Street art by TankPetrol
Street art by TankPetrol
MONDAY, APR 24, 2017 06:00 AM PDT
President Donald Trump’s ridiculous plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would be slightly less disgusting if we were confident that he knew what the hell he was talking about. Throughout the past two years, though, it’s impossible to point to a single instance in which anyone, including Trump’s staff and supporters, could say that he totally nailed the nuances of the issue. Not once — ever.
Sure, he’s regularly claimed that the ACA is collapsing, contrary to the recent scoring by the Congressional Budget Office. He’s also mentioned that the ACA is a disaster. Same situation. He’s mentioned that under his replacement plan, everyone will have coverage that he or she loves and will save a lot of money in the process.
Oh, and he said something about keeping the ACA’s language about pre-existing conditions and “children living with their parents.” He noted the latter on a small, seldom-watched show called “60 Minutes,” despite the fact that there’s nothing in the law about covering kids who live with their parents. Yeah, it’s one of the top two most popular aspects of the ACA, and he couldn’t accurately describe it: The law allows adult children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26 — regardless of where they live.
Perhaps Trump’s ignorance about the law is allowed to slide because his supporters know even less about the ACA than he does. Though it’s not just when Trump talks about the ACA that he sounds like an eighth-grader bluffing his way through an essay exam. That describes everything he says about health care in general. The president who chose health care reform as his big legislative goal in his first 100 days doesn’t know anything about how health care works.
As part of his effort to resurrect a major legislative crash and burn, what’s been nicknamed “Trumpcare,” the president fielded a question last week about the status of his negotiations with the House Freedom Caucus, the far-right hotheads largely identified with members of the Tea Party.
During a joint press conference with the president of Italy, Trump said, “The plan gets better and better and better, and it’s gotten really, really good. And a lot of people are liking it a lot. We have a good chance of getting it soon; I’d like to say next week, but it will be — I believe we will get it, and whether it’s next week or shortly thereafter.”
Words have no meaning for Trump.
“It’s gotten really, really good” isn’t the language of a man who’s familiar with the details. In fact, he can’t say anything specific about anything related to health care, for two reasons. First, he just doesn’t know. Generally, the ongoing rule about Donald Trump is that he knows nothing. Second, the details of Trumpcare, at least in terms of what’s being discussed partly in secret, totally undermine his promises for universal, affordable coverage. Discussing those details out loud would expose the game. Oh and incidentally, “gotten really, really good” might sound familiar because it’s the same awkward phrase Will Ferrell once used in a George W. Bush parody video back in 2004 (check the YouTube clip at 40 seconds in). In other words, at least until recently, describing how things have “gotten really, really good” was merely a joke at the expense of stupid people. Now the actual president talks like that. Hashtag Make America Great Again.
Nevertheless, if Trump were to actually tell us what’s in the latest version of Trumpcare, he might have to acknowledge that there’s no legislative text; there’s no actual bill yet. Nothing exists on paper. He’d also have to acknowledge that this new iteration won’t be more affordable and indeed that many more people will be kicked off their insurance policies under the new “really, really good” version of Trumpcare than would have lost insurance under the now-defunct American Health Care Act.
The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson called Trumpcare 2.0 “comically bad.” But that language understates the awfulness of what’s being debated. Robinson reported last week that proponents of this new version are claiming it would protect essential health benefits (covering things like “hospitalization, maternity and emergency care” according to Robinson) and protect people with pre-existing conditions.
But here’s the catch. States will be able to opt out of covering essential health benefits. We can assume most red states will opt out, not unlike the way they opted out of the Medicaid expansion, for no other reason than they hate Obama. Smart. (By the way, the new version preserves the slow phaseout of the Medicaid expansion.) States can also opt out of the pre-existing conditions language as long as they create “high risk pools.” Of course this is totally unacceptable because Trumpcare 2.0 doesn’t prevent insurers from charging dramatically higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions — basically rebuilding the pre-ACA system of gouging and usury against people who need health care the most.
