This blog started out as a collection of scripts for an online radio show of the same name. It riffed off of my 2004 book, Musings from the Christian Left, now republished as The Conscience of a Catholic Radical.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Capitalist Realism, Is there no alternative? by Mark Fisher

In Capitalist Realism, Is there no alternative? Mark Fisher makes the point that even anti-capitalism is still a conversation about capitalism. We simply can’t get away from it. It’s why conversations about atheism still talk about God. Michael Harrington wrote about Scandanavia, which could ameliorate capitalism with social democracy but never fire the capitalists. Likewise, even cooperatives like Mondragon and Land O’ Lakes (started by my great-grandfather) still operate with capitalist structures. 

Protests don’t help. Their subject is still capitalism rather than new solutions. Even as we protest the ultimate capitalist POTUS, we take up time from discussing new ideas. We talk about warming, but capitalism is the background (Actually, the solution will likely be found in deveoping habitats for a Mars mission, which can then be replicated on earth, probably built by capitslist, but maybe not). Capitalism gives us video games, smart phones, TV as babysitter and ADHD. The author claims it gives us mental illness, I disagree, since mine was caused by an adrenal tumor. 

Capitalism as PR gives us market Stalinism. PR over substance seems to be how Congress works nowadays. The problem is, they are so caught in their orthodoxy they can’t shake a bad message. Capitalism, like any theology, relies on the lack of memory that things have been different, like how we celebrate Christmas, how every generation thinks it invented sex, how GOP economics thinks it was ever valid and how Trump is a social conservative.

No one is responsible in capitalism (except for making the CEO rich and keeping his taxes low). Alt-A junk mortgages, the run-up in oil prices in NYMEX and the phone scams we all face are about the system getting the CEO rich, although he claims no responsibility for abuses. Frontline, a PBS broadcast was the best source on this. The corporate media said little and FoxNews spread lies about affirmative action housing.

The morals and health of capitalism are hedonistic. Would a socialist humanism be that different? I hope so. GOP morality is a creature of the focus groups of Frank Luntz (my old methods teacher). There is no real ”there” there. Neither will there be any crisis, like 2008, that will give us a proletarian revolution, distributism or libertopia. We have to build it now and crowd out the capitalist hegemony. How?

After Capitalism (New Critical Theory) by David Schweickart

After Capitalism (New Critical Theory) by David Schweickart goes beyond the usual Marxist excuse that the workers will design their future by actually suggesting a system for social control after capitalism. He has a three-part proposal. 1. Firms will be self governed cooperatively. 2. Assets will be owned by the state at large and enterprises will pay a ten percent tax. 3. Taxes will be distributed geographically for investment in new and existing operations.

It is an interesting proposal, but could uses some fleshing out in how firms will be managed, for example, how they will decide things and pay their executives. As for the rest, I am not sure why new investments and innovative product launches cannot occur within the context of existing socialist cooperatives. The state asset owership and investment system sounds like state control for its own sake. I expect that part of this is a safety net to redo failing cooperatives, but for that I would give a third of cooperative voting shares to an insurance fund to both insure the future incomes of members and to, at the request of a quarter of employee shares, take over the cooperative and reorganize it should mismanagement be found.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


The obsession with elitism started with resentment against the self-styled New York Jewish Elite. The Jewish was quickly left off and the concept became bi-coastal with Dan Quayle's use of the term Cultural Elite (presumably to include Hollywood and its Jews. The resistance to elitism spoke out for decency and family values, mostly because censorship does not focus group well. What the New York elite was known for was an avante garde sensibility that defied the censors, especially those resisting sexuality.

The elite was known to support women’s rights and gay rights, although they were not alone in this. Plenty of Catholics and High Church Protestants agreed with expanding freedom for those the mainstream would suppress, except that the mainstream no longer agreed with the so-called forces of decency, so censorship fell, Will and Grace topped the charts and support for abortion rights (if not abortion) became the majority view (and everyone seemed to look at porn and use contraception). Of course, in a 50% nation, majorities were slim and shifting and some states were decidedly non-elite in their attitudes.

The question arose, was there a compelling state interest for everything from regulating contraception to abortion to denying gays the right to marry. The Court concluded that these issues were private and that moral scorn, even by the majority, was not a compelling interest. It was the equivalent of yelling fire in a theater, not religious freedom. It was rather an attempt at religious power and therefore not protected or a counter-balancne against the liberty of others, most of whom were neither elite nor powerful, they just wanted the same dignity that others have. If supporting that dignity makes me an elitist, I wear the term proudly. Trump says he stands up for decency, but that is a very hard sell from the epitome of the New York elite.

