Donald Trump isn’t backing down from his terrifying climate policy

His approach would revoke crucial climate protections and open up huge amounts of land to fossil fuel drilling.

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/EVAN VUCCI

On Thursday, Donald Trump spoke before an audience full of natural gas and energy industry leaders — and the message was exactly the same as his economic policy proposal from last week: fewer environmental regulations and more land available to fossil fuel companies.

“We need an America-First energy plan,” Trump said. “This means opening federal lands for oil and gas production; opening offshore areas; and revoking policies that are imposing unnecessary restrictions on innovative new exploration technologies.”

If elected president, Trump has pledged to revoke both the Clean Power Plan and President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the cornerstones of Obama’s domestic climate agenda, and important signals to the international community of the United States’ commitment to climate action.

Trump has also promised to roll back the Waters of the United States Rule, which would extend drinking water protections for millions of Americans. Instead, he said that he would redirect the EPA to “refocus…on its core mission of ensuring clean air, and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans.”

Trump does not seem to understand that regulations he so deeply wants to cut are crucial to preserving clean air, and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans.

A recent Harvard study found that the public health benefits of the Clean Power Plan are so robust that they outweigh the costs of the carbon standard in 13 out of 14 power sectors within five years of implementation. The same study estimated that the plan could save some 3,500 lives every year. Similarly, the Waters of the United States rule would protect the drinking water for a third of Americans that currently get their water from unprotected sources.

Beyond rolling back crucial protections, Trump’s speech on Thursday showed that he does not intend to back down on his policy proposal that would open up vast regions of the United States to fossil fuel production. His desire to open both federal lands and offshore areas to drilling is the antithesis of the Keep It In the Ground movement, which has called for an end to new leases for fossil fuels on public lands — under a Trump presidency, not only would these leases continue, but leases would likely increase.

During his speech, Trump noted that less than 10 percent of federally-managed surface and mineral estates are currently leased for oil and gas development, while almost 90 percent of our offshore acreage is off-limits to oil production. Instead of viewing these protections as a benefit to both climate and the environment, however, Trump pledged to dismantle these restrictions, calling them “a major impediment to both shale production specifically, and energy production in general.”

“Trump’s dirty-fuels-first plan is pretty simple: drill enough off our coasts to threaten beaches from Maine to Florida, frack enough to spoil groundwater across the nation, and burn enough coal to cook the planet and make our kids sick.”

Trump’s speech comes on the same day that Oil Change International released a study illustrating that the potential emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in currently operating coal mines and oil fields is enough, if those mines and fields are operated through to the end of their projected lifetimes, to take the world well above 2 degrees Celsius of global warming. Several studies have already argued that for the world to remain below 2 degrees Celsius — the threshold agreed upon by more than 170 countries during the U.N. Conference on Climate Change last December — the majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves need to remain untapped.

After Trump’s speech, Sierra Club Political Director Khalid Pitts criticized the Republican presidential candidate’s policies, calling them polluter “talking points.”

“Trump’s dirty-fuels-first plan is pretty simple: drill enough off our coasts to threaten beaches from Maine to Florida, frack enough to spoil groundwater across the nation, and burn enough coal to cook the planet and make our kids sick,” Pitts said in a statement. “In stark contrast, Hillary Clinton is the only candidate in this race who is committed to grow the booming clean energy economy to create jobs and help tackle the climate crisis.”

Trump’s speech on Thursday was a keynote address for Shale Insights, an annual conference by sponsored by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Pennsylvania-based pro-drilling group, and is co-sponsored by both the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association. The conference’s agenda notes that it extended speaking invitations to both major candidates, but Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton declined to speak at the event, citing a scheduling conflict, according to the Associated Press.

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66, a pro-fracking union, withdrew from the conference over Trump’s appearance, with the business manager for the group calling Trump a “snake oil salesman.” Labor groups including United Steelworkers and the AFL-CIO also held an anti-Trump rally on Thursday morning, in an attempt to “dispute the notion that Mr. Trump has wide union backing,” according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s energy blog PowerSource.

Our leading economists got the recovery wrong.

ECONOMY

The Economists Who Didn’t See the Big Crash of 2008 Coming Still Don’t Understand What Happened or How to Fix It

Photo Credit: Helge V. Keitel / Flickr Creative Commons

Last week marked the eighth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the huge Wall Street investment bank. This bankruptcy sent financial markets into a panic with the remaining investment banks, like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, set to soon topple. The largest commercial banks, like Citigroup and Bank of America, were not far behind on the death watch.

The cascade of collapses was halted when the Fed and Treasury went into full-scale bailout mode. They lent trillions of dollars to failing banks at below market interest rates. They also promised the markets that there would be “no more Lehmans” to use former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s term.

This promise was incredibly valuable in a time of crisis. It meant that investors could lend freely to Goldman and Citigroup without fear that their loans would not be repaid — they had the Treasury and the Fed standing behind them.

The public has every right to be furious about this set of events eight years ago, as well what has happened subsequently. First, everything about the crisis caught the country’s leading economists by surprise. Somehow, the country’s leading economists both could not see an $8 trillion housing bubble, nor could they understand how its collapse would seriously damage the economy. This bubble was clearly driving the economy prior to the crash, it is difficult to envision what these economists thought would replace the demand lost when the bubble burst.

The immediate fallout from the collapse of Lehman also caught the Fed and Treasury by surprise. Having made the decision to allow the market to work its magic on a major bank, they apparently did not anticipate the consequences. The Fed and the Treasury later cooked up the excuse that they lacked the legal authority to save Lehman, as though someone would have brought a lawsuit to stop them if they had tried.

Having failed to recognize both the risks of the bubble and the consequences of the Lehman collapse, the Fed and Treasury then pulled out all the stops to keep the big Wall Street banks in business. They said this was necessary to prevent another Great Depression.

It is difficult to see how letting the market work on Wall Street would have condemned us to a decade of double digit unemployment. Would fiscal and monetary stimulus no longer work?

