Why the Voting Rights Bills Miss the Mark, Badly; Part II: An Exchange of Views on Biden, Manchin and the state of the Democratic Party, Jan. 1, 2022

Image of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates is from the Financial Times, June 23, 2021, “Buffett Resigns from Gates Foundation,” by Joshua Chaffin and Andrew Edgecliffe.

Dear Citizens and Elected Officials:

Introduction:

I hadn’t planned on continuing the dialogue on Joe Biden, the Democratic Party and the obstructionism of Senator Joe Manchin , right out of the gate in 2022,  but an early morning Email from a citizen of standing in Western Maryland helped me change my mind.  This citizen, while sympathetic to my take on the power of corporate democrats, sided with Professor Nancy MacLean’s recent criticism/attack of my view of the party and the Biden presidency, essentially saying I was bad for morale.   Therefore, below, you will find my expanded response, “An Exchange of Views on Biden, Manchin, and the State of the Democratic Party, Part II.”

What I had intended to write about first in this New Year, though, is the apparent shift in winds among those in the Democratic Party whose first priority has been the three bills about Democracy and Voting Rights and thwarting Republican Right attempts to subvert if not outright overthrow them.  I do agree with the assessment of Carl Bernstein, of Woodward and Bernstein fame, who said on a CNN segment from Dec. 23rd that the Republican game plan, and Trump himself, were engaged in “seditious activities” and intent.

I’ve spent some time looking at the three bills that are on the table, those mentioned in a letter sent first to the Democratic Senate Leadership and then the whole Senate, signed by some 800 religious and civil rights leaders, demanding that voting legislation, not Build Back Better, be made the party’s immediate priority in 2022.  And of course, that also means taking on the issue of the filibuster.

It is interesting to note that the language contained in the letter, as covered by CNN on Dec. 23rd, sounds very familiar: the Democratic base, or key parts of that base, is very frustrated by the lack of party “deliverance.”  The text of the letter was just two pages; the next 20 pages were the list of signatories, and the striking thing about those who signed was the large number who were Rabbi’s and Cantors, including Michael Lerner of Tikkun.  The heart of the message is that equality in voting is the secular equivalent of “equal in the eyes of God” (my words) and “‘that is why, this Martin Luther King Day {January 17th} we will not accept empty promises.’”

Here is  the article: https://www.cnn.com/2021/12/23/politics/faith-leaders-voting-rights-letter-biden/index.html   The headline being “Hundreds of Faith Leaders demand more from Biden and other Democrats on voting rights legislation.”

I support the findings of the letter, and the passions expressed, which are just and righteous.  Now I have to fit them into my head’s understanding on what is going on, and Bernstein’s take on sedition.

The Republican Right’s Long March back into the 19th Century (if not earlier)

The Republican Right has a long tradition in our politics, and in its modern form that tradition goes back at least to William F. Buckley’s founding of the National Review  magazine in 1955 and highlighted by his reading the John Birch Society’s leader Robert Welch out of the movement in Feb. of 1962.  (see Rick Perlstein’s account in “Before the Storm,” pages 153-156).   No such effective action however, has happened within the Republican Party of Donald Trump today, and if Trump somehow doesn’t run, you can see the logic of Goldwater’s strategy (tough on Welch, softer on his party members)  intimated in Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race in November of 2021: a less toxic candidate who keeps the Trumpian based “stoked,” which I suppose rhymes with “woke.”

Indeed, I don’t know how Buckley, were he alive,  would react to the clear shift of the Republican Right to a form of Constitutional Fundamentalism, Original Intent, which brings us to the heart of the matter of voting rights, addressed in several places.  One of which, the older, a book from 2003, gets very little citation, and the other, hot off the press, impressed me with its  comprehensive take on the Republican Right strategy in  2020, on Jan. 6th and heading into 2022 & 2024:  Barton Gellman’s essay in the Atlantic, January 6 was Practice, here https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/01/january-6-insurrection-trump-coup-2024-election/620843/

Here’s the core of the Republican Strategy, and judge for yourself whether it is or isn’t faithful to the logic of the party in legal matters, and policy matters too, decade after decade: take the Republic back to a form close to imagined dreams of the founders, remarkably, pre-Civil War (without the slavery) and well before the perniciousness of FDR and the New Deal and later Great Society.  (I might add, sorry for the digression  – a wonderful way for President Biden to have gone after Joe Manchin’s statement that “‘I cannot accept our economy, or basically our society moving towards an entitlement mentality.’” (quoted by David Leonhardt, NY Times from Manchin in September; opening up the full Monty philosophical debate that might educate or heaven forbid, passionately engage those who work two jobs, or work in a candle factory in Kentucky alongside prison labor).

 I quote now from Gellman on the keystone Republican constitutional attack angle:

Electors are the currency in a presidential contest and, under the Constitution, state legislators control the rules for choosing them.  Article II provides that each state shall appoint electors ‘in such a Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.’ Since the 19th century, every state has ceded the choice to its voters, automatically certifying electors who support the victor at the polls, but in Bush v. Gore the Supreme Court affirmed that a state ‘can take back the power to appoint electors.’ No court has ever said that a state could do that after its citizens have already voted, but that was the heart of Trump’s plan.

Now here is Representative Jamie Raskin’s (D, MD-8th) take in his 2003 book, Overruling Democracy:  The Supreme Court vs. The American People, agreeing with Barton Gellman’s constitutional reading in the third chapter of his book:

The key sentence in Bush v. Gore makes an early and ominous cameo appearance early on in the decision…Almost in passing, the majority writes: ‘The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States.’…the current Court reads the Constitution as establishing the state legislatures’ absolute power to choose presidential electors without public participation if they so desire.  Although the states currently hold popular elections to choose the electors, the Court was emphatic that any legislature could decide to bypass the voters and appoint electors of its choosing: ‘the State legislature’s power to select the manner for appointing electors is plenary; it may, if it so chooses, select the electors itself…’ (Pages 31-32.)

I might add that however strained this interpretation sounds, I would think the present court, that of 2022, would be just as emphatic as the 2000 one was in this strange reading.  Yet it is a reading consistent with the drift of so much Republican Right policy, to return to a states’ right stance, diminishing federal power wherever it can manage it, even to the manner of what we once all naively thought was settled practice, even in the Electoral College: a citizen’s right to vote. 

Therefore, I began asking myself if there was anything in the three current bills being pushed in Congress to address voting rights, which might alter this stance of the Right wing dominated Supreme Court.  I sent a question to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School on Dec. 26th, to which I’ve received no reply, not surprising, given the holidays. In the silence since, I’ve come up with my own answer, trying to think logically: given the Court’s stance, no Democratic legislation could correct it unless it was a Constitutional Amendment; ordinary legislation would not work.

Still, I was curious to see how the bills did or did not approach the matter.  It’s a bit daunting even for a citizen used to long legal documents and policy initiatives, to see the scope of the task.  The original bill, “The For the People Act,”, HR 1, S-1, is between 820 and 888 pages, depending on the version.  That’s right, over 800 pages.  The “compromise” bill, once again driven by Senator Joe Manchin in his search for bi-partisan support, comes in at just 594 pages, “The Freedom to Vote Act,” S-2747.  The John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, S-4263  comes in at a mere smudge at 41 pages.

Well, I needed a method of searching for the answers to the question I posed, and fortunately the bills are laid out initially in broad Titles, Issues and Sections of what is covered, and they have PDF search engines.  And so I searched under the logical topics and came up with zero relevant attack angles on what the Republicans have set in motion.  The closest to approach the issue of state legislative constitutional authority was in Title III of the Freedom to Vote Act, “Preventing Election Subversion” on pages 255-265, where Section 3001 addresses the removal of local election administrators who are presiding over Federal elections (where the Constitution does give full authority to the Congress to regulate its own elections as opposed to the Presidential one…) The remedies in the bill for improper removal of “down the chain of command” election officials are to have the grounds for removal formally specified, notifying the US Attorney’s Office in writing and granting the removed the right of appeal to federal court.   All logical and worthwhile, but it seems to this non-constitutional scholar, insufficient to change the playing field for those acting with “seditious intent.”

That still leaves me with a major question: would any of the bills blunt the Trumpian intent to challenge the Presidential votes in swing states, or closely contested “surprise” ones (where Republicans have legislative majorities) so that a state legislature could  substitute  its own will and electors for those of the voters?

I don’t think so but I would defer to a  constitutional scholar who still believes in democracy to tell me – and the citizens about to throw their hearts, souls and bodies behind these bills – that they are not wasting their time on important but secondary features to the attack plan of the Republican Right.

I have asked myself whether all the enormous range and details in the cumulative 1,523 pages of the three bills could, by improving every sequence in the complex American voting practice, ancient and modern in the wake of Covid experience, add enough friction to thwart the Republican intent to shift sovereignty from the voter to state legislatures? I don’t have the answer, but I lean towards saying no, these 1500 pages don’t meet the nature of the challenge.

One last “loose end.” Given my take, the last resort to thwart a Supreme Court intent on repeating the direction of Gore v. Bush 2000 would be to alter the composition of the court by expanding it…under a Democratic President; makes sense, no?  Touchy subject that: “expand” or is it “pack”?  Better summon a commission, Bi-Partisan of course, of 34 constitutional scholars via a Biden Executive Order.  The Commission’s report, 288 pages, came in on Dec. 7th.  It voted 34-0 to state that it reached no consensus or recommendations.  Fitting for our troubled time, don’t you think?

Reflections on “Democracy, Ancient and Modern”

I can’t quite leave the emotional, visceral almost, terrain of the fate of American Democracy under the threat of Trump and the Republican Right without a few more thoughts. You can sense the painful history of the black church and its white religious allies from the heroic days of the Civil Rights movement in that letter sent to the Senate. How could this be happening in America? Maybe it helps to remember that William F. Buckley initially, early after the founding of National Review magazine, didn’t believe black people in the US were worthy, educated enough to have earned the right to vote. It was a view that harkened back, albeit in racial terms, to the long struggle of the working class in England and Germany to win the right to vote under the nervous eyes of the landed aristocracy, and how grudgingly given the ground was. And how long it took to enfranchise one half of the rest of humanity: women voters. And after those battles were won, the affluence of the West in the three “glorious decades, 1945-1975” caused a new problem: apathy and low turnout, worse in the US than in Europe, but bad enough there as well. The much honored classical scholar M.I. Finley’s “Democracy: Ancient and Modern” (1973 &1985) gives us a tour from the summit achievement in Athens in the mid-fifth century BC (I just sent a poster reminder of it, the Acropolis in gleaming early morning sunlight, to Representative Jamie Raskin, in honor of his new book and his crucial role in defending our own democracy), to the rise of “futility” in the working classes, 1970- present, the feeling that economic powers have, in ways voters can’t reach, already chosen the “options” for the parties, leaving little room to change direction, to alter the status quo. Recent American political science studies have grounded that feeling in data: policy initiatives favoring the 1-10% at the top do quite well negotiating the American Congressional minefield, those, like the Green New Deal or even Build Back Better…well, talk to Joe Manchin about that.

And let’s not forget a long and important qualifying view on the traditional workings of Western Democracy, that from the social democratic and democratic socialist parties, those who gave up revolutionary views for parliamentary evolutionary processes of change. That’s a whole couple of years of graduate school level work, the view from the historical left which in its own way said the system was always “rigged,” the power of class and money to keep the “market” and the central banks “out of politics.” And unions under control, if not crushed. Missing today from the writing about the American democratic crisis are two voices who should not be forgotten: William Greider and Kevin Phillips, the former now deceased, and the later dropped completely out of public life. Both kept their eyes on what was happening in the economy, and the rise of corporate political consciousness, expressed in Greider’s “Who Will Tell the People” (1992) and in 1997 by his critique of globalization and the rise of China: “One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism.” The number and range of Phillips books are in themselves a foreshadowing of what we are most worried about today, setting the climate crisis aside; just take a look here at the bottom of his Wikipedia biography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Phillips_(political_commentator)

Both writers were very worried about the fate of American democracy well in advance of the current Republican Right’s voter suppression tactics: they were focused more on the traditional worries of the left, how in a truly “political economy,” economic power’s revival since the 1970’s put lobbyists on behalf of that power between elected officials and distant voters. Corporate power in the Democratic Party is probably the greatest single factor in preventing the Democrats from coming up with a revised New Deal, Green or not, a national program to represent the interests of the bottom 65% or so of the electorate. The detailed fragmentation of the democratic constituencies or movements, aside from the corporate power, are also a huge obstacle to forming the missing “Movement,” that would transform the Party or break away and form a new one.

Part II: An Exchange of Views on Biden, Manchin and the State of the Democratic Party, January 1, 2022

Thanks “citizen of standing” …. for the thoughtful reply.  Bill Wolfe of Wolfenotes.com agrees with you, that the pressure point for Dems was campaigning for Biden’s policies in West Virginia – it’s a tactical question of nuance – how hard they should have gone after Manchin, as opposed to touting the needs of the state and what Build Back Better would deliver.    I don’t remember which group it was that I gave $7 to, might have been Move On – it was a major national “activist” one – for towed billboards putting pressure on Senator Manchin.   So far it hasn’t seemed to have worked.

Of course (a little sarcasm here) historian Nancy MacLean has the apparent right answer: increase turnout and voting for Dems.  However, as I tried to indicate earlier in my response of December 21st, that becomes, over the decades, a rather mechanical-logical answer and while that might drive some to the polls, I’m not sure that’s where the “mysteries of turnout” lie.  We do know where the non-voters, and episodic voters, “reside” in the national demographic: the bottom 30-40% of the electorate by income.  The swing and “undecideds” who garner so much attention, somewhat higher up in income.  And that’s why emotion is so important to politics – but greatly feared by the centrist/corporate Dems – that it will eventually be turned against them by a populist left movement.   Bernie had some of it, more than any other serious candidate that I can think of except George Wallace, who was populist right and racial, despite claims he was populist on economics.   And we know what happened to Bernie.    He couldn’t reach far enough, and despite sounding working class, his style was probably too mechanical for our age: the age of winging it on stage: and you know who is very good at that: “You’re Fired.”   Is it a comment on the Ukrainian situation that their current President is a former comic?   Yes, a tragic-comedy in formation.

It is a long-term project of mine to outline, at least, why it is that the willingness of the Republican Right to mobilize the ugliest side of human nature has been an arguably successful tactic for so long, runs like a dark thread through the four volumes of historian Rick Perlstein’s history of the Right, but is a forbidden force on the left.  I have my own thoughts, I hope a little better than guesses, and I named some of them in the parallels to the fate of the non-communist left in the Weimar Republic, the second of my two Dec. 21st responses to Nancy MacLean.

To be direct about it today, I can’t imagine a speech I might give that originated in equal parts from my heart and my head which could successfully  reach  even a majority of the major democratic party “movements.” The floundering of the Green New Deal being the prime exhibit. Floundered in the church pews of black congregations in South Carolina; floundered in rural progressive “back to the land”‘ remake agricultural enclaves…floundered among sophisticated upper middle class professional women in places like Montgomery County Maryland: oh Bernie, can’t you change the key, talk about your early home life more…why you could cut it with Vermont diversity but not with us…? And floundered in the halls of conservative AFL-CIO unions, where the proposed forms of a “Just Transition” weren’t enough, brokered properly, even though when I tried that gambit to offer to Manchin, New York times readers asked why only fossil fuel workers should get such a great deal (not in the official Dem document of 547 pages) when everyone else was “jettisoned” in society -all those middle class-middle managers shredded in the 1980’s and 1990’s who had to basically swim on their own?….

Watching the reaction of our progressive community in Western Maryland towards the Green New Deal, I wonder what, other than fear, will drive Nancy MacLean’s hoped for turnout surge.  In the past in American elections, it’s been major watershed elections: 1860, 1896, 1932, almost in 1980 (about 70% there)…but hardly even close in 2020.  How a party can produce that – and FDR’s 1932 election carried over into the congressional  elections of 1934 and the next presidential one, 1936…without a coherent philosophy and solid achievements and so badly divided within its own ranks over problems and solutions, I don’t know, fear of the Right/Trump being the only current answer. Or, if you think I am overstating the “coherence” of the New Deal’s experimentally driven policies, then perhaps only some as yet unknown “catastrophe,” ecological, economic or democratic breakdown (worse and more protracted than Jan. 6th) could trigger the “re-alignment” process. Perhaps that was what was missing from the Green New Deal “context.”

