The Love of a Good Liberal

I used to be able to avoid thinking about Conservatives. I occasionally thought about Republicans, but mostly I just ignored the whole batch of right-wing, addlepated, anti-everything-humane people. I might shake my head in dismay/wonderment at their antics about birth certificates, pizza parlors, and Sarah Palin, but I didn’t give them much thought. I was sure we’d elect the qualified woman, and she’d probably bring along a few legislators, who would then confirm some sensible nominees for the Executive and Judicial branch, and America, while still struggling with its ever-diminishing cadre of religious radicals and other fascists, would continue – ever stronger – down the track of justice for all.

Then … those simple conservative Republicans became active, empowered threats to my country. Their bubbling whackiness boiled over. Their domestic and foreign corporate overlords seated a dangerous dupe in the White House and radical Conservatives (not an oxymoron) took over my country.

The donors, surrogates, and competitors for rank and privilege couldn’t have succeeded without a bunch of people who believe they are the true saviors of American Liberty. The Defenders of the Constitution. The Experts on how business, government, and diplomacy should work. The believers in American Exceptionalism – but only as expressed in and for some Americans. But, who are these people? Really … who are they? How do they see America? What do they want?

As much as I’d like to take some (more) cheap shots and post commentary and photos from their rallies, torchlight marches, and Congressional hearings, I really do want to understand how so many of my fellow citizens can subscribe to notions so antithetical to the principles on which our Republic was established. I think there is a significant disconnect between what they think they stand for and what they actually vote for. But maybe not.

Today’s American Conservatives are closer in philosophy to the classical liberals of 19th Century America, to whom laissez faire did not mean leave us ALL alone, just those of us who benefited from government-provided tariffs, railroad subsidies, and infrastructure improvements: in other words, those who owned the means of production, not those who labored for them. Those classical liberal capitalists believed the tenets of laissez faire described by economist Toufic Gaspard as:

  • The individual is the basic unit in society,
  • The individual has a natural right to freedom, and
  • The physical order of nature – and the market – is an harmonious and self-regulating system.

They decidedly did not, however, accept Gaspard’s final principle that:

  • Corporations are creatures of the state and therefore must be watched closely by the citizenry due to their propensity to disrupt the spontaneous [natural] order.

That final clause of this definition of laissez faire has always been the only portion of that economic practice that advantaged the worker and consumer, not the producer. Wage earners and consumers are necessary for those owners, but if there were a way to make a profit without producing a product, and thereby not needing workers or consumers, capitalists would do it. And guess what … there is a way: Wall Street.

The overarching method for profiting from something you didn’t produce is called arbitrage, which is simply buying low and selling high. Modern arbitrage in financial markets occurs with the simultaneous purchase and sale of the same securities, commodities, or other financial assets in different markets to profit from unequal prices. For a closer-to-home version, if you buy discounted DVDs from Wal-Mart and sell them for a little bit more on eBay, that’s arbitrage, too. And so is playing with currency exchange by swapping two or more national currencies back and forth to make a profit in one of them.

Today’s American Liberals understand that businesses do not exist for the benefit of anyone but their owners. We do not believe in trickle-down economics. Further, we have centuries of experience demonstrating that periods of unrestricted free enterprise never end well for societies. Market economies without rules produce at least one of these three things: bubbles, revolutions, or retrenchment. In a speculative bubble, some asset has risen far above its historic or intrinsic value. For a clearer explanation, ask anyone whose house is still upside-down following the mid-2000s housing bubble. All revolutions against the ruling class are supported by disenfranchised bourgeoisies and peasants (or, as we call them now, wage-earners and the chronically underemployed). Retrenchment is the best bet for reducing both economic inequality and bloodshed. However, successfully re-orienting an economy to greater fairness demands wisdom, strength, and a balance between selflessness and self-interest that translates politically into “give a little, get a little.” And this is the fundamental separation point between America’s 21st Century Liberals and Conservatives. As Liberals, we are prepared to accept somewhat less so that more of us can have somewhat more; or put another way, Liberals want a bigger pie while Conservatives want a bigger piece.

