Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

30 April 2019

Elizabeth Warren, Woman with a Plan

For a brief analogy of Warren to an earlier Elizabeth, click here. For brief descriptions of and links to recent posts, click here. For an inverse-chronological list with links to all posts after January 23, 2017, click here. For a subject-matter index to posts before that date, click here.

For the principal post on Elizabeth Warren, click here.

Not Doing Your Job

Once upon a time, the United States of America was exceptional. What made us exceptional was hardly our much-vaunted Constitution, whose serious flaws are becoming ever more self-evident. It was not our powerful military, far less our nuclear arsenal. It was a simple, admirable feature of our national culture—a collective personality trait.

When we Americans had a job to do, we did it right. We acted with honesty, competence and professionalism. We walked the extra mile. We followed the rules. We acted with integrity. We didn’t stop until the job was done.

Our national myths reinforced this quality. Remember how George Washington was supposed to have confessed to cutting down the family cherry tree, and Abraham Lincoln supposedly walked miles to return a penny of inadvertently withheld change?

How times have changed! It’s not just that everything today is up for grabs based on personal loyalty or abstract ideology. It’s not that spinmeisters rule our politics and much of our business. It’s not that the CEO of Boeing touts his firm’s safety record after a big screwup costing 346 innocent lives.

It’s not even that President Trump can get away (for the present) with the crudest and most obvious power grabs, assisted by an Attorney General hired because he wrote a memo approving them in advance. It’s not just that both men swore an oath to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution, which every child knows requires a balance of power and checks and balances.

It’s that folks at the apex of our society just aren’t doing their jobs. The defaults are breathtaking in their scope and consequence.

In the run-up to our forever war in Iraq, Hillary Clinton didn’t read the National Intelligence Estimate. It was a secret, 90-page document containing vehement dissents by our intelligence agencies to Dubya’s rationale for war. As a student at Yale Law School, Hillary had read that much every week, if not every night. Yet like 93 other senators, she didn’t do her homework before voting to send our youth off to war.

Now we find Attorney General William Barr accused of not having read the Mueller Report before “spinning” its contents for the public. At least, in his recent testimony, he seemed ignorant of things in it that any competent law-school graduate who read it ought to know. And Barr came to his current job with the halo of a consummate professional and straight shooter. So much for keeping an open mind!

Both Hillary and Barr had reasons for their defaults. Hillary seemed to know that, if she didn’t support Dubya’s optional war in Iraq, she could never be president. Barr knew that he had been hired to spin the Mueller Report in Trump’s favor, in order to expand the powers of our Executive, using the crushing example of an utterly unfit man.

Both followed their ambitions but didn’t do their jobs. They didn’t even go through the motions.

If anyone in our sick society ought to display professionalism, it ought to be lawyers. Three years of law school inculcate in them the values of honesty, integrity, professionalism, and doing your homework. But Hillary didn’t do hers. So her greatest ambition failed, and we have a forever war in Iraq, a broken Syria, and a Russia resurgent in the Middle East. Barr apparently didn’t do his, in service of an ambition that would have appalled our Founders: making our president more like a king.

David Leonhardt may be the best of our modern journalists. Yet in a recent newsletter he dinged Mueller for failing to fight Barr’s spin.

What Leonhardt failed to note is that Mueller personifies the dying American culture. He did his job and his homework with consummate professionalism and without a single leak. Perhaps he was too scrupulous in observing the limitations of his assignment and his power. But that’s what every professional and pol in the United States used to do. It’s not Mueller’s fault that our culture has changed from doing our jobs to living the Game of Thrones.

When Rome fell, it was largely because the senators who made it a democracy became more concerned with their own welfare than with the empire’s. That’s self-evidently happening to us, at every level of our government, and among our oligarchs.

Can our disease be cured? In Rome’s case, it took the Fall, the Dark Ages and the Renaissance to bring back the simple notion of people in power having a job to do and doing it right. So our national prognosis is not bright. Cultures, like milk, do not easily unspoil.

