Posted tagged ‘progressives’

Democrats and 2020

February 3, 2019

There has been a flurry of Democrats expressing their interest in become the 2020 Democrat standard barer.  And by all predictions, the current seven are just the beginning of a list which could top 20.  Why so much interest?

It should not require a brain surgeon to sense that President Trump is vulnerable and Republicans in general have worn out their welcome.  In addition, signs are everywhere that the economy is about to slow (as it should) and the “claimed successes” of the Trump Administration’s first two years will not stand up to a campaign spot light.  In other words, if not now, when?

As inviting as Trump’s dismal record, one might ask where should Democrats begin?  Should they run on restoring Obama directions for the Cabinet departments?  Or, as some entrants have already demanded, leap ahead to universal health care (Medicare For ALL).  “Jobs” are always a good point to emphasize and national security never fails.  But what will bring enough voters to the Democrats when one can be sure Republicans will demagogue the issues of pro-life, gay rights, and boarder security?

Who knows?

Wise voters will block out the various candidates rhetoric and realize most “promises” will be impossible to make happen given the uncertainty of Congressional control and the ocean of special interest money in which Washington is awash.  Instead, voters should assess where the country actually is as a consequence of President Trump.

  • Isolated Foreign Relations.  For reasons wholly of the Trump Administration making, American foreign relations with long term allies are in taters.  Multi-lateral agreements have been tossed aside and “we can go it along” attitude has replaced cooperation and respect.

 

  • Fiscal Mismanagement.  The Trump tax cuts have benefited a small fraction of tax payers, namely corporations and the very wealthiest Americans, and the tax cut costs have been thrust upon future generations.  Our debt is growing and the behavior of Congress is inexcusable.

 

  • Healthcare Policy Failure.  The Trump Administration aided and abetted by Republicans has tried valiantly to gut the Affordable Care Act and bring affordable healthcare to fewer Americans.  “We can’t afford Obamacare”, Republicans say.

 

  • Border Security Hoax.  The Trump Administration has framed undocumented workers and asylum seekers as a security risk.  Using political speak, President Trump has insinuated that evils like drug smuggling, terrorists and criminals are flooding across the border because there is no wall to prevent them from entering the US.  There is no evidence to support these claims.  Democrats must say the king has no clothes.

 

  • Trade disruptions.  The smash mouth tactics where the US claims some outrageous complaint, place an onerous tariff on a trading partner, and then seeks to negotiate a resolution is an extremely naive and potentially dangerous strategy.

 

  • Globalization is real and here to stay.  The Trump Administration’s attempts to see all relationships with other countries as a bi-lateral arrangement subject only to what a smash mouth discussion will yield is seriously off base.  

 

  • Climate Change. There is plenty of room for Democrats to stake out a positive position for taking responsible, corrective actions. Trump and friends’ outright rejection of science and the incorrect notion that since America cannot solve this problem by itself, no action is needed, presents a dangerous risk to Americans too.

 

The successful Democrat candidate must come across as the adult in the room, not a chicken little screaming the sky is falling.  The frame work must include a global view, the need to build a truly affordable healthcare system similar to most other developed nations, a tax code which distributes tax burdens in proportion to the riches tax payers receive, and a foreign policy which consults history and learns from the win-lose view, and instead adopts a win-win approach.  All of these points boil down to helping the average American without vilifying special interests. 

For example,

  • How can having an arrogant, untruthful, petty, and divisive President help anyone? 
  • How can channeling 30 million Americans denied healthcare insurance through emergency rooms at hugely elevated costs be cost effective never mind represent respect for others?
  • How can encouraging increasing income inequality reinforce the American Dream?

Realistically, however, this phase of the 2020 Presidential campaign is all about building a campaign staff and funding base. Any candidate is dead in the water without money and a top notch staff.  The progressive’s tendency to place a marker well to the left and then attempt to tact back towards the center is the most common approach.  