 Fear of Trumpism, the Republican Right may work at the upper reaches of the Democratic demographic, but down below…?  It works to an extent for me: it’s the bottom 30-40% who ought to be solidly in the Democratic camp who need convincing.  Has anyone done further follow-up on the workers of the candle factory in Kentucky destroyed earlier in December by the monster tornadoes?  $8.00 per hour pay,  plus required OT supplemented by prison labor really caught my attention.  I did not write about it out of courtesy for the dead; yet the regional press did the very next day.    It will take more than hugs to reach them, workers who can “thrive” on that and yet won’t revolt…

I can’t imagine ever not voting for the Democrat whomever that might be in 2024. I doubt Biden or Harris will be there, but I do know that you can only lure me with the Democratic “Two Step” so many times before I loose the enthusiasm you seek:  Carter in 1976 who de-regulated and de-labored;  Clinton the “populist” in 1992 vs 1996 the welfare reformer, balanced budget champion who could only offer the working class a chance to gain the tools to compete in a global system Clinton himself was all in for…China elevation included: we would “convert” them to democracy, no Greider or Mearsheimian voices to dissent.    Gore 2000 bragging how he downsized the govt which today can’t cope with pandemics, climate change or even claw back a little of the R & D risk taking public capital it supplies to a private sector “awash in cash”…a sector bored and labored with the question of where to place its surplus trillions;  the Obama of Hope and Change in 2008 and Caution and Austerity in 2010…and  at every turn in 2012…and so on…

I think the left critics over at Jacobin  magazine have a better analysis:  you can’t expect a party torn between the corporations of the 21st century and all the other reform camps (many of whose leading lights are dependent on those corporations for approval and financing)  to produce anything coherent or with sustained ideological momentum to match the Right; a Right which,  like their ideology or not, and I certainly don’t,  has, through Reagan and Trump, been consistent, even after a  very sinister turn towards barely disguised authoritarianism and if you prefer, “sedition.”

I so well recall my first visit to the Appalachian festival in Western MD, Fall of 2014, where I heard an union drum beater from West Virginia, published and rather polished, insist that organizing was all a local affair, “local, local, local,” roundly rejecting my counter that the reason the National Democrats couldn’t compete across the board with the Republican Right was the absence of a systematic, coherent national ideology. And how is West Virginia trending since then?

I wish I could say that Nancy MacLean’s rejoinder to me didn’t smack very much of “muzzling,” via heavy moral pressure, always for a good cause; sorry Nancy, I’ve heard the same line all my life, since 1972, and when the Dems win, they don’t produce very much to alter American life. Maybe because their leadership is solidly upper middle class or higher, in the top 10%, they don’t have the drive that financial desperation supplies.  I can’t imagine Montgomery County women, or men for that matter, Mark Elrich, county Ex., swooning over William Jennings Bryant’s 1896 Cross of Gold speech…to highlight maybe the last time, before FDR’s 1936 nomination acceptance speech at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, that a national dem so swam in emotionally charged ideological waters. Here is a good account of the 1936 event from a warm heart, the historian Jack Beatty:  https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2016/07/08/1936-democratic-convention-fdr

When a great nation no longer can produce convincing leaders it is a very strong signal that its time as hegemon is past, and it is a mighty struggle to overcome that with – and I’ll be very blunt:  Nancy MacLean’s prescription of cheerleading and ultimately, as you can see from the tone, issuing orders, as usual for the left to shut up and work like hell time and time again for those who don’t have either vision, ideas or programs that they will fight for as hard as the Right does for its morally much poorer causes.   Maybe for some that’s all they need, ordered enthusiasm, but I need a little conviction “guarantee” from those who will carry out the supposed policies to go with it. There are no guarantees of success in politics, understood, especially under the tiny margins in Congress today, and fanatical resistance, yet I do ask at least that my leaders in the Democratic Party go down fighting, with imagination and direct appeals to the electorate, over and above…you know who, that composite figure, half-coal miner, half-coal baron, from the Mountaineer state.

And how about those whom Professor MacLean tops it off against, the left protestor.    What I mean by that is that surely, based on her book “Democracy in Chains” she realizes the power in this society lies with the wealthy and the corporate and the blending of the two, true as well inside the Democratic Party as the Republican (with different demographics): and Biden’s whole career.  “They” have poured money into Manchin’s and Sinema’s coffers, like very much the resultant obstructionism and shrinking of scale; however, business is not monolithic: surely, if such an experienced judge of American life as Joe Biden has backed the corporate “moderation” inside the Democratic party for so many years, he would have a favor to ask, to call in, don’t you think?  That’s the way of the insider.  And surely some powerful corporate leaders must know that Trump again (or a Trump surrogate in disguise) would tear the country apart, so don’t you think a delegation consisting of Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, George Soros, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Bloomberg (pick your own delegation) sent to talk compromise with Manchin, with so much at stake, just as Nancy MacLean declares, would be a logical even compelling tactic?  No? So why not?  I’ve suggested as much in comments to the NY Times, to go along with the other three tactics you didn’t think would have much of a chance – but, let me be clear: these four would have been the advice I would have given if I were to be on Biden’s staff; an impossibility, of course, but it tells me a lot that he has been running into a brick wall since March of 2021 and never has tried other tactics.  Isn’t this a re-run, Nancy, of the Dems blaming Ralph Nader for the 2000 loss, a party so adrift it couldn’t withstand a “conscience candidate” polling in the low singe digits?  And which wouldn’t, couldn’t match the Republican “will to power” resting on far poorer legal and moral grounds given what we know about the Florida 2000 election today, as presented to us in detail and with “an edge,” in Representative Raskin’s 2003 coverage on that election: Overruling Democracy.

Why doesn’t Nancy MacLean criticize the real powers in the country, and she can pick the names herself if she doesn’t agree with my nominees, for not coming to Biden’s aid, for making clear that the country cannot still be a democracy (or good for business? By no means clear at all that tension, and Yanis Varouvakis’ challenge: “Can Democracy Survive Capitalism?”…given the longest historical run of no recession in the history of Western Capitalism, March of 2009 to April of 2020, according to the Economist magazine) if Trump or a cagier successor escalated the brewing Civil War, a war or civil conflict of unknown shape and dimensions?  Conducted it with more cunning and greater finesse than Trump can master? As in Virginia?

If there is no “Progressive national business community” that can step forward, in private, to turn Manchin Biden’s way, or to speak publicly to the country to blunt the undercurrent that helped elect Trump in 2016 (“a successful billionaire knows best”), then what is the Democratic Party doing in welcoming and nurturing  those who will not defend democracy against the greatest liar in our history, the chief “seditionist” for anyone with eyes to see?

Much safer bet to muzzle the Gracchi Bros. of the democratic discourse, such as it is. 

Best,

Written from the mid-fifties of late December and early January weather, in the Mountains of Western MD.

Editor’s Note: Image of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates is from the Financial Times, June 23, 2021, “Buffett Resigns from Gates Foundation,” by Joshua Chaffin and Andrew Edgecliffe.

A noted historian did not like my last posting on Joe Biden’s inability to cope with Joe Manchin…

From the collection at FilmDaily, from the 1961 movie “The Hustler.” Jackie Gleason will run the table on young Paul Newman. Somehow, this came to mind as Senator Manchin shut the door on Build Back Better just before Congress’ Christmas Recess.

Dear Citizens and Elected Officials:

I thought the exchange I had with Duke history professor Nancy MacLean had meaning beyond just our exchange of views via Email. She’s given her permission, so I’m going to print her brief response to my last posting entitled “Joe Manchin Runs the Table on a Bewildered Joe Biden.”

Professor MacLean is perhaps best known for her 2017 book “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.” If you haven’t read it, you should and introduce yourself to a Nobel Prize Winner in Economics (1986) who had lasting influence on the Right, especially the Libertarian Right: James McGill Buchanan. Not long after the book was out, we had a nice exchange of views about it and I made no secret of how much I liked it.

Why do I think our current exchange of views on Biden has significance? Because it comes back to central theme, dance almost, from the Democratic Party establishment, which is – even though they don’t deliver much when in office – we don’t have much of a choice. No matter how let down we feel, we must greet the next election cycle with enthusiasm, ever hopeful that next time in office it will be different, we’ll get better results. So I beg to differ here: turnout and enthusiasm is not a mechanical, automatic thing among very human voters, it has to be earned and can’t be taken for granted, even with the alarm bells ringing over threats to our basic democratic traditions. When Democratic voters feel the party has come up empty handed, and did not pull out all the stops, will it be enough to once again tell them how horrible it will be under the next Republican Congress, Republican President? And does the threat mean that well founded criticism of Democratic policies and tactics and leadership is no longer allowed? Judge for yourself and see if that’s what you hear, or read into the Professor’s comments on my posting; here they are, from Professor MacLean:

“I think it’s both unfair and a terrible, perhaps catastrophic, mistake to blame Biden as you have here, Bill. 

To my mind, this is a gross misreading of the dynamics of the moment we’re facing, when Biden and progressives in Congress have  been hemmed in by the narrowest of margins.  

The only solution is to work for huge turnout in 2022 to get the margins needed to succeed. Sadly, commentaries like yours here will produce only more despair and demoralization, thus helping to ensure the victory of a Republican Party that is openly working to ensure its triumph by authoritarian, even fascist means.

I was really sorry to see this. It’s exactly the kind of self-righteous, circular firing line stance that may well do us in.

Sincerely,

Nancy”

I sent back two responses in the same day and here is the first:

The Democratic Party’s center is perfectly capable along with its leader, Joe Biden, in producing that despair quite independent of my views, for which I don’t apologize one bit.  You’re making blatant excuses for tactical incompetence, Nancy.   I wish my views were influencing thousands or tens of thousands but your view, believe me, no hesitation in saying that, it is the dominant one at places like the Daily Kos which I know very well, in the parade of smiling faces at CNN, Paul Begala being the most sickening of them, looking like he just went to heaven under Biden the other night; I read the NY Times and many other sources in the center and your view is the dominant, hands down, 95:1 over mine in reaching the public.

Therefore it is the nation’s reaction, not molded by (gracchibros), to  Biden’s own dynamics and accomplishments or not which have led to his trouble in the polls.  He just plain appears weak, exactly as portrayed on the cover of the NY Review of Books on Jan 16, 2020 before the dem primaries, riding a ghostly moth ridden toy horse.  And that is just the gut level public reaction to the man and the events around him, not an intellectual exercise.  


I have also responded to Corey Robin’s NY Times essay (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/09/opinion/joe-biden-political-time.html) on the Biden Presidency, entitled “Why the Biden Presidency Feels Like Such a Disappointment,” at Professor Robin’s web site; I want to give you plenty of ammunition to hurl my way.   It is the luminaries of the party, if they have any, and the lackluster performance of the two at the top of the ticket which are turning voters off and killing the chances in 2022 (which may be quite bad independent historically of the persons in the two highest offices and even their achievements)… I can’t think of conduct over the past six months any more conducive to lead citizens to the conclusion that Biden is a poor leader than his conduct towards Manchin.  
Here  goes some more fodder for you:

“Thank you Corey, I’ve read the Times piece twice now, and like it, despite Skowronek being a complete unknown to me, as I suspect he is to many others.

I think Biden’s behavior since the late spring, through the summer and fall right up to the present is both a mystery and very infuriating to those hoping for a transformational presidency. The hopes rested on Biden picking up usable and popular policy pieces from the Sanders campaign and the Green New Deal, moderating them in terms of content and scope, and pulling the left and center together around his legislative proposals.

However, his behavior towards “acting President” Joe Manchin is inexplicable except by the not quite hidden clue that Biden spoke his heart’s desire to the corporate world: nothing much would change. Biden essentially handed a co-presidency to Manchin under the 50-50 Senate tie’s logic of making “every Senator” a near president with “veto” power. It seems this has been the guiding assumption and you know what? It doesn’t seem to have made Biden angry or restless at all. A strong hint about what’s going on, that he’s comfortable with Manchin playing the heavy in the evisceration of his proposals.

Biden had at least three options vis a vis Manchin before he resigned his Presidency. One, a private meeting conceding some ground, but drawing a clear red line over the fate of the overall proposals. (Should have dangled and held off in appointing Manchin’s wife the job at the Appalachian Regional Commission). Second, a commitment, private and public to a genuine policy of “Just Transition” for displaced fossil fuel workers, instead of the farce on that issue contained in the 547 page House report on the Climate Crisis. That farce, out in public in June of 2020, was a strong clue about the capitulation of the party’s center to the status quo on climate. And third, Biden’s last resort was a public speech putting all the pressure on Manchin for wrecking the party and the country’s chance to move into the 21st century instead of staying moored, barge like, in the tides of the late 19th. I paid a price personally for laying this out in a sharp polemic in late October at the Daily Kos, which has since banned me.

Yes, Corey, there is no powerful movement in the society right now, progressive and green, that would carry a transformative presidency through to its goals. Sanders from 2016 until March of 2020 did represent a fighting but incomplete chance, but the reaction to his candidacy in 2020 not only by the party’s center – its remarkable stone wall after the Nevada primary, but also by the many progressive “movements” which have yet to coalesce into a unified one, also broke apart in 2020: upper middle class feminists decided Sanders was too crude and too leftist for their professional tastes and so broke for Warren; church-going black women in the South decided a Jewish secularist from Vermont didn’t understand them even if he seemed to be sympathetic via his economic proposals (would someone please tell me what their test of authenticity is: hugs instead of policies?) – they stuck with the views of House Whip James Clyburn; and the substantial number of business oriented Democrats who would have nothing to do with Sanders, breaking with him just as they did with Ben Jealous in the MD gubernatorial race.

And finally, I think you are short changing the green aspect of the Green New Deal which you avoided reference to by coming close but only getting to, revealingly, a “new New Deal” and three other rather oblique references to the climate crisis. It seems to me that a green axis for the Democratic Party maybe more inclusive than a egalitarian economic one, ought to be able to “fuel” a mass movement…indeed, I think when and if it ever happens, it will be along the lines of a Green New Deal, still the most ambitious policy proposals every put in front of the American people in one time, and one place. I think the Green New Deal Resolution, however clumsily worked on behind the scenes before debut, and however rough in policy nuances, still did better than anything before and since, have powerful historical logic before, uniting under the old notion of equality both ecological and economic justice. The reaction of a good part of the AFl-CIO was as telling as their opposition to universal health care…

It is very clear that both within the Democratic Party and whatever goes for the Republican, the dominant corporate forces will allow no such transformation, ecological or egalitarian, on their watch over the key citadels of American power.”

PS to Nancy:  I have repeated various versions of my three options Biden never took up – in NY Times comments – and a few citizens have cited what you said…that 50/50 burden – and it is a burden.  My recommendations might not have succeeded if and when Biden had tried them, but he does not seem capable to me of operating within any of the necessary psychological roles to pull them off; if he had followed and tried at least the third about two months ago, a major address to the nation, I would have better things to say about him…but the very fact he is incapable of such a speech is telling. 

What was that oft repeated phrase from FDR upon entering the White House after Hoover’s “can’t do”: I’m paraphrasing: “get moving, try something  and if it doesn’t work, experiment and try something else.” Fits Biden’s situation vis-a-vis Manchin perfectly.  The dynamic between Biden-Manchin-Schumer-and Pelosi over the summer with the Manchin memo is just unbelievable and a further leadership disgrace.  DISGRACE. Pelosi said Schumer never shared it with her, the written memo produced by Manchin…so Biden didn’t tell her…or Schumer tell Biden?  Come on, get real professor.  This is a failing leadership of a nation collapsing, more keystone cops than people capable of seizing the times for a new direction.  

To guilt trip me with possibly electing another Trump or surrogate while the core corporate center of the party hasn’t budged one inch in Biden’s direction – of the pale echo of the green new deal – well Nancy, I refuse to carry that label in the face of so many with so much more influence and power and money…you know it’s not any policy of mine that caused the greatest transfer of wealth in human history, $50 trillion from 1975-2018 according to the Rand Study from the Sept election year, 2020, due to the Neoliberal policy shifts….the geologic rift in policy which opens the door for all the nasty tactics the Right so loves to use…so I’m culpable for an entire party and its 20 candidates who never quoted that study during the home stretch?  Try pinning it on Larry Summers, Bob Rubin, Paul Begala and now Van Jones and oh yes, Mr. Progressive voice himself James Clyburn.  

You are quite wrong on both the tactical and theoretical side of the dynamics.

Best,

And now my second response to Professor MacLean:

“What I didn’t get to:  what seemed to fire up more activists than any other provisions: voting rights, $15 per hour minimum federal wage, forgiveness of student debt, Labor’s Pro organizing Act (a policy/legal direction that has been out there since the Carter Administration for the Centrists like Carter, Clinton, Obama, Biden to take up…that’s forty-five years and four administrations, including two two-term ones…do I recall the special senate election in Georgia correctly, what turned out so many Dems who didn’t formerly vote? … I think the issues I named.  Are you going to blame me for throwing cold water on activist turnout, political passion pending for 2022 – blame the very small dissenting left (would you like the names and articles at Jacobin?)…for this failure to move what so many cared about…so the issue goes far beyond the spectacularly one way street with Biden-Manchin on Build Back Better; it encompasses all these other very popular issues.  


I’m sorry, but the current – and the historical burden for failure and turning on the fire sprinklers to extinguish popular passion at the doorbells for the party rests squarely with the “wait for the next time” and better circumstances: which never arrive. Should we also discuss national health insurance’s dynamics…under the centrists?


