Thought on Veterans Day 2018

Cny Vets parade and Expo

It’s Veteran’s Day, 2018 when we remember the real people, men and women, who had to put their lives on hold to defend our nation, our values, and our way of life. There was pride in this and love of America that gave our soldiers and our citizens a sense of community and common purpose. While wars were killing men and tearing them away from everything they loved about being alive, they were also forging bonds between soldiers that seemed unbreakable. Until the Vietnam War the nation bonded also to offer a united front of love and gratitude to our fighting forces. Even in the Vietnam War someone could protest the complicated and questionable reasons for the war and still love family members who went so far away to fight in a war that was tearing Americans apart at home.

My dad did not go to war. He had an eighth grade education. He had very flat feet. An army “runs on its feet”. He also was the sole support of his parents and of his brand-new wife, my mother. And he was employed in a war industry. My sister and I were born while most men were still in Europe or fighting in the Pacific. My father’s personality was never complicated by having to live so close to death as many others had done. But his life was complicated by the guilt he felt about the rather mundane roots of his good fortune and he was always sidelined by not belonging to the fraternal orders created by and for veterans. Vets did not talk much to their wives and children about the war, but they did seek the comfort of the company of other soldiers.

We lived in a city when I was born, and we learned the story of why my parents, already older than most couples in those days, did not have children for almost three years after they married. They married in 1941 and my sister was born in 1944. My father worked nights. My mother worked days. The busses they were on passed each other in the morning and they would wave and get on with their next piece of business, either sleeping or working. They were very poor as they both gave money to their parents. Once they began having babies they did not stop. Two of us were the same age for 5 days with not even a whole year between our births. Soon we had seven people living in a two-bedroom city apartment. By then everyone was home from the war. Housing boomed, but my Dad was not a vet.

Finally, Dad found a house for us in a small town that was almost rural but destined to become a suburb. We had fresh air and frog ponds and empty lots to roam. We had bikes and skates and although we never had enough bedrooms, we did not feel cramped in these early years. The babies kept coming though. When I was around eight I began to see the effect war had had on those who fought it.

Next door to us, a tiny house sat so far back from the road that it was right next to our back yard. In this house lived Mrs. Crabtree.  Mrs. Crabtree scared us children to death and I’m sure that our boisterous play outside her windows annoyed her no end. Occasionally she would experience some kind of psychotic break; she would open her front door and stand in the doorway in her slip and tell off the neighborhood. She would rant and rave, and we came to believe that she was a sort of witch, a person to fear and tiptoe around, except that a “clowder” of children have a hard time remembering to keep it down for long. Later, as a teen, I learned that Mary Crabtree was a soldier in WWII (actually a nurse) and that she had a metal plate in her head covering the hole in her skull from when she had been hit with mortar. She drank to deaden memory and pain. My dad was kind to her and we felt guilty that we had been so clueless.

Across the road was another house of strife, a mom and dad who drank and fought their way through the days of their silent children’s lives until one child fought back and exhibited signs of rebellion, which never died out and caused her to choose things that were harmful, and led to her early demise. The father in this family was a vet. We all met these parents many times and we did not find them unfriendly. The mom and other moms came to visit around our dining room table because my mom was tied down by children. But the men never came to visit my father, although they did not shun him. Dad just did not fit in. My Dad did not drink. This across-the-road dad was a drinker. When the fighting at home reached a crescendo that was intolerable, he left for the VFW and the comradery of fellow soldiers.

So two examples of what war can do to those who fight it, lived their lives before my eyes, and finally, after the Vietnam War we as a nation began to talk about treating the problems of physical and mental adjustments that men (and women) had to deal with after wars. Those vets I knew fought in a war that we were proud to fight in, a war against a monster who could not be allowed to spread his hate any further than he already had done. The problems vets faced became even greater when soldiers had to come home to a country that did not support the war in which they had just fought.

Just this past week a vet used his skills with a gun to kill young people enjoying themselves dancing in a country bar in Thousand Oaks, California. We are not good at helping vets who are mentally twisted by the things they are asked to do in a war.

And yet we go to war time after time. There are always seemingly valid reasons to subdue a leader or a nation that thinks taking on the world will allow this leader or nation to dominate a larger chunk of the world. People will continue to go off to war unless we begin an era of all robot wars, or all drone wars. (It is quite different to be the nation that sends a drone than it is to be the nation that receives a drone however, and as drones become more common our own nation may become a target for drones.) Even in the case of robotic war or drone wars, soldiers will still be necessary I am guessing. In fact, soldiers who send drones to kill distant bad guys sometimes also kill innocents, and we are finding that this has mental repercussions despite the fact that the soldier is not in physical jeopardy.

