America Cheer Coup in Venezuela

Protest against US military intervention in Venezuela

Juan Guaido has gone to the next level of his attempt to take over the Venezuelan government. He has some military backing and is now calling for a coup.

Media Coverage

CNN calls the following video footage of Juan Guaido talking to a “cheering crowd.” All the coverage is localized and tends to make the situation look much worse than it is. That doesn’t mean the coup won’t succeed, of course.

What’s more, they reported Guaido: The Majority of Venezuelans Support Me. There’s no context. As far as I can tell, Venezuelans are reasonably fond of Guaido but they are most definitely not in favor of a coup. And they aren’t in favor of his policies.

US Cheerleading

The US government is all over this, of course. I have little doubt that it is all planned. Nothing new there. Despite our constant talk of supporting democracy, we support what our government sees as its own narrow interests — usually the interests of our corporations that show no loyalty to the nation at all.

Marco Rubio, of course, is out cheering it all on:

This is nothing more than an incitement to violence. And that’s what’s behind all the coverage. If the people of Venezuela think there is no hope, they will roll over.

The good news is that the coverage outside the US is far better — and calmer. There isn’t the kind of cheerleading we see here. Of course, most of the western democracies have been in support of Juan Guaido — showing that they don’t care much about democracy.

False Narrative

What’s amazing about this is that the opposition might well have won the election earlier this year in Venezuela. Instead, they decided to boycott it. Listening to news coverage here in the US, however, you would think that the opposition was barred from running.

But I guess when you have the US supporting you, it’s just easier to grab control of the government and call it “democracy!”

Going Forward

I don’t know what will happen. But I know that under normal circumstances, the people of the US would prefer that we just mind our own business. What’s going on in Venezuela has nothing to do with us. And if we care about the humanitarian situation in the country, we would end our sanctions.

But instead, the US government won’t be happy until our corporations control Venezuela’s vast oil reserves.

Elizabeth Warren’s Ultra-Millionaire Tax

Elizabeth WarrenThe most exciting thing in the Democratic presidential primary has been Elizabeth Warren’s stream of policy proposals. Over time, I’d like to dive into them. Today, I will look at her Ultra-Millionaire Tax.

She starts by highlighting work by economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman (PDF) who first looked into this idea in 2016. It includes an amazing fact that I don’t think most people grok: in 1986, the bottom 90 percent of Americans owned 38 percent of the wealth here. In 2014, it was 25 percent. So let me provide a little context.

The average wealth of the bottom 90 percent in 1986 was roughly $80,000. In 2014, it was roughly $83,000. These are inflation-adjusted numbers, so the bottom 90 percent did see real gains: 0.1 percent per year.

During the same time, the average wealth of the top 1 percent increased from $5.2 million to $14 million. That’s a real gain of 6.0 percent per year — 45 times the relative gains of the bottom 90 percent. I don’t have the data for the top 0.1 percent, but it would be much more extreme.

Note also that during the housing bubble the wealth of the bottom 90 percent went way up — as did the wealth of the top 1 percent. After the crash, both groups saw their wealth decline. But the top 1 percent didn’t see it decline as much, and after two years, it had turned around. The bottom 90 percent saw their wealth decline and then stagnate.

This is not an accident — just the way the world is in a globalized economy. Dean Baker (PDF) has shown that the current situation we have where most people see little or no gain from productivity growth is the result of government policy. This is the way that our leaders have chosen to make it.

The Rich Aren’t Taxed Enough

I’ve written before about how the poor and middle classes get screwed by the tax system. One part of this is shown by how much everyone but the very rich pay compared to the very rich:

Group Wealth Taxed Relative Taxation
Top 0.1% 3.2% 100%
Bottom 99% 7.2% 225%

Like most taxation in the United States, this is regressive. Conservatives always claim that they want a flat tax. But they only apply this to progressive taxes. They don’t even mention all the regressive taxes.

Beyond Income Tax

Warren makes an excellent point about why the income tax — even if improved to be more progressive — is not enough:

While we must make income taxes more progressive, that alone won’t straighten out our slanted tax code or our lopsided economy. Consider two people: an heir with $500 million in yachts, jewelry, and fine art, and a teacher with no savings in the bank. If both the heir and the teacher bring home $50,000 in labor income next year, they would pay the same amount in federal taxes, despite their vastly different circumstances. Increasing income taxes won’t address this problem.

As a result, she proposes a wealth tax.

Ultra-Millionaire Tax

There are various policies we need to change to reverse this that go beyond taxation (intellectual property law, for example). But Elizabeth Warren’s proposal is essential.

