Friday, November 23, 2018

Ben Shapiro: 7 Myths of Democratic Socialism Debunked....Debunked

My friend Chad on Facebook has exposed me to some material from Ben Shapiro.  I watched a recommended video.  Having put in a bit of time replying I thought I'd go ahead and just post my effort here for future reference.

From what I can gather Shapiro is highly regarded as an intellectual amongst conservatives.  I watched some of the "Ben Shapiro DESTROYS so and so" videos since I became aware of him. I wasn't very impressed.  I think this critique captures my sentiments pretty well.  I feel he just creates caricatures and destroys them, often bullies students or other non-professional speakers rather than engaging in what I feel would be an honest and inquiring interaction.

Here is the video I'm responding to.  Shapiro debunks 7 myths surrounding Democratic Socialism.
Myth 1-Democratic socialism is different from regular socialism.  The only difference is we vote for it.
Shapiro response-Socialism is about from each according to his ability, to each according to his need as ensured by the total nationalization of industry and resources.  This is different from a capitalist country that has some socialist policies along with some wealth redistribution or nationalized health care.
Shapiro here is talking about the positions being advocated by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.  Presumably their positions define the meaning of the phrase "democratic socialism."  If their positions are the basis for the meaning of Democratic Socialism don't we need to talk about what their positions are?

In fact we don't get that from Shapiro.  Instead he starts by defining socialism for us.  It is "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." He then tells us that Bernie and AOC say democratic socialism is different from socialism.  But that's "not accurate" because all they are saying is that it's socialism but we get to vote for it.  What??

There is so much confusion here.  First of all "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" isn't socialism.  It has more to do with communism.  Compare that to what socialism actually is.  In summary socialism is about social control of the means of production.  It says the fruits of the labor of workers belong to the workers, as opposed to a person sitting in a mansion collecting checks because he owns all the stock.  Right now Alice Walton may sleep all day in her mansion and she will still collect the fruit of the labor of others.  Stock boys at Walmart, cashiers, cleaners, cart collectors, even sweat shop laborers sewing shirts and underwear together, really everyone up and down the supply chain.  There are people who do the work, much of it back breaking.  And then there are capitalists.  People who own the property rights.  These are the people that get the fruit of the labor but don't actually contribute to the creation of the revenue.

Now let's take a look at Bernie's policy positions.  It is property rights, often referred to as private control of the means of production, that makes it possible for wealthy billionaires to collect the fruit of workers while doing nothing.  That's capitalism  Is Bernie Sanders advocating eliminating private control of the means of production?  Not even close.  You can love or hate what he's advocating, but you can't pretend it's socialism.  It's welfare state capitalism.  Basically he's a New Deal democrat.  FDR was looking to save capitalism with welfare state measures.  He wanted the rich to continue to collect money doing nothing, but with all the suffering of the working class at the time the risk was they would overturn the whole system and tell the rich they must work for a living like an ordinary person if they want money.  This was unacceptable for FDR.  Throw them a bone and they'll let the system that enriches the rich for doing nothing continue.  That's what Bernie and AOC are proposing.  They may prefer real socialism in their heart of hearts.  Perhaps they don't think that goal is realistic given the power of capitalists.  But they are not advocating socialism as a policy.  Socialism and democratic socialism are different if the policy positions of Bernie and AOC define democratic socialism.
Myth 2-Democratic socialism is not use of force.
Shapiro response - But what if the people vote against socialism?  In that case the dissenters get gulag'd or liquidated.
A very bizarre commentary, is he saying Bernie is right now gulaging and liquidating Trump supporters since they don't want democratic socialism?  Bernie is advocating welfare state capitalism right now and not by use of force but by persuasion.  I suppose Shapiro is saying that Stalin gulag'd people, but Bernie is not advocating eliminating private control of the means of production as Stalin did.
Myth 3-Socialism is fairer.
Shapiro response - Fairness is based on the idea that you should get what you deserve.  It is not fair that just because you're poor your entitled to take other people's things.
This is another confusion of socialism and communism.  It is communism that says all people should have their needs covered regardless of their contribution.  Socialism doesn't require that.  Socialism is about worker control of their own workplace.  If Company A is doing better than Company B, the people of Company A would have more.  They can willfully give to others, but they don't necessarily have to.

