Is there such a thing as Democratic Socialism?

There are only two types of socialists: those who believe socialism will come by revolution––the uprising of the working class––and those who believe socialism can be voted in. The problem comes after socialism arrives. Then little distinguishes the policies that are advanced and the means by which they are implemented.

In the Soviet Union, the Communist Party implemented its policies by force, using the police and military to get people to do the party’s bidding. There were no individual rights in the Soviet Union, except for the Party’s top leaders of course. In Argentina, where socialism was voted in, the police and military have become the means by which a socialist dictatorship remains in power. Today people have numbers written on their arms to show their place in the food lines. Echoes of the Holocaust.

So, is there such a thing as democratic socialism? The answer is no. There are European countries that have adopted some socialistic policies, but none are truly socialist societies. Private ownership of wealth and property cannot be allowed to exist under socialism. Corporations and small businesses may operate under severe restrictions in Europe, but they exist in all European countries. In a truly socialist society any attempt to restore capitalism even by electoral means has to be crushed by force. Take Cuba as another example where the people do not have political liberty and where private ownership is extremely limited.

What would “democratic socialism” mean in America? Loss of individual liberties in the name of the society as a whole. Loss of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion. Those losses would not be labeled as such. They would be announced as great accomplishments for the “working class,” but they are inevitable.

Elizabeth Warren wants to know where the family lore blank is on the presidential application form?

Writing in the May 17 Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan defended Elizabeth Warren against Donald Trump’s calling her Pocahontas by arguing that Warren was “merely repeating family lore.”

That is b.s. to put it mildly. You can’t tell me that Warren didn’t know that attaching “Native American” to her applications for graduate school, professorships and grant applications didn’t give her a step up over other candidates. “Female and Native American. Wow. We want one of those,” said the law school dean who hired her at Harvard.

She can’t say she didn’t know she was benefitting from that claim without appearing out of it. Identity has become a primary qualifier for academic positions for decades. She had to know that, which is why she referred to herself as Native American.

And for Sullivan to accept Warren’s excuse as legitimate and also to say “She does have some such ancestry, but not very much” is also disingenuous. The results of the DNA test she took “cannot show that she or any other person is ‘NativeAmerican’” according to Jennifer Raff writing in Forbes Magazine.

In other words, Trump is entirely justified for his calling Warren Pocahontas because that’s what you do to people who cheat. You call them out. Thank goodness that name is sticking because it reminds people that when she had an opportunity to cheat to advance her career Warren didn’t hesitate. Is that the kind of person we want as president?

Elizabeth Warren Is Barking Up the Wrong Trees

Given her academic credentials and past political successes––having won her Senate seat twice––you’d think Elizabeth Warren would run a smart campaign for the Democrat Presidential nomination, but you’d be wrong. Polls show her below the top male contenders and she’s far behind in fund raising. Lately, her policy pronouncements sound desperate rather than calculated.

Tax the Richest

Warren began her campaign calling for an “ultra-millionaire tax.” She claims America needs to tax household net worth, not just income, on the basis of statistics that show the richest Americans are richer today than they were forty years ago. She claims that is due to government policies that facilitate wealth accumulation at workers’ expense.

(Workers is her word. It’s a term used by Communists and Socialists and goes back to Karl Marx and the 19th century. It’s not only slanted, but it’s intentionally imprecise. In socialist jargon everyone is a worker except capitalists.)

There is a false assumption underlying her calculation, which is that the same families who were super rich forty years ago are superrich today. If that were true, then we could consider her argument that government tax policy is a factor in keeping the rich rich, but it’s not true. Just as many of the top 25 corporations of 1975 have been replaced by new corporations today, many of today’s wealthiest families gained their wealth recently. They didn’t inherit their wealth. They earned it.

Her wealth tax also ignores that fact that the top wage earners in America already pay a hefty percentage of income taxes, which is why Warren wants to tax household net worth including assets held in trust, retirement assets (401k plan monies) and even assets held by minor children. This is a soak the rich scheme the consequences of which can only be bad for the economy. Why? The tax would force people to withdraw billions out of the stock and bond markets, which would slow economic growth and result in layoffs. Further, a significant portion of the collected money would have to pay the thousands of new IRS employees who would be necessary to assess the household wealth of millions of Americans. It could take one fulltime employee weeks per millionaire.

