There was a riot goin’ on, and a #BLM digression
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Donald Trump has been looking for the line for four years. At the start of 2021, he finally found it, and then he stomped all over it. Now for him and his maniacal supporters comes the whirlwind. There have been many identifications of the miscreants who sacked the Capitol, and not a few arrests. There will be many more. The prospects of the Republican Party, at least in the near term, are dim.

Senator Lindsey Graham observed in 2016 that Trump would destroy the Republican Party. I thought as much myself. Now it appears to be finally coming to pass. For a while I cheered on his nomination, until it stopped being amusing. I failed to reckon with the damage that could be done to the country in the interim, nor could I believe he could actually win a national election. I’m afraid I over-estimated his fellow Republicans and the mainstream media.

It is true that Trump retains the support of the bulk of the Republican Party. But this hard core is insufficient to elect people to national office, even under conditions of extreme voter suppression and gerrymandering. We saw the proof of that in Georgia, occurring before the infamous events of January 6th. Now the likelihood of centrists and independents voting R has become remote. The other side of this coin is that while the hard core of the movement will have more trouble winning elections, there is no end to the civic mischief it can cause.

In the riveting Handmaid’s Tale television series on Hulu, it is revealed that the Christian dominionists take power by busting into the Congress and machine-gunning everyone. That is a scenario I’ve been thinking about for the past few years. It seems implausible as a prelude to a successful revolution in the U.S., but now it is not as far from the realm of possibility as a terrorist threat. The fascist share of the citizenry may be too dumb to realize that such a thing could never work as a revolution, but smart enough to pull off a lethal attack with mass casualties. There are hints that something of that nature was afoot this week.

A crippled Republican Party brings some benefits but also some problems. The born-again anti-Trumpers will tend to collaborate with Democrats on some issues and weaken the status of their caucus in Congress, which will be a minority one to begin with. On the other hand, the fruits of Democratic/Republican collaboration are not promising. We will see talk of fixing the non-existent “entitlement problem” and babbling about the public debt.

To be sure, a neo-liberal regime is much to be preferred to a neo-fascist formation, but it presents a different strategic situation for progressive advocates and Members of Congress. With the thinnest of possible majorities in Congress, Democratic-sponsored legislation would be inordinately difficult. The Left would be reduced to promoting proposals with no immediate chance of enactment.

Now there is more chance of legislation passing, but it could be bad centrist legislation. This will require progressives to focus more on criticism than on positive alternatives. Of course, ‘you can’t be something with nothing.’ But neither can you beat something without explaining why it ought to be beaten.

The failure of the authorities this past Wednesday has been well-illustrated, though many questions remain to be answered. The contrast between police preparation for the Trumpist mob and perfectly civil #BLM demonstrators is stark. Reverend Raphael Warnock, soon to be Senator Warnock, was recently arrested in the Capitol for praying.

I would just like add that in fifty years of attending demonstrations in Washington D.C., never violent ones but occasionally naughty ones – peace marches, by and large – I have never seen a situation where police and soldiers were not overwhelmingly capable of making us go anywhere they wanted us to go, or stop us from going anywhere they didn’t want us to go. When a mob of hippies went to the Pentagon to vocalize Buddhist chants of Hare Krishna, we were met with soldiers wielding fixed bayonets.

Treatment of #BLM protests around the country has been a scandal, but we also have examples of brutality against multi-racial and white demonstrators. A recent example was the attack on demonstrators just across the street from the White House, for purposes of affording Trump a cheap photo-op in front of a church.

Another was a demonstration at the International Monetary Fund, in downtown D.C., in April of 2000. Police behavior there was egregious enough to cause the city to lose a civil case brought against it on behalf of the demonstrators, to the tune of $14 million. A similar episode transpired in 2009, also resulting in millions in damages imposed on D.C. At the tail end of the Clinton Administration, there were the massive, non-violent demonstrations in Seattle over the pending World Trade Organization agreements. Anyone who has attended protests of Democratic National Conventions, in cities run by Democratic mayors, can tell the same kind of stories.

