Friday, October 30, 2009

Excellent Paul Krugman article on Health Care

It's an oldie but a goodie. Read it here.

Here's a basic statement of one fundamental irrationality in our private health insurance system:

[T]he only way modern medical care can be made available to anyone other than the very rich is through health insurance. Yet it's very difficult for the private sector to provide such insurance, because health insurance suffers from a particularly acute case of a well-known economic problem known as adverse selection. Here's how it works: imagine an insurer who offered policies to anyone, with the annual premium set to cover the average person's health care expenses, plus the administrative costs of running the insurance company. Who would sign up? The answer, unfortunately, is that the insurer's customers wouldn't be a representative sample of the population. Healthy people, with little reason to expect high medical bills, would probably shun policies priced to reflect the average person's health costs. On the other hand, unhealthy people would find the policies very attractive.

You can see where this is going. The insurance company would quickly find that because its clientele was tilted toward those with high medical costs, its actual costs per customer were much higher than those of the average member of the population. So it would have to raise premiums to cover those higher costs. However, this would disproportionately drive off its healthier customers, leaving it with an even less healthy customer base, requiring a further rise in premiums, and so on.

Insurance companies deal with these problems, to some extent, by carefully screening applicants to identify those with a high risk of needing expensive treatment, and either rejecting such applicants or charging them higher premiums. But such screening is itself expensive. Furthermore, it tends to screen out exactly those who most need insurance.

Can you see how these deep-seated structural problems with private insurance will be solved either by the current 'reform' bill, or by a 'public option'? Neither can I.

The often-repeated mantra on the "center left" that we need to sit down, crunch numbers, and try anything and everything that might "work" is disingenuous. All of this faux-pragmatist garbage from Obama is not only false, but patronizing. We don't need to sit around and listen to 'all the best ideas' and continue to be 'open minded'. We need to realize that the 'conversation' going on right now isn't a discussion among fair-minded participants all aiming at getting things right; the 'conversation' is merely a proxy for a political struggle between divergent interests (e.g. maintaining the economic power of some vs. realizing universalizable interests like securing universal coverage).

The "pragmatic" truth here is that it is obvious what a rational, just, efficient health care system would look like. Despite the complications introduced into the discussion by Obama and co., this is not a complicated issue whatsoever. The only complicated question here should be how to most effectively fight against powerful industry interests and free-market fundamentalism.

Here's a simple question that we are publicly barred from asking: what purpose should our health care institutions serve? In other words, what should be the raison d'etre of insurance as an institution?

Answer: to provide the best quality health care to the greatest number of people for the lowest cost.

This seems painfully obvious. But think about what this 'purpose' is not: ensuring that doctors and hospitals earn maximally high amounts of money, ensuring that the interests of health industry investors are put above all else, etc.

The first principle of insurance is that the larger the pool of people inside, the lower the risk for all. A trivial feature of market exchanges is that when you buy in larger quantities, you get lower prices because you have more bargaining power as a consumer. Whole-sale is cheaper than retail.

The obvious next step would be to conclude that a rational and efficient health insurance scheme would include everyone (to minimize risk) and would use its massive purchasing power to get better deals with health providers. In other words, the obvious conclusion is that single-payer is the most rational and efficient means of attaining the ends identified above as the purpose of health insurance (to cover the most people for the lowest cost). The fact that single-payer would completely eliminate the absurd bureaucratic waste (from screening, advertising, unnecessary forms, overhead, etc.) required by having tons of different private insurers is only icing on the cake.

Here's another question: what is the purpose or raison d'etre of the massively fragmented web of private insurance companies that constitute a large bulk of our system?

Answer: they exist to make profit for those who own them, full stop.

The incentives driving the organizational structure and actions of these institutions are reducible to a drive to make money. Everything else is instrumental in realizing that obvious goal. What benefits the system may yield for some are merely incidental.

Why then is anyone surprised that our health system does such a terrible job? It isn't even designed to do what any reasonable person agrees is the raison d'etre of health insurance. But what it is designed to do, it does quite well.

Getting upset that our health insurance system is 'flawed' is like getting angry at pencil sharpener for not being a toaster.

