Bill Onasch

Week In Review March 28

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Mar 282017
 

  by Bill Onasch

Beware Of Exploding Health Care

Last November the Democrats managed to lose a presidential election despite winning, by a substantial plurality, the most votes. On Friday past, the electoral wizard who won that contest was forced to admit that after all his threats, promises, hosting White House bowling parties, and calling in all political debts, he couldn’t get enough votes for his number one campaign pledge in the House–where his party enjoys a 40+ seat majority. This was particularly galling considering essentially the same body had voted to repeal what they call ObamaCare dozens of times over the past six years.

Of course, those earlier repeal votes were DOA in the Senate, and even if slipped through that body would have faced an Obama veto. They became a propaganda ritual to show their base they were dogged promise-keepers.

But when the arch-enemy of all things Obama tried to keep his promise of both repeal, and replace with what was immediately dubbed TrumpCare, it was intended to become law, not a stunt. That led to fragmentation of the GOP House along ideological and survival fault lines.

donald trump

The deal-making artist who refused to deal first blamed the Democrats for his humiliating loss. To be sure, the Dems remained champions of the discredited ACA but they are after all a minority.

Much more damaging was the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office analysis that exposed Trump’s plan as a tax cut for the rich that would eliminate health coverage for millions of the poor. That sober assessment greatly contributed to the horrible polling numbers for TrumpCare—which in turn scared off a handful of moderate Republicans who feared voter retribution more than the White House bully.

But that alone wouldn’t have led to Trump’s fiasco. The multi-billionaire Koch brothers, who have never trusted Trump, favored repeal with no replacement. They moved to stiffen the spines of far-right House Republicans by offering campaign fund bonuses, supplementing their normal generous donations, to those willing to challenge their party’s President. The Kochs found more than enough takers to sink TrumpCare.

I admit I underestimated the degree of degeneration of both boss parties. It’s a common error, that especially my generation make when we try to anticipate the party moves to govern in the best interest of the ruling class.

As LBJ launched the first escalation of the Vietnam war he at the same time supported landmark civil rights legislation, establishment of Medicare, and War on Poverty. He was followed by Nixon, who expanded the Vietnam war. But also on his watch there were significant reforms such as the Clean Water, Clean Air, OSHA, and the Urban Mass Transit Acts. They each, for a while at least, effectively used both repression and concession to manage an increasingly discontented and divided society through the Sixties and Seventies.

Today hubris is the best description of the ruling class movers and shakers. This has led to an incompetence of both of their parties nearly as great as their cynical dishonesty. Neither inspires confidence in their ability to govern. The second place “greater evil,” who entered the White House through the Electoral College trap door, hasn’t yet accomplished anything that can’t be done by executive decree—and even some of those get shot down by the courts. The Democrat opposition in Congress has no plan other than the same obstruction tactics that the GOP used against Obama.

Trump says he will confidently wait for ObamaCare to inevitably explode before again taking on health care. We shall see if such patient benign neglect is compatible with his temperament. While the inadequacies of the Affordable Care Act are certainly not self-healing it won’t go up in flames through spontaneous combustion. But reviving a bruising fight for TrumpCare doesn’t seem likely any time soon.

Physicians for a National Healthcare Program on the Streets

A positive development emerging from Trump’s folly is a revival of interest in the single-payer alternative. For example, Saturday’s New York Times carried an informative piece by an economics professor entitled What Comes Next For ObamaCare? The Case For Medicare For All.

And the Campaign for Guaranteed Health Care is calling for local actions across the Country on April 8.

Out of the Lobbies—In To the Streets

The TrumpCare debacle will also encourage other “resistance” movements. A new Trump proclamation the morning of his unilateral end of health care hostilities is giving a fresh motivation to the climate justice movement.

On Friday, Trump announced “final” approval for another campaign pledge—construction of the Keystone XL pipeline with a capacity to move 800,000 barrels a day of bitumen sludge from the Alberta Tar Sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast that will convert it in to synthetic oil and gasoline.

In fact, it is not yet final because not all needed land use permits have been acquired for the route through Nebraska. That’s a battle to come in the Corn Husker State.

Trump claims thousands of American jobs will be created by this project—though nearly all are short term construction work. Only about 35 regular positions will be needed to monitor and maintain the pipeline. And the TransCanada builder would not agree to validate Trump’s oft-repeated promise to use only American-made steel.

The Tar Sands bitumen is the dirtiest fuel of all. Mass actions and civil disobedience stymied KXL for six years. As Bill McKibben, the most prominent leader of this movement recently observed, “We’ve already won an awful lot. Six years times 800,000 barrels of oil a day equals a lot of carbon emissions saved. Not to mention that six years of delay has cost TransCanada a small fortune.” This fight will continue as a featured demand of the April 29 climate justice marches.

Those of us on the old short-lived Purple Army e-mail list received a SEIU blast signed by Kathryn Krasinski, an adjunct professor at Fordham that said,

“From the Fight For $15 to Black Lives Matter and Women’s March on Washington, D.C., working people are united in speaking out against the system that is clearly rigged against us. Now we must come together to demand that future generations have a healthy and safe environment in which to live and prosper. Join our growing resistance: on April 29, the 100th day of Trump’s presidency, lift your voice in the People’s Climate March near you.

“The climate action movement is growing and getting stronger every day because working people around the nation joined the call demanding that we find solutions that will protect our communities for generations to come. Join the movement.”

***

A Labor Notes article by Jonathan Rosenblum titled Momentum Builds For May Day Strikes describes early initiatives by SEIU janitors in Los Angeles, a wide section of the Seattle labor movement, and the human rights group Global Exchange, that he believes will lead to the biggest May Day strikes and marches since the mammoth immigrant worker actions involving millions in 2006.

***

While not as massive, and lacking a clear political focus, there will be an Earth Day March For Science April 22. Women and men normally wearing white coats say they will “walk out of the lab and in to the streets.” They encourage lay persons to join them in advancing Science Not Silence. In addition to the main march in Washington 428 local “satellite” actions are also shaping up across the USA and many other countries. There is even an option for “virtual” marching via the Internet for those who can’t make any of the live events.

Still To Be Heard From

On Bush II’s watch, there was a lively, if often divided, antiwar movement. It became much more subdued with a Nobel Peace Laureate in the White House. While other constituencies have been gearing up the peace movement so far seems content to tag along with the others. It’s good that they are supportive of others’ actions but insufficient attention is being paid to exposing and opposing a heightened military belligerence by the Trump administration.

Enriching the armaments industry capitalists is not the sole objective of the greatly increased war budget. American bombing raids in Iraq have killed hundreds of noncombatants. A thousand Marines were recently sent to Syria. The U.S. is collaborating with Saudi Arabia in deadly bombings in Yemen. After more than fifteen years of war in Afghanistan the Taliban recently won control of a new province–further delaying the timetable for disengagement bequeathed by the Obama administration. And Washington is leading a boycott of UN negotiations to reduce nuclear arsenals.

US Labor Against the War provides some good information but these issues too need to again be raised in the streets. Along with opposing the war spending we need to revive the demand—Bring All the Troops Home Now!

That’s all for this week.


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Week In Review March 17

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review March 17
Mar 172017
 

  by Bill Onasch

More Than Austerity—A Brutal Blueprint For Class and Climate War

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I had planned to lead this Week In Review with a look at TrumpCare (below.) That was bad enough. Then Thursday, the Trump White House released his “blueprint” Federal budget for the coming fiscal year. It exceeded by far my worst expectations. On this St Patrick’s day I set a personal record of posting articles on our companion Labor Advocate news blog—mainly devoted to exhaustive analysis of the Blueprint by the Washington Post, New York Times, Guardian, Inside Climate News, and even the Forward. If you crave details—bon appetite.

It was as if some bright technocrat had launched a search and delete logarithm seeking keywords indicating benefit to workers, culture–or the environment. The only areas left largely untouched—for now—are the Social Security and Medicare entitlements. But Trump Tower wasn’t built in a day and its absentee penthouse tenant is scheduled to submit three more budgets.

Like all blueprints—especially those relying on alternative facts—this one is sure to be modified. Deficit hawks of the Republican Freedom Caucus think the axe spared too much and does nothing to reduce debt. Representative Yoder from Kansas and others are irate about loss of NIH disease research. But while some tweaking is inevitable, the Putin admirer shuttling between DC and Palm Beach, with occasional post-campaign rallies in the hinterland, will likely get much of what he wants. And that much spells disaster.

