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Member since: Tue Nov 16, 2004, 03:14 PM
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On Greed

We often blame the excesses of capitalism on greed, or excessive greed. The first thing we should note is that the capitalist system is motivated by greed. Capitalism is legalized greed. Capitalists perceive a need or a desire for various goods and services: oil and its byproducts, clothing, food, food served in restaurants, trinkets and gadgets, means of communication. They then set about producing them as cheaply as possible, and selling them for the maximum price the market will bear. And we buy: as much as we need, and, urged on by advertising, as much as we can afford, and sometimes more. As these processes play out, the capitalist, the “owner,” may make some very handsome profits indeed. But they couldn’t make the profits without the market to buy their products. In America, our cultural norms tolerate all these desires, for profits by the owners, and goods by the buyers, as the norm, the best available economic system.

Greed, then, is a normal part of our economic system. Capitalism works in part by channeling everybody’s natural desire for more than they have or need into orderly processes. There are stores, warehouses, catalogs and websites to display the goods, there are delivery services to get them to the buyers, and banking services to handle the payments. What our understanding of capitalism doesn’t provide us with is a measure for deciding when a lot becomes too much. At what point does the need to keep a business running become destructive? When profits exceed 2%, or 5%, or 30% or 45%? Economists don’t hold these discussions, because they have made it their business to discuss economic systems as though they were natural phenomena, like bird migrations, or the mating habits of whales, or the component planets in our solar system. Greed, as it is used these days, seems to be a moral accusation: those who are greedy have a vice, and they need to curb their desires for more for the good of their souls, and society at large.

There is an analogy with the controversy over abortion: the pro-life party accuses the women who seek abortions of being morally cruel to the innocent life they bear. Abortion seekers are really killing babies, seems to be their judgment. The problems arise when the pro-life party tries to control abortion by making it illegal. As soon as they try that, all the messy other realities of child bearing are exposed, and the laws don’t work to save innocent lives. Anti-abortion legislation, doesn’t work, but the pro-life party gets to enjoy their own moral superiority over the abortion seekers.

All of us capitalists get to feel morally superior to the owners, or at least the “big” owners: Big Oil, Big Pharma, Walmart, Big anything, when we call them greedy. But we don’t ask for a change in the system, or even to control the system as it’s now practiced. It may be that we could keep the main components of capitalism, while legally controlling profit levels, or at least executive salaries. You will have noticed that any discussion of controlling profits is immediately labeled as redistribution of wealth and socialism, and the moral outrage turns to moral panic. And Ronald Reagan is elected President.

I would like to see Pres. Biden, Sen. Sanders, and of course Sen. Warren, develop a plan to curb some of the excesses of unfettered capitalism, just to prove that discussion is possible, and even healthy. The hard line capitalists like to pretend that any restriction of capitalism at all brings on Armageddon. What if it doesn’t spell doom, but salvation?

An English major considers loan forgiveness

Following are economic thoughts from an English major, so you can judge how many academic credits in economic subjects I have: none. Still, I listen to NPR reporting on economics all the time, and have life experiences too. So, here's my take on how loan forgiveness will affect the economy.

First, I'd like to point out that when most of us say we own a car or a house, what we mean is that the bank owns the house and the financing company owns the car. This is only fair: if we encounter financial difficulties, the financer can repo the car and the bank can foreclose on the house. When we use our credit cards, there's often less tangible stuff to repossess. How is the bank going to repossess the restaurant meal we charged to our card, or the vacation in Acapulco? The bank could try repossessing the stuff we bought, but the bank wants our washer even less than they want the house or the car. The banks' profits sink like a stone when they have to repossess something. What they really want is for us to pay off the loan at the interest rate we agreed to. That will make them happy. Or perhaps they want to sell our active loan and make a profit from that. The only thing I'm confident of here is that banks and financing companies do nothing that's not profitable.