Making matters worse, especially in the near term, it appears as though Trump is planning to use subsidy payments to customers with existing ACA marketplace policies as potential ransom in the forthcoming battle over a potential government shutdown. To put it another way, if the Democrats don’t agree to support appropriations to build Trump’s ridiculous border wall, Trump will withhold subsidies for literally millions of ACA customers. That means Trump haters in blue states and, yes, Trump fanboys in red states, too. Everyone living below 400 percent of the federal poverty level will lose their subsidies unless the Democrats vote for Trump’s pointless wall, which (not insignificant) was supposed to be financed by Mexico.
If both sides fail to agree, the government will be shut down as of Saturday. So Trump is basically saying, “Yeah, I promised Mexico will pay for the wall. But now that I’m reneging on a major platform plank like the weasel I am, I’m going to hold the lives of millions for ransom.” Yes, this is the bargaining position of the chief executive who pledged in his inaugural address to be the people’s president. America first, etc.
Really, really gotten good? You decide.
Again, we have no choice but to wonder whether Trump has even the slightest idea what’s at stake. Does he know how many of his red-blooded MAGA-hat wearing loyalists will lose their subsidies in this ludicrous cash grab for the border wall? Do his loyalists know? I doubt it. Does he even understand how and why the ACA subsidies are distributed? Does he realize how obvious it is that he’s entirely clueless about what will happen in a government shutdown or that his health care plan will lead to far worse outcomes than the current situation — even if the ACA marketplaces collapse, as he has predicted?
Does he know that the marketplaces are only a part of a more comprehensive pair of Obamacare-related bills containing critically important consumer protections, which are supported by majorities of Americans? No way. He knows none of it. It’s worth repeating this maxim because the more we internalize it, the more we embrace the horror, the better: Trump knows nothing.
The distinctive feature of these bleak times is the lack of institutional capacity on the left – the absence of a political party that swings free of Wall Street and speaks to the dire circumstances of poor and working people. As the first 100 days of the plutocratic and militaristic Trump administration draw to a close, one truth has been crystal clear: the Democratic party lacks the vision, discipline and leadership to guide progressives in these turbulent times.
The neoliberal vision of the Democratic party has run its course. The corporate wing has made it clear that the populist wing has little power or place in its future. The discipline of the party is strong on self-preservation and weak on embracing new voices. And party leaders too often revel in self-righteousness and self-pity rather than self-criticism and self-enhancement. The time has come to bid farewell to a moribund party that lacks imagination, courage and gusto.
The 2016 election – which Democrats lost more than Republicans won – was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The unfair treatment of Bernie Sanders was but the peak of the iceberg. In the face of a cardboard Republican candidate equipped with pseudo-populist rhetoric and ugly xenophobic plans, the Democratic party put forward a Wall Street-connected and openly militaristic candidate with little charisma.
The crucial issues of a $15 minimum wage and saying no to fracking, no to TPP, no to Israeli occupation and yes to single-payer healthcare were pushed aside by the corporate wing and the populist wing was told to quit whining or take responsibility for the improbable loss.
The monumental collapse of the Democratic party – on the federal, state and local levels – has not yielded any serious soul-wrestling or substantive visionary shifts among its leadership. Only the ubiquitous and virtuous Bernie remains true to the idea of fundamental transformation of the party – and even he admits that seeking first-class seats on the Titanic is self-deceptive and self-destructive.
We progressives need new leadership and institutional capacity that provides strong resistance to Trump’s vicious policies, concrete alternatives that matter to ordinary citizens and credible visions that go beyond Wall Street priorities and militaristic policies. And appealing to young people is a good testing ground.
Even as we forge a united front against Trump’s neofascist efforts, we must admit the Democratic party has failed us and we have to move on. Where? To what? When brother Nick Brana, a former Bernie campaign staffer, told me about the emerging progressive populist or social democratic party – the People’s party – that builds on the ruins of a dying Democratic party and creates new constituencies in this moment of transition and liquidation, I said count me in.
