Sunday, November 15, 2020

Various campaign links

Election Day is three days away, or less if I'm slow posting this. 538 is predicting nearly 90% chance that Biden will win. I hope that's right this time. 

Trump lauds his token African Americans, as do his supporters. Ice Cube was 'persuaded' conditionally by policy promises. Yeah, right, the GOPers in Congress will be right on it.

Back to the polls. Is this a repeat of 2016 with too much confidence in the polls, and Trump pulls another upset? There is so much early voting going on and heavy turnout. It looks like it favors the Dems, right? Well, maybe not. There are some indicators that Trump is doing well. Higher new voter registrations for Trump. Major GOP turnout too. Polling showing support for Dems weakening among black and Latino folks. A Rasmussen poll had black folks supporting Trump 31% of the time. I hope it's as inaccurate as other Rasmussen polls. Trafalgar is predicting a Trump victory, like they did in 2016. However, 2016 was a lesson to 2020, and I don't think people will be staying home with overconfidence. 

And since it's now almost two weeks after Election Day, I'll rush in the rest of my pre-election links.

Dems weren't the angels they should have been about Hunter Biden. Oh pleeeze, give me a break. 

And that was it. Publish!


Saturday, October 31, 2020

Big new vision for what the US should be

I haven't been posting, but I've been very active following the huge news events in the US, where the covid pandemic and Black Lives Matter demonstrations have superseded  even the presidential race in importance (until recently, like October).

I've been well aware of the killings that have sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Philando Castille. Eric Garner. And many more. This spring it was Ahmaud Arbery, followed by the egregious slow-motion asphyxiation of George Floyd caught on tape as neighborhood folks pleaded with police to let him up so he wouldn't die. 

But he did die. And it was a latest stick of dynamite, setting off demonstration, looting, and vandalism in dozens of cities. My town had a BLM demonstration that was peaceful. We have a bit of BLM graffiti that isn't overwhelming in the least or destructive. 

Something clicked inside me though. It happened after looking at the 30 minutes of body cam tape of  Rayshard Brooks. There was something about it... And I realized what it was. This was a guy desperately trying to do the right thing and avoid arrest. He was polite to the police, helpful with his paperwork, not belligerent in the least until they tried to put the cuffs on him, and then he fought them like a man desperate to escape. Even as he was fighting them, he didn't yell epithets. Even as he shot a taser (grabbed off one of the cops), he didn't insult them. And then he was shot as he tried to run away. A possibly important detail is that Brooks was on parole, and a new arrest might have landed him immediately in prison. 

While I was mulling over what had happened, I read Brooks described as a convicted felon, an angry drunk, a very violent man. What I witnessed in that video was very different, and I don't think the video lied. 

Suddenly I was able to see someone who could have been a neighbor of mine. He was trying so hard to be a good guy, not cause any harm to anyone, and he ended up arrested for SLEEPING IN HIS CAR. How the fuck did things go so wrong? 

So I started to think about how it could go so wrong. He was desperate to avoid arrest after having done nothing bad, nothing irresponsible. So how did this happen?

Going Wrong #1 - Making too many people criminals

In the US, people lose a lot of their employment potential if they are convicted of a felony. And some fairly smalltime offenses get classified as felonies because of the 'tough on crime' ethos in the US. Do we really want to keep punishing someone years after their conviction? Wouldn't it be better to make it easier to go straight and be a law-abiding person? I think it would be better. 

So I want reform of our laws, particularly reducing the number of crimes labeled as felonies. I want people to no longer be considered guilty of a felony (have to report it on forms) after a certain number of years. Maybe 5 years for lesser felonies and 10-20 for more serious ones. I want three strikes laws used only for violent felonies, not shoplifting or burglary. 

I also think that more county or municipality should have a heavy dependence on fines for funding. Don't use traffic violations to fund your courts. Keep fines high enough to discourage but not so high that it strangles people. Possibly fines should be a portion of percentage of income or your electricity bill, so on a sliding scale. That way it's close to equally painful whether you are rich or poor. Definitely the poor shouldn't be soaked as they have been in many towns and counties, like Ferguson, Missouri. 

