What’s So Scary About Government Programs?

September 14, 2020

Every economist understands that there are some things a capitalist economy won’t do for us. I won’t bore you with the technical reasons, but there are lots of things that depend on government. Trump and his Republican friends assume that calling them socialist will scare you away. Let’s understand that their claim is flawed from the get-go because public health, Armed Forces, police, fire departments and many others are all socialist in that sense. The interesting question is why they are trying to tar the programs they call socialist?

The answer is simple – money for them and their much too rich supporters. If we had no postal service, their rich friends could deliver letters and packages to us at a much higher price. It bothers them that the Postal Service can do it cheaper, but it bothers them even more that their friends don’t get the money. The Postal Service siphons business from commercial carriers of letters and packages.

Why don’t Republicans like Social Security? You could buy yourself a retirement insurance package, except that it would be much more expensive, and it wouldn’t be guaranteed, but friends of Republicans would get the money. Some of us also care that some people who live paycheck to paycheck couldn’t even buy themselves retirement insurance, let alone disability insurance and the other things Social Security covers.

Trump and his Republican allies want to keep downsizing the Center for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Trade Commission, so drug companies could go to town without federal regulation to protect us. The things they sell us would be cheaper to make if they didn’t have to test them to see if they work. They’d prefer we go back to the era of snake oil. All that means more money for Friends of Trump and Friends of Republicans. That’s corrupt – taking private advantage from stripping government programs that benefit us.

The Weather Service is anathema because private companies could do that. They didn’t, of course. It took national investment to set up all the weather instruments on land, water, in the air, and up in space. But now that the public has made all those investments and dedicated people did it very well, Trump, Republicans and their well-heeled friends want the money they could get from everything the Weather Service created with public funds.

Obamacare is another. The Obama Administration got the insurance companies behind them because Obamacare expanded their market, but Obama’s coalition couldn’t get a public option because there wasn’t anything in a public option for Republicans and their well-heeled friends. Apparently, Republicans would rather that sick people die.

Unemployment insurance gives people a chance to find a decent job, not just whatever unlivable wage they’re offered. If we become serfs as in the Tsar’s Russia or wage-slaves here, it will undercut all our salaries. Guess who that helps?

Free public schools give people a chance. But private owners want to siphon ever more money out of the public system, and to undercut teachers’ pay besides. Quality? You must be joking. Without public schools you’d be subject to the tender mercy of private owners, like the people who tried to learn something from Trump’s fraudulent academy. And many couldn’t afford any education. Uneducated Americans wouldn’t have a chance and would have to accept the most meagre survival wages and the longest hours to serve the crudest bosses. That’s what it’s all about – money and power.

So, when Trump and Republicans attack programs as socialism, understand the fraud behind their message. It’s all for them and their friends. They’re not interested in protecting us or a chance for a good life for ourselves or our kids.

— This commentary was scheduled for broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, on September 15, 2020.


Testing Republican Loyalty on the Route to Dictatorship

June 22, 2020

My heart wants to talk about the momentous things happening in our country but the disloyalty of this president is too frightening to talk about anything else.

He keeps firing people who’re trying to follow the law. He’s stripping government of the people who protected us from disease, poison and catastrophe, from dangerous workplaces and frauds, leaving most of us with little ability to protect ourselves. We’re out of work, out of money and have lost control of many boards of elections. When does it become too much?

He’s allied himself with the most extreme racists, people who’ve little compunction at brandishing, intimidating, threatening the rest of us with their weapons. Who’s safe then?

FBI records have made it clear that the – I refuse to use the name they call themselves – but the alt-sickos he praises and incites are the same ones who have been responsible for the vast majority of domestic terrorism in this country. Some of you may be too young to remember Timothy McVeigh who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing that killed and injured nearly a thousand people including 19 children in a day care center. He came from the same sewer of hate. The alt-screwed up wing that Trump insists on encouraging has been the source of the mass shooters that have caused so much grief. They’ve united law-breakers with political enmity. The combination is deadly. Do we need more proof?

Encouraging violence, creating chaos and then posing as the savior is a path tyrants have followed all over the world to take power, and, gaining power, turned their followers loose on the population until everyone bows in feigned allegiance to avoid their own and their family’s arrest, rape and murder.

The other major path is to gain control of the military. Trump has been firing everyone inquiring into his misbehavior. He’s fired much of the top brass of the military for daring to say that the military must stay out of politics or otherwise stand up to him.

How far is Dangerous Donald trying to go? And what will happen to us if he gets what he wants?

