Monday, October 16, 2017

Let’s use the Weinstein moment to fight for laws that end wage gap & support health of women & families

By Marc Jampole

If a woman would gladly watch a high-powered Hollywood executive play with himself, give him a massage or do whatever else Harvey Weinstein fantasized about, that would be between them—two consulting adults.
But Harvey Weinstein was not interested in consensual sex, and I doubt he was interested in sex at all. For him, it was all about power over women. He must be one sick pup—just as sick as Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby and Donald Trump. Very insecure men who seem to feel threatened by all women and take every opportunity to use sex as a weapon to assert a superiority in power.
That these men are still allowed to play key management roles in large organizations in the 21st century seems as impossibly fantastic as the idea that enough Americans would vote for an inexperienced, ignorant and unbalanced failed businessman to enable him to win the Electoral College vote. The outing of these famous super-predators, the defeat of an eminently qualified woman in the Electoral College by one of them, and the widespread reports of badly-behaving men and rampant male chauvinism at many young technology companies all remind us that a virulent strain of misogyny still exists in the United States.
But also existing are the laws, and in most places, the corporate policies and procedures to shut down sexual harassment of women. What doesn’t exist all too often is the will. It doesn’t help that, like child molesters, the super-predator has a sixth sense about which potential victims are more vulnerable—the new, the naïve, the ignorant, those with emotional problems. The fact that there are often ready-made victims for sexual harassers makes it even more incumbent on organizations to clearly communicate that harassment of all types is illegal and will not be tolerated, no matter how rich, famous or connected the harasser is.
But in the hubbub about Weinstein’s disgusting behavior and the entertainment industry that enabled it for decades, let’s not forget that women face not just sexual harassment, but economic discrimination in the workplace. Women still make less than men for doing the same job, plus workplace rules often create a “Jim Crow” kind of situation, without the lynching and jailing—a set of laws that tend to favor men over women. For example, employers still are not required to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women who want or have to continue working and there are no national scheduling standards that balance employers’ desire for scheduling flexibility with the need of women (and some men) to be able to plan family necessities.
The issue of employment equality and workplace sexual harassment are related. We won’t solve one until we solve the other. Lower salaries and de facto discriminatory policies and procedures tell men that organizations don’t consider women to be their equal, a subtle but clear signal that women can be treated as objects, insulted or pressed for sexual favors. The lesser, more vulnerable human is always fair game.
My wife alerted me to a great organization, the National Partnership for Women and Families, which lobbies for new laws that expand opportunities for women and improve the well-being and economic security of families. In a March 2017 fact sheet, the National Partnership detailed five proposed laws that would help women achieve equality in the workplace (and I quote):
  • The Paycheck Fairness Act would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and help eliminate the discriminatory pay practices that plague employed women.
  • The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would prevent employers from forcing pregnant women out of the workplace and help ensure that employers provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women who want to continue working.
  • The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act would create a national paid leave insurance program to support workers and businesses when a new child arrives or a serious personal or family medical need arises.
  • The Healthy Families Act would allow workers to earn seven paid sick days to use to recover from illness, access preventive care or care for a sick family member.
  • The Schedules That Work Act would establish national fair scheduling standards that would help provide economic security for working families and enable workers to meet their responsibilities at home and on the job.
I urge readers to contact their Senators and Congressional Representatives and urge them to support these bills. Also get on the National Partnership website and educate yourself about all the issues affecting women in the workplace. You might even want to contribute.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Editorial: Lose with King Moron / Save the Iran Deal

Donald Trump markets himself as the master of the deal, but there are two kinds of people who have dealt with Trump: those who have lost money investing in him and those who haven’t lost money yet.

Republicans are just starting to question their investment in the real estate huckster who has taken his businesses through bankruptcies six times — and at least five of those bankruptcies involved casinos, so Trump was the rare business genius who could lose money running casinos. But he looked good on TV and now he’s in the White House.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO who has repeatedly been undercut by Trump in his attempts to engage in diplomacy, reportedly called his boss a “f***ing moron,” which we have sanitized to “king moron.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is the most prominent Republican to quit the Trump fan club. After Corker announced he was not going to seek re-election, the Tweeter in Chief on Sunday morning, Oct. 8, claimed Corker “begged” for his endorsement. “I said ‘NO’ and he dropped out (said he could not win without my endorsement). He also wanted to be Secretary of State, I said ‘NO THANKS.’ He is also largely responsible for the horrendous Iran Deal! Hence, I would fully expect Corker to be a negative voice and stand in the way of our great agenda. Didn’t have the guts to run!”

Corker, who had been a prominent Trump supporter in 2016 and for most of this year, replied with his own tweet: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.” Ouch!

In an interview with the New York Times, Corker said Trump had asked him at least four times this year to run for re-election and promised an endorsement. Corker also charged that Trump was treating his office like “a reality show” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”

Corker started distancing himself from Trump in August, criticizing the president’s handling of the deadly rally of white supremacists, including Ku Klux Klansmen and neo-Nazis, in Charlottesville, Va. At that time, Corker said, “The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”

On Oct. 8, Corker said he was alarmed about a president who acts “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something.”

“He concerns me,” Corker added. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”

Other Republican members of Congress might feel the same way, but they are willing to put up with Trump as long as he is willing to sign a tax cut bill that their wealthy donors are demanding.

Trump and Republican congressional leaders in September released a summary of their new tax “reform” that would cut taxes by an estimated $2.4 trillion over the next decade, with 80% of the breaks going to the top 1% of superrich by 2027 while tax rates for the lowest-income level actually would increase from 10% to 12%. Americans for Tax Fairness figured that 30% of middle-class families making between $50,000 and $150,000 a year will pay $2,000 more in taxes, on average, under the Republican proposal.

