Sanders’ Socialism Speech: America Is For All Of Us, Not Just Wealthy

“I don’t believe in some foreign “ism”, but I believe deeply in American idealism.”
– Senator Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders billed his talk Thursday at Georgetown University as a speech on “democratic socialism,” but it was immediately clear that what Sanders was really talking about were not the ideologies of a Cold War adversary but deeply American traditions of fairness that have been under attack by ideologues brandishing American flags.

Sanders anchored his speech as building on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1944 “Second Bill of Rights” address. “Real freedom must include economic security.” he said. “That was Roosevelt’s vision 70 years ago. It is my vision today. It is a vision that we have not yet achieved. It is time that we did.”

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What Do Candidates Propose To Boost Stagnant Economy?

Thursday’s bad news: Third-quarter GDP lands with thud: just 1.5 percent growth. That is down from 3.9 percent growth the previous quarter. The economy appears to be slowing, partly because of the drag effect of our trade deficit and partly because of the drag on the economy due to austerity policies (federal spending cuts that take money out of the economy).

In the presidential campaign Republican candidates are proposing even more austerity as a solution to the lackadaisical recovery, combined with tax cuts for the rich and deregulation of Wall Street and the giant corporations. Democrats, on the other hand are proposing infrastructure investment and a number of other positive solutions.

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Clinton vs Sanders vs O’Malley On Fixing Banking

How do we fix Wall Street, a.k.a. “the banks”? How do the candidates compare? This question came up in the first Democratic debate and there has been lots of online commentary on this since.

The first place to look, of course, is CAF’s Candidate Scorecard. “The Candidate Scorecard measures the positions of Democratic candidates for president against the Populism 2015 platform endorsed by organizations representing 2 million Americans.” On Wall Street – specifically, making “Wall Street serve the real economy” – the Candidate Scorecard rates the candidates as follows:
● Bernie Sanders: 100%
● Martin O’Malley: 100%
● Hillary Clinton: 63%

Note that Clinton’s 63 percent rating is primarily based on not having a position on a financial transaction tax – “Has yet to take a position, though has used rhetoric against high frequency traders who game the system” – as well as opposing reinstating some form of a Glass-Steagall Act and a lack of specific proposals related to the categories “Break Up Big Banks” and “Affordable Banking.”

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Sanders Pushes Postal Banking

Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has once again added his voice to a growing movement to bring banking to the United States Postal Service (USPS).

“I want to see our post office be reinvigorated,” Sanders said in a Fusion interview this week with Felix Salmon, and postal banking is “one of the ways that I think we can help not only the U.S. Postal Service, but help a lot of low-income people.”

Situation: Exploitation

Millions of Americans are “unbanked,” meaning they do not have (and cannot get) bank accounts for one reason or another. This means they cannot easily cash checks, pay bills, save a bit of money, get a small loan in an emergency and other simple and basic banking services. This leaves them vulnerable in the predatory path of payday lenders and check cashing services, where exploitative fees and incredibly high interests rates eat them alive and leave them poorer than ever.

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Run For Congress As A Democratic Socialist

Bernie Sanders is going to give a big speech on Democratic Socialism.

I think this presents an opportunity for people to run for Congress in Democratic primaries — or as the ONLY Democrat is some districts — as Democratic Socialists. I’m looking at how to register to run in my district.

You might not win but I think it makes sense to make the case for — and get people thinking about — taxing the rich, corporations and Wall Street transactions and using the money to provide:
● Increases in Social Security
● Medicare-for-All
● Free higher education with a stipend while attending
● Low-cost child care
● Help elderly stay in homes and low-cost nursing home care
● Modern mass transit, high-speed rail, etc.
● Well-maintained modern infrastructure (and associated jobs)
● A huge push to solar, wind and other alternative energy, with a weatherization program (and associated jobs)
(The “associated jobs’ thingy is part of a full-employment program.)

Think of other things that We the People can do together to make our lives better — also known as democratic government for the people.

What Is This ‘Cadillac Tax’ Health Insurance Thingy?