Warren Boards the Runaway Electoral College Wagon

Not satisfied to ride the tax the rich train, Warren joined the crowd clamoring to get rid of the Electoral College. “Everyone’s vote should count equally,” she argues. That would make sense if we were a country like Israel, whose population is around 10 million, but we are a federal republic made up of 50 states. To nationalize our electoral system taking political power away from the states would represent a dangerous step towards nationalizing the entire country, making the federal government all powerful and reducing state and local governments to puppet shows. That is exactly what the founders feared when they designed our constitution.

The Electoral College gives power to small states like Rhode Island, Utah and Mississippi. Abolishing the Electoral College would lead to candidates spending all their time in the five or six most populace states. It’s a terrible idea and even worse that a law professor who should know better endorses it.

Chasing Bernie: A Bad Plan

Off to a slow start Warren seemingly saw Bernie Sanders leading the early polls and decided to compete with Bernie by coming out with her “universal free college and cancellation of student loan debt” plan. Some of her analysis of the problem makes sense––in particular the fact that public college tuitions have escalated faster than inflation disadvantaging lower income families.

There two major problems with her plan, however––her analysis of the source of the problem is skewed and her solution introduces a measure of unfairness and false hope.

Warren claims it’s “virtually impossible” for a young person to achieve what she achieved––rising from a poor small town family to become a teacher, law professor and U.S. Senator. The basis for this unsubstantiated and rather absurd claim is the high cost of higher education. Costs have increased faster than inflation and many students are forced to borrow money, but what’s to stop someone from following a similar career path once they graduate? To make that claim, Warren makes assertions that are patently false.

Why has college become unaffordable? Warren says it’s become the state and federal government would “rather cut taxes for billionaires and giant corporations and offload the cost of higher education onto students and their families.” This is a backhand slap at the Trump tax cut, but Warren admits elsewhere the high tuition problem is not recent in the making. It’s been building for decades, under both Democrat and Republican presidents and governors.

She can’t resist taking a whack at capitalism claiming government has “stood by as employers demanded higher credentials while offloading the cost of getting those credentials onto workers.” What? Job credentials reflect the skills and knowledge required to do the job. Government has no role in determining what skills an employer feels an applicant should possess for any particular job title. I don’t even think the Soviet Union went that far.

Then she claims employers have not passed along in the form of wage increases the profits they’ve earned as a result of the skills workers bring to the job. That must come from some academic statistician who decided to find figures that matched his or her bias because the fact of the matter is that employers today are paying high wages for skilled workers. Ask any computer programmer if s/he is compensated fairly in relation to the cost of his/her education!

How Much Will It All Cost?

Warren admits her debt cancellation plan would cost $640 billion and universal free college would double the cost of the total program. Where will $1.25 TRILLION dollars to pay for this come from? The ultra-millionaire tax program, of course.

Fine, except Bernie Sanders wants that money to pay for universal health care, Beto O’Rourke wants it to battle climate change, and Warren herself needs some of that money for her universal child care program.

Warren should know that chasing Bernie’s socialist student crowd is political suicide. Students don’t register to vote at the same rate as older adults and their turnout rate is poor. Young adults 21 to 30 may be attracted to all these give-aways, but retired people and those who are in the middle of a career, whether married and raising a family or not, have gained enough life experience to understand these politicians are playing a zero sum game. Here’s why: if you start taking money out of the pockets of the 75,000 richest families, they will not only fight back with tax accountants and lawyers challenging the IRS’ every move, but her program will reduce their wealth resulting in revenue shortfalls. Then what happens when all those giveaway programs can’t pay their bills?

Warren has not separated herself from the crowd because she’s playing the same game as Bernie, Beto and the rest––promising what can’t be delivered with full knowledge that she’ll have to have someone to blame from preventing nirvana. Guess who that would be? That’s right: Republicans and corporations. The next step would be a call for outright socialism. Before that could arrive, however, hopefully Americans would take a look at the Soviet Union, Cuba and Venezuela and decide if that’s the future they want for themselves and their off-spring.