Regarding fairness on capitalism, for Shapiro it is deeply immoral to tax a sleeping Walton family heir and give the money to maybe a Walmart worker who works very hard, much harder than the Walton heir, but isn't paid enough to purchase sufficient amounts of nutritious food to survive.  Why are they paid so little?  So the sleeping Walton heir can get more money on top of the money they already have, which is already more than they can spend in their lifetime.  It would be unfair to have the government take some of the money given to the Walton heir as a result of the work of the worker back to the worker. I guess the sleeping Walton heir deserves it more for choosing the right parents, whereas the worker chose the wrong parents so she doesn't deserve it even though she does the actual work.  Kind of a bizarre view of fairness in my opinion, not sure what else to say.
Myth 4-Socialism was not present in the USSR, Venezuela, Cuba, etc.
Shapiro response - This is a classic "No True Scotsman" fallacy.
This is what I consider very misleading argumentation from Shapiro, which I think is characteristic of him.  5 minutes earlier in this video he argued that just because a country has socialist elements, like Medicare or welfare state measures, this doesn't make a country socialist.  The US is a capitalist country despite some socialist elements.

But now look at what he puts in the mouths of the phantom socialists he is debating.  Supposedly socialists say socialism WAS NOT PRESENT at these locations.  Meaning what?  Meaning supposedly socialists are denying there are ANY  SOCIALIST ELEMENTS in Venezuela or Cuba?  An easy straw man to burn.  This is not the issue.  The issue is the point Shapiro raised above.  Just because a country has socialist elements this doesn't make a country socialist.  This argument is good enough for him when it suits him in the prior point.  Now he pretends the same point can't be said of Venezuela.

Venezuela has socialist elements.  This doesn't make it a socialist country.  There is private control of the means of production in Venezuela.  The majority of the economy functions in the private sector, not the public sector.  This is explained well at a video here.

I view it more as a continuum.  Countries can be compared in terms of the amount of socialist elements they have.  It's fair to say the USSR, Cuba, and Venezuela have more socialist elements than the US.  These are quite poor places.  What critics of them don't consider though is their economic performance relative to countries that started at similar places.  It's all about how Soviets are more poor than Americans, Cubans are more poor than Americans.  True, but how did the USSR perform economically relative to where it started?  The answer: surprisingly well.

China is another case.  In this comment thread at David Friedman's blog I talk about how it's true that a lot of death occurred in Mao's China.  What critics of socialism don't deal with though is this is far less death than occurred at the same time in capitalist India, which is a country that started at a similar place and had a similarly sized population.  You can criticize socialist China, and while life there wasn't better than in the US, the world's richest country, it was better than capitalist India, which was similarly poor at the time and remains poorer.

Cuba is a similar story.  The embargo is harsh.  It has been borderline genocidal at times.  Compared to the US life is tough.  Compare life to their neighbor Haiti, a capitalist country.  Cuba is a utopia.  Everyone is housed, everyone is fed.  They don't have homelessness.  Life expectancy near the US.  Again, lots of people want more, lots of people will complain, but if you had to choose between life as an ordinary Cuban and any country other than the US in the region it's an easy choice.  People are fleeing Honduras after a coup that installed a more capitalist friendly government, which led to US support for the coup regime.  Life is better for the typical Cuban than the typical Haitian or Honduran.

So to some degree I agree with Shapiro here.  I agree that on the continuum the Soviet Union, Cuba, China, Venezuela, these places may not be pure socialist where the workers actually had control of the means of production.  But they did move more towards socialism on the continuum.  They had a lot of success relative to their starting point and comparable countries.  Even Venezuela, which is suffering greatly today, has had some success relative to the right wing neoliberal years (see my video above and also this).  The story there is more complex than just socialism sucks because they are suffering.  Plenty of capitalist countries have people suffering horrifically and plenty of capitalist influences currently affect Venezuela.
Myth 5 - When Bernie and Elizabeth Warren talk about democratic socialism, they only mean Norway, Switzerland etc.
Shapiro response - In fact these are capitalist countries.
You'd think this would clue Shapiro in that this means Democratic Socialism in fact is capitalism with stronger welfare state measures.  They're telling you that these are the countries that reflect their policy preferences.  They specifically tell you that they are not advocating eliminating private control of the means of production.  Bernie and Elizabeth Warren are capitalists. They say they are, so when they point to a capitalist country and tell you it's an example of what they want you can believe them.
Myth 6 - Democratic socialism is the solution for the medical industry.
Shapiro response - The US doesn't have a free market system.  Switzerland has an Obama Care like system that is the best in the world.  Other systems have various problems.  Most drug innovations come from the US.  The US is still the best if you have the cash.
It is typical of capitalism apologists to conflate capitalism and free markets.  There is no such thing as a free market in a capitalist system.  As I understand capitalism's early critics, like Marx, had no concept of a capitalist system that didn't exploit government to advance profit.  There is no other kind of capitalism except crony capitalism.  If you don't like crony capitalism you don't like real world capitalism.

