the United States. They still think socialism is a thing to be afraid of. They have no idea that socialism is their insurance coverage. Their police force. Their fire fighters. Their hospitals. Any effort that benefits us all and doesn’t have a clear profit motivation to push it forward, that is socialism at work.

Socialism means no more and no less than control of social systems being held by the many rather than the few. That costs to maintain and run the system are spread across the social groups the system serves rather than paid directly by the person who receives the benefit.
When you get a check from your insurance company, you have benefited from a socializing system. The cost to reimburse you for your loss is borne by the group who pays premiums to that insurance company. When you are injured and rushed to a hospital, the existence of those systems being there to keep you from dying is due to socialism’s influence. When you log on to your computer to check Facebook or whatever social site is popular right now, the existence of that system is due to the socializing influence of government investment in technology.

The internet was not conceived of by a single corporation, was not the brainchild of a single mind. It was conceived of by many people working separately with funds infused by government for the purpose of stimulating research. It was the product of many people working towards the goal of making knowledge available to a larger and larger group of people, for the betterment of humanity as a whole. The internet is the most social of social structures ever invented by man. More social than the grandest ideals of socialism, more liberating than millions of dollars handed to each and ever poor person.

The opposing force for Authoritarianism is deeper than socialism, which is why acceptance of socialism as the good is irrelevant in the long run. Authoritarianism is the godhead. The worship of absolute authority over all things living. What opposes it is just as strong, but largely unvoiced. It is an expression of the value of each human life. It is at its core humanism, the valuing of the human over the spiritual or supernatural. The movement that was spawned with the enlightenment and has been forgotten by most people today.

Those of us who do remember 30 years ago remember Hillary Clinton’s first entrance on the world stage as First Lady to William Jefferson Clinton’s Presidency. Sadly it is against the backdrop of his presidency that her suitability for office is judged, rightly or wrongly. Her first book It Takes a Village was routinely derided by conservatives who knew the harsh cruel world for what it was, never actually asking if that was the world they wanted to live in or not. Whether it might be in our power to change the nature of the world, at least among us humans.

But the humanist notions of It Takes a Village have proven to be true over time. We do need to create a better world for our children and grandchildren and generally the word to describe what we have experienced from the 60’s through the present day in 2016 is progress. Perhaps social progress without economic progress, but progress all the same. A leveling out of society at a lower economic status than American’s have had to make do with since before our grandparents were born.

Well, your grandparents anyway.

Economics and capitalism is where the American population needs progress now, and capitalism is the subject that authoritarians want us to talk about the least.

Capitalism is nothing more or less than an outgrowth of the creation of money for trading goods and services. An outgrowth of the common notion that one should profit from transactions with others. Capitalism and money are themselves tools, part of the bigger picture of human interactions. Money cannot exist without others who accept that currency represents a fair trade for value, making capitalism/socialism a false dichotomy easily destroyed by authoritarians bent on altering the system to suit their goals.

Historical feudalism was an expression of authoritarianism, and facets of feudalism persist into the modern age long past the time when historians have credited it as dead. The notion that one can be granted title to people as well as property by a King or other warlord who controls a region seems outmoded or medieval; however the actual governing of areas, the ownership of lands and systems in the modern age seems hardly different in practice. Holding title to lands was first introduced as a feudal practice. Inheriting that title and associated wealth was also introduced then. 
Obviously a family will and should be allowed to continue to use what was held by the head of the household before death. That seems like common sense. But the idea that it belonged to his/her heirs, the notion of heirs, that is feudalism. Is it justice for inheritors to possess gains which were ill-gotten? Gains handed to the original owner on the basis of skin color or where they called home previously? Where is the justice in that, where is the room to be merely human in a world of rigid structure like that?
One can argue that people are no longer property, held with the lands. That is probably the one big difference between the modern world and the ancient world. People are no longer legally property in most places around the world. But if you are poor and cannot afford to leave the lands you were born into (Greece in perspective) the functional difference between the two states blurs. The poor and unfortunate are the pawns of today’s systems just as they were in feudal systems; entirely at the mercy of those who control them. For the poor, there is little improvement through the ages aside from modern plumbing
Capitalism is not a social structure. It is an economic philosophy of a value for value trade, a good solid basis for dealing fairly with those around you. A basis for labor having a value of its own which can be traded for goods and other labor at a later time. Capitalism has nothing at all to say about the content of society, what the minimum standards of living should be, what humane treatment of the sick and injured should be, how the elderly are cared for; in fact, it has little of merit to say about most things human.
During the course of the First World War the old establishments of feudalism/authoritarianism started to give way to the new ideas of democracy and self-rule. If you aren’t a student of history, you might not know that WWI saw the end of one of the longest running governments in human history, the Ottoman Empire. It was itself the inheritor of much of the wealth and knowledge of the Byzantine Empire which marked time all the way back through the Roman Empire almost to the beginning of recorded history. So the belief that feudalism was a practice limited to the middle ages is not much more than a quaint notion for scholars to debate. The practices of feudalism were encoded into law, and some of them continue to this day.

The United States, an early precursor of the modern age of democracy, one man one vote, wisely adopted many of the mechanisms established by the successful feudal societies that founded the colonies it sprang from. Things like corporations to shield business owners from direct personal liability for business losses. Things like a sound money system which established a commodity as the base measure of value. But the US has always been a mixed economy; mixed as in respecting the feudal/capitalist nature of the systems that were inherited from the English and the Dutch.

