Article 43

 

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Homeless In California 2 - Criminalizing Homelessness

image: homessness

“They’ve turned their backs on us”
California’s homeless crisis grows in numbers and violence

By Sam T Levin
The Guardian
December 27, 2019

In a state with the worlds fifth largest economy, physical assaults and criminalization efforts have made 2019 a particularly grim year for the homeless

As homelessness surged to crisis levels in California in 2019, so did the violent attacks on people living in tents and on sidewalks and the political and law enforcement efforts to keep homeless encampments off the streets.

Physical assaults and criminalization efforts combined have made 2019 a particularly grim and terrifying year for many Californians struggling to survive without a roof over their head.

“They are trying to shove us underneath the carpet, and it’s just not fair,” said Shanna Couper Orona, 46, who is currently living out of an RV in San Francisco. San Francisco is supposed to be progressive, a place where you love everyone, take care of everyone. But they;ve turned their backs on us just because we’re unhoused. They are leaving us with nothing.

Amid expanding crisis, a surge in homeless victims

In a state with the world’s fifth largest economy, an IPO tech boom and some of the richest people on earth, Californias severe affordable housing shortage has become what advocates describe as a moral failing and public health emergency.

By the numbers

Los Angeles experienced a 16% increase in homelessness this year, with a total of 36,000 people now homeless across the city, including 27,000 without shelter. San Francisco’s homeless count surged 17% to more than 8,000 people. There was a 42% increase in San Jose, a 47% increase in Oakland, a 52% increase in Sacramento county and increases in the Central Valley agricultural region and wealthy suburbs of Orange county.

There were patterns across cities: huge numbers of people experiencing homelessness for the first time, evictions and unaffordable rents leading people to the streets, families and seniors increasingly homeless, and higher rates of the homeless not getting shelter.

“Homeless people are everywhere now, and they are becoming more and more desperate,” said Stephen Cue Jn-Marie, an LA pastor who was formerly homeless and now works with people living on Skid Row, known for its massive encampments. “All of these people are human beings. We need to respond to this as if it’s an earthquake.”

The growing visibility has led to an increase in complaints, news coverage focused on housed people who reside near encampments, and intense media attention on the rare cases of violence perpetuated by people living on the streets.

Communities have largely declined to treat the crisis like a natural disaster that demands humanitarian aid. In many places, what followed instead was a backlash, and in some cases overt attacks.

There were at least eight incidents in LA where people threw flammable liquids or makeshift explosives at homeless people or their tents this year, according to authorities and the Los Angeles Times.

A 62-year-old beloved musician’s tent was set on fire in Skid Row in August, killing him in what police say was an intentional killing. That month, two men also allegedly threw a “firework” at an encampment, causing a blaze that grew into a major brush fire just outside of the city. One of the men arrested was the son of a local chamber of commerce president. Police said this fire was intentional. In a separate attack, a molotov cocktail destroyed tents and donations.

In San Francisco, a man was caught on video appearing to dump a bucket of water on a homeless woman and her belongings on the sidewalk in June. Witnesses said it seemed to be a “deliberate attack.”

Three months later, San Franciscans who said they were upset with homeless people in their neighborhood paid to install two-dozen knee-high boulders along a sidewalk in an effort to stop them from living on the streets.

In neighboring Oakland, a resident recently put up an unauthorized concrete barrier in the middle of the street to deter homeless people from parking RVs. A real estate developer taunted homeless people by shouting free moneyӔ at them and offering to pay them to leave their encampment in Oakland.

Residents repeatedly organized against proposed homeless shelters in their neighborhoods, most notably in a wealthy San Francisco area where locals crowdfunded $70,000 to hire an attorney to fight a shelter project.

“A lot of it is brought out by this fear of the other as if their homeless neighbors are not neighbors at all, or not even people for that matter,” said TJ Johnston, who is currently staying in shelters in San Francisco and is an editor with Street Sheet, a local homelessness publication. “Hearing wealthy residents complain this year was like watching angry online comment sections come to life,” he said: “It’s very dehumanizing to be looked upon as a nuisance.”

A terrifying trend: jailing people for being too poor

As the crisis has worsened, local governments have spent billions to create new housing and provide services, but the scale of the response has been inadequate. Cities have increasingly looked to law enforcement and legal maneuvers to tackle the problem.

Those political efforts to further criminalize the homeless in turn have sparked intense anger and fear among the homeless population and their advocates.

LA leaders fought to ban people from sleeping on streets and sidewalks throughout the city. In Lancaster, a desert city north of LA, the mayor has pushed a proposal to ban groups that provide food to homeless people and suggested people should buy firearms to protect themselves from violent people on the streets.

This month, in a case closely watched by many west coast cities, the US supreme court dealt a victory to homeless advocates by allowing an existing ruling to stand that states governments cannot ban people from living on the street if they don’t offer enough shelter beds.

