#WouldntItBeGreat #ItsNotPie #TheResistance

Wouldn’t It Be Great to overthrow the patriarchy?

Wouldn’t It Be Great if Big 10 schools had 20,000 seat Concert Halls?

Wouldn’t It Be Great if Congressional Districts were squares or rectangles?

Wouldn’t it be great if libraries were open late and bars closed early?

Wouldn’t it be great if national election days were national holidays?

Wouldn’t it be great if all elected offices had term limits?

Wouldn’t it be great if only actual humans could make political contributions?

Wouldn’t it be great to use federal job training programs to build/rebuild our infrastructure?

Wouldn’t it be great to eliminate tax exemptions for all religions?

Wouldn’t It Be Great to stop arresting people for just using drugs?

Wouldn’t It Be Great if everyone minded their own business about other people’s bodies?

Wouldn’t It Be Great if Socialism weren’t a dirty word?

Wouldn’t It Be Great if the Electoral College was disbanded?

Wouldn’t It Be Great if top scientists, innovators, teachers got multi-year, multi-million-dollar contracts?

Wouldn’t It Be Great to fund education more so we could fund incarceration less?

Wouldn’t It Be Great to have multi-location, 24/7 voting for Election Week?

Wouldn’t It Be Great to have single-payer universal healthcare?

Wouldn’t It Be Great to limit farm subsidies to family farms?

Wouldn’t It Be Great if cooperation was valued over competition?

Wouldn’t It Be Great if Survival of the Fittest had never been a thing?

Wouldn’t It Be Great if we didn’t live in a binary world?

YOUR TURN … Wouldn’t it be great if …

Jobs: Now and for the Future

If you work a 40-hour week at the current federal minimum wage of $7.25, your gross weekly pay is $290. That’s your gross pay, not what you bring home. Can you pay rent or a mortgage, feed yourself and your kids, buy gas to get to work, cover a medical co-pay if you need to see the doctor, put anything away for a rainy day? I couldn’t. None of us should have to. The proposed $15 per hour minimum wage is better. Your gross pay for a 40-hour week at $15 would be $600. That’s a more-or-less living wage.

Suppose, though, we had lots of jobs that paid above even the proposed $15 minimum wage? Imagine if we had more of the jobs where you think about your salary as amount-per-year, not amount-per-hour? Instead of being a $15 per hour worker, how would it feel to be a $50,000 per year employee? Or $100,000?

Those jobs are not out of reach, but we need to do a few things to bring them to our comunities. First, we need to create the right kind of education and training to prepare our kids to start in those jobs, and the right kind of re-training to bring our experienced workers up to speed on new technologies and new opportunities.

Second, we need to accept that many of the jobs people did in the beginning of their working years aren’t still available and aren’t coming back. All the talk in the 2016 presidential election about coal miners never made any sense to me. The coal industry employed fewer than 66,000 people in 2016 (https://www.eia.gov/coal/annual/). The solar power manufacturers and installers already employed over 260,000 people that year. (https://www.thesolarfoundation.org/national/) And solar power is just one technology in the renewable energy industry. This graph shows employment in solar, wind, and coal. Smaller environmentally sound energy industries, like wave power and geothermal, are just coming on line.

Third, let’s bring labor unions back into favor. When union membership was high, so was the number of families in the middle class. Unions protect people from substandard wages, benefits, and working conditions. Unions gave us collective bargaining, the 8-hour day and weekends, helped end child labor, expanded company-supported healthcare, and fought for the Family Medical and Leave Act.

Fourth, we need to develop an infrastructure that supports those companies and industries that are expanding. And all other factors being equal, good companies will move to states whose legislatures do not propose so-called religious freedom bills and other actions against our LGBTQ friends and neighbors. Forward-looking companies won’t move to a backward-looking state.

When we look for candidates for State Legislatures and Congress, we should ask if they will:

  • Partner with with their colleagues to ensure that the hourly minimum wage is at least $15 and that it is pegged to inflation. If Social Security recipients get an annual Cost of Living Adjustment, so should minimum wage workers. Our elected officials should also study the justifications for why some jobs and industries are exempt from paying any minimum wage.
  • Support federal- and state-subsidized job training programs for experienced workers and tuition-free vocational-technical schools for qualified young people who don’t want to go to a four-year college. Speaking of traditional college, our elected officials should work to take student loans out of the hands of for-profit corporations. They should investigate a national service corps that requires young people to participate in America’s future by dedicating two years to working in education, infrastructure, or the military.
  • Propose that just as veteran-, minority-, and women-owned businesses receive particular consideration for government contracts, so would companies with unionized workforces. Our elected officials should support efforts to make the so-called Right To Work states address employee grievances more equitably.
  • Work to ensure that their Districts and communities receive consideration for government-funded jobs, research, transportation, communication infrastructure, and other common welfare activities and projects.

