Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Death of Electoral Politics in the United States of America - Part I



Well, it's gonna be Joe Biden versus Donald Trump. How utterly ridiculous. Back in 2016 I'd said that if I was a US-American citizen and my choice was between Trump or Hillary Clinton, my answer would have been "Neither." To this day I maintain that H. R. Clinton's threat to shoot Russia planes out of the skies over Syria was batshit lunacy. Trump was/is awful. Hillary was awful.
The Left should fight back against whomever of these monsters win. But the Left can't fight. But at least the Left shouldn't vote for their own oppression.
Many US-Americans agreed with me. Hillary won the popular vote. But enough Democratic voters stayed home, joining the roughly 50% who don't bother to vote ever, that Trump squeaked-out an Electoral College victory with his rat-shit supporters, Republican gerrymandering and electoral fraud.

And Trump, being Trump (which is to say a grifting, bloated, combed-over, sprayed-orange, rapist, racist travesty of a human being) has gone on to be remarkably stupid, incompetent, vile and destructive as anyone's worst fears. At the same time though, US-Americans' material living standards haven't altered in appreciable ways from the Obama years. (Thanks to Trump's budget-busting tax-cuts, things were going to get worse eventually, as the oligarchy would demand spending cuts on social services to make up for the revenue lost with.)

The Hillary Clinton/DLC-wing of the Democratic Party responded to her humiliating loss by blaming it on Bernie Sanders (which reveals that Hillary can add "ingrate" to her list of character flaws), progressive voters (who she had deliberately shat upon) and, most laughably, the Russia of Vladimir Putin. Providing yet more evidence for why she was a terrible candidate, Hillary managed to miss or ignore the real reasons for her loss (her terrible record and policies and Republican cheating) for imaginary ones.

There were encouraging signs that the most energetic, hopeful segments of the party's base were mobilizing and coming up with candidates and policies that spoke to the people left behind by the Democratic leadership. This leadership was in thrall to the billionaire donor class and pursued policies that only advanced the interests of the oligarchs first and foremost. Only as an afterthought did the Democratic leadership speak of policies to address the needs of the increasingly put-upon majority. And then the pursued only such remedial policies as would not negatively impact the oligarchs.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Canada's Half-Assed Response to COVID-19

Compared to the clusterfuck going on south of our border, Canadians are once again getting smug about our superiority to those "stupid Americans." I wish that we wouldn't do that. Certainly the US political system produces more than its fair share of arrogant stupidity than most other countries, but Canadians are fast learners. So many people thought Rob Ford was harmless fun. He wasn't. He was an international disgrace and a terrible administrator. stephen harper is still thought of by a frighteningly large segment of our population (include our "elite" commentators) as some sort of "elder statesman" rather than the anti-democratic, racist, crooked, cowardly bully, human train wreak that he was. Enough of us in Ontario voted for Doug Ford to give that blustering imbecile a majority. And Jason Kenney's United Cretin Party of Alberta was also given a majority and just look at the insanity. (I'll say now that Kenney's response to COVID-19 hasn't been half-assed. It's been full-on psychopathic.)

It's high time that we in Canada took a long, hard look in the mirror at ALL of the political parties (Conservative, Liberal, NDP) that we have all allowed to run-down our healthcare system at both the provincial and federal levels. We have allowed hospital beds per capita to decline. Linda McQuaig reminds us that Canada once had a world renowned, publicly owned and operated laboratory that developed cutting-edge vaccines which we privatized for a song. Shit-head Doug Ford is having to reconcile his continued cuts to public healthcare ($1 billion over 10 years to Toronto alone) with his current acknowledgement of that same system's vital importance for preventing thousands of excess deaths due to this pandemic.

Listen folks, it's like this: Stuff costs money! Sure, for a country of 37-million people, the price-tag for top-of-the-line healthcare is going to run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. (Thankfully, our annual GDP is around $1.5 TRILLION.) That's just reality. And privatizing it isn't going to make it cheaper. Thanks to those corrupt psychopaths in the USA we have an actually existing private comparison which shows that private healthcare is more expensive. It's long past time for us to stop being polite to these right-wing scum who are constantly slashing our healthcare system so that their oligarchic paymasters can have more money to hoard in illegal offshore accounts, or (worse) to profit from privatization, price-gouging us our deaths.