Officials in Oakland have proposed a new policy to cite homeless people in parks while some have suggested setting up a shelter in a defunct jail. Law enforcement leaders in Bakersfield in the Central Valley pushed a plan to throw homeless people in jail for misdemeanor offenses. A state taskforce has also suggested a similar system of forcibly placing homeless people into shelters.

“These efforts ignore the overwhelming evidence that criminalization and locking people up are costly and harmful responses that fail to fix the crisis,” said Eve Garrow, homelessness policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

“There’s a dangerous and disturbing movement in California to address homelessness not by expanding access to safe, affordable and permanent housing but by jailing people,” she said. It’s a terrifying prospect of a world in which we segregate, incarcerate and restrict the civil liberties of people just because they have disabilities and they are too poor to afford a home in our skyrocketing private rental market.

“Fears and unfounded stereotypes about people experiencing homelessness seem to be driving these policy pushes to jail those in need,” she said.

The Trump administration has created further anxiety by repeatedly suggesting he might pursue some kind of police crackdown in California to clear the streets of encampments.

The president has used the crisis to attack Democratic leaders in the state, and has COMPLAINED ABOUT HOMELESS PEOPLE in LA and San Francisco taking up space on the “best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings” where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes, where they went to those locations because of the prestige

It’s a huge concern - are they just going to take people to jail?” said Kat Doherty, an LA woman who became homeless this year and is living at a shelter at Skid Row.Trump’s talk has terrified her and others, she said. “It’s horrendous. It sounds like a death camp situation.”

“With the president promoting criminalization, it could inspire some anti-Trump Democrats in California to push back,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director for the Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco. There’s some hopefulness that it will force the local municipalities to shift in opposition to Trump and talk about how criminalization doesn’t work.

But some are not optimistic about 2020, especially since the crisis is on track to continue escalating, with people falling into homelessness at rates that far outpace government’s ability to find housing for those on the street.

“Conditions are going to get worse and the responses are going to get worse,” said Jn-Marie.

If the political attacks continue next year, some said they hoped to see more communities fighting to stand up for the homeless.

“I want people to give a fuck and help. Don’t just ignore it,” Orona said. “Just because we’re unhoused doesn’t mean were not San Francisco residents. We still have a heartbeat. We still buy food. We still exist.”

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Posted by Elvis on 12/29/19 •
Section Dying America
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Thursday, December 26, 2019

Trump And The Working Class

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How Trump Has Betrayed the Working Class

The consequences of Trump’s and the Republicans; excessive corporate giveaways and their failure to improve the lives of ordinary working Americans are becoming clearer by the day.

By Robert Reich
December 24, 2019

For a century the GOP has been bankrolled by big business and Wall Street. Trump wants to keep the money rolling in. His signature tax cut, two years old last Sunday, has helped U.S. corporations score record profits and the stock market reach all-time highs. To spur even more corporate generosity for the 2020 election, Trump is suggesting more giveaways. Chief of staff Mick Mulvaney recently told an assemblage of CEOs that Trump wants to go beyondӔ his 2017 tax cut.

Trump also wants to expand his working-class base. In rallies and countless tweets he claims to be restoring the American working class by holding back immigration and trade. Incumbent Republicans and GOP candidates are mimicking Trumps economic nationalism. As Trump consigliore Stephen Bannon boasted recently, “we’ve turned the Republican party into a working-class party.”

Keeping the GOP the Party of Big Money while making it over into the Party of the Working Class is a tricky maneuver, especially at a time when capital and labor are engaged in the most intense economic contest in more than a century because so much wealth and power are going to the top.

Armed with deductions and loopholes, Americas largest companies paid an average federal tax rate of only 11.3 percent on their profits last year, roughly half the official rate under the new tax law - the lowest effective corporate tax rate in more than eighty years.

Yet almost nothing has trickled down to ordinary workers. Corporations have used most of their tax savings to buy back their shares, giving the stock market a sugar high. The typical American household remains POORER TODAY than it was before the financial crisis began in 2007.

Trumps giant tax cut has also caused the federal budget deficit to balloon. Even as pretax corporate profits have reached record highs, corporate tax revenues have dropped about a third under projected levels. This requires more federal dollars for interest on the debt, leaving fewer for public services workers need.

The Trump administration has already announced a $4.5 billion cut in food stamp benefits that would affect an estimated 10,000 families, many at the lower end of the working class. The administration is also proposing to reduce Social Security disability benefits, a potential blow to hundreds of thousands of workers.

The tax cut has also shifted more of the total tax burden to workers. Payroll taxes made up 7.8 percent of national income last year while corporate taxes made up just 0.9 percent, the biggest gap in nearly two decades. All told, taxes on workers were 35 percent of federal tax revenue in 2018; taxes on corporations, only 9 percent.

Trump probably figures he can cover up this massive redistribution from the working class to the corporate elite by pushing the same economic nationalism, tinged with xenophobia and racism, he used in 2016. As Steve Bannon has noted, the formula seems to have worked for Britain;s Conservative Party. 