And if a class-conscious multi-racial party attuned to anti-sexist, anti-homophobic and anti-militaristic issues and grounded in ecological commitments can reconfigure our citizenship, maybe our decaying democracy has a chance. And if brother Bernie Sanders decides to join us – with many others, including sister Jill Stein and activists from Black Lives Matter and brown immigrant groups and Standing Rock freedom fighters and betrayed working people – we may build something for the near future after Trump implodes.
Street art by Oiseau
SUNDAY, APR 23, 2017 02:00 PM PDT
Next week we will mark the 100th day that Donald Trump has been president of the United States. Tens of millions of Americans are still in a state of shock. These 100 days have made them feel like enemy outsiders in their own country.
It was said some years ago that “when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” This left the American people unprepared for how neofascism came instead in the form of Donald Trump, a reality TV star, racist, bigot, con artist and professional wrestling aficionado.
How did the United States arrive at this moment?
The American news media betrayed its sacred role as guardians of democracy who inform the public so that they can be responsible citizens who make informed political decisions.
There is a deep crisis of faith and trust in America’s political and social institutions. America’s political culture is highly polarized and divisive. The Republican Party has embraced a strategy of destroying the existing political rules and norms that make effective governance possible. Today’s conservatism is regressive and reactionary. It is an enemy of the commons and of the very idea of government.
Racism, bigotry and nativism compelled Donald Trump’s voters to act out in a nihilistic temper tantrum.
Voter demobilization and gerrymandering have subverted democracy and given Republicans a political chokehold on the country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin used his country’s intelligence agencies to undermine the 2016 presidential election by manipulating the American news media and Republican voters in favor of Donald Trump.
But none of these forces would have been so powerful if not for a deeper cultural rot and moral weakness in American society. This is what philosopher Henry Giroux has described as the “culture of cruelty.” It is the intersection of creeping authoritarianism, militarism, surveillance, violence by the state against its citizens, gangster capitalism and extreme wealth inequality, the assault on the very idea of community and government, widespread loneliness, and social dominance behavior against the Other.
How did the culture of cruelty help to create the political and social circumstances for the election of Donald Trump? Is the United States now a fascist and authoritarian state? What are the issues that could potentially unite the American people to create a more humane society and to resist the cultural and political forces that helped to elect Trump? Are Trump’s voters victims? Is American democracy in a state of crisis and permanent decline? What should resistance look like in this moment?
In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Giroux, a professor of English and cultural studies at McMaster University in Canada. He has written dozens of articles and books, including “America at War with Itself” and the forthcoming “The Public in Peril: Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism.”
What does it feel like from your point of view, having written so much about the culture of cruelty and authoritarianism, to watch it unfold in the United States in real time?
I’ve been writing about the potential for authoritarianism in the United States for 20 years. This is not a new discourse for me. What has often surprised me is not that it unfolded or the new liberal orthodoxy that increasingly made it appear more and more possible. What shocked me was the way the left has refused to really engage this discourse in ways that embrace comprehensive politics, that go beyond the fracturing single-issue movements and begin to understand both what the underlying causes of these authoritarian movements have been and what it might mean to address them.
You have to ask yourself, what are the forces at work in the United States around civic culture, around celebrity culture, around the culture of fear, around the stoking of extremism and anger about issues? About a media that creates a culture of illusion, about the longstanding legacy of racism and terror in the United States. I mean, how did that all come together to produce a kind of authoritarian pedagogy that basically isolated people, and made them feel lonely? All of a sudden they find themselves in a community of believers, in which the flight from reality offers them a public sphere in which they can affirm themselves and no longer feel that they’re isolated.
Are Donald Trump’s voters victims?
I think the notion of victim is really a bad term because it takes away any pretense for agency and social responsibility.
I try to crystallize it down to, “They voted to hurt people.”
That’s right. Exactly.