The tax itself is pretty modest: 2% on net worth over $50 million and below $1 billion; and 3% on net worth over $1 billion. There would be no new tax on anyone with a net worth of less than $50 million. That’s pretty generous, I would say. That means only 75,000 American households would pay any of this modest tax. That doesn’t mean they won’t fight it with all their substantial resources.

Saez and Zucman estimate this would bring in $2.75 trillion over the first decade. According to the CEPR Budget Calculator, this represents an increase of about 5 percent in revenue.

To give you some scale, SNAP and other food assistance programs costs the federal government roughly $70 billion per year — that’s roughly one-quarter of how much the Ultra-Millionaire Tax would raise. That provides some kind of idea how much good could be done with the money. At the same time, our military budget is roughly $600 billion per year — roughly 2.2 times as much as the wealth tax raises. (Eternal war is expensive.)

Details, Details

Some people may be thinking that the rich will just find a way to evade this tax. But Warren has put in a number of measures to avoid this. One is that the tax applies to all wealth — even that held outside the country. It also increases enforcement by funding more IRS agents and establishing a minimum audit level for people with wealth above $50 million.

Perhaps best of all, the Ultra-Millionaire Tax goes after the (false) claim of the rich that they will just leave the country. Warren says, “Fine!” But there is a 40 percent tax on net worth above $50 million for people who emigrate.

Warren also claims that the Ultra-Millionaire Tax would allow us to improve our procedures in the implementation of the Estate Tax to remove loopholes. So we would likely get more from it. (Also: we need to greatly increase the Estate Tax.)

Summary

There’s more about the Ultra-Millionaire Tax at Elizabeth Warren’s website. Win or lose, she is expanding the policies that Democrats think about. And these policies are wildly popular with the bases of Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Joe Biden alike.


Article updated to reflect Barney’s criticism.

Medicare for All 64-Year-Olds

Dean BakerDean Baker is one of my heroes. There are lots of smart economists in the world. A small number of them seem to care about humans. And of them, I only know of one who is really creative. So unlike the vast majority of those in that defiled profession who are only good for telling us what won’t work, Baker is forever coming up with clever policy ideas to improve society.

About a month ago on his Patreon feed, he published a remarkable article, Medicare for All 64-Year-Olds. (The article is now public but you should really consider ponying up a buck or five to support him.) In it, he presents a simple idea to implement Medicare for All.

Full Medicare for All Is a Heavy Lift

As much as I support Medicare for All, I don’t hold out any chance of us getting the policy implemented any time soon. Even if Bernie Sanders becomes president and we have majorities in both houses of Congress and we get rid of the filibuster, there are far too many Blue Dog Democrats to get it passed.

And I’m not sure it is best to do all at once. There will be disruption and conservatives will push the narrative that it isn’t just a temporary problem but one central to “socialized medicine.” And the media will report it like it is a fact. And single-payer will be off the table for a couple more generations.

Expand Medicare Eligibility by One Year

“That gives us a total tab of $13.8 billion, less than 0.3 percent of total spending, or roughly the amount the Pentagon spends in a week.” –Dean Baker

Dean Baker’s idea is also really simple: let’s slowly increase who qualifies for Medicare. Right now you have to be 65-years-old. Baker says, “Let’s reduce it to 64.”

And he runs the numbers. He notes that the headline price for Medicare for All will freak people out. And it really doesn’t matter that people will save more by not having to pay for insurance. People don’t think in this way.

But decreasing the qualifying age for Medicare would be cheap with the “total tab of $13.8 billion, less than 0.3 percent of total spending, or roughly the amount the Pentagon spends in a week. It would be pretty hard to argue that this is not an affordable tab.”

Given that these are people already in the process of retiring, the change should not be difficult. And it would serve as a proof of concept. It would make lowering the Medicare age requirement again that much easier. We might even be able to jump to Medicare for 60-year-olds.

I’m not being glib when I say that I am ready for the revolution today. But since I don’t think the American people are anywhere near revolution, I think it is best to make whatever changes we can that help people today.

It’s possible that we will get Medicare for All right away. But it seems unlikely, given the makeup of the Democratic Party. Dean Baker’s idea not only provides millions of people with tangible benefits, it sets in motion a process that could lead to full Medicare for All in a relatively short period of time.

Introducing Michael Kallio

Michael KallioMichael Kallio is a filmmaker who has made a lot of horror comedy. I wrote about him over at Psychotronic Review, First Look: Michael Kallio. I embedded 3 of his short films and the trailer for his first feature, which was more or less straight horror.