Now, What does all this have to do with student loans? Student loans are used to pay for education. Just try repossessing somebody's education, and see how far you get. Banks are taking a bigger risk with financing education loans, because we really can't pick people's brains. That's only a metaphor for voluntarily sharing your thoughts. Meanwhile, to the economy at large, the average person is of primary importance, because 70% of our economy is powered by consumers. What this means is that the Economy needs us to spend as much money as we can possibly afford, so that all their industries will thrive and grow. When we hear it reported that the Economy "grew" by X percent, that means lots of us spent money on things we needed or wanted, and our noses are still above the flood waters of insolvency. So, it is our economic duty to spend as much disposable income as we can for the greater glory of Capitalism and Our Country.

Perhaps you can see where I'm headed with this: when we forgive educational debt, we boost the economy. A fellow DUer mentions that their son may be able to get married now with his lingering education debt forgiven. Wedding industry, take note! Mortgage industry and child product industries, celebrate! I am assuming here that Pres. Biden is going to pay off the students' debtors, the banks, from tax revenues. If this happens, truly everybody wins, especially the overstocked retailers who need to sell some stuff pronto.

On the nonexistence of a justification for patriarchy, Part II

Thank you for your patience, anyone who has been exercising it.

This is my idea: we can start a Petition for the Redress of Grievances to the American Patriarchy from American women and their friends. This would be sent to all three branches of the American government, i.e., the President, the Congress, and the Supreme Court. We request that this petition be printed out on paper and mailed via first class postage to each of the governmental entities addressed. Those of you who are familiar with the Declaration of Independence will note that I have stolen the name of the document directly from the DofI. This was quite deliberate, as the DofI was the informal opening of the Revolutionary War, and laid out in polite but clear terms, the number and kind of insults the American colonists had suffered at the hands of George III of England. Without redress.

My petition will be meant to put the government on notice that further action might be taken, but is not being threatened in this document. The only deviltry I envision for this document is the request that it be printed on paper, signed, and those pieces of paper mailed to the three branches of government. If the total outlay is three first class stamps, it will be a cheap Petition, but if enough people mail their envelopes, this will really clog up constituent mail desks in Washington.

The technology involved is deliberately low: anyone can copy, paste, and print the one paragraph that will comprise the Petition and the rest of the single page, and anyone can print off one copy, copy it, and distribute it to friends. Addresses of Congress, White House, and SCOTUS will appear at the bottom of the petition.

Democrats and Independents, who may be familiar with both the Declaration and The Constitution, may take notice of it. Republicans will not understand it at all, but they can probably get someone to explain it to them. I feel that at this stage, we should not threaten the formation of a political party or a voting bloc. If enough people sign on, the potential ramifications will be obvious.

Alrighty. I’m going to start drafting the Petition. Anyone with an idea of what they would like to see included in it should speak right up.

On the nonexistence of a justification for patriarchy

In a previous post, (https://www.democraticunderground.com/?com=view_post&forum=1002&pid=16673543) I mentioned this fact: that there has been no serious rebuttal to the feminist analysis of social structure on this planet. I can only conclude that there is none. Women exist as a caste, a social class, in all known societies, and there is no reason why this should be so. Preachers to slave holders in the American south used to justify slavery with various snippets from the Old Testament. Since we are supposed to be a secular society, Christian biblical misreadings aren’t available to prop up sexism.

So, on the premise that there is no justification for sexism, I would like to point out that women have enormous power that they have never used. Some women seem to think that the institution of marriage will fall if they vote differently from their husbands. To the contrary, the institution of marriage only stands because women assent to it. Children are born because women are willing to bear them. Infants are cared for, children schooled, and houses kept because women do this work willingly. Our current economy also cannot function without them. And I have not mentioned the political power women gained with the vote, which has existed potentially since then, but not yet in reality.

Women are the majority of the population, although they have not yet coalesced into a voting bloc. They could. Women are not yet convinced that their sheer numbers constitute decisive power in a democracy. Without their willing participation in the economy, the economy is crippled. Without their willing participation in civilization, there is no civilization.

