Who Are The Extremists?

It seems to me….

Research shows that if people are talking and listening to like-minded others, they become more dogmatic, more unified, and more extreme. Personalized Facebook experiences are a breeding ground for misunderstanding and miscommunication across political lines and, ultimately, for extremism.” ~ Cass Sunstein[1].

There are many conflicting assertions levied by political party adherents frequently intended to negatively influence support for what are considered to be opposing ideologies. Unfortunately, many of those contentions are not only incorrect, they also clearly demonstrate that some of their most vociferous proponents have little knowledge upon which to base their obviously fallacious assertions.

While members of all political parties attempt to saddle their opponents with derogatory labels, perhaps the most common charge currently being falsely averred is by Republicans claiming policies advocated by Democrats are “socialist”. It is not apparent where Republicans (and even many Democrats) were educated but the charge would be ludicrous if not apparently so widely accepted unchallenged by so many who should know better. While it is entirely possible that a small minority of U.S. citizens actually do advocate socialism, there is not one prominent Democratic politician within recent memory that has done so[2].

There is not now – nor has there ever been – any recommendation or desire by either major party to adopt socialism (if anyone thinks otherwise, they need to actually learn what socialism is).

For those apparently not well informed, “socialism” is a political and economic theory of social organization in which property is held in common rather than individually. It advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the state. It is obviously untrue that any aspect of either the Democratic party platform or even any campaign pronouncements by individual candidates or elected representatives are in anyway socialist. To claim otherwise is totally fallacious. At most, many advocate a private-sector-driven economy but with a stronger social safety net, enhanced bargaining power for workers, and tighter regulation of corporate malfeasance.

Unfortunately, labels such as “socialism” have pejorative connotations apparently not understood by the general public[3]. More than eight-in-ten Republicans (84 percent) have a negative impression of socialism; a 63 percent majority has a very negative view. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats (65 percent) have a somewhat positive view of socialism, but only 14 percent have a very positive view. Obviously, there is a general lack of understanding by members of both parties regarding what constitutes socialism.

Similarly, some critics fail to distinguish between “socialism” and “democratic socialism” where state regulation, with limited state ownership, has been employed by democratically elected governments in several countries such as Sweden and Denmark in the belief that it produces a more equitable distribution of income without impairing economic growth. While a number of politicians, almost all of whom are Democrats (or in the case of Bernie Sanders, an Independent), do claim to be democratic socialists, it is primarily applicable only to their advocacy for social policies such as universal healthcare and education and not state ownership or the means of production.

Even Bernie Sanders, as most likely the best-known proponent of social democracy, has never favored community ownership of property. The programs for which he personally is an advocate are universal healthcare, education, and reduction of economic inequality.

Another term bandied about but equally misunderstood is “progressive”. Progressivism is simply support for or advocacy of social reform. As a philosophy, it is based on the idea of progress, which asserts that advancements in science, technology, economic development, and social organization are vital to the improvement of the human condition. A progressive politician, either liberal or conservative, is one who usually favors the middleclass and sympathizes with them and any struggles they may be facing. Not all liberals are progressives and not all progressives are liberals though conservatives are more likely to attempt to apply the term derogatorily to liberals similar to the claim of socialism. This is slightly more understandable however as many extreme conservatives consider any change objectionable. That there are in fact conservative progressives belies claims that all liberals are progressives and many Democrats object to being consider as such.

While some conservatives equate “democratic socialism” with “socialism”, there are substantial differences. As commonly used today, democratic socialism primarily favors increased social welfare and has long been part of U.S. advocacy even extending back to the original colonies. Social welfare refers to a wide range of activities and services by volunteers, non-profit organizations, and governmental agencies providing help to needy persons unable to care for themselves; activities and resources designed to enhance or promote the well-being of individuals, families, and the larger society; and efforts to eliminate or reduce the incidence of social problems. Progressives from both parties back such policies as they provide an incisive critique of what is wrong in Western societies. Politicians on the right have all but relinquished the battle of ideas in their quickening retreat towards chauvinism and nostalgia; those on the left have focused on inequality, the environment, and how to vest power in citizens rather than elites. While basically correct, many on the left are overly pessimistic about the modern world displaying naivety about budgets, bureaucracies, and businesses.

The Republican party is now confronting difficulties reminiscent of the Democratic party in the 1920s – they have divided into multiple factions and consequently have their own set of problems, most of which are of their own culpability. One of their most prominent factions is the Tea Party. The Tea Party faction is a fiscally conservative political movement within the Republican Party whose members incessantly demand lower taxes and reduction of the U.S. national debt and federal budget deficit through decreased government spending. They support small-government principles and oppose programs such as government-sponsored universal healthcare. It has been described as a popular constitutional movement composed of a mixture of libertarian, right-wing populist, and conservative activism. Many of its adherents represent the ostrich wing of the Republican party who normally have their heads buried in the sand.

The Libertarian Party (LP) is another faction within the Republican Party, though supporters commonly are also Tea Party adherents, that promotes civil liberties, non-interventionism, laissez-faire capitalism, and shrinking the size and scope of government. Current fiscal policy positions include lowering taxes, abolishing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), decreasing the national debt, allowing people to opt out of Social Security, and eliminating the welfare state in part by utilizing private charities. Current cultural policy positions include ending prohibition of illegal drugs, advocating criminal justice reform, supporting same-sex marriage, ending capital punishment, and supporting gun ownership rights.

While seldom actually stated, the Republican party’s recent lemming-like stampede to the far right has resulted in its embrace of neofascism and other conservative extremist factions. Neo-fascism is a post-World War II ideology that includes significant elements of fascism. It usually includes elements of ultra-nationalism, racial supremacy, populism, authoritarianism, nativism, xenophobia, and opposition to immigration, as well as opposition to liberal democracy, parliamentarianism, capitalism, Marxism, communism, and socialism. Acceptance has unfortunately escalated under Trump resulting in a waning of many of the nation’s most laudable policies and beliefs that have largely defined the U.S. since its creation.

Allegations that a group is neo-fascist may be questionable, especially if the term is used as a political epithet. Some post-World War II regimes have been described as neo-fascist due to their authoritarian nature and, sometimes, due to their fascination with and sympathy towards fascist ideology and rituals. Groups identified as neo-fascist in the U.S. generally include neo-Nazi organizations and movements such as the National Alliance, and the American Nazi Party. The Institute for Historical Review publishes negationist historical papers often of an anti-Semitic nature.

Fascism differs from neo-fascism in that it is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism at the far-right of the political spectrum usually associated with constraints on political institutions and groups like legislatures, political parties, and interest groups. Its legitimacy is based on emotion, especially the identification of the regime as necessary to combat evil and other easily recognizable societal problems such as underdevelopment or insurgency. There typically is minimal social mobilization most often caused by constraints on the public such as suppression of political opponents and anti-regime activity along with informally defined executive authority with often vague and shifting powers[4].

The Alternative Right, commonly known as the “alt-right”, is a loosely connected set of far-right ideologies, groups, and white supremacist, white nationalist, white separatist, anti-immigration, and sometimes anti-Semitic movements whose core belief is that “white identity” is under attack by multicultural forces using “political correctness” and “social justice” to undermine white people and “their” civilization. It includes a broad range of groups from authoritarian right-wing technocrats and neo-monarchists to neo-reactionaries and white nationalists and is also often included under the umbrella term “neo-fascist” as many adhere to a radical authoritarian ultra-nationalism. The Alternative Right is characterized by heavy use of social media and online memes. Alt-righters typically eschew “establishment” conservatism, skew young, and embrace white ethnonationalism as a fundamental value.

A very vocal subset of the alt-right, white supremacists comprise a lunatic fringe of the Republican Party that advocates the racist belief that white people are superior to people of other races and therefore should be dominant over them. There has been a steady rise in right-wing related propaganda and violence with followers linked to at least 50 murders just in 2018, a 35 percent increase over the previous year[5]. Among domestic extremist movements active in the U.S., white supremacists are by far the most violent committing about 83 percent of the extremist-related murders in the U.S. in the past ten years and being involved in about 52 percent of the shootouts between extremists and police. They also regularly engage in a wide variety of terrorist plots, acts, and conspiracies.

Republicans have moved considerably to the right over the past four decades. Now, the extreme right has abandoned the basic conservative values that previously defined the party. Seemingly aggrieved and discontent, they have become pessimistic and reactionary. A recent study[6] determined that the GOP is far to the right of mainstream European conservative parties – even being to the right of anti-immigrant parties like Britain’s UKIP and France’s National Rally. If mainstream U.S. Republicans were in any other country, they would be classified as white nationalist extremists.