The police presence, or lack thereof, is not a black thing. It’s a Left thing. Centering it on race, as far as demonstrations are concerned, is neo-liberal schtick that obscures a more fundamental truth.

Death of Freddie Gray - Wikipedia
Gray

Routine, outrageous police abuse of POC is of course a reality. But such treatment is common to cities run by black, liberal, Democratic politicians. One of the best examples was the eruption over the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland, a city government run top to bottom by African Americans. And what of the treatment of #BLM protesters in cities with African American mayors, such as Chicago, Richmond, or Washington, D.C.?

The travail of the victims screams out race, but the source of the victimization is founded on class.

“We don’t think you fight fire with fire best; we think you fight fire with water best. We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity.
We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism,
but we’re going to fight it with socialism.” — Fred Hampton, 1948-1969

The Current Political-Economic Conjuncture and the Twitter Policy Institute
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Even as Trump and his gang are being ushered off center stage, the inanity of Twitter raves on. Left Twitter. Rose Twitter. Jacobin Twitter. Why do so many feel compelled to opine so often on subjects about which they know so little? It is a mystery. All are welcome to play on my lawn. Just please try not to defecate on it quite so much, o.k.?

I am no more reluctant to criticize the incoming regime than anyone else. I have a long paper trail. I slammed Biden himself in the recent past. I’ve been hammering Democratic leadership for decades, including when I might have hoped to get jobs with them. Now all that is over. I am retired and solvent, my ambitions tempered. I can say any damn thing I want. I don’t need a full-time job that requires a 90-minute train ride twice a day, though out of curiosity I would accept the directorship of the CIA.

I recently wrote that criticism of Biden and company should be held in abeyance until they actually propose to do bad stuff. Of course, trial balloons for bad stuff deserve to be shot down. So too with appointments of objectionable people. But blanket condemnations, along with fantasies of getting anything done solely by extra-parliamentary agitation, are idiotic. Holding our breaths till we turn blue will not inaugurate Medicare For All. Agitating for MFA will empower friendly parties in the Administration and Congress to get Medicare for more.

The ideological confusion also pervades commentary on prospective appointments. Popular babble from the Twitter Policy Institute is similarly ill-informed. (I am not referring here to my friend, Matt B.)

Take Neera Tanden. (Please!) Her nomination to run the Office of Management and Budget was greeted with howls of disapproval. Why? Because she was nasty on Twitter, maybe got someone fired. Now, I’ve never met her, never worked for her, but really? She has been left of center her entire career. It’s easy to imagine much worse at the head of OMB. (Hello, Bruce Reed!)

It gets worse. Then we have Heather Boushey, who is well to the left of center. Unlike Tanden, she has a scholarly paper trail to prove it. We have testimony from people that she is a shitty boss. I’ve known her for over twenty years, though she’s been ignoring me for the last ten. So I don’t owe her anything. I have no first-hand information one way or another about her managerial practices.

In the high-pressure environment of political Washington, D.C., people run over other people. The closer to power, the denser the pit is with snakes. I repeat that I am totally agnostic about the truth of any accusations flying around. I neither support any charges nor reject any.

My point: IT DOESN’T FUCKING MATTER.

The indubitable fact remains: anyone complaining about either of these appointments has a dubious grounding in commitment to democratic socialism or to social-democracy. Some things are more important than others. Among the most important is the political-economic framework guiding the incoming Administration. So many other things depend on that, and that depends on who gets the relevant jobs.

You know what matters? The appointment to director of the National Economic Council, who could end up being an unhelpful filter for good analyses and proposals that come from elsewhere in the Administration. It may be a fellow named Brian Deese, from Blackrock, Inc., one of the leading investment firms in the country. The possibility of his appointment has provoked hardly any reaction. I’m reminded of the pointless defenestration of Senator Al Franken. Can anyone not from Minnesota name his replacement or anything she has done?

You might argue, all this is easy for you to say. Nobody is asking you to take one for the team. But the truth is, you couldn’t know whether or not I’ve already taken one for the team. In any event, my own situation, present or past, is irrelevant to the truth of what I’m saying.

