Monday, March 30, 2020

Billionaire "Job Creators" and The Keyboard Revolutionaries Who Enable Their Candidates

Capitalism's "invisible hand" gives us the middle finger with ever more contempt these days. 

 With the national unemployment rate soaring to Depression-era levels and beyond, the self-proclaimed "job creators" of our glorious free-market paradise are now drowning in gluttonous excess from sucking the tit of the "Nanny State" they allegedly abhor. While workers are prohibited from working by shelter-in-place orders, the private owners of what should be public assets get trillions of taxpayer dollars through the Federal Reserve, which they will use to buy up everything they don't already own at depressed, pandemic era prices. Then when foreclosures begin to soar they'll buy up the distressed properties for a song. In other words, we're paying them with our own money to kick us out of our homes. 

Meanwhile, the great dissident intellectual Noam Chomsky and friends (Mike Albert, Norman Solomon, Barbara Ehrenreich etc.) urge us not to vote for the Green Party this November, except in places where the vote won't have any effect on the outcome (the states where either Trump or Biden are sure to win). These keyboard revolutionaries regard themselves as the vanguard of popular rebellion, but a key fact seems to have escaped their attention: Trump is a threat to elites; Biden isn't. Which is why so many Rust Belt workers took a chance on Trump in 2016. In other words, American workers are much more fed up with the system than Chomsky and his political friends are. Change will come from them, not keyboard revolutionaries. 

Though Chomsky regularly reminds his audiences that trying to predict the future is hopeless, that we can't even predict tomorrow's weather, let alone complex political trends, he nevertheless regards his judgment as infallible in determining how we should vote! But as John Dewey used to say, individuals know better than experts "where the shoe pinches, the troubles they suffer from," a quote Chomsky is well aware of, as he cites it himself. Who the hell are we to tell people how they should vote? Or run their political campaigns?

Of course, Chomsky counters that the Greens have themselves stated that they want to see Trump defeated "as much as anyone," and on that basis he counsels a "safe states" strategy, i.e., voting Green in the 40 states where the outcome is a foregone conclusion, but not in the 10 states that are "in play," that is, where it can't be safely predicted whether Trump or Biden will win. Here Chomsky is correct that the Greens are not as eager as he is to see Trump defeated, but there is no reason they should be. Again, Biden poses no threat to the establishment, and is so out of it mentally that he frequently lapses into outright gibberish. It took him six days to come out with a video in response to the corona virus crisis, one in which he appeared in a darkened basement with a confused look in his eyes mumbling incoherently to the effect that the government should do something about medical shortages. Duh. 

On other occasions he has said that poor kids are just as capable as white kids of high achievement, and that parents should turn on the record player at night so that they can learn new words. His record is so appalling and his gaffes so prolific that his handlers carefully shield him from all but the most limited public contact, and even then can't prevent him from snapping at voters or mangling his syntax to the point of random babbling. Even Barack Obama was reluctant to support him.

In short, it is not at all obvious that Trump is the greater evil. On the issues, Trump is slightly worse than Biden, but also more prone to sparking massive popular resistance, while Biden is clearly suffering cognitive disintegration whereas Trump is not.  Furthermore, the Democrats in opposition are a fake resistance, while the Republicans (during a Democratic presidency) are an actual resistance. So the choice between Biden and Trump is all too much like "Sophie's Choice" in the movie starring Meryl Streep, in which Nazi guards force a terrified Polish mother to choose which of her two children shall live and which shall die. She makes the choice - perhaps "rationally" - and ends up committing suicide. We as a nation will, too, if we continue to take such choices seriously.

In 2016, the Republican base recognized Trump was a threat to the establishment and voted him into office, in spite of a tsunami of articulate opinion saying it couldn't be done. In 2020, elite fear-mongering divided the Democratic base, insuring that it failed to nominate Bernie Sanders, a different and better kind of threat to the establishment. Polls show that Sanders' signature issue - Medicare For All  - captures a substantial majority even among Biden voters, and in fact his New Deal politics are very popular across the American population. A successful elite campaign to falsely convince everyone that "other people don't think like me" is the only reason he won't be the party nominee.

To an electorate already drowning in manipulative fear, Chomsky and friends recommend we adopt a "rational" fear - terror, actually - of Trump, on the pretext that he is destroying the world with his indifference to climate change. Though this is a possible outcome, it is far from a certain one, and it cannot plausibly be blamed on a single person in any case.  Simply put, the claim that a vote for Trump invites "global catastrophe" is alarmism, not analysis.  We are in the midst of a global catastrophe right now with COVID 19, but Chomsky himself properly credits four decades of bi-partisan profiteering, not just Donald Trump. And if the profit system is the problem, it is difficult to see how voting Democrat helps, as not one of them voted against the recent multi-trillion dollar give-away to Wall Street - not AOC, not Bernie Sanders, not Rashida Tlaib, not Ilhan Omar, not Tulsi Gabbard. And those are the best Democrats, far superior to Joe Biden. The lone opponent of the greatest financial heist in history was Republican Thomas Massie, who called for a quorom and a formal vote on the package that passed by voice vote. 

Clearly there are no "safe states": all the states are always "in play," and are currently bleeding badly from the anus.
Chomsky's fear-mongering contrasts sharply with what he advised vis-a-vis nuclear weapons in the 1980s, another issue that portends massive and possibly terminal self-destruction. Back then he correctly pointed out that the Nuclear Freeze's obsession with giving detailed descriptions of the massively destructive consequences of dropping nuclear bombs on human cities was intellectually insulting and politically paralyzing, preventing the change it hoped to foster. The correctness of this view has been confirmed by events, as the Nuclear Freeze was ultimately absorbed into official arms control efforts, and forty years later the world is closer to nuclear war than ever. 

So why should we repeat the mistake today, spreading apocalyptic visions of total destruction via climate change? No reason that a sensible person should embrace. After all, the only prediction we can safely make about climate change is that electing either Biden or Trump will make our current bad situation considerably worse. The only electoral result that could make it better would be one that put the Green Party platform in power, an outcome that will never be achieved if Green voters feel compelled to vote for candidates bought by the fossil fuel industry. 

We need to stop the incantations of "existential threat" and "special danger" about Trump. He isn't Hitler. He doesn't believe in the genetic superiority of white people. And he at least hasn't started any new wars during his 38 months in office, which is unlikely to have been the case with Hillary Clinton. What's different about him is his eagerness to insult rather than utter focus-group tested banalities, but this carries no policy implications. So where is the argument that Trump has dramatically deviated from the plutocratic policies embraced by both establishment parties? 

"Real solutions require Trump out of office," chorus Chomsky and friends, just as they did about Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, John McCain and Ronald Reagan. No. Real solutions require a society committed to real solutions. As long as profiteers run the government, this is impossible.

Apparently, Chomsky and friends are for radical change every day except election day.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Interview With Tucker Carlson About His Trip to Mar-a-Lago To Warn President Trump

Tucker, are you unable to critique Trump directly? His response has been panicked. It started with denial, has moved into panic and is completely ineffectual and causing worse problems. He’s fighting with the governor of New York right now on Twitter. I mean, are you able to directly criticize him?

I am able to do whatever I want. I mean, I haven’t gotten a single directive from the company I work for. They haven’t said literally one thing.

But are you critical?

I was the only person in media to say that in America, to say that the State Department, the Trump State Department, was lying about the Syrian gas attacks, which they were. They were lying. Yeah. And we twice killed people with prison missiles in response to what was the lie, and I said that out loud and I meant it and I was the only person who did. And so yeah, I mean, of course I can criticize Trump directly.

Are you critical of his handling right now of this pandemic? Do you think he’s done a good job? Yesterday Trump was asked how he rated his own handling of the pandemic on a scale of 1 to 10, and he gave himself a 10.

I’ve been really critical of the administration’s response to this, repeatedly every night on my show. I think the mistake that people make, and I’ve felt this for three and a half years, is making everything about Trump. It’s all about Trump. And so really at a certain point, it’s like, no, it’s all about your emotional problems. I’ve lived in Washington since I was a child. My dad ran a federal agency [Richard Warner Carlson was an assistant director of the United States Information Agency under Ronald Reagan]. I know how the government works and there are many layers to this. It’s not all about one guy’s mercurial personality, and anyone who thinks it [is] is a child and should get out of the fucking news business, right? And I look around and it’s all children. It’s all people like Jim Acosta, Oh, Trump’s a racist—who cares? There’s a freaking pandemic, dude. Just stop whining about whether he calls it the Chinese coronavirus or not. Like, this is insane. Look, there are many roles that people play in American life and in the news media, but my role, I don’t want to make every show about Trump. Not because I’m covering for Trump, but because I don’t think it’s that interesting and I don’t think it’s actually the truth. And the truth is this: We have all kinds of systemic failures here, big time. And no one wants to say that because actually they’re covering for the people who created those problems in the first place. Do you know what I mean? So I would love to hear somebody on why does it fall to Bernie Sanders to make the obvious points about corporate America’s role in all this? Bernie Sanders is a completely mediocre guy who doesn’t even really mean it—but why is he the only one who’s saying some things that are true? That’s what the media should be doing, but they’re not. Because they’re so focused on Trump. Trump is tweeting too much. Well of course he’s tweeting too much! Okay, I got it, maybe don’t read his tweets. All right. But like, there’s a lot else going on, right? That’s my opinion.
I get it. But there’s a catch-22 here, which is that the way that Trump has been successful is to create a cult of personality as a guy who can cut through the bullshit and make things happen. Suddenly that strategy is no longer functioning. His strength has become a weakness. Don’t you agree?

There’s a moment in the life of every administration when you realize that your schtick isn’t working. And you see it play out in every administration—Holy shit, we didn’t plan for this. And that’s the point where you need to think of a new way to respond to things like you do. You have to be flexible.

I wouldn’t say flexibility is a major strong suit of the Trump administration.