Commonsense should, however, lead most thoughtful people to reject Donald Trump.  Until those thoughtful people are lead to understand how progressive policies are actually in their best interest, alarm and worry will result from Democrats acting too progressive.  This should not concern Progressives since there are miles between the center and where the Trump Administration has lived.  There should be accordingly plenty of room for Democrats to be modestly left of center, providing a hint of change, and still not spooking the crowds.   

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Socialism Misunderstood

September 13, 2018

Several candidate running in the mid-term election have either avowed or allowed others to paint them as “socialist”.  These candidates often speak to “medicare for all”, “free” college education, “housing for all”, “retirement with dignity for all”, and “progressive taxes”.  Conservative opponents reach quickly for the words “socialism” or “socialist” and brand these candidates with the heavy hint that communism will be next.  Hmmm.

Socialism is defined as a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.  

I do not hear these candidates advocating for government ownership of businesses or total regulation of them either, but rather I hear a search for income inequality cures, particularly from businesses where productivity gains are not shared (fairly).  These candidates see too many Americans who cannot afford healthcare, get a good education they can afford, find housing that fits in their budget, or can expect to live on their retirement benefits.  These Americans do not hear the words socialism or socialist either.  What they hear, however, is a solution to a situation where for them the American Dream has turned to a nightmare.

Think about the world that these Americans see:

  • Fortune 500 CEO’s average over $10 million per year in renumeration and the top 10 average over $50 million.  Average earnings for all Americans remains about $55,000 per year, minimum wage is about $15,000 per year.  Hmmm
  • Most Americans receive their healthcare insurance through their employers.  Should any America become unemployment, these Americans experience higher costs if they can obtain healthcare insurance at all.  In addition, “pre-existing conditions” are often used by insurers to deny coverage (or charge exorbitantly premiums) essentially putting insurance out of reach for more and more Americans.  Obamacare, to some extent, helps but the present Administration is attempting to eliminate this coverage.
  • Americans are told the value of a college education at every turn in the road.  The only aspect not mentioned is the cost and the amount of debt a student will get with their degree.
  • For many Americans the cost to buy a home and/or the cost to operate a home (utilities, maintenance, and taxes) are squeezing them out of home ownership or ability to rent.
  • Social Security benefits do not provide for much of a retirement.  Combining social security with a pension, for most, makes retirement possible.  But pensions are vanishing and a growing number of Americans are thinking that neither social security or a decent pension will be available when it is their turn to retire.

So, it should be no wonder that when many Americans hear a politician promising “Medicare For All”, or “college education” one can afford, or any type of assistance which will help the voter have a better retirement experience, these promise attract attention. 

The knee jerk reaction of opponents has been to label such promises as “socialism” as if socialism was worse than having healthcare coverage, a decent retirement, or affording college.  What do you want, apple pie or a sharp stick in your eye?

Sooner or later Democrat candidates will sharpen their game and correct their conservative opponents. 

  • “Medicare for all” is about providing all Americans with superior healthcare at a global best price. 
  • “Medicare for all” is about adopting policies which have enabled over 20 other countries to provide better healthcare outcomes than the US at 1/2 the cost. 
  • These countries are “social democracies” and do not own all the means of production, distribution, and sales within their country. 
  • Counties such as Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, and Japan can provide example after example.

But why is it at all necessary to look to other countries for “best practice” examples?

The most obvious reason is that America’s democracy and capitalist economy is not working for all Americans.  A rising economy is not raising all boats as politicians are prone to promise.  Human nature is such that “self regulation”, that is those seeking more and more profits (and of course larger personal renumeration) just are not likely to exercise constraint.  As long as the music is playing these leaders want to keep dancing.

The answer will not be simply to tax the wealthy and give it to the rest.  The durable answer must lie in looking at what a well working society should be and asking why America is not.  Then, progressive taxes combined with consumption taxes and fees must be voted upon “upfront” so that all Americans know what they should be receiving and how it will be paid for.