To set up the tax cuts for billionaires and multinational corporations, the House on Oct. 5 passed a 2018 budget resolution on a 219-206 vote, with 18 Republicans joining 188 Dems in voting against the bill. Among other things, it repeals the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), resulting in a $1.5 trillion cut in health care spending, and it cuts Medicare by $473 billion, regardless of Trump’s campaign promises to protect those programs, Americans for Tax Fairness reported.

Trump also has vowed to protect Social Security, but we’ll see how that stands up to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s determination to privatize and/or raise the retirement age for Social Security benefits. Trump’s own budget proposes cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance. The Senate budget proposal not only cuts Medicare and Medicaid; it also cuts $37 billion from affordable housing programs, $100 billion from Pell Grants for university students; $3 billion from Head Start and essentially guts the WIC program that provides food assistance to 1.25 million for women, infants and children, said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Republicans plan to pass the budget through special rules that allow them to get it through the Senate on a simple majority vote. But the choke point is still the Senate, where the loss of three Republicans can stop the bill. If your senators claim to be conservative deficit hawks when Democrats are in power, get them to explain how the US can afford to give $2.4 trillion to billionaires, claiming it will spur economic growth, when the experience of the last 20 years proves that “supply-side” economics is a right-wing fantasy.

About a third of Americans continue to support Trump, polls show, despite his transformation from populist reformer during the campaign to a friend of oligarchs as president. He claimed he would “drain the swamp,” but he named executives and alumni from the Wall Street investment firm Goldman Sachs to key White House positions, as well as pro-corporate administrators to various agencies to prevent health and human services, environmental protection, public schools, federal lands and fair labor and housing standards.

Workers who invest their hopes in Trump are bound to lose.

Save the Iran Deal

Trump is trying to intimidate North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons at the same time he is threatening to renege on a deal with Iran, which agreed to give up its program to develop nuclear weapons.

Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign repeatedly ridiculed the Iran deal, which the Obama administration negotiated with the Islamic republic to give up its program to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. Russian, China, France, Britain and Germany also were in on the deal, but Trump vowed to rip it up. He declared at the United Nations Sept. 19 that the agreement was “embarrassing to the United States.”

The only problem is that Iran is living up to its side of the bargain. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said that Iran is in compliance; when it has found minor violations, they were quickly fixed.

Trump must decide by Oct. 15 whether to certify that Iran is keeping up with its end of the deal. He wants to renegotiate the deal, but Iran has warned it would refuse to renegotiate the deal, unless the US was also ready to make concessions, which Trump won’t accept.

Trump’s top Pentagon advisers told Congress Oct. 3 Iran appears to be sticking to the 2015 agreement to halt its nuclear weapons program and expressed support for keeping the pact.

“At this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying in,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, told the panel Iran “is not in material breach” of the agreement, contending that the pact has “delayed the development of a nuclear capability by Iran.”

”By declining to certify Iran’s compliance, Trump would essentially kick it to Congress to decide whether to reimpose punitive economic sanctions. But even among Republicans, there appears to be little appetite to do that, at least for now,” Mark Landler and David E. Sanger reported in the New York Times Oct. 5.

Still, Trump’s expected move would allow him to tell supporters that he had disavowed the accord, while bowing to the reality that the US would isolate itself from its allies if it sabotaged a deal with which Iran is viewed as complying. But Trump’s bad-mouthing of the Iran deal is another cynical ploy to distract from the damage he is doing at home. And it tells our allies he can’t be trusted. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2017

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Copyright © 2017 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the November 1, 2017 issue

COVER/Heather Digby Parton
Trump’s Puerto Rico cruelty: Has he no sense of decency? 

Lose with King Moron; Save the Iran deal


Dick Gregory: God’s own troublemaker

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Still need to organize for peace

Trump eyes new ways to wound Obamacare;
Trump won’t let states improve their health offerings;
Trump job approval worsens;
Liberal groups got IRS scrutiny too, IG belatedly finds;
Don’t give Corker too much credit;
Dems unveil tax plan that helps working families;
GM embraces electric vehicle future;
White House ties Dreamer protection to increased border crackown;
NFL Players Association responds to Pence assault on free speech:
Coal lobbyist nominated for #2 spot at EPA ...

Planting sideways

We’re failing the US citizens of Puerto Rico

No wall, but Trump does have his foxhole

Now is not the time for your tears

Trump now owns white supremacy

Don’t mess with the disability community

We get sick, they get rich

BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky
Green and red

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Revisiting the wisdom of Charlie Wilson

Ranking university rankings

Donald Trump’s new world disorder

Democracy and ecology on a dynamic planet

Asia’s refugee crisis: the grievous human tragedy

We are Niemöller 

‘Prairie Home Companion’ refreshed with Thile

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Let’s make a deal: Trump buys Puerto Rico

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Iran-Contra scandal gets the Tom Cruise, Hollywood treatment in ‘American Made’

and more ...

