Category Archives: Radical Economics

Donald Trump is a True American Genius

A guy I play hockey with on Sundays recently asked me what I thought about Trump. I said I was treating him as a form of social thermometer, where it gave us some insight into where our society was at. He said that he found him hilarious, an angle I completely understand. Here’s why:

482327612-republican-presidential-candidate-donald-trump-gives.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2Donald Trump is brilliant.

He knows how to get certain things done, and if you don’t believe him, watch one of his speeches—hell, watch a few clips. The man knows how to work an audience, even if he’s working them into a fervor of jingoistic, misogynistic, racist, bigoted whirlpool of America. The man is brilliant.

In pop culture, to be a celebrity is to be truly recognized as better than others. There’s money in it, fame, obviously recognition as being a superstar of the rich and famous. It’s a position of power, because what you do is automatically listened to by millions of people, whether they want to hear it or not. It’s like that easy target, Kim Kardashian. We all know who she is—unless you’re that far removed that we could consider you a statistical outlier—and we all know that we all know.

It’s not hard to pinpoint the reason for this. She’s constantly being thrown before us like she’s someone that matters, and she does, to those who buy into or make money off of her cult of personality. She is an uber-celebrity, married to a man of equal status, so there’s no surprise that she stands out from all the other fairly attractive, rich, vain springs of influence. If she says something, shit always goes viral, and that’s what Trump has managed to do.

It’s a matter of understanding and then playing the hustle. He realizes that the more outrageous the things he says, the more his clips and name will be repeated by the masses. Does anyone know who Carly Fiorina is or what she possibly stands for? Not really, and that’s because she doesn’t have near the celebrity status as Trump has. I’ve never heard of the Fiorina Towers, and I doubt you have either. Does the line, “You’re fired,” bring up images of whatever Carly Fiorina looks like? Not me, and I know I’m not alone in this position.

Trump is brilliant in the sense that he’s actively trying to buy the election through sheer influence, all stemming from his name recognition. The fact that he’s also able to turn on the angry conservative base in the process doesn’t hurt one bit, as it both plays to their patriotic fear that the socialists are winning as well infuriate the left, effectively ensuring both sides continue talking about him.

Of course, there is some danger in his game. Riling up the conservative fringe will have consequences, as now all of the republican candidates are forced to move further right, which could make the moderate crowd side slightly more to the left, as the right is fucking crazy. Supporting—hell, encouraging—inequalities of all kinds can only make our country more divided at this necessary time of change, and that’s not good for social progression. Trump is pushing America backwards at a pivotal time, but doesn’t matter to him as long as his celebrity status grows, which it will, because he’s brilliant. He’s brilliantly playing a hustle.

Too bad the target of the hustle is us…

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Voting Confusion

It’s hard to understand polls. Where do they get their numbers from and why are they so different? They often vary drastically from one polling company to the next, with one having Obama ahead by 4 percent and another having Romney up 9 percent, all within the same state. Some polling companies are noticeably biased, others claim objectivity, and still others are simply clandestinely biased. The numbers swing so frequently that anybody paying attention is sure to develop a case of the spins.

The polls take on different formats to try to glean likely outcomes for the election. Popular methods include randomized phone calls, generally to landlines but increasingly to cell phones, with calls at different times of day. But whom it is they are polling and when they are polling them provide different results, and even the littlest difference in detail could swing the results drastically. Think Dr. Malcolm’s explanation of the butterfly effect in Jurassic Park:

“A butterfly could flap its wings in Peking and in Central Park you get rain instead of sunshine.”

At the moment, it looks like Obama has the slightest lead in a number of crucial states, and it appears he might be able to gather the 270 Electoral votes he needs to retain office. But what happens if he doesn’t reach the 270 mark? What happens if neither candidate automatically wins?

Welcome to another bizarre caveat brought to you by the Electoral College. According to the 12th Amendment, if no candidate receives a majority of the Electoral vote, the case goes in front of the House of Representatives. Each state delegation receives a single vote, meaning that although California has 53 representatives and North Dakota has 1, both states would effectively have a single vote to cast. If each state was a person, this could be considered straightforward democracy. But since each state has wildly disproportionate numbers of people living in them, it boils down to less individual representation than already given to us by the Electoral College.

