The F**ing Pie & The Zero Sum Game

Pandemic Diary #82

March 22, 2021

One thing has become very obvious over this last year is the systemic racism of America. It has always been there, but if you asked most white Americans they would have said they knew not of which you spoke. That has changed.

I took it upon myself over this past year to educate myself further on the subject. I have only begun my education, but there is an overriding historical theme in all that I have read. This country has spent a lot of energy paying lip service towards solving the problem. What we have focused on instead, and been successful at, is re-labeling anything that feels like racism and then ignoring it, because now that we have re-named it, it isn’t racism.

I began by reading The End of White Politics by Zerlina Maxwell. This led me to Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks. Hooks’ book was incredibly enlightening to me as a woman and made obvious to me things that should have been obvious all along. Next was Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me. This was essentially a long letter to Coates son as to what it is like to be a Black man in America, the truth of which has played out on our television sets all year long. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander was my first introduction to the concept that we simply replaced Jim Crow laws with incarceration, to the detriment of all of society. The last I have read to date is one of the best books I have read on any subject in a very long time: The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee. This is helping to answer a question I have been asking for the last five years, why do people vote against their own interests? I would recommend The Sum of Us if you are to read only one book, but I highly recommend digging into any one of these books and preferably, all of them.

While I have been receiving an education, I did not know how to put it into a stream of consciousness that I could put down on paper until I came across this little gem from a 2016 interview of John Ehrlichman by Dan Baum in Harpers Magazine:

“You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

There you have it, four books summed up in one paragraph. This does not get you off the hook for reading these books, it just helped me to codify all the random pieces of information that were flooding my brain.

We have always been a racist country, but by couching it in terms that didn’t use racist words it was sold to the public by our politicians as acceptable.

The Definition of “Last Place Aversion”

Conservatives have done a great job of convincing people that Civil Rights and Economic Equity are pies. They have spent years trying to convince the public that “others” are out to get more and more of “your” pie. Others being a euphenism for POC and those poorer than you. These things are not a f**ing pie, there is plenty to go around.

The Republicans today are no longer being subtle, they have specifically said that politics is a zero-sum game. They are attempting to overturn the voting rights of people of color and the poor by making it impossible to vote in states that are turning blue. They have admitted this in court, saying without these stratagem Republicans can’t win.

None of this is new. In my generation, Nixon had his “Southern Strategy” and these policies were written in stone with Reaganomics and other actions of that time. Are we finally going to chip away at this despicable monument to misinformation and move to a more equitable America? Will we finally stop allowing politicians to couch things in fear and realize that what is good for one is good for all?

In President Biden’s first speech to the American people, he said this: “We need to remember the government isn’t some foreign force in a distant capital. No, it’s us. All of us. We, the people.“

I have no faith in the word of any politician, and I truly hope this isn’t some line uttered to make us feel there is change on the horizon, while the same old, same old, continues on Capitol Hill. I fervently wish that we are witnessing a compassionate turn in our politics where a majority of people realize that the policies we have lived under since Reagan have done nothing but enrich the rich and destroy the middle class.

For those that either do not remember or weren’t around during the great Reagan era let me explain.

Reagan entered the President’s Office on the heels of back-to-back generations having benefitted from “New Deal” policies. By the mid-term elections of 1978 a typical family had more than doubled their incomes from the incomes of 1947 (inflation adjusted). During Ronald Reagan’s eight year presidency, the wealthiest one-fifth of American households saw their incomes increase by 14%. At the same time, the poorest one-fifth saw their incomes decline by 24%, with the middle three-fifths of American families’ income remaining essentially flat (with any increase most often being the result of women entering the job market).

Reagan raised taxes on working-class people many times. These were not often direct increases, but done in a way as to affect the middle class without actually calling it a tax. First Reagan cut income tax, that sounds like a great thing, however, this disproportionately helped the wealthy. At the same time he increased the payroll tax, which disproportionately is paid by the working poor and the middle class. Reagan then removed quite a number of deductions, taxed employees’ tips, increased Social Security and unemployment taxes, all moves that disproportionately affect the working poor and the middle class.

Then in 1981, Reagan passed the biggest tax cut for billionaires and corporations in our history, lowering the top rate from around 74% to around 28%. This essentially gave trillions in todays dollars to the top 1%.

These moves meant that the total effective federal tax rate for the poorest one-fifth of American families increased by more than 16%, while the effective tax rate for the wealthiest one-fifth of families fell by 5.5%.

Reagan’s crushing of PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Control Organization) was just the first salvo in a war against unions. Whatever your feelings about unions, they are why we had a middle class. Yes, I recall how corrupt unions were when I was a child but in the long run they fought for higher wages and safer conditions for everyone. I also will agree that PATCO was equally responsible for its own downfall by its ridiculous machinations, but most will mark their demise as the beginning of the end. When Reagan entered the White House, approximately one-third of Americans were members of a union, in just 10 years that was down to 10% and it is now only 6% of the American workforce.

I attended college in the 1970s when tuition was low, or non-existent if you attended a community college. In 1976 state governments funded six out of every ten dollars towards the cost of education at public colleges. If you needed more help you could apply for a Federal Pell Grant for as much as $1400 towards living expenses, which was often forgiven.

The University of California (UC) system was created in 1868 with the decree that “admission and tuition shall be free to all residents of the state,” and the California State and community-college systems followed suit.

Somewhere along the line public funding for education began to be a thing of the past. State legislatures began to cut per-student spending even as tax revenues increased.

In California, higher education spending accounted for 18% of the state budget in 1976–77, but by 2016–17 higher education funding had fallen to 12% of the budget. At the University of California funding per full-time-equivalent student fell from slightly more than $23,000 to about $8,000.

As bad as this sounds California increased its per-student spending by 15% between 2010 and 2015 while the average investment nationwide increased only 2% during this period, and some large states — such as Pennsylvania and Texas — cut funding by about 20%.

By 2017 the majority of public colleges were relying on tuition for a majority of their expenses nearly tripling the cost of public colleges and bringing student debt to $1.5 trillion by 2020. We tout the road to success begins with an education and then saddle students with so much debt that many die still owing.

In Reagan’s first inaugural speech he started a movement that has outlasted him, the theory that government was not the solution to our problems, but instead was the problem itself.

He told us that the nine most frightening words in the English language were, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” It is time to toss that old-fashioned thinking into the dustbin.

Our government is hardly perfect, and yet it should play an essential role in improving the lives of all Americans. When we underfund government we do harm to those of us that are not wealthy enough to create our own protective bubble.

Shrinking government has held America back. We have fallen behind our peer countries in providing even the most basic of public services including retirement security, reduction of poverty, advancement of childcare for working families, higher education, environmental protections, workplace safety, affordable housing, and health care to name only a few.

According to the 2020 Global Progress Index between 2011 and 2020 the US was the only G7 country that has gone backward on social progress.

Is this the dawning of a new way of thinking about our government? I will take a wait-and-see attitude and throw in a huge dose of hope.

Trivial Things

San Francisco weather: 57 degrees and breezy

NYSE DOW compared to one year ago: +13,573

COVID cases in the US: 30,523,015

Deaths from COVID in the US: 555,324

Vaccines administered in the US: 124,481,412

OED word of the day: beard-stroking -Given to or characterized by the stroking of one’s beard, esp. while deliberating or reflecting on a question. Hence: over-intellectual, pretentious.

Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 378

Reading: The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee

My Black and White Picture of the Day

Something Silly From the Internet:

My travel blog www.PassportandBaggage.com and my www.ArtandArchitecture-sf.com blog are quiet due to the Pandemic. I need to write, so here I go.

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