To support the second Great Depression myth, a paper from Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi, two of the country’s most prominent economists, tried to show how we would have had a decade of double-digit unemployment without the Wall Street bailout.

In fact, the paper shows nothing of the sort. It shows that if we never took any steps to boost the economy we would have faced a decade of double-digit unemployment. That distinction may be too subtle for people who write on economics for a living, but most of the public understands the difference.

The record of failure continued into the recovery. Most economists believed that we would see a quick bounce back from the crash, even without any exceptional amounts of government stimulus. This was the excuse for the austerity that was imposed across the world in 2011. As a result, we have seen an incredibly slow recovery in the United States, and an even slower one in Europe.

Workers in the United States are just now getting back to their pre-recession levels of income. According to the Congressional Budget Office, potential GDP is now 10 percent less ($1.9 trillion) than the amount projected for 2016 before the downturn. This is a recurring loss of GDP that amounts to almost $6,000 a year for every person in the country. This is an incredible burden that the austerity crew has imposed on our children and grandchildren.

This brings us to the story of men who don’t work. There are many economists who argue that the economy is now fully employed and it is time for Federal Reserve Board to raise interest rates to slow the economy and the rate of job growth.

While the unemployment rate is relatively low, those of us who are opposed to Fed rate hikes point out that millions of prime-age workers (ages 25-54) have dropped out of the labor force and are not counted as unemployed. These people likely would be working if the economy created the jobs.

But the rate hike crew decided the problem is that millions of men are no longer suited for the labor market. One economist even argued that these men have opted for internet porn and video games over work.

It’s touching to see economists talking about the problems of men without jobs. However economists who pay attention to economic data know that there has been a sharp drop in employment rates among prime-age women also. In fact, the drop in employment among less-educated prime-age women has actually been larger than the drop among less-educated prime-age men.

In other words, our leading economists had no clue about what was going on in the economy at the time of the crash, they got the recovery completely wrong, and they still don’t seem to have a clue today. But they are good at making up stories about the lack of marketable skills of less-educated workers.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.

Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/lehman-brothers-anniversary-0?akid=14663.265072.gf3YEM&rd=1&src=newsletter1064085&t=22

The Ugly Truth Behind Apple’s New iPhone 7

Posted on Sep 20, 2016

New product releases from Apple often are a time for analysis, comparison and celebration. But the arrival of the iPhone 7 has brought unwanted attention to the company’s darker side of globalization, oppression and greed.

In a report from The Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty says that Apple oppresses Chinese workers, does not pay its fair share of taxes and deprives Americans of high-paying jobs while making enormous profits.

Apple’s iPhones are assembled at three firms in China: Foxconn, Wistron and Pegatron. While Apple CEO Tim Cook says the company cares about all its workers—calling any words to the contrary are “patently false and offensive”—the facts on the ground show the opposite.

In 2010, Foxconn employees were killing themselves in high numbers—an estimated 18 attempted suicide and 14 of them died. The company responded by putting up suicide-prevention netting to catch them before their deaths. Apple vowed to improve worker conditions at the plant, yet in August, after reports surfaced that changes in overtime policies caused great stress among workers, two employees killed themselves.

At the Wistron factory, a Danish human-rights organization found it forces thousands of students to work the same hours as adults, for less pay. Students were told they were required to work if they wanted to receive their diplomas. Using young people to work is not a new revelation about Apple. In 2010, the company admitted that 15-year-old children were working in factories supplying Apple products. At a plant run by Wintek in Suzhou, China, workers reportedly were being poisoned by n-Hexane, a toxic chemical that causes muscular atrophy and blurred eyesight.

At Pegatron—the other iPhone assembler—U.S.-based China Labor Watch found staff members work 12-hour days, six days a week. They are forced to work overtime, and 1½ hours are unpaid.  One researcher working there had to stand during his entire 10½-hour shift. When the local government raised the minimum wage, Pegatron cut subsidies for medical insurance.

The Guardian reports:

While iPhone workers for Pegatron saw their hourly pay drop to just $1.60 an hour, Apple remained the most profitable big company in America, pulling in over $47bn in profit in 2015 alone.

What does this add up to? At $231bn, Apple has a bigger cash pile than the US government, but apparently won’t spend even a sliver on improving conditions for those who actually make its money. Nor will it make those iPhones in America, which would create jobs and still leave it as the most profitable smartphone in the world.

It would rather accrue more profits, to go to those who hold Apple stock—such as company boss Tim Cook, whose hoard of company shares is worth $785m. Friends of Cook point to his philanthropy, but while he’s happy to spend on pet projects, he rejects a €13bn tax bill from the EU  as “political crap”—while boasting about how he won’t bring Apple’s billions back to the US “until there’s a fair rate … . It doesn’t go that the more you pay, the more patriotic you are.” The tech oligarch seems to think he knows better than 300 million Americans what tax rates their elected government should set.

When the historians of globalisation ask why it died, they will surely find that companies such as Apple form a large part of the answer. Faced with a binary choice between an economic model that lavishly rewarded a few and a populism that makes lavish promises to many, between Cook on the one hand and [Nigel] Farage on the other, the voters went for the one who at least didn’t bang on about “courage”.

According to a new report from Global Justice Now, a group based in the United Kingdom, 69 of the top 100 economies in the world are corporate entities (an increase from 63 a year ago). Apple is one of those corporate entities. With $234 billion in revenue in 2015, Apple is the ninth-largest company in the world and is wealthier than most countries.

http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/the_ugly_truth_behind_apples_iphones_20160920

I Came to San Francisco to Change My Life: I Found a Tribe of Depressed Workaholics Living on Top of One Another

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Hacker House Blues: my life with 12 programmers, 2 rooms and one 21st-century dream.
By David Garczynski / Salon September 18, 2016

I might have been trespassing up there, but I would often go to the 19th-floor business lounge to work and study. Located on the top floor of the a luxury high-rise in the SOMA district of San Francisco, the lounge was only accessible to residents of the building. Yet for a while I found myself there almost every day.

