Month: May 2017

The Trump / GOP Budget – Compassion is Nowhere to Be Found

George S LedyardSomehow, in a country in which corporate profits are at an all time high, and wealth accumulation at the very top is greater than at ANY TIME IN HISTORY, Trump and the GOP are trying to sell a budget plan that essentially penalizes the poor.
Remember LBJ’s “war on poverty”? Well, this should be characterized as Donald Trump’s “war on the poor“. The obscenely wealthy, for some reason, seem to deserve getting vast sums cut from what they are paying while the poorest Americans lose some or all of the various programs on which they depend to get by.
Donald Trump war on the poor
Donald Trump’s War on the Poor
The wealthiest corporations maintain that they can’t compete. Well, they seem to have been able to do so just fine. Profits are at record levels. Executive compensation is at record levels and is drastically higher than in any other country, including an economic powerhouse like Germany.
The narrative being put fort by the GOP is that our businesses need to pay fewer taxes so that they can be EVEN MORE PROFITABLE. But none of this profit trickles down to the folks in the middle class. For twenty years, as the rich have become richer and richer, the middle class has essentially been in a recession. And forget the poor. They just sit there, year after year, generation after generation.
How did we as a nation get to the point at which we stand out among all of the most affluent countries in the world as the most hard-hearted, least compassionate? Being poor anywhere is really hard. But among developed countries, the US stands out as the country with the greatest resources that devotes the least to the citizens on the lower end of the scale.
We already imprison a larger proportion of our population that ANY other nation in the world. We have produced a system in which certain segments of the citizenry have been condemned to multi-generational poverty with little or no chance of escape.
Mitt Romney, 47%Mitt Romney’s famous 47% of the public that doesn’t pay Federal income taxes was initially put forward as an example of those folks sponging off the rest of us. But the fact is that they do not pay income tax because they do not earn enough money to do so. That’s almost one half of the country that is underemployed. They work but can’t make a real living wage. If you aren’t paying Federal income tax, you simply aren’t making enough to even cover the essentials.
Think about it. 47% of the populace isn’t making enough to pay income tax. Then we have the fact that over 20%, 50+ million citizens, are actually receiving some sort of public assistance. So, a fifth of the country needs help to just survive. Almost the bottom half of the country is making so little that they are right on the edge. The number one cause for personal bankruptcy in the United States is due to medical costs, something that doesn’t exist in ANY other nation.Poverty in AmericaAnd now, the GOP is proposing a budget that drastically cuts programs for the poor, increases their medical costs by cutting Medicaid, while cutting taxes dis-proportionally for the wealthiest Americans. This is based on the totally discredited notion of the trickle down theory.  If we just give the wealthy individuals and corporations back more money, economic growth will trickle down to the middle class and poor. BUT IT DOESN’T. It’s a myth, yet the GOP still bases it’s entire approach towards tax policy on an unfounded faith in this fiction.
Jeff Sessions, war on drugsTo top it all off, Jeff Sessions, is calling for a return to the draconian war on drugs that has filled our prisons. It has been shown, over and over, that once you put someone in to the criminal justice system, the chances of them ever moving out of poverty are about zero, unless you are Martha Stewart and started rich before you went in. Given the fact that in may states, the right to vote is lost with with a felony conviction, it’s east to see that this push for law and order is a thinly veiled form of voter suppression, especially since it effects people of color even more than anyone else. But it’s disastrous for the poor as a whole.
It is embarrassing and disheartening to see how much of our country has bought into a narrative that so completely lacks any compassion. It actively penalizes being poor while creating circumstances that guarantee that a huge segment of the country remains so. This is an unacceptable and appalling situation. And it can’t possible be sustainable. Something is going to give, probably sooner rather than later.
Poverty in America

The Jeff Sessions War on Drugs Revisited

George S LedyardWhat we now know as the “war on drugs” was begun back in the Nixon days as a means of quashing political opposition. His advisers agreed that they couldn’t make being a hippie or being Black illegal. But they could use the war on drugs to go after the anti-war and civil rights movement leaders and get them in jail.  CNN Article

Going on fifty years, the US incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation in the world. The incarceration rates fall dis-proportionally on people of color (as predicted by the Nixon team).