Either these people are astonishingly ignorant and incapable of grasping the consequences of their actions or they simply don't care. Regardless, it's unacceptable.

So, we have to spend money. And to that we have to tax. We have to restore taxation levels on the wealthy to 1970s levels and ignore their self-interested whining. We have cut their taxes for forty goddamned years and we have gotten less than nothing for it.

But even before we start taxing these assholes, we must cease and desist from wasting scarce public revenues on propping up corporate parasites in fossil fuels and finance. It's time to let the private owners of Canada's oil patch (both foreign and domestic) go bust. Nobody put a fucking gun to their heads and made them invest in a boom-and-bust resource industry. They already want billions in subsidies to develop and move their money-losing sludge. They already intend to leave us with the trillion-dollar clean-up bill for their industry. Why in the sweet name of Christ do our politicians think there is anything to be gained by ensuring that these petulant dip-shits need are kept whole during this crisis?

Speaking of rich assholes who expect to keep making money while everyone else suffers losses, as I said previously, Canada's banks, which have collectively had profits of over $40 billion annually since 2017 (at least). At the moment, these precious darlings are planning on letting mortgage payers defer payments for the next few months while charging interest the whole time and expecting everything to be paid-up in full at the end of that time. And that's when they can't dick around and nickel and dime their customers to try to get as much as they can right now. NO. A thousand times NO. Certainly a country doesn't want its banking sector to suffer loss after loss, whether through bad loans or bad investments. But that is why we have deposit insurance. We also don't want thousands, tens of thousands, of people to lose their homes. We also don't want thousands of small businesses to go under. Canada should take steps now to FORCE our banks to accept a moratorium on all debt obligations at a time when people can't pay because they can't work. At the same time, it should not be beyond our capabilities to protect our banks from speculators who would take such a policy of debt forgiveness as an opportunity to attack. I'm well aware that the default mode for all our politicians is to grovel and placate our titans of finance. But the damage that will be the inevitable result of that sycophancy will be so enormous that the time to stop throwing good billions after bad is NOW.

As for the financial markets themselves? The speculating and gambling in secondary financial markets? Let them crash. It will have negligible impact on the real economy. Secondary trading on the TSE and elsewhere is just like a bunch of boys swapping trading cards back and forth. There is very little leakage from this sector to the rest of the economy, and what leakage there is can often be damaging (such as real-estate speculation). These people buy luxury homes and cars, sometimes pricey artworks, other luxury goods, ... that's about it. What they give away in charity is less than what they'd have to pay in taxes. For the most part, they're parasites killing the host economy. Let them fail.

Once they're gone, Canada's government could implement a form of "Quantitative Easing" or "QE" for ordinary Canadians. Especially with regards to student loans. And this would be an ideal time to do it since the lack of spending opportunities will act as a drag on any (minuscule) inflationary pressures.

But that's enough macro-policy. Time to deal with the nitty-gritty of the Covid-19 crisis itself. I wrote about how to deal with the crisis already in my last post. Here's the quick and dirty:
  1. Suspend all rental and mortgage payments, effective immediately, for the next two months (at least.) 
  2. Provide $2,000 to every adult for food and basic necessities.  
  3. Implement war-time level taxation on the wealthy to pay for everything during this crisis
  4. Let the private-sector oil industry collapse and buy it up afterwards.
  5. Order the production of thousands of new ventilators and subsidize the re-tooling necessary for every manufacturer with the capability of doing so.
  6. Do the same thing with testing capacity. Implement total lock-downs in sections of the country where teams can test everyone within a 24-hour period.
  7. Prevent unnecessary travel between cities and towns.
  8. Devote all available resources to the production of masks, gloves, surgical gowns, etc., for hospitals and clinics dealing with the virus.
  9. Train people to perform the simpler tasks required to deal with the virus. (This includes administering tests/conducting the tests/scrubbing down hospitals/emergency clinics/etc.)