Many of the criticisms of publicly provided health care systems I've debunked here.  Sure, the US produces lots of drug innovations.  It's just that the majority of the substantial innovations don't come from the private sector.  The US has the National Institutes of Health and other publicly funded sources that drive innovation.  Socialism is working in health care, and the US needs more of it.
Myth 7 - Capitalism is a giant failure.
Shapiro response - This is the dumbest argument of all.  Poverty has fallen dramatically since 1970.
But the gains in poverty he mentions since 1970 come largely from China.  China today is a capitalist country.  WITH HEAVY GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION.  In other words they are doing things largely like what Bernie Sanders would suggest.  Capitalism with government regulation and welfare state measures.  He's making Bernie's case for him.  He would know this if he wasn't trying to pretend Bernie wasn't advocating capitalism.

In my opinion though capitalism is a giant failure, but not a total failure.  As I understand even Marx recognized the amazing capacity capitalism had for ramping up total output rapidly.  If that output was for items that people needed this would mean that we could rapidly satisfy the needs of people.  That's great.

But capitalism requires economic growth even though people's needs are already met (if they are met).  Capitalism creates artificial needs.  Capitalism via externalities is threatening the possibility of organized human society through environmental destruction.  We're in the midst of an extinction event today that is worse than what occurred 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs went extinct.  Capitalism is like a giant asteroid that must be stopped if we are to save ourselves.  A booming stock market today won't matter much to people in future decades dealing with 4°C of warming if the world's most informed people on this topic are to be believed.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

How King Jon Tries to Fix the Climate Crisis

I believe we are witnessing the front end of the pain that global warming will be delivering to humanity.  Things like the fact that it's been over 90° above the arctic circle this week.  Things like fire tornadoes, or 500 people dead in a recent monsoon in India. The major media barely mentions the connection of these events to climate change (see here and here).  Conservatives don't even admit the existence of a problem.  They have been so effectively propagandized by corporate funded think tanks and corporate media that they cannot see the threat that looms and will not see any time soon.  Those of us that have extracted ourselves from right wing mind control need to take the bull by the horns and fight to make our planet habitable for the future.

I don't have the power to compel people to follow my orders.  But I've been thinking about it.  What would I do if I could?  Of course before doing anything I'd try to get the best advice I could, but here's my initial sense of the direction I'd take.

Unfortunately I see only one rational path.  Society must be organized to take on this threat in much the same way the US organized to defeat the Nazi's during WWII.  Consumption must be constrained.  Resources must be devoted producing items that are essential to human survival and also to reversing the damage, just like resources were diverted to armaments during WWII.

So if I were king and you haven't yet taken that trip to Hawaii..well..too late.  That kind of crap is done.  I have a friend that recently invited me to join him on a cruise.  I definitely like the idea, not so much because I want to be on a boat, but because I like being around people that I know.  He shared a video that was basically a tour of the boat.  Watching these people bouncing in bungee playhouses, sliding through water slides, being entertained with singing and dancing, it really struck me as odd.  Depraved in a sense.  This mountain of a structure was constructed, gets pushed around in water and must burn crazy amounts of fossil fuel, all to provide a weird distraction to people.  If it's King Jon I can tell you that these type of things are at an end.

We must focus our energy on meeting critical needs and reversing the damage we have done.  Humans need clean water, food, shelter, medical care, and clothing.  We have to maintain the infrastructure that permits these functions and also permits humans to turn the sick planet around.

