Conservatives and the Social Safety Net

From a Google Image Search – The Atlantic

Conservatives and the Social Safety Net

Conservatives adamantly oppose government programs because they say they believe that everything can be done better by the private sector, by capitalists, than can be achieved through any government program. (Well think about it for a minute, which works better, the public option in the ACA or the private prisons for criminals and immigrants?) Further, these Conservatives argue, large public programs that help people who are disabled, who are unemployed, who are poor, who are children, who are sick, and who are old are socialist programs and Americans are not socialists.

Our forefathers were farmers and entrepreneurs, in other words, capitalists, but they did not mandate any particular economic system for our young nation, and since socialism and communism both came out of Europe in the 1900’s, they probably didn’t even imagine that such an economic idea might exist one day. In the 30’s there was a pretty prominent movement of socialists in America, especially when the stock market crashed and the nation was slogging through a Great Depression. Many of our social safety net programs originate from those days of bread lines. 

In the 1950’s communism had a moment of philosophical consideration by some Americans but was brutally stomped out by McCarthyism. Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R) (WI) mowed down anyone who had ever even whispered to a communist, or at least he tried. People were black-listed and lost their jobs often for no reason except McCarthy’s say-so. Communism certainly did not fare well in the USSR and proved to be as corruptible as any government/economy. Interest in communism waned in America. Conservatives insist that capitalism is the only economic model that matches with democracy. Here’s a quote from The American Conservative offered up on June, 6, 2019, “Socialism will Always Destroy Democracy”. (Although it seems to me that Conservatism is doing a pretty good job of that these days.)

By definition (Merriam Webster) “Socialism definition is – any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”

Strictly speaking none of the benefit programs produce anything or distribute any goods. They involve budget items that describe how we the people wish to spend our money. In a time, like now, of great income inequality, where we the people are a bit short of money because recent laws have favored the wealthy, and have allowed them to own an inordinate proportion of our nation’s wealth, these same wealthy Americans are telling us that they do not want to spend their money on a safety net. They also let us know that they have not left us enough money and that we cannot afford to spend our money that way either.

But the story they always tell us, about the mismatch between democracy and social programs that they label as socialism is not borne out in the real world. Canada is a thriving democracy with a very sound social safety net. There are many such nations around the world.

Conservatives still tell us these messages constantly. Capitalism rules. We don’t have enough money to offer benefits.

Of course, Conservatives go beyond this. They tell us that using our money to lift up the less fortunate, or any of us in a moment of misfortune is harmful to us and to society as a whole. It destroys initiative (hard to prove) and poor, sick, old, disabled people or people being discriminated against would rise higher, fight harder without “free” money. However, getting rid of the social safety net might also be a good way to bring back plagues, which were common before there were humanitarian programs.

Conservatives convince people who need to benefit from these programs that illegal (undocumented) immigrants are collecting the benefits that citizens’ taxes have paid for, and there does seem to be some truth to that, but numbers are not huge and cutting off benefits to “the undeserving” seems to mean cutting off benefits to everyone.  Conservatives convince people of the unfairness of it all, they label it socialism and people end up voting against their own best interests.

Conservatives want to stay in the Industrial Age although the factories they long for have fled or switched to robotics. They want to stick to fossil fuels. It is all about money and profits. To do this against all evidence that industry has moved on to nations with cheaper labor and lots of laborers, and that burning fossil fuels is destroying a planet we don’t know how to escape from, means that holding on to power is essential. Without power the Conservative dream topples and the gravy train travels on more than just one track. I doubt we’ll see our money come back to us anytime soon.

Conservatives may be able to hold on to the 50’s or whatever was their favorite age, but for the rest of us we feel the end of the Industrial Age in our everyday lives, we are not all prepared to participate in the Tech Age, and that leaves a lot of us in a sort of economic limbo that can be quite scary. This is no time to take away the social safety net. And this is certainly no time to take it away because of a label. The social safety net is about people and it functions well in many democracies. At the very least Conservatives need to come up with something better than the same old arguments.

Foreign Policy and the 2020 Election

Biden in Munich - CBS

Will we look for a President in 2020 with foreign policy roots close to the post WWII approach? Will we stay with Trump’s approach of isolationism and of undoing all the post-war organizations and alliances? Or will we look for a totally new approach to foreign policy?