More Thoughts on the Two-State Solution

Intro

Although I’ve touched on this subject before––See: https://pollakspolitics.com/2019/01/12/peace-should-not-be-the-goal-it-can-only-be-the-result/  I want to clarify the difference between what Israelis and Americans mean by the term “two-state solution.”

The Two-State Difference

At a recent presentation on the upcoming Israeli election (April 9, 2019), the speaker identified which Israeli political parties support a “two-state solution.” When you break it down, however, not all the parties mean the same thing by this term. Some include giving East Jerusalem to the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians; some do not. The parties’ views on how to handle the so-called settlements in the Arab areas also differ. That said, I am confident that most Americans––Jews and non-Jews alike––feel encouraged by this consensus, as the vast majority of people polled on this issue favor that path to peace.

The problem, which was not fully elucidated by the speaker, however, is that what most Americans mean by a “two-state solution” and what most Israelis mean is not identical.

Most Americans believe peace can only come to the Middle East if and when Israel gives up more territory to the Arabs. (They ignore how it turned out when Israel gave them Gaza, but that’s a story for another day.) Americans would shut down all of the “settlements,” give up East Jerusalem, and probably provide a direct road connecting Gaza and the West Bank territories. Most Israelis would reject all three of those “concessions.”

What Israelis Want

Peace to most Israelis can only arrive if the Arabs give up their desire to put an end to the state of Israel. How do Hamas and the PLO––the party that controls the Palestinian Authority––the organization that controls part of the West Bank differ in this regard?

Hamas is primarily a jihadist organization. Their motivation is religious. They would establish a califate along the lines of ISIS, which would rule out the presence of anyone who is not a Moslem.

Ilhan Omar, Rhasida Tlaib and other members of Congress who support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement claim Israel is an “apartheid” state. That is not true, but what would be true is that a state ruled by Hamas would be an apartheid state. Anyone who is not a Moslem would be required to convert or leave.

The PLO is an Arab nationalist organization primarily. There are Christian, Druze and other non-Moslem Arabs who live in the territory they control. These groups are not included in the governance or setting policy, but they are allowed to live there. The PLO might allow Jews to remain in a Palestinian state the encompassed the current land of Israel, but certainly not with any political power.

What Do Israelis Want?

Not only would most Israelis require the Arab residents of the Gaza and the West Bank to give up their goal of pushing them into the Mediterranean, they also want them to be disarmed. As long as the territory that would be included in an Arab state borders Israel, allowing the Arabs to have the ability to kill thousands with rockets and other weapons is a non-starter.

Why don’t most Americans understand the difference between their views and the views of the Israeli people? The answer is how the American media covers the Middle East. Take the recent “protests” of residents of Gaza. The protests consist of thousands approaching the barrier separating Israel and Gaza and trying to launch incendiary devises, such as burning tires and balloons containing inflammatory fluids, into Israel to cause death and destruction. The goal of the protests is to weaken the moral of the Israelis who live on the Eastern side of the barrier and eventually break down the barrier.

The West’s coverage focuses on the injuries and deaths of Palestinians who participate in these “protests.” They don’t discuss the injuries of Israelis or the damage caused by the protests, or the cost of having to deploy thousands of young Israeli soldiers on the border to prevent the barrier from being overcome. A perfect example was the article in the Washington Post that I commented on recently. Search my Facebook page to see the post.

The Trump Admin Proposal

Whoever becomes Israel’s prime minister after next week’s election is going to have to deal with a proposal from the Trump administration that attempts to solve the conflict. I am highly skeptical that it will get anywhere. The PLO will reject it saving Israel from having to do so.

As I stated in my earlier article, peace comes through strength. Israel must hold firm against concessions until the Arabs accept the fact that Israel is there to stay. It would be nice of Americans supported that solution.

The Chorus of Media Critics Grows

Yes, Donald Trump has attacked CNN and other media for publishing ‘fake news,’ and yes, the mainstream media has responded with rightous indignation that anyone should question their integrity. But the question of the hour is whether people inside the media are listening as fellow insiders have started to join the chorus of critics?