But it will be difficult this time around because Trump’s economic nationalism has hurt American workers, particularly in states that were critical to Trump’s 2016 win.

Manufacturing has suffered as tariffs raised prices for imported parts and materials. Hiring has slowed sharply in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and other states Trump won, and in states like Minnesota that he narrowly lost.

The trade wars have also harmed rural America, which also went for Trump, by reducing demand for American farm produce. Last year China bought around $8.6 billion of farm goods, down from $20 billion in 2016. (A new tentative trade deal calls for substantially more Chinese purchases.)

Meanwhile, health care costs continue to soar, college is even less affordable, and average life expectancy is dropping due to a rise in deaths from suicide and opioid drugs like fentanyl. Polls show most Americans remain dissatisfied with the countrys direction.

The consequences of TrumpҒs and the Republicans excessive corporate giveaways and their failure to improve the lives of ordinary working Americans are becoming clearer by the day.

The only tricks left to Trump and the Republicans are stoking social and racial resentments and claiming to be foes of the establishment. But bigotry alone won’t win elections, and the detritus of the tax cut makes it difficult for Trump and the GOP to portray themselves as anti-establishment.

This has created a giant political void, and an opportunity. Democrats have an historic chance to do what they should have done years ago: Create a multi-racial coalition of the working class, middle class, and poor, dedicated to reclaiming the economy for the vast majority and making democracy work for all.

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Posted by Elvis on 12/26/19 •
Section Dying America
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Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Next Depression Part 55 - Nearing The Second Great Depression

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We Could Be Nearing The Second Great Depression

By John Mauldin
Forbes
December 12, 2019

You really need to WATCH THIS VIDEO of a recent conversation between Ray Dalio and Paul Tudor Jones. Their part is about the first 40 minutes. In this video, Ray highlights some problematic similarities BETWEEN OUR TIMES AND THE 1930s. Both feature:

1. a large wealth gap
2. the absence of effective monetary policy
3. a change in the world order, in this case the rise of China and the potential for trade wars/technology wars/capital wars.

He threw in a few quick comments as their time was running out, alluding to the potential for the end of the world reserve system and the collapse of fiat monetary regimes. Maybe it was in his rush to finish as their time is drawing to a close, but it certainly sounded a more challenging tone than I have seen in his writings.

Currency Wars

It brought to mind an essay I read last week from my favorite central banker, former BIS Chief Economist William White. He was warning about potential currency wars, aiming particularly at the US Treasurys seeming desire for a weaker dollar. Ditto for other governments around the world.

He believes this is a prescription for disaster:

One possibility is that it might lead to a disorderly end to the current dollar based regime, which is already under strain for a variety of both economic and geopolitical reasons. To destroy an old, admittedly suboptimal, regime without having prepared a replacement could prove very costly to trade and economic growth.

Perhaps even worse, conducting a currency war implies directing monetary policy to something other than domestic price stability. There ceases to be a domestic anchor to constrain the expansion of central bank balance sheets.

Should this lead to growing suspicion of all fiat currencies, especially those issued by governments with large sovereign debts, a sharp increase in inflationary expectations and interest rates might follow. How this might interact with the record high debt ratios, both public and private, that we see in the world today, is not hard to imagine.

I called Bill to ask if he thought this was going to happen. Basically, he said no, but it shouldn’t even be considered. It was his gentlemanly way of issuing a warning.

Currency devaluations against gold were part of the root cause of the Great Depression. Coupled with protectionism and tariffs, they devastated global economic growth and trade.

The Repeat of the 1930s?

Do I think it will happen in any significant way in the next few years? It is not my highest probability scenario. But imagine a recession that brings the US deficit to $2 trillion, possibly followed by a governmental change that raises taxes and spending.

This could bring about a second “echo” recession with even higher deficits. This would force the Federal Reserve to monetize debt in order to keep interest rates from skyrocketing, thereby weakening the dollar.

Couple this with a concurrent crisis in Europe, potentially even a eurozone breakup, resulting in countries all over the world trying to weaken their currencies with the potential for higher inflation in many places.

In such a scenario, is it hard to imagine a desperate president and Congress, toward the latter part of the next decade, regardless of which party is in control, instructing the US Treasury to use its tools to weaken the dollar?

Can you say beggar thy neighbor? Can you see other countries following that path? All as debt is increasing with no realistic exit strategy except to monetize it?

I predict an unprecedented crisis that will lead to the biggest wipeout of wealth in history. And most investors are completely unaware of the pressure building right now. Learn more HERE.

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Posted by Elvis on 11/21/19 •
Section Dying America • Section Next Recession, Next Depression
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Friday, November 15, 2019

Bernie

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The Movement Bernie Started Is Bigger Than Any One Person. Have Faith in That Movement, Not Just the Man

By Emily Kirklin
Common Dreams
October 6, 2019

Senator Bernie Sanders is not just one man. He is a movement. What he represents is a set of ideals that will pull this nation out of the soul-sucking quicksand in which we currently find ourselves.