Richard Nixon and advisers - war on drugs
The war on drugs is now a multi billion dollar industry. Huge anti-drug government institutions, private prisons, etc have created an inertia that makes the system resistant to change. But slowly we had started making moves towards changing things.
Under President Obama there had been a de-emphasis on drug enforcement against a minor drug like marijuana. The government even looked the other way as several states legalized the use of marijuana. The President had also moved to start closing the private prison structure, and many states had begun to look at our substance abuse problem more as a public health / mental health issue rather than a criminal issue.
Jeff Sessions war on drugsNow, we have an Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, about whom many had concerns based on a past history of racism. And what is the very first initiative this man attempts? Going back to the bad old days of the war on drugs, an effort that even conservative thinkers have declared to be ineffective at achieving it’s stated goals and has created more negative consequences to our society than benefits. Washington Post Article
Whether or not you think there is a connection between Sessions alleged racism, and his support for escalating the war on drugs, the single fact is that the war on drugs has been a disaster. It plays a major part on our inability to solve our wealth divide problem. It has condemned a substantial segment of our society to multi-generational poverty and the hidden costs to our nation are many times the overt costs.
We have to do what we can to resist the Jeff Sessions effort to reverse our progress in this are.

We Put These People in DC, It’s on Us

George S LedyardIt has become fashionable lately to talk about corruption in government and the need to “throw them all out”. While Donald Trump ran on a right wing “drain the swamp” promise, the folks on the progressive left often talk in much the same way. They refer to the “establishment” Democrats as embodied by the DNC as irredeemably corrupt and advocate forming a new party with fresh faces to rework our government.

It is also the case that a good portion of the public has to a large degree lost respect for expertise and professionalism. Of course we see this in the tendency to discount scientific evidence that goes against right wing agenda on climate change and environmental protection. But nowhere is the disconnect greater than between the average citizen and the professionals who run our government, largely anonymously behind the scenes.
Washington, DC and its suburbs, is probably one of the most highly educated cities in the country. Certainly, it has more lawyers per square inch than any other city. But it is also full of folks with advanced degrees in government, political science, international studies, public policy, defense studies and so on. These are the professionals who typically spend their careers in intelligence, government, etc. They represent the institutional memory of the various agencies in DC. They provide the continuity that keeps things functioning as each administration comes and goes according to the whims of the voters at any given time.
These people are not elected by the voters. They are hired in much the same way anyone gets a job. They build resumes by working internships, the get advanced degrees, they start at the bottom and work their way up. They seldom make the news, that’s for their appointed bosses. But they are the ones that do the work and keep things functioning.

I bring this up because it occurred to me that Donald Trump is showing us just what it looks like when we decided to simply “throw the bums out” and bring in people who have absolutely no experience in government. Not only is Trump a government neophyte but he has surrounded himself with people whose entire experience has been in corporate America and have no backgrounds whatever in government.
Enough of the voters were persuaded by the propaganda that assassinated the character of Hillary Clinton that we brought in a man with no government experience at all. The theory was that we should run the US government more like a business. But Trump’s business experience is in real estate development, an area in which wheeling and dealing is standard operating procedure and the reputation for ethical behavior is exceedingly low.

One can see the same dysfunction in Congress. The Tea Party far right outsiders who came into Congress during the previous elections are the ones who have created legislative grid lock. They are ideologically driven and have no experience running a country or desire to compromise with even the moderates in their own party. And the lack of intellectual credentials among them is frightening.
I think that voters, from the left and the right, should look at the resulting chaos and understand that experience does actually matter. Bringing in a whole group of outsiders with no experience as a recipe for disaster. Only two groups of people are happy with the dysfunction of having amateurs at the helm and that is the Russians, who helped bring this on, and the super right wing libertarians who think government paralysis is a good thing.
In the future, it would be a good idea to look at a candidate’s resume rather than his ability to tell you what you want to hear. And we need to understand that success in one area does not necessarily transfer to success in another. While we do wish to have a government that is responsive to our citizenry, we really want people running the government who are experts at doing so. Populism and electing candidates because they remind you of yourself is not a good way to achieve good governance.

Trump and Afghanistan an Exercise in Hubris

George S LedyardEver been through a corporate reorganization? The new management comes in, inevitably a bunch of “type A” personalities, and absolutely believes that they will do a better job than the folks that came before them.
Employees from the old regime find their experience discounted and their influence marginalized. If one points out that some new proposal was tried before and didn’t work, the response is always, “Well, you guys just didn’t execute it properly”.