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Trump may be living in the past with his ideas and policies, but they are 100% 21st century GOP

By Marc Jampole

It seems as if the pace of Trump Administration abominations is accelerating. Every day Trump’s soldiers issue another decree that hurts the economy, harms our future potential, endangers our population or curtails the civil rights of a group or all of us. Meanwhile, Trumpty-Dumpty sets verbal dumpster fires all over the place as a distraction: Most recently he has picked fights with the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, a distinguished if unchangeably rightwing Senator, his own Secretary of State, the trigger-happy dictator of North Korea and the National Football League.
These reality TV shenanigans claim most of the news, while Trump’s troops continue to reset the long-term course of U.S. policy in civil rights, the environment, foreign policy and energy policy. Just take a look at what has happened in the past week or so; I put the harm each action does in italics:
  • Announcing that he will likely decertify the Iran nuclear agreement. Decreases our safety, isolates us from our allies and reverses path to a real peace with Iran
  • Setting terms for putting DACA into law that are harsh, including building a wall and severely limiting immigration. Takes a winning idea and turns it into a lose-lose situation: Deporting 800,000 productive members of society will send us into recession; not getting the additional immigrants we need to fill future U.S. jobs will stunt economic prosperity
  • Letting employers refuse to cover birth control for their female employees on religious grounds. Raises medical costs and abortions, as less access to birth control always leads to more pregnancies (expensive) and abortions (inexpensive, safe but frowned upon by Trumpites)
  • Ending the exemption to the Jones Act, so that only U.S. ships can dock in Puerto Rico once again, driving up the cost of food and other supplies precipitously. A cruel policy in light of the hurricane damage suffered by the island
  • Announcing a tax reform plan that raises taxes slightly on many in the middle class while giving the wealthy and ultra-wealthy an enormous tax break. Will lead to another asset bubble followed by a crash and will increase inequality of wealth and income in the country
  • Telling companies that they can discriminate in employment matters against the transgendered. Do I really have to write why this decision is wrong?
  • Repealing the Clean Power Plan. Doesn’t help anyone since coal is a dead industry but sets back efforts to combat human-induced global warming
  • Making deep cuts to the programs that enroll people for healthcare coverage on the individual health exchanges. Will increase both premiums for the insured and overall medical costs, as fewer people covered leads to higher premiums and more expensive emergency room visits and critical treatments since the uninsured put off seeking medical attention.
It’s a breathtaking display of ignorance and obstinacy. In every area, Trump prefers to believe long disproven myths and his own self-serving ideas than to follow science, empirical observation and the recommendations of experts. In every case, the basis for his views are observations that apply to past decades, myths that have long been proven false or the imaginary creations of the Internet rumor mill. People used to believe that the crime rate was higher among immigrants, but now we know it’s much lower. Same thing with the job-creating impact of lowering taxes on the wealthy. Economic research has proven it doesn’t happen. Extending an unharmonious relationship with Iran only makes sense to someone whose pride is still wounded by the 1979 hostage crisis, which is a far less crime against the amour-propre of a country than overthrowing its democratically elected leader, which is what we did to Iran.
With Trumpian ignorance comes a full dose of venomous small mindedness. He never forgives or forgets a slight or a grudge. Take Trump’s feud with the NFL because its players demonstrated respect for the American way by kneeling during the singing of the national anthem to protest police violence against people of color. While it continues his subtle campaign to demonize people of color, it also enables him to stick it to an old adversary, the NFL. Some history: the U.S. Football League was minting small money as a way to see football during the NFL off season until Trump bought a franchise (probably with OPM) and bullied the other owners into competing directly against the NFL. The USFL soon went bust, losing millions of dollars for all its investors. It’s the perfect Trump move—he comes into something successful and botches it up. Kind of like the casino business and the White House. In any case, his NFL feud plays to his core of racists and jingoists, while allowing him to exact some sick revenge on someone who vanquished him decades ago.
Thus in every way, Donald Trump lives in a past comprised of misbegotten ideas, obsolete notions and old grudges.
But he nonetheless represents the party that he leads. Virtually all of the current GOP subscribes to his full range of crackpot ideas, from lowering taxes on the wealthy to building a wall to supporting the religious imperatives of rightwing Christians to hating Iran to turning back the clock on environmental, labor and safety regulations.
The 21st century GOP pursues the selfish economic interests of the ultra- wealthy by pandering in word and deed to the social imperatives of rightwing Christianity and white racists. Virtually all of the GOP platform is based on the same old ideas and disproven myths that animate the Trump program. It takes ignorance to believe much of their economic nonsense, which explains why the wealthy sought allies among the most uneducated and intellectually vulnerable part of the populations—those with irrational beliefs.
These views do not represent the opinions of a majority of Americans, or even a majority of the approximately 50% who choose to vote, much less in off years. But a constitutional bias in favor of rural states and rural areas within states, gerrymandering by the Republicans, a wave of voter suppression laws and a mass media prone to tolerating Republican lies have enabled the minority that do hold these views to predominate.
Yes, the irrational, voluble, mentally unstable, ignorant and self-centered Trump scares me. But the rest of the Republican Party scares me just as much.

Monday, October 9, 2017

NYC can become an urban paradise if it raises taxes for mass transit & affordable housing