Conservatives themselves on divided on political and social issues, but the two most basic positions for them are: 1) things used to be better; and 2) there isn’t enough for everyone. Christian Conservatives want to return to the morals and mores of the pre-Industrial Revolution eras, with women again operating in their separate sphere and God’s ministers (i.e., men) making the decisions for all of us. Constitutional Conservatives believe that the U.S. Constitution must be interpreted as it was originally written, ignoring the facts that the world has moved beyond the Old Post Road, slavery, and black-powder muskets. Libertarian Conservatives hate government, love business, and are sometimes at war with Social Conservatives, who believe that personal freedom should be circumscribed by 19th Century rules. Neoconservatives care more about foreign policy than fiscal policy and are interventionists determined to extend America’s brand of democracy around the world – using economic and military clout to do so. And finally, Paleoconservatives espouse the old-time religion of the traditional family, tribalism, and isolationism.

As we might expect, more Democrats identify as Liberal and more Republicans identify as Conservative. It’s also no surprise that the most Conservative states are among “the least well-off, least educated, most blue collar, and most economically hard-hit.”[1] (Not for nothing are the most liberal democrats the Progressive wing of the Party.) I believe we could overlay the Republican U.S. map on the Conservative U.S. map and we’d have a close match. Conservatives believe poverty and inequality are personal failings. Liberals understand that systemic factors – primarily economic and racial – play the largest role in limiting opportunities. Liberals believe that extending a hand-up in employment, education, and other areas is not the same as giving a hand-out … and even if it were, shouldn’t people who have a history of generational discrimination be given some long-delayed affirmative action and justice?

In the past few decades, Conservatives have convinced people that Liberals are soft on crime and weak on national security. That’s an easy talking point and, as we’ve learned to say in these hyper-partisan times, red-meat for the base. But is it true? And is it germane? And would it be such a bad thing? Conservatives have given us private prisons, mass incarceration, criminalization of poverty, militarized police departments, and the school-to-prison pipeline – all of which impact People of Color disproportionately. Conservatives have given us unending wars in areas where private economic interests far outweigh national security needs. Also, given that deleterious climate change destroys the lives and livelihoods of people globally, increasing the likelihood of regional conflict over diminishing resources, Conservative denial of our human impact on the planet prevents us from addressing these threats. Acknowledging the reality of climate change is the greatest step toward securing our nation’s wellbeing we can take.

As I said before, more Democrats are Liberals and more Republicans are Conservatives. To answer the questions: Who are these Conservatives? How do they see America? What do they want? maybe I should let them speak for themselves. Here’s the link to the 2016 Republican Party Platform. As you read it, winnow out the hyperbole and qualifying modifiers. Look for the declarative sentences. Maya Angelou told us, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time.”

Cheaters and abusers say to us, “Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?” Are Conservatives in a long-term abusive relationship with political leaders and media figures who lie and cheat? Are they blinded by privilege, exceptionalism, and willful ignorance? Can the love of a good Liberal redeem them?



Education: Not Just For Jobs

This post includes examples that are specific to Georgia. I suspect
that circumstances in other states are similar.

In the past 20 or so years, I’ve seen two themes predominating in conversations, studies, and opinion pieces about education: 1) we aren’t preparing our kids for 21st century jobs; and 2) American students are falling farther behind students from other countries.

Before I share my thought about those topics, though, let’s take care of the elephant in the classroom: vouchers and school choice.

Currently, Georgia has a voucher program for special-needs students and a tax credit program for people or businesses that donate to private school scholarship organizations. Those scholarships go to families whose kids couldn’t otherwise afford a private school. That all seems very straight-forward. The only taxpayer money for education in Georgia goes to public schools or to families of children with special needs that cannot be met by public schools.

Here’s where it gets sticky. In every recent state legislative session, laws have been proposed that would greatly extend the voucher program. In Georgia, educating a child for one public-school year costs around $9,200. If one of the Republican-sponsored “Education Savings Account” bills became law in Georgia, any family, regardless of financial or medical need, could claim $4,500 from that per-student allotment and spend it however they wanted on their child’s education. The money could be used toward private-school (including religious-based schools) tuition; but it could also be used for homeschooling or music lessons. Just about the only requirement is that the student not attend a public school.

That “school choice” money would come directly from public school budgets, and this is what happens when you strip money from schools: the schools get worse. Student outcomes get worse. Teacher salaries stagnant or fall. School buildings deteriorate. Materials and technologies fall farther behind.

