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What Is “Democratic Socialism”?

What Is “Democratic Socialism”?

Probably the best answer is whatever Bernie Sanders says it is as he is by far the most famous person ever to adopt this term as a label for his beliefs.  There is a group  in the US bearing that name, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which has been in existence since 1983.  But while its membership has since then generally fluctuated between 4,000 and a bit over 6,000 through 2016, its membership had surged to over 45,000 by 2019, clearly responding to Bernie’s identification with the term, even though as near as I can tell, he has not been a member of the DSA.

If one goes to the Wikipedia entry  on “democratic socialism,” one finds claims that it originated with the utopian socialists and chartists in the early and mid-1800s.  Certainly many of these groups supported democracy and also some sort of socialism.  For that matter, Karl Marx also in many writings supported democracy and socialism, although in other places Marx sneered at what he called “bourgeois democracy,” and we know many regimes claiming to be inspired by Marx have not been democratic, unless one wants to call Leninist “democratic centralism” to be democratic, something most of us would not go along with, and current DSA types would not go along with.

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Bargaining power, progressive maximalism, and Medicare for All

The HuffPo has reported on a minor dust-up between Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over the politics of Medicare for All (see here, here, here, also Paul Waldman here).  The tl;dr summary is that AOC suggested that it is good politics for Sanders to insist on MFA, because this will give him more leverage in negotiations over a final bill, but that compromising on a public option is an acceptable outcome that would represent real progress.  Sanders shot back that his bill is already a compromise.  Of course, Sanders’ reply is consistent with AOC’s comments – he may be trying to maximize his bargaining power by pretending to rule out the possibility of further compromise.

My view (here) is that the only significant effect of insisting on MFA will be to make it less likely that the Democratic candidate wins the election.  To be clear, I think that a Democrat who insists on short-run implementation of MFA can win in 2020.  I just think running on MFA will make winning less likely, and that there is no reason to increase the chances of a second Trump term since a second Trump term would be a catastrophe and MFA will not pass no matter what happens in the election.  But AOC suggests one way my theory may be wrong:  perhaps electing a candidate who stakes out a maximalist negotiating position on MFA will help get a stronger reform package through Congress.

This is, unfortunately, wishful thinking.  The hard truth is that progressives will have essentially no bargaining power on the issues that they care about most strongly.  The reason is simple.  To have bargaining power in a negotiation, you need to be willing to walk away from the table and settle for the status quo.  But on the issues they care about most passionately – health care, climate change, etc. – progressives will be the least willing members of Congress to settle for the status quo.  If Congress is trying to decide whether to 1) add a public option to Obamacare or 2) implement full-blown Medicare for All, Sanders and AOC can threaten to oppose the public option all day – but no one will believe them.  Instead, legislation on key progressive priorities will be shaped almost entirely by the need to win over centrists and swing district legislators.  The votes of progressives will be taken for granted, full stop.

Of course, it is possible to argue that “insisting” on Medicare for All may help a bit at the margins.  Perhaps.  But in addition to its electoral costs, focusing on maximalist positions has two serious drawbacks.  First, the language of progressive maximalism is not persuasive to people who are not already progressive.  Second, staking out “tough” positions diverts the attention of progressives from the really critical task of designing policies that can attract support from their more moderate colleagues.  In the case of climate legislation, I will argue that these issues are of overwhelming importance.

I suspect that both AOC and Sanders know all this.  AOC’s comments suggest she understands the importance of compromise and incremental progress and is willing to provide leadership on this issue.  This is a hopeful sign – leadership by elected progressives will be critical to building a more strategic and effective brand of progressive politics in the United States.  But – as Sanders’ reaction shows – we have a long way to go.

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TPM has the Running Dialogue between Stone’s Attorneys and the Court – Update

Click on the link and scroll down to the beginning

Roger Stone Is Sentenced

“Tierney Sneed is at the federal courthouse in DC.” Live Blogging

I believe Judge Amy Berman Jackson is getting close to Sentencing Stone.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson is back and starts off: “Unsurprisingly, I have a lot to say,”

Judge Berman Jackson signals that she is also not going to go with Stone’s proposal for only probation.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson has sentenced Trump ally Roger Stone to 40 months in prison.

Updated developments during the Hearing beyond the Leap

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How to roast the planet with good intentions: The Climate Equity Act

I have suggested (here and here) that idealism is leading progressives astray.  Unfortunately, climate policy offers many examples.

Consider the Climate Equity Act of 2019.  The CEA was, I believe, the first concrete piece of legislation proposed as part of the Green New Deal.  Unfortunately, it illustrates several of the problems with progressive idealism.  The CEA is moralistic rather than strategic.  It does not take policy analysis seriously; it assumes that Congress can simply write a law requiring justice and that justice will magically appear.  In practice, the CEA will do little to promote justice, but it will put a powerful weapon in the hands of opponents of a clean energy transition.

The purpose of the CEA is to ensure all people a right to a healthful environment, and to address systemic environmental injustices and inequities.  To achieve these goals, the CEA imposes extensive procedural and analysis requirements on federal rules that affect “frontline communities”, which the act defines as low income communities, indigenous communities, communities of color, deindustrialized communities, vulnerable elderly communities, unhoused populations, people with disabilities, and communities dependent on fossil fuel industries.