By Marc Jampole
New York City exemplifies the maxim of the great chess theorist Aron Nimzovich that every strength is also a weakness.
In New York’s case, the great strength is the mass transit network, the centerpiece of which is the subway system. Those lucky enough to live near one can pretty much get by without a car in the Big Apple. Moreover, for everyone—residents, commuters and tourists, it provides an inexpensive and theoretically hassle-free way to get to work and to the abundance of museums, performing arts facilities, parks, beaches, wildlife preserves, libraries, universities, research centers, historic buildings, restaurants and interesting neighborhoods within the city limits of what has become the unofficial capital of the 21st century. Augmented by city buses and a regional bus and rail system, the subway makes the joys and wonders of New York City reachable within an hour or less for more than 25 million people—and the 60 million tourists who visit each year.
But years of neglect and the burgeoning population of both the city and the region have led to a precipitous increase in service outages, accidents and overly crowded cars and platforms. During certain times of day, riding the subway can be a nightmare. And the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) can’t respond by adding more trains because the ancient switching system can’t handle the additional load. Plus, many neighborhoods not served by the subway desperately need stations and tracks, especially in Queens and Brooklyn.
Both progressive New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and centrist accommodationist Governor Andrew Cuomo have proposed ideas for financing the multi-billion dollar, multi-year investment that must be made to replace the switching system, build new stations and renovate existing lines and stations.
Cuomo wants to institute peak congestion pricing, which means that the people who drive into the city during rush hours will be assessed a tax and the funds will go to updating the subway system. The inherent problem with this tax is that it will make it more expensive for the middle class and poor to use the roads, which will send many to mass transit alternatives, further crowding the subway, bus and other rail systems. Of course, the additional funds will enable the subway to handle the additional riders, at least in theory. Additionally, the regressive nature of the tax is offset by the fact that reduced traffic is also good for the environment. Cuomo isn’t proposing it, but a graduated tax on peak users based on their income would address the fairness issue, while raising additional funds.
De Blasio is much less willing to compromise with big money interests than Cuomo and so has proposed a tax on the wealthy earmarked for mass transit, just as a tax on high incomes is funding the city-wide public pre-school program that de Blasio has initiated.
The New York Times is pushing a third alternative, which is to reinstitute a .45% tax on the income of the 800,000 suburbanites who descend on New York City—primarily Manhattan—every work day. There is a certain attractiveness about financing transportation improvements on the people who extract their living from the city but don’t live there.
Tax peak congestion drivers? Tax rich people? Tax suburbanites? What to do? What to do?
How about all three? That way MTA can speed up improvements—do more, more quickly. And I would add a special federal gas tax, with proceeds dedicated to mass transit in the United States, starting with building another tunnel underneath the Hudson River for Amtrak and New Jersey transit trains, something that would already be near completion if it weren’t for the veto by one of our epoch’s most obnoxious supporters of the ultra-wealthy and crony capitalism, Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
And while we’re at it, let’s use taxation to solve the other major problem facing New York City–affordable housing. There are many reasons why housing is so expensive in New York City, including the fact that so many people, especially young people, want to live there. But one major factor driving up rents, especially in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, are the large number of people who own apartments but only stay in them for a few days, weeks or months a year. For example, only about 40-50% of the tenants in my apartment building live there full time. The others use it when they’re in New York, sometimes every weekend, sometimes every few months. In some buildings (not mine), owners rent out their apartments to tourists all or most of the time, often in violation of city and state laws. But whether you keep your apartment empty or rent it out to vacationers, the result is the same: another property is off the market, driving up the rents and prices on all other city real estate. I propose a special tax on properties whose owners don’t live full-time in their New York City apartments, with all proceeds used to make housing more affordable elsewhere in the city. The funds could be used to build city-financed housing for the poor and middle class or for rent subsidies for people making less than a certain amount of money. One positive effect of this new tax would be to discourage some part of the population owning but not living to give up their New York apartments, further driving down rents and prices.
Then there’s the taxes we need to raise to make the entire New York City area more able to withstand the more extreme storms that global warming has started to bring us. But imagine of we were able to make all the improvements New York needs. It would become an urban paradise.
New York is in many ways a microcosm of the United States, except it is much further ahead in supplying affordable and reliable mass transit. Every metropolitan area needs to improve its mass transit, and most have to move from buses to rails. Most regions of the country are facing crumbling roads, bridges and sewer systems. Everywhere, but particularly on the coasts and along rivers, communities have to modify infrastructure and housing to address climate change. And we haven’t even gotten to the pressing need to find more funds for traditional public schools and public colleges.
We have reached a major fork in the road as a nation: Will we slip into widespread societal breakdown?
Will we raise taxes, particular on the wealthy who have enjoyed 30+ years in which continual lowering of their taxes was financed by scrimping on our investments in the future and assuming massive debt?
We know how to solve most of our problems. The plans are out there in detail in government studies, academic papers and engineering plans. We just don’t have the money to pay for it because the ultra-wealthy, whose outsized bank accounts finance politicians and drive our political decisions, decided 40 years ago to withdraw from real civic involvement and selfishly accumulate wealth through lower taxes on their income and assets.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Walking away from Iran treaty is enormous foreign policy mistake. It only helps Saudis & Benjamin Netanyahu