Corporations are feudal creations, originally charters granted by emperors and kings, and their structures are feudal in execution. Yes, a group requires a leader, that is a given of all human systems. But the value of that leadership in today’s world is highly over-rated. The pay for corporate executives far out-weighs the contributions they make to the process of creating the goods and services a corporation produces (Saving Capitalism) the average person on the street cannot name the current head of a single corporation. Some of the more savvy could probably name Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, but neither head corporations any longer. Political junkies could point to Carly Fiorina or Donald Trump.

This is the intersection which we are currently attempting to navigate. Donald Trump represents exactly what economic conservatives have wanted for a generation; a businessman willing to take on the job of running the country; running the country like a business. Unfortunately for them he exhibits even less control than the previous businessmen conservatives have flirted with nominating. He launched his candidacy by laying this turd in full view of the watching world;

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” – Donald Trump 

Donald Trump. Or as I like to refer to him, the Orange Hate-Monkey. Fake tanned, he has embraced the conservative tropes of yesteryear, flinging the hatred of other like a monkey flings shit at gawkers at the zoo. His supporters hear only that they will be saved, if they follow him. That is all they want to hear.

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” – Donald Trump

Donald Trump is the poster boy for feudal privilege. Far from being a hero of the common man, an example of bootstrapping, Trump inherited his wealth and businesses from his father. He has bankrupted those businesses not once, but four times. His claim to authority is based entirely on his birth to a position of wealth and influence, the modern equivalent to nobility. The Dukes & Earls of previous societies are now referred to as CEO or CFO. Positions on the boards of large corporations mark your power within modern feudal society. Governments bow to your whims, write laws to benefit your finances, cater to your desires to the detriment of the poor forced to work for a living within the societies you rule.

“I love the poorly educated” – Donald Trump

Many, many people look at Hillary Clinton, look at her with the backdrop of 50 years of increasingly more conservative dominated politics, as well as the Presidency of her husband, and can’t see how she is an improvement on the President we currently have. There are independents who look at the two major party candidates and inexplicably cannot see a difference between the two of them, because they can’t separate the woman from the men she has been required to serve with, the real estate developer who has lied to himself for so long he doesn’t even know what the truth is anymore.

Maybe I’m just weird.

I’m struck today with the same sense of surrealism that I’ve had since the day I first heard the term Birther, long before there was such a thing as Birther-in-Chief, another apt Trump label. When I heard the accusation that Barack Obama wasn’t an American, I recognized it immediately as racism and dismissed it. When the conspiracy fantasy wouldn’t go away, when the Birther-in-Chief picked up this obvious dog-whistle and wouldn’t stop blowing it, I realized that the conservative echochamber was a thing, not just a possibility.

These people don’t know reality from fantasy. Their fantasies about what goes on in the world mean more to them than the facts that govern it. They dismiss those facts when convenient, when the facts get in the way of their fantasies. And since the echochamber reflects back to them what they want to hear, they never get the corrective feedback that reality attempts to deliver.

In much the same way, it is painfully clear to me that misogyny governs most of the reporting that goes on in relation to Hillary Clinton. The media desperately attempt to echo the narrative that the long-dominant political forces in the US seem to want to hear. But there are voices out there sending the feedback that we need to be listening for, if only we are paying attention.

However, even if the worst of the worst of the beliefs about Hillary Clinton are true (and they aren’t) There is no way, NO WAY POSSIBLE that she could be as bad, much less worse than Trump. The beast that he has shackled himself to requires human sacrifice to be satiated. That is what happens when you found your campaign on creating an enemy in our midst. When your every other pronouncement decries the barbarian at the door.

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on”

“American fascism will arrive carrying a cross and wrapped in a flag” and it has. However, there is no one person to fear that enters dragging fascism in their wake. The threat is not the figurehead, the Trump or the Hitler. The people to fear are those willing to vote for wrong, to back wrong with force, in the mistaken belief they are right. And that is scarier than the mere presence of the Orange Hate-Monkey on the political scene.

These people desire the destruction of the system itself, in their mad desire to be free of their fears, to the potential destruction of us all.

How is that, you ask?

The delivery of modern technology and modern medicine are such complex ventures that their continuation virtually requires the existence of government, government which is now threatened by corporate greed and corporate malfeasance. It is corporations who benefit from the loss of governmental power, not the individual. Corporations who stand ready to reap larger and larger profits at the cost of the lives of the poor and the sacrifice of the rest of the middle class in the US and across the face of the world. Corporations which must be brought to heel by government if we are ever to see the dawn of a new age. The age of the individual as expressed through humanism, the leveling of the playing field with the more equal distribution of information through technology.

Humanism is the vehicle which will bring the corporations to heel. Its time has finally arrived, let us not waste this opportunity to grasp the future for ourselves, our children and our children’s children. Trust in our ability to make the systems work to our benefit, using modern technology as our tool. It matters little what Hillary Clinton wants to do, so long as she keeps the systems running long enough for us to realize the potential present in the technology we now have at our disposal. Let us not fear the future, but embrace it.

Paris in Perspective

As the Charlie Hebdo artist said after the recent attacks in Paris, #ParisIsAboutLife. I tried to broach a tangent to this subject when I wrote the recent piece, Greece in Perspective. I sometimes wonder if I’m not too subtle in my writing.  Other times I know I am, because the message never seems to get across.