Stitching Up a Hole in the Safety Net

I’ve been going to lots of political meetings lately. I’ve introduced myself from the front of the room, and I’ve listened to a number of party and organization leaders, candidates, and engaged citizens. We can’t get through one of those meetings – or even most dinner parties or bridge games – without talking about healthcare. I mostly, though not exclusively, hang out with other Democrats, so we aren’t a “repeal & replace” crowd. We do usually agree that the Affordable Care Act could use some improvements, though.

One perennial hot topic on healthcare is Bernie Sander’s Medicare-for-All proposal. This is what the Washington Post said about the proposal (September 14, 2017). “In year one of the plan, Medicare is expanded to cover children 18 and under and adults 55 and up. Over a four-year period, the plan transitions all Americans into a comprehensive package covering most health-care needs, including hospital and primary care, maternity care, and prescription drugs, vision and dental benefits, and reproductive services. The government would be the sole insurer.” [1]

Here’s a sample from the Sanders’ report called Options to Finance Medicare For All. At $10,000 per person, the United States spends far more on health care per capita and as a percentage of GDP than any other country on earth in both the public and private sectors while still leaving 28 million Americans uninsured and millions more under-insured. Today, health care spending in the U.S. accounts for nearly 18 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is on track to total over 20 percent of GDP over the next decade. It is projected that if we do nothing and maintain our current dysfunctional system that we will spend $49 trillion over the next decade on health care. That would be an incredible burden on businesses, working families, and the entire economy.[2]

Those sound to me like compelling economic reasons to stop what we’re doing and move to universal health care. But how do we, the taxpayers, afford it? If it was just “we the taxpayers,” we probably couldn’t. Let’s think for a minute how our medical insurance (for those of us fortunate enough to have it) is paid for.

First, look at the Affordable Care Act. One aspect of the ACA is extended coverage for young adults who need to stay on their parents’ insurance. Another part of the plan opened up insurance marketplaces for people not covered by an employer’s health plan to buy pooled insurance at subsidized rates. The ACA also offered States the chance to expand their Medicaid coverage with significant contributions from the Federal government. Some individuals balked at the requirement that (almost) everyone had to have medical insurance. Insurance companies and their lobbyists haunted the Capitol hallways, waylaying Members of Congress to protest their lost revenue. The Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House led their troops on a quest to up-end the Affordable Care Act to punish President Obama. It’s tough to calculate the unsubsidized premiums, co-pays, and deductibles for ACA plans, but with some research and some windage, we can roughly figure them at around $10,000 for an “average” American family.

Second, consider that the majority of Americans under age 65 who have medical insurance receive it through their employer or their spouse’s or parent’s employer. Most companies share the cost of the policies with their workers and most workers who have this type of group insurance also have co-pays, deductibles, and coverage restrictions. Details in Sanders’ plan show that the annual cost to the employee just for healthcare premiums in 2016 was $5,277 for a family of four. The 2016 cost to employers for health insurance averaged around $12,865 per employee with a family of four. The report doesn’t discuss the related costs to the employees for co-pays, deductibles, and co-insurance. Neither does it mention the additional costs to the employers for managing the employee health plans. Even with just these basic expenses, we can see lots and lots of money coming from employers and employees … and going to insurance companies and medical providers and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Third, another type of insurance coverage that employers and employees share is FICA – the Federal Insurance Contribution Act. That’s the deduction from our pay that insures us in our old age; that’s Social Security and Medicare. In 2017, the employer and employee each contribute 1.45 percent to the worker’s Medicare account. Self-employed people have to pay the full 2.9 percent themselves. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for an American worker is $44,148,[3] so we can calculate the average cost of Medicare coverage as $1,280 per employee, per year. When we turn 65 or so, we can begin to use our Medicare insurance, but we still pay for it then through an automatic deduction from our Social Security earnings.

Now we have an idea of the cost of health insurance for employees and employers both for policies for active employees and contributions to Medicare, and the cost of Affordable Care Act coverage. Private, company-subsidized health insurance costs around $18,142 per employee per year; Medicare (also shared by the employer and employee) costs around $1,280; and ACA government-subsidized insurance costs around $10,000 per year, plus 1.45 percent of income for Medicare (or 2.9 percent for self-employment).

The short-take on the Medicare-for-All bill is that employers will pay a 7.5 percent income-based premium to the government and the employee will pay a 4 percent income-based premium to the government. Senator Sanders has a comprehensive explanation of how this plan will provide universal healthcare for all Americans and will save money for employers, employees, and the government. The figures I find most compelling are: employer annual saving = $9,000 per employee; employee (family of four) annual savings = $4,400; government annual administrative savings = $500 billion. Sanders and his Senate colleagues also propose a set of measures that would bring in $2.8 trillion over ten years by imposing fair-share taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals and closing loopholes. [4]

If we judge Medicare-For-All not merely on the economic benefits to individuals, businesses, and the government, we have even more excellent reasons to replace our antiquated, corporatist, seemingly punitive, and occasionally capricious health insurance system. The current Medicare-(just)For-Seniors program does not cover dentistry, optometry, or audiology. (Why it ever seemed like a good idea for people over age 65 to not have coverage for root canals, eyeglasses, or hearing aids is beyond me.) The proposed Medicare-For-All plan does cover those services … even for seniors. Also, Medicare-For-All will have tremendous clout with pharmaceutical companies and, Bernie’s team predicts, could save the U.S. over $113 billion per year. Most importantly, I believe, is that this will truly be universal coverage. All Americans will be able to go to the doctor, receive diagnostic, preventive, and wellness screenings, get their medications, and have necessary procedures. And no American would ever again go bankrupt because of medical bills.

A final word about Social Security. It isn’t an entitlement. It isn’t the government’s money. Baby Boomers, who paid into it their entire working lives, are collecting now. We need to keep the trust fund out of the hands of Wall Street and its Republican minions so that it will be providing security for Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z , and I suppose, Gen AA.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/09/14/bernie-sanders-startsthats-startsan-important-conversation-about-health-care/?utm_term=.37b85e4cb423

[2] https://www.sanders.senate.gov/download/options-to-finance-medicare-for-all?inline=file

[3] https://www.thebalance.com/average-salary-information-for-us-workers-2060808

[4] https://www.sanders.senate.gov/download/options-to-finance-medicare-for-all?inline=file

From Grassroots to Donors

Thinking about grassroots and/or donor support.

With the wonderful victories for progressive women in the 2017 Georgia elections, I’m struck by how large a role grassroots support played in those successes.

The 2016 and earlier 2017 elections both energized the progressive base and expanded activism into populations who had not thought of themselves as “political.”
Beyond the amazing efforts of individuals working for candidates, there’s another group to consider: donors.

We’ve all heard of Emily’s List: they identify and raise money for progressive women candidates. Their name is an acronym – Early Money Is Like Yeast. Campaign contributions early in the election cycle provide the money to produce campaign materials and events. They also establish credibility for the candidate, which encourages potential donors to get onboard. Each donor’s network broadens the candidate’s pool of contributors. Friend-to-friend, colleague-to-colleague: the ripples of support give candidates the resources they need to reach the voters.

It is never too early to learn a candidate’s positions, values, plans; and it is never too early to throw in some yeast for a candidate you believe in.

Unexceptional Americans

What would the United States be like today if France, Spain, and Britain had held on to their territories in North America, except for the thirteen British colonies that became the United States after the American Revolution.

Suppose: Napoleon didn’t cash out the huge chunk of North America we call the Louisiana Purchase; Britain folded what our history books call the Northwest Territory (but today we think of as the Upper Midwest) and Oregon, Washington, and the neighboring states to the east into Canada; and Spain and Mexico worked it out so Spain or Mexico got California, Texas, Florida, and the Gadsden Purchase.

Imagine if the entire United States of America was a contiguous landmass that included the Atlantic coast from Maine to Georgia and west to roughly the Appalachian Mountains. It would not be long before some of those newly minted, post-Revolution U.S. citizens would push away from the Atlantic coast and into the piedmont region until they bumped up against French, Spanish, and British territorial lands. In this scenario, the U.S. citizens would be neighbors with Spanish-Americans, French-Americans, and British-Americans. If and until those North American colonies broke from their respective empires to establish independent nations, the United States would be the least robust of those countries in terms of our economy, military, landmass, and resources.

Given its Atlantic location, America’s immigrants would be primarily Europeans who would come to North America voluntarily for economic opportunity and security from oppression and warfare. The next largest group to arrive would be Africans brought here as slaves.

France abolished African slavery in 1794; Britain in 1833; and Spain ended slavery in North America and the Caribbean by 1886. However, in addition to African slaves, we need to consider the history of enslaving indigenous people. Spain was the most egregious of the European powers holding colonies in the Americas. France had a more egalitarian view than either Britain or Spain and was more accepting of indigenous people. The British and we Americans generally resisted embracing the indigenous people. In all cases, though, the indigenous people in North America and the immigrants to their territories would either accept or resist sharing the land – and would do so either peacefully or through warfare.

I wonder if the American impulse to Manifest Destiny would have been curtailed if over half of North America had not been available for westward expansion? If European empires had held their North American territories, the United States would have tidied up its limited available territory into states, probably following the borders established by the former colonies and – here comes some wishful thinking – given Post-Revolutionary War immigration and internal migration patterns, most of the inhabitants of those new states would not have a tradition of slave-owning. By 1804, slavery was banned in the original northern Colonies, and in 1808, the importation of slaves to the United States was banned.

But if the United States did expand its territory westward, what would it do about slavery? By the middle of the 19th century, America faced a significant cause for the Civil War: would slavery be allowed in the new states created from some of the territories acquired by the United States by the mid-Nineteenth Century? If, as I consider above, those territories were not available for the potential expansion of slavery, would slavery in the United States have survived the European abolition of slavery and our home-grown abolition movement?

If the northern senators did not have to compromise with the southern Senators on slavery in order to bring new states into the union, would abolitionist sentiments have prevailed and would slavery have been outlawed nationwide by 1808? If slaves were freed before the massive plantation economy took over the southern states, would land-holdings have been smaller, thereby extending land ownership to more people? This expansion of land ownership could have slowed the pernicious class divides in the south during the 19th and 20th centuries. The concentration of wealth into the hands of relatively few white southerners, supported by the unregulated, unpaid labor of millions of captive black Africans structured the unequal power of the classes in America, both black and white.

This inequality contributes to racism by giving disenfranchised white Americans motive to scapegoat black Americans. Extending by 50+ years the legal enslavement of black Americans after the 1808 law forbidding the importation of slaves, and continuing the Jim Crow subjugation, humiliation, and terrorizing of black Americans for another 150+ years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, has created a country so divided by racial bigotry that it is hard to imagine that it can ever be unified.

So, here we are. In a country divided by class and race. In a country which, when we had the chance to believe our rhetoric about equality, chose instead to codify and institutionalize racism. A country that, when European competitors for North America chose to step away, raced to fill the land from ocean to ocean, brutally displacing indigenous people and spreading slavery whenever there was an opportunity and perceived economic advantage to do so.

We Americans are no more entrepreneurial, inventive, stalwart, courageous, or intelligent than anyone else. But we have been taught that we are exceptional and that we are entitled to take what we want; be it territory, resources, another’s labor, another’s dignity,  another’s life.

And now we have a government which, more than any in my six-decade memory, validates our worst behaviors.

Solidarity … now

In 45 states, the largest private employer is either Walmart, a university, or a medical services system.

In 13 states, the largest employer is a medical services provider. Let’s say there are (just guessing) 1,000 or so top healthcare executives able to direct political contributions via PACs and “research” by industry-funded organizations. This confirms why Members of Congress are eager to gut healthcare (Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid) for consumers in order to fatten profits for the medical services industry.

If the non-C/Suite employees of those medical services corporations joined with consumers to demand State Legislatures and Congress expand, not limit, access to healthcare, maybe the millions of voices/votes would override the millions of dollars of campaign contributions.

Maybe. But only if the reality of votes overwhelmed the reality of dollars.

How many employees – in any industry – belong to unions? How many unions are effective in expanding membership and public respect, lobbying Congress, and endorsing progressive, pro-labor candidates?

Could unions AGAIN be instrumental in rectifying income inequality? Could they become powerful in increasing employment by freeing up money for capital improvements and wages (by highlighting excessive executive compensation and through pro-labor tax incentives) and decreasing incentives for off-shoring? Could unions influence state and federal lawmakers to not just permit but to encourage workers to bargain collectively to restrict work-practices that allow corporations to make more profit for the bosses and shareholders at the expense of employees’ quality of life?

Maybe. But only if unions believe they are relevant, and act accordingly.

Could union members, union organizers, union lobbyists raise up the voices of the majority so that the volume of dissatisfaction with the injustices of Corporate America drowns out the promises of election victories and government sinecures?

Yes, unions can do this. We did it before – in an even more repressive and punitive era. We can do it again.

And there is no better day than today to begin.