Social democracy with a healthy mix of financial conservatives, critical independents, and imaginative progressives could steer America back to a fairer but still vibrant society.   

 

Getting It Wrong And Ready To Do It Again

July 30, 2014

Presidents are prisoners of the times. Events happen, often following a period of neglect and sometimes following stimulation. Today, our country is neglecting its infrastructure while many Congressional voices try to “stimulate” growth through lower taxes. Hmmm.

I wonder how that will work out?

George W Bush’s presidency offers several cases in point. Inheriting a budget surplus, the Bush Administration, at the first signs of a slowing economy, championed an across the board income tax reduction.

Whether the tax reduction did anything but make the rich richer is hard to say. The economy, in any case, rebounded and bloomed through the rest of the Bush years, that is until it imploded.

Credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations certainly were not Bush Administration recommendations.  They were instead manifestation of Wall Street greed without regard for the country or their customers.  These financial instruments were like viruses and their unregulated use grew out of control practically taking the world’s entire banking system down.

Once the patient (our economy) was on its back, it became apparent how unprepared the “small” government was. Liquidity became the issue. Banks no longer trusted each other and lending dried up.

Corporations were faced with bleak prospects and watched their stock prices plummet. As a consequent, corporations slashed budgets and associated headcount. Unemployment jumped.

As the dust settled, one could see the economy was working, albeit much less robustly and with far more unemployed. The lesson there for anyone to see was that productivity could be increased simply by removing unneeded overhead. Corporations were operating more efficiently.

Immediately the talking heads turned to how to reduce unemployment. A worthy task, but the how to accomplish it meant everything. Stimulus.

The economy needed to be stimulated with more liquidity.   The only source capable enough and willing to help was the Federal government. After authorizing about $800 billion (reflecting  each Congress members’ favorite pork barrel project), it was time to move on.

Progressives argued the stimulus needed to be increased and conservatives argued it was already wasteful and too large. Hmmm.

About this time, the unfortunate legacy of the Bush tax cuts was catching up with the front page. Debt and unbalanced budgets became the political pros mantra. And single focus issues are political red meat.

Slash federal and state employment and while at it, cut benefits and pensions too, were many politicians favored recommendation.  Many States and even federal agencies followed this path.

Unemployment swelled with public sector workers joining the private sector, recession idled, unemployed.

The unemployment level topped out about ten months after President Obama took office. Standing at 10.1% unemployed, the nation took a deep breath. What more needed to be done?

The stand off between progressives and conservatives may have strangely been a good dysfunction. No more damage could be unintentionally done. It was now up to Adam Smith’s silent hand to reallocate resources to their most productive places.

Five years later there are abundant signs that the economy is strong and resting upon fundamentally firm underpinnings. No particular place in our economy is red hot. Housing is ok but not great. Manufacturing is growing but not that fast. Banks are profitable but not apparently risking their financial health on murky trades. And, the service industry is perking along meeting the needs of the rest of the economy. (It is true also that income inequality rivals the gilded age but that was true before the 2008/9 recession.)

The GOP got it wrong prior to the recession and got it wrong on how to get out of the recession. Democrats got lucky since the financial implosion took place on Bush’s watch. It could have just as easily waited until President Obama was in office.

The Democrats also got it wrong by not looking for “efficiencies” in spending. How can the country get a bigger bang for its buck?

The GOP seems locked into a non-spending mindset (except for defense), while Democrats are quite happy to spend without thinking about productivity. Both parties got it wrong in the past and seem ready to get it wrong again.

Fit To Govern?

February 8, 2014

The now all to familiar dance around raising the debt ceiling is playing again in Washington.  The drop dead date has come and gone.  Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has begun the machinations which move money hear and there, and technically avoid default.  Some say Lew can do this for weeks, so there is no urgency to resolve the ceiling limit.  Hmmm.

