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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Values In Conflict: can Democracy survive?

It seems to me that so much time has been spent ridiculing and blaming Government and Politics for our fate that we have missed an important target for defining our present situation.  While “government” has failed us in some ways, it has been true to our ideals when it has taken on major concerns like retirement and long-term care for Seniors; access to special health care services for children and adults with special needs or challenges.  Government often shines when it handles natural disasters and national emergencies.  Government has demonstrated over and over that well-trained police and firemen can handle the most difficult situations.  Hospitals, public clinics, neighborhood health care centers do their jobs every day to heal and save.  Social Security (along with its health insurance components – Medicare and Medicaid) has enabled millions of Seniors to escape the debilitating poverty known to senior members of past generations.  There are many examples of government working to assist and to enhance the lives of ordinary people.  Government is not always “the problem.”  We have missed the target by aiming at government alone.  Even so, we cannot take government reform and re-structure off the table because ours is a system of governing that always demands renewal and reform to make it possible for greater citizen welfare, protection, benefit and involvement.

I am, however, increasingly concerned with the undemocratic system that has invaded government and accessed its structures as tools for spreading its own propaganda and its own ‘principles’ and modes of operation.  I believe the more important target for grievance, sometimes our condemnation, and certainly for continuous oversight is the private sector of industrial, for-profit services and financial speculation– CAPITALISM writ large! 
In effect, because of its purpose, mission and aims, industrialization/capitalism is always attempting to better its chances of success and profit by ever more intrusive and nefarious means.  Capitalism is not entirely known for its ethical behaviors, but for its manipulation of money, of property, of profit, of its labor force and of any entity that attempts to control its over-reach.  Industrialism/capitalism is not built on the same value structure that enervates democracy.  A very brief and generalized comparison of how much the systems differ in beliefs and values (ethical considerations), may serve to focus our attention.
CAPITALISM/                                                                                             DEMOCRACY

PROFIT is the overriding concern;  success is strong second/            Life, liberty and welfare or happiness of all are overriding concerns

Uses & manipulates all aspects of operations for profit/                   Follows constitutionally-based legislative process to make laws that protect and defend the People and the nation; uses system of checks and balances

Treats Labor as expendable commodity; parts of profit equation/  Encourages and rewards people who initiate, create and produce; provides education, opportunities, incentives for well-being of all

Sees consumers as targets of manipulation, having few rights/       Treats people as sovereign;
                                                                                                                       possessing equal rights under law

Mission: to acquire money, property and status /                  Mission: to seek liberty and justice for all

Motive: enhancement of wealth of company and stockholders/      Motive: enhancement of the people’s rights, dignity, equality, opportunities and welfare

Seeks freedom from restrictions of business practices/         Empathizes a balance between liberty and responsibility; regulates society to enhance not deny well-being and happiness

Is organized and structured to enhance profits/                      Organized to enhance life, liberty and pursuit of happiness or well-being

Demands company loyalty/                                                         Encourages love of country; shown by  taking mutual responsibility for maintaining ideals and welfare of all   

Places material success and acquisitions above Law/             Places the Law above the desires and status of individuals; reforms laws that discriminate against or de-value the rights and liberties of any cohort

Believes people are endowed with privileges based on status/   Believes people are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Believes that government oversight and regulation is anathema/    Believes oversight&enforcement of just laws are necessary to equitable provision of opportunities, rights, freedoms, justice

Asserts that government is society’s main ‘problem’/     Asserts that government of, by and for the People is the basis of a stable, responsible, just, dynamic and productive society  

There was a time, in its early stages, when industrialism/capitalism was built on an entirely different set of values – Protestant Christian values primarily.  Attempting to reclaim these ethical foundations, author Max Weber “drew a sharp line between capitalism and greed.”  Capitalism was based not on a desire to get rich, but on self-discipline, methodical effort, responsible stewardship, sober devotion to a calling and to a rational organization of life.
As one author (identified below) commented: “Weber’s ethical vindication of capitalism now seems to apply to an altogether different world.”  And then adds, as an example: “Finance is an ‘industry’ where innovation is hard to distinguish from rule-bending or rule-breaking; where the pay-offs from semi-legal and illegal activities are particularly high; where the gradient in expertise and pay between firms and regulatory authorities is extreme; where revolving doors between the two offer unending possibilities for subtle and not-so-subtle corruption; where the largest firms are not just too big to fail, but also too big to jail, given their importance for national economic policy and tax revenue; and where the borderline between private companies and the state is more blurred than anywhere else, as indicated by the 2008 bailout or by the number of former and future employees of financial firms in the American government.”  We have allowed the two realms to mesh to the extent that business interests now exercise major control over our ideals, our loyalties, our freedoms, our activities, our thinking, our habits, our institutions and our form of government.
 
What is surprising and disturbing is that we are not taking a substantial amount of time to discern and act upon this takeover.  We tend to overlook the contradictions and anti-democratic values inherent in capitalism, and are prone to a dangerously naïve point of view: that privatizing government functions is equivalent to a solution for operating smoothly and efficiently, and the ultimate answer for bettering our lives and liberties.  The years 1929 and 2008 stand as beacons of truth and reality in that foggy world of thought.   The more government relinquishes regulatory control of business enterprises, and allows those entities to control government, the worse off we are as a nation, thrown right back into the swamp of greed, short-cuts to profits, inadequate and unsafe products, and lack of inner controls to regulate bad practices like polluting our environment, insider trading, selling of unprotected and under-valued stocks, bonds and financial products.  Every time we listen to the snake-oil salesmen who promote “deregulation” we experience damage to our society and to our Republic.  

Checks and balances are at the core of our democratic system and yet we abandon that concept every time we buy into “privatization,” “deregulation,” and “government needs to be run like a business.”  What’s wrong with businessmen taking over government is epitomized by the accession of Donald Trump to the highest office in our nation.  His lack of knowledge of history and of governmental functioning; his authoritarian values, actions and behaviors are destructive of democracy and we will find it out too late if we allow this maniac to continue in office for a full term.  He, like many of his ilk from the business world, are not interested in the values of our democracy; they are interested in making money, and so far, the Donald has allegedly made millions from his candidacy and from his machinations in office.  This businessman is robbing our wallets and our purses. Trump Towers and Mar-a-Lago alone are cleaning up on hosting foreign dignitaries and special meetings and conferences, and the Russian connection may someday be known for what I believe it to be – an economic windfall for Trump Enterprises.  But, that’s enough about Donald Trump -- the plutocratic oligarch who continues to define the moral bankruptcy of Capitalism.  