Our system is irrational, inefficient, unnecessarily labyrinthine, and unjust. A 'reform' effort that countenances any of these profound problems is anything but. As Krugman put it in 2006:
So what will really happen to American health care? Many people in this field believe that in the end America will end up with national health insurance, and perhaps with a lot of direct government provision of health care, simply because nothing else works. But things may have to get much worse before reality can break through the combination of powerful interest groups and free-market ideology.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Free" Market Health Care

Read all about it here.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Richard Seymour on Royal Mail Strike

Excellent post on the strike and what's at stake here.

Seymour ties it to a larger context toward the end:

These myths - about union intransigence, about the economic necessity of job losses, about the superior efficiency of private competitors, etc. - are being deployed for the purposes of turning a low-cost public service provider into a marketplace of competing providers in accordance with the extraordinarily resilient neoliberal orthodoxy. This brings with it the usual problems - soaring costs, as companies seek to make a profit, duplication of capacity as they fight for market share, and poorer service as low paid, casualised and de-unionised workers are less committed to the job, and less likely to have the time and training necessary to develop their skills. Royal Mail, for all its faults, is one of the last bargains in town. Less than forty pence for a first class letter to anywhere in the UK is nothing. What else would you spend that money on? You couldn't even buy a pint of milk or a Mars bar with that money.


More evidence that today's global capitalism is 'frictionless'

Haven't you heard? The language of class antagonism is outmoded, and capitalist social relations bring freedom and development for all.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Superfreakonomics" Quackery

Call it hokum, drivel, tripe, balderdash, bs. Call it what you like. My biggest problem is that a lot of it is just false.

Here's a nugget from "Superfreakonomics" (no, I'm not joking about title).

"Then there's this little-discussed fact about global warming: while the drumbeat of doom has grown louder over the past several years, the average global temperature during that time has in fact decreased..."
But as economist Brad DeLong points out, this is baloney:
As best as I can see from, this year is:
  • 1/5 of a degree F warmer than last year
  • the same temperature as 2007 and 2006
  • 1/7 of a degree F cooler than 2005
  • 1/10 of a degree F warmer than 2004
  • the same temperature as 2003 and 2002
  • 1/7 of a degree F warmer than 2001
  • 2/5 of a degree warmer than 1999 and 2000
  • the same temperature as 1998
  • and warmer than every single other year since the start of the Industrial Revolution--a full degree F warmer than 1960, for example.

How do you get from that temperature record to the statement that "over the past several years... average global temperature... has in fact decreased"?
Right. And my next question is: are we going to be stuck walking by this on display tables as we enter Borders for the next 5 years? Ugh. In the long run, though, I feel like we can rest assured that ephemeral swells of the publishing industry such as this will probably just be fodder for garage sales in, say, 10 years time.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

G.A. Cohen's "Why Not Socialism?" has been telling me via email for months that I "should" buy G.A. Cohen's Why Not Socialism (2009: Princeton UP). I recently gave in and ordered it.

The format is similar to Harry Frankfurt's (surprising) bestseller On Bullshit: very short, elegantly concise and "small enough to fit in a coat pocket."

I found it to be a quick, enjoyable read. I felt that it captured the ethical core of what has, in general, animated and moved the socialist complaint against market society. But passionate and committed as Cohen's account is in putting forward the case, he is still quite sober about the challenges facing the feasibility of socialism. But for me this only makes his case more strongly that the "the question that forms the title of this book is not intended rhetorically".

The book begins by drawing attention to the way people interact on camping trips, which, Cohen argues, is a case where we strongly favor a socialist form of life over feasible alternatives. On a camping trip,

