The Surprising Cross-Partisan Appeal of Single-Payer Healthcare

Where Trump voters and socialists agree.

BY THEO ANDERSON

“It’s not difficult to talk about healthcare with people from across the spectrum. People want to pit rural Trump voters against the educated, progressive people in the cities, and that’s not where the tension is.”

In early April, a public radio program in the Rust Belt city of Rochester, N.Y., spent an hour discussing healthcare—but not, as you might expect, the GOP’s attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. It focused instead on the brightening prospects for a single-payer healthcare system. The guests included a Trump voter and small-business owner, Tim Schiefen, and the co-chair of the Rochester chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Karen Vitale. What was remarkable was how little they disagreed.

Asked his opinion of single-payer, Schiefen responded that it was worth exploring. “The problem is putting the foxes in charge of the henhouse,” he said. “Why are we allowing these gross, overspending health insurance companies … to administer this stuff?”

Increasingly, the single-payer solution is generating that sort of consensus across ideological and party affiliations. In early April, an Economist/ YouGov poll showed that 60 percent of respondents supported a “Medicare for all” system, including 43 percent of people who identified as conservative and 40 percent of Trump voters.

The energy behind single payer is partly a result of the GOP’s success in pointing out the flaws in Obamacare, then failing to offer a workable alternative. Vitale believes that, in a paradoxical way, it’s also driven by Trump.

“I think Trump broke open a lot of things,” says Vitale, who grew up in a rural small town an hour south of Rochester. She says that the Trump voters she knows trusted his populist pitch— and “now they’re activated, and they’re acting from a place of self-interest. You can’t put them back in the box.” When Trump breaks campaign promises, she predicts, “They’re going to notice really quickly. They noticed with Trumpcare.”

That doesn’t mean they’re ready to abandon Trump. On the radio program, Schiefen said he appreciates Trump’s “moxie” and has no regrets. But he also said he would be willing to vote for Democrats with better ideas. “The whole system is built too much on us [versus] them,” he said. “Let’s put aside the differences. Let’s get to the root of the concern.”

A healthy interest

Vitale and other members of the Rochester DSA are part of a coalition pushing for single-payer reform in New York State. In early April, they traveled to Albany to lobby state legislators. They also regularly canvass the city, educating people about single payer and urging them to call their representatives.

“It’s not difficult to talk about healthcare with people from across the spectrum,” Vitale says. “People want to pit rural Trump voters against the educated, progressive people in the cities, and that’s not where the tension is. The tension is with suburban Trump voters who are wealthy and doing very well in our current healthcare system, and have no interest in reform.”

The power of single payer as an organizing tool seems to hold true across the nation. As with many DSA chapters, the East Bay DSA has seen a spike in membership since the election, and much of the new energy is being channeled into the push for single payer. The chapter sends hundreds of volunteers each month to canvass on behalf of the Healthy California Act, which would create a state single-payer system.

“It’s strategic because it’s something that’s going to profoundly benefit the vast majority of people,” says Ari Marcantonio, East Bay DSA’s lead organizer for the campaign. “So this is an issue we can mobilize tens of millions around. But single mothers, people of color, poor people and immigrants will benefit the most. ”

Among some conservatives, the shift in thinking on healthcare is being driven by the idea that, as Schiefen said, the insurance companies are profiting at the expense of people’s health. That critique allows them to pin the problems on Obamacare while embracing the idea of universal healthcare.

Consider Christopher Ruddy, a Trump supporter and CEO of the influential conservative website Newsmax. In a recent editorial, he urged Trump to “reject the phony private health insurance market as the panacea” and lamented that Paul Ryan’s second plan “accepts key parts of the Obamacare law that benefit the insurance industry, but it ends the Medicaid expansion program that benefits the poor and keeps costs down.”

Ruddy didn’t embrace a full single-payer system. But he did argue that Trump should honor his campaign pledge to provide universal healthcare. It could be achieved, he wrote, by expanding the Medicaid system “to become the country’s blanket insurer for the uninsured.”

When a dramatic expansion of the Medicaid program is a prominent conservative’s solution to our healthcare crisis, we’ve entered uncharted waters.

A bigger boat

As recently as last year, the push for a single-payer system seemed virtually dead among the Democratic establishment. Hillary Clinton ran on the promise of tweaking Obamacare. The liberal economist Paul Krugman wrote that Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for all” proposal was “just not going to happen anytime soon.”

Now, the goal seems a lot closer. In January, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) reintroduced a bill—originally put forth in 2003—that would create a publicly financed universal healthcare system funded largely by a payroll tax, tax hikes on the rich and a financial transactions tax. Conyers’ bill, The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, has widespread backing from unions, medical organizations and progressive groups, and had 104 co-sponsors as of late April.

Bernie Sanders has promised to introduce a single-payer bill in the Senate, leading CNN to predict that “Democrats eyeing the 2020 presidential contest could soon face a ‘Medicare-for-all’ litmus test from the party’s progressive base.” At a rally in March, Sanders said, “Every major country on earth guarantees healthcare to all people … don’t tell me that in the United States of America, we cannot do that.”

This abrupt turnabout is partly a result of the Republican failure to replace Obamacare. The GOP’s flailing has energized and focused the resistance to Trumpism while undermining the party’s legitimacy on the issue. The videos and headlines from raucous town halls have been particularly devastating. A Pew Research poll released in mid-April found a 19-point gap regarding which party is trustworthy on healthcare, with 54 percent saying that Democrats would do a better job.

At the same time, progressive energy has expanded the horizon of possibilities. Groups devoted to pushing the Democratic Party in a progressive direction—like Justice Democrats, Brand New Congress and Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC)—are making healthcare reform central to their work, and they’ve moved well beyond Obamacare. Brand New Congress, which recruits and supports progressive candidates for office, cites “making Medicare available to anyone who wants it” among its highest priorities. PCCC has collected more than 40,000 signatures on a petition that asserts, “All Democrats running for office in 2018 should publicly support and run on passing Medicare for All.” The goal is “to create a push for Democrats to go bold,” says Kaitlin Sweeney of PCCC.