Writing about one of these Education Savings Account bills in 2015, Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist, Jay Bookman, said, “We have schools in this state that haven’t been able to keep their doors open for 180 days a year; we have schools in which band and music programs have had to be slashed to the bone or even eliminated. And we’re going to divert state taxpayer money to finance private piano and violin lessons for private-school students whose parents would be paying for such things anyway?”

While many people, including me, think these unlimited voucher bills weaken public education, in 2015, Georgia state representative Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming), said they offer parental choice. “We are giving a menu of choices to parents. This is not an anti-public school system bill.” But Maureen Downey, also writing in the AJC, says that the bills are extensions of “the fallacious argument that ‘the money should follow the students because it’s their money.’ It’s not the students’ money. It’s not the parents’ money. It’s the community’s money. Taxpayers contribute to the common cause of public education because they believe it’s a collective responsibility to educate the next generation for the good of all.”[1]

It’s fine to say a family can take their voucher and go to a better school. Let’s look at that. The average tuition for a private high school in Cobb County is $9,581; in Fulton it’s $15,291; in DeKalb it’s $19,880. A family that can already pay that tuition doesn’t need state money to do so. A family that can’t make up the difference between the voucher and the tuition isn’t going to send their children to one of those schools. Suppose there is a relatively inexpensive private school the child can attend, but it’s a long way from home. The adults in the house have to get to work every morning. No bus lines run near the home. How does the kid get to the affordable private school? Certainly, in some instances all the pieces will fall into place, and a child can go to a school that better suits her or his talents, interests, and needs. But make no mistake, these Republican-sponsored voucher bills aren’t designed for those few students; they are designed to further weaken our public schools and further entrench inequality into our State.

Most of us agree that K-12 education should be controlled by the states, not Washington. However, this current administration has entered into the voucher debate by naming a foe of public education, Betsy DeVos, as the Secretary of Education. She intends to extend school vouchers to allow more kids to go to private or religious schools. This is entirely in keeping with a statement by President Trump that public schools are “a government-run monopoly.” Moving it into the federal sphere of influence, as President Trump and Secretary DeVos have done, gives our elected representatives opportunities to challenge the elitist thinking that traditional private schools and religious schools should benefit from the willful destruction of public education.


Now that I exposed the Republican thinking behind so-called school choice, I want to give you my thoughts on job preparation. I agree that we haven’t taught our students what they need to succeed in 21st century jobs. That’s not, however, because we don’t teach coding or have robotics competitions or organize cooperative learning experiences. We do all that, in some schools. What I believe we don’t successfully teach in K-12 is thinking. Too many students come to college ill-prepared to derive, analyze, and synthesize information to form new thoughts, to develop new concepts. Innovation – a cornerstone of 21st century success – requires those higher-level thinking skills.

For the second concern, students not performing up to their peers in other countries, the statistics are clear. Here’s what the Pew Research Foundation found. “One of the biggest cross-national tests is the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which every three years measures reading ability, math and science literacy and other key skills among 15-year-olds in dozens of developed and developing countries. The most recent PISA results, from 2015, placed the U.S. an unimpressive 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science.” [2] That is more evidence that rote learning and teaching-to-the-test isn’t working for our kids.

Here are my thoughts about these two factors, and some suggestions for what we can do to turn these around. The median salary for a public school teacher in Roswell, Georgia in 2017 is around $55,000. Entry level requirements for teaching jobs in most states include bachelor’s degrees, teacher training, testing, and licensure. I compared the teacher’s salaries and requirements to those of Certified Public Accountants. The requirements for those jobs are similar now, though they weren’t always.[3]

In a quick search in online job boards, I found listings for two CPAs in Alpharetta, Georgia. The starting salaries, depending on experience, were between $69,000 and $100,000. The salary for an experienced Roswell teacher with graduate-level degrees tops-out at around $75,000.

If we think our children should get the best education possible, let’s recruit the best teachers and pay them accordingly. The problem isn’t with teacher training, and it isn’t with the people who choose to enter an underpaid, often thankless, frequently micro-managed career that places unrealistic burdens on them to manage too-large classes while teaching their subjects to too many students who didn’t learn or retain knowledge from previous school years.