There is no hierarchy among us; our common aim is that each of us should have a good time, doing, so far as is possible, the things that she or he likes best (some of those things we do together; others we do separately). We have facilities with which to carry out our enterprise: we have, for example, pots and pans, oil, coffee, fishing rods, canoes, a soccer ball, decks of cards and so forth. And, as is usual on camping trips, we avail ourselves of those facilities collectively: even if they are privately owned things, they are under collective control for the duration of the trip, and we have shared understandings about who is going to use them and when, and under what circumstances, and why.
To drive the point home, Cohen imagines what it would be like if we were to run a camping trip according to market principles and strict private-ownership. Here's one example:
Following a three-hour time-off-for-personal-exploration period, an excited Sylvia returns to the campsite and annouces: "I've stumbled upon a huge apple tree, full of perfect apples." "Great," others exclaim, "now we can all have applesauce, and apple pie, and apple strudel!" "Provided, of course," so Sylvia rejoins, "that you reduce my labor burden, and/or furnish me with more room in the tent, and/or with more bacon at breakfast." Her claim to (a kind of) ownership of the tree revolts the others.
Cohen's point is that most of us would hate this. We'd correctly complain that Sylvia, in the case imgained above, was being a schmuck.

Now this isn't yet to mount a serious argument for socialism on a wide-scale; it's only to make plausible the principles that we seem to strongly prefer on camping trips (but also, when there are natural disasters and in other cases as well...). But what are theses principles that are implicit in the camping trip?

Cohen argues that there are two: an egalitarian principle (a radical version of equality of opportunity) and a principle of community.

By radical equality of opportunity, Cohen means, simply, that social justice abhors the arbitrary. In other words, factors that limit (or expand) a person's life chances or opportunities on the basis of arbitrary circumstances or chance are unjust; one's relative standing with respect to others should (on the basis of justice alone) owe to nothing except that person's choices and preferences. A person's opportunities should be in no way be limited on the basis of the family she is born into, her initial class status, her race, her natural endowments and talents, etc.

But this version of equality of opportunity, Cohen points out, is consistent with certain kinds of inequality. Importantly, it permits inequalities that result from (1) regrettable choices that people make as well as (2) from what philosophers call "option luck". The familiar case that explains (1) is the parable about the grasshopper and the ant. But (2) is a bit more complex. "Option luck" is tantamount to a deliberate gamble: imagine a case in which two people with equal opportunities both deliberately gamble on something that has 50/50 odds. They both make a similar choice but one ends up with a lot more than the other as a result. Call this "standard gambling".

Now (2) is called "option luck" because it's a deliberate, chosen gamble which was avoidable. But Cohen points out that "market gambling differs strongly from standard gambling" in that the "market is hardly avoidable in a market society... The market, one might say, is a casino from which it is difficult to escape, and the inequalities that it produces are tainted for that reason." He continues:
Whatever else is true, it is certainly safe to say that the yawning gulf between rich and poor in capitalist countries is not largely due to luck and the lack of it in optional gambling, but is rather a result of unavoidable gambling and straightforward brute luck, where no kind of gambling is involved.
So that's the "egalitarian principle". The other principle, community, is characterized by the anti-market norm whereby you serve somebody not on the basis of fear or greed (the dominant characteristics of purely market-based relations), but on the basis of serving them and being served by them in a reciprocal way. "Communal reciprocity", Cohen notes, is a "committment to my fellow human beings as such", not a kind of interaction based on instrumentally maximizing your own benefit by using people most efficiently.

The remainder of the book is devoted to showing that these principles are both desirable and feasible on a wide scale.

Importantly, Cohen makes the point that there are two senses in which socialism might be infeasible: (1) because 'human nature' is allegedly fundamentally selfish and/or because we lack the proper "social technology" to make it happen, or (2) because "any attempt to realize the socialst ideal runs up against entrenched capitalst power".

It's (1) that he's interested in here, since (2) is a question of tactics and strategy about which it is difficult to say anything general.

What Cohen has to say about (1) is honest and convincing. He's not convinced by the "we're too selfish" objection, but he is convinced that we (socialists) don't yet have an institutional scheme that fully fits the principles outlined above. There are plenty of options more desirable than laissez-faire, to be sure. But there is no magic fix, no easy solutions to how to organize a society according to socialist principles. But, and this is crucial, this does not mean that we, in principle, cannot ever devise such technological/institutional arrangements. In fact, the technological/prudential considerations here say nothing of the worthiness of the principles outlined above, so if we really do find them convincing we ought to keep trying, no matter how hard, to realize them as long as we believe they are more desirable than the instrumental reason and fear/greed motivations of markets.