Joann Sfar on Instagram
h/t to Independant

Jim Wright wrote a particularly moving piece today that reminded me of the more subtle point I was trying to make with that other blog entry.  Titled The Price of Civilization he goes into precisely why I ended the Greek piece with a reference to war and the Marshall Plan.

I’ve always been struck by the apparent contradiction that the most humane policy ever adopted by the United States was crafted by a General who oversaw so much bloodshed.  But that was the wisdom of Truman and Marshall, overlooked by many these days.

Which is too bad.  Because Jim got it right when he said;

Terrorism, the kind we face today? It comes from the fact that we, us, we keep blowing up civilization and leaving nothing but death and ruin in our wake. Terrorists are like cockroaches, they thrive on chaos and destruction and we’re damned good at creating that chaos. 

Those of us on the liberal side of the aisle like to point at Bush II for creating the problem of Daesh by removing Saddam Hussein from power (as his father predicted would happen during the first Gulf War) but truthfully it is the American people who are to blame. Our own imperial nature which we coyly disguise and defend as capitalism.

We’re the ones who insisted that we wanted out of Iraq as soon as we could get out, instead of actually spending the additional decades it was going to take to make the region into a self-sustaining conglomeration of disparate elements.  The kind of time that was spent helping to rebuild Europe after the war. A Europe that was already embracing self-determination and democracy.

Maybe we’re just blind to it, we inhabitants of the most egalitarian association of completely disparate influences, commonly referred to as the US.  Because, no matter what detractors might say, no where on Earth do you have the mixture of varying cultures like those present in the current US social structure (maybe Oz. Maybe) all of them more or less harmoniously governed as a single nation.  We take the bloodless transfers of power that occur here like clockwork as something everyone experiences, when the truth is that nowhere is there anything like the US when it comes to government, good and bad.

Listening to the Polish election celebrations, where a new isolationist government has been elected, it becomes apparent just how insulated most other places in the world are when it comes to exposure to other cultures.

Even in the conservative bastion of Texas all I have to do is travel to a different part of Austin to experience a whiff of almost any culture you can name. Asian cultures. African cultures. Native American cultures. These flavors are spread all over the nation in pockets. When I lived in Garden City several hundred Vietnamese refugees were dropped just outside of town in a little makeshift neighborhood constructed hastily to accommodate them. There was a lot of grumbling about this, but little violence. Why would there be? It’s a free country, isn’t it? Most of them moved away before too long, apparently to places like Austin where I live now, but we folded them into our society with hardly a hiccup, compared to the experiences of previous generations.  That is what America really is good at.

It is a shame that more people don’t understand this. Even the average American doesn’t get it.  As violent as we are, the thought of seizing control of the levers of government with force occurs to almost none of the citizenry.  This is because there is no need to use violence.  Those interested in getting involved in government do so; the doors are open, come on in and roll up your sleeves. If you are among the conspiracy-minded who doubt this is true, find your local precinct meeting place and show up for a meeting.  You might be surprised.

Yet the government we set up in Iraq was seized by the majority religious faction in the first election held there, and they proceeded to exert their authority over the other minorities in ways that lead directly to the creation of Daesh-held areas of the country in response. We allowed this to happen in a country we had effective control over. What did we do? We left, not that we really had much choice.  But we failed to impart the most important bit of knowledge that all of us should have gathered from our experiences in this free country before we left there. That is to our shame and the world’s detriment.

Freedom doesn’t mean you get to have your way. Freedom means you get to present your arguments. You get to present your arguments without fear of being killed for expressing them. If you are very persuasive, you might actually get to see your arguments accepted by others.

Pointing a weapon at someone will get you compliance, but it will ultimately lead to betrayal and violence, because coercion has a way of backfiring. That is why our military adventurism fails us as a nation. The civilizations we invade at the point of a gun just see the gun. They certainly don’t see the America that the average American actually experiences. The America where guns are frequently a topic of discussion, but almost never used anymore. We all know that when someone points a gun at you, you do what they say. But we also know that the tables will turn, that the aggressor will one day be the victim. Because that is the way of all things human.

So it will be with the violence in Paris that we all witnessed yesterday. The perpetrators of violence will either die violently or be subjected to French justice, a good bit more genteel than American justice. But Paris will go on just as before. Cities are for the living.

In the end, that may be the best response to terrorists everywhere.  The best response to those people who encourage us to do violence out of fear. Create a civilization, a society, that can withstand their attempts to destroy it with fear.  To slowly smother those who believe that there are things worth dying for with the millions more of us who know that there are many things worth living for. To go on living as if these fear-mongers never existed in the first place.

To pay the costs of establishing a civilization that can withstand the trials of living.  Like Marshall did after seeing so many good men die. You either go on living or get busy with dying.  There aren’t any other choices.

Hillary for President?

I tuned in (very briefly) to watch Hillary Clinton testify before the latest of 8 separate investigations into #Benghazi, the most investigated event in US history and one of the most notable wastes of taxpayer dollars since whatever military weapons system was last funded by Republicans.

h/t to DailyKos

I say briefly because I had no stomach for listening to the latest Republican pretender attempt to justify yet another investigation into these events; as if the investigations weren’t patently politically motivated the last 6 times (at least) that they were embarked upon. So the minute that the look-alike for the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz started speaking, I tuned out and went on to some other news item.