With respect to what matters the most, the incoming Council of Economic Advisers has to be very encouraging for the Left. Related is a new paper by Jason Furman and Larry Summers, both for what it says and for who is saying it. Furman was Obama’s chief economist, and Summers is the Bigfoot of Democratic Party economic policy.

The paper reflects a significant, positive evolution for Summers. I would say the same for Furman, except he hasn’t had as long a career and didn’t establish as negative a track record as Summers. The paper is tantamount to a papal encyclical from the Grand Poobahs of Democratic Party economic policy, and it signals a major change in direction. Furman and Summers radically raise the bar to austerity policies. They contemplate a huge expansion in public spending, financed by higher deficits. (I can’t resist adding that there are points in the paper that those of my ilk have been making for decades.) It gives the incoming CEA, as well as progressive advocates, a lot to work with.

I would still quibble on one point: their analysis is incomplete in the sense that it does not preclude a resort to so-called entitlement reform as a remedy for growth of the public debt. It’s hard to find any deficit hawks on the Democratic side these days, both because of the recession and after witnessing the perfidy of Republicans. The latter only worry about deficits when a Democrat is in the White House. But rejection of deficit reduction in the short- or medium-term does not preclude a commitment to it in the longer term.

Changes in Social Security or Medicare typically steer clear of effects on current or imminent beneficiaries. There is nothing complicated about scheduling benefit cuts that take hold ten years out, all the while campaigning for deficit spending in the present.

In other words, no matter what assurances we get about the irrelevance of deficit reduction under current circumstances, there is nothing in such assurances that precludes “entitlement reform” in the longer term. To make it more palatable, it will be described as “saving Social Security,” and it could be designed to be triggered by appropriate conditions in the slightly distant future. Once such a framework is in place, it is much easier for those who subsequently come into political power to tighten the screws.

Bottom line, the grand questions of political economy should not hinge on the course of Twitter beefs or disgruntled employees, however justified their grievances might be. Should the civil rights movement have been sidetracked because MLK was fooling around? I think not.

This should not be a hard call. Criticism of the Biden Administration will be effective to the extent it focuses on the right fights, not by maintaining an incessant, indiscriminate uproar.

Welcoming President Biden
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I’m seeing a bunch of lefty “O.K., now let’s go after Joe Biden.” I expect to be in that game myself, but some preliminary cautions are appropriate. At the very least, shouldn’t we hold back criticism until some proposals are rolled out? Some of them will be in the form of trial balloons, which can be shot down as needed. Others will be more forthright. In either case, our brickbats should be substantive.

The fate of Senate races in Georgia will of course be enormously consequential, but they don’t make as much difference when it comes to our longer-term aspirations. Whether or not the Senate ends up even (with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote), our vision for social transformation is the same. What is different will be the short-term bargaining situation.

One thing to avoid is binary, all-or-nothing responses. For instance, Biden will propose to expand coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Rejecting any such proposals because they are not “Medicare For All” would be unwise. The convenient and inconvenient thing about health care is that it is infinitely divisible along a continuum. There are always ways to get a bit more, or a bit less. Of course we should demand more than what we expect to get in the end. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with the M4A slogan.

Even so, Medicare For All is an empty box. I’m on Medicare, and I can assure you that in its present form, by itself, it is woefully inadequate as health insurance. M4A proposals in Congress substantially expand Medicare benefits and coverage. With a hostile Senate, expansion of Medicare will be daunting. It will also be a potent political demand. M4A will come to signify universal coverage, something hard to reject for Republicans who are up for election in 2022.

The Biden plan will put a ceiling, at least in the short term, over what is possible. Any such cap is — should be — vulnerable to criticism. Ironically, the more intransigent a Republican Senate could prove to be, the more flexibility it lends to the side of full-blown M4A. If McConnell refuses to deal and keeps his people in line, then there is no incentive to noodle with compromises. If the Senate isn’t blue by January, M4A can make it so in two years.

