Berning Down the House

I think I’m finally starting to feel really pessimistic about this years elections. This piece on the nomination fight between Clinton and Sanders from Corey Robin, which is not only supportive of Sanders, but fairly damning of Clinton. And it reflects how much of the left views Hillary as totally unacceptable. The closer we get to the Iowa Caucus the more intense the rhetoric attacking her as a crypto-Republican, an establishment hack, a soulless, calculating deal maker and horse trader, a cackling witch, and so on. Paul Krugman writes in his blog about how he and other policy wonks on the left, such as Ezra Klein, Jonathan Cohn, Jonathan Chait, and Mike Konczal – who wrote a whole piece defending his reputation as a serious advocate for financial reform – are being attacked by supporters of Bernie Sanders for being minions of Hillary Clinton.

And I am, at this point, unapologetic in my support of Hillary Clinton. I have plenty of friends who are unabashed supporters of Bernie Sanders, and I have stopped listening to them on the subject of politics. They all want politics without the politics. They want to just be able to do the right thing all the time without having to confront any challenge. And at this point I’m starting to think that maybe Sanders will get the nomination, and then the progressive push will turn to bitter mush when the the general election starts and they find out what politics really looks like.

Meanwhile, in the State of Illinois, the budget impasse continues to take a toll on public services. And what this is ultimately about is dissatisfaction with the political establishment. Exhibit A here is Michael Madigan, who has run the State from his position as House Speaker since the 1980s. He is a reviled figure among everyone but long time Democrats, who are all fiercely loyal to him. The broad dissatisfaction of the electorate is what brought Rauner to Governorship in the first place. In many ways Rauner is exactly the kind of reformer conservatives want: someone who will not back down in the face of having to do terrible things. And that’s what most conservatives have wanted for a long, long time now. They want those pensions destroyed, so that all those folks who spent their lives working for the State will have to suffer with the people abandoned by the private sector. It’s super messed up how people turn on each other.

And what are we fighting over? Money. We are fighting over money. The Black Youth Project 100, for example, in their Agenda to Build Black Futures, is literally up front in saying that what they want is money. Reparations, compensation. Money. They want cold, hard, cash in their pockets, on a regular basis, so they can live like normal people.

In the meantime, a major service organization in Illinois is cutting 30 programs and 750 positions due to the State budget impasse. And even though the Governor claims that he is frustrated, and just wants to be able to settle the budget and move forward, I think that the truth is closer to this: what conservatives want is to see public services cut, and pensions cut, and taxes cut. They don’t want to take food out of a hungry child’s mouth, or take jobs away from desperate parents, or turn seniors out of their homes and deprive them of medical care. The State just feels too big, and their taxes feel to high. But cutting pensions and the budget, in practice, means cutting services for people at the margins, and often causing enormous suffering in the process.

So where does that put us? Everybody wants more money for themselves, and less money for the State. Ah, the politics of austerity. This brings me to Simon Wren-Lewis, on the present state of the left in the UK. “Austerity is a trap for the left as long as they refuse to challenge it. You cannot say that you will spend more doing worthwhile things, and when (inevitably) asked how you will pay for it try and change the subject. Voters may not be experts on economics, but they can sense weakness and vulnerability. If instead you restrict yourself to changes at the margin, you appear to be ‘just the same’.”

This is not far from the situation here in the US. What I find most disturbing about the Sanders campaign is that it clearly does not care about policy, it cares about slogans. People want “single payer health care” and “Glass-Steagal” and they want them right the fuck now. They do not want to have a nuanced discussion of policy. They want to talk about how they feel and why they’re excited for the Revolution. What happens when Sanders is actually in the White House?

He’ll be stuck in the same damn austerity trap everyone else is. He wants to provide more services, but he won’t be able to raise taxes. But nobody wants to listen to that. They just want to get all blissed out and watch Bernie’s new ad.

Its the same thing in Illinois. Everyone wants more and better schools, and more and better services, but nobody wants to pay for it. And we resent the person who’s job it is to divvy up what money there is, because its never enough. Everyone thinks they know how to better spend the money, but usually it just amounts to having more for themselves, so they can get back to ignoring the world.

Water, water everywhere…

…and not a drop to drink!