I think it is time, and past time, for women to put the patriarchy on notice that women are aware, they are watching, and they are displeased with the progress being made on the legality of abortion, on bringing our economy to a skittering skid if not a halt, so we can save a faltering climate. Nature is like women; it’s not a voting bloc. But it definitely needs one.

I have one idea for how to get this effort under way, which I will suggest in another post.

A Women's Bill of Rights

I. Women shall have the undiluted right to bear, or not bear, any particular child. Women shall have an undiluted right to bear no children at all.

II. Any woman who bars a child shall have a primary right to medical and financial support for herself and her child or children from the outset of pregnancy until the youngest child reaches adulthood. Delivery of these services shall be a primary responsibility of the United States and every state into which children are born.

III. Neither the United States nor any state may compel any person to engage in a “war” without the support of a public plebiscite on the particular instance of “war.” The votes of women shall count as 1.5 votes.

IV. Only well-regulated militias maintained by the United States or any state for defense against aggression by any other state or nation shall have the right to keep and maintain arms. All applicants for private arms licenses shall demonstrate need, completion of a thorough safety course, and sufficient good character to use firearms responsibly.

V. Women shall have the undiluted right to finish what she was saying in any public setting without interruption by any man or woman. She shall signify that she has finished speaking by using any commonly accepted phrase, e.g., “I yield the floor to Mr. Jefferson,” or “I yield the floor to any interested person.”

VI. All women employed by a private or public entity shall be paid the same rate as any man performing the same duties. In cases of dissimilar duties, pay for all jobs will be determined by the level of importance they have in a humane society, e.g., child care, health care, elder care, truck driving, vehicle maintenance, and plumbing and heating repair all occupy a high level of importance.

VII. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United states or any state on account of sex. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Please excuse the uneven formatting--I used an old version of Word that I have never been able to talk to authoritatively.

Zelensky's chance: how he can shorten his war, and maybe start world peace

The war in Ukraine is the most lopsided war imaginable, with the exception of the Viet Nam and Afghan conflicts, in which the power and might of the U.S. armed forces attempted to defeat a bunch of economically deprived guerillas, and were themselves beaten. Still, if this were a tennis match, Ukraine would be seeded 22nd and Russia seeded 2nd or so. And the outcome to this war in progress has been equally lopsided: in the PR arena, Pres. Zelensky has wiped the floor several times with his opponent, Mr. Putin. The entire world now (except for a couple of ayatollahs) thinks Zelensky is a hero and Putin a monster. I'm not saying these are inaccurate judgments; I'm saying Zelensky has a chance to win a much greater victory for the world than merely driving Russians out of his country somewhere down the line. Zelensky has a chance to make the very idea of war so ridiculous that no country will ever again engage in it for the sake of mere vanity. While he's waiting for enough planes to establish air cover for his country, Zelensky can be the first leader in history to defeat an army not by killing them, but by keeping them alive.

When the Russian army entered Ukraine, they were already half demoralized, on account of the number of lies they had already been told by their own superiors. Once they got into the country, many experienced the horrible sensation of being asked to kill people who were indistinguishable from themselves--people who could be brothers or cousins. And if these Russian soldiers are getting any information from the outside world, they have realized they are becoming more deeply involved in war crimes with every shot they fire. So, the average Russian soldier has few choices, none of them palatable. If he deserts, he'll be killed by his own government; if he deserts and doesn't get caught, he's still a war criminal, and sneaking out through Finland gets dangerous; and if he fights on, he just gets to hate himself more. Here's where Pres. Zelensky can offer these soldiers a better deal than they can get from their own country.