You may have heard about the “Cadillac tax” health insurance thing. As with so much else involved with the health care/insurance discussion, policymakers have chosen wording that causes most people to tune out. Terms like “Cadillac tax” have little meaning to regular people because they convey very little information – or they evoke an image that masks its true impact.

When policymakers talk about a “Cadillac tax” on health insurance plans, what they are referring to is an upcoming tax on employers who provide really good health insurance plans that cover lots of things without requiring employees to pay large co-pays and deductibles when they get medical care. These plans cost more, so they are compared to luxury cars that cost more, hence “Cadillac.”

The tax was written into the Affordable Care Act with the consent of the Obama administration, which saw it as a way to limit federal government spending on health care reform. There are people who thing this tax is a good idea, and people who want the tax repealed.

Arguments In Favor Of The Tax

Those in favor of the tax are “market” economists who believe that people’s decisions, even about health care choices, are mostly driven by economic motives. They believe that people are “homo economicus” – a species of people who have good information and make rational decisions based on what will make them (or save them) the most money. These people are seen as “consumers” who respond to prices over other priorities in their lives.

They claim that with good health insurance, “consumers have little incentive to insist on cost-effective care and providers have little incentive to provide it.” The idea is that a tax on employers who offer good health insurance will benefit the country and:
1) create market forces that will reduce the country’s health care costs over time, and,
2) Translate as higher pay to employees because the employers are spending less on health insurance.

These economists believe that the better the health care plan, the more people will go to doctors and specialists when they don’t really have to. They believe people use high-cost medical procedures and drugs because they do not shop around for the lowest-priced alternatives. They believe that making people pay higher co-pays and/or deductibles and limiting which doctors they can see will cause them to “consume” less and stop “overutilizing” expensive medical care.

They say that setting high co-pays and deductibles, and limits on doctors, will make people put “skin in the game” and:

1) Stop knowingly using medical services needlessly. People know when they don’t really have to see a doctor but do so anyway because they don’t have to pay too much.
2) “Shop around” for the lowest-cost doctors (of those offered) when they do need medical care.
3) “Shop around” when a drug or procedure is needed, whether it’s for fixing a broken arm or treating cancer, and will choose the lowest-cost options.

The Argument For Repealing This Tax

That was the market economist side of the “Cadillac Tax” argument. They want the tax to take effect starting next year, as planned. The other side is people who want to repeal the tax. They want citizens to have more access to good health care, with low co-pays and low deductibles and a wide choice of doctors and care options.

On a conference call Thursday, Economic Policy Institute (EPI) Research Director Josh Bivens and Senior Economist Elise Gould outlined arguments against this tax. They explained that research (and basic common sense) shows that consumers are not equipped with information and knowledge that enables them to cut back only on unnecessary or ineffective care. In other words, people go to doctors to find out if they need medical care, because the doctors are the ones trained in medicine, not regular people.

With high deductibles and co-pays, people cut back on health care across the board. They don’t see a doctor when they need to, which can cause them to be sicker when they finally do see a doctor (which is more expensive and undoes the money-saving efforts) or just suffer, which should not be a policy goal (unless you are a conservative or a psychopath).

In EPI’s “Tax on Expensive Health Insurance Plans Could Cut Care Along With Costs,” Bivens and Gould write,

Evidence shows that making health care more expensive does induce people to consume less of it. But the same evidence shows that people do not cut back only on care that is ineffective or somehow luxurious; instead, they cut back across the board. Expecting sick Americans to decide on the fly in an opaque and uncompetitive marketplace what health care is cost-effective–and what is not–is an unrealistic and unfair approach to containing costs.

While overall costs may be pushed down by the excise tax, this is a good outcome only if one believes that the health care squeezed out is merely the ineffective kind. But a lot of welfare-improving care may also be a casualty, and for some patients, cutting back on medically indicated care because of the increased cost-sharing could increase their overall spending. For example: some patients who cut back on low-cost pills to contain cholesterol end up in emergency rooms.

Cutting utilization is also a limited cost-containment strategy…

One more thing: the market economists claim that employers will pass along savings from lower-cost plans to employees as higher pay. What is the fat chance of that? What world do they live in? World economicus? I mean, really.


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

“A Senator is needed but missing.”

