Jan 102017

  by Bill Onasch

Counting On Trump I

This coming weekend there will be a National Single-Payer Strategy Conference in New York City. With yet another health care crisis looming, such a conclave could be useful. Unfortunately, travel and hotel costs for the Big Apple, plus a registration fee, is a budget buster for those of us who would have to pay our own expenses. We will have to follow and comment on the proceedings from afar.

A key player in pulling this conference together is National Nurses United. Usually I have only good things to say about the NNU and their leadership. They are a militant adversarial union also deeply involved in several social movements. They were early and enthusiastic supporters of the now defunct 1996 Labor Party project Their record of activism and solidarity earned their executive director Rose Ann DeMoro a seat on the AFL-CIO executive board.

I have expressed some criticism over their political drift since the Labor Party’s death by starvation. Apparently discouraged with one false start for a labor party, DeMoro and the Nurses have opted for an umpteenth effort to transform the Democrats in to a worker friendly progressive force. They were strong backers of Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Donkey presidential nomination and support Rep Keith Ellison from Minneapolis in his bid to chair the Democrat National Committee.

To be sure, DeMoro pulls no punches in her criticism of Democrat congressional leaders—including their uncritical rearguard defense of the indefensible Affordable Care Act. These party bigshots failed to stop Trump in the election and will now seek to block Trump using the same harassing tactics used by the GOP to successfully stymie Obama’s agenda since the 2010 election. Outraged liberals have been playing the same tune in a different key throwing unprecedented amounts of cash to any and all nonprofits and publications proclaiming Stop Trump!

But at least on health care, DeMoro doesn’t say Stop Trump—just the opposite in a Politico article entitled Head of nurses union ‘counting on’ Trump for single-payer system. Politico was clearly astonished by some of DeMoro’s remarks that I also find disturbing. For example, referring to single-payer, she says,

I think that Donald Trump is not about either party; he’s about something very different. He’s the one who can actually rise above this and do what’s right, and he knows as a businessman, it’s the most cost effective,”

Later in the article she adds,

‘People say he agrees with the last person he listens to,’ DeMoro said of Trump. On the issue of health care, she said, ‘I’m hoping I’m the last person he listens to.’”

I double checked to make sure I wasn’t on The Onion site. Politico gave no indication that DeMoro’s remarks were tongue-in-cheek.

Her description of Trump closely resembles how old-timers explained Bonaparteism to me. A strong leader rising above class and partisan divisions, knocking heads together “to get things done.” It’s not a perfect analogy. The Bonapartes arose out of the military; Trump’s academic pursuits, and bad feet, kept him out of Service. But he has surrounded himself with Brass Hats in key positions. And he has an advantage in communication of his commands not available to Napoleon or Louis—Twitter.

Of course, there have always been “businessmen” who have recognized the cost efficiency benefit of single-payer. Lee Iacocca, who at times headed two of the Big Three automakers, often pointed to the substantial health care savings in Canadian plants where single-payer is in place.

But the health care capitalists are a formidable foe. Single-payer would be a death sentence for the Insurance Robber Barons and they will not go quietly. And even those involved in actual care delivery—increasingly dominated by giant national and regional chains—will not welcome negotiating their exorbitant charges. The American Medical Association says they would welcome a return to market driven fee for service. And the drug pushers of Big Pharma would lose many billions if they had to bargain a reasonable price as they must do in most other countries.

Single-payer emerged as a compromise that sought to defuse opposition from medical providers by gaining most of the big cost savings from scrapping insurance. That physician tolerance clearly hasn’t happened. Perhaps it’s time to go for the whole tamale—after removing the inedible insurance husk.

The NNU was a big promoter of Michael Moore’s 2007 film SiCKO. Moore visited several countries examining how they provided medical care. All were superior to commodity health care in the world’s richest country but two in particular stood out—Britain and Cuba. In those nations every aspect of medical, dental, mental, and optical care are socialized. The cost is paid out of the government treasury with never any charges to users. It is truly universal and overall cheaper to operate than single-payer systems—and about half the GDP cost of the Affordable Care Era in the USA. Socialized Medicine was introduced in Britain by a Labor Party government. In Cuba it took a revolution.

Guerrilla warfare isn’t in the cards for the USA—but a labor party can and should be. It’s well known that it is unwise to show up for a gun fight carrying only a pocket knife. It is equally futile and dangerous to engage in a political showdown without a party of our own. In my opinion, the revival of the movement for a labor party should be the centerpiece of any discussion and debate about strategy for health care—and all the other great issues confronting the working class today.

Counting on Trump II

America’s infrastructure is literally crumbling. We are occasionally reminded of this by catastrophic failures like the collapse of the I-35-W bridge over the Mississippi in Minneapolis, or multiple exploding gas pipelines in California, or the lead poisoning of Flint’s drinking water. Some were the result of lean construction with insufficient redundancy. All were weakened by “deferred maintenance” imposed by Deficit Hawks. There are hundreds of thousands of such time bombs relentlessly ticking away in bridges, tunnels, and buried pipes and cables.

The President Elect has a plan—or at least a concept–to spend a trillion dollars to make our infrastructure great again. It is being received with polite interest on both sides of the aisles in Congress—and with some enthusiasm by sectors of the labor movement. The legislative director of the Steelworkers said,

For Americans who face crumbling, often unsafe, infrastructure in their lives as they go to work, drive home, and engage in daily activities, they are desperate for his campaign promises to turn into reality.”

The general president of the Ironworkers was also upbeat,

The Ironworkers union applauds Donald Trump’s infrastructure program. We have to have a sustainable maintenance program that recognizes that the existing bridges need to have ongoing maintenance and quite frankly politicians in both parties have done us a disservice.”

Well shame on those past politicians of both parties—but it will be shame on the brother from the Ironworkers if he gets led down the same garden path again. Those unionists hoping to get good jobs from Trump’s project should also keep in mind that the Republicans in Congress will likely scuttle Prevailing Wage requirements—just as they did in repealing a state version in Kentucky last week, along with passing a “Right-to-Work Law.”

A more sober, though admittedly partisan assessment of Trump’s “plan” appeared in a Washington Post op-ed piece by Ronald A Klain. Klain headed up the Obama “shovel-ready” stimulus plan from 2009-11. He writes,

Trump’s plan is not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems.

“Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects. These projects (such as electrical grid modernization or energy pipeline expansion) might already be planned or even underway. There’s no requirement that the tax breaks be used for incremental or otherwise expanded construction efforts; they could all go just to fatten the pockets of investors in previously planned projects.”

It’s good to spot a scam. But none of these viewpoints address the real crux of the crisis we face: our infrastructure was, and still is designed to support an economy and life style driven by fossil fuels. While the President Elect doesn’t concur, science tells us this is wrecking our climate. In many cases, instead of fixing degrading structure we need to replace them with sustainable alternatives.

Instead of big highway projects and expanded airports we should build a new network of high speed, electrified rail lines. Instead of pipelines and refineries we need solar arrays, wind farms, and turbines powered by tides. To get a better handle on residential infrastructure we need to stop and reverse Urban Sprawl, reclaiming pre-suburbia wetlands and farm lands, rebuilding and repopulating our neglected Urban Cores. As we ensure a livable planet for future generations we would also provide generations of full employment in decent jobs.

This is not pie-in-the-sky. It’s doable right now with existing science, technology, and material resources. The obstacle is a ruling class that clings to their profitable destructive ways. Our class has the duty and the power to replace them. No body else can do it for us.

That’s all for this week.

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