Low Tax is Not What We Need

Low tax never made anyone’s life good.

Consider India. Millions of Indians pay no tax at all, and they are so miserable that suicide is at a record high. In the US, low tax means nothing to you if you can’t pay for your cancer treatment until you go bankrupt. We already have taxes that are too low.

Taxes too low!? How is that possible?

It’s very simple. The cost of a good life is not measured by how low taxes are. We forget that only the rich can afford high quality with low tax, because they can buy anything they want. That’s why they always want to cut their own taxes.

What we want is the best quality of life, and that’s very different from mere low taxes. Let’s attempt to determine what gives us high quality of life. Here’s what I think.

First, high quality of life isn’t very dramatic. The elements of a good life are pretty basic: clean air, clean water, safe housing, healthy food, competent medical care, and a few more. All of these will cost much more if they aren’t paid for with taxes.

We don’t really need public transit, right? But if we have nothing but private cars a simple trip downtown in any US city will cost a fortune, the trip will take much longer, and parking will be a bear. Good public transit is much better, and far cheaper. Scope it out yourself, beginning with car cost, insurance, and maintenance. Cars are damned expensive.

But perhaps medical care is the easiest element to illustrate why low tax can mean high cost.

It’s not a contradiction at all. As literally every modern nation except ours knows, the cost of national medical care is about half the cost of individually purchased healthcare.

Did that come through? We pay twice as much.

Look at it from the other end. Let’s say a new nation wanted to have health care for everyone. They might decide that $2,000 a year for every person is enough. That would work fine if everybody had the same income, because everyone would have the same advantages. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same income. Capitalists earn a lot, and the poor don’t earn enough to buy health care.

If health risks for the poor are not shared, any serious disease will easily kill them, which will cost everyone more. Repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act would cause 44,000 additional deaths each year. All of us eventually pay for these unnecessary events.

Back to our new nation. What happens if health care is paid for with private insurance? The cost for health care would be $2,000 plus the extra cost the insurance companies would add. Don’t forget that insurance premiums provide no health care at all, and capitalism demands that profit be maximized for the benefit of the owners.

In sum, we pay a lot of money to insurance companies that provide no health care at all, yet absorb a large part of the money spent on health care. And the poor are often left to die because they can’t afford the insurance. We have this gross malfunction even though we spend twice the money that countries with national health care pay.

There are other reasons we spend so much on health care. First, training for health care professionals is very expensive, which leaves new doctors with huge debt they must discharge through high earnings. In other countries the government pays for their training, and they don’t have to earn a huge salary just to get by. Second, the cost of medications is determined by capitalists, who, as we have seen, have no compunction about pure greed. They apparently do not understand that they are not making fly swatters, that health care is a sacred duty. Third, charges for care often have little relationship to the quality of care because they are controlled by profit-maximizing capitalists. In countries where the government manages all the elements of health care, all costs are kept at a fair and consistent level. Providers are paid fairly and everyone gets all the care they need, paid for with taxes, because that’s the most efficient and fairest way.

In virtually the same way, all the other elements of good living—clean air and water, healthy food, safe housing, and so on—are most efficiently paid for with tax revenue and/or managed by the government. Everyone benefits and the cost to individuals is much lower. Imagine having to pay for clean water by yourself—think Flint—with corporations allowed to dump whatever they wanted to into the water supply. Imagine your house wired by some dodo unclear on the concept of electrical codes.

But, some say, government just can’t do anything right. That is nonsense. Government services, from federal to local, are full of programs that are well managed and efficiently priced.

It’s not low taxes we need, it’s the best services, and that has very little to do with low taxes. Low tax virtually guarantees higher cost.

The Lingering Death of the Carbon Age

Donald Trump’s presidency, custom built for the benefit of the very rich, is not a new fashion. Every few years the power shifts in an unsteady balance between those motivated by the welfare of the people, as Lincoln’s memorable Gettysburg address states, and those who think money itself is the highest order because they have a lot of it.

What is new is the failure of the latter to understand that the larger world has changed. But it has, a lot. Republicans show every sign of resisting or ignoring the increasingly obvious sea change from from carbon captured millions of years ago in the age of dinosaurs, to energy from the sun that surrounds us every moment and will not be exhausted. Energy from sunshine in the form of electricity and heat, wind-derived electricity, ocean wave-generated energy, natural purification powered by the sun, from tides, and many other sources, and continually improved by the ingenious devices of people everywhere.

This change is happening no matter who doesn’t want it or how rich they are. Several nations have either achieved or are about to achieve complete energy derivation from the sun, and independence from all fossil-based fuels. These are nations where government isn’t so interested in making a few people very rich, and are permanently focussed on the welfare of all their people.