Pundits are all agog at Joe Biden’s much-anticipated entry into the presidential race. Right away, he threw the gauntlet at the feet of our would-be dictator. Dis-electing Trump, Joe said, is our nation’s main task. If we can do that, Joe assured us, we can staunch the flow of hate and return to “normal.”

But would we have our country back? Not by a long shot. Merely retiring Donald J. Trump wouldn’t even begin to do that.

Our national train ran off the rails long before Trump’s 2015 escalator ride down to his presidential candidacy. The serious academic study proving that we already were an oligarchy, not a democracy, came out in 2014. As is now well known, middle-class incomes had been stagnating since the 1970s. And what jump-started our “incarceration society” was the mandatory minimum sentencing that Reagan pushed way back in 1986.

As for incomes, let’s do a little math. An industrialist, not a politician, jump started our uniquely American consumer society over a century ago, in January 1914. That’s when Henry Ford started paying workers on his car assembly lines a $5-a-day wage.

What would five dollars a day in 1914 feel like today, after 105 years of inflation? According to our own “official” Bureau of Labor Statistics, inflated to March 2019, they would buy as much as $127.10. For an eight-hour day, that’s $15.89 per hour—already more than the $15 minimum wage that many Dems are now clamoring for.

Yet the federal minimum wage has been $7.25 per hour since 2009, again long before Trump’s debut as a pol. We’ve been stiffing our “working poor” by almost a factor of two ever since then. (By January 2009, $5 in January 2014 dollars was worth $105.57, or $13.20 per hour for eight hours.)

What about eating our young, with crushing debt for their higher education? Well, I wrote my post about indentured servitude for youth just after Thanksgiving 2010. Even then it was clear that massive debt for graduating students was part of the oligarchs’ plan to control American society at its roots.

When you get out of college with a debt that will take decades to pay off, what chance do you have to experiment or “follow your bliss”? If you want to marry, raise a family and/or own a home, all you can do is work for the oligarchs at the highest pay you can find. Good luck in joining a startup, taking a year or two off to travel and see the world, or working for the common good in a nonprofit. My generation could do all that (I’m 73), but Millennials can’t.

No, folks. Blaming it all on Trump reflects a severe case of historical amnesia. Apart from Barack Obama, whom the GOP hog-tied from day one with racism and lies, the last decent president we had was George Herbert Walker Bush.

Daddy Bush left office in 1993. When he died recently, the whole nation lauded and mourned him. We recognized—far too late—that he had been a sensible man who raised taxes and compromised with Democrats for everyone’s benefit.

Apart from Obama and him, our supreme leaders have been charlatans and incompetents. Bill Clinton conspired with the oligarchs’ lackey Phil Gramm to pass a no-rules-banking bill that—nearly on schedule as predicted by a North Dakota Senator—led to the Crash of 2008. Dubya gave us two unnecessary forever wars. He also presided over bailing out the bankers who caused the Crash and helped insure that not only would none of them go to jail, but none would even lose money. And Trump, well, if you’re reading this currently you know all you need to know about him.

All this time, the oligarchs had a plan. It was supremely simple: lower their taxes and cut regulations so they could continue and enhance their oligarching. Convince workers that the bigger flow of wealth to them would “trickle down,” and that anyone arguing the contrary was a “socialist,” “libtard,” or worse. Get voters to think that the push for restoring American common sense was all a plot of blacks, Hispanics and “radicals” who wanted to ruin America and kill everyone’s “freedom.” And when all else failed, make lots of noise about abortion and gay marriage, to distract attention from the oligarchs’ generational theft.

Donald Trump is not the cause of all this. He’s its culmination.

Trump is the oligarchs’ lackey. He keeps taxes low. He kills regulations even when they’re self-evidently needed for public health and safety. He’s an international wimp who stiffs our allies and bows before murderers like MBS, Putin, El-Sisi and Duterte. So he won’t cause any wars that might be bad for the oligarchs’ business. And he’s so colorful, profane, hateful and erratic that he keeps everyone’s eyes off the ball: how the oligarchy, like a prehensile octopus, is strangling our economy, controlling our politics, and sucking all our nation’s wealth and creativity dry.

