Joe Biden and the Need For Unity

Joe Biden held a campaign rally yesterday at Eakins Oval near the Philadelphia Art Museum and the iconic “Rocky” statue. It was a glorious day. The sun was shining brightly while the Triumph Baptist Church Choir kicked off the rally with a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace” among other gospel classics.

People of color, African Americans in particular, were out in force. Working people, including union members, wore blue Biden T-shirts and helped stoke the crowd with chants of “We Want Joe.”

The rally started with a inclusive, optimistic vibe. That is until Joe mounted the podium.  His message of unity in opposition to Trump came across as a bit scripted – long on campaign rhetoric, short on specific policy proposals and the fervor needed to bring about real change.

Progressives want more. Among other things, we want someone who will stand up to the moneyed interests and restore some fairness to an economy that favors the rich while hammering the poor and working class.  

It was telling that the Comcast building in downtown Philadelphia (see photo as left) was a towering backdrop to the event. On the very day he announced his campaign a week ago, Joe attended a big dollar fundraiser at the home of a senior Comcast executive in Philadelphia. It is going to be hard to push a progressive agenda when you take large contributions from the very people you are supposed to regulate.

Joe Biden says he believes in standing on principle, but also in working across the aisle, with Republicans, to get something done. Then he talked about free “community” college. Memo to Joe: the principle at issue is free college tuition so students are not strapped with huge debt to get an education that is increasingly essential to making a decent living.  By limiting your proposal to community college, It sounds a lot like you have compromised on that basic principle before the debate has even begun in earnest.

But there is reason for optimism.  Three years ago, Hillary Clinton preached “Stronger Together” while she and her campaign organization relentlessly attacked Bernie Sanders and the Progressive wing of the party.   Rather than bring the party together, she tore it apart, tragically paving the way for the election of Donald Trump.

Joe Biden has his flaws, but he is unlikely to make that same mistake. Nor is he totally out-of-touch with working people as was Hillary Clinton. Even if he does lean a little too “centrist” for many Progressives, he has strong support, as the Philadelphia rally demonstrated, among minorities and working people.  These are the very folks Democrats need to win the 2020 election and restore American democracy to some semblance of decency.

Joe Biden may not be perfect, but he is likely someone Progressives and others can work with. Regardless of who eventually gets the nomination, we need candidates who will help unify the Democratic Party, and the country, not tear them apart. 

Progressive Economics: A Long Overdue Conversation

The U.S. Economy is broken. Long-term economic growth is fluctuating on average between two and three percent which ranks this as perhaps the worst economy since W.W. II excluding major recessions.

Decades of adherence to “supply-side” economics (translation: tax cuts for the rich)  is mainly to blame.

In addition, advances in information technology, globalization, the decline of unions, and the government’s virtual abandonment of worker protections, have caused wage stagnation which , in turn, has led to lackluster demand and slower overall growth.

So how do we fix it?  Well, we should do the exact opposite of what has been done for decades since the 1980’s.  Rather than cutting taxes, we should be investing to grow the economy.  The technical name is “demand-side” or “Keynesian” economic theory.

Under this approach, the government can stimulate demand and growth by investing directly in infrastructure, such as highways and rail systems, and in people, in programs such job training, health systems and education. That’s what progressive Democrats are getting at when they talk about things like the “Green New Deal” and “Medicare-for-All.”

In effect, the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party is having a long overdue conversation about failed economic policies and what is really needed going forward to distribute economic benefits more equitably to all Americans and grow the economy through increased demand.

How do you pay for it?   Thanks in large part to long-standing adherence to “supply-side” economics since the 1980’s and resulting tax cuts, we now have a hugely regressive system where wealthy individuals, who derive a significant portion of their income from dividends and capital gains, pay less in taxes as a percentage of income than average working men and woman.

And if that isn’t bad enough, our tax code is riddled with loopholes that corporations and other wealthy individuals and businesses often use to avoid taxes altogether.

It needs to be fixed – and that is what Democrats are getting at when they talk about raising taxes on the wealthy: It is really about making our tax system fairer and more progressive so we have the resources  needed to invest for the future, stimulate economic growth and reduce income inequality.