On Tuesday, 2.19.19, when Mike Pence, the American VP said he was speaking at the Munich Security Conference on behalf of Donald Trump, the President of the United States of America, he waited for applause from the gathered world leaders after he passed on the greeting that Donald Trump had sent to his peers. There was only silence.

Also on Tuesday, 2.19.19, Joe Biden was interviewed live at the same Munich meeting. He is something that Trump is not. He’s nice; not soft-nice, but calm and nonconfrontational, unless confrontation is called for. What would happen if a President Biden was introduced at a Munich meeting? First of all, he would most likely be present at the meeting. Would there be applause? There was plenty of applause. Perhaps we should apply this test to each of the many candidates for President running as Democrats. What will their foreign policy be? How will they be received by our allies and our closely-held enemies?

When it comes to Joe Biden, I believe that we would find him continuing the post-World War II alliances and working with Europe to ensure peace; at least peace in Europe. I am not backing Joe Biden. He isn’t even running yet. But he could be expected to follow traditional guidelines for foreign policy. These policies are older than Biden and he knows the policies and our allies well.

After World War II Europe became ground zero for a tug of war between Russia and America, between capitalism/democracy and communism. For the past 70 years it seemed that America and the other world proponents of capitalism and democracy were winning nations over to these ideologies. We did not have a new war, but neither did we have peace. We ended up in a ‘Cold War’, that apparently did not end when the Iron Curtain parted.

As early as 1945 Churchill warned us that after WWII our temporary and very valuable ally, Russia, had turned its back on Western Europe already, taking most of Central and Eastern Europe with it. America and Russia conducted opposing campaigns to win new recruits to either communism or democracy. While the US offered economic prosperity and military security, Russia offered weapons and oil. For a while it seemed we were winning but now, not so much.

The USSR died a mostly economic death and split back into the satellite nations it had sucked up after World War II. These newly released nations had been split along unnatural geographic lines that divided the cultural groups which had learned to live peacefully within old national boundaries. Once released from Russian domination old hostilities that had festered since WW II, and while behind the Iron Curtain, reared their ugly heads and we had things like what happened with Croatia and Bosnia. This release of pent up hostilities was similar to what we saw in Iraq.

Our own President seems to back authoritarian states in Europe (while he tries to topple them in South America), and he smiles on Putin in Russia and makes us very nervous. There is also a huge backlash against capitalism in America on the left which complicates the outcome of the democratic/communist war for ascendancy even more. It looks like the future of the world may be authoritarian. Some leaders seem to want to bring back the monarchy. Others back a very loosely defined socialism.

There are many factors which have contributed to this decline in democracy and capitalism. With the more aggressive ideology of a newly empowered Putin who wishes to create a new Russia that looks a lot like the old USSR, with the arrival of the Great Recession which hit Europe rather hard, with the angers of people from austerity economies, the disruptions of terrorism, the waves of immigration as people escape cruel war in Syria, and the military moves by Russia in Georgia and the Ukraine, ‘strong men’ have begun to look attractive as chaos seems imminent. Authoritarianism, as we have seen, is on the rise. Will these new authoritarian states align with Russia or with the United States? Given that even president Trump seems to be more interested in aligning with Russia than any past President, the order imposed on the world after WWII, which never took into account the rise of the USSR, could easily dissolve.

Many have been critical of America’s aggressive moves to turn Europe towards capitalism and democracy. They have felt that our control in Europe has been antithetical to the values of a democracy and that we have often had selfish goals, as opposed to more altruistic ones. In fact, some even express horror and grief at mismoves we have made in our supposed diplomacy, although perhaps our worst moves have not occurred in Europe. Perhaps we did go off the rails a bit, but wanting a future that is democratic – is this still a goal people have? Capitalism, on the other hand, has become so rapacious that it will be overthrown if capitalists continue to refuse regulation. Although democracy is in more trouble at the moment, younger people are poised to exert pressures that may shift the target to capitalists.

What will happen in the world if we back off the agreements reached at the end of WWII? Is the UN obsolete? Is it weak and ineffective or secretly plotting a new world order? Which thing is true? Are we done with NATO? Should we loosen the bonds made after Hitler almost turned Europe into a white supremacist dictatorship? What will happen to the 70 years of “relative” peace our leaders forged after WW II? Were these protections essentially training wheels and the world is now ready to take them off? With “illiberal democracies” multiplying like flies this hardly seems like the moment to pull US bases out of Europe and make nice with Putin in Russia.

