Single-Payer Health Care Now!

Wake up, America, and wipe the sleep from your eyes.  You’re not dreaming but a nightmare is in the making.

It’s 17 years into the twenty-first century and our ruling – er, governing— Republican Party thinks there are currently just too many people with health insurance in this country.  While people living in all the other advanced nations of the world have the security of universal coverage and access to health care, the Republicans are divided only on just how many people should go without.

As one commentator put it, “Under the GOP’s bill, the more help you need, the less you get.”  They weren’t quite able to figure it out this time but rest assured that they’ll continue working until they get it “right.”  No matter the final outcome of the GOP plan, the bottom line is that more people will lose coverage – 10 million, 24 million, who knows? – and the cost of health care will continue to rise.

And the newly uninsured will be added to the current staggering figure of 25 million Americans who are without health care, even under the so-called Affordable Care Act.  Somehow, both Republicans and Democrats are able to sleep while knowing all this.

It’s time to end this madness.  It’s time to demand universal single-payer health care now!

Class war by other means

Obamacare and other recent attempts to reform the health care system have all fallen victim to the same forces: the powerful health insurance and pharmaceutical company lobbies and the ideological opposition of Republicans, yes, but of most Democrats too.  It’s almost a religious duty for mainstream politicians, liberal or conservative, to oppose the socialization of health care.  Health care is big business and, as such, it is run as part and parcel of the class war on working people, a war that transfers wealth and reserves the benefits of society for the well-to-do.

Health insurance companies are nothing more than huge bureaucratic middle men who collect fees and allocate a crucial service according to metrics that have nothing to do with true human need.  They keep the price of health care artificially high while “earning” huge profits for executives and shareholders.  And while pharmaceutical companies provide useful benefits, the experience of Canada and other advanced countries shows that they can provide those benefits at lower prices.

While the Republicans are licking their wounds and regrouping, we should not let the Democrats breathe a sigh of relief or celebrate.  If they really want to live up to the promise of Obamacare, let them support single-payer health care.  Rep. John Conyers (Mich.) has been introducing into Congress the National Health Care Act, or the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, (H.R. 676) since 2003.  Bernie Sanders has just promised to introduce similar legislation in the Senate.

It’s time to demand that elected officials put up or shut up about health care.  We know that politics is war by other means; the health care aspect of the class war is literally killing people and that’s got to stop.

— James Collins

The Morning After

There was a lot of talk among Democrats and their fellow travelers before the general election about the crisis in the GOP. Donald Trump – outlandish, buffoonish and downright unelectable – had, by winning the party’s nomination, led the Republican Party to drink from the waters that it had so terribly polluted.  He had taken the party’s possibly cynical embrace of rightwing crazies like Tea Partiers, creationists and anti-choicers to its logical conclusion: implosion.

 But who’s in crisis now? Whose party is in danger of, if not implosion, then sliding into a period of weak and floundering opposition to the know-nothing GOP juggernaut that is now firmly in control of things?

If the Democrats can’t even defeat a candidate like Donald Trump, can they ever be expected to retake the White House or regain a majority in either or both houses of Congress? Will our citizens ever be freed from the tyranny of state governments run by ignorant Republicans hell bent on destroying all that is public and not profitable?

We’re at the long receiving end of the so-called Reagan “revolution,” my friends, a decades-long realignment of political forces and economic priorities. It’s been a long time since Democrats could count on unorganized white workers to vote for them – maybe because it’s been a long time since the Democrats have done anything for anybody because they’re workers.  Black, Latino, and women workers benefit from civil rights policies, which the Democrats are still willing to support, so they still support Democrats but not as workers.

As for organized workers, it’s long past time for labor to stop busting their asses for the Democrats who only repay them with support for economic policies that must have folks like John L. Lewis, Phil Murray and even FDR spinning in their graves.

Occupy the political space

For the past decade or so, liberal Dems have staked their fortunes and future on demographic changes that their naïve, if well meaning, policy wonks have termed “cultural.” Culture is somehow interwoven with “identity,” and everybody has to be identified.  She’s not just a woman; she’s an Afro-Asian with a hint of Scotch-Irish woman!  Once everyone is correctly identified, we can come up with the algorithm for optimum “diversity.”