The corporate news media has refused to admit this. They want to rehabilitate these folks as having “buyer’s remorse.” That is absurd. The vast majority of Trump’s voters do not regret a damn thing. When you actually go out and look at the data it is clear that Trump is a Republican. Trump supports their agenda and conservatives are happy he is doing their bidding.
We know the anger that most of Trump’s voters were supposedly mobilized around was not against the rich. It was not about income inequality. It was about racism. It was about white supremacy. It was about inflicting pain on people. It was about taking away social provisions that even they would benefit from in the name of a false appeal to “individual freedom” and “liberty.”
This also gets us to how American liberals and progressives are seemingly unable to craft powerful narratives.
My take is that if they go to the root of the problem, they indict themselves. I think that language becomes for them simply a question of coding that often hides what they’re basically responsible for in terms of the culture of cruelty, barbarism and violence. When you talk about the mass incarceration state, you’re talking about Democrats. If you want to talk about drone strikes and private armies, you’re talking about Democrats. I think people who look to liberals for some sort of salvation in this country are fooling themselves. We need a third party and we need to stop equating capitalism and democracy.
What do you think will happen in America in the future?
I think that what we’re going to discover is that no society can exist when there’s no social fabric to bring them together. The emotional quotient has been so lowered, the bar is so low now that the only thing that people feel basically is around questions of violence and idiocy. That’s a lethal combination. It’ll be interesting to see how people talk about this issue in the future, in ways where they try to understand how the very notion of agency itself was destroyed, commercialized, commodified and turned into something that was weaponized.
Donald Trump is the crystallization of everything wrong in this country. It is funny to watch the talking heads on television and elsewhere wring their hands. They are trying to argue that Trump won despite being a misogynist, sexual abuser, bigot, racist and white supremacist. I argue that Trump won precisely because he was all of those things.
Donald Trump is the distillation of an attack on democracy that has become more cruel, more brutal and more poisonous, more militarized and more violent since the 1970s. To simply view him as eccentric, to view him as some kind of clown who now has tapped into a certain element of the culture, is to really miss the point.
What do you think are three or four specific policy goals or initiatives that could potentially bring together Donald Trump’s voters and the majority of Americans?
The first thing that has to be talked about, without any question whatsoever, is a national health care plan. Second, we need a social wage, a universal wage. Third, we need a jobs program.
Bernie Sanders was talking about many of these issues. Why do you think they did not resonate enough to win him the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination?
It did not resonate because he is seen as part of the Democratic Party. He was a fool. I do not understand why he did this. Once Hillary Clinton won the nomination, it became embarrassing. All of a sudden Sanders is talking about issues that the Democratic Party hates. He’s talking about issues that the Democratic Party runs away from. Yet he’s arguing for issues that are basically very progressive within a structure that’s incredibly reactionary. What the hell is wrong with him? Does he not get it?
To return to questions of language, the news media has decided to legitimate white supremacists by calling them the “alt-right.” I view this as an act of surrender and cowardice.
I never use the word “alt-right” in my work. Never. I talk about white supremacists. I don’t use the words “fake news.” I talk about lies — state lies, state-manufactured lies.
What do you think resistance should look like against Donald Trump and his regime?
Direct action. We need to talk about an economic strike. You need to bring groups together all over the country to shut it down. The country has got to become ungovernable. There are going to be moments here that even you and I will be shocked by. Trust me: This is coming. You are now living in a terrorist state. This is what the essence of totalitarianism is about. It’s organized around terror, and that’s exactly what this administration is about. I think more and more people will organize and more and more people will realize that this can’t be simply about local demonstrations. I think the only way that the Trump administration can deal with dissent is to attempt to humiliate people — but even more importantly, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions there will be a systemic expansion of what I call “punishment creep,” where every facet of society will be criminalized.
If you were to give a diagnosis for the health of American democracy, what would it be?