Well this is a weekend to remember all of this. It is a time to remember how wars make it possible for family members who are at some distance from a war to live in relative safety. It is a time to remember what soldiers sacrifice to fight for us in wars. It is a time of gratitude. It should also be a time to teach ourselves better ways to help warriors heal when they return home from wars. Short of wiping memory it may be impossible to be totally unaffected by fighting other humans in a killing war. Perhaps all we can hope for is to ameliorate the problems of those who seem to be affected the most by being sent into situations that require you to kill or be killed.

Veterans Day is also a perfect time to remember to do all in our power to keep our world at peace.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search, CNY Vets Parade and Expo

Why Do We Think Republicans are Good for the Economy

Republicans gloating The Economist

Republican talking points were hammered into our heads for just about the entire eight years of the Obama administration. One such talking point said that we need to shrink government (code for we need to do away with social programs: Medicaid, Social Security, Welfare, Food Stamps, CHIP, WIC, Medicare, and now the ACA). These things are not the business of the federal government GOPers would declare.

Then they would argue that programs like these perpetuate poverty by institutionalizing dependence. They would argue that these programs have done nothing to end poverty. Look at the data. How many people have actually been lifted out of poverty they pontificate? Perhaps these people who claim to be devoutly religious forgot that Jesus said there will always be poor people.

There is also data to suggest that if you were able to leave a poor neighborhood, or get a good education or both, it is possible that your fortunes did improve. And we know that this is not quite as true for black and brown people who were often not welcome in white neighborhoods or suburban schools with larger budgets that provided better educational experiences.

Recent studies tell us that housing discrimination played a greater role in placing limitations on minorities even when other inequalities were legislated away. Realtors found ways to keep minorities out of more upscale white neighborhoods. Look for an article with the title The Architecture of Poverty. Read Evictionby Matt Desmond. Subscribe to the Daily Beastwhich is doing a series of articles about this.

We have seen the underlying racism and white nationalism lurking in the Republican Party since the parties switched platforms during the Civil Rights movement of the late 50’s and early 60’s. We thought that this was a line of prejudice that did not run through everyone in the party. We can no longer say that here in 2018 with Donald Trump at the head of the GOP.

But aside from this abiding hate and bigotry and long-nursed resentment, aside from a firm belief, against all scientific evidence that people with darker skin are inferior to people with white skin; the key policies of the Republican Party all center around money, economics, business, Capitalism (and military power). Prominent Republicans have even said that they know God favors them because he has blessed them with great wealth. So now the wealthy are more beloved by God than the poor. But if my Sunday school religious education is correct, I believe Jesus said that it is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

The litany of the Republican talking points included all the things they would do if/when they took over in Washington; all the things they are doing right now. Deregulation was near the top of the GOP wish list. If businesses were allowed free rein the economy would fly, they promised, all the factories would return, and the American economy would be fixed forever and ever. Climate change considerations were declared bad science and the GOP has been overturning safety rules left and right. Mercury no longer a controlled substance; asbestos perfectly fine. Now the Republicans were able to allow drilling everywhere and fossil fuels would flow like water and reset the health of wealth around the planet, melting ice caps be damned. Keystone, yes; drilling in the Arctic, AOK, fracking, the more the merrier. The GOP said they would trade coal mining jobs for votes and they have.

Free trade was an ask that big business did not get. Trump got his tariffs by decree. Those tariffs are still a bone contention, but the GOP has taken a wait and see attitude. All can be forgiven because of that glorious corporate tax cut. Trickle down, supply side, voodoo economics in action. The Republicans are in GOP economic nirvana and many Americans still believe that Republicans are great at boosting the American economy, even if the whole ship of state may prove to be less seaworthy than they have been led to expect.

An enormous deficit is looming. If the economy doesn’t meet standards of progress that are considered totally unrealistic by almost every numbers-man-and-woman in America, drastic cuts will have to be made. Those social program cuts were part of the GOP talking points all along. The whole apparatus may have been designed to make Americans so frightened about the American economy that they will make little fuss when they lose their benefits, which Mitch McConnell is salivating to cut as I write. Then the GOP will have achieved every one of the points on their “small government” list and Social Security will be gone, the government will not be involved in health care and there will be no safety net for people who cannot work. How does this hold any appeal for Americans who are not wealthy?

 

The really big question is why are we pursuing a Republican economic agenda which has never worked and how on earth did Republicans get a reputation for being good with economics. The data does not support this assertion nor does it back up the faith Americans have in the Conservative Way. Wealthy people do get richer but, in a Republican administration we actually get further and further from a balanced budget (which is also on the GOP wish list, hypothetically) and the middle class loses ground it cannot afford to lose. The Republican Party is not a champion of workers.

Republicans have been no pikers when it comes to making debts. https://ritholtz.com/2011/10/us-debt-accumulation-by-president/

amount of debt by US Presidents

 

The deficit numbers are even bigger and were often dependent on historical events during any given Presidential term/s. For example, there are bigger deficits in times of war.