But wait, there’s more. This is where it gets even weirder. Not to be left out, the Senate is responsible for choosing the Vice President, with each Senator receiving a single vote to throw into the pot. Since there is an even number of states, it’s possible that the House could wind up deadlocked at 25-25, so if no president is elected by Inauguration Day, then the Senate-elected vice president acts as president until the issue is resolved.

Now, it isn’t clear if this could create a situation where the House of Representatives could elect a president from one party and a vice president from another one, but constitutionally there’s no reason why this couldn’t be the case. How strange it would be to have a majority Republican House vote for Mitt Romney and a majority Democratic Senate vote for Joe Biden? I imagine the stock market might be a bit rattled by the concept of a Romney-Biden ticket.

Our voting system is filled with strange traditions that simply don’t make sense in this day of age. Take voting on Tuesday for instance. Why don’t we just vote on Saturday when more people have the day off?

Back in the mid-19th century, when we were a mostly agrarian based society, getting to a place to cast your ballot generally involved travelling by horse and buggy into town, many of which were a distance away from the farm. Saturday was seen as a workday and Sunday was off limits, as God wouldn’t want us doing our civic duty while we were supposed to be worshipping Him, and since it could take days of travel, Tuesday was selected as the most convenient day for voters. It’s very practical, but practical for the mid-19th century.

It’s all very strange. As if that wasn’t annoying enough, the Electoral College has produced presidential winners who didn’t win the overall popular vote three times. Remember when more people voted for Al Gore than they did George W. Bush, but how it really all came down to lawsuits over hanging chads in Florida? That was weird. The United States is the only country that elects a president via the Electoral College and the only one where you can win the popular vote and still lose. Despite the fact that it was never explicitly laid by our Founding Fathers, the Electoral College was part of the original design in the Constitution, so changing it would require an amendment. This shouldn’t be a problem, seeing as the 12th Amendment expanded voting rights, but for some unknown reason, no amendment advocating something other than the Electoral College has been successful. Thus we’re stuck with some bizarre, contradictory format that adds to voter discouragement. Somebody must be making a lot of money off that.

This brings up the obvious question: why wouldn’t they update the system to reflect the modern world? One could make the claim that the entire Electoral College system itself is antiquated, and that we would be better off with a voting process that saw every individual person’s vote count, not lumped into a sum overwhelmed by the majority of our state. Maybe we could vote on a day that was convenient for a mostly urbanized population in the 21st century. Is that too much to ask? When does practicality finally trump tradition?

When America demands tribal communities provide access to education to women regardless of the male-dominated traditions of those tribes, we’re asking them to turn aside convention and modernize for the good of their people. But when it comes to our own form of democracy, we drag our feet at best. A true democracy would mean every single person’s vote counts, and that’s what we should be going for. The fact that our politicians do not appear to be concerned with this should raise more than a few eyebrows.

So when you watch all the troubles at the polls on Tuesday, the long lines, the people being turned away, the Rick Scott’s of the system refusing to budge on helping voter’s cast their ballots, don’t be surprised. It’s the American way.

@countslackula

Why the Venezuelan Vote in New Orleans Could Affect Cuba

Right now there are thousands of Venezuelans coming from around the country to New Orleans in order to cast their vote in the Venezuelan presidential election. The old consulate in Miami has been closed for political reasons, so in order for them to vote, Florida residents had to make the journey west to the Big Easy. Opposition to Chavez runs high in this group, and it’s no surprise that the vast majority of them plan on voting for his opponent, Henrique Capriles.

Okay, great, but what does this have to do with Cuba?

Well, Chavez’s Venezuela is the biggest economic supporter of the isolated island, with generous oil subsidies provided to keep Cuba running, and these subsidies are crucial to the country’s current existence. Capriles realizes that it would be politically unwise to simply stop helping Cuba, especially considering the number of Cuban doctors currently acting as “guest workers” in the country, but he does not plan on continuing to support the island to the same extent Chavez does. Cuba, which is currently undergoing a series of economic reforms, could be up against a rock and a hard place if Capriles wins.

I’m sure what’s going on in the minds of Cubans is fear of an economic collapse similar to when support from the Soviet Union dried up over night, paralyzing the country and intensifying the effects of the U.S. embargo to a critical level. The blockade itself is more than partially to blame for Cuba’s reliance on Venezuela, so its continuation coupled with the removal of Venezuelan support could really fuck some shit up for the Cubans. It’s like how New Orleans must feel every time a major hurricane starts working its way towards the city. I mean, it probably won’t be as bad as Katrina, but dear god, what if it is?