It’s a democracy that’s on life support. It can’t breathe. I don’t think we are tipping over into neofascism. I think we’ve tipped over. It’s just a more subtle form of neofascism than anything we’ve seen in the past. The argument that we have to have concentration camps to talk about fascism is nonsense. As any theorist of fascism will tell you, if it comes to America, it will come in different forms.
Are you ever afraid? Do you ever say to yourself, “My God, how did we get here?”
I remember in 1980, watching Ronald Reagan get elected. I remember being around friends. At the time, I was teaching at Boston University. I thought, “Holy shit! This is really a turning point.” But it didn’t hit me existentially the way the Trump election did. I woke up the next day and I felt paralyzed. I felt that we had entered into something so dark, so real, so evil that there was really no precedent for it in terms of its all-encompassing possibilities for death, destruction and violence. I had a hard time functioning for about a week. I think in some ways there’s a residue of that I can’t shake, that now informs my work.
Photo Credit: mnps.org
Though much has been written about President Trump’s proposed budget cuts, little has been said about how his largest proposed cut to public schools, the total elimination of $2.4 billion in Title IIA funds, would likely increase class size across the nation.
Most schools have already have seen sharp increases in class size since the great recession. While the number of public K-12 teachers and other school staff fell by 221,000 since 2008, the number of students increased by 1,120,000. In NY state, the total number of teachers in New York state public schools plunged by about 26,000 between 2008-2015, according to NYSED statistics. In New York City, this has resulted in sharp increases in class size, with Kindergarten through 3rd grade classes larger than they were in 1999; in grades 4-8, larger than in 2004. This year, more than 300,000 NYC students are crammed into classes of 30 or more.
The Title IIA program has existed at least since the Eisenhower administration, and until the year 2000 was used mostly for teacher training. President Clinton created a separate funding stream to help districts lower class size, but this dedicated funding was folded into the overall Title IIA program by George W. Bush when he became President. In 2015-2016, thirty-five percent of school districts used their Title IIA funds to hire teachers on staff to reduce class size- or more likely to prevent layoffs, and this was especially true in the highest poverty districts. In New York City, the entire allocation of $101 million in Title IIA funds was used to prevent further class size increases – which helped prevent the elimination of approximately 1000 teaching positions.
Why is this important? Class size reduction is not only extremely popular among parents and teachers – it is one of the very few reforms proven to work through rigorous evidence, and to provide especially large benefits for children from low-income families and students of color, who see twice the academic gains from small classes. Indeed, it is only one of a handful of educational policies that has been shown to significantly narrow the achievement gap between economic and racial groups.
Research has also linked smaller classes to improvements in many other ways, boosting non-cognitive skills and parent involvement. Class size reduction lessens disciplinary problems because students are more engaged in classroom discussion and debate and less likely to be disruptive. Small classes also ease teacher attrition rates – particularly in high-needs districts, because teachers are more successful they are less likely to quit the profession or transfer to schools with more advantaged students. See the Class Size Matters research summary, showing these and other benefits.
Trump and his Education Secretary Betsy Devos want to completely eliminate Title IIA funds, while at the same time increasing government support to privately-run schools, including charters, parochial and private schools. They claim to be supporting a parent’s right to choose by expanding these options. Yet most parent’s first choice is a well-resourced, neighborhood public school with reasonably small classes, to ensure that their children are provided with sufficient attention and feedback from their teachers. The proposed elimination of Title IIA funds will work against parent choice, by making it even more difficult for parents to access these options – and will undermine the quality of education their children receive, especially those students who need small classes the most.
Shortly before his death, Kurt Vonnegut was asked: “If you were to build or envision a country that you could consider yourself to be a proud citizen of, what would be three of its basic attributes”? Vonnegut responded: “Just one: great public schools with classes of 12 or smaller.” Interviewer: “That’s it?” Vonnegut: “Yeah….Just do this.”
Though it’s unlikely that any public schools will be able to offer class sizes that small, the least the federal government can do is help preserve the class sizes students currently have. You can see how much your state currently receives in Title IIA funds here.