Category: Progressive Politics

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.

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

Libertarian-ism and the Corporate State

George S LedyardThere are two kinds of Libertarians on the political scene today; the actual members of the Libertarian Party and the members of the Republican Party with strong Libertarian views.
The Libertarian Party folks are where you find the true believers, the ones who are radically anti-government and pro individual freedoms. The one thing that you can say about these folks is that they are consistent in their application of these principles. They are fine with just about any behavior as long as it’s in the privacy of your own home between consenting adults. You don’t get the socially conservative tendency to legislate morality with these guys. But the party is also where you find the true nut cases, the ones who are so Libertarian that they are pretty much anarchists. At the Libertarian Convention in 2016 one candidate actually suggested that drivers licenses were an imposition by the government on our personal liberty. It’s pretty clear that the official Libertarians are not where you look for people to govern your country.
Most people with Libertarian leanings are to be found in the Republican Party. And they are far less concerned with being consistent. They favor small government and maximum personal freedom, or so they say, but are often the first in line to legislate morality that fits with Christian fundamentalist values, which hold a lot of sway in the GOP. Really, they mostly skip the personal freedom aspect and focus on the property rights side of things.
People shouldn’t be told what to do with their property by some central government. In fact Federal government ownership and management of public lands is suspect. Corporations are people, so all the rights of the individual are extended to the corporations and a overwhelming trait of the philosophy held by these people is an almost religious faith in the market place as the most efficient force in managing an economy.
These folks are the Über Capitalists. The current Republican crusader for Capitalism sees his personal mission as undoing virtually every piece of regulatory legislation passed since the New Deal and dismantling the Federal regulatory structures that performed this oversight.
These people have waited for years and years for the Holy Grail of a Republican Congress and Presidency full of truly radical right wing conservatives. With Donald Trump, they may not have found the guy who will pursue the radical social conservative agenda he seemed to promise in his campaign, but they definitely have a champion of the billionaire corporate class willing to destroy virtually all of the protections offered by our government against corporate malfeasance.

Donald Trump has asked Corporate representatives to make their recommendations as to what regulatory legislation they would like to see undone. This is asking the fox to guard the hen house. This is giving a group of folks whose sole interest is in delivering short term profits to their share holders free rein to pollute, to discriminate, to have unsafe working conditions, and so on.
If you look at the America proposed by Republican libertarian / Tea Party advocates, it is an America in which business is free to pursue its own course as dictated by the market place. The problem with all of this is that we have already been here before. From an historic point of view there is absolutely zero evidence that a corporation will ever choose to forego possible financial gain when it conflicts with maximizing profits.

Smog
LA smog in the 70s

When business did have pretty much free rein we had our nations rivers full of undrinkable carcinogenic waters. In the most famous case, the Passaic River in New Jersey actually caught fire. The air on our major urban areas was toxic and in the worst cities, like Los Angeles, toxic smog clouds hovered over the city, virtually obscuring the city from the view in the mountains. Our national bird, the bald eagle, was on the edge of extinction dues to the use of the pesticide DDT, lung cancer due to smoking killed tens of thousands of Americans every single year, and so on.
Child LaborThe fact is that when our US government was run on a more libertarian model we had unsafe air, unsafe water, unsafe food, unsafe working conditions, child labor, no social safety net, rampant sexual harassment, housing discrimination, racial discrimination,  massive economic fluctuation due to unrelated speculation in the stock market and so on. The economy would crash and serious economic depressions happened with some regularity.
This is the world of the US in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We had it already and we chose to change it. Now, people with absolutely no historical perspective, who derive their political philosophy from the works of Ayn Rand, are ready to take our country backwards in time to a world that will look more like Charles Dickens than anything we’ve see for 150 years.

asbestos is toxic
Removing asbestos from a home

The idea that the market place and unrestrained capitalism with voluntary self regulation by the corporations would do anything but open us up to the predations of corporate pirates is laughable. These are the same people who for decades denied that asbestos was terribly dangerous and was killing people. They sponsored studies that faked research and they lied through their teeth in order to preserve their profits.
These are the same people who for decades knew, from their own research, that tobacco caused cancer but fought all attempts to acknowledge that fact in court while simultaneously working to develop a product that was even more addictive than it was naturally.

