February 25, 2016

A Perspective - What is "Democratic Socialism"?

For as long as I can remember the term "Socialism" has been demonized as something very, very bad. People somehow relate it to Germany or the USSR from the 30's, 40's or 50's and how could we be like Stalin or Mussolini?

And even if Socialism WAS a bad thing, that's NOT what Bernie Sanders has characterized himself as.  He has always characterized himself as a "DEMOCRATIC Socialist", and there's a "Yuuuuge" difference.  So let's examine this...

My first premise is that our country, along with virtually all others, is currently run by a combination of BOTH Capitalism AND Socialism.  They coexist together; side by side.  Some industries are appropriate to be run in a Capitalism model, and some industries are more appropriate to be run in a Socialism model.

Socialism simply means that the government collects taxes and uses that money to provide services to the people.  These are much-needed services that cannot be delivered via the private, profit-seeking model, including police, fire fighters, teachers (public schools) national defense, and infrastructure (roads and bridges), etc.  They also include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, and a myriad of domestic programs which help people at all rungs of the economic ladder.  You can't advertise these services on television and expect people to buy them online or at the big brick-and-mortar stores.  There's also a fundamental concept that rich people could afford to buy their way into these products and services, where poor people cannot, therefore it's incumbent upon us to help make them widely available.  Otherwise, only the rich would benefit, and the poor could never take advantage.

Most other industries are run under the private, capitalism model.  Theoretically, these industries have fair competition which sparks research and creativity to develop the best-in-class product or service and they thrive based on their sales/revenues.  For most of these industries, we all pretty-much agree; there's no controversy.  The contention arises when we take a step back and think about some industries which are now operating under the model of Capitalism (i.e. FOR-PROFIT) and maybe SHOULD be operating under the Socialism model.  So, let's take a look at some of those....


Health Care

Even after the changes resulting from the Affordable Care Act, and even though the right-wing continues to parrot talking points about "Obamacare" being a government takeover of health care, the reality is that our health care system today (post "Obamacare") is STILL based on the PRIVATE health insurance model.  "Obamacare" essentially added a bunch more rules to attempt to cover a larger base and reign in the insurance provider's abuses.  It's debatable whether "Obamacare" actually controlled costs, and then of course there's a litany of right-wing claims, most of which are without merit or evidence.

The bottom line, however, is that as long as the private health insurance model persists, our system is such that some people are profiting off of other people's sickness.  In my humble opinion, that is downright immoral.  In addition it drives an incentive to actually make more people sick (cha-ching).  Moreover, with profit (i.e. greed) built into the system, along with marketing, promotion, administration and all of the other expenses associated with running a business, there's no way the costs are going to be reduced.

So Bernie Sanders is absolutely right - the only way to deliver health care to EVERYONE and bring costs down, is to implement a "Single-Payer" (i.e. "Medicare-for-All") health care delivery system, much like EVERY OTHER INDUSTRIALIZED NATION.  To characterize this goal as "unrealistic" is to have a defeatist attitude - "Hey, the Republicans won't go for it, so we might as well not even try".  Really?  Is that how we should lay out our agenda?  Shoot for incremental change because we think real change is unattainable?  And who's to say that "incremental" change is even attainable?  Republicans are always talking about "repealing and replacing Obamacare" - well, just maybe, 'Medicare-For-All' IS the best replacement?



If you haven't seen Michael Moore's new film - "Where To Invade Next?" - make it your business to see this documentary as soon as you can.  It's a game-changer.  One thing I learned is that in (I think it was) Slovenia, where the educational system is considered best-in-class, private schools are against the law.  Since the children of the rich people are attending the same schools as the children of the poor people, all of the schools are considered equal and high-quality.  It's in the rich people's interest to make sure all of the schools are up to par.  Hence all children, rich or poor, receive the same high-quality education and it doesn't matter which school they attend.

Both Democratic candidates see the necessity to open the doors wider for people to attend higher education, which is more and more prohibitive these days due to the rising costs.  And if higher education is too expensive for poor people, then only rich people can take advantage and poor people continue to be disadvantaged with little or no opportunity to rise into affluence.

