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

Beyond Charlottesville: Addressing Underlying Causes of Racism and Violence

Racism and violence, of the kind we saw in Charlottesville, Va, this past week always merit our outage and condemnation.  But we have to be careful. Such attitudes pose a subtle danger: they can be overly simplistic and serve to obscure underlying issues that contribute to the unrest.

History has taught us that racism and violence are often symptoms of a deeper malaise rooted in economic hardship.  That was one of the lessons learned from the Nazis in W.W.II. They were able to exploit people’s economic anxiety and fear to create a police state that persecuted and killed Jews and other minorities.

America today is not Nazi Germany.  But there are parallels, not the least of which is an elected leader wiling to stoke fear and division for political gain rather than encouraging people to come together to pursue a greater, public good.

Meanwhile, economic opportunity and upward mobility have all but vanished for many Americans, rural and urban, white and black.  People feel trapped; there’s no place to go; the future looks bleak, and they lash out at everyone and everything that is different from them.

In a democratic society, we have a responsibility not only to condemn the racism and violence, but also to try to understand and address underlying issues – including pervasive poverty and a broken economy that leaves people feeling frustrated and trapped with few options for improving their lives.

Of course Trump has said many times that fixing the economy so it works for everyone is a central goal of his administration.  But his is purposefully misleading rhetoric designed to inflame passions rather than heal wounds.  The problem is all those immigrants and foreigners taking our jobs!  Trump and others like him are the problem, not the solution.  Scratch the surface of his policy proposals and its tax cuts for the rich that is at the core of Trump’s agenda (and that of his Republican allies in Congress).

The reality is that fixing the economy requires just the opposite: raising taxes on the wealthy, whose incomes have skyrocketed in recent decades while wages for working Americans have stagnated.   Taxes on high earners are at the lowest point in modern history.  The proceeds of the higher taxes should be invested in basic infrastructure, roads, bridges and transit systems – and in people, in health care, education and job training.  That would stimulate job creation and economic growth for all Americans.

Particular emphasis should be placed on investing in inner cities and rural areas where poverty and lack of opportunity are most pervasive.

Sounds like a heavy lift, and it is.  Politicians who propose higher taxes of any kind quickly become fodder for a flurry of attack ads.

Fortunately, there are some politicians willing to step-up:  Senator Bernie Sanders, the former Democratic presidential nominee, for one; more recently, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York  proposed a tax on those earning over $500,000 to pay for long overdue subway repairs that primarily benefit working class New Yorkers.

We should always condemn racism and violence in all its forms, but we should never stop searching for the underlying causes and work to address those issues.  A rigged economy, that favors the wealthy while leaving working and poor people behind, is a contributing factor to the kind racism and violence we’re seeing in Charlottesville (and around the word).

The very fabric of American democracy is fraying.  It is time to fix it, with real, concrete economic reforms that improve the lives of all Americans, black, brown and white.

Crossing a Red Line

In the past, it has been rare that an event in American politics provokes such outrage. That’s because politicians are trained to offend as few as possible and appeal to a broad middle class and win elections.

So what is wrong with Donald Trump? He essentially won because the Democratic Party, (mis)led by Hilary Clinton, split in two – Progressives and moderates. The so-called moderates couldn’t seem to relate to working people or offer a positive message of change. Ultimately, they failed to generate the enthusiasm needed to counter Trump’s vacuous, populist bluster.

In this environment, one would expect Trump to move to the middle, to cement his support with disaffected voters on the margins whom he will need to win the next election.

Instead, Trump has doubled down with dangerous, “bomb”-bastic rhetoric targeted to his most ardent followers. In so doing, he has violated one of the most sacred pillars of American politics – America’s nuclear arsenal is intended as a deterrent, and you never, ever threaten nuclear war for political gain.

But that is just what Trump did and, in so doing, he has proven himself unfit for office.

He now needs to feel the “fire and fury” of the American electorate.

A Small Ray of Hope for American Democracy

Senator John McCain

Here at TDV we are Progressives. We believe in strong government that works for the people to improve their lives. That includes enabling a robust economy and providing educational opportunity and quality health care to all Americans. And, in the richest country on earth, no one, ever, should be forced to live in poverty.