Seventeen floors below, I lived in an illegal Airbnb with 12 roommates split between two rooms. There were six people packed into my bedroom alone — seven, if you included the guy who lived in the closet. Three bunk beds adorned the walls, and I was fortunate enough to score a bottom bunk. Unfortunately, though, it was not the one by the window, which, with the exception of one dim lamp, was the only source of light in the room. Even at midday, the room never lit up much more than a shadowed cave. At most hours of the day, you could find someone sleeping in there. Getting in and out of bed was a precarious dance in the darkness to avoid stepping into the suitcases on the floor, out of which most of us lived.

In the shared kitchen, the sink more often than not held a giant pile of dishes, and the fridge, packed with everyone’s groceries and leftovers, emanated a slightly moldy aroma. Mixed in there were the half-eaten meals and unfinished condiment jars of tenants who had long since moved out — all left to rot, but often too far buried in the mass of food to be located.

Let’s just say the room was not as advertised.

The Airbnb posting did boast of access to a 24-hour gym, roof deck and bocce courts. The building has an indoor basketball court, an outdoor hot tub and even a rock climbing wall. The 19th-floor business lounge alone comes with a pool table, a porch, several flat-screen TVs and an enviable view of much of San Francisco. For $1,200 a month, it all seemed worth it. The post did say it was a four-person apartment, not 13, and included a picture of a sunny room with a pair of bunk beds, but I figured for a short sub-lease while I attended coding school, it wouldn’t be so bad. The reviews, after all, were pretty positive, too: mostly 5-stars. However, none of them mentioned the fact that I wouldn’t even be given a front door key.

I’d have to sneak into the building every night. The only way I entered the building was by waiting until someone exited or entered, and then I’d slip through the door before it closed. From there I’d walk straight past the front desk guard and head to the bank of elevators. Despite my nerves, that part was surprisingly easy. The building caters to the young tech elite, so a backwards hat and a collegiate T-shirt practically made me invisible. When I got to my floor, I’d make sure none of the neighbors were watching, and if no one was around, I’d stand on my tiptoes and grab the communal key hidden atop the exit sign. Once the door was unlocked, I’d return the key to its perch for the next tenant to use.

I had moved to San Francisco to break into the tech world after being accepted into one of those ubiquitous 12-week coding boot camps. I had dreams of becoming a programmer, hoping one day I could land a remote contracting gig — a job where I could work from wherever and make a good living. My life would be part ski bum and part professional.

In my mid-20s uncertainty, the coding route seemed to have the most promise — high paychecks in companies that prized work-life balance, or so it seemed from afar. I knew the road wouldn’t be easy, but any time I’d mention my ambitions to family and friends, they responded with resounding positivity, affirming my belief that it was a well-worn path to an obtainable goal.

All of the people in that Airbnb were programmers. Some were trying to break into the industry through boot camps, but most were already full-time professional coders. They headed out early in the morning to their jobs at start-ups in the neighborhood. A lot of them hailed from some of the top schools in the country: Stanford, MIT, Dartmouth. If I was going to get through my program, I needed to rely on them, academically and emotionally. Once the program started up, I would find myself coding 15 hours a day during the week, with that number mercifully dropping to 10-12 hours on the weekends. Late at night, when my stressed-out thoughts would form an ever-intensifying feedback loop of questioning despair — What am I doing? Is this really worth it? — I would need to be able to look to the people around me as living reminders of the possibility of my goals.

Every night, the people whose jobs I coveted would come home from 10- to 12-hour shifts in front of a computer and proceed to the couch, where they’d open up their laptops and spend the remaining hours of the night in silence, sifting through more and more lines of code. Beyond preternatural math abilities and a penchant for problem solving, it seemed most didn’t have much in the way of life skills. They weren’t who I thought they would be — a community of intelligent and inspiring men and women bouncing ideas back and forth. Rather they were boys and girls, coddled by day in the security of companies that fed them, entertained them and nursed them. At home, they could barely take care of themselves.

Take for example the programmer who lived in my closet: Every night he’d come home around 9 p.m. He’d sit on the couch, pour himself a bowl of cereal and eat in silence. Then he would grab his laptop and head directly into the closet — a so-called “private room” listed on Airbnb for $1,400 a month. It was the only time I’d ever see him. The only way I could tell he was home was by the glow of his laptop seeping out from under the closet door. Hours later, deep into the night, the light would go out, and I would know he had to gone to sleep. By the time I arrived, he had been living there for 16 months, in a windowless closet with a thin mattress placed right on the floor. During the day he codes for Pinterest. Yeah . . . that Pinterest.

Maybe there were people working in this city who were living out the tech dreams of everyone else, but I’ve realized the number of people who dream about it far outnumber of people who obtain it. Everyone I spoke to in this town seemed doe-eyed about the future, even while they were living in illegal Airbnbs and working at failing startups across the city.

The odds weren’t in my favor. Most likely I’d find myself in the 92 percent of start-ups that go under in three years, trapped like some of my friends — much smarter and better programmers than I’ll ever be — bouncing from failing company to failing company.
Or maybe not. Maybe I would make it, only to become like my friends who earn six-figure paychecks and still lament that they’ll never be able to buy a home here. What illusions could I continue to maintain then?

There was a good chance I’d find myself in a situation like another roommate’s. During salary negotiations for a job at a start-up, he was encouraged to accept the pay tier with a lower salary but higher equity stake. Now he works 12-hour days just to try to keep the company (and his potential payout) afloat on a paycheck not much higher than some entry-level, non-programming jobs.

The most likely scenario, however, was that I’d become like the mid-30s man who slept in the bunk above me. The reality of his situation slowly slipped him into a depressive state, until he was sleeping most hours of the day. The rest of his waking hours were spent walking around slumped and gloomy.

Programming for me was never supposed to be more than a means to an end, but that end started to feel farther and farther away. The longer I lived in that Airbnb, the longer I realized my dreams would never be met. In all likelihood I would be swept up in an economy here that traded on hopes and dreams of the people clamoring to break in. The illegal Airbnbs that dot the city can afford to charge their amounts because there is no shortage of people wanting to break in. There is another smart kid around the corner who believes that despite the working and living conditions this is just the first step to striking it big. Never tell them the odds.

I had hinged my happiness on an illusion and naively fought to get into a community that wouldn’t help me advance in the direction of my dreams. Maybe in the end I would get everything I needed or at least a nice paycheck, but I’d lose all of myself in the process. I’d be churned and beaten by the underbelly of the tech world here long before I could ever make it out.

If you are interested, it’s not that hard to sneak up to the 19th-floor lounge. I still do sometimes, despite having long since moved out and given up programming. From up there the view of San Francisco takes on the artificial quality of a miniature model. To the north, you’ll see a sea of tech start-ups, their signs and symbols a wild mash of colors. From this distance, it can all look so peaceful. Just know that somewhere in that view is another “hacker house” with bright kids living in almost migrant-worker conditions. Somewhere out there is a coding boot camp with slightly inflated numbers, selling a dream. Their fluorescent halls and cramped bedrooms are filled with the perennially hopeful looking to take the place of those who have already realized this dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

It is a beautiful view, though. Just one I no longer want for myself.

David Garczynski has lived in the Bay Area for one year now. In that time, he’s lived in an illegal Airbnb, on his cousin’s couch, in two short-term subleases, and has been evicted once. He just signed an official (and legal) lease last week.

http://www.alternet.org/labor/hacker-house-blues-my-life-12-programmers-2-rooms-and-one-21st-century-dream?akid=14654.265072.JhW8o4&rd=1&src=newsletter1063941&t=12

Two American Dreams: how a dumbed-down nation lost sight of a great idea

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As Clinton and Trump prepare to debate next week, noble ideals are overwhelmed in a culture where most Americans do not know what is real anymore and the dream of equal opportunity is a fantasy

by


Every child had a pretty good shot

To get at least as far as their old man got

But something happened on the way to that place

They threw an American flag in our face.

Billy Joel, Allentown

We know it today as the American Dream. The now-obscure historian James Truslow Adams coined the term in his book The Epic of America, defining “the American dream” as:

a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

Adams was writing in 1931, but the dream was there from the start, in Jefferson’s “pursuit of happiness” formulation in the Declaration of Independence, “happiness” residing in its 18th-century sense of prosperity, thriving, wellbeing.

Nobody ever came to America with a starry-eyed dream of working for starvation wages. Plenty of that available in the old country, and that’s precisely why we left, escaping serfdom, peonage, tenancy, indenture – all different iterations of what was essentially a “rigged system”, to put it in current political verbiage – that channeled the profits of our labor upstream to the Man. We came to America to do better, to secure for ourselves the liberation that economic security brings, and for millions – mostly white males at first, and then slowly, sputteringly, women and people of color – that’s the way it worked out, nothing less than a revolution in the human condition.

Upward mobility is indispensable to the American Dream, the notion that people can rise from working to middle class, and middle to upper and even higher on the model of a (fictional) Horatio Alger or an (actual) Andrew Carnegie. Upward mobility across classes peaked in the US in the late 19th century. Most of the gains of the 20th century were achieved en masse; it wasn’t so much a phenomenon of great numbers of people rising from one class to the next as it was standards of living rising sharply for all classes. You didn’t have to be exceptional to rise. Opportunity was sufficiently broad that hard work and steadiness would do, along with tacit buy-in to the social contract, allegiance to the system proceeding on the assumption that the system was basically fair.

The biggest gains occurred in the post-second world war era of the GI Bill, affordable higher education, strong labor unions, and a progressive tax code. Between the late 1940s and early 1970s, median household income in the US doubled. Income inequality reached historic lows. The average CEO salary was approximately 30 times that of the lowest-paid employee, compared with today’s gold-plated multiple of 370. The top tax bracket ranged in the neighborhood of 70% to 90%. Granted, there were far fewer billionaires in those days. Somehow the nation survived.

“America is a dream of greater justice and opportunity for the average man and, if we can not obtain it, all our other achievements amount to nothing.” So wrote Eleanor Roosevelt in her syndicated column of 6 January 1941, an apt lead-in to her husband’s State of the Union address later that day in which he enumerated the four freedoms essential to American democracy, among them “freedom from want”. In his State of the Union address three years later, FDR expanded on this concept of freedom from want with his proposal for a “Second Bill of Rights”, an “economic” bill of rights to counteract what he viewed as the growing tyranny of the modern economic order:

This Republic had at its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights – among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship … As our nation has grown in size and stature, however – as our industrial economy has expanded – these political rights have proved inadequate to assure us equality. We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.

Political rights notwithstanding, “freedom” rings awfully hollow when you’re getting nickel-and-dimed to death in your everyday life. The Roosevelts recognized that wage peonage, or any system that inclines toward subsistence level, is simply incompatible with self-determination. Subsistence is, by definition, a constrained, desperate state; one’s horizon is necessarily limited to the present day, to getting enough of what the body needs to make it to the next. These days a minimum wage worker in New York City clocking 40 hours a week (at $9 per hour) earns $18,720 a year, well under the Federal Poverty Line of $21,775. That’s a scrambling, anxious existence, narrowly bounded. Close to impossible to decently feed, clothe, and shelter yourself on a wage like that, much less a family; much less buy health insurance, or save for your kid’s college, or participate in any of those other good American things. Down at peon level, the pursuit of happiness sounds like a bad joke. “It’s called the American dream,” George Carlin cracked, “because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

“Necessitous men are not free men,” said FDR in that 1944 State of the Union speech. “People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” A dire statement, demonstrably true, and especially unsettling in 2016, a point in time when the American Dream seems more viable as nostalgia than a lived phenomenon. Income inequality, wealth distribution, mortality rates: by every measure, the average individual that Eleanor Roosevelt celebrated is sinking. Exceptional people continue to rise, but overall mobility is stagnant at best. If you’re born poor in Ferguson or Appalachia, chances are you’re going to stay that way. Ditto if your early memories include the swimming pool at the Houston Country Club or ski lessons at Deer Valley, you’re likely going to keep your perch at the top of the heap.

Income inequality, gross disparities in wealth: we’re told daily, incessantly, that these are the necessary consequences of a free market, as if the market was a force of nature on the order of weather or tides, and not the entirely manmade construct that it is. In light of recent history, blind acceptance of this sort of economics would seem to require a firm commitment to stupidity, but let’s assume for the moment that it’s true, that the free market exists as a universe unto itself, as immutable in its workings as the laws of physics. Does that universe include some ironclad rule that requires inequality of opportunity? I’ve yet to hear the case for that, though doubtless some enterprising thinktanker could manufacture one out of this same free-market economics, along with whiffs of genetic determinism as it relates to qualities of discipline and character. And it would be bogus, that case. And more than that, immoral. That we should allow for wildly divergent opportunities due to accidents of birth ought to strike us as a crime equal in violence to child abuse or molestation.

Franklin Roosevelt: “[F]reedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place.” The proposition goes deeper than sentiment, deeper than policy, deeper even than adherence to equality and “the pursuit of happiness” as set forth in the Declaration. It cuts all the way to the nature of democracy, and to the prospects for its continued existence in America. “We may have democracy in this country,” wrote supreme court justice Louis Brandeis, “or we may have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Those few, in Brandeis’s judgment, would inevitably use their power to subvert the free will of the majority; the super-rich as a class simply couldn’t be trusted to do otherwise, a thesis that’s being starkly acted out in the current era of Citizens United, Super Pacs, and truckloads of dark money.

But the case for economic equality goes beyond even equations of power politics. Democracy’s premise rests on the notion that the collective wisdom of the majority will prove right more often than it’s wrong. That given sufficient opportunity in the pursuit of happiness, your population will develop its talents, its intellect, its better judgment; that over time its capacity for discernment and self-correction will be enlarged. Life will improve. The form of your union will be more perfect, to borrow a phrase. But if a critical mass of your population is kept in peonage? All its vitality spent in the trenches of day-to-day survival, with scant opportunity to develop the full range of its faculties? Then how much poorer the prospects for your democracy will be.

Economic equality can no more be divorced from the functioning of democracy than the ballot. Jefferson, Brandeis, the Roosevelts all recognized this home truth. The American Dream has to be the lived reality of the country, not just a pretty story we tell ourselves.

I have always gotten much more publicity than anybody else.

Donald Trump

Then there’s that other American dream, the numbed-out, dumbed-down, make-believe world where much of the national consciousness resides, the sum product of our mighty Fantasy Industrial Complex: movies, TV, internet, texts, tweets, ad saturation, celebrity obsession, sports obsession, Amazonian sewers of porn and political bullshit, the entire onslaught of media and messaging that strives to separate us from our brains. September 11, 2001 blasted us out of that dream for about two minutes, but the dream is so elastic, so all-encompassing, that 9/11 was quickly absorbed into the the matrix of FIC. This exceedingly complex event – horribly direct in the result, but a swamp when it comes to explanations – was stripped down and binaried into a reliable fantasy narrative of us against them, good versus evil, Christian against Muslim. The week after 9/11, Susan Sontag was virtually crucified for pointing out that “a few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand how we came to this point”. For this modest proposal, no small number of her fellow Americans wished her dead. But if we’d followed her lead – if we’d done the hard work of digging down to the roots of the whole awful thing – perhaps we wouldn’t still be fighting al-Qaida and its offspring 15 years later.

Here’s a hypothesis, ugly, uncharitable, but given our recent history it begs inquiry: most of the time most Americans don’t know what’s real any more. How else to explain Trump, a billionaire on an ego trip capturing a major party’s nomination for president? Another blunt-speaking billionaire tried twice for the presidency in the 1990s and went out in flames, but he made the mistake of running as himself, a recognizably flesh-and-blood human being, whereas Trump comes to us as the ultimate creature, and indisputable maestro, of the Fantasy Industrial Complex. For much of his career – until 2004, to be exact – he held status in our lives as a more or less normal celebrity. Larger than life, to be sure, cartoonishly grandiose, shamelessly self-promoting, and reliably obnoxious, but Trump didn’t become Trump until “The Apprentice” debuted in January 2004. The first episode drew 20.7 million viewers. By comparison, Ross Perot received 19,742,000 votes in the 1992 presidential election – yes, I’m comparing vote totals with Nielsen ratings – but Trump kept drawing that robust 20 million week after week. The season finale that year reached 28 million viewers, and over the next decade, for 13 more seasons, this was how America came to know him, in that weirdly intimate way TV has of delivering celebrity into the very center of our lives.

It was this same Trump that 24 million viewers – a record, of course – tuned in to watch at the first Republican debate last year, the glowering, blustering, swaggering boardroom action figure who gave every promise of shredding the pols. One wonders if Trump would have ever been Trump if there hadn’t been a JR Ewing to pave the way, to show just how dear and real a dealmaking TV rogue could be to our hearts. Trump’s performance on that night did not disappoint, nor through all the debates in the long march that followed, and if his regard for the truth has proved more erratic even than that of professional politicians, we should expect as much. In the realm of the Fantasy Industrial Complex, reality happens on a sliding scale. The truth is just another possibility.

I speak the password primeval.

I would give the sign of democracy;

By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

In nine days Trump and Hillary will take the stage for their first face-to-face debate. There will be blood. The knives are going to be out, and the ratings are bound to be, need it be said, yuge. The American Dream will no doubt be invoked from both podiums, for what true-blue patriot was ever against the American Dream? And yet for the past 30 years the Democratic candidate has worked comfortably within a party establishment that’s battered the working and middle classes down to the bone. The “new” Democrats of the Clinton era are always strong for political rights, as long as they don’t upset corporate America’s bottom line. Strong for racial and gender equality, strong for LGBT rights (though that took time). Meanwhile this same Democratic establishment joined with the GOP to push a market- and finance-driven economic order that enriches the already rich and leaves the rest of us sucking wind.

That’s the very real anger Trump is speaking to, no fantasy there. Bernie as well; small wonder their constituencies overlapped, though Trump’s professed devotion to the common man stumbles over even the simplest proofs. On whether to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, Trump’s moral compass has spun from an implied no (wages are already “too high”), to implied yes (wages are “too low”), to weasel words (leave it up to the states), to yes and no in the same breath (“I would leave it and raise it somewhat”), and, finally, when pressed by Bill O’Reilly in July, to yes-but (raise it to $10, but it’s still best left to the states). All this from the candidate who’s firmly in favor of abolishing the estate tax, to the great benefit of heirs of multimillionaires and none at all to the vast majority of us.

Meanwhile, the Fantasy Industrial Complex is doing just fine this election season, thank you. Speaking at a Morgan Stanley investors’ conference in March, one of the commanders of the FIC, Leslie Moonves, the chief executive of CBS and a man whose 2015 compensation totaled $56.8m, had this to say about the Trump campaign. “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. The money’s rolling in and this is fun … this [is] going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/17/american-dream-divided-nation-equal-opportunity-trump-clinton-campaign

Socialism in one galaxy? Star Trek.

Fifty years after it debuted on network television, Nicole Colson considers the legacy of Star Trek–and the idea of a society that meets the needs of the many, not just the few.

Uhura and Kirk during the classic Star Trek episode "Plato's Stepchildren"

Uhura and Kirk during the classic Star Trek episode “Plato’s Stepchildren”

ON SEPTEMBER 8, 1966, a new show debuted on American television.

Billed by creator Gene Roddenberry as “Wagon Train in space,” for its loyal viewers–and legions more to come over the following five decades–the voyage of the starship Enterprise and its 23rd century crew, as it carried out its mission “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no [one] has gone before,” would permanently alter the landscape of popular culture.

Star Trek‘s cultural staying power came despite its failure to last on television. The “five-year mission” of the Enterprise lasted just three years–until 1969, when the show was canceled by NBC because of low ratings after 79 episodes.

In fact, the show barely made it to the air at all: In 1964, NBC passed on the first attempt at a pilot, declaring it “too cerebral.” A second attempt was filmed in 1965 when comedy legend Lucille Ball, who owned the studio that employed creator Rodenberry as a producer, personally intervened to persuade NBC to give the series another shot.

Despite its cancelation, the series–which was worked on by some of the premiere science fiction writers of the day–became a hit in broadcast syndication, firing the imagination of a wide audience.

Today, the original series continues to inspire legions of Trekkers, one of the most rabidly loyal fandoms in all of popular culture. It has spawned four syndicated spin-offs (with a fifth planned for next year)–and endless debates about the relative merits of each show’s captain in comparison to William Shatner’s James Tiberius Kirk.

Along with 13 movies (and counting), a complete language, and a rather unique brand of fan fiction, Star Trek stands as a testament to the desire of people for a vision of the future which is both recognizable to them, and better than the present.

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STAR TREK’S vision of the future was, in a word, cool. Geek toys and tech like tricorders, replicators and transporters suggest a future where technology has been harnessed to make life vastly better for the majority of people.

But as Wired.com noted, the reason Star Trek continues to inspire such devotion 50 years after its premiere is because of what it says about people, not technology:

The original show’s most visionary aspects were social, not scientific, and that had everything to do with the times. The country was in turmoil, embroiled in Vietnam and the growing civil rights movement. Roddenberry said later that these events influenced many of the themes, as well as the multicultural makeup of the crew.

For a 1960s audience, the 23rd century world envisioned aboard the Enterprise was immediately notable for the fact that it was multiracial and included women in positions of importance among the crew.

In the original series, despite the roles for women being somewhat limited–with the exception of Lt. Uhura, they are primarily nurses, junior officers and scantily clad alien and human love interests for Kirk–a vision of the future in which women are defined primarily through their work as opposed to their husbands, children or home-making abilities was rare on television.

(It has to be admitted, however, that the female crewmembers’ uniforms were utterly sexist, as even Roddenberry’s partner Majel Barrett would later concede.)

At the height of the civil rights movement and the Cold War, the fact that a show could assert that a superior, advanced human society was one in which white Americans lived and worked side by side on a mission of peaceful exploration with not only aliens, but Russians (Chekov) and people of Japanese descent (Sulu), as well as African Americans (Uhura), mattered in the larger cultural context.

According to Whoopi Goldberg, who would later play Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation, the impact of being able to see Nichelle Nichols’ Lt. Uhura was life-changing. “[W]hen I was 9 years old, Star Trek came on,” Goldberg said. “I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a Black lady on television, and she ain’t no maid!”

Martin Luther King himself considered Nichols’ Uhura to be “the first non-stereotypical role portrayed by a Black woman in television history.” When Nichols was thinking of leaving the show for Broadway, it was King who convinced her to stay with Star Trek. As Nichols recounted:

Dr. Martin Luther King, quite some time after I’d first met him, approached me and said something along the lines of “Nichelle, whether you like it or not, you have become a symbol. If you leave, they can replace you with a blonde-haired white girl, and it will be like you were never there. What you’ve accomplished, for all of us, will only be real if you stay.”…I saw that this was bigger than just me.

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ONLY THE willfully ignorant could pretend not to see the message Roddenberry was intent on sending, as he frequently and gleefully pushed buttons. In “Plato’s Stepchildren,” an episode broadcast in 1968, Nichols and Shatner shared what is widely cited (though the matter is hotly debated) as the first interracial kiss on U.S. television.

Skittish network executives worried about the audience reaction and tried to squash the kiss, but Shatner hilariously ruined all of the alternative takes with his famous! punctuated! delivery! and even, in one take, crossed his eyes to ruin the shot. Nichols recounted in her autobiography:

Knowing that Gene was determined to air the real kiss, Bill shook me and hissed menacingly in his best ham-fisted Kirkian staccato delivery, “I! WON’T! KISS! YOU! I! WON’T! KISS! YOU!”

It was absolutely awful, and we were hysterical and ecstatic. The director was beside himself, and still determined to get the kissless shot…

The last shot, which looked okay on the set, actually had Bill wildly crossing his eyes. It was so corny and just plain bad it was unusable…I guess they figured we were going to be canceled in a few months anyway. And so the kiss stayed.

Critics today sometimes declare the scene a “cop out”–since the kiss isn’t a result of genuine desire, but of aliens telepathically forcing Kirk and Uhura to kiss against their will. But that misses the larger context of what it took to even get it on the air at a time when the Supreme Court decision striking down bans on interracial marriage had only just been handed down the year before.

Other episodes, like “Space Seed,” which introduced the character of Khan Noonien Singh–a genetically engineered “ubermensch” who, the show tells us, was part of “Eugenics wars” that broke out on Earth in the late 20th century–raise the specter of racism as a threat to the continued existence of humanity.

(While Kirk fails the “of course you should kill Hitler if you have the chance, you dummy” test, since Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan gifted us with one of the best moments of scenery-chewing ever committed to film, however, he can perhaps be forgiven.)

Another episode, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” famously featured Frank Gorshin (the Riddler on TV’s Batman) in a story about a species divided into two races–and mortal enemies–by skin color. Resembling alien black-and-white cookies, one race has a left side that is white and a right side that is black. The colors are reversed for the other race.

As Roddenberry explained, “Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms.”

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BUT IF Star Trek’s vision of an inclusive society, in which various races live and work side by side without the specter of racism, is one of its main strengths, its conception of race overall is, paradoxically, sometimes also a weakness. Often, Star Trek–not only the original series, but spinoff series as well–slips dangerously close to essentialist notions of race.

In the 23rd century, racism no longer exists in the advanced civilization of the United Federation of Planets–yet time and again, species like the Klingons are portrayed as “naturally” warlike and violent; the Ferengi are “naturally” greedy; Romulans are “naturally” calculating and contemptuous of difference.

These species-wide characteristics are then used to set the species up as villains–and, more troubling, the audience is told in several instances that such “differences,” whether culturally ingrained or biological, should be respected.

This is where the contradictions at the heart of the Star Trek universe become most pronounced. (Though in the case of Deep Space Nine series, later seasons did at least examine this when it came to the characterization of the Ferengi and the Klingons.)

If Star Wars movies are essentially about the threat of space fascism and the resistance to it, then Star Trek is, at heart, about the hope for a sort of “space socialism”–a liberal, military-style socialism, but nevertheless one in which society is so technologically advanced that the material needs of the Federation’s inhabitants are met, allowing for the free and full development of individuals.

In the world of Star Trek, the availability of replicator technology generally means that anything you need can be beamed into existence. Yet because of the “Prime Directive”–the guiding principle of the Federation, which prohibits its members from interfering in the development of technologically backward alien societies–the Federation ostensibly ignores oppression, slavery and other horrors in less-developed societies, on the theory that working through these processes is part of a society’s internal development.

Since our heroes would never actually condone such oppressions, episodes often hinge on finding a way to skirt the letter of the Prime Directive–or in some cases, to justify inaction when individuals and even entire races, societies or planets face extinction.

The various Star Trek series broadly offer a critique of war and militarism even as they extol the Federation’s brand of liberal military intervention–a kind of United Nations in space. (In fact, the Charter of the United Federation of Planets actually drew text and inspiration from the UN Charter, as well as other sources.)

Though its internal logic is often convoluted or inconsistent–while replication technology has eliminated the need for money, there still are outposts, like that depicted in Deep Space Nine, which are run on a partially capitalist basis and where small businesses thrive, for example–Star Trek presents a vision of the future that is hopeful in its inclusivity and its suggestion of the possibility of a society free of deprivation and want.

As Captain Picard of The Next Generation series explains to several cryogenically frozen survivors of the 20th century when they are awoken onboard the Enterprise in the 24th century: “A lot has changed in the past 300 years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We’ve eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We’ve grown out of our infancy…We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”

In the Star Trek universe, without capitalist class relations to put the same kinds of strictures on people, individuals are free to develop themselves as they see fit. It’s one reason why the Borg–the most compelling villain from the Picard-era series–are so frightening. The Borg also provides for the material needs of its collective component worker members–but extinguishes all individuality among them. Individuals are assimilated, reduced to their work function as part of the hive–and nothing more.

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AS RODDENBERRY once explained, the show’s creators resisted the idea that TV audiences were too stupid or backward to appreciate the show’s message:

We believed that the often ridiculed mass audience is sick of this world’s petty nationalism and all its old ways and old hatreds, and that people are not only willing but anxious to think beyond most petty beliefs that have for so long kept mankind divided. So you see that the formula, the magic ingredient that many people keep seeking and many of them keep missing is really not in Star Trek. It is in the audience. There is an intelligent life form out on the other side of that television, too…

What Star Trek proves, as faulty as individual episodes could be, is that the much-maligned common man and common woman has an enormous hunger for brotherhood. They are ready for the 23rd century now, and they are light years ahead of their petty governments and their visionless leaders.

But that creates a problem: How to create compelling characters and stories when the foundation of so much drama is precisely the kind of petty conflict that supposedly doesn’t have a place in the Star Trek universe?

As Manu Saadia, author of the recent book Trekonomics, explained to Wired’s “Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy” podcast:

[The characters] are consistent with the economic circumstances in which they live. Imagine yourself growing up in a society where there is never any want or need or financial insecurity of any sort. You will be a very different person. You will be absolutely uninterested in conspicuous consumption…You will probably be interested in things of a higher nature–the cultivation of the mind, education, love, art and discovery. And so these people are very stoic in that sense, because they have no worldly interests that we today could relate to…

I usually say that they’re all aliens, in a way. My friend Chris [Black], who wrote on [The Next Generation], said it was really hard for the writers, because it’s a workplace drama, but there’s no drama.

That’s similar to what Karl Marx wrote in The German Ideology about the ways in which capitalism constrains human activity by alienating workers from their labor:

For as soon as the distribution of labor comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society…society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

In the Star Trek universe, I can be a ship’s captain in the morning, a detective in the afternoon, a winemaker in the evening, and a flute player after dinner (assuming my ship doesn’t get attacked by hostile Romulans that day, that is).

As the eminently logical Mr. Spock might have put it, the Star Trek universe is one in which humanity has determined that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one” (percent, that is).

“The human race is a remarkable creature, one with great potential,” Gene Roddenberry said, “and I hope that Star Trek has helped to show us what we can be if we believe in ourselves and our abilities.”

It’s up to the audience to go boldly–and make it so.

https://socialistworker.org/2016/09/15/socialism-in-one-galaxy

Why Obamacare Didn’t Work

Obamacare has failed, and so will other market-based plans. We need a socialized system.

An intensive care unit in Waltham, MA in 1977. Boston Public Library

An intensive care unit in Waltham, MA in 1977. Boston Public Library.

News broke late last month that yet another of the nation’s largest health insurers, Aetna, is pulling out of state health exchanges in 2017. The company’s action marks the failure of every market-based reform included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The insurers that remain in the exchanges find themselves with unprecedented leverage to demand double-digit premium increases next year, which will leave eleven million patients with few options. The collapse of policies designed to increase competition between health insurers should serve as a lesson in an election year when both candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, have been running on the promise of even more such reforms.

The first market-based reform to collapse was the introduction of CO-OPs, new consumer-owned health insurers designed to compete with large commercial plans. Of the twenty-three CO-OPs launched for 2014, sixteen have already closed their doors or been shut down by state regulators. The CO-OPs failed in part because they expected government subsidies that never arrived, but more importantly they didn’t have the size or leverage to negotiate rates with large hospital and physician groups, paying more for the same patient care than the dominant insurers they were competing with.

Most countries put hospitals on fixed budgets under a universal health-care system, but the few with private health insurers set uniform rates so market power doesn’t matter for the price of care. The Wild West capitalism that characterizes health care in the United States actually works against competition, rewarding mergers and consolidation by both insurers and providers, and undermines competition-based policy initiatives like the CO-OPs.

The exchanges themselves are an additional lesson in the ACA’s failed competition policies. The promise of the exchanges was to replace insurance brokers, who traditionally helped small businesses and individuals shop for health insurance, with a single marketplace that makes plans easier to compare (the bronze, silver, gold, and platinum tiers).

The reality from study after study is that very few people are able to select the plan that’s best for them (including one that found only Columbia MBA students chose insurance plans better than randomly picking a plan out of a hat would). The vast majority choose the plan with the lowest premium in a tier, the plan that’s listed first on the website, or the plan they’re already enrolled in, even if it will leave them with higher total costs or poor access to care they’ll need.

Insurers have capitalized on patients’ inability to identify plans that are better for them by pushing lower upfront costs (premiums) but much higher uncertain costs and costs at the point of care (deductibles, co-pays, out-of-network care, uncovered benefits, etc). Fully 90 percent of enrollees in the exchanges have picked high-deductible plans, compared with 24 percent in employer-sponsored insurance. Limited provider networks are now used by about half of the exchange plans, which has led to the complete exclusion of some specialist care (14 percent of plans) and an explosion of “surprise medical bills” from out-of-network care that patients think is in-network when they receive it.

Learning from the failure of market-based reforms is particularly important since both Trump and Clinton have promised to further increase insurance competition, albeit in the context of drastically different health-care platforms.

Trump has taken up a common Republican proposal to allow purchase of health insurance across state lines. “By allowing full competition in this market,” Trump’s campaign page promises, “insurance costs will go down and consumer satisfaction will go up.”

The plan is doomed to fail because out-of-state insurers have very little power to negotiate low rates with providers where the patient actually lives. Georgia, Maine, and Wyoming have all enacted legislation allowing the purchase of out-of-state health insurance, but not a single out-of-state insurer chose to enter those markets.

Ironically, although Trump has called for repeal of the ACA, the ACA itself contains a provision enabling the purchase of health insurance across state lines: “health-care choice compacts.” States were supposed to be allowed to establish compacts starting this year, but the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has yet to issue regulations for this portion of the law. If and when HHS does, it will mark the third and final failure of the ACA’s market-based reforms.

Clinton has promised to revive the Democratic campaign for a “public option,” a publicly administered health insurance plan that would compete with private insurers on the exchanges. If a new public insurance plan must negotiate with providers while trying to attract new enrollees, it’s likely to meet the same fate as the CO-OPs.

If allowed to use Medicare’s provider network and Medicare’s payment rates, a public option would have a tremendous advantage over private insurers since Medicare pays lower rates and few providers can afford to opt out of accepting Medicare patients. A weak public option that has to negotiate health-care costs as a small startup plan will fail, while a strong public option allowed to pay Medicare’s low rates is more likely to replace private insurers than compete with them.

The last gasp of the ACA’s market-based reforms reveals an uncomfortable truth about our health-care system: we cannot afford to expand or even maintain our current access to care without cost controls, and health-care costs cannot be controlled with competition or markets.

The only cost control that works without undermining access to care is also the kind that Republican and Democratic leadership have foresworn this election: public budgeting and rate-setting through a single-payer system, or regulations that force nonprofit insurers to act like a single-payer.

When we visit a doctor, we fully expect that we’ll be treated with evidence-based health care. This year some eleven million patients in the exchanges will experience the personal impact of health-care policy based on ideology and profits instead of evidence, which will lead to unnecessary illness, financial ruin, and in some cases death. We owe it to them and ourselves to end the free market’s dominance in American health care, and finally achieve public, universal care.

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/09/obamacre-aca-aetna-public-option-clinton-trump/