So, when you hear Republicans talk about private schools, "charter" schools, or voucher programs, that's really code for "I'm rich and I want MY kids to get a better education then those poor kids so they have more and better opportunities..."


Penal System

The privatization of prisons is wrong on so many levels.  Not only is it utterly immoral for some people to profit from other people's incarceration, but it drives an incentive to send more people to prison and for longer terms.  That leads to more government spending on prisons (even though they're "private"), more lives ruined needlessly (usually poor minorities), more restrictive laws in our society (victim-less drug crimes with unduly harsh sentences), and more burdens in our society when these 'convicts' get out of prison and can't land good-paying jobs (which in turn leads to more crime).  Furthermore, putting prisoners to work for little-or-no pay is akin to slavery.

And to maximize profits, these private prisons need to keep costs down of course.  That alone should give you an idea of the conditions within.  Again, another plug for Michael Moore's film - there's a segment on the prison system in Norway - it highlights the humane treatment of prisoners which leads to a lower rate of recidivism. And of course, private prisons are outlawed.

Here's a short segment from Democracy Now! which explains why private prisons are a really bad idea:  https://www.freespeech.org/video/prisons-profit-under-kasich-ohio-becomes-laboratory-privatizing-public-jails


These are a few of the industries which many believe should be socialized instead of capitalized. That's not to say that Capitalism is bad - it has its place in most industries.  But even in some of those industries, socialism exists for large corporations in the form of subsidies, tax breaks, risk, etc.  Look at some companies like Walmart - they pay their workers such low wages that even full-time employees live in poverty and require government assistance.

Bottom line - "Democratic Socialism" isn't a knock on Capitalism.  It's just an acknowledgement that Socialism has its place and Capitalism has its place as well.  And in today's society, they need to be shuffled around a bit.

February 16, 2016

A New Level Of Obstruction, And A New Level Of Embarrassment

If you're a Republican, you must be feeling quite embarrassed right now from all sh*t going on in your party.  Seriously, there's really nothing to be proud of.  Not only did the Republican leadership come out immediately after the passing of Justice Scalia with the position that they wouldn't allow President Obama to replace him, but then the Republican presidential contenders had a knock-down, drag-out, schoolyard brawl, which was nothing short of laughable.  The pundits and comics are having a field day.

The levels of vitriol, hypocrisy and lying are astounding.  I almost don't know where to begin, but in every scenario I can think of - Republicans are f**ked.  They've brought the concept of "obstructionism" to a whole new level by immediately playing their hand on their intent to deny President Obama his opportunity to fill this newly vacant Supreme Court seat.  They could have just bogged down the process and dragged it down to run out the clock.  But nooooooo.  They decided to come out, up front, and publicly state that they won't even consider Obama's nominee, no matter who it is.  And all of the Republicans have diligently fallen in line behind Leader Mitch McConnell, that "the next president" should be the one to appoint Scalia's replacement.

Now... why, pray tell, would Republicans insist on Obama shirking his responsibility and leave this Supreme Court vacancy to "the next president"?  Of course, there's only 1 possible explanation/rationale/reason for this - they think a Republican will win the presidential election and then be able to appoint a Conservative to the court to keep the balance of power in the Court on the Conservative side.  But, let's think about what's more likely to happen...

With the Republican's level of hypocrisy and obstruction reaching an all time high, the American people will squarely fix the blame on them for all of the dysfunction in Washington.  Anger and resentment will escalate and the Republican presidential candidates will go down in flames trying to "delay, delay, delay" this nomination, while the Republican Senate candidates up for election and re-election will falter under the weight of their ridiculous arguments.  All of that will not only keep the White House in Democratic hands, but will turn the Senate majority over to the Democrats as well.  And then, either Bernie or Hillary will appoint the next two or three Supreme Court justices.