Democrats are more open to opposing views than conservatives as demonstrated by their more accepting perspective of “conservatives”. Nearly four-in-ten Democrats (38 percent) say they view “conservatives” positively compared with fewer than a quarter of Republicans who view “liberals” in the same light. Perhaps this partly explains the basic philosophical difference between liberal tolerance of opposing beliefs compared to conservative rejection and unwillingness to consider essentially everything.

Many who either do, or at least should, know better are motivated either through ignorance or perversity to mischaracterize opposing political ideologies so as to capitalize on stark partisan divisions. Regardless of ideology, it is an oversimplification to even attempt to generalize or to attribute a specific ideology to any political entity as each is composed of many individuals each with their own explicit and unique beliefs. While basic differences of opinion are both natural and beneficial, attempting to exploit those disagreements for personal advantage is contrary to the welfare of our nation.

The Republican party once stood for free markets and moral values but has since largely abandoned its support of freedom and liberty. It is antagonistic toward federal law enforcement, provides support to Russia and other authoritarian regimes, rejects refugees, backs “deep-state” conspiracy theories…. Its charges of fake news undermine the First and Second Amendments.

As an indication of how far to the right the Republican party has shifted, many of what Republicans now attempt to label as extreme policies currently supported by Democrats were part of the mainstream Republican party platform in the relatively recent past[7]. Then, political beliefs Republicans now consider liberal or extremist would have been moderate Republican. Political ideological portrayals are relative only within the current overall political spectrum. In reality, both political parties have moved to the right. Who really are the extremists?

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Cass Robert Sunstein is a U.S. legal scholar, particularly in the fields of constitutional law, administrative law, environmental law, and law and behavioral economics, who was the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration.

[2] How Americans View Socialism And Capitalism, Pew Research Center, https://mailchi.mp/pewresearch.org/how-americans-view-socialism-and-capitalism?e=363e82c050, 29 June 2019.

[3] Stark Partisan Divisions In Americans’ Views Of ‘Socialism’, ‘Capitalism’, Pew Research Center, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/06/25/stark-partisan-divisions-in-americans-views-of-socialism-capitalism/?utm_source=Pew+Research+Center&utm_campaign=0492b47f26-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_06_28_01_26&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3e953b9b70-0492b47f26-400092341, 25 June 2019.

[4] Authoritarianism, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authoritarianism.

[5] With Hate In Their Hearts: The State Of White Supremacy In The United States, ADL, https://www.adl.org/education/resources/reports/state-of-white-supremacy, 2019.

[6] Krugman, Paul. Republicans Have Moved Drastically To The Right Over The Past Four Decades, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/27/opinion/socialism-2020.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage&fbclid=IwAR3OR4c71jo4nQnQd8pTIiiNoAU8BELqPd8pu9-qekAjvV7RHHPfuLX7yC4, 27 July 2019.

[7] Mikkelson, David. 1956 Republican Platform, Snopes, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/1956-republican-platform/, 23 October 2014.

Posted in Alt-Right, Alternative Right, Bernie Sanders, Britain, Britain, Conservatives, Democratic Socialism, Democrats, Denmark, Economy, England, Extremism, Extremism, Fascism, France, France, Great Britain, Healthcare, Liberals, Libertarian Party, National Rally, Neo-Fascist, Politics, Populism, Progressives, Progressivism, Republican, republicans, Russia, Social Welfare, Socialism, Sweden, Tea Party, Tea Party, UKIP, Universal Healthcare, White Nationalism, White Supremacists, White Supremacy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Curbing Weapons-Related Killings

It seems to me….

Respecting the Second Amendment does not mean abandoning common sense. The right to own guns in this country must remain, while we also must strengthen our laws to prevent mass shootings.” ~ Claire McCaskill[1].

What does it take? Everyone cries “Enough” following every mass shooting and still nothing gets done. There has been on average more than one mass shooting every day so far in 2019. While the majority of shooting victims do not die in mass shootings, it is those types of incidents that receive the greatest attention. Single person incidents have become sufficiently common to not even be mentioned on the evening news or local newspaper. What does it take? Where does it end?

Americans own around 45 percent of the world’s estimated civilian-held firearms despite making up only around 4 percent of the global population[2]. There were approximately 857 million civilian-held firearms in the world at the end of 2017 with the U.S. holding around 393 million of them, followed by India (71 million), China (50 million), Pakistan (44 million), and Russia (18 million).

Only 22-30 percent of Americans actually own a gun – only 4.4 percent over 16 actually hunt. Roughly two-thirds of those Americans who own guns say it’s for self-protection but research shows that gun ownership actually increases the risk of homicide among intimate partners and family members – but notably not strangers. And in states with lax gun laws, children are especially at risk. Much of the pro-gun culture correlates to low educational attainment, limited employment, or low opportunity prospects.

The NRA, motivated by greed and financial gain, has become a marketing arm of gun manufacturers and no longer represents the interests of gun owners. It frequently attempts to attribute mass violence to mental illness though no factual link exists.

Contrary to NRA claims, one third of self-reported violent acts are committed by people without diagnosed mental illness. In fact, those with mental disorders are statistically more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetuators and more likely to injure themselves than others. There is, however, significantly higher incidence of brain abnormalities in violent offenders than in either nonviolent ones or in a control group[3]; 7 out of 10 violent crimes by those mentally ill are associated with substance abuse[4]. Tragically, more than 1 in 4 victims in mass shootings have been killed by an adherent of an extreme ideology.

A study[5] comparing firearm ownership levels and homicide rates in all 50 states, from 1990 through 2016, looking also at the victim’s relationship to the offender found that for every increase in gun ownership at 10 percent increments, domestic firearm homicide, specifically involving an intimate partner or other family member, goes up 13 percent while non-domestic firearm homicide goes up just 2 percent. In roughly half of all homicides reviewed, the victim was a friend or acquaintance of the offender.

There is an extremely strong cause-and-effect correlation showing that in areas where gun ownership is higher, there are more domestic homicides. A person with access to a gun is almost twice as likely to be the victim of homicide and is three times more likely to commit suicide based on an analysis of 15 studies, 13 of which were in the U.S. These results[6] found that when firearms are accessible, women are nearly three times as likely to be homicide victims and men nearly four times more likely to commit suicide. African Americans are more likely to be shot than Caucasians.

Firearm injuries are the second-leading cause of death for U.S. children. In states that for at least five years had required universal background checks for firearm purchases, gun deaths among youths were 35 percent lower[7].

The U.S. has had 57 times as many school shootings as all other major industrialized nations combined[8]. A total of 202 people were killed in these attacks and 454 were injured in school shootings in the U.S. since 1970[9]. School shootings are a reality in the U.S., an average of one a week just this year alone. The majority of shooters were young white men or boys, many of them current or former students of the schools where they opened fire.

It is a fact that states with stricter firearms regulation, including laws regulating dealers, background checks, licensing, reporting of lost or stolen guns, multiple purchases, and gun design and manufacturing standards have, on average, lower rates of gun-related homicide and suicide[10]. The benefits of firearm laws might not be fully realized until either all states within a surrounding area reach a certain threshold level of firearm legislation or more universal federal firearm legislation is enacted.

There is much that needs to be done to limit this carnage. 67 percent of Americans want stricter limits on firearm sales – 97 percent support universal background checks. Common sense weapon regulation needs to be approved banning military-type weapons and comprehensive extended background checks implemented preventing anyone criminally charged or deemed mentally ill from purchasing weapons. Concealed weapon permits should be permitted only for law enforcement officials.

It is time to cease attempts by the NRA, weapon manufacturers, and gun advocates to deflect the real cause of gun violence from the actual problem – the availability of too many weapons rather than the unsupportable claim that it is solely attributable to mental illness. As a very minimum, legislation reenacting the Brady Bill; with expanded and improved background checks, closure of the gun show loophole, closure of loopholes permitting domestic abusers and stalkers to obtain guns; and renewal of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB)[11] prohibiting the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms defined as assault weapons, as well as large capacity ammunition magazines, should be approved.

We have become inured to the news of still another mass shooting – they have become too common. I began by asking what it will take to enact meaningful weapon regulation. Perhaps given the numerous candidates currently campaigning prior to another Presidential election, it is a good time to ascertain their willingness to commit to the passage of meaningful legislation.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Claire Conner McCaskill is a U.S. politician who served as Senator from Missouri from 2007 to 2018 and the Auditor of Missouri from 1999 to 2007.

[2] Karp, Aaron. Estimating Global Civilian-Held Firearms Numbers, Small Arms Survey, http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/fileadmin/docs/T-Briefing-Papers/SAS-BP-Civilian-Firearms-Numbers.pdf?utm_source=Fareed%27s+Global+Briefing&utm_campaign=4a0cd861ca-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_06_20_06_54&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6f2e93382a-4a0cd861ca-85658801, June 2018.

[3] Fields, R. Douglas. The Roots Of Human Aggression, Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-roots-of-human-aggression/, May 2019, pp64-71.

[4] Stuart, Heather. Crimes And Mental Illness: The Link Isn’t As Strong As You Think, Queen’s University, Ontario, https://www.decodedscience.org/crimes-mental-illness-link-isnt-strong-think/45694, 15 May 2014.

[5] Kivisto, Aaron J., et al. Firearm Ownership And Domestic Versus Nondomestic Homicide In The U.S., American Journal of Preventive Medicine, https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(19)30197-7, 9 April 2019.

[6] Anglemyer, Andrew, et al. The Accessibility Of Firearms And Risk For Suicide And Homicide Victimization Among Household Members: A Systematic Review And Meta-Analysis, Annals of Internal Medicine, https://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/1814426/accessibility-firearms-risk-suicide-homicide-victimization-among-household-members-systematic, 21 January 2014.

[7] Goyal, Monika, et al. State Gun Laws And Pediatric Firearm-Related Mortality, American Academy of Pediatrics, https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/144/2/e20183283, August 2019.

[8] Grabow, Chip, and Lisa Rose. The US Has Had 57 Times As Many School Shootings As The Other Major Industrialized Nations Combined, CNN, https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/21/us/school-shooting-us-versus-world-trnd/index.html?fbclid=IwAR386ar2R-0nvMX3mECWzK0hVnond5_ZE1qOatzg-v8oQytK9ZNyQpdCRxE, 21 May 2018.

[9] Cai, Weiyi, and Jugal K. Patel. A Half-Century Of School Shootings Like Columbine, Sandy Hook And Parkland, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/05/11/us/school-shootings-united-states.html?te=1&nl=morning-briefing&emc=edit_nn_20190512, 11 May 2019.

[10] Kaufman, Elinore, MD, et al. State Firearm Laws And Interstate Firearm Deaths From Homicide And Suicide In The United States, JAMA Internal Medicine, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2673375?source=post_page—————————, May 2018.

[11] The AWB was officially named the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act and was a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

Posted in Arms, Assault, Assault-type, Automatic, AWB, Background Check, Brady, Brady Bill, Brady Bill, China, Domestic Violence, Federal Assault Weapons Ban, Firearm, Gun, Gun Owners, Gun Regulation, Handgun, Homicide, India, Loophole, Mass Shooting, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Murder, National Rifle Association, NRA, Ownership, Pakistan, Rifle, Russia, School Shootings, Semi-automatic, Show, Suicide, Violence, Weapon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Universal Healthcare

It seems to me….

I believe that every family – it doesn’t make a difference who you are or where you come from – deserves to have quality healthcare. It is a universal right. It’s not the exclusive privilege of the elite and the wealthy.” ~ Kevin de Leon[1].

U.S. healthcare is rated 37th in the world, worst among industrialized nations, though it is by far the most expensive. Even countries such as Costa Rica now have higher life expectancy than the U.S., primarily the result of available public healthcare. American life expectancy is falling, unlike nearly anywhere else in the world, simply because healthcare is unaffordable to many.

Healthcare in the U.S. is inefficient, user-unfriendly, and our least transparent enterprise. Americans spent $33 trillion on healthcare in 2016, approximately the same amount as Germany’s entire GDP. It is 18 percent of the U.S. GDP – twice that of any other developed nation with results far below any of them.

It is time for single-payer universal healthcare. There would be associated initial start-up costs but it is the only proven way to reduce overall healthcare expenditures across the entire population base.

The U.S. frequently is hindered by its belief in national exceptionalism. Whatever was not invented here must therefore be inferior, should consequentially be rejected, and something totally new and totally “American” created. Hopefully, that will not hold true for healthcare. By being the only remaining major country without universal healthcare, there is much to be learned from what has been tried elsewhere. Examples abound and based on the merits from comparative studies, adopt what has succeeded, reject what has not. Simply rejecting an idea because it was not invented here is neither reasonable nor expedient.

The most judicious approach would be to simply adopt an already existing alternative such as either Medicare or expansion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Medicare Program is highly successful and could be extended to provide general coverage. The ACA approved under President Obama (and partly rescinded under Trump) was a step in the right direction but was extremely weak and lacked necessary coverage features – but it still could provide an initial step toward a complete single-payer system. Alternatively, a completely different healthcare system could be proposed replacing all other current alternatives.

Whatever is decided, something must be done. High costs for healthcare, education, and construction have hobbled productivity and put a strain on many middleclass families. Employment provided healthcare plans financially burden employers who are increasingly forced to either offer inferior plans, require employees to cover part of the plan costs, or not offer any plan at all.

The problem is obviously becoming critical as the quality of available U.S. healthcare continues to decline. The opioid epidemic continues to ravage the country along with rising alcoholism and suicide but existing healthcare plans seldom cover treatment for addiction, obesity, or mental health. Even vision, hearing, and dental care are not considered standard features and frequently available only as expensive options.

Medical expenses remain the highest cause of poverty. The Census Bureau reported that 11.2 million individuals were pushed below the poverty line last year due to out-of-pocket medical spending, including insurance premiums, prescription drug costs, and doctor’s office co-pays[2]. Overall, those expenses drove up the supplemental poverty rate by 3.5 percentage points. Currently, about 45.6 million Americans, or 14.32 percent, are in poverty primarily resulting from out-of-pocket medical expenses. Preferred solution recommendations are highly political party dependent.

Liberals support the right of every American to affordable healthcare but there currently are millions who can’t afford healthcare and therefore are deprived of this basic right. They have traditionally supported free or low-cost government-controlled healthcare and believe the only viable method of achieving this is for the government to provide equal healthcare benefits for all, regardless of anyone’s ability to pay.

Conservatives, on the other hand, support a competitive free market healthcare system. They believe all Americans do have access to healthcare; the debate is only about who should pay for it. Healthcare should remain privatized as supposedly free and low-cost government-run programs (what they term “socialized” medicine) result in higher costs and everyone receiving the same poor-quality healthcare. The problem of uninsured individuals should be addressed and solved within the free market healthcare system – the government should not control healthcare.

A majority of Americans, however, now believe it is the federal government’s responsibility to provide all Americans with healthcare coverage and a growing share now support a “single payer” approach to health insurance. 60 percent say the federal government is responsible for ensuring healthcare coverage for all Americans while only 39 percent say this is not the government’s responsibility[3].

Nearly half of all Americans get their health insurance through work, a system that covers roughly 153 million people. For many companies, healthcare is becoming increasingly expensive and families and employers are having to bear more of the cost affecting not only how much workers are actually being paid but also how many are even hired.

This has become a system that is increasingly unaffordable – especially for already low-wage workers. Over the past 10 years, the cost of the portion of employer-sponsored health insurance premiums that falls on U.S. families has increased by 71 percent. Overall, premiums have risen by 54 percent since 2009, considerably more rapidly than the rate of inflation and faster than the average wage growth.

Many people do have quality healthcare plans with which they are well satisfied. Many now retired feel they worked hard all their life and are entitled to keep those plans. They consequently are unwilling to give them up for a government plan that quite possibly would be inferior to what they currently have. While they are correct, it neglects addressing the basic problem of those without adequate healthcare options. It seems primarily motivated by inconsideration and selfishness essentially telling those less fortunate “I got mine, screw everyone else”. Many private healthcare plans do in fact benefit the holder but it primarily is the insurance company and their stockholders that are the chief beneficiaries.

Health insurance companies attempt to exclude coverage to those with serious health issues. They must deal with the possibility of an adverse selection death spiral when setting policy rates as those who are healthy will select not to purchase an optional policy necessitating cost increases for those remaining therefore discouraging possible additional policy purchasers. Increasing those costs will only dissuade a higher percentage of those insured from keeping their their health insurance.

The majority of those who see a government responsibility to provide health coverage for all now believe it should be provided through a single health insurance system run by the government rather than through an inefficient mix of private companies and government sponsored programs.

Proponents who argue that eliminating private sector insurance profits and overhead would enable more people to be covered at a lower cost conflicts with the findings of numerous studies. Additional costs arising from increased demand would, at least initially, exceed any potential savings from reduction of administrative efficiencies achieved by going to a centralized national health insurance system[4]. Fulfilling that increased but currently unmet demand is an additional obvious advantage of universal coverage.

Universal healthcare plans would admittedly initially further increase the national deficit but liberals are correct that some form of universal healthcare is the only tangible method capable of providing adequate affordable medical assistance to everyone. Unless everyone contributes for coverage regardless of their health status, those requiring the most assistance will never be able to afford adequate care.

