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Bring Back Eisenhower Socialism

Conservatives want you to believe that not having to choose between paying for rent or medicine is Soviet-style tyranny.

By Chuck Collins | March 12, 2019

Beware of the specter of socialism!

Anytime a politician proposes a wildly popular idea that helps ordinary people, a few grumpy conservatives will call them “socialists.” Propose to reduce college debt, help sick families, or ensure the super-rich pay their fair share of taxes — suddenly you’re a walking red nightmare.

Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart is so alarmed he’s convened an “Anti-Socialism Caucus” to ward off “the primitive appeal of socialism” that will “infect our institutions.” Democrats’ talk of restoring higher income tax rates on the wealthiest or helping families with childcare was enough to trigger Treasury Secretary Steve Munchin to quip, “We’re not going back to socialism.”

These same politicians consistently vote for tax cuts for the rich and to gut taxes and regulations on corporations so they can exercise their full freedom and liberty — to mistreat workers, pollute the environment, and rip off their customers.

The “shrink government” fear-mongers want you to believe there are only two flavors of economic ice cream. Choose strawberry and you get liberty-choking gulag communism. From this vantage, any proposal to rein in the unchecked power of global corporations and the rule-rigging rich is creeping socialism.

Choice number two, blueberry, is plutocracy, a society where the super-rich lord over the rest of us. It’s an economically polarized dystopia with stagnant wages and a declining standard of living for the majority.

Conservative demagogues aim to scare you into embracing their pro-plutocrat agenda as the only tolerable choice.

The good news is there many flavors to choose from. A number of presidential candidates have proposed or endorsed policies such as low cost or free college, a higher minimum wage, taxing the super-rich, and investing in infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions.

These ideas are tremendously popular with voters, winning majority support among Republicans, independents, and Democrats. As Fox News sheepishly reported from their own polling, over 70 percent of voters support tax hikes on households with over $10 million in income — including 54 percent of Republicans.

What would today’s hysterical Republicans say about the “socialist” presidency of Dwight Eisenhower? Most likely they would call him “Red Ike.” After all, during Eisenhower’s two terms between 1953 and 1960, the wealthy paid a top tax rate of 91 percent on incomes over the equivalent of $1.7 million for an individual and $3.4 million for a couple.

That crafty pinko Eisenhower also presided over government-subsidized mortgages that helped millions of Americans purchase their first home and attend college for free. He presided over the construction of public housing and state-owned infrastructure (like highways).

In the early 1960s, the specter of socialism stalked the land again, this time in the form of a proposal to create a national health insurance program to cover senior citizens. Conservatives mounted a full-throated resistance movement to what George H.W. Bush at the time called “socialized medicine.”

The rest of us know it as Medicare.

Prior to the passage of Medicare in 1965, half of the country’s seniors didn’t have hospital insurance, and one in four went without medical care due to cost concerns. One in three seniors were in poverty. Half a century later, nearly all seniors have access to affordable health care, and the elderly poverty rate has fallen to 14 percent.

Now a majority of Americans support some form of “Medicare for All,” expanding universal coverage beyond seniors and disabled people to include children and adults.

Stay tuned for more fear mongering. Universal health care, the red baiters will say, will zap our national initiative and hurl us toward Soviet-style tyranny. Instead, maybe it will mean not having to choose between paying rent or for medicine.

Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

OtherWords

There’s Plenty of Wealth to Go Around — It Just Doesn’t

We’ve “grown the pie” massively since the 1980s, but it hasn’t resulted in ordinary Americans getting a bigger slice.

By Bob Lord | March 20, 2019

Get ready to hear a lot about baking this campaign season.

When it comes to how wealth is distributed in this country, “pie” is a favorite pundit metaphor. Some politicians want to “re-divide the pie,” so everyone’s slice is more equal in size.

