Category Archives: Politics

Rigged Elections Do Have Consequences

 

Isn’t it beautiful irony that during the campaign Trump claimed the election was being rigged against him, while all along it was being rigged for him?

The Russians (bless their little Ruskie hearts) are being accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee’s computer system in an effort to influence the results of the recent presidential election. Virtually everyone across the political spectrum (except for Trump, who may have benefited from this activity) have expressed outrage over Russia’s blatant attempt to interfere with the delicate balance of American democracy.

And rightly so, because if voters lose confidence in the validity of election results, the divisiveness existing in our current political environment will be exacerbated; maybe to the point of undermining the authenticity of our democracy. This potential problem extends beyond our own shores, because if our election results are brought into question, no longer will America be able to present itself as the model of democracy for other countries to emulate.

If (and there is little doubt) that Russian hackers did make an effort to impact the presidential election, it is a clear violation of our national sovereignty that is so egregious it could be considered an act of war, worthy of retribution. But there is a problem: Russia has, of course, denied any hand in such nefarious activity. For the American government to call out Russia by offering clear evidence that the cyber-attack was initiated and sponsored by the Russian government (maybe all the way up to Putin), the American intelligence services would have to reveal how they know what they know about the Russian activity. Doing so would expose America’s own capabilities to hack into Russian systems; obviously something the intelligence community does not want others to know.

Responding with nothing more than a hissy fit …

In response to Russia’s blatant cyber-attack on our democracy, about all the American government can do publicly is fret and stew over the incident. Investigations can be undertaken and Congressional hearings can shine an indignant spotlight on Russian activities and assume a holier-than-thou stance. The American government can take the high-ground and show the world how despicable the Russian government is by attempting to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation, but it can do little else publicly.

There is one problem when it comes to America taking this approach. Our government does not come to the party with “clean hands.” It is like the old cliché of “reaping what you sow.” The painful truth is that America has a long history of attempting to meddle, influence and even rigging elections in other sovereign countries. Examples of this type of American meddling in the elections of numerous democratic countries could – and has – filled numerous books.

“Nation building” and “regime change” have been the basic stratagems of American foreign policy for two centuries. The objective has been to try to assure that the governments of independent countries are sympathetic to the political and economic interests of America. Tactics employed have ranged from funding those who support American interests, all the way to fomenting and financing coups against democratically elected leaders who disagree with American policies. Some efforts to “influence” the “election” of governments favorable to American policy went so far as to include military action and occupation.  

One of the clearest examples of American meddling in the internal affairs of another country involves Iran. In 1953 Mohammed Mossadegh was the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran. His “mistake” was to oppose the economic interests of America in the Middle East. The CIA funded and fomented a violent coup that replaced Mossadegh with a guy who became to be known as The Shaw of Iran. We all know how that turned out.

In 1954 the CIA instigated and financed the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz. His “sin” was to challenge the politically connected United Fruit Company, a U.S. corporation. The CIA subsequently backed a series of dictators who maltreated the people of Guatemala for almost 50 years.

One of the most infamous episodes of American attempts to meddle in and influence democratic elections in sovereign countries occurred in 1973. Salvador Allende, an avowed Socialist, had been democratically elected president of Chile in 1970. His policies of industrial nationalization soon had him on the wrong side of American interests. President Nixon personally orchestrated the overthrow of the Allende government and the installation of the ruthless dictator, General Augusto Pinochet. (Allende was said to have “committed suicide” when the CIA backed “rebels” stormed the Chilean Presidential Palace.)   

One of the most brazen examples of America meddling in the democratic elections of another country involved Italy. The Italian elections of 1948 pitted the weak centrist Christian Democrats against a rising tide of influential leftist parties (some clearly Communist) and labor unions. The CIA entered the fray in support of the Christian Democrats with “bags of money” to finance the election campaign. There were even reports that the CIA organized a secret propaganda campaign that included forging documents intended to sully the reputations of opposition leaders.

The pot calling the kettle black…   

The point of this very limited tour of what have been numerous attempts by the American government to disrupt the democratic elections of other sovereign countries is to point out that if Russia did indeed hack into our election, we are only getting a taste of our own medicine. Modern electronic technology may be more subtle than the ham-fisted actions America has employed in an effort to install a foreign government more sympathetic to our interests, but Putin’s objective in meddling in the election is just the same.

There is no doubt that Putin favored Trump over Clinton. By launching a cyber-attack on the DNC and releasing embarrassing communications, Putin was simply taking a page from an American history of interfering in the elections of other countries, in an effort to see a government more favorable to his interests, While there is (and never can be) any credible evidence that Russian cyber-attacks actually influenced the outcome of the election, at the very least they were able to raise a specter concern as the validity of the presidential election. And by doing so, weaken American democracy in the eyes of the world. The end question is: What are we going to do about?