Let us bring in someone who knows a whole lot more about this subject than I do.  “How Will Capitalism End?” is the name of a book of essays by Wolfgang Streeck.  Streeck is the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Social Research in Cologne, Professor of Sociology at the University there, and an Honorary Fellow of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics.  In one review from the Times Higher Education, there is a comment that Streeck’s essays “will be at the center of social research for years to come.”  The book claims that after years of ill health, capitalism is now in critical condition.  Growth has given way to stagnation, inequality is leading to instability, and confidence in the money economy is evaporating.  According to one review, “the marriage between democracy and capitalism, ill-suited partners brought together in the shadow of World War II, is coming to an end.  Ours has become a world defined by declining growth, oligarchic rule, a shrinking public sphere, institutional corruption, and international anarchy” and he senses there is no political entity capable of rolling back the effects of this situation.   In his opening chapter, Streeck identifies five areas of “disorder” that he says herald the demise of capitalism.  Let us explore these from the viewpoint of values and how they do not, and have not, worked well for democratic society.  

Disorder #1:  Stagnation
Although the author cites several reasons for decline and stagnation, it is not my purpose to delve into economic theory nor economic statistical analysis in any substantive way.  My purpose today is to compare and contrast the values exhibited by capitalism and democracy. 
Streeck says that one of the major factors in the decline and stagnation of capitalism as a system is in the realm of ethics.  He cites de-regulation – removal of restrictions on corporate behavior – the circumventing of whatever rules were left, the ever-increasing inequality associated with the disproportionate growth -  especially in the banking sector- and the consumptive excesses of rich capitalist societies as contributing factors in the struggle to find more profit amid fewer new markets. 
He goes even further to suggest that natural resources are running low because of the excess demand of industries on those resources.  Inevitably, he brings up the matter of the “unavoidable degradation of the biosphere” as a serious breach of ethical consideration involving the “collective good.”  In other words, competitive production and consumption, plus the capitalist principle of infinite expansion, are colliding headlong with the finite supply of natural resources.  “No one seriously denies that the energy consumption patterns of rich capitalist societies cannot be extended to the rest of the world without destroying essential preconditions of human life” (perhaps he hasn’t met the deniers of the Trump administration, or those in the Congress!).

Streeck does not fail to include the critical denuding of the labor movement in his list of factors.  He avers that the making of labor into a commodity of industry has undone prospects for labor reforms and made employment itself much more precarious for a growing share of the population.   Hours given by families to employers have increased while wages have lagged behind productivity advances, most dramatically in the U.S., he indicates.  Destruction of trade unions “ha(s) caused residual unemployment of 7 to 8 per cent as the new normal.  Moreover, global mobility enables employers to replace unwilling local workers with willing…ones” at minimal cost in wages. 
“Capitalism without opposition is left to its own devices, which do not include self-restraint.  The capitalist pursuit of profit is open-ended, and cannot be otherwise.”  His description of the imminent future of the stagnant economy that looms ahead is somewhat forbidding, as he indicates that the struggle for survival will “become more intense.”  Rather than restoring protective limits rendered obsolete by globalization, “ever new ways will be sought to exploit nature, extend and intensify working time, and encourage what the jargon calls ‘creative finance’, in a desperate effort to keep profits up and capital accumulation going.”  Victimization, not only of Labor, but of many ordinary citizens is a profound probability.
Disorder #2:  Plutocrats and Plunder
There is no indication that the long-term trend towards greater economic inequality will be broken any time soon, or indeed ever.  Redistribution to the top thus becomes oligarchic: rather than serving a collective interest in economic progress, it turns into extraction of resources from increasingly impoverished, declining societies... The bond which tied the profits of the rich to the poor is severed, cutting the fate of the economic elites loose from that of the masses.”
This is a description of what has been happening for at least the last 30 years (since Ronald Reagan) and probably much longer to the extent that the rich have always been involved in restraining the poor fearing the takeover of their property and riches by an unruly mob of the unwashed and uneducated.  In these times, the rich have not only reduced the redistribution of their wealth through government deregulation and budget-cutting, they have embarked upon the nefarious enterprise of stealing (extracting) money from the (many) taxes paid by the middle class and working poor, increasing privatization of government functions through government contracts and lowering corporate and individual tax rates, but also by stashing their cash in off-shore bank accounts free from tax collection.  Now too, Streech points out, there are growing indications that because of the transnational character of fortunes, the super-rich are beginning to exit from their home countries to live in more (economically) hospitable environs.

I would caution that the two most potent upcoming means of Plutocratic plundering will be contained in items that are often too boring and daunting for the public’s taste or attention.  One is the 2018 Federal Budget which Trump has already revealed, but which Congress will surely amend (not necessarily in the best way).  Second, is the ‘reform’ of the Tax Code, which Mr. Trump may (or may not) get to before the summer recess.  Both items continue to be prime targets for private sector manipulation, and many of the provisions contained therein are the results of just such continued manipulation by the private sector Plutocrats.
Disorder #3:   Underfunding and Privatization

“Foremost among the causes of this shift (from the tax state to the debt state to the austerity state) were the new opportunities offered by global capital markets since the 1980’s for tax flight, tax evasion, tax-regime shopping and the extortion of tax cuts from governments by corporations and earners of high incomes.  Attempts to close public deficits relied almost exclusively on cuts in government spending....  As income gains accrued increasingly to the top 1 per cent, the public domain of capitalist economies shrank, starved in favor of internationally mobile oligarchic wealth.”
The mantra of lowering spending on government programs for the middle class and those living in poverty to “balance the budget” and to “lower the deficit,” has escalated in the 2018 Trump budget to an austerity level.  19 departments and 61 programs are being cut dramatically, and many will simply be eliminated.  At the same time, the rich corporations involved in defense and munitions will reap extreme profits under the many new contracts made necessary by the $54 billion dollar increase in the Defense budget. 

Privatization is being carried out “regardless of the contribution (that) public investment in productivity and social cohesion might have made to economic growth and social equity.”  Streech warns us that this austerity for the poor and enhancement of the oligarchs is another indication that “the economy of the oligarchs has been decoupled from that of ordinary people, as the rich no longer expect to pay a price for maximizing their income at the expense of the non-rich, or for pursuing their interests at the expense of the economy as a whole. 