I think that’s a fair criticism. But I would also say, because I think it’s really important to be totally honest—if you took Trump out of the picture entirely, if he retired this afternoon, it wouldn’t fix the problems. And by the way, if you retroactively fix every bad decision he’s made for the last three and a half years, we still wouldn’t be prepared for coronavirus. And you still wouldn’t have a clear path to mitigating the effects of that virus on our economy. So if you’re only thinking about Trump, you’re missing it. You’re missing the point. This is a call to fix some pretty basic things that are broken that nobody wants to fix. And because they don’t want to fix them, they spend a lot of time talking about Trump. And Trump is happy to play that game. So it’s not just a question of conservatives deflecting blame by casting stones at the media. It’s much bigger than that.

The Trump–media relationship and the way that it subsumes everybody’s attention has turned into a real Achilles heel for us.

Ya think? That’s been obvious since day one. Day one of the campaign. And coverage is just so childish and stupid and repetitive and boring—

But can I say something? You could say the same thing about Trump himself, and I know—

But of course. This is a symbiotic relationship. But okay. So that does not obviate anybody’s responsibility. So he did it too, so, okay, great. Yeah, but we’re all adults here. So now is the time for people to start acting responsible, try to do the right thing; you can express your political views, but do the right thing and stop with this crap. And I know it makes everybody feel virtuous. And I know the real root here is every educated person that’s really frustrated because they understand they’re never going to be as rich or prominent as they thought they were going to be because the economy is changing and they’re filled with rage about that. I know what’s going on ’cause I live in that world. Yeah. And they’re just placing all of that rage onto one guy. Some of it’s deserved, some of it’s not. But it’s not actually going to fix what’s making them mad in the first place. When do you start to ask, “Why are only private equity people prospering right now?” That’s the conversation you need to have. Instead the conversation is, “Can you believe he tweeted this?” Okay. But he’s never going to stop.

When I criticize the media, I say that as someone who’s been here since 1991 and worked in newspapers and doing magazines and all three networks, and, like, I know the landscape pretty well, as well as anybody does, and so my criticism is not reflexive partisanship. I’ve never been a reflexive partisan, and you can check—it’s totally sincere. I’m appalled by the dumbness. I’m appalled.

Do you acknowledge your own role in that?

Of course I acknowledge my own role in it! Are you joking? Of course I do.

Do you acknowledge your role in this ridiculous symbiotic thing that’s made us less cohesive as a country and less rational as a country and less able to function? The reason that we’re in this?

No, I don’t. I acknowledge my role in saying a lot of stupid things over the years. I acknowledge that I probably shouldn’t have gone and talked to the president about this since I’m not any kind of policy adviser, I’m not an epidemiologist. I acknowledge all of that. What I don’t acknowledge is playing the “Donald Trump is the only story” game. I have not done that. And you can look at my show rundowns every night for three and a half years, and you’ll find that we’ve done less Trump on TV. It’s not that Trump doesn’t deserve criticism, obviously I don’t think that. It’s that there are all these massive and profound [things] going on in American society that are being completely ignored, and coronavirus was one of them. And that’s the context in which I first introduced it to our viewers.

This is one of the things that’s happening that you should know about that no one was even mentioning because—the problem with impeachment as a news story is that it had a foregone conclusion. So why does this merit wall-to-wall coverage? I never understood that. And there’s a cost to that. It’s not necessarily a cost to Trump. He benefited from it. By the way, his approval numbers went up, Trump was helped by impeachment. The problem was that interesting and important stories that everybody should kind of be thinking about were totally ignored, and coronavirus was one of them. And that’s what I said and that’s what I think now.

Did your meeting with Trump have a result? Did it cause some shift? Was there a pivot in the way that Trump himself absorbed what was going on?

I don’t know. You can assess that yourself. You can look at the timeline, but my only comment would be that it’s not my job to do that. All I felt was I just want to say what I think and that’s my responsibility. And then I’m leaving and I’m not on some CDC conference call. I can tell you that. I could feel—I could just feel a sense of real danger. Not every premonition is accurate, but I just had a really, really strong one that I couldn’t shake and I have to do this.

And so, well, let me just ask that again. You saw the timeline afterwards. I mean, you saw with his reaction was, maybe it was like a week later or it was the Friday and Saturday of last week that he steps up and takes some actions.

I think the reality of it spoke a lot louder than anything I said.

Well the question all along has been: Is Trump in touch with that reality, or could he see it through the distortion of the media that he imbibes? And I guess that’s the question I have had all along is that the first reactions from a lot of people in his political sphere was that this was a hoax. Right? Even up until like three days ago, we had California Republican Devin Nunes and then Kevin Stitt, the governor of Oklahoma, telling people to go out to the bars and hang out and gather. I mean, this is where the political media vortex has become dangerous.
I don’t think that you should encourage people to gather in large groups right now, that does not seem wise. I also don’t think you should shut down public institutions like restaurants, hotels, without thinking through the very real economic consequences to people. That’s gotta be a factor. It has to be. And anyone who says it’s not a factor is an idiot, because it has to be. And I’ve noticed that a lot of the people who say that “if we can save one life,” they give you that speech. They’re people who will not be affected by that at all, except to the extent they can’t get fresh burrata.
This is a lot of people I know, and love, and I understand where they’re coming from. I think most people are being sincere. I think the hardened partisans on all sides will always lie because that’s what they do. But most people, even most politicians, want to do the right thing in the face of the crisis. I know them! I know almost all of them. So I know that that’s true. Some of them are dumb. There are a lot of dumb ones. But who else would go into politics? It’s mostly dumb people. Not all, but mostly. So I do think there’s a very, very complicated balance, and there’s a war between competing imperatives and it’s totally real. And I think it requires a kind of subtlety that almost nobody in our leadership class is capable of.

