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Saturday, September 4, 2010


Chris, who has been posting strong and extended comments about my remarks, has run into some sort of weird html problem in posting a comment, so he emailed me, and I suggested that if he sent me his comment as an email, I could post it as a guest post, in effect.

Here it is:

Professor Wolff,

First of all, I really do want to thank you for taking the time to hold this discussion. As a soon to graduate with a baccalaureate degree in political science, I'm glad to have: 1. A radical professor discussing his views in my presence, albeit online, and 2. a professor even willing to go to the degree of conversation I tend to aim towards regarding all things political.

I have to say, my life is the polar opposite of yours. Since high-school, my family and I have become poorer and poorer, as has my long-term (7 years this month) girlfriends. She works full-time and I am a full-time student on loans. We live in a 1 room studio apartment, in a 'okay' side of town - could be better - and are about as low class - fiscally - as is possible without seeking government aid. Yet I find myself, still taking a radical position, that according to you will not benefit me in the slightest, or my girlfriend, or those of my position. Well, I have to disagree.

I would like to start with your health care claims, which I found to be fundamentally, and factually false. Mind you, I've spent two semesters heavily researching the topic, so if you doubt what I say, I don't mind providing sources. For now, I shall just lay out my essential disagreements. You state, erroneously:

"You want a single-payer health care insurance system? In the absence of the Republican Party, it would have been part of the bill recently passed. "

No offense professor, but this is dead wrong. Only two members in the entire congress actually fought tooth and nail for such a thing, and only a very small handful - maybe fifteen - actually supported it openly initially. Barack Obama never once met with a single advocate of a single-payer or socialist system. As a matter of fact, the few public citizens who showed up at congress advocating the system were arrested. They were never given a voice with ANYONE in congress except Dennis Kucinich. And the man Obama put in charge of health-care overhaul in the senate, senator max baucus- had extensive ties to numerous private health companies, as did his aids. When he allowed 15 separate lobby groups to voice their opinion on the matter not one was a single payer advocate, and maybe one was a public option supported. This was Obama's pick. Moreover, Obama quailed on single payer right away, and never once even advocated for a single payer system. By doing so, he started the initial reform in the left-center, and it moved, unsurprisingly to the right. All the while he was negotiating back-room deals with pharmaceutical companies, and health insurance companies (check the white house record logs) that benefited them, not me and my girlfriend. Furthermore, the idea that we just needed no republicans is fatuous, as max baucus was a democrat! And even Rahm Emanuel was an active participant in squashing a single-payer system. Furthermore, congress was primarily democrats, and the handful of serious progressives were told single-payer was off the table for discussion, and even a public option was fuzzy at best. These were not republicans that killed a quality health-care bill, these were Democrats, working in tandem with big health industry groups, that helped to kill it; since they held the majority. And, since we all know single-payer would save the government hundreds of billions of dollars, they could passed a single payer bill with the democrat majority using reconciliation. So all excuses that the democrats had to negotiate with Republicans, is more Washington Orwellian showmanship, duping the public. Which, is understandable, most of them didn't spend the time I did researching the affair.

Now the actual bill is strongly going to hurt me. Keep in mind professor, you think your side, the well-to-do, well-off, retired, and socially conscience side, is struggling for the dirt-poor, abject student loan debt, one room living quarters, side. This simply is not the case. Now, somehow, I am forced, literally, into a health-care system I want absolutely nothing to do with since it's merely a handout to private industry and only delays the inevitable crash of our overall health-care system (I could elaborate on that more, using diabetes statistics, obesity, raising of drug prices, premiums, and bankruptcy, etc, but not now). In my present condition I have not a penny in my budget to garner health-care with. I will literally have to stop putting gas in may car, or eating quality healthy foods(which defeats the purpose). The fact of the matter is, this bill is an expenditure that is seriously going to hurt me, and I never wanted to imposed on me in the first place! And the Democrats bear more responsibility than the Republicans. Frankly, I wish the bill had been defeated by Republicans.

Your next major claim is that the Republicans are threatening social security. Well so are the Democrats. You seem to think the line between both parties is thicker than I. This is because I know the parties are no different, it's other institutions of power that do the serious motivation. The Republicans and Democrats merely serve as yes-men to whoever will back the party the most. And the people backing the destruction of Social Security will win-out, regardless of who is in power. Even Obama's former budget director Peter Orzag had serious intentions of scaling back social security. As do numerous other members in his cabinet, and advisory panels. Might I remind you of his State of the Union speech where he indicated he was going to cut social spending, not defense, to reign in the budget? This mad is a finance-capitalist wet dream come true. He rallies the left into going against their own politics!