Going Wrong #2 - The Underclass

Underclasses are almost always a given in history. The poor, the peasants, the serfs, the slaves, the plebians, the workers. The owners don't want to pay too much because owners are generally greedy and want to have more profit for themselves. However, you do need workers, at least some of the time. You also sometimes need soldiers, and sometimes a lot of soldiers. And you need the next generation to carry on or old age for the last generation is going to be horrific. 

So the owners/nobility want workers who are as cheap as possible. They may pay near-starvation wages or give near-starvation rations. They probably aren't going to be generous.

In the US and probably almost every other country, we inherited this system and outlook. I think it's the worst part of our economic system because it is greedy, cruel, and dehumanizing. I don't think all wages should be equal, but all jobs should provide a decent wage for doing the work well. 

Pay should be good enough to support the person and a small family in a basic, healthful condition. That means decent shelter, decent food, education, medical, and clothing. To me, any job should pay well enough, even at the bottom of the ladder because too often there aren't higher rungs. Some extra generosity to folks at the bottom, including teenage workers wouldn't be a horrible waste when it ensures that everyone has decent wages. 

Wages aren't the sole issue. There's also housing and education. Traditionally, poor housing was what peasants had to put up with. That shouldn't be tolerated anymore. We should upgrade housing for everyone. Similarly with schools. Decent schools, good curricula, and reasonably small class sizes for everyone. 

How to get there

Maybe that seems overly simplistic, but those are the changes I'd like to see in the US. I want a country with respect for all its citizens, and decent wages, housing, and education for all its citizens. That means no group is considered dirty, underclass, undeserving, or disposable. 

Unfortunately, poor folks (blacks, whites. latinos, native americans) have been considered unimportant and disposable. So that has to stop. All people must be valued. This is a big change, but it shouldn't psychologically be that difficult. 

Can we afford these changes? With the average income in the US being $72K for household, this should be possible. However, we may not be able to maintain high levels of immigration and have good wages for all. So I would choose higher wages and lower immigration. It may also be important to emphasize small families so that the next generation isn't swollen with too many for the available jobs and resources. 

I do foresee that we'll need guest workers. I think guest workers should be paid at least the minimum wage so that there isn't a preference for guest workers over American workers. Housing should also be decent. Families as guest workers may be discouraged if the need for labor in the future may be reduced. I would maintain birthright citizenship. 

While I think this vision is doable over time, I don't believe that the US will take this path. It's outside the box and too different from tradition. It also requires more laws and regulation, less greed and more sharing. The wealthy in the US haven't been in favor of that. Just consider Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the US, and how little he pays many of his workers. His great wealth is more than he'll ever need, so it's not immoral to impose a reduction on him to raise others up. 

I think people still need incentive to work, and a good wage that takes care of your family is a powerful incentive. Being respected also makes even unpleasant jobs worth it. I wouldn't support a 'universal basic income' since that might stifle the incentive to work.

While I think crime would decrease, I doubt it would disappear. For repeat criminals who show little interest in reform, prison is proper. For one-time criminals who do reform, society should welcome them back. 

No One Left Behind

I've mentioned Black Live Matters and the problem of having an underclass. However I don't see this as an issue involving only minorities. It's bigger than that. It's a matter of seeing all Americans as 'one of us.' That includes traditionally marginalized groups, like black or Latino folks, but also everyone, including rural folks, rust belt workers, etc. Everyone. 

With this inclusion, we should no longer have out-groups that are disdained. We should cherish all Americans and not let small differences set us deeply against each other. 

So that is my big new vision for the US. I'm inspired by the possibility. I'm inspired to have finally come to understand what I'd like to see in a fair society.


Friday, October 16, 2020

Very interesting links. Long but worth it.

 I've been negligent in keeping up with blogging. Mea culpa. But here's lots of good stuff.

Reports on the Trump campaign. Feeling confident in August. Trump's appeal to white working class remains strong. People who think Trump is nuts, including Hannity. Voting suppression shenanigans--just one of many tactics to reduce the turnout. Republicans getting more worried. Less cowardice towards Trump--a bit less. Unfocused campaign near the end--maybe the emphasis is simply on bluster. Details of targeting black voters in 2016 for discouragement.

In-depth reports about how Biden chose Kamala Harris. I'm very interested in decision-making processes. This reports a budding connection. I hope that's a good sign. 

Other tidbits about Biden. A long piece focusing on personality and character. Like many Dem campaigns, Biden is late with a strategy for Latino voters. The Biden campaign goes gross on drug test request. (Don't talk about urine PLEASE!!!!)