Then, on the other hand, we are also realists. Not everyone is going to agree with us. Our point of view is more prevalent among young people in the big cities of our country. In rural America, the prevailing view tends to be much more conservative, libertarian, and anti-government.

This tension is not new. It has been a dominant theme in American politics since the founding when Jefferson and Hamilton faced off over the role of government, the creation of a central bank and the drafting of a constitution.

Yet, throughout our history, the political parties have usually found a way to reach compromise and to put the good of the people above partisan politics.

With the most recent election, however, any concept of compromise to achieve a higher public good seems to have gone missing. Trump and his allies, with few exceptions, appear to be in this exclusively for their own aggrandizement. Trump may be democratically elected, but he acts exactly like what he is: an oligarch.

Following the President’s lead, Republicans in Congress recently tried to ram through the repeal of “Obamacare”, President’s Obama’s signature health care legislation, with no Democratic support. During the debate in Congress, it started to become painfully obvious, and more than a little depressing, that our democratic system was floundering the shoals of abject partisanship. Are we really going to deny millions of people health care so we can cut taxes for the rich yet again?

Then one man, Senator John McCain, stood up, and joining two of his female colleagues, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, issued a “thumbs down,” to the repeal of Obamacare.

And in so doing so McCain, recently diagnosed with brain cancer, saved millions of Americans from losing their health care. Now, inspired by McCain, Collins and Murkowski, other Republicans such as Senator Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate committee responsible for health care legislation, have promised to work with Democrats to fix Obamacare rather than repeal it. And, so, after months of vicious partisanship, there appears to be a glimmer of hope that Democrats and Republicans can actually work together to get something accomplished for the good of the American people.

McCain is a conservative who supports high defense spending and the aggressive use of American military power.  TDV doesn’t agree with much of what McCain stands for, but we admire him as a hero and a patriot who endured torture during more than five years of captivity in North Vietnam’s infamous “Hanoi Hilton” (Hao Lo prison).  More recently, McCain has also proven himself a man of real principal who rebuffed the leaders of his own party to help save American democracy.

Thank you (again) Senator McCain for your service.  A few more people like you in Congress and maybe our troubled democracy can be still be salvaged.

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Here’s How Democrats Can Start Winning Elections Again

Mark Penn and Andrew Stein argue in a New York Times Op-Ed piece that Democrats should reject the “siren calls” of the left and move back to the center in order to win elections. Penn should know: From 1995 to 2008, he was the former pollster and senior adviser to those paragons of centrism, Bill and Hillary Clinton. Stein is the former president of Manhattan borough and New York City Council who was convicted of tax evasion in 2011 and endorsed Donald Trump for president last year.

The essence of their argument is not new: that Democrats have lost elections by advocating big government and failing to appeal to working class voters on the core issues they care about most: trade, immigration, jobs and the economy. In endorsing Trump, Stein wrote in a Wall Street Journal Op Ed piece: “He (Trump) is for strong pro-growth policies like reducing the marginal and corporate tax rates and eliminating thousands of job-killing and business-stifling regulations, the biggest of which is ObamaCare.”

That’s one point of view, mostly shared by Republicans and, sadly, too many so-called Democrats. Here’s another view: Democrats have lost elections because they became too centrist, caved to political expediency, and used polls to determine their positions on important issues rather than standing up for core Democratic principles. Those principles include the need to guide and regulate capitalism so the economic benefits of the economy don’t flow only to those at the very top of the income scale.

Ensuring that economic benefits are fairly distributed is not “big government” or “job killing regulation” as many Republicans and corporate Democrats, such as Penn and Stein, would have you believe. It’s fair government and we need more, not less of it.

When Democrats stand-up for equality and opportunity for all, without equivocation, in plain language, as they did in the earlier times after W.W. II and, more recently, as part of the Bernie Sanders campaign, maybe they will regain the mantle as “the Party of the People” and start winning elections again.