You know Nancy, I’ve given a good deal of thought throughout my life on the democratic left to the Weimar Republic’s (1919-1933) fate, the ultimate nightmare outcome for the left in history, perhaps exceeded only by nationalism’s triumph throughout the West in August, 1914 when nationalism extinguished international socialist solidarity, to take to the trenches of WWI country by country and one of the greatest bloodbaths in history followed – and one of history’s great disillusioning experiences.

As to Weimar, I’ve often asked myself what I would have done, where I would have been on the left side of the spectrum and I answer with the largest party in Germany after the  Weimar Republic came to power, the Social Democratic/ Socialist Party of Germany (SPD), perhaps with the minority group who were further to the left but not the Communists.  Yet the Biden equivalents (Carter comes to mind as well, and especially Obama) – social Catholics and liberal democrats – never could generate the passion nor the guidance to keep the German right in check, could never move boldly – except to crush the initial far left Revolution in 1918-1919 in alliance with the worst of the Right, the Freikorps.  Germany, in the depths of the Great Depression, 1929-1932, could not even agree legislatively on an increase in unemployment insurance…the passion and risk takers were on the far Right…the reasonable men of the center left could not rise to the crisis with either policies or passion to convert enough of the others…which would have to have come from the center…and the Germany of the Prussian aristocracy, rural Prussian peasants, small shop keepers and artisans, the rural Catholics of Bavaria…would never go Communist for either ideological reasons deeply held and nationalistic ones, since they saw Red Russia standing in the way of “living space” to the East.  Nor, and this is crucial, would they ever support the long and staid history (not in their eyes) of the labor union’s which controlled the SPD, Germany’s largest party, despite its commitment to peaceful change and Parliamentarianism. That would have been the bridge that the middle classes and rural folks would have had to cross in sufficient numbers to keep the Nazis out, but they could not do it, despite moderation written all over the SDP (and name one figure that history remembers in office during Weimar from them? Colorless).   What am I trying to say here?  That I can look and look, and see your stern lecture and warning right into the cauldron of the late Weimar Republic and I don’t see how I could have acted in a  sound political choice to make a difference. 

It was the equivalent of Larry Summers, Bob Rubin, Silicon Valley capitalists who would have to have said in big time speeches and advertising: it’s time to revitalize American Democracy along the lines of a full bodied Build Back Better, and $15 per hour and debt forgiveness and democracy in the workplace?  I am half dreaming here and half the realist saying put the damn historical burden on those people, not the AOC’s and Sanders supporters.  Hell the party can’t even do more than wave a $200 per month SS increase which would really help aging red state America…there’s been no increase structurally since Richard Nixon; chew on that for letting the average citizen down. Perhaps I am influenced by reading both volumes of Vasily Grossman’s “Stalingrad, and Life and Fate”   and wonder what the individual can do besides tell the truth as he sees it.  And you’ve gotten my truths on Biden, Schumer and Pelosi and what they haven’t passed and very early, gave up trying: the most popular planks with the public.  I would say if you want to pick on anyone standing out as hurting Biden it would Larry Summers and his long campaign on inflation…winning in the public eye over Krugman, who disagrees. 

 
I reject the notion that the burden for the failures rests with the left, and not the corporate center, Manchin and all the quiet powerful forces which funded him.  And that give-away on the whole farce of the last six months on BBB: the outrageously insulting Democratic House policy “plank” of a Just Transition in that June of 2020, 547 page party document on the Climate Crisis: they never named an amount for the fund, or a duration, or its terms for training, re-location…and they funded it by the revenues from federal oil and gas leases. Here it is in all its futile glory:  https://climatecrisis.house.gov/sites/climatecrisis.house.gov/files/Climate%20Crisis%20Action%20Plan.pdf


 And  you can attack me with a straight face?  A Just Transition was the public plank to “beat” Manchin into submission, quietly at first in meetings, then in caucuses and finally, if that failed, in the major Presidential address…round about Labor Day, Joe?….that would have stripped away the West Virginian’s hiding places, if “his people” had an economically secure future…don’t have to be a Max Weber to figure this out…maybe a John L. Lewis or Walter Reuther!   

Editor’s Note: I’ve offered Professor MacLean the last word on a further response to mine above but haven’t been taken up on it. She did write that she “didn’t attack me,” merely “disagreed.” Well, readers can judge for themselves her words.

Best for the holidays, Christmas, Kwanza, Boxing Day, and today, the day I’m posting this, the Winter Solstice, Dec. 21st.

Joe Manchin runs the table on a bewildered Joe Biden

Dear Citizens and Elected Officials:


The only thing worse than Biden’s passivity over the past six months is the pathetic press coverage that has made excuse after excuse for Biden’s unimaginative, unchanging and eventually self-defeating negotiating tactics.  Those tactics have given away the powers of the Bully Pulpit, which alone the Presidency bestows, in exchange for the leverage of Biden’s friendship with Manchin, which has delivered  the nation nada on many crucial policies after the Infrastructure Bill. 


Starting from the assumption that a 50-50 tie in the Senate bestows “Presidential veto power” upon each Senator, one is pretty much always on one’s knees.  The strategy, if that’s what it might be called,  ought to have been cashiered as futile around September 1st.       

Biden’s failure to see the unbending ideology behind Manchin’s positions over such a long period calls to mind the insightful work of Fintan O’Toole about Biden in the New York Review of Books, one full year before he took the Presidential oath.  The essay is entitled “Mourner in Chief.”   Here is the heart of the matter, near the close of the essay which appeared in the January  16  2020 issue of the magazine:


“This is not to deny the power or the sincerity of Biden’s empathy. It is real and rooted and fundamentally decent. It has at its core the baffled humility of the human helplessness in the face of death that makes life “so difficult to discern.” As an antidote to Donald Trump’s grotesquely inflated “greatness,” it has authentic force. It is a different, and much better, way of talking about distress, of making pain a shared thing rather than a motor of resentment. But can a politics of grief be adequate to a politics of grievance? Can it deal either with the real grievances of structural inequality or with the toxic self-pity that Trump has both fostered and embodied? Biden’s essential appeal as a candidate for 2020 is that he (not least being older, male, and white) is the only one who can heal a heartbroken and divided America. But he cannot embrace voters one by one. The US cannot be made whole again because it has never been whole. Biden’s core belief is that injustice is a failure of benevolence and effort: “There is nothing inherently wrong with the system; it’s up to each of us to do our part to make it work.” But division is real and profound and structural—it is not just a matter of feeling. The need is not to reconcile everyone to the balance of power but to alter that balance. Consolation is not social change. Solace is not enough.

(My emphasis.) 


And for the full essay:  https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2020/01/16/joe-biden-designated-mourner/


I regret to say,  citizens, that I am not here to deliver the uplift we can surely all use this holiday season. 

My duty as a journalist is to tell the truth as I see it, up or down for the heart. 


Biden is not the man nor the President the American people so badly need now.


Best to you for the coming year – and crises.


https://gracchibros.wordpress.com/

From Amidst the “Ruins of Neoliberalism” A Task Force Reports on Western Maryland’s Economic Future: A Critique

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is large_24c0b48dd2cf3dc72f91ddacd3aec0d9-rocky-gap-alltrails.jpg
From AllTrails.com…Mountains at Rocky Gap State Park, Cumberland, Maryland. Will it remain public land or be “handed off” for private development?

December 2, 2021

Dear Citizens and Elected Officials, Governor Hogan, Senate President Bill Ferguson, Speaker of the House Adrienne Jones, the Western Maryland Delegation and Members of the “Task Force on the Economic Future of Western Maryland”:

I’m a bit late attending to this important but deeply flawed Report, not being alerted until I saw a yellow and black yard sign on Main Street in Frostburg, about ten days ago, crying “Save Rocky Gap.” Thank you, citizens, for alerting me, these are indeed important matters.

INTRODUCTION:

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at the composition of and recommendations contained in this report; after all, the main actors, the Western Maryland all conservative Republican Annapolis delegation recently (October) thought it prudent to push secession from Maryland itself.  They felt we are so ignored by that old colonial town on the Bay, and should join, of all places, the West Virginia of Jim Justice and Joe Manchin, who ought to be nobodies guide to the 21st century.   Even some rising young leaders in their own party here in Allegany County were shocked at the futile gesture, and two of the sponsors quickly backed away from it. 

The Task Force has a rather alarming take on Democracy, right out of Neoliberalism’s theoretical framework for our society: it’s all about entrepreneurs and the economy, and giving them their freedom – and our public tax dollars with no claim on the returns from the “ventures.”   Thus, two existing Maryland business and tech innovation funds, hoping, like every other part of the Union, to precipitate the equivalent of a Silicon Valley in California, or Rt. 128 “Technology Highway” in Massachusetts, or the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina – but now in Maryland, ought to be legislated to do the same for our Western counties.   

Nothing wrong with that, except don’t look too closely at the comparisons, “odds in favor of,” or the fact that the public doesn’t get a fair return on its public dollars invested in the private ventures, which are really multiple collaborations between academe, governmental agencies, and start up entrepreneurs.  As in the case of Apple, the darling of the late Rush Limbaugh, we don’t get the full story: they build on what public research dollars have pioneered, upon the great risks the private sector will not fund, then launch their truly wonderful products, and flamboyantly proceed to evade their tax obligations – their “fair share.”

That sequence flows right out of the Neolibs game plan, and is close to the hypocritical and simplistic political economy view out here: government bad, private sector good, and let’s turn a blind eye on how dependent our region, and much of rural America is, on public dollars to:  build prisons, fund public education (the pride of the region), seed start-up firms via state and federal dollars from the Appalachian Regional Commission…and on and on…

Perhaps we could get over the grand distortions of reality in that simplistic view if a fair representation of society was put forth to govern this Task Force and much else economic in our region and nation: in other words, put more democracy into the economy.  However,  behold the Task Force: no labor representation, no science panel, despite all the talk of STEM based IT, Cyber this and Cyber that, advanced manufacturing…and nothing green here, no faculty science panel from FSU, no Appalachian Science Lab representation…nor last, but not least, no “average citizen panel.” And that in a region allegedly outraged at being ignored and ridiculed by the liberal coastal elites.  Now, instead, we will be directed by the business elites, the ones who have conducted from 1945-2018, according to a Rand study from September of 2020, “the greatest transfer of wealth” in human history, some $50 trillion dollars upwards to the 1-10%. 

In one sense then, I’m not surprised at the insulting composition of the Task Force given the dominant philosophy of our region; but what in the world are the Maryland Senate President and Speaker doing “blessing” such an non-representative body?  Shame on them.  Maybe they could be forgiven if we realize that Neoliberalism’s “ruins” encompass both parties in a true “Spirit of the Age” which has not ended yet and which once assured us in the late 1980’s that democracy and capitalism were an inseparable “couple.”

It’s not surprising then that this body, like the secessionist gambit, should propose a raid on public lands, environmental lands, public parks, wildlife management areas, recreational lands in the spirit of “we’ve saved too much,” lets get the private sector boys, hungry for low cost land deals, or at no charge at all, some of the lands they crave but don’t currently own.  Already, the Task Force is backing away from naming specific places, but sorry, the cat’s out of the bag. 

Who could blame some unnamed entrepreneurs from wanting a new Industrial Park in the go-go corridor of 219 and 68 near Grantsville?  They “only” needed 800 acres; problem is that Garrett County already has six Industrial Parks, three full and three with vacancies; Allegany County has eight Industrial Parks (I live next to one) and Washington County has, wait, did I read that right – twenty – 20?

Do the region’s leaders in Annapolis forget that the people of Western Maryland rose up and defeated the bid for fracking in Garrett and Allegany Counties, that the environmental community here is strong, and follows the national and international reports pouring out in a torrent of science findings in 2018-2019, that independent of global warming impacts, nature as we knew it, species numbers and species themselves, bio-diversity itself, is collapsing: insects, birds, mammals…all fragmented by infrastructure and destruction of forests and grasslands for this or that economic “necessity”…for Progress itself. But these findings don’t apparently register in the happy face Maryland of Governor Hogan and Secretary Ben Grumbles, and the “no problems here” attitude in Western Maryland. 

As Greta Thunberg so aptly put it in Glasgow, the world’s political response to the great twin environmental crises has been more “blah blah blah.”

Let me warn the citizens and the state legislature of the dangers of Public-Private Partnerships under conservative Republican Leadership, and centrist Democrats as well, like today’s horror story of the lane widenings in the Beltway Region…I’ve been through it all in New Jersey, from the late 1980’s under Tom Kean, and then, later in the 1990’s, the raids on public lands, State and Federal by major private players.  At least the raiders had the decency to put forth land “swaps,” lousy, unfair ones if one looked closely, but here, in this Task Force report of 58 pages, we find no mechanism of exchange whatever, no environmental analysis and even a reluctance to be explicit about what the private players are after.  It’s an insult to democracy, due process and the environmental sensibilities of the region.

As warning to the public about the threat to  the beautiful public lands at Rocky Gap State Park, I invite Maryland residents to visit the online history of the attempts to convert the green public parklands of Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, in infamous Hudson County,  into a succession of private commercial ventures, everything from golf courses to water themed and Great Flag type adventure parks and of course, upscale condo units. 

And they were proposed In a county with the least open space in the whole state. The citizens in the area have over more than 40 years fought off these ventures to “improve” their beloved Green Park, once the dumping grounds of the old railroad barons and industrial firms from the Robber Baron era, now with glorious views of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, and with a majestic waterfront walkway to showcase those views.  You can visit the history of the struggles, all the development proposals fought off since 1977 – here: https://www.folsp.org/ .

I invite citizens to search this 58-page report for any sign of green technology,  alternative energy (I don’t consider biomass a form of alternative renewable energy) organic farming, ag greenhouses…it’s as if the entire thrust of the Green New Deal pertaining to rural alternative agriculture has been disappeared from possibility, even though in our region it generates more excitement than the possibility of growing a new Silicon Valley. 

And as for the thousands of empty properties, homes and former businesses in Cumberland and Frostburg, we get no proposals for rehab and re-use, affordable housing, bringing in the building trade unions to partner with  a 21st century CCC; no, instead we get the desire to construct more upscale new housing, perhaps in the very park lands that make the private sector water at the mouth…and thus, the hardest pressed citizens of this most neglected region get the ultimate slap in the face from the development schemes. 

And now for some of the details…

The State of Democracy in Western Maryland

Although this report is about economics, I want to start with the state of Democracy in Western Maryland, which, like the economy, is not good.  And wasn’t it the great theoretical celebration of the late 1980’s, declaring “the end to history,” to bless the inseparable marriage between capitalism and democracy (from someone who taught for a good while at Johns Hopkins, no less, Francis Fukuyama).

I say that’s because the greatest threat to American Democracy since the 1850’s, on the road to our Civil War, Donald Trump, has won all three counties in question for two elections in a row, 2016 and 2020, and by some of the highest margins in the country.  But he did not win the state of Maryland, where the voting proportions were almost exactly reversed.  By now I would have expected his controversial Presidency and his outrageous conduct after the 2020 election, and the insurrection he provoked on January 6th, to have prompted forums at Frostburg State University (FSU) where the history, political science and perhaps the philosophy departments might have given the public the chance to have the yawning chasms between our citizens discussed at least, if not bridged, in a serious and sustained way.  Unlike the call-in radio shows we were bombarded with for years under Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

But I’ve been unable to locate such discussions.  That is not healthy for the region, its citizens or our Democracy.  Others universities have felt obliged to do that, to do so online during our prolonged Pandemic.  Again, a college doesn’t have to take sides, nor do departments.  They can put together serious conflicting viewpoints – which I maintain the public no longer hears, not side by side as a sustained debate should offer, as with the old public broadcast codes under the “equal time” provisions.

I also raise this issue first because to the best of my knowledge and Googling, the Western Maryland delegation has raised no objections to Trump, in or out of office.  This is a disconnect for me with what’s on the table in the report: an intense proposed region of collaboration based on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) looking to create an Invention and Innovation hothouse in our region with state funds from two existing programs aimed to help business start-ups in high tech IT, advanced manufacturing, Cybersecurity and the life sciences…and so forth.  All that for a region whose voters and whose Annapolis delegation, all Republican, cannot find the evidence to support their claim of a fraudulent election – which not only preceded the election by months but went on afterward into overdrive with the empty claims leading to the system shaking events of January 6th.  Not even Republican judges whom Trump appointed could find any evidence of fraud.   Wait: isn’t science evidence based?   Well, you get the point.  I see a huge contradiction here.

But our region and its Republican leadership – even the two retiring ones, Senator Edwards and Delegate Beitzel – whom might have found some additional courage since they would not be facing re-election, have been silent on these horrifying events.  They have also, throughout the six years I’ve known them, been at odds with their political philosophy, in lock-step with the national party in declaring: the federal government is bad, government in general bad, private sector/marketplace good, deeply at odds with reality because the very ground under their feet, our feet, runs on federal and state financial programs and support: prisons galore, educational $$$ to the tune of millions, Appalachian Regional Commission business seed money, infrastructure dollars, federal and state dollars up and down the line in the medical realm: Medicare, Medicaid and so on…Regional Health Clinics like Tri-State in Cumberland which serves so many of us.