Unsafe at any speed
Ralph Nader exposes the auto industry and the Corvair

These are the same people who produced an automobile that they knew was unsafe but chose to not correct the problem because it was cheaper to settle the law suits than it was to correct the problem.
It is simply an observable fact that every single instance of attempts to institute clean water standards, clean air standards, work place safety standards, equal rights, the list goes on and on, was resisted tooth and nail by the industries concerned. It’s history. You can read it and verify it.

The fact is that the only thing that stands between our citizenry and total corporate control of our nation like something out of a science fiction novel, is the Federal Government. No other entity in our society has the power to stand up to the power of the corporations derived from the vast wealth concentrated under their control. That’s why the wealthy and the corporations spend so much money trying to subvert it.  Every single positive step this nation has taken on the environment, worker’s rights and safety, auto safety, child labor, every single instance was IMPOSED on unwilling industry by the government.

desegregation of the schools
Women resisting school desegregation

This is also true on the equal rights front. Without the power of the Federal Government and the forcible imposition of civil rights legislation on the Southern States, we would still have segregation. Without the Fair Housing Act we would still have redlining and rampant discrimination in all areas of real estate.
LGBT rights, Women’s rights, the rights of the disabled, none were voluntarily enacted by most of the country. Supreme Court decisions backed by the enforcement power of the Federal Government were what forced the nation to start living up to its stated values. It was not voluntary. People did not voluntarily decide to act better, As society began to evolve, it needed to reach a tipping point at which it was ready to change. But it was the government that made that change happen in the larger society. It has been both the mechanism for making positive change happen and the guardian of those changes once they did.
So, we are now looking at the dismantlement of the only agency in our society that effectively stands up for our rights, for our environment etc. The right has hijacked the Supreme Court and they wish to cripple enforcement. Donald Trump’s invitation to private industry to suggest what legislation it wishes to repeal is just the start. It’s just one step away from total corporate control of our nation. The wall that has protected us from the self serving, profit before the public good, predations of the industrial pirates is slated for demolition. We must do what we can to ensure that this effort does not succeed.
From the New York Times EPA is major Target