After the news of the senators recent health setbacks, many people are worried about the future of the Sanders campaign. I was one of them. I found myself thinking, “Will the voters confidence be shaken? Will the people vote for someone who may not be able to weather the stress of the presidency? How can we keep asking him to sacrifice his health for the good of the nation?”

I wasn’t sure. I’m still not. My father had a heart attack, stents, and more a few years back. I cant honestly say that I would want my dad to put himself through such grueling work. I want him for myself, and I want to make each moment we have last as long as possible. These should be happy days of enjoying life’s simple pleasures and each others company. Can I really ask so much of someone when I’m not willing to give it up myself? So, I spent some moments in introspection, imagining the various scenarios and what ifs of a future without Bernie. They all seemed a bit lackluster. But I thought, maybe its time. He has already given the Democratic Party and this country so much. The issues at the forefront today, like HEALTHCARE and STUDENT DEBT, are so dramatically different from what they were four years ago, and we have Senator Sanders to thank for that. Without his voice, representing the millions of disenfranchised voters across this land, we would still be in that sandpit, slowly sinking to the bottom. He has thrown us a lifeline. We can’t let that go.

Is it time for him to hand the rope to someone else to struggle onward? To let the man rest and enjoy life with his family? But who could take on the struggle? Is any single person up to the task? Perhaps not. But then I realized, that isn’t really the point of Bernie’s campaign: “Not me, us.” Not one single person, but all of us pulling together. This movement is so much bigger than one person.

The movement does not begin and end with Sanders. From the first day he steps into the Oval Office, the change begins, like a pebble thrown into the water, reverberating through the depths, rippling across the surface. Every individual within his administration will be a part of the revolution. Every person who chooses to stand at his side represents the ideals of integrity, honesty, humility, transparency, and responsibility to our environment, responsibility to those who are voiceless.

The reason people support Bernie Sanders is not because of the man; it is because of THE IDEALS that he represents. He fights for the issues that are dear to us, and people trust him to fill his administration with those who will carry on in these fights. I have no doubt that his administration will be one of moral integrity. That every person appointed and hired will truly have these ideals at heart and will have the moral fortitude to stand up to corporate interests and lobbyists. A government for the people and by the people. And while I would love for Sanders to fill the role of president for four whole years, we would be blessed to have even one day because that’s all we truly need. For just a moment, someone to put their foot in the door, so the rest of us can gather the strength to get out of this sandpit, push open that door more fully, and allow in the integrity and compassion we’ve been missing.

Ultimately, the choice is his, but knowing Bernie, I believe that hell be fighting with every bit of his strength until his final days (may they be many years from now!), win or lose, rain or shine, because that is simply the type of person he is.

So, as selfish as it may be, I ask that he keep fighting for us. Just a little longer. I am willing to put my faith in the movement as a whole. I am putting my faith in every person that is a part of this. Keep pulling. Not me, us.

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image: bernie sander and alexandria ocasioo-cortez

Why We Need Young People To Run the Country - And Why I’m Voting for Bernie Anyway
You cant trust anyone over 30 years in office. Except maybe one

By Dayton Martindale
In These Times
October 24, 2019

Young people are badly underrepresented in the U.S. government.  The average age of Senators is currently 63, a full 25 years older than the median U.S. resident. In the House, it’s 58. The four leading presidential contenders, including Trump, are all in their 70s. Joe Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972 - he has been one of the planetגs most powerful people for nearly half a century, longer than most have been alive.

Politics is often construed as noble public service, but it is also a tremendous privilege. Federal officeholders wield POWER over not only U.S. voters but also many who have no say in our elections, including residents of other countries and those under 18. In fact, climate change, nuclear war and environmental pollution have the potential to affect all life on this planet for centuries if not millennia to come.

Probably no single government should have such power. At the least, a supposed democracy should share this power as widely as possible. In reality, most ordinary people never get near it.

Over time, this power corrupts. As Rep. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-N.Y.) reports:

Behind closed doors, your arm is twisted, the vise pressure of political pressure gets put on you, every trick in the book, psychological and otherwise, is used to get us to abandon the working class.

“As a consequence of my fundraising I became more like the wealthy donors I met,” wrote Barack Obama of his 2004 Senate campaign in The Audacity of Hope. “I spent more and more of my time above the fray, outside the world of immediate hunger, disappointment, fear, irrationality and frequent hardship of the other 99%. I suspect this is true for every senator: The longer you are a senator, the narrower the scope of your interactions.”

The youth counterculture of the 1960s used to claim that you can’t trust anyone over 30. Obama’s words suggest that you can’t trust anyone whos held federal office for over 30 years.

The ancient Athenians would have agreed. They believed elections favor the wealthy and influential, instead appointing (male, non-slave) citizens to political positions for one-year terms through random selection.