He looks like a mean guy in the photo but he appears just to be a goof. You’ll have to watch the videos I embedded at Psychotronic Review. They are well worth your time.

But in the meantime, here’s a nice bit of silliness. It’s what claims to be an extended edit of the opening scene of F.O.S. — a 24-minute movie made for television. (I had to look-up what “FOS” means.) It works great as a short film.

Don’t See Randy Rainbow Live

Although I went out of my way to not have this site’s automatic twitter posts tag Randy Rainbow, many of his fans noticed. They were so angry I figured I must have written something really bad. But I’ve gone back and read this article. It’s fine. Unlike most of the press that Rainbow gets, however, it is not glowing. I have yet to see what I think of as a real review of his act. And that’s just not taking him seriously as an artist.

The complaints were mostly about my criticism of Randy Rainbow’s dismissiveness. People apparently can’t read. I was accused of calling him an “asshole.” I did not. (No one seems to have taken the time to even glance at the link.) I was also accused of calling his fans idiots. I did not. These people clearly didn’t like my less than rave review and latched onto fragments that gave them the best option for attacking me.

Not one person evidenced any understanding of the two points I was making. It was tribalism and nothing more. And that’s all art is for most people. Apparently, Good People never criticize anything about Randy Rainbow. Only “shitty” writers and general “douchebags” do that. And that’s fine. But it says a lot that not one of these people who were so upset could bother to leave a comment. Twitter really is the perfect medium for a country that lacks nuance.

–Frank Moraes (20 April 2019)

Randy RainbowLast night, I went to see Randy Rainbow. I got a free ticket. But it was extremely troubling.

It’s hard to write this because I had a great time last night. The show was funny and the band was great. But part of me can’t watch a show without seeing it from a professional and political standpoint. And on these fronts, it was pretty bad.

Professional Entertainment

The crowd that came out to see Randy Rainbow last night was scary. I thought that I liked his work. These people were crazy in love. During the question and answer section of the show, I suffered greatly from pena ajena. The questions were embarrassing. One example, “If your mother ever wants a break, I’m willing to step in.” Rainbow dealt with the question well, “You know I’m in my 30s, right?” (He’s fast approaching 39. Vanity, thy name is Randy!)

So it shouldn’t be surprising that the audience ate up the performance. But my seat cost $55. So I had expectations even if I wasn’t the one paying.

Problems With the Show

Probably the worst part of the show was that the sound was horrible. All the canned sound (more on that in a minute) seemed to come from one speaker. And the EQ was off. There wasn’t enough bass and there was too much treble. It made me uncomfortable. And even though I was otherwise enjoying the show, I probably would have slipped out if I hadn’t been packed in on both sides.

More annoying when it came to the ticket price was the fact that roughly a quarter of the show was pre-recorded video. And these weren’t recorded for the show. They were mostly standard Randy Rainbow YouTube videos. I’d seen half of them before.

And they’re good. (Of course, blown up on a big screen they don’t look so good.) But I could stay home and watch it for free. I think it says a lot about Randy Rainbow’s contempt for his audience that he doesn’t think he needs to program a full 90 minutes of live material.

Canned Music

The live songs always include canned music — mostly background vocals. I don’t particularly like this, but I understand it. I wouldn’t even bring it up except that when Rainbow is singing live, he is usually up on the screen singing as well.

It also highlights the fact that Randy Rainbow isn’t that compelling a live performer. His singing is fine but his gestures are muted — designed for nightclub performances, not a large theater. I think that having a giant screen is meant to make up for this but it only made the live Randy Rainbow seem smaller. It was also extremely distracting.

Often, when performers don’t have a great stage presence, they make up for it in other ways like having outrageous costumes. Rainbow does this to some extent, but not nearly enough. His costumes are more along the lines of prototypes. Like he’s saying, “If this were a real performance, I’d have an amazing costume here.”

Another factor that makes it less than it could be is Randy Rainbow’s dismissive personality. His attitude toward the audience is the same as it is toward Trump. And I kept remembering a headline in Current Affairs, People Who ‘Pretend’ to Be Shitty Are Frequently Just Shitty. Although given his audience, I can’t necessarily blame him.

Commodity Machine

Truthfully, the show would be far better if Randy Rainbow just performed show tunes with his exceptional band. I was especially taken with Justin Vance on sax, clarinet, and flute. He really added to the feel that there was an orchestra on stage instead of just a four-piece combo.

Of course, such a show wouldn’t be popular. It certainly wouldn’t pay for the caliber of the band. But that’s the point. The entire Randy Rainbow organization is a commodity machine.