And so those who have benefited the most, pay taxes in proportion to the benefits they’ve received.

Radical ideas? Hardly. They worked in the aftermath of W.W. II, one of the greatest periods of overall economic and wage growth in American history. And they can work again.

Let’s start by at least having the conversation and not demonize as “radicals” and “socialists” those who dare to talk about important economic issues affecting the lives (and livelihoods) of everyday Americans.  And let’s admit that there will be compromise along the way.

Let’s keep talking, respectfully, to each other.  Let’s not be distracted by those, including much of the mainstream media, who want to turn everything into a conflict, a virtual war of opposing ideas and ideals.

And when we are done talking, let’s try to actually get something done, because the economy (and our political system) is broken and change is long overdue.

The Real Debate Over Health Care: the Role of the Insurance Companies

A lot is being written over the fissures within the Democratic Party on Health Care. Some, like Bernie Sanders, unequivocally support Medicare-for-All. Others, like Amy Klobuchar and Sherrod Brown, both Midwest senators with more conservative constituencies, want a more incremental approach, a Medicare buy-in option for example, or lowering the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 50.

Sounds good, right. Medicare-for-All is way too radical. A more moderate approach stands a better chance of getting the broad-based support needed to get through Congress and be signed into law.

Except that the insurance companies, with their web of campaign contributions and armies of lobbyists, will pounce on any compromise and turn it into a variation of what we have today – a system with huge overhead and administrative costs that rewards waste and inefficiency over positive health outcomes.

Sound familiar – that’s essentially what happened with Obama Care. State-by-state exchanges just to make sure there are no incentives to create national plans that operate more transparently and efficiently.

So Progressive Democrats are right – it is time for universal health coverage in a nationwide program that takes the insurance companies out of the mix, thereby saving U.S. economy and the American consumer huge amounts of money that today are wasted on a system that rewards administrative inefficiency over the health of the American people.

A Government Captured by Corporations and the Wealthy

US Capitol with Sale Sign

The Republican tax bill passed the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday along straight party lines.  The legislation now goes to the full Senate.  It is one of the most disastrous pieces of legislation ever to be introduced in Congress, and yet it looks increasingly likely to pass the Congress and be signed into law.

The bill contains huge tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals while it hammers the poor and middle class.  Instead of stimulating economic growth, as Republicans claim, it is much more likely to hurt the economy over the longer term by exacerbating income inequality.

How did we get to this place where legislation of such immense importance and negative effect now seems likely to pass the Congress along straight party lines?

Well, you can blame Republicans and Democrats alike who have so contorted the budget process as to allow major legislations to pass on party line votes, instead of the 60 votes needed to ensure bipartisan support.

Or, you can blame the corporate media which is busy “reporting” on Donald Trump’s latest tweets – and totally out of its depth on most complex issues including taxation and the economy.

You can even blame the Democratic Party establishment which is mostly content to simply oppose Donald Trump rather than advance a coherent policy agenda of its own.

But if we are going to play the blame game, let’s get to the root cause: big money, mainly corporations, have so completely “Captured” the U.S. Government and they are now advancing legislation that clearly benefits them at the expense of the American middle class and the U.S. economy as a whole.

How do they do it: well, for one thing, they take advantage of court rulings such as Citizens United, and a lack of public disclosure requirements, thanks to Republican opposition in Congress, that allow corporations and wealthy individuals to operate out of public view while spending huge sums to lobby the government and influence elections.

Perhaps we should heed the words of Jeremy Grantham, a British born financier from Boston.  Grantham is a bit of a legend in financial circles, having predicated the last two financial bubbles in 2000 and 2007.  Here is Grantham quoted November 6, 2017 on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal:

“The U.S. form of capitalism has lost it way.  The social contract was previously in good shape.  Corporations looked after their employees.  They were more paternalistic.  Great pension funds were starting up.  The CEOs were increasing income alongside their workers.  CEOs earned more than 40 times workers.  Today that number is 350 times, and the system has gone to hell.  Keynes, Schumpeter – and Marx not to mention—thought, by their nature, corporations and capitalism would overreach simply because they could.  Corporations would use their advantages to get more power and more money.  Their share of the pie would increase, and cause society to push back.  Sooner or later there will be pushback.”

Well said, Jeremy.  But the time for “pushback” is not sooner. It is certainly not later.  It is now.

Oh when, oh when, will it ever end

Arise and fight!

Ever hopeful

God save our Nation once again

 

A Middle Class Under Siege

Tony Auth, Philadelphia Inquirer

As Republicans roll out the details of their disastrous tax plan, it is not a bad time to take a step back, tune out the media hype , and contemplate what is really going on in our democracy.

Since the 1700’s, America has led the world in the development of democratic processes and institutions.  It is hard to admit that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.  And yet it has.

For one thing, we elected Donald Trump President of the United States.

But, in our view, that is just a symptom of a much larger malaise.  The economy is in long-term decline and our government no longer works for the benefit of most Americans.

For decades after WW II, the American middle class was the envy of the world.  Today, that same middle class is struggling just to make ends meet.  Wages are stagnant; the level of income inequality is extreme.

Donald Trump tapped into this angst to get elected; Democrats, sadly, were oblivious to the struggles of the very people they were supposed to represent.

The tax debate currently taking place in the United States illustrates a big part of the problem – our political system has been hijacked by big money interests proposing to do just the opposite of what is actually needed.

Slashing taxes on the wealthy and major corporations, as Republicans have proposed, will almost certainly exacerbate income inequality and force cuts in services that primarily benefit the poor and middle class.

Many wealthy individuals, who rely primarily on capital gains and income from assets, already pay less as a percentage of their income than people who work for a living.  That is not fair.  It is almost certainly the reason Donald Trump will not release his tax returns.

Out tax system is already regressive.  Let’s not make it even worse.  Better yet, let’s fix it so the wealthy actually pay their fair share.

You don’t have to be a big-shot Ivy League economist to know that the American middle class has historically been the engine of economic growth in the U.S.  Yet under Republican proposals, by targeting additional tax breaks to the rich, the economy is more likely to shrink further, not grow.

Are you listening Democrats?  Will you take a stand up against the big money interests, oppose so-called Republican “tax reform” in all its nefarious forms, not get drawn in when Republicans throw you a bone like keeping deductions for state and local taxes, and finally do what is right for the American economy and its beleaguered middle class?

Let’s help fix our democracy by making damn sure this latest incarnation of tax cuts for the wealthy is consigned to the dust bin of history where it belongs.

Capturing the Spirit of Democracy

Museum of the American Revolution
Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia, PA (source: Wikipedia)

 The Museum of the American Revolution opened in April of this year, funded largely by private donations.  Located in Old City Philadelphia, the museum is just blocks from Independence Hall and across the street from the First Bank of the United States founded by Alexander Hamilton.

The museum documents the history of the American Revolution through numerous exhibits, short films and reenactments, including hundreds of artifacts ranging from pamphlets to clothing to ships and weapons used by both sides.

But what really sets this museum apart is that, through pictures and short videos, it also tells the stories of real people, of farmers, African and Native Americans. And in so doing, it seems to capture the “spirit” of a Revolution where ordinary people rose up to oppose the oppression of a distant monarch and claim the “right” to govern themselves.

Upon entering the museum, an exhibit recounts how George Washington deliberately chose to live in a tent, to demonstrate that he was not above his men, and that he would share the hardships of long and brutal winters that nearly destroyed his army.  At the end of a video presentation, the curtain rises and the actual tent Washington used is revealed.

Another exhibit documents the contributions of Thomas Paine, a Philadelphian who helped spark the Revolution with the pamphlet “Common Sense” and whose later rallied troops on the brink of defeat with a series of pamphlets, “The American Crisis” (see excerpt below), written in part while Paine was encamped with Washington’s army near Trenton.

At one point, there’s a video reenactment of patriots tearing down a statue of King George III in Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan.  Its serves as a timely reminder that we must oppose tyranny in all its forms, and that the symbols of tyranny matter, whether kings or Confederate generals who fought to preserve slavery.

At another point towards the end of the museum’s self-guided tour, the question is posed: “What Kind of Nation did the Revolution Create?”  The answer suggests a tension that continues to this day:

“The Revolution is not over yet … ever since the adoption of the Constitution, Americans have struggled to balance their ideals of Liberty with the practical need for governmental authority.”

Later, as you exit the exhibition halls, there is a wall covered with mirrors.  Standing before the wall, with your image reflected in the glass, a caption asks you to gaze upon “the Future of the American Revolution.”  It gets you thinking.

Today, the spirt of the American Revolution is being challenged as never before.  It can be subtle as when our elected officials manipulate the media to cast tax breaks for the rich as health care or economic reform.  Or it can be more overt, as when those same officials denigrate and arrest minorities.

But subtle or overt, such actions betray the values of our founders fought for.  The Museaum of the American Revolution reminds us we have a duty as citizens to look in that mirror, and to fight to reaffirm the principles of justice and equality for all that are the foundation of our great democracy.

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. (Thomas Pain, the American Crisis, December 23, 1776)

O Canada, Health Care, Glorious and Free

It is smooth sailing for Canadians accessing quality health care at reasonable cost. Shelburne Harbour, Nova Scotia, Sept. 14, 2017. TheDemocraticView.com

My wife Mary and I recently took a short vacation to the Maritime provinces.  We visited Yarmouth and Shelburne, among other small towns along the South Coast of Nova Scotia.  We reveled in the natural beauty of the landscapes and the warmth of the people we met.

The only time it got even remotely strained was when a Canadian customs agent asked “the purpose of our trip” and I joked that “I was seeking asylum from Donald Trump.”  Oops! As a veteran of the Vietnam War protests, I was remembering a time when Americans did flee to Canada to escape the draft, and were mostly welcomed.

Today, I am told, Americans are fleeing once again, but this time many are seeking access to the Canadian health care system which most closely resembles the single payer, “Medicare for All” approach advocated by Bernie Sanders and other Democrats.

But unlike the Vietnam War era, the welcome mat is not out.  The custom agent (and wife Mary) were visibly upset with my half-assed humor.  Before letting me through, the agent made me prove we had travel reservations for the return trip to the U.S.  Canadians, understandably, do not want to bear the costs for Americans looking for access to affordable health care.

The Canadian health care system is not perfect.  Some services are not covered, like dental, vision and mental health. Users must pay out-of-pocket or carry private insurance.  Still, basic health services are free; total per capital costs are significantly lower than in the U.S. and health outcomes, such as life expectancy and infant mortality, are better.

All citizens, Franklin Roosevelt once proclaimed, have a “right” to a living wage, housing and health care.

Obamacare was a positive step in that direction.  In their latest effort, the Graham-Cassidy bill, Republicans are trying to roll back Obamacare not because they believe in “states rights,” as their latest, repackaged rhetoric would have you believe.  Rather, Republicans simply want to avoid paying higher taxes to subsidize low income folks – even if that means effectively denying basic health coverage to millions of people.

Well, democracy has a price.  Franklin Roosevelt understood that.  Canadians understand it and are living it every day.  But somewhere along the line, many Americans lost sight of basic democratic values of justice and equality.  People struggling to make ends meet should never have to choose between food on the table and a visit to the doctor.  Never.

Republicans, motivated by big money and corporate interests, are once again assailing our basic rights – and we need to fight back.

O Canada! Our home and native land!

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,

The True North strong and free!

Hillary Clinton: The Blame Game Revisited

What HappenedHillary Clinton’s new book, entitled “What Happened,” is due out later this month.  Based on excerpts circulating on the web, Clinton blames her loss in part on Bernie Sanders for repeatedly attacking her and setting up Trump’s refrain “Crooked Hillary.”  She also questions Sanders’ Democratic credentials and asserts that she, not Bernie Sanders, is the real Democrat.

Here’s another view:  the problem with Hillary Clinton was (and continues to be) that she is totally out-of-touch with reality and with ordinary Americans, having spent far too much time raising money from big donors rather than listening to, and addressing, the concerns of ordinary Americans.

And, by most accounts, Clinton ran a terrible campaign, one that was overly differential to her as an individual, to her ego, and not the important issues of our day, such as inequality and wage stagnation.