Jan 6, 2001, African-American members of the House try to object to disenfranchisement of minorities in 2000 election:

In hindsight it might be a good time to bring this up again, maybe ask some of the Democratic senators who were present at the time why they did not join with African-American members of the House.

Here is a list of Democratic senators at that time:

Robert Byrd (D-WV)
Ted Kennedy (D-MA)
Daniel Inouye (D-HI)
Ernest Hollings (D-SC)
Joe Biden (D-DE)
Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Paul Sarbanes (D-MD)
Max Baucus (D-MT)
Carl Levin (D-MI)
Chris Dodd (D-CT)
Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)
John Kerry (D-MA)
Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)
John Breaux (D-LA)
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Tom Daschle (D-SD)
Harry Reid (D-NV)
Bob Graham (D-FL)
Kent Conrad (D-ND)
Herb Kohl (D-WI)
Joe Lieberman (D-CT)
Daniel Akaka (D-HI)
Paul Wellstone[7] (D-MN)
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Byron Dorgan (D-ND)
Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Judd Gregg (R-NH)
Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO)
Russ Feingold (D-WI)
Patty Murray (D-WA)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Richard Durbin (D-IL)
Robert Torricelli[5] (D-NJ)
Tim Johnson (D-SD)
Jack Reed (D-RI)
Max Cleland[5] (D-GA)
Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
Evan Bayh (D-IN)
John Edwards (D-NC)
Zell Miller (D-GA)
Bill Nelson (D-FL)
Tom Carper (D-DE)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Ben Nelson (D-NE)
Hillary Clinton (D-NY)
Jon Corzine (D-NJ)
Jean Carnahan[5] (D-MO)
Mark Dayton (D-MN)

VW Case Shows Need For More And Bigger Government

Again and again we hear about corporations doing bad things so they can make more money: polluting, selling contaminated food or otherwise harming people’s health, selling products that injure people or just don’t do what they advertise, tricking and scamming people out of their money, selling banned goods or providing financial services for terrorists or drug cartels, and so many other things that are not good for people or society.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were some entity that was more powerful than these corporations, whose purpose is to protect us, reign these corporations in, make and enforce rules, prosecute offenders and put a stop to this stuff?

This Week: VW

This week we are hearing about Volkswagen (VW). For years the company claimed they were selling “clean diesel” engines, but they were tricking their customers, the public and governments around the world. Their cars are really a public health threat, putting out up to 40 times the legal limit of pollutants that cause asthma and other disease.

VW built a “defeat mechanism” into as many as 11 million cars. This mechanism let the cars pass government tests, even though they were polluting like crazy when driven in the real world. The mechanism made the engine run clean during government tests, then when it detected that the tests were finished it set the engine to start polluting again.

For years these cars have been harming people and until now VW was getting away with (and making big profits from) this. They were finally caught, and we will see whether executives are prosecuted, or if this will be one more case of weak (or corrupted) government issuing a fine that lets a company make its shareholders pay the cost instead of holding the executives that did it accountable.

The Fix For The VW Cars

This is huge. Up to 11 million cars have these “defeat” mechanisms in them. These cars have to be fixed because their emissions can cause people to develop asthma and other respiratory diseases. But fixing this is a big problem.

According to Wired, in “VW Owners Aren’t Going to Like the Fixes for Their Diesels,” there are two choices for fixing these cars – and either choice means the car owners end up losing a lot of what they thought they had paid for.

The first is to update the software so the cars always run in the “test mode” that defeated the emissions tests. But the changes the software made to the engines to get them to operate within the legal emissions limits while being tested will cause the car to either have poor acceleration or poor gas mileage.

The second is to actually fix the problem that causes the engines to pollute. According to Wired, VW would have to add a “urea” tank and the means to inject this into the catalytic converter:

The standard way of making a diesel run cleanly is to use selective catalytic reduction, a chemical process that breaks NOx [mono-nitrogen oxides] down into nitrogen and water. Part of that process includes adding urea to the mix. The super effective system can eliminate 70 to 90 percent of NOx emissions, and is used by other diesel manufacturers like Mercedes and BMW. The downside is that it adds complication to the system, and cost — $5,000 to $8,000 per car. And you need to periodically add the urea-based solution to your car to keep it working.