Even so called “moderate” Governor Hogan chose the raking, cutting ideological words (of Neoliberalism) on November 19th, his pronouncements of doom upon the congressional Build Back Better program, which is deeply flawed not in its ideals to bring America a little closer to the humane social support programs of the other advanced industrial countries, but in the fact it is under-scaled, and crippled out of the gate for programs like Child Care and pre-School.  It’s crippled because the federal money would only flow if matching programs and funding were to pass mirror enactments in state legislatures.

 I didn’t learn about that until very late in the game, from The American Prospect Magazine’s David Dayen’s work.  But still, even with that crippling caveat, Governor Hogan said Build Back Better is nothing but “a reckless grab bag of massive tax hikes, Democratic Party wish list items, and handouts to special interests. It’s another example of Washington catering to the extremes at the expense of the overwhelming majority of the American people.”

Of course, that’s not what the polls show about the policy provisions that make up the BBB bill, especially child care, drug price jawboning and the very modest and inadequate family leave provisions – and alternative energy tax incentives that so horrify Joe Manchin. 

Why Shouldn’t We Be Angry at the Private Sector, not the Government?

This is one of the great riddles of Republican philosophy,  a branch of Neoliberalism, since the 1980’s, especially poignant in red rural America: they rail against the evils of the federal government, praise the market and private sector, whose desertions here in Western Maryland in the late 1970’s and 1980’s mark the watershed between good times and hard times, as America’s corporations and foreign internationals alike said they had no obligation to regions or even the national economy: by pursuing the lowest costs of labor, materials and the highest governmental tax breaks and incentives, they were only to happy to search the far reaches of Asia to keep themselves financially fit.  The Luke Paper Mill closing being only the last and perhaps most painful reminder of the Republican “waiting for righty” syndrome. 

Who is Part of Stakeholder Democracy, and who is not?

I began with lamenting the state of democracy in Western Maryland, and look how that has carried over into the shape of the Commission itself.  The citizens are not directly represented in any way; apparently they aren’t stakeholders in their own Democracy; the only stakeholders are elected officials, college business liaisons and the commercial advocates from Maryland’s relevant state agencies and “hybrid creations.”   Despite the focus of the task force, there is not even a slot for scientists, engineers, or small businesses, only state level business funding entities and the Department of Commerce. 

Green Technology Energy innovations are not mentioned as a target, nor is the reform of agriculture practices, which certainly has some support here in Western Maryland…and even though the suggestion is very clear that the region has too many public lands, environmental lands and parks, the Appalachian Labs get no slot to evaluate the proposed land transfers, unnamed, from the hardly dissenting Department of Natural Resources.

Such narrow mindedness and exclusions invite a backlash from the forces in the area which defeated the fracking gambit in 2015-2017.   Not even a member of the general public…as fraught as that category has become in a very polarized region in a very polarized country.   Given the clear leanings of appointed members, was there not room for a registered Democrat from the area, in the interest of Joe Manchin’s concept of “bipartisanship”?  I could have helped nominate any number of conservative Dems who are barely distinguishable from Republicans. 

And the Democratic Party controlled Legislature went along with this? 

What Environmental Crises?

Citizens, Task Force Members, reporters/press in attendance, this Task Force is terribly unbalanced, and is doing great harm to the region’s future by excluding what national and international science reports have been telling us all through 2018 and 2019 about the decline of the natural world, setting aside impacts, if that’s possible, from global warming and climate change.  The decline of bird populations, insect populations and overall biological diversity is due in major part to the unrelenting pressures of population growth and the culture of growth economics which comes at the price of destruction of forests, grasslands and aquatic habitats, the continued push of modern economies into what’s left of nature. 

And in Western Maryland, we are home to a good part of what’s left of intact Nature in our state.  That’s why I support the Maryland Biodiversity Project so that at least we have a complete record of what was once here.  

PS: I have to give Senator Edwards credit for at least raising, in meeting minutes, the issue of state return on its investment in the business start-up programs.  It would be great if the Legislature took him up on that.   I recommend that it kick in when the surviving firms are bought out in the great struggle, or they stay the course and successfully bring a product to market.  “The Entrepreneurial State” cited below has a good chapter on the money made via the Department of Energy’s loan program alternative energy funding.  It implies interest was charged but no rate is mentioned.

Sources:

Editor’s Note:

In a region where the prevailing educational and political forces are immersed in the dominant philosophy and discourse of our age, Neoliberalism, it is difficult to get citizens to realize that there are real alternatives, praised by such mainstream but broad-minded thinkers as Martin Wolf at the Financial Times. 

Wolf had this to say about Mariana Mazzucato’s “The Entrepreneurial State”: “Conventional Economics offers abstract models; conventional wisdom insists that the answer lies with private entrepreneurship.  In this brilliant book, (she) argues that the former is useless and the latter incomplete.”

Brown, Wendy. “In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West.” Columbia University Press, New York, 2019.

Mazzucato, Mariana. “The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths. Public Affairs Press, New York.  2015.

_____________________. “The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy.” Public Affairs Press, New York. 2018.

McNeill, J.R. and Engelke, Peter. “The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene since 1945.”  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.  2014.

Two Replies to the Corporate Democrats and Acting President Biden on the “negotiations” – and outcomes to date…

Charles Le Brun, Horatio defending the bridge…Wikipedia Art…no date…Le Brun was perhaps the dominant French painter in the 17th century under the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV.

Dear Citizens and Elected Officials:

I did not want the past week’s events in Washington DC to pass without due commentary, the fraught and complex two bills that the Democratic Center and the Progressive Caucus have been haggling over for a month at least now, and arguably, since the summer and Senate Majority Leader Schumer’s signing off on a MOU with none other than the real President, Joe Manchin of West Virginia. (Be sure to check with acting President Biden, Chuck!). Demurrals from Schumer aside, it’s all been a one way street not of compromise but of capitulation to the corporate wing represented by Senator Manchin from the little state of West Virginia where raw materials are mined and many teeth rot in the mouths of citizens.

So here is my first posting, sent to local Western Maryland citizens, mostly greens, whatever that has come to mean, sharing a letter to the New York Times that was published on Saturday, November 6th. I think you can pick up the context easily from there.

And then I’m going to post in Part II, my dialogue with economist Jack Rasmus from California, who has done the public a favor with a close focus on the past ten days or so of negotiations. Facts, not party propoganda.

I sent this out to ….. the WMAC early today but don’t think the ladies will respond: after all, they (the WMAC)  haven’t devoted any coverage to the congressional turmoil over the past six months, but now some individuals (not the group) are throwing blankets over deep memory puddles in the hope Trone (Congressman David Trone, Dem, Dist, 6 MD) can bring Biden to our region for a train ride.  I would have to have a deep case of amnesia to be grateful.  
So here’s my take:


A very different interpretation, Cassie:


This comment (below)  was published this past Saturday morning, Nov. 6th in the New York Times.   My fear was that if anything passed,  the memory of where the proposals had been over the past two years would be erased in the celebration.  I’m quite confident that will come to pass.  

Additionally, as we compare what was nearly universally agreed to as the goal of greens for the transition to a “CES” (Clean Electricity Standard) and new grid – between $4.5-5.7 trillion,  that  figure usually left out the infamous “stranded” costs: 
For clarity, the costs I saw of between $4.5-5.7 trillion includes the cost of 100% solar and wind, the new grid and battery storage.  What it didn’t include are the “stranded” or “legacy” costs (miscalculations?) of old coal, gas and nuclear facilities and who pays for their losses and bad business judgement: the general public (rate payers) or stock owners/investors… ? That’s a wild card and wildly political in nature.  It could add anywhere from $500 billion to plus $1 trillion…nationwide…you can imagine what Manchin would do with this…load up on the stranded compensation and cut the investments for renewables. 
And  there are other logical extensions of going “all electric” that are not in the $4.5-5.7 Trillion total:  Again, before even considering them, we are way over the combined bills on the table, and already over 4x the infrastructure bill:
These are from Sanders original Green New Deal Proposal:


* get homes and small businesses off gas & oil: $964 billion

* grants for families and small businesses for electric cars -$2.09 trillion

* trade in for gas guzzlers for electric                                  -$681 billion

* charging stations                                     $85 billion

*school and public transit fleet changeovers to e buses      $407 billion

*electrify  truck fleets                                                            $216 billion

*reg. high speed rail                                                              $607 billion

A lot of this program, if not all of it, must be coordinated between the public spending and the private sector recipients; who will be paying for and installing all the charging stations if there is no assurance – or program – to get the public to physically carry out the shift…


Cheer yourself horse if you must, I have a memory.  It’s still fresh and very raw. It’s not hard to read the results of the elections as a coming Republican mandate for both 2022 and 2024, which drives the logic to go for more now because it may be all we will ever get. 

(Of course conservative Democrats draw the opposite conclusion; it may well be, we’ll never know that if events in Virginia and NJ merely followed the historical pattern, the results would have just as bad, sans the whole legislative two step – or worse.  I have a very sound instinct that the average citizen hardly sees Joe Biden as the stronger force in Washington than Senator Manchin, and that alone would spell a lot of trouble.) 


There will be a follow up dialogue between me and an economics professor in California who has tracked the disastrous negotiations step by step. 


Best,

Here was the letter which appeared in the Times:
– Original Message ———-From: The New York Times <comments@nytimes.com>To: Date: 11/06/2021 9:11 AMSubject: Your Comment on House Passes $1 Trillion Infrastructure Bill, Putting Social Policy Bill on Hold



Your comment has been approved!Thank you for sharing your thoughts with The New York Times community.

Yes, yes by all means, let’s get the two bills through. Then, we all pledge not to remember – as they are hailed as the greatest and biggest since …the Great Society, that Bernie Sander’s Green New Deal budget from Aug. of 2019 called for spending $16.3 trillion; then, as budget chairman he was at $6.5 trillion, then after White House adjustments, $3.5 trillion, then after President Manchin’s adjustments, somewhere under $2 trillion…compromise in only one direction, citizens, hardly seems like a fair definition of the word. Let me put this in practical perspective; put Senator Sanders and the Green New Deal Hopes aside; I just looked up what the price tag from independent technical sources are for upgrading the electric grid to accommodate the vastly expanded need for power due to “electrifying everything,” including building the higher power transmission lines to facilitate swapping between alternative energy sources and regions: the estimates were between $4.5-5 trillion just for the grid. Perspective: doesn’t that swamp the sums in both bills being pushed? It’s not a minor matter: electrifying the grid with a Clean Energy Standard was the call by greens across the table during the run-up to these negotiations. It was the financing behind the logic of what we needed to do to reign in global warming. It’s going to make listening to the claims painful, like Keynes’ reaction to the Versailles Treaty after WWI.View your comment

Part II. My dialogue with economist Jack Rasmus

The more I look at Glenn Youngkin’s corporate biography, a mini-history of the “financialization” of America and ersatz “populist right” where Trump is one “Tribune of the People” clocking in at just over a billion (arguably) , and Youngkin (What’s in a name: vigor and family!!) and Youngkin just registering at a mere $660 million…I just shake my head that the Democratic Party as we know it cannot take advantage of those demographics because…they are so awash in millionaires and corporate power themselves!!!
Eye opening.  Farmers love them!

From:
To: jack rasmus <rasmus@kyklos.com>
Date: 11/08/2021 8:46 AM


Subject: Re: How Democrat Progressives Got Out-Maneuvered by Their Corporate Wing, by Dr. Jack Rasmus, ZNET, 11-7-21

Well done Jack, much needed detail and sequence.  We’ll know for sure in 2-3 weeks, but I think your conclusions will hold.
Earlier, you had asked me if I had a “take” on the Buffalo, NY mayoralty race.  I hadn’t been following it but did some post mortem reading.  No grand pronouncements given such bizarre procedural arrangements where the sitting mayor conducts a write in campaign, and both candidates have ethical challenges, the mayor’s more structural and the challenger more personal.   A number of candidates in Maryland challenging the Dem status quo have come through either the welfare system – Donna Edwards just briefly on Medicaid and Food Stamps as a young mother, and more recently, Mikayla Wilkes who challenged Steny Hoyer, for a brief time served for a rather minor offense.  Other than that, I don’t have any grand commentary, I’m too far off the ground there in upstate New York, don’t have a feel for the area at all…other than it vaguely shares a very de-industrialized past with much of the Northeast and Mid-West.


This morning, I belatedly looked up victorious Glenn Younkin’s bio, and was amazed at how much the media never told me about him:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glenn_Youngkin; my god, he’s Mitt Romney x3, yet if you had to pick a candidate ill suited to challenge him on that, it would be the hapless McAuliffe.  


How in the world do you compile this elitist background consistent through his entire life and emerge as the populist right champion? Well Trump blazed a path he hasn’t entirely repudiated, but he’s much smoother, less abrasive, as fitting his corporate roles.   Underplayed under spoken religious ties?  (strongly suspect that helped, not reported on: ministers and businessmen determine politics in rural America, I see that first hand). 


And a favorite theme of mine: it is the populist right that can mobilize political emotion much better than the left, the Dems being torn between a cool and calculating corporate center and a much weaker populist left represented  best by AOC (style and content, and emotional engagement)..


And at a deeper level, another amazing contradiction inside the current Republican Party, which Younkin well represents: a leadership faction very comfortable with all that we associate with modern corporate capitalist life – media, technology, education (Rice being the Ivy League of the South in good part) in alliance with a majority of rural America that is very uncomfortable with much that goes hand in hand with modernization: loss of religion, loss of  fundamentalist “two book” values, “liberal” education…Indeed, it’s an outcry against any serious challenge to the old authority from the Gilded Age (and well before in American history) when ministers, not Ivy league professors shaped values…or modern “liberal media”…rural America that cares the least about what the rest of the world is doing – as long as they admit Christian missionaries….which means they get very fired up fighting godless ideologies or even worse, rival religions…


Their Christianity which is 90% personal holiness, and 10% private charity, the Social Gospel movement having been long buried by “The Fundamentals”; and a Catholic corporate Pope Francis ally unwilling to ever on religious or ideological grounds challenge this very narrow personal definition of morality, a morality without a social component besides long sentences and mass incarceration.  Thus closing the door on much of Western history since the French Revolution, the whole struggle of the social democratic left and democratic socialists. 


It all begs a larger question:  how modern is America really, looking at its politics, frozen in the constitution and assumptions of 1789, “originalism” in legal matters enforced by the Federalists, to match “creationism’s” challenge to that old foe of religious absolutism, the geological column. For many fundamentalist I hear on a daily basis, it’s the religious “end times,” not the normal historical decline of a great power, Joe Biden being the perfect personal summary of all that we mean in the word “decline”: giving away his office’s power to a senator from two centuries ago from a tiny state whose citizen statistics tell us we ought to avoid that model at all costs.  Shameful, no other word for it.  We’ll see how bad it gets in 2022 and 2024. I expect the worse. 

 
Best,
GracchiBros
On 11/08/2021 3:31 AM jack rasmus <rasmus@kyklos.com> wrote:

How Democrat Progressives Got Out-Maneuvered by Their Corporate Wing
By Jack Rasmus


November 7, 2021e


This past week, November 1 to 6, this writer wrote a daily running commentary on the developments in Congress, as the corporate wing of the Democrat Party maneuvered US House progressives into a corner over voting on the Infrastructure and Reconciliation (Build Back Better) spending bills.


Ever since the two the bills—Infrastructure and Reconciliation— were first raised together last March 2021, progressives in the Democrat Party have been steadily driven into making concession after concession, reducing their proposals in a vain attempt to get the party’s corporate wing (represented in Senate by Manchin & Sinema and in the House by Cuellar and friends) to agree to some reduced cost Reconciliation bill. From an original bill with $3.5 trillion in social safety net and climate investments in the Reconciliation bill, progressives pared down their proposals to $1.75 trillion.


At each step the corporate wing of the party—represented by its point persons Manchin and Sinema—refused to counter the progressives’ offers.  In fact, each time the progressives cut their proposals it only hardened the corporate wing’s opposition, encouraging them to refuse to make any counter proposals.


The media has referred to this process as ‘negotiations’ but it could hardly be called that. Normally negotiations refer to a two way street with both sides making proposals and counter offers. This was totally one way, the progressives making all the offers and Manchin-Sinema on behalf of the party’s corporate wing refusing to make any and all offers in return. It’s better described as one-way political concessions bargaining.


The coup d’grace and end to the charade was delivered up to the progressives last Friday, November 5, when the party leadership—Pelosi, Biden, Manchin—forced progressives to abandon their long-held position insisting both bills be voted up in the House together.  With the help of 13 Republicans in the House, on Friday, November 5, speaker Pelosi broke out the two bills—thus breaking as well her months long pledge not to—and passed the Infrastructure bill separately by a vote of 228 to 206 with the help of the 13 Republicans.


