Is There Anything Left of the Republican Party?

9 November 2016, San Francisco

Now that the detestable Donald Trump has at last been slid off the speaker’s platform, we are free to wonder whether it will be possible for the Repubs to regain some semblance of normalcy and decency after eight years of blatant racism and hate. Some say no, that their core no longer exists. Maybe so. We are left to wonder how it was possible for the sensible Republican party platform of the 1950s—which was much like today’s Dem platform—to devolve into the obstructionism, fear, hatred, stupidity, and magical thinking that characterized the Republicans this past decade.

Let the survivalists who are terrified for some reason by the very thought of President Hillary Clinton help the American cause by buying up guns and ammo and dried foodstuffs in weatherproof containers, and retreat to lonely places far away from the rest of us. Let the few remaining real Repubs gird their loins and push the Tea Party nitwits out of the room to commune with the rest of those who reject reality. Let them search for other real conservatives who do not fear reality, who depend on a real world based on science and things that can be proven, such as climate change. Perhaps if that happened Repubs could regroup and devote time to actually governing, rather than making opposition to the president their only political goal.

The first cause the new Republicans should embrace is the wellbeing of all Americans, rather than just the rich. The efficacy of their favored “trickle down” approach has been disproven many times, and is the cause of our worsening inequality. States managed by Republican governors had sharply diminished tax revenue that created the necessity for large budget cuts in things like education, public health, and infrastructure. Any Repubs who still buy into “trickle” should be tossed out on their ears.

The second most important thing Repubs must do is to give up their sacred myth that people are poor because they refuse to work. Sorry folks, people are poor because they can’t earn a decent living, either because they aren’t paid a living wage or there simply isn’t any work. It’s important to understand that all work is worthy work, and the simplest job must be reasonably paid with a living wage. The reason raging Trumpsters have some legitimate gripes is because they can’t find work.

Third is acceptance of the truth that private enterprise is powerful, but it must be regulated and controlled, and it is not the universal economic answer. For many economic needs the most efficient mode is public financing: highways, defense, communications regulation… The prime unaddressed need, of course, is health care. As the only advanced nation without national health care, we spend double what all others pay, and our private insurance industry contributes not one red cent to actual health care. These are indisputable facts. Republicans must stop costing us so much to satisfy their free enterprise fetish.

We have barely recovered from the Great Recession that Obama was faced with on Day 1. Unfortunately, the slow but consistent recovery bypassed too many people, and this must be addressed by finding new ways for people to be employed. Republicans must for a change help this effort, not hinder it.

Some want a guaranteed minimum income, but in my opinion the most important element here is the standard work week. Once it was 72 hours—six 12-hour days including Saturdays. Half a century ago it became 40 hours, which was accomplished without the economic collapse that some predicted. Today, as John Maynard Keynes predicted nearly a century ago, there is no necessity for anyone to work more than about 20 hours. This has come about because of ever-improving efficiency, especially with computers and robots in recent times. The trend will continue. Republicans must help the effort to solve the problem, rather than pretend it’s some bygone year.

Maybe the biggest international problem is our need to prove our machismo by waging pointless wars against small nations. The US has been at war almost constantly since the Revolution, unsuccessfully more often than not. We need to improve the world by quitting that. It would help if some part of the Pentagon budget were switched to something more important, like child welfare.

Climate change is now impossible to deny, with record atmospheric greenhouse gasses, steadily rising temperature, vanishing glaciers, a melting arctic, withering Greenland ice cap, dreadful droughts, massive wildfires, frequent tornados, hurricanes with great flooding, shoreline erosion, and so on. The US has made some attempts to slow these processes, but we are long past the point of no return. All we can do now is hope to ameliorate some of the worst effects and hope we can deal with the rest. Continued Republican denial will cost many lives, in addition to billions of dollars.

There are many other faults that must be corrected before we can call ourselves a modern moral nation. Among these are clawing back the oligarchy-sponsored laws that allow huge corporations to avoid American taxes by setting up an office in some low-tax country and calling it home. Then there are those who ship billions of dollars, legally or not, to offshore places where the only real business is secret banking. If these outrages were ended we would have enough revenue to reform all taxes and live better lives.

Oh yeah, one last thing. If supposedly Christian Repubs want to prove they respect life, they could start with the life that’s already here, for example the 20% of American children who live in poverty and don’t have enough to eat. Everybody agrees that abortion is undesirable. If we want to eliminate it, birth control must be freely available everywhere. Trying to kill Planned Parenthood is nothing less than a cruel policy that will worsen the health of women. I note that a national health care system would make PP redundant and unnecessary.