Aside from genuinely popular initiatives of the sort introduced by Bernie Sanders, Biden has another source of leverage: executive decisions that do not require legislation. Threats on this front might motivate some stray Republican votes on measures that do require legislation. We have every right to expect a blizzard of executive orders that fill the hopper and will be ready to go, the day after the inauguration. The other immediate priority is another Covid/recession relief measure, since anything negotiated with Mitch McConnell and Trump prior to January 20th is likely to be inadequate.

Two things worry me the most.

One is a return to the old-time religion of deficit reduction. Most Democrats have wised up to the political chicanery embodied in this issue. Republicans care about deficits when it comes to Democratic proposals, never when it comes to their own. The problem is, some Democrats, including some liberal economists, still think the national debt is a Problem. Like Obama, Biden might be gulled into some kind of ‘grand bargain’ that entails cuts in Social Security and Medicare and tax increases. It will be marketed as “Saving Social Security.” Such a decision would certainly lead to disaster in the next midterm elections, as did similar decisions by Bill Clinton in 1994 and Barack Obama in 2010. It would also pave the way for Trump: The Sequel in 2024.

The other thing that bothers me is the prospect of Biden returning to the traditional, bipartisan posture of U.S. world policeman hegemony that leads to debacles in Libya and Iraq. The flashpoints include North Korea and Iran. I count the latter as less likely since Biden would probably resurrect the agreement with Iran made by Obama. But by and large, this is an appetite that is never satiated. Ironically, Trump’s signal contribution to the national well-being lay in his aversion to any such grand-scale projects. His violence was focused on defenseless drone victims in the Middle East and desperate asylum seekers at the U.S. southern border.

One tip-off will be the new administration’s plans for the military budget. The need for the “empire of bases” or the ability to fight a couple of ground wars has never seemed less persuasive. The most evident threats to U.S. national security would seem to be in cyberspace, where meddlesome state actors and potential terrorists communicate.

The Chigago 7, Sorkinized
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Last night I watched “Trial of the Chicago 7.” Entertaining, nice acting, wildly inaccurate in key respects:

1. ‘Sorkinizing’ Abbie Hoffman into a liberal West Wing intern.

2. portraying SDSers as button-down nerds. In reality they (we) were as raggedy as the Yippies.

3. Inventing a romance between Jerry Rubin and a non-existent, sympathetic female undercover agent.

4. downplaying the abuse of Bobby Seale.

5. turning Fred Hampton from a man into a juvenile.

6. humanizing prosecutor Schultz, who was actually a pig.

7. turning Tom Hayden into a Boy Scout with the never-happened tribute to the war dead. A friend notes that Hayden showed up for the first day of the Weathermen’s “Days of Rage” antics.

So in general sanding off the rough edges of both sides. The Hoffman bit, with his fictional equating of elections with revolution, was the worst.

Bitches Get Shit Done
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With all the loose talk about negotiations over the next stimulus package, I am compelled to rise in defense of Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi. This is a new role for me. She is getting grief from the so-called Problem Solvers’ Caucus in the House and that nitwit, Andrew Yang. Rep. Ro Khanna, of whom I think well, has also brought some shade. The question has blown up in recent days after an interview Pelosi did with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

The short and inadequate summary of this debate is that the Administration has offered a $1.8 trillion relief package, in response to the Democrats’ proposal for a somewhat higher number. People hampered by low information, such as Blitzer, can’t really evaluate either proposal because they have no clue as to the contents of either proposal. In the interview, Blitzer just kept repeating “$1.8 trillion” as if he had an actual argument. He does not. The government does not necessarily solve problems by spending money. It matters how it is spent.

The conservative bias against the public sector is to apply reductionist criteria to policy. In this case, we are asked to fixate on the total ‘headline’ number in a proposal, or to elevate sending cash to individuals as the be-all and end-all of public policy. Even then, it matters how much cash, and to whom. From a radical standpoint, this is commodification writ large. Even from a mainstream economic standpoint, cash assistance is not a substitute for public services. In particular, we need money spent on services to deal with the pandemic, and we need aid to state and local governments, so that they can maintain the services that make civilized life possible.