The Pro-Life Movement as a Scam

The question is not about the morality or legality of abortion.  It is whether the Republican Party and the Pro-life movement are using the issue for political purposes without actually doing something about it.  Come on GOPeons.  You have Ryan, McConnell and Trump in charge and any abortion law they write will probably get Kennedy, Gorsuch, Roberts, Alito and Thomas to agree with.  You can even use the nuclear option to stop the filibuster.

Do it already!  I dare you.  I double dare you!

You know in your hearts that they won't and you know why.  Their wedge issue goes away and any moderates in your party will never, ever, vote Republican again, including the major donors.

If you don't think you are being scammed, you are not thinking.  That goes doubly for MSW, who thinks that somehow Roe will be repealed by SCOTUS (because Kennedy, Roberts and Alito have already said no to that option).

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Right Wing Holy Grail, Constitutional Conventions!

MGB:_The other Holy Grail of the GOP Evangelical-Catholic Alliance is outrage over gay marriage. Currently attention is focused on allowing merchants to ignore the Civil Rights Act for religious reasons and there is already a case on the docket. Of course, if the part of the Act which prohibits discrimination in customers is overturned than the Pro-Life movement will have to quit talking about Plessy v. Ferguson on abortion, since Plessy would be restored if cake bakers got a break.

Protection of Marriage can now only be achieved by Constitutional Amendment (unless federal law removes due process and equal protection in the states from the Federal Docket or if Roe is overturned for the same reason). There is no chance that the GOP and get the votes in either house to overturn Marriage Equality, so their only hope is a constitutional convention. Not likely. A populist convention would more likely overturn Citizens United as Roe, Perry, Lawrence or Griswold, although term limits might have a shot, balanced budget, not so much.

The reason amendment efforts have not succeeded, or maybe they have, is because there are no congressional rules to say when they have been met. Must a call be all on the same issue? Must all petitions be submitted within the same Congress? How you answer these determines whether there may already be a valid call. As long as it is up in the air, Congress can dodge it. The GOP, if it wanted to, could pass a concurrent resolution answering all relevant questions as part of the rules of each house. Whether there will ever be 34 states in a call is another matter, since ALEC only has 30 members, but you have the votes to find out if you want to. Again, I double dare you.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Medicare for All, Do We Already Have It?

Medicare for all is a really good slogan, at least to mobilize the base. One would think it would attract the support of even the Tea Partiers who held up signs saying ”Don’t let the government touch my Medicare!” Alas, it has not. This has been a conversation among ourselves on the left and I don’t think we have gotten beyond shouting slogans either.

We need to decide what we want and whether it really is Medicare for All. If we want to go to any doctor we wish, pay nothing and have no premiums, then that is not Medicare.

There are essentially two Medicares, a high option and a low one. The high option has Part A at no cost (funded by the Hospital Insurance Payroll Tax and part of Obamacare’s high unearned income tax, Medicare Part B, with a 20% copay and a $135 per month premium and Medicare Part D, which has both premiums and copays and is run through private providers. Parts A and B also are contracted out to insurance companies for case management.

The low option is the Medicare Advantage (Part C) HMO. You pay a premium and copays, but there is much more certainty, while ABD are more like a PPO, but costs can go much higher. So much higher that some seniors and the disabled get Medicap coverage for the copays.

Medicaid lingers in the background and the foreground. It covers the disabled in their first two years (and probably while they are seeking disability and unable to work). It covers non-workers and the working poor (who are two poor for Obamacare) and it covers seniors and the disabled who are confined to a long-term care facility and who have run out their assets. I am not sure how the long term portion works (and I believe it should be federalized), but for the poor, it takes the form of an HMO, but with no premiums and zero copays.

Obamacare has premiums with income-based supports (one of those facts the Republicans hate) and copays. It may have a high option, like the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (which also covers Congress) on which it is modeled, but I know that the standard option puts you into an HMO. I know that the HMO drug copays for Obamacare are higher than for Medicare Part C, but the office visit prices are exactly the same.