Once again, the ethical dimension comes through the talk about economics.  We are being told in no uncertain terms that the rich are using government to separate themselves from any responsibility for the less fortunate in our democratic society.  There is no social contract left.  There is no mutual responsibility for each other.  There is not one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.  There is brokenness, there is division, there is segregation. There is no longer a United States.  What there is constitutes two quite separate approaches to human endeavor and humane behavior.  The ethical foundations of Judeo-Christian scripture and religion are cast aside.  The basis of the Old Testament tithe for the poor has been lost; the golden Rule has been tarnished; the Prodigal Son cannot come home; the Good Samaritan turns his back on neighbors; and the role of the Judeo-Christian God as “Protector of the Poor and the Innocent” has been stripped of its power.   
But those scriptures, and those religions, also have a warning for the oligarchs who wish to control the universe: “to whom much is given, much will be required” and “Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who continually record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice and rob the poor of My people of their rights"(Isa. 10:1-3) (see my Post of 12/24/2016 for much more)

Disorder #4:  Corruption

“Capitalism’s moral decline may have to do with its economic decline, the struggle for the last remaining profit opportunities becoming uglier by the day and turning into asset-stripping on a truly gigantic scale.  However that may be, public perceptions of capitalism are now deeply cynical, the whole system commonly perceived as a world of dirty tricks for ensuring the further enrichment of the already rich.  Nobody believes anymore in a moral revival of capitalism... it has more than ever become synonymous with corruption.

 It is at this point that some disagreement must be launched at the author (the book was published 21 days after the election of Trump and may not have been able to consider implications about the electorate).  Public perception of capitalism is apparently not quite as astute as Streech makes out.  The electorate that put Trump in office were immune to all the disorder within capitalism, and within the complicated life of this candidate.  They first touted him as a savvy businessman who would bring some order to what they conceived as disorder.   Instead he has brought nothing but disorder and chaos.  One of his many failings is his constant mind-change on policy which provokes a disorder of some magnitude amongst other countries.  Witness his recent bombing of a Syrian airbase from which Syrian planes took off to chemically annihilate innocent civilians.  This is in complete denial of his campaign rhetoric that eschewed any more involvement in Syria or other countries of the Middle East, except to annihilate ISIS.
In fact, as I have written before, Trump-backers, disconnected from reality, excused whatever he said or did in favor of a more authoritarian leadership style, most likely honed within the confines and influence of his capitalistic Trump Enterprises. His 2018 budget is the epitome of anti-social contract and anti-care for the less fortunate of this nation.  His attitudes toward nations and people are grounded, not in a Christian ethic of concern given without expectation of reciprocity, but in a capitalistic mode of competition, winning at all costs, and denigrating one’s rivals so that they appear to have lost or to have capitulated to a superior power. 

The followers of this wrongly-principled man include a cohort of Labor unions and their members, who obviously do not recognize, or perhaps do not understand, the enmity of capitalism and this specific capitalist toward the Labor movement.  Nor can they be aware of the imminent future of growing unemployment as capitalism increasingly seeks to employ technological means to replace humans at jobs that can be done by artificial entities.  These unions will have their day of reckoning, as did the traffic controllers under Reagan, when they will be thrown under the bus.  The wind-up for that throw has already begun in the Trump budget for 2018, and by his hiring freeze imposed upon certain departments of the federal government. 
Disorder #5:  International Anarchy

“Global capitalism needs a centre to secure its periphery and provide it with a credible monetary regime...when a centre was missing, and different powers aspired to take on the role, (it was) a time of chaos, economically as well as politically.”
Streech is talking here about the role that Great Britain played until the 1920s, and the United States played from 1945 until the 1970s. The period in-between and the period after the 70s are times of instability of which he speaks.  “Stability in currencies, backed up by a global banker of some integrity, is essential for trade and capital accumulation.  It is also essential for regimes on the periphery to allow and condone extraction of raw materials.”  And so, we come to the period at hand, about which he states:

“Contemporary capitalism increasingly suffers from global anarchy, as the United States is no longer able to serve in its post-war role, and a multipolar world order is nowhere on the horizon.  While there are (still?) no Great-Power clashes, the dollar’s function as international reserve currency is contested – and cannot be otherwise, given the declining performance of the American economy, its rising levels of public and private debt, and the recent experience of several highly destructive financial crises.  The search for an international alternative... is getting nowhere.”
He does mention our military might and isolationist trend as making the U.S. a reluctant leader in terms of becoming involved outside our borders, but again misses the point that the new “Leader of the Free World” is not reluctant to bomb another country’s infrastructure if that is what he thinks is needed to make him look strong.  We have regressed to “pre-emptive strikes” as policy.

We are in the realm of ethics once again, and we must discern the difference between capitalism and democracy.  Is global leadership based on strength and violence or on humanitarian efforts to address the needs and concerns of other populations around the globe?  In other words, as Streech suggests, are we the perpetrators “of sophisticated means of violence (special forces used for personal assassination; drones capable of killing almost anyone anywhere; supporters of torture and confinement in a worldwide system of internment camps; users of comprehensive surveillance mechanisms applied to potential opposition anywhere we choose) in order to inspire confidence in the United States as a ‘global enforcer’ of oligarchic property rights, and as a safe haven for oligarchic families and their treasure?”

Or, are we a nation dedicated to the advancement of human rights and human dignity, called to be “the Leader of the Free World” by supporting collaborative efforts through the UN to bring relief to countries suffering from disease, lack of resources like foods and grains, devastating natural disasters, and viral epidemics?  (will we stop paying anything to the UN and NATO as has been suggested?).  Are we a nation dedicated to world order based on peace and justice and non-violence (except in extreme cases where it is the last resort)?  Are we a nation called to be wise and prudent in our dealings with other nations by constitutionally mandating our Senate to ‘advise and consent’ to treaties, and by giving Congress the responsibility of declaring War?   It is eminently questionable that our President should have the assumed power of declaring any police action, skirmish or military offensive without the advice and counsel of this deliberative body.
Except in terms of a defensive response to an attack, it is, in my opinion, a travesty of separation of powers to allow a dictatorial premise to undo what the Founders gravely instituted for just this reason:  the President is not a King or dictator; he most assuredly should consult, and take with utmost seriousness the advice he receives from the separate but equal  legislative body— the Congress -- before taking any offensive warlike action against any nation or movement, and should, in most cases seek a declaration of war when this nation’s security is at risk.  It is a question of political process, but also a question of shared leadership and of ethical behavior.
Concepts like “Leader of the Free World” or “making America great” or “America First” have moral implications, but are not ethical concepts.  Capitalism per se has eschewed its original moral base – it is an amoral system built upon secular principles and concepts that often border on the immoral and the illegal. 