These federal reform initiatives are working in synergy with state-level proposals. In Minnesota, state Sen. John Marty introduced legislation in January to create a single-payer system with universal coverage. More than 250,000 Minnesotans are currently uninsured.

“The Affordable Care Act was a half-baked solution,” says Marty, a member of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party. “I don’t want to minimize for a minute the difference it makes. It covered many millions more people. But … the system is dysfunctional, and it’s getting worse.”

Drop by drop

Marty compares the healthcare fight with the struggle for marriage equality, in which state laws created a domino effect. In 2008, he introduced a marriage equality bill in the Minnesota Senate and said it could pass in five years—which it did, in 2013. “This is doable stuff,” he says. “Times are changing and [single payer] could happen.”

None of the state-level campaigns are a sure thing. The November election turned the Minnesota legislature considerably “redder,” meaning Marty’s bill has no chance in the near term. The Healthy California Act, introduced in February, appears to have broad support in the legislature, but Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has been skeptical. In New York, single-payer legislation is stuck in the GOP-controlled Senate.

But if and when one state adopts a single-payer system, it could quickly alter the national political landscape, with implications far beyond the fight for healthcare reform. For DSA, the fight for single payer is intended to be the first stage of a revolutionary program.

“The single-payer campaign is really about training hundreds of young people who have never been involved in activism or politics to get brass tacks organizing skills, which are door-todoor outreach,” says Ari Marcantonio of East Bay DSA. “We’re using it to build a mass socialist organization, city by city, and the power and the infrastructure we need to win all kinds of things—like a living wage for all workers and housing as a human right.”

Fundamentally, he says, the aim is to “challenge the very deeply ingrained notion that markets are our friend.”

THEO ANDERSON

Theo Anderson, an In These Times writing fellow, has contributed to the magazine since 2010. He has a Ph.D. in modern U.S. history from Yale and writes on the intellectual and religious history of conservatism and progressivism in the United States. Follow him on Twitter @Theoanderson7 and contact him at theo@inthesetimes.com.

http://inthesetimes.com/article/20121/where-trump-voters-and-socialists-agree-single-payer

Amazon workers worldwide denounce dictatorial working conditions

“This is modern day slavery”

 (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, file)

By Eric London
26 May 2017

The launching of the International Amazon Workers Voice has provoked a flood of messages by Amazon workers exposing dictatorial conditions imposed by the corporation in workplaces across the world.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is able to make over $25,000 each minute through the exploitation of Amazon workers in every country, forcing them to toil under constant monitoring and work long hours for low wages, subjecting them to constant surveillance by management, and firing them for the slightest sign of opposition.

One Amazon worker in the United States told the International Amazon Workers Voice that she was fired for wearing a t-shirt from an old job that had a union logo on it. Corporate management questioned her, threatened her, and fired her for “insubordination.”

Fulfillment center in Tracy, California

The worker described walking many miles each day: “My hands would be swollen after shift. I had to tape my feet up to prevent blistering.”

Another worker called the work “modern day slavery.”

A young worker in the US said that several years ago, a worker fell to his death. “Somebody fell from a second story tower and it took Amazon 4 hours to look for him, just to find out he was dead. I don’t know if this story was ever covered by the news.”

This worker explained, “It’s a mess in these warehouses. My last year I hurt my back and they still had me work and I could barely walk. I took a leave just to take care of myself and then they got mad that I went to my own doctor.”

A worker in the UK said that the company penalizes workers for getting hurt.

“Someone hurt on the job? It gets raised to a leader who then calls first aid, they take a statement then ask if you are returning to work or going home. Going home incurs a half-point penalty.”

All over the world, the company forces workers to labor at fast, tiring, and often dangerous speeds. The UK worker said: “I still have near misses and collisions from people rushing…now it’s faster, faster, faster. It’s all about being on the go, meeting rates and targets.”

A third worker, an immigrant in the UK, said she was yelled at for talking to a coworker while the two continued to work. “We are not robots to just look at the shelves,” she said. “We do not go to the prisons, we go to work and I think we have the right to talk at work!”

Truck drivers working for companies associated with Amazon also complained of brutal working conditions and humiliation by the company.

A driver in the UK explained how Amazon once told him without notice that he would not be allowed to drive into the plant wearing a hoodie. Since he was wearing two hoodies that day with no undershirt, the company forced him to walk around the facility with no shirt on as an act of punishment.

He said, “These companies take the royal piss out of their drivers and we work like dogs for peanuts. After working a week 5 long days after deductions and fuel we take home less than £200 (US$250) per week.”

An American driver expressed similar sentiments: “Don’t even get me started on their delivery driving jobs. We’re not even considered Amazon employees so we get NONE of the benefits but all the experience of long days with not enough pay.”

These abuses are not simply the product of Amazon’s greed, they are the product of the capitalist system, which secures the “right” of the corporations to subject their workers to harsh exploitation. The harder workers labor and the less freedom they have at work, the higher Amazon’s profits will be.

Many workers expressed support for the launching of the International Amazon Workers Voice, which will be a center of opposition for Amazon workers everywhere and a place for Amazon workers to share their stories and expose the corporation for exploiting its workers.

“What you’re doing is great,” a worker from the UK wrote. “I think it’s a great video,” said another in the US, referring to the one-minute video published by the IAWV that has been viewed by tens of thousands of Amazon workers worldwide. Another wrote, “I think all the people watching this video are very happy with it.”

Amazon workers around the world: share your stories with your coworkers through the pages of the International Amazon Workers Voice! Do you have a story about brutal conditions and management abuse? Message us on Facebook, sign up to receive updates, and make your voice heard.

 

WSWS

Ignore the lofty rhetoric: Trump’s budget proposal is a massive tax cut paid for by brutally gouging the needy

Mick Mulvaney claims his budget puts “taxpayers first.” It slashes taxes for the rich and wreaks havoc on the poor

Ignore the lofty rhetoric: Trump's budget proposal is a massive tax cut paid for by brutally gouging the needy
Budget Director Mick Mulvaney(Credit: AP/Andrew Harnik)

Halfway through Mick Mulvaney’s press briefing on the Trump administration’s newly released budget proposal on Tuesday, I imagined his head morphing into that of a turkey vulture.