The Republicans are running around in terror at the prospect of a President Hillary Clinton.  They’ll do anything, say anything to avoid the future where they have to acknowledge her (or any woman) as the leader of the United States. I myself have a pretty demonstrable hatred for Hillary Clinton, as a walk down the memory lane of this blog will easily demonstrate.

It bears mentioning that I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 in the Democratic primary specifically to lend weight to the candidate most likely to be President that year.  2008 was the last year I pulled the lever for the Libertarian Party in the general election.  In 2012 I voted Democratic, only shifting my votes down ballot in an attempt to unseat local Democrats that I really don’t care for and have held offices for longer than I think is healthy. I voted Democratic because in 2012 it was an undeniable fact that Republicans were opposed to anything Obama did just because it was Obama who was doing it. It made me question how many other things Republicans are opposed to just because Democrats are in favor of them.

I changed my opinions in 2012; I confess, I’m a flip-flopper.  It’s the kind of thing that happens when you aren’t an ideologue, aren’t married to concepts that could prove to be unworkable in the real world.  Having seen that Obama was doing a pretty good job at being President, better than I myself had expected prior to the election, I had to revise my opinion of Democrats in general, and of Obama and his cabinet selections in particular.

That wasn’t the only thing that changed.  As the blog entry A Big Bowl of Crow goes into, I finally had to come to grips with some of the cognitive dissonance that I’ve been struggling with since I filed for and got disability.  The government has saved my family from ruin (albeit that it was dragged kicking and screaming into the effort) Accepting that fact meant that a number of other dominoes had to fall in sequence afterwards. Namely; that socialism is not a dirty word, that socialism is not opposed to capitalism but is actually opposed to feudalism (strange as that may sound) and  has never actually been credited for the benefits to the poor it has inspired since being introduced a few hundred years ago.

Part of this change has required me to revisit my beliefs about healthcare and other complex systems which rely on funding from government in order to do the necessary and valuable jobs that modern life demands.  Understanding that Hillarycare probably was a better plan than Obamacare has turned out to be. Grudging acceptance that Hillary Clinton was a damned good Secretary of State, largely because of the way she dealt with Republican criticism, rather than in spite of it.

So it is with some trepidation that I face 2016 and acknowledge that I really don’t have a problem with a President Hillary Clinton. No one is more horrified by this than the tiny voice in the back of my head.  It’s hard to argue against the logic of this. Let me spell it out for you.

When it comes to Presidents, for the foreseeable future, I will be voting for whoever the Democratic party nominates. I will be voting for the Democrat, because the Republican party has apparently gone over to the magical thinkers, and I don’t believe in magic.  The entirety of the Republican Party has been dispatched on a fool’s errand by the Tea Party’s co-option. Until they can figure out who they are and what they stand for, I don’t have the time of day for the party as a whole.  If they were to nominate someone who accepted science, wasn’t knee-jerk opposed to immigration, accepted that women have a right to medical care including abortion services, if they nominated someone who didn’t espouse belief in Reaganomics, I might have to revise my opinion of them.  I don’t see much chance of that since none of the more than 10 potentials vying for the nomination meet this criteria.

Third parties are a joke, in case you are wondering what about the LP & Greens? I’ve wasted far too long working on third party issues (again, look at the history of this blog if you doubt it) The experience was invaluable, but having the power to effect change means actually winning elections, something that third parties in the US have failed at doing in every election since the beginning of the country, with the notable exception of the one where Republicans became the alternative to Democrats.  From that time forward it has been D’s or R’s and it will remain that way until the next big shakeup on the level of ending slavery occurs.  I don’t see anything remotely on that scale occurring this year. Could be wrong, but I doubt it. I’ll be writing more on this subject in the future, if I ever manage to get my notes in order.

I’m not opposed to Bernie Sanders, given my revised opinion on socialism.  I don’t think the rest of the US is as willing to think outside the box as I am in large enough numbers to make a difference, so I don’t think his prospects are good outside of the primary process. What the Democrats have to avoid doing is giving away the election to the Republicans as they have historically done many times in the past. While a goodly portion of the young people on the street really do seem to feel the Berne, will they show up on election day in enough numbers to secure victory for the Democrats for the next four years? That really is the only question.

Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to win the election among the betting public, in those areas of the globe that allow betting on Presidential races.  One of the mantras that I still hold to is follow the money, and the money says Clinton will win.  Of course, we still are a year out from election day, and a lot of things can happen in a year’s time. Barring the appearance of a really centrist Republican nominee (one that isn’t named Bush) or a bad fumble on the part of Hillary, we’re likely to see her taking the oath of office in the early days of 2017.

I’m sanguine with that fact.


I have said on several occasions on various social sites “no one can compete with Hillary in full campaign mode”. Many people may not remember the campaign that was run for Bill before his time in the sun.  These guys were fast on their feet.  The best that money could buy and they earned every penny.  Front and center in all of that was Hillary Clinton, and now she is the candidate herself.

Hillary’s South Carolina ad came out last week.  When I said “no one can compete” this is what I meant.