In addition to improving teacher salaries, let’s take a look at the curriculum. I am a fan of the humanities, of liberal arts. We cannot produce caring, involved, compassionate, thinking people if we do not give them ample opportunities to understand how people in other parts of the world live and have lived – and how those experiences affect the current political and economic conditions. It’s a cliché, but that doesn’t make it less true: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Also, I think music and art should be funded at the same levels as athletics. I’d recommend spending more on libraries than on stadiums. And let’s have pep rallies for the Chess Team. I’m not being facetious. I believe that spending so much classroom time teaching children to pass tests in math and science is less important than spending that time giving them encouragement and opportunities to explore broader interests and disciplines.

Why do I think that art, music, history, language, chess, debate, volleyball might be as important as chemistry and algebra? Because I don’t think everyone should have to go to college. Or rather, I don’t think kids should feel that the only marker of success is going to college. For some students, like me, college was exactly the right choice. For some of my friends at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., a two-year vocational training program would have been the best choice. Other classmates would be happiest moving directly from high school to jobs. I have a friend who tried to go to college – twice – right after graduating from high school. She says now that she wasn’t ready. She got a job. After some years, she went back to college and earned a B.A. and an M.A. Not all of us can, or should, follow the path others set out for us. Let’s build an educational system that gives students the necessary tools and values to make choices about their futures, whether that means college, vocational school, or a job.

I’d like to see our elected and appointed officials:

  • Ensure that the Federal government provides support to States for preparing our children for 21st century jobs. These actions from Washington should include both stick & carrot encouragement to make educational opportunities equally available in all communities.
  • 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. Also, take student loans out of the hands of for-profit corporations.
  • Waive student loans for public-school teachers and teacher’s aides.






Show Some Respect for Science

How did science become something to deny? How, 500 years after Copernicus, 400 years after Galileo, 300 years after Newton, 200 years after Jenner, 100 years after Einstein did we begin to doubt the evidence we gather from observable phenomena and repeatable experiments?

Cui bono? That’s Latin for “who benefits?” When I look at science denial that way, my question becomes not How, but Why? And then, cui bono? Who?

Why do some people say that DDT and PCBs aren’t a risk to humans and animals?
Why do some people say that cigarette smoking isn’t a cause for cancer?
Why do some people say that antibiotics in animal feed don’t lead to antibiotic-resistant superbugs?
Why do some people say that human activities don’t contribute to climate change?

Cui bono?

Chemical industry.

Tobacco industry.

Pharmaceutical industry.

Fossil fuel industries.

Denying science is a profit-based paradigm. Legislators take campaign contributions and expense-paid junkets from companies that need their votes to continue to profiting from science denial. The current administration strips power and effectiveness from science-intensive and environmental and consumer protection agencies by slashing budgets, shuttering facilities, firing staff, shutting down websites, criminalizing dissent, and disparaging their missions.

For state and federal legislators, resisting these industry-promoted inducements requires some backbone and a strong grip on principles and reality.

One reality of science denial that isn’t given enough attention, I believe, is the damage it does to our security at home and abroad. Denying the efficacy of vaccines leads to an upsurge in communicable diseases. Denying the truth of evolution forces schools to dumb-down the science curriculum. Denying the validity of science generally increases the likelihood we’ll be overtaken economically by reality-based countries.

In the 1990s, one of my friends worked for Ambassador C. Paul Robinson, a physicist who was the Chief Negotiator and head of the U.S. Delegation to the U.S./USSR Nuclear Testing Talks in Geneva from 1988-90. In about 1994, Ambassador Robinson told her that wars would be fought over access to water. In 2005, the Ambassador was the keynote speaker at the Center for Strategic & International Studies[1] workshop on Global Water Futures. At those meetings, scientists discussed ways to help protect the earth’s water resources. Note, please … scientists discussed this. They showed graphs and charts, they delivered presentations, they argued, they shared data, they proposed solutions. Scientists and experts. Not lobbyists. Not CEOs. Not Breitbart, InfoWars, or FoxNews conspiracists.

