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Thomas Friedman recently wrote an interesting piece titled “Trump is going to be Re-Elected.” He tackles the title of this post’s divide without every naming it. I think Democrats have to be bold and contrast themselves sharply against Trump. Moderation is what Hilary Clinton was about, and Trump beat her. Let’s not make the same mistake again.

For starter Friedman doesn’t embrace the threat of climate change, and he misses the threat to Democracy we suffer from the extreme inequality ‘we have allowed to grow to its outsized dominance, but he makes an interesting point.

He does express a winning strategy that begins by redividing the proverbial pie, but he would only expand early education and provide some student loan debt with the proceeds. Both are worthy outcomes, but there is much more that could be achieved with redivision. Affordable housing has to be incentivized the same way that luxury housing is. Programs to help working class voters buy homes, and that make it profitable to build their homes, would help build the American Dream for millions of people.

I think Democrats need to buckle down and spread the world about universal health care which would end private insurance for many. People need to know that no one else in the world provides healthcare in such an accidental, incredibly expensive system that has developed here. Obamacare was a huge improvement but there are still too many uninsured people here. People who use ER as their primary care, people who just skip going to the doctor until its too late to treat easily or at all. Drug costs in this country are the highest in the world. There is a reason no one else has copied our healthcare system: it is unjust, unfair, and so expensive.

Friedman bulks at the idea of Medicare for All. I think we should move to enact it because health care is a right of a democratic system. We have to accept that and then move forward. Everyone else did their health care system that way, but not us. We can join the rest of the civilized world, and realize something that aligns with what Abraham Lincoln named our greatest strength: that we are a country with government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people. If Democrats would campaign on that idea they would win in 2020. 

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Elizabeth Warren Gets It

EA373984-60F5-41F6-83E1-6C631FD82DA7      Three cheers and a big hoorah for Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s attention to working people and our broken economy. She’s been talking about restoring corporate practices that once helped employees as much as other parties.  Since the end of the ‘70’s, when corporations started to drop employees concerns from their basket of cares, the American economy has been a shambles for most people. 

Not only did we cut the richest people’s income taxes to historic lows, we increased executive pay astronomically.  As David Leonhardt explained in the NYT today, we used to severely tax excessive income (90%) so no one was ever offered such pay. These days, politicians fall over themselves promising to cut taxes ever more deeply. 

We lost that concern that we all are to be cared for, whether we’re in the executive suite or punching the time clock,or somewhere in between, we all used to matter. Today, it’s a rare call to protest low wages, and never a peep is made over the pay of executives.

Elizabeth Warren recognizes that we need legislation to make the changes that would return employees to the mix of concerns of corporations – it won’t happen voluntarily. Her “Corporate Accountability Act (S. 3348) has no cosponsors, and has been assigned to the Commerce Committee, where it will die a silent death with no public hearings.  Yet Sen. Warren was talking about the need for such a bill at American University last week, so she’s keeping her concern alive.

It’s a wonderful effort that comes as I read something else in the NYT: Denmark is the No. 1 Most Happy Country (and on NPR’s Freakonomics” show.) In fact, all the social Democratic Scandinavian countries are among the top five ranked countries. They all have national healthcare, free college, longevity, social cohesion, and are welcoming to immigrants. The U.S. which has the highest G.N.P. is ranked 18th – not even in the top 10.

Strangely, one country that sends us so many immigrants, Guatemala, is ranked higher than the U.S. (It also has none of the social benefits that help create happiness.) It’s something that deserves more investigation, but I wish that this annual report would influence policy makers here.  I think without knowing it, Elizabeth Warren is doing just that.

May it be so.

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I’m thrilled that Sen. Bernie Sanders will hold a live National Town Hall in Washington next Monday, titled “Inequality in America” next week, with Michael Moore, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. I’m going to try to get into the event, but everyone can watch the event live on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/197171827545022/) starting Mon. March 19 at 7:00 p.m.)