If this president attempts to take over by force, who will stand in his way? Will the Senate be loyal to Trump or to America and the rule of law and democracy? Will the Army be loyal to Trump or to America, the rule of law and democracy now that he has been stripping responsible military leaders of their stripes? Will there be anyone left to say no and lead the troops against a presidential putsch? Is it too late for the Court now that they have authorized massive stripping of voters from the records? Will we stop this slide into tyranny before it’s too late?

To allow this President to take over the reins of power he believes are his, will erase all efforts to make this a more decent country. This is a real test of the loyalty of Republican Senators – to Mr. Trump, or to the Constitution that so many Republicans have so loudly proclaimed as if they alone obey it. Are they loyal to the law and its superiority over everyone, high and low, or are they devoted instead to the notion of impunity, that some people can do any damage they choose to other people, to our government and to America itself without facing justice. Frankly, I am guessing that we are going to see immense disloyalty to America and failure to insist that the president has an obligation to our country and not just to his own ambitions. If you could read the records of the Founders of our country, you would quickly discover that Trump is the man they were afraid of.

There is no second chance. Republicans must show their courage now or survive only in infamy.

— This commentary was scheduled for broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, on June 23, 2020.


Trump Misuse of the Pandemic

May 26, 2020

I wanted to talk about something else; the health crisis is so serious and depressing. But it’s so serious because Trump has been unwilling to be part of the solution. He tries to double down, deny the science, ignore the tragedy and let everyone who’s not a Trump supporter sink into bankruptcy or perish, while Trump and his buddies play golf, and the people he put in charge of federal agencies use the pandemic as a smokescreen behind which to destroy all the agencies and the states and the services they provide – from schools to fire, police, safety regulation and health services.

What kind of people we are is reflected in how we handle a crisis. Do we let those most in need perish while funneling everything to those least in need? Or do we protect those who need it most?

Do we protect public schools for everyone or do we make them a pay-as-you-go enterprise that only the wealthy can afford?

I’m sick of watching the Trump Administration use this crisis to double down on paying the rich and starving the public, supporting private schools and starving public ones, paying large corporations and starving mom and pop businesses.

This has been the Republican playbook – first empty public coffers with tax breaks for their friends so it looks like the federal government has to starve all the programs that serve the people – from Social Security to public health and public education.

The Trump Administration was asleep at the wheel and let the virus explode until they could claim the only way to save American workers from economic disaster is by opening up, further fanning the virus and watching workers die from the epidemic, without Trump’s loudly proclaimed but non-existent health care.

Every Senator who voted to acquit the Thief-in-Chief should be thrown out of office as traitors to America. And yes, the House should do it again, tie up this corrupt Administration on charges of:

  • Lying to the American people about the seriousness of the virus
  • Incompetence in stopping the pandemic while it was still manageable
  • Incompetence in leaving the states to deal with it while parading around like Vladimir Putin showing off his golf game even as people died on ventilators
  • Stealing from the people and letting schools, states and cities go bankrupt while profiting his rich friends

Yes, lying, stealing and incompetence are impeachable offenses, were intended to be impeachable offenses and Trump is clearly guilty.

It’s time to expose Trump and his buddies as crooks stealing the people’s money for themselves and their friends.

It’s time for Democrats to play the Tea Party’s game – no holds barred refusal to compromise until this guy is outta there. Two can play the Tea Party game and we need to do it for the people.

— This commentary was scheduled for broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, on May 26, 2020.


Choose Life

February 28, 2017

I want to focus on a serious issue that is being ignored in favor of all kinds of fake news and grandstanding. In college, I took a course on demography. That means we were looking at the explosion of population in parts of the world, which then leveled off, but at much higher levels than before. Everything we are struggling with in this twenty-first century is related to that explosion of population.

The most significant advances in our longevity were the result of public health advances, precisely the things that people don’t want to spend on right now, on our water and sewer systems. I remember my dad asking every owner of places where we stopped for the night whether the water was potable, meaning it was drinking water from which we would not get sick. That was new in his lifetime. And by the way, my dad grew up in Brooklyn, in New York City, using an outhouse. Sure many of us have used outhouses at one time or another but they are not the best protection for public health in large communities – septic systems take lots of space.

After water and sewer systems, penicillin probably made the biggest difference – it’s probably why I’m talking with you today but never met my sister who died at the age of three before the discovery of penicillin. Those advances added decades to our lives by comparison to very short advances from modern medicine and surgery.

And they are a large part of the problem of global warming. There are lots more of us burning things, driving cars, using electricity, getting what we need for business or pleasure from the furthest corners of the world. That takes energy. Energy has been produced by burning things. And so the world gets hotter, the oceans expand, tropical diseases proliferate, and life threatens to get nasty, brutish and short once again. And efforts to mitigate that will be overtaken if population continues to expand – worldwide it’s doubled in my lifetime.