The latest to question the media’s treatment of the president is Ted Koppel. Speaking in an interview with Marvin Kalb at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the former ABC anchor noted that the ‘liberal media’ has become part of ‘the resistance.’ “We are not the reservoir of objectivity that I think we were,” he stated.

Koppel also believes the New York Times is committed to making sure Trump is not re-elected.

Koppel’s comments echo those of former 60 Minutes correpondent Lara Logan who argued in an interview in February that the media has “abandoned our pretense, or at least the effort, to be objective.” She accused reporters of becoming political activists and even “propagandists.”

“You read one story or another and hear it and it’s all based on one anonymous administration official, former administration official,” Logan stated. “That’s not journalism. That’s horseshit. That’s absolute horseshit.”

Logan in turn echoed comments of former New York Times editor Jill Abramson whose book “Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts” accused the New York Times and Washington Post of lowering editorial standards to compete for Internet traffic. She decried use of “somewhat misleading headlines to gain clickbait and scale audience” in an interview.

Abramson noted a study that “showed that the main reason all people––not just Trump supporters or conservatives or Republicans––give for lack of trust is perceived political bias.”

When asked how bias manifests itself at the Times, Abramson pointed to “tweets of reporters, which are very loaded. It manifests itself when those reporters go on MSNBC and CNN and appear on panels with partisans and the questions they are asked are very loaded.”

As a subscriber to the Washington Post, I find questionable references to Trump throughout the paper, including in book reviews and the Sports section as well as editorials posing a news stories. By questionable, I include claiming he said things he didn’t say or taking his comments out of context as well as ad hoc references that assume the readers agree with whatever criticism is being levied.

If insiders like Koppel are disturbed by this trend, isn’t it likely that average readers—not just conservatives like myself––notice that the media has taken on the role of an advocate rather than an impartial observer? That would help explain the continuing drop in newspaper circulation––a phenomenon that has been going on for several decades and may be exacerbated by the media’s apparent commitment to lead the “resistance.”

Instead of getting their backs up whenever the President attacks a media organization or an individual reporter, what would happen if the media in reporting that attack examined whether the President might have a point? Perhaps readers would start to trust the media a little more. And, what would happen if the media took the long view––i.e., what if they started thinking about the next six or ten presidential elections and whether they will still exist or will have gone underground as part of some sort of counter revolution that they had a role in creating? Something to think about.

The Dreyfus Case is still relevant after 125 years

Dreyfus, A Family Affair, 1789-1945 by Michael Burns, Harper Collins, 1991.

More than two thousand books and articles have been written about the infamous court martial of French Jew Captain Alfred Dreyfus in 1894. While most histories focus on the case itself, Michael Burns provides a broader view, chronicling the emergence of the Dreyfus family as wealthy cotton manufacturers in Alsace, examining the case in great detail, and then following up on the roles the Dreyfus family and his supporters played in both world wars.

The Dreyfus family story has as much relevance today as it did at the turn of the century––not just in France where anti-Semitism has never gone away and has resurfaced recently in deadly fashion, not just in Europe––ditto its presence, but in the United States as well.

For those who forgot the short mention of the Dreyfus affair in their European History class, it is important to recall that at a young age Alfred Dreyfus became dedicated to France and to the French military, and he never waivered in that dedication. Despite his loyalty, Dreyfus was convicted of spying for France’s bitter enemy Germany, which had humiliated France in 1870 and taken part of Alsace as its reward.

The Dreyfus case coincided with the growing antagonism to Jews in France, as a result of their increasing integration into mainstream French society in general and in the ranks of the French military in particular. The plot, hatched by clerical and nationalist elements in the military and supported by vocal anti-Semites, led to Dreyfus spending five years on Devil’s Island off the coast of French Guiana. Dreyfus endured incredible deprivation, which Burns details, and barely survived. Yet, as a result of a campaign led by his brother Mathieu and the strength he gained from the support of his wife Lucie, Dreyfus survived to face a second court martial. Although he was convicted a second time, as the facts of his innocence had begun to emerge, he was eventually pardoned and his military rank was restored.

Jews world-wide know of the Dreyfus case because a Hungarian journalist who covered the initial trail cited it as an influence in his decision to join the nascent Zionist movement. Theodore Herzl (1860-1904) was apparently influenced not just by the case itself but also by the massive public outcry he witnessed against Dreyfus and against French Jews. Chants of “Death to Jews,” he wrote, were heard throughout the country.