The GOP spent years criticizing Democratic administrations for what they saw as “nation building”. But after 9/11, George Bush not only committed the US to a full scale invasion of Afghanistan, but immediately set out to do nation building. This despite the reputation for Afghanistan as the “graveyard of empires”. It wasn’t that the dangers weren’t known… But the Bush team put out the word that no one was allowed to even utter the word “quagmire”. Yet quagmire it has become.

Afghanistan military invasion
A US soldier in front of the remains of ancient invaders, long gone.

No one in history has ever successfully invaded and occupied Afghanistan. Afghans could be seen as one of the most ornery cultures in the world. Historically, the only thing that unites this culture is a foreign enemy on its soil.
Barrack Obama inherited the Afghanistan war. Despite our best efforts, it has become clear that despite this being the longest war in US history, we are no closer to the goals we set down when we invaded then we were.
Now, with all the incredible arrogance we would expect from the Trump administration, we are reversing Obama’s attempts to disentangle us from this disaster. We are, in effect, jumping back into the “quagmire”. The fundamental assumption behind this effort is that the previous administration didn’t “do it right”.

MOAB Mother of all Bombs
Trump’s latest “bigger hammer”

Trump’s default setting is the “use a bigger hammer” approach to just about everything. He uses threats liberally and then, in order top not appear as a paper tiger, needs to back these threats up militarily. A man who used to wield economic leverage as a weapon to win in business now has the most powerful military in the world at his disposal. And the newly appointed gurus of national defense are certainly not inclined to tell their new boss that they can’t accomplish the “mission”.
Trump’s obsession with showing that he is a better leader than Barrack Obama is going to cost this nation dearly. He is simply incapable of following any direction his predecessor took unless pressured strongly by his advisers and fellow Republicans.

US military in Afghanistan
US forces in Afghanistan

So, it’s back into Afghanistan we go with increased boots on the ground. There is absolutely no evidence that this will accomplish anything over time. It didn’t work for the Maurya Empire of ancient India, Alexander the Great of Greece, Umar, an Arab Caliphate, Genghis Khan of Mongolia, Timur of Persia and Central Asia, the Mughal Empire of India, various Persian Empires, the British Empire, the Sikh Empire, the Soviet Union, or the United States to date.. The idea that Donald Trump is going to succeed when everyone else has failed is pure hubris.
Washington Post: U.S. poised to expand military effort against Taliban in Afghanistan

The GOP Just Doesn’t Understand Health Care

George S LedyardIt is so abundantly clear that the GOP lawmakers in charge of health care reform simply do not understand the concept of risk sharing or spreading the risk. Asking that people with pre-existing conditions pay more is precisely one of the contributing factors that produced so many people with no insurance that the ACA was designed to fix.
Essentially, what the insurance companies wish to do is sell policies to people that they won’t actually use. Healthy people pay into the system month after month, year after year, and, because they are healthy, they do not use the services. It’s a highly profitable business.
However, folks with chronic health issues use health care services regularly. They require frequent doctors visits, use more expensive services, have much higher expense for meds.
The ENTIRE point of insurance is to spread the risk and the expense. If we had no insurance at all, healthy people would pay virtually nothing and then later in life or with unexpected illness would suddenly be faced with crippling medical expense. Young people would typically need little health care but without exception, they will need those services eventually. So, we are in a situation in which the Baby Boom generation, my generation, are now getting old. In May first I was enrolled in Medicare. After a very active life, I have a number of injuries which need to be addressed. Forty years of martial arts training have made me a “high mileage vehicle” so to speak.
My wife and I have paid a fortune for health insurance every month for years. Yet I have not been able to afford to have my various injuries treated due to high deductibles coupled with insufficient coverage (50% to 80% depending on the condition). And our income as a family is quite a bit greater than that of the average American.
The whole point of national health insurance policy is to have young folks and healthy people “pay it forward”. The younger, healthier segment of the population pays more for coverage than they use thereby subsidizing the folks that have reached the stage in their lives at which they will inevitably need more services. It is precisely at old age, at the retirement stage of life that people end up on fixed incomes and have the least resources to pay for their health care needs.
The right wing of the GOP seems to not understand this concept at all. They keep asking why anyone should be paying for services that they do not use? Why should men pay for women’s health services? Why should the young pay for the old? Why should folks who are healthy pay for the folks that require health care services?
This is a totally “classist” approach. It is a fact that the poor, as a direct result of their own poverty, require more health care support. Since they do not get it under our current system, their general health outcomes are far worse than the general population. GOP proposals would only make this worse.
This is quite simply an application of that Ayn Rand, radical free market, extreme individual responsibility which questions why anyone would do anything that would help anyone else? It’s a sort of radical application of extreme property rights philosophy in which asking anyone to pay anything for something they don’t themselves need is theft and a form of government interference in the rights of the individual.
In reality this is an extreme form of radical libertarian thinking that would love to see health care left 100% in the hands of the market place. Everyone would pay his own way. This would be a return to a Dickensian world in which the poor are not only denied any assistance in health care, housing, food, whatever, but they are actively penalized for being poor. Getting in debt resulted in imprisonment in the work house. It is a world in which any health crisis would simply bring ruination to a whole family. Even with the current system we have, the number one cause of personal bankruptcy is medical costs.
In this world the rich have whatever they need and everyone else is left to their own devices. This is the direction that the Freedom Caucus and the radical right of the GOP wants to take us on health care. We absolutely depend on our Democrats to remain united and hopefully join with the few non-insane, moderate Republicans left in Congress to come up with a fix for some of the issues with the ACA, rather than trashing the whole thing and setting up some libertarian free market program which will throw millions out of coverage and provide substandard coverage for most of the rest of us while the 1% gets the finest health care in the world.
Article: Republican: People With Preexisting Conditions Should Pay More