Timely as this is, I've yet to see it on the shelves at Borders or Barnes and Noble. Hopefully that changes. It would certainly be biting if Americans went crazy over a tiny book (by a philosopher) about bullshit, but yawned and failed to even notice a comparable book about justice.


Monday, October 12, 2009

More on Obama's tepid centrism

From Greenwald @ Salon, here's a nice follow-up on the issue Arvilla draws our attention to and comments on. And here's another bit on Rahm, Obama and the issue of pressure and organization.

In passing, I think it's important to point out that the recent march on Washington for equality was probably the most significant progressive political event in the U.S. during Obama's reign so far. If nothing else, what the Obama phenomenon has made clear for me is that the Democratic Party is not a progressive force in this country; it is by and large an institution that will only enact significant reforms when there is organized pressure from the Left to do so.


As if we needed more proof that he's a moderate

Next time one of my friends on the left tries to tell me Obama is a leftist hiding in center-left clothing for the sake of political pragmatism, I'll show them this quote from a White House official, which came out yesterday in an NBC report about the White House's response to critics of Obama's handling of LGBT issues (via Pam's House Blend):

Barack Obama is doing well with 90% or more of Democrats so the White House views this opposition as really part of the Internet left fringe.

For a sign of how seriously the White House does or doesn't take this opposition, one adviser told me those bloggers need to take off the pajamas, get dressed, and realize that governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult.

This man is not our ally.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Long article on Die Linke in ISJ

Read it here.


Newsmax lunatic calls for US Coup

Read about it here. Evidently Newsmax backed off the article and has since retracted it. Here's a nice chunk:

There is a remote, although gaining, possibility America’s military will intervene as a last resort to resolve the “Obama problem.” Don’t dismiss it as unrealistic. [...]

Military intervention is what Obama’s exponentially accelerating agenda for “fundamental change” toward a Marxist state is inviting upon America. A coup is not an ideal option, but Obama’s radical ideal is not acceptable or reversible.

Unthinkable? Then think up an alternative, non-violent solution to the Obama problem. Just don’t shrug and say, “We can always worry about that later.”

Yup. There you have it folks. This waco-type violent paranoia is definitely gaining ground with Obama in the White House, which is as painfully clear an indication as any that reactionary forms of racist hatred still animate substantial sectors of the United States.

All McVeigh-type lunacy aside for a moment, what's most frustrating about this totally absurd narrative about Obama as a radical, 'Marxist', etc. is that it isn't even a recognizable exaggeration of what his presidency is about. If Obama were another FDR or LBJ, it would be an absurd exaggeration to say that he was a radical leftist. But at least it would be identifiable as an wild exaggeration of the character of some policies those presidents put forward (e.g. social security, Medicare, etc.).

I'm not even sure I'd want to say that calling Obama a 'radical' is a wild exaggeration in the above sense. For that to be true, it would have to be an exaggeration of something recognizably progressive that he's doing... but what is that?

What is it about Obama's policies that is pissing these lunatics off so much? What has he done that is so radical or 'fundamental' or 'irreversible'? I wish that he had even tried to do anything that fits the bills above, but it's not even clear that that's true. In so many ways, his presidency has been continuous with Bush, but the Fox News coterie of wackjobs certainly wasn't pulling this teabagging coup garbage while W was in office. What's going on here? What are they so angry about?

I suspect that much of this violent day-dreaming about the 'Obama Problem' has little to do with policies. Most of this is just racism pure and simple. No one needs any reminding about the 'birther' stuff and how much traction that got.

But there is a grain of truth to the conviction that something 'irreversible' has occurred with Obama, a black man, taking office: it was a massive blow (although hardly the final knockout) to the racism that this country was founded on and continues to be deeply infected with. And surely the paranoid bigots slurping up this sort of Newsmax tripe sense that their 'cause' is losing a long-term battle here.