If we’re going to take our country back, we need far more than a single presidential win. We need a plan. We need a plan that’s simple and plain enough for voters to understand and credit. We need a plan that’s effective enough to counter the self-seeking propaganda that the oligarchs and their mouthpiece Fox have been feeding us for two generations.

Of all the current candidates for president in either party, Elizabeth Warren is the only one who has such a plan.

The others just have just bits and pieces. Joe has decency and getting back to “normal.” Bernie has fighting economic inequality and our rigged economy, Medicare for All, and raising taxes. Hickenlooper and O’Rourke have massive efforts to slow the acceleration of global warming. Cory Booker has curing our incarceration society. Kamala Harris has a few of these things together.

But no one except Warren has the whole package. We have to do all these things at once, starting now, to have any realistic chance of restoring our national greatness, our so-called “exceptionalism.” Led by the oligarchs, we’ve been worshipping selfishness as a national value for far too long, and selfishness is not a plan.
Not only do we need to do all these things, starting at once. We need to do them in the proper order and sequence, first things first. Only Warren understands this vital point.

The first thing we must do is stop eating our young. We’ve got to get them out from under crushing debt. That’s not just so they can raise families as earlier generations did. We must free them to apply their talents and their expensive educations to what they, not the oligarchs, think needs doing.

If we condemn our youth to indentured servitude to the oligarchs, our future is dim no matter what else we may do. Getting our minority youth out of prison for minor offenses, so that they, too, can contribute is an important second step.

The next most important thing is fixing our vast and growing economic inequality. Yes, global warming is an existential threat, too, but it’s a longer-term one. If most of our voters are serfs (which is where they’re headed), they will have neither the leisure to worry about global warming nor the money to fight it. They will be in thrall to the oligarchs who control their energy supplies and tell them fossil fuels power their lives and always will.

Here is where Warren stands head and shoulders above the rest. Only she has a comprehensive economic plan. Taxing the wealthy without destroying their wealth or capitalism? Check. Using those taxes to rebuild our infrastructure for everyone’s benefit (including, incidentally, the oligarchs themselves)? Check. Using those taxes also to convert to renewable energy while providing good, modern jobs and reducing the acceleration of global warming? Check. Educating our youth without making them indentured servants? Check.

Warren also knows how to talk. Unlike Bernie, she doesn’t fight the last century’s philological battles in order to make socialism respectable, which it should be. She sees how Fox and other GOP operatives have fashioned perfectly innocuous political words like “socialism” and “liberal” into dog whistles. So she describes things consistently in innocuous, unloaded terms. She skirts GOP propaganda like a nimble tank skirting fixed artillery.

Why else do you think the GOP propaganda machine has her so relentlessly and ruthlessly in its sights? The oligarchs know that, in the long run, a pol who knows and can recite the many differences between socialism and Communism and between both and single-payer is not going to be defeated by mere blather.

But Warren’s economic plan goes far beyond this. Uniquely among all candidates, she understands how our digital oligarchs are becoming a new class of Robber Barons.

Like the Barons who once monopolized railroads, midwestern land, and oil, ours today are monopolizing Big Data, including the private data of millions of citizens who have no clue. This is true of Lyft and Uber (the locations of potential passengers and cars), Twitter (short things people have to say), Amazon (what people buy, have bought, and want to buy), and most especially Facebook (personal news, corporate news, fake news and some real news).

By monopolizing these things as J. P. Morgan did the railroads and Rockefeller did oil, our current Robber Barons are exploiting things they didn’t create to gain great wealth and power inordinately quickly. And just as did the original Robber Barons, these modern Robber Barons are using that wealth and power for personal ends, which have many unintended and some highly undesirable consequences. Among the most notable consequences are fake news, domestic terrorism, individually targeted and weaponized political propaganda, and a strange type of Orwellian control over vulnerable individuals. Here Facebook, which has (mostly inadvertently) helped bring down democratic systems worldwide, is the most dismal example.