That last point is worth repeating: Pelosi solicited 13 Republicans to vote for the breakout vote on Infrastructure and used their vote to defeat the progressive wing in her own party.  Corporate ‘birds of a feather, flock together’ whether of the Democrat species or the Republican!


Pelosi had signaled a couple weeks ago she was planning to break out the votes on the two bills, but then backed off.  Her fall-back position at that time was to vote both bills up and then send them both over to the Senate and let the Senate approve the Infrastructure bill and reject the Reconciliation bill. The Senate action would take the heat off her.  But her less than clever maneuver was not to be.


What happened Friday was the Infrastructure bill was separated out from the Reconciliation bill in the House and voted up with the help of Republicans. No delay sending it to the Senate to reject. Or thereafter to a House-Senate Conference committee to further consider.So why the abrupt change of strategy last Friday to waste no time separating the bills and just vote up the Infrastructure bill? What changed was Biden intervened on Thursday, November 4, contacted Pelosi and demanded she immediate break out and vote on the Infrastructure bill. Biden reportedly also called some of the progressives and convinced some of them to break rank as well. Why his action? The Democrat loss of governor in Virginia and in local races in New Jersey and Texas clearly panicked Biden, leading him to ask Pelosi to vote up the Infrastructure bill first. Biden’s hand is thus all over the decision for Pelosi to block with 13 Republicans against her own progressive wing and push through the Infrastructure bill.
After having Manchin and Sinema carry the water for the corporate wing of the party, Biden injected himself and undermined the progressives resolve and Pelosi’s prevarications on holding a direct up front breakout and vote on Infrastructure.  All the pieces came together on Friday: Manchin-Sinema, Biden, and then Pelosi.  Progressives caved. And with them collapsed the Reconciliation bill and its $1.75 trillion in safety net and climate spending.


The sop thrown to the progressives was the commitment by Pelosi to hold a vote on the now ‘orphan’ Reconciliation bill by November 15. But that vote will be meaningless. So-called moderates in the House, already emboldened, have publicly said they’ll vote for the Reconciliation bill if it is totally paid for. That means it will have to include tax hikes on corporations and wealthy investors. But if it does include taxes, when it’s sent over to the Senate it will almost certainly be rejected by that body.  Of course, Pelosi and others know full well that’s the coming fate of the Reconciliation bill. Instead of immediately DOA, the bill’s death will be delayed a couple more weeks. But dead is dead, now or then.


The outcomes of the perfidy delivered by Biden, Manchin, and Pelosi to their party’s own progressive wing—now in total disarray–are predictable:


First, the corporate friendly (no tax hikes) $550 billion Infrastructure bill has passed, leaving the $1.75T corporate unfriendly (requires tax hikes) Reconciliation bill DOA. It is highly unlikely any measures in the Reconciliation bill (including climate change investments) will now pass Congress any time soon.  In fact, voices are growing within the Democrat party leadership saying the party should forget any new stimulus and start talking about other issues—like schools, immigration, etc.—in the run up to next year’s 2022 midterm Congressional elections.


Second, Biden and corporate Dems may think the $550B Infrastructure bill will make the difference in next year’s 2022 midterm elections.  They are mistaken. Infrastructure spending will not even begin impacting the US economy until late next year. Meanwhile, no further safety net or household friendly program spending means little or no stimulus for the economy over the next year.


Third, what last week’s events in Congress further represent is the end of the fiscal social spending era by Congress. The coming months will be a transition period to an eventual return to austerity in social spending programs.

The following are my daily commentary on Twitter during the past weekNovember 1 to 6, reporting on the maneuvers by Pelosi, Biden and the corporate wing to force the party progressives in the House to reverse their position and agree to a separate vote on Infrastructure.  Billionaire Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman of Goldman Sachs, publicly described the  events of the past week and the reversal as “the progressives blinked”. More accurately, they capitulated and collapsed in the face of a united front of their party’s leaders and the corporate interests behind it all.
(Posts are in reverse chronological order, with first posted Nov. 5 and last Nov. 1)
#Democrats Now that House progressives’ have capitulated & their will to fight broken, corp voices in Dem party growing louder to drop all Reconcilation proposals and ‘move on’ to focus on other issues in 2022 midterms. 2022 = deja vu 2010 midterms for Dems. Massive losses coming
#Pelosi I was wrong: I predicted Pelosi would vote up both bills and pass it on to the Senate. knowing it would shit can Reconciliation. Instead, she voted up just Infrastructure-per Biden’s request who panicked after Virginia loss for Dems. Infrastructure won’t buy votes in 2022
#InfrastructureBill Vote tonight was 228 to 206, with 13 Republicans voting for. That is, without Republicans it would have failed. So Pelosi blocked with Republicans to defeat her own progressive wing! Corporate birds of a feather flock together, whether Dems or Republicans.
#InfrastructureBill Why hasn’t CBO ‘scored’ (i.e. costed out) the bill before it was passed tonight? Now will cost AFTER passage. Ass-backwards. Why? B/c ‘smoke & mirrors’ (i.e. no tax hikes) used to ‘pay for’ infrastructure. Was vote rushed before CBO reveals smoke & mirrors?
#ClimateEmergency Don’t look now but Biden & Dems just gave up on climate. Infrastructure bill passed tonight has only $15B such investment. Reconciliation bill had >$500B, but is now DOA. Infrastructure passed first today by Pelosi & House=No Reconciliation bill passes Senate
#Pelosi The proviso given progressives in house that Pelosi & House corp Dems will hold a vote on BuildBackBetter by Nov. 15–i.e. that it be paid for–means must include tax hikes. Senate will reject it if tax hikes. So $1.85T is DOA!! Corp Dems outmaneuver progressives again!
#Pelosi with help of Republicans in House, Pelosi reneges on past promises & pushes the Infrastructure bill to passage. What did progressives get? A mere promise from Pelosi & corporate Dems in House they’ll vote on 2nd social bill by Nov. 15 (with proviso the $1.85T is paid for)
#InfrastructureBill Mainstream media finally stops saying the Infrastructure bill is worth $1.1 trillion, and admits now it’s $550 billion (as it has always been). Why? CBO is about to provide official estimate and media knows it can’t continue the misrepresentation.
#Manchin complains BuildBackBetter contains smoke & mirrors financing. He’s right. But so does Infrastructure bill which he supports. + BuildBackBetter also has some real corp & wealth tax hikes. That’s what Manchin & corp lobbyists running around DC in thousands really oppose.
#Manchin Dem progressives kept cutting, cutting, proposals thinking Manchin might agree at some point, when Manchin’s goal from beginning has been to prevent all of BuildBackBetter bill. Progressives never seemed to get wise to that all along. Still don’t.
#Democrats Pelosi’s transparent maneuver add some token measures back to BuildBackBetter, approve both bills & send to Senate that will strip them out again. Pelosi agrees to Senate version in House-Senate conference that follows. Infrastructure bill passes; BuildBackBetter not.
#Manchin says he won’t support bill until he knows its effect on the economy first. But he won’t pass it so it won’t happen, so he’ll never know its effect on the economy. You gotta follow Qanon for that kind of dumb-ass circular logic. Of course, he knows better but it sells
#Democrats got skunked tonight in VA & other races. Think it has something to do with a President who has lost control of party? VP who’s disappeared from public view? Their Senator from WV on TV telling us we can’t have this, can’t have that, etc. Beltway dumbos have no idea
#ReconciliationBill Surprise surprise! Progressives in House just now concede to Manchin, per CNN latest report. Will vote on Infrastructure bill first. Leave BuildBackBetter in the lurch. Guess ‘triple teaming’ of Manchin-Sinema-Biden worked. With end of BBB, austerity begins
#ReconciliationBill In his press conference today Senator Joe Manchin suggests he’ll not vote for any compromise (including Biden’s framework) for some time to come. Read my just written blog piece ‘President Joe (Manchin) Moves the Goal Posts Again’)
#BuildBackBetter President Joe–Manchin that is–just held press conference and ‘moved the goalposts’ again. After Biden (former president) last week got House to agree to $1.75T compromise, Manchin refuses again. Wants to see long term econ. effect first–i.e. wont agree soon.

Best to you all

GracchiBros…

Joe Biden is Destroying the Democratic Party

Dear Citizens, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The only thing that is on my mind tonight, the eve of President Biden’s trip to Scotland, home to 1/2 of my genes,  Glasgow being my father’s and my grandfather’s native city, is this: Joe Biden is single handedly destroying the chances of the Democratic Party for 2022 and 2024 by his incomprehensibly stupid and incompetent negotiating tactics with Joe Manchin, which haven’t changed since their early meetings between January and March.

There is no bottom line for Joe Biden, who believes he has no options to his long standing tactics of being a buddy with Manchin, and,  as you heard in the CNN town hall, in elevating each senator in a 50-50 tie situation — to “presidential power.”

 With that as an assumption, no wonder the negotiations are conducted with Biden on his knees as a supplicant.

Whereas in reality he has had at least three other major courses to change the situation in our favor. Who knows, however, what Biden actually wants or how disappointed he really is at achieving so little. As the content drains out of “draft” after “draft” arrangement, the accusation that his true goalpost is “compromise itself” seems more and more apt.

When I write my full  attack on this man’s disgraceful performance, I’ll share those other possibilities publicly.  

And they certainly include taking Manchin up in a way he wouldn’t like leading to policies and programs which affirm work, stressing rights and responsibilities, which most assuredly includes a robust CCC.  

It’s time to say enough is enough: he’s failing.

 There will be no place to hide in 2022 and the best tactic for the left is going to be to attack Mitch and Company and Biden and his backers as well for their incompetence – leading to the continuing  destruction of our country.  

In November of 2020, I voted for 20th Century Joe Biden, but got 19th Century Joe Manchin instead. How did that Happen?

Dear Citizens and Elected Official:

 In November of 2020, I voted for 20th century Joe Biden, my second choice after Senator Sanders was overwhelmed by the  party  regulars in March.  I did not see 19th century Joe Manchin on the presidential ballot, yet he has somehow emerged with the power to make and break policy for a whole party, if not the nation.  How did that happen?  My answer is that  American politics cannot cope with the forces the economy/culture have unleashed.  

“President” Biden apparently cannot discipline rogues within the party in the way LBJ so famously did, nor does Mr. Biden seem to want to take him on in a national speech by declaring we are in “no ordinary times” and that Manchin’s world view cannot meet the challenges of the 21st century — the West Virginia businessman doubling down on coal investments and harvesting scraps of leftovers from older, worn out mines.  

Meanwhile, the US treads water somewhere between the politics of Grover Cleveland and Herbert Hoover (or Reagan and Clinton, if you would prefer) , with only the remaining, battered forces of the Green New Deal seemingly ready for the 21st century, along with Modern Monetary Theorists…behind that Green Curtain. 

Adam Tooze, the Columbia University economic historian, says the Green New Dealers got it right, even if they were defeated in the primaries of 2020; and  Biden has advanced more of their policies than those  close to the vests of Joe Manchin and Senator Sinema.

 I would like to help, I don’t want to see him fail, President Biden,  there is too much at stake.  And here is my advice, sent out to some greens in Western Maryland, Trump country, which I want to make as public as possible:

I didn’t supply the link to FDR’s speech at Franklin Field, (U of Penn’s home field), his Dem. Party convention acceptance speech for the 1936 race:  https://almanac.upenn.edu/articles/fdr-at-franklin-field-a-rendezvous-with-destinyNo getting away from the “sermon” aspects of it, secular sermon on power, democracy and wealth, the biblical resonance there behind so much of it, and then made explicit…  Famous for the memorable phrases (and the nearly private act of courage by FDR, since he had fallen on his approach to the podium while reaching out to shake the hand of the poet Edwin Markham, poet of the “Man with a Hoe” – sending his speech pages flying…he quickly recovered: here is Jack Beatty’s account of the incident, hidden from the crowd. It’s worth reading as much as the speech.  https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2016/07/08/1936-democratic-convention-fdr  )This isn’t an exercise in political nostalgia for me: maldistribution of wealth and income today is the highest since the 1920’s which led to 1929’s great crash; you know who the obstructionists are, and today they have better arguments against the remnants of the Green New Deal: you can’t enact such sweeping programs under such narrow political margins…My sense for Biden, if he’s willing to risk it, his best chance to convince, is to work on the historic opportunity and stakes if we fail…and he’s got FDR’s framing to draw upon… all but the ecological/climate crisis. And he’s got the polling evidence also, even from Manchin’s home state.I’ve read this 1936 address four times now, and one of the central themes is the meaning of the word Freedom in a thoroughly capitalist economy, a word Democrats have not been able to take back from the Republican Right since Reagan: FDR says small businesses can’t be free under the powerful economic oligarchies of the day which have captured the government…and most powerfully the philosophical daring, still so relevant for today, couched in true FDR style as wisdom from an “old English judge: ‘Necessitous men are not free men.'” {Frontline workers risking their lives for not even $15 per hour and the lousiest social benefits in the Western democracies? Necessitous. Sounds better than “needy.” }The other background framing still applies: we live in a modern world of constant change if not downright upheaval driven by the economy, and much in our political response is lagging.  If there is a historical weakness in this speech, it is FDR’s underestimation of what a very conservative political framework the founders left us, the type that leaves us with Joe Manchin’s as the unelected president.  Still, if  Biden can’t see, Biden the practicing Catholic, can’t see the opportunity given by FDR’s “faith, hope and charity” thrust as the moral guidance for his policies…the Judeo-Christian values behind secular governments policies, I can’t help him much.  And FDR’s explicit references to the threats to Democracy, (from “mobs and “economic royalists” alike  ) there in abundance and clarity for our times as well.  And the dark clouds forming in governments around the world…But of course, if Joe Biden is secretly not so disappointed in the shrinking package, then he’s not going to have the personal energy he needs to pull this off…the drive that enabled FDR to dust himself off from near total embarrassment to deliver one of the greatest speeches by an American president in our history.And a final thought.  What is the one obvious piece of advice which governs presidential behavior, including “appearances”?Never appear weak. And how do the President and the Congressional Democratic leaders appear in their dealings with Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema?  Exactly.  Best I can do for now.  

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

And here is that speech: 

June 27, 1936

“Senator Robinson, Members of the Democratic Convention, my friends:

Here, and in every community throughout the land, we are met at a time of great moment to the future of the Nation. It is an occasion to be dedicated to the simple and sincere expression of an attitude toward problems, the determination of which will profoundly affect America.

I come not only as a leader of a party, not only as a candidate for high office, but as one upon whom many critical hours have imposed and still impose a grave responsibility.

For the sympathy, help and confidence with which Americans have sustained me in my task I am grateful. For their loyalty I salute the members of our great party, in and out of political life in every part of the Union. I salute those of other parties, especially those in the Congress of the United States who on so many occasions have put partisanship aside. I thank the Governors of the several States, their Legislatures, their State and local officials who participated unselfishly and regardless of party in our efforts to achieve recovery and destroy abuses. Above all I thank the millions of Americans who have borne disaster bravely and have dared to smile through the storm.

America will not forget these recent years, will not forget that the rescue was not a mere party task. It was the concern of all of us. In our strength we rose together, rallied our energies together, applied the old rules of common sense, and together survived.

In those days we feared fear. That was why we fought fear. And today, my friends, we have won against the most dangerous of our foes. We have conquered fear.

But I cannot, with candor, tell you that all is well with the world. Clouds of suspicion, tides of ill-will and intolerance gather darkly in many places. In our own land we enjoy indeed a fullness of life greater than that of most Nations. But the rush of modern civilization itself has raised for us new difficulties, new problems which must be solved if we are to preserve to the United States the political and economic freedom for which Washington and Jefferson planned and fought.

Philadelphia is a good city in which to write American history. This is fitting ground on which to reaffirm the faith of our fathers; to pledge ourselves to restore to the people a wider freedom; to give to 1936 as the founders gave to 1776—an American way of life.

That very word freedom, in itself and of necessity, suggests freedom from some restraining power. In 1776 we sought freedom from the tyranny of a political autocracy—from the eighteenth century royalists who held special privileges from the crown. It was to perpetuate their privilege that they governed without the consent of the governed; that they denied the right of free assembly and free speech; that they restricted the worship of God; that they put the average man’s property and the average man’s life in pawn to the mercenaries of dynastic power; that they regimented the people.

And so it was to win freedom from the tyranny of political autocracy that the American Revolution was fought. That victory gave the business of governing into the hands of the average man, who won the right with his neighbors to make and order his own destiny through his own Government. Political tyranny was wiped out at Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.

Since that struggle, however, man’s inventive genius released new forces in our land which reordered the lives of our people. The age of machinery, of railroads; of steam and electricity; the telegraph and the radio; mass production, mass distribution—all of these combined to bring forward a new civilization and with it a new problem for those who sought to remain free.

