Friday, May 26, 2017

Concept for a New Economy

The economies of developed countries will soon reach a point where there aren’t enough private sector jobs to employ most people. The reason for this is that automation replacing workers in factories is the end, it’s just the beginning. Already computerized systems have replaced humans writing financial reports and similar documents. Brick and mortar retail stores and the sales staff and management that go with them are being replaced by Amazon, eBay and other websites. Dozens of chains have been scaling back or have ceased to exist over the last decade.

Someone countries are considering “Universal Basic Income” as a way to address the fact that large percentages of their populations will likely never be able to find a job because those jobs simply don’t exist. In the United States I don’t see that idea being accepted due to the generally accepted notion that everyone should work if they can. There’s also a feeling of value that our culture imparts for doing meaningful work. I think I have a better idea, one that addresses all concerns.

Those that are not otherwise employable in the private sector should be able to earn a living working for their communities. In a sense this idea is modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps and Civil Works Administration of the Great Depression era. We have national and state parks suffering from years worth of maintenance backlogs. When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt set out to put Americans to work his administration found a wide range of valuable tasks for people to do and many of those projects still benefit us today nearly a century later. Have you ever driven across a bridge with CWA impressed in the cement?

We have infrastructure like roads and bridges, remember the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi river in Minnesota that collapsed a decade ago, that need to be replaced. We have water lines, think Flint Michigan, in older cities that need replacement. There are schools and hospitals that are crumbling all over America. What if we put people to work rebuilding and expanding those things?

We have childcare shortages such that people who have jobs or the skills to get one can’t find childcare at an affordable price. We have eldercare shortages such that assisted living facilities and nursing homes are not only very expensive but also only provide medically necessary care. We have classroom over-crowding due to insufficient numbers of teachers and aides. What if we put people to work caring for others, providing day care and pre-school assistants, teacher’s aides, nurse’s aide’s and companions for folks in eldercare facilities?

We have much to gain by insuring that people have honorable work to do and a living wage is earned for doing it. We can simultaneously reduce or eliminate poverty while increasing empathy in our society which likely would reduce many forms of crime and substance abuse. Conservatives could stop complaining about paying people who don’t contribute and liberals could stop worrying that people aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve to earn a living.

Published in the Seguin Gazette May 19, 2017

Friday, May 19, 2017

Another Terrorist Group Announced Plans to Kill Americans

Last week another terrorist group announced plans to kill Americans, far more than Al-Qaeda or ISIS. The group then met to celebrate with their recently selected supreme leader, a prickly fellow known for rambling speeches exhorting his followers. No this wasn’t in a far off land, it was in Washington, D.C.

I’m talking about the House Republicans who voted for Trumpcare. The vote shows that Republicans like Lamar Smith and Paul Ryan are real American terrorists because they are guaranteed to have blood on their hands if the Senate Republicans choose to pass it. By repealing parts of the Affordable Care Act which provided expanded Medicaid and subsidies for health insurance purchased on the exchange they have endangered the health of 24 million Americans, thousands of whom will die and tens of thousands of whom will suffer bankruptcy while trying to stay alive.

Subsidies and Medicaid expansion aren’t the only parts of the Affordable Care Act that will get the axe under this legislation, coverage for pre-existing conditions is lost and lifetime caps are back. My friend Sean’s son, Navin, was born with a congenital heart defect which has already cost over a million dollars to treat. My wife has had five surgeries and spent months in intensive care and therapy in her 50 years. Well over a million dollars has been spent on her healthcare. Under Trumpcare both could be denied coverage for future medical expenses.

Some apologists claim that pre-existing condition coverage isn’t removed by the bill but that’s a lie because it allows states to opt out of the Affordable Care Act requirements and Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, has already announced plans to do so. Other states will surely follow and if your employer has operations in one of those states they’ll have the option of choosing to use the rules of whichever state suits their financial goals and if that means their workers get a poor quality insurance plan then too bad.

Trumpcare also allows states to waive the requirement that ill and healthy individuals pay the same rates and gives the states the option to setup high risk pools again. Having had my wife insured through the Texas high risk pool I can tell you the rates will once again be outrageous. There were years where we spent as much as 25% of my gross pay in healthcare. If I had earned a lower wage we could never have afforded it.

All this and more was done so that Republicans can give huge tax breaks to their biggest campaign contributors. Trumpcare provides $27 billion in tax breaks each year for the top 4.4 percent, people earning $250,000 a year or more. Donald Trump alone could save $30 million a year under the House bill.

The 217 men and women who voted for Trumpcare chose tax breaks for billionaires over the lives and health of their fellow American while claiming to be good Christians. With friends like these why are we worried about al-Qaeda or ISIS?

Congressional Republicans aren’t the only group to blame though, every one of you who voted for a Republican in 2016 is complicit in the suffering this will cause millions of Americans, young and old alike.