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Trump Should Focus on Replacing Obamacare

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A cornerstone of Trump’s campaign for president was the promise he would repeal and replace Obamacare. And rightly so, because Obamacare is an unmitigated failure. The promise of Obamacare was to provide “patient protection and affordable healthcare” for some 40 million uninsured Americans. The plan has failed on both points.

The saga of Obamacare is a great example of wanting to do the right thing, but going about it the wrong way. Obamacare as we know it came about because President Obama capitulated to the merchants of the devil – the health insurance industry – in order to strike a deal on healthcare reform. The great myth surrounding Obamacare is that it is some type of government provided healthcare coverage like Medicare, but it isn’t. Under Obamacare the government has nothing to do with the type of coverage offered, the quality of the services provided or the cost consumers pay for healthcare; that is all left up to the whims of private health insurance companies.

Obamacare is nothing more than a (clunky, complicated) website that is intended to match-up those who need healthcare coverage with private, for-profit insurance companies looking to sell their policies. The only requirement for insurance companies to market their policies on the “exchange” is that pre-existing conditions are covered and children can be included under the policy until age 25. Beyond that, insurance companies are free to determine the structure of the policies, the provider networks the insured must use, deductibles and the co-pays – the amount the insured must pay out of pocket; and those can run as high as 40 percent of medical charges. Most important, the insurance companies are free to charge any premium they desire and increase those premiums at will. In short, Obamacare has become nothing more than a profitable boondoggle for insurance companies. As usual, the ones left holding the short end of the stick are individuals who most need and can least afford healthcare coverage.

In addition, employers who are mandated to provide employees with healthcare coverage are free to use all sorts of machinations to avoid this responsibility. (For example, hiring employees as part-timers and making sure they work less than 40 hours a week.) This forces the employees to use the Obamacare website and be pillaged by the insurance companies.

Be careful what you wish for …

With a Republican soon to be in the White House, the Republicans in Congress who believe healthcare is a privilege based on the ability to pay, rather than a right of citizenship, are stupid-drunk giddy over the prospect of killing Obamacare, but they need to be careful what they wish for. There may be one problem that could turn their dream into a nightmare. While that Republican soon to be in the White House has savaged Obamacare, he has consistently supported the rights of every American to have healthcare coverage. Over the years Trump has repeatedly praised the concept of universal healthcare.

On 60 Minutes Trump said, “Everybody’s got to be covered. This is an un-Republican thing for me to say because a lot of times they say ‘No, no, the lower 25 percent that can’t afford private.’” He continued, “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not.”

On the Larry King Show Trump bluntly proclaimed, “If you can’t take care of your sick in the country, forget it, it’s all over … I believe in universal healthcare.”

In his book The America We Deserve Trump wrote, “We must have universal healthcare … I’m a conservative on most issues but a liberal on this one. We should not hear so many stories of families ruined by healthcare expenses …”

So the Republicans in Congress may be in for a bit of a surprise blowback from their Republican president when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of repealing Obamacare, without offering a reasonable alternative for millions of Americans who lack access to healthcare or don’t have the ability to pay the exorbitant premiums charged by private insurance companies.

What is the alternative that Trump could propose?

If Trump is sincere in his belief that all Americans should have affordable access to basic healthcare services, he could achieve that goal by simply expanding the scope of two healthcare plans already in existence – Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare provides effective and efficient medical care for millions of Americans age 65 and over. Medicaid – a combination of state programs funded by the federal government – provides medical care to millions of low income individuals.

The point is that these two programs have processes and procedures in place and in point of fact are paying for the healthcare provided by hospitals, care givers and doctors for millions of Americans. Patients are free to select any of the 95 percent of hospitals and doctors who accept Medicare payments to provide their care. This is not the government deciding or providing the healthcare, but simply being the “single payer” of the benefits provided by private hospitals and doctors.

So the question is: Why not repeal Obamacare and replace it with the two national healthcare programs already in existence and functioning effectively? There is no need to create an entirely new bureaucracy. The simplest and most direct way to offer basic healthcare to all Americans at affordable costs is to expand and enroll everyone – at all ages – into Medicare or Medicaid.

Of course, this can’t be done with a flip of a switch, but an organized national phase-in of Medicare over time could make it happen. For example, in the first year those 60 to 65 would be eligible for Medicare, then the next phase would include those 50 to 55, and so on until everyone is covered. This would allow for Obamacare to be repealed and phased out at the same pace Medicare is expanded.

This approach could be a win-win for everyone. Trump and the Republicans could fulfill their campaign pledge to repeal Obamacare; Trump could remain consistent in his call for universal healthcare and, most important, all Americans could finally join the millions of citizens of every other industrialized nation in the world for whom basic healthcare is a right of citizenship, not just a privilege for the wealthy.

