A Cult of Ignorance

Why does it matter whether this administration believes in climate change or not you might ask? As long as they earmark funds to clean up and rebuild after each disaster we should still be fine, right? Ninety-seven percent of scientists do not think so. I do not think so. Ignorance is never an answer. It is ignorant to pretend that there is no trend to more severe weather and other disastrous events. It is ignorant to pretend that the ice caps are not melting, and even if they are it has little to do with us. It is ignorant to put economic greed above human survival.

It is ignorant to overturn laws that could have helped hold climate change at bay. Even if you don’t believe that humans can effect nature (which is also ignorant) it is foolish not to try. Americans used to love a challenge, a good problem to be solved. If the fossil fuel age is about to end you would think that we would be all gung ho to come up with new options.

America did not used to be a country whose answer to a possible scientific inevitability would be to simply double down on the old technologies suspected of causing those new and sobering truths. If we could usher in an Industrial Age as muscular and productive as what gave America its brash confidence in the last two centuries, we should be just as excited and energetic about creating a new “Age” in the 21st century which will be cleaner and kinder to our planet and our health, a new tech that does not rely on the remains of the Age of Dinosaurs.

I just spent my week the same way many of you probably did, watching that slow and blowsy storm called Irma from the time she left the western coastal waters of Africa. I watched as Irma assaulted the islands of the Caribbean leaving destruction in her wake. I watched the tragic loss of the entire island of Barbuda which may not be rebuilt for some time. Some of the ritziest names in island destinations were in the cross hairs and did not escape unscathed. Irma lingered so long over Cuba I was afraid there would be massive devastation of another nation with few resources for restoration.

But I have family and friends in Florida and as the weather news became direr with each passing day my anxieties were focused with people rather than places. My friends in Miami left first. They were in the bull’s eye for a while. Miami streets experience minor flooding in a rainstorm. I was relieved. They left Florida altogether with the cat and the dog. Then one of my sisters told us that she and her husband had gone with other relatives to stay with her son and daughter-in-law. My sister and her husband recently down-sized to a manufactured home. Her son lives in a home that is rated to last through a Category 4.

So that left us with one couple sheltering in place in, of all places, Cape Coral, the new target of Irma’s ferocious energies. The prediction for a 10-15 foot storm surge in Cape Carol gave me nightmares. These guys live on a canal right near the Gulf of Mexico. On the news broadcasters spoke with contempt for people who stayed when they should have evacuated. But these family members went to two shelters and were turned away at both. The mayor of Cape Coral made it sound like the town’s preparations were extensive but no one seemed to realize that people were being turned away from shelters. My family members had just arrived home from a summer up north and landed right in the path of Irma. It has been a very tense week, only resolved when the surge threat was lowered to 5 ft. There is a sea wall that rises to 4’ and then, still, an upward incline to the house.

Do I know for sure if the phenomenon we call climate change is responsible for that storm? I do not. Do I know that the sea levels are rising and the ice caps are melting? I do. Do I see how people love to live near beaches and coast lines? I feel this pull myself. Do I see how populated the hurricane-prone state of Florida has become, with people still arriving every day, many of them aging and experiencing the challenges that come with aging? Florida is a state that has risen on fairly shaky ground, as I understand it, and it took drastic engineering feats to turn it into the goddess of the good life that it is today.

We just saw 7 million people all try to evacuate a state with one or two main highways. It’s lucky they started early and I bet it was frustrating to sit in those long lines of traffic crawling along. Can we count on evacuating almost an entire state if monster storms become the norm? Doesn’t it make more sense to try some of the solutions scientists offer? Perhaps it is not too late to at least stabilize earth’s environmental situation.

Conservatives, for reasons I cannot understand, are arguing against knowledge, against experimentation, against reasoned thought and innovation. I have no problems with training programs for people who are interested. I think we need people trained to do all kinds of things. I do have a problem with an ideology that feels that the answer to our inner cities is more police, more prison, rather than more computers, more broadband. Some of these people went to Harvard for heaven’s sake; some to the best college in America, Wharton, as we are told. College is still good for people. It is good for brains. It helps them tick and think. Einstein didn’t go to a training program. He went to a university.