… So it seems the logical way to get those cars to perform like their diesel cousins is to add a urea. VW’s unlikely to embrace that option, because adding hardware to half a million cars would be far more expensive than a computer update. It wouldn’t be any fun for the TDI owner, either. Not only do you have to spend an afternoon with your local dealer, you have to make room for the tank. That could mean sacrificing cargo space or giving up the spare tire.

The cost to VW will be huge, and the customers lose either way. Never mind all the people suffering asthma and lung disease resulting from the pollution these cars were emitting.

VW Not An Isolated Case

The New York Times reports, in “Volkswagen Test Rigging Follows a Long Auto Industry Pattern,” that,

For decades, car companies found ways to rig mileage and emissions testing data. In Europe, some automakers have taped up test cars’ doors and grilles to bolster their aerodynamics. Others have used “superlubricants” to reduce friction in the car’s engine to a degree that would be impossible in real-world driving conditions.

Automakers have even been known to make test vehicles lighter by removing the back seats.
… [In 1973 the EPA] fined Volkswagen $120,000 after finding that the company had installed devices intended specifically to shut down a vehicle’s pollution control systems. In 1974, Chrysler had to recall more than 800,000 cars because similar devices were found in the radiators of its cars.

[. . .] Beyond emissions, the industry has long been contemptuous of regulation. Henry Ford II called airbags “a lot of baloney,” and executives have bristled at rules requiring higher mileage per gallon.

VW might not even be the only company that is scamming government testing labs with “defeat mechanisms’ right now. From the report,

“We call it the tip of the iceberg,” said Jos Dings, the director of Transport and Environment. “We don’t think this will be limited to Volkswagen. If you look at the testing numbers for the other manufacturers, they are just as bad.”

The Times report lists several examples of the auto industry engaging in profit-making by endangering their customers. There was the “unexploded Pinto” problem of gas tanks blowing up. There were 271 deaths from the Ford-Firestone tire scandal. There were the Takata airbags that either don’t work or injure people. There was Chrysler selling as new cars that had been driven for 60,000 miles with the odometers disconnected. Click through, there’s plenty… But no one has been put in jail.

So what VW was caught doing is “not an isolated incident” and, in fact, VW had already been caught doing the same thing in the 1970s.

Not Just Auto Industry

VW is hardly the only company in the auto industry engaged in these practices, and the auto industry is hardly the only industry engaging in this kind of activity.

● Of course, tobacco still kills over 480,000 Americans each year and no one even talks about doing anything about it. Everyone understands this is because of the great wealth and power of the tobacco companies as well as their influence over a certain political party. More than 480,000 terrible, painful deaths each year!

● The “Obamacare” health reform was written the way it was because it was understood from the start that the insurance and pharmaceutical companies had enough power to block anything they didn’t like. So we didn’t get Medicare for All or even a “public option.” These industries had already blocked the administration of President Bill Clinton from reforming the health care system, leading to more decades of deaths, untreated illness and bankruptcies.

● In 2000, The Nation reported, in “The Secret History of Lead,” that the lead industry knew and kept secret for decades that they were poisoning people with lead in gasoline, paint and other products, and instead of doing something about it they protected their profits by covering this up and attacking government efforts to do something.

The leaded gas adventurers have profitably polluted the world on a grand scale and, in the process, have provided a model for the asbestos, tobacco, pesticide and nuclear power industries, and other twentieth-century corporate bad actors, for evading clear evidence that their products are harmful by hiding behind the mantle of scientific uncertainty.

Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum reported on just one of the societal consequences of this decades-long crime, in “America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead.” His investigative report concluded that lead may be “the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic.” That whole put-millions-in-prison thing that has ruined so many lives? Oops, it might have been the lead industry’s doing. Are any lead industry executives in jail for that?

● The fossil-fuel industry is notorious for polluting and for causing climate change. The industry has captured an entire political party and has them fight the development of alternative energy sources, taxes on carbon, fuel-saving public transportation initiatives, other energy-saving efforts, etc. The industry funds a climate denial cult that threatens the entire planet.