Randy Rainbow Merch

There are a half-dozen different Randy Rainbow t-shirts you can buy. They are low-quality and made in Honduras. But hey, a good-quality t-shirt might have taken a dollar off the profits.

So perhaps you would like Randy Rainbow glasses? How about socks? The t-shirts are $30 but the socks are a real bargain at just $20.

For only $5, you can get a “what the fuck you guys?” bumper sticker, which is more or less what I thought about this exercise in non-productive capitalism.

Making Money

The two young women selling all the Randy Rainbow stuff were working very fast to meet the demand. It made me start to do some rough calculations.

There were 1,633 seats at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. Seats were $39.50, $45.00, and $55.00. Based on where I was sitting, I would say these represent about 30%, 50%, and 20% of the total seats. The place was packed, so that’s roughly $75,000. I figure rental is $10,000 for the night. The total cost for labor is $10,000 — if Randy Rainbow pays really well. And let’s give him another $10,000 for misc expenses.

That means, even without at least a few thousand dollars from Randy Rainbow merch, the production netted $45,000 playing in a small city. I don’t begrudge Randy Rainbow. Get it while you can!

Capitalism Destroying Art

But the whole thing highlights many problems with capitalism. First, Randy Rainbow is making an excessive amount of money while producing relatively little material. And he’s fast approaching the point where he will not have to produce anything at all.

Then there is the fact that people have to pay $40 just to get a bad seat at this event. And they are apparently paying it because of Randy Rainbow’s celebrity. I too went in eager to like it. But had I paid, I would have felt let down. There was maybe $15 up there on stage. The extra $25 to $40 was what we pay because the market can bear it.

Whatever. Randy Rainbow remains an interesting creative artist. And the people love him. But there really is no reason to leave the house. You can buy all that crap from home too.

YouTube and Twitter are the perfect venues for Randy Rainbow.

Economics Doesn’t End Under Socialism

Libertarian SocialismElizabeth Warren said, “I’m a capitalist. I believe in markets.” This is perhaps the stupidest or at least most ignorant thing I have ever heard Elizabeth Warren say. But it’s not just her. I hear this said all the time by people who are, in fact, socialists.

Where did people get the idea that a socialist economy wouldn’t have markets? Does economics stop working in a socialist economy? Of course not! What this idea shows is that most people don’t know fuck all about socialism.

Socialism is an economic system where workers own the means of production. That is to say: people should get paid for their work. They should not be paid for owning stuff. That’s it. Workers will still make things. They will still exchange voluntarily in markets.

Socialist Don’t Understand Socialism?

It is incredibly annoying to see self-proclaimed socialist in the United States accept this. The idea that there wouldn’t be markets seems to follow from the myth that socialism is a top-down authoritarian system like Stalinism.

I can see why conservatives and liberals would want to frame it this way. But why socialist? But maybe the issue is not why socialists would say such things but why so many liberals now call themselves socialists.

I fear that some so-called socialists are just incredibly childish. Some clearly think that socialism is some major break from reality. It’s a world where you get all the candy you want and transparent fairies dot the sky and life is a dream. I don’t know. I realize it doesn’t generally go that far but I’ve heard people say some pretty naive things that are only slightly less absurd than fairies.

But this brings up a broader point. Most people who claim to be socialists are really just old-fashion New Deal Democrats. And this very much includes Bernie Sanders.[1] Socialism means something. It’s something I believe in. And it’s not just Capitalism Lite.

Allies Not Comrades

That’s not to say that I don’t think these people are allies. I very much do. Their vision of the future is infinitely better than our present. At the same time, it’s annoying supposed socialists complain about Elizabeth Warren when she says she is “a capitalist to my bones.” Even if Bernie Sanders were pushing notably different policies (and he isn’t) it’s not like those policies have a chance in this country in the short-term.[2]

The truth is that if good old-fashioned New Deal liberalism is ever going to become dominant then people need to accept that some of us believe in actual socialism. The term shouldn’t be co-opted by people who are ultimately the opposite: capitalists.

America Needs a Real Left Wing

Understand this is not about purity. In fact, as I’ve noted there’s a very real practical issue here. Part of what’s going so very wrong in the United States is that the Overton window has contracted ridiculously and this has simply moved the country rightward.

In The S Word: A Short History of an American Tradition… Socialism, John Nichols noted that socialism used to be part of our national conversation. It became a boogeyman rather late in the Cold War.

