Thursday, August 15, 2013

An Elite without Pity: reflections from Robin Hensel and Alan Maki, part 2



In relation to my post "An Elite without Pity" on Charles Blow's column last Sunday in the Times here, Robin Hensel wrote to me about pseudo-Christianity from Minnesota:

"Extremely well written and much needed.....thanks.for.writing this....the republicans and tea partiers have learned their ways in the word rhema name it claim it churches that are popping up everywhere......joel osteen....joyce meyer...benny hinn.....paul crouch....kenneth copeland...keneth hagin....creflo dollar....eddie long.....all preach if u aren't rich....u have sin in your life and if u are sick the same is true. They claim that god ordains wealth and its ok to keep.our wealth. This type of blasphemy is being taught and widely accepted as its a flowery and appealing message. What a sham. Christ would be saddened and angry that humans have sooo distorted his teachings. Thank you for speaking out.....I always enjoy what you write. In solidarity and mutual concern.....robin hensel. Little falls mn."

***

Robin circulated the article and Alan Maki, a union organizer of casino workers, including indigenous workers, and others in Minnesota, took apart Blow's statistics which purport to underlie the piece, and showed that they concur with my position, that most people are compassionate about poverty (just thinking about other humans; fearing themselves to fall into it) and that only the elite is not, I suspect that Blow had to translate his powerful initial insight into New York Times-ese and that Maki's improved interpretation of the statistics just makes his point both clearer and more hopeful i.e. the elite is wretched (they make unreconstructed Scrooge look compassionate), most people are not...

Maki's statistical insight is better than much of what purports to be social science and history today - though see the striking work by Thomas Herndon, a graduate student at U. Mass Amherst here and here, on the austerity fraud by the Harvard Professors Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart. Maki also explores the questions which one is allowed to ask in the Times - certainly not ones about how capitalism leads to suffering and poverty amidst its profusion of wealth for some.

***

Alan Maki wrote:

"I want to thank Robin Hensel for bringing this to our attention.

Just so we are all on the same page... this discussion revolves around this article, A Town Without Pity" and the links included:

< http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/10/opinion/blow-a-town-without-pity.html?_r=0 >

And note; I have sent this to Charles Blow.

Several important points I think Alan Gilbert misses here. Plus what Charles Blow, writing in the New York Times, doesn't tell us about these numbers and the very important number of "8%" that Charles Blow leaves out for some reason (a "reason" kind of like a New York Times' "reason?").

First of all, if you add up all the numbers from the chart Blow provides, less the 24% (all the numbers add up to 87%; what happened to the other 13%?) you get a very good figure that 63% of the American people do have a very good grasp of poverty.

But; and this is a very important "but." But Charles Blow leaves out the number "8"--- 8%. 8% is the number of people who feel that ALL the reasons minus the 24% are responsible for poverty--- so, 71% of the people have a very good grasp of what causes poverty and demonstrate an empathy for the poor." [I am not sure where Maki found this last figure]

***

But actually, following Maki's very good point, this is 71% out of a total of 95% or roughly 3/4 of 100, that is, 75%...

Now 10% on the statistics Blow cites speak of "lack of work ethic" of the poor and 3% of drugs - both are potentially categories which would catch negative views of the poor, so that in the survey, a higher percentage than 24% may be in the blame the victim camp (and a somewhat lower figure than 75% in the camp that understands poverty). The 24%+ are in Washington, but also spread through the country, and as Blow underlines, this is a statistic which speaks - sadly - to the corruption, self-regard, and emptiness of the American elite and its supporters.

An important point which is clear in these categories is that these questions are not sufficient to break down what people actually think; they are not questions that produce "valid" statistics (technically, a valid indicator is one that is true, a merely reliable statistic is one that may, in fact, be false). Maki also raises some powerful questions which are omitted from the survey.

***

He continues:

"Most likely if one were to include the 24% this majority would say they are part of the problem, too. If you have to scratch your head thinking about this you probably aren't going to understand much about poverty.