“The title [of this budget] should have been ‘A Taxpayer-First Budget’ because . . . we looked at this budget through the eyes of the people paying the bills,” the hideous vulture-human hybrid squawked. A minute later, while explaining what seemed to be his theory of taxation, the vulture-headed Mulvaney snarled, “If I take money from you and I have no intention of ever giving it back, that is not debt. That is theft.” In an editorial the same day, he added that this budget “will reverse that larceny.”

It was a framing of taxation that could have been cribbed verbatim from a right-wing website still being hosted on Geocities. One could imagine this vulture-headed, Mulvaney-shaped nightmare as something out of a Guillermo del Toro movie conducting the briefing as it perched on a dead tree above a landscape littered with the starving and desperate victims of this budget.

Make no mistake; this budget will have victims. Instead of using a scalpel to deftly cut the traditional conservative bogeyman of “waste, fraud and abuse” out of government, it uses a flamethrower to burn down the government to nothing.

The numbers are simply ridiculous. Twenty-one billion dollars yanked out of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides assistance for food and shelter to poor families struggling to cover expenses. A cut of $193 billion to food stamps funding. Cuts to all sorts of other programs that help society’s poorest and most vulnerable — with no plan to fill the sudden, gaping holes in those lives. All so that high-income earners can see further reductions in their taxes from already historically low levels.

Mulvaney framed all this as a way for the government to show compassion toward the taxpayers funding these programs. By implication, the Trump budget adopts the frame that got former Gov. Mitt Romney in trouble during the 2012 presidential campaign — the idea that 47 percent of the public is made up of moochers underwritten by the 53 percent who pay federal taxes. Which does nothing to explain this proposal’s cuts to important scientific research and federal agencies that provide frontline defenses against illnesses and epidemics — which after all do not recognize tax brackets when wreaking havoc on people’s lives.

This budget proposal is not all Trump’s doing, despite Mulvaney’s assertion that in writing it, “we took his priorities, we turned them into numbers, and that’s what’s in the document.” Even if we stipulate that this is true, it is worth noting how neatly Trump’s priorities dovetail with longtime Republican goals, particularly those held by Republicans like Mulvaney who crawled out of the Tea Party swamp, to disembowel government spending to the fullest possible extent. The gutting of Medicaid alone — another $600 billion cut in the budget proposal on top of the $900 billion taken out of the program by the American Health Care Act recently passed by the House — has been a Republican dream for decades. This is why House Speaker Paul Ryan is practically giddy about destroying it.

But in a way, the Trump budget is just an extension of the Trump campaign. It posits winners and losers in American society and plants itself firmly on the winning side. It tells all those hard-working Americans in Make America Great Again hats that the president is taking the country back from the elitist trust-fund kids in Brooklyn and freeloading illegal immigrants who stole it, and returning it to the Trumpsters. It tells them that they are society’s winners and will be treated as such, even as it disappears many, many of the government programs that even Trump voters rely on.

The silver lining here is that this is only a budget proposal. Like all presidential budgets, it is dead on arrival in Congress, whose members will actually write the appropriations bills that will fund the government in the next fiscal year. Before it was even released, Republicans were quick to slam Trump’s proposal for underfunding some of their own priorities.

And while the GOP often talks tough about government waste, no legislator wants to be the one who actually makes hard choices that take services away from constituents. No congressperson who values his seat wants to vote for Trump’s proposed 20 percent reduction in the Children’s Health Insurance Program and see an ad in the fall of 2018 starring a kid from his district whose family can no longer afford the child’s insulin.

To the extent that presidential budgets are useful, it is as a statement of an administration’s priorities and values. Mulvaney and his boss might claim that theirs are compassionate, but this proposal is not an example of that word that many people will recognize.

Beyond Neoliberal Identity Politics

Last year,  Daniel Denvir insightfully described Hilary Clinton’s political strategy as “peak neoliberalism, where a distorted version of identity politics is used to defend an oligarchy and a national security state, celebrating diversity in the management of exploitation and warfare” (emphasis added).

This “peak” neoliberal identity politics (NIP) is a great weapon on the hands of the privileged capitalist Few and their mass-murderous global empire. It was central to the Barack Obama phenomenon and presidency. And it is very much alive and kicking atop the corporate Democratic Party and its various media allies more than half a year after Mrs. Clinton’s humiliating defeat.

It works like this. You couldn’t stand and vote even just “lesser evil”-style for the lying neoliberal warmonger (LNW) Hillary Clinton, the vicious tool and ally of the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, empire, and white supremacy?

Well, NIP says, that just proves that you are a sexist. You’ve got a gender problem. You just can’t deal with women in positions of authority.

Same to you if you dared to note the grotesque imperialism of Hillary’s good and fellow Russia-hating friend Madeline Albright, Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of State.  Albright is the revolting imperial operative who told CBS that the murder of half a million Iraqi children (girls included) by U.S.-imposed economic sanctions was “a price worth paying” for the advance of U.S. foreign policy objectives. (Albright also said that there’s “a special place in Hell” for young women who didn’t vote for the LNW last year).

Same if you don’t do cartwheels over the participation of female U.S. pilots in the bombing of Afghan villagers.

Never mind all the women and girls included among the countless U.S. and world citizens harmed and menaced by neoliberal and imperial agenda that Mrs. Clinton has advanced no less fervently and viciously than her epic woman-abusing husband.

Never mind that fact that many feminist and progressive women could not stomach the corporatism and militarism of Hillary Clinton and backed Bernie Sanders (along with men who were absurdly shamed as “Berniebros” by the Hillary campaign) in the Democratic presidential primaries? Or that you voted for a woman (Jill Stein) for president.

No, NIP says. you hated on Hillary because you don’t believe in women’s rights.

You criticized the first Black U.S. president’s captivity and service to the aforementioned unelected dictatorships and you refused to jump on board his fake-progressive hopey-changey train?  You denounced Obama’s relentless and dedicated service to the rich and powerful? You, didn’t support Obama’s drone-bombing of Muslim women and children with a not-so targeted assassination program Noam Chomsky rightly called “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times”?