The reductionist frame for stimulus is being championed by the right wing of the House Democratic Caucus, the aforementioned ‘problem solvers.’ This caucus consists of both Democrats and Republicans and thrives on the bogus polarization frame of U.S. politics: why or why can’t ‘both sides’ get together and get things done? The simple answer is that one side is deeply insane. A massive rebuke at the polls next month might bring some of them back to Earth, or it may simply shrink the Republicans in Congress to a more intransigent, hard core. That is a problem for later.

Blitzer accused Pelosi of being narrowly concerned with denying Trump any possible boost to his campaign. A compromise would give the stock market a bump up and provide a political win for Trump, but it is too late for the money to have any political effect on the ground before November 3. Even so, there is a case for denying Trump any such benefit, because he is the most awful president ever, remember?

It can also be said that Pelosi has the leverage. It’s a curious progressive critique to fault a Democratic leader for failing to exploit any such leverage. The criticism from the “problem solvers” makes more sense. The problem they are dedicated to solving, including a Member in my own state of Virginia named Abigail Spanberger (a former CIA agent), is getting elected in Trump-friendly districts.

Blitzer’s elementary-school understanding of politics, besides the implied, bogus “gridlock” idea, neglects the fact that there is no reason to think Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would let any compromise measure to come up for a vote in the Senate. Arguably, Mitch is looking past the impending defeat next month to considering how to sabotage a Biden Administration. Blocking stimulus now or before January 20 is one way to do that. Blitzer also asked, without embarrassment, why Pelosi didn’t call up the president and do the deal. Trump doesn’t operate that way. He doesn’t do things. He tweets.

I’ve never had much use for Pelosi. She’s a skilled legislative operator but has no policy vision. She needs a president to follow. In this case, however, grounds for criticism from the outside seem notably thin. Unless you can read minds, you don’t know the details of what is at issue in the negotiations. My guess is that the Democratic bill reflects a constructive use of funds, while the Republican proposals are a pile of stinking monkey crap. Which side are you on?

“The Comey Rule” and the Resistible Rise of Trump
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Live Updates: James Comey testifies on Russia probe, FBI's actions | Fox  News

Showtime’s two-day replay of Trump’s ascent to power is a useful repackaging of the entire disgraceful episode. It is evidently based on the perspective of James Comey himself, with all the possible biases that might entail.

The foundational bias is Comey’s judgment that he was compelled to torpedo the candidacy of Hillary Clinton to protect the Federal Bureau of Investigation. There is an historical parallel in the colossal flop of the Mueller probe. Mueller was similarly constrained in his pursuit of Trump, evidently in observance of Department of Justice conventions.

In both cases, neither of these lifelong Republicans seemed to have considered that their attempt to protect institutions in the near term would set the stage for their utter corruption subsequently. We see that now in the form of Attorney-General William Barr’s rubbishing of the Department of Justice.

A couple of characters’ reputations are well skewered in this account. The lead shitweasel is Rod Rosenstein, who betrayed Comey and the FBI. He had been on a high-level career track but was used and discarded by Trump. He is now mothballed at the elite King and Spaulding law firm. There are worse fates.

A bit more surprising was the nonfeasance of Obama Attorney-General Loretta Lynch, who permitted Comey to destroy Clinton and committed the blunder of meeting with Bill Clinton in the middle of this clusterfuck. She is now ensconced at the elite Paul, Weiss law firm. Obama himself could be accused of low energy throughout the affair.

And then there is Comey himself. Jeff Daniels plays him as if he has a stick up his arse. I wonder, does Comey realize it? If not, it explains a lot.

The story takes decided note of the Russia connections but does not overplay them. Indeed, there is no way to confirm the true extent and impact of Russian interference. Proof of collusion is also murky. And there’s not a lot of evidence the public cares much about Russia, one way or another. We’re a long way from Ronald Reagan’s bear-in-the-woods commercials.

