Warren Buffett rides again

I’ve been quite skeptical of the value of Warren Buffett as a key advocate for Democrats around tax policy and social spending (see: here, here, and here). While Buffett is supportive of the not-bad idea that rich Americans should pay higher taxes, he’s been either vague or advocated small increases – while coupling his tax positions to advocacy for cutting spending, including for the social safety net.

On Sunday, to much fanfare, Buffett penned an op-ed arguing for a minimum tax for the wealthy. But his suggestion is fairly small bore: “I would suggest 30 percent of taxable income between $1 million and $10 million, and 35 percent on amounts above that.” I’m in favor of it as it’s an improvement over the current tax structure, but this is hardly a proposal that merits rampant celebration from the left.

If you have any doubt that this is nothing more than a proposal which would provide the patina of progressive taxation with an eye towards reducing inequality in the US, look no further than Buffett’s comments today, in which he says that of all the people in America, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon would be President Obama’s best choice for a new Treasury Secretary.

Given we are still suffering from the damage inflicted on the economy by Wall Street banks, including Dimon’s JPMC, in the inflation and bursting of the housing bubble, the idea that Dimon would be a good pick for Treasury Secretary is just bonkers.

I’m glad there are people like Buffett who have the courage to say that they are wealthy enough to afford higher taxes. But just because he throws out a tiny morsel clinging to an old, dried-out bone doesn’t mean he’s someone to be elevated a spokesperson for the left in these debates.


Facts you probably didn’t know

I didn’t know this one, from David Dayen:

Of course, nobody is questioning why we’re holding to this artificial deficit reduction construct at all. As Jed Graham explains, over the last three years, the US has reduced the federal budget deficit more rapidly than at any time since World War II. This is an artifact of a relatively stronger economy leading to the reduction of spending on automatic stabilizers like unemployment and food stamps, as well as stimulus programs running out. But fiscal policy at the federal level has taken away from growth since mid-2010, and it’s poised to drag much, much more with implementation of these austerity measures. With borrowing costs so low, there’s no logical reason for this except to please elites, who really want lower tax rates and a smaller safety net and think that fearmongering on the deficit could provide a gateway to that goal. [Emphasis added]

The immorality of climate inaction, the fossil fuel industry

I was offline last week, so I missed President Obama’s press conference last week. Included in it were the President’s remarks on climate change, which while acknowledging its existence offered nothing in terms of commitment to action, let alone action the scale needed to confront the climate crisis. Here’s some of what President Obama said:

So what I’m going to be doing over the next several weeks, next several months, is having a conversation, a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers, and elected officials to find out what can — what more can we do to make a short-term progress in reducing carbons, and then working through an education process that I think is necessary — a discussion, a conversation across the country about what realistically can we do long term to make sure that this is not something we’re passing on to future generations that’s going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with.

I don’t know what either Democrats or Republicans are prepared to do at this point, because this is one of those issues that’s not just a partisan issue; I also think there are regional differences. There’s no doubt that for us to take on climate change in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices. And understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused, and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth, that if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody is going to go for that. I won’t go for that.

If, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth, and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something that the American people would support.

So you can expect that you’ll hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and helps move this agenda forward.

Part of what is so confounding to me is the refusal for elected officials, including but not limited to the President, to refuse to understand the scope of the crisis in front of us. And not just the scope, the presence of the crisis as a crisis in the immediate term.

As Bill McKibben has made abundantly clear, we don’t have the time. We need immediate changes to the math behind global energy policy, otherwise the planet is screwed.

Surely in coming weeks and months, we’ll see environmental groups float potential legislative options for the President and Congress to consider over the next four years. While I’m all for some of the brick-and-mortar Beltway environmental groups providing concrete solutions with an eye towards pragmatism as always, I don’t think that’s actually what a left flank looks like.

In this case, the left flank on climate needs to built squarely around morality. Specifically the immorality of continuing to destroy our planet through a fossil fuel-based energy policy (let alone one which enriches a small handful of individuals and corporations at the expense of what will be a potentially infinitely large dollar amount in climate destruction). Continued inaction or action at the snails pace we’ve seen from all American elected officials is simply immoral.

Taking this a step further, it’s clear that at the end of the day, there will be no solution to this crisis without public officials having the moral clarity to say, “The fossil fuel industry is killing our planet. This is a crime against every living person and all future generations. As a result, they can no longer exist.” The left flank of the climate crisis isn’t a set of taxes or tariffs, it’s an abolitionist movement.

If Lincoln had speechified about the danger of wiping out half of the South’s GDP by ending slavery, abolitionists wouldn’t have stood for it. Why should contemporary climate activists stand for Obama or any other politician hiding behind bad economics* in the face of a fundamentally moral question? It’s time for anger, built around moral clarity that is clearly lacking from the debate playing out in DC and in the press.

* The President’s economics are bad – a massive shift to green energy sources would be a huge economic boost, both in terms of jobs created by the required infrastructure creation and the removal of massive negative externalities that come from our reliance on fossil fuels. So not only is he wrong to hide behind economic numbers as an argument against a green energy shift, but he’s using a bad argument.