Well, NIP huffs, that just shows what a racist you are.  You must have a problem with Black people in positions of authority.

Never mind the many millions, nay billions of people of color who were harmed and menaced by the neoliberal and imperial agenda that Obama advanced no less fervently and viciously than the Clintons.  Never mind your warnings and observations on the many-sided disaster that the Obama phenomenon and presidency was (and still is) for the cause of Black equality. Or the fact that many Black Americans dissented from the sickening notion that putting a technically Black face in the nation’s top symbolic high place was a solution to racism’s persistent presence at the heart of American life.

Concerned about the downward pressure that African and Mexican immigrants can have on wages and union bargaining power in your local labor market?

Well, NIP sneers, that just shows what a nativist, white-nationalist FOX News-watching racist you are.

Never mind local employers’ gleeful exploitation of immigrant labor as a low-wage and working class-dividing windfall – or your own efforts to fight for immigrant rights and the inclusion of immigrants in struggles for improved working and living conditions.

Worried about how the influx of rich students from China is helping inflate college and university tuition costs, helping price working-class U.S. kids out of higher education in the U.S.? Find the conspicuous consumption and single-minded business orientation of many of these Chinese students distasteful?

NIP thinks that just shows that you are a racist nativist who secretly wants to bring back the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Never mind how much you have written, said, and/or done about and against the ruthless, neo-Dickensian exploitation of the Chinese proletariat – the source of the wealth that makes it possible for upper-echelon Chinese families to send their only children to U.S. universities.

Dare to note that the massive influx of women into the U.S. job market during and since the 1970s has helped the employer class suppress hourly wages and contributed to a crisis in working class family life?

NIP says that shows what a male chauvinist you are.  You obviously believe that “a woman’s place is in the home.” You must be a sexist who wants to roll back the clock on women’s rights

Never mind your own longstanding support of gender equality within and beyond the workplace.

Worried about recent data showing that white U.S. working class males are undergoing an historic decline in their life expectancy thanks to the collapse of the job market for working class men in the neoliberal era?

That shows NIP that you are a white sexist who only cares about white men.

Never mind your long opposition to sexism, racism, nativism, and other evils.

Find it less than surprising that many working class and rural whites react poorly to the phrase “Black Lives Matter” given the fact that they have been told that their lives don’t matter by neoliberal capitalism over the last four-plus decades?

That just shows that you are a racist who doesn’t understand the special oppression experienced by people of color.

Never mind your long record of denouncing and opposing racism and your defense of the phrase “Black lives matter.”

You don’t support the dangerous U.S.-imperial project of humiliating Russia?

That just shows that you adore great white nationalist strongmen like Vladimir Putin. You secretly want to go back to the good old days of unchallenged white male supremacy.

Never mind your consistent and steadfast criticism of Putin’s neoliberal oligarchy along with his racism and his sexism.

Can’t stand history or sociology (or other humanities or “social science”) professors who focus  on race and/or ethnicity and/or gender and/or sexual orientation and/or religion and/or nationality and/or age and/or ecology to the absurd exclusion of class in the making of history and current events?

That just shows that you are a racist and/or nativist and/or homophobe and/or religious bigot and/or ageist and/or eco-cidalist.

Never mind the centrality of class inequality and power to the development of race/racism, ethnicity/ethnic oppression, gender/sexism, homophobia, age-ism.

Never mind that the environmental crisis is rooted above all in the exterminist madness of capitalist class rule

There’s a name for all this identity-politicized madness in which so many fake-progressive bourgeois liberals are invested: ruling class divide-and-rule.

I am not one of those social democratic and conomistic, class-reductionist sorts who says that any and all identity politics must be forsaken.  No Left worthy of the label should deny or ignore the specific experience and oppression of females, Blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, gays. transgendered people, Muslims, Arabs. Africans, and so on. Discounting the particularities of peoples’ lives and subjugation as they relate to racial, gender, sexual, ethnic, and national identity leads nowhere morally or politically.

What needs to be rejected is the paralyzing and reactionary kind of bourgeois identitarianism to which the dismal, dollar-drenched neoliberal Democratic Party is so deeply attached. As Conor Lynch noted on Salon last fall, “The Clinton campaign tried to make [the 2016] election all about Trump’s hatefulness (‘Love Trumps Hate’) and his ‘basket of deplorables,’ while offering no real vision of progressive and populist change…when those on the left raised legitimate concerns about Clinton’s uninspiring message or her political baggage during and after the primaries, they were ridiculously labeled sexist or racist ‘bros’ by establishment figures (even though some of Clinton’s harshest progressive critics were in fact women and people of color ).”

The left at its best has understood identity in ways opposed to both ruling class divide-and-conquer and class reductionism.  As Louis Proyect reflected last December on Counterpunch:

“While the idea of uniting workers on the basis of their class interests and transcending ethnic, gender and other differences has enormous appeal at first blush, there are no easy ways to implement such an approach given the capitalist system’s innate tendency to create divisions in the working class in order to maintain its grip over the class as a whole… Back to the 1960s…Trotskyist …leaders conceived of the coming American revolution as a kind of united front of different struggles that would come together on a basis of shared class interests. If that is a concession to ‘identity politics,’ I plead guilty A socialist movement that disavows particular Black demands and those of other sectors of the population acting on their own interests on the basis of gender, sexual preference, etc. will inevitably lack the universality it needs to triumph over a unified capitalist class. To state it in dialectical terms, denying the existence of contradictions and refusing to resolve them will only lead to deeper contradictions.”

That’s exactly right. It approaches identity in a way meant to build working class solidarity in opposition to capital whereas NIP is all about dividing the working class in service to capital. Imagine.

Trump calls for $1.7 trillion in social cuts

23 May 2017

The Trump administration will unveil a fiscal year 2018 budget today that includes $1.7 trillion in cuts to major social programs. The plan marks a new stage in a bipartisan social counterrevolution aimed at eviscerating what remains of programs to fight poverty and hunger and provide health care for millions of workers.