The populist politics that Trump has practiced has made him distinctly bad at dealing with this particular moment. What made him strong as a populist has made him a terrible manager of this particular crisis.

Yeah, I don’t know. Maybe. You don’t get populist politics unless your institutions are failing. Because satisfied people don’t resort to populist politics. So once again, if you believe that the current paralysis is all Trump’s fault, you’re absolving an awful lot of guilty parties, maybe including yourself. That’s what I’m saying.

Well here’s my last question for you. Given how it’s been managed, given where we are, given the unknowns of the next two to six weeks to three months, do you think Trump can survive this in November?

I haven’t the faintest idea. I mean, I spent months telling our viewers that Joe Biden could never get a nomination. So I mean, I have literally no idea. I know things are changed so completely in the last 10 days. Where will they be 10 days from now?

Do you think his management of this pandemic has damaged him politically?

I think this has scared the hell out of everyone, left and right. And we’re at the very early stages of this, and according to what epidemiologists say, we’ll be where Italy is three weeks from now. And if you extrapolate from their population, that’s a lot of people in the hospital and a lot of people dead. And so that will be a completely different country at that point.

I mean, this is all happening so fast, it’s hard to think it through, but there are a lot of potential consequences to the society. Not political consequences necessarily, but social consequences to this—to the economy, to the way people live, the higher education. I mean, you’ve got the entire college-age population home right now taking classes online at a time when college debt is overwhelming families and actually creating a really dangerous overhang, economically, in the economy. So why does this not result in fewer people spending 70 grand a year to go to G.W.? I don’t know. It might.
The divisive nature of Trump’s political style has driven half the population mad and the other mad in a different way. And you know that the dysfunctionality of it is precisely ill-equipped to deal with what we’re dealing with right now.

So if you really believe that explanation, which presumably you do, you have to ask yourself, this is a sincere question: What institution do you really trust right now? Honestly.

I was watching 60 Minutes last night. Did you see it?


I was surprised to learn about the kind of state-level medical operations that they’ve put into place that are being built to deal with this. There’s a world of nurses and medical people out there who are pulling together in a MASH unit style to cope with this. It’s the people on the ground who are going to help us. It’s not the people at the top.

Well see, you’re sort of making my point for me. What you’re saying is you trust the decency and the resilience of normal people.

Maybe as we’re forced to come together, we’re going to realize that the political storms that we’ve been living through are not really what life is about.

I really fervently agree with that—really fervently, as much as I agree with anything. And I really hope for that. And I, again, I think you’re kind of reiterating what I’m saying, which is that the institutions have failed so completely that what we’re left with is each other.

Again, when you say failed institutions, I include the Trump administration in that. We shall see what happens next. But please get a test and don’t needlessly expose your children to the coronavirus.

Nope. I’m not gonna. I’m waving at them through glass right now.

Source: Vanity Fair:

[Through a Fox News spokesperson, Carlson said he is “symptom free and feels healthy.” He broadcasts from a home studio in Florida.] This post has been updated.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Statistical Soup - COVID 19 Is Dangerous, But It's Not Killing Us All

As of today, reports the New York Times, 325,000 people world-wide have been sickened by the coronavirus, and there have been "at least" 14,390 deaths. The virus has been detected in 157 countries. In the figures below, remember that the death rate is a percentage of the people confirmed to be sick with coronavirus, not the percentage of the whole population.

In China, a country of 1.3 billion people, there have been 81,054 confirmed cases and 3,261 deaths. In other words, about one out of every 16,039 people have gotten sick and about 4% of them have died. 

In Italy, there are 59,138 cases, and 5476 deaths. The total population of Italy is 60,461,826. So roughly one Italian in every 1022 has gotten sick, and 9.25% of them (the sick) have died.

In the USA, there are 31,722 confirmed cases and 400 deaths to date. The current population of the U.S. is 331,002,651. So one in 10,434 Americans has gotten sick, and 1.25% of those people have died.

Spain has 28,572 confirmed cases and 1720 deaths in a total population of 48,750,000. So one out of every 1706 Spaniards has gotten sick, and six percent of them have died.

Iran has a population of 81,160,000. It has 21,638 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 1685 deaths.  So one out of 3751 Iranians has gotten sick, and 7.8% of them have died.

Germany has a population of 82,790,000. To date it has 18,610 confirmed cases and 55 deaths. That's one out of every 4449 people getting sick, and 0.3% of them dying (three patients out of every thousand).

France has a population of 70,000,000. It has 16,018 confirmed cases, of which 674 have died. That's roughly one person out of every 4370 getting sick, and 4.21% of those dying.