I've already repeated some of these things here today. I'll add to that that we should have the provinces take over all care for the elderly. Any provinces legitimately without the resources to do this should enter into contracts with a federal agency in the same way that some provinces employ the RCMP for policing. It's criminal the way we treat our elderly and the people who care for them. All workers in retirement homes and nursing homes should immediately become full-time, unionized employees. Their spouses doing non-essential work should be subsidized to stay at home so as not to expose these workers and their clients to this deadly virus.

Here's a good summary of how Canada botched its initial response to the crisis. Was this laziness or stupidity? No. This was just part of our elite culture of wishful thinking and decades of zero-consequences for appalling mistakes. They hoped that somehow you could have continued repatriation of Canadians and travel of foreigners into Canada from virus hot spots and that magically, none of these individuals would have breathed in a microscopic airborne virus, and that they wouldn't be breathing out said virus after they got here.  Such magical thinking was predicated on the need to prevent injury to the economy and a denial of the need to mobilize the country's resources (include taxation of the wealthy) that acknowledging reality would make inevitable.

Chowdhury said the government took too long to realize how significant the issue was and took too long to call out the severity of the problem.
"I always feel like we're behind the curve," he said in an interview.

Chowdhury concedes that hindsight is 20-20 and it's easier to see mistakes in retrospect, but he points to a list of other countries — South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and New Zealand — that have fared relatively well to show that other governments, with the same evidence in hand, were quicker to react and did so more decisively.

And they did so on a number of fronts: tighter borders, early and prolific testing and mandatory quarantines. Jurisdictions like Taiwan also immediately put the production of medical supplies, such as masks, into overdrive.

"Like everything when it comes to this pandemic, it's the people and leaders who moved early that made the difference," Chowdhury said.

In January, Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said there would be cases of COVID-19, but "it's going to be rare."

All through January and well into February, Health Minister Patty Hajdu and other federal ministers reassured Canadians that the risk of getting the coronavirus in Canada was low, even after the first few cases popped up in the country.

With regards to testing, Canada is still treating it as something that is only done for people showing up in emergency rooms with respiratory problems, or people from China with same, and there has been very little coordination of the development of resources needed to test everybody. The only was for society to return to some semblance of normalcy is to test EVERYONE. Ontario managed to ramp-up testing capability but then kept the criteria for testing high. We're only belatedly rectifying that error.

I'm reading some encouraging things about Canada's (belated) response to shortages of medical equipment and protective garb. It's not at that link, but earlier in the week I read [somewhere] about how these companies were already negotiating with subcontractors to dramatically expand productive capabilities to produce ventilators. But Linda McQuaig argues that things could be going much faster and on a larger scale if our politicians get out of the mindset that the public sector is inherently useless and incompetent. We were capable of great feats of development and productivity in World War Two and we're capable of doing so again:
Of course, ventilators are suddenly in short supply due to the pandemic and ensuring an adequate supply for Canadian needs seems like an almost impossible feat.

In fact, it pales in comparison with the amazing production feats performed by Canadian industry during the Second World War—feats that we're still capable of today, if our leaders would overcome their reluctance to take charge of needed industrial production.

In 1940, when British forces had to make an emergency evacuation by sea from Dunkirk, they left behind virtually the entire British fleet of military vehicles. Almost defenceless, Britain turned to Canada to help it replace the 75,000 military vehicles it had abandoned in France.
Canada immediately stepped up to the plate—and then some.

In a highly co-ordinated effort, Ottawa created—almost from scratch—a vast industrial base that produced 800,000 military transport vehicles and 50,000 tanks, not to mention tons of other military supplies throughout the war.

This enormous industrial mobilization, overseen by wartime government production czar C.D. Howe, was enabled through legislation that gave Ottawa wide-ranging powers to compel manufacturers to produce war material.