Zelensky, a savvy netizen, can get the word out that surrendering to Ukraine offers better benefits than they can hope for now from their own country. He can promise them that if they lay down their arms, he will not repatriate them until it's safe for them to go home. He can promise to negotiate for them at the peace talks, which will inevitably take place fairly soon after Mr. Putin is removed by his own government. Zelensky can ask for a complete withdrawal of all remaining Russian troops from the country of Ukraine, and amnesty for all Russian prisoners of war. He can give them work starting to clean up the rubble of apartment buildings and hospitals they have turned into rubble, and promise them comfortable living conditions as soon as they get the water and power on again in Mariupol. He can offer them the occasional dinner by Chef Jose Andres. Pres. Zelensky will know what to say.

This war, like many others, demonstrates how insane war actually is. Pres. Zelensky has a chance to speak directly to the army trying to occupy his country, and convince them to lay down their arms for a better future for all concerned. This hasn't been tried before, but if anyone can make this work, it's Volodymyr Zelensky.

Thanksgiving in a plague year

I’m thankful for living in an advanced society that can develop and test a vaccine for the current pandemic in, relatively speaking, no time flat. I’m grateful for living in a rich country, where I can afford to live with some security, and where medical care is provided for me in my retirement. I’m thoroughly grateful I don’t need much medical care, but happily roam around doing what I want and buying small things, like gifts, and lamp components so I can pursue my latest interest, lamp repair. I am delighted with YouTube and its hosts of instructors, some of whom are very good, and all of whom save me money. I am grateful to The Internet, which provides me with information, news, ways of connecting with people across the planet, and a very efficient way to shop for stuff the local stores can’t provide. The internet allows me to satisfy all curiosities, large and small. I’m grateful for Dr. Anthony Fauci, who tells me what’s going on without exaggeration, or editorializing, and with sympathy. I’m grateful for every public servant and private scholar with integrity and good will. I’m grateful to my local restaurants, who are still alive: I’m happy to let one cook me Thanksgiving dinner, and others who let me take out lunch, as I try to keep the local economy alive without the budget Congress has to play with. I’m grateful to all honest contractors and all their skills, who help me keep my house and car running (especially those who can persuade a car window to close despite its computer and little motor being dead). Library! My library is open!

At the end of this plague year, I’m conscious of just how lucky I am, and how the forces of cynicism encourage us to forget we have all this, right this red hot minute: with a cure for the plague in the pipeline, but not here yet. I’m delighted with the creativity being shown by people working on cures, and medical staff working on patients, and business people who want to stay in business, and artists who figure out how to sing and dance for cameras rather than people. These people can’t be kept down, and when they reach the end of their lives, I hope someone will tell them how proud they should be of themselves.

Be proud of yourselves, people: the conditions for fighting the good fight have been crappy this year, but we have won a major battle, and many smaller victories are ours for the taking. Remember to take a medical person out to dinner as soon as that can be done safely. Get them wine, and toast them!

Could I say this about "He said, she said"?

That is the phrase that we used to use to imply that it was impossible to know who was telling the truth when He Said one thing and She Said the opposite. The phrase was thought to be perfectly sufficient to explain the impossibility of getting to a truth that would stand up in a court of law.

In the old days the phrase was used to explain why a woman's accusation of rape would not be prosecuted, because there had been no witnesses. And to this day we keep asking for a higher degree of certitude than one man's or one woman's unsupported statement. Since the MeToo movement took off, we have accepted that the phrase by itself is insufficient to determine whether a predator can and should be prosecuted. Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein have been. We have accepted that there may be circumstantial evidence that could usefully be introduced to give credence to the accuser, and we have seen convictions and jail sentences.

But I want to point out that both male and female predators are usually not so stupid as to commit rape in front of witnesses. In many many cases, it will be impossible to produce a witness because there wasn't one. We will have to do justice, or just make up our minds, without the relative security of a conviction in a court of law. This is not the standard of proof that I would like to have before I make up my mind about an accusation against anyone, especially a prominent figure running for office, like Joe Biden. But I will not get that certitude, because there were, as usual, no witnesses.