South Korea has a population of 51,269,185. To date it has 8897 confirmed cases and 104 deaths. That means that roughly one out of 5763 people have gotten sick, and 1.17% of them have died.

Switzerland has a population of 8,637,124. It has 7014 confirmed cases and 60 deaths. In other words, one out of every 1231 people have gotten sick, and 0.85% of them have died (eighty-five of every 10,000) 

Great Britain has a population of 67,260,000. It has had 5683 cases and 281 deaths. So about one out of every 11,835 have become ill, and 5% of them have died.

Source: "Corona Virus Map: Tracking The Global Outbreak," New York Times, March 21, 2020

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Change Is In The Air

Quite literally.

In a single week air pollution cleared up, housing was found for the homeless, evictions were banned, the stock market ceased being the gauge of social well being, water shut-offs ended, jails were emptied, debt peonage was suspended, universal basic income was proposed by "free market" die-hards, people started caring about the elderly and front-line workers, personal competition gave way to mutual aid networks, kids abandoned digital serfdom to go outside to play, and Donald Trump outflanked Bernie Sanders to the left, calling for public equity in bailed-out corporations, in other words, public profit.

The only restrained observation one can make is: Holy Shit! 

The battle has barely begun, but all can plainly see that the U.S. operates a planned economy, which places socialism squarely on the table, even as Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign fades rapidly away, like Joe Biden's mind.

The neo-liberals may grasp power again, though that is far from guaranteed, but legitimacy will elude them, as an aroused populace in revolt will not heed their irrelevant commands once it becomes clear that the crumbs they are willing to toss the public's way will not in any way arrest exploding indebtedness, much less bring economic security. A second consecutive generation of young people - Generation Z - has no future, while politicians continue indulging economic masturbation fantasies about a mythical free market bringing prosperity to all. "Gigs" are nothing to hang one's hat on.

We have been fed a steady diet of illusions about the gig economy constituting a "labor revolution," which is like calling panhandling an earning revolution.  Deliberately misclassified as independent contractors, gig workers remain unprotected by minimum wage laws, earning as little as $3 or $4 an hour or even less, as by definition there is no economic floor in our glorious "free market." Crowd workers, forty percent of whom rely on the work as their main source of income, earn somewhere between $1 and $5.50 an hour. 

Worse, these digital coolies have no way of knowing when work will be delivered, so they can't take on other commitments for fear of forfeiting income. They check their computer screens anxiously, trying to piece together fragments of work so as to earn a decent income, like a hungry diner assembling crumbs in hopes of enjoying a decent meal. 

The agonizing search for gigs without ending up with a real job is capitalism's latest refinement of torture for the poor. Digital work delivered over the internet requires being glued to a screen. You can't go anywhere or do anything for fear of missing a work opportunity. All one's downtime goes to the search for more work. Spending endless hours applying for gigs and not getting them is one thing when one has money in the bank: it's quite another when one doesn't know how this month's rent will get paid. 

Prospects are especially bad given that Third World workers can underbid America's poor, who can't afford to work for $3 an hour. True, there are better paid gigs, but those tend to be extremely specialized, requiring college or master's degrees. Only thirty percent of Americans have college degrees.

As a whole, gig economy workers are disproportionately poor. Compared to Americans in general, twice as many of them earn less than $30,000 a year, below what MIT calculates to be a living wage for a family of four. They are members of in increasingly insecure "precariat," living permanently hand-to-mouth. (According to a report from the Federal Reserve released in May, 2015, forty-seven percent of Americans cannot cover an unexpected $400 expense with their savings or a credit card). 

The grossly exploitative nature of gig employment is nowhere more apparent than in the current crisis of Uber drivers during the corona virus pandemic. The unofficial "plan" is to let these drivers work right up to the moment they get sick, then hope they don't die as they shelter in place at home awaiting a compensation check based on their collapsed earnings. In short, a token tiny payment inside a get-well card. 

The Uberization of everything promises a "sea change in work" the same way sub-prime mortgage debt promised a sea change in wealth generation leading up to the 2008 financial collapse.  New technologies chop up traditional jobs into discrete tasks that are then assigned to individual workers just when a paying customer needs them, with wages set by highly volatile supply and demand, and every gig worker's performance constantly tracked, reviewed, and publicized.  Though Kim Jong Un didn't invent this system, he should probably pay the ones who did.

Long in the making, this dismantling of jobs and middle-class prosperity has been openly celebrated by CEOs, presidents, pundits, and stock markets around the world. Consultants replaced executives at the top, temp-workers took over from office workers in the middle, and day laborers displaced union workers at the bottom. Now gig workers are slated to replace everyone, including themselves, once they have taught computers to perform the rote tasks still done by humans.

Yes, change is in the air in the form of a virus that has stopped the market cold, starkly revealing its socialist underpinnings. Trillions of dollars are shamelessly funneled to corporations that refuse to concede public equity to the taxpayers underwriting their operations. If the "aid" comes at that price, say the corporate chieftains, we do not want it. But if they do not want it, then it's clear they don't really need it.