Conservatives don’t like colleges because they believe they turn out rubber stamp liberals. I think colleges don’t like Conservatives because they are backward thinkers who have nothing valuable to offer students, although once they would have been examples of civility and the importance of having moral standards. The war on our college campuses was not caused by liberals. Liberals are defending our centers of learning against a reactionary wave, a huge reactionary wave.

We seem to be headed towards an age of ignorance, caught in a cult of ignorance that will rob America of a leading role in a world that will have to streamline and find efficient ways to deal with our exploding populations, and that will have to look outward to space for new planets to colonize, or face desperate wars and diseases and disasters to trim our numbers back to levels that make human life feasible on this planet. Ignorance is our enemy. We don’t have time to while away a century or two in the new Dark Ages.

Budget 2: Overviews of Trump/House Budgets

Trump’s Budget and the House (or Ryan) Budget have only minor differences. In terms of defense spending both budgets add money that has to be taken away from other parts of the budget. These budgets generally break down into Mandatory Spending, Defense Spending, Defense Discretionary Spending, and Non-Defense Discretionary Spending (NDD).

Mandatory spending includes Medicare and Social Security. Trump’s budget does not make cuts to these programs as he promised in his campaign. The House budget does make cuts to mandatory spending.

Both budgets increase military spending by quite a lot. And, as we saw in my article Budget 1, both budgets cut non-defense discretionary spending by cutting programs as listed in my post. Trump’s budget makes more cuts in NDD spending than the House budget makes.

Both of these budgets relied on repealing and replacing the ACA and putting the dollars saved back in the budget. This loss will have a rather large effect on the budget, especially if it must be deficit neutral. Trump’s budget does not rely on being deficit neutral but this condition is something the House budget is supposed to comply with.

Amounts vary between the two budgets but the types of cuts and additions are very similar. There should not be much disagreement between the WH and the House, but there are a few areas of contention.

I am hoping that the cuts in mandatory spending will go away because that is one area of disagreement. Will we go with the NDD cuts generated by Trump or by Ryan or will the opposition save many of these agencies and programs? Will the number of cuts, if any, be closer to the Ryan cuts or to the Trump cuts? How will either budget find a way to be deficit neutral without the repeal and replacement of the ACA? The fact that the health care plan still stands puts a big hole in these budget plans and that makes it harder to produce a balanced budget in 2027, which both budgets claim that they can accomplish.

The “wall” is included in Trump’s budget under defense and national security spending. It is not included in the House budget, but that probably will not fly. Although, if Florida is devastated in similar ways to Houston the entire budget may have to be reworked by both the WH and the House.

Moderate Republicans, well, relatively moderate Republicans, probably will like both of these budgets but the Freedom Caucus is unlikely to like either. They would cut everything except possibly defense spending.

Both of these budgets rely on  growth rates for GDP which economists say are too optimistic. This means that they are unlikely to be deficit neutral or to produce a balanced budget in ten years.

It would have been nice if the Dems had produced a “model” budget so that people could compare the two parties, but perhaps that is just not done when your party is out of power. I suppose we could consider the current budget (2017) to be a Democrat budget. We have made it through years without a new budget before and we could do it again. I really don’t want America’s budget to be reconfigured according to the Republican ideology, but time is not on my side.

President Trump’s 2018 Budget from an article published on May 24, 2017

*3.6 trillion in deficit reduction

*1.5 trillion from unspecified discretionary cuts

*2.8 trillion cuts to mandatory items (not Medicare or SS)

*   1 trillion from repeal of ACA

*300 billion in interest savings

*reduce debt from 77% of GDP or 14.8 trillion today to 60% or 18.6 trillion by 2027 (OMB)

*budget balanced by 2027 from deficit of 3.1% of GDP or 603 billion in 2017

*budget projected spending shrinks from 21.2% of GDP or 4.1 trillion today to 18.4% of GDP or 5.7 trillion by 2027 (OMB)

(CBO objects – this is overly optimistic – debt would likely remain stable and deficits remain 2% of GDP)