Despite high-profile successes such as the victory of Ocasio-Cortez (age 30) over Joe Crowley (age 57), most Congressional incumbents can rest relatively easy, with well above an 80% likelihood of reelection. What we get is an insulated class of professional politicians, propped up by a relatively wealthy and old donor class. As Astra Taylor ARGUES in the New York Times, structural obstacles from age limits to economic precarity to the Senate’s rural-state bias hinder young people (who disproportionately live in cities) from entering politics.

On the surface, this may seem only a modest injustice - can’t millennials just wait our turn? But the importance of youth representation becomes clear when you begin to consider climate change: The old folks in Congress will die before the worst impacts hit. (While the elderly poor are already getting slammed by heat waves and storms, the elderly poor are not who sit in Congress.) They can dismiss youth-led calls for “a Green New Deal as a green dream, or whatever” (Nancy Pelosi, 79), knowing they will be safely in the grave while future generations struggle to make a life among the wreckage. An aging elite is refusing to PASS THE TORCH and using that torch to set the planet alight. As GRETA THUNBERG asked: How dare they?

Of course, age should not be the only factor in making our presidential decisions. It is perhaps ironic that the oldest candidate, Bernie Sanders, has the most ambitious plan to rein in climate change, student debt and war, all issues disproportionately affecting the youth; he also eschews corporate fundraising and, according to Ocasio-Cortez, who recently endorsed him, has maintained consistent and nonstop advocacy for the 99% despite his 34 years in elected office. This is probably why the vast plurality of millennials planning to vote in the Democratic primary - this author included - back him.

It is probably not coincidence, however, that the long-tenured Sanders has been reluctant to embrace such institutional reforms as abolishing the filibuster or expanding the Supreme Court. Several younger candidates, such as Pete Buttigieg (37) and Kamala Harris (55), are much more open, as is Elizabeth Warren (70). Their relative youth and newness to politics may give them a fresher perspective on how government should be operated. (Warren, although just eight years younger than Sanders, has only held elected office since 2013.)

In fact, Buttigieg, the youngest candidate at 37, introduced “intergenerational justice” as a campaign theme and has voiced the strongest support for court packing. (Unfortunately, the details of his court-packing plan are needlessly convoluted and, like his whole campaign, leave much to be desired.)

Sanders’ other electoral weaknesses - his IMPROVED but RACE and GENDER - baggage and old grudges from 2016 (not totally his fault); concerns about his heart - also correlate with age and length of time in politics. All of this suggests that passing the torch to a younger, more diverse suite of left politicians will need to happen sooner than later.

It is to his credit that Sanders is doing this, both directly and indirectly. The organization that came out of his 2016 campaign, Our Revolution, is actively working to build up new progressive leadership at every level of government. And many of the young people mobilized by that campaign have gone on to hold office, from Ocasio-Cortez to socialist Chicago alderman Andre Vasquez (now 40). Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn., age 38), too, says she was inspired to run for Congress by the Sanders campaign.

We may have seen a glimpse of the future in New York this October, where Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez shared a stage before an audience of 26,000.

“Are you willing to fight for young people drowning in student debt, even if you are not?” Sanders asked to close his speech. “Are you willing to fight for a future for generations of people who have not yet even been born, but are entitled to live on a planet that is healthy and habitable? Because if you are willing to do that, if you are willing to love, if you are willing to fight for a government of compassion and justice and decency - [then] together we will transform this country.

Later, in a joint interview, Ocasio-Cortez was asked whether she would work in a Sanders administration. Bernie jumped in: “Yes, you would!”

This is part of a debate about whether age matters in a presidential candidate. Read the first entry, “Ageism Has No Place in a Presidential Election,” by Susan Douglas, HERE.

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Can Bernie (Really) Save America?

By Umair Haque
Eudaimonia
January 24, 2020

Lately, as Bernie surges in the polls, I get the question slightly resentful accusation, really - that I don’t like Bernie. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love Bernie, I’ve always liked Bernie, I call him grandpa on Twitter in a kind of childish ironic affection to make fun of pundits who...mean it. Everybody, in fact, should like Bernie.

Bernie’s fantastic, and he’d make a great President, for many reasons. He’s an outsider among the K St Beltway clique that runs DC. I grew up among people like this, so I know viscerally just how indiserish they can be. They’ve never had a new idea in their lives - because if you live within fifty miles of K St, and work in this class of people, life’s never been better.

(This class of people - lets call them America’s technocratic elites - are the precise equivalent of their Soviet counterparts. They’ve failed dismally, they don’t know it, and they don’t care, because nobody can ever hold them accountable. Except maybe a Bernie.

The failure of Americas technocratic elites 0 the Yale and Harvard educated set that works at McKinsey or Goldman for a few years, and then slides into cushy jobs as lobbyists, consultants, undersecretaries of this and that is so spectacular, though, that it makes the world’s jaw drop. The average American lives in poverty, unable to pay the bills, piling up debt, and dying in it. He or she doesn’t have decent healthcare, education, food, water, not to mention income or retirement (which is now an impossibility.) What the? No country since the Soviet Union has been so fatally mismanaged as America.)