The socialist moment will pass if we don't build a fierce and sophisticated democratic movement that can replace the current oligarchy's disastrous rule. The former Occupy movement, the two Bernie Sanders campaigns for president, and the Medicare For All struggle can become the basis for economic democracy in the United States, otherwise known as socialism. 

Our minimal demands should be full and dignified employment in good times, universal basic income in bad times, and free medical care (at the point of service) all the time.

Let's make it happen.


For statistics on gig workers' earnings, see: Gigged - The End of The Job and The Future of Work, by Sarah Kessler (St. Martin's Press, 2018)

For the percentage of Americans holding bachelor's degrees and the history of economic re-structuring that made gig work necessary, see: Temp - How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary, by Louis Hyman (Viking, 2018)

For the current fate of Uber drivers watch: Saagar Enjeti, "Rising," March 25, 2020 (available on You Tube)

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Nearly 500,000 People To Die From Coronavirus In U.S. In Coming Months Says Disease Expert

Below is a summary of an interview with Michael Osterholm, Regents Professor, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health, the director of the Center For Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota. He is also the author of "Deadliest Enemy - Our War Against Killer Germs." 

How bad is coronavirus?

Coronavirus is not "just the flu," but it's also not the end of the world. It's about 10 to 15 times worse than regular flu in terms of fatalities. Regular flu has a 0.1% death rate, which means one death in every 1000 cases. Coronavirus in the U.S. is expected to have a death rate of between 1 and 2 percent, that is 10 or 20 deaths out of every 1000 cases. Estimating conservatively, the U.S. will have 96 million cases over the next three to seven months, with 48 million hospitalizations (appears to be a vast overestimate - ed.), and 480,000 deaths. China has had a death rate between two and three percent. Spanish Flu (1918) had a death rate of 3.0 to 3.2%.

Northern Italy was fine a month ago, but is now experiencing a tsunami of cases, forcing doctors into the position of having to decide who they can save and who they have to let die. Doctors and nurses who are sick with coronavirus, but without serious symptoms, must work to save others. This is not just an "old person's disease", as Italy is now seeing an alarming number of people in their forties dying. Over 4000 health care workers in China have become infected with coronavirus, and many have died.

What are the risk factors?

Advanced age, smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, an already compromised immune system, pregnancy. 45% of Americans over age 45 are obese, so the U.S. may have a death rate from the disease as high as 2 percent.

What is the incubation period of coronavirus?

Four days. Unlike SARS, coronavirus can be transmitted by asymptomatic carriers of the disease for up to four days, making it particularly difficult to track. 

What's the prognosis in the U.S. for coronavirus?

The crisis will last for months, and there will be no vaccine for at least a year or two. Confirmed cases of the disease are doubling every four days, which means in a few weeks we will be inundated in cases.

How is coronavirus transmitted?

Primarily by breathing. This means that wearing standard masks and gloves as a preventive measure is "largely nonsense." Hand-washing is a good general practice, but won't have much impact on coronavirus, which spreads by sharing breathing space with infected people. Avoiding crowded venues and keeping six feet of distance between oneself and others is the best preventive practice we have. Trying to stop the spread of this highly infectious disease is like "trying to stop the wind."

How will it come to a stop then?

Eventually the disease runs its course when enough people have natural immunity from having contracted the disease, so that no further transmission is possible. For example, if there are three people in a room, and two of them have had coronavirus and recovered from it, they can't infect the third person. The build-up of natural immunity in the general population is like inserting cobalt rods in a nuclear reactor core to stop the chain reaction of atoms (so the plant shuts down). Once enough people have had the disease, new cases become less and less likely. But this only happens when very large numbers have become sick. It's far better to develop a vaccine.

What is the effect of closing the schools?

Maybe not as positive as we hope. Only 2.1% of cases in China were of children and teens (under 19). On the other hand, 38% of nurses in the U.S. have children in school. When they are sent home, this presents an obstacle for nurses to go to work during the pandemic. Our thinking is too short term. We are getting ready for a brief skirmish when in fact we're in for a prolonged siege. Coronavirus will be with us for months to come, and we cannot remain shut down for such a length of time.  

What is the biggest challenge related to coronavirus?

Our public health system in general, which is vastly underfunded, and operates haphazardly on a crisis-to-crisis basis. Once a given crisis abates, public concern wanes, as does emergency funding - until the next time.

Right now supply chains have gone down and we are discovering that many of our life-saving drugs come from China. Hospitals are under-stocked with needed equipment - IV bags, medicines, masks - because of unwise budget austerity and "just in time" production.
Our front-line people don't have what they need. N-95 respirator masks are in short supply, for example, which increases the chances of doctors and nurses falling sick. Stockpiling 500,000,000 N-95 masks in advance would "have made all the difference" in handling our current crisis.

What about a vaccine?

It may take two years to develop a safe vaccine. We need to have a strategy for dealing with diseases in general, not just react instinctively in crisis mode when the latest one makes its appearance. Other diseases are coming. We need to be ready.

We should fund public health departments the way we fund the fire department. We don't wait until a fire breaks out to build a station with fire trucks and trained firefighters. We make sure to have all the necessary personnel and equipment in advance.

