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Explaining the virulence on the right… Social Democracy in America?

1:05 pm in Uncategorized by David Seaton

 Naquasia LeGrand… the right stuff

Naquasia LeGrand, the lady that tops this page, works at minimum wage shoveling fried chicken for KFC. She is leading a fight to organize fast-food workers and raise America’s minimum wage to $15. She is facing some of America’s most powerful multinational corporations and an ideological set enshrined in think-tanks, PACs and mainstream media which has prevailed in the USA since the days of Ronald Reagan and… She looks like winning!

How could this happen? Not that complicated, really.

The price of elitist politics is that, in a democracy, or anything remotely resembling one, when issues become so simple and self-evident that “you don’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows”: at that point the money’s “gate-keeper” function no longer guarantees that numerically small, but powerful groups are able to achieve their desired outcomes. 

This is the sort of opposition that Ms. LeGrand is facing:

Koch-backed political coalition, designed to shield donors, raised $400 million in 2012 – Washington Post

The political network spearheaded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has expanded into a far-reaching operation of unrivaled complexity, built around a maze of groups that cloaks its donors, according to an analysis of new tax returns and other documents. (…) The resources and the breadth of the organization make it singular in American politics: an operation conducted outside the campaign finance system, employing an array of groups aimed at stopping what its financiers view as government overreach. Members of the coalition target different constituencies but together have mounted attacks on the new health-care law, federal spending and environmental regulations.

They must think that it’s worth the expense.

How can a minimum wage worker like Naquasia LeGrand face anything like that, with even a ghost of a chance of succeeding?

The answer might be contained in an article about the right-wing political consultant, Frank Luntz, that I  came upon in “The Atlantic”.

Few people are as in touch with American public opinion as Luntz is, he has made a fortune crafting his clients’ messages to suit or bend that opinion. And, according to the article, Luntz, who spends a fortune on focus groups and polls is in the depths of a black dog depression because of what he is hearing and seeing.

This what his fine-tuned nose is sniffing:

But what if the Real People are wrong? That is the possibility Luntz now grapples with. What if the things people want to hear from their leaders are ideas that would lead the country down a dangerous road? “You should not expect a handout,” he tells me. “You should not even expect a safety net. When my house burns down, I should not go to the government to rebuild it. I should have the savings, and if I don’t, my neighbors should pitch in for me, because I would do that for them.” The entitlement he now hears from the focus groups he convenes amounts, in his view, to a permanent poisoning of the electorate—one that cannot be undone. “We have now created a sense of dependency and a sense of entitlement that is so great that you had, on the day that he was elected, women thinking that Obama was going to pay their mortgage payment, and that’s why they voted for him,” he says. “And that, to me, is the end of what made this country so great.” The Agony of Frank Luntz – The Atlantic

Serendipity? Coincidence? On the same day I read the piece about Frank Luntz, I read the following rave review in Slate by Matthew Yglesias about a book called Social Democratic America.

It’s too bad for Lane Kenworthy that his new book, Social Democratic America, was published on Jan. 3, 2014, because otherwise I’d be comfortable calling it the best public policy book of 2013. Matthew Yglesias – Slate

What is the author’s social democratic menu-shopping list, agenda, for the USA

Kenworthy’s Policy Agenda (Demos)

  1. Universal health insurance
  2. Universal system of one year of paid
    parental leave
  3. Universal early education
  4. Increased Child Tax Credit
  5. Universal sickness insurance
  6. Eased eligibility criteria for unemployment
  7. Wage insurance for unexpected drops in
  8. State-run supplemental defined-contribution
    pension plans with automatic enrollment
  9. Extensive, personalized job search and
    (re)training support
  10. Government as employer of last resort
  11. Minimum wage increased modestly and indexed
    to inflation
  12. Earned Income Tax Credit extended farther up
    the income ladder and indexed to average wages
    or GDP per capita
  13. Higher benefit level for social assistance
    (i.e. TANF-like programs)
  14. Reduced incarceration of low-level drug
  15. Affirmative action shifted to focus on
    family background rather than race
  16. Expanded government investment in
    infrastructure and public spaces
  17. More paid holidays and vacation time

This policy list would be par for the course in say, Sweden, which is certainly not a “socialist” country and whose business community hosts many a billionaire. The billionaire business folk of Sweden have no problem with Kenworthy’s list, but their American counterparts like the Koch brothers are spending a fortune to paralyze the country’s political system to avoid what they consider “socialism”, “communism” or worse.

People in the USA, certainly the Tea Party, often confuse social-democracy with “socialism”, however they are very different.

Socialism advocates state/public ownership of the means of production: for example, nationalizing the steel or automobile industry would be socialist. On the contrary, social-democracy is about “civilizing” capitalism.

Social democracy is anything but revolutionary, FDR’s New Deal was considered largely social-democratic and many felt that, by his measures, Roosevelt saved the capitalist system from destroying itself. For this very reason, the hard left, like Marxist-Leninists, consider social democrats “Judas goats” for the capitalist system. For them the harder the brand of capitalism, the easier it is to overturn; the Koch brothers are dream enemies for them.

If Frank Luntz is right about a sea change in American opinion, Naquasia LeGrand may win her fight and Kenworthy’s list may be more than a pipe dream.

Cross posted from:

Observations of and on the rich

11:31 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton


“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.” F. Scott Fitzgerald – “The Rich Boy”

You see, the rich are different from you and me: they have more influence. It’s partly a matter of campaign contributions, but it’s also a matter of social pressure, since politicians spend a lot of time hanging out with the wealthy. So when the rich face the prospect of paying an extra 3 or 4 percent of their income in taxes, politicians feel their pain — feel it much more acutely, it’s clear, than they feel the pain of families who are losing their jobs, their houses, and their hopes. And when the tax fight is over, one way or another, you can be sure that the people currently defending the incomes of the elite will go back to demanding cuts in Social Security and aid to the unemployed. America must make hard choices, they’ll say; we all have to be willing to make sacrifices. But when they say “we,” they mean “you.” Sacrifice is for the little people. Paul Krugman – NYT

There is a lot of talk about rich people nowadays. About the sinister Koch brothers financing the “war on climate change science,” Sheldon Adelson’s “investments” in the Republican campaigns or about Warren Buffet and Bill Gates promising to donate most of their fortunes to charity, so I have decided to chip in my two cents worth.

Looking back, I’ve known quite a few rich people over the years. While I’ve never known anyone as rich as Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, I have known the grandchildren of people who, once upon a time, were as rich as those two are today.

They say that there are two types of people in the world, people who think that there are two types of people in the world and those that don’t… I belong to the second grouping.  Having said that, and recognizing that the wealthy come in all shapes and sizes, I’d like to generalize about certain archetypes I’ve come across.

Lets begin with Buffet and Gates. Both men have worked very hard, obsessively hard, they have been creative and they have made huge, immense, enormous, unthinkable amounts of money… and although both of them are proud of what they have done, they have a certain humility about it all. They know, that no matter how clever and hard working they were, that they were also very lucky, that the rewards are out of proportion to any individual’s effort.

The world’s first pop star, Bing Crosby, whose version of “White Christmas” is still the biggest hit record of all time, expressed this sort of humility, when he once said, “There is probably a guy singing in saloons in New Orleans that can sing ‘Stardust’ better than I can, I have been very lucky”.

Warren Buffet puts it like this:

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