The unveiling of the budget underscores the reactionary character of the Democrats’ response to a gangster government headed by a fascistic-minded billionaire and composed of Wall Street bankers, far-right ideologues and generals. The Democratic Party has chosen to base its opposition to Trump not on his assault on working and poor people, his attacks on democratic rights, or his reckless militarism, but on his supposed “softness” toward Russia.

In the political warfare in Washington, the Democrats are aligned with those sections of the intelligence apparatus and the “deep state” that are determined to compel Trump to abandon any notion of easing relations, and instead continue the Obama administration’s policy of escalating confrontation with Russia. As the Democrats and the so-called “liberal” media pursue their anti-Russia campaign, the Trump administration continues to advance its brutal domestic agenda.

Trump’s budget is the opening shot in a stage-managed tussle between the two big business parties over social cuts that will end with the most massive attack on core social programs in US history.

The budget includes a cut of $800 billion over a decade in Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people jointly administered by the federal government and the states. More than 74 million Americans, or one in five, are currently enrolled in Medicaid, including pregnant women, children and seniors with disabilities.

Like the American Health Care Act (AHCA) passed earlier this month by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Trump’s budget plan would put an end to Medicaid as a guaranteed benefit based on need, replacing it with per capita funding or block grants to the states.

The AHCA would also end the expansion of Medicaid benefits under Obamacare and allow states to impose work requirements for beneficiaries. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that an earlier version of the Republican plan would result in 10 million people being stripped of Medicaid benefits.

Trump’s budget would also cut $193 billion over a decade from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, a 25 percent reduction to be achieved in part by limiting eligibility and imposing work requirements.

Welfare benefits, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, would be cut by $21 billion. Spending on the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, which benefit mainly low- and middle-income families, would be reduced by $40 billion.

The budget reportedly includes changes in funding for Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income program, which provides cash benefits to the poor and disabled.

While gutting social programs, Trump proposes to sharply reduce taxes for the wealthy. In addition to slashing income tax rates for the rich, he is proposing to dramatically cut estate, capital gains and business tax rates. At the same time, he is demanding a huge increase in military spending.

While Democrats will make rhetorical criticisms of the Trump budget, the fact is that the administration is escalating a decades-long assault on the working class overseen by both big business parties.

The outcome can be seen in the reality of social life in America:

Poverty

More than 13 percent—some 43.1 million Americans—were living in poverty in 2015. Of these, 19.4 million were living in extreme poverty, which means their family’s cash income was less than half of the poverty line, or about $10,000 a year for a family of four. The poverty rate for children under 18 was 19.7 percent.

These are the official poverty rates, based on absurdly low income baselines. In reality, at least half of the population is living in or on the edge of poverty. These are precisely the people targeted by Trump’s proposed cuts to Medicaid, welfare and food stamps.

Hunger

Almost one in eight US households, 15.8 million, were food insecure in 2015, meaning they had difficulty providing enough food for all their members. Five percent of households had very low food security, meaning the food intake of household members was cut. Three million households were unable to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children.

Lack of health care

In 2016 under Obamacare, 28.6 million people of all ages, or about 9 percent of the US population, remained uninsured. Many of those insured under plans purchased from private insurers on the Obamacare exchanges were unable to use their insurance because of prohibitively high deductibles and co-pays. Many who gained insurance under Obamacare did so as a result of the expansion of Medicaid. Trump plans to reverse this, throwing millions of people back into the ranks of the uninsured.

A bipartisan assault

In the wake of Trump’s budget proposal, the Democrats have responded with their standard empty rhetoric. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer—one of Congress’ biggest recipients of Wall Street campaign money—decried Trump’s “hard-right policies that benefit the ultra-wealthy at the expense of the middle-class.” Just three weeks ago, Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were hailing the passage of a bipartisan fiscal 2017 budget that cut food stamps by $2.4 billion, slashed funding for education and the environment, and added billions more for the military and border control.

Obamacare paved the way for the present assault on Medicaid and the coming attacks on Medicare and Social Security by further subordinating health care to the profit demands of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries and imposing higher costs for reduced benefits on millions of workers.

Nothing less than a mass movement of the working class will prevent the destruction of Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, food stamps, public education and every other social gain won by the working class. But this movement must be completely independent of the Democratic Party, the historic graveyard of social protest in America. That includes left-talking demagogues like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

It is not a matter of appealing to or seeking to pressure the Democrats or any other section of the political establishment. They are all in the pocket of Wall Street.

The working class needs its own program to secure its basic social rights—a decent-paying job, education, health care, a secure retirement. These rights are not compatible with a capitalist system that is lurching inexorably toward world war and dictatorship.

Workers and youth must intervene in this crisis with a socialist and revolutionary program geared to the needs of the vast majority, not the interests of an obscenely rich and corrupt financial oligarchy.

Kate Randall

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/05/23/pers-m23.html

Undercover report of super-exploitation in China’s iPhone factories

By Robert Campion
22 May 2017

A New York University (NYU) graduate recently reported his experiences working undercover at one of China’s largest Apple iPhone factories, owned by Pegatron, in Shanghai. His experiences highlight the oppressive and poor working conditions in China, which remains a cheap labour platform for global capitalism.

Dejian Zeng undertook his trip in pursuit of a Master of Public Administration in 2016, in partnership with China Labor Watch (CLW), a New York-based organization. CLW and the BBC have previously exposed super-exploitation, including excessive and illegal overtime work, at Pegatron Shanghai, which currently employs around 60,000 workers.

Zeng related his experiences on the assembly line in an interview on the Business Insider web site.

“One line might have about a hundred stations,” Zeng said, “each station does one specific thing … What I did is that I put the sticker on the case and I put a screw on it … It’s like, that’s the work. I mean it’s simple, but that’s the work that you do. Over, over, over again. For whole days.”

Zeng repeated this particular task 1,800 times a day, to the point where he could perform the task blindfolded. He regularly worked 10.5-hour days, 6 days a week. Factoring in unpaid break times and security clearances, this amounted to 12.5 hours a day spent at the factory.

Zeng reported that it was usual for managers to yell at workers and keep them working at full capacity. Many workers became fatigued with the prolonged intensity of their tasks and struggled to catch sleep in the breaks.