We aren't told the races (nor class) of the people interviewed since the numbers indicate there is an almost complete lack of understanding of the relationship between racism and poverty... if you don't have a job or you have a poverty wage paying job you are going to be poor. Well, guess what? Because of racist discrimination in employment practices without Affirmative Action being enforced people of color, in a society dominated by racism, are going to be poor.

One should read this article by Charles Blow directly from the New York Times' website < http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/10/opinion/blow-a-town-without-pity.html?_r=0 > and follow through on EACH and EVERY link encountered in order to get a better understanding of the issue itself--- plus, get an understanding why one has to "read between the lines" and question every single article or op-ed piece that appears in the New York Times and "how polls are conducted" in a tainted way to begin with.

For instance; why weren't people asked if capitalism creates poverty?

Why weren't people asked if so few people being so extremely rich causes poverty?

Why weren't people asked if these dirty wars are creating poverty?

[all excellent questions...]

Something happened to 5% of the people in this poll--- what is with this? Is it possible 5% of the people wanted these other three questions asked before they answered the pollsters?

Charles Blow could have referred to the last article written by his former colleague at the New York Times, Bob Herbert; why didn't he? He didn't want to get the ax like Herbert did [I am not sure that Herbert got the ax rather than moving on; it would be important to know]? An interesting question when it comes to what kind of "freedom of the press" we have in this country since the New York Times makes the boast that it is the best reflection of "freedom of the press" and apparently a lot of people buy into this hype because we all use the New York Times as a point of reference more often than not.

But, here is what Charles Blow missed:

Losing Our Way by Bob Herbert...

< http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/26/opinion/26herbert.html?_r=0 >

Now, Minnesota politicians in the state legislature--- Democrats (with their huge super-majority) and the minority Republicans who have been relegated meaningless and without any decision-making status what-so-ever except what the Democrats grant to them which is essentially acceptance of the Republican agenda!--- have a kewl and nifty little committee they call "Ladder Out Of Poverty."

But, their perverted sense of what a "ladder" is leaves much to be desired because their "ladder" has only missing rungs and rotten rungs. If one can reach the first rung of their "ladder" the rung breaks and they fall back down to the bottom and it becomes harder and harder to reach another rung. Charles Blow correctly points out, these politicians don't understand poverty and have no empathy for the poor.

Wars kill jobs just like they kill people; and these dirty imperialist wars, as anyone can see, also kill freedom and democracy--- one reason why the New York Times columnist, Charles Blow, can conveniently get away with not discussing these issues like his fellow columnist Bob Herbert did [there is ordinarily a limit to what even Bob Herbert, a very good columnist, would or could say in the Times]. People who are involved in the struggles for peace, full employment, universal health care, equality and defense of democracy are not permitted in the proverbial "public square." Remember, Occupy Wall Street was chased out of the "public square" and silence by billy club swinging police and police firing tear gas and rubber-covered steel bullets at them not to mention the little fact that the Obama Administration unleashed a force of over 500 FBI "Special Agents" to disrupt and disorient the Occupy Movement from within.[!]

Charles Blow never adds up the figures because he would have to explain why, in a country which boasts--- and the New York Times has been the biggest boaster for decades--- that we live in the world's greatest bastion of democracy--- that not only a bunch of uncaring, insensitive politicians are making the decisions in this country, but these politicians--- Obama especially--- are bribed by Wall Street to work for these wealthy parasitical vultures who profit from exploitation to begin with, their profits get a big boost from racism and they reap fabulous super profits from war and they have even managed to profit from the very poverty they create by all kinds of schemes from cutting food stamps and transferring the funding to the lucrative Military-Industrial Complex to enabling Wall Street bankers to reap huge profits just for issuing the plastic debit cards that are now food stamps.