Still, as someone staunchly on the Left, however, it's beyond frustrating for me to watch an emerging Right-wing backlash with no Left-wing stimulus that seems to be provoking it. It's like we're getting all of the bad reactionary baggage and none of the good that actually comes out of having a movement truly aiming to enact radical change. We get the teabagger backlash on the one hand, and a phantom "left" threat on the other. We get a Congress so tepid that it isn't even fair to call them paper-dragons, meanwhile the marginalized GOP has basically adopted Sen. Joe McCarthy's rhetorical playbook.

But why is it that in America it's as though you're always being made to navigate between reactionaries and tepid centrists? The only repose to this proto-fascist lunacy cannot just be a wholesale defense of Obama and the Democrats. But that's the either/or we're always been contorted to accept when politics only appears to us as the dialectic of lesser evils.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize

The story is developing here.

But really, wtf has this man done for peace, aside from talk?


Sunday, October 4, 2009

NYTimes Steaming Pile: Follow Up

Socialism dying a slow, horrible death in Europe.


Will California Become the US's First Failed State?

That's the title of a sharp article penned recently in the Guardian. As the author points out:

From its politics to its economy to its environment and way of life, California is like a patient on life support. At the start of summer the state government was so deeply in debt that it began to issue IOUs instead of wages. Its unemployment rate has soared to more than 12%, the highest figure in 70 years. Desperate to pay off a crippling budget deficit, California is slashing spending in education and healthcare, laying off vast numbers of workers and forcing others to take unpaid leave. In a state made up of sprawling suburbs the collapse of the housing bubble has impoverished millions and kicked tens of thousands of families out of their homes. Its political system is locked in paralysis and the two-term rule of former movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger is seen as a disaster – his approval ratings having sunk to levels that would make George W Bush blush.
But the most striking image in the article is the following:
Outside the Forum in Inglewood, near downtown Los Angeles, California has already failed. The scene is reminiscent of the fallout from Hurricane Katrina, as crowds of impoverished citizens stand or lie aimlessly on the hot tarmac of the centre's car park. It is 10am, and most have already been here for hours. They have come for free healthcare: a travelling medical and dental clinic has set up shop in the Forum (which usually hosts rock concerts) and thousands of the poor, the uninsured and the down-on-their-luck have driven for miles to be here.
And, of course, California is in the process of cutting its "healthy families" program which enrolls millions of the poorest children in the state.

Now the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of California, for many, is "It is the Golden State: a playground of the rich and famous with perfect weather. It symbolizes a lifestyle of sunshine, swimming pools and the Hollywood dream factory."

California is a rich state.

In California, as in every capitalist economy on the planet, the amount that's socially produced by all far exceeds the amount needed to meet the subsistence needs of everyone in the state. This is called a social surplus, because it's socially-produced through a massive web of coordinated social labor that involves nearly everyone in the entire state.

Yet, given that there is a large surplus, how is it that so many Californians continue to go without the most basic needs? Why are institutions designed to meet those needs (healthcare, education, and so on) being placed on the chopping block when, despite a deep recession, there continues to be a very large (indeed much larger than most economies in the world) social surplus?

As it currently stands, a fraction of the surplus is taxed, while the majority of it is appropriated by a very small percentage of the population. Note that the state budget only pertains to that (relatively) small fraction of the surplus which is taxed and used for public spending.

But the obvious question here is: why are very, very well-off Californians allowed to sequester themselves in their gated communities and, in effect, hoard large swaths of the social surplus while so much widespread misery ensues throughout the state?

Why is it that the rich are so keen on participating in society in boom-times when they're earning large sums of cash, but when hard times hit they suddenly withdraw and claim independence?

To take a rather extreme example, imagine that there are three households in an isolated small town. Due to a serious crisis beyond the control of the town, two of those households (through no fault of their own) are facing a serious shortage of food. But the third household has a massive surplus of food stored up that far exceeds the needs that they will ever need in a lifetime to sustain themselves.

Now from the standpoint of community, say a discussion involving all three households about how best to arrange social policy in the town, the obvious thing to do is for the household with a massive surplus to cede some of it to meet the needs of those facing starvation. The thought is that although the household with the surplus may have attained it through legitimate market transactions, the human needs of the community trump the preservation of market distributions of property. In other words, the community should ask: what is more important at this moment, property titles or human well being?

