I like David Doel’s The Rational National. It is my favorite channel on YouTube.com. (Though I have to admit, lately I am watching more and more of The Hill’s Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti insightful Rising.especially as the Democratic Primaries approach. The clip below is from TYT’s No Filter with the excellent Ana Kasparian. Here she interviews Doel about a recent piece he did on Meghan McCain’s foolish criticism of the Medicare for All issue. I know it seems better to ignore McCain and The View, but as long as nearly three million people tune in to the show every weekday, these kinds of stupid comments–especially coming from someone of privilege–need to be exposed.
I ran across this the trailer to the film “Mister America” while reading Louis Proyect’s blog and was fascinated with this satirical performance piece by the actor/comedian/writer/musician Tim Heidecker. Heidecker plays a variation of himself, eschewing a character name. Proyect likens the performance to something similar to the late Andy Kaufman and it is easy to see the similarities.
Heidecker (I’m referring to the character) decides to run for District Attorney in San Bernardino County, California, though he isn’t a lawyer, doesn’t live in the county, and was prosecuted for the murder of 18 people who bought toxic e-cigarettes from him at a music festival he organized. He’s not in jail due to a mistrial. Still, he wants to get back at the DA that almost sent him to prison by challenging him in an election.
For all the Marianne Williamson naysayers, who claim she’s a political lightweight, a spiritual leader who has no business in politics, check out Williamson schooling conservative pundit Dave Rubin in this hour-long interview on his show, The Rubin Report. There are some truly golden moments here where the “hot grandma,” as someone reduced her during the first Democratic Debates, schools the once comedian and ex-liberal.
Assuming Trump isn’t ran out of office on a rail before November 3, 2020, some serious decisions have to be made on who is going to run against him. Chances are we won’t be hearing of any fed up group of Republicans running through the West Wing with a long piece of timbre while the Grand Old Party (GOP) controls the upper house. It is morbidly fascinated how the GOP carries this vulgarian’s water. What will they say when their constituents have had enough of Trump and the voters will finally move them to act after going along with his dubious actions all this time? In the meantime, all we have is satire as in the bitterly humorous Saturday Night Live faux-film trailer The TBD Story. If Trump goes he will most likely be voted out of office in 2020 and that will be a harder task than some think.
In the meantime, the minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for at least ten years, we need to re-tool our health care system—either by plugging up the holes in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or moving to a Medicare for All solution. We are in five wars in the Middle East and Africa, we need to address climate change, clean up our electoral system, and get money out of politics to name only a few of the many serious challenges. There are some who believe that in order to defeat the sitting president these issues will have to be placed on the back burner go with a more moderate candidate.
Or maybe not.
With the exception of top-polling Biden, most of the Democratic candidates have platforms that are more to the Left than in any other time since the 1960s. It’s too early to tell, but maybe we are seeing the beginning of the end of the centrist Democrat. If you miss the Biden elephant (err donkey) in the room, it looks like the popular Democrats are beginning to lean to the Left. Maybe it is time for a change–I mean real change. But as I said, it’s too early to tell right now. Regardless of how things are right now, presidential elections are always both exciting and frustrating we also have a Republican who is challenging the president. Bill Weld could win if the Right ever finds the courage to stand up to Trump, which doesn’t look like that will happen since it would initially hurt the party.
So here is the list in quasi-alphabetical order. I gave each of my favorite candidates a *. While Bernie currently has my vote, I’m using my coveted splat, to separate the good (or great) from the rest of the meh-to-ugh herd. These aren’t predictions just a very brief evaluations of the current contenders. I also gave these candidates Greenpeace’s rating on their plans to address climate change. (BTW, both Trump and Weld got F grades from the environmental organization.)
Here are my main picks.
Then again, maybe my title is bullshit. Since declaring his candidacy, Biden has threatened to kill all chances of getting someone on the Democratic ticket that will promise any substantive change in Washington. Either Sanders or Warren could still prevail, but the centrist’s hope of a 2016 do-over is alive and well with Joe in the race.
Moderates believe that Biden has the best chance of pulling some of Trump’s votes away, though that is debatable. Just because Biden was Obama’s Vice President (VP) doesn’t necessarily mean the people voted for Obama then switched to Trump will now vote for Biden. It is true how it didn’t take some people long after Trump’s win to start pining over the good old days of the Obama years. Or as Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) said in an interview on Yahoo News Skullduggery TV, “There’s an emotional element to that…But I don’t want to go back. I want to go forward.” Joe is a throwback to the perceived good-ole-days of Obama. Biden still believes in the ACA despite the corporate-friendly’s less than perfect success rate that stranded 30,000 Americans from health care.
Joe wouldn’t be on the top portion of this list if it weren’t for his popularity. He should be in the afterthoughts with Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and Tim Ryan. The most significant reason Biden has a good chance is brand recognition. Of course, like everyone else in the horse race, history may catch up with the career politician from Delaware. Every candidate has some bad history to deal with, but Biden is a career neoliberal politician–there’s plenty of shit:
- His pro-corporate voting record in the Senate
- His tough-on-crime legislation that has resulted in more severe sentencing on African Americans and Latinos than Whites
- His horrible handling of Anita Hill questioning during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings
- His hawkish voting record including his votes on the Iraq War
All of that makes his shoulder rubs and hair smelling seem petty–at least for now.
It’s no surprise that Joe received a D- from Greenpeace on plans to address climate change.
Governor of Montana successfully expanded Medicare in his state and is also pro-LGBTQ rights and pro-choice which shouldn’t be a big deal considering he’s a Democrat, but he’s done this and has been reelected in a Red state that Trump won in 2016 by 20 points. Never mind the Bullock, he failed to make on to the first Democratic Debates on June 26 and 27.
While he thinks he is a pro-environment governor, Greenpeace thinks differently, giving him a D on his Greenpeace report card. Ouch!
Mayor Pete is a likable guy who had virtually no name recognition when he began his campaign. Now Buttigieg polls in the top five of the Dems. The Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, initially comes off as a very friendly and bright candidate. He claims to be a great admirer of Bernie Sanders, but he’s more complex, with plenty of contradictions and recently he gave in to big-money contributions and his past actions aren’t as friendly as his smile and demeanor and smile express. After he graduated from Oxford with a Rhodes scholarship the Sanders admirer, spend three years working for the controversial consulting firm of McKinsey & Company that helped the brutal Saudi Arabia regime and pharmaceutical companies like horrible Purdue Pharma push pain killers like OxyContin. His views on higher education are very different from someone like Sanders. His views on Israel and Palestine further separate him from the progressive wing of the party and his anti-Iranian comments are not what the Dems need–at least not what the Dems this side of Obama would desire. Buttigieg, like everyone else who is polling well at this point (except for Sanders and Biden) has jumped on a modified Medicare for all bandwagon, liking a single payer option while Sanders is still for the most ambitious version and Biden sticking with the ACA (at least for now). Buttigieg is not that great in my humble option, but the Democrats could do a lot worse. (Biden and all the candidates in the lower half of this post, for instance.)
Mayor Pete received a lowly C from Greenpeace on plans to address climate change.
Obama’s former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Castro’s says the three main planks to his platform are establishing a humane immigration policy that also entails revamping immigration enforcement by breaking up Immigration and Customs Enforcement, adopting universal health care, and aggressively addressing climate change.
Greenpeace gave Castro a lowly D+ score. Shame!
Bill de Blasio * (?)
I was proofreading this post when I heard of Mayor de Blasio’s entry into the 2020 Presidential race. Prepping this post for publishing and de Blasio still doesn’t have his platform out for America to see, just this self-serving, but accurate (to the best of my knowledge) campaign ad. The ad says more about what de Blasio has done as a mayor than what he would do as a president. I have followed NYC’s mayors from Rudy Giuliani’s response to 9/11 (and downhill from there), through the Stop & Frisk years of Michael Bloomberg, and what I interpreted has far superior leadership of the current mayor. The only reason why I place the question mark after the * is because while I’m impressive with de Blasio the Mayor de Blasio the Presidential Candidate hasn’t provided the voters with a campaign platform.
The Mayor announced after Greenpeace submitted their questionnaire to candidates on plans to address climate change.