For out of this modern civilization, economic royalists carved new dynasties. New kingdoms were built upon concentration of control over material things. Through new uses of corporations, banks and securities, new machinery of industry and agriculture, of labor and capital-all undreamed of by the fathers—the whole structure of modern life was impressed into this royal service.
There was no place among this royalty for our many thousands of small business men and merchants who sought to make a worthy use of the American system of initiative and profit. They were no more free than the worker or the farmer. Even honest and progressive-minded men of wealth, aware of their obligation to their generation, could never know just where they fitted into this dynastic scheme of things.

It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over Government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction. In its service new mercenaries sought to regiment the people, their labor, and their property. And as a result the average man once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man.

The hours men and women worked, the wages they received, the conditions of their labor—these had passed beyond the control of the people, and were imposed by this new industrial dictatorship. The savings of the average family, the capital of the small business man, the investments set aside for old age—other people’s money—these were tools which the new economic royalty used to dig itself in.

Those who tilled the soil no longer reaped the rewards which were their right. The small measure of their gains was decreed by men in distant cities.

Throughout the Nation, opportunity was limited by monopoly. Individual initiative was crushed in the cogs of a great machine. The field open for free business was more and more restricted.  Private enterprise, indeed, became too private. It became privileged enterprise, not free enterprise.

An old English judge once said: “Necessitous men are not free men.” Liberty requires opportunity to make a living—a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.

For too many of us, the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor, other people’s lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.

Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of Government. The collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it was. The election of 1932 was the people’s mandate to end it. Under that mandate it is being ended.

The royalists of the economic order have conceded that political freedom was the business of the Government, but they have maintained that economic slavery was nobody’s business. They granted that the Government could protect the citizen in his right to vote, but they denied that the Government could do anything to protect the citizen in his right to work and his right to live.

Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place.

These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the Flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the Flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike.

The brave and clear platform adopted by this Convention, to which I heartily subscribe, sets forth that Government in a modern civilization has certain inescapable obligations to its citizens, among which are protection of the family and the home, the establishment of a democracy of opportunity, and aid to those overtaken by disaster.

But the resolute enemy within our gates is ever ready to beat down our words unless in greater courage we will fight for them.

For more than three years we have fought for them. This Convention, in every word and deed, has pledged that that fight will go on.

The defeats and victories of these years have given to us as a people a new understanding of our Government and of ourselves. Never since the early days of the New England town meeting have the affairs of Government been so widely discussed and so clearly appreciated. It has been brought home to us that the only effective guide for the safety of this most worldly of worlds, the greatest guide of all, is moral principle.

We do not see faith, hope and charity as unattainable ideals, but we use them as stout supports of a Nation fighting the fight for freedom in a modern civilization.

Faith—in the soundness of democracy in the midst of dictatorships.

Hope—renewed because we know so well the progress we have made.

Charity—in the true spirit of that grand old word. For charity, literally translated from the original, means love, the love that understands, that does not merely share the wealth of the giver, but in true sympathy and wisdom helps men to help themselves.

We seek not merely to make Government a mechanical implement, but to give it the vibrant personal character that is the very embodiment of human charity.

We are poor indeed if this Nation cannot afford to lift from every recess of American life the dread fear of the unemployed that they are not needed in the world. We cannot afford to accumulate a deficit in the books of human fortitude.

In the place of the palace of privilege we seek to build a temple out of faith and hope and charity.

It is a sobering thing, my friends, to be a servant of this great cause. We try in our daily work to remember that the cause belongs not to us, but to the people. The standard is not in the hands of you and me alone. It is carried by America. We seek daily to profit from experience, to learn to do better as our task proceeds.

Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales.

Better the occasional faults of a Government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.

There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.

In this world of ours in other lands, there are some people, who, in times past, have lived and fought for freedom, and seem to have grown too weary to carry on the fight. They have sold their heritage of freedom for the illusion of a living. They have yielded their democracy.

I believe in my heart that only our success can stir their ancient hope. They begin to know that here in America we are waging a great and successful war. It is not alone a war against want and destitution and economic demoralization. It is more than that; it is a war for the survival of democracy. We are fighting to save a great and precious form of government for ourselves and for the world.

I accept the commission you have tendered me. I join with you. I am enlisted for the duration of the war.”

Editor’s Note:  my highlights.

Best to you all,

gracchibros

Frostburg, MD

Have Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi been open with Progressives…Seems not according to Politico reporting.

Dear Citizens and Elected Officials:

I’ll give it to you straight based on what I know, and can infer from this Politico story  www.politico.com/… which broke today: Senator Manchin had given his “top line” for $1.5 trillion for the reconciliation bill in a one page agreement with Senator Schumer in July of this year, and was urging no serious congressional movements until October 1st. 

 Apparently, Manchin has been handing out copies of this letter for several days now.  What it tells me is that the Democratic leadership has been withholding information from Progressives as to where Manchin really is, has been for months on specifics, and it sounds like the Senator from Arizona shared similar numbers with Majority Leader Schumer in August.  So she says. 

I presume, I infer, therefore  that both Speaker Pelosi and President Biden were informed by Senator Schumer of both these numbers from the conservative hold-outs in the party.  If not, it means the President was cut out of “the loop.” 

If I were in the Progressive caucus and been calling out loud for a week for Manchin and Senator Krysten Sinema to name their top numbers but they had already done so in private meetings with at least Senator Schumer, you would have to scrape me off the ceiling: not surprised at Manchin and Sinema, but furious over the top three Democratic leaders stone walling the left.  

I don’t know what you think, but based on what I have read about Lyndon Baines Johnson dealing with congressional characters like these two, there would be a lot of ruffled lapels for Manchin, at minimum,  and both West Virginia and Arizona would have nothing in their appropriations columns to take home after these antics, least of all in any of the major bills they are road blocking.   

President Biden is supposed to be the great deal maker here, the most experienced man in the room by decades.  However, he has managed to let a reactionary figure from a declining and dare I say very desperate state control the fulcrum of debate.  And a Senator from Arizona who pales by experience and gravitas from her predecessors Barry Goldwater and John McClain.

 It’s outrageous and unacceptable for the top three Democratic leaders to allow this duo to control the entire national outcome in these crucial matters. 

And I’m glad I wrote what I did on Tuesday, which I am going to repeat in text right now:

Dear Citizens and Elected Officials:

I do not write this post lightly, or without long consideration for choices that were months in the making, though clearly visible all along in their outlines, with me vainly hoping events would prevent the agony of further weighing — and final decision making.However, I’ve now decided:  the Progressive Caucus should stand their ground and not accept the dynamics the Speaker is offering: to vote alone for a woefully inadequate Infrastructure bill with only $500 billion in new spending; and the  shaky linkage with a Build Back Better bill that is being emptied of content and shrinking in value by the day, with no assurance to Progressives that anything worth fighting for except illusions will be left after they capitulate on the Senate infrastructure compromise.And this after Progressives have given ground on Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sanders original hopes for something closer to $7 trillion,  on a $15 per hour Federal Minimum Wage (and believe me that’s now a low minimum) and no sign that anything more than a token  Civilian Conservation Corps will survive ( and if it does it will be safely diluted along the lines of AmeriCorp programs), and an underfunded climate gesture that keeps the oil and gas flowing, and  FERC unreformed to the needs of people and nature. Enough, and I haven’t covered the whole playing field, especially Medicare expansion on the ropes…

My hope is that the stalwarts of the left and their courage can be translated into a campaign in 2022 against the values and  leadership of the moderate Democrats in Congress: the President himself, the Speaker, the House Majority Leader, the House Whip, the Senate President all proffering their retreat, retreat, retreat tactics and handing Senator Manchin the real leadership position — and veto power.   And in this the left and its allies can say that they and not corporate American democrats are speaking to the needs of our vast majority of citizens — and can pay for meeting those needs without using the federal deficit as an all-purpose excuse. (see my essay from a few days ago here:  www.dailykos.com/…)

Where we might come out under the current leadership’s guidance is simply unacceptable.

I fully concede that moderates in the party, especially House Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, handed Bernie Sanders’ Presidential campaign a rousing turn-about defeat in March of 2020 and stopped Elizabeth Warren as well, and the national campaign picture since then has been a mixed outcome in the struggle for the “soul of the party,” but as studious observers have pointed out, much of the program put forth by the President, borrowing heavily from the Green New Deal Resolution and the Sanders campaign — even as he denounced the originals — wins in the polls even in Manchin’s beleaguered home state of West Virginia, while his yacht rides at anchor in the Potomac.

 So is the left or is it the corporates masquerading as Democrats which is the problem? In the dynamics so far since March of 2020, the left has constantly retreated, the Manchin corporate democrats not an inch that I can see.Despite the preaching of old Clinton hand John Podesta that failure to give the Manchins their way will be catastrophic for the Democratic Party in the mid-terms, it has really  been the governance of this center-right corporate leaning Party — “Podesta’s baby”  which has since 1976 helped bring American democracy to despair by leaving even we Medicare recipients with rotting teeth and no good private sector options, unless you consider paying $600-800 annually for benefits of $1500 a good deal. (See my little essay on it:  www.dailykos.com/…)

The old New Deal Democrats, and maybe even Harry Truman would be running against that sell-out, and offering a new party that leaves K-Street as deserted as a Main Street in rural America, the region Larry Summers says we shouldn’t help with a regional plan.

So President Biden and Speaker Pelosi: “here’s the deal.” No deal from Progressives.  We can’t back up any more and it  will take a very different party and risk takers to pull the nation out of its “bi-partisan” death dive.  You and your long track record — and the last two months have proved that for good.

Sadly,

GracchiBros

Frostburg, MD

Postscript:  What pushed me off the fence to make this decision were two articles I read today.  Surprisingly, Paul Krugman’s article www.nytimes.com/… entitled “Biden Versus the Rip Van Winkle Caucus.” (though I would include Joe Biden in that caucus, never having been certain that he was fully sincere in what he has put on the table; knowing the dynamics to come would eviscerate its substance) and this from David Dayen over at the  American Prospect:  prospect.org/… with the not very subtle title “Pelosi tries to bulldoze Progressives on the Infrastructure Bill.” And one final thought: how is it that ferocious right wing libertarian Rick Santelli could initiate “the Rant Heard Round the World on February 19, 2009 on the floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange as a reporter for CNBC, but the Democrats can’t get an AFL-CIO speech much less a vital program heard much beyond union headquarters in DC? That’s a failure of motivation and ideas when only the ugliest thoughts from the right reverberate.  No Labor Day address I recall can match Santelli’s rant.

If you would like to read the posting at the Daily Kos and spirited exchange it set off, here it is, having gone up at noon today: https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2021/9/28/2054868/-No-more-compromises-as-there-is-nothing-left-say-no-to-Pelosi-s-and-Manchin-s-tactics

“EPIC” MMT: The most promising and threatening idea since the populist left in the 1930’s.

Dear Citizens and Elected Officials:

Preface

During President Obama’s very dignified two terms in office, he made a number of statements equating a household’s economics with the Federal Government’s,  little sermons all pointing in the direction of “living within our means…tightening our belts…not spending until we had the income and savings to pay for it…”  In essence, the President was equating the average citizen’s household with the sovereign, sole currency issuing power of the giant federal government, and the most contemporary manifestation of that power, the ability of the Federal Reserve to create money, reserves in private sector accounts, by merely keystroking on its computer keyboard — without using taxpayer money and without direct congressional authorization.  In other words, what if a good part of conventional economic thinking is wrong, has been displaced by the flows and events and realities in the modern economy?

It’s very relevant right at this historical moment inside the Democratic Party and Congress in September of 2021, where the entire dialogue centers around how much federal spending to authorize and how it will be paid for in tax revenue or reductions in existing programs…and the tired old game from the Clinton and Obama years, re-runs of Republican obstructionists threatening to not raise the federal debt ceiling… 

What if the true sequence of federal governmental action is that it spends its currency first into private accounts, then uses taxes and borrowing via the sale of Treasury  Bonds as  secondary adjustment levers to fight inflation and sectoral distortions, including the maldistribution of income and wealth? 

What if the modern drive shaft of our economy is not just entrepreneurs and our scientists innovating and inventing, but that enormous federal budget spending of $6 Trillion  Dollars per year, most of which ends up in private accounts, households and business, and funding a good part of the research that leads to medical and other technological breakthroughs… 

What if the truth is that most of the time federal deficits are good precisely because those public deficits represent positive dollar flows into  private accounts…

What if the historical record shows that every time the federal government works to balance its budget, a recession or worse, a depression, follows closely, as in the years preceding 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1893, 1929 and 2001?

What if  the oligarchy of major firms who control most of the money in our banking system loaned out money first and worried about deposits/reserves later…the loans creating the deposits in the new way of thinking…

What if the Federal Reserve made sure that private banks had all the money they needed, letting them control the money supply (but not the interest rates)  in a grand example of “situational ethics?”

What if the  new economics of Modern Monetary Theory were driven not by the ideas of German Hegelian Romantics, scientific British aristocratic land owners (whom we fought against in our Revolution) and religiously driven, absent minded Scotsmen wandering the streets of Edinburgh mumbling to themselves…but empirically focused scholars pouring over the details of the actual workings of modern central banks, the Federal Reserve (and its dance with the Treasury Department) and other western Central Banks?

And finally, what if, to paraphrase the words of Professor Stephanie Kelton in “The Deficit Myth,” our central concern was not the federal budget deficit, but the deficits of our citizens in health care, wages, income and wealth, housing, education and jobs…and the huge deficit of caring for Nature, its climate, which our own actions have so badly pushed out of the cycles which first enabled us to emerge as the leading species on the planet?  These are all deficits which matter greatly as well, and require a new focus by the Congress of both parties. 

And require a new conversation about economics around the citizen’s proverbial kitchen tables. 

Introduction: 

I’ve been meaning to write about the broad outlines of the major drama unfolding in Washington, DC since August, the struggle between the left and center-right inside the Democratic Party and against the politically nihilistic yet disciplined voting of Trump’s Republican Party.  On the table is the content and $$$ scope of the President’s “Build Back Better Program” now standing at $3.5 Trillion (half of what Senator Sanders wanted)  and the Senate-passed Infrastructure bill at $1 Trillion.  Like a feuding “Dancing with the Stars” couple, the timing and routine contents are also up in the air.  John Podesta, a ghost from the party’s Clintonian past, is now imploring progressive democrats to scale back that $3.5 trillion in order not to destroy the chances for both bills.  Or the party’s chances in the mid-terms.  Goal line stands by either the center or left he says, would be “unconscionable.” 

Since most conventional political reporting is focused on the details  of the conflicts inside the Democratic Party, I want to shift the focus to the deeper forces at work.  And that is the challenge Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) poses to the remains, still dominant but slowly loosing its grip, of Market Utopianism, of private markets over public interventions into those markets, and its “operating system” which has been known as Neoliberalism. 

At the core of Neoliberalism is an anti-statist, anti-regulatory, anti-public spending and anti-union “philosophy,” where austerity reigns for the bottom 60%, but the spigots are always open for tax cuts for the wealthy, because we are all dependent on them for creating private sector jobs, which in theory are always superior to public sector jobs. 

Since at least the election of Ronald Reagan, fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity, supported at times by conservative Catholics (on abortion issues at least) , has turned its back entirely on the Social Gospel movement from the early 20th century:  that is,  on a more realistic interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount suitable to modern, post-industrial times.  A Sermon which might finally recognize a social component of morality to go along with Protestantism’s predominant fixation on the “state” of  one’s private soul: saved or not.   

Instead of a Social Gospel, the majority flow of Protestantism on the Right  offers much personal striving, pain and suffering, mental and physical.  If you are not well off, you must be doing something wrong.  Sinning very likely.    Instead of national health insurance, one gets low wages, long hours and dictatorial “union free” workplaces, with no safe retirement outside of Social Security  and with no significant Social Security increase since Richard Nixon; instead of a livable  minimum wage, paid family and sick leave, you’ll find life most cherished inside the womb.  After that, it’s like running a mine field on the Eastern Front.    And the Religious Right has thrown its ministerial and financial support to climate crisis deniers like Donald Trump and against common sense public health measures to combat a pandemic. (www.nytimes.com/…)

Now I know this is going to strike some as unbelievable, but social critic Chris Hedges, who  says he knows something about the Gospels, says the earliest Christians weren’t rich, and didn’t socialize with the Roman Senatorial elite, the elite which had the Gracchi brothers murdered after they upset Senate traditions on behalf of the landless debtors.   I’ve read a lot of history about our American founders who were infatuated with the Roman system, but I never recall hearing about the Gracchi Brothers, whom Cicero hated. But I digress just a bit.  

It has been the Republican Right which has gone “all in” for foreign interventions, injecting the fear of God, of being “soft on communism” into LBJ (RIP) and the Democratic Center since the McCarthy days (no budget balancing for that cause), and then the open-ended war on “Terrorism.”  There is dispensationalism at work here: we dispense with our culture’s usual abhorrence of political emotionalism (not allowed on the left, ok on the right), despite the reality that the know-nothingism which drives these interventions finally, and always,  comes face-to-face with the fact that Americans, even our  educated foreign policy “elites,”  know little of the societies they intervene in – on behalf of noble words – and, ultimately, really don’t seem to care to know more. 

