WHY IS AMERICA SO OPPOSED TO UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE? by Chris Gay

May 25, 2017 (Occupy.com)  THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

Americans like to indulge the notion that we are exceptional, a conceit that understandably sends non-Americans up the wall. But we are indisputably exceptional in a way that must baffle the rest of the developed world: our failure – or refusal – to implement universal health care.

Even Hong Kong, often and erroneously portrayed as a laboratory experiment in hands-off government, has what amounts to universal health care. The U.S. has never had anything like universal coverage, yet even “Obamacare” – a piecemeal measure that narrows but does not close the uninsured gap – is often vilified as a kind of Bolshevik plot to collectivize medicine.

How is it that such an advanced society is so averse to an idea that’s elemental in most of the developed world? The answer has to do with the individualist and anti-intellectual political culture that Donald Trump has ridden into the White House, and with the political power of a health care industry heavily armed to protect its own interests.

Of course, that’s not the narrative you’ll hear from the sort of people who despise not just Obamacare but the whole notion of a social safety net. They explain our gap-ridden health care by way of a healthy cultural aversion to big government. It’s an interesting storyline, but it doesn’t quite square with national programs like Social Security (an 82-year-old system comparable to Hong Kong’s Mandatory Provident Fund), Medicare (universal “single-payer” health insurance for people over 65) or Medicaid (government health insurance for the poor). Or with the fact that three-fifths of Americans would prefer a universal system.

If, by cultural aversion, conservatives mean cognitive dissonance, they may be on to something. The Tea Party – a populist antecedent to Trumpism – held feverish rallies in the early Obama years where inevitably some faux live-free-or-die insurgent in a tricorn hat would hold up a placard reading, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare”.

Even today, people who are sure they hate Obamacare – essentially a system of government-sponsored exchanges where people buy private insurance – aren’t quite sure what it is. A recent survey by the polling firm Morning Consult found that 80 per cent of Republican voters strongly disapproved of “Obamacare”, while only 60 per cent strongly disapproved of the “Affordable Care Act”. The punchline: They’re one and the same. The very name “Obamacare” helps explain the confusion. It’s a term of derision ginned up by the Great Right Wing Noise Machine that tends to dominate the national conversation.

That gets us to the second problem with the cultural-aversion theory of freedom from health care: it casually omits a long history of scare tactics deployed by corporate propagandists at the mere thought of treating health care as a public good, not just a private privilege. As described by The New Yorker’s Jill Lepore in 2012, an early landmark in the annals of bought-and-paid disinformation was the 1945 defeat of a California proposal for compulsory health insurance. The propaganda provider was Campaigns, Inc – the world’s first “political consulting firm”, wrote Lepore – and the client was the California Medical Association.

By the 1990s, the art of bamboozling folks into mortal terror of accessible health care was a highly refined art. The height of the genre was surely Harry and Louise, a fictional couple despairing at the kitchen table over the Clinton proposal in a series of TV ads sponsored by the Health Insurance Association of America.

Most of the developed world no longer debates the soundness of universal health care for the same reason it doesn’t debate the roundness of the Earth. In America, though, the flat-earthers are still on the scoreboard because they figured out long ago that public opinion is a gullible beast, swayed not by the strongest argument but by the loudest noise machine, and we all know who owns that.

Originally published by South China Morning Post

healthcare, universal healthcare, single payer, Obamacare, repeal and replace, healthcare opposition, insurance industry, pharmaceutical industry, Health Insurance Association of America

Occupation update from Mike Zint

May 24, 2017

A few months ago, BPD raided, and took a senior, Barbara Brust, to the ground. Barbara has bad knees. At the time of the raid, she had limited mobility. After the raid, she had lost most of that.

She went in for surgery a couple of days ago. Knee replacement surgery, and months of rehabilitation are the price she is paying for taking a stand for those less fortunate.

Send positive, healing energy her way.

