The Wall

Wall National Post

The wall. We all spend way too much time thinking about the wall. I wish we never heard about the wall. I hate the idea of the wall. I hate the cost of the wall. But what I hate most about the wall is that we are expected to build something this expensive that most of us do not want because of one old coot who can never admit that he might be wrong. He can lie about things we heard him say and tell us that he never said those things, but for some reason, he cannot employ the old switcheroo about building the wall. The meaningless mantra keeps repeating like a bad refrain, or a bad taco (if there is such a thing).

First of all the numbers of migrants seeking asylum is not big enough to warrant spending 5 billion dollars, which will easily turn into 30 or 40 billion dollars. We are a big country populated by only about 350 million people. Even if 300,000 people wanted to come in, as they did in a recent year, that is a tiny percentage of our overall population and we still have plenty of room for more people. Building a wall is overkill. It is a solution requiring no imagination or knowledge or creative thought. It’s using a sledgehammer on a tack.

We have immigration laws, but we also have a bottle neck at the border which creates chaos. We can’t process more than a few immigrants at a time. No one qualifies for instant asylum. There are courts and paperwork and waiting periods. Why isn’t there a bigger processing center at our southern border if people need such detailed processing. Instead our southern border looks very much like our northern border with Canada, but it doesn’t function like it. We don’t have caravans of anxious people presenting themselves at our border with Canada because Canada has a stable government and a healthy economy. People who come from South American countries are also our neighbors, but we treat them like invaders. Why? White supremacy? Racism? Our inability to sort true asylum seekers from criminals, or predict who will be criminalized once they are here?

The problem with a wall is that, although it is built to keep people out, it can also be used to keep people in. The Great Wall of China is so ancient that we can romanticize it. It’s a wonder of the ancient world built so wide that there is a road along the top. I’m guessing lots of poor people were enslaved to build that wall. It was designed to keep out the Mongol hordes or something, which I think it didn’t even do, but now it delineates a northern border in China that you can see from space. It has most likely been used to keep people from leaving China for longer than it was ever used to keep people out of China. Castle walls were built to keep out invaders but there are many stories of people who died of starvation while waiting out a siege inside a walled city or town. Three words: the Berlin Wall. The very idea of a wall makes me claustrophobic, although not as much as it would have before there were airplanes, which laugh at walls.

Back to our old man, Trump, who knows that America needs to shore up Social Security. Here is a man so selfish that he wants to take health care away from people who need it because he supposedly believes that it should be turning over profits for private business. He is one businessman trying to make nice with other businessmen because he would like to be in their good graces, or something, I guess. Assigning motives to this man is not usually very difficult. You only have to look for what benefits he will get from a particular decision.

We all suspect he is putting the funds for the wall over the funds to save programs like the ACA that benefit the American people in order to wreak Republican vengeance on behalf of the GOP, who have screamed bloody murder about Obamacare ever since it was enacted (in a non-bipartisan way, because that was the only chance Obama had). We all also suspect he is doing this to stick it to Obama, because it rankles that he is admired by so many. But excuse me, doesn’t that just make we the people pawns in a ludicrous power game that one person seems to be playing all alone.

Politicians used to think twice before ending a program as successful as the Affordable Care Act, but Trump keeps taking it apart piece-by-piece and he is quite willing for us to see that we have no value in the grand scheme of things. This ability to focus like a laser on his own personal interests allows him to insist that we take 5 billion dollars that could be better spent to stop children and seniors from dropping off a humanitarian cliff and spend it to build a wall that will not solve our immigration problems.

As for Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, they have constituents to answer to. They know what Democrats want them to do. They are not authorized by the people who elect them to say yes to money for a wall. I am proud of the way they have supported their constituents, which I see as all Democrats, and that they are not talking about compromise. There are times when compromise is the correct path, but with a egomaniacal president and a rabid, off-the-rails Republican party this is definitely not the time to deal. This is the time to form a really effective wall of our own; a wall of no. We cannot afford to compromise with a party that has the very worst set of policy ideas and has been stubbornly clinging to those same terrible policies for decades. If we come up against a reformed Republican Party that will be open to change the Democrats can find their flexibility once again. As for me I think, just as the wall is not worth building, the Republican party is not worth saving.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – National Post

Lawlessness of Trump’s Immigration Actions

wall with immigrants MSNBC.com

Clearly immigration actions under Donald Trump were going to make most of us cringe. We began with the wall that Mexico was going to pay for, for which (surprise, surprise) they refused to pay. Then some prototypes appeared along a section of the border which we were supposed to be inspired by, but they all looked alike and none of them looked like the “beautiful wall” that Trump extolled while campaigning. Since then we the people have pretty much been threatened with government shutdowns to extort payment for Trump’s wall on and off since the inauguration.