So when I hear about advances in medical science, like the possible elimination of malaria, I think how wonderful for the likely victims, and then I wonder about the global impact. There is no free lunch. We can make lots of advances. But the world has its limits. More people will put more stress on the environment. And stress on the environment is already heading us toward the next major extinction – us, human beings, our children and grandchildren.

And so I think there is a trade-off between our health and our numbers. There is no human life after we are extinguished – only death and tears. So let’s be clear, I am very pro-life, but to be pro-life demands support for birth control, especially the kinds that prevent conception.

There is no so-called pro-life position that is not also a position about death. It seems to me that The Church and all houses of worship, must rethink their positions about death and destruction along with their positions about conception. The two are intertwined by laws well-beyond our ability to control. Yes the Bible says choose life, all our bibles say that in some form. But are we choosing life if we ignore the reality of death, destruction, and extinction?

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, Feb. 28, 2017.


Regression to the Mean

August 18, 2015

Social scientists have a phrase, “regression to the mean.” What they mean is that the law of averages eventually fells families, companies or countries that are doing better than average, and eventually lift those doing much worse than the average. Now for all of us who like to say the United States is the best in the world, there is a prospect to consider.

We could just get fatalistic; it’s going to happen so what can we do about it. But of course we didn’t succeed by fatalism. Americans escaped, trekked, traveled, by rickety sailboats and steerage and every other way imaginable to get here and then they cleared the wilderness and conquered the continent and then took on the world. No fatalism about that.

They didn’t stare at each other saying we can’t do or build this or that; they joined together or got the government to help. Until the fatalists took over. Reagan said government is the problem. Strange remark, from a man who either should have known better or did, because when he took over the U.S. Government was actually remaking the world, our world. Perhaps you didn’t know that the internet was developed by DARPA as a national security project to make up for a strategic weakness of the old fashioned telephone system. Or that the transistors that run everything you use were developed as part of a government war effort. There isn’t much that you and I touch that weren’t connected in some way to the government space effort.

I could tell that story for every American generation. Government that is devoted to the welfare of the people, began here. The banking system, the transportation system repeatedly rebuilt as new technology developed, schools and the university system, the list of government projects for us is endless – until we stopped trusting each other and our own government.

So how do we stay strong, healthy, and successful? Some think we do it by fighting everyone. They must have grown up in a very tough neighborhood. Those who crunch the numbers figured out a long time ago that arms are what economists call a deadweight loss. Sometimes you really need them but they contribute zero to the economy except for the research. And like the barroom brawler, everyone’s gunning for the top gun.

We got where we are because of our economy. You can look at the economic numbers and see when Germany got ahead of England and France and then when the U.S. surpassed Germany. It’s all in the numbers. Ever since that other fatalist, George Bush said “read my lips; no new taxes,” Americans have imagined that progress was free. But we got where we are because government did the things needed to facilitate what the rest of us could do, travel, save, study, communicate, ship, research and on and on.

But now America feels so poor that it can’t repair its infrastructure, can’t fix the cables, the water and sanitary systems, can’t fund its university system except on the backs of students who haven’t yet had a chance to earn a living. If America is truly that poor, it will regress to the mean.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, August 18, 2015.


Government and Our Trip South

August 1, 2015

Many people in this country believe that the Founding Fathers established our Constitution to get government off of people’s backs. My wife and I just traveled to North Carolina where that idea is big. They expect people to take care of themselves without the help of the nanny state. We are all expected to earn and pay our own way.

We were on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, in Nags Head, and traveled to Ocracoke Island by ferry. It is a lengthy ferry ride, about ten miles as it winds around shoals that would stop and probably destroy the boat. I chatted with one of the crew, an employee of the State of North Carolina, and told him that I hadn’t yet been told how much the trip would cost me. Nothing, he replied. It’s free. We were certainly prepared to pay our way. That’s quite a gift from the State of North Carolina.

Still the good people of North Carolina, and certainly their elected representatives, know that government is nothing but a problem in the way of the people. So imagine our surprise when we stopped at the Ocracoke lighthouse to discover that the feds, those doggoned feds, built the light house in the eighteenth century, before the ink on the Constitution had much time to dry, and rebuilt a sturdier one in 1825 that is still working today to keep ships off the rocks and shoals.

Then we mailed a couple of cards to our granddaughters. You guessed it – we relied on the Postal Service that the feds set up and ran since Ben Franklin, that old self-reliant founding patriot, ran the thing even before the Constitution was written. The old Founders, they certainly knew how to use the government to benefit the people. Guess no one told them they weren’t supposed to.