I have a quibble with the event sub-head, which is: The Rise of Oligarchy and the Collapse of the Middle Class.” For one why does everyone these days talk only about the need to help the middle class – what about the poor? And with Senate Democratic “moderates” now praised for voting for Big Banks and Financial institutions this past week in the “Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act,” it seems time to recognize that our political system has experienced what is termed a “soft coup” that transformed the U.S. from a Republic that embraced Democracy to a state that has embraced either Oligarchy or Plutocracy. The former hands the power to just a few, say the top .01 percent; the latter determines that only the wealthy should rule everyone else. I believe there is abundent evidence to prove this is in fact what has happened.

It began with the infamous call-to-arms known as the Powell Memo, penned in 1972 by then lawyer who served as chair of the Chamber of Commerce Education Committee, soon to be Supreme Court Justice, Lewis Powell. It was an outline of actions business leaders needed to take to counter the social and economic reforms of the New Deal and the Great Society, that put restraints on business via consumer protections, a social safety net, and business reform. The memo inspired small businesses to organize against labor, environmental protections, social programs, and anything that did not serve their interests.

They were very successful, to the point that today instead of moderates who sometimes voted with democrats, we have a party for business and of business that is gleeful that it can get democrats like my senator, Sen. Mark Warner, to help them dismantle financial rules put in place after the 2008 economic meltdown. Sen. Warner has never seen a measure that serves business he doesn’t like, likewise he is anti-labor, and anti-consumer.

When I was in high school, way back in the 1970’s, someone like Warner would have been a Republican. He would stand out in the Senate, where there were far fewer multi-millionaires like Warner, who is one of the richest senators in a senate today, filled with one percenters. He would have voted against all efforts to balance power between employees and business, as he does today. He would have fought all business regulations/consumer protections, as he does today. Then the Democrats fought such measures. Today, that work is a bi-partisan affair.

While we have allowed Democracy to whither, other industrialized countries have asked the question that T.R. Reid identifies in his excellent book, “The Healing of America,” “Is it right to deny access to healthcare based on one’s ability to pay?” Reid wonders why we in America have never asked ourselves that question, and instead have designed a crazy patchwork of types of healthcare systems that still leave millions without any care at all. When healthcare advocates were called together to discuss their ideas for reform in 2009, those few who wanted to discuss universal care were thrown out of the room. All the while we have seen the rich grow rich beyond the Gilded Age.

How could these things happen in a Democracy? Isn’t clear that we no longer live in that kind of system? Instead, we have government for those who can pay for it. History tells us that societies that suffer great inequality fail, and collapse. Even the free-marketers’ favorite economist, Adam Smith, warned that capitalist countries without regulation are doomed, a little observation that is never sited. Are we headed that way? Let’s hope Bernie’s National Town Hall has a wide viewership, and will start some conversations, and change hearts.

 

Delusions Again

I’ve been having deja vu lately, with all the promises of jobs, rising wages, increased economic growth – I heard it before, back in the early 1980’s, when President Reagan and his Republican counterparts promised the same result from their giant gift to corporations in the tax cuts they enacted then. None of it came true. In fact, what we got was skyrocketing interest rates, and a plunge in the stock market, and job losses, which in turn created a “double-dip” recession. It was the first time I heard the term “trickle down economics” which explained that if you made the rich richer, their wealth would trickle down to all below them. It became a term of derision after the wreck that resulted from the ill-conceived tax cuts then.

A year later they were forced to repeal much of their cuts, and restore the former rates in the biggest tax increase in the post-war period. Only then did the country see the economic growth, and new jobs, and rising wages that became known as the “Reagan Recovery.” It was a mystery why Democrats, who lead the repeal and whose policies reset the economy to right then, allowed Reagan to take credit. One reason may be that corporate interests were stepping up their presence on Capitol Hill and began lobbying Democrats heavily.