Domestic Politics “Trumps” Foreign Policy Positions

George S Ledyard“There’s no such thing as foreign policy, there is only domestic policy” – Justin Raimondo of AntiWar.com in an interview on NPR today.
In this case he was talking about Donald Trump’s recent bombing of Syria, ostensibly in response to Assad’s sarin gas attack on civilians. His take on it, and I think it makes sense, is that Trump is basically bombing Syria, in order to try to show the American people that he isn’t in bad with the Russians.
Cruise missiles SyriaInterestingly, the total flip flop from the Reagan era when the GOP was full of anti-Russian cold warriors and the Democrats, as the opposition party were obligated to oppose Reagan’s global anti Communist efforts, we now have a Republican administration which is clearly positively disposed towards Russia and an almost hysterically anti-Russian Democratic Party.Anti RussianThis creates the most amazing political conjunction. Many of the far left Progressives who supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 campaign, seem far more focused on the perceived evils of the Democratic Party establishment, the so-called Neo-Liberals, than they are  with what the people on the ultra right are doing. So, we find these Progressives putting forth the same pro-Russia, anti-Democratic messages that the far right talk show hosts are putting out.
WikiLeaksThey question whether the Russians really did hack the DNC, they deny that the Russians intervened in the election to benefit Donald Trump, they are depicting the Syrian gas attack as a false flag operation designed to generate support for anti-Assad  forces and pressure the Russians to perhaps distance themselves from their ally.
Isn’t it rather insane that a group of people who share absolutely no agenda items in their vision of America with the GOP or the Tea Party radicals end up allied on foreign policy issues with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin?
And the Democrats themselves, have so committed to the anti-Russian narrative that, when their arch enemy, the Great Satan, Donald Trump chooses to bomb Syria in order to convince people he isn’t in the pocket of the Russians, they end up praising his actions and actually assisting him in his attempts to appear more “Presidential”. It is actually the far right nationalists, who thought Trump was going to be an isolationist that are upset about the bombing and his flip flop on the US as a global policeman.
My point here is that the Syrian issue ends up highlighting just how irrational most folk’s foreign policy positions are. They have little or nothing to do with the realities of the political and military situation on the ground in Syria. Folks take their positions based on the interplay of political considerations here on the domestic scene.
Trump PutinTrump clearly has a serious Russian influence problem. So, he goes against his publicly stated stance as an isolationist, and bombs Syria in order to show he’s not in the pocket of the Russians. The Democrats who have suddenly become hyper anti-Russian (just since the election amazingly) have been using the Russian influence scandal to bludgeon Trump. So, when Trump actually does something that runs counter to Russia’s stated interests, the Dems end up helping to legitimize and normalize this man whom they strongly oppose. This of course totally validates Trump’s attempts at deflection.
Hillary Clinton Progressive OppositionThe far left Progressive fanatics are trying to create a movement to set up a third party. Their narrative is that the Democratic Party is compromised beyond repair. They want to split off Democratic Party support in order to grow support for their new party. This means that their major focus isn’t on resisting Trump or the Alt Right, it’s on opposing any and all Democratic efforts to appear to recover from the Hillary Clinton / DNC electoral loss. So, if the Democratic establishment is taking an anti-Russian stance in response to Trump’s clear pro-Russia agenda, the Progressives end up pursuing the same agenda as the Trump forces.
Can everyone see just how little this has anything at all due to historical, cultural, and political reality in Syria? While I am sure that in the intelligence and military communities there are educated people striving for fact based decision making. But if one is listening to the leaders of ANY of the different political factions, Tea Party, Republican, Democratic, Progressive, it doesn’t matter, you see their positions change with the wind, based on domestic political concerns and with little regard to educated and consistent foreign policy agendas.

The Democratic Dilemma – Where to Go from Here?

George S LedyardThe Democrats are in flux. They have a very real set of issues.
First, the wealth divide, which can also be seen as a generational issue. The democrats moved away over time from their working class roots towards looking to the liberal elites who have made their fortunes in finance and tech in order to raise the kind of money it takes to run modern campaigns.
The Bernie Sanders progressives are far to the left of the bulk of the Democratic voters who are still part of the baby boom generation and while they are extremely supportive of civil rights and diversity issues, they are a bit gun shy of what the right wing propaganda depicts as socialism. That’s why we haven’t been able to get to single payer before now.
Campaign Finance ReformIf we can get the big money out of the electoral process, the party can place more focus on the young voters who are quite a bit to the left of their parents. Studies have shown that millennials are actually fine with describing their political positions as some variation of socialism. My generation, which was born at the time of the Red Scare and McCarthy stayed far away from that term.
But as long as it takes such huge sums to mount an effective campaign, it’s hard for the Dems to shift direction towards an agenda that their big bucks liberal supporters might find to be a bit much. Bill Clinton, Barrack Obama, and Hillary Clinton were all quite successful with their centrist focus, at least in terms of having the kind of fund raising machines it takes to win. The Dems may have lost the heartland but it wasn’t for lack of money, it was more where and how they spent it.
Bernie Sanders showed that a Presidential candidate can raise enough money from a real grass roots fund raising effort made up of small contributors. But the fact is that there is no state and local network of progressive candidates or a progressive party organization to mount down ticket races that requires the support of a national organization.
What Kind of Money It Takes to Run for President
Bernie’s fund raising supported his campaign but progressives have yet to demonstrate any staying power. They have not yet shown they can create the structure of a national movement. Bernie’s Movement was in some ways a “cult of personality”. It was all about making Bernie into the Great White Progressive Hope.