By Marc Jampole
The sheer stupidity of “decertifying” the nuclear—or should I say “antinuclear”—treaty between the United States, five other nations and Iran beggars the imagination. That an ignorant bully with no experience and a history of failure should propose such an idea is not noteworthy, not if the ignorant bully is Donald Trump. That supposedly patriotic, educated and experienced cabinet officers and advisors are unable to squelch this move in any way possible makes me shudder for the future of this country—and the entire human population.
The decision is bad in every way. It destabilizes the entire world every time another nation gets nuclear weapons, because the entire world would suffer from any nuclear war. The more nations have weapons, the more likely one is going to slip into the hands of a nutcase who might push the big red button. Of course, that seems to have already happened.
The decision also sets back the peace process between Iran and the West, specifically the United States. Why would we want to be enemies with a country with such an educated population and unrivalled natural resources among mid-sized countries and whose thousands of years of history has been one of the major influencers of the European culture upon which America is built? Let’s also remember that Iran wields a lot of influence with insurgent movements around the world. Coming to a lasting, all-inclusive peace with Iran would ease tensions throughout the Muslim world.
Think, too, of the lost opportunity to reduce the need for armed forces. A rapprochement with Iran would enable us to dedicate money a large portion of the billions of dollars now spent on armed forces and counter-terrorism to fixing our infrastructure of mass transit, sewers, roads and bridges and investing in alternative energy.
The key moment in the history of American-Persian relations is a stupid mistake that the United States made in 1953. We were allies and big supporters of Iran in 1953 when the CIA engineered an overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh, who was a secularist who wanted Iran to follow the model of American and European societies. Of course, he did nationalize oil industries, which was the secret reason the United States installed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah of Iran. Yes, that’s right. Shah! King. Royalty. A dictator who rules by divine right. The system we fought a revolution to change. The United States of America overthrew a democracy to install a dictator not to protect our oil supply, but to protect the interests of certain oil companies. We continued to support the Shah of Iran as opposition to his rule grew and grew through the years until his overthrow in 1979 by ultra-right religious fanatics in what was a relatively bloodless revolution. It was in the immediate aftermath of the revolution that Iranian students took 52 Americans hostages and held them for 444 days.
The hostage crisis wounded America’s pride, leading to the current situation—decades of enmity between the two countries, during which we have embraced Saudi Arabia, a kingdom that oppresses its people and is the home to most of the 9/11 hijackers and the mastermind behind 9/11 and Al Qaeda. We’ve essentially taken sides in a regional religious dispute and selected a side less in tune with our values, all because the other side slapped us around a little after we had helped bludgeon it for 26 years.
The absurdity of not taking a road to pace with Iran will come into stark view if we consider that we have now had an adversarial relationship with it for 38 years, which is 10 years longer than Germany was our enemy in the middle of the 20th century. We essentially forgave Germany for all the death and misery it caused and immediate embraced it after WW II. Of course we beat their asses and they were Christians. When we deal with Iran across the peace negotiating table, we have to treat them as equals.
Usually when an Administration does something that hurts most people, the answer as to why can be found by following the money: who benefits. In this case, it’s primarily the Saudi Arabians and whichever governments, insurgent movements, terrorist groups and oil companies it is supporting. Also benefitting is the government of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Note I write the Israeli government, not the Israel people, who stand to benefit more than anyone else from peace with Iran. But Bibby needs another external enemy. We know Trump is buddy-buddy with both the Saudis and Bibby. It wouldn’t be the first time that crony capitalism has led America to make a bad foreign policy decision.
But in the case of Trump, I have to wonder. Media reports suggest that virtually all White House advisors are telling Trump not to do it and that he is digging in his heels. Why? Is he that much in the pockets of the Saudis?
Or could it be that Trump’s main motivation is to destroy everything done by that black man out of a sense of revenge for being the butt of a few jokes? For a while, I’ve heard and scoffed at the utterly Shakespearean theory that Trump’s hatred of Obama overwhelms all other thoughts and emotions when it comes to government. Trump as Iago or Lady Macbeth. An interesting and theatrical idea, but how could it be? Destabilize global politics? Throw 800,000 people with jobs or going to college out of the country? Walk away from our first real shot at addressing human-caused global warming? All because you dislike some uppity guy because he doesn’t know his place (although I imagine that instead of “black man” and “uppity guy,” Trump uses a different word when thinking about President Obama). Impossible, I thought. But maybe not.
Not that it will help, but we should all be jamming the phone lines and Internet bandwidth with pleas to Trump not to walk away from the Iranian deal and demands to our Senators and Congressional representatives that they announce they will support impeachments proceedings if Trump goes ahead with his plan to “decertify.”

Monday, October 2, 2017

Hugh Hefner was a sexist pig—intellectual, liberal, stylish, all true. But nonetheless—a pig!!