The word diversity is now spoken as if there’s some magic in its very utterance. It might come as a surprise to some people to learn that this has always been a diverse country, made up of people of many different races, from many different places, who have had many different experiences. And here’s a tidbit about “minorities:” people who have been excluded aren’t concerned about diversity – they want inclusion and fairness.  Inclusion might refer to the right to a decent education, good-paying job and a nice house or apartment to live in.  An example of fairness would be not being shot by police under circumstances that white citizens would survive.

The Occupy movement was on the right track when it said that there are those making money, and then there are the rest of us. The ninety-nine percent includes people of all races, genders, nationalities, religions and ages.  Once upon a time, they were called members of the working class and the middle class.  We don’t use that working-class term much anymore, except to disparage (some of) the people who voted for Donald Trump.  I suggest we start using that word again to describe the people who, well . . . work.  Then we might want to rethink what it really means to be in the middle.

On this “morning after” an election where we learned just how cuckoo our political system has become, I suggest we save some of our vitriol for Trump voters and give it to the Democrats who haven’t really been for the working people for a very long time. It’s time to stop supporting smooth, cynical, venal politicians who don’t give a rat’s ass about common people once the election season is over.

I wrote earlier that the ruling class – even elites in the Republican Party – had lined up behind Hillary Clinton, and so they had. But now the GOP controls the entire federal government and the majority of state governments as well, and you can bet that that’s just fine with this same ruling class.  Their interests will be well served by a billionaire landlord who believes in lowering taxes on corporations and the rich, while lowering the boom on the rest of us.

And so I suggest, once again, in the words of the immortal Joe Hill: Don’t waste time mourning; organize! Let’s make the next four years very uncomfortable for Trump and the GOP.

— James Collins

GOP Lockout Prevails in Budget Battle

Governor Tom Wolf gave in last week and succumbed to the GOP lockout of spending for social services and education by letting the general assembly’s GOP budget pass. Wolf gave up after almost nine months of trying to trade increased spending in exchange for regressive tax hikes and a promise to look at private liquor-store options, but the Republicans were having none of it.

GOP leaders boasted of holding the line on tax increases while shaving some $800 million from the budget compromise Wolf had agreed to back in December. And they promise more of the same for the 2016-17 budget battle – at least until they get some action on pension evisceration and liquor store privatization. Just the thought of all the missed money-making opportunities for businessmen being “wasted” in the state store system makes Republican politicians crazy with anger, as does the act of paying decent pensions to lowly public school teachers and state workers.

I wonder how many of them object to the $140,000 annual pension the disgraced Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge, Michael Eakin, will get. The state’s judicial discipline court ruled that Eakin, a Republican and key player in the email scandal, “dramatically lessened public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the entire judiciary.”  Most commentators describe the emails as “lewd,” “racist,” and “sexist” – just like the majority in the General Assembly.

For his efforts, Gov. Wolf got around $200 million more for education – half of what he originally wanted – but the most cash-strapped school districts borrowed a billion dollars during the budget impasse and are stuck with $40 to $50 million in interest obligations. Human service providers are likewise in the hole.  The director of the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership was reported in the P-G as saying that nonprofits will be paying debt service for years as a result of this one budget fiasco.  And the next one is only a few months away.

Get mad or stay sad

Wolf, a political neophyte, basically got played. He came into office presenting himself as a nice, reasonable guy.  But today’s conservatives eat nice guys for snacks; you’ve got to be tough and you’ve got to be serious about being tough, just to hang with them.

But the governor and his fellow Democrats in the General Assembly aren’t the only softies who’ve been exposed by this GOP offensive. School boards and superintendents, and teacher’s unions – those people in the business of “teaching” the youth various lessons about life – sure failed this civics lesson: their students watched their wannabe role models whining, complaining and pleading helplessly from the sidelines.

Nonprofit agencies, charged with administering the safety net that the GOP cares so little about, mimicked to no effect the high-sounding, empty phrases of their educated cohorts. Unions, public and private, exercised no muscle and didn’t threaten to flex any on behalf of the middle class, working class, or any other class. The poorest, most disadvantaged people – the people who count most on social and human services – were left out in the cold.

So, where do we go from here? The Republicans have promised to continue blocking anything resembling a semi-humane budget.  The afore-mentioned representatives and champions of civic and civil society have shown themselves to be confused, weak, and totally incapable of countering this opposition.  This is, in part, a product of their steadfast allegiance to myths about representative democracy that haven’t applied in a long time.  This is the age of the Almighty Dollar, and everyone who’s anyone knows that at least 90 cents of every single one should go to those who are “smart” and “talented” enough to have rigged the game in their favor.