If it's King Jon the food is going to be food that contributes the least to global warming.  That means an end to factory farming.  As the human diet shifts away from meat, eggs, and dairy and towards legumes, potatoes, fruits, and vegetables I believe the science shows that this generates an amazing side benefit.  The energy needed to treat chronic disease falls dramatically.  Heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer.  Rates of all would plummet.  This means less energy needed for health services.  The truth is there are foods that actually work better than drugs for things like cholesterol and diabetes and they have no side effects.  But they are not the focus of our profit driven health economy.  This insanity would end immediately.

The US already has tons of shelter space.  Multiple empty homes for every homeless person.  The entire building where I work would be emptied.  My job is unnecessary.  I'm in the auto industry.  I've spent the last 2.5 years of my life developing a radio for a luxury vehicle.  In King Jon's world everyone working in my building goes home and separately focuses on taking steps that reverse the pending damage.  That could mean planting a garden if the weather is suitable.  Maybe it means planting trees, teaching others to do it.  This is where I'd get the opinion of experts to figure out what individuals can do.  There will be some work activities that need to be done.  We will need electricity, some infrastructure to transport items as needed (maybe food that can't be grown in some regions efficiently).  We need doctors, dentists, surgeons.  But I do believe largely we need people to stop working.  Stay home, be with your family, meet your neighbors, work together on joint projects.  A lot of energy is expended at the workplace and traveling to and from the workplace so as to create crap people don't need.  The burning of that energy needs to stop and mental energy needs to be focused on needful activities.

We already have tons of clothing.  Mountains of discarded clothes go to donation.  So much that the donation houses can't cope with all of it.  It gets shipped around the world to make room for new, more fashionable clothing.  King Jon stops this cycle.  You already have enough, make it work, learn to sew/patch as you go forward.

How am I going to motivate people to support these efforts?  What am I going to do with people that refuse to go along?  Wouldn't everyone want to be a non-worker as opposed to say a researcher working to reverse the damage or develop renewable energy?  There is much more I could say about these matters, but in summary my belief is that humans could resolve these problems and make the planet habitable for future generations.  In fact I do believe people would be happier.  We would have to extract ourselves from right wing mind control that has us thinking profit for non-working investors should be the point of a healthy economy and meeting everyone's basic needs is impossible without sending the largest share of our earnings to sleeping billionaires.  We aren't going to get there right away, but if we don't get there soon I believe massive suffering is coming.  As Margaret Thatcher famously said, there is no alternative.  We either organize and fix it or we die.  I don't see another option.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Vegan Diet Update - Blood Test Results

Just got results from my physical after having eaten as a vegan for 3 months.  In that time I've been soaking up nutritional information as best I can.  I found a great resource right here.  It's one man's effort to make people aware of what the science has to say about nutrition.  Not for profit, no supplements or nutrition products for sale.  Having watched a lot of his videos and having read and watched other material I kind of expected the results you see below.  And my prior numbers were me making my best effort.  I get financial incentives from work to hit certain health targets, so I was exercising hard and trying to eat what I thought was healthy in the weeks leading up to that measurement.  In fact in the past I've had results that were quite a bit worse that what you see for my November 2016 numbers.

This time I was not really exercising.  I mentioned in my prior post that I had been doing some intermittent fasting, but I stopped soon after making that statement, so over 2 months ago.  I do think that's a good thing to do, I just haven't been doing it.  Despite that I have a very substantial reduction in overall cholesterol.  Similarly for LDL, or "bad" cholesterol.

When I was eating a higher protein diet I became convinced that the problem of high cholesterol was overblown.  I no longer think that.  Though the official recommendation from your doctor will be that you should shoot for an LDL cholesterol level below 100, the evidence tells us in fact we want to be between 50 and 70.  The experts think it would be asking too much of patients to target that level, but as that video shows vegans may reach this level without even trying.  As you can see I'm a bit short of the target, but do expect I will continue to improve with time.

Apparently cholesterol lowering drugs only provide about a 3% improvement in mortality.  A whole food plant based diet on the other hand looks to be about 20 times better.  Better than drugs, no side effects, reduces animal suffering, reduces ones contribution to environmental destruction.  It's looking to be about the biggest win-win-win I've come across.  I am convinced that if it weren't for the $186 billion meat industry and $1 trillion pharmaceutical industry many more people would be eating in this way, and our leading killers (heart disease and cancer) would affect drastically fewer people.