Don’t Water Down Socialism

Now Liberals are trying to define it out of existence. And this may work to some extent in the short-term. But it doesn’t move us forward in the long term. Because then socialism just becomes this mushy word for an economic and political system that is not as bad as what the Republicans have on offer. And, at best, that means that roughly half of the time Republicans will be in charge. And that’s one step forward and two steps back — as it has been for the last 40 years.


[1] Based upon statements when he was younger, Sanders was a socialist. At this point, he’s an extremely successful politician on the national stage. He’s had to tone things down to get where he is. And I don’t hold that against him at all. As it is, he’s a lightning rod. His Medicare for All plan doesn’t explicitly state that undocumented residents aren’t covered so the right-wing press is going crazy. Typical. But Sanders is not a socialist.

[2] I’ll admit: if Jeremy Corbyn were running here, he’d be my first choice. Because he would be a prominent advocate for actual socialism. I just don’t see Sanders as a socialist. Most Americans don’t know the difference between a democratic socialist and a social democrat. Well, it’s right there: Corbyn is a democratic socialist and Sanders is a social democrat. And it doesn’t matter what they call themselves.

Pete Buttigieg Isn’t Wrong About Insurance Companies

Pete ButtigiegI don’t like Pete Buttigieg. He’s vague while young. And that means that he is almost certain to become more conservative. And his political inexperience means he will almost certainly be controlled by others once in the White House. So I don’t support him. But Ana Kasparian (see video below) is wrong when she claims that he doesn’t believe in Medicare for All because he thinks insurance companies will still exist.

Buttigieg spoke to George Stephanopoulos who asked, “Isn’t Kamala Harris… right when she says, ‘That means doing away with private insurance’?” Buttigieg responded, “I don’t see why it requires that. After all, if the framework we’re using is Medicare, a lot of people who have Medicare also have Medicare supplements.” Kasparian claims this means that Buttigieg is for a public option.

My position is that we shouldn’t have private healthcare. It is morally unacceptable that some people would live and others die due only to their ability to pay for better healthcare. But then, I’m a socialist; I don’t believe that economics should allow Dick Cheney to live to be an old man while ordinary children die while waiting for a heart transplant.

Medicare for All and Insurance Companies

But the argument against Buttigieg, in this case, smacks of Purity Politics — as if Medicare for All is the only thing we will ever need in order to healthcare justice. Just as I support Obamacare, I support Medicare for All — even though it is just one more step.[1]

What’s more, even Sanders’ plan allows for private insurance. It just forbids private insurance from competing against Medicare for All. And this is exactly what Buttigieg was saying.

Pete Buttigieg Is a Man for Another Time

But as I said: I’m no supporter of Pete Buttigieg. But of it is a matter of character. Nathan J Robinson did a good overview of why Buttigieg wasn’t trustworthy. But I could look past that. On the issues, there isn’t a whole lot to like. Actually: there isn’t a whole lot at all.

On most issues, Buttigieg has never said anything publicly. Most of his positions are pretty standard liberal ideas. But there are cracks. He’s in favor of charter schools, for example. But what’s most troubling is that he has contradicted himself a couple of times on Medicare for all. Despite what he told George Stephanopoulos, he’s generally been in favor of a public option.

That’s fine. But as we know through long, painful experience with President Obama, we aren’t likely to get the public option if that is our ask. Pre-compromising is not a good negotiating standpoint.

So it’s fine to criticize Pete Buttigieg. (Can’t we just call him “The Kid”?) But let’s not confuse what Medicare for All is just in the name of going after a man that has more than enough vulnerabilities.

Update

Sanders’ Medicare for All plan does not explicitly state that undocumented residents aren’t included. So of course Fox News and Washington Examiner are going crazy saying that it covers “illegal immigrants.” It will never fly and I’m sure the Sanders campaign will clarify. But it’s interesting just how bigotted conservatives are. There must be something very wrong with our kindergartens because half the nation is not learning the most basic concepts of social existence.


[1] I’m not just looking toward healthcare equality. There is no way that at this time Medicare for All (or any other “universal” program) will include undocumented people. I don’t know of a major candidate who is suggesting this. And even if one did and then became president, there’s no way it would stay in the legislation until passage. I hate to be a pessimist about this stuff, but we live in an exceptionally xenophobic country.

Olly Thorn Somehow Believes in Free Will

Olly ThornI’ve been very impressed with the work that Olly Thorn does over at Philosophy Tube. Like most of my YouTube consumption, I listen to him while making dinner. He usually has interesting things to say.