California's 'budget cut fatalism' answers strongly that property titles are its priority, not human well being.

But, some will object, why should property titles be weighed against anything at all? The reason that we should weigh property rights against general welfare is because property rights are only created and made possible through social cooperation, through having a community that recognizes and legitimates them.

The people that have large surpluses of capital today, could not have amassed it apart from a massive scheme of social cooperation. Given that everyone's help was needed, in a broad sense, to make all of this possible, everyone should have a say in what the most important priorities and values of that society are.

We are already doing this implicitly, insofar as we tax the surplus, but this fact is often ignored in favor of illusory, mythical rhetoric about how "in America, we don't spread the wealth".

All governments, in virtue of what they are, redistribute the social surplus in some way. Even if we had the Newt Gingrich-favored "flat tax", it would still be redistributive (i.e. spreading the wealth) because the wealthy would pay more in real terms than the poor (i.e. 10% of a million is a lot more than 10% of 10,000/yr).

We're already cooperating and coordinating our actions on a large scale. We're already redistributing part of the social surplus. So given what's already going on, why can't we have a discussion about whether this is done effectively or fairly? Why is it that this concrete fact of our social life is masked, while we are bombarded with endless fatalist laments about how we "must" cut education budgets, throw students out on the street, lay off millions of workers, let infrastructure crumble, etc. ?

Again, California is a rich state. The fundamental egalitarian thought is that there is something absurd and profoundly unjust about a situation in which some have massive stockpiles of the surplus (far exceeding what anyone could ever need) while a large number of others go without the most basic human necessities. And, for me, it's not just that the wealth are 'failing to do their duty' in not giving more.... it's that they are actively doing something socially harmful in hoarding what they've got and refusing to cede any of it to ameliorate a massive amount of suffering.

Laying more people off, cutting more essential services, strangling one of the most effective and prestigious university systems in the world, in short causing untold amounts of misery, is not the only course of action here.

When there are natural disasters, "price gouging" (i.e. undertaking legitimate market transactions and cashing-in on human suffering) is an illegal act in many states. Although price gouging is a run-of-the-mill market transaction in most respects, it is banned precisely because the human costs of the practice far outweigh the alleged benefits (i.e. keeping markets and property rights sacrosanct). Price gouging bans, in effect, are a case of existing law in which social welfare trumps market imperatives, and human needs trump property rights. This isn't a foreign idea: there are many more "American" examples.

So given that this is already happening in so many different situations today... why not have a broader, more inclusive discussion about what our social priorities should be writ large? Why not have a big discussion about whether in hard times, the property-rights line really should trump the social well being of many members of our community? This is supposed to be a democratic society.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Revealed: millions spent by lobby firms fighting Obama health reforms

The guardian's got the story.


Real Sustainability

Yes, of course individual choices matter and we should not let individual consumption habits off the hook.... but changing the basic infrastructure of food production, transport and the physical organization of living spaces and is what's going to have to happen if we're ever going to have a sustainable society.

Buying organic milk is an important step that has concrete consequences... but this mere act alone is hardly going to shake the structural problems that are destroying the environment. And that organic consumption, as a "niche market", has so comfortably adjusted to the current coordinates of capitalism should make us suspicious. The problem isn't merely 'lifestyle choices' or consumption habits. It's literally, as Owen points out, the physical organization of our lives: exurbs and suburbs, low-density developments that require heavy car usage, centralized corporate food production, huge single-family homes with massive irrigated lawns, etc.

Owen's absolutely right: if we're ever going to have a sustainable society, we're going to have to radically reject the post-war fantasy world of single-family homes with white picket fences with huge garages, family cars, suburb and exurb life as 'typical', etc.

It's one thing to moralize and blame individual people for not giving up their cars in a place in which driving is encouraged or required by 99% of the infrastructure. It's another to talk about creating concrete alternative modes of transportation on a large scale, that would facilitate the phasing out of the car. It's another to talk about rethinking car production, and gradually re-deploying the workers in the auto industry into new productive efforts directed towards making the things that a sustainable society would need (tons more buses, trains, wind-power turbines, etc.).