The people who need to be drawn into politics today are the people who aren’t “educated” enough to believe in bureaucracies, procedures, processes and lies. We need to hear from the people who don’t have anything to believe in – not even hope – and who don’t have anything to lose. Those who are charged with speaking in their behalf have been on a losing streak for some time now.

James Collins

Millionaire vs. Billionaire

Tuesday’s primary election results bring us closer to the inevitable November match-up: Hillary “Corporate” Clinton versus Donald Trump, the idiot billionaire.  With the Pennsylvania primary more than a month away, those of us sane enough to oppose Trump or any candidate of the GOP are urged – almost expected – to close ranks behind Clinton in a show of “unity” and a nod to “reality” or the “real world.” But it’s precisely the accepted lamestream version of reality that should be opposed.

Sanders’ opposition to the power of the big corporations and the wealthy has been consistent throughout his political career. Why should he give up now with delegate-rich states like Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, Wisconsin, New York and California on the horizon?  The contest isn’t over until June, or until Clinton wins a majority of delegates.

The pundits respond that since Sanders can never win against Clinton in places with substantial numbers of black voters – because Hillary just loves black folks and they adore and trust her – he may as well hang it up now so that Clinton can concentrate her fire on Trump and the Republicans.

But some of us have noted the cynical paternalism at the heart of this argument and alleged love affair, which saw the Clintons appoint and befriend a few successful African Americans, while publicly maligning – as well as locking up and denying social benefits to – huge masses of black folk. You remember: they called it crime and welfare “reform.”  And many more in the middle were squeezed by a Clinton recovery characterized by a low-wage jobs market.

Corporate Black Caucus

Despite all the pathetic antebellum-preacher-style pandering of Rep. John Lewis, neither he nor the Corporate . . . er, uh, Congressional Black Caucus opposed President Bill when he was getting his neoliberal agenda on, back in the 1990s. Instead of criticizing Sanders for being too white (as if it’s his fault that his home state is 95 percent white) or not being where John Lewis was when he got his head split open (as if John Lewis’ particular freedom ride was the only place to be in the 1960s), Lewis and the CBC should have been closing ranks with an independent congressman named Bernie Sanders.

Back in 1988, during his first run for Congress, Sanders – white and from Vermont though he may have been – supported Jesse Jackson for president.  Sanders lost but made it to Congress two years later.  In 1992, Clinton swept into office – destroying the incumbent George H.W. Bush – and the historically progressive Black Caucus swelled from 25 to 38 members.  Looking good, right?

Wrong. Clinton did what all the Republican presidents since 1971 hadn’t – he tamed the CBC and tamed them good, while keeping the black vote for the Democrats.  Lewis – and probably a few other CBC members – almost wanted to commit suicide over deciding to support Obama over Hillary in 2008, but does he shed tears for the millions and millions of black people who have languished in prisons, substandard housing, abandoned schools and otherwise suffered for lack of a humane safety net?

Sanders has been consistent over the years. He has the common sense (not so common these days), integrity and decency that deserves any progressive person’s vote. If he were president, he’d most likely listen to his black allies rather than try to co-opt them.  Sanders has the money and the organization to keep fighting, so he should.  The longer he fights, the longer we’re spared the sickening spectacle of Hillary Millionaire vs. Donald Billionaire, and the longer we keep talking about economic justice.

Yes, Trump is a proto-fascist and it would behoove us to do everything possible to stop him in November. But it’s not November yet: on April 26, why not vote for Sanders?

And three cheers for the young people, who have sense enough to support Sanders for all the right reasons. These are the same people, more or less, who gave us Occupy Wall Street, and before that the anti-globalization movement.  Young people today are tolerant; love children, animals and the earth; and they hate war.  They’re often criticized for their lack of intellectual rigor in the policy and endgame-forecasting arenas, but I humbly suggest that we older folks take a look around and ask ourselves what our efforts, sincere as they are, have gotten us.  I’m ready to follow the youth.

Lest we forget

There’s still no state budget and at this point, it’s safe to say that we’re experiencing a GOP-spearheaded lockout of social spending – keeping money from us that is really ours. This money has already been collected, banked and allocated, but it can’t be spent because the GOP opposes a return to pre-Corbett spending levels.  As a result, people have suffered.