Hillary Clinton is still the overwhelming favorite to win amongst the betting public.  Bernie Sanders’ support is still high, but it isn’t as high as Barack Obama’s was when he won against Hillary, when she surrendered to public pressure and yielded the floor to the Democratic favorite.  That is one of the differences this time, her opponent is not a Democrat.  While I agree with much of Sanders’ goals, I don’t agree that he is deserving of the party’s endorsement just because he gets a majority of the popular vote.  The process is what it is, and if Hillary gets the nomination by working the process, that makes her the better candidate.  Perhaps Bernie should have joined the Democrats years ago and then he too could be a Democrat rather than just seeking the bona fides of the Democratic party.

Robert Reich’s Big Picture for Fixing the Economy

The series of  linked videos below highlight ideas to fix the economy, the top 11 12 points on Robert Reich‘s mind when it comes to our current economic problems.  These aren’t rocket science or socialism, just some pretty hard-nosed factual recommendations; and we’d do well to follow them.  They run contrary to the long debunked refrain of Reaganomics or trickle-down economics that has held sway in the US since Ronaldus Maximus was President, long before most of the people currently breathing on this planet were born.

They also run counter to most current libertarian economic theory. It is painful to say this, but most libertarian thought on the subject of economics is so woefully uneducated that I almost balk at calling them out. Doing so is not likely to be profitable based on the standard of keeping old friends. As I was crafting this article a post from a good friend on Facebook showed up, trumpeting the flat tax proposals of Libertarian darling Rand Paul.

A flat tax will do nothing to recapture the ill-gotten gains of the wealthiest Americans, the people who profited from the latest boom and bust, as well as the previous boom and bust cycles. Cycles that have grown shorter and shorter since deregulation went into effect under…  Ronald Reagan, who was also influenced by libertarian ideas of his time.

Recapturing this cash and redistributing it to the vast majority of Americans through increased pay and investment in infrastructure is essential if we are going to build a functioning economy and not fuel the next cycle of boom and bust.  It is the outrageous amounts of cash that allow the 1% to engage in risky stock market betting like we’ve seen since the 1980’s.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A word about the composition of this post. Linking videos that are native on Facebook is a stupidly fiddly process, and Facebook is where I found these videos first. Consequently the text intro for each is a Facebook link, while the videos are from Youtube, giving me the ability to watch and comment on each video while it is running.

#1 is raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

There are several common misconceptions about the minimum wage. He hits most of those points in the video. The free market types who object to minimum wage laws on the basis that it interferes with employer/employee contracts, or that it could cause inflation, only see part of the bigger picture which Reich addresses in the video.  Commerce relies on the majority of the population being able to afford the goods generally available to that population.  That means paying the working class enough for them to live on.

#2 is to make work family friendly.

I quit my regular job to raise our second child. We could not afford to put our child into expensive daycare; and really, I wanted to spend time at home with what I knew would be our last baby, having missed seeing much of our firstborn’s early years due to the demands of an architectural career in the job climate prevalent in the US.  Had it been possible for me to take on outsource work at home, work from home, etc. the impact on our families’ finances would have been less drastic. Had it been possible for the Wife to spend meaningful time with the baby while still working in her tech career, I might not have had to give up architecture for a few years longer, might have enjoyed my final years in my chosen profession before being sidelined with a disability.

#3 is to expand Social Security.

As a current Social Security beneficiary, I should probably recuse myself from commenting on this video. Still, it bears mentioning that the the cap that he focuses on is far too low (because of past inflation) and that rather than set a dollar figure cap, if a higher cap is the compromise solution, there should be a median income calculation involved in determining what the cap should be.  Inflation will continue. Wages will continue to rise. Upper range incomes will continue to get higher unless we re-institute confiscatory income tax (90% as it was when introduced) for high wage earners. Might as well write laws that take it into account.

#4 is to bust up Wall Street.

How I wish this one stood a chance of happening.  I only do business with a bank when I’m required to; unfortunately that happens more today than it did in decades past. The reason for this is the lax rules on banks that should never have been relaxed in the first place.

Most of what is happening today is reminiscent of what occurred at the turn of the last century.  One of the books I’m currently reading is The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism much of the battle the occurred then is re-occurring now.  Nearly daily I get a sense of deja vu reading the news.  I recognize this struggle.  It is a shame that more people do not learn from history.

#5 is how to reinvent education.

This one carried no real news for me. Having gotten one child through college and working on getting the second one through high school, and being an involved parent, has left me with few delusions about the state of US schools.  They are pathetic.  So pathetic, in fact, that I paid for private school for my children (Montessori) until their needs weren’t met by the school. Then I took the time to make sure they went to good charter schools, magnet schools, etc.  Anything except the standard schools offered to average Texans.

The objection often raised to charter schools is that they are religious in nature.  While it is true that some alternative schools are religious, the schools I selected for my children have actually had less religious content (generally) than the public schools in Texas promote.  Sometimes people seek alternatives for very good reasons.

#6 is to end corporate welfare.

This is an old favorite of mine.  If corporations get handouts then everyone should get handouts; because the corporations demonstrably don’t need anything to continue existing.  They have no physicality to maintain, being figments of law in the first place.  We would be much better off handing money to every citizen rather than handing it out to corporations.

#7 is to strengthen labor unions.

I’ve never been a fan of unions; still, it is hard to argue against the positive effects that collective bargaining can bring to the employment side of the equation.  Collective bargaining levels the playing field when negotiating with large employers.  Unionization lead to days off, 8 hour work days, breaks for meals, extra pay for overtime, etc, etc, etc.