Democratic Baby Boomers
Hillary Clinton’s Supporters Were Older

Anyway, clearly the future belongs to the young. However there are probably more young, non-college educated, working class folks out there as there are nice educated liberal / progressive millennials. They will not be able to carry elections on their own for a number of years. The Baby Boomers, like myself, are more moderate and centrist. And They look to be around as a voting block for another three or four election cycles.|

Cornell West and Bernie Sanders
Dr. Cornell West and Bernie Sanders

The second is race. Like it or not, the developing progressive movement has not connected with minorities very well. Hillary Clinton did far better with Black voters than Bernie did, despite the endorsement of Bernie by a number of famous Black activists. In many ways, the Bernie Progressives were as much a white phenomenon as Trump’s Tea Party supporters. In the actual election Clinton got 88% of the Black vote cast but the numbers of Black voters who stayed home was in the  millions.
How Bernie Sanders Lost the Black Vote
White Young Bernie Sanders SupportersAfter eight years of Barrack Obama, the Black community is disillusioned with the whole system, They have consistently supported the Democrats with no measurable change in economic status, without changing the war on drugs, unequal imprisonment, unequal justice in the courts, grossly unequal violence at the hands of law enforcement. The white, college educated professionals who flocked to Bernie Sanders have not connected with minority voters to any large degree. This has to be figured out before we are going to see anything but cynical apathy on the part of minority voters.
So, the Democrats absolutely need to find candidates going forward that can appeal to minority voters and white liberal elites at the same time, as Barack Obama did. And they have to develop a platform which they strongly push at the local, state and national level that addresses the wealth divide. They are not going to win any support away from Trump, heartland supporters, on the social issues that liberals and progressives consider non-negotiable.
These issues represent a culture divide that will not be breached until the income and educational chasm is addressed. But, if, over time they can show they actually have a real plan that would benefit the poor and working class folks in this country without scaring the liberal elites with the money too badly, over time they should be able to get back that old Democratic identity as the party that represents the working and middle classes. The Progressives will have to stop assuming that success and money equal corruption or they will drive away the very support they will need to shift the Dem Party towards a more progressive agenda with progressive candidates.

Hidden Costs – You Are Already Paying for It

George S LedyardToday, Donald Trump and the GOP failed to achieve the single most visible part of their agenda, namely the repeal / replacement of the ACA. This means that, at least for the foreseeable future the ACA remains in place. This is great news but it doesn’t mean we can stop worrying.

There are any number of problems with the ACA. In the short run the Democrats should immediately start proposing legislation to make needed adjustments to the program. At least a few Republicans having seen that their own party won;t produce anything positive, might come along to make the current system better.

But the fact is that we are simply not going to get what we want without creating a single payer system, which I prefer to call Medicare for all. Every other country of any note in the world has a national health care system. Somehow, we as Americans were convinced that anything that came from the government was Socialism and we were terrified of it. The rationale for not having a Medicare for all system is that we can’t “afford it”. If one understands the facts, one can readily see that this is a completely false narrative.

Like many things in American society, we have basically hidden the true costs of how we do things which creates a false impression of what reality is. First of all, the United Sates has the highest per capital health care costs of any major nation in the world. The narrative that says that a single payer system would cost us more is easily disproved by looking at any other major nation. They all spend less on health care than we do. That’s a fact.
Now it is true that a Medicare for all system would increase your taxes. But it is an illusion that you would actually pay more out of your household budget. It would simply be a cleaner system without all the hidden costs. We have what is called an employer based system in which most people get covered through their place of work. For the vast majority this isn’t completely without charge, usually the worker pays a portion of the premium and supposedly the company pays the rest as a benefit.

