Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Caught in the Web: End of May (2017) Miscellany

Elizabeth Catlett, “The Lesson,” ca. 1948 (crayon on paper)
“What kind of politician would commit such a monstrous act? That’s easy, said Elizabeth G. Taylor, executive director of the National Health Law Program: Any politician more interested in cutting taxes for the rich than providing affordable healthcare for ordinary people. The bill ‘sacrifices the healthcare of millions of vulnerable people to pay for tax breaks for the wealthiest in this country,’ she said.” 
 “ … [W]e have to go back to the economic polarization of pre-New Deal America to find a time when the super-rich felt so compelled to better the lot of the poor, as they understood it. Andrew Carnegie, who grew mightily rich by building the American steel industry, famously established libraries in thousands of cities and towns. Though, unlike today’s charter backers, he wasn’t draining off funds that could go to public libraries in the process. 
What Carnegie and today’s pro-charter rich have in common is a belief in individual betterment — but not only that. They also share a fierce opposition to collective betterment, manifested in their respective battles against unions and, in many cases, against governmentally established standards and services. Living in separate eras when the middle class was — and is — embattled and the gap between rich and poor was — and is — immense, billionaires have largely shunned the fights that might truly narrow that gap: raising the minimum wage, making public colleges and universities free, funding sufficient public investment to create genuine full employment, reviving collective bargaining and raising progressive taxes to pay for all of that.” 
“Carrier, the company President Trump pledged to keep on American soil, informed the state of Indiana this week that it will soon begin cutting 632 workers from an Indianapolis factory. The manufacturing jobs will move to Monterrey, Mexico, where the minimum wage is $3.90. That was not supposed to happen, according to Trump’s campaign promises. He told Indiana residents at a rally last year there was a ‘100% chance’ he would save more jobs at the heating and air conditioning manufacturer.” 
“The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, has been helping keep Americans from going hungry since the 1960s. Formerly known as food stamps, the program began as a pilot under President John F. Kennedy in 1961 as part of the war on poverty. Today, SNAP is the biggest and most important nutrition assistance program: About 45 million Americans living below the poverty line — nearly half of them children — rely on SNAP to purchase food. 
If Trump had his way, though, the number of SNAP recipients would soon be drastically cut. The administration’s first comprehensive budget proposal would trim SNAP spending by $191 billion over the next decade — which is about a quarter of the program’s funding. (The program costs the federal government $80 billion a year, which is a large amount of money — but a relatively small fraction of the budget.) [….]

So is SNAP actually ineffective? It’s a well-explored question. A number of major studies have evaluated the program’s impact, and they consistently show that SNAP delivers results on a range of problems, from improving health outcomes like diabetes to reducing the number of people who go hungry. In fact, researchers who study poverty and food policy say throwing people off SNAP is a silly idea because it’s one of the government programs that really works. As the Trump Administration’s own Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said earlier this week of SNAP, ‘You don’t try to fix things that aren’t broken.’”
My wife and I have had numerous “dinner table” discussions about this over the years. One thing that has always puzzled and irked me is the fact that many doctors have financial stakes in medical laboratories (at least here in California), even owning them, although this is not mentioned in the article: so, more tests, more money! I’m not implying this is a problem about doctors in the first instance, as the health care “system” is  well-known for directly or indirectly creating perverse or wrong-headed incentives (at least from the perspectives of health, health justice, and health care). The high cost of medical malpractice premiums in many states is one reason, for instance, that too many doctors still practice “defensive medicine.” 
Although I agree in principle of the need for a single-payer system, I doubt a Republican-dominated progress (along with the lobbying power of insurance companies) will allow this to happen in California. The problem here is somewhat analogous to “islands of socialism in a sea of capitalism” (or, for example, isolated cooperatives in an economy dominated by capitalist firms). Nevertheless, I think that problem is often exaggerated (were there once ‘islands of capitalism in a sea of feudalism’?) and thus perhaps the obstacles (both known and unanticipated) are “not,” as Hiltzik says, “insurmountable.” The legislative momentum in our state may accord the single-payer plan a public hearing it would not otherwise receive. 
“Medicare for all is a moral imperative. But the urgency of passing it doesn’t mean we can forget about the details.” 
“The release of the Trump Administration’s proposed federal budget has been met with mockery and ridicule across the political spectrum.  All budgets are ‘dead on arrival,’ but Trump’s budgets stands out for its dishonesty, incompetence, and inhumanity. [….] My initial reaction to Trump’s budget, in fact, was that it fully explains why House Speaker Paul Ryan has continued to support a man whom Ryan so clearly despises. Ryan has spent his career trying to look concerned while crafting reverse-Robin Hood policies. Trump’s budget proposal will allow Ryan to look comparatively humane while implementing a deeply inhumane series of cuts to crucial lifelines for the middle class and poor people, all in the name of shoveling money toward the rich. [….] 
The larger issue is that the Republicans are systematically shutting down access to higher education. Direct financing of universities and colleges: Cut! Subsidies to student loans: Cut!  After-the-fact loan forgiveness for people who are willing to live modestly to work in the public interest: Cut? As the old line goes: If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. Republicans have tried it, and they like it. Now, they want to impose it on everyone else.” 
“ … [Non-compete clauses in] contracts have long been routine among senior executives. But now they are being used by companies to restrict the job opportunities of blue collar workers …. And in restricting their job opportunities they also reduce workers’ bargaining power, and hence lower wages. 
One academic study found that 37 per cent of US workers have signed such agreements some time in their life, and that 18 per cent (almost 30 million workers) were currently working under such agreements. Given that many workers who sign such agreements do not realize that they have, the real figures are likely to be much higher.”

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