Trump fighting government programs that work  

Well, this week the Trump Administration has stepped up its fight against two major pillars of liberalism in this country–Social Security and the U.S. Post Office.  

Social Security was born during the double-digit unemployment years of the Great Depression.  From the first, it made payments to those over 65 without jobs and to spouses and children of deceased workers. Disability insurance was added in 1956 and Medicare in 1965.

For me, it has meant that I didn’t have to choose between getting my father decent medical care and sending my daughters to college or to mortgage my home so my sister could get newly patented cancer treatments, and that I could retire without worrying if I would outlive my savings.

For some, however, it’s the thing they dread most: a government program that works. Many Republicans are working for the “privatization of Social Security” that would require workers to pay Wall Street traders to invest their retirement funds and would make future benefits subject to market fluctuations.

Now President Trump has signed a Tax Memorandum to stop deduction of social security taxes on wages paid from September 1 to the end of the year.  If the Secretary of the Treasury can’t find substitute sources of funding, workers must pay the tax later.

Some say this is just an attempt to boost the economy and enhance Trump’s chances of re-election.
Others contend that Trump is out to ruin Social Security.  His 2021 budget proposes cutting the number of persons receiving disability payments by 5%, and reducing funds for Medicare by 7% and for Medicaid by 16%.

The U.S. Postal Service, originally headed by Benjamin Franklin, is an even older example of a government program that works. The Founding Fathers recognized the importance of communication in bonding states into a nation and in promoting internal trade.

Today, with dozens of other delivery services available, the USPS is the ‘public option’ that keeps prices down.

The government cut out federal subsidies to the USPS during the 1980s, thus forcing it to charge enough to cover all of its expenses. In 2006, Congress ordered the agency to make payments to fund retirement obligations in advance, something neither Social Security nor other Federal retirement programs do. Four times since the USPS has failed to fund annual payments toward future retirement obligations.

President Trump has proposed making USPS “a private postal operator,” delivering mail fewer days per week, and ending door-to-door delivery. He has publicly called for a price increase for package deliveries.

In the last week or so, however, the danger to the post office became more immediate.

Trump appointees now fill every seat on the USPS board of governors, and Trump’s new Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, holds at least $30 million in stock of a competing delivery company.

Over 600 machines used for rapid sorting of mail are to be “dismantled.’ CNN cited postal workers as estimating that two workers using a machine can do the work of 30 workers without one.

A major cause of the stalemate in negotiating a third coronavirus relief bill is President Trump’s rejection–and Speaker of House Nancy Pelosi’s insistence–on $25 billion in financial help for the USPS.

And Thursday, in an interview on Fox Business Network, President Trump said he believes opposing that aid will stop mail-in voting. “Now, if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money.  That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”

I’m guessing not all Republicans admire President Trump’s current battles to eliminate socialistic government programs.

Democrats defend capitalism

I got some praise from Senator Todd Young of the National Republican Senatorial Committee last week.

Young wrote that Republicans listened “to real world voters like you.” He included me among the “loyal Republicans who have the wisdom and experience necessary to help us” and that my input was “critical to compiling a detailed…profile of GOP voters across the nation.”

I do love flattery, but Young is a propagandist promoting fear of Democrats as ”hard-left socialists,” ”impeachment-obsessed socialists” and “power-mad socialists” with a “disastrous socialist agenda.”

Democrats are not socialists. If they were, there would be no need for the couple dozen political parties that are farther left. To lump them all together is like saying that all Republicans are white supremacists or members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The difference. Democrats try to save capitalism from its excesses. Socialists believe capitalism must be destroyed.

Democrats want a competitive capitalistic system with rules and a safety net.

 Was Cecil Andrus a socialist?  Idahoans elected him as governor four times–in 1970, 1974, 1986, and 1990. He worked for public kindergarten, stopped Idaho Power from building a coal-burning power plant near Boise, and fought permanent nuclear waste storage in Idaho.

Social programs and regulations? Yes. Destruction of capitalism? No.

Democrat Ilana Rubel, minority leader of the Idaho House, is no farther left. Her website states her stand on the economy this way.  “Ilana is focused on making Idaho a magnet for strong businesses and good jobs. To succeed, we must train a workforce with 21st century skills and continue to listen to the needs of Idaho businesses. Ilana regularly meets with businesspeople – large and small – to help facilitate their success.”

Does that sound like a threat to capitalism?

Nancy Pelosi, majority leader of the U.S. House, does propose some impractical ideas; she’s hoping for negotiations and counter offers. It’s the legislative process, not a threat.

Many Democrats are business people. I know Democrats with farming, construction, real estate development, retail, restaurant, recreation, and tech operations. My dad, brothers, and husband each owned businesses. A volunteer at the Dems’ booth at the fair once complained that a recent tax cut was not right, even though it was saving him $100,000.

And many Democrats own stocks. A precinct captain’s wife once explained her lack of a career by saying they moved a lot while her husband was in the military, and she found that she could make more managing their portfolio than working.