Republicans must help to make the country what it should be. If they can’t, maybe there really isn’t a Republican Party anymore.

Why Homelessness Won’t Be Solved by Itself

The San Francisco Chronicle ran an admirable series on homelessness—on the front page. Like everywhere else, the city has spent many millions to help solve the problem, and it has only gotten worse. That’s because homelessness is not a city problem. It’s not even a national problem. At base, it’s a global problem, closely related to the concentration of the nation’s and the world’s wealth in the hands of a few people who have absolutely no use for it.

Homelessness is not one single problem. Locally, the two most significant factors are unemployment and substance abuse. The former is no doubt the far bigger factor, in spite of what some people think. To those people, mostly white conservatives who believe because they were always able to find work, anyone unemployed is simply not trying hard enough. Oddly enough, the same people also believe that all homeless are addicts. In neither case do they think that economic conditions might have something to do with it.

Homelessness is not caused by the homeless. It is caused by the economy.

I will leave addiction for another time. The biggest element of homelessness is unemployment, and many of the personal tales are heartbreaking. Millions of people with decades of dependable skilled work were tossed aside when factories closed, their jobs shipped off to poor countries where the bosses pay a fraction of US wages, and workers are too desperate to demand more.

The newly jobless family is unable to find equivalent work, and falls behind on the mortgage and bills. Eventually they settle for beginning-level wages, which don’t pay the bills. They downsize, sometimes unable to sell their house in a down market, which is then seized by the bank. Sometimes they can’t find work because they are “too old”, which can be anything from 40 on up. Sometimes everything fails, and they have no choice but to live in their car, or a tent.

However, the loss of work because of modernization is a greater factor than outsourcing jobs to the Third World, although they are related. As I have said here and here, more and more of the work we depended on is being done by robots and computers. Some of this modernization calls for employees with new skills, but many more jobs simply vaporize, their workers pushed out to fend for themselves. Jobs in management aren’t shielded from this trend, either, if for no other reason than the analytical work by management, as well as software coding, can be done at 25% of the cost by workers in India and elsewhere.

Not all is lost, however. Effort in at least four areas can create higher levels of employment. These are: (1) a shorter work week; (2) better laws that provide universal citizen needs at greater efficiency; (3) laws that keep jobs and money in the country; (4) and changes that attenuate the greed of the very rich and the corporate bosses.

As I have said before, my half-humorous suggestion for determining the work week was to divide the grand total of hours of work available by the grand total number of workers. In principle it’s actually a good idea. It would give us a work week of 20 hours or so, which would give us some of the benefits that modernization should provide.

Getting to a 20-hour week is not simple, because workers can neither suddenly be paid half as much nor can they be paid the same for half the work. But we did it to arrive at the 40-hour week from 60 hours, so it is quite possible.

The federal government can do numerous things to make living under the new situation comfortable. Conservatives who believe that a sort of anarchy with few laws and minimal government is the best way are simply wrong. That would give us more crime and less efficiency.

We have laws because not everyone can be trusted to behave for the common benefit, obviously. Besides individual criminals, corporations and the very rich dependably behave in ways that reduce everyone else’s wealth and wellbeing while increasing their own. This has given us the current plutocracy, which, if we are to restore our democracy, must be overthrown one way or another. But that will not happen as long as the very rich and their congressional pets control the government. The once-reasonable Republican party has gone berserk, and is no help. It will take great Democratic strength to rescue the country from itself.

The laws that have taken away from the common good must simply be ended. If a practice cannot be shown to be socially worthwhile, it should be outlawed. It’s not hard to think of examples. Flash trading and hedge funds have no social utility at all; they do not benefit the country in any way. Giant banks must return to boring old banking, and shed their investment services. This is something the Great Depression taught us, but we forgot. Corporations must not be able to avoid their fair share of taxes by setting up a shell headquarters in some low-tax country. All the tax dodges set up by the very wealthy and their congressional pets must be ended. There is no reason the very rich should own such a huge part of the national wealth, because the only place it can come from is the rest of us.

Rather than clutching their pearls and watching corporate bosses rake in multi-millions for sending jobs to poor countries, Congress should enact any number of laws that discourage them from shipping jobs out and closing the mill. Simply requiring all foods to be pure and without known chemicals and impurities, and labeled GMO if they are, would not only improve the quality of our food, but would eliminate carelessly produced foods from overseas. Modernizing factories could be encouraged with financial incentives. Many small steps would improve the employment picture.

Corporations have taken to setting up an office in a low tax country and calling that the corporate headquarters to avoid paying taxes. There are many ways that could be curbed, including designating such companies foreign companies, subject to taxes and duties greater than those for domestic companies. The global economy is complex, but our laws should not allow the US to suffer for the benefit of corporate officers.

In all cases of universal citizen need, the federal government must manage that need, because profit-making interests will always cost significantly more. Every such step we take improves the wellbeing and wealth of the country. National health care is the most obvious instance. National health care insurance would provide the average equivalent of a seven percent raise. The simplest example of benefit here is the avoidance of unnecessary death from untreated disease. An adult who dies unnecessarily costs the country a lot, which falls on the deficit side of the national accounting. There are many other possibilities for national services besides health care that would improve the financial security of all citizens.

These things are so obviously beneficial for the country it is ridiculous to believe we’d be better off without them, as Republicans claim. The federal government is efficient, in spite of what Ronald Reagan claimed, and requires fewer people to do the same work, without the severely bloated wages of corporate bosses.

Right now the government seems to have no understanding of what causes homelessness, nor have more than a handful of people suggested what we can do about it. I believe that the ways I have suggested are well worth discussion and development. I believe they would cure or improve several serious problems. Unfortunately, one political party, the one that caused most of the problems in the first place, would rather defend the plutocracy.

Ending Economic Decay

The writer Paul Theroux is like no other. He’s prolific, and a restless world traveler, and he has no interest in the places where people have money. His travels have taken him to the poorest parts of the world. His most recent travel book is Deep South, a chronicle of slow trips through the forgotten places left behind by the interstate highways, with factories abandoned after business moved to Bangladesh. There is no money, no work.

And yet every single day, the world’s money flows in great flooding cascades of cash, billions upon billions, in and out of laundering facilities on small islands and banking nations like Switzerland. Theroux quotes the 19th century Portuguese writer Almeida Garrett, who observed the poverty in his own country and posed the question, “I ask the political economists…if they have ever calculated the number of individuals who must be condemned to misery, overwork…and utter penury in order to produce one rich man.” Garrett understood money well.

Our government could begin improving our economy by addressing the blatant violations of law by some of our richest citizens and corporations. Hiding money offshore is illegal, and should be punished with prison sentences, which would—ahem—“encourage” moral behavior, since nothing else does. Corporations that move headquarters overseas should be treated like foreign corporations, complete with import duties on their products and fees for usage of US infrastructure. Most important, since foreign corporations are already forbidden from influencing the American legal process, the lobbying they now do should result in significant penalties, including prison, if continued.

It is part of our great unfinished business to do something about our national poverty. The poorest Americans, in cities like Detroit as well as the obscure decaying towns of the rural south, lack the essentials for a decent life, and it’s not because of laziness or moral failure. It is because there is no work or money to be had. Millions live in severe unrelieved poverty, and it’s not their fault.

Where is the wealth? We all know. Half of all our national income goes to a few very rich people who have no need for more money, but keep it hidden anyway. The US is the richest nation in the history of the world, and yet we have failed completely to provide work and essential income for those millions of people in the poorest parts of the rural south and elsewhere. They don’t want or need to be rich; they would never be wealthy in the common use of the term, but were once wealthy enough. Now they are not even that.

The federal government does spend money to help poor people, but what people need is a way to build their own future. We need new laws and rules that prevent abusive capture of money by the very rich, regulations that encourage domestic industry, plus modern work week hours and living wage laws.

National health care insurance is probably the most important single thing we could do to improve the lives of the poor. A healthier population sharply reduces the significant money lost to illness and death. Not only would it save billions of dollars and millions of lives, it would remove a major disadvantage for companies that compete in markets where national health care is the norm.

When we look at the deep poverty found in the rural south, we see that every part of life is affected by this poverty. That includes the schools. The young do not receive a modern education because desolate state and local economies cannot adequately fund schools. If all Americans are to be educated well, funding must be equal for every student in the country. This cannot happen if a significant part of funding comes from the coffers of very poor states like Mississippi. With equal funding we would have a much better work force, ready for business rejuvenated by improved laws, as well as an intelligent and informed citizenry able to bring more wisdom to the world. This would in time diminish the scourge of ignorance from bad education, of belief in superstition and magic, and of failure to understand science we see even in certain members of Congress.

Austerity, whether a result of unaddressed economic evils or of backward bank practices that prevail in Europe, results in a downward spiral for the people. Investment in the economy, such as with President Obama’s 2009 fiscal stimulus and the Affordable Care Act, has the effect of putting money in the hands of lower income citizens, who cannot afford to hoard it. The money circulates, and improves the local economy.

Dragging the moribund economy of the old south into the 21st century is more important than we commonly believe. Those who suffer include the crabby rednecks who hate Obama, but who deserve a better roll of the dice along with the rest of us, and it will only happen with bold national practices like those I mention here. For nearly a half century, money has been taken out of the hands of these everyday Americans and put in the hideaways of the very rich. This has created unrelieved cruel poverty, and it must end.

The $12-Trillion Welfare Ripoff

It is a primary item of faith among conservatives that the reason we must not have a social system that helps the poor is that poverty is caused by inner-city blacks who refuse to work, belong to gangs, sell and use drugs, are unwed mothers, and so on. All they want to do is live in luxury on the welfare checks we pay for. This is presumed to be because they are naturally inferior and lazy, an argument that is older than slavery. (Every single one of these beliefs is provably false, of course.)

One thing never seems to be discussed: The entire cost to support poor people comes to about $58 billion, most of which would go away if it were possible for the poor to earn a living wage.

This is what the twelve trillion
corporate welfare looks like:

It seems unreasonable that anyone should receive undeserved money from the government, and the righteous right has been ranting about it since the dawn of time. All this ranting, however, doesn’t prevent the red states from using more federal aid than they contribute, which sounds like undeserved welfare to me.

Plus, for unknown reasons, the right doesn’t rant about the $12 trillion in corporate welfare that the 100 wealthiest companies and their very wealthy officers have received recently. It was handed to rich corporations gratis over the past twelve years, a trillion a year. The $58 billion social welfare cost they object to is 0.06% of one year’s worth of corporate welfare. That’s six hundredths of one percent, an amount that’s less than a typical rounding error.

Billions of dollars are siphoned off by the oil industry every year, the purpose of which was to encourage the fledgling industry in the early 20th century, just as earlier industries were helped in the 19th century. The difference is that we never stopped giving Big Oil all this money. The oil industry has needed no such boosting for at least 85 years.

Welfare for the rich makes
the entire social welfare budget
of 0.o6% of corporate welfare
look like a rounding error.

Nicholas Kristof burns the welfare takers, informing us that there are government subsidies for private planes, yachts, hedge funds, and the biggest banks, as well as the takers I have mentioned. But not so much for poor people for life’s essentials.

Every year huge awards are made to the so-called defense industry, most of which goes for offense, and which has been infamous for overcharges and outright fraud during our entire history. Remember the $500 hammers, and $4,000 toilets? Ever hear of the Truman Committee, chaired by vice president Harry Truman, who ferreted out dozens of schemes to scam the government during WWII? Ever fly into an airport where there’s a military presence? There you will find a dozen or so of those enormous dark green transport planes, never used. That’s an unwanted gift from Congress, which decided the military should have hundreds of these planes, when the DoD itself only asked for a half dozen. Hmmm. Wonder how that happened.

Corporate welfare doesn’t even count
the trillions of bailout money.

Virtually all of our bigger corporations have received government gifts worth billions. GE, GM, and lots of other familiar names. Heavily touted by their own politicians exploiting backscratching arrangements with other politicians. The big banks also feed at the trough to the tune of billions.

And that doesn’t even count the trillions we gave them in bailout money.

The biggest of these giant corporations pay no taxes at all. The few that do pay at a very low rate. The same is true of the very wealthy, who have managed to wrangle the legal system via thousands of highly paid lobbyists to give them a regressive tax in which they don’t pay tax on their primary sources of income or their invested wealth, much of which they hide in offshore tax havens that know how to keep a secret.

Tax is taken mostly on earned income, which is the smallest part of the increase of wealth among the very rich. Further, there are thousands of ways the rich can avoid paying income taxes that are not available to most of us, in addition to secret offshore accounts. Gore Vidal once taught us about one of them: Buy a good piece of art for $100K every year and hang it at home. In ten years, value it at $1M and donate it to a museum. Take a $900K deduction on your taxes.

Where does this money come from, these enormous gifts to giant corporations? At base, it comes from us, disproportionately the poor and middle class.

What has become of our beloved democracy and the equality that we based it on?

[Note: It has come to my attention that the real figure may be $1.2-trillion. If so, just move the decimal point over one column to the left in the appropriate figures. Either way, a trillion dollars is an amount that is almost beyond comprehension. JP]

[Here’s an interesting way of thinking about it.]