“Will Occupy Silicon Valley be the sequel to Occupy Wall Street?” by Kathleen Pender

Police officers move in to clear protesters away from a Google bus at 18th and Dolores streets in San Francisco on April 11, 2014. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle.  Police officers move in to clear protesters away from a Google bus at 18th and Dolores streets in San Francisco on April 11, 2014.

May 22, 2017 (sfchroncle.com)

Could the run-up in tech stocks and the wealth it’s creating spark a backlash against the industry, similar to the one against banks?

In a new report, “Occupy Silicon Valley,” Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, says it could.

By certain measures, tech stocks “look pretty spicily valued,” Harnett said in an interview. He noted that the market values of tech giants already surpass the gross domestic product of some major U.S. cities. “Google is bigger than Chicago, Amazon is bigger than Washington,” he wrote.

He added that Google and Apple combined are worth more than the combined market value of Japanese and eurozone financial companies. The Nasdaq Internet Index, which he calls the “belly of the beast,” is up 25.6 percent this year versus about 7 percent for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index.

If this continues, “it could ultimately lead to populist calls for redistribution of the increasingly concentrated wealth of Silicon Valley as the gap between tech capital and human capital grows ever wider,” he wrote.

In the Bay Area, where tech stocks are currency, there are already signs of this happening — though not as many as you might expect. The Google-bus blockades, which were more about economic dislocation than corporate shuttles using public bus stops for free, have largely died down.

Protests against Uber’s plans for huge offices in Oakland receded after the company scaled back and activists turned their attention to the company’s employment policies, use of customer data and its CEO’s ties to President Trump.

One trend that shows no signs of slowing is the spread of rent control throughout the Bay Area. It reflects growing tensions between people in the technology world who can afford to pay sky-high rents and those who cannot. Voters in Mountain View (Google’s headquarters) and Richmond approved rent- and eviction-control measures in November. Santa Rosa will vote on them in June. San Jose’s City Council voted last month to implement eviction controls, and Pacifica’s council approved a temporary rent- and eviction-control ordinance that will take effect Wednesday.

“Investors are still pretty positive on technology,” Hartnett said.

If this continues, and Hartnett thinks it will, it could produce “policy responses” in the form of higher interest rates and a search for ways to redistribute tech wealth. “When the government is short of revenue, they will look at places that have a lot of revenue. We know where a lot of that is right now.”

For now, Hartnett is recommending that investors pursue a “barbell” approach. On one end, they should buy tech stocks because they are likely to continue going up. At the other end, they should invest in stocks that likely would go up if those policy responses ended the tech frenzy. That would be out-of-favor sectors such as gold, natural resources and banks.

Kathleen Pender is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Email: kpender@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @kathpender

SOLZHENITSYN ON THE LINE BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart.”

–Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (December 11, 1918 – August 3, 2008) was a Russian novelist, historian, and short story writer. He was an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and communism and helped to raise global awareness of its Gulag forced labor camp system. Wikipedia

Occupation update from Mike Zint

So, the question is, whose jurisdiction are we in? Bart, BPD, caltrans, or highway patrol?

If it not caltrans or highway patrol, why the hell is a highway patrol officer insinuating they may raid?

A raid by any law enforcement agency restarts the tour. And to say human waste the day after we announce the fundraiser to purchase a camp porta potty stinks more than the shit we are trying to responsibly deal with.

Solutions through community! (from Mike Zint)

FeedThePeople and #TheVillage have received a generous anonymous donation of a bus that has been remodeled with several private hot showers. We will be providing daily hot portable shower service to Oakland’s unhoused residents in less than a month through out The Town!

Just like #FeedThePeople and #TheVillage, this service is fully staffed by volunteers and operated thru the loving kindness and generosity of folks like yourself.

We are raising money to pay for getting the bus painted with our messages (#HomelessnessIsNotACrime #ShowerThePeopleWithLove#HomesForAll #FeedThePeople #TheVIllage), to pay for gasoline to keep the bus moving, to pay for wear and tear maintainance and repairsof both the bus and the showers, to pay for shampoo/conditioner/soap, to pay for cleaning supplies.