Yes, Democrats believe in community ownership of services like water, sewer, fire, police, and roads.  We believe in public lands and clean air and water.  We see a need for schools and libraries. And we believe that someone who works should be able to afford food, shelter and healthcare, and that the pressure on corporations to give fat profits to shareholders leads to wages so low that our social welfare programs are overburdened.

Democrats brought Americans the minimum wage, unemployment insurance, overtime pay, and social security.

We have not destroyed capitalism.

But greed and hubris are putting it in danger. Why should Americans have to pay $3,120 for six treatments of remdesivir, a drug made possible by government research and manufactured for about $1 a vial? Why should a policeman feel free to kill a man accused of petty theft in front of an audience?

No other free people tolerates such acts. Left-wing extremism will continue to grow as long as Republican leadership ignores such stark unfairness.

Socialism and communism look good to the downtrodden. Fight them with fairness, reasonable regulations and a strong safety net.

Top Idaho Concern: Coronavirus and Schools

Which got the most traction last week–Federal forces providing ‘law and order’ in Portland or the public’s response to the continued escalation of coronavirus cases?

Stated another way–did President Trump’s campaign succeed in replacing his image as a failure in handling our national pandemic with one of him as a no-nonsense, ‘law-and-order’ president?

The Trump campaign spent millions this month promoting Trump as saving Americans from violent crime. One ad shows a little old lady getting attacked in her home while no one is on duty to answer her 9-1-1 call. The tag-line is,“You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” 

But Vice President Biden doesn’t support cuts in police services. (For the record–Bernie Sanders doesn’t either.)  According to the Washington Post, although Biden has proposed requiring police departments to reach certain “levels of decency” before receiving Federal grants, he hopes to budget an additional $300 million a year for the community policing program.

Another ad scene is captioned “CHAOS & VIOLENCE” and shows helmeted protestors beating a downed police officer. The photo was taken during a 2014 riot in the Ukraine (Washington Post, July 24).  Apparently, no photo exists showing U.S. protesters violent enough for campaign material.    

President Trump echoed his strong man stand in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity.  “We’ll go into the cities–all of the cities. We’ll put in 50,000, 60,000 people that really know what they are doing.  And they are strong, tough, and we can solve these problems so fast.”

Yet, I didn’t talk to a voter this week who was worried about protests, counter-protests, or violence. 

Canyon voters are worried about the coronavirus.  

Parents talk about how afraid they are to have their kids returning to school and how much the kids want to go. They talk about the difficulty of having kids working online at home while they must be at their jobs. And they talk about the fears they have for family members, including a child with asthma.

School employees–aides and bus drivers–fear their jobs won’t be there as online instruction eats up resources. Teachers sound both determined and nervous about making classes this fall work. 

And almost all worry that schools will have to close again.        

Coronavirus was also the chief concern of the U.S. Senate last week.  With benefits from the CARES Act ending and a months-old House bill aging on Mitch McConnell’s desk, Senate Republicans excluded Democrats and went about creating a new relief bill in a manner reminiscent of the babel that produced that health care bill that failed. 

Some Republicans insist on another round of $1200 payments to taxpayers and a healthy boost to unemployment payments so consumers can keep the economy from tanking. Others, notably Senator Ted Cruz, argue additional benefits to individuals rather than businesses would anger Republican voters (i.e. donors). 

And President Trump is his own faction. He objects to funding coronavirus tests; everyone around him has one daily, but he wants others to have fewer, not more. He wants unemployment benefits to be no more than 70% of a persons’ regular salary, not a one-size-fits-all $100 or $200. He is pushing to cut payroll taxes–which fund Social Security and Medicare–so those employed will spend more money. 

But he might negotiate these items if the $1 trillion relief bill includes a new FBI Building to replace the aging one across the street from the Trump Hotel.   

Republicans seem to agree on shielding businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits and funding $105 billion for reopening schools. They need businesses open and parents working no matter how bad the pandemic.       

  

Defund the Police not for Idaho 

So another ‘Defund the Police’ rally is scheduled for Boise today–the one day this week predicted to get over 100 degrees.  

Do police have special summer uniforms?  It seems unfair that the demonstrators get to show up in light t-shirts and shorts, but the cops have to wear dark uniforms that absorb the sun’s rays something fierce.

If I sound flippant, it’s not because I don’t appreciate the demonstrators’ concerns nor the police’s defense of their right to speak. 

But Idaho doesn’t need this movement–though we have much in common with places that do.   

Mental health services have been inadequate across the nation since Reagan cut programs in 1981; cuts during the Great Recession 10 years ago have only made matters worse. The Cut, an online newspaper, cites estimates “that law enforcement spends 21 percent of its time responding to and transporting people with mental illnesses.”  That number may be high, but the Boise Police Department has reported that one out of every 15 police calls in 2018 involved someone with a mental health problem. 