That brings me to the biggest reason to like Bernie. He doesn’t subscribe to the crackpot ideas that destroyed America from within - making it collapse into poverty, despair, rage, greed, and the hate all those eventually become. He just flatly dismisses them as the crackpot thinking they are, and always have been.

What are some of those ideas? You know them so well they’re invisible American pundits and intellectuals talk of nothing else, even though those ideas have failed catastrophically, just like Soviet ideology. There’s “trickle-down economics” while wealth is busy trickling up. There’s deficit-cutting while the average person struggles to pay basic bills. There’s the idea that government should be “drowned in a bathtub” so colossally stupid, because who else can provide you decent healthcare and retirement? That capitalist? LOL.

I could go on forever. The great thing about Bernie - the refreshing, courageous, and true thing about Bernie is that - he can grasp and speak the simple reality that mainstream, status quo, elite American ideas have failed catastrophically. Let me put all the above even more simply.

America made a socioeconomic choice - a fatal one. It wasn’t going to be like any other society. No it was exceptional, and always had been: a promised land. Here, people would learn to pick themselves up by their own bootstraps - and along the way, they’d learn the virtues of industry, hard work, and decency. They’d become better people and everyone would grow rich. All it would take was a little punishment, a little selfishness, a little bit of hard-heartedness. Or maybe a lot. “Tough love” is what American pop culture calls all that.

The problem, of course, is that America’s economic exceptionalism didn’t work. Making Americans beg each other for dollars to pay for healthcare online didn’t make anyone better off - it just made people dead. Turning the middle class into the new, desperate poor didn’t lead to some kind of mass movement of generous and beautiful peopl - it just led to neofascism, as they sought even more powerless people to hate. Making working class Americans work around the clock and never take vacations didn’t add to more industry in fact, it only led to abusive monopolies, and mega-billionaires that corrode democracy.

American ideas have failed in every possible way - and hence, as a result, Americas having something very much like a Soviet collapse.

And yet the weird thing is this. Here’s the part where you might hate me. But dont. I don’t say it to be mean. I say it in the way of gentle, loving constructive criticism, yes really. The biggest reason to like Bernie might also be Bernie’s biggest shortcoming, in the end.

Let me explain. It’s not really about Bernie, but the movement hes come to spearhead “democratic socialism.” Bernie understand that American ideas have failed. And so he’s reaching for a new set of ideas. But does he have to? Does the wheel need to be reinvented? Christ, I sound like a punditly ass when I write - insert Ezra Klein voice - so let me try again.

European social democracy is the most successful system of organization humankind has ever invented. Yes, really. I’m a social democrat - in a mild way, I don’t care much for politics, and I’m not fanatical about it, I prefer disco and my puppy - not for ideology’s sake. But because I can’t deny reality. The empirical reality of social democracy’s stunning success is too strong and obvious to be denied, by any thinking person.

Europeans live not just the world’s longest, happiest, richest, healthiest, sanest lives by a very, very long way - but history’s. Moreover, they’ve accomplished that in just one human lifetime - from the ashes of war. The magnitude and triumph of such a thing isn’t taught in America, but it should be. It might just be humanity’s greatest accomplishment, ever. The European miracle should be taught to every child in preschool, so that they really understand what human prosperity is made of, where it comes from.

Now let’s come back to Bernie. Bernie’s big challenge isn’t really his own. It’s part of a larger movement. American “democratic socialism.” Now, this set of ideas, which was made in America, which is purely American, isn’t European social democracy. In fact, it proposes a very different way to achieve a similar kind of society. The ends might be similar, but the means aren’t. What are the differences?

Democratic socialism isn’t interested overly in building great and transformative national institutions - like Britain’s NHS or BBC, like Frances pension system, like Germany’s system of corporate of governance. It doesn’t really aspire so much to build something like “An American National Health System” or “An American BBC” or “An American Worker Led Governance System,” as it does to - well - nobody really knows. This is a movement without a direction and a vision at the higher levels of social reimagination… precisely because Americans are frustrated - but like Americans, being exceptionalists, they don’tt want to copy those dirty Europeans - they want to to do it their own way.

The result is that - democratic socialists tend, ironically, to be cautious incrementalists, not transformational revolutionaries. That’s going to make a lot of them angry but I think it’s fair to say that much on a global scale. They want Medicare For All not an American Healthcare System. They want more public media, maybe - not an American BBC. They want a higher minimum wage not often a mandatory contract between industries and workers or reformed corporate boards on which workers sit. Do you see the difference? Itחs true that some democratic socialists will support all the above. But as a movement, revolutionary transformations are not so high on its agenda incremental changes, like extending existing institutions, are. So far as I can see, anyways.

Let me try to make the difference crystal clear.