When capitalists spit at socialism in my presence these days, I point out the benefits that have come to the working masses due to the influence of socializing forces like unionization.  If you don’t want to go back to working nude in the same place you sleep, with your children huddled around you at night for warmth because your employer is too cheap to heat the workplace (read The Bully Pulpit as mentioned previously) unions are a good thing to have.

#8 is to raise the estate tax on the very wealthy.

Everyone who can work, should work.  The existence of a wealthy class who feel entitled to live off of the earnings of their parents and grandparents is contrary to the ideals that the US was founded on. Contrary to the Midwestern work ethic most of us grew up with. It is hard enough for me as a disabled person who is lucky to get from the bed to the chair some days to justify not working.  I can’t even fathom the thought processes of the 1% who wouldn’t dream of working for a living.

Or to quote Chris Rock ‘If poor people knew how rich the rich are, there would be riots’.

This isn’t one of the series I’m commenting on here, but it bears reposting;

It and the other videos in the playlist talk about this same subject, how wealth inequality is worse than it has been in almost a century, and the last time it was like this, the economy didn’t improve until after we fought the second world war.  That should not be a direction we should head in this time around.

Also in that playlist is a trailer for Robert Reich‘s excellent film Inequality for All.  I have viewed the film several times on Netflix and recommend it to anyone who wants to get a feel for the problems America currently faces.  This as opposed to repeating trickle-down mantras in the hopes that they will self-correct and prove themselves true in the long run.

#9 is to make polluters pay US.

I can still hear the screaming raised against the carbon tax back when President Obama first took office and suggested some of these very things.  Six plus years later, it is even clearer that the only solution is to do exactly what this video suggests. Make the oil companies and energy companies pay to use carbon producing fuels.  Incentivize the use of green technologies.  CO2 is over 400 now.  We can’t keep adding it to the atmosphere.  We just can’t, if we want our species to continue.

#10 End mass incarceration, now!

This is probably the biggest point of agreement with libertarian/anarchist thinking on the subject of governance and the economy. The kind of thinking I was most frequently exposed to while active in the LP of Texas for about a decade. The business of keeping prisoners has been a target of small government types for years, long before the average American or the re-emerging liberal majority took notice of it. It is a serious embarrassment that the US has 2.5 million members of its population behind bars; more than any other nation on the face of the planet.


Needless to say, as soon as the 10 were out, there was a glaring need for one more item on the list (isn’t that the way it always works?) So here is the latest one;

#11 Medicare for all.

The problem with most free market approaches to healthcare is that modern medicine is too complex. It’s ability to function, to deliver its product (if health is even a product that can be sold) is tightly linked to corporate structures that are themselves an imposition on free markets. Price gouging is a part of the calculation of every new drug introduced to the market, how much can we get away with charging for this drug? And testing and development of these drugs requires large staffs, deep pockets, wide access to the population. The only way to counter the corporate nature of modern medicine is to either subject them to public control directly (which would be socialism with all the baggage that a state-run organization brings to the table. This would stifle innovation) or to leverage the pricing of the drugs and services produced with collective bargaining. It has to be one way or the other. Neither solution is pretty, but the group purchasing option that medicare provides leaves the companies free to do what they do best, produce goods for the general public.


He swears this is the last one.  Makes an even dozen.

#12 Get Money Out of Politics.

I’ve been on this bandwagon for about a year now.  Maybe longer.  I blogged about this subject after reading several scholarly articles on the subject of campaign finance, and reading Lawrence Lessig’s book Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress–and a Plan to Stop It which is free online now. In my article from last November, following the election, I list the various groups working to get money out of politics.  If you want to get involved in politics, if you want to see any of these many points acted on and made policy, then I suggest you contact one of those groups or get involved in your local precinct for whichever flavor of the two major parties that you prefer (D or R) if you object and say “I want more choices than that” then I need to be frank with you.  Including more choices than those two on ballots requires more work than even the 12 points addressed here would require.  You’re welcome to engage in that struggle if you have the strength for it. Or just go vote when the time comes. If you don’t know where that is, go here.

His book Saving Capitalism should be in bookstores (if you can find one) soon.  You can vote on which one of these 12 ideas will be a new campaign for Moveon to promote here.  Has to be #12 for me.

A Big Bowl of Crow

Ted Cruz is now touring the country denouncing Social Security as a Ponzi Scheme. Ah, that takes me way, way back. I remember a young idealistic Libertarian who noted on his blog back in 2008;

The local talk show host, Jeff Ward, refers to Social Security in this fashion repeatedly. (he even has a sound bite of Republican front runner John McCain calling Social Security a Ponzi Scheme. I was listening to the show when he said it, and I was listening to the show when Ward found the clip again. I wonder if McCain would be willing to repeat and affirm his words today?) It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out.

 Yes, that was me. That’s not the only time I talked about the program being a Ponzi Scheme, or other government programs being such. It was a common refrain, repeated by many other libertarians and non-libertarians at the time. Clearly it’s still a refrain repeated by the ideological inheritors of the small government talking points that hold power today.  That was the last time I referenced Social Security this way, and at that point my opinions were already shifting. I just wasn’t ready to admit it.

I can admit it now. Pass me that bowl of crow, I’m ready.