Please dig deep and contribute what you can, if you can. And please share this link with your freinds and family. Together, we can provide The Town’s most vulnerable residents hit hardest by gentifcation, the housing crisis and the homeless state of emergency with a respecful and dignified service.
Help spread the word!

https://www.gofundme.com/shower-the-people-with-love

Shower The People With Love (from JP Massar)

FeedThePeople and #TheVillage have received a generous anonymous donation of a bus that has been remodeled with several private hot showers. We will be providing daily hot portable shower service to Oakland’s unhoused residents in less than a month through out The Town!

Just like #FeedThePeople and #TheVillage, this service is fully staffed by volunteers and operated thru the loving kindness and generosity of folks like yourself.

We are raising money to pay for getting the bus painted with our messages (#HomelessnessIsNotACrime #ShowerThePeopleWithLove #HomesForAll #FeedThePeople #TheVIllage), to pay for gasoline to keep the bus moving, to pay for wear and tear maintainance and repairsof both the bus and the showers, to pay for shampoo/conditioner/soap, to pay for cleaning supplies.

Please dig deep and contribute what you can, if you can. And please share this link with your freinds and family. Together, we can provide The Town’s most vulnerable residents hit hardest by gentifcation, the housing crisis and the homeless state of emergency with a respecful and dignified service.
Help spread the word!

https://www.gofundme.com/shower-the-people-with-love

“American Fascism, in 1944 and Today” by Henry Scott Wallace (occupy.com)

May 17, 2017

Seventy-three years ago, The New York Times asked the sitting vice president to write an article about whether there are fascists in America, and what they’re up to.

It was an alarming question. And the vice president took it quite seriously. His article, “The Danger of American Fascism,”described a breed of super-nationalist who pursues political power by deceiving Americans and playing to their fears, but is really interested only in protecting his own wealth and privilege.

That vice president was my grandfather, Henry A. Wallace. And in my view, he predicted President Trump.

To be clear, I don’t think the precise term “fascism” — as in Mussolini and Hitler — is fairly applied to Mr. Trump. Mussolini was a proponent of “corporatism,” defined by some as “a merger of state and corporate power.” And through that lens, using that term, my grandfather’s warning looks prescient.

Henry A. Wallace, American fascism, Donald Trump, corporatism, fascist state, Trump lies, Trump demagoguery

My grandfather warned about hucksters spouting populist themes but manipulating people and institutions to achieve the opposite. They pretend to be on the side of ordinary working people — “paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare,” he wrote. But at the same time, they “distrust democracy because it stands for equal opportunity.”

They invariably put “money and power ahead of human beings,” he continued. “They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest.” They also “claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution.”

They bloviate about putting America first, but it’s just a cover. “They use isolationism as a slogan to conceal their own selfish imperialism.”

They need scapegoats and harbor “an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations.”

The 19th century saw the political rise of wealthy Prussian nobility, called Junkers, who were driven by “hatred for other races” and “allegiance to a military clique,” with a goal to place their “culture and race astride the world.”

My grandfather acknowledged the great difference between American fascists and other countries’ murderous authoritarians. The American breed doesn’t need violence. Lying to the people is so much easier.

Henry A. Wallace, American fascism, Donald Trump, corporatism, fascist state, Trump lies, Trump demagoguery

They “poison the channels of public information,” he wrote. Their “problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public” into giving them more money or power.

In fact, they use lies strategically, to promote civic division, which then justifies authoritarian crackdowns. Through “deliberate perversion of truth and fact,” he said, “their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity.”

Thus might lying about unprecedented high crime rates legitimize a police state. Lying about immigrants being rapists and terrorists might justify a huge border wall, mass expulsions and religion-based immigration bans. Lying about millions of illegal votes might excuse suppression of voting by disfavored groups.