The crisis in Flint, Michigan over lead contaminated water is terrible. But at the moment the apparent solution is bottled water. I read somewhere that the idea is that the Federal Government will send in some bazillion dollar bail out, but I kind of doubt it. And I know Michigan (let alone Flint) doesn’t have the money to pay for new infrastructure.

But that’s a choice we make. We could totally build new water systems for Flint, but we won’t because we’d have to pay for it with debt. The horror!

Woop, there it is

“Tag team is back again.”

People about my age probably remember the ubiquitous pop hit “Woop! There It Is”. The opening line of that song always confused me, because the group Tag Team only had one hit song. How could they be back again? When were they here? Where are we, anyways?

Similarly, the Backstreet Boys’ first hit was “Backstreet is Back” and my immediate response was “Back from where?” But I don’t think any of the teenage girls that plastered their bedroom walls with posters of the popular vocal groups of the late 1990s ever stopped to seriously concern themselves with a question of whether the Boys were returning or only just arriving.

New Yorker magazine actually has a really good story from last year about Max Martin and his unbelievably successful career as a songwriter and producer for American pop acts like the Backstreet Boys, Nsync, Brittany Spears, and so on. Like many Swedish songwriters, he doesn’t worry too much what the lyrics mean, and American audiences don’t particularly notice.

There was one time I was in a store, and I was talking to the salesman, and System of a Down’s “Chopsuey” was playing out of speakers from just behind the sales guy, and it was maybe just a little loud. And I was trying to pay attention to what this guy was saying, but the hearing the screams of “Fah-thahhhh! Fah-thaahhhh!” over the raging guitars I felt a little overwhelmed for a moment. And, you know, on some level, isn’t music supposed to be this sacred thing where people are expressing their inner selves? When Serj Tankian wrote that song, was he thinking about how it would be providing a soundtrack to bland commercial outlets all over the world?

The thing about little moments of cognitive dissonance is that most of the time, people don’t care. As Hume says, reason is slave to passion.

And that is certainly true in politics these days, no? It occurred to me yesterday that the contest shaping up in the Republican nomination race is epic. Trump and Cruz must be wearing asbestos long-johns, because they’re running for President with their pants on fire. The truth is not a thing with either one of those guys. I’m pretty sure Trump could actually talk through a brick wall. Cruz debates like a prize fighter. They’re the product of a long and difficult competition, and they’re very, very good at what they do.

What’s important is not so much the candidates, but the electorate supporting them. Many on the left deride the Republican candidates as stupid or insane, and this demonstrates a blind spot. They don’t believe that conservatives want what they want. They insist that no one seriously thinks any of the present front runners in the GOP race have any chance of being elected, most of all Trump, who has led the race now for months.

But the fact is that Republicans run 31 State legislatures, as well as both houses of Congress. And the fact is they’ve had liberals on the ropes since 1994. And what happened in 1994? Well, for one thing, Hillary Clinton tried to reform health care, with disastrous results. But also, the Republicans won a sweeping victory in the midterm elections, and Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House promoting his “Contract with America” legislative program. There was a government shutdown the following year over passage of the Federal budget.

Paul Krugman has a blog post, “Health Reform is Hard,”outlining why Clinton has the better position over Sanders regarding health care reform. Basically, Sanders doesn’t have a plan. He has a rallying cry. The left, progressives especially, want single payer health care. They want to hear a candidate who talks about straight-up socialized medicine. They don’t want to talk about the difficulties of implementation, or possible concerns over its overall effect on health care in the US. It’s “Single payer, ra-ra!” the end.

And Sanders couldn’t get away from that position now if he wanted to. And all the well reasoned critique in the world won’t change that. Because “Single Payer” isn’t a plan, it’s a rallying cry, a symbol of Progressive tribalism. Just the way “Choose your own doctor” was a rallying cry for conservatives back in 1994.

And the thing about those people who made a big deal about choosing their own doctor back in the 1990s, its not like they had a well thought out plan of action on health care reform either. They just didn’t want change. And I think the whole single payer thing is actually pretty similar. The folks calling for single payer health care don’t have a plan to reform anything. Like Max Martin, they’re not really thinking about what they’re saying, they’re just trying to make a popular noise.

The difference is that Martin will tell you that he doesn’t worry about the meaning conveyed by the lyrics of his songs. He doesn’t, and its fine. Part of the aesthetic, really. But if you confront an American with their own lack of thought on policy, they can get very offended. And I can sympathize with that. I have certainly said sharp, mean, angry things in response to criticism or rejection. On the other hand, I think that passion (particularly its domination of reason) in politics should be recognized. Why can we not have single payer? Because people would freak out if you tried to implement a fully nationalized system of health care all at once. They do have socialized medicine in Europe. They have it in Canada. But here in the United States, we don’t. And if you want to know why, there is a slightly endless literature covering just that topic.

I have friends [no I don’t, that’s a lie]* who seem to just want policy to be made correctly. They’re smart people. There’s a smart way to do things. If we just did the smart thing, the right thing, we wouldn’t have all these crazy problems. If we were just smart enough, we could solve the world’s problems and live in peace and harmony with nature. Zizek actually has a really lovely passage in Violence about the word “smart” —

“The new liberal communists are, of course, our usual suspects: Bill Gates and George Soros, the CEOs of Google, IBM, Intel, eBay, as well as their court philosophers, most notably the journalist Thomas Friedman. What makes this group interesting is that their ideology has become all but indistinguishable from the new breed of anti-globalist leftist radicals…Both the old right, with its ridiculous belief in authority and order and parochial patriotism, and the old left with its capitalized Struggle against Capitalism, are today’s true conservatives fighting their shadow-theater struggles and out of touch with the new realities. The signifier of this new reality in the liberal communist Newspeak is ‘smart’: smart indicates the dynamic and nomadic as against centralized bureaucracy; dialogue and cooperation against hierarchical authority; flexibility against routine; culture and knowledge against old industrial production; spontaneous interaction and autopoiesis against fixed hierarchy.

A few pages later he writes that while “they fight subjective violence, liberal communists are the very agents of the structural violence which creates the conditions for the explosions of subjective violence.” They make money by ruining the world in the morning, and spend the afternoon giving it away to the victims. They are changing the world, just try and stop them!

Banking and the Economy, part 2

Alright– in the spirit of just picking up the thread, I want to talk about the financial crisis for a minute. I’ve read a lot about the crisis, and talked about it, and thought about it. I was listening to the radio the other day and somebody who was explaining what’s going on in the markets right now made a comparison to the apocalypse of 2008 , and I thought, it didn’t seem like the end of the world to me. I remember 2007 (sort of), and it is now 2016. 2008 came and went and most of us are still here. My parents live in the house I grew up in. My friends are, by and large, doing fine, living the lives they had more or less planned on. I mean, I thought the crisis was supposed to be some kind of event.

Obviously, I know about all the loss of money and credit and the recession and all that, and those things are not good, but nevertheless I cannot quite shake the feeling that what the crisis is really about is something that doesn’t happen.

And this is where things get weird for me. It has occurred to me often that what a lot of Americans want is a return to the 1950s- they imagine an idealized version of the Eisenhower administration, peace and prosperity, but without the racism and the sexism  and the fear of nuclear war. Remember the Jetsons and the Flintstones? The first a cartoon about a typical family in the future, and the second the same idea except in the past. In both, the typical family is white. They live in a single story ranch house. The man drives a large automobile to his job everyday while the woman attends to the household. They have two children. The man aspires to be a manager (but management is usually inept), he belongs to a club of other men who get together and wear funny hats. The woman aspires to have high quality material goods, especially the kind that you can display in public.

I think a lot of people want life to look something like a sitcom, where they are able to just go along and kind of ignore the world around them. The economy is expected to just hum along indefinitely and never change.

In the Middle Ages, it seems to me, although life was generally very hard, it was, at the very least, more predictable. It was at least possible, back then, to be born into a small village, live a long life, and die there, having only ever known the other people in the village, and the occasional visitor, and having never seen any other place. The years would come and go, and the world would be much as you found it throughout.

The world my father was born into was very different from the one we are in now. The world since 1815 is a radically different place from the world before 1776. The world we are living in now basically begins in the 1930s, and emerges fully after 1945. And think of how tumultuous that world has been! The human population of the world has increased by over 4 billion since 1950. The Green Revolution, led by Midwesterners like Henry Wallace and Geneticist Norman Borlaug, have changed the realities of food production, making it possible to sustain the enormous population, and allow it to grow. On the other hand, we’re using resources at an unsustainable rate.

And what I think Americans want is to not have to think about all this stuff. What’s the point of being the most powerful country in the world if you can’t get a decent night’s sleep anyways?

The role of banking is to facilitate the ordinary processes of a market economy. Now, in some sense, the market is thought to be an impartial mechanism. Businesses compete not for customers but rather for investment, and their competitiveness is measured by the return on investment. Banks are responsible for making all that happen, for separating profitable business from waste. In theory, consumers are the beneficiaries of this competition, although I think that’s debatable. Nevertheless, bankers are responsible for assessing the creditworthiness of firms as well as consumers; they are judges, arbiters of access to the financial system. A system that makes our way of life possible.

People who lost their job in the recession that followed the crisis lost their job because of the crisis, but it is impossible to hold any person or group of people entirely responsible for what happened. It is accepted that those people lost their jobs, and they have to find other jobs. Now the thing about living in a capitalist society is that it is, in some sense, a society of laborers. People who do not labor do not contribute to society. The people who lost their jobs and did not find new ones, some of those people lost their place in the world, and became homeless. It’s nobody’s fault. The homeless serve as a rejoinder to discipline for labor.  However, in order for that rejoinder to be effective, labor must be made to think that those jobless and homeless deserve their condition in some way, so that existing reality can seem reasonable as well.

Let’s say, let’s imagine, that people feel like the economy is too big. Not enormously too big, just a little too big. If it were just a little smaller, it would be fine. How would you do that? You take a little bit of money out of the economy. Which is sort of what we’re doing right now. The thing is that all the money in the economy is also all the income in the economy, so when that gets smaller, incomes get smaller. And as incomes get smaller, the relative size of debts gets bigger.

Now its tempting to say at this point in the story, aha! This is a negative feedback loop! By enabling companies to store profits offshore, banks are slowly starving the American people. But I don’t really think that’s what would happen. Bankers are not stupid, not even a little. There are guys on Wall Street who are total Bros, but even some of those guys are pretty bright. At some point, in theory, its possible for banks to put the kibosh on a deflation and start lending and get an expansionary cycle going. That eventually turns into a bubble, and then there’s a crisis, and – in theory – the suckers get liquidated. The crisis is not a symptom of instability, but a cause of stability.

Look. After the Soviets detonated an atomic bomb in 1948, fear of nuclear war rationalized the sustained investment and output levels in the US and Western Europe that led to the greatest economic expansion of all time. Full employment led to population growth with social stability. But now the cold war is over. The prosperity of the 20th century brought with it a cascade of consequence.  Here in the early 21st, America is tired.

We close our eyes and we dream of a time when we had hopes and dreams. The steady rise and fall of the economy rocks us like ocean swells felt from the deck of cruise ship, assuring us that nothing will change, not really.

If you think that banks are crooked, that politics is corrupt and America is an oligarchy, then why bother fighting? You have already ceded victory to the enemy. Go home.

Banks are institutions like any other. If we want them to do something different, we ought to tell them what that is, instead of trying to put them in chains. Democracy is quite capable of regulating banking and finance if it wants to – but that’s the thing. You can’t reform banking, or the monetary system, without engaging the people working in it, and without taking into account how it will effect demographics or social arrangements. Saying that the economy should work for the people and not just a small group of billionaires means nothing, because “the people” is an empty term. Everybody has a different idea of who “the people” includes. A serious politician has to engage with bankers, just as they must engage with the military, just as much as they must engage with the people who elect them.


Banking and the Economy, Part 1

Okay, so what I want to do here is try and work out some ideas I have about the economy and the role that banks play in it and how people think about that. In one sense, I want to address what I see as shortcomings of Bernie Sanders views on the economy. But in another sense, I want to try and present something that occurred to me before, sometime when I was thinking about this kind of stuff.

Larry Summers wrote a wonderful, nuanced critique of a New York Times op-ed piece Bernie Sanders wrote about policy reform regarding the Federal Reserve System. The Sanders piece was largely ignored at the time, but since then he has put out a speech, “Wall Street and the Economy” with a more comprehensive view of economic reform. There is a nice overview of the speech and its substantive content, as well as a summary of the response from Wall Street afterward, from Naked Capitalism.

Sanders delivers a progressive wish list of limitations on banking and finance. It is disappointing that he doesn’t seem to even notice all the good work being done by smart liberals. The Rewrite the Rules project at the Roosevelt Institute, with contributions from Joseph Stiglitz, Mike Konczal, and others. But people don’t want new and different. They just want to go back to when everything was all cool. Which was actually never, except in their imaginations.

Banking is one of the institutional foundations of the world we live in. And bankers are aware of this fact. Money is, in some ways, extremely useful. I remember when I was in China, visiting my brother, who teaches English in the suburbs of Chengdu, that I haggling everywhere, as an expected part of a transaction. When I was younger, I remember being quite taken with the idea, the fantasy, of haggling, but in truth I am a terrible negotiator. It occurred to me later that haggling required considerable effort on the part of both parties in an exchange. Somebody who is exhausted and malnourished is easier to take advantage of, while people of higher station not only benefit from better health, but also from the privileges inherent in higher social status. In the US, its kind of an advantage not to have to haggle over prices. If you really want to haggle, its possible to find arrangements here and there, but as a general rule, prices are simply up front. Which is kind of great in a way. Anybody can buy anything as long as they are able to pay.

We who have grown up immersed in a capitalist society can scarcely perceive what a radical thing capitalism can be. When you have to rely on social cues for your well being, you have to strive to be who other people expect. But if everything is available to everyone at consistent prices, you can be whoever you want. Some people decry the sameness of mass produced consumer commodities– but think of it this way: the Coke you get at the store tastes the same, and pretty much costs the same amount, as it does for anyone else. Rich people enjoy it the same as poor people. This is a view laid out in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, a book I love for its whimsical and yet lucid treatment of modern culture. Warhol was a way deeper guy than I think most people give him credit for. He was a devoted Christian, too, and went to church every Sunday, as well as volunteering at a soup kitchen in Manhattan. He had an openness to people that I really admire. You find that in New York City, that kind of radical tolerance of others. It’s one of the biggest differences between it and Chicago, which is dominated by aggressively conformist Yankee culture – a view developed and explored in the book American Nations by Colin Woodard.

Anyways, the point is that the financial system we presently have in the US is actually pretty useful, in spite of all the malice it seems to have inspired since the Crisis of 2008. Being able to save money securely, being able to write and cash checks, and being able to get loans are all super useful. On top of that, credit is not only useful for making purchases, but also as a kind of proxy for social approbation. In the 1950s, black people traveling in the US would have a very difficult time finding a hotel room. Nowadays, anyone with an internet connection and a credit card can get a hotel room anywhere in the country. The credit company vouches for it’s customers while simultaneously supervising them. Banks, in larger sense, have long provided the same basic service to the economy.

Any business concern requires financing. Under capitalism, savings are (in theory) invested, so as to earn interest. In a liquidity trap, desired savings are greater than available investment, and the holding of cash becomes incentivized. This is how companies hold $2.1 trillion in profits in offshore accounts and don’t worry about it. The inflation rate is close enough to zero that they can afford to just sit on that money.

What we need to do, of course, is boost aggregate demand. People get really confused about this idea, because the it sounds like more spending and more debt, and that just seems intuitively wrong. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure if I recommended reforms where private vehicles as a common mode of transportation would cease to exist, people would look at me as if I was insane. If we all lived closer together in smaller dwellings, stopped watching television and entertained ourselves by playing sports and reading poetry, and gave up the habit of driving everywhere, we would save enormous amounts of resources. But none of that is going to happen, because people don’t really go for comprehensive change, unless there has been some sort of terrible crisis.


Oh Hillary! Why Can’t I Quit You?

So, I went through the posts from a guy I know on Facebook, a progressive activist from Chicago who posts a lot of political stuff, and picked out the articles about Hillary Clinton. The first is something about Hillary talking smack about Bernie’s grandkids, the next is about how Hillary hired “Monsanto’s Man in Iowa” to run her campaign there,  a third about Politifact declaring Hillary’s attacks on Bernie to be false, and then a fourth claiming that Hillary blames the victims of the foreclosure crisis for their hardships. The view that emerges from this is not so much “Hillary Clinton is wrong” but rather “Hillary Clinton is false.” And this is a fairly common view of her on the progressive left. She isn’t a fellow Democrat, she’s the enemy.

And this is, I think, one of the fundamental problems of the Sanders campaign. Hillary Clinton, for all her flaws, is the establishment candidate in this race. She stands for a continuation of the Obama administration. Even though Sanders is technically challenging Clinton, what’s at stake is the symbolic leadership of the Party. I think there are progressives at the margins of the Party who would love to see their ideas come to the fore, but in doing so they risk losing sight of the common interest. If Clinton does not become President in 2016, it will be a tragedy for the nation, a passing up of a unique opportunity. If she loses to the nomination to Sanders, it will be a tragedy for the Democratic Party.

“The fundamental difference between the Trump and Sanders crowd was that the Sanders crowd has more money, the natural consequence of the American contradiction machinery: rich white people can afford to think about socialism, the poor can only afford their anger.” -Stephen Marche, “The white man pathology: inside the fandom of Sanders and Trump” (Guardian)

But now Clinton is getting nervous about Bernie, and so she’s attacking him and alienating his followers in the process. Ezra Klein breaks down what that’s all about in “Hillary Clinton doesn’t trust you” — the title cleverly inverting the common aversion to her. Basically, the left still wants single-payer health care. Clinton, having lead a disastrous attempt at reforming health care back in 1994, knows a little too well that reform has to be really cautious, because people freak out when you change existing arrangements of health coverage. Bernie boosters don’t have time for all that noise. They want socialized medicine yesterday and they find it hard to believe that not everyone realizes they’re totally right.

This brings me to a blog post from a Professor of Philosophy at Wabash College that I found through Rob Saler. The author is talking to her brother, who lives in an intentional Christian community in Chicago called Jesus People USA, and he describes “…a certain perspective on efforts at conversion that he called, ‘dive bombing.’  ‘Dive bombing’ is when you come from above and attempt to strip your target of their (false) understanding of the world so that you can then replace it with yours.  This approach, he pointed out, is very condescending.  And it works by establishing that someone else is wrong.”

It seems to me like this is actually quite common in political rhetoric. Among the Republican Presidential candidates it is near the only game in town. The Party is united behind dismantling the Obama legacy. Notice how Trump, at the last debate, took on the mantle of anger. It was observed (by Vox) on Twitter that what makes Trump different from the other candidates, who say “I understand your anger,” is that he says “I’m angry.”

Sympathy is a powerful thing. It feels good to have your own thoughts and feelings validated. On the other hand, feelings don’t write policy. What keeps me up at night lately is the thought that progressive resentment of Hillary Clinton will make possible the election of a Ted Cruz or a Donald Trump. And we will lose all the progress made over the last 8 years because we can’t bear the idea of Hillary as President. I suppose, in some sense, that if the Democrats can’t get it together to elect her, then the party doesn’t deserve to go on as it has. Who knows? Maybe the Party system is in the process of collapsing, as the grasp of democracy upon the Nation slowly recedes.

Fumbling in the Dark

I don’t really know how many people are reading this, but I realized this morning that posting on this blog still feels like posting on Facebook, except without the Facebook. So a little like Livejournal, perhaps, if anyone knows anymore what that is. Paul Krugman always seems so off the cuff in his blog. He’s scribbling notes in the margins. And what notes! I don’t hope to ever be that good. Oddly, that feels like a stumbling block.

One of the coolest blogs I ever followed was Mimi in New York, written by Ruth Fowler between 2005 and 2012. She grew up in North Wales, went to Cambridge, traveled the world for five years, and moved to New York City to become a writer. Once there, her work visa failed to come through, so she decided to make a living as a stripper, and lived a very interesting life for a while. She blogged through all of this, and eventually got a book deal out of it. Afterwards she moved to California to become a screenwriter. Since then, she’s gotten sober, had a child, gotten married and divorced. She doesn’t do much blogging these days.

Definitely I hope not to share so much of my personal life here as Ruth did with Mimi (that was part of the idea: the name Mimi- “everything is about me me me” – symbolizes her narcissism). But I really admire the way she developed the voice of that blog. Reminded me of Maggie Estep, one of my favorite writers, also a New Yorker. New York City is so romantic to me, probably because I never lived there, but also because of the voices that emerge from it. Herbert Hunke and Dorothy Day, a junkie and a saint, both came out of New York City. Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes and the Nuyoricans. Aaron Cometbus is from Berkeley, but he owns a bookstore in Brooklyn, because that’s where all the cool kids live now. I am not one of the cool kids, and I never was.

Writing this blog feels like fumbling in the dark right now. I think it might feel that way for a while before I get my bearings.


I was most impressed by Ted Cruz tonight. He could go all the way. The guy really knows how to debate. Trump has accepted the Troll mantle, of his own accord. Rubio has turned mean. He’s going to get put down, I think. Carson is comic relief. His answers are so far out it’s amazing. Christie is a bulldog, but he’s got no chance this year. This is the year of super-anti-Liberalism.

This is, by the way, why I was so happy about the opinion piece saying that the SOTU basically laid out a vision of crushing reactionaries. The GOP Presidential field is heavily reactionary right now. The Republican Party has long been the party of reaction since the New Deal, and in many ways has been shaped by that. The Democrats are the Center-Left party, the party of Government. Most government major government programs (with some notable exceptions under Eisenhower and Nixon) have been created under Democratic administrations, at least since 1932.

Anyways, Kasich came across especially well tonight, I thought. He sounded reasonable for a Republican. I do rather like his consistently calm, reassuring tone. Jeb! was pretty good too, if you discount the fact that he seems totally weak. I applaud him for soldiering on, but I don’t think he’s fooling even himself at this point.

I went into the debate tonight still thinking that Trump would be the nominee, but I’m starting to think it will be Cruz after all. He knows how to talk like a President. His tax plan is completely irrelevant, because Paul Ryan will be writing the Federal tax code next year. Although I could possibly imagine the abolition of the IRS.

If Cruz wins, and I think he might have a good shot against Clinton. Against Sanders, Cruz would win in a landslide. Did anyone notice that Rubio talked about the possibility of Sanders running like it was almost a joke. They take Clinton seriously, but Sanders isn’t even a threat. This is because they’re conservatives, and the election of a socialist is literally unthinkable for them.

This year is going to be nuts.

Busy Week

Man, what a week! All kinds of buzz over Iowa, and the State of the Union, and now tonight there is another Republican debate! And really I should be working on other projects, but I just have to get this out…

So, this week at least, my intuition is saying that Trump is going to win. He’s going to win because everyone keeps saying and wishing and hoping and praying that it won’t be him. Nobody believes he will make it through the nomination. And nobody believes he could be President. But everyone is thinking about it. Obama is thinking about it.

Speaking of what Obama is thinking about, I kind of loved Francis Wilkerson’s piece in Bloomberg View on how the State of the Union essentially proposes “crushing the reactionary party obstructing the way” of progress. Man, I wish that was the President’s plan. I wish it had been his plan in January 2009. At this point, I do think it’s accurate to say that stopping the dismantling of Obama’s legacy after 2016 will amount to making the reactionaries feel crushed.

According to a study done by the Pew Research Center, most people (about two-thirds) feel like they’re losing in politics today. Small wonder that the reactionaries are so strong this year. The study finds that people who feel like their losing are more likely to be angry.

And lately, I feel like a lot of what I hear from my friends on the left is anger. Obama can do no wrong, but everybody else is crooked and horrible. In Illinois, nobody has any love for State Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, because he’s been running the state for decades, so obviously everything going wrong now is his fault. Never mind Governor Rauner refusing to compromise with Democrats in the legislature. And never mind changing demographics, secular stagnation, and the sustained efforts of anti-union forces. Rahm Emmanuel is blamed for systemic racism and violence in Chicago. As if that was his fault.

This is an insidious thing about capitalism! Unemployment is never really anyone’s fault. If there aren’t enough jobs for everyone who wants/needs to work, it is supposed to be the fault of the unemployed for not trying hard enough. And people have the hardest time accepting any other story. It isn’t anyone’s fault that there is high unemployment in Chicago, except as far as you can say the city disincentivizes business through taxes and regulations. You aren’t supposed to force businesses to hire people.

But the fact is that poor neighborhoods are poor because the people in them don’t have enough money. And I’ve heard people suggest that the answer to Chicago’s problems is to take money away from the police and give it poor black people, who need it more. Which is never going to happen.

But in the meantime, everyone in Chicago is up in arms, trying to say that Rahm has got to go. I’d say the chances of him willingly resigning are still slim to none, although it would seem the state legislature might oblige the city by allowing them to recall the mayor. And if that did happen, I’m sure people would be super excited and it would be a big party, until the day after the city’s politics collapsed into the giant power vacuum left by the former White House Chief of Staff. It seems doubtful that Chicago would turn into Detroit, but I think it may eventually parallel the Motor City. Maybe it will become a new frontier in privatization. As public sector unions fall, and public services are diminished, perhaps we will see the rise of a different kind of city.

I mean, think about it this way. If the Loop was secured through private forces, instead of municipal police officers accountable to the public, the rest of the city could just get along with minimal supervision. People would either have an income allowing them to live with dignity, or they would have to fend for themselves. This sort of thing keeps everyone in line: market discipline. You don’t worry about being punished. You worry about being cast out, losing your place. But in the meantime, nobody would be able to talk about police oppression, because they wouldn’t be there.

In some sense, what I think a lot of the people who are calling for Rahm’s resignation really want is something like this: 1) for everyone living in Chicago to identified as people who live in Chicago (this is important for reasons that will become clear), 2) for generous public services to be provided to all of those people, for free, without exception, and for the city to take full legal and financial responsibility for all public services, 3) for the city government to provide these services without raising taxes or revenue of any kind, including and especially borrowing or engaging with banks, 4) for the city to guarantee the opportunity for meaningful remunerative work to be made available, with minimum compensation set at a sustainable living-wage, 5) for the city to guarantee that the increases in rents and property values not outpace the growth of wages, and 6) to guarantee that the city not allow too many people to move to the city once these provisions are established. Its extremely important to realize that what people want is not change, but justice (which, often enough, looks like plain old revenge). Notice how completely unrealistic this all is, and notice the emphasis on people wanting things only for themselves. The people of Chicago want to fire Rahm, but not because they want to help anyone. They’re just mad, and they think by punishing Rahm they’ll feel better.

But this is basically why I see the city moving towards privatization. Nobody really wants a better city government, they just want someone to blame when things go wrong. Certainly no one wants to pay more taxes, and nobody wants to go into debt, but the city can’t operate without funding. This is easily the most infuriating thing about dealing with city politics, people have just no reasonable expectations about money and jobs. They expect everything to be done perfectly, and are outraged whenever they feel disappointed. And for what? Chicago politicians and civil servants are demonized as a matter of routine. Why bother putting your life into public service if all the public can do is complain about you?

Simple things

This was in my daily reading yesterday–

“…I think doing simple things is just as important in God’s sight as the highest states of contemplation. Why? Whatever I do for love gives honor to God. It’s all one and the same…whenever I sin, I step off this path.” -Mechthild of Madgeburg (1208-1282), The Flowing Light of the Godhead

I like it when everyone gets included. Don’t worry about God, worry about love, that’s something relevant to everybody. When people act out of fear, it’s different from when people act out of love. Transactions, in particular those mediated by money, are different from actions, because they are relationships between things, not between people. They can appear genuine, indeed, one frequently encounters claims of authenticity attached to transactions. Your waitress is nice to you because that’s her job. A stranger who smiles back is a sacred vision.

Too much is made of loving one’s work today. A chef nowadays must always claim possession of a driving passion for the culinary arts, but it will not ultimately dispel the fact that returns from growth are overwhelmingly allocated to capital. That is to say, chefs may be expected to work more than they are being fairly compensated for (because they are so passionate), with the implicit promise of future earnings increase, and the chances are that any one chef will burn out from overwork and never realize their expected potential earnings. The people making money in the restaurant business are the owners and investors. And that is because the most important ingredient in any business plan these days is finance.

But I digress.