I’ve been reading about the effects of the Business Roundtable, which was founded in 1972, one year after the infamous Powell Memorandum was published. That was a call to battle for corporations to seize the day, to wrest it from the “socialist” claws that had been winning hearts and minds throughout the land, and with it saw wages rise, and regulations rein in business. Business was passive, Powell warned, shortly before Richard Nixon nominated him to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Roundtable lead the charge which has been so successful in turning the country to despise government, and with it taxes, and regulations, and shared prosperity. The great inequality we now know started then, unabated by either party.  Powell not only warned that the culture had shifted too much to the left, but also business was ineffective on Capitol Hill. We are about to go down the same path. Interest rates are much lower, so we maybe won’t see the same disastrous outcome, but it is one more giant step to seal in  inequality.

The mystery to me is why Republicans have wasted this opportunity to give middle to low income people a bigger tax cut than corporations and the very rich. It would have been inline with President Trump’s populist promises to the “Rust Belt” and other economic losers. Well, it’s not really a mystery at all. Democrats should, but won’t, make this very point because they are just as complicit in the shift to the new economy set for corporations and the very rich, not the country.

We Are A Moral Country

IMG_0689This week Bernie Sanders introduced a “Medicare for All” healthcare bill with a third of the Senate Democrats signing on in support of the bill. I said “Hallelujah !” He hit all the important talking points in his remarks when introducing the bill – that we are the only major country in the world who doesn’t have universal healthcare for it’s citizens – was the first.

Implied, but unasked is why does everyone else like us insure their people? The answer, according to T. R. Reid in his excellent book “The Healing of America,” is that everywhere else they began from the premise that they had a moral duty to make healthcare access available for all. This premise is not yet part of the American dialogue on healthcare, which currently begins with cost, and ends ideology.

We should follow the moral example, and look at how other major countries have provided universal healthcare, and how all have done it for considerably less than we spend. With our mishmash system with so many types of healthcare, but no price controls, or negotiation power, and unfettered commitment to profit, we are doomed to continue not only paying the most, but having medical bankruptcies, the highest infant mortality rate, and lowest life spans.

In my own life, I have no health insurance. I am exempt from purchasing a plan because I am so poor, and don’t qualify for a subsidy. My state, Virginia, has opted to not expand Medicaid, which it currently restricts to low-income parents and their children.

I am fortunate to have access to a charity clinic, but recently have been told that MRI’s are too expensive, even though my asymptomatic brain tumor from 30 years ago woke me up at 4:00 a.m. every morning. I have been waking at 4:00 in the morning again since the beginning of summer. The GP doctor there told me he only wanted to hear about my falling down before he would be concerned and order an MRI. He didn’t even look at my pupils or do a cursory neurological exam such as to see if I could follow his finger to my peripheral range.

I have started to address this weird insomnia with Melatonin, which I take every night a few hours before I plan to go to sleep. It’s supposed to be produced in your body, but my brain tumor was in the pituitary gland, where this hormone is produced. It works pretty well, but sometimes I still wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. I just take a low dose then, and can fall asleep in about an hour and a half, then wake up with the alarm.

I share this information not to ask for sympathy but to ask why don’t I have regular healthcare that would include annual appointments with a neurologist? I had wonderful health insurance when I last had a full time job, and I always saw neurologists at least once at year, who ordered MRIs to see if there was any change in my brain, even though I was sleeping well, and my pupils were fine.

I also have to meet with an eligibility specialist before I can make another appointment at that clinic. Nothing has changed for me financially, but I will have to copy pay stubs, and bank statements, my lease, etc. and then if I qualify, I can make an appointment with the new clinic doctor. Maybe this one will refer me to a neurologist, and maybe this one will refill my prescription for my Trigeminal Neuralgia medication, (a very necessary med that keeps me out of excruciating pain), or not.

Why is it so hard for me to get regular healthcare? Why are we constantly talking about the cost of universal healthcare when every other major country provides it for much less than we pay with our free-market version that leaves the U.S. last in all major measures of health care outcomes and in cost. We pay the most, and get the least. We instead should begin with the idea that everyone should be covered, that it is immoral to not cover some because of their age, or income, gender, or race. We need to study how the others did it, and take the best examples and create a system that leaves no one out.
We can do this – we’re Americans! We’re the people who put a man on the moon, invented the car, the telephone, the cargo ship, and safeguards for working people, children, seniors, parents, and everyone from exploitation, and toxins. We believe in a fair share, and most of believe that we can and should insure everybody via a national healthcare (60% according to the latest Kaiser Poll).

We are a moral people who can no longer ignore that gapping injustice our current messed-up healthcare system provides. Single-payer is us-payer. It’s time to do it right, to do it big, because we are a moral people together who can do anything.

May it be so.

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The American people won when the House of Representatives could not muster enough votes to pass their hollow health care bill that would have denied insurance for 24 million Americans and would have created a tax break for the very rich.

These facts are compelling, but they won’t win the Trump supporters who just don’t understand that Mr. Trump is a huckster who tells them what they want to hear, then turns to fill his and other 1%er’s pockets with more cash. His promise to bring back manufacturing jobs is hopeless without the type of technology education that begins in 21st Century high school vocational training. There is no understanding of this fact in any of his proposals or speeches.

But facts don’t win arguments, as the Republicans and especially Donald Trump, know so well. The ACA wasn’t saved by Democrats, who locked arms and promised a “no” vote against the Republican monstrosity; what sent the bill to its defeat was a fracture within the Republican Party.

Democrats should devise a way to aggravate this divide, but they must also simultaneously have an argument based on emotion to win their day. They must break their chains with corporations, and make the case that American Democracy is dying with the increasing hold of corporations and their executives who are paid ever larger salaries. Make the case that to build the middle class, Democrats will work to bring equality back to America.

Further, Democrats should start talking about the failures of Republican Economic Policies that create bubbles, bailouts, recessions, depressions, depressed wages, inequality, pollution and division. They must also demand proof that the founders advocated for no regulation, which was exactly a problem they ran to the colonies to establish. Without regulation, you obtain Oligarchy, which is exactly the direction we are headed.

Adam Smith was correct in his belief that Capitalism without restraint would result in disaster, not Friedrich Hayek who said that any regulation was an infringement of personal freedom. Personal freedom can only be achieved with economic security.

On MLK DAY: A Big Idea

img_0571In his last book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” Rev. Martin Luther King advocated for a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG). He joined many other thinkers, from the left to the right, who came to the same conclusion: give the poor cash sufficient to live.

Of course, MLK didn’t invent the idea, but his logic was fresh. He looked at the hundreds of poverty alleviating programs, from food stamps to Section 8 housing vouchers, and found they did not eliminate poverty. A new approach toward that goal would be to give the poor a monthly payment sufficient to pay for food, shelter, transportation, clothing, healthcare – the basics of life that our hundreds of billions we spend annually in assorted aid programs that insufficiently alleviate poverty. Most of the money we currently spend pays for administration of the programs. I can attest to the odious paperwork and verifications I have to submit to maintain my housing grant, without which I could not live in my apartment.

In Arlington, such a monthly payment would have to be at least $2,500. No doubt some receiving such payments would spend it on drugs, but that number is small. Some people wouldn’t work, but there are those who do that now by scamming the current needs-based system. Most poor would use it responsibly, and continue to work and maybe begin to save for the inevitable rainy day. As Rev. King noted, most poor want to work, but are just dismissed as incompetent or lazy. Including them respectively in our economy would benefit everyone.

Those who don’t want or need such a subsidy could donate it to charity or give it back to the government. The basic point that Rev. King made, along with many others, is that a basic income is a right not a privilege, and that such policy benefits the economy overall. Founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and John Adams wrote that they supported giving land to the poor sufficient that they could begin to acquire wealth. Thomas Paine advocated for giving a basic income to everyone in the United States – citizens and immigrants, (unsure if he included slaves). Economists from Milton Friedman to John Kenneth Galbraith supported the concept of a national Basic Income Guaranteed.

So on this day that honors Dr. King, let us return to one of his finest conclusions: we need to eliminate poverty and to do that we need national guaranteed income.