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Trump and the Politics of Minimum Wages

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The issue of raising the federal minimum wage will likely be a hot topic next year. Last increased in 2009, the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. (That works out to around $15,000 per year, before taxes.) Arguing that any increase in the minimum wage does more harm than good, the Republicans in Congress are lining up to block any attempted increase. The Democrats, believing that an increase in the minimum wage is not only necessary to keep low-paid workers above the poverty line, but that an increase stimulates the economy, are aiming for a $15 per hour minimum.  

With Republicans in full control of Congress, the idea of any increase in the minimum wage seems bleak, but there is one fly in the ointment. The person who will occupy the White House, Republican Donald Trump, has previously indicated a willingness to increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour. Regardless, there will be the same heated arguments, for and against, a higher minimum wage that have been thrown around for almost 80 years.

In 1938 Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act. Among other things, the law mandated a federal minimum wage of $.25 per hour, along with a work-week not to exceed 44 hours. The legislation culminated decades of fierce political battle (not unlike the contemporary battle over universal healthcare) pitting business interests, firmly aligned against what they felt was interference with the “free market,” against social interest groups seeking to end the near “slave-like” conditions under which people were forced to work.

Fighting to dragoon the legislation, business interests screeched that the idea of a government mandated “minimum wage” was another step on the road to Socialism that would wipe-out profits, cause higher unemployment and the ruination of Capitalism. President Roosevelt would have none of that when, in “fireside chat” the night before signing the controversial legislation he said, “Don’t let any calamity-howling executive with an income of a $1,000 dollars a day, tell you that wages of $11 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on all American industry.”

Looking back now it’s easy to wonder why there was such a fuss was over a paltry $.25 per hour for work. (It is indicative of how little employers were paying the workers for their labor.) During the almost 80 years since the passage of minimum wage legislation, one might believe that employers have come to accept that it is natural and right to pay workers wages that don’t condemn them to a continuing cycle of poverty. But if you think that, you would be wrong.

Anytime a proposal is put forward to raise the minimum wage, the business community comes together with the same draconian arguments that were used in the 1930’s. Arguments such as: Any increase will put thousands of small companies out of business. Profits will be decimated. Prices will have to be raised and this will drive away business. Thousands of low-paid workers, those intended to be helped by the increase, will lose their jobs.

In the years since it was first enacted, the minimum wage has been increased 22 times, under 12 different presidents. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics there are 78.2 million workers (58 percent of total workforce) paid on an hourly basis, of that number, 2.6 million workers are paid at the current federal minimum of $7.25. This means that an increase in the minimum wage would impact only 3 percent of all hourly paid workers.

So what is all the fuss about?

The most common argument in support of the minimum wage is that it protects the workers at the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder. These workers, many of whom represent marginalized groups (women, minorities, youth workers, the disabled, and so on), simply don’t have the bargaining power to fight for a minimum living wage without government intervention.

Those who oppose increasing the minimum wage contend that a higher mandated minimum wage actually hurts the lower-paid workers it is intended to benefit. They argue that the increased cost to smaller and marginally successful businesses will force owners to layoff existing employees and prevent them from hiring others; ultimately causing an increase in unemployment.

Another argument against an increased minimum wage is that it will cause inflation. The logic is that if an employer is forced to increase minimum wages from $7.25 per hour to say $10 per hour, the cost will be passed on to customers in the form of higher prices for the same goods and services. The “experts” may be right, but it seems illogical that a marginal pay increase for 2.6 million of the lowest paid workers, out of a total of almost 125 million full-time employees, would be little more than a blip on the inflation scale.  

Those favoring a higher wage argue that increasing the minimum wage will attract a higher quality worker, reduce turnover and actually save the employer the expense of constantly having to find, hire and train new workers. The proponents of a higher minimum wage promote the idea that those receiving increased wages will spend them on goods and services that will in turn stimulate the economy and increase profits.

There have been scores of economic studies that can be taken to “prove” the case for either side of the minimum wage controversy, which means that both sides remain mired in theory, rather than reality.  

I have my own study …

In 1963, when I first started working, the minimum wage was $1.25 per hour. Since that time the minimum wage has been increased 15 times to the current $7.25 per hour. Each time an increase was proposed there were the same old doom-and-gloom arguments that any increase would upend the “balance” of the free market, stifle economic growth, fuel inflation, drive thousands of companies out of business and increase unemployment. And you know what happened? Just the opposite: Employment, profits and the economy have always grown following an increase.   

Yes, there will be a heated debate over minimum wages next year. The Democrats will propose and the Republicans will oppose. What will be different about the debate is that there will be – for the first time – a Republican president who has actual, real-life experience as a successful businessman. Trump has already suggested that for ethical and business reasons he sees a value in increasing the minimum wage. (Not as much as Democrats will propose, but nevertheless an increase.) It will be interesting to see how the Republicans in Congress react to one of their own on the other side of the minimum wage debate.

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