Also central to Canada's massive mobilization was the creation of 28 Crown corporations, with a workforce of 229,000, dedicated to manufacturing war products, according to University of Toronto's Sandford Borins.
Again, from my readings on the economies of World War Two, I'm aware that none of this was instantaneous. Read reviews of the best work on the USA's defense industry/industrial capacity in WW2, Maury Klein's A Call To Arms.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

How To Respond to the Coronavirus

I've kept it a pretty good secret as a blogger up til now, but it's time to throw off the mask and reveal that I'm actually an expert in public health and disease control.* That's how I make my living in meat-space. As such, I think it imperative that I share my knowledge and wisdom with my readers so that they can effectively demand the proper response from their elected officials.

1. Suspend all rental and mortgage payments, effective immediately, for the next two months (at least.) This includes interest payments on mortgages. The banks have had annual profits in excess of $40 BILLION for YEARS now. Why should they expect to profit from this crisis while everyone else is expected to take a loss?

2. Provide $2,000 to every adult for food and basic necessities. (Stop talking about "keeping the economy moving or getting the economy moving." People aren't out there buying shit because they're supposed to be staying at home!)

3. Implement war-time level taxation on the wealthy to pay for everything during this crisis. The wealthy have, for years, had more money than they knew what to productively do with. Don't place the burden for paying for this crisis on the backs of ordinary Canadians.

4. Let the private-sector oil industry collapse and buy it up afterwards. We already know that they're leaving us the bill for the BILLIONS in cleaning up after them. Why shovel billions into their bank accounts just to allow them to continue to fleece us?

5. Order the production of thousands of new ventilators and subsidize the re-tooling necessary for every manufacturer with the capability of doing so.

6. Do the same thing with testing capacity. Implement total lock-downs in sections of the country where teams can test everyone within a 24-hour period. Create the capacity to deliver the results of these tests as quickly as possible. Everyone who tests negative can return to voluntary social distancing.

7. Prevent unnecessary travel between cities and towns.

8. Devote all available resources to the production of masks, gloves, surgical gowns, etc., for hospitals and clinics dealing with the virus.

9. Train people to perform the simpler tasks required to deal with the virus. (This includes administering tests/conducting the tests/scrubbing down hospitals/emergency clinics/etc.)

That's all I can think of for now.

*(Of course I'm not.)

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Musings on "Horseshoe Theory"

 "Horseshoe Theory" - "also known as the horseshoe effect, in political science is a claim that the far-left and far-right are more similar to each other in essentials than either is to the political center.[note 1]
It was formulated by the French post-postmodernist philosopher Jean-Pierre Faye in 1996,[2] but similar ideas existed previously.[3] Faye believed that the extremes of the political spectrum both represented totalitarianism of different kinds; this meant that the political spectrum should not be described as a linear bar with the two ends representing the far-left and right being ideologically the furthest apart from each other, but as a horseshoe in which the two ends are closer to each other than to the center."

You can read the rest of that lengthy quote from, to find about the many variations and critiques of the concept. But right now I just want to talk about how centrist US Democrats have been using the theory and how it applies to them.

Centrist Democrats have been saying that "alt.right" (read: "fascists") and "leftist extremists" (read: "purity ponies") have essentially united in a "Red-Brown Alliance" that only reveals both groups' overall intellectual barrenness and uselessness.

This is, for the most part, stupid. The current Democratic Party elites are vermin. They're brazen shills for a thoroughly corrupt capitalist oligarchy who betray their supporters and the US-American people over and over again. Who willingly sacrifice the well-being of ordinary people for the continued super-profits of billionaire criminals. Of course they're going to be criticized!!

They are criticized on the right by common, mainstream Republicans, who vote the way they do out of a lazy adherence to tradition and devotion to a vague set of values about "hard work" and "freedom" and "family values." Some of their criticisms come from more hardcore Republicans. The mess of delusion and hypocrisy known as the "Tea Party." These folks are represented by the character of "Crazy Uncle Liberty" who spouts off their obnoxious, ignorant, hypocritical ravings online, via email, and at the dinner table. And, finally, there is the "alt.right." This is a tribe of openly racist, violently anti-democratic, pseudo-intellectual shitheads that has grown in numbers as neo-liberalism (pushed by both mainstream Democratic and Republican politicians) continues to wreak havoc among the population.