Here's another scenario... just for fun... Donald Trump locks up the Republican nomination (which is very likely since he's leading by a lot in South Carolina), and the Republican party goes into panic mode in their Convention.  Perhaps they'll coalesce behind him, but they may maneuver into a "Brokered Convention" which would somehow take the nomination away from Trump and hand it to one of the "Establishment" candidates.  If that happens, Trump will undoubtedly run as an Independent which will split the Republican vote.  That would not only hand the next presidency over to the Democratic nominee (easily), but with a "Yuuuuuge" mandate.

Either way, Republicans lose as the turnout in this next election will be massive.  The stakes could not be higher, and I would venture to say they will never be higher in our lifetime, as the fate of both the Executive AND Judicial branches of government are held in the balance.  Not only that, but with momentum going against an openly obstructionist party, even the balance of power in the Legislative branch could be at risk.

I have to say - this is the most exciting time to be a political junkie.

February 10, 2016

A Perspective: What does "Establishment" really mean?

A key concept in the election this cycle, "The Establishment" is often misunderstood and the source of confusion for many.  "They" say it's an anti-establishment election, so some candidates are racing to distance themselves from the label.  Hillary Clinton claims that she can't be considered "Establishment" since she's a woman running for president, and of course Bernie Sanders was roundly criticized for using the "Establishment" label with Planned Parenthood and NARAL.

So, what does "Establishment" really mean?  Of course, I'm not going to get technical and espouse the dictionary definition; as a blogger, I feel my role is to articulate my perspective on it.  So, here it goes.


Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye most of her adult life.  Between herself and her former-president husband, they've built what is otherwise known as "The Clinton Machine", featuring a vast network of contacts and a vast influx of special-interest influence (i.e. donations, corporate funding, etc.).  She spent several years in the Senate representing the state of New York and has vigorously advocated for many great causes and organizations, earning her a great deal of respect and support.

Bernie Sanders on the other hand, has always been considered an "outsider" with respect to Washington politics, which is ironic since he's represented Vermont in Congress for over 25 years.  Even though he's running for President as a Democrat, his entire tenure in both the House and Senate he's had an "(I)"  next to his name (i.e. Independent), segregating him from either of the two dominant political parties.  Although he caucused with the Democrats, he was able to stay above the partisan fray in many respects.  The most notable issue, of course, was the vote on the use of force in Iraq in 2003.  While Hillary Clinton, along with other Democrats such as John Kerry, voted in favor of the use of force in Iraq, Bernie Sanders famously voted against.  Given the debacle resulting from the Iraq war, history has recorded the United  States' role in launching it as the wrong decision, and Clinton to her credit has admitted it was a mistake.  Not only did Sanders have the judgement, foresight and vision to make the correct decision, he did so against the conventional wisdom and Establishment party line.

By the way, I'd like to enter my footnote in terms of that vote for the use of force in Iraq in 2003.  I did not (and will not) say that either Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, or any of the other Democrats actually voted "FOR the WAR" as many of the analysts, pundits, and politicians like to characterize it.  Most people's memories are short, but I remember it vividly -  I've always believed their votes for the use of force in Iraq was a show of support for President Bush in his diplomatic efforts to coerce Saddam Hussain to back down on his penchant for WMD.  I believe they got sucked into the WMD narrative and bought the bullshit the Bush Administration was selling.  We were still smarting from 9/11, anxious to make someone pay, and President Cheney kept painting Saddam Hussein as the boogeyman.  If you didn't vote in favor of the use of force, you weren't "strong on national defense".  And don't think Bernie Sanders didn't take a lot of heat for that tough decision.  But he made the tough decision and stuck by his convictions when it WASN'T popular, because he knew it was the correct decision.

That's not to say I excuse Hillary's misguided vote.  She may or may not have done so out of deference to the party line or conventional wisdom, but one thing is undeniably clear to me - voting for the use of force in Iraq exhibited poor judgement and arguably hawkish posturing. 


Sanders' narrative that Hillary represents "The Establishment" and he doesn't, is his way of articulating that he's always been considered an outsider.  But the real question is - what is he outside OF?  And hence we come to the most significant difference between Hillary and Bernie.  What he's outside of, is - corporate influence.  At least that's the narrative whether you buy it or not, and then whether or not you buy that Hillary is or isn't prone to corporate influence.