Finally, outside of finance-capitalist institutional power threat, the next serious threat to social wealth fare is defense spending. Everyone, regardless of party, or politics, agrees the US budget is a disaster, and probably moribund. And there's no doubt a major problem of this is our outrageous defense spending, which equals the rest of the world combined. Not to mention our 860 military bases, occupying over 65 countries. And what does Obama do, with this, the mother of all budget hurdles? He expands bases in Europe, Latin America, the Middle-East, Pacific Islands, and Africa. He expands wars in the Middle-East, and clandestine drone operations in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle-East. Not surprisingly, he also expands the overall defense budget. And the only emergency expenditure him and congress ever pass, is defense – offense - related. Democrats too of course. This is unsurprising given his far-to-the-right defense team and personal analyst. If we want proper social spending, and we do, defense needs to be addressed asap, and the Democrats are AS BAD AS the Republicans in this regard.

Anyway professor, I'm glad your conscience is in the right place, I just disagree over the fundamental facts. I know you're an ally, not an enemy, of the people, so I appreciate the discussion. However, given the present political climate, I'm in favor of one thing only – revolution, because our system is set to destruct anyway. And sad to say, the left isn't offering it. And the tea party - the only viable revolutionary party - has solid grievances, but dreadful solutions.


Chris said...

Thank you

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Another substantive point: given the way US elections work, your choices really are painfully constrained. You get to choose between Obama, who used his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to promise more war, and the people who started the trouble in the first place. That's it -- those are your choices. Simultaneously, you need to choose on the whole gamut of domestic choices. You need to weigh up every factor, and spit out a preference on all of them at once -- you have no space for qualifications, reservations, or 'what ifs'. You could not participate, yes. But the way the counting works, you then don't count. Is the counting fair? Probably not. But it's the system that's in place. Acting as if you're in any other situation is to be in cloud cuckoo land. So, a vote for Obama isn't necessarily a vote for continued war. It's a vote for the full collection of current Democratic policy, as opposed to the only alternative, the full gamut of Republican policy. And that's the situation we're in. It might not be nice, but that's what it's like.

Marx had quite a lot to say about responding to the actual world and not the world you wished you were in. Prof. Wolff has repeated the spirit of those comments here.

I'm having trouble posting -- apparently I'm too wordy -- so if that a post of mine appears more than once, I wouldn't feel bad if someone moderated it appropriately.

Noumena said...

Chris -

I think the strongest case to be made against Obama from the left is his continued support for the war in Afghanistan. On the other hand, a case can be made from the left that the war in Afghanistan is just: permanently replacing the Taliban with a Western-style industrializing capitalist democracy is undoing the damage that we did by arming the Taliban to the teeth shortly before turning a blind eye on the country twenty-five years ago or so.

I don't want to get into that, though, since it depends too much on speculation about the relatively distant future. Instead I want to ask for a clarification of one of your arguments against the health care reform package [HCR]. Your description of your situation makes it sound like you and your girlfriend live quite close to the poverty line -- perhaps between 150% and 300% of the poverty cutoff. HCR includes a system of subsidies to households below 400% of the poverty line (I think that's the cutoff) -- the lower a household's income, the higher the subsidy. These subsidies cover the cost of the mandatory health insurance. At 150% of the poverty line, for example, a household would pay at most 4% of their income for their insurance premium.

Young, relatively healthy adults without children probably won't get much in return for that 4%, at least not right away, so I can see why you wouldn't, all else being equal, want to pay it. But it's hard for me to see how paying that 4% will `strongly' hurt you. If the harm you expect to suffer isn't losing 4% of your income (or perhaps a couple percentage points more), then what exactly did you mean?

Chris said...

Well, given my situation my budget breaks dead even. 4% is 4% extra debt, on top my student loan debts. Because, if my budget is akin to 'living pay-check to pay-check,' than where does the 4% derive? That's a large chunk for someone like me. Given the fact, I'm still in a situation where if something 'bad' happens - like I lose a tire, or my transmission breaks - I have to call home for help. My budget is strict, and it does not allow for private health-care. I of course make-up for that by exercising daily, and eating as healthy as possible, along with taking a few choice supplements. I could cut back on these items, to make up the 4%, but as I said, that's counter productive. Frankly, I can't even afford my own impoverished lifestyle, it's only through my loving girlfriend that I can afford a multi-vitamin for instance.

Now of course the worst problem is, what happens if I refuse to pay, on principled ground? State backed fines... :/
Even after this bill, Cuba, Taiwan, UK, France, Scandinavia, Australia, Japan, etc will still have superior systems that would take my situation into account. This entire healthcare overhaul, which began far to the right of every industrial nation in the world, is a private insurance giveaway. The biggest evidence of proof is that we were and still are the only industrial nation that provides basic care for profit. That is simply unheard of across the industrial globe.