Will we look for a President in 2020 with foreign policy roots close to the post WWII approach, will we stay with Trump’s approach of isolationism and of undoing all the post war organizations and alliances, or will we look for a totally new approach to foreign policy? If so, what will it be? I want to hear each of the Democratic candidates on this topic. Should one person be able to set America’s foreign policy? We used to have a strong Department of State and a Congress that weighed in (sometimes too much so). How will foreign policy be handled in the future? Will we elect a person who will be applauded in Munich? If we don’t want an authoritarian future how must we proceed?

Photo Credits: From a Google Image Search – CBS

 

Democracy Attacked from Within and Without

Clearly our Democracy is under attack from within. As I said in a previous article, “Since the election of Donald Trump many Americans are even more worried about the demise of our Democracy.”

However, Democracy is not only under threat from within; it is in even more danger from forces outside our boundaries. The threats are so many and so varied at this particular moment in time that we are tempted to ask, can Democracy survive? Many even argue that it is a form of government that is nearing obsolescence because it is falling prey to weaknesses that Democracy organically carries within it. Apparently many have warned, from the ancient Greeks and Romans to our Forefathers that Democracy could fall prey to the rich and powerful and is prone to allow for the rise of a dictator, possibilities that they warned us would have to be constantly guarded against.

As we near the 250th year of our survival as a Democracy many Americans feel that we live in a Democracy in name only; that our idealistic experiment in government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” has been directed off the main track and detoured on to a side rail where it has been gussied up and occupied by wealthy Americans who allow the people to believe they still have a say in their own governance, but who are actually so inconsequential as to constitute a “pesky” populace that must be occasionally addressed only because they outnumber the “great men” by millions.

America’s younger citizens, such as millennials and Gen-Xers, etc. argue that our Democracy is so corrupt that it may be impossible to restore it to anything approaching integrity and they were happy to back a “democratic socialist” in the last election, He was a person they believed possessed enough personal integrity to put our government back on a track that would level the playing field between wealthy and not so wealthy, at least to some degree. They did not so much care if that government resembled the Republic described in our founding documents, only that whatever form our government took it remained the government of “common” man and “great” man alike. I’m thinking many of us who are not in these generational groups hoped to hear a few more concrete details about what form of government might actually accomplish these goals.

No matter, these movements show that the very fundamental ideology of Democracy is being challenged as the actual practice of democracy becomes less and less like the original ideological idea of democracy that gave it a powerful sway over people’s minds since the American and French revolutions.

Part of this challenge exists, perhaps, because authoritarian states are capturing more and more of our attention right now in this improbable moment when we thought we would be conquering Space, but are instead wandering backward through old Arabic dynasties so used to the rule of “strong” men that they are thrown into chaos at the loss of them and they do not know where to turn but are at the mercy of new strong men, however cruel. Until Arabic nations and African nations settle down and treat, by belief or nation, with each other and form governments and economies that allow them to reside comfortably with other nations in the world as it exists right now the chaos will continue to spill out everywhere.

In fact Democracy seems in retreat and under attack everywhere. It seems that we are almost to a point where someone will be able to say “you are surrounded, put your hands up, your guns down and surrender”. Russia is run by a man who believes that he is a “strong” man. North Korea is run by a man who believes that he is a “strong” man. China has a seemingly benign but very authoritarian leader. We have Duterte in the Philippines. We have ISIS who uses terror to telegraph strength. We have Assad, the Taliban, and al qaeda and Boko Haram and plenty of thugs and drug lords, all believing they are “strong” men. And now we have one of these “strong” men in the very heart of our Democracy.

I always pictured that if we had to fight for our government it would be in some clearly delineated, black and white situation like World War II. But this is not that kind of fight, and it is battle that could conceivably be engaged on so many fronts, and that our forces would be so divided, that winning might be impossible. The potential battles are subtle. Is Putin a big enough threat that we must be incredibly alert and gird ourselves to do some kind of battle or is he just toying with us? How do you combat someone like Duterte without resorting to the never effective regime change?

How do we create a message that turns ISIS into a blowhard false prophet whose strength leaves it like the air from a balloon? How do we help large swaths of Africa become positive partners on a continent that supports itself and its people and joins the world community as an equal in fighting the challenges to come as world population increases? Perhaps the climate in Africa offers too great a challenge to prosperity. Perhaps climate change will bring Africa a more moderate climate which will change its fate. Many South American nations are not thriving, also possibly due to challenges of climate and geography.