Too much of the Right feels it  needs only two inerrant books and a “fundamentalist” interpretation of the constitution (what they call “Originalist, original intent”)  which is conveniently suspended where necessary to support the crusades.  And this has become an interpretation of the Constitution which sits strangely at odds with the other half of the Republican Right coalition, American business, intent on constant change and motion and thoroughly internationalist in outlook, especially on the topic of tax shelters and cheap labor.  How could I forget: a good portion of the business Right, family owned businesses of all sizes, is “fundamentalist” in economic outlook as well.  Any doubt of that, please revisit Rick Santelli’s “Rant Heard Round the World,” February 19, 2009.  Here: www.cnbc.com/…  It’s a good if not the perfect example of what the hard Right does, but which the AFL-CIO seems incapable of, even when objective circumstances have called for it for almost half a century. American labor may be mad as hell, but they’ll take whatever the Democratic party dishes. 

 If Donald Trump managed to locate an exit door from  the permanent war in Afghanistan, and another from slanted trade deals, his lack of  systematic thought, and disciplined policy execution made a shambles of the premises of what he arguably got right.

Surely part of the rage of rural Red State America stems from the fact that the economic fallout from the Pandemic halted, dead in its tracks,  the longest expansion, without a recession, in recorded Western economic history:  from June of 2009 until March of 2020, and it was the public interest “types,” and the medical establishment who were urging “shutdowns” and “masking,” thus piling up the fuel for the conspiracy theories about a Pandemic “employed” to defeat the otherwise triumphant Trump. 

In reality,  the  failure to deal with the Pandemic triggered the end of that remarkable economic run  with a dramatic plunge in GDP and a very serious but little discussed freeze in the private speculative markets.  Both crises were stabilized  via federal  interventions: massive federal spending and massive Federal Reserve buying of U. S. Treasury Bonds which no one else wanted to buy  at the peak of the March crisis.  All done without the usual federal budget “offsets,” or tax increases.  

Ideologically, the Congressional  counter-measures in 2019 and 2020 were made possible by the conviction that an otherwise very healthy economy had been harmed by non-economic forces: the Pandemic and the shutdowns to combat it.  

It may not be popular on the left or among Democrats to say this, but without the Pandemic, and its mishandling by Trump, there were no signs of economic trouble heading into the  2020 Presidential election.  In the conventional thinking, and on the “surface.”  Yet beneath the low unemployment numbers and low inflation,  the long term trends of wealth and income distribution continued:  since the mid-1970’s, the U.S.  has seen the upward transfer of some $50 trillion dollars away from the bottom 90% to the top 10% ( time.com/…).  And their were pain indexes to go along with the very small emergency savings in citizen accounts: a drug epidemic, suicides, “Deaths of Despair,” and rotting, broken teeth which Medicare said were not part of its health program.  

This greatest transfer of wealth in human history is one of the deeper story lines in this posting as well, involving the slow but steady reversal of the economic, social and labor policies of the New Deal.   The “stagflation” of the 1970’s and early 1980’s — high inflation and high unemployment — broke the spell of Keynesianism’s management of the economy, and installed an American version of the Austrian-Chicago school (Von Mises and Von Hayek based), the foundation of Neoliberalism. 

Since the late 1970’s, and up until the Great Financial crisis of 2007-2008, the economic Gospel was that striving for low unemployment would trigger runaway inflation, and sustained federal budget deficits would as well.  And those proposed universal social programs, like health care for all and a generous federal minimum wage, or a job guarantee, labor law reform?  Well, you can’t keep race out of politics, and economics is always wrapped around with politics as well, inseparable they truly are: thus “compassionate” programs  would mostly benefit the undeserving poor, mostly black and brown  sprinkled with poor “white trash,”  who didn’t want to work for them, and didn’t, morally,  deserve any such compassion, “Christian” or “Secular”   Thus large federal deficits were implicitly conflated with the Right’s charge of national moral deficits, stemming from the breakdown in values passed on by those terrible 1960’s.  For businessmen in rural America, the cry “they don’t want to work” is connected to “those bad days” based on “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll.”  

Whatever has happened to Sex & Rock n’Roll, Drugs have come on strong, a native growth industry so powerful it has opened the door to Failed States and Narco States to our south, and, imagine this:  driving immigration.   

No discussion of economic policy change in rural Red State America goes on for long, or apparently in the memoirs of those writing to explain the  rural American outlook to uncomprehending distant  “coasts,” without an outburst of heartfelt  bitterness over the mere possibility of including the  undeserving poor in the benefit proposals, especially universal program ones.   The outrage  descends upon the discussion like a heavy “iron curtain” from the right.  It was Rick Santelli who rang down that curtain for our times from the floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange (being a reporter for CNBC news) with his  “Rant Heard Round the World” — sounded on February 19, 2009.  It was the founding siren call for the Tea Party movement and as he explains in this “retrospective” take from 2014, it was a cry for fiscal conservatism and against the Federal Reserve’s market interventions, with the most emotionally and ideologically threatening parts being, for Santelli, federal aid for those who couldn’t pay their mortgages any longer — and might have even  gotten their “bigger than yours” house by lying about their income: www.cnbc.com/…  ( A very, very one-sided view of what many investigations later showed: systemic fraud by lenders as well as some fraud by the applicants.)   

And Mr. Santelli hasn’t changed very much,  in temperament, or economic ideology, still ripping into the Federal Reserve’s policies of keeping the system afloat, here on June 15, 2021: www.streetinsider.com/…

And now Modern Monetary Theory arrives to threaten these long standing economic and moral equations, and then,  of course, the Green New Deal Resolution, whose ambitious outlines were encouraged by a sea change in the way MMT looked at federal spending, deficits, and how the Treasury and Federal Reserve actually operated.  Author Stephanie Kelton compares it, in the Introduction of her book (above) to the change of outlook triggered by Copernicus in astronomy in the 1500’s. 

Of course it’s threatening: MMT promises greater economic fairness, and less cruelty, in this the least generous of Western social democracies.  And even worse, it threatens to overturn the proverbial “kitchen table economics” of thrifty, righteous families agreeing that they can’t afford “nice things” yet, not this year, even if nice things translates in our brutal economy to the basics of health care, dental care, child care, and a $15 dollar minimum wage, which is also becoming woefully inadequate by 2021. 

I wish Professor Kelton hadn’t used the term “nice things” for what is missing in American economic life.  To me, the promise of the MMT view of fiscal matters gives a fighting chance, for once, not a guarantee, to the “Economic Rights of Man,” to merge 1789 with the American political rights of 1787, which was the framing for FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, economic rights, eight of them, presented first in 1944 in his State of the Union Address; among the most important being the right to a “useful and remunerative”  job, the right to health care, and the right to a “decent” home.  There is a huge difference in meaning between a “human right” and “nice things” to have.  And it would be “nice” if the left had half the passion, for its far better causes, than Rick Santelli had in his rants. 

Enter Adam Tooze, an Economic Historian,  Who Drops Anchor in the MMT Harbor 

Professor Tooze, an Englishman who teaches at Columbia University, has a new book out this September called “Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World’s Economy.”  No sooner had he put forth his summary in an guest column in the NY Times on September 1st, somewhat ominously entitled “What if the Coronavirus is just a Trial Run?” (www.nytimes.com/…)  than it was reviewed by none other than Robert Rubin the very next day in the same paper: www.nytimes.com/…   

Yes:  that Robert Rubin, Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton and head of Citicorp after that, now a robust 83 years old.  It must have been something alarming that Tooze wrote to call Rubin out of retirement – and the very next day after Tooze’s column appeared.  On the whole, it’s the same “gentle” Robert Rubin mostly agreeing with Tooze, except on China,  and on this “alarm” note: Tooze’s “ratification” of the reality of MMT in practice, if not in  theory.  Here’s how Mr. Rubin handles that very hot potato:

On some of these issues, Tooze suggests a point of view, especially his belief that constraints on spending are artificial. He writes that the scale of government spending and central bank intervention in 2020 “confirmed the essential insights of economic doctrines … like Modern Monetary Theory.” He quotes John Maynard Keynes — “Anything we can actually do we can afford” — and concludes, “There is no fundamental macroeconomic limit that anyone can discern.” On this, we disagree. Not with the scale of coronavirus response (or the potential scale of future crisis responses), but with the notion that it forever obviates the need for responsible fiscal policy. You don’t have to know where the limit is to believe it’s highly likely there is one.

But resolving policy debates is not Tooze’s aim. Rather, he largely allows the facts to put the questions he raises into sharp relief. To whose benefit do we mobilize the machinery of the state? Who is left behind? Do those choices contribute to the fracturing of our politics? Was 2020 “the death of the orthodoxy that had prevailed in economic policy since the 1980s?”

Rubin can really muffle the ideology here: “Yikes — can you image a Columbia economic historian having ‘a point of view’ (as if Rubin doesn’t have one!).  And the nerve of Tooze bumping up MMT from a mere competing theory  to the dignity of an “economic doctrine.” (The link Rubin supplies to a New Yorker article from August 20, 2019 entitled “The Economist Who Believes the Government Should Just Print More Money” — a real cheap shot at Stephanie Kelton to be sure — tells you what follows: a lot of rough elbows.) 

Other than that and Tooze being too easy on China’s method of controlling Covid, Rubin and Tooze are good to go down the aisle together. 

The Conversation: the NYTimes’ Ezra Klein Interviews Tooze, Sept. 17, 2021

Readers here at the Daily Kos can view a 1 hour & 17 minute Podcast, or use the Transcript provided in the NY Times here:  www.nytimes.com/… (I’ve worked from the transcript.)

I’m going to spotlight quotes from each participant to illuminate their views of topics I presented in my Preface & Introduction and then add some commentary where needed to clarify,  agree or dispute. 

Before I begin with Klein’s “overview” on Tooze, let me say this about Klein himself.  He may be the most prominent NY Times commentator by far on economic and social policy, right after Paul Krugman; here, judged by space and “weight,” I think he may have had more to say than Tooze himself,  which is a rather interesting way to “interview.” ( He’s no self-effacing Terry Gross (of Fresh Air fame, public radio: completely opposite styles) 

And let me go out on a limb a bit: I doubt Klein would still have his job with the Times if he gave a ringing endorsement of MMT, even in the low key, matter of fact manner that Tooze does.  Klein’s “hedge” on MMT is apparent in his handling of Larry Summer’s – who has meat-axed MMT any number of times.  Klein says he agrees with Summer take, but not his manner of presenting it.  

Now let’s start with Klein’s “overview” on Tooze’s methodology, closely connected, in my view, to the economic historian’s conclusions, derived not from theory but observation of the way the economic world works, decade by decade:

Tooze’s angle…is using financial crises as a lens into the ideology of economics, using them as a way to understand where our economic theories and models match the world, how they’re really created and then the moments in which they are changed by the world, whether or not the economists behind them admit it.  And in just the past 15 years we’ve lived through two such moments.  And so that is what the conversation is about. 

A good part of this conversation, and a good part of the MMT outlook builds from John Maynard Keynes observation from World War II that “anything we can actually do, we can afford.”  

Tooze then adds his support and qualifiers:

So it’s double-edged…But 2020, I think, illustrates both sides of this.  So on the one side, this is the emancipatory promise, this open-handed ‘we can afford anything,’ by which I think Keynes means, money is a technical issue. 

In the end, it’s a question of mobilizing finance, stringing together the financial engineering, doing some of the central-banking arithmetic we might need to do.  But in the end, what limits what we can do is not whether we can afford something, but whether we can actually do it.

Notice in Tooze’s assessment that fear of inflation, the ride of the bond market “vigilantes” to head it off, is no longer operating, as it did during the Clinton administration, where pleasing that bond market by fiscal austerity in the federal budget to cut the deficit and debt, became the deciding factor on what could be proposed: nothing big.  The bond vigilantes  came back during the Obama administration as well, limiting the size of the stimulus package in the wake of the 2007-2008 collapse in the financial markets and  serving as the prelude to the rapid rise in unemployment to 10% levels.  (And very slow recovery). 

Which brings us to the grand question: Why?  Why is inflation no longer the great worry it was coming out of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s until Fed Chairman Paul Volcker (who served from 1979-1987) recessioned it under control by pushing the Fed target rate into the teens  (it’s now between 0 and ¼ of a percent by comparison); then  only to have the worry crop up not under Reagan’s growing deficits but under Clinton’s watch,  and then Obama’s (no worry under the tax cutting of George W. Bush’s administration, no worry under Republican deficits with V.P. Dick Cheney famously stating that “deficits don’t matter”) ; Dems had become the party of fiscal austerity, a hat which seems to switch parties in a very bad case of economic “situational ethics.”

MMT takes deficits out of the old moral category  of  profligate household budgeting and into the more practical analysis of what programs are serving broad public needs, looking closely at where federal spending may cause supply side shortages and thus sectorial inflation;  and taxes may be mis-targeted: instead of relieving spending pressure on limited resources. (Or ritualistically cut again for the financially well off.)

 And Cheney’s notion that deficits don’t matter may have come from his and Donald Rumsfeld’s interest in the work of Warren Mosler, a financial market player who turned theoretical, considered  by Stephanie Kelton and L. Randall Wray, to be one of the real fathers of MMT; along with the “functional finance” of Abba Lerner going back to the 1940’s and the work of Wynne Godley, Hyman Minsky, and more recently, Bill Mitchell in Australia…Pavlina Tcherneva, Mat Forstater, Ed Nell, Scott Fullwiler and Eric Tymoigne, all named in the Preface of Wray’s primer called “Modern Money Theory” (2012).

Once again, why instead of inflation with growing federal deficits do we have deflation worries?   Here is Tooze’s answer, which is widely accepted among the economists I read: It

…is the shift in the power balance between labor and employers, and that it helped to explain profit margins.  It helped to explain inequality.  It helped to explain the tending towards low inflation that we see across most of the advanced economies. 

The amazing testimony  that both former Federal  Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke have delivered to Congress, admitting that taxpayer dollars are not directly used when the Fed intervenes to stabilize collapsing private financial markets, including massive speculative ones, but instead creates the money outside the Congressional authorization process by electronic keystrokes (what the popular voice denigrates as  “printing money” or “helicopter drops”) is very upsetting to both the economic right and the left, but for different reasons.  

Ranting Rick Santelli, he of the Tea Party speech at the Chicago Exchange on February 19, 2009, memorialized five years later in this video, is a near perfect example of an old time fiscal conservative outraged at the power of the Fed to keystroke wealth to those who may have not earned it (at the top), and heaven forbid Congress ever tries to do the same for the undeserving poor at the bottom,  through things like universal health care, a job guarantee or stopping evictions: www.cnbc.com/…  

On the left, Ezra Klein ponders that

And it is just weird that we have an institution of checks and balances and filibuster and committees and divided government that operates when you need to ask, should people get help in their everyday lives?  And then an institution functionally just run by  Chairman Powell and the Fed Board that operates and the question of well, do we just need to begin buying up all the debt anyone wants to sell us?…there’s just no doubt that it is a profoundly unfair way to run the system.  

And that is why I included, in my title, the idea that MMT is very threatening to the financial establishment, whether of the right like Rick Santelli, or the purported center-left of Larry Summers; MMT puts the unfairness and imbalance of the Fed’s interventions under the spotlight just as the strange case of an America without national health insurance, without a  living minimum wage, without a job guarantee and/or new CCC…and on and on about our non-existent or moth ridden social safety net from the 1930’s…all converged center stage thanks to the Sanders’ campaigns and the Green New Deal concept….and added to the giant cost and physical task of remaking our economy to give Nature a “Bill of Rights” too…and by doing so bestowing on ourselves elemental “survival” rights.

Here is Tooze’s take on these provocative, troubling dynamics:

The added twist of that tale is the paralysis of fiscal policy because of the complexity of politics…The obdurate objection from the right to measures which folks like us, on the progressive side of things, think are essential — that paralysis means that, for a long time…the only game in town, in terms of active economic policy is the Fed…

And the Fed’s interventions have the effect of not just underwriting speculation to date…but further accelerating and exacerbating and forcing the process of financial accumulation and growth and profit-taking.  So it’s really a very difficult and deeply entrenched structural bias. 

Concluding Thoughts and Observations

MMT should be proud of itself for basing its new conclusions about how the economy and especially the financial economy work, basing them on careful studies of how Central Banks, including our own Federal Reserve actually operate at the sole issuers of the national currency, the dollar being just one example in the West of a “fiat currency.”  This seems straightforward enough, until you realize that there is not just one, but many “Green Curtains” (The Wizard of OZ is worth re-reading as an adult wondering…) which obscure the complicated dance, part reality, greater part symbol of the national fiscal and monetary myths, between the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve.  And Congress: let’s not forget the Congress.  For this task, Professor Kelton is the mainstream, folksy even,  public “explainer”; L. Randall Wray the economist who works to keep the rigor of “economics as an attempted science” alive by making his formulations (mostly) logically consistent with one another; and finally economic historian Adam Tooze, who takes the long term view focused on what actually happens in economies and related institutions, whether inside or outside of existing paradigms. 