In contrast, Democracy has a basis in moral principles in almost every sphere of policy and operation, because democracy is built upon an ethical/moral base of people’s welfare and of human rights that help to ensure well-being.  However, it is abundantly clear that those democratic principles can also be disordered and corrupted by the acceptance of dubious principles from other areas of life, such as economics and capitalism.   Thus, the marriage of capitalistic and democratic principles is like a flawed road full of potholes and dangerous intersections.  But the acceptance by democracy of the amoral and immoral outcomes spawned by capitalism is a disorder and corruption that can no longer be tolerated (just as capitalism finds the “intervention” of political regulations to be intolerable).  It is past time to separate the two systems by removing the influence of capitalist currency and over-arching access from the halls of legislators and regulators, from the committee hearings and special meetings; from the parties and ‘conferences’ sponsored by capitalists seeking favors, delays, subsidies and inside information.  Yes, equal rights of access must still apply, but unequal amenities and unethical practices along with political control must be stifled and in most cases eliminated. 
The disordering and corruption of our democratic system by the Donald Trump’s (Koch’s and Abelson’s) of this world must stop. The conflicts of interest of this office-holder – and his whole nepotistic and Wall Street-based operation – must end.  Impeachment must be considered -- let’s not deny it.  His very presence in the oval office is an affront to our system of governance, to our democratic values and our moral foundation.  In 85 days, he has fashioned for himself the makings of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors!” – as were his Russian-enabled election his monetary ties to Russian oligarchs, his appointments of “administrative de-constructors” and the use of his position to make money through his facilities like Trump Towers and Mar-a-Lago Resort.  The latest foray into Syria is also, in my estimation, a violation of the right of Congress to declare War unless there is an imminent threat to our nation (there wasn’t).  Moreover, his lack of complete divestiture means that he can – and undoubtedly does -- use his position to make money on stocks he or his family own in companies like munition-makers.  It has been reported that Trump owns stock in Raytheon, the maker of the missiles that now must be replaced (at $60 million total!) because of his decision to rain them down on that airfield in Syria! 

Democratic values (of, by and for the People) and Capitalism’s principles (do what it takes to build profit) do not mix.  They are incompatible and we must stop trying to pretend otherwise!

Postscript:  I do recognize that this comes across as a general indictment of all business and capitalistic enterprise.  Not so. There are many incidences when consultation and collaborative actions with business leaders and representatives is inescapable and totally necessary, but control over the process is not theirs to possess! This Post is, rather, an explanation and illustration of certain concepts and beliefs held as inviolable by corporations, financial entities and Big Business that are in conflict with the values of democracy.  Whether small business persons or all business enterprises accept and act upon those ethically questionable beliefs is not for me to decide; their words and actions reveal their commitments.  My point is that our government can no longer support the promulgation, acceptance and practice of their principles, in lieu of constitutional principles, as the basis of governance.  We must expunge their anti-democratic principles from our political and governmental structures, policies, behaviors, laws, and from all activities that affect the People, especially our elections, our legislation, and judicial decision-making.  This is not about placing blame; it is about what we are called to be, and about the necessity of continual renewal and reform of the processes of our representative democracy in accord with our constitutional principles and values.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Single Payer is the Clear Choice!

Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, and his leadership Team, must have been scratching very hard for ‘YES’ votes from their own Party on the disastrous ObamaCare Replacement Act postponed for a vote until Friday, March 24, 2017, and then withdrawn because they did not have the votes to pass it. 
I say this, not just because the poorly written, poorly managed and poorly structured bill is a farce, but because it has now been revealed that an amendment to that Bill from Reps Collins and Faso from Upstate New York was approved by the Speaker to be quickly and quietly allowed into the re-written bill that was then to be presented and passed by a voice vote in the House.  Why?
 It’s not that it is so unusual; it’s very simple really.  It is such a transparent sham because the amendment, although it might eventually benefit other states, was at that moment aimed at “benefiting” just New York State.  It’s somewhat like certain amendments to the Tax Code – it only benefits one group.  Here’s what RollCall.com had to say about it:
The proposal by upstate Republicans Collins and Faso would prevent New York counties from shouldering the cost of Medicaid, leaving the responsibility to the state alone, New York media outlets reported. Collins argued that it would reduce the property tax burden for New Yorkers. ‘Year after year, Albany’s leadership relies on counties to foot the bill for New York State’s out-of-control Medicaid costs,’ Collins said in a statement. ‘Enough is enough’.”
Collins and Faso introduced the amendment with the support of (Republican) Reps. Elise Stefanik, Tom Reed and Claudia Tenney.  The amendment was crucial to getting Faso and Collins’ upstate New York Republican colleagues to support the GOP plan to replace the 2010 health care law signed by former President Barack Obama.”
As Politico reports: “New York State’s Medicaid program is paid for with county, state and federal dollars. The counties pay roughly 13 percent of the total Medicaid budget. Their contribution is capped so the percentage decreases every year. Collins’ amendment, which excludes large municipalities such as New York City, would bar federal reimbursements for state Medicaid funds raised from local governments, shifting roughly $2.3 billion in Medicaid spending from the counties to the state.  ‘Considering Rep. Tenney’s history as a staunch advocate for the taxpayer, this is a great opportunity for her to advocate for real property tax relief for the 22nd District,’ her spokeswoman, Hannah Andrews, said in an email.”
As much as those upstate Republicans want this amendment to be their ticket to being able to cover themselves when they (finally) get to cast an affirmative vote for the American Health Care Act, this is a political deal that benefits no one other than them.  They believe firmly that it gives them enough support from conservative Republicans in their districts to enable them to vote YES on AHCA without losing their districts to Democrats in 2018.  In fact, Rep. Claudia Tenney of the 22nd District was had even declared that she had been leaning to voting “No” on the AHCA, but with this amendment would change her vote to a “Yes.”  Thank you, congresswoman, for telling us exactly what this is – a backroom deal to save your SEAT.
However, the firestorm from congressional and NY state Democrats may not be to their advantage.  Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called them out for forcing the State to come up with an additional $2.3 billion to cover the effects of the amendment plus all the $8 billion it will cost the State if the AHCA is passed.  The DCCC has targeted all of their upstate districts for the 2018 election, declaring: “The House Republican repeal bill is an especially bad deal for New Yorkers, and this backroom amendment is nothing more than politicians putting lipstick on a pig.”  Last, but hardly least, it is not clear that the bill as amended will survive an eventual vote in the House.  If it does, the amendment itself may not be able to be considered by the Senate unless it meets that body’s stricter rules on what can be passed in the Senate by 51 votes rather than 60 votes.
Having given this nod to partisan politics, let us get to the real meat of the healthcare problem.
Have you stopped to consider what a mess we are going through just to maintain a health care system flawed by the free market, private payer myth. Think about it. 
  • Out of 36 developed countries, the USA healthcare system ranks last in terms of the overall efficiency and positive outcomes
  • The ACA was the first major reform that became the law of the land since the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid under LBJ; but the compromises that were necessary to get ACA passed took their toll and the obstructionist Republicans gutted important provisions before it started and after it became law.  The most glaring omission that now is apparent is the lack of a public option that would compete with private plans forcing private insurance companies to offer more competitive plans
  • The ACA has made great strides in covering previously uncovered or poorly insured citizens, extending Medicaid to millions, reforming nefarious practices of insurance companies to restrict sicker people from obtaining or maintaining coverage if they had a pre-existing condition or got very sick; lowering the percentage of premium increase, and requiring certain benefits be in all policies.  However, the resistance of insurance companies to this “interference of the federal government’ into ‘their business’ along with the continuous repeal efforts of the Right-wing Republicans, has resulted in a system that is being sabotaged instead of enhanced.
  • There are flaws in the ACA, of course – for example: restrictions on private plans are too lenient (as demanded by those insurance companies before the bill passed; consumer protection has been almost stripped clean; co-pays and deductibles have not been controlled; and a provision to reimburse insurance companies for early losses was denied funding by Republicans in 2014.
  • Replacement bills – including the latest AHCA -- have been offered by Republicans, but their offerings are so flawed and lacking in substance that it is tragic and laughable at the same time.  As I have said – they know how to obstruct and lie, but they can’t govern because their limited government ideology, and their inability to handle reality and truth, prevent them from doing so.
  • The projected loss of insurance for 14 million people by the end of 2019 is a disaster waiting to happen. 
So, let us come back to basics.  What are we trying to achieve?  What is the purpose we want to accomplish?  What outcomes are we looking to see happen?  Is removing a tax burden from local counties any kind of solution to lack of affordable health care?  Is the abandonment to the states of what must be a federal program – Medicaid – is this the way to ensure equal health care and treatment across our whole land for elderly in long-term care facilities, for persons with developmental or acquired disabilities, for children in poverty? 
Instead of treating healthcare as a set of problems to be solved, we are seeing the politicization of healthcare as something to be manipulated for the gain of drug and insurance conglomerates, small businesses, certain religious denominations, political careers, law firms, lobbying firms, and a host of small and large affiliated businesses, including health care professionals and entities.  Strangely enough, people who need health care, including in need of insurance to help them obtain it, are the last to be considered in this imperative need to reform our measurably-flawed healthcare system. 
So – you ask – what are the basics?  We certainly need to search for some, which is more than the radical Republicans have ever done!  How about we start with the purpose of the Affordable Health Care Act.  Contrary to what I believe should be Title I of every ACT in Congress, Title I of the ACA does not spell out the purpose(s) and outcome(s) of the entire Act.  However, the various Titles do spell out some purposes and here they are, thanks to Obamacarefacts.com:
  • Quality, affordable health care for all Americans
  • Improving the quality and efficiency of health care
  • Preventing chronic disease and improving public health
  •  Improving access to innovative medical therapies
  •  Community living assistance services and supports
  •  Work Force Development and Training
Obamacarefacts.com does provide its own version of a purpose statement, when it says:
 “The Affordable Care Act’s main focus is on providing more Americans with access to affordable health insurance, improving the quality of health care and health insurance, regulating the health insurance industry, and reducing health care spending in the US.”
Let’s look next at some of the purposes of a comprehensive health care reform of the recent past to see if any are relevant for our present-day dilemma.
  • Provide health insurance to those who cannot afford it by helping them through subsidies. 
  • Those who meet certain qualifications can buy insurance on an exchange
  • Help businesses offer health insurance to their employees due to tax credits and more   affordable health insurance.
  •  Reduce insurance costs and provide better quality affordable health care to more people.
  • Tax penalty for those who choose not to purchase health insurance
SURPRISE – these are the aims behind the RomneyCare plan in Massachusetts!  Some of these suggestions came directly from the conservative Heritage Foundation.