“Republicans point to the Reagan Administration as an example of how their policies worked. Reaganomics ended the 1980 recession. It suffered from stagflation, which is both double-digit unemployment and inflation.

Reagan cut income taxes from 70 percent to 28 percent for those earning $108,000 or more. He cut tax rates on middle-class incomes to 15 percent. He cut the corporate tax rate from 46 percent to 40 percent.

But Reagan also used non-Republican policies to end the recession. He increased government spending by 2.5 percent a year. He almost tripled the Federal debt. It grew from $997 billion in 1981 to $2.85 trillion in 1989. Most of the new spending went to defense. But trickle-down economics, in its pure form, was never tested. It’s more likely that massive government spending ended the recession. (Source: William A. Niskanen, “Reaganomics,” Library of Economics and Liberty.)”

https://www.thebalance.com/do-republican-economic-policies-work-4129139

“The Bush Administration also used Republican policies to end the 2001 recession. It cut income taxes with EGTRRA. That ended the recession in November, despite the attacks on 9/11. But unemployment continued rising to 6 percent. In 2003, Bush cut business taxes with JGTRRA. It appeared that the tax cuts worked. But the Federal Reserve lowered the Fed funds rate from 6 percent to 1 percent during this same period. It’s unclear whether tax cuts or another stimulus were what worked.

Another problem with the Reagan and Bush tax cuts is that they worsened income inequality. Between 1979 and 2005, after-tax income rose 6 percent for the bottom fifth of households. It rose 80 percent for the top fifth. Incomes tripled for the top 1 percent. It appears that prosperity didn’t trickle down, it trickled up. (Source: Steven Greenhouse, The Big Squeeze, pp.6-9.)

Both trickle-down and supply-side economists use the Laffer Curve to prove their theories. Arthur Laffer showed how tax cuts provide a powerful multiplication effect. Over time, they create enough growth to replace any lost government revenue. That’s because the expanded, prosperous economy provides a larger tax base. But Laffer warned that this effect works best when taxes are in the “Prohibitive Range.” Otherwise, tax cuts will only lower government revenue without stimulating economic growth.

Republicans who say tax cuts always create growth ignore this aspect of supply-side economics.”

https://www.thebalance.com/do-republican-economic-policies-work-4129139

Obama also added a fair amount to the debt, although not as much as George Bush, and he had to clean up a mess with mortgage foreclosures, bad banking practices, and a Great Recession all inherited from George Bush and the Republicans. Obama did get to pass a number of regulations to protect consumers from bad business practices but they have pretty much all been overturned by the Trump administration. After the first two Obama years a red wave swept away his majority in Congress and he was constrained on economic policy (and every other policy also). Because of some nasty obstructionism I find Republicans responsible for the debts of the Obama administration.

And I give you the Voodoo graphic.

US-national-debt-GDP-graph

http://zfacts.com/p/318.html

Trumps Fantasy Captialism The New Rep.

And now we have Donald Trump – a newly-minted Republican who never ran a government or a national economy even with help from colleagues in Congress, who has declared bankruptcy 6 times, and who does things just because he concluded perhaps in the 1980’s (based on strictly his own opinion) that he could fix the American economy and MAGA. He had his father’s wealth to back him up when he failed. America doesn’t. I have no faith at all in Republican economics and the historical facts do not favor those who do. But all the political ads make it sound like Trump and the Republicans are a bunch of economic geniuses.

Bret Stephens was on MSNBC this morning (he writes on the opinion page of the NYT). Stephens is a Republican who has joined the resistance against his own party because he is not a Trump fan. Stephens credits the current rise in job numbers and even a small jump in wages to momentum built up in the Obama years. Many economists are nervous about what will happen when the huge deficits begin to pile up from Trump’s tax plan and his tariffs and his belligerence with friendly nations on trade.

It is probably too late for a reality check on Republicans economics to have any effect on this midterm election, especially since half of the nation has already voted early (in New York we can’t). I think even the Democratic Party sometimes (sort of) accepts the myth that Republicans are good with money. Perhaps that is because they are really good at lining their own pockets. But they are not really good with the economics of our nation and more needs to be made of this point. Actually our economy probably benefits most when Democrats spend and Republicans admonish them about their spending. In other words, partisan economics is really not so likely to produce a consistently booming America.

The last time Republicans had a majority this huge was in 1928. Just before the Great Depression.

Last Rep. majority this big Politico

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/11/1928-congress-last-time-republicans-had-a-majority-this-huge-112913

Photo Credits: From Google Image Searches, The Economist, The New Republic, Politico

This is a view from the cheap seats.

Michael Tomasky also wrote about this same subject in today’s NYT.