By Marc Jampole
As part of his glorification and ascent to the Valhalla of dead celebrities, Hugh Hefner has received far too much credit for the positive impact he had on American society and far too little condemnation for the negative.
True, he advocated for abortion and took other liberal and progressive stands, typically from the standpoint of libertarianism, which is not such a good political ideology in many areas. He did popularize a number of important non-mainstream ideas in philosophy, psychology, politics and cultural studies. He did help to loosen up the entertainment mores of the strait-laced post-war mass culture.
And yes, Hefner did popularize important ideas about sexual freedom. But his version of sexual freedom posed the existence of woman as solely for the convenience of men, for their sexual pleasure and as a signifier of male social and financial success. He twisted the sexual revolution into a new version of the same old female subservience to male domination. Feminism would have proceeded without him—birth control pills and college-educated Baby Boom women were going to make sure of that. Hefner wasn’t needed to support the causes for which he is now getting praise.
The basic message of the sexual revolution that Hefner helped to promote was fine: it’s okay for two or more consenting adults to have sex, and anything goes, as long as everyone is fine with it. I might add that there’s no need ever to feel guilty about what you do or did in bed, or with whom you did it. People change, grow, mature, slow down, and so do their sexual needs, desires and feelings. It’s all okay, as long as nobody is hurt. Of course, in Hefner’s version, the man dominated, and coercion and transgression were often subtexts to the action.
There are five ways in which Hefner’s Playboy philosophy and empire of magazines, videos and clubs harmed American society:
  1. The infantilization of men
The playboy remains a feckless boy, immature, irresponsible, narcissistic, as younger men often are. The focus of remaining a child for the playboy is not having any responsibility in relationships with women. Playboy thus marks one of the earliest instances of the mass media attempting to keep adults acting—and thinking—like children.
2. An unattainable and false ideal of sexuality
Playboy photographers and designers used airbrushes, filters and lights to erase the flaws that particularize a woman’s beauty, homogenizing her real flesh into a rarely attainable ideal. Elective plastic surgery and cosmetics further sculpted the reality off Playboy models and bunnies. In Playboy’s universe, all women had large breasts, unreal proportions, flawless skin, no body fat, high cheek bones and eternal youthfulness. Hefner took an extremely narrow band on the very broad spectrum of female beauty—a far narrower band than in Hollywood movies or television—and promoted that as the only ideal of beauty for the successful, accomplished, “cool” man. Heterosexual men who bought into the Playboy ideal had to feel at least some dissatisfaction with their regular sexual partner(s). Of course, dissatisfaction is what advertisers want consumers to feel, because in America, satisfying a need—real or fabricated—involves buying something. Which brings us to…
  1. The commodification of sex
Hefner’s enterprises turned sex and sexual experience into commodities that you buy into a number of ways. First and foremost, Playboy made women into both commodities and a reason to purchase other commodities. The playboy doesn’t pay for sex (although the later, cruder laddie boy will), but he does shell out a lot of money wining, dining, transporting and gifting her as a precondition of sex. But beyond the transactional element implicit in the playboy’s relationship with any woman is the position women hold in his universe, the entirety of which is overrun by gadgets, gee-gaws, fads and new services. The woman is another commodity that can be replaced, not a person demanding interaction.
  1. The objectification of women
Perhaps because I’m male, I don’t see anything wrong with thinking about individuals of the sex one desires as sex objects, as long as you treat them as a full human being with equal rights: keep that secret lust to yourself and work as hard and as smart as you can for your female boss. In the Playboy world, however, everything a woman does is an extension or manifestation of her sexuality. For example, whenever referencing a centerfold’s achievements, profession or hobbies, Playboy invariably added a double entendre with a sexual connotation, a sly joke that reminded everyone that her Fulbright grant, award-winning work as a photographer or interest in African art were less than icing on the cake, perhaps akin to the little diamond-studded pin she wears on the dress you take off her—or command her to take off—when you’re getting ready to help her fulfill her true purpose in life, to be a man’s sexual toy.
  1. The domination of men
In Hefner’s world, men dominate women. Women may have access to birth control, abortions and professions, but in Hefner’s fantasyland they still lack control over their lives. Men still set the mores and decide what to value. They still control the relationship.
That’s a lot of harm that Playboy and Hefner have inflicted on American for more than sixty years.
On a personal level, I never had much use for Playboy. I never sought it out, and when I occasionally happened to see a pile of old issues, e.g., while waiting for a friend to get ready, I would flip through the pages for the cartoons and read the page of jokes always on the last page of the centerfold section. Child of the 60’s, the photos never stimulated me: I have always preferred women who don’t look like Barbie dolls and my idea of beauty in a woman encompasses a very wide range of sizes, shapes and colors.
As far as the articles go, by the time I saw Playboy for the first time, I was already a cover-to-cover reader of The New York Review of BooksNation, Dissent, Harpers and Ramparts. I was not impressed by the “great” articles, as I read so much thought-provocative material in these respected publications of the intelligentsia. Furthermore, I recognized the difference between true intellectualism and an intellectual patina gilding old-fashioned sexism.
Maybe I hang around with the right crowd, but every woman I have ever admired, liked, loved or desired (except for those I’ve just seen passing in the street whose thoughts I can’t read) wouldn’t be caught dead in the Playboy world; even the most tolerant of them would think less of me if she thought I was a regular reader.
That’s okay. I would think less of me, too.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Editorial: Rs May Boost Single-Payer

Mitch McConnell seems to resemble Wile E. Coyote in his attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but if the Senate Majority Leader ever succeeds in mustering the bare majority of Republicans to overturn “Obamacare,” which has reduced the percentage of uninsured Americans to historic lows, Democrats should start drumming up public support for implementing Medicare for All at the earliest opportunity.

With only two weeks remaining in the fiscal year, when the authority to repeal “Obamacare” with a simple majority of 51 in the Senate under special budget reconciliation rules expires Sept. 30, Republicans stopped negotiating with Democrats on possible fixes to the ACA and instead brought up another “repeal and replace” bill drafted in secret by Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) with no participation by Democrats.

The Graham-Cassidy bill would do away with many of the ACA’s consumer protections and it would eliminate the subsidies ACA provides for insurance coverage for lower middle-class families. The Republicans also would convert much of Medicaid into block grants that would go to each state so state officials could develop their own health care plans.

Neither the White House, nor many senators, knew details of the bill, and a comprehensive report from the Congressional Budget Office was not expected before the Senate voted on it. But, based on the previous repeal-and-replace bills, independent analysts estimated the latest bill would cause 32 million people to lose their insurance by 2026, obliterating the gains made since the ACA was implemented in 2013.

The new repeal-and-reform bill came under fire from a diverse array of critics, including medical associations, insurance lobbyists, hospitals, bipartisan governors across the country, Medicaid directors from all 50 states and late night TV host Jimmy Kimmel, who has become a prominent critic of Republican efforts to roll back requirements for insurance coverage since his son was born in April with a congenital heart defect.

A report from the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) obtained by Axios projects federal health care spending would be $18 billion lower in 2026 under the Republican health care bill than under current law, but that’s on the low end of estimated lost funds. An analysis by the nonpartisan health consulting firm Avalere found that the Medicaid funding caps in the Graham-Cassidy bill would reduce federal funds to states by $215 billion between 2020 and 2026. Within two decades, states would suffer from cuts in federal health care funding of more than $1 trillion.