But the fact is, this is an illusion. Companies do not pay for your health care. The consumers of the products those companies produce are paying for your health care. Companies pass on the costs of insuring their workers, assuming that they do provide benefits, into the cost of the products or services they sell. They have to. That’s how a business makes a profit.
So, in every single thing you buy, every service you purchase is the cost of the insurance that is supposedly being provided as a benefit by the employer. They aren’t really paying for your health insurance, you are paying for it indirectly through the cost of goods and services. It is a hidden cost which artificially creates an illusion of what you are paying for health care.
The fact is that you are paying a whole lot more than you think you are for health care in the US. I’m sure you have already experienced the ridiculously high premiums which seem to go up every single year. I am also sure you’ve noticed those deductibles which also seem to get larger all the time. What many people are unaware of is what they are paying indirectly via the hidden costs that do not get labelled as health care costs when they pay them.
First of all is the cost to the rest of us of every uninsured person. The folks who do not get any health care coverage typically do not have the money to buy their own. So, they end up not getting the preventive care they should, which leaves them less healthy and when they experience their inevitable health crisis, they use our emergency medical system as their health care provider.  This is far and away the most expensive way to provide care and it typically is un-affordable for these people, who then cannot pay, and the hospitals end up writing off the debt. Those losses get passed on directly to the consumers of health care who can pay. You and I are already paying those costs in the prices we are paying.
Then there is the cost of the inadequate insurance that many people have because it is the only thing they can afford. Before the ACA many people’s plans were inadequate to really protect them, especially against catastrophic illness. The ACA had provisions which set certain minimums services that had to be covered in an insurance policy to be considered as adequate. The repeal effort specifically targeted these provisions. The repeal would have put us back to the days when people would have insurance and feel secure only to find that their coverage didn’t come close to covering their real needs in a crisis.
But even with the ACA in place, it is a fact that the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States is medical costs. It is still the case that in our country we have decided that it is acceptable for families to be wiped out financially, a disaster that actually effects multiple generations not just an individual or a couple, due to the cost of medical care. Quite apart from the social cost of family bankruptcy, every time an individual declares bankruptcy, someone, like the banks and their other creditors eat that debt. So. once again, those costs get passed on to the rest of us via increased interest rates, higher service charges, and the increased cost of goods and services. We do not see them as costs associated with health care but they are.

If we can get to a Medicare for all system, we would have none of those hidden costs. We would know exactly what we were paying for. Yes, Federal Taxes would go up. But there could be some relief at the state level as Medicaid, which is administered through the states would not be necessary anymore. The states could save a huge amount.
We wouldn’t have the costs of the uninsured or costs of the bankruptcies being passed on to everyone else. But most importantly, it Medicare for all would almost certainly bring down costs. For profit health care has an automatic built in pressure to raise rates and decrease service. That is precisely how a business increases its profits. Anyone who thinks that competition and market forces are sufficient to bring costs down simply hasn’t looked at the realities of private health care. There is no evidence whatever that this works.

Not having an employer based health insurance system could also drive wages up bu giving the worker more freedom to choose employers. Right now, many folks stay at jobs they hate, or work at pay the is inadequate to cover their expenses simply because they hesitate to lose theior insurance. Essentially, they are held hostage by the employers who offer benefits and don;t feel free to move around. With  Medicare for all system, it would be much cleaner with workers making their decisions about staying or leaving a work place based on wages and work conditions and not on trying to protect the family’s benefits. Over time, this greater choice would create an upward pressure on wages.
Insurance works by distributing or spreading the risk pool. A medicare for all system would mean that 100% of our citizens would be participating in the system. Everyone who pays Federal taxes, either themselves or indirectly via the cost of good s and services they purchase would effectively be paying into the system. Federal income tax is a progressive system so the wealthy would pay proportionally more and the poor might pay very little.
This isn’t rocket science. Every body else has figured this out but us. Are there issues in other countries? Certainly. Every system can be tweaked and improved on. But it is just plain true that the down side of our health care system, which is fast getting un-affordable by anyone but the elites, really outweighs the upside. There is a very good reason that in no other country in the world are they looking at the US system and saying that they want what we have. When you hear any foreigner extolling the US system it is invariably a rich person who can afford to pay whatever the market as asking to get their care. It sure as hell is not the average person. They look at us and think we are crazy.
Let’s get behind Bernie Sanders and make single payer the issue of the day. Help educate the working class folks out there who are being hammered by the current system and educate them why this is in their direct self interest. Help them see through the right wing propaganda and scare tactics. If one gets passed all the BS, it is actually a rather straight forward issue.