All the current 2020 Democratic candidates for President have a proposed healthcare plan. Unfortunately, most of their current proposals are not realistic. Unless those plans are significantly altered prior to the election, that candidate could experience considerable voter backlash. All must additionally accept that if elected, they will inherit a national debt that already greatly exceeds acceptable limits along with numerous other high priority issues, including infrastructure and education, which they must also address.

Candidates frequently make campaign promises they are unable to fulfill. Healthcare improvement is a necessity but proposals must be credible or will face voter rejection.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Kevin Alexander León is a U.S. politician who has served in a number of elected offices including the California State Senate as President pro tempore.

[2] Wiessmann, Jordan. Medical Expenses Still Drive An Outrageous Number Of Americans Into Poverty, Slate, https://slate.com/business/2016/09/medical-expenses-still-drive-more-than-11-million-americans-into-poverty.html, 13 September 2016.

[3] Kiley, Jocelyn. Public Support For ‘Single Payer’ Health Coverage Grows, Driven By Democrats, Pew Research Center, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/06/23/public-support-for-single-payer-health-coverage-grows-driven-by-democrats/?utm_source=Pew+Research+Center&utm_campaign=3a5800a955-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_06_22&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3e953b9b70-3a5800a955-400092341, 23 June 2017.

[4] Kessler, Glenn. Fact Check: Dems seize on claim ‘Medicare-for-all’ would save $2T, The Washington Post, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/factcheck/democrats-seize-on-cherry-picked-claim-that-‘medicare-for-all’-would-save-dollar2-trillion/ar-BBLAWPs, 7 August 2018.

Posted in ACA, ACA, Affordable Care Act, Affordable Care Act, Barack Hussein Obama II, Budget, Costa Rica, Deficit, Elections, Germany, Germany, Health, Health, Healthcare, Insurance, Insurance, Medical, Medicare, Medicare, Medicare, Medicare For All, Mental Health, Obama, Obamacare, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Single-Payer, Universal Healthcare | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Changing Nature Of Retail

It seems to me….

Distributers don’t need massive amounts of square feet to stock digital products. Retailers don’t need brick-and-mortar stores to sell them. The entire supply chain for these select items has been permanently dematerialized. The marketplace has been blown to bits.” ~ Jay Samit[1].

In recent years, the retail industry has experienced major shake-ups regarding shifting business models including increasing popularity of e-commerce. Businesses that rely on revenue exclusively from physical stores, once the all-important showrooms for goods and services, have not only become less relevant but also less efficient from a cost perspective.

The retail sector is one of the largest sources of employment in the U.S. economy, with 15.8 million jobs, or more than 10 percent of all jobs nationwide. The only areas to employ more people are healthcare and all the levels of federal, state, and local government. But it has lost about 200,000 jobs since the start of 2017 with most of those job losses coming from traditional department stores and clothing stores.

As consumers increasingly buy online, technology is changing the shape of our cities, reducing demand for retail space, increasing freight congestion, and leaving parking lots empty. Of the 1,200 malls across the U.S., 15 percent are 30-50 percent vacant. Since 2010 more than a dozen large major shopping malls have closed with an additional 60 on the brink of closure.

To remain competitive, shopping centers need to take advantage of their ability to bring people together and create experiences that cannot be delivered online typically including a supermarket, restaurants, and 10 – 20 shops. The performance of these assets is less vulnerable to the turbulence of changing consumer sentiment, largely focused on providing the community with goods and services. They must provide those non-discretionary items essential in our daily lives. Brick-and-mortar retail needs to capitalize on its primary strengths exploiting its position as a local community hub.

Several years ago, it was debated whether traditional brick-and-mortar or online retailers had an inherent advantage. While online sites provide many tangible benefits, traditional brick-and-mortar merchants also provide numerous comparable advantages. While perhaps somewhat counterintuitive, merchants that have both an online presence and a physical presence have not fared overly well, but that might be changing.

There historically have been numerous economic transformations and every economy must continuously reinvent itself in order to survive. Every technological advance and innovation shifts the foundation upon which it rests. Simply because a business became recognizably successful should not be assumed to predict continued future success. One of the best examples of this is Sears which was the U.S.’s top retailer throughout the mid-1900s.

Sears dominated consumer merchandising for over one hundred years but recently has struggled financially and filed for bankruptcy protection following a long run of losses.

In 1886 Richard W. Sears founded the R.W. Sears Watch Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to sell watches by mail order. In 1889 Sears sold his business but a few years later founded, with Alvah C. Roebuck, another mail-order operation which in 1893 came to be known as Sears, Roebuck and Company (its last catalog was issued in 1993). The retailer, which revolutionized shopping in the late 19th century with its mail-order catalogue and helped pioneer shopping malls in the mid-20th century, closed over 142 stores, including its Kmart brand, in 2017. Sears steadily lost market share over the years in the big-ticket goods that lured customers. It applied for Chapter 11 in 2018 as the bills piled up from suppliers, some 200 of which had stopped shipping their products to the company.

Sears provides an all too typical example illustrating how as the pace of innovation increases, the average company’s duration of remaining successful seemingly decreases. It is impossible to predict the length of market domination as some companies are inherently more flexible than others.

There is a notable downside of online sales: costs of returned merchandise have steadily increased and have become a costly expense of doing business, particularly with online shopping, and managing the increasingly expensive reverse supply chain has become a priority for retailers of all sizes. Free returns are cutting into margins of already struggling retailers. Online shoppers can’t look, feel, and try products as if they were in a physical store resulting in considerable guesswork for consumers when shopping online – and retailers are the ones who pay. 30 percent of all products ordered online are returned compared to 8.9 percent at brick-and-mortar stores; 22 percent of returns are because consumers receive a product that looks different than anticipated[2].

The old order of merchandising has changed; consumers no longer see a distinction between online and offline shopping. In the past, customers came into stores with little to no product knowledge and relied on a salesperson to advise them on what to buy. Today most shoppers have become accustomed to doing their own research to get the maximum value out of every dollar they spend and to feel secure about the purchases they’re making. Shoppers now know as much – and frequently more – than the salespeople where they shop. Customer service is an increasingly important part of maintaining ongoing client relationships in today’s competitive and evolving environment.

There is an associated range of services provided to consumers of a product by the company that produces, markets, or supports that product regardless of whether it is online or brick-and-mortar. Services may include technical support, warranty registration, problem notifications, account management, mediation with other vendors, or other services depending on the nature of the product purchased by the customer. It is an important aspect of the process of ensuring customer satisfaction with a product or service. Much of this interaction can take the form of in-person interaction, a phone call, self-service systems, or by other means and can even take place while performing a transaction for the customer such as making a sale or returning an item.

Such considerations are an important aspect of consumer service and a major determinant of long-term commercial success. These types of trade-offs also provide a major opportunity for more traditional brick-and-mortar outlets.

One of the keys to meeting the evolving needs of customers is focused on customer service-centric mobile apps. Offering customers a way to solve their own issues by utilizing self-service customer support that offers how-to content and additional online self-help resources provides companies with strong customer service approaches an advantage. Regardless of how great a product is or how talented the staff, one of the things that customers are most likely to remember is the direct interaction they have with that company.

Quality customer service experiences are the driving force behind customer retention and customer satisfaction. Maximizing the benefits provided through sound customer service policies ensures that the satisfied consumer will express his/her satisfaction to others and assist the company in continuing to grow their client base through acquisition of customers who are dissatisfied with the level of service they obtain from the organization’s competitors. Tapping into the ability of customer service to maximize this continuous opportunity for revenue is the single most important objective for any company looking to gain a competitive advantage in today’s highly diverse business environment.

Customer service is often at the heart of a business which aims to provide an exceptional service that leaves the customer feeling valued and respected. Although providing an excellent service can involve extra resources, time, and money, when they get it right, it enables a retailer to stand out from their competition, maintain a positive reputation among future customers, and encourage existing customers to again purchase from their business in the future. It is estimated to be about six times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one.

Just as product features and benefits can provide a business with a unique differentiation proposition, so can the delivery of exceptional client support. Businesses must survey their customers on a regular basis to find out if they feel the client support is exceptional or merely satisfactory.

More so than ever in the past, businesses, whether online or brick-and-mortar, must understand why customer service is important to building strong client relationships and growing a business. Businesses need customers to operate their business, and if they have highly satisfied customers, referrals will often result in greater business opportunities. The nature of retail has changed and businesses must constantly evolve along with it.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Jay Samit is the Independent Vice Chairman of Deloitte. An American digital media innovator, he has pioneered advancements in music and video distribution, social media, and ecommerce.

[2] Why Do Customers Return Products?, Augment, https://www.augment.com/blog/customers-return-products-infographic/, 26 July 2016.

Posted in Alvah C. Roebuck, Brick-and-Mortar, Business, Consumers, Customer Support, Employment, Jobs, Online Sales, Retail, Richard W. Sears, Roebuck and Company, Sears, Sears Roebuck and Company, Shopping Malls | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The End Of Cash

It seems to me….

Cash as a physical entity will virtually cease to exist, with coins and checkbooks consigned to museums. As people conduct their financial transactions on hand-held devices made secure by advanced biometrics, even tipping will be done electronically.” ~ James P. Gorman[1].

Humans have used a wide variety of objects representing economic value for exchanges of items: rare metals, strings of shells, and even jugs of whiskey. Over time, those objects have become increasingly ephemeral with paper money replacing most coins and digital forms now supplanting paper.

Both cash and credit cards admittedly offer conveniences. Economists see great benefits in a cashless society: lower transaction costs, new tools to manage economic growth, and an end to tax evasion and money laundering. Critics see an erosion of privacy, frightening new powers for tyrants, and an increase in inequality.

But now, cash probably should be placed on the endangered list[2]. It is anticipated that cash will likely become less popular in the future due to the high cost of using it and the growing array of alternatives – and could possibly eventually disappear. Various innovations are encouraging non-cash transactions across communities worldwide.

There is, in general, a steady march toward an all-digital world with an ever-growing array of tangible forms of communication and culture from printed books and newspapers to handwritten letters to DVDs being relegated to past history. Economies are now on the cusp of arguably the biggest transition yet: abandoning physical cash for a future in which all monetary transactions are digital. As a result of a host of electronic-payment mechanisms, including cards (debit, credit, and contactless), mobile payments, and digital wallets, electronification of money is well underway.

Diners Club and American Express launched their charge cards in the U.S. in 1950 becoming the first “plastic money”. In 1966 BankAmericard, renamed Visa a decade later, went national to become the nation’s first licensed general-purpose credit card. Later in 1966, a group of California banks formed the Interbank Card Association (ITC), which soon issued the U.S.’s second major bank card, MasterCard. Estimates vary widely but U.S. citizens still make about 24 percent of their purchases using cash, about 13.1 percent of its GDP.

The end for physical money has been predicted for nearly 60 years. With the rise of credit cards, contactless payments, and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, it might seem as though physical money could soon be a thing of the past but given our psychological relationship to notes and coins, it’s a bit premature to predict cash’s disappearance. There is simply no alternative system of payment that is as convenient, reliable, and anonymous. Still, cashless payments have overtaken the use of notes and coins in many advanced economies.

Alternatives to credit cards have not captured the share of U.S. markets as in some other areas of the world possibly as a result of the long history of availability and relative card ubiquity. Most merchants accept credit cards and card readers exist in almost all locations. Merchants are understandably reluctant to also support mobile payment systems for which they currently see little demand.

Cash remains an even larger factor in many areas throughout the world. In Mexico, it accounts for 90 percent of consumer transactions. In Singapore, it’s around 40 percent. But in South Korea just 20 percent of consumer transactions involve cash or checks. In Canada the figure is 29 percent. Roughly 37 percent of all commercial transactions in Australia are made using cash. And China’s city dwellers are rapidly going cashless thanks to a system that uses encrypted codes on phones for transactions.

India remains primarily dependent on cash; between 90 percent and 98 percent of transactions are cash-based – but that might rapidly change as a result of new currency revisions. About 255 million people now use Paytm, a seven-year-old startup backed by China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., to make payments through a virtual wallet. A credit-card consortium is working to extend it globally.

In Europe; cash is still a good thing to carry. Many shops and restaurants around Europe either do not accept credit cards or insist on a minimum purchase amount. Switzerland is probably the most extreme example in Europe where cash is still the primary form of payment for small purchases. Non-cash payments represented 69 percent of transactions in France, 86 percent in Belgium, 88 percent in Great Britain, 98 percent in the Netherlands, but only 30 percent in Switzerland.

Russia is also undergoing a cashless boom due to growth in point-of-sale terminals for card payments. The overall share of card payments for spending on goods and services grew to 39 percent in 2017.

Nowhere is the cashless movement further along than in Sweden. In Sweden, some experts predict, cash will no longer be a generally accepted means of payment by 2023, potentially making it the modern world’s first cashless society. Bank note and coin exchanges account for just 1.7 percent of its gross domestic product. After a decade during which the country’s financial sector made a concerted effort to get people to adopt electronic payment methods by doing things such as not keeping cash on hand at most bank branches and refusing to accept cash deposits, only 15 percent of financial transactions are now done with physical money.

With 90 percent of the population owning a smartphone, there also is a meteoric rise in mobile-payment mechanisms. “No cash accepted” signs are becoming an increasingly common sight in restaurants, tourist attractions, and retail outlets in Sweden. Its churches were early adopters of donations via mobile phones. More than 50 percent of Swedish bank branches are now cashless, meaning customers simply cannot make a deposit or withdrawal. According to the Riksbank, Sweden’s central bank which is considering issuing a cryptocurrency, cash transactions made up barely 2 percent of the value of all payments made in Sweden last year – a figure some see dropping to 0.5 percent by 2020.

Concerns about social equity is one motivation for lawmakers to push for cashless alternatives. The poor and those with less access to financial institutions bear a disproportionate share of costs when using cash as it represents a regressive tax on consumers – and the greatest impact is on people who do not have a bank account. Consequently, one of the greatest concerns of elimination of cash is the fate of millions of lower-income people who are both unbanked and disconnected from the wired economy. The biggest indicator of cash dependence isn’t age, as some might expect, but poverty.

Despite its costs and a growing array of alternatives, cash remains quite resilient. Approximately 85 percent of the world’s transactions still involved cash. Transactions can be between anyone, any time, any place, and without any third-party involvement. It provides strong privacy protection: it neither knows nor cares who holds it or when and where a transaction occurred. Additionally, some people have a visceral sense of security when they have cash with them.

Critics fear that in a digital-only economy, governments and banks could take control of someone’s financial life and, with a flick of a switch, leave them without a penny. Additionally, networks can fail and some are understandably concerned about vulnerability to hacking and cyberattacks, power grid failures, and outages in banking networks such as the one that hit Visa’s payment systems in Europe in June 2018.

While figures show that cash is still the most popular form of payment at the point of sale, especially for lower-value items, consumers are increasingly using debit cards, contactless, and other electronic payment options in preference to cash for the greater convenience and security they provide.

Any physical currency requires a vast infrastructure to produce, distribute, and protect it. The U.S. spent almost $900 million in 2018 printing new bills. For banks, transporting money from their vaults to ATMs and branches, sending and storing paper checks, and employing tellers to handle deposits and withdrawals is even more expensive. A recent Morgan Stanley study found that Bank of America spends $5 billion a year processing checks and cash. There is also the inefficiency of the cash transaction itself. The necessary careful counting and pawing through a register for change is slow.

Cryptocurrencies are a form of currency that only exists digitally, that usually do not have any central issuing or regulating authority, uses a decentralized system to record transactions and manage the issuance of new units, and relies on cryptography to prevent counterfeiting and fraudulent transactions.

Many economists believe some form of cryptocurrency will be the currency of the future. With the advent of blockchain technology, mobile money, and similar innovations, it appears we are indeed heading towards a cashless world. The only question is when.

The true power of cryptocurrencies is that for the very first time in the history, there is a way to generate and distribute money without a central power granting people control over money they have earned. The key is how to distribute the money at the moment it is created.

The primary factor hindering acceptance of electronic transactions are deficiencies in cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin is currently the most successful of a number of cryptocurrencies that have appeared in the past few years. It is a digital asset, designed to operate like a conventional currency as a store of wealth and a medium of exchange. It also has serious weaknesses that will prevent it from becoming the predominant form of currency in the future.

Cash will ultimately disappear but that is not about to occur in the near future. Still, there are few corners of the world where electronic transactions are not growing faster than cash. In China, cash money has already disappeared in some metropolitan areas, such as Hangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai where even a beggar can be paid by scanning. One of the first locations where it might happen could be Sweden where most Swedes use bank transfers, cards, and other apps to get paid and make payments. Swedish businesses can refuse to accept cash and Swedish banks charge check-cashing fees to deter people from using paper money.

While cash will very likely disappear in some countries, it will remain in others for quite some time. But if a generally accepted form of cryptocurrency is developed in the near future, it could occur sooner than generally expected.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] James P. Gorman is Chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley. He previously held a succession of executive positions at Merrill Lynch.

[2] Chakravorti, Bhaskar. Cash Is Falling Out of Fashion — Will It Disappear Forever?, The Conversation, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/cash-is-falling-out-of-fashion-will-it-disappear-forever/?WT.mc_id=SA_TECH_20170627, 26 June 2017.

Posted in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., American Express, American Express, Australia, Bank of America, BankAmericard, Banks, Beijing, Belgium, Bitcoin, Blockchain, BofA, Canada, Canada, China, China, Credit Card, Credit Card, Cryptocurrency, Diners Club, France, France, Great Britain, Great Britain, Hangzhou, India, Interbank Card Association, ITC, MasterCard, Mexico, Mexico, Money, Morgan Stanley, Netherlands, Paytm, Riksbank, Russia, Russia, Shanghai, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Swizerland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


It seems to me….

It is the duty of the Chief-Magistrate, in order to enable himself to do all the good which his station requires, to endeavor, by all means, to unite in himself the confidence of the whole people.” ~ Thomas Jefferson[1].

It is only fair to preface these remarks with the admission of not being able to be totally objective in any personal remarks or consideration involving Trump: I consider him to be the only person of whom I am aware totally devoid of any laudable attributes or characteristics. There is essentially nothing of which he has either said or done which I can commend. In the spirit of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, I consider him to be a moron and fail to understand how anyone can support him. With that admission, some might find my recommendation regarding impeachment somewhat surprising.

It should be remembered that Trump actually is a minority President having lost the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes to Hillary Clinton (Clinton had the largest popular vote margin of any losing Presidential candidate in history). He also won only 57 percent of the available votes in the Electoral College placing him in the bottom quarter of Presidents. It later was claimed that he had the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration both in person and around the globe even though the crowd size was substantially less than President Obama’s and, even more embarrassing, less than for the Women’s March on Washington the following day.

For those not totally familiar with the U.S. process of impeachment, it is the method by which a legislative body levels charges against a government official and is limited to those who may have committed “Treason, Bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” [2]. Impeachment in itself does not remove the official from office; it is the equivalent to an indictment in criminal law and therefor only a statement of charges against an official. Once an individual is impeached, they must then face the possibility of conviction on the charges by a legislative vote, which is separate from the impeachment but flows from it. Only a judgment which convicts the official on the articles of impeachment would entail the official’s removal from office. Article One of the U.S. Constitution gives the House of Representatives the sole power of impeachment and the Senate the sole power to try impeachments of officers of the U.S. federal government.

The Federal Election Commission should have disqualified, or at a minimum chastised, then candidate Trump for soliciting Russian assistance during his campaign even prior to the election. He has then repeatedly committed offenses normally sufficient for either reprimand or removal from office. Unlike the impeachment battles involving Andrew Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and Bill Clinton, the current debate involving Trump centers on whether a President can solicit or accept assistance from other nations to advance his personal political fortunes and the separation between national and personal interests.

The only impeachment involving foreign policy came in the case of Republican senator, William Blount, who was accused in 1797 of scheming to transfer parts of Florida and the Louisiana territory to Britain[3]. The House impeached Blount but he fled Washington and the Senate opted to expel him rather than convict him at trial.

The Mueller Report[4], officially titled “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election”, is the official report documenting the findings and conclusions of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, allegations of conspiracy or coordination between Trump’s Presidential campaign and Russia, and allegations of obstruction of justice. It probably constituted the greatest threat so far faced by the Trump administration.

Volume I of the report concluded that the investigation did not find sufficient evidence to positively conclude that the campaign “coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities”. It did state that the high amount of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election was illegal, occurred “in sweeping and systematic fashion”, and was welcomed by the Trump campaign as it expected to benefit from such efforts.

Volume II of the report addressed obstruction of justice but stated its belief that a sitting President cannot be forced to stand trial. The report clearly stated that though it was unable to exonerate him, that investigators were therefore prevented from reaching any official recommendation. The report further stated that Congress should subsequently decide whether Trump obstructed justice and accordingly take appropriate action regarding impeachment. This has not progressed as Trump has used a “protective assertion” of executive privilege effectively blocking subpoenas by the House of Representative.

Now there is a new charge stating that Trump, and other members of his team including Attorney General Barr, crossed Constitutional ethical limits by pursuing a debunked conspiracy theory supposedly perpetrated during the 2016 election to investigate Trump’s rivals in the upcoming election.

It was disclosed by a complaint filed under the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act that Trump asked the President of the Ukraine in a phone call to investigate his political rival at the same time the U.S. was withholding military aid. This was a months-long coordinated campaign involving the President’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and high-ranking U.S. diplomatic officials according to text messages between U.S. officials selectively released by Democrats. Officials discussed withholding a Washington meeting with Trump until President Zelenskiy of Ukraine made a public commitment to investigate.

Weeks before the whistleblower’s complaint became public, the CIA’s top lawyer made what she considered to be a criminal referral to the Justice Department about the allegations that Trump abused his office in pressuring the Ukrainian President. The move by the CIA’s general counsel, a Trump appointee, meant she and other senior officials had concluded a potential crime had been committed, raising more questions about why the Justice Department later declined to open an investigation.

Now, Trump’s efforts to publicly identify his accusers in clear violation of the Whistleblower statute should in itself provide sufficient justification for impeachment.

Aside from any and all legal justifications for removing Trump from an office for which he is morally, ethically, and temperamentally unsuited, anyone holding our highest office should set a personal example of moral behavior. Honesty and truthfulness are two of the most vital personal characteristics we possess – characteristics of which he is totally devoid. None of us are equal to one another. Some are more wealthy, intelligent, attractive, athletic, taller, thinner…. Regardless, we still are judged on our fundamental attributes. As an Air Force aviation cadet, I fully bought-into the honor code and have attempted to always live by those ideals: “We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does”. It also is that code by which I measure our elected representatives.

Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly agree (91 percent) that political leaders should be honest and ethical though there are partisan differences over whether several other qualities – such as maintaining a tone of civility and respect and working well under pressure – are essential for political leadership[5]. 96 percent of Democrats disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job as President while 80 percent of Republicans approve. 94 percent of Democrats say they trust what Trump says less than what prior Presidents have said, while 58 percent of Republicans say they trust what Trump says more than what prior Presidents have said. Nine-in-ten Democrats say the ethical standards of top Trump administration officials are poor or not good, while around three-quarters of Republicans (76 percent) say the administration’s ethical standards are excellent or good.

Trump lies every time he speaks or tweets (and claiming other politicians do the same is not an acceptable excuse). Fact Checker’s database analyzes, categorizes, and tracks every suspect statement uttered by Trump[6] confirming his penchant for prevaricating, evading, sidestepping, fabricating, inventing, dissembling, misrepresenting, distorting, warping, embellishing, embroidering, exaggerating, inflating, misleading, or deceiving. By last year, 1 August 2018, on his 558 day in office, he had made 4,229 Trumpian claims – an increase of 978 in just the previous two months. That’s an overall average of nearly 7.6 mendacities a day which has shown no indication of decreasing. No other President has been so distrustful. Authoritative lying debases the truth.

A President who spreads outright lies on Twitter nearly every day, a swath of GOP yes-men who live in fear of crossing Trump’s voter base, a devious Russian President who has used his KGB-honed wiles to shake the foundation of election systems in several countries including the U.S.: we live in a world where falsehood and misrepresentation have regrettably become the strange new norm. The postmodernist argument that all truths are partial (and a function of one’s perspective) leads to the related argument that there are many legitimate ways to understand or represent an event. Supposed “alternate facts”, however, remain just lies regardless of what they might be called.

Trump endorses his base’s contempt for Washington by treating opponents as fools or, if they dare stand on honor or principle, as lying hypocrites. Cynicism drags democracy down, parties fracture and head for the extremes, and populists persuade voters that the system is serving them ill and undermine it further.

It is time for all politicians to cease fearing Trump and no longer rationalize his irresponsible behaviors and that in today’s constantly shrinking flat world he poses a threat to everyone on the planet. Personal moral rectitude must be more meaningful than criticism or reelection.

One through-line of the Trump Presidency has been his attempt to dissociate himself from the numerous people around him who have been linked to a controversy or alleged crime. The English proverb “Birds of a feather flock together” seems totally appropriate considering Trumps considerably checkered past. Personally, being from Atlantic City, NJ, and knowing about Trump since 1990, everyone knew he was corrupt and if not Mafia himself, was then at least an organized crime associate. Many of his business associates and dealings have confirmed this including his admissions to the New York Grand Jury or reports by the New Jersey State Gaming Commission. He has essentially made a career of successfully avoiding prosecution for criminal associations and allegations of criminal involvement.

Trump has led a consequence-free life despite enormously self-destructive behaviors over time. He is an egotistical misogynist totally devoid of ethics or morals apparently believing sex is something women owe men; his divorces were marriages he wanted out of. His numerous bankruptcies mostly impacted his lenders, not him. Regardless, all of his malodorous behavior ended with him winning the Presidency in 2016. And the Mueller obstruction inquiry ended with no definitive answer as a result of his obstruction.

Trump has insulted our allies and friends while lending support to Russia and other autocratic rulers. In spite of overwhelming evidence, he continues to question whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election and constantly attempts to end any investigation into that interference. He denigrates U.S. intelligence agencies which are led by Republicans HE appointed. Having worked with people in those agencies, I can personally vouch for their dedication and integrity.

Trump constantly demeans what he calls the “fake media”. Freedom of the press in the U.S. is legally protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment is generally understood to prevent the government from interfering with the distribution of information and opinions. Simply because someone disagrees with some aspect of the media does not imply that the coverage is in error; it frequently is only a difference in perspective.

Trump’s supporters on Capitol Hill mostly just need something to say, something to throw back in the faces of Trump’s accusers. He’s producing that narrative for them.

Trump is seemingly intent on destroying all that our country has always stood for. While Trump might not be the devil personified, his behavior typifies what possibly might be expected of either a Manchurian Candidate or an Aaron Burr.

Trump supporters constantly extol all of the good he supposedly is doing – most of us have not seen it. The most critical threat the world faces is the exponentially increasing effects of anthropomorphic induced climate change and he has withdrawn from the Paris Accord, cancelled clean air initiatives, and encouraged dependence on carbon fuels. And then in spite of overwhelming evidence, denies the reality of global warming. Trump, in addition to outright lies, boast of his many supposed accomplishments since coming into office which primarily only consist of exaggeration and self-aggrandizement.

Republicans haven’t any choice other than to rally around Trump this late in the coming Presidential election cycle regardless of how repugnant they might consider him. They haven’t any other option as no knight is available to charge in and save the day. Censure might have a possibility of being approved in the Republican-controlled Senate, conviction does not.

Congressional Republicans have similarly rallied around populist demagogues in the past. Though they knew then Senator Joseph McCarthy was corrupting the political system for his own personal gain, they feared his attacks and withheld their condemnation. We once again have a similarly corrupting politician, this time as President, threatening the very basis of our democratic system of government. It is time for all politicians to take a stand and denounce what is a spreading cancer in our society.

I felt there was sufficient justification for impeachment at the conclusion of Trump’s inauguration speech and even more so in the days immediately following but today, at the beginning of the election cycle, favor censure rather than impeachment which most Republican Senators would find more politically acceptable. Now, with elections once again approaching, it seems far preferable for him to be removed by a consensus of the voters.

The current impeachment hearings are only the latest piece in the ongoing mosaic of incompetence and corruption Trump believes is justifiable simply because he believes laws do not apply to him. He apparently believes that the U.S. justice system is his personal system that he is able to use for his political benefit. While he would much prefer to be Emperor rather than merely President, this is the democratic republic of the United States of America where such flagrant abuses of the Constitution are supposedly not tolerated.

Trump has willfully and intentionally flouted laws and mores. There is nothing about him worthy of respect. He has eroded the rules-based International Order, the basic foundation of the international rule of law, which has prevailed since the end of the Second World War enabling nations to prosper basically in peace.

While I continue to prefer approval by both houses of Congress of a motion to censure for his obvious ethics violation, if impeachment is pursued, it should over the broader issue of contempt of the Constitution of the United States of America, his defiance of a Congressional subpoena to release his personal tax returns, and both his personal refusal and his direction to other White House staff to not cooperate with an investigation clearly delineated as being a responsibility assigned to Congress.

Trump’s trademark truculent imperiousness inevitably casts him as an unreasoning extremist. He is an egotist, a chameleon willing to change his beliefs to whatever he believes is most beneficial to him at the time. Words do matter. As leader of the most powerful nation on the planet, his voice carries the most weight. He has the choice of using that voice for good – or for bad. So far he has chosen wrongly.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Thomas Jefferson was a U.S. statesman, diplomat, architect, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and Founding Father who served as the 3rd U.S. President from 1801 to 1809.

[2] Impeachment, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impeachment, 4 October 2019.

[3] Blount Expulsion, United States Senate, https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/expulsion_cases/Blount_expulsion.htm.

[4] Mueller Report, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mueller_Report, 3 October 2019.

[5] Gramlich, John. Partisans Agree Political Leaders Should Be Honest And Ethical, Disagree Whether Trump Fits The Bill, Pew Research Center, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/30/partisans-agree-political-leaders-should-be-honest-and-ethical-disagree-whether-trump-fits-the-bill/?utm_source=Pew+Research+Center&utm_campaign=d394e26fb8-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_01_31_06_48&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3e953b9b70-d394e26fb8-400092341, 30 January, 2019.

[6] Kessler, Glen, Salvador Rizzo, and Meg Kelly. President Trump Has Made 4,229 False Or Misleading Claims In 558 days, Fact Checker, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2018/08/01/president-trump-has-made-4229-false-or-misleading-claims-in-558-days/?utm_campaign=politics&utm_content=20180908&utm_medium=email&utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_term=.5073a21ed960, 1 August 2018.

Posted in Andrew Johnson, Attorney General, Bill Clinton, Clinton, Clinton, Congress, Constitution, Credibility, Election Interference, Elections, Electoral College, Hillary Clinton, House of Representatives, Impeach, Impeachment, Joseph McCarthy, Mueller, Nixon, Obama, Obama, Politics, President Zelenskiy, Rudy Giuliani, Russia, Senate, Trump, Ukraine, William Blount, William P. Barr | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Admit Migrants; Deport Conservatives

It seems to me….

As legal residents, immigrants would contribute more in taxes, spend more at our businesses, start companies of their own and create more jobs. Immigration is not a problem for us to solve but an opportunity for America to seize.” ~ Jose Andres[1].

The Republican Party has increasingly embraced those with antipathy for our democracy and those values that have sustained us from the time of our nation’s founding. As it has raced over the extremist precipice, radicals have claimed it as home: the Tea Party, Libertarians, Christian fundamentalists, Neo-Fascists, the Alt Right, white supremacists, citizen militias…. It now embraces the science deniers and others rejecting proven or well-established facts. Frequently it now is the migrant who more typifies and represents the values and aspirations associated with alleged U.S. exceptionalism.

The most common impression of a terrorist since 9/11 has been a Moslem jihadist. It now is apparent that is wrong: since 9/11 conservative white supremacists and other far-right extremists have been responsible for about three times as many attacks in the U.S. as other terrorists.

Rightwing terrorism is a problem throughout the world but especially so here in the U.S. due to the massive number of civilian-owned firearms, a tradition of free speech protecting even despicable ideologies, and laws preventing confrontation with disaggregate cyberspace movements by law enforcement agencies. Conservative extremists have been responsible for 73 percent of domestic mass shooting attacks[2].

While the FBI has repeatedly warned about the increasing domestic terrorist threat, offices intended to coordinate inter-agency response have not been receptively received by the current White House administration and consequently defunded even though eco-terrorists have been considered a top risk for years. Trump’s rhetoric and actions mirrors, validates, and even inspires the far-right[3] not only through his words but by having gutted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) office on violent extremism through budget reductions.

Conservatives now oppose everything that might seem new, different, or suggested by Democrats – they have diligently earned their reputation as the party of “NO!”. To once again become advocates of national advancement, conservatives would need to abandon their blind devotion to laissez-faire economics and prioritize pragmatic productivity policies. To be totally fair, many Democrats have also largely given up on productivity growth seeing it primarily as something that only helps the top 1.0 percent.

Throughout U.S. history, many U.S. citizens have felt threatened by the arrival of new cultures with those most recently arrived being a target of racism, marginalization, and violence. They – the Irish, Italians, Poles, Czechs… – have all eventually been fully accepted and integrated.  Discrimination toward the newly arrived is never warranted.

In fact, it is immigration that now fuels our economy having driven two-thirds of U.S. economic growth since 2011. When immigrants enter the labor force, they increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise the GDP. Their incomes rise, but so do those of native Americans. It’s a phenomenon dubbed the “immigration surplus”, and while a smaller share of additional GDP accrues to natives, typically 0.2 to 0.4 percent, it still amounts to $36 to $72 billion per year.

Conservatives fail to understand why more is not done to deport undocumented immigrants. Perhaps the single most important reason is that immigration is highly profitable for both employers and the U.S. government. One reason there are so many undocumented immigrants is that it’s so difficult to obtain authorization to immigrate; there are 4 million people on immigration waiting lists. They even are required to wait unacceptable lengths at border crossings just to request asylum necessitating illegal entry. Almost 150 million more would leave their country of origin and move to the U.S. if able.

The U.S. has succeeded, and achieved its present position of global dominance, because it has always been good at importing the talent it needs[4]. For every tech worker admitted, five U.S. jobs are created. Immigrants or their children founded 43 percent of the 2017 Fortune 500 companies which employed more than 12 million people worldwide in 2016. Today they employ half a million Americans.

Those who have found shelter in the U.S. have made immeasurable contributions to all aspects of U.S. society, providing labor and economic energy, spurring innovation, adding to the nation’s cultural diversity and culinary flavors, and making significant accomplishments in the arts, literature, and science. The rise in high-skilled immigration, a pronounced trend since the 1990s, has been linked to innovation, specifically to higher patenting rates among immigrants. Greater innovation among immigrants appears to also boost it among natives.

The strength of the U.S. higher education system attracts many of the world’s most promising students, particularly for graduate school. In 2013, 39 percent of all U.S. PhDs in STEM fields were awarded to international students.

In 2016, all six American Nobel Prize laureates in economics and sciences were immigrants; immigrants are heavily overrepresented in U.S. Nobel laureates in chemistry, medicine, and physics receiving 40 percent of U.S. Nobel prizes (31 of 78 prizes) while making up only 13.5 percent of the population[5] of those affiliated with U.S. universities.

There are significant spillover effects into the private sector. One of four U.S. tech companies established from 1995 to 2005 had an immigrant founder, CEO, president, or chief technology officer. Of the 25 biggest public Fortune 500 companies valued at over $1 billion, 60 percent were founded by immigrants or their children including U.S. icons such as Apple (Steve Jobs, son of a Syrian immigrant), Budweiser (Adolphus Busch came from Germany), Google (Sergey Brin came from Russia at the age of 6), and McDonald’s (Richard and Maurice McDonald were from Ireland). A recent National Foundation for American Policy study found they start a quarter of all new businesses that, on average, created 760 new jobs.

Although immigrants help the economy overall, the benefit is largely in certain industries. Immigrants with advanced degrees gravitate toward scientific and technical jobs that do not require high personal communication skills. Innovation is key to retaining our stature as a leading nation and immigrants innovate more than natives partly resulting from being heavily concentrated in STEM occupations where there is considerable R&D and entrepreneurial activity. By one analysis about 71 percent of Silicon Valley tech workers are immigrants including 42 percent of computer software developers.

Immigrants, in general, have less education than the average American and less likely to have graduated from high school than people born in the U.S. but that’s improving – incongruously, they also are much more likely to be college graduates[6]. 50 percent of immigrants 25 and older have completed high school compared to 81 percent of native-born adults. Almost half (47 percent) of immigrants ages 25 and older who arrived in the U.S. during the past five years have a college degree compared to only 31.6 percent of native-born counterparts.

Immigrant workers are overrepresented among college professors, engineers, mathematicians, nurses, dentists, and in other professional fields. 45 percent of medical scientists are foreign born. A number of influential social scientists in the U.S. also were refugees from conflicts in Europe and elsewhere.

Healthcare is another industry that could be seriously affected by restrictive immigration policies: the American Medical Association (AMA) estimates that 25 percent of physicians practicing in the U.S. were born in another country. Many foreign-born physicians accept jobs where there are insufficient U.S.-born doctors willing to practice, either in primary care or general practice, especially in rural and underserved areas of the country.

Critics have claimed that immigrants take jobs from native-born workers, lower wages, and drain too much tax money because of social services. For the most part, however, the jobs immigrants take are those most citizens refuse to take; they also are more willing to frequently relocate for seasonal labor. As immigrants typically have either very little or considerably more education than those native born, there usually is very little competition for low-end or entry-level jobs as U.S.-born who typically having more education act in supervisory positions. As a result of more restrictive immigration, produce and other agricultural items are allowed to decay in fields due to a lack of seasonal farm workers for those jobs where U.S. workers are unavailable.

As the number of elderly increases, the ratio of retired people to workers is expected to dramatically increase in the coming decades that will result in significant changes to the Security System (i.e., benefits). The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of a population is the average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime. A TFR of 2.08 is considered the “replacement level” in the U.S. necessary to prevent population decline: it currently is only 1.72. The only viable alternative to remedying this is for the U.S. to welcome more immigrants, particularly younger immigrants, so that in the coming decades, they and their descendants will contribute to the tax base. Immigrants, with their children and younger relatives, result in a younger workforce that can slow or even reverse increases of this very important ratio.

Almost all economists agree that immigration raises GDP and stimulates business development by increasing the supply of workers and entrepreneurs. There is some disagreement about the net fiscal impact of first-generation migrants as they tend to be less educated and earn lower wages than the native population, therefore tending to contribute less in taxes. While this is disputed, there is no doubt about the contribution that immigrant families make over the longer term.

Educated or professional immigrants are in high demand and there never can be sufficient available to meet current needs. Present U.S. immigration policies seem directly intended to force prospective employers to offshore various aspects of their operations. It is estimated that there were an estimated 3 million more STEM jobs than qualified workers available to fill them and that number will increase by 13 percent between 2017 and 2027[7]. There are approximates 20,000 unfilled available position for computer science graduates but U.S. colleges and universities only graduate a total of about 5,000 a year. By restricting qualified non-U.S. graduates from accepting employment following completion of their studies, employers are forced to offshore well-paying development.

Innovation is key to maintaining our position of world leadership. Any non-citizen receiving an advanced degree from a U.S. university should automatically receive a Green Card stapled to their degree certificate.

Immigrants also make use of fewer financial assistance program benefits than citizens. Almost half or 3.4 million pay Social Security payroll taxes (FICA) even though they are not eligible for Social Security benefits upon retirement. Around $2 billion a year in Medicaid funding goes to hospitals who must care for anyone who shows up at the emergency room. About 15.5 percent of undocumented immigrants benefit from Medicaid which is fairly similar to the 16.1 percent of native-born Americans who use the program. Only 9.1 percent of undocumented immigrants use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (previously called food stamps) compared to 11.6 percent of native-born.

Conservatives oppose all progress; their primary mantra is “cut taxes” limiting functionality or improvement while advocating military action against anyone disagreeing with us. Perhaps the major reason for admitting migrants and deporting conservatives is that migrants are much more open to new ideas. Psychologists use the concept of rigidity to characterize people. Personal rigidity, a characteristic of many conservatives, is where someone tends to believe there is only one acceptable approach to a problem. If conservatives continue to oppose all meaningful reform, the best policy would be to deport them and replace them with immigrants.

It is important that our country be considered not only as it is today but, even more importantly, what its potential is for it to become tomorrow. Conservatives tend to primarily only consider the past neglecting all of its imperfections. Yes, admittedly much still needs to be improved but that never can happen by attempting to turn back the clock or to freeze everything as it is today. Not all progress is beneficial – some is totally innocuous and some long-range effects must be considered with a jaundiced prospective. But it is unacceptable to simply bar the gates to progress as many conservatives advocate.

It should be obvious that it is the conservatives who represent an existential threat to our country and it is migrants who should be welcomed. But if conservatives were deported, who would take them? Given their obvious animosity toward our country, seemingly total opposition to change or improvement, and extreme conservative beliefs, the area where they possibly would be most compatible would be the Middle East with whom they would share many similar values.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] José Ramón Andrés Puerta is a Spanish-American chef who owns numerous restaurants around the U.S. He also is the founder of World Central Kitchen, a non-profit devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters.

[2] Gun Violence and Mass Shootings, ADL, https://www.adl.org/education/resources/tools-and-strategies/table-talk/gun-violence-mass-shootings, August 2019.

[3] Bergengruen, Vera, and W.J. Hennigan. What Does A Terrorist Look Like, Time, https://time.com/magazine/us/5647302/august-19th-2019-vol-194-no-6-u-s/, 19 August 2019, pp22-27.

[4] Mehta, Suketu. We Do Not Come To America Empty-Handed, Time, http://time.com/5594365/america-immigration-future-economic-growth/, 23 May 2019, pp38-39.

[5] Census American Community Survey.

[6] Weissmann, Jordan. Cool Fact: Immigrants Are Way More Likely To Have A College Degree Than People Born In The U.S., Slate, https://slate.com/business/2015/09/how-educated-are-immigrants-they-re-way-more-likely-to-have-a-college-degree-than-people-born-in-america.html, 29 September 2015.

[7] Randstad North America estimate.

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