The bill also would do away with the ACA’s prohibition against insurance companies charging more because of a pre-existing health condition. Despite the assurances by the bill’s authors that the bill protected people with chronic health problems, an analysis by the Center for American Progress found that a 40-year-old diagnosed with metastatic cancer could be forced to pay an additional $140,510 on their annual health premium, while patients with more common conditions, such as diabetes or asthma, could see their premiums double.

The Republican bill would allow insurance companies to resume denying coverage for a series of basic medical treatments, including pregnancy and maternity care; prescription drugs; mental health services; reproductive health services, including birth control; and substance abuse treatment.

Nor were seniors spared. A report from the American Association of Retired Persons found that a 60-year-old earning $25,000 a year could see their premiums and out-of-pocket costs rise by $16,174 if they wanted to keep their current coverage.

The Graham-Cassidy bill would also allow states to charge older adults more by waiving federal protections that limit age rating, a move that the AARP concluded would make insurance “simply unaffordable” for seniors who don’t yet qualify for Medicare.

The Republican bill also could finish off hundreds of rural hospitals that rely on Medicare and Medicaid payments to keep them from shutting their doors. That would leave millions of rural residents isolated from health care.

As we went to press, Republican leaders had reworked the bill to steer more federal funds to Alaska, Arizona and Kentucky in a desperate attempt to gain the votes of Sens. Lisa Murkowski, John McCain and Rand Paul, but Susan Collins of Maine, McCain and Paul announced they still would vote against the bill.

Even if McConnell fails to get the votes to pass the Graham-Cassidy bill under the budget reconciliation rules, Republicans will get another shot at the reconciliation process next year. But that will be an election year, and Republicans would like to put at least a year between the election and their vote to make insurance unaffordable for 32 million potential voters. And a CBS News poll released Sept. 25 found only 20% of Americans support the repeal bill. Most people want Obamacare to be improved, not repealed, as 9% said it should be kept in place and 65% said it has good things but needs changes.

The good news is that any major changes are unlikely to take place until 2020. By that time, voters awakened to Republican perfidy on health care matters can put Democrats in majorities in the House and Senate, where a progressive majority could use the same budget reconciliation rules that Republicans have abused to simply expand Medicare to cover all Americans — and dare Trump to veto it.

Democrats are not going to regain majorities in the House and Senate in 2018 by simply promising the same incremental improvements that have failed to excite voters in the past few elections. Democrats need a net gain of three seats in the Senate to regain the majority, but there are only two Senate Republicans who Democrats have a solid shot at unseating out of eight Republicans up for election next year. At the same time, Democrats must defend 23 Senate seats, in addition to two independents who caucus with them.

The main pickup opportunities for Dems appear to be in Arizona (Jeff Flake) and Nevada (Dean Heller), with a longshot attempt to unseat Ted Cruz in Texas. But Dems will be defending incumbents in states Trump won, including Bill Nelson in Florida, Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Jon Tester in Montana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin in West Virginia and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin. If Republicans pick up a couple seats in 2018, they could finally repeal “Obamacare” in 2019.

Democrats need to gain 24 seats in the House and, while severe gerrymandering his made the House Republican majority seem nearly invincible, Hillary Clinton carried 23 House districts held by Republicans, and Donald Trump got less than 50% in 17 other districts held by Republicans.

Republicans have spent the last 45 years determined to block Democratic attempts to show that government can help working people and the oligarchs have tried to convince voters that Democrats are not interested in helping white people.

Insurance companies had their chance with the ACA to show they could play a part in providing universal health care, and they failed. It’s time to expand Medicare to cover everybody, as was planned when Medicare was adopted in 1965. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) have filed the bills, we’re already spending twice as much on health care per capita as Canada, with less to show for it, and recent polls show solid majorities of voters support it.

This could be the game-changer that demonstrates a key difference between Democrats, who would improve Social Security and Medicare, and Republicans, whose determination to defund the ACA bows to the demands of wealthy donors to divert funds from Medicaid and insurance subsidies for working families to pay for massive tax cuts for billionaires and corporations. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2017

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Selections from the October 15, 2017 issue

COVER/Steven Rosenfeld
GOP plows ahead to hijack the vote and rig elections

Rs may boost Bernie’s single-payer bill


Transportation key to getting out of poverty

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
No erosion among rural Trump supporters

Medicaid cuts could kill rural hospitals;
Repubs seek $1.5T tax cuts;
Puerto Rico desperate while Trump tweets about NFL, NBA;
Polls show voters reject GOP agenda;
Republicans persist with terrible Obamacare repeal bill;
Trump limits access to during enrollment;
Dems flip GOP seats in OK & NH;
Solar industry braces for giant blow, as Trump gets tariffs;
Climate deniers cheer study that shows Trump policies will destroy America;
Flint had a lead crisis; now it has a fertility crisis 

What happened

Finding a common language on climate

Downgrading Hurricane Steve

The aftermath of Hurricane Donald

New data on tax havens and income reveal America’s great divide

Trump’s tax plan: A billion or three for guys like him

Racial inequality is hollowing out America’s middle class

Medicare for all can reshape the ‘art of the possible’

People need their own representatives

California community colleges win against corporate reformers

Statuary offenses

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
A Scrooge-test: How much did it cost? 

Eternal vigilance is the price of affordable health care

Marble men

Nature as actor

Let them eat chocolate cake

Why President Trump should support single-payer health insurance

Nobel Prize for stolen goods?

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
You Had Me at 너 한테 쓰레기를 던질거야.

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
‘Shot’ takes aim at gun violence

and more ...