җDemocratic socialists support incremental changes to policies, usually Ӕ what they dont seem to support nearly as much is revolutionary changes to institutions. Why doesnגt America have its own BBC? ItҒs own NHS? Something like Frances bargaining system Ғ where the government and whole sectors (like, say restaurants) negotiate wages across industries? The answer to that question and I think itחs an important question goes like this.

American democratic socialists arenҗt interested in learning much from European social democracy. They want to reinvent the wheel. They want to bewell, something that҅s important to Americans: innovators, pioneers, and so on. And so nobody, really, on the democratic socialist side says something like җhey, lets just copy BritainӒs healthcare system, Frances pension system, and GermanyҒs corporate governance system. (If anyone, Liz Warren did that Ҕ but her team blew it, and thats another story.)

But is there any need to reinvent this particular wheel ג when its the most powerful and successful thing humanityגs probably ever created? I mean that metaphor weirdly literally. Is there any need to reinvent European or Canadian style social democracy when itҗs literally the most powerful and successful model of human organization ever createdby a very, very long way? Or is there just a need to҅learn from it, to literally institutionalize it in America?

(Why reinvent something that works so beautifully well? Can you even ever reinvent it?)

Now, you might think all that’s abstract, a point without a point. But I assure you it’s not. Not really understanding or admiring the depth and immensity of social democracy’s historic triumph creates real problems for American democratic socialists - because they don’t really understand it’s workings, necessities, demands, morality, ethics, or responsibilities, either.

Take Bernie’s tax plan. There is a very big problem with it. It effectively says to Americans that their taxes don’t have to rise (apart from maybe factoring in healthcare) to achieve something like a social democracy. But that is very, very unlikely to be true. The price of a true social democracy is simple. People give up somewhere close to half their income to enjoy expansive public goods. That wheel, my friends, cant be reinvented. To suggest that the average American can pay maybe 25% in taxes - and enjoy European levels of public goods just isn’t a very good one. It’s selling people social democracy, but on capitalisms easy, comfortable terms. Does that sound reasonable to you?

There’s a very simple reason for that, by the way. The definition of a social democracy the simplest one, anyways - is that about half the economy is socialist, and the other half capitalist. So half the economy is made up of public healthcare, media, retirement, childcare, transport, and so on while half is your everyday capitalist iPhones and designer handbags and whatnot. But you canחt achieve that balance when the average persons paying something like 25% in taxes. Because, quite obviously, for half the economy to be public, social, collective, so too, the average person has to give up something like close to half of what they earn to make that happen (just like in most of Europe).

That brings me back to a Very Big Problem. Let me put it bluntly. Americans are not generous people when it comes to their society. I don’t mean that in a mean way just in an empirical one. The price of decades of predatory capitalism and red scares has been that the average American is very, very, very much against ever really paying higher taxes. It’s just a politically unpalatable idea - which is precisely why even Bernie’s way of selling democratic socialism is to point out that you break even in net terms.

He has to resort to that rhetorical tactic precisely because Americans dislike paying taxes, because they hate their government - because, and this is the part they don’t get - they still distrust the idea of collective action and public goods, deep down. That says: Americans haven’t made the moral and cultural shift social responsibility really demands yet. But Bernie’s not fully asking them to make it, either.

Everyone hates paying taxes. Europeans don’t exactly love it. But they seem to understand the logic, the responsibilities, of the kind of social contract above. If you want a society where public goods are expansive and collective action has power, a true social democracy then you must also share something like half of what you have, to make that true. You can’t have it both ways.

Do you see that point? How it really works? You can’t have an economy that’s a social democracy half capitalist, half socialist, one where labour has just as much power as capital - unless people are also willing to share up to about half of what they have. It just isn’t possible, by definition.

But that is the problem Americans have. They want it both ways. They want the benefits of living in a social democracy ג at the price of living in a capitalist one. Bernies still promising them that ג or at least a flavour of that, a taste of it. That is a great shortcoming, my friends.

I dont think such a thing is possible ג to have a social democracy, on capitalisms terms. To have a functioning modern society ג but people only sharing a quarter or less of they have and make. For the simple reason that such a society can only ever be 25% or so made of public goods which are socially owned, operated, managed. (That is more or less where America is today 25% social, 75% private. You canחt go much lower than 25% because then you dont have roads, teachers, and police at all. Going from 25 to 50% is how you have healthcare, college, retirement, childcare, and so on.)

The fundamental idea democratic socialists have Ғ that really marks them out as different from social democrats is that they can tax the ultra wealthy to pay for a functioning modern society. But that logic isnחt going to work in the long run. It isnt capable of real transformation. Sure, you can tax the rich and have a nice nest egg for society. But itҒs a one-off. What happens after you tax their wealth and income to bits? To keep a society operating consistently, perpetually, and stably at a balance of half public, half private which, again, is what social democracy is, and what public healthcare, retirement, education, and so on really consist of - the average person has to give up something pretty close to half of what they make, create, produce, own, and earn.