Europe and North America seem relatively small places when you enumerate the “strong” man nations and the chaotic nations, and the non-thriving nations that are all around them. Will our Democracy survive this moment when it is challenged from within and without and when many question whether a Democracy is a government for the long haul, or a short term pipe dream of a few educated revolutionaries? As someone who does not see a better plan at the moment than a Democracy for running a tolerable and tolerant society, I feel as beleaguered at this moment as the America I love seems to be, and just as helpless to offer good solutions, although I think dealing with the insurrection in our own nation would be a start.

 

It’s About Democracy

Protesters are not in the “resistance” because they are sore losers as some would have it. And contrary to the man in the oval office they are not being paid to resist. This is about democracy. Activists are Americans who feel that our Democracy is threatened. It has been under attack by Conservatives and “Tea Party” members for decades. But these groups did not stop respecting the two party system and implementing their plot to undermine checks and balances until Obama took office. Now it seems that there are no moderates left in the Republican Party to reach compromises with on increasingly disparate policies.

Since the election of Donald Trump many Americans are even more worried about the demise of our Democracy. Judging from his recent firing of James Comey, head of the FBI, who has been conducting a probe into Russian involvement in the 2016 elections and possible collusion by members of Trump’s campaign staff, our brains are in chemical danger mode. Given this newest inexplicable action our fears seem validated.

There are 30 states with partially Republican governments and 23 with governments dominated by Republicans. If you think this is because the country has just naturally moved to the right then you are naïve. This is no “organic” politics. It is the “GMO” version of politics. It has been meddled with. Certain moneyed Republicans, no longer swimming in the exciting pool of burgeoning American business, are unhappy and bored. Our economy went off on a world tour. These people are social. They meet. They form organizations. They talk to each other. They decided that they would figure out how America went off the rails and lost its place as leaders in business and innovation. They believed that a nation with a quiet economy could not maintain its primacy on the world stage. They have a lot of money to spend.

These Conservatives decided what factors were to blame for our “slippage.”

  • One factor was too much regulation of banks, investments, the stock market, and all sources of investment dollars. So therefore, DEREGULATION is necessary.
  • They decided that Democrats and others had created a meme that humans were causing climate change and putting too much CO2 into the atmosphere causing global warming and that this was not true. They hired their own scientists who did real scientific explorations but they formed their conclusions first and chose their experiments to confirm their own conclusions. This, they felt, gave them permission to deny climate change and they vowed to overturn environmental protection rules and to, in fact, get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • They decided that the scope of our current government was a huge factor in pushing commerce away from America. The government was taking on powers that were not expressly given in the original text of our Constitution. They decided that the states needed more autonomy to conduct their own business and make their own rules.
  • They chafed under what they felt was an enormous bureaucracy. They felt their taxes were too high and they resented paying for people who were not working (whether they were able to work or not). They believed the way of the world is “no work, no eat.” They believed that any American could succeed like they did if they had the proper attitude. So, although they had begun offering benefits to workers in lieu of higher salaries, these wealthy businessmen were not happy that the government offered such benefits (and more) to people who didn’t work in their factories. They wanted smaller government to lower taxes and to stop offering benefits to the undeserving (and all are undeserving).
  • Conservatives blamed unions for being greedy and making wages and benefits so high that businesses looked elsewhere for cheap labor. So in the states where Republicans have gained power they work to bust the unions, mainly with “right to work” laws which sound good, but these laws say that if you do not want to join a union then you do not have to pay dues. That seems fair, but it robs the unions of any power they have to bargain with management. It undercuts workers and takes away the only tools workers have to stop greedy or punitive employers.

And so America’s millionaires and billionaires got organized. They connected with a loose network of Conservative clubs, think tanks, and SuperPacs and they formed a web of powerful movers and shakers (emperors and empresses of business) and they set out to reverse everything that they felt stood in the way of economic growth in the 20th century. They came up with “talking points”, they signed pledges, they began to move in lockstep to recreate the days before regulation and before labor unions. A group called Muckety (still on the internet) published this charts showing the Conservative Web organizations which receive grant monies from the Koch Brothers.