“Sleep is really a thing in the factory. You can see that in the lounge; we have a lot of like long sofas but it’s not really very comfortable … It’s like you can feel the iron.”

“People just sit there and sleep. But you can’t lay down. There are people walking around. If they see you lay down they will swipe the ID and take a record on it. And they put the record in your profile. And then they will publish it to your whole assembly line. So your manager would come and yell at you later. Sometimes if it happens multiple times they deduct money.”

After finishing their shifts, Zeng and his co-workers returned to 8-bed dormitories, with little energy or time left for leisure, or access to culture.

“The time left in your life is very, very limited. It’s just a couple of hours. And then there’s not much you can do … you really need to go to bed. And then the other day you wake up at 6:30. Again. And that’s just a routine.”

Zeng noted that a fellow employee worked 11 days straight.

In 2010, the world was shocked by reports of 14 suicides at iPhone factories operated by Foxconn, prompting Apple to introduce a minimal set of standards and marginally improve worker’s pay and conditions. Pegatron emerged as one of Apple’s principal manufacturing suppliers in the aftermath, taking advantage of its ability to better exploit its workforce.

As Zeng’s experiences testify, the oppressive conditions still persist, evidenced by the crude installation of suicide nets around buildings and inside stairwells, as well as bars around all windows. Toward the end of Zeng’s employment in August, the Wall Street Journal would report the suicide of a Foxconn worker in Zhengzhou.

Pegatron and Foxconn are monolithic corporations based in Taiwan. They are able to operate on low margins by brutally exploiting workforces of hundreds of thousands. One facility operated by Foxconn in Shenzhen is known as “Foxconn City.” The walled-off compound houses an industrial army of approximately 420,000, with a population density roughly five times that of the world’s most populous city, Mumbai.

In 2014 the Pegatron factory where Zeng was employed was profiled by the BBC, which found breaches of numerous of the standards supposedly put in place by Apple. These included excess overtime, bypassing the use of ID cards to record worker’s shifts, and exploitation of juvenile workers. One undercover reporter was required to work 18 days in a row, despite repeated calls for a day off.

Apple’s standards and appeals to its manufacturers to uphold them are cynical window-dressing. Details of the horrendous working conditions are also suppressed by the Beijing regime, which enforces police-state conditions on behalf of conglomerates such as Apple.

But the social tensions in China are increasingly erupting to the surface. The China Labour Bulletin recorded 2,663 strikes and protests in 2016, double the total of 2014. The real figures are likely to be higher.

According to CLW, workers’ pay was cut significantly in the eight months prior to Zeng’s employment, by eliminating bonuses, ending compensations for meals and sharing insurance payments with workers. As a result, despite Pegatron reporting an increase in wages, the hourly wage decreased from $US1.85 in 2015 to $1.60 in 2016.

Zeng spent six weeks at the factory, earning a monthly wage of 3,100 yuan ($480). This paltry figure places out of workers’ reach the products of their own labour. His 200-person assembly line churned out 3,600 iPhones a day, but workers could not afford to buy them. Instead, they worked overtime out of economic necessity in order to support themselves and their families.

“Can they save two month’s wages to get an iPhone?” asked Zeng, “They won’t do that. The phones they generally use are Chinese productions like Oppo or something like that.

“The only thing that we’re thinking about is really money, money, money. I need to get some money for my family, I need to support my life, support my kids. That’s the only thing in their mind, sometimes they don’t even care how tired they are.”

One perverse measure of the extreme exploitation at play is the $378 million “compensation” package granted to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook upon employment—it is more than 65,000 times the annual salary of a Pegatron worker.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/05/22/chin-m22.html

The GOP’s biggest budget lies

Debt isn’t a big problem and it’s not caused by social spending — and Republicans aren’t better economic managers

The GOP's biggest budget lies: Take these down, and progressives will start to win

Mitch McConnell; Paul Ryan (Credit: AP/Evan Vucci//Getty/Mark Wilson)

In mid-March, President Donald Trump’s “skinny budget” proposal drew widespread criticism for its short-sightedness,senseless cruelty and betrayal of his base. It was bad for science, education, the environment and public health, and even for Norman Rockwell-style popular programs like Meals on Wheels. Congressional Republicans freely criticized it immediately, despite its red-meat military spending hikes. “These increases in defense come at the expense of national security,” said renowned hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., referring to Trump’s proposed deep cuts to diplomatic and foreign aid programs. But in early May, the budget deal to keep the government open was a clear victory for Democrats, leading Trump to call for a government shutdown in frustration.

That’s hardly the end of the budget fight, though. Both Trump and congressional Republicans are preparing to do it all over again, despite how unpopular the first go-round was, and despite how damaged they are politically by the widening Trump-Russia scandal. Which is why it makes sense to take a step back and look at some of the big-picture lies shared by all Republicans — and far too many Democrats as well.

Three of these in particular completely disorient any attempt at sane, sensible budget discussions: First, the idea that the debt is a huge problem and should form a framework for budgetary decision-making. Second, that the debt is due to social spending, mostly on the welfare state. Third, that Republicans are “more responsible” and “better managers” than Democrats. For Democrats and progressives to win this fight — both short-term and long-term — they will have to take on these big lies. Let’s examine each of them in turn.

The idea of the federal debt as a huge problem has a very long history. Andrew Jackson was the only president to ever get rid of the debt — which he hated especially because of his own personal experience — but that lasted less than two years. The dominant rhetoric — echoed by President Barack Obama in 2011 — is to see national debt as household debt writ large, reflected in the title of his weekly radio address on Feb. 12 of that year, “It’s Time Washington Acted as Responsibly as Our Families Do.”

Obama framed his address in terms of a story told to him in a letter from a woman named Brenda Breece, a special-ed teacher in Missouri whose husband had to take early retirement after nearly four decades working at a local Chrysler plant. They had to scrimp and save, but that’s not all. “Like so many families, they are sacrificing what they don’t need so they can afford what really matters,” putting their daughter through college, Obama said. Then he continued:

Families across this country understand what it takes to manage a budget. They understand what it takes to make ends meet without forgoing important investments like education. Well, it’s time Washington acted as responsibly as our families do. And on Monday, I’m proposing a new budget that will help us live within our means while investing in our future.