Just exactly what type of law is the debt ceiling law anyways?  Why would a country have such legislation?

In the wisdom of past Congresses, the notion that there needed to be some reigns put on the Federal Government.  Government was spending too much and borrowing to cover the gap between what it spent and what it received in tax revenues.  So Congress put a cap on what Government could borrow.  Unfortunately, Congress did little or nothing about what Government could spend even though it had put in place legislation which put a limit on borrowing.  What?

The term balanced budget appears to be a foreign language word for Congress.  Congress routinely passes unfunded legislation, each time emphasizing the urgency and need for a spending bill but remaining silent or vague on how the government will fund the measure.

The second category of abuse is labeled “entitlements”.  This class of legislation specifies government spending, in perpetuity, and unrelated to whether there are sufficient tax dollars to cover.  So for example, with Medicare and Medicaid, we have an aging population (more people collecting for longer periods than having paid in taxes) and increasing healthcare costs (rising faster than anticipated in original legislation)  are driving a year after year deficit regardless of whether Congress passes a balanced budget on discretionary spending.  Hmmm.

So for strong supporters of a truly balanced budget, one can understand their frustration.  What one cannot understand is the logic that says “we, Congress, have authorized the Government to spend all this money which even if we could stop today would continue as a matter of law, so we have decided not to pay our bills when they come due”.  Isn’t that what third world countries do?

One can agree to disagree on whether specific Government spending is wise, and one can also agree or disagree on whether the tax code is sufficient and fair to cover the money spent.  What seems to avoid comprehension is on what basis does Congress think it is not obligated to pay for what it has spent?

More simply said, if the Country is not to borrow, than why are not taxes being increased immediately to cover these deficits?   Why is Congress not acting to really eliminate deficits?

Explanations quickly drift to “politics”.  Blame it on politician A or B, or Party R or D, or ideology C or P.  There are plenty of excuses and explanations.  It must be a tough problem because not since Bill Clinton was President has there been a balanced budget.

Back to the Debt Ceiling Increase standoff.  The best explanation is the immense frustration felt by many “R’s” and “C’s” because they cannot get agreement on a balanced budget that meets their principles.  Apparently, they reason that if we can’t get our way, then we will scorch the earth.

Allowing the Country to default on its debt is truly playing with fire.  It is far worse than shutting down the government by refusing to authorize spending.  Those favoring default are simply not sufficiently competent to govern.

The Republican Party and especially its conservative wing must get a grip on itself.  Regardless of how unworkable their plan of no new taxes and deep entitlement cuts might be, Republicans will serve the Country far better trying to enact that plan than to block increasing the debt limit and pushing the Country into default.

Republicans ask,  “well why won’t the President negotiate with us to achieve reductions in entitlements in return for an increase in the debt ceiling”?

The simplest answer is double jeopardy.  Only a few weeks ago, Congress passed a budget for discretionary spending.  Why wasn’t taxes and entitlements tied into that budget?  For what ever the reasons it wasn’t.  Congress in essence said with its budget “we accept the consequences”.  Raising the debt ceiling is the first and most obvious consequence.

When Republicans shut down the Government last fall, the world didn’t end but a lot of Americans were inconvenienced.  The shut down was a poor negotiating strategy because the “inconveniences” were not related to the Republican negotiating goals.  Blocking the debt ceiling increase will have a similar blow back, only far worse.

What drives these conservatives screams that they are unfit to govern.  Hmmm, maybe that’s the silver lining.

 

Affordable Care Act, Surrogate for American Politic Differences?

November 5, 2013

One might think that the Affordable Care Act was akin to revoking the Bill of Rights.  The vehement rhetoric one hears makes one immediately think there is a message not being heard or understood.  How could so many Republicans be so convinced that the Affordable Care Act is so bad, so dangerous, and so wrong, while Democrats feel ACA is an essential reform for America’s healthcare delivery system?