The vaccine for regular flu is about 50% effective, which sounds pretty good when we are faced with a serious disease without any vaccine protection.

Source: Interview With Michael Osterholm, Joe Rogan Experience #1439, March 10, 2020

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Comment About Democrats and Republicans: From Some Time In The Past

"Nowhere do politicians form a more separate, powerful section of the nation than in North America. There, each of the two great parties which alternately succeed each other in power is itself in turn controlled by people who make a business of politics, who speculate on seats in the legislative assemblies of the Union as well as of the separate states, or who make a living by carrying on agitation for their party and on its victory are rewarded with positions.
It is well known that the Americans have been striving for  years to shake off this yoke, which has become intolerable, and that in spite of all they can do they continue to sink ever deeper in this swamp of corruption. It is precisely in America that we see best how there takes place this process of the state power making itself independent in relation to society, whose mere instrument it was originally intended to be. Here there exists no dynasty, no nobility, no standing army, beyond the few men keeping watch on the Indians, no bureaucracy with permanent posts or the right to pensions. and nevertheless we find here two great gangs of political speculators, who alternately take possession of the state power and exploit it by the most corrupt means and for the most corrupt ends — and the nation is powerless against these two great cartels of politicians, who are ostensibly its servants, but in reality exploit and plunder it.

Engels…the civil war in france intro..1891

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Markets,Viruses,Petroleum,1% Rule = Democracy?

Markets,Viruses,Petroleum,1% Rule = Democracy?

Reactions to the incredibly debt ridden Ponzi Scheme that passes for thriving global capitalism range from joy over its positive nature in the cartoon version of reality presented by corporate media, to near panic over its pending doom from the best informed sources of the financial community. The sudden intrusion of a global health emergency beyond the normal one of people unable to afford health care has led to a sooner than expected market crisis with Wall Street fluctuations making president Trump’s intellectual state seem almost normal. The market drops a thousand points one day, rises two thousand the next, with sales of psychiatric drugs showing tremendous growth though only a few can afford to buy them.

 Meanwhile, a world that should have ended use of petroleum yesterday is still not only dependent on its continued use today but engaged in what is called a trade war that has extended from the USA vs. everyone - especially China - to Russia vs. Saudi Arabia. The important thing to understand is that whether global capitalism speaks English, Chinese, Russian, Hebrew or Arabic, it is ultimately the same; the rich minority buys cheap and sells dear to the overwhelming majority. Whether capitalism is run by fundamentalist free market fanatics, as has been the case for too long now, social democrats, as was the case in the recent historic past and should be again to avoid total disaster, or by communists as in china and in a slightly more beneficial way for the majority, reliance on market forces and individual profit guarantee ultimate loss and threaten the destruction of what they supposedly serve: the human race.

The all too slow move from petroleum-based fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy has seen a decline in the dreadful for humanity petro business. Nevertheless, in deference to its wealthy minority owners it has been bailed out, as much else that is useless, dangerous and menacing, by banking and finance. This profit creation based on destructive material forces and immaterially existing wealth in the form of a paper and electronic fictional substance called finance, has led to a current crisis in which the normal madness is compounded by further felonious assault on logic, reason and especially earth’s life support system.

As if presently failing to provide even for cosmetic sustenance of a majority weren't enough, with low paid jobs passing for “growth” in that more are available in what's labeled a "gig" economy but for less money and benefits, we now have a possible global epidemic that will put even more strain on the insane economy, but especially on its majority of service workers who have the lowest paying jobs with the least benefits and almost nothing to fall back on in times of sickness or crisis. That is, in the USA. Most other materially developed nations have health care for all their people, and in China, where this virus was first seen, all 1 billion 400 million people are covered. Our relatively tiny population has more than 25 million people with no coverage at all and millions more with not enough coverage to afford survival of a serious illness.

Through the brilliant scientific breakthrough called fracking, a more damaging environmental technique than previous methods of sucking petroleum out of the earth, the USA has become the major producer of this fossil fuel which plays a leading role in environmental destruction. This is only fair, as America leads the world in all the most “progressive” methods of profit growth, as in weapons of war and other violence in which we are so far ahead of other backward nations that they can’t even conceive of catching up to us. In fact, the overwhelming majority of them have no such desire.

At this historic juncture brought about by political economics and their subsidiary, nature, the USA faces an election in November in which the choices should be between continuing on the path of total breakdown and destruction or moving towards a radical change which could bring about long term hope not only for the nation but the world. The political forces of reaction, some of them being sold, in perverted language fashion, as “moderate”, and their minority ownership class are desperately trying to stop the movement toward radical change, even if it only offers a return to social democratic capitalism in the short run. But at least the public surge behind Bernie Sanders will put an immediate end to the more ruthless policies of sacrificing public health to bloody profit motivations that guarantee the best health care possible to the rich and their upper middle class servants, while the rest can drop dead if they aren’t covered by profit making corporate health care. That, and many other changes that can be established without total transformation of the system – which is what is ultimately needed –will be the least offered by a Sanders administration, so naturally, all the profiteers and their employees in politics and media are dedicated to stopping him, and more important, this movement. They cannot be allowed to succeed, since that would mean the greatest loss for the American people, and humanity.