It is not only as Charles Blow states that these politicians are an uncaring and non-empathetic bunch of morons and insinuates they have screwed up priorities; it is because they work for their Wall Street masters whose one and only concern is the bottom line--- PROFITS.

How else can one explain why the billionaire Democratic Governor of Minnesota, backed by the Rockefeller family's wealth, leading a Democratic super-majority would leave the state's Minimum Wage at $6.25 an hour--- lower than Wisconsin with [Scott] Walker at the helm, and lower than Mississippi or North Carolina--- only Georgia, Wyoming and Puerto Rico have lower Minimum Wages. Even the Virgin Islands have a higher Minimum Wage than Minnesota!

Any little school child can figure out that workers without jobs are going to be poor. And these same schoolchildren understand that workers receiving poverty wages are going to be poor--- concepts that Wall Street bribed politicians and billionaires like Mark Dayton not only don't understand--- but they don't even want to hear this.

What would poverty wage workers receive from the Obama Administration and Governor Dayton's Administration if they took to the streets demanding justice? Most likely, instead of the raise America needs, the sharp blow over the head from the policeman's bill club, tear gas and steel covered rubber bullets--- not exactly what one can feed a family on but the way Wall Street intends to try to survive.

Say, has anyone thought to look into the Full Employment Act of 1945 as proposed by liberal Democratic Congressman Wright Patman to see what became of that?

Why is it that not one single member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus would provide me with a copy of the Full Employment Act of 1945 and a transcript of the Hearings--- not even for a fee? [the question is why they have not raised the issue of full employment, but some people in Congress are decent on these issues; I would not fault, for example, John Lewis or Bernie Sanders...]

Is there a reason why politicians fixated on "jobs, jobs, jobs" when they want our votes refuse to make themselves accountable for not having full employment? Something to think about, eh? Especially when one considers the callousness of this 24%.

Which begs the question:

Why hasn't the Congressional Progressive Caucus brought forward real Full Employment legislation?

Perhaps if they don't know how to draft Full Employment legislation someone else should and they should run on this legislation as part of their platform for peace, which like poverty, is another word no one among this 24% wants to hear about.

Peace, Full Employment, Living Wages and Full Equality are like four peas in a healthy pod; wars, unemployment, poverty and racism are like four peas in a moldy, rotten pod... the rotten peas in the pod are going to cause the entire pod eventually rot... any home gardener should be able to understand this simple concept even if Obama's "economic advisers" from Wall Street don't understand.

Keep in mind that here in Minnesota, not only did billionaire Dayton and his Democratic super-majority not raise the Minimum Wage at all... they also refuse to enforce Affirmative Action even when it comes to two huge billion-dollar public works projects: the Viking Stadium and the Bridge over the St. Croix--- a joint project with the Scott Walker's Republican super-majority in Wisconsin. Dayton and these Democrats might be able to get away with "blaming the Republicans" for not enforcing Affirmative Action on the billion dollar Bridge over the St. Croix River; but, what is these Democrat's excuse for refusing to enforce Affirmative Action in the building of the billion dollar-plus Viking Stadium? Same excuse for not raising the Minimum Wage to a real living wage? Just what is the excuse? Does the excuse have anything to do with corporate profits and the super-profits derived from racism?

I take it that no one will mind me providing a Marxist viewpoint; after all, the New York Times' Paul Krugman just encouraged people to read a Marxist point of view: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/09/opinion/krugman-phony-fear-factor.html?ref=paulkrugman even though Krugman is more enamored with Keynes.

Anyways; I look forward to further discussion of all of this. And who knows; further discussion might lead to the kind of grassroots and rank-and-file working class mass action that might lead to at least some kind of miserly increase in Minnesota's shameful poverty Minimum Wage. Anyone ever thought of legislatively tying the Minimum Wage to all "cost of living" factors with regular increases that would lead to an improved "standard of living" of living beyond just keeping up with the "cost of living?"