 

The strategies that rich and powerful Republicans (Conservatives) (billionaires) came up with have been very successful. We know what the strategies are:

  • Drawing gerrymandered districts,
  • Making corporation people,
  • Attacking women to get the men to get their women back under their control (get rid of contraception and abortion),
  • Suppressing the vote,
  • Winning at the state and local level,
  • Declawing unions,
  • Denying climate change,
  • Deregulating business,
  • Using ALEC to write legislation the rich and powerful favor and, since you have already packed the state government the legislation will become law,
  • Setting up a network of communications including Talk Radio and the 24/7 propaganda mill of FOX News which skewed conservative all the time.

When Obama got elected the plans to stage a bloodless coup of our Democracy by the “oligarchs” had to go on hold and then Obama won a second term and by then Republicans and friends were champing at the bit. During their years “in exile” they made a lot of progress. They knew exactly what buttons to push to make their listeners want to be with the Conservatives.

  • They cast doubt on Obama’s bona fides, on his strength, and on his policies (like “Obamacare”).
  • They played up the eventual demise of “white” America
  • They told folks that illegal immigrants were stealing their jobs and their tax dollars and that they were getting benefits intended for citizens only.

They did not consider themselves neo Nazi’s or members of an alt-right movement, but they prepared the way for these groups by making them seem less extreme and by making a connection between white supremacy and fears that white people were losing control of America.

The Republicans and their organizations expected one of the “true believers” to win in 2016. They had so thoroughly damaged Hillary Clinton that, had things gone as expected, they felt they had done their homework well and they would win. I imagine that both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders took the party and their conservative supporters by surprise. Donald’s message which bordered on white supremacism matched well with the “brainwashing” accomplished by conservative news and talking points.

Perhaps the fact that Trump is mentally ill made him even more attractive and he spoke like a strong man. Well he has indeed turned out to be sort of caricature of a strong man, I guess, albeit one who had a taste for murderous dictators, which seems a bit frightening to the people who love democracy. This highly unpredictable man (or all too predictable man) has filled his cabinet positions and other posts close to him with billionaires and millionaires and a few “gestapo” types, who look like they will help the conservatives achieve their ends of making their old talking points the law of the land. How do you stop people who have “more money than God”?

Can the Conservatives recreate the America they think they can reanimate? Can history repeat itself and the Industrial Age rise again but with a more compliant and cheaper labor force? I believe they will be terribly disappointed. I believe that twisted methodologies produce twisted results. I think the future is inexorable and that what we find there will be anything but an exact copy of the past.

I ran across a new article this week which shows what goals the Conservatives have for the near future.

http://billmoyers.com/story/secretive-foundations-blueprint-spreading-right-wing-ideology/#.WRWmuLXaHkQ.email

“New investigations by Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy analyze hacked internal documents, which reveal that much like the Koch network, the Bradley Foundation has launched a national strategy to help conservatives control the branches of state governments and alter state policy to lower taxes, shrink government and attack labor unions.”

“Now the foundation is focusing on five states it views as having a strong conservative infrastructure, thus making them ripe for rightward change. The foundation is working to expand conservative power in Colorado, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin by funding established networks of right-wing organizations that promote conservatism and help far-right candidates win elections. It’s a long-term strategy that “can take decades,” according to the longtime CEO of the foundation, Rick Graber, who recently stepped down from his post.”

”With $845 million in assets at the end of 2015, the Bradley Foundation rivals the several Koch family foundations in size and in grants disbursed. That year, the Bradley Foundation gave out nearly $49 million in gifts and grants, while four Koch foundations and the nonprofit Charles Koch Institute donated close to $58 million. Both families give to many of the same national conservative organizations, including the corporate bill mill the American Legislative Exchange Council and right-wing think tanks the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, as well as to several additional think tanks that the Kochs founded such as the libertarian Cato Institute and the George Mason University-based Mercatus Center. From 2011 to 2015, the Bradley Foundation has given $550,000 to the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the sister group of the brothers’ most well-known political nonprofit, Americans for Prosperity”

There is much more and well worth following the link. Perhaps references like this will help you believe that I am not making this up. So I say “good luck us” and I contend that resistance is necessary to keep our democracy “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” I hate to see the world march forward without the ideals American has always represented intact, rather than with some kind of ersatz America. I think we run the risk, right this very minute, of letting our Democracy be perverted into some form of government which will curtail the freedoms of “we the people”. I never thought we would have to fight to keep America’s democracy/republic strong. I certainly never thought the fight would be American against American. Right now it looks like the wrong side is winning.