Yes, really. I don’t think Americans are there yet. I don’t think they/re ready to make that sacrifice - because that’s how they still see it, as a sacrifice, not as what it truly is: a form of investment.

Social democracy works because people are investing half of what they earn and own right back in everyone else. I am investing half of me in you, but you are doing right back for me, too. Then and only then do expansive public goods become possible, does labour have equal power to capital, can collective action really force social change. Less is not enough. Half is a critical threshold for a very good reason, which Ill come to shortly.

Make that choice, though, and everyone, that way, rises, astonishingly fast, to a just as astonishingly high standard of living - like I said, it took Europe just seventy years to become enjoy history/s highest living standards, ever. A social surplus fairly redistributed - then generously reinvested - that is the formula for human prosperity.

America’s democratic socialists, though, don’t seem to fully understand that. Again, I don’t say that in a mean way. Their movement is young, and there’s much to learn. Still, for them, the central idea is that a social surplus can be taken from the rich, and used to create a functioning society for everyone else. That is a part of how a true social democracy works, to be sure - but only a small part, really. The larger part is that people just everyday, average, normal people are wise, courageous, brave, generous, empathetic, and defiant enough to, despite their struggles and travails, invest half of what is theirs in everyone else. That is what keeps Europe a gentler and happier and saner place, too. That sense of togetherness, the lack of selfishness, the wisdom of a beautiful choice.

The wisdom of a beautiful choice. What do I mean by that? Think about the morality and ethics of (the economics and politics of) social democracy for a moment - how improbable and beautiful it really is.

When I invest half of me in you - all of you - what am I really saying? We are equal, all of us. We all have inherent and inalienable worth, and it is precisely equivalent. In hard terms. In concrete terms. Half for me half for you. Your education, retirement, healthcare, and so on. Nothing could be fairer. Let me say it again. Nothing could be fairer. Me giving half of myself to everyone else is the foundation for history’s most succesful social contract because it is what permits morality, economics, and politics to converge. Then we are equal, then we are in balance, then we are walking beside one another all of us. There is a much truer reason, then, than why Americans - even their leftists really understand, why social democracy became history’s greatest success story. A deep one, that cuts right down to the soul.

The question, though, is whether Americas democratic socialists are ready to learn all that. That strange and astonishingly beautiful link between morality, ethics, economics, politics, society, and power that social democracy really makes. Just what a great insight and breakthrough it really is - one so great that human though hasn’t fully recognized it yet. The threshold of half and half, and what it says about the freedom and equality we give - and the power and prosperity we receive.

It has taken Europe centuries of pain and millennia of strife to recognize the beauty in such wisdom. Let us then be gentle with America, and say: perhaps it will take a little while longer yet.

(Bernie will make a fantastic President. He’s awesome. But nobody’s perfect. I say all this gently, not with spite. America has a long, long way to go towards social democracy - and that’s with Bernie. Take it from someone who understands all the above intimately, because they’ve lived and studied both social democracy and capitalism. Without him, of course, America’s inevitable plunge from poverty towards fascism only accelerates, and becomes irreversible.)

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Posted by Elvis on 11/15/19 •
Section American Solidarity
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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Project Nightingale

image: google

Google’s “Project Nightingale” analyzes medical records to create “Patient Search” for health providers

By Abner Li
9to5Google
Nov 2019

Beyond the ACQUISTION OF FITBIT earlier this month, Google’s health ambitions are multi-faceted and extend into services for hospitals and health providers. Such an effort named Project Nightingale was detailed today, along with the end product: Patient Search.

The Wall Street Journal today REPORTED on Project Nightingale, with Forbes providing more details on the effort, including screenshots.  Ascension - one of the country’s largest healthcare systems - is moving its patient records to Google Cloud. This complete health history includes lab results, doctor diagnoses, and hospitalization records.

In turn, Google is analyzing and compiling that data into a Patient Search tool that allows doctors and other health professionals to conveniently see all patient data on an overview page.

The page includes notes about patient medical issues, test results and medications, including information from scanned documents, according to presentations viewed by Forbes.

The interface is quite straightforward and not too different from hospitals that offer results directly to patients today.

Internally, the project is being developed within Google Cloud, and 150 Googlers reportedly have access to the data. This includes Google Brain, the companys internal AI research division. The WSJ describes another tool in development that uses machine learning to suggest possible patient treatment changes to doctors.

Google in this case is using the data, in part, to design new software, underpinned by advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning, that zeroes in on individual patients to suggest changes to their care.

That appears to be further off in the distance compared to ԒPatient Search, which is already deployed to Ascension facilities in Florida and Texas, with more locations planned this year. Google is apparently not charging Ascension for the work and could offer the tool to other health systems in the future.

When asked for comment, Google said Project Nightingale abides by all federal laws and that privacy protections are in place. Experts that spoke to the WSJ believe that this initiative is allowed under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).

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Posted by Elvis on 11/12/19 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy
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