Come on; it's not like I am suggesting Minnesota State Legislators should include casino workers under the protection of the States "Freedom to Breath" legislation and their right to work in smoke-free workplaces like all other workers or extend the protections of state and federal labor laws to workers employed in the Indian Gaming Industry.

Alan L. Maki"

***

Paul Krugman has been writing many good pieces in the Times about the importance of government spending in a depression and the crime - as Herndon and others have shown, it is no necessity - of a predatory elite turning its backs on the poor, preying on food stamps and the like.

I had emphasized Krugman's column because he, following Michal Kalecki, rightly reaches the conclusion that it is American politics, dominated by the extreme class war waged by the rich, including Larry Sommers and Richard Rubin and as Maki says, Governor Dayton and Minnesota Democrats, against the poor, which prevents what is scientific with regard to economics (that government putting poor people to work in a depression pumps money into the economy - others gain work because of their mainly local expenditures, and they spend pretty much what they get on necessities, hence, in economic terms, the multiplier of every dollar spent on these projects which begins to lift the whole economy) and minimal decency. He pretty much suggests Kalecki is right as, in this respect, a Marxist, and the point is, in our circumstances, hard to deny.

***

Richard Gilbert, my father and an FDR advisor, was, as a lecturer in economics at Harvard for 15 years, the first Keynsian economist in the United States (no Jew could receive tenure at Harvard before World War II...). He had been a Marxist as a teenager, but was convinced that there is a way out for capitalism. Despite the troubles of Communism (see Democratic Individuality, ch. 8), I have been less convinced of that than he.

In this depression, as in the 1930s (the main spending program that got the US out of the great Depression was World War II), the politics of capitalism has meant that the way to do something decent (Obama's stimulus program, for example) was hampered and criticized at every turn, that government spending accomplished some things, but has left millions unemployed. In the great Depression, this was despite the mass protests which forced the New Deal and achieved the industrial unions and significant steps against racism.

***

But after World War II, Keynsianism had seemingly been accepted. Not so, however. Capitalists have funded ignorance (as about climate change) - the Rogoff\Reinhart debacle being but the tip of the iceberg - and while solutions are known (and Obama, other things being equal, would have moved in this direction), they have stacked the deck against decency. Even the minimal policies of the reactionary Milton Friedman, who recommended the Fed bailing out banks and loosening the money supply in a recession (the policies Bernanke has followed) have been denounced by the shameless, Scrooge-emulator Paul Ryan...

***

Since every person who is unemployed has just as valuable a life as any employed person (and more valuable than those who spend their time preying on others) and many are now, as Krugman has emphasized, becoming permanently or "structurally" unemployed, this is a tragedy.

***

So I am increasingly a fan of my father's Keynsian ideas - that something better than this is available even under capitalism, that Obama could have moved the economy more in a green direction and provided major support for jobs and education (the debt-slavery of students is yet another, novel elite crime) - and am sad to see that frankly, here and in Europe, capitalism is both just as bad as Marx figured and bad in a number of ways which Marx could not yet imagine. Read the Communist Manifesto (or for a better argument, Capital, volume 1) and unfortunately, you will see exactly why the elite operates as it does.

But one should fight, as Alan Maki is doing, for a decent minimum wage, and a movement which goes much further to change these things (a nonviolent movement for an economy much more cooperative in its effects and thus, in its organization, than this one is).

***

Maki's letter was then picked up by C.T. Weber of the Peace and Freedom Party in California:

"Friends,

Alan has presented a very good analyst of the problems created by capitalism and its failure to find solutions to those problems. He also exposed the collaboration between the Democratic and Republic politicians. The question before us is "what do we do with this knowledge?". I suggest developing a platform and working program that will allow us to present a completely different vision of America and the world. Also, I would argue that we need to develop a vehicle to project our vision as an alternative to the twin parties of capital. That presents us with a couple difference among ourselves which we should resolve or maybe even reluctantly go our separate ways. Do we offer a vision of progressive capitalism or a vision of progressive socialism? Also, what kind of vehicle will give us the legitimacy we need among working people to present our vision? I think we need to organize and build a party based on real democracy which includes proportional representation, a healthy environment, a feminist or flattened power structure, racial and ethnic equality and a democratic economic system which I will refer to as socialism. When we analyse a situation it should be from economic, environmental and social justice points of view, or as my comrade Kevin says, "How does this effect working people?" That's my three cents worth.