To make matters worse, all she really had to do to win the election was to embrace the Progressive movement and send a message of unity.  Instead, her campaign worked overtime to discredit and undermine Bernie Sanders, alienating his supporters, the very people whose energy and enthusiasm she needed to get elected.

And she continues to insult the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party by declaring that she’s the real Democrat and Bernie Sanders is some sort of interloper.  Well, the policies advocated by Hilary Clinton make it seem as if she is actually a Republican, or at best, a moderate Democrat stuck in a 1990’s time warp.

I have a message for Hillary – democratic politics is changing.   There is a new Progressive movement afoot in the land.   Maybe you, and other icons of the establishment, should get on board.  In the meantime, enjoy those book royalties from people naive enough to pay good money to hear the same failed message – over and over and over again.

Let’s Fix Our Broken Political System

Civility in Politics
Source: Pinterest.com

Back in the old days (and TDV remembers those days, barely) there was an ethos in politics: you were expected to be courteous and respectful of others, even those with differing points of view.

Well, those days, which lasted from roughly the Post-War period through the 1970’s, are long gone. Today, in American politics, it is not only OK to viciously attack those with whom you disagree, it is expected, a de facto prerequisite to participate in politics.

What happened? Well, the economy went south in the 1970’s and 1980’s and the purchasing power of working people in particular was hammered by inflation. Republicans cleverly exploited people’s angst by blaming it all on the government, and Democrats acquiesced.

Then came the internet and cable TV, and it was the people who shouted the loudest and attacked their opponents who got the most attention and were elected to public office.

To make matters worse, the Supreme Court in the Citizens’ United decision in 2010 held that money is an expression free speech, opening the floodgates to a tidal wave of special interest spending. This has only served to reinforce the shouting and mud-slinging that now passes for political debate in this country.

What to do about it? Well, the most obvious answer is to boot Donald Trump from office, since he is the culmination, the very epitome, of all that has gone wrong with our political system over decades since the 1980’s.

But we also believe it is not enough simply to oppose Trump. We must repair and rebuild our political culture and system so we treat people with respect; hold accountable those who don’t, and demand that elected officials actually do their jobs.

Here are a just a few obvious steps we could take to help heal a divisive culture and a broken political system:

  • We should ban political advertising on television because you can’t inform in 30 seconds. It has become all negative attack ads that only inflame passions rather than foster real debate.
  • We should give candidates free debate time on public television. After all, public television is subsidized by our tax dollars. Let’s use that subsidy to help foster a serious discussion of the important issues we face, rather than simply attack one’s opponents.
  • We should challenge Citizens’ United and limit the amount of money in politics.
  • We should insist that Congress actually do its job and require full disclosure of political contributions. There is simply no excuse for the amount of “dark money” in politics – except that our elected officials refuse to do anything about.
  • Also, and perhaps most importantly, let’s have term limits for those serving in Congress, so we routinely get fresh ideas and new blood from people who have not spent an entire career pandering to special interests for campaign donations.

And we are just warming up! Are you listening @TheDemocrats. It is not enough to simply oppose Trump. Tell us where you stand on the issues, and propose solutions, so we never, ever wind up in this place – ever again.

Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize

Andrew Young
Civil rights icon Andrew Young appearing on Meet the Press

Andrew Young was interviewed on Meet the Press on Sunday (Aug. 20) in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, Va.  Young, a veteran of the Civil Rights movement and protege of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., agreed with the essence of TDV’s point of view that we need to be careful not to let our outrage and condemnation drown out larger issues that may be in play including extreme poverty and lack of opportunity for too many Americans of all races.

Here are excerpts from the interview with Young:

The reason I feel uncomfortable condemning the Klan types is they are almost the poorest of the poor. They are the forgotten Americans. They have been used and abused and neglected …

We need to keep our eyes on the prize, and the prize is not everyone getting even. The prize is redemption …

Our job is not to put down white people. Our job is to lift everyone up together, to learn to live together as brothers and sisters, rather than perish together as fools.”

In addition to advising and marching with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights movement, Young formerly served as Chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was also a congressman from Georgia; UN ambassador during the Carter Administration, and the Mayor of Atlanta.

Here’s a video of the full interview at nbcnews.com