Proposals in Trump’s Budget

*3.6 trillion net spending reduction and reforms

*4.5 trillion less in spending

*   1 trillion less in revenue

*697 billion to promote new initiatives

-defense discretionary spending

-veteran’s health program

-paid family leave

-infrastructure investment

*200 billion placeholder infrastructure grants to state and local governments (hopes to leverage 1 trillion of total public/private investment)

*Reduce non-defense discretionary spending (NDD) by 10% (- 555 billion) reduced by 54 billion in 2018 and do this 10 times over ten years (cuts programs listed in my article Budget 1

*Apply “2 penny plan” (2 pennies in cuts for every 1 penny spent) to future NDD spending

*850 billion future unspecified cuts

*Reform Healthcare (- 903 billion)

*Restructure Safety Net Program (-272 billion

*reduce SNAP by 193 billion

*reduce Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) (welfare) grants by 10%

*eliminate Social Security Block Grants – 38 billion saved

*40 billion saved by requiring Social Security Number for Child Tax Credit or EITC

*eliminating supplemental benefits for federal employees retired before age 62

*increase number of salary years used to calculate retirement benefits

*increase federal employee retirement contribution

*Other savings

*farm subsidies

*enacting financial regulation reform

*Restructuring Consumer Finance Protection Bureau

*Postal reform

*Higher Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation premiums and other

*Comprehensive Tax Reform see articles on Trump’s tax plan (no amount given

*Economic growth and War Draw-down saves 2.7 trillion

*All assuming a (very rosy) 3% GDP growth per year by 2020

 

Sources

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/05/23/us/politics/document-Donald-Trump-2018-Budget.html?mcubz=0

http://www.crfb.org/papers/president-trumps-full-fy-2018-budget

 

 

House Budget “Building a Better America”, Chairman Diane Black’s Summary

*Balance Budget – balance within 10 years by:

*cutting spending

*reforming government

*grow the economy

*projects a $9 billion surplus in 2027 with 6.5 trillion in deficit reduction

*2018 Overall Budget

*$1,132 trillion in discretionary spending

* $621.5 trillion in defense discretionary spending

* $511 billion non-defense discretionary spending

*Promote Job Creation

*tax reform” (reconciliation instructions?)

*lower rates

*simplify code

*incentivize employers to hire and grow (major reform of regulations that hold back job creation and innovation

*Secure National Defense

*funding to secure the border and protect the homeland

*increase account at Department of Veteran’s Affairs

*Strengthening Health Care

*AHCA – American Health Care Act (did not pass)

*saves and strengthens Medicare with a premium support system that gives seniors more control (?)

*Reforms Medicaid by giving states the power to tailor Medicaid programs (block grants, vouchers?)

*Cutting spending and reforming government which will cut $203 billion through savings and reform (reconciliation instructions) (?)

*Reduce government-wide improper payments (?) by $700 billion

*Calls on 11 committees to cut $203 billion altogether over 10 years (NDD as per Budget 1)

*Assumes optimistic economic growth rate

* WH assumed 3% growth

*House budget assumes 2.6% growth

*”economists say that both of these growth rates are optimistic”

*Slashed safety net programs – imposes work requirements for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (welfare) and SNAP (food stamps)

*Proposes deficit neutral tax changes – Trump’s budget does not do this

*House GOP budget cuts Medicare and Social Security (“likely to receive pushback from Republicans wary of cutting into popular entitlement programs”)

NPR Article says this about House Budget

*Cuts $54 trillion over 10 years

*$4 trillion in cuts to mandatory spending (Medicaid, Medicare)

*Ramps up defense spending

*”budgets are more statements of priority than exact plans

*”Budget could allow Republicans to pass tax overhaul by reconciliation” (only 51 votes instead of 60)

*Ramp up defense spending by $929 billion

*Cut NDD spending by 1.3 trillion (WH and House similar in this regard)

Sources

https://budget.house.gov/budgets/fiscal-year-2016-budget/summary-key-facts/

http://www.npr.org/2017/07/19/537959833/heres-whats-in-the-house-republican-budget-and-why-it-matters