What does it mean, then, to want Medicare for All? If it means we want everyone who can afford it to get Medicare Advantage Coverage, we already have that. It is Obamacare. I know this because I have Obamacare for another 45 days and will then go to Medicare Advantage. They will likely switch me automatically and I will notice no difference. Indeed, except for premiums and copays, I see little difference in coverage between my Medicaid HMO and my Obamacare Marketplace policy with the same provider. My Marketplace premium is $56 higher than Part B, because it includes drug coverage. I don’t expect Part C to be much more.

If Medicare Advantage is Medicare for All, we have it already. Promising it is pandering to people who don’t know the difference. Why do Tea Partiers want to repeal even that? Because they feel they worked for their coverage and no one else has. Admitting we already have it would be a huge facepalm to them.

I suspect that Medicare for All supporters want something even Medicare does not offer with the free Hospital Insurance (which in Republican parlance would be Single Payer Catastrophic), they want free doctor visits and free drugs (like Medicaid) but with PPO level choice (like Medicare Part B and Part D). If you did that, it would take a huge tax increase, exceeding the best private insurance coverage (which also has copays and premiums). It would replace Medicare, not just lower its age of eligibility.

Real single payer would either require a very large payroll tax (and would eliminate the HI tax) or an employer paid subtraction value added tax (so it would not appear on receipts nor would it be zero rated at the border, since there would be no evading it). If the latter were used (and VAT is more progressive than payroll) employers who provide direct medical care would get an exclusion, but third-party insurance would go away, unless the big companies administered the plan the way Medicare and Medicaid are run. The tax rate would be high enough to cover health payroll taxes for employers and employees, income taxes that fund Medicare and Medicaid and private insurance fees by both employers and employees. Gross pay would go down, but net pay would stabilize.

While we are at it, the subtraction VAT would also cover Social Security payroll taxes paid by employers, although these could be converted to Personal Retirement Accounts holding employer voting stock plus an insurance fund of similar companies. If you are a socialist and don’t recognize that as a good thing, submit yourself for reeducation. The tax would also be high enough to fund a Child Tax Credit of $1000 per child per month distributed with pay (and credited against the tax as applicable). If you are a socialist and don’t like that one either, submit yourself for reeducation on basic Marxism (to each according to their need).

If you want to make some of the Republican Catholic Bishops squirm, market this as a pro-life measure and dare them not to endorse it and force the National Right to Life Committee to do likewise.

Democrats have been criticized for not having a position, other than the slogan Medicare for All, in the current health care debate. As you can see, this is a position and it reflects the realities. It also shows that the Health Care Reform debate is ultimately a tax reform debate. Too much money is at stake for it to be otherwise, although we may do just as well to call Obamacare Medicare for All and agree to leave it alone. Sadly, the Tea Partiers will never let that happen until we give them a better deal. They seem to like their presents.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Religious Freedom/Religious Power:Another Catholic Voice in the Public Square - July edition

The Voice of Truth, a monthly newsletter by our lay action (pro-life) committee came out this week. The topic was Freedom of Religion under Attack. It goes back to when Lord Baltimore declared freedom of religion for Marylanders (especially Catholics) when we was granted his colonial charter in the seventeenth century. My Puritan ancestors were actually granted the same rights for themselves, but not for dissidents, in Massachusetts Bay. My ancestor was the constable in charge of enforcement and his son, a Quaker, was in charge of rebellion.

Then, as now, the question was not religious freedom, it was religious power. The 1950s were the height of Catholic power over both the nation’s sexual life and its entertainment. Like any tyrannical regime, it was overthrown. Some Catholic organizations wanted religious power over their employees regarding use of birth control. They wanted it so bad, they let Valerie Jarrett of Obama’s White House turn an innocuous regulation into a war on women. After goading pro-life politicians into making idiots of themselves, they put forth what would have been the original language and it was ratified by the Supreme Court when they forced a compromise.

One would think the issue dead, but it has become an annual thing for some in the Church, but certainly in not all of our names. It is now part of the Right to Life’s effort to look busy by going after Planned Parenthood’s non-abortive patients. They seem to have no faith in auditing by HHS, who assure that Planned Parenthood adequately seperates their funds according to OMB Circulars. The effort to disregard fact and pass the bill anyway goes forward, but meets a wall of opposition in the U.S. Senate (where 60 votes are needed for such nonsese) and an unfriendly Maryland Legislature.

The closing paragraph with an empty threat to hold Maryland office holders accountable is the final tell that this is about religious power rather than religious freedom or even truth, although I suspect the irony of the Platonic quote escapes them.