Harsh economic times created by elite corruption inevitably turns segments of the population towards extremist theories. "The center cannot hold." In the case of the "alt.right" their twisted, malformed minds cause them to disregard the facts and instead concoct crackpot theories which create scapegoats to blame for their problems and subsequently attack. Some of these dangerous idiots supported Donald Trump against the Republican establishment due to his being openly racist and for his stated opposition to the Washington Consensus of "free trade" ("globalism") and imperialist wars.

What to say? Do supporters of the current Democratic Party leadership deny the reality of oligarchic corruption? Do they pretend that Obama did not form his Cabinet from a list of names provided by Goldman Sachs? Do they deny that Hillary Clinton accepted $3 million dollars to give a series of speeches to Wall Street titans (or that her and her husband's combined haul from "speaking fees" from the time of his leaving the presidency to the announcement of her 2016 presidential campaign) was $153 million?

There's a lot to criticize the Democratic leadership for. Therefore it's not surprising that their critics on the right and the far-right might occasionally have legitimate things to say when they criticize them, however distorted by partisan blindness and hypocrisy, or delusion, or racist insanity.

So, because there's a lot to criticize, the right-wing occasionally shares some of them with people to the left of the Democratic leadership. And, on the left, moderates who supported Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will share the odd critique of the Democratic leadership with authoritarian, racist (usually anti-Semitic) denizens of the far-left. (I'd get a link to explain far-left anti-Semitism, but I'd have to wade through page after page of cynical right-wing drivel about how Hitler was a socialist, or cynical Zionist drivel about how criticizing Israeli barbarism is anti-Semitic.) Essentially, the left-wing anti-Semitism arises out of the fact that there was a Jewish presence in international finance (due to European Christendom's once held belief that loaning money at interest was prohibited) and using that to spew nonsense about how the entire world is run by the Rothschild family.

And here we go: Supporters of the current Democratic Party leadership (that is, supporters of people like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, the Clintons, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Neera Tanden, the Cuomos, Joe Biden) actually believe that (in their version of the "horseshoe theory") alt.right fascists are the right-wing equivalent of Bernie Sanders supporters! That's right! Supporters of a long-time Vermont Senator who self-describes ad "Independent" but generally caucuses with the Democrats, and who is trying to campaign openly for the party's presidential nomination on a platform of FDR-LBJ social welfare programs, are the equivalent with far-right Nazis!

And why is that? Why! Because they both criticize the Democratic Party leadership! (Who are supposedly above criticism.) Do progressives say that the Democratic Party is corrupt? Well, so do Trump supporters! You see? They're exactly the same!

Obviously this is a false equivalence. And I don't like to engage in false equivalencies. So, I'm not going to say that radical-centrist Democrats are the equivalent of Donald Trump supporters or alt.right nazis. I do, however, notice that mainstream Democrats share Donald Trump's antipathy to Venezuela's Bolivarian government. And they both share the asinine belief that Bolivia's Morales and his Indigeneous supporters are to blame for the racist coup that overthrew Morales' government because they got too uppity. And they both like to use election fraud to defeat their opponents. Don't they both support the unjust spying and civil liberties-busting powers of the surveillance state? And they both are slavish devotees of their respective bullshit propaganda outlets. And they both are devoted to regime change in Syria in favour of Jihaadist nutbars taking over the country and plunging it into chaos.

And both centrist Dems who support Joe Biden and Trump supporters appear unembarrassed about their devotion to disgusting travesties of human beings. Trump supporters swoon over their lazy, stupid, fat, yellow-haired combed over, spray-tanned, incoherent, racist, mushroom penis, rapist creep who openly lusts after his own daughter, serial fraudster, lying dipshit. And Biden supporters see nothing to question about their own excitement over a senile, rapist, racist who fabricates his Civil Rights activism, war-monger, authoritarian, corrupt, lazy, and stupid, ignorant, plagiarizing, scumbag.

And, finally, from my recent dealings with a shit-headed commenter, ... both right-wing trolls and Democratic trolls share an inability to construct an argument and so revert to puerile attempts at goading and insults.