Protecting frontline communities is a worthy goal.  However, the federal rulemaking process is already too cumbersome to address a problem like climate change, which will require rapid, economy-wide changes.  The CEA will make the problems with the federal rulemaking process much worse.  The CEA 1) requires agencies to engage in a comprehensive review of proposed rules and possible alternatives to proposed rules that minimize negative economic, environmental, and health consequences on frontline communities, or maximize benefits to these communities, 2) fails to specify a clear standard for agencies to use when evaluating alternative rules, and does not explain how conflicts between or within frontline communities should be resolved by government agencies, and 3) gives members of any aggrieved frontline community the right to judicial review, including the right to block enforcement of agency rules.

If progressives care about preventing climate change, this is insane.  Requiring agencies to evaluate multiple options using vague standards and giving a wide array of groups easy access to the courts will turn the CEA into a powerful weapon against all federal rulemaking, including rules that are essential for stopping climate change.

For example, creating a renewable energy system may require construction of a new network of high voltage power lines to shift electricity from areas where the wind is blowing and the sun is shining to areas where it is calm or cloudy.  It is far from clear that our political system will be able to overcome the NIMBY forces that will predictably resist every power line location decision.

Instead of helping to solve this problem, the CEA will make it far worse.  The government will have to investigate the impact of multiple power line routes on different frontline communities.  There will be conflicts between frontline communities and within such communities.  The law is silent on how these conflicts should be resolved, but everyone gets to go to court.  Fossil fuel producers resisting clean energy growth will have no trouble creating “astroturf” organizations to challenge rules they dislike.  The same problems will arise with siting decisions for wind and solar farms and the location of dams for hydro power.  Stalemate rather than progress will be the order of the day.

Even rules limiting the burning of fossil fuels will be snarled in lawsuits.  Suppose EPA tries to limit the burning of coal to generate electricity.  Such a rule would be vulnerable to attack by coal producers (recall that communities dependent on fossil fuels are frontline communities).  Coal producers or their allies would not have to argue that regulation is impermissible, they would just have to argue that the agency failed to consider an alternative rule that would be less economically harmful to communities dependent on fossil fuels – say, a rule with a somewhat slower timetable for reducing coal use.  On the other hand, children with asthma could sue the agency for not reducing coal use fast enough.  (Are children with asthma covered by the CEA?  This question seems to turn on whether asthma counts as a “disability” under the law, because people with disabilities are a frontline community.  No matter how an agency decides this question, it will be vulnerable to a lawsuit.  The possibilities for legal wrangling and delay are literally endless.)

Decarbonizing the United States economy will be a massive undertaking, and even progressives who care about a just transition to a carbon-free world should think twice about turning administrative procedure into an all-purpose weapon at the disposal of anyone seeking to block change.  This doesn’t mean that we should ignore the very real burdens imposed on disadvantaged groups.  But instead of adding more veto-points to our already creaky environmental rulemaking system, we need to figure out what types of assistance different communities need and get it to them directly.  Fossil fuel workers and communities need job training, relocation assistance, pensions and other forms of assistance.  Unhoused populations need housing.  Giving people the assistance that they actually need will do far more to alleviate hardship than suffocating the rulemaking process in a blanket of CEA lawsuits.

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Bloomberg’s Plan for Reskilling America: The Quid without the Pro Quo

Bloomberg’s Plan for Reskilling America: The Quid without the Pro Quo

The Intercept usefully preports Michael Bloomberg’s proposals for higher education, focusing on plans to upgrade workforce skills along the lines desired by employers.  Here’s the selection they excerpted that covers this, worth reading carefully:

There’s a lot here that would be useful to businesses located in the US if they want to take advantage of it: money for vocational degrees geared to business needs, improved credentialing for these degrees, and support for internships and similar on-the-job training programs.  As the language of the press prelease makes clear, businesses would play a determining role in deciding what is worthy of being learned, how instruction and work experience would be carried out, what criteria would be used to ascertain skill acquisition, and how credentials would be standardized for use in an economy where workers primarily move horizontally across employers.  Some of this is based on a partial reading of the German apprenticeship system, where businesses work closely with education and training institutions to promote similar types of skills.

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The West “Weeps” for What It Has Sowed

At the Munich Security Conference the U.S. and its allies had no idea of how to handle China, a problem of their greed and stupidity. The West is divided, confused. What to do about Huawei? Really, what to do with China?

So when Mike Pompeo…proclaimed…”we are winning,” the largely European audience was silent and worried in what sense “we” existed longer.
In the meantime, Europe, including the U.K, finds itself in a mincer between the U.S. and China

Unfortunately for us. China has followed the U.S. playbook and has outplayed the West, especially the U.S.

Walter Rostow of the Johnson administration, an avid anti-communist, wrote the playbook: How can an undeveloped nation take its place among the leaders of the world.

The answer: Industrialize as rapidly as possible. Do whatever it takes.  China did just that.