Homelessness is also a growing problem. According to idahohousing.com, average housing costs here are rising twice as fast as the national average. Over 9,000 homeless people in Idaho requested assistance in 2019. The Los Angeles Times quoted Peg Richards of the Good Samaritan Home in Boise as saying, “I had a resident who moved in here with 97 tickets on his record, mostly for open container, some for loitering, some for being in the park after dark,” she said. “He’d been homeless for five years.”

And, in 2019, Ada County alone had 5,289 police calls related to domestic abuse, sexual assault and child abuse (wcaboise.org). 

We’re asking a lot more of our police officers than catching the bad guys. 

A former Dallas police chief, David Brown, once said, “Every societal failure, we put it off for the cops to solve.  That’s too much to ask.  Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.” 

The Defund the Police movement is basically saying the same thing. Police officers aren’t trained to handle the wide range of situations they face. We send them out with guns to get a sleeping guy to move his car out of a drive-through lane, and someone gets shot. 

If the only tool you have is a hammer, it’s tempting to see every problem as a nail.  

So why doesn’t the movement fit Idaho? 

There just aren’t a lot of extra funds in police budgets. 

The FY 2020 budget for Los Angeles’ police is $1.8 billion; for New York’s, $6 billion. Even cuts of two percent–$36 million and $120 million–could fund substantial projects. 

A similar cut in the Nampa, ID, police budget would yield a little less than $500,000. Before we make plans for those funds, however, we need to realize the department is just now staffing at the level it was before cuts for the Great Recession.   

Two percent of Boise’s proposed police budget of $71 million would yield $1.42 million. That’s enough to explain why Defund the Police demonstrators are active there. 

But the Boise Police Department has been moving ahead in the very direction that the demonstrators want. It’s  added a mental health coordinator and a behavioral health liaison to its staff. 

In addition, Boise is investing millions to increase affordable rental housing.  A recent Idaho Statesman editorial included an example of one man’s arrests falling substantially after he entered public housing.  It makes sense–no more violations for loitering, sleeping, open container, etc. 

And our state government is investing steadily to expand mental health resources.  

Idaho doesn’t need to cut police funding.  We need to continue investing in police training, low-income housing, and mental health services.  

Voters speak their minds

In a non-pandemic year, July is a good month to talk with voters.  The parades and booths of the Fourth are followed by a succession of rodeos, city celebrations, and county fairs. And, even without a special event, as the sun sets and the air cools, people find places to visit and things to do outside.  And, generally, Idahoans are cordial enough to answer a serious question or two about their beliefs.

This year is different. Those wanting to talk with voters must call or engage them online.

That can be confusing to voters not used to getting calls until September or October. I imagine many are thinking, I know there’s an election in November, but why are you bothering me now?

Well, because I can’t hand out sun visors or miniature flags at the park or fair grounds or rodeo. I can’t even register potential voters at Little League games.

Not everyone is prepared for an unexpected caller asking if there’s a political issue they are concerned about. Some, however, are glad to have someone listen.  I now know that it can cost $20,000 or more to file immigration papers; the lawyer gets nearly half and the government the rest. I’ve heard that the housing crisis is so bad that many people are living in campers instead of homes, and most campgrounds anywhere near possible jobs are full.

Many speak of the coronavirus problem. They fear for their parents and grandparents and themselves. A health worker said that her care facility may be changed to an all-COVID community. The questions were there, unstated. Should I quit instead?  Or get a place away from my family?

Others are struggling to decide whether to send their kids back to school in the fall. They couldn’t afford daycare even if they could find one with openings, and they have to go to work. But will schools with crowded busses, classes and lunchrooms be able to stay open?

And a lot are angry that something this serious has become a political football. Masks or no masks? Danger or fraud? Who should they believe?

In fact, the failure of Americans to work together was mentioned nearly as often as major issues like education, health care, and jobs. “Chaotic,” said one.  “Frustrating to see everybody fighting,” and “So much negativity,” said others.

“People can’t seem to get their act together and work together in this country.”

“Somebody needs to cover the current news, not just the riots.”

 And many, it seems, are ready to give up on both parties.

It hurts to hear. Few republics have existed longer than ours. Feudalism—with its caste system and laborers tied to lands owned by the wealthy—dominated for nearly 1000 years and still crops up when governments are weak.

On the phone I try to steer the conversation to an issue the person does care about, something important and close enough that he or she trusts their own experience.

But I’m really thinking, do you realize that those feeding the conflicts want you to feel just this way? Politics is dirty; ignore it. No one is worth voting for; stay home.

Unfortunately, political consultants for both parties believe voters are less skeptical of negative statements and retain them longer. Al Gore’s call to action against global warming was totally buried under accusations that he was stiff, boring, and not “one of us.”

Now we can’t agree to cooperate to protect one another’s lives.

Will history conclude that republics can’t work?  Or simply that we didn’t deserve ours?