Courtesy Occupy Democrats

No True Scotsman fallacies aside (libertarian or not) it is worth noting that the label of Ponzi Scheme applied to Social Security by the people in charge of seeing the program remains solvent, is a declaration of their intent, not an assessment of the viability of the program. That is the most crucial point to be made on the subject.

If the programs are allowed to fail because of funding shortfalls, then the government made the program into a scheme that would fail. There are many variables which could be tweaked, in a program as complex as Social Security is; and any number of simple alterations in the tax code would make the program solvent from a funding standpoint, if only our political leaders had the courage to make those changes.

If the program fails, it is because we allow it to fail by refusing to support it. We allow it to fail by voting for representation that sabotages the program causing it to fail. If we allow it to fail, it is a failure of government as an institution, not a failure of the specific program. Government is charged with the authority maintain programs like this one, and if it can’t keep these programs running then the institution of government is itself bankrupt and not worthy of of the allegiance of the people.

When your Representatives or Senators tell you that caring for the elderly and the infirm is a fraud perpetrated on the public, that should give you pause to think, not cheer.  Are the elderly and infirm worthy of our empathy? Categorically, I’d say yes. Republican budget writers seem to disagree with this sentiment.  The question is, does the population of the United States agree with the controlling faction of the Congress? If not, we have a lot of work to do in the near future.  If they do agree, then there are a lot more anarchists out there than the polling reveals.

That brings me to the next mouthful of crow. One I’ve needed to take for awhile now.

Socialism is not a dirty word.  There, I’ve said it. Contrary to virtually every sentiment I’ve expressed in the past, the idea that society should care for it’s people; that programs should serve the group as a whole, not just those capable of paying, is a laudable goal. Socialist mechanisms exist within the system as it currently stands, have existed within the system since the first time shipping firms and international traders pooled their collective resources and insured themselves against losses, allowing them to venture out on the high seas without worrying about the loss of one ship bankrupting any one particular firm.

State Socialism (or Marxism) which is just dictatorship with a pretty label, has been unmasked. That bogeyman should be retired to the halls of a museum, along with the strident defenses of capitalism that sprang up in its wake. Capitalism is as oppressive to the poor as any of the feudal systems of history, as any decent study of history can reveal if you approach it with open eyes.

The notion that ability to pay was not a baseline for survival wasn’t something that occurred to me just when I was no longer capable of paying (correlation to the contrary) I was never one of those libertarians in the first place.  I truly was an idealist, I thought that people would voluntarily contribute enough in charity to pay for the necessary systems that would keep the poor, the elderly and the infirm from starving and dying in our midst. I mean, it works that way in the Netherlands, why not here?

This ideology, this dream of mine, that charity can do what government does currently, provide for the less fortunate in our midst, might still be possible at some time in the future.  One day, Americans might care about their fellows on such a level that they voluntarily support them at a high enough level that no child goes hungry, that no elderly person dies for lack of care.  That the infirm are not left on the streets to die. That day is not today.

In today’s America, it is all but illegal to be poor. The disabled are routinely ridiculed and derided as lazy (an even more valid observation in 2017 Trump’s America) The elderly who, for the first time in US history are not the poorest of the poor, are now viewed as profiting from the work of others rather than benefiting from the contributions they made to society in the past.

The immigrants who do most of the hard work constructing, farming, cleaning, (the same position they have always occupied historically) are dismissed as illegals, paid as little as possible, and deported the moment they are no longer useful.


The leadership of this country, with the exception of President Obama, has gone to great pains to set average Americans against each other, squabbling over the scraps of the budget left over from funding more military hardware than we will ever have need of. This is not the America I want to leave for my children.

It is time for a change. It is time to admit that we are not individual islands, that we do need other people in order to survive, to thrive.  That social caring is not an ill but a blessing. That it is possible for government to work; that not only is it possible, but it is our duty to make sure that government does work. What does it mean to be a citizen in good standing, if it doesn’t mean that? Government for the people, by the people.  If that government fails, it is because we have failed as a people.

If Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme, it is because we no longer value the contributions of the most vulnerable among us.  If socialism is a dirty word, then we are nothing more than cannibal tribes eating our own to survive.  Life should mean more than that.

Emergent Principles of Human Nature; Not Natural Rights

Part 2 of a series of posts on defining Emergent Principles of Human Nature; an outgrowth of a challenge issued to me ages ago by a fellow libertarian that I “explain inalienable rights without including god” like most challenges of this type, the work is larger than the speaker or hearer understands at the time.

The title of this piece was chosen consciously and deliberately. There are many philosophers who have written over the years of natural rights and inalienable rights. Inalienable rights as Emergent Principles of Human Nature was addressed in the first piece, and will be addressed in a series of pieces that follow this one.

This piece (hopes to) explain the difference between natural rights and human rights.

I hemmed and hawed about writing this section at all.  I almost went back and re-edited the first section just to take the reference to this one out. Having written that section I was immediately faced with this problem;  Emergent Principles of Human Nature are by definition natural.  How can they not be the same thing?

The problem with natural rights as a concept is this; if rights are natural, a part of an individual, then that individual should be able to determine what those rights are. Unfortunately, human nature conspires to prevent this, making the common notion of natural rights almost unfathomable from the outset.  The limitations we face are a part of us and are consequently almost invisible to the individual. They are obvious when pointed out, but even then most people will deny that they are limited by them, never mind that there is no escaping these limitations while remaining human.