Hillary Clinton has done many incredible and amazing things in her long and distinguished career in public service.  Her roles as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State are unique and unparalleled.  There isn't another person in this country, short of our ex-presidents, who rivals her experience and qualifications.  However, experience and qualifications are only part of the puzzle.  They're really a reflection of history which is, by definition, in the past.  More important than that is the future.  And when you're thinking about the future, it's vision, foresight and judgement that matter most. 

When I ask myself who has the best judgement, vision and foresight to make those tough decisions in the future, unencumbered by corporate, establishment, and party influence, there's only one person in this race who comes to mind.  And it's not even close.

February 04, 2016

The Big Short - SEE THIS FILM!

Last weekend I finally had the opportunity to see this ground-breaking movie.  For those who aren't familiar, it's a docu-drama about the financial crash of 2008, and the events leading up to and causing it.  Ideally, every American should see this film and understand all of the elements which caused The Great Recession of 2008.  Realistically, the subject matter is quite complex, the dialogue moves a little fast at times, and not everyone will grasp all of the concepts.

There are still people who believe the housing bubble, crash, and bailout were largely the fault of poor people who took out mortgages they couldn't afford.  There are still people who believe Barney Frank is to blame because of the Economic Revitalization Act of 1994, compelling the banks to lend to poor people who couldn't afford their loans.  None of this is even remotely true.

See this film.  It's not fiction.  It's an incredible account of what actually happened, and what actually happened is that the banksters caused this meltdown through the intersection of greed, and deregulation, which opened the door to let them gamble with the people's money.  [SPOILER ALERT - don't read any further if you haven't seen the film and don't want to know the details yet.] But maybe you've seen it and want a refresher.  Anyway, here's my summary...
  • Mortgage bankers/brokers were enticing and luring people (many unworthy of loans), into Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs), which had initially low payments.  But, interest rates skyrocketed shortly down the road.  It was predatory lending at it's worst.  One banker joked about "NINJa" loans (No Income No Job) to people who were obviously not qualified.  But they didn't care because they got their commissions either way.
  • Not only did they get their commissions by selling mortgages to people who were unqualified and obviously couldn't afford them (a.k.a. "Sub-prime"), they bundled many of those types of loans together into packages, and re-sold them in a secondary market.  Those packages were called "CDO's" (Collateralized Debt Obligations), and that secondary market was called the "Derivatives Market".  So, that originating bank collected their fees twice, and assumed none of the risk.  Cha-ching!
  • Those CDO's, which were full of garbage, were bought up by investment firms and pension fund managers because Standard and Poors gave the funds high ratings.  
  • Standard and Poors gave them high ratings because the banks holding the funds threatened to use Moody's instead.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), who was supposed to be policing this stuff, was underfunded and overwhelmed.  They were also in bed with the banks (you know, the ones with all the money), working towards their next job in the banking/investment sector.
  • As investment brokers/bankers started realizing that the CDO funds were full of trash, they started "shorting" on those funds (hence "The Big Short").  What does "shorting" mean?  It basically means they gambled on these funds defaulting.  They paid tens of millions of dollars in premiums on the gamble that the funds would default.  Upon defaulting, they would receive hundreds of millions of dollars because the odds were so high.  Why were the odds so high?  Because Standard and Poors kept rating the funds AA and AAA under pressure from the banks.  And how often do mutual funds of real estate portfolios default?  Never.... until 2008 when the shit hit the fan.
  • When the shit did hit the fan, several of the big investment firms went out of business, and the banks which were left standing got bailed out by the American taxpayers via George W. Bush. But Bush didn't believe in regulations, so the tax-payer money was basically just given to the banks without very many strings.  The banksters took care of their shareholders and gave themselves bonuses.
  • Meanwhile, many investment portfolios (i.e. the pensions of millions of Americans) were decimated.  Imagine working hard your whole life and saving up a nest egg, only to discover that your retirement savings are gone because a bunch of banksters got greedy.  Sorry, you can't retire... keep working!  Imagine losing your job as the world economy recoils, it's impossible to find a new job because there are so few jobs, and you're too old to be considered for most jobs.  And then Republicans cut Unemployment benefits, because of course, those living off "The System" are lazy freeloaders.  Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!