Early on, we had that overnight immigration ban cancelling the arrival of refugees who had completed our complex vetting process and sending the Resistance to airports with signs. Bans were signed into law and declared unacceptable almost in the same week. I.C.E. began arresting undocumented immigrants or refugees as they left work, or even while they were working. They began profiling passengers on trains and buses and asking to see ID’s. Asking we the people to show our papers is so “gestapo”, not at all what we have usually done in our democracy, besides being a violation of our civil rights.

Then we had immigrant children separated from their parents while seeking asylum at the border with Mexico. We had the image burned onto our brains of children in cages on mats with thin metallic space blankets for cold comfort. Some were as young as two years old. We were shocked (although I can’t think why) to learn that no one saved the names and contact information that could reconnect children and parents, probably because such reunions were not expected to ever take place. It is even more startling to conclude that 45 was not expecting we the people to express any negative reactions to child separation. He seemed to believe that all Americans either hate immigrants, or that we all fall for his fear-mongering.

Now we have a couple thousand young people who came to America unaccompanied by a parent living in air-conditioned tent barracks in Texas, living regimented lives and looking forward to what (being deported after talking to a judge) (lifetime imprisonment)? What must daily life be like for those children? Who could possibly think that things could get worse?

Immigrant train New York Post

However things can always get worse and as soon as we saw the newest group of migrants walking from Honduras and Guatemala and saw the reactions of our President, we knew that there would be some kind of conflict at the border. He was never going to let those desperate travelers into America. He began the fear-mongering in earnest claiming ISIS fighters were hiding in the center of this chain of people, that people walking hundreds of miles with their children were actually gang members come to kill Americans in the streets, that they were “grabbers” who were not related to the children who seemed to be with them.

We heard his order to deploy American troops to the Mexican border, but we were told that because of posse comitatuslaws the troops could not use military tactics, because the states had the power in these matters. When some of the immigrants got angry and stormed the border, which was being barricaded by troops and border agents with riot gear, troops (because policing in any form cannot stand for insurrection or disobedience) had to escalate. So then we had the newest abomination of mothers and children running from tear gas lobbed into their midst by American soldiers. It is very fortunate that Tijuana has been forthcoming with housing and food for these people who came seeking a better life. But it doesn’t soften the fact that we tear-gassed babies.

tear gas at children WaPO

There are pockets of people throughout the US who are opposed to immigration. Some are convinced that immigrants are taking jobs that should be filled by Americans. Others object to making our benefits available to people who are granted asylum or refugee status; benefits that are supposed to only be temporary until immigrants are self-sufficient. Some refugees have been so victimized in their country of origin that they may require disability supports for life. We are not feeling very flush ourselves these days, and with government threatening to cut our benefits, we are in no mood to share, even sometimes with our fellow Americans.

But don’t you sometimes feel a bit helpless to effect any change in Trump’s immigration ban and sometimes feel some pity for these parents and children seeking a better life? Doesn’t it strike you as un-American to lob tear gas at unarmed families even if they are being a bit demanding about being allowed into the country. They did walk an awfully long way and I doubt they had daily news flashes about what was waiting at the end of their journey. Doesn’t it make you start to thinks that there have to be better ways than this to make sure people only enter America legally. If we had a bit more flexibility we might not have to charge them with a crime for entering at an unprotected spot on the border when they can’t get in at a legal entry point. The use of force often escalates into the use of more force until mayhem occurs and guilt and regrets follow.

Many experts on immigration claim that immigrants do not take American jobs; rather they fill positions that Americans do not wish to fill. It is perhaps true that some immigrants do take desirable jobs and some do not, but since we are supposedly at full employment and, since there are many jobs that are unfilled, I think we can spare a few jobs for people who find the quality of life in the nation they are willing to leave unbearable.