2)  Let’s take a brief look at a Single-Payer Plan introduced earlier this year into the House by Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan:
Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act
Summary: H.R.676 — 115th Congress (2017-2018).  Introduced in House (01/24/2017)
  • Provide all individuals residing in the United States and U.S. territories with free health care that includes all medically necessary care, such as primary care and prevention, dietary and nutritional therapies, prescription drugs, emergency care, long-term care, mental health services, dental services, and vision care.
  • Only public or nonprofit institutions may participate.
  • Patients may choose from participating physicians and institutions.
  • Health insurers may not sell health insurance that duplicates the benefits provided under this bill, but may sell benefits that are not medically necessary, such as cosmetic surgery benefits.
  • The bill sets forth methods to pay institutional providers and health professionals for services.
  • The program is funded by:
 (1) existing sources of government revenues,
 (2) increasing personal income taxes on the top 5% of income earners,
(3) progressive excise tax on payroll and self-employment income,
(4) a tax on unearned income, and
(5) a tax on stock and bond transactions.
(6) Amounts that would have been appropriated for federal public health care programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, are transferred and appropriated to carry out this bill.
  • The program must give employment transition benefits and assure priority in retraining and job placement to individuals whose jobs are eliminated due to reduced clerical and administrative work under this bill.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services must create a confidential electronic patient record system.
  • The bill establishes a National Board of Universal Quality and Access to provide advice on quality, access, and affordability. 
IF the GOP ever means to deal seriously and professionally with healthcare reform, and the savings that can accrue from such, they must consider a public option single-payer plan with other common-sense provisions that appear in the above plans.  However, if the GOP chooses to remain in a dark place where healthcare is considered something one must earn or merit or take as is (‘junk’ coverage level) because they believe not everyone has the RIGHT of being adequately cared for by professionals or fully covered by insurance -- then they must be met with total resistance and eventual electoral defeat.  Like education, healthcare is enormous enough in its implications to demand a bipartisan effort, expert advice, thorough debate and abundant appropriations that do not skimp on equality, justice and strength of provisions for enrollees.
So, let us turn finally to what a group of health professionals say is an adequate single-payer plan for all Americans.  (This constitutes a summary of a Post that occurred on October 23, 2011 on this site – I encourage you to read it for more detail on each of the following provisions)
What would be some of the savings from a single-payer health care system?  It is estimated by the Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) that “the reason we spend more and get less than the rest of the world is because we have a patchwork system of for-profit payers. Private insurers necessarily waste health dollars on things that have nothing to do with care: overhead, underwriting, billing, sales and marketing departments as well as huge profits and exorbitant executive pay. Doctors and hospitals must maintain costly administrative staffs to deal with the bureaucracy. Combined, this needless administration consumes one-third (31 percent) of Americans’ health dollars.   Single-payer financing is the only way to recapture this wasted money. The potential savings on paperwork, more than $400 billion per year, are enough to provide comprehensive coverage to everyone without paying any more than we already do.  Form
 “The ten largest health insurance companies insured roughly 118 million Americans in 2008. Compensation figures suggest that these 10 companies paid over $300 million dollars to their executives in 2009. While this is only a crude estimate, it serves to define a ballpark figure for overall executive compensation: hundreds of millions of dollars, at minimum. This is all money paid for by health insurance premiums that buys little or no health care. Some might call it a money pit for health care dollars.
While Cigna paid their CEO over $14 million to oversee the health coverage of 11.9 million people, Medicare's head, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) makes around $140,000 a year overseeing the health insurance coverage of 40 million people.
Second, Hospital procedures have grown more costly and doctor's fees have also risen.  PNHP intends that National Health Insurance (NHI) would pay each hospital a monthly lump sum -a global budget - to cover operating expenses.  This amount would be negotiated yearly based on past expenditures, fiscal and clinical performance, projected changes in levels of services, wages and input costs, and proposed innovations.  Hospitals would not be allowed to bill for services covered by NHI, but equally important could not use any of their operating budget for expansion, profit, excessive executive incomes, marketing, or major capital purposes.  Privately-owned hospitals would be converted to non-profits and their owners would be compensated for past investment. This “global budgeting” would virtually eliminate billing, freeing substantial savings for enhanced clinical care.  Prohibiting use of operating funds for capital improvements would eliminate the primary financial incentive for excess interventions and services as well as its opposite (skimping on care) since neither strategy could result in institutional gain.
Third, the PHNP says NHI would include three payment options for physicians and other practitioners:  fee-for-service; salaried positions in institutions; salaried positions within group practices or HMOs.  Privately-funded HMOs and group practices would also be converted to non-profits.  Only institutions that deliver care could receive NHI payments, thus excluding many HMOs and groups that currently sub-contract services but don’t maintain clinical facilities.
The three proposed payment options uncouple physician payment and other operating costs from capital purchases.  Global negotiated budgets for institutional providers would eliminate billing costs; at the same time providing a stable and predictable financial support.  It could also stimulate development of community prevention programs (e.g. smoking cessation). 
Fourth, NHI will cover disabled Americans of all ages for all necessary nursing home and home care.  According to PNHP, a “local public agency in each community would determine eligibility and coordinate care.  Each agency would receive a single budgetary allotment to cover the full array of long term care services in its district.  The agency would contract with long-term care (not-for-profit) providers for the full range of needed services, eliminating the perverse incentives in the current system that often pays for expensive institutional care but not the home-based services that most patients would prefer.”  The program would encourage home and community-based services by supporting the 7 million unpaid caregivers that provide 70% of the care, and by supporting the expanded training of geriatric physicians, nurses and social workers who would assume leadership of this system.
Finally, NHI would pay for all medically necessary prescription drugs and medical supplies, based on a national formulary, established and updated by an expert panel.  The most important provision of this would be the negotiation by NHI with the drug and equipment manufacturers, based on costs (excluding extras like advertising and lobbying costs), resulting in very substantial savings which is not happening under the current multiple private-payer system.
Of course, this single-payer system will not solve all problems; i.e. improvements in environmental and occupational health will not automatically follow; need for improvements in quality will remain; medical school problems of high tuition and lack of minority representation will continue; some physicians will still succumb to temptations to enhance their earnings by encouraging unneeded services.  However, a framework for addressing such problems will be in place. 
However, it’s better than the alternatives, especially better than the multiple private-payer debacle; defined contribution schemes with lower-paid employees forced into skimpy plans; tax supplements and vouchers; turning Medicaid over to states.
An article under the heading of the PNHP concludes: “Incremental changes cannot solve these problems; further reliance on market-based strategies will exacerbate them.  What needs to be changed is the system itself.”
This change to a new system of health care insurance and delivery is still one of the most important steps we could take to save money and thus affect the national budget, to give relief to businesses, to cover all citizens with health insurance, and to literally bring relief to the pocket-books of millions thereby restoring confidence in our healthcare system and increasing the likelihood of better research and innovation than we have seen in a long time.”
Single-payer is the clear choice for reform of healthcare.  TrumpCare is not a choice it is a death sentence!