Over a century ago, we Americans figured out how to control the original Robber Barons. Beginning with Senator John Sherman and President Teddy Roosevelt, we invented a thing called “antitrust law.” Eventually, it spread around the world under another name: “competition law.”

Of all the candidates so far, only Warren has a detailed grasp of antitrust law and how it can be used to save our economy and our democracy from our modern Robber Barons, the digital oligarchs. Only she knows that antitrust is not just endless litigation and big fines. She knows how its principles can be used to restructure industries to make them fairer, less rapacious, more egalitarian, and even more efficient. And she has already suggested some ways to restructure Facebook for those purposes.

As a species, we humans are at a crossroads. Individually, we are small, weak and rather stupid. But collectively we are mighty and consequential, because there are now 7.2 billion of us. Just as our industry and its carbon effluent have already started changing our planet’s climate, our digital industries have started changing global society, perhaps irrevocably.

Our Modern Digital Robber Barons are making those changes. If our society is to shape, let alone control, them, antitrust law will have to be among the principal means. Elizabeth Warren is the only candidate to get this vital point so far.

A example may be helpful. Amazon and its fellow on-line vendors are busy extinguishing retailing as we know it. The extinction is now in progress. It doesn’t depend on future developments in artificial intelligence like Elon Musk’s self-driving cars; it’s happening right now.

Over the last generation, huge shopping malls proliferated across our nation, often anchoring entire downtown business sectors. At the same time, concentrated “main street” shopping areas formed the cores of many small towns.

What will happen when those shopping malls go out of business, leaving their prime real estate devalued and perhaps vacant? What will happen to all those small-town main streets when their local shops go belly up? What will happen to the people who now work in those malls and those main-street shops? Will they all work in Amazon’s warehouses?

These retail extinctions will have enormous economic, social and political effects. So shouldn’t the answers to these questions be political, too? Should the oligarchs alone decide our fates?

Politics decides in other societies. Since World War II, for example, Japan has had its own unique answer. It supports an infinitely complex distribution system of individual small shops and city kiosks. In that way, Japan maintains millions of small shopkeepers in remunerative, dignified and useful work.

But Japan’s “full-employment” distribution system is notoriously inefficient and costly. A good honeydew melon in a Japanese supermarket can cost the equivalent of $30. That melon will be fully ripened, individually packaged, and likely far more tasty than its American counterpart, but it costs ten times more.

Japan has made its democratic choice, as a society. It prefers full employment and a rich urban shopping environment with higher prices to the cultural deserts and low prices that we have here. Anyone who visits Tokyo or Osaka (especially its Namba Shopping Center) for more than a day or two can see these results firsthand.

We Americans have never had a political discussion about these choices. Instead, our oligarchs have made the choices for us. Our property developers brought us dozens of huge shopping malls, accessible mostly by car, which soon may be abandoned like their unemployed retailers. Now a single oligarch—Jeff Bezos—may soon empty those malls, as well as every main-street shopping district in America. (I know. My year-end credit-card summary shows well over half of my year’s shopping on Amazon.)

What if Elon Musk is right, and self-driving cars and trucks do make their debut before our 2020 presidential election? Not only will we have millions of unemployed shopkeepers and retail salespeople on our streets. They will join millions of out-of-work taxi, Uber and Lyft drivers (although some of their cars may be independently “employed”). And they will join millions of former truck drivers, as what was once the backbone of American lower-middle-class life, driving vehicles, goes extinct.

The result might make the rioting of eighteenth-century Luddite weavers, put out of work by automated weaving machines, look like child’s play. The so-called “populist” movement, which gave rise to Brexit and to Trump our as president, might literally take the world by storm.

Warren is the only candidate who can foresee this happening and perhaps fend it off. She is the only one who can see how to use our law and our history to prevent a vast social dislocation or to ameliorate its effects. She is the only one who can start a dialogue, which we Americans must have, over how to bring our oligarchs under control for the good of humanity.