Free Will and Healthcare

While making dinner yesterday evening, I listened to two of his videos. (He puts out relatively short videos each week.) The first one was Healthcare, Ethics, & Postmodernism. In it, he discussed healthcare ethics. In particular, he talked about the way that many healthcare providers try to ration based upon the behavior of patients. He calls this the Principle of Voluntary Responsibility.

People naturally believe, for example, lung transplants should go to those suffering from cystic fibrosis before those suffering from lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking. Thorn makes excellent points about this and you really should watch the video.

But he skips the question of free will.

Now that might seem like a strange complaint about this video on healthcare. But I have a hard time getting past this issue when discussing what people call voluntary behavior.

I know it seems like having cystic fibrosis is just bad luck whereas being a lifelong smoker is a choice. But I think both people have bad luck. To say that the smoker could have chosen to not smoke is only saying that in a different universe with different starting assumptions the smoker would have made different choices. That’s true. But that doesn’t change the facts in the universe in which the smoker actually lived.

Encouraging Better Behavior — In Theory

None of this is to say that the cystic fibrosis sufferer shouldn’t get the lung transplant. Putting smokers at the end of the lung line is a way to encourage people to make better decisions in the future.

The problem with this is that we live in a highly unjust society. As a result, it is usually the poor who “choose” to smoke. And after smoking became taboo in the US, our tobacco companies just started selling more cigarettes overseas. That is: as middle- and upper-class people stopped smoking here the tobacco industry just got more poor people elsewhere addicted.

Fillwill and Torture

Although I’m even more concerned about the issues Thorn raised in his healthcare video, we still largely agree (I think). But that’s not the case in his video What Is Solitary Confinement Like?

In the video, he argues that solitary confinement is torture and he speculates that it should not be given to anyone. I’m fine with all that.

But then he says:

The neo-Nazi terrorist Anders Breivik murdered 77 people including several teenagers in 2011. And he’s been in various forms of solitary confinement ever since. And I have to confess, I have no sympathy for him.

It’s an understandable opinion. But I don’t share it. Breivik is a horrible person. But I’m not okay with him being tortured for the exact same reason that I wouldn’t be for torturing a cougar that attacked and killed my nephew.

Sure, that cougar has to be put somewhere that it can’t harm people. But I don’t blame it for being a cougar. And I don’t blame Anders Breivik for being a psychopath.

Free Will Obscures Reality

I understand that everyone feels like they have free will. I do too. But it’s a delusion. It’s a story we tell ourselves to keep going — keep living.

But I really do think that we can’t see reality and we can’t think ethically if we don’t abandon the concept of free will.

No one deserves to be tortured, even people who gleefully tortured. To say they do is to make the same ethical mistake that proponents of capital punishment make. And I know it’s hard to think this way. “An eye for an eye” just seems logical. But it’s not. It’s applying a kind of culpability that we don’t to dogs.

And I think we can all agree that we are no better than dogs.

Image and Capitalism

Female Classical MusicianElizabeth referred me to a very interesting academic article, Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians. It finds that when the judges can’t see the performer, women musicians do markedly better.[1] This is not surprising.

You probably remember that widely cited study about people with black-sounding names receiving fewer interviews than people with white-sounding names. A more recent study has called it into question. The researchers claim that the results may not indicate race but rather social status. Personally, I don’t find the study all that compelling. But even if true, it just indicates a different kind of prejudice — one that just happens to correlate with race in this country.

I’m interested in this question on a very basic level. I’m interested in the way that things like height, weight, and perceived attractiveness affect how people are rewarded. This is not because they are particularly important. Instead, I’m interested in the ways in which even on the most facile level, meritocracy is nonsense.

Image and the Workplace

Consider someone needed to do data entry. All that matters is typing skills. There are two candidates. One of them is sullen and ugly with a typing speed of 100 wmp. The other is chipper and attractive with a typing speed of 90 wmp. Just based upon the work that needs to get done, the first candidate should be hired. But we all know it is the second candidate who will be hired.

In this case, people will complain that it’s a drag to be around sullen people. First, those who think that have never had a data entry job. But beyond that, I think the same would be true if the job were done remotely. As I learned in a career class in high school: the candidate who is hired is the one the employer likes the most.

I’ve seen this in the freelance writing world. Writers do not like to update their pictures. This is, not surprisingly, most true of female writers because they are most judged on their appearance. This is far too common to be simply a question of vanity. Image = money.

Capitalism and the Ugly Person

This is a fundamental failing of capitalism. Without capitalism, people will still be discriminated against. But their livelihoods will not depend upon their attractiveness. And they will be better able to find meaning in their lives outside their value in the market.