Published in the Seguin Gazette May 12, 2017

Friday, May 12, 2017

Truth Lost On Trump Voters

When will the American public recognize that we have not only been lied to on a few of Trump’s campaign promises as is generally expected of any candidate but we’ve been lied to about the kind of man that Trump really is. He claimed to have wonderful, super, incredible plans for healthcare reform, so good you won’t believe it. It turns out he had no plan at all as shown by the fact that Paul Ryan is the one pitching an Obamacare replacement plan that doesn’t do any of the things that Trump promised during the campaign. Trump said his plan would cover more people at a lower price and continue to cover pre-existing conditions. The current iteration of the Republican Repeal and Replace does none of those things.

Trump said “I'm a really smart guy.” He also said “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things. . . . My primary consultant is myself, and I have, you know, I have a good instinct for this stuff.” If those statements had a shred of truth he’d have known that President Andrew Jackson was long dead by the time of the Civil War which Trump recently claimed Jackson would have avoided. He’d also have know that Frederick Douglass, a celebrated historical figure, was a contemporary of Abraham Lincoln and therefore dead for over a century so he wouldn’t have said “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.”

That “big, beautiful wall” Trump promised Mexico would pay for and so many voted for him over isn’t happening either. At least he’s backing off that one slowly, now it will only be in “certain areas” because “you don't need” it where “you have these massive physical structures” or “you have certain big rivers.” Of course Texas Republicans are strong proponents of property rights so the use of eminent domain to acquire the land necessary to build and support such a wall is anathema not to mention the landowners along the border wanting none of it. The budget deal that will keep the federal government’s lights on until September doesn’t include a dime for the wall so it’s looking more like it will never be built.

According to Trump during the campaign, China is a currency manipulator and would be treated as such once he was in office. He quickly changed that tune, probably while eating the “most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen” with Chinese President Xi Jinping and ordering 59 Tomahawk missiles to strike Syria. Trump’s Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, considered the missile strike “after dinner entertainment” which “didn’t cost the president anything.” Of course the fact that those missiles cost taxpayers between $480,000 and $1,000,000 each and didn’t do enough damage to stop Syrian pilots from launching aircraft from the very same facility just hours later meant nothing to Trump. On the positive side the president did make a killing on the stock market as his shares of Raytheon, which makes the Tomahawk missile, went up 1.45% on news of the strike.

It isn’t just campaign promises and lies though, the Washington Post has been tracking his statements since he took office and during the first 100 days there have only been 10 for which they haven’t recorded at least one lie. Most days there are several lies. Sadly 93% of Trump voters still support him. How much damage will he have to do before they turn against him?

Published in the Seguin Gazette May 5, 2017

Friday, May 5, 2017

Trump's False Promises

It’s been about 100 days since Trump took office after having lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. While campaigning he famously focused on the loss of coal mining jobs and has used it as an excuse to eliminate Obama era restrictions on dump mining waste into the streams and rivers that provide drinking water for communities near coal mines and those downstream as well. What you don’t hear is that those jobs aren’t coming back because gas and solar are both cheaper than coal and getting cheaper all the time.

His focus on coal mining also masks that fact that there are more jobs created and sustained by solar energy today than there ever were in coal mining at its peak. If Trump really wanted to put Americans to work he’d give solar much more attention. Trump also shows no interest in the fact that since 2001 more jobs have been lost in retail, 85,000, than the 53,000 which exist in coal mining today. Why isn’t he talking about bringing back retail jobs?

Trump talks about the loss of manufacturing jobs and there’s some truth to his claims that many of those jobs have gone overseas for cheaper labor. His claimed triumph at the Carrier plant in Indiana turns out to more smoke than fire as only 730 at risk jobs were saved, two-thirds of the claimed 1,100, and many of those are still on the chopping block due to automation replacing those workers. What he doesn’t say is that even more jobs have been eliminated entirely by automation and you don’t hear him even mention that.

It isn’t just factory jobs that are being automated either, which has a distribution center just across I-35 from the Guadalupe County line and another in San Marcos is in the process of further automating its facilities nationwide. Low skill and manual labor jobs aren’t the only ones being replaced by automation, many financial news articles are now written by computer software with the only human intervention being identifying the company to be written about and the location of the current financial statements for that company. No word yet on whether Trump will seek to ban robots from the factory floor but he sure is intent on deporting undocumented immigrants.

During the campaign he said he’d focus immigration enforcement on “bad hombres” but every day there’s another story of a long time resident with children who are United States citizens getting deported after showing up at the local courthouse in compliance with the rules that had previously allowed them to stay in the country. Then there’s the story of the woman hospitalized with a brain tumor who was dragged from her hospital bed to a detention facility. There are also 1,400 military veterans who served in our armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan who have been deported. Our congressman, Vicente Gonzalez, has made his mission to get those veterans repatriated but he’s having a tough time finding Republicans to support his efforts. Perhaps the reason Trump’s deportation efforts have focused on these easy to capture folks is that the Obama administration had already been deporting those with real criminal histories.

Do you want to know what the only difference is between the jobs Trump talks about and the ones he ignores? The ones he talks about are predominantly held by white males and those he doesn’t by females and non-white immigrants.

Published in the Seguin Gazette April 28, 2017