Daily we checked NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency that includes the weather service. Perhaps you didn’t realize it, but all those private meterologists on every television and radio station are basing their forecasts on weather data collected, analyzed and distributed by the federal weather service. Lawyers by the way, contact the weather service for information about the weather at the time of events being litigated – there’s no need to replicate Lincoln and his famous use of an almanac to get an acquittal for his client. Weather service data are recognized and relied on as authoritative virtually universally.

We drove back on U.S. highways, both in North Carolina and between there and Albany. Yes roads the government built. In good shape too. In fact some of the first roads in the United States were postal roads, built by Uncle Sam.

We had some great dinners. But I sure hope the health department was checking up on those places – it’s pretty darn hard for a traveler to know much about what’s going on in the kitchen. And we have sometimes had some pretty bad experiences despite our best efforts.

I expect MORE from our government, not less.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, August 11, 2015.


Yalda and a Healthy New Year

December 23, 2014

I’m writing this after a party for what Persians call Yalda, the winter soltice. There is a significant Persian community in this area, refugees, immigrants and students. This group was put together by the Alaei brothers. They are the doctors who were imprisoned in Iran for the temerity of trying to treat people with Aids and discussing the best techniques for doing it with other doctors around the globe.  When he was released, Kamiar came here to Albany to finish his doctorate at the School of Public Health. We spent the better part of a year praying for the release of his brother Arash and as soon as he was released he joined Kamiar here in Albany. They have now been joined by their sister and Kamiar by his bride.Medical res

And as soon as they landed they started to work to set up an international program in health and human rights. Both brothers became globe-trotters, working to set up allied programs all over the world. Many institutions here in Albany, including Albany Law where I teach have joined the effort. Kamiar and Arash worked with governments, UN agencies, large foundations and universities wherever they could. I can’t begin to say how much respect I have for their effort – and I am certainly not alone, as international medical organizations and others have honored them for their work. Most of us have dreams. They are making theirs become reality.

But – I told Kamiar there would be a “but,” – the biggest health problems around this world are not medical, but political.

Africa is suffering from the lack of government – good government that could stop the wars that have killed millions there and are still killing, pillaging and selling girls into slavery. Good government that could provide sanitary services and vaccinations.

Governments around the globe are allowing industry to poison their workers with toxic gases and chemicals in the plants, and poison the people outside by dumping toxic chemicals into the air and water, or by destroying the land and forests that keep the waters clean.

We are relatively healthy in the US because of government – because government did supply the clean water and sanitation and the public health and disease control systems and the medical research to make that possible. Don’t be fooled by labels, a very large share of the research dollars have come from the government, a very large share of the medical systems until very recently were public – without government few of us would have had decent medical care.

We need to upgrade the water supplies. We need to maintain and upgrade sewage disposal and landfills. We need to fund basic medical research, research that is fundamental to the health of all of us. It is increasingly clear that we need government to continue adequate vaccination programs. And we need government to deal with the spiraling problems of global climate change that will sicken all of us if government doesn’t get out ahead of them.

So what I wish people here and abroad for the new year, is good responsible government that keeps the peace and protects the health of their peoples. That’s a real holiday gift and a happy, healthy new year.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, December 23, 2014.


Taxes

July 2, 2013

I’m tired of hearing that lower taxes will bring new business. Politicians chant low taxes like a mantra that answers everything. Governor Cuomo offers to starve many New York communities of money for services by barring them from taxing new business.

Many places in the world have no taxes, and no business opportunities either. Many places in the US charge lower taxes than New York but do much worse. What’s missing in the low tax nonsense includes markets, transportation, supplies, employees, skills, resources and amenities, the things that make places interesting and fun to live in, the reasons company founders live here, why the bosses live here, and why their employees want to live here. Read the rest of this entry »


Medical research

June 25, 2013

The Supreme Court’s decision that no company can patent genes but can patent its tests for genetic information is the tip of a large iceberg. We have gotten used to believing that the patent process is the only way that new drugs and treatments are developed, and that private industry is the only source of that work. Nothing could be further from the truth but the attack on government activity may make it true. Read the rest of this entry »


Saving Federal Dollars

January 15, 2013

Some congressmen believe the government should not spend any money, shouldn’t borrow, shouldn’t raise the debt ceiling, and shouldn’t raise taxes. They are from “red” states or districts. And they don’t want to vote for hurricane relief for the northeastern states.

Others believe government should do what is necessary for the welfare of the people. When people are in trouble, good people help. They are from “blue” states or districts. And they voted for hurricane relief for the South and Midwest.

It’s not just Tea Party ideology. Whose ox is gored matters to them. If the hurricane hits my district, well, they’re good people, so we gotta help. But if it’s somebody else’s district, especially a “blue” district, we certainly do not want to help “those” people. So we have a combination of politics and ideology.

OK then, here’s a proposal. Read the rest of this entry »


%d bloggers like this: