Blathering On Over the Holidays

Frank MoraesThis is the hardest part of the year to write. Very little is going on in the news and the people I commonly read are not writing very much. What’s more, not that many people are reading. I suppose that they have more important things to do than read my increasingly strained missives. Yet I still try to grind out five articles per day. This is not out of any commitment to you my loyal readers. It is more out of a commitment to myself. I am a man of habits and I have this feeling that if I don’t write five articles today, I may never write another ever again.

There is another aspect of of this. In order to write well, it is important simply to write. When I go back and read things I’ve written in the past, I’m constantly amazed that the best work is often the stuff that I just dashed off. And stuff I thought was very good — things I worked very hard on — leave me flat. So if I want to write a hundred articles each year that are worth while, I probably do need to grind out a couple thousand. Because when you are in the thick of it, you really don’t know what is good and what is dreck.

Another problem is that I’ve now written well over 8,000 articles on this blog. With every day that goes by, it seems that I’ve already said what I have to say on the subject. Indeed, there will be times when I’ve written half an article, only to realize that I must have written the same thing before. And a quick search shows that indeed, I have. And often, the process of my thinking is dead on. I am nothing if not consistent. Even when I was a libertarian, my writing on the subject of politics was not so very different than my more clear thinking today. This was one of the reasons that I wasn’t allowed to play in any libertarian games.

Tomorrow, I’m sure I will have much to say about the ending of the year. As for now, I have little to write about other than the fact that I have little to write about. Of course, there are things to write about. For one thing, I have a very interesting grammar article to write about. But it will take a little work and I don’t feel up to it right now. But you would think that at this point with five years and 8,000 articles under my belt, I’d be able to look back to the previous years for what I did. This is not all that useful. For example, last year at this time, I just didn’t write that many articles. And the year before, I wrote really short articles.

So I’m stuck tonight just slogging out an article about how I’m reduced to slugging out an article. It really doesn’t speak well of me. If I weren’t so obsessive, I’d just recycle old article. I know that even my most devoted readers don’t manage to see everything that I’ve written. What’s more, I often completely forget things that I wrote. I’ll sometimes notice that there is a flurry of visits to a particular article and I have no idea what the it is about. So maybe I’ll start doing a little about that. But there is so much else to be done moving into the future.

There is something that I might consider. Posting five articles of an average length of 700 words each day is an arbitrary work load. I have friends (Although they might might not describe me that way!) who have active blogs who produce far less. Infidel753 posts only every other day on average. Bark Bark Woof Woof posts only a couple of things per day and they tend to be light on content. Beggars Can Be Choosers posts every couple of weeks. Human Voices posts every week or so. The Good Typist publishes once a week (but she’s also polishing her novel). Ramona’s Voices is much the same. On the other hand, Job’s Anger publishes at the same pace that I do. And so does P M Carpenter’s Commentary. But most of all, I try to be like Digby — both in terms of amount of content and quality. I’m pretty sure I’ve got her beat in terms of amount. It is still the quality that I’m working on. And I’m afraid having lots of content is necessary to have a high level of content.

The Hell of American Punishment

Inferno: An Anatomy of American PunishmentYou are afraid all the time, and there is good reason to fear. You are alone with enemies all around you. No one cares about you. You can be attacked where you are, but it is more dangerous when you must move in the open. Groups roam the territory looking for victims. You cannot hide. Your only weapon is yourself. There is no authority to call on that you trust. Over and over you ask, “How did it come to this?” But it has come to this and for the foreseeable future.

Who are you? Where are you? You are not a soldier or a spy on some mission in a foreign land. You are not an undercover agent. You are not under siege. You are not a survivor of a civil war. You are not an explorer in some alien jungle, though in some ways you are. You are an inmate in an American prison. You belong to a peculiar version of hell, one that the American separation of church and state has imagined for you.