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/14/republicans-cuts-programs-food-stamps-welfare-veterans-238314

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/18/house-budget-committee-proposes-boosting-defense-spending-reshaping-welfare-programs.html

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/07/house-gop-budget-plan-puts-medicare-and-social-security-on-the-line/533991/

 

Pay Your Dues: Reprise from Labor Day 2015

 

This is how the map looks on Labor Day 2017 (only one addition)

I first published this article in my blog on Labor Day in 2015. Not only is this information still relevant but the need to fight for worker’s rights is more important than ever. The words Republicans use for this particular plan to dismantle unions sound so innocent. They ask unions to conform to “right to work” laws which prey on the angers of workers who like the benefits unions provide but who don’t want to pay dues or belong to a union. In some states you must pay into the union whether you are a member or not. This may sound un-American but unions could not fight for workers with out having powers equal to the moneyed people they are fighting against. Workers have been led to believe by Republican “talk” that unions are to blame for causing manufacturers to leave the United States for other markets. But once manufacturers became aware of the huge untapped markets in the “third world” and the cheap and plentiful laborers, it was inevitable that we would see the “Great Factory Migration.

Here is what I said in 2015:

It is another Labor Day, a day when we celebrate American workers. America is a country that believes in work. Hard work will pay off. Hard work will win you a better life. People who don’t work hard are lazy and un-American. Even Labor Unions are suspect to some, as we know. They are organizations that target employers and try to milk concessions from them that slurp up profits and kill businesses. They are sops for lazy workers who can’t suck it up and do their jobs. They are the mommy that kisses boo boos and tucks possible sources of worker injuries away, ‘nickel and dime-ing’ employers until they have to keep building new bookcases to house the books of regulations and hire new lawyers to protect the wealth of business owners. Many say that Unions drove business out of America by making it too expensive to do business here. It is the fault of the Unions, they say, that Americans now languish in sloth, making impossible demands on the Federal Government and still managing to reduce the profits of serious men of business (who have obviously earned their rich and luxurious lifestyles).

We, the workers of America and the former workers of America, recognize that this is a ridiculously one-sided view of Unions and/or the American worker. The very reason Unions exist is to protect workers from employers whose only interest is their bottom line (which, most likely, is not all employers). We learned about corporate greed the hard way and if we keep an eye on Southeast Asia and on China and other newly industrialized nations we see that they are learning those tough lessons that we learned decades ago. Workers must have a way to protect themselves from businessmen who practice a ruthless form of Capitalism. These new workers are in a far worse state than American workers were. There was pushback against unionizing; it was sometimes a bloody and brutal war, but we lived in a Democratic nation where people who believed in the ideals of the American nation offered support to unionizing and a counterpoint to stubborn business owners. How difficult will it be for people living in dictatorships to ever do anything to protect workers?

People are trying to bust our unions in these divisive days when our economy looks somewhat bleak. They are having some success by using ‘right to work’ laws which say that unions cannot charge dues to non-members. It seems logical that someone who is not a union member should not have to pay a fee to the union, but it robs the union of the power to bargain, and when a union bargains with an employer and succeeds the benefits accrue for all workers, not only union workers. We also have seen how employers can use non-Union employees against Union employees.  ‘Right to Work’ laws only ‘seem’ to benefit workers. The laws are a tool of the owner class used to break up unions.

There is another aspect of Union busting which should concern us. Union busting is being used by Republicans and their wealthy corporate donors to suppress the vote and to rob Democrats of the very powerful support they have received from Labor Unions. With our factories gone we may not need our Unions right now as desperately as we once did, but we should not let them be disemboweled by Big Business and their minions in Congress. Whatever your connection to your union, continue to pay your union dues if you can. We at least need our unions to offset the huge injections of cash into elections by the donor class. We need unions to insure that American workers still have a say in elections.

Here are more of my Labor Day articles:

http://thearmchairobserver.com/a-blue-labor-day/

http://thearmchairobserver.com/labor-day-2013-reflections-on-american/

http://thearmchairobserver.com/labor/