Heading toward fascism? A refugee from a fascist country warns the US that we are definitely headed in that direction. Not all hyperbole by any means. 

Real data on voter fraud. It's not clear that the methodology is strong, but (if so) this should be getting more attention. Actual numbers on dead people voting and double voting. Nothing on ballot harvesting which is the biggest form of fraud. 

Dangers in refusing abortions. A Michigan senator tells how his wife was refused an abortion for a failed pregnancy that put her health and life in danger. Rigidity is winning over realism and women's lives. 

Snapshot USA. Portland police allow left and right whackos to fight. Illogical complaint about NYC restrictions on restaurant. Consider necessity versus option. No rational person literally believes Tucker Carlson. That is the conclusion of a judge in dismissing a slander suit against him. 

Covid relief 2.0. Seems to be permanently stalled. This is another case of GOPers have no ability to handle difficult negotiations. 

Global warming factors. Broken down and explained very clearly. It would be much hotter by now if the sunspot activity had a normal cycle rather than a very low cycle. We got lucky, but humans are fucking our climate. 


The high stakes of culture Part 2

(Originally written back in January 2015, it's interesting to see where my thinking has changed. The writing remains rough, but clear enough.)

The general culture of the US is one input to the behavior of individuals, but local cultural norms are another, and probably stronger. I've written about middle-class culture, particularly the fear of losing all one's money and shifting to a day-by-day existence. I've also written about the clash between liberals' gun-less utopia and the gun owners sense of their rights and culture.

Other cultural quirks I've noticed: New York City has a sustained high rate of abortion--like many women there never seem to learn how to correctly use contraceptives. Middle-class girls are quite different--their rates of abortion have been dropping. Yeah-let's all learn about how to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Inner city kids learn to disrespect authority: issue false denials, accuse people of racism, curse, lie. This is a generalization, as all observations of culture are. (TNC - Ta-nehisi Coates-- post on behavior/culture needed in poor area. Comments were very good but aren't available any more. One frequent commenter, Pete, a blue-collar white man from Baltimore, described a pro-education poor neighborhood.)

TNC makes the argument that the society has been exploiting blacks for the entire history--but I wonder whether he can count the past 40 years. (Yes, now in 2020 I agree with exploitation continued.) He doesn't say what society should do about this, but some commenters hint--schools as good as anywhere, possibly also true for housing, job opportunities etc. This is social engineering on a grand scale--just turn all neighborhoods into clones of middle-class neighborhoods. Not only prohibitively expensive, but also many groups haven't needed to so much external help to move into the middle class (like the immigrant groups). Some white groups have gotten mired in poverty too. Must they be engineered out poverty too? 

Here's how I feel about this: it's not a strong idea to spend so much money with little evidence investment will provide the outcome desired. This isn't the only instance I've felt this way (I feel the same way about treating cancer on my own dime.) I don't think changing schools and housing will help while the culture remains.

TNC almost follows the behavior of his youth, and calls headlines it the culture of poverty. He then gets angry when others use the term. How expectations are different and new rules learned. TNC on Cosby's cultural message. Racism creates pathology.

Big TNC article on reparations. To critique it, see what he doesn't focus on. Employment, the changes in the last 50 years, the generalization of who was hurt and who would have to have to acknowledge wrong-doing. Critique by another black columnist--this view isn't productive, so let's stick with what is more likely to be. Noah Millman thoughtful response. Conor's column with a block of good comments. Douthat writes about cultural and poverty. (Note--the talk is of a culture of poverty, but the bigger problem is all the local cultures of poverty. The particular problems grow locally with gradual diffusion, but I expect major local differences.)

Religious view. Rod Dreher lots of posts about loss of religion, loss of strictures, discipline, sense of duty. Fun post--worst cultural mistake. He's against nominalism and the emphasis on empiricism and observation. What's wrong with these (which have been so helpful in science)--denial or lack of evidence of the soul, God, etc. Science is a tough competitor.


Friday, September 11, 2020

What went wrong with the neoliberals

 This might be a thought dump.

Neoliberalism made a lot of sense in the 80s and 90s. Liberalism had spawned some crappy outcomes, such as huge welfare rolls. There was also a huge increase in crime, though it wasn't clear that liberalism caused it. Liberalism might have been abetting it. 