 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Can BUDGETS be IMMORAL?


Donald Trump has finally made some Republicans sit up and take notice!  Here are a few of his latest antics:
·       Executive Orders to temporarily ban immigration from 7 Mid-eastern countries were rejected twice in Courts.  At supporter rallies, railed against the court rulings, seemingly unaware of potential that his utterances could be used against him in higher courts.
·       On Twitter, accused former President Obama of a felony – that he ordered “wire-tapping” at Trump Tower in NYC during 2016 campaign. Directors of both NSA and the FBI asserted that no President under current law and structures could order such an illegal act, nor do they have evidence to back up Trump’s claims. 
·       Issued an outline of his first budget to Congress in which he supports egregious budget cuts to all manner of programs, agencies and departments without documentation of need or cause to do so.
“... to offset increases in defense spending, the President is proposing $54 billion in cuts to large parts of the federal government and popular programs big and small.  Trump’s budget would cut off funding entirely for several agencies, including arts, public broadcasting and development groups, with steep cuts to agencies like the State Department and Environmental Protection Agency.  Virtually every agency will see some sort of cut, with only Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs getting a boost.” (CNN)
This Budget reveals a lack of understanding of the role of government in maintaining the security, protection and well-being of members of this society, and it exudes a lack of morality in terms of caring about the welfare of people.    The cuts appear to be nothing more than blatant attempts to meet the terms of an ideology, fulfill some campaign promises, find funds to transfer to the wealthy and to the military build-up, and to end liberal programs once and for all.
Let me concentrate my remarks today (with the indispensable help of articles from CNN, Bloomberg News and USA Today) on that so-called ‘budget’ that Trump has devised with Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, and presumably, with input from senior WH advisor Steve Bannon. For the sake of brevity, let us look at it through the lens of one broad category of concern.
MORALITY
Morality has to do with principles, behavior and conduct. There is a basic ethical consideration in every budget produced by the White House or ultimately by the Congress: meeting standards of wrong and right along with the responsibility that officials (and governments) have for the welfare of other human beings, especially those who are vulnerable to certain matters beyond their control, like aging, disease, birth defects, mental capacity, inherited genes, or acquired/imposed challenges that may affect full participation in human endeavors.  Mutual responsibility for the welfare of others is at the core of major religions, philosophies and humanistic ideologies.  It is also fundamental to the ordering of our society and to the transcendence of our humanity.
 In other words, we cannot transcend our flawed human nature and confines unless we reach beyond ourselves to other human beings, making their lives interdependent with our own.  In Christianity, it is expressed in terms of a Golden Rule and the Spirit of a loving God.  In humanitarian ideology or philosophy, it may be sometimes understood as a ‘social contract.’ Whatever its origin, or conceptual development, it is fundamental to our society’s well-being as expressed in the Preamble to our Constitution.  As I have said in other posts: morality is not only about individual behavior, it is also the moral duty and responsibility of every government to advance the welfare of all its people. 
In this Trumped-up budget for 2018, we find both a morality dis-connect and a communal immorality: that is, both non-involvement with the moral obligations of a budget, and actual provisions (behaviors) within the budget whose outcome would be a violation of responsibility for certain people with special needs that can only be addressed in the context of the commonwealth (the whole nation). 
But, the ideology of capitalists and conservative Republicans, especially the Alt Right, contains some contrary elements or principles often expressed as two sides of one coin:
1) that every individual is responsible for their own well-being and their own success and their own destiny. Examples: if one is uneducated, has a lousy job, lives in poverty or can’t cope with life – that is their fault, and does not obligate others to ‘rescue’ them from their self-inflicted problems. And,
2) those who have success, education, wealth and a special status should not be obligated by government to provide their tax money for the rescue and entitling of other less responsible citizens. Instead, they believe government should reward them with special privileges, special access and special “breaks.”
So, let us look at the Trump Budget in light of this one matter of morality: the mutual contractual responsibility for the welfare of other citizens and human beings.
The Disconnect:
In most of the provisions of this Budget, it appears that there is simply no connection to this moral realm.  There are devastating cuts to affordable health care, to Meals on Wheels and community service programs for Seniors (like Nancy Reagan's favorite - Foster Grandparents), Planned Parenthood, the WIC program for low-income women and children, along with the gutting of the EPA.  To that add nearly a 20% cut - $5.8 billion dollars -  to National Institutes of Health (including research)!
Most items in the budget are considered in terms that exclude the human dimensions of need, vulnerability, and concern for human welfare.  Some excuses are offered but studies, statistics, human stories, or in-depth analysis are all lacking.  Cuts are made in terms exclusively related to deficit, duplication, inefficiency, and privatization.  Once in a while, waste or over-spending is thrown in, but nowhere is there discussion of human need or vulnerability; protection or safety.  The general welfare of our nation’s citizens seems to show up only in terms of military build-up and Homeland security, plus some attention to law and order. 
About security, there is no reference at all to the insecurity that is caused by a government and its leaders who ignore perhaps the most harmful threat to our ultimate security, and our very existence: the environment.  A moral imperative would tend to say that even if one does not believe the scientific evidence of environmental threat, there are blatant natural signs that our welfare may be at risk: species are dying, weather is changing dramatically at record levels; air, water and earth are at dangerous levels of pollution, smog is a killer, chemical waste and chemical particles left behind by industries are being found in our earth, air and water; ice caps are melting and oceans rising in depth each year, with flooding already recorded at high levels in coastal areas. 
Just recently, a report from a large group of scientists has made it dramatically clear that many diseases are being spawned or aggravated by the chemicals and pollutants we allow to muck-up our environment: heart disease, asthma, lung cancer and several other cancers, as well as auto-immune diseases such as Parkinson’s are being linked to such pollutants.  At the very least, our government should be pro-active in researching and addressing these threats even if climate change science is not accepted by them!   
We are, as a nation, in dire need of strong moral leadership in this area of life or death for our people and our planet, and what do we get from the Trump administration but a long list of cuts for environmental and research items, including a 34% cut in the Environmental Protection Agency’s total budget.  Let me also mention a few environment-related programs and agencies whose cuts you may not have noticed in Trump’s proposed budget:
  • Chemical Safety Board (-$11 million) – investigates chemical accidents and makes recommendations to industries and labor groups, OSHA and EPA to prevent future accidents
  • Clean Power Plan (EPA) – creates national standards for carbon pollution plants and helps states develop and deploy clean energy alternatives
  • International Climate Change Programs(EPA) – promotes clean and efficient energy technologies and shares scientific climate research with multilateral initiatives and treaties
  • Climate Change Research and partnership programs(EPA) – researches and reports on climate change impact on the US
  • Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (-$40 million) – task force focused on pollution clean-ups, invasive species reduction and wildlife protection
  • Chesapeake Bay Program (-$14 million) – oversees restoration of Chesapeake Bay and its watershed
  • Energy Star Program (EPA) – certifies and recognizes buildings and consumer products that meet specific energy-specific criteria
  • Targeted Air Shed grants (EPA)– assists state and local pollution control agencies to develop plans and projects to reduce air pollution in highly polluted areas
  • Endocrine Disrupter Screening Program (EPA)—screens pesticides, chemicals and other contaminants for potential effect upon estrogen, androgen and thyroid hormone systems
  • OCO-3 Earth Science Mission – a NASA mission to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on earth via the International Space Station
  • Global Climate Change Initiative (-$1.3 billion) – USAID provides financial assistance for global climate change initiatives in developing countries
  • U.N. Green Climate Fund (-$250 million) – State Dept. provides funds to help developing countries mitigate and tackle the effects of climate change
  • Advanced Research Projects Agency (-$382 million) –Energy Dept.  provides funding and support to short-term energy research projects aimed at improving the economy, environment and security
  • Title 17 Innovative Technology Loan Program – Energy Dept. provides loans to support use of new energy technology
  • Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program – Energy Dept. provides loans to automotive and component manufacturers for facilities and engineering that support advanced technology vehicles
REMEMBER: this doesn’t even count the myriad of programs that would be lost in cuts involving the EPA!  Nor does it list other Departmental programs that will be cut such as the Low- Income Home Energy Assistance Program under HHS or the Water and Waste Water loan program -($498 million) under Department of Agriculture.  