The first of these constraints is confirmation bias. If an individual believes something, that individual is going to work to confirm those beliefs, no matter what mountains of evidence to the contrary have to be climbed.  If you believe you have a right to a firearm, you’re going to find every reason you can lay your hands on to justify having that weapon.  No amount of basic logic to the contrary; say, the simple observation of how will you get it if no one can make it? will dissuade you from that belief.

If you are one of those people you are crafting counters right now, if you were even able to finish reading that sentence. However, the parameters of the argument are contained in that simple sentence. There really isn’t an argument beyond I’ll make it myself, which leads to the next constraint.

This is the fact that limitations in areas of understanding renders an individual blind to their own limitations. Also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, I wondered for years why someone I knew was incompetent in a particular area couldn’t understand why they really shouldn’t be doing whatever it was they were incompetent at.

I myself vaguely discern an echoing gulf of misunderstanding around me when I attempt to communicate with the average mundane (normal person) I simply cannot communicate in any form other than the written word, apparently.  The connections aren’t there in the brain, I can’t read faces, I have no idea what anyone is feeling at any given moment.  I have to blunder along hoping that person I’m talking too is willing to be as dead honest with me as I am forced to be with them.

The one makes essential the licensing practices we’ve come to establish over the last hundred years; and the other convinces us that we don’t need anyone to tell us what we can or can’t do.  Even though, to an external observer, it’s obvious that you (me, everybody) really do need supervision.

It is these limitations that render impotent the common sense notion of natural rights.  It is these limitations that render the individual incapable of determining for themselves what their own aptitudes are. That necessitate the requirement for testing and licensing, so that others can know without having to become experts in all fields themselves (a technical impossibility) what proficiencies someone else is trained in.

These two related constraints are hardly an exhaustive list of the limitations we flawed humans face. The briefest investigation into the subject of priming should give you pause; especially when you understand that simply mentioning firearms earlier in the article, just their reading of that word, means that a significant portion of readers have formed opinions about my goals with this manuscript. Goals that I frankly haven’t even worked out for myself.

Then we could discuss motivated numeracy and how that leads individuals to question science itself when it produces results they don’t like.  I expect that this list of an individuals potential failings will move steadily towards infinite length, the more we understand the limitations of the human animal.

Our knowledge of ourselves is flawed by our very nature; making self-doubt not just a necessity, but a virtue.  Every time that our certainties are challenged we should be willing to step back and question our most cherished beliefs. Capable of not only defending them, but of logically justifying them to the harshest critic.  It is this ability, this willingness to admit the possibility of fault, that embraces our humanity.

This was the need that motivated me to finally admit that the subject of natural rights had to be addressed. The need to point out that our nature allows for a definition of human rights, while at the same time in no way authorizes individual demands.  Yes,  Emergent Principles of Human Nature are natural.  But that does not mean that individuals are born with a right to a firearm. With the right to demand actions, services and material goods of unrelated others.

We are born with an ability to make our own way, to build upon the works of those who came before us and improve on that foundation; but we are beholden to those who contributed to establishing that foundation. We are indebted to those whose blood, sweat and tears are mixed into the knowledge that is preserved for us to utilize.  Every single individual who ever existed before you had to exist in order for you to be here, now, in this place and time with the knowledge you have at your disposal.  If you can grasp it, that is a daunting perspective to behold. The thousands of generations of creatures who had to exist just so that you could be here, now.

Every person longs to be part of something greater than themselves; it is through this longing that so many paths are forged. A wise man once said “No man is an island” and this is demonstrably true.  Those who perceive themselves as islands simply fail to grasp the necessity of all the people who came before him who supported him, educated him and elevated him until his head broke the surface to appear as an island.

All of those people who preceded that individual human being, who contributed to the vast database of knowledge made available to him, had to exist in order for that individual to exist. If this was not so then all of us could claim perfect understanding of the universe at birth, which is demonstrably untrue.

This is the nature of the flaw in individualist philosophies. Objectivism, Libertarianism, Anarchism. All of them carry the same flaw. Rothbard, Rand and all their ideas are flawed from the precept stage of development. They assume that there is just one natural law governing man, and that that law makes itself apparent to all men.   This is also demonstrably not the case. The vast majority of the world’s population simply don’t understand the notion of taxes as theft, or that socializing the healthcare system (or the school system, or whatever) interferes with the contract rights of every man, and consequently determines the paths of those caught within the system.

And yet Rothbard, Rand and those who follow their reasoning simply gloss these facts over, and continue asserting that what they see as the ultimate truth is the only apparent truth.

When I think of natural law, I see several possibilities for defining codes within the parameters of nature. The parasites’ code. The predators’ ethic. These are, of course, not correct codes, as people raised with a mid-western work ethic would conceive of them. And yet, like the misguided people who took the phrase right-to-life and perverted it into a belief system that takes away a woman’s right to her own life; so too the phrase natural rights or natural law lends itself to many different interpretations.

Interpretations that become equally as valid as Rothbard’s real intent when he crafted the ideas behind Anarcho-capitalism, or Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, because there is no central authority to determine what is or isn’t right in the natural sense beyond might makes right. Because all of us are incapable of objective certainty at any particular point in time, try as we might to maintain a sense of objectivity.  It simply can’t be done and remain human at the same time.

Our nature defines the principles that we live under, but by that same nature no one individual can say with certainty exactly what rights he should be permitted to exercise.