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I’m critical of Chavez of course, but what worries me most is the fate of all my friends living in Havana. I know it might seem unimportant in the midst of our crazy election, but what’s happening today in New Orleans and in Caracas could really change the lives of millions of people in Cuba. It might sound weird, but that’s just the way it goes. Let’s hope that whoever gets elected will take that into consideration, because if there’s one thing I want, it’s for my friends not to suffer while I sip on martinis at Molly’s. Speaking of which…

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Syria and Assad

 

My dad once told me a joke about Assad, though I’ll clarify the Assad he was referencing was not the current Assad but the old Assad, Assad’s dad. Apparently this joke is well known throughout the Middle East, thought maybe it’s only popular amongst displaced Palestinians growing up in Lebanon. Who knows. After watching the way the current, ahem, democratically elected Syrian president has dealt with their internal civil uprising, and taking into consideration our own, ahem, democratic elections, I figure it’s okay to share this joke. Consider it social activism. So here we go…………………….

A guy went into a voting center to cast his vote for president, and being a man of consciousness, he voted for the candidate that best represented his own views.

On his way home, he suddenly realized that he’d made an awful mistake. He’d gone in and voted for a candidate that was not Assad, and they had ways to know that he did so. Certain regimes don’t take kindly to that, and by doing something as simple as casting an honest vote he had jeopardized the lives of him and his family. He knew that there was a reason Assad had a 99% approval rating. Chills ran down his spine.

He ran back to the voting booth and pleaded with the polling agent.

“Please, I’ve made a mistake!” said the man. “I meant to vote for Assad but I accidentally voted for his opponent. I came back to correct my mistake, and please, I beg of you, let me make sure my vote is casted as intended!”

The pollster laughed.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “we found your mistake and have already fixed it.”

Havana Affair

Here’s my speech from the conference in Havana. I wrote a million pages more but was up against a time limit, so understand that if anything seems underdeveloped it’s because I don’t have an answer or didn’t have the space to discuss it here. In the case of both, I’m working on it. Email me if you want the 20 page version, it’s better and more in depth. For the sake of just getting it out there, here’s my speech…

You Can Run but You Can’t Hide (Dealing with Global Class War)

By M.H. Abouzelof

A billionaire, a loyalist, and a laborer all sit down at a table. On the table are 12 cookies. The billionaire picks up 11 of the cookies and shoves them in his pocket. He then turns to the loyalist. “Keep an eye on that guy,” the billionaire says, pointing his finger at the laborer. “He’s gonna steal your cookie.”

Nowadays when people bring up class war in the United States, it’s often dismissed as rhetoric spewed by radicals who are more interested in tearing down the status quo than rebuilding a healthy economy. Concepts like the redistribution of wealth and social welfare programs are treated like utopian dreams conjured up by idealists, and class warfare is shrugged off as a divisive term used by a highly impractical fringe.

But, as the wealthy investor Warren Buffett noted, “There’s class warfare all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

Globalization has transformed the socio-economic landscape since it took off in the 1970s. One result of this shift has been the rise of a global ruling class known in economics as the Transnational Capitalist Class. Just so we’re clear, “transnational” refers to forces, processes and institutions that cross national borders without directly deriving power from one nation or another. An example would be Shell, a company who operates on nearly every continent. They’re Dutch, but they’re more than Dutch—they’re transnational.

This distinctive class has the ability to coordinate capitalist ventures on a worldwide level. They fragment and decentralize modes of production before consciously reinserting them into a structure created around making money. It’s a system often portrayed as an impersonal force that ordinary people (and in some cases, entire nations) can do nothing to stop, but in reality the system thrives on mass consent, and there are identifiable actors driving it. Included are:

*Transnational corporations and financial institutions

*Privately owned mass media conglomerates

*Powerful political entities

*Supranational economic planning agencies like the IMF and World Bank

*The wealthy

Combined, these elements work together to maintain and extend upper class dominance. Let me briefly touch on a few of them.

Transnational corporations are at the forefront of capitalist expansion, making them a central factor for discussion. Their main characteristic is the ceaseless pursuit of maximum return on capital investment. They have no intrinsic loyalty to any of the locations where they conduct business, but move from place to place as profits dictate. All other components actively support these corporations; without them, a global ruling class could not exist.