I heard people interviewed at the border saying that they came to America seeking work. The optics would certainly improve if we stopped treating immigrants at the Mexican border as enemy combatants who must be tracked until they can come before a judge to decide their status. Instead immigrants could be issued a work visa and paired with an employer who will agree to sponsor them. It is demoralizing to we the people to experience this constant cruelty and conflict at a border we have shared with Mexico for several centuries. It is equally difficult to believe that the only method for keeping radicalized immigrants out of America is to keep all immigrants out of America. This is so clearly connected to white supremacy and nationalism that it brings us right back to the goose bumps that signal the “gestapo” tactics we hoped to never see again.

Photo Credits: From Google Image Searches – MSNBC.com, New York Post, Washington Post

Lead Poisoning Not Limited to Flint, Michigan

syracuse lead paint The NewsHouse

Recent reporting shows that lead poisoning is not limited to the city of Flint, Michigan, although that is certainly a particularly egregious example because it was something that did not have to happen and it did not happen before 1978, when the use of lead paint became illegal; it happened in the 21st century. Lead appeared in the water in Flint when government made a decision to switch the source of water piped into that city without having any testing to examine the quality of water from that new source. They put the poorest people in their community at risk to save money and we all know how that has worked out. I’m guessing they spent more, and will spend even more money for many years, than they ever saved.

Now we are finding high levels of lead in the blood streams of young children who live in public housing in older American cities where there is housing built before 1978. Assumptions were made that Housing authorities had remediated the lead paint in most city housing and therefore testing for flaking, peeling lead paint, or lead paint dust was only being done in properties where problems had appeared fairly recently.

After lead poisoning was found in Flint, children’s blood lead levels began to be taken more seriously in other cities. There is no legal level for lead in the blood. Even small amounts can affect brain development in toddlers and young children. If the paint chips are lying around children often enjoy crunching on them as they have a sweet flavor. I have a vague memory of actually ingesting such a chip sometime in my childhood. When a young girl in NYC was found to have blood lead levels that were much higher than the danger level of 5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) testing on the two apartments (mother and grandmother) where she spent the most time (public housing apartments) tested high with a common test for lead paint. However, the city typically uses a different test which often gives false negatives, because remediation is costly and they like the results of their less reliable test better.

After Flint the federal government got stricter about testing for lead paint and NYC has complied under Mayor Da Blasio. “Once inspections for lead paint were resumed it was found in 80% of the 8,300 apartments tested. A new round of visual checks found peeling paint in 92%. If paint is peeling there is most likely lead present in the paint. For years the city had ignored the blood tests of children with high lead content. Had they paid attention these children would have served as a great early warning that the problem had not been remediated effectively.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/18/nyregion/nycha-lead-paint.html

Syracuse, NY, with a high level of poverty has a similar unaddressed lead problem in public housing. Gabriela Knutson, writing in a publication at SU called Off Campus says,

“But what one doesn’t see on this morning is the way the area is one of the highest in the city of Syracuse for high blood lead levels in children. In the area surrounding Delaware Elementary School, as well as the areas to the west of it, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of children have a blood lead level higher than 5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL).

This number is the standard created by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) for the highest level of blood there can be in a child’s body before causing damage. In the City of Syracuse, an average of 11 percent of children exceed that number. Syracuse.com reports that 600 children were poisoned by lead paint in 2017.”

You can find almost the same number in any older rust belt city in America including Buffalo and Rochester, also in New York State.

https://www.thenewshouse.com/off-campus/child-lead-paint-poisoning-in-syracuses-impoverished-neighborhoods/

Conclusions:

Besides this very serious problem of peeling and flaking lead paint, public housing is often in dire condition and landlords are often able to show that fixing problems like rat infestations and insect infestations and decaying structural elements would be prohibitively expensive (cut into their profits) and would also just reoccur because of the problems poverty causes the tenants of these properties. Standards are lowered. Year after year properties in decline are rented for far too high a monthly rent, subsidized by all of us, and only problems that cannot be covered up by cheap, quick fixes are addressed. Often even the more in-depth projects do not renovate the property as a whole, but only the most unacceptable aspects of the property.

These problems cost all of us lots of money in terms of children who are left with learning disabilities and who must be given support for the rest of their lives and in terms of the mental toll living in substandard conditions takes on parents and children, a toll which weighs down an entire city. If the Democrats we send to Washington don’t attempt to fix this I doubt that anyone will. It is a maze and deciding who bears the financial responsibility for projects that end substandard housing subsidized by HUD once and for all is problematic when some housing paid for publicly is owned privately. Even when the housing is publicly owned deciding who pays for what, what must be torn down and replaced, what can be brought up to code, and then how we will keep it all in good repair is impossible unless we also address the poverty that will most likely recreate the conditions that plague public housing.

Money, of course, is at the root of all the problems of cities – the flight of the middle class to the suburbs, the flight of industry, the low tax base. We can’t just throw money at the poorest sectors of our cities either. Solid planning must create a plan that is realistic and doable. Such designs also cost money. As a priority though, it seems we need to focus on lead paint and lead poisoning in public housing once again and keep that focus until the problem is really solved, not swept under many a government carpet in many a cash-strapped city.

More sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/12/nyregion/new-york-today-understanding-the-risks-of-lead-paint.html

https://www.consumerreports.org/lead/lead-paint-still-poses-a-safety-risk/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/millions-of-older-homes-still-have-lead-paint-on-the-walls-make-sure-yours-is-safe/2016/10/31/4e8f7f04-8437-11e6-92c2-14b64f3d453f_story.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/14/nyregion/nycha-settlement-court-ruling.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/26/nyregion/inside-public-housing-fix.html

https://www.syracuse.com/politics/index.ssf/2018/10/what_will_dana_balter_john_katko_do_about_lead_poisoning_in_syracuse_children.html

https://www.syracuse.com/health/index.ssf/2016/06/lead.html

 

Onerous Fundraising Duties

Cubicles - Vox

The onerous fundraising duties faced by our people in Congress are a real factor in limiting the amount of policy work they can accomplish and the quality of the legislation that comes out of committees. While I am opposed to the floods of special interest money unleashed by the Citizens United v FEC decision that turned our elections into money wars, elections always have been expensive. But the term in the House for elected Representatives is only two years and then they must run again. This makes it necessary to constantly build the war chest for the next election. Because of this money merry-go-round we are not getting full value in terms of thoughtful legislation from our Representatives or even our Senators (who serve for six years).

I have been following the bills and House Resolutions that move through the House of Representatives daily when the House is in session and there is so much that is trivial in this daily work product. It is sometimes difficult to separate the trivial from the more consequential because all votes are given the same sort of weight. Clearly a bill to name a post office takes less time to execute than a budget matter or a bill like the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (which took less time than usual because the opposition party had no power in the 115thCongress). Perhaps if our representatives in both houses of Congress were relieved of some fundraising duties they would have time to pass bills that actually address the needs of the American people.

The people who represent us in Congress have staff people and interns who probably send out all those emails and letters to constituents that arrive daily in our mailboxes, both digital and real. Even so, they have to oversee their reelection campaigns, they have to call big donors and fundraising is time-consuming and often requires a personal touch in terms of events that must be attended and speeches that must be made and hands that must be shaken. Obviously we cannot relieve members of Congress of all of these more hands-on duties. However the Democratic Party can try to find ways to trim the amount of time spent on fundraising by those who are serving in Congress and people who are not in office but are party leaders can take on more of the fundraising. It’s a trade-off. If you want more in terms of quality legislation or policy then some of the tedious repetitive chores must be taken over by others or terms of House Representatives must be for longer than two years (hard to do because it calls for a Constitutional amendment).

John Oliver does a great job of telling us the details of Congressional fundraising although his analogies are often hair-raisingly “blue” (he is on HBO, nothing is forbidden).

https://youtu.be/Ylomy1Aw9Hk

https://www.newsweek.com/john-oliver-last-week-tonight-congressional-fundraising-443675

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Vox

 

Democrat’s First Priority

brainstorm-Merriam-Webster

I have been thinking about what item should be the Democrat’s first priority. I would like to see Democrats focus on problems of poverty, both urban and rural. I would like to see America deal with substandard housing, substandard pay, food deserts, opportunity deserts, IT deserts, lack of supports for workers with children, addiction, and with making sure that we find a way to provide good health care for everyone. I also think a case by case reappraisal of the needs of people serving long sentences in jail for fairly minor crimes needs to result in freedom if sentences are unfair, if sentences are the result of poverty, or if sentences seem racially biased. These issues are all related.