For two generations (ever since Reagan), we Americans have fallen again for the extreme laissez faire capitalism of the nineteenth century. We’ve bought the notion that we are all “free” when we can do what we want and just let things happen. Of course oligarchs like it better that way: their huge and exploding wealth and power let them do more of what they want than the rest of us, and things seem to happen more in their favor. Big surprise.

But we can’t just let things happen any more. If we do, we’ll burn up along with our Planet. Nearer term, we’ll create the greatest explosion of worker angst and rebellion in human history. Or we’ll turn our labor force into serfs, or put them out to pasture (and perhaps to mischief) with a minimum work-free wage.

Alone among the presidential field, Elizabeth Warren understands all this. She understands it not just in the abstract, but in detail. And she has the uncanny ability, as a great communicator, to explain it all in short words, short sentences and plain talk that any voter can understand. I taught antitrust law in three law schools for a total of ten years, and I have yet to find anyone as good as Warren at explaining what it is and how it works in simple terms.

Some say Warren is “too brainy.” She was, after all, a distinguished Harvard Law School professor.

But we’ve tried “ordinary guy” types before. They didn’t work out so well, did they? Bill Clinton was a brilliant supersalesman but bent. Dubya was a “dim bulb” (Mark Shields’ words) who bailed out our bankers and brought us two needless forever wars. Trump parrots whatever his advisers or Fox’ moron-pundits told him most recently. He changes his mind every day. After JFK, the best presidents of my lifetime were another law professor of good character (Obama) and a transplant from the Eastern Elite to Texas, also of good character (Daddy Bush).

Maybe it’s time for both superior brains and good character again. Warren has both.

At the end of the day, I will vote for any Dem with a pulse against Trump. Retiring him from political life and beginning prosecution of his many crimes is Job One.

But the most urgent job is not always the most important one. In politics, this generation’s most important job is making a plan to replace the non-plan of the last two generations. We must do more than follow the oligarchs, letting let them do whatever they want. We must have a plan, or their non-plan will consume us. It could consume us literally, on a heated Earth.

Warren has the kind of plan we need. It’s comprehensive, coherent and sensible. She has ample brains to implement it, to modify it as needed, and to explain it to the public.

Warren is also a woman. She could break the century-long drought of female presidents since women won suffrage. For all these reasons, she’s my choice for president unless and until she drops out.

I will vote for Joe if I must. No sentient voter should ever again make the great mistake of 2016: failing to vote for the lesser of two evils who could win. But I would vote for Joe with far more enthusiasm if, having won the primary, he picked Warren as his second. With her working as Cheney to Joe’s Dubya, and with Joe putting his lifetime earnings of public trust in her service, we Americans just might squeak by.

Endnote: The Elizabeth I analogy.

On her piano, my mother kept two small images. One showed the dancer Isadora Duncan, a friend of the writer George Bernard Shaw. The other was a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603), in her pleated seventeenth-century collar.

When I asked why include the monarch, my mother taught me a bit of history. The last of the five Tudor monarchs, Elizabeth I became Queen after a period of bloody internecine warfare. Before her reign, English royals’ and nobles’ chief vocations appeared to be assassinating, betraying and making war on each other, often for reasons of religion or a bald lust for power. An excess of testosterone—a real Game of Thrones—had crippled England.

To rule effectively, Elizabeth I had to give up love and motherhood, as depicted by Kate Blanchett in the movie Elizabeth (1998). She had immense intellect, wit, toughness, and common sense, which she used to impress and control the born-to-rule men around her. She used these qualities to bring peace, tranquillity, order and reason to a war-torn island regime.

Her rule marked a transition to a golden age. Among many other things, Shakespeare rose to dominate literature, Parliament assumed day-to-day governance, pols discovered the principles of monopolies and practical economics, and England brought the power of corporations, rather than a naked Crown (as in Spain and Portugal) to bear on exploration and colonization.

Elizabeth I’s reign set the stage for a society governed by reason, science and agreement, whose business- and technology-oriented culture, continued in America, ultimately spread worldwide. She was not only the most consequential female ruler in world history. She may have been the most consequential ruler of any gender.

I like to think that Elizabeth Warren’s first name is more than coincidence. She does have children (a son and daughter), but in today’s world that experience only enhances her understanding and effectiveness.