Nations still exist in the new transnational world, but more as political representatives. Some countries are imperialist in appearance, but the true imperialists are the wealthy and powerful elements within each country, regardless if the nation claims to be communist or capitalist. They maintain it is the duty of the people to sacrifice for the state, but what good is it if the state neglects the people? Shouldn’t the state be obliged to sacrifice for its citizens?

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

I reject this on fundamental terms. We do not exist for the state—the state exists for us. It acts as a representative of the people, and if it fails to represent the people justly with the good of overall society in mind, then there is no reason to defend it.

A state where political power is sold to the highest bidder is one that represents those who can afford representation. The wealthy and corporations purchase political power through lobbyists and campaign contributions, and promote interests that rest well outside of national wellbeing. They then use privately owned media outlets to disseminate their message, stoking divisions with smoke and mirrors that conceal what’s really going on. That’s not much of a surprise; the mainstream media is owned and operated almost exclusively by members of the upper class

This is part of the reason why the poor in America tend to vote along party lines that are often against the people’s best interests. They’re so busy defending so-called American values that they fail to recognize that in actuality they’re defending an erosion of the ideals they profess to stand for. Everyone wants access to healthcare, food, housing, and education, yet a large portion of the population votes for politicians who actively restrict those basic needs. The weirdest part is, these restrictions are made in the name of American prosperity.

     What’s good for GM is good for America…

The upper class acts as if the reason jobs are leaving the country is due to it being unfriendly to business. They advocate making the country more attractive for free enterprise, which ultimately comes down to a base argument for “lower taxes and less regulations.” From their perspective, they’re correct. Lower taxes definitely allow the wealthy to keep more of the profits, and paying living wages costs more than using slave labor. Business, which is more concerned with money than people, isn’t attracted to places where they have to put people ahead of profits. As for environmental protection mandates, having to care about what you dump in rivers and pump in the air is a burdensome task, and one that rarely increases profits.

Sure, it hurts the individual workers as well as the environment, but let’s face it, loose regulations are great for business.

So, after briefly addressing who’s doing what, let’s move on to what the working class can do about it. But first, let’s take a step back and talk about what’s really at stake. If there is a war, it seems reasonable to identify what it means to win.

     What are we fighting for?

In previous times, the goal was social equality, or at the very least, a higher level of overall wellbeing. Now, the looming environmental crisis brought on by climate change adds a new element to the discussion. The upper class advocates generally advocates delaying any attempts to curb excesses until it becomes more profitable.

Because of this, and along with the recognition of how drastically climate change will affect the planet, there is a growing call for reengineering the earth. Companies like Monsanto, Bayer, BASF and Exxon Mobile have been patenting technologies made to combat the side-effects of environmental change, all the while promoting policies that add to the problem.

The climate crisis shows how the wealthy assume they are in control, but in reality, they only have illusory control. We live in a closed ecosystem, and the livelihoods of the rich exist alongside those of the poor. Humanity has to take a long honest look in the mirror. We can’t over consume in some parts of the world and overpopulate in others—it’s simply not sustainable.

     We need to reevaluate our goals as a species.

As far as I can tell, only education and/or catastrophe can bring about the necessary paradigm shift. Since a catastrophe appears to be the suboptimal solution, we’re left with education as the soundest approach. Nonetheless, education is often treated as an ever-present afterthought instead of a major concern, especially when compared to economic austerity and military spending.

A dumber population is easier to control—but only to a point. It’s really a false sense of security. I’d council the rich to remember the lessons learned from the French Revolution. Do they really want an uneducated, violent mob running through the streets wrecking havoc on anything they view as a target? If and when people start screaming for blood, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s simply a matter of the hen coming home to roost.

Still, it’s not a shock that education is always the first thing to get cut during budget woes. Education for the people is not a major concern for the transnational capitalist class, and that is something that should be a major concern for everyone.

This brings up the question: How can we make the powers that be recognize education as a priority?

We could try to rely on voting, but the political system is so slanted that it would be a slow, arduous process at best. I think we need to use movements like Occupy Wall Street to force their hand. Resistance to global capitalism is only effective through local disruptions at the moment, but there is nothing inherently prohibiting local movements from going global.

The dialectics of global capitalist expansion has created the conditions for its own destruction.