Tulsi Gabbard (nearly a *)
It took me a while to find a website where Tulsi has laid out an aggressive platform, but her campaign wants you to check out a new website which doesn’t have her platform unless I’m blind. (Is she backing out of some of her campaign promises already?) While I can understand that Tulsi is behind Harris and Buttigieg in the polls–they have a certain star quality even if they have serious flaws—it is depressing to see that the promising Congresswoman from Hawaii is not keeping up with the likes of O’Rourke, Booker, Klobuchar, Castro, and Hickenlooper. This is a bad sign for the much better candidate. She has more political courage than nearly all of the candidates polling better than she does. For instance, she has said that Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange’s charges should be dropped, and Edward Snowden should be pardoned. She explained, “There is not an actual channel for whistleblowers like them to bring forward information that exposes egregious abuses of our constitutional rights and liberties, period.” Regardless of what you think of these actors, it takes guts to make these statements ahead of virtually everyone else.
I would love to give her a *, but I have concerns about Gabbard. Her views are, at times, anti-Arabic and often pro-strongman. Though her comments on Syria’s Bashar al-Assad are well known, thought out, and refreshing, as is her stand against regime-change wars, her admiration for brutes like Abdel Fattah el-Cisi of Egypt and Narendra Modi of India should give the voter pause. What’s worse, her perceived anti-Islamic stance have garnished her the unwanted support of the KKK and some other hate and fringe groups. There is also the issue of her views on LGBTQ rights. Gabbard opposed civil unions and same-sex marriage until the early 2000s. This was due to her Christian upbringing. She has been for same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights since the mid-2000s. Finally, while most of her money comes from individual contributions, she has taken Big Pharma contributions. This may be why her Medicare-for-all stance is not as progressive as other candidates are.
In 2016, Gabbard, who was a co-chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), criticized Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz decision to hold only six debates during the 2016 Democratic Party primary season rather than the usual 12-16. Many progressives, Bernie supporters, and politicos saw this as more of a coronation of Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) by the DNC instead of a fair primary season. Gabbard resigned her post at the DNC in protest of the committee’s perceived unfair support of HRC and openly endorsed Sanders. She also was on the right side of Standing Rock—taking her place with the Native Americans and other protesters facing off against the militarized police and their water cannons. Elizabeth Warren only came out with objections to these injustices long after the dust had settled and it was politically safe to do so.
Sadly, she only received a B from Greenpeace on plans to address climate change.
Mike Gravel *
Mike Gravel has been in the fight against war and supports social justice longer than Bernie has! Gravel isn’t putting a lot of effort into this campaign. I think he’s only in the race to mix things up—to keep candidates honest by offering the best policies and then to compare them to others. He also didn’t make it to the first Democratic Debates on June 26 and 27, which is a shame. He would have challenged a lot of the biggest bullshitters like Biden, Booker, and Harris.
I would suggest we all follow Mike on Twitter @MikeGravel. His critiques of the other candidates, especially centrists, are spot on and, at times, quite funny. Here’s one from early June, “In a time when the global fight is between progressivism and fascism, history will not look kindly on those who declared themselves ‘moderates.'”
Greenpeace didn’t give Gravel a grade.
Despite her desperate attempts to let us all know she is Black (playing Tupac at book signings, dancing to Cardi B, using Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday the day to announce her run for the presidency.), Harris’ record with black Californians when she was Attorney General (AG) isn’t something very soulful. Harris is one of the better bets for the Democratic nominations. She may sound kinder, gentler now, but she wasn’t a progressive when she was California’s AG. Check her record. Besides her lock ‘em up approach in California, she’s a run of the mill centrist Democrat cut from HRC cloth. Her idea of giving a tax refund of $6000 to families making less than $100k a year and a refund of $3000 to individuals making less than $50k a year is a backward approach to solving poverty. Also, this plan doesn’t address folks who are unemployed or retired.
Tut-tut, Harris only received a C- from Greenpeace on plans to address climate change.
Inslee seems like a one-plank candidate, but it’s the right one: climate change. His campaign website doesn’t betray that rather myopic approach to running a presidential bid. As he told Dave Roberts of Vox, “I believe there is one central, defining, existential-with-a-capital-E threat to the future of the nation: climate change. It is clear that it will only be defeated if the United States shows leadership. And that will only happen if the US President makes it a clear priority — the number one, foremost, paramount goal of the next administration.”
Jay gets the highest grade out of all the presidential hopefuls from Greenpeace on plans to address climate change: an A-.
Bernie Sanders *
Bernie announced on February 19 and in 24 hours raised $6 million blowing the rest of the pack away. He also led the pack in the polls until Biden announced. He’s popular enough to get targeted for being too old (remember the press going after both Bernie and HRC last time?), a socialist (Yawn), and his base (they were too young to know better or the “Bernie Bros” were a bunch of misogynists). These days the press is going after his wealth (I guess being a rich Democratic Socialist is hypocrisy) sometimes throwing in some All-American antisemitism too! (He’s rich and stingy, folks and we all know what that means, wink, wink.)
Bernie has a comprehensive and detailed platform. As we have heard many times on TV and on YouTube, if you are paying attention, Bernie is for higher taxes on the 1% including raising the Estate Tax for multi-millionaires. He has a robust foreign policy platform—something he was criticized for lacking during his last presidential bid, Sanders hired Matt Duss, a foreign policy wonk who has filled in any gaps his previous presidential bid had.
Sanders is not perfect; he voted for Bill Clinton’s devastating Crime Bill though, is on record as being very critical of it up until he voted for the thing. Some of his floor votes having to do with our endless wars in the Middle East were dubious. For instance, he has criticized drone attacks on their ineffectiveness rather than their use. There’s plenty of other stuff to criticize him on, but he still is the best bet here unless you want to vote for Gravel or wait for an excellent third party candidate to throw away your vote on while feeling good about yourself.
In his latest book Where We Go From Here, Sanders correctly explains that while the U.S. has two major political parties when it comes to domestic issues it really only has one party when it comes to foreign policy. I’ve been studying this for years and it was vindicating to read it in an American politician’s letters. It’s interesting to note that part of Sanders’ success is that he has evolved from a time when he referred to both the Democrats and Republicans as “the ruling party.” When he first elected it to Congress in 1991, he was known as a political outsider and renegade. Consequently, he couldn’t get on a committee seat. I read somewhere (not in any of the Sanders books I have read) that Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank told him to “stop pissing in the punch bowl” (or something to that affect). Sanders mellowed out and finally struck a balance. He was then able to quorum with the Democrats and has grown in popularity ever since.
Much to my surprise, Bernie received only a B+ from Greenpeace on plans to address climate change.
Elizabeth Warren *
Warren isn’t a progressive, as she and most Democrats call themselves these days. (I believe the only Democrats running for president that are progressive are Gabbard, Gravel, Sanders, Williamson, and maybe de Blasio.) I still like her. She is probably the least favorite/most practical vote of the candidates I have given the treasured *. If it boiled down to Biden, Warren, and anybody else except for Bernie, I would betray my progressive allegiance and cast my vote for Liz.
In fact, Warren is far from a progressive. In Jacobin, writer Shawn Gude once compared Warren with Sanders: “Warren is a regulator at heart who believes that capitalism works well as long as fair competition exists; Sanders is a class-conscious tribune who sees capitalism as fundamentally unjust.” This is why I would always choose Sanders over Warren, but the senior Senator from Massachusetts is a decent person, a good lawmaker, and if Bernie doesn’t make it I think she is my candidate. Her campaign website is thorough though her views on war, intel, and security make me think she’s been hanging out with Diane Feinstein too much!
Warren received a B from Greenpeace on plans to address climate change.
Marianne Williamson *
Williamson is a terrific spiritual counselor, author, and activist who has helped and mentored countless people, including celebrities like Oprah Winfrey. I have listened to her speak many times dealing with matters of the heart, spirit, and love. Since she began her campaign, I have heard her talk politics, and I am impressed, but not entirely surprised. She has been an activist most of her life–working with the HIV/AIDS community, women’s advocacy, as well as fighting poverty and hunger. Check out where she stands on the issues. In my view, she would be better than almost all of the candidates listed here and she holds her own in tough TV interviews. Of course, she doesn’t stand a chance, though don’t tell that to my yoga teacher! She thinks she’s the answer to Trump. She deserves a place at the debates, but she might not meet the DNC’s new criteria for either of the upcoming debates. We will see.
I was surprised to see that Greenpeace gave Williamson only a C on plans to address climate change.
Andrew Yang *
I firmly believe Andrew Yang is a candidate that needs to be heard by more people. He is by far the most thought-provoking candidate on the 2020 campaign trail. (Noticed I didn’t say the best.) The Democratic Leadership in Iowa said he has the “most detailed and comprehensive set of policy proposals we’ve ever seen at this stage in the campaign” and it even dwarfs Sanders and Warren’s policy page in depth and breath.
If nothing else, Yang has provided us with the best quote from any candidate in this election cycle:
“The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math.”
Too, he has the best anti-Trump campaign merch: A black baseball cap with the word “MATH” on it standing for “Make America THink” but I think it also implies “look at the data—don’t listen to the rhetoric.” While I like to think that most candidates are trying to reach Trump’s base, if at least to try to appeal to their rational side, Yang’s cap comes off as a “fuck you” to them. If I’m right, he will not reach the ex-Obama supporters who voted for Trump in 2016.
Yang calls himself the first nerd to run for president, and he just might be, but don’t be taken in by his charm. Looking at his proposed polices means some severe sacrifices to be made and chances to be taken. Adopting Yang’s ideas is in some ways abandoning Sanders’—many of them have become hard-won DNC policy objectives. Where Sanders says, “we have to fight for the little guy,” Yang almost suggests throwing in the towel. It’s what he wants to do with this growing amount of displaced workers that I find so fascinating. Where Sanders believes we can bring jobs back in one form or another via something like national works programs as in FDR’s New Deal or Rep. AOC/Sen. Ed Markey’s Green New Deal, Yang believes the jobs are going and will not return—at least in their original form. He refers to this as “The Great Displacement” in his book The War on Normal People.
Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are destined to replace truck drivers, assembly line workers, distribution line workers, fast food workers; as well as many educated, white collar workers like call center workers, radiologists and other medical staff, even investment advisers and no political movement will be able to stop this product of The Fourth Industrial Revolution which we are on the cusp of right now. Re-educating workers—something Sanders and others believe in–has a horrible success record, Yang claims. In his book, he treats automation and AI as our destiny, and that is where Universal Basic Income (UBI) comes in, what he calls the “Freedom Dividend,” giving it a political spin. If you don’t have the time or inclination to read Yang’s data-heavy book, check him out on YouTube.com. Many countries in European and around the world have implemented UBI with success, and Alaska has had a form of UBI in place since 1982.
Yang’s Freedom Dividend would place $1000 in the pockets of all adult Americans every month. It doesn’t matter if you have not participating in the workforce for years or you are David Koch–everyone gets the Freedom Dividend each month. Yang isn’t the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. While he says he’ll fight for your Freedom Dividend, he won’t “Fight for $15.” In fact, Yang doesn’t believe in a minimum wage—your Freedom Dividend will pick up the slack while freeing up business owners to determine how much you are worth an hour. Hmm. His ideas have garnered him a patchwork of followers comprised of progressives, libertarians, socially-conscience Republicans, and yes, math nerds.
Another main plank to Yang’s comprehensive platform is Value-Added Tax (or VAT). VAT is what would finance for UBI. Also, if VAT is implemented it would be an unavoidable tax, everyone pays; from the manufacturer to the distributor, to the seller, and ultimately the buyer and that includes many corporations that currently dodge taxes like Amazon. View the short video above to see how VAT generates revenue. Many countries around the world successfully employ VAT.
Yang is for a conservative variation of a single payer health system. He has had an up-close experience with our byzantine health care system working as a VP of the software startup, MMF Systems, Inc. So, his experience with health care in America is unique on why we need to change our health care system especially because he sees so many jobs disappearing and with those jobs, many will lose their health benefits.
Before my oldest son got me to check out Andrew Yang and his Freedom Dividend idea, I read Rutger Bregman’s brilliant Utopia for Realists. The Dutch historian’s little masterpiece covers the history and benefits of UBI (as well as ideas on reduced work hours and open borders). I have attempted to reach Bregman for his thoughts on the only U.S. presidential candidate who is pushing for UBI, I haven’t heard word back, but I am sure the Dutchman and the candidate disagree on far more things than they agree on. As I recall Bregman stresses how UBI can fight poverty as well as the depression that often comes with long-term joblessness. I believe in $15 an hour minimum wage, labor working with businesses when integrating automation and AI, and instituting UBI (having VAT pay for it). Let’s be honest, $1000 a month to someone who is gainfully employed would be great–it would allow for more recreation time and the spending would stimulate the economy. To the unemployed, $1000 would be a helping hand. Also, to a homemaker or a single mom (Yang often references his wife who works at home and doesn’t get a dime for it) $1000 would give the homemaker more free time. Though I know Bernie Sanders is not a fan of UBI, I think UBI would benefit Sanders’ and other candidates’ platforms.
Here’s a Marxist reply to UBI as a replacement for lost jobs due to automation and AI. Note: If you don’t want to watch the whole program skip to the 19:25 mark where Professor Richard Wolff gets to the solution.
Despite Yang’s impressive proposed policies, Greenpeace only gave him a lowly D+.
Finally, there are these boring candidates:
Bennet’s campaign page reads like a middle school civics text book–something your parents would approve of, but with a conservative approach to our health care problem and our climate change challenge. We could do better.
The once heroic mayor of Newark, NJ, is now someone I wish would just go away. He–like everyone in this sad grouping has been bought by corporate America.
Delaney is a boring centrist who sounds similar to Biden: uninspiring, suggesting half-measures, and seems to be focus solely on beating Trump. He deserved being booed for a solid minute at the California Democratic Convention after telling the crowd that Medicare for All is neither good policy nor politics. He’s another multi-millionaire politician protecting his Big Pharma backers. Next.
Senator Gillibrand fancies herself a progressive. Oy! She used to be a Blue Dog Democrat when she was in the House, which is to say she sucked. If she really is a progressive, she’s a shitty one–taking all that money from Wall Street and big law firms. Pass.
The guy with the last name you just can’t imagine the word “President” in front of without laughing is another boring centrist that that once compared Sanders to Stalin. He deserved the boos he received at the California Democratic Convention like Delaney. The only thing interesting about him is his surname.
She’s famous enough for Grammarly to correct my failed attempt at spelling her name and there are some other interesting things about the U.S. Senator from Minnesota, but it is quite a tell when Republicans like this Democrat. She’s known to be a pragmatist—having a good relationship with Republicans as well as neoliberal Democrats (not including some staffers, I understand). This reminds me of Obama, and we all know how that turned out.
His “Change Can’t Wait” commercial is stylistic and the tagline sound familiar. There’s not much more I can say about him other than he didn’t make the debate cut.
This guy didn’t make it on to the debate stage either. I sure sign he won’t be a round very long. The only thing good I can say about Moulton was something he said to a reporter from Intelligencer when the reporter commented that Joe Biden is the “most foreign-policy forward person in the race” and “the one with the most legislative and executive experience” Moulton shot back, “I think it’s time for the generation that went to Iraq and Afghanistan to replace the generation that sent us there.” Aside from that, he mainly spouts more uninspiring centrist tripe. Next.
Barack Obama told David Axelrod on the podcast “The Axel Files” about his one-on-one meeting with O’Rourke, “He’s Barack Obama, but white.” Not the ringing endorsement you might want, especially when O’Rourke came into the race with no platform, telling his audiences he was looking for ideas. Beto doesn’t fill me with much–if any–confidence. I liked him better when he was trying to take Ted Cruz’s seat because anybody would be better than Ted Cruz would. Just like when he was in the House of Representatives, he is still taking corporate money, so it is no surprise that O’Rourke is backing Medicare for America.–the medical industrial complex’s answer to the rising popularity of Medicare for All. I’m sticking with Bernie’s plan. Hey Beto, if you run against Ted in 2024 I’ll throw more money your way.
There’s not much to say about Congressman Ryan representing Ohio other than he makes me sleepy just listening to him. He appears to have no fresh ideas. I was surprised he is in the first round of debates.
Swalwell is the guy who has promised he would choose a female as a running mate if he were nominated. Good for you, Eric!
Then there are the Third Parties and Independents
In 2000 I was one of the spoilers that helped George W. Bush win the presidency by voting for Ralph Nader. Well, not really, but I pissed some people off when, after the election, I told them I voted for the Green Party Candidate. In 2012, I cast a “protest” vote for Jill Stein. In both cases, my votes had no affect except to make me feel good.
It’s too early (for me at least) to pick any obvious candidates from a third party that I would want to win, and I get to vote for someone that makes me feel good–like Ralph Nader. Instead, I get the feeling that, like in 2016, I’m going to be holding my nose and voting for an unpopular Democrat in 2020. Looking at the long list on the Ballotpedia site I found such Independent and Nonpartisan presidential hopefuls as “Sexy Vegan,” “Seven the Dog,” “Internet Beef,” and representing the “Ace Party,” “Voice Over Pete.”
One thing is for sure, there’s one person (besides Trump, of course) who I definitely won’t be voting for…
Howard Schultz (What is the antithesis of an *?)
With candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the field, there is a chance we can have a candidate with a progressive tax system. Enter Howard Schultz, the billionaire coffee magnate and ex-NBA team spoiled-sport owner that promises to protect our limousine tax code, not improve our horrible health care system, just make things better than they are with Trump. His campaign should be called “Let them drink lattes!” So far, the only “campaign” promise he has made is to ensure that the tax dreams of lawmakers like AOC, Warren, and Sanders are nothing more than that. His stalled campaign only harps on how horrible Trump is and that the two-party system is broke. Stop the presses, boys, Howie has a revelation! Recently, people close to him have explained his silence: business-friendly Biden is now in the race. If Biden is not nominated, Schultz may run as an Independent, possibly siphoning off some votes that might go to a Sanders or a Warren. That is making some progressive politicos like Mike Figueredo (below) very angry.
So there you have the candidates–well, at least the ones with name recognition. Of course, some of these may drop out before the debates start, and even more before the convention. But would if it comes down to Biden? I mean, look at the field? The majority of the candidates would throw their support to Biden over Sanders. Maybe this is why I can see most Democrats holding their collective nose and “voting sensible.” I guess my Yeats pun would “fall apart.” (Okay, I’ll stop.)
While the Democratic Party seems to be moving to the left, the specter of four more years of Trump governs that forward motion. And that is truly depressing. It’s too early to tell at this point, but the prospect of a truly liberal and anti-neoliberal party is almost enough to make jump for joy, but it’s too early for the streamers, balloons, party hats, and horns.
I’ll leave the last word about moving forward in American politics to a Dutchman.
“I would like to electrocute everyone who uses the word ‘fair’ in connection with income tax policies.” — William F. Buckley, Jr.
’Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes – The Cobbler of Preston by Christopher Bullock
Maybe it is because America fought a war over taxes that taxation has such a bad rap in this country. The only thing I hate about taxes are is annually preparing them. Personally, I don’t mind paying my fair share of income tax or gas tax or tax for other goods and services. I never have minded this seemingly Un-American duty. When I gazed upon the stub of my very first check from Taco Bell, I truly believed the funds pulled out of my gross pay was going to something worthwhile and/or necessary.
My introduction to the “evils” of taxation came when I voted in my second election. It was 1978 and Proposition 13 was the biggest item on the ballot. Prop 13 was the property tax revolt initiative introduced by Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann that radically changed California tax code–many people would later say for the worst. Though I recall my father, a Democrat at the time, was a big supporter of the initiative. I was neither aware of the damage the passage of the measure would reap down the road nor why the voter referendum was so popular. (Though many years later my father would say that property taxes were out of the control and Prop 13 fixed the problem.) I assume there was truth in that, but around the time the initiative was placed on the ballot, my father was on his way to becoming a Reagan Democrat and then a full-blown Rush Limbaugh-listening Republican so he may have also been on his way to being more fiscally conservative.
I am guessing I parroted my father’s ballot choices on many of the candidates and initiates on the 1976 and 1978 ballots. Sometime before the polls opened in those two elections my Dad, Mom, and I would sit down at the dinner table with our sample ballots and my Dad would give his reasons why he was voting for what candidate and for what initiative. I remember him stressing how we should all vote for the same things or we would be “canceling out” each other’s votes. My Mom would always tell me later with a wink that she was going to vote for whomever and whatever she wanted. Still, I didn’t understand anything about property taxes only that I didn’t pay for them. I also didn’t understand where the tax money went. Over the years I would figure it out with law enforcement and fire departments experiencing budget cuts, with people being thrown out of the apartments due to no rent control, and the State has to resort to the lottery to prop up our depressed schools. Wealthy neighborhoods were able to supplement their State education funds with local taxes that bolstered neighborhood public schools. The creation of charter schools also helped the affluent districts while negatively affecting depressed districts. Schools in depressed areas have to depend mostly on State taxes that Proposition 13 gutted. The long-coming teachers strike in Los Angeles is an example of counties taking back some of the monies lost due to Prop 13 and charter schools in rich school districts. The teachers tentative got back more nurses, more counselors, got more middle-school and high-school librarians and the teachers received a 6% raise. Will this raise taxes in Los Angeles County? I can’t see how it wouldn’t, but we are talking about our future. First Chicago, then West Virginia, then Oklahoma, now L.A. with strike talk happening in Denver and Oakland. We are seeing a reckoning a long time coming. Hopefully, this trend will ultimately affect the entire K-12 public schools in the U.S.
I learned another lesson on how fickle Americans can be when it comes to taxes and what taxes can buy or save on a local level. A couple of years after I most likely followed my father’s lead and voted Yes on Proposition 13 I became an employee of Tower Theatre–one of the last classic movie palaces in Sacramento at a time these kinds of theaters where closing down across America and video rental shops like Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, and Redbox were on the rise. While working as part of the floor staff I would hear older patrons go on about The Alhambra–a true movie palace that harkened back to the Golden Age of Hollywood. When it fell into disrepair in the early 1970’s Safeway Stores purchased the property and building to develop one of their supermarkets on the site. As Matias Bombal, local cinema impresario explained the doomed theater’s fate in a letter to the editors of Sacramento News and Review dated March 28, 2004:
“The blow was not delivered by Safeway, but by the people of Sacramento. Safeway Stores, upon hearing the tremendous public outcry of its potential destruction, offered the building and property back to the City of Sacramento for exactly what they paid for it. A special bond measure election was held to raise money to buy the property, and Sacramentans, likely not interested in additional taxes at that time, voted against it. With no acceptance by the City or any private party to buy the Alhambra, Safeway proceeded with their development.”
Safeway had the new store’s entrance designed in a vague homage to the movie palace’s front and it retained the water fountain now in the south side of the parking lot, but for many, these were hollow gestures. Now people pine about the long-gone movie palace, but I always wonder if some of the people bellyaching about the theater’s demise long for it, but not the tax that would have saved it from the wrecking ball. Apparently, at the time most people were watching their wallets and not the big silver screen.
I spent most of my adult years a political junkie, I spent most of the 1990s politically out of it while my wife and I raised a family. It was in 2000 with the election of George W. Bush I jolted back into politics especially when Bush doled out a huge tax cut for the rich and started two wars on a credit card. Before he left office when would me deep in debt. I became even more in tune with politics in the 2008 presidential election. Around that time, I recall all kinds of chicken little comments revolving around candidate Barack Obama, the U.S. Senator from Illinois. Besides the dog whistle racism, there were the fears that he was a socialist. While I hadn’t become a Democratic Socialist yet, I knew Obama was not a socialist–far from it. I recall an interview with the now disgraced Bill O’Reilly. The host’s opening comment went something like, “You’re a big tax-the-rich guy.” I looked up the video on YouTube and was reminded of Obama’s reply, “[chuckling] Just you, Bill.” I recall remembering that O’Reilly was the highest paid TV announcer of the time. Only a handful of primetime anchors make anything close to that amount, but the amount of money seemed ridiculous. (I will come back to this point later.) Why do the networks pay out that much for a talking head? It’s not as if they are professional athletes. (And don’t get me started on how much athletes get paid.)
As it turned out Obama really wasn’t that big of a “tax-the-rich guy.” True, taxes did increase a little to pay for the huge Affordable Care Act, but that wasn’t much compared to all the right-wing hype. Obama followed the Clinton centralist Democrat playbook, fiscally being about as center-right as any president since Reagan. Now, only social issues separated the two parties. Obama’s cabinet was a who’s-who in neoliberalism: Lawrence Summers, Timothy Geithner, Tom Perez, Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel. Still, it was all the birthers, dog-whistle politics, and the unfounded “weak on Putin” crap that pissed me off. What is wrong with being a tax the rich guy, anyway (even if you’re not)?
It was Obama’s (and let’s not forget W’s) decision to bail out the banks with taxpayer money that helped birth the Tea Party movement. Or at least that is what most people like me believe. We know now that, unlike the later Occupy Wallstreet movement, the Tea Party movement was mostly Astroturfed, or as the historian, Thomas Frank put it: “Never has there been a phonier, more transparent bid to mislead an angry public. Supposedly a protest against bank bailouts, it was actually launched from among the futures traders on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange—and then backed to the hilt by Beltway libertarians looking for a way to distance themselves from the badly damaged Republican brand.”
I didn’t like the Tea Party movement, but I was too busy at the time feeling betrayed by Obama and Democrats. I felt the party had lost its political courage. When the catastrophic 2010 midterms came around and the recession deepened I was ready to leave the party. I was looking for someone to believe in. Barack Obama did more to push me to the left–the real left than anything else. I hadn’t read The Nation since my college days. I began reading it every week now. I found some hope in its pages or maybe all it did was rile me up. I was introduced to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)–I immediately became a member. I also discovered Bernie Sanders and his newly published book The Speech, the transcript of a nearly nine-hour filibuster by the Independent U.S. Senator from Vermont in December of 2010.
The filibuster was so inspiring that the volume of viewers watching the now historic speech on C-SPAN crashed the Senate server. Sanders had been around for years and I found articles in The Nation that went back to the days he was the radical Mayor of Burlington, but he was brand new to me thanks to the myopic mainstream press. Bernie was a member of the DSA. I also liked how he went after corporations and the ultra-rich. I bought and read The Speech in a record time for me. Then, I sought out the C-SPAN video of the filibuster, downloaded it on to my PC and watched it–mesmerized–over two nights late into those evenings. For me, Sanders was the voice crying out from the neoliberal wilderness (though I didn’t know what “neoliberalism” meant at the time). After reading the book and watching the filibuster, I began spending more time on YouTube looking for more of Sanders speeches and interviews. To be honest I really don’t remember when I found the video below of Elizabeth Warren that reiterated what I have thought about taxes for quite some time now. It appears to have been taped in the Bush years, but I think I found it later. I’m not sure now. It predates Warren, the U.S. Senator. Perhaps it was when she was an Obama appointee. Whatever its release time Warren’s take on taxes is spot on.
Later, during Bernie’s 2016 presidential run I heard conservative friends and associates complain that Bernie wanted to give away “free stuff.” I pointed out that the “free stuff” they were referring to were critical in getting the economy and the poor and middle-class prosperous again, but all they saw were higher taxes. My retort was higher taxes for whom? Not us! This “free stuff” was to help educate and assist the people who keep the economy rolling like Elizabeth says in the video. It is frustrating how so many people–especially conservative, but mainline Democrats, too–think a healthy economy has absolutely nothing to do with taxation that keeps public services firing on all eight. When the attacks on Sanders’ “free stuff” were less abusive, they tended to be patronizing: an otherwise very intelligent, conservative, woman who works in a cubicle near me was so concerned that all these millennials were cheering for Bernie and all the things he promised (e.g. free public college education, college debt forgiveness, Medicare for all, paid family and medical leave, creating a jobs program, $15 an hour minimum wage, strengthening and expanding Social Security, et al.) with no way of generating the revenue to pay for these these things except through raising taxes. I kept my mouth shut. I knew the answer. Sanders had laid out how these services would be funded, but the mainstream press and especially Fox News (which I assumed this otherwise smart woman was getting her news spoon fed to her conveniently left out the part of Sanders’ plan. Bernie has explained how these programs would be funded, I could send this link to anyone who thinks these ideas are foolish, but it is far worse to think we should stay the course and what the middle class continues to shrink. When Sanders wasn’t speaking about this “free stuff” he wanted to give away to undeserving citizens who were strapped with debt or sinking below the poverty line he was talking about corporate taxation, taxes on Wall Street speculation, estate taxes, and other taxes that made the candidate the target for smears by the DNC, the Washington Post, the New York Times and the nearly every other mainstream media outlet.
The best things that came out of Bernie 2016 were the progressive political action organizations Our Revolution, Brand New Congress, and Justice Democrats, and one of the candidate’s organizers: Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Ocasio-Cortez ran and defeated the ten-term incumbent Congressman, Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley for the New York’s 14th Congressional District. From there she easily defeated her Republican opponent in the general in 2018 and at age 29 became the youngest woman to be elected into the Congress. As a freshman Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC) would float the idea of a progressive marginal Federal income tax to Anderson Cooper on CBS’ 60 Minutes. A kind of tax rate we have not seen in this country since the 1970s. AOC told Cooper, “If you look at our tax rates back in the ’60s when you had a progressive tax rate system, your tax rate, let’s say, from zero to $75,000 maybe ten percent or 15 percent, et cetera. But once you get to, like, the tippy tops–on your 10 millionth dollar–sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60 or 70 percent. That does not mean all $10 million are taxed at an extremely high rate, but it means that as you climb up this ladder you should be contributing more.” That last sentence is critical since Cooper suggested AOC is a “radical.” This from a man who makes $12 million annually. Fox News’ Sean Hannity was outraged by AOC’s suggestion and misquoted her tax idea multiple times to Fox’s angry, white middle-class viewers. By the way, Hannity is reported to pull down a ridiculous $36 million a year.
Above AOC explains–again–how a marginal tax rate works, this time on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The graph below is a visual history of how this country taxed the rich. Things went all to hell when Reagan took office. After AOC floated the marginal tax reform, I found two of my favorite podcast hosts talking about it. Jeremy Scahill on Intercepted brought up the subject of marginal tax rates with Stephanie Kelton, the popular economist and adviser to the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign. Listen here at the 31:40 mark. Also, Richard Wolff talked about it on his January 23, 2019 installment of Economic Update. Pick up Prof. Wolff’s discussion about tax reform at the 15:28 mark. But most remarkable was Jamelle Bouie’s piece in the Op-Ed section of January 28, 2019, New York Times. Bouie’s writes how inequality has highly negative consequences on society and that AOC’s marginal tax reform idea, Elizabeth Warren’s tax plan, as well as many of Sanders ideas are gaining traction because the fact that “trickle-down” economics has never worked, that a healthy middle-class is what creates jobs by purchasing good and services which in turn creates more demand that results in jobs growth and higher wages. Since Occupy Wall Street and especially since the Sanders campaign and the wake of activism that has followed more people are figuring this out.
On a personal note, I don’t think anyone in my family (with the possible exception of my two sons) sees the world the way I do. My brother is a wealthy fiscal conservative. When my father was alive we used to argue over politics until we both come to the conclusion that neither of us is going to change the other’s mind so we stopped. The last political exchange we ever had, I think, had to do with a draconian budget proposal by Paul Ryan. My dad liked it and wanted to know what I thought. I just now qualified it as “draconian” so the reader knows how I felt about it. Still, I held my tongue and said something like I don’t know much about it and the subject was dropped. The last time I tortured a family member with my politics it was about income taxes and my mom was the victim. She told me that an affluent family we have known for years moved to Nevada because the income taxes were more favorable. I knew it was none of my damn business, but it just rubbed me the wrong–a well off couple spending virtually their entire lives in California enjoying all that the state has to offer–much of it due to taxes. Then move across the border. I know that’s not as bad as millionaire tax shelters, offshore accounts, et al, but it still–emotionally if not intelligently–rubbed me the wrong way. I made some comment that I bet they could handle paying the State taxes considering what they got out of the State over the years. It was a dumb argument, I know. I just got turned off how a wealthy family who I assume are pretty much set for life wants more. My mom snapped at me about how it was their money and they could do what they want with it. I shut my mouth at this point and salvaged our lunch date.
Every once in a while, I run into David, a lobbyist for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association motoring his way to the Capitol on his electric wheelchair. David is a fellow Christian. We met through a Bible study I used to attend at the State Capitol and it is mainly because of this connection I say hello and ask how he’s doing whenever I see him. I feel a little shame that I have a bad taste in my mouth whenever we exchange hellos. It’s an especially bad feeling because he is a perfectly well-mannered individual and if you asked him about me I am sure he would say that while he doesn’t really know me very well there is absolutely no animus between us. But for me, that’s not completely true. Back when we were in the Capitol Bible study he would make a comment every occasionally that rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it was about the homeless problem or welfare. A better person–a better Christian–might confess his ill feelings and then hope the two would talk and pray it out, but I hold my tongue and just stew in it. I know he wouldn’t say anything stone cold about people less fortunate than us, but I’m pretty sure he would say or may actually have said something like “the State shouldn’t be responsible for the homeless, people below the rising poverty line–the church needs to step up.” (The church–as if it was a monolithic entity with a large budget and enough service workers to pull off these needed services so conservatives who don’t want their tax dollars going to the destitute can sleep at night knowing “The Church” is at work–regardless of they are putting any scratch in Sunday’s offering plate. Then again, maybe it’s my prejudice against his lobby firm he works for. I seem to think of Howard fucking Jarvis every time I see David motoring towards the Capitol or his office. As long as I envision depressed and overcrowded schools with overworked and underpaid teachers, Howard Jarvis pops into my head.
When I see David in his wheelchair riding from his office to the Capitol or back, or drinking a latte at Oblivion Comics and Coffee I have the opportunity to talk politics, but I envision him sounding like one of those anti-gas tax initiative commercials or telling me how the California Lottery is filling the gap his crappy Prop 13 created. (He’s younger than me by well over 20 years. He wasn’t born when the tax initiate made it on the ballot.) Yeah, I know, I need to let this go. It’s a free country, right? Not only that, we’re supposed to be hermanos en Cristo, for Cristo sake. Still, I marvel how people don’t want to pay for anything that just might help the community at large and especially the less fortunate if it means forking out some of their own earnings.
Taxes, especially fair income taxes, estate, taxes in the form of offshore penalties, taxes on capital gains, and dividends taxes can be great equalizers. And, yes, I do believe you can have too much money regardless of what you do for a living. Though there are plenty of rich people who would disagree with me. Enter billionaire Howard Schutz of Starbucks fame, who thinks he can make America great again by running as an independent centrist and hopefully defeating all the Democrats that are now jumping on the progressive tax bandwagon. President-hopeful Starbucks calls the tax ideas of AOC and Warren “punitive.” No shit Schultzy, you’re a fucking billionaire! Any truly progressive tax plan is going to make Daddy Starbucks feel like he’s been kicked in the balls every April 15. And downstream the least of us will see improvements. I’m all for that! If you ask U.S. Senator (and possible presidential-hopeful) from Ohio, Sherrod Brown he would call Schultz a “total idiot.” or as Robert Wright in his The Mindful Resistance Newsletter (January 27-February 2, 2019) said it a bit more decorously “If you’re a billionaire, and you live in a country that’s in the throes of a populist revolt on both the left and the right, and the country is being run by a guy who figured being a billionaire qualified him for the White House and is now widely loathed, maybe you should sit this one out.”
I know everyone has a right to their own opinion, but whenever someone like Schultz or one of those grossly over-paid news commentators or one of the mouthpieces of the Koch Brothers, the Walton family, or Sheldon Adelson offer their two bits about taxes and economics it rings so utterly self-serving considering these are the people who have the most to lose while their fellow citizens living in abject poverty just may benefit from a more progressive tax plan. I seriously doubt David, the low-tax lobbyist I see occasionally, would agree. Perhaps one day I’ll broach the subject the next time we run into each other in Oblivion and maybe even talk over cappuccinos. I could ask how his wheelchair handles the potholes of California streets only to find that he was not happy how Prop 13 played out. I’d sip my cappuccino feeling like a dick, ah, but a tax-the-rich democratic socialist dick!
As a toddler, I might as well have worn a hat that said, “C-Section Baby” to remove all doubt from anyone who cast their eyes upon my giant head and thought, “How did mom birth that kid?” On second thought, I would have to wear a T-shirt–they wouldn’t be able to find a hat large enough for my gargantuan grape. My small mouth only accentuated the problem. Growing and keeping my hair longish helped for a while until I began to lose it. Then, after I got married, I began to gain weight followed by my receding hair graying. So the images below are not intended to impress. “There but for the grace of God go I,” I suppose.
Sometime in the mid-70s, we saw Rich Little at a casino in South Shore or Reno, Nevada. Rich Little inspired me to become an impressionist, but like everything else, once I found out it took a lot of practice and hard work, I dumped it. Leasure suits? Good God! Were my brother and I feigning senior citizens?
I’m not sure if this was taken in 1987 or 1988 since I lived with my future wife and her kid, Peter, for a year. Call it a test drive. Of course, it worked out swimmingly. This is one for the images from a photo booth at either the Pizza Hut or the Time Zone arcade across the street in Old Sacramento. I spent countless hours and quarters on Peter at the Time Zone. First Pizza Hut then, when Ely was a toddler Chuck E. Cheese’s. I was once a pizza snob before this time in my life. Now, it was whatever Peter and later Peter and Ely wanted no matter how shitty the pizza. Parenthood.
Thanks for your vote, ma’am. I’m crying now that Beto lost to a truly horrible U.S. Senator. More tears for Andrew Gillum’s loss to a bigot in the Florida Gubernatorial race. Stacey Abrams may lose to a complete asshole in the Georgia Gubernatorial.
Most of the Dems that won in the less-than-tidal “Blue Wave” are Centrists. Most politicos are now saying the only one who can defeat Trump is one more neoliberal Democrat like Corey Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden. Jesus, how depressing! Anyway, thanks for this, David Doel. You and Naomi Klein are two of my favorite people from The Great White North.
I know there are some positive Firsts from the 2018 Midterms. AOC’s win now seems anti-climatic after her stunning win over Joe Crowley in June. I guess I’m too morbid to list them, so click here for news that is mostly good if you are a liberal.
I’m the worst person you want on your debate team. A couple of years of Toastmasters didn’t make much of a dent in the problem. This person pitfall is made worse when the subject is politics in general and advocating socialism and criticising capitalism specifically. I get anxious, frustrated, angry when my listener thinks socialism won’t work here in the U.S. (presumably because it has never been tried and my listener does not have the imagination to seriously consider a society without the free market and the social architecture of capitalism). I lose my thread. Hell, I lose my thread nearly every time I tell one of my long-winded stories. Just ask the few friends I have who will attempt to hang on for dear life as I jump subjects like a train in a switching yard until someone asks, “What do cats have to do with California’s GDP?”
This brief piece from Kevin Drum’s column in Mother Jones’ website does a better job explaining how the Democratic Socialists of America want to change one aspect of health care.
I’ve been curious for a while about just what a democratic socialist really is. An FDR liberal on steroids? A Swedish style social democrat? I’m not very clear about this. Meagan Day clears things up for me: Here’s the truth: In the long run, democratic socialists want to end capitalism. And we want to do…
And speaking of single-payer health care in America, Libertarians may not like Medicare for all, but by criticising it they approved of it.
Here is the source David Doel is referring to in the above video:
I had heard of Arundhati Roy and her novel The God of Small Things when it was published back in 1997. I had long forgotten why the book interested me. I was a newly-minted Christian at the time, so maybe the provocative title with “God” in it made me want to check it out. I probably jotted the title down for future reading on the bookmark I was using at that time. That was my pre-Goodreads.com method of keeping a list of books I wanted to read. That approach wasn’t advantageous. (Somewhere out in the world, there are a dozen or so deteriorating New Yorker and QPB Book Club bookmarks with book titles scribbled on them.) It took the recent publicity of her 2017 book The Ministry of Utmost Happiness–glowing reviews and fascinating interviews–to remind me of the author’s previous award-winning novel and my interest in it. In between these two critically-acclaimed works of fiction are twenty years and eighteen non-fiction publications and activism.