Friday, September 29, 2017

Moral aspect of tax policy: How much do “deserving” rich really deserve? Not as much as they think

By Marc Jampole
As Donald Trump and Republicans roll out their proposal to provide wealthy people with a massive tax cut while giving everyone else a small break or nothing, they are restating that old lie that reducing taxes will make the economy grow so much that tax revenues will be more than before. It wasn’t true when Arthur Laffer proposed it in the late 1970’s and it’s not true now, as the recent experiences in several states show. Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and Indiana (no matter how much Republicans and the New York Times try to scrub the numbers) all slashed taxes drastically and ended up with weaker economies and budget shortfalls.
If history is any guide, the Trump-GOP tax cut would be part of a two-part swindle. In the first part, everyone gets their taxes cut—the rich massively so—and in the second part, the poor and middle class get their taxes increased or the benefits they receive from the government cut. The GOP successfully engineered the two-part swindle under a mediocre Hollywood actor. Now they’re trying it again with a reality television star in charge.
All the rightwing arguments in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy are false.They don’t create new jobs. They don’t create much new spending. And, they can lead to a recession if the wealthy put too much of their new largess into bubble-prone assets. As they always do.
But the right wing also has a moral argument in favor of tax cuts and low taxes for the wealthy, which goes something like this: They earned it and they deserve it. The rich certainly don’t deserve to give up their hard-earned money to the undeserving, the lazy and those who didn’t work as hard as they did to get where they are. After all, America is the land of opportunity in which anyone and everyone can climb to the top and make the big bucks. Behind this argument stands a basic tenet of the Protestant ethic: that the good do well and the wicked do poorly. The subtle but subversive power of this argument is that it puts everyone who pays taxes on the side of the wealthy, since all of us deserve to keep as much of our money as possible. We put in the work and we don’t deserve to have our largess stolen by government!!
In the recorded history of self-serving crap, no crap has ever been more self-serving than the idea that the wealthy deserve their wealth because of their talent, education, hard work, drive and general goodness. First of all, much of the success of any given person depends on the economic, physical and social infrastructure that society provides, usually through government spending. The roads, bridges, tunnels, mass transit and airports that a high-tech genius, her employees, vendors and customers use, the public schools that educated her workers, the consistent operation of society which the maintenance of laws and standards of operation, weights, measures and safety ensure, the safety maintained by the police and armed forces, the subsidies to our health care and retirement systems that allow her to pay her employees less. All this and more is what President Obama meant when he inarticulately said, “You didn’t build this.” He really should have said, “Whatever you built would have been impossible without the efforts of the rest of society.”
More significantly, much more of the success of virtually all of us has always resulted from the luck of the draw than from the virtues of the individual. As philosopher Daniel Robinson detailed in Praise and Blame: Moral Realism and Its Applications, luck determines most of our fates, the good and the bad, the successful and the failures.
The factors that affect our fate include:
  • Having a wealthy or prominent family.
  • Marrying into a wealthy or prominent family.
  • Growing up in a family that has not been devastated by poverty, food scarcity, substance abuse, criminality or mental illness.
  • Being born with a special skill or more intelligence than the average person. No matter how hard a 5’9’’ male athlete of average speed and strength works on his game, he’s not going to be able to keep up with the 7-foot Shaquille O’Neal.  No matter how much a person of average intelligence studies, he or she won’t be able to keep up with someone with a photographic memory. Shaq did nothing virtuous to attain his size. The genius was likewise born with the photographic memory.
  • Being in the right place at the right time, which can mean being the assistant of someone who makes a great discovery or taking a job right out of high school at Apple instead of the post office in the early 1980’s.
  • Being born at a time in history when your skill is appreciated or your weakness not a problem. This last point can be illustrated by imagining Willie Mays if he were born into slavery in the first part of the 19th century or Stephen Hawking before the development of motorized and digitized aids for people with physical disabilities.
  • Meeting a mentor or someone with connections who will take a special interest in you.
  • Not having an accident or dying young in a war or epidemic.
These factors determine not only whether people will achieve wide recognition for their life work, but also the fate of the average person. For example, researchers recently tested Indian sugar cane workers before the harvest when they were broke and after the harvest when they had lots of money. The difference in scores amounted to 9 or 10 points on an I.Q. test, which measures certain intellectual capabilities correlated with success in school and in professional employment.  On an I.Q. test, 9 or 10 points means a lot: for example, about 28% of the population scores between 106-115, while only 9% of the population scores between 116-125. Thus, the physician with an I.Q. of 120 from a wealthy family could work 60 hours a week and earns $400,000, while a lab technician with an I.Q. of 110 whose poor family could not afford SAT prep courses and summer enrichment could work the same 60 hours a week and make $65,000. Who is more deserving of the additional money and respect? Who would get to go to school for more years, score higher on tests, achieve more and make more money if the tables were turned?
One thing that the latest studies on wealth and income inequality have shown is that the United States has very little socio-economic mobility, and less today than ever before. The so-called land where anyone can make it big sees fewer people making it big who weren’t already big than most other industrialized nations.
The concept of the deserving rich and the undeserving poor is therefore built on a fraudulent understanding of the way individuals and society interact. Neither rich nor poor deserve their fates. In a land of abundance, isn’t it up to society to balance the scales and assure that all people have at least a minimum standard of living as defined by healthcare, education, retirement and housing? From the moral point of view, instead of lowering taxes on the wealthy, we should be raising them to help level the playing field. Raising taxes on the wealthy not only makes good economic sense, but also gibes with our basic morality. When the rich advocate for lower taxes to be paid for by cutting social programs and infrastructure investment, they are behaving out of pure anti-social selfishness.