Deomocrats and the “Forgotten” Heartland

George S LedyardMuch of the conventional wisdom since the disastrous electoral loss in Nov 2016 is that the Democratic Party lost because it had become too focused on identity politics and the educated liberal urban bastions on the two coasts. Bernie Sanders has maintained that a lack of an economic agenda that clearly benefits the working and middle classes was what turned voters away from the Democrats.
But a recent article in Vox provides a very different take on this issue. It points out that populism is on the rise all over the world in democracies which have far more socialized economic systems than what we have.

This had occurred to me a while ago. I had been trying to envision what possible Democratic / Progressive platform would have brought any significant number of Donald Trump’s supporters to our fold. My answer was, there isn’t one.
diversityThe whole basis of the Democratic / Progressive liberal agenda is diversity. It is about championing the rights of minorities and vulnerable populations. It is about LGBT rights, It is about a woman’s right to choose.  It is fundamentally about ensuring that all Americans have a level playing field when it comes to economic opportunity.
Of course, as Bernie Sanders has so aptly demonstrated, liberals have fallen far short of achieving this level playing field. But the Vox article is fairly convincing in maintaining that this wasn’t actually the reason we lost the election.
The fact is that I cannot envision what agenda would both preserve the fundamental focus on civil rights, minority rights, women’s rights, maintaining the social safety net, and be based on the philosophy of mixed public / private management of the country’s economy. It is fundamental to Liberal and Progressive philosophy that the government has a crucial role in managing those things which we determine to be “public goods” on behalf on the American people.
These include clean air, clean water, the environment in general, our rivers, the ocean, endangered species, fish runs, and the social safety net (sometimes called the welfare system). Health care has, since its inception, been a mixed bag. The government has policies which heavily “regulate” the industry, and via medicare, medicaid, and the veteran’s administration covers some financing, but the majority of our system is private. It is an “employer based” system and insurance is provided by private insurers.
Trump SupportersSo, what do we see on the right? It certainly is not a monolithic group. The GOP base is made up of a disparate groups and philosophies. But one unifying element is an almost visceral dislike of the Federal Government. The Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, which has hijacked the Party’s agenda, wants to see smaller government, less regulation, a strong focus on property rights (as opposed to the public good), and far less Federal civil rights interference in state and local matters.
It is impossible to separate our current “populism” from “nativism”. The core demographic supporting Donald Trump and the farther right politicians is non-college educated whites. And they are Christians. This group is adamantly opposed to immigration. It wants to see deportation of undocumented residents. It wants to see a Wall built on the Mexican border. It wants to see an almost total ban on immigration from Islamic countries.
This group has gradually been influenced over a period of decades to become an anti-diversity, increasingly white supremacist group. They are convinced that diversity is a war against our Eurocentric values and heritage. They are xenophobic and more isolationist than we have seen for many years.

The Alt Right
The Alt Right Movement

My point here is that these people are rabidly opposed on a very fundamental level to almost EVERYTHING we liberals and progressives stand for. They do not believe that the government should have much of a role in anything beyond defense and law enforcement. They believe that the social safety net is a giveaway of public money to undeserving minority moochers. They are made uncomfortable by cultural values different than their own, especially when they are introduced into their previously homogeneous communities.
So, I would ask, would an vehemently anti-abortion person be persuaded by an economic program designed to benefit their demographic to vote for a Party that is firmly committed to “choice”? I would say nothing would do that.

I would ask what would persuade a voter who hates the Federal Government, is convinced that all politicians are corrupt, and feels that just about everything the government does that he sees is bad, to vote for a candidate that believes in a single payer, national health system administered by the government? I would say nothing.
Black Lives MatterI would ask what would persuade a voter who is fundamentally frightened by minorities and immigrants, who wishes to see the clock turned back to when white exceptionalism was the rule in our country and minorities just had to go along, to vote for a candidate from a party that is fundamentally associated with equal opportunity and rights for all… that has made “inclusion” the basis of its philosophy? I would say nothing.
I think it is time to understand that the country is polarized between extremes that really are not going to be reconciled. One side is not going to be persuaded to join the other side. This is a conflict that is going to have winners and losers. The losers will not be happy. And nothing we can do as liberals and progressives will change that fact.
Diversity PictureSo, no, the Democratic Party does not have to abandon its focus on diversity and identity politics. What it needs to do is incorporate a more progressive agenda into a plan that targets it liberal / progressive base. It isn’t about winning over the Tea Party folks in the heartland, or the uneducated workers on the rust belt. It is about finally coming up with a program that actually does improve the lot of the folks that have been Democratic supporters all along.