Americans didn't become addicted to cars by some strange accident: they were slowly hooked and forced into it by a convergence of factors (marketing, government subsidy, creation of interstate system, etc.), but the most important one was the massive proliferation of sprawling post-Levittown suburbs from the 50s onward. Before the 50s, the vast majority of Americans did not own a car... and our infrastructure reflected that fact. Towns were walkable and things people needed (food, entertainment, bars, stores, etc.) were close by. It wouldn't have made sense in the 1920s to build the kind of sprawling nightmares we see today: most people wouldn't have been able to get anywhere.

Taking a look at the recent past would do the sustainability movement a lot of good. It sounds like a pipe-dream to think that our society could make the changes necessary to be sustainable. But the fact is that for the most part the technology and know-how is already there to make it happen, and it's not cutting edge stuff that I'm talking about. Most of what we need to do is simply give up the wasteful excess that we've come to expect from the 50s onward. A lot of what needs to happen is that we need to forgo certain 'technological advances' that have done little else except manufacture new 'needs' and place convenience above all other relevant considerations. We managed fine for most of the 20th century without heavy reliance on the automobile, and many people all over the world do just fine today without a car at the center of their lives.


A Steaming Pile in the NyTimes, part zwei

Take a ganders at this monstrosity.

There's so much loaded into this inept assemblage of bullshit that it's difficult to know where to begin.

The article begins:

A specter is haunting Europe — the specter of Socialism’s slow collapse."
Don't you love the nuanced treatment of political conditions in Europe? Or the detailed treatment of "socialism"? Who knew... apparently socialism is just the vote tally of social-democratic (or, as the case may be, soft neoliberal 'third-way') parties.
"German voters clobbered the Social Democratic Party on Sunday, giving it only 23 percent of the vote, its worst performance since World War II."
My my. It's as though the SPD has no history, no recent political past, no identity at all. It's a lot easier to just call them "socialist" and say that because they got clobbered, people in germany must hate socialism. In reality, the SPD got clobbered precisely because they are so pathetically right-wing; they lost support precisely because their strategy of trying to be CDU-lite has alienated their constituents. Yes, Conservatives have shed their SPD coalition partners, but its crucial to note that CDU (the "union") did not radically increase their vote tally since 2005. What's changed is that the SPD got hammered, while the Left Party (Die Linke) and the right-wing FDP made impressive gains. Because the right-wing FDP made sizable gains, the CDU is able to form a wholly right-wing coalition without the SPD.

Before the article bothers to finish up with the German situation, we get a nuanced, detailed analysis of Spain:
In Spain, the Socialists still get credit for opposing both Franco and the Iraq war.
Ugh. Is this all the NYTimes has to offer in the way of political analysis of spain's current conditions? And they say this like opposing the Iraq War and trashing fascism are bad things... If there actually was a party in the United States who opposed the Iraq War I'd give them credit too. Wow, those poor anti-war dupes in Spain. Don't they read the New York Times? Don't they know that socialism is passe?

All we hear about Die Linke is:
In Germany, the broad left, including the Greens, has a structural majority in Parliament, but the Social Democrats, in postelection crisis,must contemplate allying with the hard left, Die Linke, which has roots in the old East German Communist Party.
Right... the "hard" left, who, evidently, are all really just a bunch of Stalinists. Whew. Glad we don't have to think seriously about what they have to say. Who knew that "hard" left had to do with:
-- A safety net for everyone
-- Put people's social interests and needs first
-- For a just and future-oriented society
-- Protect democracy and civil rights
-- Peace and social justice
-- Consistently social for democracy and peace
That was Die Linke's "Six Point Program" that they ran on in the election. Scary shit, isn't it? Sounds like a bunch of silly Stalinist garbage if you asked me... I'm just glad we have real "change' coming to America from the sensibly centrist Obama Administration.