C. T. Weber
Peace and Freedom Party of California
State Executive Committee/
Legislative Committee Chairperson"

***

Robin Hensel then sent a concluding remark:

"I suggest we phrase everything based on the 'public good.'"

***

I am a follower of Socrates and Aristotle in considering the common good, no quotations, the ethical center of political life. (see Democratic Individuality, ch. 1) For instance, in a democracy, each of us has a right to vote. Upholding that equal freedom is a common or public good. Depriving people of the right to vote is the center of the infamy of segregation and today of the John Roberts court, bizarre anti-voter legislation in North Carolina and "Republican" disenfranchisement of the poor, the young and many of the elderly [those who no longer have driver's licenses, for example] wherever they get a chance. "Republicans" defend not a common good in a democracy but the oligarchic power of the .0001% (modifying the excellent Occupy slogan).

I defend at some length the idea that humans can broadly answer the question: what is a decent life for most humans? and that there is at least limited moral objectivity. Oligarchy of the kind practiced in the United States, despite its parliamentary forms, is bad for most of the people who live here. It is also trivially bad, the graspingness of the elite unnecessary, working overtime to harm others.

***

The attack on the right to vote is what John Lewis, who, as a onetime leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and bearer of several concussions for his bravery on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma and elsewhere, spoke about recently to the Times (he will speak again at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington - see here). We need many more such marches...

***

Here is Bob Herbert's farewell piece at the Times - emphasizing why each of us needs to fight American aggressions abroad and saying incisively "Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush." - which Alan Maki cites. The statistics here, too, are very valuable:

"Op-Ed Columnist New York Times

Losing Our Way

By BOB HERBERT
Published: March 25, 2011

So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.

Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.

Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago. Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.

The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.

Nearly 14 million Americans are jobless and the outlook for many of them is grim. Since there is just one job available for every five individuals looking for work, four of the five are out of luck. Instead of a land of opportunity, the U.S. is increasingly becoming a place of limited expectations. A college professor in Washington told me this week that graduates from his program were finding jobs, but they were not making very much money, certainly not enough to think about raising a family.

There is plenty of economic activity in the U.S., and plenty of wealth. But like greedy children, the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles. Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush. As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion.

Americans behave as if this is somehow normal or acceptable. It shouldn’t be, and didn’t used to be. Through much of the post-World War II era, income distribution was far more equitable, with the top 10 percent of families accounting for just a third of average income growth, and the bottom 90 percent receiving two-thirds. That seems like ancient history now.

The current maldistribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent.

This inequality, in which an enormous segment of the population struggles while the fortunate few ride the gravy train, is a world-class recipe for social unrest. Downward mobility is an ever-shortening fuse leading to profound consequences.

A stark example of the fundamental unfairness that is now so widespread was in The New York Times on Friday under the headline: “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether.” Despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States — General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year.

As The Times’s David Kocieniewski reported, “Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore.”

G.E. is the nation’s largest corporation. Its chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt, is the leader of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. You can understand how ordinary workers might look at this cozy corporate-government arrangement and conclude that it is not fully committed to the best interests of working people.

Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.

New ideas and new leadership have seldom been more urgently needed.




This is my last column for The New York Times after an exhilarating, nearly 18-year run. I’m off to write a book and expand my efforts on behalf of working people, the poor and others who are struggling in our society. My thanks to all the readers who have been so kind to me over the years. I can be reached going forward at bobherbert88@gmail.com"




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