And, an aside, in regards to the Afghan war. I don't think the 'left' should make a case in favor of the Afghan war. The only people who should be making a case regarding Afghanistan's future, are Afghans. And no surprise, we do not listen to them. When's the last time you saw an indigenous Afghan being interviewed in any news outlet? Wonder why...

Marinus, all I can do is quote Thoreaugh to you: "When the subject has refused allegiance, and the officer has resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished." The problem with just saying, well this is reality, stick to it, is the same problem with cultural relativism. It fundamentally prevents substantial change. Worst of all, any party, dictator, pentagon brass, general, republican, democrat, maoist, anywhere, can say it. Yet, we know it's not true, or revolutions would never have taken place. Your reality requires you to vote. Mine does not. Yet reality stays in tact....

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Chris, I continue to find your comments tremendously immoderate. In particular, you insist on making yourself guilty of responding to what you have something to say in response to, not to what the other person is saying. It's charmless.

You think the only response to your situation is revolution? Well, maybe, but that requires one or two things. It requires a population in revolutionary fervour. It almost certainly requires one or two failed uprisings in the recent past. It requires a political situation the US very much is not in. We can see this by the very ridiculous of your closing statement that the Tea Party are a viable revolutionary party -- I very much doubt that you're being serious.

Perhaps in response you believe that what we should be agitating towards isn't a slightly less disastrous congressional system, but an entirely new one. Perhaps you're right. But what Prof. Wolff has set out to say was what is to be done now, in the actual situation we find ourselves in. Given that the US's situation now isn't a revolutionary situation -- and it patently is not -- then when the situation you are hoping to address isn't the present, actual situation. Accordingly, with what you're trying to do with your repeated (and strident) comments is trying to change the topic of conversation. Prof. Wolff is talking about what is to be done now, and you want to talk about what is to be done ultimately. It is by no means obvious that you are entitled to try and dictate the topic of conversation this way.

You come off as someone very young, and someone very much getting carried away. Please, watch your tone a little more closely.

Chris said...

Marinus, I have typed two replies to you and neither show up. Both received errors and disappeared, after I spent some time trying to address you.

Chris said...

Now to the actual meat of the discussion.

I do in fact propose revolution, as I find it to be of the moral high-ground. However, that does not mean I do not do what Wolff, and presumable the rest of you here, do. That is, vote, and sometimes participate in politics of the mainstream. For instance, I just voted in my local elections, as I find them important, and I did vote during the 2008 presidential race because I lived in Florida; a heavily contested swing state. Regardless, I do not see these as paths to any kind of change, and feel even separate from revolution, and standard political participation, effort needs to be to create alternatives systems within our present main-stream framework. Food not bombs serves as a perfect example. As did SNCC.

Chris said...

You're also right that I said the tea party is the most viable, however remember what I followed that with: they have dreadful solutions. I only find them to be, unfortunately, the most viable revolutionary party when juxtaposed to the patterns of the present radical left. That does not mean I actually support these folks. However, the reasons they seem to be the most viable, albeit this does not mean their aims and ideals will come to fruition, is because they hold many shared sincere grievances of the left: tired of a big unaccountable government that doesn't serve the public, tired of main-stream medias lies, tired of wasted taxes, tired of big business not serving the public interest, tired of wall-street and their bailouts, etc. There's also the fact that they are merrily running around armed, and bragging about using their munitions against the government. That's what makes them viable. And minus the armed factor, the left shares that same indignation. Again, our solutions are different, our problems not so much. Furthermore the left of course does not share their jingoism, nationalism, potential racism, religious fervor, etc. However, given this moment, the greatest problem I see between us and them, is that we are continue to focus our problem solving solutions at government. The revolutionary right via congress, the revolutionary left via congress, which leaves us both stuck with garbage moderate policies that further exploit both sides. To a degree, the tea party is our ally, as we must face that.

Chris said...

I'm very glad you pointed out the distinction between Wolff and I. I believe both of us serve the other. You point out that I focus on the ultimate, he on the present. It's important to note though that when one works in the present, one must have an ultimate in mind, otherwise what is one doing in the present? They can't be certain they are bettering society, or progressing towards anything, if they have no concept of what final progression and betterment are. And in that instance, I hope Wolff and I can play off one another, amicably, and not with hostility or anger - as you seem to be holding towards me, especially by implying I'm dictating the conversation. Which, let's be honest, is simply not the case. Everyone here has the free-will choice to ignore me, but Wolff seems to be comfortable with my presence, and up until this moment, I had no idea our discussion was actually upsetting anyone. If you don't want me to direct anything, ignore the gadfly on the wall.

One last time, I apologize if for some reason I upset you. It was not my intention. Anyone even willing to consider radical change in our present political structure, or at least desiring it, I try to count as a comrade, not an enemy. I hope we can keep it that way.

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