Fake Dem Andrew Cuomo’s Very Bad News Cycle

First Chris Hayes of MSNBC absolutely obliterated NY Governor Andrew Cuomo for his refusal to intervene on behalf of the Democratic caucus in the NY State Senate.


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Then Alex Pareene of Salon piled on:

Cuomo doesn’t hide his conservative tendencies — they’re part of his sales pitch, especially upstate and outside New York City — but he’s in an enviable position of being able to run and govern as a conservative while retaining a progressive reputation, because he’s, you know, a Cuomo and a big-city blue state liberal governor who got gay marriage passed. His response to Sandy has raised his national profile even more, and barring the sort of disastrous scandals that have sunk the last couple of New York governors, he’ll keep being mentioned whenever people bring up 2016 candidates until the day he announces his intentions. But Democrats ought to know what sort of Democrat he is. If Cuomo allows Republicans to subvert the will of the voters of New York, so that he has an easier time cutting taxes and rolling back regulations, he shouldn’t be allowed to sell himself to future primary voters as a progressive.

Cuomo is clearly positioning himself for a 2016 presidential run and has been for a long time. He’s been good for gay rights and may end up being good on public financing of elections, but he’s horrible for labor, working people, and the environment. He’s a pro-Wall Street DLC-type LieberDem of the worst variety and it’s important progressives who may see him make the occasional good statement not be conned by Cuomo.

Cuomo is clearly playing a very cynical game of trying to wedge different parts of the progressive Democratic base against each other to maintain a facade of progressivism while running for President. He should not be allowed to get away with it.

Occupy Sandy & the climate crisis

Yotam Maron is must-read on how the Occupy Sandy response is a real-time model of what anti-climate crisis social movements look like:

Welcome to the climate crisis. There’s nothing abstract about it. It isn’t some apocalypse decades away or an event that comes down like one big hurricane to wipe us all out. It’s Hurricane Sandy. It’s all the economic, political and social conditions that were already in place. And it’s the opportunity for forces of profit and repression to push their agenda forward in the aftermath.

But guess what: The climate justice movement isn’t so abstract either. This is it. It’s dedicated organizers recognizing how their work can be aligned across issues. It’s relief providers and hard-working volunteers transforming into activists and community leaders. It’s the hardest hit neighborhoods taking control of their own liberation. It’s local community institutions with deep roots and long histories connecting to one another and mobilizing their efforts as part of a movement. It’s all of that alongside so many other fights for climate justice — from the blockade of the Keystone XL pipeline to the fight for water rights in Bolivia, from Indian women standing up to corporate seed monopolies to youth from 350.org launching campaigns to divest from fossil fuel companies.

There is much work to do. But people are doing it — day by day, block by block. Windows of opportunity have opened here in New York, just as they have in other places around the world. Many people are working to keep those windows open and continue the transformation that is already underway — from volunteer work to organizing, from emergency response to a genuine recovery, from relief to resistance.

Occupy’s Mutual Aid Efforts

Occupy Wall Street has bred a number of offshoots that are specifically focused on providing mutual aid to members of the 99% who are in crisis. I’ve been involved with Occupy Our Homes for over a year – it’s a housing justice campaign aimed to keep people in their homes and stopping bank theft of houses. More recently, Occupy Sandy has provided crucial aid to affected areas following Hurricane Sandy. And now, Strike Debt has launched a Rolling Jubilee, a campaign meant to leverage the cheapness of debt to reduce it for others:

We buy debt for pennies on the dollar, but instead of collecting it, we abolish it. We cannot buy specific individuals’ debt – instead, we help liberate debtors at random through a campaign of mutual support, good will, and collective refusal.

Projects like this are critical for three reasons:
  1. Occupy off-shoots like Occupy Our Homes, Occupy Sandy, & Strike Debt’s Rolling Jubilee are providing services which government at all levels has failed to provide. Mutual aid is filling the gap that policy makers and politicians have tragically left open, resulting in massive human suffering.
  2. By providing mutual aid in moments of crisis, these Occupy offshoots have the opportunity to turn people they have aided into activists and leaders for these causes. We’ve seen it time and again with Occupy Our Homes, where people who have been helped become gung-ho community organizers afterwards.
  3. Additionally, by providing mutual aid, these groups succeed in radicalizing the people they help, educating them on the root causes of these crises and the sorts of solutions which are needed to address the problems. These are not things which are part of normal American political discourse, so this step is significant.

All of this work is slow. It’s oriented on helping people one individual or one family at a time. But it has tremendous power and potential, not in the least because each of these efforts provide frameworks of a vision for a better America. One where banks can’t steal homes, where debt doesn’t destroy peoples’ lives, and where natural disasters aren’t exacerbated by human failures. In short, these are the sort of projects which have the potential to create a real, sustained new movement that can create massive change in America.

More than any electoral outcome, these developments make me hopeful for the future of our country.