ACLU Civil Rights

Let’s make it clear to our minority populations that we have a real commitment to ending the war on drugs, shifting decriminalization to support via education, rehabilitation, mental health services, business development in the urban centers, etc. Let’s have a comprehensive plan to provide economic incentives and create educational / vocational alternatives for our workers who will be increasingly replaced by the robotics revolution.
To take back the country we need to motivate the folks that have traditionally been our base of supporters, not try to win over a group of folks that isn’t going to be won over no matter what we do. Instead, we need to maintain the focus we have had but actually start to deliver the goods. It was disinterest in our base this election that gave us Donald Trump, not a huge mandate.
Check out the article on Vox
No easy answers: why left-wing economics is not the answer to right-wing populism

“Merit Based Immigration” Ignores the Needs of Regular Americans

George S LedyardMerit based immigration” is a disguised “class-ist” system. Right now the US is allowing highly skilled workers to come from overseas and take positions in American companies. We benefit from their expertise and that seems like a good thing.

But the fact is that we need to bring in high level expertise from overseas because our own schools are not turning out sufficient numbers of skilled workers to fill the openings we have. Importation of foreign expertise removes market pressures to fix our education system. If we didn’t allow H1B workers to satisfy the demand for skilled workers, our corporations would be pressuring Federal and State government to fix our educational system to produce the educated work force they require.

 H1B visas, merit based immigration
We have a massive income divide in the US and a middle class that is under pressure. Current debates about jobs, bringing manufacturing back to the US, etc largely ignore that robotics / automation is a revolution on the scale of our industrial revolution. It will not be too long before most of the jobs performed at the low income level of the economy will be performed by machines. Even now, the jobs being created via economic growth are jobs that require higher education or at the very least, extensive vocational training.

Who are the H1B Visa recipients? More often than not, these people represent the elite of the countries from which they come. They come from the top strata of society that could afford to send their children to the very best lite schools. They can then come to the United States and gain valuable work experience. Some choose to stay here and other return home, taking that valuable experience with them and many end up in businesses that directly compete with our own companies.

But that isn’t the real issue. The real issue is that the American middle class has been in decline for decades. It is increasingly difficult for the average American worker to find jobs that actually pay enough to maintain that middle class status. The opportunities for movement up the economic ladder for most of our middle class folks is decreasing all the time.
We have a country in which the average citizen reads at around an 8th grade level. These people simply do not have the education or the skills needed to fill the new economy jobs which are opening up. Even if Donald Trump succeeds in bringing back manufacturing to the US, these people will not be getting those jobs that return.
A merit based immigration program allows American business to get the expertise it needs without the country making the investment in its own citizens required to meet these corporate requirements. It is a system in which we let someone else shoulder the burden of creating an educational system that produces these highly trained people and then we bring them in and put them to work. All the while, our own citizens are struggling. We are not investing in getting them ready for the jobs of the future.
H1B, merit based immigrationWe have allowed an income divide to develop over time that simply leaves most Americans behind. A huge percentage of our citizens are underemployed, which means that they are working very hard at one, often two jobs, but are still barely able to survive. This income divide exists all over the world. Now the children of the economic elite of one country can come to the US and be a part of the economic elite of our country while no effort is made to better the lot of the folks already here who exist at the bottom.
So, while I am at pains to say that I am not at all anti-immigrant, the so-called “merit based” immigration system obviates the need to do something about our school system’s failure to produce enough skilled workers to ensure decent wage paying jobs for our own citizens. The jobs may be there but our own people aren’t prepared for them. It produces an upper middle class of technical elites that actually makes upward mobility for the rest of our citizens more difficult.