As Promised—TrumpCare

From the day of passage of the Affordable Care Act, the then Tea Party-led Republicans used the Murdoch media and trash talk radio to vilify what they called ObamaCare as Public Enemy Number One. The Cracked Tea-Pots in fact went on to “repeal” it in the House dozens of times.

These bumblers have yielded, not always with good grace, to the more competent—and dangerous–AltRight who managed the upset election of Second Place Trump. He had pledged to repeal and replace the ACA immediately upon taking office. With the GOP in control of both Houses you would think that would be a slam dunk. But even The Donald has had to acknowledge this viper has many heads making it “complicated.” Nevertheless, TrumpCare is blitzing through the open doors of Ryan’s House before being ultimately resolved in the Senate.

As regular readers know, the WIR has also been highly critical of the misnamed ACA and favors its replacement. Its complex structure suggests a more accurate title would have been the Rube Goldberg Insurance Company Act for it was drafted by the insurance robber barons.

They did their best to make sure that everyone except the poorest and sickest had to get insurance through them. Even with enormous government subsidies based on reported income, the health.gov plans with mineral names were hardly “affordable” with their big deductibles and co-pays. A punitive “Cadillac Plan” tax is slated to make decent coverage negotiated by unions in employer provided plans much more expensive.

But the too clever by half greedy health care gate-keepers underestimated the resolve of the AltRight–especially in those states they control. In 19 states, the GOP turned down the offer of free Federal money to expand Medicaid—a component vital to insurance cherry-picking. They also refused to set up state “marketplaces” for their residents to enroll in subsidized insurance–and then argued in the Supreme Court that their sabotage had nullified the Act. Some insurers are already abandoning the subsidized plans.

Since TrumpCare will likely be modified in the Senate, I won’t attempt a detailed analysis of “repeal and replace” at this stage. The title of a New York Times editorial tells us pretty much all we need to know—Trading Health Care For the Poor For Tax Cuts for the Rich.

Congressional Democrat “friends of labor,” and most labor statespersons, cling to defending the ACA. Most cannot own up to the utter failure of the most important legislation in the eight years of the Obama White House.

One of the few in the Democrat caucus talking about a new alternative is the Independent, sometimes socialist, Bernie Sanders. Senator Sanders has called Obama a great President and he loyally cast the deciding vote for passage of the ACA on its second try. Now he is promoting a movement called Our Revolution. It is fielding candidates as part of a “political revolution” to “make our political and economic systems once again responsive to the needs of working families.”

The “once again” should raise a flag—and not a red one. While important reforms have at times been won, mainly through struggles outside the ballot box, I can think of no period in American history when the political and economic systems were responsive to the needs of the working class—families or not. We have had to fight for every one of our genuine victories—beginning with forcing inclusion of the Bill of Rights as amendments to the Constitution crafted by the “Founding Fathers.”

Not all of us have already forgotten that the “great” Obama tried his best to put together a bipartisan Grand Bargain to gut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid entitlements. Or his wars of intervention. Or his record deportations of immigrant workers. Or his decimation of the US Postal Service. And I don’t want to get started on his climate change hypocrisy. He’s earned his early retirement from ruling class politics and he seems quite happy riding the surf on jet-skis.

The USA is, of course, the only industrialized democracy where health care is still a commodity. The best alternative example is the socialized medicine of the British National Health Service. All medical and dental treatment, along with all prescription drugs, devices such as glasses and hearing aids, surgery and hospitalization, is provided free to users–financed through the national treasury. This system has better outcomes than America’s in many important measures including average life spans. And it does this for little more than half the cost of the broken health care system in the world’s richest country.

The British NHS was launched by a Labor Party government in 1948. There was some serious discussion on this side of the Atlantic about doing something similar but it got swept away by the Cold War and Red Baiting tidal wave beginning under Truman.

Another option began in western Canadian provinces and finally prevailed country-wide through the work of Canada’s NDP labor party. Canada’s Medicare did not socialize health care like in Britain but adopted what became known as a single-payer system with the government negotiating medical fees and drug prices and paying nearly all of the expenses.