This is what happens when you structure an economy for profit maximization rather than meeting people's needs.  In fact on capitalism a population that lacks needs is catastrophic.  In America hundreds of millions of people are taking prescription drugs.  I believe a huge chunk of that if not a majority could be eliminated if the entire population adopted the right whole food plant based diet.  Based on what I've learned from and other sources I believe that the scientific evidence has supported this conclusion for decades.  The only reason it isn't common knowledge is that it is a conclusion that undermines profits for certain powerful corporate sectors.  Industry studies attempt to create confusion as the tobacco industry did long ago.  It is profit over people.  It needs to end.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Trying a Vegan Diet

Anybody that is concerned with global warming and general environmental problems should probably prefer a vegan diet.  Apparently animal agriculture is responsible for a greater share of greenhouse gases generated than all transportation combined.  In addition the rain forest, one of our major carbon sinks, is being cleared to create pasture for feeding livestock.  This is major havoc.  It's like we're burning the candle at both ends.

The other side of it is the animal suffering.  One of the recommendations I keep seeing on Netflix is called "Earthlings".  Apparently it's a movie that depicts the horrors of the slaughterhouse and humanity's general treatment of animals to produce food.  I can't bring myself to watch it.  I have to admit that if I can't even bring myself to watch the actions that are taken to meet the demand I create when I purchase meat and dairy I need to make an effort to not make these purchases.

Maybe what has held me back to this point is my belief that you need it for good health.  I used to do a quasi hi-protein diet called The Zone.  Not as high as Atkins, but perhaps higher than what a typical American would eat.  Information related to this diet helped develop in me a sufficient fear of diabetes.  Diabetes comes about from the consumption of sugar.  Or so I thought.

Ultimately I abandoned the diet because though I did lose some weight it caused me to feel physically weak.  I upped my carbs and my strength returned.  Since then I haven't really had a consistent diet plan, except a general struggle to avoid junk food.

My sister recently recommended a movie called "What the Health" which is also on Netflix.  I took a look at it.  I realized once I started watching it that I had started it before.  But when I saw the claim that sugar does not cause diabetes I turned it off.  It seemed too outlandish.  But this time since my sister had asked for my opinion on it I watched it all the way through.  It claimed that diabetes is not just prevented with a vegan diet, it can be reversed.  I had always thought once you have diabetes you are stuck with it.  You just have to manage it.  The movie made all kinds of claims about people improving their health with a vegan diet.

I did what I often do when I encounter information like this.  I started looking for criticism.  I looked into the controversial claims.  Links like this one seem to admit that it really isn't sugar that causes diabetes, but general obesity.  If eating sugar leads to weight gain (maybe your sugar comes in the form of donuts) you can get diabetes that way, but you don't really get it from apples and oranges.  Here's a critic of the film in the NY Times.  They argue that being vegan doesn't guarantee a better result because it's possible to eat very unhealthy vegan food (duh).  They point out that any amount of reduction in consumption of animal products is beneficial, so you don't have to go all the way as this film advises.  This is portrayed like it's evidence the movie is mistaken.  Doesn't that in fact support the thesis of the movie?  Very strange.

I'm not pretending I know what the truth is based on my limited research, but my thinking is I'll give it a shot.  If it works for me, then great.  I'm reducing animal suffering and environmental damage.  If it doesn't work I'll have to adjust.

I've been doing it for a week and a half now.  I notice a couple of bonuses already.  My resting heart rate has dropped, from high 60's to now high 50's.  And I haven't been doing any cardio.  I have also lost a few pounds.  This is also at least partly if not mostly due to intermittent fasting.  That's another diet method that I'm convinced is good for you that I started about 3 weeks ago.  The other bonus is I'm usually quite sore when I do certain physical activities that involve muscles I haven't used in a while.  I've had a couple of instances where I was sure I would be extremely sore the next day, but I wasn't.

I do have a physical coming up in a couple of months so I'll continue to monitor.  Honestly I hadn't been expecting massive improvement as I had already been functioning as quasi-vegetarian.  Generally I was eating meat when I was involved in an event where food was prepared for a group, but I wasn't preparing or ordering meat when it was just me.  So I was eating meat only lightly, but also consuming dairy regularly.  Now I'm all in, so we'll see if this produces health benefits.  Benefits are not even required.  As long as I feel no worse off this is the way to go for me.