The irony of the Dreyfus case was that the Dreyfusards––those who believed in Dreyfus innocence, downplayed the anti-Semitic motivation of his framers. The Dreyfus family had taken advantage of France’s emancipation of the Jews to become wealthy and to take advantage of the open doors to French society. Along the way, their Judaism was reduced to the equivalent of a regional family affiliation. At family funerals even Kaddish, the prayer cited for the dead, had to be recited in French.

The consequences of the Dreyfus’ family’s unwavering devotion to France was that several young men of the next generation including Mathieu’s son Emile, went to their deaths fighting for France in the first world war, and Alfred, who never fully recovered his health, insisted in returning to his post and put his life in danger defending Paris.

Despite the contributions of the Dreyfus family to that war, they were again victimized by French anti-Semite allies of the Nazis who helped send tens of thousands of French Jews, including those with medals for valor in the First World War, to Auschwitz.

Burns does not offer conclusions based on his thorough research, nor should he. That’s not the historian’s job. Conclusions based on the Dreyfus case are nevertheless the domain of reviewers.

In this reviewer’s humble opinion, the lesson of the Dreyfus case is that the promise of the French Revolution for Jews––emancipation and unrestricted opportunity––was never fulfilled. Yes, there were periods where Jews prospered and made inroads, but always at the expense of their commitment to Judaism, and always in the face of an undercurrent of resentment and hostility from those who needed a scapegoat for failures personal and national. Again and again, the undercurrent of resentment came to the surface whenever conditions justified the need for someone to blame.

Earlier I suggested the Dreyfus case offers lessons for Jews in the United States as well as in Europe. Recent history backs me up. When college students are bombarded by professors with accusations against Israel, when they are afraid to wear a Jewish star or kippah, and when members of Congress blame the Jewish Lobby (with a capital L) for buying their colleagues’ votes, events like the murders in Pittsburgh become all too likely.

Herzl’s vision came none too soon. Unfortunately, however, millions of Jews who might have benefitted were brutally murdered in the Holocaust or died as soldiers fighting the Nazi menace. What’s different today is that the state of Israel exists and at the moment one can be a practicing Jew and an American. Who knows whether both will last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Amazon Deal Reveals What Socialism Means to Ocasio-Cortez and her Ilk

By now everyone knows that Amazon decided not to go ahead with a plan to build a new headquarters (H2) in New York City due to local political opposition. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez applauded the decision as a victory for New York, which gives us an opportunity to understand how her kind of socialism works.

Rep. AO-C suggested New York was saving $3 billion which could be used for teachers salaries and other benefits. Good idea? Well, it would be except there is no $3 billion. New York was not giving Amazon $3 billion to build in New York, they were getting a $3 billion tax break. So much for the value of a degree from Boston University in economics. She doesn’t know the difference between a tax break and a gift.

But you may be saying, a $3 billion tax break is still a bad idea. It’s too much. Except Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio forgot to explain that the $3 billion tax break was a deduction from the $30 billion Amazon promised to pay into New York City and New York State coffers. In other words Ocasio-Cortez refused $27 billion for New York because Amazon wasn’t going to have to pay the full $30 billion they promised. Does that make any sense?

But what does that have to do with socialism? Socialism is about putting in power representatives of “the working class” who will decide what’s best for everyone. It’s not about redistributing the wealth. That’s a myth. It’s not about giving everyone a job. That’s also a myth. Those are the things they say it means, but history tells us that never happens, and it never can.

They rejected Amazon because they were going to get a 10% tax break. As a result, they threw away 25,000 good paying jobs––jobs that will now go to people in other parts of the country––and lost the multiplier effect on the local economy in terms of people buying housing, home furnishings and appliances, clothing, electronics, going out to eat, etc.

Socialism is about making ideological decisions at the expense of the needs of the citizenry. Amazon is big. Amazon is bad. Socialism is inherently undemocratic. Elections are used to gain power followed by corruption of the electoral process in order to retain power. If Americans want to understand how socialism would work in America, we’ve just seen a perfect example.