It’s funny how capitalism makes all our social problems worse. Yet we are just supposed to accept it because “Stalin!” Or “iPhones!”

The Music Biz

It’s shocking the degree to which personal attractiveness dictates the careers of classical musicians. You might have noticed how opera changed from the 1960s when the singers tended to be overweight to the point now when most singers are hunka hunka burning loves.

Or look at almost any recent instrumental star like Tine Thing Helseth (who is nonetheless great).

But it’s worse than that. The rise of child stars in classical music is part of this. They have always existed but now that there are more and better ways to monetize them, they have exploded.

What drives me crazy, is the tendency of musicians (Especially pianists and violinists!) to sway and close their eyes and do everything else to communicate to the audience who very much they feel the music. Rubbish! That’s image over music. (It’s also a classical music audience that is mostly tone deaf.)

Back to Reality: Managers Are Dumb

All of this brings me back to an interview I was at where the guy being interviewed was clearly incompetent. But he was a good-looking, ex-military guy. And he was very confident. I knew he would be useless, but the owners loved him.

This problem only gets worse the more inequality there is in the economy. When you have millions of dollars, you can stand to waste some of it in the name of surrounding yourself with the cool people. If that means your employees type 10 percent slower — or even that they never get any work done at all — no big deal.

Capitalism: all your worst prejudices realized!


[1] There is something odd that goes on in semifinal rounds. You can read about it in the paper if you are interested. If anything, however, it is further indication that women are discriminated in getting seats in symphony orchestras.

Warren Wants to End the Filibuster

Elizabeth WarrenFor generations, the filibuster was used as a tool to block progress on racial justice. And in recent years, it’s been used by the far right as a tool to block progress on everything.

I’ve only served one term in the Senate — but I’ve seen what’s happening. We all saw what they did to President Obama. I’ve watched Republicans abuse the rules when they’re out of power, then turn around and blow off the rules when they’re in power.

We saw it happen again just this week. Republicans spent years — years — exploiting the rules to slow down or block President Obama’s mainstream judges and executive nominees. But now that they’re in power, they’re unilaterally changing those rules to speed them up and ram through President Trump’s extremist nominees.

So let me be as clear as I can about this. When Democrats next have power, we should be bold: We are done with two sets of rules — one for the Republicans and one for the Democrats.

And that means when Democrats have the White House again, if Mitch McConnell tries to do what he did to President Obama, and puts small-minded partisanship ahead of solving the massive problems in this country, then we should get rid of the filibuster.

–Elizabeth Warren
Al Sharpton’s National Action Network

Protecting the Democratic Party From Joe Biden

Joe BidenSorry I’ve been away. I’ve been wanting to write this article for days. I wasn’t surprised when Lucy Flores came forward with allegations of inappropriate behavior by Joe Biden. All I thought was, “The timing is no accident.”

I didn’t think that it was unfair. Indeed, I think just the opposite. The truth is that Joe Biden is a pox on the Democratic Party’s primary. He should have announced that he wasn’t running long ago. The party was kind to wait this long before calling him out on decades of behavior that is at least creepy.

Bernie Takes One for The Team

It’s funny that Biden now thinks that this whole thing is the work of the Bernie Sanders campaign. If it is, then all those people who are mad that Sanders doesn’t support the Democratic Party need to admit that he’s now done something great for the party.

Look: I understand that Joe Biden is killing it in the polls. But it’s meaningless. A Morning Consult poll found that the biggest second choice of Biden supporters was Sanders. And the biggest second choice of Sanders supporters was Biden. What this indicates is that both candidates’ support is highly dependent upon name recognition.

There is a difference, however. Whereas Sanders has a clear base of support, Biden has none outside Morning Joe and other elite “centrist” pundits.

As soon as it came to blows, Biden was going to wilt. He’s already run for president twice and both times he failed miserably. I think he’s a great retail politician. But that doesn’t count for much in a presidential race. (Bill Clinton was also a great retail politician, but he’s more than that.)

Would Trump Have Ignored Biden’s Behavior?

Another interesting thing about the Biden complaint that Sanders set him up is that this was going to happen eventually. If all the Democrats had played nice and ignored Uncle Joe’s behavior, you can count on Donald Trump bringing it up in the general election — if Biden somehow managed to get the nomination.

I know it sounds ridiculous. How could Trump possibly complain about how another man treats women? But he would have! In his mind, Trump can never be held accountable because, of course, all women want to be grabbed by the “pussy” by such an attractive and powerful man. But Joe Biden? Good God! Just look at the man’s hair!