Climate change is a national security issue. Denying that ice caps are melting, that deserts are expanding, that forests are disappearing, that wildfires are raging does not make those environmental disasters go away. Denial of these crises prevents us from addressing the security challenges caused by climate change. For awhile, the developed world will be somewhat protected from the daily deprivations of worsening conditions. True, in America we may have stronger hurricanes, fiercer fires, icier winters, more blistering summers, and water flowing through Miami’s streets at high tide. However, we have protections in place to mitigate most dangers: we have infrastructure, communications, and transportation. Some of our fellow citizens will die each year from threats born out of damage done to the earth. But in some parts of the world, which experience climate change as famine, disease, destruction of food sources and shelter, hundreds of thousands of people have already died. These people are seeing the eradication of their cultures, and they know with grim certainty that not having enough water or food is a catalyst for war. How long before we know that, too?

Legislators and other elected and appointed government officials can show some respect for science by:

  • Not accepting campaign funds, gifts, or services from any of the following industries: fossil fuel, pharmaceutical, chemical, or tobacco, nor from any PAC or individual supporting their interests.
  • Carefully studying any proposed legislation that purports to be based on science paid for by any organization or institution supported or sponsored by any of those industries.
  • Supporting full funding of departments and agencies that are science-based, that provide environmental and consumer protections, and for the Public Broadcasting System, National Public Radio, the National Endowment of the Arts, and other mediums of communication that support the dissemination of scientific information.



#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 ( The solar power manufacturers and installers already employed over 260,000 people that year. ( 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.





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.



Citizen Legislators

I had just arrived at work today when a colleague asked me, “Aren’t you sick of politics?” I made a polite response, something about being tired of the meaningless wrangling, lying, and general bad manners, but no, I’m not tired of the process of trying to identify – and then elect – folks who have the welfare of the people – all the people – at heart.

I’m encouraged that Americans do seem to be paying attention to the current, unsettled state of the relationship between citizens and our government. And it is very unsettled. We have the ironclad partisanship of Obama and Romney supporters, with the full-throated baying about 47%, birth records, religion, race, the economy, Libya … and whatever the 24/7 news cycle has spun up for us to fear today.

More damaging even than that, I think, is the well-deserved opinion we hold about the gridlocked Congress, those representatives who are more directly responsible for the state of our nation and its individual States than the President. The Gallup organization reported at the end of last year that a new record-low 11% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, the lowest single rating in Gallup’s history of asking this question since 1974.

So what could possibly be encouraging about that dismal statistic? Well, in the past three days, I have received a number of emails from friends about something called the Congressional Reform Act of 2012 (actually not a legislative Act but rather a proposal to amend the Constitution). The emails begin with a quote from a CNBC interview with Warren Buffett: “I could end the deficit in five minutes. You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election.”

Based on the Gallup numbers and my personal email traffic, it sounds as if we may be ready to change something fundamental about the way we allow our Senators and Congressmen/women to serve us.

Here is the emailed text of the Congressional Reform Act of 2012.

  1. No Tenure / No Pension. A Congressman/woman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they’re out of office. No “entitlements.”
  2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.
  3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.
  4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.
  5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.
  6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.
  7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen/women are void effective 12/1/12. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen/women.

The email also says:

“The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only three months and eight days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in 1971 – before computers, e-mail, cell phones, etc. Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven took one year or less to become the law of the land – all because of public pressure.

If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S.) to receive the message. Don’t you think it’s time?”

Does the Congressional Reform Act of 2012 (or the 28th Amendment) look like the solution? Not exactly, but it’s a good-enough place to start talking about fixing our broken legislative process.

By the way, Amendments either originate in the States (in an Article V Convention) or by a vote by two-thirds of each house of Congress. Congress will only call for an amendment-proposing convention, “on the application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several States.” That means 34 State legislatures would have to submit applications. Once an Article V Convention has proposed an amendment, then the amendment has to be ratified by three-fourths of the States (i.e., 38 States) in order to become part of the Constitution.

And if effectively having to get Congress’ permission to propose an amendment didn’t make it even more challenging to rein in Congressional perks, Congress also has the power to choose between two methods of ratification: ratification by the State legislatures, or ratification by State conventions called for that purpose.

Finally, all 27 amendments to the Constitution have happened in a procedural sense by going through Congress and not through proposal by State legislatures.

So … I’m going to forward the email, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for a national body of citizen legislators.