When I started reading The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, I immediately fell for Aftab, a Shia Muslim hermaphrodite born in Old Delhi, India. As she reaches adulthood, she has gender reassignment surgery and becomes Anjum, a glamorous, affectionate woman. Anjum moves into a house called Khabgah (or “House of Dreams”) with the group hermaphrodites and transgenders. Anjum later leaves Khabgah and moves into a nearby cemetery where she transforms it into a guest house, called Jannat (or “Paradise”), and creates Jannat Funeral Services. Jannat Guest House becomes home to other marginalized and persecuted characters like herself. This, I believe, is where Roy gets the title to the book. The significance of the cemetery is that in India graveyards are usually for Muslims. Hindus cremate their dead, and so these sites become ghettos of sorts since Muslims are the minority and have been pushed to the bottom of the economic and social chain.
But this is only the beginning of this beautiful and brutal braided narrative covering many decades of often bloody struggles and strife. The story moves back and forth in time and geography: Delhi to Kashmir, from the 1990s to current time dealing with the hypocrisy of the caste system to the Kashmiri separatist movement that called for the Muslim-majority Kashmir to break from Hindu-majority India.
The West often thinks of India as the land of yoga, meditation, and Gandhi. However, Roy said in a recent interview with Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept, “There has not been a single day since August 15, 1947, when India was declared independent that the Indian Army has not been deployed within its own borders, against its own people…It’s just a nation that is nailed together by military might.” As an American who never studied the history of India, Richard Attenborough’s version of Mahatma Gandhi’s life is the most background knowledge I have on the subject, so the stuff in this book had some shockers. (By the way, if you have fifteen minutes, check out Roy setting the record straight on Gandhi here. It was news to me!)
Roy dedicated the book to “The Unconsoled,” and that would apply to the characters in this book if they were alive. They don’t fit neatly into the complex grid that is India. An India “that is divided into this tiny little fretwork of caste and ethnicity and language and each is pitted against the other,” as the author told Scahill. A humous example of this is contained in a joke that militants passed around on their mobile phones:
I saw a man on a bridge about to jump.
I said, “Don’t do it!”
He said, “Nobody loves me.”
I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Are you a Muslim or a non-Muslim?”
He said, “A Muslim.”
I said, “Shia or Sunni?”
He said, “Sunni.”
I said, “Me too! Deobandi or Barelvi?”
He said, “Barelvi.”
I said “Me too! Tanzeehi or Tafkeeri?”
He said, “Tanzeehi.”
I said “Me too! Tanzeehi Azmati or Tanzeehi Farhati?”
He said, “Tanzeehi Farhati.”
I said “Me too! Tanzeehi Farhati Jamia ul Uloom Ajmer or Tanzeehi Farhati Jamia ul Noor Mewat?”
He said, “Tanzeehi Farhati Jamia ul Noor Mewat.”
I said, “Die, kafir!” and I pushed him over.
Forgive this blogger’s indulgence. The joke was too funny to not reproduce here. It is also the only time while reading the book that I laughed out loud. So, the passage misrepresents the work as a whole, but the punchline fits with much of the novel’s text. Still, there are beautiful love stories here amongst the massacres, lynchings, and tortures. The fact that Roy can effectively reveal love and tenderness in this kind of landscape is her genius.
When interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! Roy said, “Fiction in reality as well as in my imagination is my real home, but this time it is home with the roof blown off.” Indeed, at times The Ministry of Utmost Happiness seems like it is rubble where home used to be. I, for one, am grateful for the storm. I found The Ministry of Utmost Happiness a tough read, but worth every challenging page.
If I had treated Ministry of Utmost Happiness as some kind of dark speculative history and didn’t follow up by reading the sobering nonfiction Capitalism: A Ghost Story I might have just moved on an been a happy idiot, but I didn’t. Capitalism: A Ghost Story is, at least to this rookie of Indian politics, a The Ministry of Utmost Happiness without tenderness or beauty. Capitalism: A Ghost Story is in part about how non-taxpaying foundations like Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Ford Foundation with almost unlimited resources turn their economic wealth into political, social, and cultural capital.
Capitalism: A Ghost Story is about neoliberalism, racism, the privatization of public works, and pollution run amuck, and the wreckage unfettered capitalism leaves in its path. There are Kashmiri separatists, anti-government Maoists rebels in the jungles fighting against the government that wants to strip the forest for mining operations and massive privately-owned dam projects threatening to wipe out hundreds of poor communities. Scary shit, indeed!
Roy spends much of the ink here on the evils of foundations. It is fascinating in a very dark way how foundations have a history of “defusing and deradicalizing” movements like, for instance, the Black civil rights movement here in the 1960s and the “successful transformation of Black Power into Black Capitalism.” Roy writes:
“The Rockefeller Foundation, in keeping with J. D. Rockefeller’s ideals, had worked closely with Martin Luther King Sr. (father of Martin Luther King Jr.). But his influence waned with the rise of the more militant organizations—the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panthers. The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations moved in. In 1970 they donated $15 million to “moderate” Black organizations, giving people, grants, fellowships, scholarships, job-training programs for dropouts, and seed money for Black-owned businesses. Repression, infighting, and the honey trap of funding led to the gradual atrophying of the radical Black organizations. Martin Luther King Jr. made the forbidden connections between Capitalism, Imperialism, Racism, and the Vietnam War. As a result, after he was assassinated even his memory became toxic, a threat to public order.”
Foundations “remodeled his legacy to fit a market-friendly format.” The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, with a grant of $2 million, was set up by the Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Mobil, and Monsanto, among others. The center maintains the King Library and Archives of the Civil Rights Movement. We rarely hear about the radical, socialist King. All we easily remember (unless you look for his late speeches or read Tavis Smiley or Cornel West) is the “I Have a Dream” speech, the non-violent protests, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in D.C. Stuff that corporate and middle American can easily ingest.
Capitalism: A Ghost Story is a sharp rebuke of neoliberalism and multinational capitalism. Her in-depth writing reminds me of Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Chris Hedges. I can’t always wrap my head around what she is saying. That’s alright though–I would prefer to be challenged than jaded.
The last book I read was Roy on mass government surveillance. Things That Can and Cannot Be Said is a collaboration with American actor John Cusack and is, for the most part, nothing new. Roy and Cusack fly to Moscow with Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg to interview NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The interview turned out to focus on Ellsberg as much as on Snowden. Most of the book is interview transcripts, the first part of it between Roy and Cusack alone and the second half the co-authors with the famous whistleblowers.
Snowden seemed to add little new information to the conversation. Roy questioned Snowden over the controversial Wired Magazine September 2014 cover. Snowden gave a flippant answer. Presumably, because he has fielded that question too many times already. To me, this was a missed opportunity. Snowden–like Ellsberg–entered the armed forces and later the government because he wanted to serve. Like Ellsberg (and for that matter Chelsea Manning, Thomas Drake, et al.) he was not a radical. I might be reading in between the lines here, but I felt Roy was disappointed in the Wired cover pic. She has been quoted as saying, “Flags are bits of coloured cloth that governments use to first shrink wrap people’s brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.” My guess is she felt that Snowden was falling back on a banal patriotic trope and she wanted a clear answer from him and what she got was frustration.
I gleaned more from the Ellsberg comments. I hadn’t visited the Pentagon Papers scandal since college, so some of what he had to say refreshed my memory. One of the more chilling comments came from Ellsberg. I have heard others comment on this, most notably Chris Hedges, though Ellsberg broke it down to how it would all happen:
“We don’t have a police state, not yet…One more 911 and then I believe we will have hundreds of thousands of potentials. Middle-easterners, Muslims will be put into detention camps or deported. After 911 we had thousands of people arrested without charges, but I am talking about the future…I’m talking of hundreds of thousands in camps or deported. I think the surveillance is relevant to that. They will know who to put away. The data is already collected.”
Ultimately, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said was a rehash for me. All the stuff I have read about since the initial story from The Guardian broke and then the interviews and articles that have come in its tsunami-size wake.