We need to tackle infrastructure but we don’t need to make that our first priority. We can put up with a maintenance program for now. We hardly know what our infrastructure needs will be in the not-so-distant-future. But our cities and towns are in need of our immediate attentions. It would be beneficial also to put a group to work deciding and publicizing how the Democrats want to tackle climate change if they get voters to back them in 2020.

We have a big problem and our problem is money. Corporations once lived in our communities with us and they contributed to the tax base and the quality of life. We can no longer rely on absent corporations to fill these economic needs. Corporations must now be bribed to locate in our cities with tax breaks and PILOTS. We have come to count on groups like Catholic Charities and other religious charities to take care of people with disabilities and people who are poor and/or homeless.

These corporate folks just don’t seem to understand that the expenditures they made on our cities and towns were the very things that made America look so good in those old days they keep yearning for, and, further, that investing in our cities and towns once again would probably produce similar results. I don’t understand why these leaders aren’t challenged to bring their innovative minds, their education, their intelligence to bear on finding ways to get America ticking again instead of relying on one old con man to do it for them.

Republicans just cut the tax base all over the United States in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which gave huge cuts to businesses that we need to look to for assistance with the health of the American economy. The GOP gave these enormous tax cuts to the very people who have been distancing themselves from America, who have taken their profits away to tax shelters. There is no money to find new ways to tackle poverty. Everyone is pinching pennies. The states cannot invest in their citizens without funds. The cities and local government are often in even worse shape. We also have enormous national expenditures on military matters and security matters, although we are not actually on a war-time footing.

Fiscal Year 2019 Budget is pretty much a done deal. I hope the House Dems will study our federal budget very carefully along with our tax structures and find some ways to bring some balance back to the distribution of tax receipts and expenditures. Since it will be difficult to get anything through the Senate it would be a good year to knuckle down and get innovative about finding ways to get more tax dollars to local governments.

It would be a good year for designing new poverty programs to replace those that were designed for another decade when cultural realities were slightly different than they are now. Having a set of bills based on really enticing ideas for tackling urban and rural problems would be great for reelection campaigns in 2020. Showing ways that lifting up some of us would lift up all of us would be the gravy on the mashed potatoes. (Sorry it’s Thanksgiving.) I am thankful for the 2018 election results, for all the hard work of the candidates and their supporters, and for the dedication of those at the core of the Resistance. In fact our new people in Congress have local roots and could ask for the participation of the passionate Americans in the Resistance movement in generating ideas.

I know we have a lot of issues and they all seem like priorities and Dems will have to stay tuned in and react immediately to threats against immigrants, the press, and anyone who is under attack by this administration. But some good old-fashioned research, combing the practices that actually have been tried in small towns or in cities and then making lists of approaches that have worked would be time well spent. Brainstorming sessions around stubborn problems areas with someone recording the mix of ideas that emerge, both good and bad, might produce some out-of-the-box approaches.

Thinking what we can give to schools and neighborhoods instead of how we can keep them under control could offer ways to change negative attitudes, adopted for self-protection, into the curiosity and interest that young people usually exhibit when they are learning things they want to know. Let’s lavish some care on people who have been neglected, overcharged and underpaid.

Paul Krugman talked about this in today’s (11/20/2018) NYT about the urban/rural divide offers this caveat:

“We can and should do a lot to improve the lives of Americans in lagging regions. We can guarantee access to health care and raise their incomes with wage subsidies and other policies (in fact, the earned-income tax credit, which helps low-wage workers, already disproportionally benefits workers in low-income states).

But restoring these regions’ dynamism is much harder, because it means swimming against a powerful economic tide.

And the sense of being left behind can make people angry even if their material needs are taken care of.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/19/opinion/economy-trump-red-blue-states.html

I’m sure that everyone has a priority list for the new Democrats in the House and I, for one, would like to oust a bad leader first of all. However we are assured that tossing out the “tosser” (Harry Potter reference) is practically an impossibility (too bad we didn’t win the Senate too) (too bad voters sent both Ted Cruz and Marcia Blackburn to harass us). Let’s hear your lists now – we have until January to solidify our priority lists. But I think I am right on this one so you will have to put forth really good arguments.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search, Merriam-Webster

A view form the cheap seats.

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.