My budget freezes annual domestic spending for the next five years — even on programs I care deeply about — which will reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade.

At Washington Monthly’s blog, Steven Benen said it showed “how to use the wrong comparison the right way,” since Republicans were bound to invoke that very same “family budget” metaphor, but without the emphasis on investing in the future. It was a valid point, of course, and surely reflected how Obama himself must have felt. But that’s really only a defensive parry, and fundamentally at odds with the sweeping promise of “hope and change” on which Obama was elected in 2008. Benen passed over that, but he did point out how fundamentally wrong this rhetoric was:

The line has a certain intuitive charm that much of the public likes, which masks how wrong it is — the government needs to step up even more to keep the economy going when families and businesses pull back. It’s how FDR and Democrats ended the Great Depression in the 1930s, and how Obama and Dems prevented a sequel in 2009.

The need for government to spend more when private spending falters is one of the most basic insights of macroeconomics. It goes to heart of why macroeconomics and microeconomics are different fields, each with its own logic. How whole economies work differs from how individual economic entities do, just as team performance differs from individual performance in any team sport.

The insight — long neglected — dates back to Bernard Mandeville’s controversial 1714 book, “The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Public Benefits.” Thrift might be individually virtuous, Mandeville argued, but general prosperity was increased by expenditure rather than by saving. It was actually a difficult struggle for Franklin D. Roosevelt to realize this. A brief summary page from the FDR library tells the tale: “FDR: From Budget Balancer to Keynesian.” Roosevelt started out as a conventional thinker, in basic economics:

Roosevelt believed that a balanced budget was important to instill confidence in consumers, business, and the markets, which would thus encourage investment and economic expansion. As the economy recovered, tax revenues would increase making budget balancing even easier. This traditional view that deficits were bad was also supported by public opinion polls.

But these beliefs simply didn’t match the dire conditions of the times. So for years Roosevelt maintained his fundamental belief, bracketing it with the recognition that he faced an extraordinary situation:

From 1933 to 1937, FDR maintained his belief in a balanced budget, but recognized the need for increased government expenditures to put people back to work. Each year, FDR submitted a budget for general expenditures that anticipated a balanced budget, with the exception of government expenditures for relief and work programs.

All through this time, Roosevelt assumed that once the emergency had passed, things would return to normal, the extraordinary measures would be put away and a balanced budget would return. He argued passionately for the basic human decency of the path he embarked on, in a speech during his 1936 re-election campaign:

To balance our budget in 1933 or 1934 or 1935 would have been a crime against the American people. To do so we should either have had to make a capital levy that would have been confiscatory, or we should have had to set our face against human suffering with callous indifference. When Americans suffered, we refused to pass by on the other side. Humanity came first.

It was only after that, however, that Roosevelt had his own rude awakening. In 1937, he did as he had always promised, based on how much things had improved:

From 1933 to 1937, unemployment had been reduced from 25% to 14% — still a large percentage, but a vast improvement. FDR’s reaction was to turn back to the fiscal orthodoxy of the time, and he began to reduce emergency relief and public works spending in an effort to truly balance the budget.

The result was a renewed economic plunge — the recession of 1937-8. It was only in response to this unexpected turn of events that FDR finally adjusted his fundamental frame of reference. Some of his advisers still pushed for the conventional balanced-budget approach, but others accepted the theories of John Maynard Keynes, who argued that “permanent budget deficits or other measures (such as redistribution of income away from the wealthy)” were necessary “to stimulate consumption of goods and to maintain full employment.” Consequently, it was “the reduction of federal spending that these advisers viewed as the cause of the recession,” and FDR came to agree. In is 1938 annual message to Congress, he defended his decision, noting how self-contradictory his critics were:

We have heard much about a balanced budget, and it is interesting to note that many of those who have pleaded for a balanced budget as the sole need now come to me to plead for additional government expenditures at the expense of unbalancing the budget.

With the onset of World War II, opposition to deficit spending vanished, and full employment ensued. By the end of the war, public views had changed as a result:

The obvious connection between deficit spending and economic expansion was not lost on many Americans, including business leaders who much preferred large deficits to Keynes’s alternative of massive redistribution of wealth through taxation as a way to sustain America’s prosperity in peacetime.

Four decades later, Reaganomics would represent a perverse twist of this realization. Despite lip service to the contrary, Reagan produced record deficits to sustain prosperity while dramatically concentrating wealth. Although Reagan claimed he would magically balance the budget in four years, he actually did quite the opposite. From Harry Truman through Jimmy Carter, every presidential term but one — the Nixon/Ford term from 1973 to 1977 — had seen the debt shrink as a percentage of GDP. It fell from a peak of 117.5 percent during World War II to to 32.5 percent by the time Reagan took office, and has never been anywhere near that low since. It jumped more than 20 percent during Reagan’s two terms, and Bill Clinton has been the only subsequent president to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio.

But let’s not lose sight of what Roosevelt accomplished, in creating the foundations for America’s broad middle class, which had never existed before on such a scale:

FDR’s support for deficit spending was yet another shift in the relationship between the government and the people that took place during his Administration. President Roosevelt expressed his vision for a country where each citizen was guaranteed a basic level of economic security most eloquently in his Economic Bill of Rights speech on January 11, 1944:

“We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

These were the hard-won lessons of the Great Depression and World War II, but as so often happens in history, those who did not live through that suffering only learned the lessons second-hand, and never knew them in their bones. So we lost our way again, which is why we got Reagan in the 1980s and now have Donald Trump. We need to remember what made the American middle class great in the first place: a commitment to activist government spending money on public needs when the private sector fell short. Short-term debt-obsession was the enemy of everything Roosevelt accomplished — not a guide to sound economics.

Now for the second big lie, that the debt is primarily due to welfare-state social spending. Here I’d like to quote myself from 2011 (“Enshrining the lies of the US’ 1%“):

Indeed, as Thomas Ferguson and Robert Johnson explained just over a year ago, in their paper “A World Upside Down? Deficit Fantasies in the Great Recession”, all of the US long-term federal debt is due to just three oligopoly sectors: the military-industrial complex (the backbone of empire, with bases all around the world and almost half the world’s military spending), the medical-industrial complex (with twice the per capita costs of other systems), and the financial sector (which has recently cost trillions of dollars in lost wealth and economic activity).