What to read next by Arundhati Roy–Walking With the Comrades where Roy traveled into the forests of Central India where Maoist guerillas confront some of the world’s biggest mining corporations. Or maybe The Doctor and the Saint where Roy attempts to replace Gandhi with Ambedkar as India’s preeminent modern figure. Wait! Minutes before posting this I bought An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire–a book that has been described as “a call to arms against the apocalyptic apparatus of the American empire.”
I’ll probably just take a break from Roy for a while. She is an excellent writer and a great thinker, but like Chomsky, Hedges, and Klein, a little too sobering to take in large doses. Still, I just may get around to reading The God of Small Things sooner than later. I wonder what other titles are on all those lost bookmarks.
Today is the bicentennial of Karl Marx’s birth, and while much of his work is over my head, some of his basic ideas are spot on like how all profit is “surplus-value” (obtained by paying workers less than the value of what they produce). Marx called capitalism inefficient, wasteful, and immoral. Today this seems like an understatement. Read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate for starters. Marx wrote of the “laws of motion” of the capitalist system before there were crippling recessions and depressions, booms and busts. Marx also predicted monopolies. Most of these predictions and assertions were writing in his masterpiece, the three-volume tome Capital: Critique of Political Economy (also known by its German name Das Kapital). While I can say I have read the passionate yet anachronistic Communist Manifesto (co-written by his friend and often financial supporter Friedrich Engels), I cannot say I have read much of Capital Volume 1 and I have never seen the other two volumes.
I had a proper introduction to Marx in high school thanks to Mr. Thorn–an exceptional economics teacher–who had his class read Robert Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers. Heilbroner’s Marx seemed to me like the hero of the common laborer, but I was young and a remedial student and was aware of this deficiency. I was easy prey to the smarter kids who thought Marx was terrible. (It was the Cold War and I lived in an upper-middle class neighborhood and attended a high school of the like.) Mr. Thorn was a free-thinking kind of teacher and was open to ideas by Marx and Thorstein Veblen–another thinker in Heilbroner’s book that fascinated me. I loved the class so much that upon receiving a “C” in the course I enrolled in the class again, earning the same grade despite covering the same material. (I told you I was dull!) Without a doubt, Marx was the most challenging chapter in a very challenging book for me, but Marx cared about working person. No matter how mediocre of a student I was, I understood Marx cared for the little guy, and I liked that.
In college, my exposure to Marx was relegated to a guest speaker on one day in my Economics 1A class. My professor lectured almost exclusively on how reduced governments, free trade, deregulation, and fiscal responsibility in government was the ideal. I got re-acquainted with Adam Smith, David Ricardo and was introduced to Friedrich Hayek and other Austrian School economists, as well as Milton Friedman, and other University of Chicago economists. Just like in my high school economics class, I was horrible, garnishing a “C” and compelling me once and for all to stay away from the subject but focus on the social ramifications of economic projects. I have always been compassionate. Where I got that from I don’t know. Maybe my parents, but also there were my Sunday school teachings of Jesus. (I would later articulate Jesus feeding and healing the poor into being pro-welfare, pro-National Health Insurance, and pro-Guaranteed Minimum Income.) When I was a kid, I liked Robin Hood’s stealing from the rich and giving to the poor idea. (I would later articulate this into aggressive wealth redistribution aka Progressive Taxation.)
Anyway, I put up with the libertarian-leaning class study. In a lame attempt to be “fair” the professor had a student who was a member of a socialist party come in an explain socialism to the class. It sounded good to me, but after the socialist finished his talk a classmate who had been quiet the whole semester started asking questions. Soon he was ripping into the speaker rhetorically asking something like “How do you expect architects, engineers, doctors, lawyers, etc. will agree to be paid the same as janitors, waitresses, groundskeepers, dishwashers, etc.” The socialist stammered and the guy in class just kept coming at him. I even remember the professor smiling impishly on the sidelines not about to help the young socialist out even if he could defend the speaker if only in theory. When the capitalist apologist was done, he became the Big Man in Econ 1A. I knew there were smarter socialists on the planet who could debate this student, and for every smarter socialist, there would be a more intelligent capitalist, and so on, but I didn’t know the answers. I would like to think the winner in the Debate Royale would be a socialist. In a timeless universe perhaps Marx would be the last man standing.
After I graduated I put away Marx and socialism and settled down as a family man, discontinued my subscriptions to leftist magazines, and voted an uninspiring Straight Democratic Ticket in most elections. Twenty years later, in 2007, I would get back into following politics after falling in love with the eloquent words of Barack Obama. At the same time, though, I started reading the alternative press, like I did back in college. People were calling the U.S. Senator from Illinois a socialist and I was intrigued to know if he really was one.
Shortly after Obama took office, I started wondering how this guy could be a socialist when he was hiring the same people Clinton used to betray American workers with their free trade agreements, screwing the poor by reforming welfare and passing the Crime Bill, and opening the door for catastrophe by dismantling Glass-Stegall. I was flipping through an issue of The Nation Magazine one day and saw an ad for the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). It sported the faces of Cornel West, Noam Chomsky, and the Independent U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders–three people I had a lot of respect for. West was one of Obama’s biggest supporters. (He would later call Obama a “counterfeit.”) I knew of the erudite Chomsky back in college. The Senator from Vermont I just had heard about. Sanders had recently done a filibuster on the Senate floor corporate greed and the decline of the middle class that lasted over eight hours. I had read extracts from it in The Nation and was inspired: I hadn’t read Marx in years but thought this hero of the working class and poor was the closest thing to it. When I became a member of the DSA, it was the first time I called myself a socialist. By the time I read the full transcript of Sanders filibuster in his book The Speech I was a big fan, but I also knew–long before he ran for president in April of 2015–that he was a lite version of a socialist. Bernie was–is–more like a pre-neoliberal Democrat. Noam Chomsky has referred to him as a “New Dealer” and others have likened him to LBJ. I knew he was the best bet by far for president in that election, but neoliberalism has both parties and the mainstream media in a death grip. Bernie didn’t stand a chance. At least in 2016.
Shortly after the Mid-term elections of 2010, I began attending meetings and reading groups at my local chapter of the DSA here in Sacramento, but while my fellow members were warm and welcoming all my years of reclusiveness had taken its toll. Additionally, I was often by far the oldest person in the room. Most of the attendees were college students–my kids’ ages. I stuck out. I continued to attend meetings off and on, then quit for a while, then started up again, then I just decided to watch from the sidelines. I remain a member. I pay my dues, contribute whenever there are fund drives, but otherwise, I’m more of an armchair socialist.
I have read the Max Beer biography The Life and Teaching of Karl Marx, portions of Eric Fromm’s Marx’s Concept of Man, as well as revisiting the chapter on Marx in Heilbroner’s book. I admire Marx mainly in some of the ways he has inspired thinkers that I better understand and follow. For one there is the filmmaker Raoul Peck, director of the new film The Young Karl Marx. The movie is good if not stunning like his previous film I’m Not Your Negro. The interview below of Peck by Amy Goodman is interesting because they show how the National Rifle Association uses fear of Marx(!) to combat the rise of anti-gun protests after the Stoneman Douglas High School shootings in Parkland Florida.
Another interesting note about Wayne LaPierre’s C-PAC speech is that it is highly speculative that “on college campuses ‘The Communist Manifesto’ is one of the most frequently assigned texts” and it is dubious, at best, that “Karl Marx is the most assigned economists” [sic]. The complaints from Marxist professors like David Harvey, Erik Olin Wright, and my favorite, Richard D. Wolff, is that heterodox economics is not being taught in many colleges in the U.S. enough. The trend for some time now has been towards Neoclassicalism, a school of thought that has no room for Marx, or Keynes or any of the others outside the orthodoxy. I like Wolff (and Harvey and my youngest son who is a Marxist) because he is so accessible. He hosts the excellent podcast Economic Update, he is a frequent guest on The Thom Hartmann Program and here he is on Real Time with Bill Maher.
Finally, I accidentally found the video below when looking up Wolff on YouTube. Wolff is the narrator for this Join the Socialist Party USA video. I am not endorsing the party, but maybe I should. I’m still a Democrat for some inexplicable reason. (More about me and my attachment to the Party of FDR and LBJ (and not the Clintons and Obama) in an upcoming post.)
Anyway, I agree (at least on an intellectual level) with the message in the video. I’d like to think Marx would, too, if he were around today.