The best part of this article, however, has got to be this line:
Asked this summer if the party was dying, Bernard-Henri Lévy, an emblematic Socialist, answered: “No — it is already dead. No one, or nearly no one, dares to say it. But everyone, or nearly everyone, knows it.”, no. You read that correctly. No joke. Benny Levy is an "emblematic socialist", according to the folks over at the NYTimes. Doesn't anyone bother to edit this shit?

Hey, wait there's more:
The Socialist Party, with a long revolutionary tradition and weakening ties to a diminishing working class, is riven by personal rivalries.
Yes, the Parti Socialiste in France... paragon of revolutionary passion. What?!

The current PS in France was never a revolutionary force in French politics. Aside from a brief stint in power under Mitterand in the 70s/80s (which was formed as a coalition government with the participation of the French Communist Party), the PS has also never been a dominant party in France.

The PCF, on the other hand, was the main party of the Left in France for the entire post-war period up until its decline in the late 80s. Is it news to anyone that the Parti Socialiste can't seem to accomplish much of anything? The PS has been a consistent loser for the last 20 years straight (particularly embarrassing for this 'center left' party was the recent election when Lionel Jospin failed to make it to the second round of the presidential election, losing to fascist Jean-Marie LePen).

This hardly says anything about socialism as such, let alone the political situation in France. The NPA is an interesting development, but I suppose that doesn't fit the facile american "two party" frame of reference that the author of this article seems to prefer. Or maybe the NPA is just too 'hard' left to be worth commenting on.

So as though the BHL bs wasn't enough, the NYTimes felt it had to go in for another 'expert' with a semi-radical past who has since gone right-wing. According to the virulently anti-communist Tony Judt:
The French Socialist Party “is trapped in a hopeless contradiction,” said Tony Judt, director of the Remarque Institute at New York University. It espouses a radical platform it cannot deliver
Right, right... the problem with the PS in France is that it is "too radical". In reality, they've been veering further and further right to the 'center' for the last 20 years. They find themselves in the position today of being nearly indistinguishable from Sarkozy. Where Sarkozy opts for deep cuts, they stand for slightly less intense, more 'pragmatic' and 'centrist' cuts. But of course, none of these facts stops the 'third wayist' hacks from complaining every single election cycle that the problem with the neoliberal PS is just that they aren't sufficiently 'centrist'.

Next on the agenda of complex political situations to ineptly misunderstand and blather about: Italy. Now it's no surprise to anyone who follows these things that Italy's electoral left is in complete disarray. But there's a story to be told here. And it's got little to do with socialism, and a lot more to do with the increasing neoliberal turn on Italy's 'center-left'.

But who does the NYTimes talk to about this issue? Someone who any learned person could actually recognize as "left"? Nope, sorry... here's another third-wayist hack:
“We have to understand that Socialism is an answer of the last century,” Mr. Letta said. “We need to build a center-left that is pragmatic, that provides an attractive alternative, and not just an opposition.”
Noticing a trend? We hear a lot of the following buzzwords and phrases: pragmatism, socialism=dead, future-oriented, modernized, "new", "third way", centrist, etc....... I mean this isn't new language. This is a redux of the 1990s. All of these recommendations were already tried by the 'center left' Prodi government in the 90s, and look how well it turned out for Italy's electoral left.

But yeah.. right, it's clear that all the left in Italy needs to do is accept a little dose of 'reality' and try to 'modernize' and imitate Berlusconi, so that they can claim the mantle of "pragmatic" and "centrist". That's the future. That's where the new century is heading.

And just like the triumphant capitalist tone of the opening, the article ends with another hooray-for-capitalism bang:
Not an easy syllabus. But without that kind of reform, Mr. Judt said, “I don’t think Socialism in Europe has a future; and given that it is a core constitutive part of the European democratic consensus, that’s bad news.”
Yes, thanks for that Tony. Socialism in Europe has no future. Well, that's good enough for me...

Geez, NyTimes. Could you have found a more cynical old jerk to discuss the future of socialism with? Complete bullshit. Ahistorical, lazy, fatalist, tendentious garbage. American newspapers are a joke.


Socialist Worker on "Tucker Max"

It's frightening what some people think is funny.

I hadn't heard of this tool-bag before reading this article but it's pretty fucked up.

Read the article here.