These are just a few of so many examples.

Big Government Prosecutions Can Make A Difference

Corporations save money by cutting corners. Dumping carbon into the air. Putting lead in gasoline. You name it. They price the potential fines into the product as a cost of doing business. And company shareholders pay those fines. The executives who commit the actual wrongdoing are rarely if ever held accountable themselves.

Many companies can safely assume that the government isn’t even going to catch them or do anything if they do. Government cowed by intense anti-government propaganda. We hear that “government can’t do anything as well as business can,” that “big government threatens us,” and “government takes money out of the economy.” We hear about “burdensome government regulations” that “kill jobs” on a 24/7/365 basis. Government and democracy do not have an advertising budget to counter this relentless propaganda.

Government is underfunded because the propaganda elects corporate-backed anti-government politicians who convince people to allow tax cuts (on the corporations and their owners) paid for by cutting back on government. And especially cutting back on government regulation and enforcement. The result is government enforcement is backing down all the time.

Industry executives revolve through the door into government and then back into plush corporate offices where they collect rewards for protecting their industries. Our “captured” government notoriously refuses to bring corporate criminals to justice. Not one banker, for example, was prosecuted for obvious crimes leading to the 2008 financial crash.

However last week we saw one rare instance of a prosecution of individuals for corporate crime. The people running Peanut Corporation of America, a Georgia peanut company, were prosecuted after a salmonella outbreak that sickened and hospitalized hundreds of people and killed 9 of them. Company executives knew for years their product was made in unsafe ways that were causing contamination — but instead of spending what was needed to fix the problem they covered this up. So the owner was sentenced to 28 years in prison and other executives were sentenced to 20 years.

Thanks to an actual prosecution resulting in prison terms for company executives it is likely that the public will suffer fewer food-safety problems, at least for a while.

Our government supposedly exists to protect We the People from wealthy and powerful interests, including other countries. Our revolution against the wealthy British aristocracy and the King’s corporations testify to this. A government that is “of the people, by the people and for the people” should be big enough, strong enough and funded enough to reign in companies and billionaires, and protect We the People from the kind of corporate misbehavior we saw from Volkswagen — long, long, long before it involves 11 million cars all spewing out serious threats to public health.


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

The Wild Ride Gets Wilder – Only Government Spending Can Fix This

The world is out of balance. Everyone’s nervous. There is a glut of money floating around the world and no one offers a “safe place” to put it. The stock market is way up, way down, way up, way down – sometimes all on the same day. China’s currency is having dramatic swings while the U.S. has an enormous, humongous trade deficit.

Super-wealthy people are making and losing hundreds of millions (sometimes billions) in a day – none of it on making or doing actual things that matter. Inequality is soaring. (The top 25 hedge fund managers earn more than all kindergarten teachers in the U.S. combined.) And all around the world, there’s very little actual economic growth.

Meanwhile, most people barely (or don’t) have enough to get by.

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A Look At The Fast Track Bill Shows It’s The Wrong Thing To Do

The “fast track” trade promotion authority bill has been introduced in the Senate. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution says, “The Congress shall have power to … regulate commerce with foreign nations.” But under fast track, Congress relinquishes that power and agrees to pass trade bills brought to them by the executive branch in a very short time frame with little debate and without making any changes should any problems present themselves.

Though it was announced that this year’s fast track bill was the result of a “deal” between Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) the 2015 bill is nearly identical to the 2014 bill that died in Congress without support for a vote. See this side-by-side comparison from Rep. Sander Levin of the House Ways and Means Committee. It is unclear from this comparison why the “negotiations” between Hatch and Wyden took so long, and what Wyden got that enabled him to put his name on it, enabling the bill to be sold as “bipartisan.”

Fast Track Sets Aside Normal Procedure

Congress does not set aside normal procedure, debate, the ability to fix problems that turn up and agree to vote within 90 days except for trade agreements – even though trade agreements have now proven to have such a tremendous and often detrimental effect on our economy, jobs, wages and inequality. Where did the idea to do this come from? According to Public Citizen, this unusual procedure was “initially created by President Richard Nixon to get around public debate and congressional oversight.”

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