What did you do to get here? Perhaps you had too much dope on you when stopped or sold some of it to the wrong person to feed your habit. You have never been violent, but now you are surrounded by vicious inhabitants who enjoy hurting other people. Your chances of getting out of here in one piece are limited. They will depend on your wits and some luck, not the help of others, and if you do get out, there is nothing waiting for you — no job, no family likely to help, no skill set for use in an economy that has passed you by and that will reject you anyway for what you have become. There is nothing to do where you are, but if you try to do something useful, predators will come after you. The lowest common denominator rules here. Most of all, you should not be the only person asking, “How did it come to this?” — a question with many answers.

—Robert Ferguson
Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment

It’s Any Day and Robert Samuelson Is Vile

Robert SamuelsonRobert Samuelson is a truly vile person. He uses his prominent perch at The Washington Post to argue week after week that all of our problems come from the fact that we treat our elderly too well. He thinks Social Security pays too much, even though it pays out what it takes in and it is not nearly as generous as similar programs in other advanced economies. And then he complains about all the money we spend on Medicare, but isn’t at all concerned that the cost is so high because we pay twice as much for our healthcare as people in other advanced economies where the medical care is better. He just wants to harm the poorer people in our society and assure more and more money for the already rich. Like I said: he’s a vile guy.

On Christmas eve, he sunk to new lows, Repairing the Middle Class in 2015. The title itself is funny. As if Samuelson is in the least bit interested in helping the middle class. But the article itself is just one distortion after another. He claims that the American system is not rigged against the middle class but rather for the middle class. “That’s a natural result for a democracy in which politicians compete more for votes than for dollars.” No serious person could look out on the vast American political system and conclude that the votes really matter. A tiny investment of $8 million by Monsanto caused a hugely popular GMO food labeling bill in California to go down to a resounding defeat.

But when it comes to all that money that the middle class is getting from the government, Samuelson points to — Surprise! — Social Security and Medicare. Keven Drum calls him on this issue, The Middle Class Needs More Income. Faith Will Follow:

When we speak of the “middle class,” we’re nearly always talking about the working-age middle class. Samuelson surely knows this. But the only programs he calls out by name are specifically directed at the elderly and the working poor. Barely a single dollar of those programs goes to middle-class workers.

But Samuelson doesn’t leave it there. He goes on to complain that most of the taxes fall on the rich. Well I wonder why that might be! Median incomes have been stagnant for almost four decades. But he is further disingenuous by looking only at the federal government where taxes are most fair. As I showed last week when discussing the supposed Texas Miracle, state taxes are usually ridiculously regressive. But Samuelson doesn’t want to talk about that, because he isn’t interested in what the truth is about life for the poorer classes in the United States. He’s interested in pushing the interests of the oligarchs.

But if that weren’t bad enough, he then goes on to blame the financial crisis of bursting the house bubble on those evil poor people getting loans they couldn’t afford. He noted, “There is much evidence for [the cause of the financial crisis], but it ignores the deeper cause: an intellectual, political and social climate that legitimized lax lending policies in the name of promoting middle-class well-being.” To begin with, those lax lending policies were not created to help the middle-class. They were created to help bankers make a lot of money. But his narrative is just outrageous. Oh, those poor bankers being pushed around by the intellectual, political, and social climate! Funny how when people are screaming for jobs, the business community is sitting on piles of cash, despite the intellectual, political, and social climate.

Samuelson ends his article by noting that the challenges for the middle class are only partly economic. It is also psychological. It seems we can’t really control the economic environment, but we can control ourselves. So let’s not do anything about the economy and let’s complain that the middle class just kind of sucks. Dean Baker called this for the nonsense that it is, Robert Samuelson Thinks That Because He Is Confused About the Economy, Everyone Else Is Also:

In fact the government has structured the market over the last three decades in ways that cause most income to flow upward. For example its trade deals have been focused on putting less educated workers in direct competition with the lowest paid workers in the world. This has the predicted and actual effect of driving down their wages. At the same time, highly paid professionals, like doctors and lawyers, are largely protected from international competition. The government has also had longer and stronger patent protection, causing middle class people and the government to pay hundreds of billions more for prescription drugs than would be the case in a free market. The benefits from these forms of protectionism disproportionately go to the wealthy.

The government also has adopted more anti-union policies in the last three decades, substantially reducing the ability of workers to organize effective unions. It also gives huge subsidies to the high six and seven figure salaries of top officials at non-profits like the Gates Foundation.

And the government gives free too big to fail insurance and special low tax status to the financial industry…

It’s also interesting that the government has done nothing to keep the minimum wage up with the rate of inflation — to say nothing of the rate of productivity growth. The government has done everything it could get away with to screw the poorer classes and lavish the rich with every possible benefit. But that’s what Robert Samuelson thinks it ought to do. I just wish he were more honest about it.

Texas Might Take Medicaid Expansion

Greg AbbottMichael Hiltzik offered up some potentially good news at the end of this year, Is Texas, the Biggest Domino, About to Topple on Medicaid Expansion? It seems that not all right wing freaks are created equal. With Rick Perry and his Super Glasses leaving office to pursue truth, justice and the American way, governor-elect Greg Abbot has indicated that he might be open to taking the Medicaid expansion in the form that Arkansas and Utah have pioneered. In it, instead of the working poor getting added to Medicaid, they are given money to buy insurance on the exchanges. It ain’t perfect, but it is a distinct improvement on the way things are.

It’s kind of the perfect way for Republicans to dip their toes into Obamacare. After all, they are already part of it. The citizens of Texas are already required to have health insurance. And they are already paying higher taxes for the new law. So they are getting everything bad from the law and relatively little good from it. They might as well get some of that money back that they are sending away. The way the law was designed, blue states (because they are generally richer) were subsidizing red states. But because Republicans have been so spiteful about Obamacare, it’s worked out that red states have been subsidizing blue states. This is not a state of affairs that can go on for long.

This kind of “block grant” approach to the Medicaid expansion is something that Republicans have long claimed to like. And this kind of deal is a great face saving maneuver that allows the Republicans to claim both that they made the evil president bend to their will and that they don’t just hate the working poor. (Even though they clearly do.) Now we will have to see if Texas goes along with this. It is still likely that the Texas legislature will be unable to get past their mean girl spite and do what is best. But this is good news regardless.

Hiltzik runs the numbers in his article and they are overwhelming. Texas has the highest level of uninsured residents with over 22%, when the average is around 13%. And with bad economic times coming to Texas, it will only get worse. A 2013 report found that by not taking the Medicaid expansion, the state was set to lose almost $8 billion and have extra costs of almost $400 million. That was for a two year period. What’s more, hospitals are getting hit hard. Each year, they do $17 billion in uncompensated work. The Medicaid expansion would take a big chunk out of that.

I spend a lot of time complaining that the Democratic Party is too much the party of big business. But what’s remarkable is that the business community is so wedded to the Republican Party when the party doesn’t look out for its interests at all. Its general incompetence hurts business growth but on the individual level, it doesn’t do anything for business except for its trademark crony capitalism.

But we have a perfect storm here in Texas. It is losing a huge amount of money. The hospitals are keen to see the extra money coming in. The state is looking at bad times ahead. And it has a perfect face saving excuse for signing up for the program now. Given the absolute joke that the Republican Party is — especially in Texas — we can’t say what will happen. But this is hopeful news. And if Texas accepts the Medicaid expansion, many other states are sure to follow.

Bo Diddley

Bo DiddleyOn this day in 1928, the rock legend Bo Diddley was born. It’s a little strange though. He is literally a household word. But people don’t so much know his music. This is partly due to the fact that he never had a song that charted high on regular pop radio. His biggest hit was the confusingly titled “Bo Diddley” — which made it to number one on the R&B charts but didn’t make it on the pop charts at all.

I know that when I was younger, I was confused as to whether Bo Diddley was an actual person or not. Of course, he isn’t really. That’s just the stage name of Ellas Otha Bates. But even at that time he was an important artist. And he was hugely influential with musicians I would go on to love like The Velvet Underground.

What most defines his work is his use of really compelling, driving rhythms. You hear this on his first and biggest hit, “Bo Diddley” where there isn’t really much more than the rhythm. Additionally, the vocal to it has the sound of a field song. It’s all very simple but fascinating:

Happy birthday Bo Diddley!