Because the GOP has been so insistent, so long, I have begun to try and understand their fundamental reasoning.  “Train wreck, jobs killer, and anti-American” are certainly not the makings of a fundamental opposition.  I also do not think that the GOP is primarily motivated by sinister and mean spirited urges.  I keep digging, even past those who are clearly pandering to what they think their constituents want.

How about this.   Conservatives hold that most government spending, and social programs in particular, no matter how worthy the cause, are financially unsustainable and worse, uncontainable (they only lead to the need to spend even more on them).  Hmmm.

Conservatives see these spending programs as a crutch rather than a real helping hand.  Spending programs merely extend a social ill rather than eliminating it.  Conservatives subscribe to the notion of “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps”.  If Americans are encouraged to accept a “handout”, Conservatives reason, they will lose their gumption, ingenuity, and drive, conservatives think.

Government spending (read entitlements) programs have two main deficiencies.  (1) These programs (read entitlements) have no “sunset” component.  These program’s nature is they will run to eternity and the only changes envisioned would be further liberalization.  (2) The sum total of government spending (read entitlements) are underfunded (that is they cost more than we are willing to pay).  Medicare and Medicaid, for example, already account for the major portion of the yearly deficit, and there are no signs that this will change.  Conservatives feel it is absolute lunacy to allow these deficits to continue.

Hmmm.

So, how do these fundamental beliefs line up with GOP opposition to the Affordable Care Act?

ACA does increases enrollment Medicaid (and there for Medicaid costs), and does run the risk of raising all other private insurance rates by including previously uninsured in the insurance pools,  There is nothing in the ACA that would suggest that the demand for Medicaid will drop.  Consequently, it could be concluded that GOP opposition to ACA is ideological and simply an expressing a more basic opposition to unlimited government spending.

Hmmm.

On the other side of this coin lies why were government spending programs and ACA in particular adopted in the first place.  ACA is designed to fix to gaping holes in the US healthcare delivery system, the potential to exclude basic medicare care for some residents on the basis of wellness (pre-existing conditions), and insufficient attention to preventive care (which translates into treating really sick people at higher costs).  (Compared to over 2 dozen other modern industrial countries, the US healthcare delivery system costs twice as much and delivers only mediocre outcomes to the average American.  That there needed to be reform to the American model should not be in question.  Why not be arguing over how to fix it?)

But here is where a listening Progressive side could have done better.  There is no need to surrender the principle that all Americans deserve access to affordable basic healthcare.  Rather there needs to be a way to fund coverage and a way to reduce the cost of coverage.  Why should tax payers be asked to increase their tax burden when the US is already spending more than twice as much as the rest of the world?

Other countries, such as Germany, France, Italy, Canada, and Japan mainly fund healthcare through some form of a national sales tax.  While this is consumption based, and could be viewed as regressive, virtually everyone would then have a stake in the healthcare game.  Such a system would eliminate the need for either Medicare or Medicaid, and would eliminate the national need to borrow by balancing the budget.

Maybe a “new consumption tax” might also violate some other core principle.  I just wonder what they are thinking when you have a straight forward chance to eliminate two huge, unending entitlement programs and they cannot embrace a different and fairer healthcare delivery system?

This apparent lack of logic makes me think that to Conservatives, the ACA is a surrogate for the everyday political fight.

Liberal? No Progressive !

January 24, 2013

The GOP reaction to President Obama’s inauguration speech was certainly predictable.  Most spent time misidentifying the context and relying upon tried and true rhetoric like a “liberal agenda awaits us”.  Hmmm.

It is often useful to read the actual text before deciding whether your favorite politician has drawn the correct conclusion or just the “right” one.  The President’s speech is certainly in the “progressive” mode but since it does not contain prescriptive language on how to achieve aspirational goals, it should not be labeled liberal.

Here are a few examples

The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few, or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people. Entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed. And for more than 200 years we have. Through blood drawn by lash, and blood drawn by sword, we noted that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half slave, and half free.

Are there political leaders who propose rewriting history and affirming the justness of half slave, half free?

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.

Are there those who think the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is a good prescription for economic growth?  Where will the money come to provide government services?  Oops.  Did I just break into jail?

We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work hard or learn more, reach higher.

These words sound pretty aspirational to me.  I see no path nor means to achieve.  Rather I see an appeal to common sense and call to action.

We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.

The call is clear, the methods are not.  Do some politicians think these choices will be easy?

We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss or a sudden illness or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative.

Once again, does anyone prescribe that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security should be abolished simply because the country can’t afford these safety net programs?  In no way, however, do these words rule out any modifications to how these programs are funded, how one qualifies, or what one gets in benefits.  Rather it is the aspiration that all Americans should be willing to help since no one knows when they might be in a situation needing help.

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.

This is common sense.  It also smacks right into those who present the case that our taxes can pay for war but not for health care or old age subsidies.

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.

There can be nothing more aspirational albeit progressive.  One need only look back on history and the evolution of personal freedom and recognition for all.  Society changes slowly but once change is in motion, the landing point is assured.  Of course, future societies will likely want further change that reflects the times they live in.

Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.

Common sense again rings true.  This is a progressive idea with basis in both American history and principles of economic growth.

For now, decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.

A call to action.  Conservative history was not built upon absolutism or spectacles or name calling.  Conservative history rest soundly upon principle, political dialog, and the use of reason.

Republicans can justly point out other aspirations they feel were omitted.  They can also see certain issues as more urgent than others.   But the GOP’s greatest opportunity lies in how these aspiration might take shape and come into being.  Continuing Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without proper funding is to doom them.  Failing to recognize all citizens, gays, immigrants, and women is to head towards a country of division, a country less strong than it could be.  Investing in education and the infrastructure are worthy objectives but where will the money come from?  Simply borrowing and increasing the debt would seem not the proper path.

Where does the GOP stand?

The President skillfully set the stage where the GOP can step forward and propose fiscally sound steps.  The GOP can push for less robust steps but ones the country is willing to afford.  The President’s speech is really a tremendous opportunity for conservatives to help shape a progressive, inclusive agenda.

Will the call be heard?

EJ Speaks

June 27, 2012

EJ Dionne spoke last evening at the Philadelphia Free Library… for free.  He is on a book tour and if your bought his new book, he would sign it for you.  His talk (mostly from notes) was marvelous.  If you have a chance to hear him, it will be well worth your while.

Let’s be clear, Dionne is an unabashed progressive.  He is also a learned man and someone who can articulate his points vividly.  He tosses in the right amount of humor and his medicine goes down a lot easier.

It is always more pleasant to listen to someone who tells you what you thought you were already thinking but tells you so clearly that it makes you say, “I thought so.”

For example, Dionne pointed out that Democrats have done a poor job explaining to voters what they have done since 2009 and why that was good.  Democrats have done a poor job of defending “government” as an institution, and have been totally silent on how they would make that government function even better.  In this vacuum it should not be hard to understand how the likes of the Koch brothers and Karl Rove can steal center stage.

Dionne suggest that anyone, who assumes that were government spending to be reduced, that private funded charity would step forward to fill the gap is simply dreaming.  Why would the wealthy who are quick to lay off workers or outsource jobs to foreign countries suddenly want to plow back money for America’s poor?

Left unanswered unfortunately are question like how does the country reduce the poor, how do we get control of healthcare costs, how do we repair the infrastructure, and how do we get more purchasing power into the middle class NOW THAT WE ARE PART OF A GLOBAL MARKET?

What Dionne does lead a rational lister to realize is there is no light at the end of the Tea Party/Conservative tunnel.  He is also sure that winning answers lie to the right of progressives’ liberal side, more towards the center.

Like all pundits, he offers no ideas on how to get the two sides (strong right and strong left) talking.  It is just good to know I am correct… I think.