I still haven’t heard any accounts or allegations of actual deaths that were caused by the crisis, but I don’t believe it. One of Governor Wolf’s line-item vetoes affected funding for close to 80 hospitals, including 13 critical access facilities, located mostly in rural areas and serving a high percentage of people on Medicaid.  No possible harm there.

Meanwhile, the wealthy continue to benefit from low income and corporate state taxes, while consumption and income taxes for regular people keep going up. And the Department of Education helpfully issues guidelines on how to shut your school district down.

Unions in this state and country used to know how to battle a lockout. If they still do, they might consider sharing that expertise with people and communities who don’t know how to organize a fight back.  Who knows, maybe forcefully aligning itself with community interests might help reverse the failing fortunes of Pennsylvania labor.  Maybe?

James Collins

Under the Radar

This isn’t a story with obvious local implications but I have to comment on the determination and character of the University of Missouri African-American student activists and their supporters, who forced the resignation of a college president and the start of a real dialogue on racism.

Although the students had been complaining about a racist campus environment for years, it finally took the courageous stand of the Mizzou black football players, supported by their coach and white teammates, to grab the attention of the university administration — and the media.

The stand of the football players was singular and unique for these times — they essentially threatened a strike until the university president stepped down — but the activism of the students was not.  When the media finally latched on to this story, it also “discovered” numerous similar struggles occurring at colleges and universities across the country, including such elite institutions as Princeton, Yale and Ithaca College.  These movements existed in plain sight yet somehow flew under the radar of a media that never tires of feeding us Trump, terrorism, sensationalism, and more Trump.

Racism is usually only covered when cops kill an unarmed black person.  Then the narrative narrows to revolve around the “dispute” over just how much force is legitimately needed to control the black menace.  But the Mizzou students — and student activists elsewhere — energized by the Black Lives Matter movement that sprang up in the wake of Ferguson, know that the issue of racism is more complex than that.  They wanted to have an intelligent dialogue but eventually decided that it would take something out of the ordinary — in this case, the football team refusing to play — to have their issues taken seriously.

I wonder what is flying under the media radar in our area?  What struggles are being waged and ignored by the don’t-worry-(except about black crime and terrorism)-be-happy broadcast media and our stodgy, conservative newspapers?

About that budget

Meanwhile, Governor Wolf and the Republicans controlling the Assembly still can’t agree on a bad budget.  Now they’re arguing over just how regressive a tax policy the state can endure, and how to distribute the projected increased revenue among school districts and homeowners.  Fortunately, they’ll agree to State Store reform, providing relief to the hardworking low-income drinker after nine o’clock.

The consequences of the stalemate are serious, however, as I’ve been saying. To list the closed or partially shutdown agencies would be depressing — you can Google them for yourself.  Many school districts, social service providers and counties hadn’t fully recovered from the austerity of 2009.  If or when they ever see state funding again, they’ll find themselves deeply indebted to banks, so far the only winners of this fiasco.  Aren’t you glad to be in Pennsylvania, America?


— Jim Collins

Give Thanks . . . for Nothing!

Just as breezily as they played chicken with the lives and livelihoods of so many men, women and children in Pennsylvania, our Democratic governor and Republican-run general assembly have decided that they can reach a budget compromise after all — and just in time for Thanksgiving.  How serendipitous!

Wolf and GOP leaders say they have the outlines of a deal and expect to seal it by the holiday.  But Thanksgiving will be too late for lots of people.  While the politicians dilly-dallied, many Pennsylvanians suffered cuts or interruption of their much-needed services. I’ll just give two examples:

  • The Community Progress Council, serving some 16,000 people annually in York County, announced it will close three weeks in November and December, laying off 250 employees.  Services affected include early childhood education programs, a women and infants supplemental nutrition program, a work-ready program for people on public assistance, rent assistance for homeless and near-homeless people, and a foster grandparent program.
  • Domestic violence centers across the state were forced to reduce services this past October: it was National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

It was fortunate for the politicians that they suffered no interruption in pay or benefits, just as those with deep pockets won’t feel the pinch from this budget.  It’s interesting to note that the two sides paved the way for their cooperation by ganging up on organized labor, just like politicians of old.  No kidding. Just a few days before making his budget agreement announcement, Wolf signed a GOP bill that makes it illegal for unions to stalk, use harassment or “[threaten] to use a weapon of mass destruction”– just in case they didn’t already know.