The very rich deniers, in fact, risk the very lives of their own descendants—and ours—because the Carbon Age has died, and they waste large sums of money that should be spent on the future, not on dinosaurs.

Some of you have probably seen the bones of the colossal dinosaur in New York’s Museum of Natural History. It’s so big that its tail extends out of the huge main hall and into a hallway. It is said that the tail is so far away from its tiny brain that there needs to be a sort of second brain to operate the tail.

What has happened is that the Carbon Age dinosaur has died, but the little tail-brain of carbon investors doesn’t know it. Those who do are moving on, building new societies not built around oil and coal.

Here’s another way of looking at it. We’ve all seen the guy in the cab at the rear of the fire department’s “hook and ladder”. He steers the rear wheels. He turns the rear wheels first in the “wrong” direction, then the “right”, so the very long truck can make sharp turns. He is like the old carbon investors who deny that the world has changed. They are not going to steer in the “wrong” direction because they deny that it’s necessary. And they are going to crash the fire truck, which then becomes useless, like a 21st century economy built around coal-powered steam trains.

The US has from the very beginning been a nation ruled by the Almighty Dollar, something noted by Alexis de Tocqueville in his mid-1800s tour of the country. As a nation of inventors and innovators, there were more than a few people who turned their talents into wealth, sometimes vast wealth. Among these were the millionaires, now the billionaires, whose great wealth derived from oil, gas, and coal. Today many descendants of these same people expect their carbon-powered festival to continue forever.

But it won’t. It can’t, because the combination of over 7.5 billion people in the world and the pollution caused by the use of these fossil fuels has poisoned everything and created global warming and other signs of radical change that are now inescapable. But, in spite of massive undeniable evidence, the carbon dinosaurs still don’t believe it, because to do so would mean the end of their big celebration. So they spend many millions to convince others by means of manipulated evidence and outright lies that the changes that are all around us don’t exist.

Our new president is one of these ignorant deniers, because he too gets richer from these antique investments. As the commander in charge of the country he will do all he can to preserve his own bragging-wealth, along with the other very wealthy. These are the people who keep the dying Carbon Age on ever more expensive life support, while more advanced countries understood long ago that a new age of renewable power was already upon us, and we must shift our efforts to survive. They have succeeded, whereas the deniers harm the future for the sake of money they don’t need.

Prez 2.0

It becomes more apparent with every passing day that our president is mentally unbalanced, and incapable of fulfilling the duties of leader of the most powerful nation in the world.

He is incapable of accepting reality, and daily insists that his fabrications are the truth. Although he says he has independent evidence that no one else has, he never presents it because it does not exist.

He is obsessed with petty obsessions, to the detriment of the nation. For example, he insists that he won the popular vote, although the clear evidence says he lost by nearly three million votes. He says he has objective evidence that this is not so, but he does not and cannot present this evidence. He says that the crowd for his inauguration was of record size, although continuous photographic evidence comparing crowd sizes from the recent two inaugurations clearly shows that at no point was the crowd even close to the crowd for President Obama’s inauguration. The worldwide Women’s March in opposition to him, held the following day was at least three times larger that the inauguration crowd in the US alone, but he insists it was not.

During the campaign he hid his tax returns, saying he would release them when he was no longer under audit. Audit does not prevent anyone from such a release. Later he gave other excuses, one being that he would release them when he was elected. Now that he is president he says he won’t release them at all.

Clearly, there is something in these tax statements that is compromising to our national interests or outright illegal. With his ongoing influence over his own investments, an undisclosed amount emanating from Russia, our national independence may be compromised. It is worth noting that his signed document saying he resigns from the many businesses he headed is meaningless, since his own family, with whom he is in regular contact, continues to control it all.

His obsession with Twitter has been shocking. Virtually every day in the early hours he published petty tweets about people with whom he became upset. The tweets were all either outright lies or defied reality in some other way, and became a national embarrassment.

This man does not understand that his imagination is not reality, that the way the world is cannot be invented or decreed. Virtually every day he says something that denies objective reality. Even his inner circle is finding this mental fantasy impossible to defend. They are forced to parrot what he says, even defending it as “alternate reality”, which of course is nothing more than falsehood or outright lies. His press secretary was trapped in this way, and clearly embarrassed or infuriated by what he was compelled to say. Later he insisted he had a right to “disagree with facts”. (!)

To their great shame, the reporters of the mainstream media failed to tell the public what they knew during the endless campaign, that this man was unbalanced, leaving the public with the impression that his endlessly changeable and self-contradictory statements somehow passed the giggle test, although they were so far from reality that no thinking person could possibly accept them at face value. They were, in fact, an endlessly long stream of lies.

In recent days it has become more apparent as he perseverates about crowd size at his inauguration or some other event, to the detriment of affairs of state.

Unfortunately, he has surrounded himself with people who, although they may be better at accepting reality in the larger sense, clearly fail in other ways, insisting, for example, that the Bible has all the answers for how to conduct a modern state of 340-million people.

In some ways the president fits right in with the unspoken overall goal of Republicans in recent years: to guide the maximum amount of wealth to the already wealthy, while punishing everyone else, with particular emphasis on dark-skinned people, poor people, immigrants, and followers of several religions.

Within days, the president and fellow Republicans began to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which independent research shows will result in the additional deaths of 44-thousand people annually. At the same time he signed hundreds of statements to dismantle eight years of progress in protecting the people and environment under the previous administration, and to move government into dark secrecy. Although these steps may reflect Republican dogma, they are clearly detrimental to public wellbeing.

There are far too many Republicans who are also unable to understand that reality is independent of their beliefs, and the remainder have lacked the intestinal fortitude to challenge them because among their own constituents include many people equally undereducated and lacking critical thinking skills. Somehow, the Republicans who are capable of understanding what has been wrought must seize the reins and begin the process of removing a president who is mentally incapable of performing his duties.

National medical care is not hard

This is why national health care plans always win out over our ridiculous greed-driven plan.

Just imagine you go in for a checkup and the doc gives you bad news. You have a cancer. Fortunately, it’s treatable. She schedules you for a CT scan and a number of other tests. You are scheduled to see an oncologist, who will be in charge of your case. You go in. The oncologist reviews your CT and your lab tests, and establishes a series of treatments that include the very latest developments. She consults with a nearby teaching hospital, which gives you a series of injections and medications that make your own body attack your cancer. After a number of treatments you are returned to health. Your oncologist monitors your health for years after your treatment. For this extensive and expensive medical care you pay nothing out of pocket.

Who gets paid, and how much? Everyone is paid a salary. Nobody gets money for scheduling extra tests. Nobody gets more for scheduling extra appointments. Or for prescribing a particular drug. Nobody’s salary is ridiculously huge; nobody’s is too low. The technologists and administrative personnel are also salaried. There are far fewer administrators because there are no insurance companies to pay. All pay follows a government pay scale, with adjustments according to locale, with extra pay in occupations and in places where there is extra need. All personnel earn more with longer service and more advanced expertise.

The government pays off the educational debt of newly minted physicians. They do not need insurance, because the government treats all conditions, including bad outcomes, and accommodates patients who were injured by their treatment. Each doc’s practice is monitored by government agencies, and extra training is required in the case of deficiencies. The government requires continued training to keep them up to date.

Every person in the country receives unlimited medical care paid through taxes. Health care workers are salaried, and all products, including medicines, are not allowed to be exorbitant as at present.

Is national health care free, as we so often hear? Of course not. It’s paid for through our taxes. But paying for it through taxes means it costs 50% of the market-driven cost we pay now.

Here are some of the reasons we pay so much now. Docs graduate with enormous education debt, which requires them to earn a high salary from the first. They also pay huge malpractice insurance premiums. The technologists in their service are paid moderately. The many administrative personnel who are required to manage the massive paperwork required by the insurance companies are paid the least the system can get away with.

But insurance companies are the biggest reason our health care costs so much. Insurance companies try to minimize all services in order to maximize profit for their shareholder owners. They pay full time people to disallow medical care. They may disallow expensive tests. They may refuse to pay for the treatments the doctor requests. They may refuse to renew any patient’s insurance, or even pay for treatment if the patient’s condition is presumed to exist prior to signing on to their insurance plan, or even if they decide it’s too expensive. Their upper executives are paid tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Stockholders expect a significant return on their investment.

The result is that our healthcare costs literally double what other countries pay. Double! Moreover, the quality and success rate of our medical care is inferior to many others, not to mention that many Americans have no insurance at all, and their health suffers for it. Lack of insurance often results in medical bankruptcy, or death from untreated conditions.

And yet conservative Republicans will not even consider proven superior systems. Why? Mostly because that would remove the possibility for the top administrative officers to become billionaires, and it is Republican dogma that says making the rich still more rich will somehow benefit the country. In spite of years of claims to the contrary, Republicans simply do not have a viable plan for health care. That is because they insist on a for-profit capitalist plan, and not a single dollar of the billions spent on for-profit insurance goes toward medical care of any kind.

The real purpose of our present plan is to maximize profit and executive pay.

When Does the Real Storm Start?

Various of our presidents have entered office amid a great deal of controversy. It’s probably safe to say that the opposition virtually always wrings their hands in despair.

But this time is different, unlike anything that has ever happened before. That Donald Trump will actually become president astonished virtually everyone. Even many members of the Republican Party, who refused to support him during the campaign, are, with the inauguration at our doorstep, as alarmed as Democrats and other thinking people are.

On his way out the door President Obama published a 50-page article on legal matters and shorter one on science trends, both in respected journals, while Donald Trump put out insulting 140-character Tweets about his “enemies”, by which he means literally everyone who is not a strong supporter. Unfortunately, this sort of activity, completely and endlessly egocentric, is the most characteristic activity in his repertoire, and his ADD prevents his attention on anything for more than a few minutes. He could not write what I’m writing now, which is hardly Nobel material.

There is something pathologically wrong with this man. Many believe that Trump should be examined by clinical psychiatrists, because he exhibits many characteristics of the mentally ill. Trump is unlikely to do so, because his enormous narcissistic ego leads him to believe that he is extraordinarily smart, and practically perfect in every way. This braggadocio alarmed many people when he refused to attend the daily briefings that would keep him up to date on global events, supposedly because he was too smart to need them. It remains to be seen whether Congress will be forced by circumstances to either demand an examination or simply impeach him, hopefully before he does too much damage.

He is apparently smart enough to game the tax system and to routinely cheat the people who work for him, but these are legal, not presidential, requirements. He faces thousands of court cases, at least one on-again-off-again for rape of a minor. In New York, hundreds of workers he has stiffed are placing liens on the hotel they worked on without getting paid, one of thousands of lawsuits he faces.

A small group of very wealthy men (almost always men) gained their wealth from the mining and use of fossil fuels, which is the main reason the planet is in dire danger. These men cannot be convinced that the Carbon Age is over, because that’s how they made their money, and not one believes that the future lies elsewhere. They devote hundreds of millions to propaganda denying what cannot be denied. Even in the face of radical change in energy use all around them, their faith remains unshaken.

Trump, like the fossil fuel billionaires, doesn’t “believe” in the climate change that has engulfed our little planet. As if our daily experience could be a matter of belief. As if the deadly smog engulfing Beijing and Kolkata were a mere figment. As if the last dozen years or so, each year setting a new heat record, is something made up by Las Vegas bookies. While those who don’t understand that the Age of Carbon is over try to pretend these changes are not happening, smarter people are working on ways to survive. “Alternative” energy sources are fast becoming “standard” fuel sources that will leave the fossil billionaires with a new nickname, fossil fuel fossils.

A small but slowly growing list of Republicans seems to be coming around to acceptance of these realities, rather than religious faith that so many rely on to guide them through difficulties that have nothing to do with religion. Although Trump doesn’t appear to be at all religious, he can’t accept that the huge changes happening daily to our planet are real. He simply doesn’t understand that it is impossible to “not believe” in science, any more than they could “not believe” in gravity, because science is entirely indifferent to all systems of belief and human endeavors. Science is how we have been able to learn about the realities of the universe, which were always there. A star that explodes is indifferent to anyone’s opinion. It explodes whether or not someone “believes” it exploded. You cannot not believe in it because it is reality, and indifferent to your beliefs.

And so, Donald Trump Trump selects people for his administration entirely on the basis of their personal wealth and their agreement with him. Not on their expertise, not on their accomplishments, not on their openness to reality and evidence. He thinks money is the hallmark of “success” that will enable them to deal with their challenges, and cannot conceive of a more important criterion.

Worse, virtually every appointment is a person who believes in the opposite of his job’s description. They believe their goal is to dismantle their department, and kill off everything in Washington. They think the Great Free Market will be the unseen hand that will guide our nation of 340,000,000 souls to a new prosperity.

What will happen when President Trump demands something of the world that is impossible to fulfill? What will happen when he demands that rational persons believe what they know cannot occur? What will happen when the outcome of his plans is the opposite of what he believes will happen?

Congratulations Are Due

The Republican Party has discovered the formula for dismantling democracy in the United States. Their longstanding dream of thwarting the intent of the Founders has become reality.

There are five rules:

  1. When Democrats are in power, do nothing.
  2. Establish obstacles to voting.
  3. Create confusion and false beliefs.
  4. Create new truth by constant repetition of lies.
  5. Deny the reality of factual and scientific evidence.

The Republican Party’s entire stated goal for eight years has been to thwart President Obama. Nothing else. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said outright that his proudest achievement was to prevent anything from being done at all.

There is a concentration of ignorance and stupidity among Republicans that is not easily denied. More than a little of this derives from the weak education and poor critical thinking skills of some of them, and reliance on the Bible for all “truth”. Thus, fundamentalist Republicans are incapable of understanding simple statistics, and cannot reason critically when these deny the “truths” of their faith. Such people deny the truth of climate change because they fail to understand how science works.

Meantime, over decades, states with Republican governors and legislatures have set in play numerous amoral and illegal games to limit voting by those more likely to vote Democrat. These are not unsubstantiated claims, but recorded statements by establishment Republicans. Many of these plans are blatantly unconstitutional. But that doesn’t matter because by the time legal challenges work their ponderous way through the courts they will have already served their purpose and been replaced by newer unconstitutional laws.

Take a law that closes voter registration offices everywhere except the largest cities. Reduced registration because of great inconvenience is what Republicans want, but once offices in less populated areas are closed and their personnel dismissed, it is difficult to reopen them on court order. Mission accomplished.

Then there is always the ever popular gerrymander, which accomplishes its deed by putting most of the Democratic voters in a painfully contorted voting district that defies geographic reality. Since all the Dems are in one district, it’s easy for the state to be Republican regardless of how many Dems there are statewide.

Voting prevention goes far beyond these tricks, however. Voter registration hours become limited to, say, one morning every two weeks during the work week, so that low wage workers will find registration virtually impossible. A multi-state data base is used to remove voters from rolls if there is someone with the same name in another state. This is done late during the election season, so that it becomes impossible for a voter to challenge her removal before the election.

In spite of blatant disregard for the welfare of the nation’s people, Republicans falsely claimed that President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was ineffective and would bankrupt the nation. Nearly 30-million Americans signed up, many gaining health insurance for the first time in their lives. Republican governors who refused to participate caused many thousands of deaths from untreated conditions. House Republicans voted some 60 times to repeal the act.

The spreading of false information became a cottage industry among Republicans. Once Donald Trump had become the last man standing among the army of fools running for the Republican presidential nomination, he took over and the entire effort shifted into overdrive.

Denial of plain reality has become a Republican hallmark. They dare not accept the fact that the universe is some 18.8 billions of years old, that humans are on course to make the planet uninhabitable, that we are not a Christian nation, and many other undeniable realities. Independent scientific reality or reality in any other form simply does not matter if it’s not what they believe.

The Republican effort often centered around the creation of confusion about various facts, and the purposeful creation of Trump voters’ false belief that they understood. Trump told his followers endless lies that shifted by the hour. Yet his true believers simply did not listen to what he claimed, only to his racist and misogynist anger and extravagant unworkable promises. This even gave rise to a new dictionary term: post-truth, meaning an era when truth became irrelevant.

Thus the decades-long effort to criminalize Hillary Clinton did not require actual evidence of criminal behavior, of which there was none whatsoever. All it took was Trump routinely referring to her as “criminal Hillary”.

Nor did they examine any of his false claims that they would all become affluent because of the wonderful things he would do as president. As the inauguration approaches and Republicans in Congress lay the groundwork for eliminating health insurance for 30-million people, their number one goal, buyer’s remorse is only beginning to occur to Trump voters.

Democrats, for their part, underestimated the degree and intensity of resentment by people who felt they had been bypassed by the affluence that everyone else enjoyed, regardless of whether they had taken steps to become educated and develop marketable skills. Most of these were angry ill-educated whites who believed their skin color alone made them superior to all other races and cultures. Thus Trump earned the endorsement of every KKK chapter and every neo-nazi and white hate group in the country.

Further effort by the Republican establishment became unnecessary after the primaries because Trump took on his own shoulders the entire effort, and spewed an endless stream of grand falsehoods so rapidly they were virtually impossible to keep up with. The mainstream press gave him billions of dollars worth of free coverage and virtually no negative press, while correction of falsehoods fell largely to the small independent internet press.

Trump is the master of the exorbitant lies that are well beyond any possibility of becoming reality. His huge wall, the length of the border with Mexico and paid for by Mexico, to prevent the illegal immigration of the many millions of criminal and rapist Mexicans he claimed, is only the most recognizable false claim. During the election itself he claimed—without the first shred of evidence—that millions of illegal voters had voted for Hillary. There are hundreds more such lies, and they haven’t stopped.

But the game has only begun.

Congratulations are due. Republicans have discovered the formula for bringing to a close the Grand Experiment in democracy. Whether means can be found to restore it remains to be seen. It is apparent, however, that the entire political seascape has been altered to one that is dangerously unstable.