The real locus of Trump Administration criminality is less in the Russian agent sphere than in the dazzling display of abuse of power and garden-variety graft, all for the most part arcane matters that fail to excite the public. The Democrats’ signal failure in this vein was trying to make more of the Russian side than could be supported and making little or nothing of all the other shit.

The Left’s conceptual difficulties here are twofold.

One is indifference to the national security frame used by the House, especially in the impeachment resolutions. Not surprisingly, the left is internationalist in orientation. There is no moral case for criticizing Russian interference, such as it was and is, while ignoring the long history of much more egregious acts by the U.S. government.

However, the case need not devolve to Cold War jingoism. After all, Russia is no longer Red, and V. Putin is no friend of the international working class. Any interference by Russia in any other nation’s politics cannot be welcome.

Second, we on the left are not instantly motivated to rise in defense of “The Rule of Law.” In the past, this formulation, or its more agitational cousin “Law and Order,” have been deployed against both legal protest and non-violent civil disobedience, frequently to justify criminal behavior by the authorities.

But there is a use for the law. Otherwise thousands of attorneys in the ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, etc. have been wasting their time. We want public officials to be bound by the law, rather than able to ignore it willy-nilly, as Trump does. We spend a lot of time trying to improve the law. The rule of law is flawed but potentially benefits us, at least to some extent. At the very least, it would be impossible to protest, organize against, or vote out a completely lawless regime. So be careful how you discount the Rule of Law.

“The Comey Rule” ties up with a bow the utter failure of ordinary criticism of Donald Trump and his Republican Party. As the recent debate showed, we are no longer in a political contest. Trump is running against democracy, and democracy is a law we need.

Means-Testing Without Tears
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For some time now, people on the left have been trying to compare universal benefits favorably to means-tested programs. A new effort by Meagan Day is highly debatable on basic points.

Means-tested benefits are said to limit eligibility and leave many needy behind, unlike ‘universal benefits.’ Unfortunately, there is no really existing universal benefit that remedies this problem, so we are committing the basic fallacy of criticizing an existing program by comparison to an idealized alternative. There is no reason a benefit founded on a means-testing formula could not be provided to anyone you might like.

The real rationale for means-testing is not that it deprives the unworthy of assistance. That is a straw man often deployed by the less progressive among us. It is that for any sub-group of the population, a means-tested program will be cheaper, or for any given amount of money, it can provide more assistance than a universal one. Advocates for universal benefits must compete with equally righteous left advocates for other types of spending. In practice, public funds are limited. (Also true in an MMT world, by the way.)

Another knock on means-testing is that it is more politically vulnerable to cuts. But this isn’t quite right either. In the U.S., cash benefits have certainly been obliterated, but health care benefits have expanded significantly, if one cares to track the trends in spending under Medicare and Medicaid. The food stamp program is still cranking as well. Here again, the non-existent universal cash benefit is held up as a superior alternative.

Right now (Sept. 2020), the case for Medicare For All is stronger than ever, but there is no evident parallel opportunity when it comes to cash assistance. The so-called Universal Basic Income (which is neither universal, nor basic) has become a popular subject of discussion, but its cost renders it a non-starter in any realistic budget debate.

A temporary version of UBI along the lines of assistance already rendered this year is more plausible. But that takes us a good way from the abstract ideal of a permanent, universal cash benefit.

Going forward, no UBI is going to provide an adequate or ‘basic’ income to all. It is worth focusing on reinstituting cash assistance, in the form of a negative income tax (which could be called a ‘family allowance’). The UBI chatter detracts from more likely efforts to provide income guarantees. The UBI is not the only way to provide a guaranteed income, and as I have argued elsewhere, far from the best way.

Our Genocidal President
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People seem to be confounded by Donald Trump’s repeated assertion that more testing for the virus has generated more cases. It sounds incredibly stupid on its face. Even for Trump, it is hard to believe he is that stupid, or that anyone is stupid enough to believe him. Actually, his statement makes perfect sense, in one perverse respect.

When Trump refers to cases, he is referring to the tragedies suffered by other people, people to whose welfare he is explicitly hostile. It is well-known that people of color have been more stricken with the virus, on average. When Trump says more testing brings more cases, he means that more testing imposes a greater communal obligation on the country by revealing more black and brown people requiring medical care, more absorption of hospital capacity, and often depending on subsidies from the government.

Of course, in absolute terms, more white people are getting sick and dying. But as in the debates on poverty, welfare, or food stamps, this reality gets erased, not least by white people at risk themselves. Susceptibility to the virus due to benighted financial circumstances, as with poverty, is a source of shame that needs to be glossed over. The pretense of poverty or the virus being a racial matter helps to insulate the Administration from criticism within its own racist constituencies.

At this writing, in the U.S. there are 157,000 recorded fatalities, with an end nowhere in sight. Without doubt, the actual total is higher, but 157,000 should be quite enough to commend the worst fate possible for our current overlords.

The president’s more recent babbling about saving the suburbs testifies to his dependence on racial politics. And if that isn’t enough, we also have the more recent story of political calculations within the White House associated with the idiot-child Jared Kushner that the virus was mostly a blue state problem that could be discounted in hopes of a more rapid economic recovery.

It is impossible to imagine a U.S. regime deserving of a worse fate than the current one. There is no comparison to Ronald Reagan or George Bush. Suggestions to the contrary reflect profound ignorance. To be sure, previous presidents have visited disastrous harm on other nations, as well as on the original, indigenous populations of the Americas. Under current circumstances, however, these comparisons are meaningless since there is no telling what calamities lie before us. The U.S. is not merely a danger to itself. It is a threat to the world.

The current danger can be tied to two types of error on the part of some on the left. The obvious one is any ghost of an implication that Joe Biden would be no better than Trump. We might ask, is there any fatality count prior to the election that would lead one to reconsider this premise, assuming 157,000 is not enough?

The other is more arcane, the difference between cash transfers and what economists call “public goods.” Most of my career has been about cash transfers, to families and to state and local governments. Without doubt, people need cash. There is no getting around that. But people, especially lower-income people, also need public goods.

What is a public good? It is a good or service that can be shared without any reduction in a given individual’s use. If the government sends you $10 that you spend for personal consumption, nobody else benefits. The money could be subdivided into nickels, but the same stricture applies. But the extent to which that money is devoted to something that benefits many persons at the same time ‘supercharges’ the spending power of the government.

The preeminent public good today is public health. Free vaccines and treatments benefit the community as a whole, as do restrictions on behavior and regulation of commerce that reduce the incidence of the virus. Public goods equalize well-being by raising the floor of consumption, by expanding collective consumption.

Not a few on the left have become infatuated with schemes such as Universal Basic Income. Its other myriad deficiencies aside, no UBI can substitute for public goods. Only the very wealthy can afford to forego the benefits of public services and facilities, though even they are not entirely immune. Rich people have contracted and died from the virus too.

The obsession with cash is a surrender to commodification, a devolution from even a basic idea of communal well-being. Socialism means a lot more than equalization of personal money incomes.

More Notes on Police Reform
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The Mind of Black Lives Matter | National Affairs

I would split the agenda into macro and micro pieces. Macro includes over-arching efforts in social transformation. Micro policies are aimed narrowly at policing.

In the Macro category, we could start with the agenda of the Movement 4 Black Lives coalition (M4BL), which includes Black Lives Matter (BLM) proper (but not Deray McKesson). Their program is mainline democratic-socialist, or if you like, social-democratic (there is really no difference, AFAIAC). Where it would differ from, say, the platform of Bernie Sanders is the inclusion of pointedly anti-racist planks, such as Reparations and “End the War on Black People.”

I’ve written critically about Reparations in the past and don’t need to rehash that here. The rest of the M4BL platform is broad enough to command wide support.

The political question is how an explicit call for “abolition” or “defund” is understood by the public. Without some elaboration, it could be taken to mean a complete absence of police, which is clearly a non-starter. The problem with a utopian demand is that we abandon the field to reformers about whom we might harbor serious reservations. For instance, most liberal mayors, both black and white, have failed to come through these past four weeks with enhanced progressive credentials.

The flip side of “defund” is that it tends to be reduced to “cut the police budget.” No doubt some of that money could be devoted to better purposes, but it doesn’t say much about changes in police practices. In that sense, it isn’t all that radical.

Politicians are skilled at moving money around in a way that looks like changes have been made, while underneath it all, the result is what the pols wanted to do anyway. One can only verify a change in a government budget by reference to an unobservable counterfactual, which requires analysis not easily conducted by the lay public.

There’s nothing wrong with a radical, vague slogan, as far as street agitation is concerned. And if you drill down into the details of, say, M4BL’s “End the War on Black People,” there are all sorts of things worthy of support. I’d say the challenge is to surface the most important bits, so that when people hear “Defund the police,” they know what the next steps should be.

Imagine that in response to huge protests, a local government convenes a task force to develop specific proposals. They could all agree to “end the war on black people.” But where would it go from there? In Jesse Jackson’s terminology, the “tree-shakers” make such meetings possible. But we need “jelly-makers” to Get. Shit. Done.

What to do? Most broadly, we need a major shift in the balance of resources from police to social services, or as M4BL says, “Invest in Care, Not Cops.” Much of what police waste time in now could be done more intelligently and more humanely by social workers, mediators, counselors, and others. We don’t need traffic cops to be armed to the teeth. We could also lighten the burden on police by decriminalizing more, if not all, drug offenses. We could de-incentivize arrests and citation-writing, especially for completely non-criminal acts, such as failing to pay a parking ticket.

As I’ve noted before, desires for any such shifts are confounded by the current, miserable condition of state and local government budgets. Thanks to the virus and the economic shutdowns, unless Congress acts, there will be no new money to expand non-police public services. The police may be defunded to some extent, but so will everything else.

Ultimately, we will need armed officers with arrest powers to deal with violent criminals. There is no getting around it. If there’s an armed bank robbery in progress, sending a squadron of social workers is not going to fill the bill. Denial of this will just drive potential supporters of BLM etc. to apologists for less meaningful changes.

Secondly, political leaders should command police to focus on public safety, not counterinsurgency. There is no reason to expend vast amounts of manpower herding around crowds of peaceful demonstrators. There is no reason to use violence against someone doing nothing more than blocking traffic.

Then there are some possibilities in the micro bucket. Here the “8cantwait” menu provided by Campaign Zero and Deray McKesson is more relevant, though it should be noted that M4BL has loads of fairly specific proposals as well.

I’d like to note that in the mainstream media, McKesson is commonly associated with Black Lives Matter. He’s been a guest on ‘Oprah.’ He is networked into the DNC. In 2016, he waltzed into Baltimore thinking that, with a bundle of tech and celebrity money, he could be elected mayor. He ended up finishing sixth in the primary. He is also reviled by BLM supporters on Twitter for appropriation of the protests’ energy.

The fact is that BLM and M4BL are separate organizations that do not include McKesson or Campaign Zero. BLM is a real organization with members, chapters, and leadership. Campaign Zero appears to be Deray and a handful of collaborators, more like a small think tank than a movement group.

They are all contending for brand ownership. They are all the beneficiaries of a new tidal wave of money from corporations and woke celebrities. That notwithstanding, their proposals deserve serious consideration. Their standing as leaders of the Revolution is a different matter.

There are definitely things to like in the #8cantwait litany, but also some items that invite ridicule (“Require officers to give a verbal warning in all situations before using deadly force.”—shades of Joe Biden). I’ve said before that much of it depends on police self-regulation, which begs the question of who will police the police. Elsewhere, Campaign Zero has spoken of civilian review boards, my own preference for an immediate, narrow demand.

If we can get effective governance of the police, by means of CRBs or otherwise, then all the suggestions in #8cantwait and M4BL become more salient. As long as police are out of control, we will have a problem.