What the MeToo movement says is that women can be believed, and should be treated as though they are telling the truth by prosecutors. But we cannot manufacture a witness if none exists. We have to accept the lack of witnesses, and get on with the job of making the best judgment we can. Many of us were deeply suspicious about Al Franken's accusers, and I am suspicious of Joe Biden's accuser. The existence of MeToo does not automatically guarantee that every victim will tell the truth all the time. MeToo was used against Franken, and is now being used against Biden, to the extent we feel we should automatically believe the accuser. In a court of law, we would be instructed NOT to automatically believe anyone, but to weigh all the evidence and arrive at the best judgment we can. Perfect certitude is impossible, but we have to keep our wits about us. We have to accept the fact that in many cases, one person is lying, and while the other is not. Life is messy, and politics recently has been messier. Let us continue to wade on through the mess with prudence, and caution, and care for the truth, even if we can't wrap it up in a tidy package handed to us by a jury foreman.

A reply to "Why Does Only One Party Play by the Rules?" (NYT 10/26/19)

Dear Ms Senior:

I read with interest your Oped "Why Does Only One Party Play by the Rules?" ** (10/26/19). In framing what you see as the problem, you immediately suggest a metaphor. “Democrats”, you say, “are acting as though there still are rules, when in fact they’re living in a political multiverse, with at least one parallel reality containing no rules at all.” If you fail to make much progress with your essay, I suggest it’s because you’re standing on the wrong metaphor. The problem is that the rule breakers aren’t in another universe, but the same one as the rule observers. Surely what you’re describing is more like a boxing match in which one man is using brass knuckles, and his opponent has both hands tied behind his back, and the referee is passed out drunk on a stool in the corner?

As a Democrat, I don’t much care about what’s going on in the next universe, because I’m working so hard to get my hands untied and dump a pail of water on the referee. The rules, which you pass over so lightly, govern what is fair in debate and rhetoric, and what is decent in behavior, and what is good governance. I also wonder why the referee takes so little responsibility for what’s going on in his ring. The Republicans aren’t following the rules of fair argument, or decent behavior, and this tendency of theirs has a long history, from Richard Nixon’s whisper campaign that his opponent was a pinko commie, to the Willy Horton ad, right up to Mr. Trump’s invitation for a “second amendment type” to dispose of his opponent. And we should not pretend that the Republican leadership’s hands are clean of Trump’s daily bullying. The rhetoric coming from the Republican Party is by now confined exclusively to name calling: anyone not in their camp is a “libtard,” and any act or initiative by a Democrat is sending the country straight to hell.

The Democrats, meanwhile, are doing what they always do: argue for policies that will solve some problem or ameliorate some suffering. The are fighting fairly rhetorically, and making sincere efforts to use our political system as it was intended to be used—to govern the people wisely and democratically. They are not authorizing political or character assassinations, or the elimination of all other opinions than theirs, or calling for civil war if the opposing party wins a majority. They’re boring as heck, and therein lies the real problem, which is not alternate realities.

The real problem is that the Republicans have declared that politics is mud wrestling, and the referee is passed out in the corner. If democracies have referees, a free press is them. The referee ought to wake up, confiscate the brass knuckles, untie the other fighter, and insist on a fair fight. What we find our referee doing instead is insisting that “both sides do it,” whatever it is. You, Ms Senior, are adept at this insistence when you say: “Of course Democratic politicians—all politicians— distort, gerrymander evidence, even lie and apply their greasy thumbs to the scales. (What was Bill Clinton doing on that plane with Loretta Lynch in 2016?)”. Leaving aside the question of precisely what distortions and lies Democratic candidates have told, and avoiding any consideration of what “gerrymandering evidence” might mean, I can tell you what Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton were talking about: they were chatting and comparing pictures of grandchildren. Here’s the scenario: Hillary Clinton did nothing wrong or illegal with her email, and knew that, and Bill Clinton knew that, and so he had no need to try to influence Loretta Lynch. Even if he had felt a need to put "a greasy thumb on the scale," he’s a smart man, and a lawyer, and he wouldn’t have contributed to Hillary’s imaginary ethics lapse by committing one of his own. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton have been ethical, hard working, and idealistic to the extent that they believe our political system can be made to work. I sometimes think that their idealism is what has drawn the consistently bad press they have survived since they arrived in Washington. And I know the media could not survive without drawing inaccurate comparisons between the Clinton and Trump impeachments.