The single-payer concept became popular on the American side of the border and placed best of all options when included in opinion polls. The now defunct 1996 Labor Party project enlisted help from not only health care professionals but also noted economists like Dean Baker to develop a much better version of single-payer–Just Health Care. It even included funding for a Just Transition for those currently working in private insurance billing and advertising jobs that would be eliminated. A much less comprehensive single-payer bill has been introduced by Democrat Representative John Conyers from Detroit in every session of Congress for the past twenty years.

When Obama won union support in his elections to the Illinois legislature, and later U.S. Senate, he was a strong advocate of single-payer. But “great” President Obama sang a different tune, with melody and lyrics supplied by the Robber Barons—and he got his choir, including Rich Trumka, Andy Stern and Senator Sanders to join in the harmony.

Senator Sanders, after his illicit affair with the ACA, is again loving single-payer. It was a genuinely popular platform plank of his impressive but doomed primary/caucus campaign. He has nurtured a symbiotic relationship with the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer.

While some Republican cold feet may lessen the blow of TrumpCare a bissel, we’re likely to take a shellacking on health as in every other vital issue as the AltRight moves relentlessly to “deconstruct the administrative deep state.” History has demonstrated that even single-payer can only be won by an effective working class party. Our Revolution won’t cut it. A revival of the labor party movement needs to begin right now.

Early Stage Corporatism

The top layers of the U.S. ruling class were as surprised as the rest of us by Trump’s Electoral College victory. They had never had problems with anyone named Clinton—or Obama for that matter. Many viewed Trump as a shady rogue and there was some early resentment of his intrusion in to company business plans even before he took office. They were nervous about his America First attacks on Globalization and his kind words about the ex-KGB colonel in the Kremlin.

But pragmatism has always been the dominant philosophy of American capitalism. That they are ready to make nice with a home grown strongman was dramatically revealed in Ypsilanti, Michigan on Wednesday, the day before the release of the Blueprint. The Big Three “American” automakers—though one is actually based in Turin, Italy—staged a big campaign-style rally for their new commander-in-chief. General Motors and Fiat-Chrysler provided paid time off, transportation and a meal to UAW members willing to attend. Less generous Ford didn’t spring for pay or food.

Trump used the occasion to announce the “good news” for autoworkers that he had directed the EPA to scrap onerous fuel efficiency and emission control standards. He also renewed his promise to impose tariffs and renegotiate NAFTA to bring auto jobs back from Mexico.

The Global Auto Alliance ran a full-page ad in the New York Times today thanking Trump for freeing them from unwarranted job-killing regulations. They probably hope that Trump will be reasonable in understanding that abandoning Mexico would be too disruptive for them to accommodate. But like Marlon Brando’s Godfather, the new wannabe Bonaparte expects favors to be returned, not expanded.

The capitalist paper of record for the state with the most cars and trucks was less than enthusiastic. A Los Angeles Times editorial was titled Trump’s Vehicle Emissions Plan: Make California Smoggy Again.

But Trump is doing a lot more than reversing auto pollution rules. The Blueprint is a defacto renunciation of American obligations agreed to in Paris. The EPA will no longer deal with climate change at all. The Agency itself will probably be in hospice by the time the next budget rolls around.

Smog will be one of the lesser problems that will be manifest not just in California but globally as America First may mean reclaiming the dubious title of number one greenhouse emitter from China.

The other attacks on the working class can eventually be defeated and rolled back. The damage from climate change is irreversible. As the Australian climate scientists sing in their rap video— Climate Change is caused by people/Unlike Alien, Earth has no sequel.

We can no longer kid ourselves that fighting back means calling your Congressperson, signing an e-mail petition, or donating money to candidates planning to run for office two years from now.

We need to be educating our coworkers and neighbors and convince them to join us marching in the streets, holding mass meetings, committing civil disobedience—the tactics that once won victories for the labor, civil rights, and antiwar movements.

And to unify and multiply the power of the various issue movements we need to come together in solidarity to build a party of our own to secure class and climate justice.

On a day recognizing the Irish I recall the maxim Tiocfaidh ar la—Our Day Will Come. I’m convinced it will–but it remains to be determined whether it will come in time.

That’s all for this week.


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