Voices from the Past: Remembering JFK

President John. F. Kennedy

Through much of the late 1940’s and 1950’s, the U.S. was in a state of fear. The memories of the Great Depression and W.W. II were still fresh, but now Soviet domination of Eastern Europe was replacing Fascism as the next great threat. The Korean War was fought in 1950 through July 1953, highlighting the rise of Communist China.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg went on trial in 1951, accused of passing atomic secrets to the Soviets. They were executed in 1953 in what many regarded as a legalized lynching.

Shortly thereafter, a prominent member of the Rosenberg’s prosecution team, Roy Cohn, was appointed chief counsel to the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and, working for Senator Joseph McCarthy, helped lead the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954.  Those hearings further whipped the nation into a near frenzy of fear and suspicion. It was a low point when American liberties were tested, a time in which it was a de facto crime simply to associate with known “Communists”.

In those dark days, a little known junior senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, published a book in 1957, Profiles in Courage, which came through as a ray of sunshine.   Indeed, times were changing. The economy was improving and Americans were emerging from the shadows of the post-war period into a new era of optimism and hope. Kennedy’s book, which profiled senators down through history who stood up and fought for what they believed irrespective of the consequences, captured that new spirit and helped catapult Kennedy to the Presidency over Richard Nixon in 1960.

It is worth revisiting some of Kennedy’s words in Profiles In Courage (and later repeated in a 1960 speech) as we enter a moment in American history when fear and suspicion again seem to be triumphing over the American spirit of optimism and hope:

If by a ‘Liberal’ they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people-their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties-someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a ‘Liberal’, then I’m proud to say I’m a ‘Liberal’.

Kennedy was not perfect. As if forgetting his own words, as President he took the country to the near brink of war over the Cuban missile crisis. And there were accusations that much of Profiles In Courage was ghost written. But there is no denying that Kennedy helped usher in a new, more optimistic period in American history, and that may be his greatest legacy and one worth remembering in times of crisis.

Kennedy’s words remind us that “liberalism” is not a dirty word, but a way of viewing the world that is inherently optimistic; that rejects fear mongering and embraces the role of government in serving the needs of people.

Fostering Terrorism, Selling Arms to Dictators and Screwing the Poor

This was a bizarre week in U.S. politics, and it wasn’t because of Donald Trump’s tweets. Two things happened that gave us more insight into who Donald Trump really is: Trump went on his first foreign tour, and his administration released its 2018 proposed budget.

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, we witnessed Trump declaring war on “radical Islamist terrorism.” In the ridiculous extravagance of the Saudi Royal palace, Trump could be seen cozying up to the self-same autocrats and dictators who repress their own people, deny women rights, bomb civilians in Yemen and Iraq and support Wahhabi Islam, a fundamentalist strain that does more to foster terrorism than combat it.

Meanwhile, the avowed enemy, Iran, was holding what, by most accounts, was free and fair elections. So much for America being a beacon of democracy around the globe.

The real purpose of the trip was revealed when Trump, while in Riyadh, signed a $100 billion-plus arms sale agreement with the Saudis.  At least the President is being transparent.

While Trump was in Saudi Arabia doing the bidding of U.S. arms manufacturers, his administration back at home was releasing its blueprint for the 2018 federal budget. In a nutshell, the budget is another bonanza for the armaments industry with defense spending rising more than 10% while domestic discretionary spending is slashed. Many of the largest cuts are to programs, such as Medicare, that are intended to aid the poor and disadvantaged.

In addition, Trump’s budget proposal contains still more tax cuts for the rich, paid for by a presumed rebound in economic growth from 2% to  3% annually – a level not seen consistently since the 1990’s. The rebound assumes all those tax cuts he’s recommending will “trickle down” to the ordinary working people Trump claims to represent. More supply-side B.S.

Here again, the underlying strategy is pretty obvious: Let Congress fight over where and how to cut the budget, divert people’s attention and take the heat while more tax cuts for the rich slip through amidst the clamor and chaos of a dysfunctional Congressional budget process.

Note to Donald Trump : The American people are not as stupid as you think they are.