Liberalism was anti-war, and also anti-military, sometimes to the point of advocating that the US get rid of nuclear weapons and greatly reduce the military. Liberalism was pro-union, and some of the unions were driving uncompetitive pay and benefits. Some liberalism bordered on communism, with the profits being vilified.

So it made sense to have a different flavor of liberalism where a strong military helped the US and the rest of world. Where unions shouldn't go crazy. Where free trade was better than protectionist tariffs. Where profits were good as long as workers shared in the benefits. Where welfare should be reformed and work emphasized. Where crime was an individual choice and was damaging to society and therefore should be prevented and punished. In many ways, neoliberalism was a better fit for the US, which is a fairly conservative country. I'm not sure why the US is such a conservative country, but it has been that way for quite a long time, maybe throughout our history. 

Yes, neoliberalism made sense. I was very much a neoliberal. But it failed to address some huge issues, though, to be fair, no other political ideology handled the issues either. The big issue was the hollowing out of American manufacturing. This affected jobs everywhere, but most strongly in the cities, where urban populations were left without decent sources of income. 

Maybe even more so, no one has found an answer to the worsening income inequality, which makes all sorts of economic situations worse. The opportunities to work hard and better oneself are diminished for all but the most entrepreneurial and risk-hardy. Job security becomes less and less, and that also means that people don't have security in their health insurance and healthcare. The middle class has been getting more and more insecure. The lower class have always been insecure, with even less chance for improvement. 

So on fundamental issue of economic well-being, neoliberals have failed the US, as has everyone. 

If I'm right and the fundamental issue is economic well-being, what should the policy plans be? That's the topic of a different post. 


Extras. I found a relevant article after I wrote this. It's more historical than mine. It also fails to have an alternative. 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

May/June links

(Catching up on posts started a while ago. This one originally written around so long ago it's embarrassing)

The man who recorded the confrontation and death of Ahmaud Arbery, he was very nervous about his role in the incident. He tried to distance himself and wished for justice for Arbery. Now he is also charged in the murder.

Michael Flynn in the news. Transcript of his call to the Russian ambassador.  The adviser to judge says no, you can't just drop charges against someone who pleaded guilty.

Egregious incident of stalking and harassment by ebay security employees. ebay!!!!

Trouble counting lots of absentee ballots. States need to step up and make this work better.

Qanon is strange and fascinating - not what they write, but how people are responding to this weirdness and hokey conspiracy thing.

Bolton's book, delayed by the Trump administration, showed that quid pro quo was actually standard for Trump.

According to Steve Bannon, Trump's campaign is wobbling. Trump needs to be the president and take care of the problems, like the huge covid crisis.

Interesting law ruling from the Supreme Court that concerns tribal lands. It expands the power and independence of the tribes.


Looking back at New York City and the pandemic

(Catching up on posts started a while ago. This one originally written around 6/13/20.)

Hindsight is 20/20, they say, but Google helps sort out what we knew when. I was having an online argument with someone who said that we knew 'within a few days' that covid-19 affected mostly people over the age of 65. But did we? (No, we didn't. There were plenty of younger patients needing hospitalizations, and we didn't have a good idea of who would live and who would die until about March 20, and even then we didn't if it would be different in locales in the US.)

I also decided to check the run-up to the surge in NYC. I found two great contrasting views. The first is that the Health Department in NYC is excellent and has managed so many medical issues, so they will manage well (March 5). The other view, from an ER doctor (March 2), was that they weren't prepared at all. They didn't have tests that they needed, and they were about to be deluged. Hundreds in a few days, thousands by next week. The ER doc was right on the timing, the numbers, and the deluge.

The deluge came March 19. The number of cases nearly doubled that day. It was only one day after Governor Cuomo announced measure for reducing workforce exposure by allowing only 50% capacity at workplaces. Just two days later he announced all non-essential workplaces must close.

So New York went very quickly from a few cases to hospitals being swamped. With so little testing available, they didn't see the growing numbers but in early March, the ER doctor did, but there wasn't proof by testing. A little over two weeks later, there was the surge of admissions of those too sick to weather the illness at home. That was not so different from in Italy, where they were blase about covid-19 at the end of February, and suffered their surge on March 8.

(I may add more later.)