Archive for the Morty's Question of the Week Category

What One Can Find on Al-Jazeera

Posted in Economics, Morty's Question of the Week, WTF? on March 20, 2011 by Mort the Sport

I found this great tidbit on the English version of Al-Jazeera under the title “US: Waking Up to Class Politics“:

“A CEO, a union worker and a Tea Partier (a member of the emerging right-wing political movement) are at a table with 12 cookies. The CEO takes 11 and says to the Tea Partier: “Keep an eye on that union guy, he wants your cookie.”

I think it’s great.

And the lesson: Revolution is the response to inequity. Now the question is what is the response to an anesthetized society that is more or less comfortable with the one cookie it gets?

I know. What the hell am I doing reading Al-Jazeera?

Morty’s Question of the Week (#3)

Posted in Morty's Question of the Week with tags , , , , , on July 9, 2009 by Mort the Sport

Back story: During the 2008 presidential campaign, pundits on the Right were quick to label Obama as “the most liberal senator in Congress.” This was, of course, patently untrue. However, it seems that Obama is a bit less liberal than he seemed to be on the campaign trail.

Question: Is Obama a centrist in the Clintonian sense? In other words, has Obama found his own “Third Way” or is he moving politics to the left?

BP’s Answer:  This is, of course, an excellent question.  I remember thinking during the 2008 campaign that the worst thing that could have happened would be for John McCain to win.  And in the very beginning, I didn’t really like the two candidates on the Democratic side that ended up going to toe-to-toe.  But when it came down to it, I decided that I liked Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton.  And I felt it was so important that he win, that I decided to vote for him.  This was the first time that I had ever voted for a Democrat for President.  I had always voted for the Green party candidate, but for reasons I won’t get into here, I decided that I would vote for Obama instead.

With all that being said, I certainly don’t think that Obama was “the most liberal Senator in Congress”  but he is also not a Clintonite.  It seems to me that Obama has indeed found his own “Third Way.” Whether that is a good thing or not, depends on your point of view and what issue one is talking about.

The title of Most Liberal Senator would probably have to go to Bernie Sanders, who is a self-proclaimed democratic socialist.  And Obama is no where near that, regardless of what the right was saying during the campaign about distributing wealth.  That is what our progressive tax system does, it redistributes wealth.  Whether the Right likes it or not, that’s what it does.  And it certainly didn’t start with Obama.

Whether Obama is a Clintonite, is a little harder to answer.  It depends on your definition of Clintonite.  I suppose in one sense he is a Clintonite because he tried to put quite a few member of the Clinton Administration in his own Cabinet.  This didn’t always work so well (e.g. Bill Richardson) and one member was not exactly in the Clinton Administration as much as part of the family (e.g. Hillary as Secretary of State) but when you consider that unless you are going to pick someone untested players, you will have to look to the last Democratic Administration for people to choose.  Also, one of the things that Clinton tried, and failed, to do was healthcare reform.  And it seems that Obama is certainly on track to make inroads in this area it seems at least in part by learning from the mistakes of the Clintons.

Bill Clinton was what I call a triangulator.  He would try to find some position between the Right and Left, but to get it through Congress, which was controlled by the Republicans through most of his tenure, he would have to bring the policy closer to the Right’s position.  Whether it was NAFTA, or welfare “reform,” or creating tougher sentences for criminals, it was often what the Right wanted.  I don’t think that Obama does this nearly as much.

Unfortunately, when Obama does do what will make the Right happy it is on very important issues.  For instance, he has decided that the US will be able to detain prisoners indefinitely.  He says that he wants to close the prison at Guantanomo Bay, but that seems like an extremely empty gesture when we will simply keep those prisoners elsewhere for as long as we like.

Obama doesn’t seem to be the triangulator that Clinton was, and some of his ideas are genuinely liberal, but on certain issues it would be difficult to distinguish him from Bush.

So Obama’s “Third Way” is unlike Clinton’s, but that is both a good and a bad thing.

Feel free to leave your own answer to the question.