Let me say here that I am not against cutting out duplicative and wasteful programs, but that needs to be done in a much more effective way through data collection, surveys, evaluations and personal interviews with recipients of services.  It might even involve congressional committee investigations and hearings if those committees had any credibility or bi-partisan cooperation among members.  Or how about this: why not have the CBO, and/or a bi-partisan Commission of Evaluators score programs on an on-going basis, instead of making decisions based on ideological mumbo-jumbo and political scores that are often settled by spiteful representatives. 
Let’s be clear about this budget.  It is a revealing outline of who Trump is, what he believes, and most of all what he wants to do about “deconstructing administration” per his chief advisor, Steve Bannon.  This is economic nationalism writ large; this is support for the 1% and their values; this is meant to undermine the liberal press, the liberal culture, the liberal electorate, and as many liberal programs as is possible. 
It is destructive all right, as many of the tenets of democracy are going to disappear under its manipulation.  The progressive gains of the last century are on the chopping block; and so are the ethical underpinnings that inspired those advances.  Remember, Trump was not elected because of governing skills. He was elected to drain the establishment swamp of unresponsive, liberal-minded politicians and office-holders, to overturn entrenched programs, treaties and agreements, to restore American manufacturing and jobs while also deregulating all areas that affect the conduct of American Business.  He was hired to make America Great Again.  Ignoring people’s needs, challenges and problems, as well as their opinions, is not the way to greatness.
Now let us turn to a listing of what I consider the immoral abandoning of the General Welfare of vulnerable citizens.  Again, to maintain a limit on the length of this post, I must be brief and target only some of the many examples of the Trump approach to the “safety net” and the well-being of our citizens and of our society.  In brief, he doesn’t much care what happens as long as he defends the rich from having to share their wealth with the less fortunate members of our commonwealth (notice if you will the two words that combine to make that word – ‘common’ and ‘wealth’ – it should give us pause as to the import and meaning of the social contract).
Trump’s budget proposes elimination (100% budget cut) of 19 independent agencies and 61 other programs. thus ending their existence.  Among the agencies getting the AX:
1)    Regional agencies to develop economic opportunities, infrastructure and workforce in certain vulnerable areas: Appalachian Regional Commission (-$119 million) with emphasis on coal-dependent communities; Delta Regional Authority (-$45 million) and Northern Border Regional Commission (-$7 million) near Canadian border in ME, NH, VT and NY
2)     United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (-$4 million) –coordinates with federal agencies to prevent and end homelessness
3)     Legal Services Corporation (-$366 million)—funds organizations that provide legal aid to low-income citizens
4)     Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation (-$175 million)—assists organizations aimed at revitalizing rural, urban, and suburb
5)     Corporation for National and Community Service (-$771 million) – funds thousands of volunteer organizations nationwide and runs AmeriCorps, VISTA, Senior Corps Programs (including Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions and RSVP) and the Social Innovation Fund.
[Having had experience as the Project Director of two of these programs (both the largest of their kind in the nation), I know first-hand the double-barreled benefit these programs have on volunteers and their protégés and a third beneficiary is the community.  These programs produce millions of dollars in volunteer hours, saving meaningful amounts in program and administrative costs].
The overriding reason given for most of these cuts is that they are duplicative or inefficient, but the underlying reason might be the old saw that communities and private funding should be funding these community development programs if they are needed.  This overlooks the fact that these programs would not be in existence at all if left to local funding either public or private. They are regional and nationwide in terms of their effect, and need to be such to make meaningful impact on widespread needs and problems. Such malarkey also overlooks the proven positive outcomes they have had over their years of existence.
Trump's budget comes down finally to the need to fund other programs with the money saved from discretionary programs.  And what are those must-fund programs – military readiness and national security. In other words, Trump and his administration, backed up by a willing Congress, will steal the money that has funded community development agencies and programs (along with the money saved from cutting whole departments by hefty percentages). 
Take one last look, and picture the millions upon millions of low-income and middle- income people and families who are going to suffer from these losses if this budget passes Congress. I worked for a while in a community action agency in a central New York city and I know first-hand that these programs are often a life-line to which some must cling very tightly.  Here are just a few of the 61 programs being proposed for 100% cuts. 
  • Community development block grants (-$715 million) – funds programs that assist low-income people with housing issues, including elimination of urban blight  
  • Weatherization Assistance Program (-$121 million) – provides grants to local governments to improve weatherization and energy efficiency of homes of low-income residents
  •  Low-income Home Energy Assistance program (-$3.4 billion) – aids low-income families to help pay for home energy bills and some energy-related maintenance
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers (-$1.2 billion) – provide before-and-after-school programs for children, particularly in high-poverty areas
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (-$732 million) – provides needs-based grants up to $4,000 to low-income graduates for postsecondary education
  •  Teacher Quality Partnership (-$43 million) – funds initiatives aimed at improving the quality of new teachers through improved development and recruiting methods
  • HOME investment Partnerships Program – provides block grants to state and local governments to create affordable housing solutions for low-income households
  • Choice Neighborhoods – funds programs to replace distressed public housing and promotes investment for neighborhood improvement
  • Self-Help Ownership Opportunity Program – funds non=profit organizations that build new housing for low-income families with volunteer labor
  • Section 4 Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing (-$35 million) – works with non-profit groups to fund community development and affordable housing for low-income families
  • Minority Business Development Agency (-$32 million) – promotes growth of minority-owned businesses through advocacy, policy, research and access to capital and contracts
  • Rural Business and Cooperative Service’s discretionary programs – financial assistance provided for economic development in rural communities
  • Senior Community Service Employment Program (-$434 million) – work-based training program for older Americans, including low-income unemployed seniors
  • Community Services Block Grant (-$715 million) – funds projects aimed at reducing poverty in communities, focused on education, nutrition, employment and housing
  • Essential Air Service (-$175 million) – subsidizes airlines for regular flights to and from small and mid-size airports (mostly in rural areas)
  • PRIME Technical Assistance Grants – training and technical assistance for disadvantaged entrepreneurs
  • Economic Development Administration (-$220 million) – programs focused exclusively on economic development
  • Community Development Financial Institutions grants (-$210 million) – Trump’s budget says that the 23-year-old program to support community banks and credit unions is obsolete
The sad part about this is that we have just begun to scratch the surface here.  The Obamacare repeal alone adds other programs to this annihilation: navigator agencies will lose funding; consumer advocacy will take a total hit as there will no longer be an appeals group under TrumpCare as there once was under Obamacare.  There will be no more panels that can help guide changes in Medicare and Medicaid, for example, and certainly no more citizen advocacy panels to advocate for the rights and needs of ordinary citizens in the field of health care.
As I conclude today, it is with a sense that no matter where we look in the Trump budget, we will find a lack of moral courage, fortitude and openness that is necessary in tackling community development, breaking the stranglehold of poverty and the unfairness of the loss of so many opportunities for enhancing the lives of so many of our urban and rural citizens.  Those living in or near poverty levels are in for a series of inordinate shocks as the cuts begin to filter down to the local city, town and rural living areas. 
As programs and agencies shut their doors with signs that say “CLOSED” and “LOST FUNDING” and “SORRY – we got TRUMPED,” let us not forget that this is a moral issue, because it comes down to how people are being treated – as pawns, as rubes, as non-entities and as numbers; even as animals.  Cutting budgets in a hurried, uninformed, undisciplined and unprincipled way is an immoral act because it shows complete indifference to the fate and the well-being of real people; people who will suffer real-life consequences because of budget cuts that mainly take money out of the hands of poor and low-income people and stuff it into the coffers of the very rich with tax cuts, special subsidies, government contracts, and just plain pork-barrel entitlements for them, but not for others of ‘lesser worth.’ 
I have said it before, and it must be said again: Mr. Trump and his gang of administrative ‘de-constructors’ are nothing more than unprincipled fascist-like imitators who will wreak havoc upon our long-term security by means of their unprincipled budget.  2018 is coming and betrayed seniors, rural folks, labor unionists, students, minorities and women, as well as people with disabilities better get ready. We cannot become complacent. We must keep resistance and protest alive before this immoral and detached crowd cut off our democratic infrastructure along with government assistance for the least vulnerable; and for others who seek opportunities just to maintain their lives and the lives of their families.  This is an immoral budget and our judgment upon its perpetrators must be as harsh as we can make it!