What would Professors Kelton and Wray want you to take home from this exercise in economic ideas? Well, here’s my translation:  First, the issuer of a sole sovereign national  currency with a powerful and respected Central Bank can never go broke, never default (unless it’s a conscious Congressionally willed default, the regular Republican strategy to oppose Presidents Clinton, Obama and now Biden. In full bloom again as I write) 

How can that be?  Because as former Federal Reserve Chairmen Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke both stated in Congressional testimony, the Fed can, without using Congressionally approved taxpayer dollars, deposit money (actually reserves) in private accounts to make “payments” — as it did almost exclusively into major private financial institutions accounts during 2008-2009 and most recently at the peak of the Covid crisis in March of 2020 — buying Treasuries from private holders. 

 And taking the MMT logic further, the Fed might also do the same for buying US bonds from the Treasury itself ( a Rubicon of sorts to never cross in conventional thinking) or creating reserves in the Social Security “funds”  or defense contractors accounts.  Or, in an even greater theoretical scenario, paying  all the parties to fulfill a Green New Deal program authorized but not paid for under Pay-Go or anything else…but that’s the extreme situation.  

MMTers like Kelton want you to know that it is not a religion, not a panacea, and is hedged about by fears of inflation just like more conventional economists are — only the MMTers fears of inflation come not from federal deficits and debt nor the interest rates that the Fed so increasingly targets, so low for so long…but rather physical constraints: is there enough capacity in materials, a well trained workforce, productive structures and increasingly, supply  chains, to fulfill the public purposes Congress has legislated for — without igniting structural inflation across many sectors.  

And MMTers want you to know that the real cause of inflation is not the size of the federal debt or deficit, but trying to coax, to force “more” out of an economy already at or near full employment. And those unemployment numbers are tricky in themselves because of the way we tabulate who’s counted or not in the workforce.  It’s been a standard premise of MMTers working for a “job guarantee” to find that many not counted in the workforce have dropped out, and could become full time workers given the right job and better pay and benefits…and that observation is being confirmed in the wake of Covid fallout: frontline workers who don’t want to risk their lives for $7.25 an hour and no health benefits…current national policy for workers making a mockery of all the tributes paid to frontline heroism and risk taking.  It’s outrageous and no wonder some don’t want to play this deadly game for so little compensation.

One of the obstacles MMT must overcome is the reluctance of economists to buy in fully to its “origin theories,” origin theories about creation, the social contract and government itself, not to mention the “first markets” – are always dicey and conflicted.  And MMT  asks you to accept a reversal of the old kitchen table common sense not only on debt and deficits, where the federal government is not subject to the rules of the “household economy,” but also this:  the federal government does not need your tax dollars or private loans from bond purchases to spend money; first it spends into the economy to purchase what it needs for the country, and it uses taxes and “loans” only as secondary tools to control inflation (pull money out of private hands)  moderate inequality, or dampen demand in overheated — or ethically undesirable  sectors of the broader economy.  

There is a short hand for this role reversal from Neoliberalism’s (and the original conservative “Liberal” economists, the founders of capitalist thought in the late 18th and early 19th century) cherished pecking order — putting the entrepreneurs of the private sector first, exalted, and government its servant, left to policing, especially policing of contracts, and of course: warring abroad while keeping labor organizing at home in the shadows. Here are the abbreviations: from the old: TABS — Taxing and Borrowing precede Spending; and from the New: STAB — Spending precedes taxing and borrowing (that’s federal spending of course).  

It’s a huge conceptual shift that Kelton is short handing here  in her very first chapter, appropriately called, “Don’t think of a Household.”  Listening to the Democratic Party leadership speak in the week of the Autumnal Equinox, September, 2021, or to the CNN commentators dwelling on “how they will pay for it” — with nary a MMTer in sight, or any of their key frames ever prompting a question, this ought to assuage people like Larry Summers, and Rick Santelli that MMT has nowhere established much more than a foothold in either popular or learned commentary: left (Sanders), right  (Santelli) or center (Summers, Pelosi, Schumer).   

And that brings us to the tough part of the landscape which Adam Tooze has brought us in his new book, what Covid has dramatically revealed.  We are a nation incapable of doing big things anymore, whether it is a life or death matter of fighting a Pandemic, or keeping Nature from going off our own steep cliff by passing a Green New Deal,  and addressing the terribly imbalanced way the Federal Reserve uses its newly found MMT tools to prevent another1929.   

Tooze has caught us, and economic thought as well,  suspended between eras, the fading light of Neoliberalism, and the yet to be risen sun of “freedom from deficit worries” and freedom to better meet the needs of the American people: 

And that’s why he see us, and most of the West, caught in “a situation of profound uncertainty…the situation is genuinely opaque.  We are in a broken play here.  We’re in a gray zone.” 

And that’s always been my greatest worry as well: that at the heart of the political divisions in the US are huge disagreements on the role, or not, of the federal government and what Tooze sees as its most competent institution: the Federal Reserve.  Whether under Clinton, Obama or now Biden (who moved left, to be sure, pressured or by choice is not clear), the political situation in Congress seems always to push to the right on content and scope.  And I express this by stating my two paradigms for the US since Reagan: one, heading towards Civil War (low level, non-shooting I hope…) as in the 1850’s, or two:  towards the legislative paralysis of the Weimar Republic in Germany between 1921-1933, where even in the wake of the severe impact of the Great Depression, the parties of the Reichstag could not agree to increase unemployment insurance for the millions thrown into poverty — and hopelessness.  The center-left had no cure, despite the millions who voted for the Social Democrats.  But the nationalist right did, and you all know what happened.

I’m sorry I don’t have better news for you.  But if you want to read a bit more about MMT, here’s a few links:

 www.levyinstitute.org/… “What is MMT’s State of Play in Washington,” Aug. 2021

www.levyinstitute.org/… “Can We Afford the Green New Deal,” Jan. 2020 

www.paecon.net/… “ Modern Monetary Theory and Its Critics,” October, 2019  (This is an entire issue of the  Real World Economics Review, Issue No. 89; my recommendation is for Professor Anne Mayhew’s article which begins on page 129.  The issue begins with L. Randall Wray stating the case for MMT)

Best to my readers.

Long Live a Reformed American Republic, and a more Social Democracy one day

GracchiBros

Frostburg, MD 

Labor Day 2021: The failure of Richard Trumka and the AFL-CIO Leadership…explained.

Dear Citizens and Elected Officials:

This has not been an easy posting to write, but I think it had to be done, whether progressives like it or not.  I was originally going to post it to answer all the over-the-top praise issuing forth upon the death of Richard Trumka on August 5, 2021, but I try still to be a decent person, although it gets harder and harder:  I thought a pause to honor a decent man was in order, not a critique.  No such hesitation when Rush Limbaugh died, one of the  greatest liars in American history, a title contested only by Trump.

It was statements like this from Senator Chuck Schumer which urged me to answer: 

“’The working people of America have lost a fierce warrior at a time when we need him most,’ he said.” 

Really?  A fierce warrior was not what I heard just a year or so ago when he gave a summary of union successes, an upsurge in membership in his view, turning the long decline around after so many decades (yes decades, not years).  His confident, even tempered optimism  was in an interview, and Q & A at an annual Labor Day event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor newspaper.  And a fierce warrior was  not what I could locate in all the “watershed” Labor Day addresses that I had come to hope for from an AFL-CIO “chieftain” – or today, “chieftess,” — that I had come to believe objective circumstances for the bottom 60% of our society — and the “remnants” of the AFL-CIO of the late 1940’s early 1950’s – would have called forth.  A union and left speech telling it like it is — the way I heard young Trump supporters tell me they saw him while we were looking out from Dan’s Rock’s 3,000’ high  in Trump Country.  And hence my choice of picture from the days when Walter Reuther was considered the “most dangerous man in Detroit” if not the country in the words of labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein.  

No, the emotional component that strong eulogizers for Trumka seemed to attach to him in much the same way they attribute it to President Joe Biden was missing.  Or had I missed something?

Therefore,  before writing this I went to The Guardian, The New Republic, In These Times, Splinter News, Axios, National Review and the Daily Kos’ own Laura Clawson’s estimations of his career.  And my own career background, briefly, in Union office holding and trench warfare, as well as the long published works of Mike Davis, Michael Harrington, Barry Bluestone, and Jefferson Cowie ( and the long forgotten works of George Lichtheim) to put the tributes and the critiques in perspective.  A fair perspective if that is possible in the highly ideological matters of union work, even of union leaders who would hate the use of the word ideology.  Unless it’s, in the words that the AFL-CIO’s leaders use themselves, about how they built the “middle class,” running away, verbally and by other associations, from that oh so easy to jettison label — working class.  That tells you a lot in itself.

Now, before I swim out into the deeper and more dangerous broad  currents of history, let me offer a few biographical details: of my life in the 1970’s in an AFSCME local, 2285 if I remember the number correctly, based in the public social service agency in Trenton, NJ, county of Mercer. 

I was the Chief Steward and lead “contract” negotiator, heading in to see Nick Bartolino,  the County Comptroller. Nick was a thick set man who seemed to me to personify the ethnic world of the old New Deal coalition, then falling apart in Mercer County, but still in control of most county offices, with the Religious Right’s Chris Smith about to leave them in the congressional dust.  Nothing personal with Nick; to bring him to life though, for you, the best way  would be to say he was a cast character before Tony Soprano’s famous series.  What he thought of me, and the public Union I represented, I can only guess by the the half-dismissive and half-dictatorial tone of his speech to me and one other person from the Union who was in the room.  In essence, and he didn’t say it with much regret, we had no maneuver room, the state budget dictated (literally) the size of the raise and most of the contract fulcrums, leaving not much to be negotiated. He was right on those matters.  But that’s not why I walked out, shocking the accompanying union rep, “an ultra” and certainly Nick and the AFCME bureaucracy over my head at the county and state level — whom I had not consulted in advance. 

What I did was unrehearsed, spontaneous to the insult flow of the meeting, and I have no regrets in doing so.  In more modern terms I had been “dissed” and “dissed badly,” the whole essence of union purpose had been straight-jacketed in a politics and economics we were told was way outside our reach. So get used to it. Suckers.

Do you understand where I am going, here, about Mr. Trumka? If ever a set of circumstances facing not just American workers in the AFL-CIO, but the whole bottom 60% of the society were caught in a situation, just like, or even worse than the one Nick Bartolino shoved under my nose in the 1970’s,  (and seemed to take extra delight in rubbing my nose in it) — this was it:

– A terribly low union membership record in the workforce, down, down since the 1950 high

– the greatest transfer of wealth in human history, $50 trillion, upwards, documented in a Rand study from Sept. 2020 in Time magazine, never mentioned by the AFL-CIO, Joe Biden or the Dems in the 2020 race…

– no national health care, with unions defending their old contract fruits from the glory days: the hell with the rest of society

-the disgraceful dismissal of the Green New Deal, the most progressive policy outline presented to the American people in its history, and the most insistent on enabling union membership — since the 1930’s and FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, which I don’t recall ever hearing quoted in an AFL-CIO address

-the trashing of the very idea of a “Just Transition” mechanism and fund in the Democratic party’s 500 page plus response to global warming…Trumka citing the fact that losing 100 jobs in rural PA with some promised vague new green jobs in Oregon was not a help… of course not…but the elements of a just transition are as obvious as the signal sent by Joe Manchin’s lobbying barge on the Potomac — and how he earns his money (thanks to the Intercept’s recent expose.) 

– and the great inverse curves since the 1970’s: the rise of the Religious Right and its ideology, and the reverse curve of union membership…from an organization which if it ever had a passionate ideology, has walked away from it since the days when thugs tried to assassinate Walter Reuther in 1948.

– and the walking away from the Sanders campaigns of 2016, 2020, from the candidate who most embodied in language and spirit, and policy, the best of the old union leaders: Debs, Lewis, Reuther, Fraser…dare I even say Jerry Wurf? Angry Jerry Wurf daring to propose public sectors unions alongside of the rusting steel workers, auto workers… With Trumka pushing, in the very heart of the Daily Kos, E. Warren as the alternative. Canny, but too calculating .  

That’s right,  progressives and union supporters: we never got the speech, burning bridges behind it, if you like, but building new spans to all those left out of the “good old time” union pensions, medical and yes dental plans defended at the costs of universal health care today, and universal care for Nature to prevent it turning upon us in its great cycles of heat, energy and ocean currents, the full wrath of which, if physics allows a wrath, are only now hitting the AFL-CIO bureaucrats right in the lifeboats and smoky hazes drifting over DC and the rising waters of the  Eastern seaboard.  

We never got the tactics which younger, bolder more inclusive spirits have given us: like the early, nervy tactics of AOC outside of Speaker Pelosi’s office on behalf of Sunrisers , and their futures, (and before she was even sworn in to Congress),  the “insolent” tone and factual presentations of Greta Thunberg at Davos, the UN and even before some members of the US Congress — exactly the spirit in which I walked out of Nick Bartolino’s office back in the late 1970’s, Michael Harrington and DSOC inspired as I was, (AOC’s forerunner organization to the DSA)…

No, if the objective facts of our time haven’t led to a walk out, or, at minimum, a richly deserved public tongue lashing of the Democratic Party since the days of Carter, broken promise after broken promise to the AFL-CIO …as Greta has given our Davos rulers…then I don’t know what will  or can.

Now, let me climb down from the pulpit and do justice to what I learned about the Trumka I didn’t know, the Trumka of the early days, and keeping in mind the words, wise or not, which Larry Summers delivered to the Winston Churchill of the European left in 2015,  by phone, to Yanis Varoufakis: “Yanis, you can’t be an insider and outsider at the same time, you have to choose.”

When the former mine worker turned labor lawyer was the  young Richard Trumka, he took risks in supporting striking miners in what many others would have called already “lost causes in a declining industry.”  He was morally right and courageous in those stances in the 1980’s, and walked a fine line in his speeches between inspiration and being jailed for incitement to violence.  

By all accounts I’ve come across, in his role as Treasurer of the AFL-CIO before rising to the top post, he has steered clear of the almost always hurled charges of embezzlement and pension raiding that have so scarred unions in the eyes of the public.  No easy task, given the history of miner leadership before him.  

He persevered through all the historical currents since Reagan, taking American society to the Right and the Democratic Party as well.  Yet he couldn’t do what Bill Buckley had to do when he founded National Review, what Yanis V did in the negotiations with Euro bureaucrats in 2015 (which prompted Summers’ call) , what AOC did in those early 2019 protests and with her Green New Deal Resolution in February, and what Greta Thunberg has been doing all along: shouting at the abusive flows of history: stop, you’re killing us!

Now behind those powerful ideological currents running against unions are ideas, formulated by people, and not limited to just two books their “inerrancy” as on the Right.  Yes, there is a whole history of the left here (weaker) and in Western Europe (stronger) which has been under assault at many levels since the 1970’s and Thatcher and Reagan. 

And it has been the inability of Trumka and the rest of the AFL-CIO leadership to draw upon that legacy, that rich and diverse intellectual heritage — the best of modern man in my opinion, that has also crippled the ability of labor in the US to inspire, despite the little shrines of light and hope, like AOC devotional candles, springing up around airline workers, fast-food workers, the Fight for $15 (even though it is far from adequate and way behind the math as I see it)…and the courageous nurses always being reminded of “their place” by doctors…(and who did they endorse in 2016 and 2020?) and that most elemental test of human dignity among these vicious currents of history: the fight for universal health and dental care — and eye care which might help restore the missing vision.

It is in this spirit that I honor Trumka’s early life and his apparent honesty, while recognizing he was not the person for the hour and the national need.  So far, no one is, but you get the idea here from the other sources of inspiration I have listed, what is needed…

And to those admirers of Jane McAlevey I say this: I’m a fan of her fine tuned tactical advice on how to fight a union recognition campaign, but as indicated above, tactics can’t make up for the missing ideological drive, that near religious intensity that is necessary to generate sea changes in consciousness and then politics, that the left of the 1930’s had, but which disappeared even in those who once possessed it like the Reuther brothers (with the Treaty of Detroit and his phone conversations with LBJ on the war in Vietnam).  And yes, the futile and destructive war in Vietnam and the AFL-CIO’s stance on it, was one of the watershed’s, if not the major one, which started unions and the nation on the downward spiral which has not yet run its course.  Sorry for that bit of “conventional” observation…(I’m leaving out my personal story of interactions with retired union vets over the Green New Deal, very recently, but you see the flavoring they have added to my perspective.) 

Best to you, and better, in the spirit and work of Hannah Arendt,  that I deliver the writer’s obligation to tell the truth as I see it, and let the wrath fall where it may.