Here’s one of my favorites: Autocrats “give currency to snide suspicions without foundation in fact.” That sounds like birtherism. There are other examples. “Largest” inaugural crowd ever. “I won the popular vote” and “Obama had my ‘wires tapped.’ ” Climate change is “nonexistent” and “mythical.” “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax” and the F.B.I.’s investigation into it — now jeopardized by the firing of the F.B.I. director, James Comey, last week — was a “taxpayer funded charade.”

And what is the ultimate goal? “Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”

That sounds like Mussolini and his embrace of “corporatism” — the marriage of government and corporate power. And it also sounds like President Trump.

The antidote? For my grandfather, it lay in that phrase the “common man.” In 1942, he famously rebutted conservatives calling for an “American Century” after the war — America, the greatest country on earth, dominating the world.

Henry A. Wallace, American fascism, Donald Trump, corporatism, fascist state, Trump lies, Trump demagoguery

Nonsense, my grandfather said in that speech: We Americans “are no more a master race than the Nazis.” He called for a “century of the common man” — ordinary people, standing up and fighting for their rights, with decent jobs, organized (into unions), demanding accountable government committed to the “general welfare” rather than the privilege of the few, and decent schools for their kids (teaching “truths of the real world”). Democracy, he said in his 1944 essay, must “put human beings first and dollars second.”

If there’s any comfort in his essay 73 years ago, it is that this struggle is not new. It wasn’t even new then. The main question today is how our democracy and our brash new generation of citizen activists deals with it.

Originally published by The New York Times

Henry A. Wallace, American fascism, Donald Trump, corporatism, fascist state, Trump lies, Trump demagoguery

Amid Divestment Protests, More Cities Explore Public Banks (billmoyers.com)

Wells Fargo bank sign (Photo by Mike Mozart | Flickr CC 2.0)

This story was originally published on NextCity.org, which publishes daily news and analysis on cities.

May 15, 2017

Philadelphia City Council Member Cindy Bass was already thinking about how to cut the city’s ties with Wells Fargo when bank CEO John Stumpf testified last September before the US Senate. Questioning Stumpf about the bank’s fraudulent accounts scandal, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said, “So you haven’t resigned, you haven’t returned a single nickel of your personal earnings, you haven’t fired a single senior executive. Instead, your definition of accountable is to push the blame to your low-level employees who don’t have the money for a fancy PR firm to defend themselves.”

Search the US Department of Justice website for “Wells Fargo” and “settlement” and you’ll get a litany of results: a $25 billion settlement for foreclosure abuse (a record), $1.2 billion for improper mortgage lending practices, and $184.3 million in compensation for steering black and Latino borrowers into predatory subprime mortgages. The 2016 hearing was the moment when the wheels fell off the stagecoach.

Stumpf finally stepped down, about a month later, but he never returned a nickel of his pay. In fact, he left with a $133.1 million severance package.

“Their lackluster responses, it was so outrageous, they just didn’t get it,” says Bass. “As a city, how could we be in bed with this company? As the City of Brotherly Love, we stand for more, we should have an expectation for more.”

On Sept. 29, 2016, Bass co-introduced, and city council unanimously passed, a resolution directing the council’s finance committee to hold hearings on the impact of the Wells Fargo scandal and the feasibility of removing the bank as a city depository.

Earlier this month, Philadelphia took another step toward that goal, authorizing a new bank for the city’s payroll services effective July 1. The city’s $1.6 billion payroll includes roughly 29,800 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees, around 3,700 of whom choose to receive their pay by check. Those checks and pay stubs will no longer say Wells Fargo.

Despite the momentousness of the occasion — CNBC characterized it as serving Wells Fargo its “walking papers”— it was a surprisingly quiet vote, with little fanfare or any more than the usual audience, according to Bass. “We did not get our advocacy community rallied up for this particular vote,” she says. They’re saving that moment for when the city pulls all of its deposits out of Wells Fargo.