February 02, 2016

Really? Ted Cruz? Are you serious?

Coming out of the Iowa caucuses I'm dumbfounded that a state... any state... would actually select Ted Cruz as their Republican preference.  I'm not going to go "all birther" on him even though there are valid concerns about his eligibility given he was born in Canada.  Frankly I'm quite okay with him running, with full confidence that his ass will never see the inside of the Oval Office.  But I'm grasping to understand why people would vote for this POS.  I can only assume that people have very short memories.  Either that or they're so religiously brainwashed that they can't see who they're really voting for.  So, true to my inner purpose, let me remind them...

Well, that's just an cursory overview from a few Google searches.  Hopefully... maybe... I refreshed a few people's memories.

February 01, 2016

My Case For Bernie Sanders

Before Bernie Sanders threw his hat into the ring for the Democratic Presidential nomination, I was squarely in the Hillary camp.  First of all, there's no way any of those Republican clowns will get my support or win the White House.  Plus I, along with a lot of people, felt that it was time for a woman to occupy the Oval Office now that we've broken the race barrier.  Not to mention - it was Hillary's turn.

If it was anyone else, I'd probably still be in the Hillary camp.  Hillary Clinton has spent her entire public life fighting for good progressive causes.  She tried to bring us universal health care in the early days of her husband's presidency.  She's fought for women's rights, children's benefits, and other great progressive causes.  In her first bid for the White House, after losing to Barack Obama she bowed out gracefully and supported the Democratic candidate on to victory.  As Secretary of State, I thought she did a decent job, traveling around the world and shmoozing with world leaders.  I figured she was a shoe-in for this presidential cycle.

Enter Bernie Sanders.  As an Independent, he was naturally on the fringe of relevance for much of his career in Washington as all of the attention got sucked up by the major party principals.  But all along, Bernie's case, his ideology, and his principles were exactly where they needed to be - not just progressive, but largely in the mainstream of where this country stands.  Think about it - what policies or ideas of his don't garner over 50% support in the nationwide polls?

I've been watching Bernie Sanders and following his career for years.  I've been listening to his speeches & interviews.  I've been streaming his weekly "Brunch with Bernie" segments on Friday afternoons on Thom Hartmann's show.  And I've been paying attention.  Despite anything you may hear from "opposition" research, online hit pieces, or anything else from any so-called "news sources", I can unequivocally assure you that Bernie Sanders is the real deal.  He's not bought & owned by Wall Street, corporate America, or anyone in the wealthy populace.  He's not big money establishment, and his convictions don't simply bend with the polls.  He's the ONLY politician in Washington, short of Elizabeth Warren, who sincerely wants to have government serve the interests of the people.   You can't say that about very many politicians in Washington, or even throughout the country on state & local levels.  They're all serving the interests of their donors, and hence those with money get what they want.

I believe that the fundamental problem in Washington politics, which serves as foundation of all others, is the enormous flood of money in campaign financing.  It's legalized bribery, it's out of control, and it's decimating our democracy.  All of the other problems we face start from this, and the need for campaign finance reform is paramount to everything else, including climate change.  Think about it - it's the flood of money from the Kochs and the Energy Industrial Complex which has fueled the Climate Change Denial sector.  Take the money out of politics with publicly funded elections, and no one's beholden to the Koch Brothers.

So, when you go to the polls to vote for the next president, ask yourself just one question - who is, at least going to try, to do something about this, the most fundamental problem in Washington politics? Bernie Sanders is the answer to that question.  I'm not saying he's going to get it done.  I'm just saying he will try moving our country in that direction.  It will take a movement.  It will take a revolution. But maybe, just maybe, some good things will happen if government starts governing in the interests of the people, and not the plutocracy.