All three of these are enormous cash cows for the one per cent, and equally enormous cost-centres for the 99 per cent. Without the costs imposed by lack of competition, regulation and accountability in these sectors, the US would have no long-term debt problem. We would be paying it down, rather than running it up.

In that paper’s abstract, the authors write:

In an era of unbridled money politics, concentrated interests in the military, financial, and medical industries pose much more significant dangers to U.S. public finances than concerns about overreach from broad based popular programs like Social Security, which is itself in good shape for as many years as one can make credible forecasts.

Concerns about Social Security are vastly overblown, they note, and uncertain worries about two decades from now should not dominate our attention. Medicare is another matter, only because the American health care system as a whole is so expensive. They drew on an analysis by Dean Baker, which compared projected health care costs in the U.S. with projections based on the cost structures of other countries.

The U.S. spends a far higher percentage of its GDP on health care than any other country. It also gets less health for it than any other major country, in the sense other countries do just as well or better on most health indicators, though they spend much less.

Why is no mystery, despite all the sound and fury of the health care “debate.” The U.S. health care system is in no sense a competitive marketplace. Instead, it is a chain of private oligopolies connected to each other by streams of payments administered by a vast, non-competitive private insurance network and the federal government. Producers and insurers together dominate government policymaking, at both federal and most state levels.

The rate of cost increase has been reduced under the ACA since the paper was written, but we’re still far from universal coverage, and the problems of oligopoly remain — most notably in the way insurers have withdrawn from some marketplaces. The failure to even include a public option in the ACA left insurers in positions of tremendous coercive power. And GOP repeal plans could wipe out all the ACA gains and leave us facing a grim future.

The military-industrial complex, the authors note, is commonly taken to make up about 20 percent of the budget, but if we include all related functions — homeland security and intelligence agencies, plus significant parts of other departments, including Energy, Transportation and State — with the military share of the debt, that total nearly doubles: “One careful effort at a more comprehensive reckoning suggests that perhaps 39% of the proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget goes toward defense.”

Finally, there’s the enormous costs inflicted by the financial meltdown of 2008, triggering the Great Recession, and the high probability of future such disasters. These costs are obviously more difficult to assess than the excessive costs of the U.S. health care system. But they are certainly much greater than the amounts involved in the Social Security system, much less Meals on Wheels.

This sort of realistic appraisal is not a popular perspective among political elites, who are largely funded by the oligopolies involved. But it is popular with the public — see Bernie Sanders’ approval ratings as one indication. Yet, these major sources of long-term debt pressure never seem to enter the deficit-cutting debate.

Now for the third big lie, the claim that Republicans are “more responsible” and “better managers” than Democrats are, an assumption that permeates the air whenever the economy is discussed. I’ve already referred to the fact that Republican presidents since Reagan have been terrible at managing debt reduction, but the point at issue is a broader, more fundamental one: There is no aspect of economic management where Republicans do as well as Democrats. None whatsoever. Here, the best single source is a slim volume, “They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010“ by Eric Zuesse. As explained in the publishers’ synopsis:

The Democratic and Republican Parties are virtual opposites of each other in their economic records, going back to the earliest period for which economic data were available, around 1910. More than a dozen studies have been done comparing economic growth, unemployment, average length of unemployment, stock market performance, inflation, federal debt, and other economic indicators, during Democratic and Republican presidencies and congresses, and they all show stunningly better performance when Democrats are in power, than when Republicans are. These studies are all available online, and they are all summarized and discussed in this path-breaking book, which settles, once and for all, the question of whether there’s any significant economic difference between the two Parties. Not only is there a difference, but — shockingly — it always runs in favor of Democrats in power.

Democrats are superior for the economy as a whole — GDP growth, unemployment rate, inflation — for the stock market, and for controlling government deficits too. One example Zuesse cites is from Kevin Drum, back in September 2002. Responding to a story in Slate reporting that since 1900, Democratic presidents have produced a 12.3 percent annual total return on the S&P 500, but Republicans only an 8 percent return,” Drum wrote:

This is actually an old story, and Slate doesn’t know the half of it: Democratic administrations, it turns out, manage virtually every facet of the economy better than Republicans.

Drum analyzed the three main statistics cited above — GDP growth, unemployment and inflation — from 1948 to 2001, and included a time-lag. “In the same way that a pitcher is responsible for runners left on base even after he’s been replaced,” he wrote, “presidents should be responsible for a few years of economic performance after they leave office.” Choosing a variety of time-lags, the results were all the same:

3 Yrs 4 Yrs 5 Yrs
GDP Growth
Democrats
Republicans
3.56%
3.35%
3.78%
3.16%
3.71%
3.21%
Unemployment
Democrats
Republicans
5.06%
6.16%
5.04%
6.18%
5.01%
6.21%
Inflation
Democrats
Republicans
3.33%
4.36%
3.07%
4.60%
3.20%
4.48%

No matter what time-lag you choose, Democrats post higher GDP growth, lower unemployment, and lower inflation.

This is just one of multiple examples, and the value of Zuesse’s book is that it brings them together. “The myth that conservatives are better for the economy than are progressives, is driven not by the masses but by the elite, the insiders who benefit from this deception,” he writes. But even that’s a dubious proposition sometimes, when — as under George W. Bush — things really go off the rails.

Whatever happens in the months ahead, whatever specific gambits the Republicans trot out, it will always serve us well to keep in mind these three big lies, and remind others why and how they are so wrong: Debt is not a dominant economic problem and should not frame our budgetary decision-making; debt is not primarily due to social spending; and Republicans are not “more responsible” or “better managers” of the economy than Democrats. Take down the big lies, and the little ones will fall apart much more easily.

 

Paul Rosenberg is a California-based writer/activist, senior editor for Random Lengths News, and a columnist for Al Jazeera English. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulHRosenberg.