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

Bye Bye, America: Collapse and Chaos

umair haque

It’s quite clear now that America is in the initial stages of collapse. Let me be clear about what that means.

It doesn’t mean that the rapture happens tomorrow, that people turn into Morlocks, and so on. It doesn’t mean you should build a bunker or pack a bug out bag (they’re not gonna help you, anyways). Life will go on.

Collapse means that America is broken in nearly every conceivable way. Go ahead, and pick an “indicator”, as the Vox types like to call it — any simple fact of social reality. Here are three of my favorites, because they determine people’s quality of life. Life expectancy, income, trust. All three are falling now.

You can try the flip side, too. Go ahead and name a way, a human dimension, in which America is improving. Can you find one? I’ll bet that if you can, it’s either trivial, easily debunked, or insignificant. Like, I don’t know, people can hail Ubers more quickly.

That is what collapse is. A society gets broken until it is broken in nearly every conceivable way. Not “until it reaches the point that “it can no longer go on” — it has already stopped being one.

In that sense, collapse is like a heart attack brought about by years of lethargy, not a wall suddenly crumbling. It means that the body social stops functioning, not just that it “falls apart”.

Let’s draw out four quick lessons.

Removing him from office will slow the rate of collapse, but not removing him won’t prevent collapse. America has deep, profound, foundational, institutional and structural problems. Inequality is too high, the average person is trapped in a life that holds little possibility, and there is no agenda or vision for a better future. One bad leader didn’t make all of this true — decades of neglect did. Thus, the challenge is undoing those decades of neglect.

The roots of American collapse run deep into the soil of hate. What was “neglected”? America neglected to invest in itself. While the rest of the rich world built public healthcare, transport, education, and so on, in the 1950s and 60s, America was still segregated by race. So American collapse isn’t just about what is going wrong today. It is about why everything is going wrong today. In the simplest analysis, Americans today, unlike nearly any other country in the word, deny one another basically good lives. You may think that is new, but it is not. They always have — that is what slavery and segregation were, weren’t they? The deep antipathy to public goods, healthare, education, and so on, in America is the result of a legacy of hate.And that legacy is what stopped America from investing in itself, ever, and still does today — hence collapse.

American collapse can be staved off — but only by a series of minor miracles. What would it take to really stop collapse? It would take at least three things. First, a Marshall Plan, to spark a stagnant economy, to rebuild pretty much everything in sight. Second, a new social contract, a la FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, to restore trust in, between, among society. But who will craft these? Certainly not today’s leaders. Therefore, third, a generation of newer, better leaders.

To me those three things together are a series of minor miracles. Yes, America can be “saved”. But let’s not kid ourselves about the scale and scope of the challenge.

Life will go on. Just not very nicely. Life doesn’t stop because societies collapse. Life just keep going. What collapse really means is that life gets worse and worse. Inexorably, like the frog in the pot. Take the example of life expectancy. It’s already falling. As millions of Americans lose healthcare, what’s going to happen? It’s going to fall further, faster, obviously. That’s what collapse means at a personal level. Life itself dwindles day by day. People live shorter, meaner, dumber, nastier lives.

And, as ever, dumber, meaner, nastier people don’t undo the mechanisms of their collapse. They only ever tug the strings faster and harder.

Umair
May 2017

View story at Medium.com

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

Psychiatrist Bandy Lee: “We have an obligation to speak about Donald Trump’s mental health issues. . . . Our survival as a species may be at stake”

“Malignant reality is taking hold” in American politics

Psychiatrist Bandy Lee: "We have an obligation to speak about Donald Trump's mental health issues. . . . Our survival as a species may be at stake"
Bandy Lee; Donald Trump (Credit: Yale/Getty/Mark Wilson)

President Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the United States and the world.

He has reckless disregard for democracy and its foundational principles. Trump is also an authoritarian plutocrat who appears to be using the presidency as a means to enrich himself and closest allies as well as family members. Trump’s proposed 2018 federal budget is a shockingly cruel document that threatens to destroy America’s already threadbare social safety net in order to give the rich and powerful (even more) hefty tax cuts. His policies have undermined the international order and America’s place as the dominant global power. It would appear that he and his administration have been manipulated and perhaps (in the case of Michael Flynn) even infiltrated by Vladimir Putin’s spies and other agents. The world has become less safe as a result of Trump’s failures of leadership and cavalier disregard for existing alliances and treaties.

Donald Trump’s failures as president have been compounded by his unstable personality and behavior. It has been reported by staffers inside the Trump White House that he is prone to extreme mood swings, is cantankerous and unpredictable, flies into blind rages when he does not get his way, is highly suggestible and readily manipulated, becomes bored easily and fails to complete tasks, is confused by basic policy matters and is unhappy and lonely. And despite bragging about his “strength” and “vitality” during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump appears to tire easily and easily succumbs to “exhaustion.” Trump is apparently all id and possesses little if any impulse control. He is a chronic liar who ignores basic facts and empirical reality in favor of his own fantasies.

Between the scandals and the emotionally erratic behavior, Donald Trump would appear to be a 21st-century version of Richard Nixon, to date the only American president forced to resign under threat of forcible removal. In all, this leads to a serious and worrisome question: Is Donald Trump mentally ill? Moreover, what does Trump’s election reveal about the moods and values of his voters? How are questions of societal emotions and collective mental health connected to the rise of fascism and authoritarianism in America? Do psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals have a moral obligation to warn the public about the problems they see with Donald Trump’s behavior?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Dr. Bandy Lee, a psychiatrist at Yale University who specializes in public health and violence prevention. She recently convened a conference that explored issues related to Donald Trump’s emotional health and how mental health professionals should respond to this crisis. The proceedings from this conference will be featured in a forthcoming book expected later this year.

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. A longer version can be heard on my podcast, available on Salon’s Featured Audio page.

How did a person like Donald Trump become president?

My being a psychiatrist, I will inevitably see things from that lens. I also tend to think about the social context that gives rise to the current conditions. For me the big shift in our society has been the increasing inequality, and with that a certain segment of the population will end up suffering from an undue amount of poverty — a relative poverty actually, deprivation, a lack of education, a lack of health care and mental health care. All those things will contribute to worsening of collective mental health.

As a clinician, when you watch Trump’s behavior day after day — his lying and obfuscation, his apparent confusion and anger management issues — what are you thinking?

I’ve been thinking from the very beginning that he exhibits many signs of mental impairment. I recently organized a conference on this at Yale. Afterwards, there has been almost an army of people who have shared with me how they have been wanting to speak about this issue. I did not expect to get such a massive response.

What are your peers’ specific concerns and what are they afraid of?

This situation has come to such a critical level. In fact, a state of emergency exists and we could no longer hold back. We have an obligation to speak about Donald Trump’s mental health issues because many lives and our survival as a species may be at stake.

What are two or three things you could cite about Donald Trump’s behavior that causes you the greatest concern, worry or alarm?

There are certainly the symptoms that he displays. He has a great need for adulation. He is angry if reality does not meet his needs. People have been expecting him to settle into his role and become normal or more “presidential,” but that does not ordinarily happen among those with such personality traits. In fact, what we’re seeing is a creation of his own reality, a reality that will meet Trump’s own emotional needs and the need to impose that reality on others. It is his imperviousness to facts and reality that could place us all at great risk.

On one hand, he can just be cantankerous, moody, angry and a spoiled child. I’ve described him as a man-child or a clown king. But how do we separate that from saying, “OK, there is something going on clinically”?

One does not make the other mutually exclusive. In fact, one can both be immature and a jerk, dangerous and ill-intentioned. In other words, bad as well as mad. It’s really the combination that makes it so toxic and unpredictable that we felt that there was a need to speak out.

How should the “Goldwater rule,” the ethical requirement not to diagnose a person you have not examined, be balanced with mental health professionals’ responsibilities as American citizens and members of the global community?  

In  an ordinary situation where matters were not so intense, we could balance out our political activism and separate that from our professional goals and actions. But when there is such a grave mental disability that is affecting the public sphere, the political sphere, such as in the current position of power, then those lines get blurred. Given that all human health exists in an ecological system, there is no rule that politics will never enter the sphere of health or the mental health profession. Right now we’re seeing that it does.

When we have a president who asks, What is the point of having nuclear weapons if we cannot use them?, who urges our government to use torture or worse against prisoners, who urges his followers at political rallies to beat protesters up so badly that they’ll be taken out in stretchers, and suggests that his followers could always assassinate Hillary Clinton if she were to be elected president, there is something very wrong. All this attraction to violence, threats of violence, boasts of his own violence and sexual assaults, and incitements to violence — all these have an effect.

As a clinician, how do you figure out the causal arrows? Is Trump causing an increase in violence or is his presidency a reflection of deeper cultural problems in America?  

Certainly it’s not a one-way path. It happens both ways in that we have elected a president who was somehow very attractive to his voters. But then he stokes and amplifies certain elements in the population that in turn create more conditions for violence and danger.

Why do you think more of your peers have not spoken about these concerns? Are they afraid of professional consequences? Personal threats of violence?

One of my colleagues said this was not the way she wished to spend her life — in other words, to spend the rest of her life paying for an expression of her opinion by fighting lawsuits, by fighting for her license. There was a fear of having her license taken away. Yes, the fear was present then and it is present still now, such that when I was editing this book, I had two co-editors who initially signed on, but the more they heard about the possibility that their license could be in danger, that they could somehow be targeted for this, they pulled out.

How did you overcome that fear and anxiety? It’s easier to be a bystander to history. It’s easier to say, “I’ll let somebody else do it.” Instead you actually chose to do something.

In my case, it became a grave enough emergency that my conscience would not let me rest in peace if I did not do something about it.

As a psychologist, as a human being, as a citizen, why do you think some people choose to be bystanders and others decide to act?

Bystanders do make a lot of difference. Human rights abuses could not happen if bystanders spoke up or did not approve.

On a practical level, how do you think a president should be psychologically evaluated before taking office? What do you think the actual remedies could be for dealing with Donald Trump now? Can we invoke the 25th Amendment, so that if enough people diagnose this man and there is enough of an outcry he will be removed?

I think by sounding the alarm about his mental instability and position of power that some kind of consensus as to a process would be developed. As for the 25th Amendment, I don’t think that’s really a psychiatrist’s domain. But that is certainly one avenue that has been proposed and it’s the only one that would be possible in terms of a case of mental impairment. I think what needs to happen next is a collaborative discussion among people of different fields. We could speak to the president’s mental impairment, the effects of that impairment and the dangerous situation we’re in. Other people could speak to the best political and procedural way to do something about that finding. Those would be lawmakers and politicians.

What do you think the United States is going to look like after Donald Trump leaves office?  

He has exacerbated the pathological patterns of our culture. What would happen if the presidency continues? I think more damage will be done. In fact, the latter part of the book consists of some of the effects of his policies, including repealing the Affordable Care Act, his immigration policies, his tax laws and his military policies. All these things could have ramifications and reverberations throughout —his environmental policies, his educational policies. In fact, Dr. Robert Jay Lifton said at the conference that Trump’s style of governing could be described as “anti-governing.” I believe we’re at a crossroads.

We can either amplify and encourage Trump and his followers’ pathology, or we can stop it and look for ways that are more life enhancing, healing, corrective. When you see a person falling into illness, the deeper the illness grows, the less aware they will be of their illness. The more insistent they will be on destructive ways rather than ways that are healing and constructive. At a later point, doctors and hospitals will be the thing that they will avoid at all costs. That is why sometimes physicians have to hospitalize against the person’s will or put them on a stretcher. The reason why the law allows that, that society allows that is because they feel better and then they thank you for it.

That is why simply respecting the choices of the electorate when the electorate is not entirely well can spiral into situations like fascism. Remember fascism is not necessarily an ideology. It could be on the right or the left. It is also an emotional experience to a certain political structure, and people will cling to it regardless of how destructive it is to their lives, regardless of what path it takes them toward. The pull is emotional, not ideological or even rational. It’s a situation that needs intervention, healing and treatment. The way to do that is to improve societal conditions.

Why do Trump’s voters continue to support him even when his and the Republican Party’s policies will hurt them economically and in other ways as well?

Because it’s an emotional compulsion. It’s an emotional reaction. It’s not anything rational. Trying to reason with them will not help. It’s really the conditions that have to change. Malignant reality is taking hold. It’s a kind of pathology cohesion that normalizes corruption, violence and harm, and there will come a the point where we’re no longer disturbed by it. At that point, all kinds of human rights violations, wars and loss of life become possible. Mental health professionals have to become witnessing professionals who continually point out this dynamic and call it out for what it is, so that it does not become normalized.

The Trump administration, and I might argue to a large extent the Republican Party, has been leading up to a need to impose a distorted reality and a kind of imperviousness to facts onto others. Facts and evidence almost do not matter. What matters is the emotional commitment to either an ideology or what they believe will make America great again, restore their position, or give them the kind of pride or self-esteem that they feel they have lost.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

The budget disaster in store for our schools

New York City educator and author Brian Jones examines one section of the Trump administration budget: Betsy DeVos’ frightening plan to gut the department she runs.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (right) alongside Donald Trump at a White House meeting

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (right) alongside Donald Trump at a White House meeting

IN A recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wrote: “Every decision I make as secretary of education is considered through a single, focused lens: How does this affect an individual student?”

Based on the new education budget that she and her boss Donald Trump are proposing, though, it appears that there are a few million “individual students” that DeVos has overlooked.

According to a summary posted on the White House website on May 23, the Trump-DeVos proposal would cut $9 billion from the federal government’s education budget–a 13 percent reduction. A “blueprint” document released a few days earlier outlined a host of specific education programs slated for elimination.

Many commentators predicted a budget this devastating couldn’t pass in Congress in its present form. But even if this is just where the bargaining begins, public education is in great danger.

The dynamic duo–DeVos and Trump–are proposing to eliminate outright the $2.4 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program, which funds teacher training and class size reductions.

Half of this money is used to make class sizes smaller by paying approximately 9,000 teachers’ salaries, roughly 70 percent of them in the nation’s poorest school districts. I personally have not visited all of these schools, but I am 100 percent certain that individual students go to them, and that many of them benefit from greater individual attention because of the smaller class sizes.

The Trump-DeVos budget would eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which funds before- and after-school programs serving 1.6 million students. That’s a lot of individuals. More than 70 percent of these individual students also participate in a free or reduced lunch program.

Documents leaked to the Washington Post apparently reveal further cruel cuts–to adult literacy, arts education, foreign language and college loan forgiveness programs.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BUT NOT everything in the Education Department budget is being cut with the aim of “Making America Great Again.”

The proposal “places power in the hands of parents and families to choose schools that are best for their children,” the blueprint reads, “by investing an additional $1.4 billion in school choice programs.” That’s $168 million for more charter schools, $250 million for a new private school choice program, plus a $1 billion increase in Title I funding to incentivize districts to let per-pupil funding “follow the students” to the schools of their choice.

As Jeff Bryant noted at Truth-out, doing violence to the public school system is a logical way to promote “choice.”

With larger class sizes, less teacher training, fewer resources for arts and foreign languages and no affordable after-school programs, parents will have no choice but to “choose” to take their individual children out of public schools and seek alternatives via charter schools and voucher plans.

Never mind that charter schools continue to underperform traditional public schools. Never mind that charters have been repeatedly linked to a pattern of increasing racial segregation.

Never mind that voucher initiatives have frequently been rejected by voters in “red” states because they effectively rob funding from public schools. Never mind that “school choice” schemes consistently fail to redistribute resources to the students who need them the most–and usually do the opposite.

As Donna Nevel and Ujju Aggarwal point out in a study of the connection between “choice” and segregation in New York City, “[T]he mechanisms of exclusion have shifted some over time, but the result remains the same: choice for some and exclusion for others.”

A lengthy New York Times investigation into New York City’s high school choice program concluded that the hierarchy of wealth and privilege was merely reproduced because, “Ultimately, there just are not enough good schools to go around.” The Trump-DeVos budget, if approved, would make this problem worse.

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JENNIFER BERKSHIRE’S report for Jacobin on the connection between “school choice” and the Christian right suggests that the “individuals” DeVos really has in mind with each decision she makes are her friends who are eager to channel public dollars into the coffers of private schools–especially private religious schools.

But this isn’t just a right-wing conspiracy to promote the schools its ideologues prefer. The latest school privatization moves build logically on the arguments and policies put forward by President Barack Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “[I]t is Democrats who have pushed to redefine public education in one city after another as an individual parent choice to be exercised in a competitive marketplace, rather than a collective, community good,” Berkshire writes.

If the Trump-DeVos budget is devastating news for most students–individually and collectively–there is some good news in the proposal for a few individuals in Washington, D.C.

According to the Washington Post, “Trump is seeking an additional $158 million for salaries and expenses in the Education Department, up 7 percent, money that according to the budget documents would go toward loan-servicing costs, improved information-technology security, auditing and investigations and additional security costs for the secretary. DeVos has contracted with the U.S. Marshals Service to provide security rather than using the in-house security team that guarded previous secretaries.”

Looking out at the education landscape her proposed budget would create, DeVos is apparently worried about the safety of one individual in particular: herself.

 

socialistworker

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.