Protecting the Democratic Party

Obviously, I don’t know what led to these allegations against Biden. But it is clear that it is someone who wants the Democratic Party to have a good primary that serves the interest of the Democratic base. That means providing a platform for people like Warren, Sanders, and Harris. Biden represents much of what has been wrong with the Democratic Party for the last four decades.

You could always depend upon him to stand up for credit card companies over regular Americans. He has always been a big supporter of mass incarceration. And he’s a big supporter of the death penalty. He’s a real caring guy!

I feel very much like Biden is Drunk Uncle Joe and he needs to go home and sleep it off. Whoever started this — whether it is just Lucy Flores herself or not — did the Democratic Party and the nation itself a great favor.

Biden, go home.

Afterword

There are rumors that Joe Biden plans to run for president regardless. If that’s the case, he should announce. If he does run, I will take joy in watching him crash and burn. And if he does win, it means the Democratic Party really is pointless.

Hierarchy in Capitalism and Socialism

Human HierarchyThe video below is really good. However, I think he goes too easy on libertarians. Libertarians are authoritarians.

I know that there are (relatively) serious libertarians who don’t go along with this. There are, for example, a few libertarians who believe in labor unions and are against the totally anti-freedom “right to work” laws.

You can see the authoritarian tendencies of libertarians in the way they fetishize business-people and disregard workers. If the philosophy were really about freedom, it wouldn’t matter what people do. But it matters a great deal to libertarians.

What this all comes down to is their absolute allegiance to hierarchy (what the video is about). What distinguishes libertarians from conservatives and fascists is the means not the ends of their perfectly constructed hierarchy.

Finding Meaning in Socialism

I think about this stuff a lot with regard to socialism. Socialism is a great system for someone like me who, because of my early environment, is highly self-actualized. I personally think that living under socialism causes people to be more self-actualized. But at least for now, most people need external forces to provide them with a sense of meaning.

It is not enough to just give someone money. People need to feel that there is a point to life — beyond a Schopenhauerian one. And I believe that meaning comes mostly from work.

But I mean work in a different sense than we think of as work in a capitalist context. Work is raising a family. Work is caring for a sick friend. It is creating a work of art that no one will ever see.

For conservatives, meaning comes from success in the hierarchy. This is an arbitrary construction. And not an edifying one.

Our mystics now have to operate in the context of a church that must trick people into giving money in the name of having a happy happy time after they die.

And it leads to absolutely ridiculous products that no one ever wanted and no one will ever need. Like GarfieldEats — your one-stop shop for pizzas shaped like a second-rate cartoon character.

But capitalists do have an advantage over socialists: they have a system that gives people meaning. It’s an awful one. A serious heroin addiction also gives people meaning. Few would argue that people should thus become junkies. Yet such an addiction provides exactly the same kind of meaning that capitalism does.

Beyond Hierarchy

Ultimately, what socialism needs is for people to stop thinking in terms of hierarchy. As we know from the transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic period, there is nothing natural about hierarchy.

Or rather, it is far more complex. There will always be someone widely considered the best musician; the best woodworker; the best gardener. The problem with capitalism is that it tries to force these innumerable hierarchies in any collection of humans into a single hierarchy.

Most people don’t care that they aren’t the fastest runner or whatever. They find meaning on their own terms — generally being the best human as they define it. This project is not helped by a society that fetishizes achievement in the art of accumulating more money than you could actually spend.

(It’s interesting that in the early 14th century, Dante presented greed as a particularly bad sin. Now greed is the highest good because of the “magic of the market” making us all better off. That was a major apologetic coup by the worshippers of capitalism — one most Christians gladly accept.)

And this is why I think socialism is key to human happiness. By valuing people in all their variety, we treat them as individuals. In capitalism, people are valued as cogs in the hierarchy.

Human Value

This is why we see the absurd display of rich people being asked not just about things they know nothing of but about things that reflect on their position on the hierarchy. Ask David Koch about global warming! Probe Mark Zuckerberg about antitrust law! Ask anyone in the Walton family about anything at all!

The only difference between these exercises and the man-on-the-street interviews (which we no longer see) is that people think billionaires’ opinions mean something.

Society succeeds from the ground up. Capitalism teaches us the opposite: it is only because of the people at the top of our arbitrary hierarchy that we even manage to have enough food. Yet if stranded on an island, I would much rather be with my next-door neighbor than Bill Gates.

We must value people as people and not for where they happen to find themselves on the capitalist hierarchy. That is no different than valuing people on how well they play Red Dead Redemption 2.