The Death of the GOP as a Functional Conservative Party

George S LedyardTraditional conservatives, the non-insane ones that aren’t racist Neo-Fascists, continue to be dismayed, not just about Trump and company but the lack of experienced leadership in the GOP in general.
This is still democratic system. The ability to negotiate, to compromise, to horse trade is how government of such a diverse population must work.
The Tea Party has sent a number of people to Congress who are religiously and ideologically motivated extremists who have no such ability.
Add to that a So-called President whose personal style would be better suited to a dictatorship. Trump and his minions seem to labor under the misconception that all that is required is for the Great Leader to publicly pronounce his support for a measure and Congress, at least the GOP portion should simply use their majority to pass it.
There is a difference between “conservatism” as a type of governing philosophy and what conservatism as an extreme right wing movement that is anti-government, isolationist, xenophobic and radically socially reactionary.
William F BuckleyBarry GoldwaterOld style conservatives were influenced by conservative “thinkers” like William F Buckley. They were represented in government by highly experienced men like Barry Goldwater and George H W Bush. These men represented a governing philosophy yes, but they also deeply believed in the democratic process. They knew how to work with the people on the other side of the aisle move the business of government forward.
LBJ and Sam Rayburn
LBJ and Sam Rayburn legendary legislators

There was a time when all politicians seemed to recognize that they really did represent all of their constituents. They had their agendas, the policies that they wished to put forward, but they knew that the end result would inevitably be a compromise and that was actually the way the system had been designed by the founding fathers. Skill in governance involved the ability to push ones agenda through the legislative process, to use ones experience, ones connections, ones negotiating skills to succeed in getting legislation passed.
The Freedom CaucusOver the course of the last eight years, we have seen a steady loss of both actual government experience with extremist Tea Party outsiders replacing establishment GOP candidates in Congress. One could see the result over the past eight years in which the GOP simply became the Party of “No”. Their philosophy of government has been to simply oppose anything and everything the other party supports.
Trump AdministrationThese same voters sent the least qualified and experienced President in US history to the Presidency. Trump is a President who has surrounded himself with advisers who have no government or legislative experience. Some are political extremists and some are merely billionaires whose interest is only in helping the wealth be wealthier. None are terribly interested in compromising with the other side.
So, the loss of real statesmen and the overall lack of real experience in the GOP has virtually destroyed the party as a party able to govern. With both the Presidency and the control of Congress, they are still unable to unite in order to pass important legislation. The administration’s radical agenda offends the fiscal conservatives and those moderates still left in the party. The move to compromise on issues offends the extremists in groups like the Freedom Caucus who refuse to budge on attempts to make extremist legislation more moderate.
The result is a party that was unified enough to put a President in the white house but has shown itself to be quite dis-unified and unable to functionally govern. We see traditional Conservatives like George F Will publicly leaving the party. We see the Trump administration governing through executive order, something for which Trump strongly criticized President Obama. The administration is becoming increasingly frustrated with Congressional inability to deliver and is showing more sympathy for totalitarian style leadership.
This blog from Sheila Kennedy is another take on this issue from a former Republican supporter who wonders where her party went.