Today the United States, like Elizabethan England, has its back turned on a long period of violence and turmoil. It began with our own Civil War—the worst in our history—and continued with the last century’s world wars and our own terrible involvement in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, not to mention the many atrocities in Latin America that we blessed. That century-and-a-half of wartime violence finds its reflection in the discord and hate of our domestic politics.

But today we can foresee a possible future golden age of science and technology, supported by a kind of economic, social, religious and racial equality never before seen on Earth. That golden age is within our reach. But it will take more than wishful thinking to bring it about. It will take the kind of meticulous planning, clear thinking, common sense, toughness, exemplary character, and plain speaking for which our new Elizabeth, like her namesake, is renowned.

Links to Popular Recent Posts

To see how modern politics has come to resemble the Game of Thrones, click here.
For a discussion of the waste of energy and fossil fuels caused by unneeded long-range batteries in electric cars, click here.
For a discussion why Democrats should embrace the long campaign season and make no premature moves, click here.
For a discussion how Trump and Brexit have put the tree world into free fall, click here.
For a review of how our own American acts help create our president’s claimed “invasion” of Central American migrants, click here.
For a review of basic facts that must inform any type of universal health insurance, click here.
For a discussion of how the West’s fall and China’s rise affect the chances of our species’ survival, click here.
For a discussion of what the Mueller Report is and how its release could affect American politics, click here.
For a note on the Mueller Report as the beginning of a process, click here.
For comment on the special candidacies of Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg, click here.
For reasons why the twin 737 Max 8 disasters should inspire skepticism and caution with regard to potentially lethal uses of software and AI, click here.
For my message to Southwest Airlines on grounding the 737 Maxes, click here.
For an example of even the New York Times spewing propaganda, click here.
For means by which high-school teachers could help save American democracy, click here.
For a modern team of rivals that might comprise a dream Cabinet in 2021, click here.
For an analysis of the global decline of rules-based civilization, click here. For a brief note on avoiding health lobbying Armageddon, click here.
For analysis of how to save real news and America’s ability to see straight, click here.
For an update on how Zuckerberg scams advertisers, click here.
For analysis of how Facebook scams voters and society, click here.
For the consequences of Trump’s manufactured border emergency, click here.
For a brief note on Colin Kaepernick’s good work and settlement with the NFL, click here.
For an outline of universal health insurance without coercion, disruption of satisfactory private insurance, or a trace of “socialism,” click here.
For analysis of the Virginia blackface debacle, click here. For an update on how Twitter subverts politics, click here.
For analysis of women’s chances to take the presidency in 2020, click here.
For brief comment on Trump’s State of the Union Speech and Stacey Abrams’ response for the Dems, click here.
For reasons why the Huawei affair requires diplomacy, not criminal prosecution, click here. For how Speaker Pelosi has become a new sheriff in town, click here.
For how Trump’s misrule could kill your kids, click here.
For comment on MLK Day 2019 and the structural legacies of slavery, click here.
For reasons why the partial government shutdown helps Dems the longer it lasts, click here.
For a discussion of how our national openness hurts us and what we really need from China, click here.
For a brief explanation of how badly both Trump and his opposition are failing at “the art of the deal,” click here.
For a deep dive into how Apple tries to thwart Google’s capture of the web-browser market, click here.
For a review of Speaker Pelosi’s superb qualifications to lead the Democratic Party, click here.
For reasons why natural-gas and electric cars are essential to national security, click here.
For additional reasons, click here.
For the source of Facebook’s discontents and how to save democracy from it, click here.
For Democrats’ core values, click here.
The Last Adult is Leaving the White House. Who will Shut Off the Lights?
For how our two parties lost their souls, click here.
For the dire portent of Putin’s high-fiving the Saudi Crown Prince, click here.
For updated advice on how to drive on the Sun’s power alone, or without fossil fuels, click here.
For a 2018 Thanksgiving Message, click here.

Links to Posts since January 23, 2017

permalink to this post


Post a Comment

<< Home