Some countries can try to stay isolated, but in reality, nobody is insolated, not even the wealthy. I applaud the Cubans for undertaking such a progressive approach to running a country, but I think it’s a mistake to limit access to information and communication. There’s a lot of fuzz out there, and it’s understandable why the country wouldn’t want misinformation flooding the island, but the key isn’t limiting access as much as teaching people to see through the garbage. It’s like trying to shield a child from the realities of life. At some point, they’re going to find out anyway, so it’s better to prepare them to understand the world than to try to hide it away from them.

     It’s all about education and communication.

At the moment, indigenous tribes in South America are using Skype to coordinate mass resistance against outside encroachments. They recognize how important technology is. They know that if they set themselves apart from one another, they’re never going to get anywhere. They realize communication is a key, not a lock.

As people who are aware and in positions to discuss what’s really happening in the world, it’s our job to disseminate clear thoughts to the masses. It’s not enough to just talk about it—we have to live what we preach. I call on all those present to push towards making our message accurate, relatable and accessible to everyone. We have to use out-of-the-box approaches, with the goal of reaching those both inside and outside of academia. The future of mankind has yet to be decided. We need to stand up and make a difference while we still can.

On Class War

Class war can be a tricky subject. It is by no means a simple topic to discuss, even if examples of it can be found nearly everywhere. It’s a divisive concept in mainstream society, and one that isn’t necessarily as clear-cut as some on both sides would paint it. Even the meaning of the term itself can lead to philosophical arguments—what is the definition of war in this case? Should the word itself be considered an adequate?

I leave such philosophical debate up to those who feel burdened by the question. Indeed, even if we are to accept the term class war at face value, the topic itself is so large and convoluted that it cannot properly be tackled in a paper as short as the one you’re currently reading. There are a number of critical points that could be independently developed into a series of doctoral dissertations, and anyone intent on looking for holes might find themselves staring at them all day. For those who are looking for a more exhaustive treatment of global class strife, I highly recommend reading William Robinson’s “The Transnational Capitalist Class.” Likewise, I suggest a thorough review of E.K. Hunt’s “History of Economic Thought”, Thorstein Veblen’s “The Theory of the Leisure Class” and Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22.” I have found all three books to be indispensible for properly understanding class structure and its implications.

While the term “class war” is arguable, there are certain facts that cannot be philosophized away. For instance, there are significant differences between how the richest .01 percent of society lives compared to the vast majority of the world. Giant corporations have definitely spread across the world and exerted pressure on local and national governments everywhere they operate business. There is little rational argument that the planet appears to be heating up, though the cause of this is still debated by groups who tend to be apologetic for those who make money off of lax environmental regulations. Examples of class strife can be found worldwide, from Egypt, France, China, the United States, Brazil, Nigeria, to Cuba. For lack of a more general description, something is happening.

Whereas most people tend to have feelings towards economics in one way or another, actually understanding such a seemingly simple but realistically complicated subject is far from easy. Yet that does not mean we are not capable of breaking things down in a straight forward

and easy to ingest manner. I’m not suggesting it needs to be “dumbed down” for the average person—I just think social arrangements, including class war, can be effectively described through approaches such as humor. For example:

A capitalist, a tea party member, and a union worker all sit down at a table. On the table are 12 cookies. The capitalist picks up 11 of the cookies and shoves them in his pocket. The capitalist then turns to the tea party member and says, “Keep an eye on that guy,” pointing his finger at the union worker. “He’s gonna steal your cookie.”

If only jokes didn’t have their root in reality! Nowadays when people bring up class war in the United States, it’s often dismissed as some radical rhetoric spewed by anarchists, or even worse, godless communists. They’re painted as being more interested in tearing down the status quo than rebuilding a healthy economy, and full of notions not to be taken seriously. Concepts like the redistribution of wealth and social welfare programs are treated like utopian dreams conjured up by idealists, and class warfare is shrugged off as a divisive term used by a jealous (and highly impractical) fringe.

But, as the wealthy investor Warren Buffett noted, “There’s class warfare all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

It’s important that we recognize what is happening around us, because if we don’t, we’re all gonna get steamrolled. I say we talk about it in a straightforward manner. If we want to change the way the world is operating, the first thing we need to do is realize what we want to change. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, for I’m always one for open dialogue. Viva la revolution! Now off to the bar…

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On Scott Walker


Fuck Scott Walker.