Morty’s Question of the Week (#2)

Posted in Morty's Question of the Week with tags , on June 28, 2009 by Mort the Sport

The back story: This question should be filed under political philosophy because, having read Marx, I’m interested in the philosophical underpinnings of his ideas. However, I’ve been told by professors that, in some ways, Marx was really a romantic poet. I think they meant that his ideas are based on fairly romantic premises. One is that workers always have the welfare of their fellow workers in mind when they act collectively.

The question: Is there an example of a successful communist government in the true Marxist sense of that word?

A minor qualification: By successful, I mean a government that held Marxist ideals while implementing them for the benefit of its people.

Answer (by BP): In a word, no.  I have been trying to rack my brain to think of a single example of a government that fits your criteria.  There have been a number of countries that have called themselves “communist” but that doesn’t mean that they have actually put in place policies that were aimed at helping all the people of their countries.  Sure, there have countries that tried to help their citizens, but they have not gone to far as to be communist.  And there have countries that called themselves communist but were really just socialist dictatorships (e.g. China or the former Soviet Union).  So I would have to say that there have not been any countries that have successfully pulled this off.

The reasons for this are much more difficult to understand.  I think that you would have to look at each country individually to see how each went in the wrong direction.  I would simply say that it is often difficult to get those in power to share that power with others.

“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  – Lord Acton (1834-1902)

Response to Question #1

Posted in Morty's Question of the Week with tags , , on June 23, 2009 by Black Pumpkin

MTS: This is the second (acknowledged) incident in which you stood idly by while someone made a completely or at least somewhat dubious claim.  I think you need to step up and let the world know that you are a Political Junkie and you are here to speak your mind.  Even if you don’t want to confront them and tell these people that they’re wrong, you can muddy the waters a little and give them something to think about.

(Take that with as much salt as you need to.)

Now, on to your question…

While I would agree that there are a number of laws that protect workers, I think that unions are important and play a necessary role in the political sphere.  I can think of at least three things that unions do for workers that are not covered by current laws.

First, with the use of collective bargaining, workers can often get higher wages, better benefits, and even better working conditions.  If one or two workers say that they want higher wages, they may (if they’re lucky) get something for themselves, but it is highly unlikely that they would be able to get anything for the whole group.  So it is much better to bargain as a whole rather than piecemeal.

Second, strikes are a very important tool in the workers toolbelt.  And to think of strikes without unions is just silly.  (Worker: I’m on strike, I want better working conditions for me and my fellow workers.  Boss: You’re fired!)  Only when workers act collectively do the bosses stand up and pay attention.  If their entire workforce walked out, they would have to take notice.  That would be infinitely harder without unions.

Finally, unions don’t just fight for workers in the workplace itself.  They also fight in the halls of Congress, on the streets and in neighborhoods.  Whether it is lobbying directly or raising money for candidates, unions are always working to get more and better laws passed for workers throughout the US.

So if you have ever had to use Worker’s Compensation, or if you simply enjoy your weekends off, thank the unions.  If you like vacations and medical insurance, thank the unions.  If you are glad that your child doesn’t have to work or if you like your overtime pay, thank the unions.  But the unions are not only a thing of the past, they should be a part of every workers’ future.  So if you’re a worker, join a union.

When we work together, there is nothing we can’t do.

Morty’s Question of the Week (#1)

Posted in Morty's Question of the Week on June 21, 2009 by Mort the Sport

This is an ongoing “column” that I’d like to inaugurate here and continue into the future. Each week I will pose a question to the other two members of BNG. If you (Pope and BP) want to respond to the question, please generate a new post.

The back story: While I attended a Father’s Day BBQ in beautiful Temple City, California, a brief political discussion erupted. (I chose not to participate.) As I listened in from afar (while I was busy playing with my daughter on the backyard lawn), I heard this statement (or something close to it): “We don’t really need unions anymore because all the things they did in the past are now provided by labor laws: the work week, minimum wage, workmen’s comp, etc.”

Question: Are there benefits that unions provide that labor laws don’t provide? If so, what are they?

Ok. It’s really two questions.