You can’t have it both ways, Ms Senior: either the Democrats follow the rules, and stand in sharp contrast to the Republicans, or they don’t. If the Democrats are as bad as the Republicans, what in heaven’s name is your essay about?

Instead of recommending one more time that the Democrats save politics by concentrating on a “declaration of values,” how about the media impound the brass knuckles, penalize the Republicans a few points, and stop declaring the contest a draw before it’s over? Both parties don’t do it, and it will clarify your thinking wonderfully to recognize that.

** Sorry I can't supply a link to the Oped; I've exceeded my limit of free reading for the month. Anyone who can post a link, thanks.

Enough with the melodrama! I want some news!

Today, I want to consider some of the ways the news business influences us, and themselves, which we may not be aware of. Because forewarned is forearmed. The received wisdom on both sides of the political divide is that news is sometimes biased. We think Fox is, and they think the New York Times is. I think the situation is more complicated than that. No matter which source we pay attention to, we are getting the characters in a drama first, their conflicts and tensions next, and a projection of what might happen to them, or at least their party, next. This week has seen both the NYT and NPR absorbed in, nay, obsessed by, the Kavanaugh/Blasey Ward drama.

First, saturation coverage given to one story is time and attention taken from other stories. As another DUer has pointed out, Congress passed another tax cut bill this week, which went unmentioned on NPR, unless a sentence or so was slipped into a news recap. And the news is usually dominated by a few stories, and those few stories will be played to the hilt for their human drama translated into political speculation.

Second, the political interpretation of all things that happen in Washington is one of the underlying principles of news coverage. This principle subdivides into two subthemes: 1) politics is always being played, every day and in every way, and 2) both sides do it (whatever it is), or neither side is guiltless, or this is nothing new. After enough time having these themes repeated, amplified, and hammered home, we can all be forgiven for nodding our heads and assuming that these tenets of news coverage are true. As alert readers know, none of them is true, much less all of them. The casting of all events as aspects of politics means that other perspectives, like the historical and the scientific, are neglected.

Third, the quality of the drama is lousy. We are getting melodrama instead of substantial, realistic, adult scripts. We are being told, not what to think, but what to feel. And this is dangerous. Having our perceptions of an unfolding story nudged in the direction of finding superhuman heroes and despicable villains is bad for our understanding of what’s going on. We concentrate on the personalities and forget the larger picture. We think that when we’ve spotted the villain and anointed the hero, our job is done. We have loved the hero or heroine, and hated the evildoer, and this is sufficient for our lives as responsible members of a democracy. It is not sufficient. But melodrama is enticing, exciting, and occasionally addictive. To the degree we allow ourselves to be satisfied with locating the heroes and villains, we are users of a powerful drug.

And we should kick the habit—our sanity and political effectiveness depend on it. This means directing some letters, protests, and demonstrations at those who bring us the “news.” We need to tell them what we want, and how important it is. The news I want about Congress is this: Where’s the money going? Where’s the money coming from? Who gets what? Are there any other ideas out there for how to spend money that are not being discussed? Since one of the main reasons for the existence of Congress is to gather and then spend money, how have they beed doing their jobs?

What we get now is an endless saga about how two groups of people are jockeying for power. In America, theoretically, the people have all the power. We have not seized it recently, but, Constitutionally speaking, it’s ours, not the politicians’. Congress and all major office holders are our employees, our servants. If we actually started to think as though they were working for us, a great deal of good could be accomplished.
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