This budget’s best feature is that it will restore to education funding most, if not all, of the crazy Corbett administration’s cuts.  But  everything is to be paid for by the common people.  Get ready for a hike in your income tax rate and an 8.25 percent sales tax in Allegheny County (9.25 percent in Philly and 7.25 percent most other places).  Property tax relief is in sight (disproportionately benefiting you-know-who), and why bother taxing those gas drilling operations that aren’t making any real money anyway?  Say what you want, but these guys really care a lot about the people who are kind of like them.

So Now What?

Suffice it to say, neither party represents the needs and interests of the broad majority of Pennsylvanians.  To some people, this is not news but it is to others.  Well, now that we all know, what should we do about it?  I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have one big suggestion, the logic of which should factor into any and all future political plans: Let’s start acting like we know.

Now that we know beyond a shadow of a doubt how little they value us, when we lobby (those of us that belong to organizations that lobby) let’s not act like either party is our friend, and therefore deserving of our support in money or people power.  When they do the right thing, they’re just doing their jobs; we don’t owe them anything for that except the promise to keep an eye on them to make sure they do the right thing on the next issue.

Obviously, we should support third parties like our statewide Green Party and independent candidates who represent the interests of people (and not things like guns or outdated pieces of paper). When it makes sense to vote for a Democrat or Republican — when there really is no other option — we still vote with our eyes wide open, with the clear understanding of who owes whom what.

And we should get angry, mad angry.  This budget will serve the interests of the wealthy, the greedy, the stingy, the corrupt and the hypocrite.  As will future budgets, from now unto eternity — unless we do something.  Or do lots of things.

The happy coincidence of a budget agreement and the holiday is no cause for giving thanks, unless you happen to be a politician or one of their wealthy masters.

— Jim Collins



Why Don’t They Care?

Harrisburg is paralyzed.

The budget stalemate between Governor Tom Wolf and the GOP- controlled legislature is heading into an unconscionable fourth month with no end in sight, surpassing the spectacle of Republican-engineered federal government shutdowns aimed at damaging the Clinton and Obama administrations.

Unlike the federal shutdowns, our local variety has no one clear villain but two: the governor and the legislature. To his credit, Wolf wants to restore education funding cut by former Gov. Tom Corbett and company; to his discredit, he wants to do it largely through regressive taxation.  The Republicans score points by opposing these new taxes, as well as any talk of taxing someone who can afford to be taxed.  They needn’t worry about that second point when it comes to Wolf, despite all of the overblown hype about his modest proposal to tax frackers.  And he’d offset that tax by lowering the overall corporate income tax rate.

Wolf loses more points by vetoing emergency spending bills while Republican members of state’s congressional delegation  — the big brothers and sisters of the people who slashed our education budget in the first place — appear reasonable by urging him to at least release federal funds already appropriated by Congress and dispensed to the state.

In the mean time, Meals on Wheels workers take voluntary pay cuts, pre-school and after-school programs for disadvantaged children are closing, payments for foster children are being held up, our less well-off schools and human service organizations are pushed to the brink . . .  There’s no end to the suffering and the worst awaits us, as there is no sign that an agreement on how to screw the poor and working people is imminent.

Why don’t they care?  Our political class are cheapskates when it comes to social spending, but both parties are now borrowing money to keep their legislative caucuses functioning.  Borrowed money has to be repaid with interest — the trap that many strapped school districts and nonprofits are falling into — but those profits will go into the coffers of the worthy wealthy — the bankers — who are , after all, just providing an honest if unchristian service.

So, why don’t they care?  Maybe it’s because the pain is being felt by the people who are supposed to feel it.  And why aren’t local news stations using this occasion to loudly publicize and track the debacle in Harrisburg?  Maybe it’s because the right people — the beautiful people, the ones who can afford to be polite and “reasonable” — aren’t feeling a thing.

Harrisburg is paralyzed but so are we.  There is no cry of outrage.

Western Beaver County school superintendent Rob Postupac noted that if there was suddenly no high school football on Friday nights, “you’d hear a cry so loud” that “something would happen pretty quick.” He’s probably right.

Rather than ask why they don’t care, perhaps the proper question is this: why should they care if we don’t care?

— Jim Collins