In its five year plans, China acknowledged its debt to Rostow and started to industrialize. While I have described this process many years ago, I again outline it briefly here.

First: China entered the W.T.O. Bill Clinton and Congress were accommodating and instrumental:

Last fall, as all of you know, the United States signed an agreement to bring China into the W.T.O, on terms that will open its markets to American products and investments.
Bill Clinton speaking before Congress, March 9, 1998

Second: China offered dirt cheap labor, labor that had no effective right to bargain
Third: China did not require a company to obey any environmental regulations.
Fourth: China often offered a ten-year grace period without any taxation. If there were taxes they were less than those on its own indigenous firms.
Fifth: China manipulated its currency, making products cheaper to make but getting higher profits in the West.

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Engel Criticizes Trump On Soleimani Assassination

Engel Criticizes Trump On Soleimani Assassination

Juan Cole reports that House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, Eliot Engel (D-NY) has criticized the administration for its assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in response to a report fresh out of the DOD that said the attack was for past activities by Iran in attacking tankers and oil facilities in Saudi Arabia without any mention of a threat against US personnel in Iraq, the ostensible reason and the only legal reason for doing this.

Cole also reminds that Soleimani had been in Baghdad to negotiate peace with Saudi Arabia at the  invitation of the Iraqi prime minister.  He also reminds us that the Iraqis are denying that the original attack that killed the American contractor and initiated the escalation by the US before the Soleimani attack almost certainly did not come from Kata’ib Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia the US claimed was respoinsible because that Shia militia has not been anywhere near the base in Kirkuk that was attacked for 18 months, with the attack almost surely having come from ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.  This puts the US attack that also killed the Iraqi general who commanded Kata’ib Hezbollah to be utterly illegal and essentially just murder and a war crime.

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The Gods of Davos Have Spoken

Despite protestations to the contrary, the Gods are not interested in any of its proclaimed stakeholders, be it labor, the environment, or climate change.

As they did in 2007, they still sing the same old tired tunes, blindly pursuing profits at the expense of the health of the globe and of its citizens.

In the World Economic Forum of 2007, Professor Klaus Schwab, proudly announced:

“In today’s increasingly interconnected and complex world….Climate change…all require a coordinated approach, one in which different stakeholders collaborate across geographical boundaries, geographical, industrial…boundaries

“…the need of business not only to serve its shareholders but also its stakeholders–all whose future depends directly or indirectly on business decisions….I have defined this new dimension for responsible business–or “creative capitalism” as our member Bill Gates called it in Davos this year–as Corporate Global Citizenship.”
[italics mine] WEF Annual Report 2007-2008

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Andrew McCabe is not a Ham Sandwich

I am not a lawyer, but I think lawyers agree that grand juries are a pointless relic of the middle ages. There’s nothing to be done, because they are mentioned in the 5th amendment, but they are silly. Over here east of the English Channel they don’t exist. Decisions about possible indictments are made by judges.

One problem with grand juries is that the prosecutor is the only lawyer allowed in the room (unless a witness happens to be a lawyer). Also, since there isn’t yet a defendant, targets or possible future targets can’t present their case. So, the cliche is that a commpetent prosecutor could convince a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. There is, it seemed, no limit to the feebleness of a case sufficient to enable a prosecutor to convince jurors to indict. Note the past tense of “seemed”.

Thus my interest in the extremely boring case of former sometimes acting FBI director Andrew McCabe (they guy who was fired 2 days before his pension vested). He is accused of being other than frank when discussing the possibility of misconduct which harmed Hillary Clinton. This makes him a minor player in Trump’s deep state fantasy in which everyone who has anything to do with any investigation of Trump is alleged to be an anti Trump criminal based on any alleged misconduct (which is usually misconduct harmful to Hillary Clinton because there was a whole lot of that).

The DOJ has just announced that the investigation is closed and that no charges will be sought (note the difference from the Comey press conference about how no charges against Clinton would be sought even though she dd not meet James Comey’s exalted ethical standards and respect for rules [other than the one he was breaking by calling a press conference]).

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Doctor Surprise Billing

This doctor is a bit much; but, he gets a point across which I have been making also. The issue(s) Dr. ZDogg  is describing about what commercial healthcare insurance, Medicare Advantage plans, hospitals, and now doctors are doing needs to be told over and over again. Schumer and the Senate have to release the portion of the House Budget bill that dealt with Surprise billing.

ZDoggMD reacts to ridiculous medical bills, MedPage Today, February 6, 2020

 

Going to her PCP located in Manhattan, a woman complains of a sore throat. Forget the Manhattan part of this as various versions (surprise billing)  of this situation are happening everywhere. The doctor swabbed the throat, sent it off to the lab, ordered some tests, and then gave her a prescription for antibiotics. She took her meds and went on vacation feeling better.

The tests came back negative. She later received a bill for ~$26,000.

The  lab was out of network which usually results with insurance only paying a portion of the bill and the patient the balance unless the insurance negotiates a lesser charge (hospital 3rd party employees) which they will pay. This is another version of Surprise Billing, not in a hospital setting, which we have heard so much about, and the patient gets screwed with the balance of the Surprise Billing.

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