The forces of public persuasion under control of America’s rulers have turned on all engines in herding voters into the camp of supporting the so-called moderate candidate – whom Trump would love to publicly tear apart in debates – but they must be denied. All arguments against Sanders which  call him radical or socialist are about as radical and socialist as feeding children before pets or taking care of the folks next door and down the street before those across  borders and oceans, or financing health, community and social justice before weapons of war and the murder of millions.

Continued support for a system that teaches the supposed logic of market forces which translate to milk being more expensive than gasoline, one of thousands of contradictions easily seen by people who are able to look at them clearly, will mean that not only a global epidemic or pandemic of a virus threatens us but the system that leaves us unprotected from that possible illness is far more dangerous than the illness itself. And as to idiocy of the milk-gasoline comparison, just reflect on what it takes to get either “product”:

 A cow can be milked twice a day, and it will continue to provide milk as long as it is fed and can be milked by a human with basic skills at doing what a farm kid once explained to an interviewer when asked how to milk a cow: “you just squeeze her teats is all”. While industrial methods which treat cows as products and reduce them to often dismal lives being penned up and milked by machines, the principle is still the same, and even a farm kid is capable of milking a cow. And the cow will provide more milk the next day and many many days thereafter. 

Petroleum, on the other hand, is not simply milked form the earth. It involves digging quite deeply, and machinery and technology far beyond the milking machines of dairy farms, and once sucked out of earth does not return the next day but only after millions of years. It also can be dangerous to workers, many more than are involved with cow milking, and also necessitates networks of technology, underwater pipes, national and international borders being crossed by such and then a refining process involving more machinery and technology before it comes to us as gasoline.

Ask a child, whether skilled at cow milking or just having common sense, which “product” should be more expensive at the market, and if that child says “milk” it needs mental help, or is on the way of becoming an economist who explains that market forces are the gods we should all worship. Multiply that contradiction by a thousand, and think about that not only when voting, but at all times when contemplating what the hell is wrong with reality and what you can do about it but only along with your fellow citizen members of the human race. Then, if you’re an American, demand that Bernie Sanders be the candidate of one of the two capitalist parties. He is the only one who can defeat Trump and more important, help begin the process of radical transformation of the USA to a nation run by and in support of a democratic majority of its people and not just a relative handful of billionaires, their millionaire servants and their well paid professional anti-working class flunkies.That isn't just called, but will be, democracy, in action rather than just word.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Empire Strikes Back: Behind The Surge of "Dementia Joe"

Leave it to the DNC to find someone even less mentally competent than Donald Trump to run for president, but mission accomplished!

In spite of increasingly obvious cognitive disintegration Joe Biden made a strong showing on "Super Tuesday," ending all talk of a Bernie Sanders majority on the first ballot at this year's Democratic Party convention in Milwaukee. Of course, this was an orchestrated result and we shouldn't miss the political significance of voter consolidation behind Biden.

The DNC is stronger than the RNC was at a corresponding point in 2016, and it acted sooner than the RNC did - and very effectively. Non-stop fawning media coverage of the revival of the Biden campaign has reigned since "Lunchbox Joe" won South Carolina (turnout soared to 20% - ed.) Buttigieg and Klobuchar withdrew on orders from the DNC (and today Bloomberg dropped out) to consolidate behind Biden. Warren stayed in to siphon off some of the "progressive" vote from Sanders, though she has no path to the nomination. Key last minute endorsements helped Biden win in Texas, Minnesota, etc. 

Sanders' lack of a killer instinct ("Joe is a friend of mine") prevented him from launching strong attacks on Biden, a great help to Joe. When Trump faced similar ganging-up tactics in 2016, he threatened to throw the election to HRC.  Sanders isn't that nasty, but he better learn to be. Biden can't complete a coherent sentence, quite apart from his horrendous politics - pro-Iraq war, pro-outsourcing, pro-cuts in Social Security - and sustained hard-hitting attacks on him need to be launched yesterday. 

The delegate count is probably about equal after all is said and done, but senile Joe won big psychologically. 

Next up: Obama will publicly endorse Biden to keep the momentum going.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Does Socialism Work? Capitalism Will Never Let You Find Out

"The boys of Capital, they also chortle in their martinis about the death of socialism. The word has been banned from polite conversation. And they hope no one will notice that every socialist experiment of any significance in the twentieth century - without exception - was either overthrown, invaded, corrupted, perverted, subverted, destabilized or otherwise had life made impossible for it, by the United States and its allies. Not one socialist government or movement - from the Russian Revolution to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, from Communist China to the FMLN in El Salvador - not one was permitted to rise or fall solely on its own merits; not one was left secure enough to drop its guard against the all-powerful enemy abroad and freely and fully relax control at home. It's as if the Wright brothers' first experiments with flying machines all failed because the automobile interests sabotaged each test flight. And then the good and god-fearing folk of the world looked upon these catastrophes, nodded their heads wisely, and intoned solemnly: Humankind shall never fly."

-----William Blum, "Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II."