“This work will continue,” adds Bass.

Part of that work includes exploring the possibility of setting up a public bank for the city of Philadelphia, which could take over payroll functions and city deposits permanently, among other functions. At-large Council Member Derek Green initiated that exploration by passing a resolution in January 2016 authorizing the council’s Committee on Commerce and Economic Development to hold hearings regarding public banking. The first hearing took place in February 2016.

The universe seems to have conspired to put the right person at the right time in the right elected office. Green spent several years in banking in Philadelphia and then, while working for former City Council Member Marian Tasco, drafted one of the first municipal anti-predatory lending laws in the US. With deep experience in both banking and government, Green was mulling over a public bank even before he was sworn in last January alongside new Mayor Jim Kenney. The public banking resolution was his first solo act as a legislator.

“When they took direct lending out of branches,” Green said last year to open up the first public banking hearing, “that’s one of the reasons why I left banking, because at that point, I no longer could be the banker that I wanted to be … .”

Green hopes that a public bank can restore banking to be the community-driven, character-based lending that he was able to do successfully in his early days, particularly when it comes to small business lending. Most banks these days don’t have branch-based loan officers, as Green pointed out. That makes it pretty much impossible to maintain the relationships that are especially essential for small business lending.

A public bank can change the local or regional economics of banking. The Bank of North Dakota is the last remaining public bank in the country. The state legislature established it in 1919. It opened its doors on July 28 of that year, with $2 million in capital ($28 million in today’s dollars accounting for inflation). With $7.2 billion in assets today, it functions largely as a “banker’s bank,” mostly making low-interest loans alongside or directly to community banks and credit unions around the state. With such a reliable, affordable and local source of capital, North Dakota community banking is stronger than in other parts of the country. It’s a big reason why North Dakota has more banks and credit unions per capita than any other state.

In the wake of the financial crisis and continued fallout from foreclosure abuse and fraud like happened at Wells Fargo, other states and cities have been more seriously considering adapting North Dakota’s public bank model. Legislators and agencies ibn Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, San Francisco and other municipalities around the Bay Area are moving forward and at various stages with considering public banks. Back in 2011, California joined 11 other states whose legislators had introduced bills exploring the possibility of new public banks, Yes Magazine reported.

Opponents of public banks argue that it can be risky for the government to be making loans, given there’s no guarantee it will have the most competent banking staff in place. Some say the debacles of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, quasi-public institutions that operate somewhat like highly specialized banks, are a warning. Politicians may also take advantage of a public bank to make loans based on political favors rather than economics.

So far, the leader in the race for new public banks appears to be Santa Fe, New Mexico, where legislators unanimously voted on April 27 to launch a task force to formally consider setting up a public bank. The task force’s work will build on a feasibility study the city completed in 2016.

Back in Philly, Green has been working with Public Banking Pennsylvania, a statewide advocacy group, to marshal resources for a public banking feasibility study for the city. They’ve been reaching out to local universities to see if graduate business and policy students might be able to chip in. At the hearing last year, Emma Chappell, founder of United Bank, Philadelphia’s only black-owned bank, also offered to share further advice on her experience with state banking regulators.

Green also requested and received information from the Office of the City Treasurer and the Department of Finance regarding all the city’s deposit accounts. Per its latest comprehensive annual financial report, the city has $621.3 million in deposits, but also another $1.8 billion in various investments. According to Green, there are also various “rainy day funds” that departments keep, including the water, fire and police departments. He also requested more details on the various local and state laws that may determine what accounts might be possible to move into a new, public bank.

With all that information, Green continues courting partners for a feasibility study. He hopes to convene more hearings on a public bank after this year’s city budget negotiations conclude at the end of June.

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OSCAR PERRY ABELLO

Oscar Perry Abello is a journalist reporting on community development and economic justice who is a contributor at Next City, Fast Company and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter: @OscarThinks.