But that’s “socialism,” some pundits scold. Better to trust our billionaires and millionaires to “grow the pie” so big that every American has a generous slice.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman indulged a bit of this recently. Michael Bloomberg, Friedman explained, is a grow-the-pie guy. Bernie Sanders, he warned, is a re-divide-the-pie guy.

Bloomberg has a net worth of about $50 billion. How big would he have to grow the pie so that every American household gets a slice as big as his? By my calculations, that would require about a 500,000 percent increase in the size of America’s total wealth — to over $600 quadrillion.

Let’s suspend reality for a minute and pretend it’s possible to grow the pie just 1 percent that large, to a mere $6 quadrillion — 60 times the pie’s current size. Would Bloomberg and his fellow billionaires seek to share the pie’s growth equally with the rest of us, or would they try to grow their own slices even larger?

Color me cynical, but I’ve no doubt that if America managed to grow its pie 60-fold, those billionaires would be turning themselves into trillionaires — we may even see our first quadrillionaire.

You see, we’ve lived through this experiment already.

In 1982, when Ronald Reagan’s massive tax cuts for the wealthy were taking effect, America’s aggregate wealth was around $10 trillion. Since then, it’s increased ten-fold — and we’ve experienced a concentration of wealth surpassing even the Gilded Age of the early 1900s.

America’s richest families — the Kochs, Mars, and Waltons — inflated their wealth by 6,000 percent, while the median American family tread water. African-American households got clobbered, experiencing a 50 percent decrease in median household wealth.

And after all that growth, 40 percent of American adults don’t have the cash to handle a $400 emergency expense.

Funny thing, nobody from the grow-the-pie crowd ever explains why growing the pie in the future would help average Americans — not after enormous growth over the past several decades did bubkus for them.

The bottom line: Growing the pie, by itself, won’t cut it.

Does re-dividing the pie hold potential, or is Bernie Sanders just talking pie in the sky (pun intended)?

Actually, it does. Quite a bit. Dividing today’s $100 trillion American pie evenly among its 125 million households would give each household an $800,000 slice. Grow that pie by a realistically achievable 25 percent over the next decade, and we have a nation of millionaires.

Many would contend that giving each household an equal slice would be unfair or counterproductive. And that’s a fine debate to have. But to suggest the pie isn’t already big enough to provide for all Americans is a lie.

There’s plenty to go around. The problem is that a relative handful of families have slices so gigantic that they could never ever finish eating them, while millions of Americans are living on crumbs.

Bob Lord is a Phoenix-based tax attorney and an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

What Democratic Socialism Is and Is Not

By Lawrence Wittner

OPINION

In recent weeks, Donald Trump and other Republicans have begun to tar their Democratic opponents with the “socialist” brush, contending that the adoption of socialist policies will transform the United States into a land of dictatorship and poverty. In fact, though, like many of Trump’s other claims, there’s no reason to believe it.

The ideal of socialism goes back deep into human history and, at its core, is based on the notion that wealth should be shared more equitably between the rich and the poor. Numerous major religions have emphasized this point, criticizing greed and preaching the necessity for “all God’s children” to share in the world’s abundance. The goal of increased economic equality has also mobilized numerous social movements and rebellions.

But how was this sharing of wealth to be achieved? Religious leaders often emphasized charity. Social movements developed communitarian living experiments. Revolutions seized the property of the rich and redistributed it. And governments began to set aside portions of the economy to enhance the welfare of the public, rather than the profits of the wealthy few.

In the United States, governments created a public sector alongside private enterprise. The American Constitution, drafted by the Founding Fathers, provided for the establishment of a U.S. postal service, which quickly took root in American life. Other public enterprises followed, including publicly-owned and operated lands, roads, bridges, canals, ports, schools, police forces, water departments, fire departments, mass transit systems, sewers, sanitation services, dams, libraries, parks, hospitals, food and nutrition services, and colleges and universities. Although many of these operated on a local level, others were nationwide in scope and became very substantial enterprises, including Social Security, Medicare, National Public Radio, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. armed forces. In short, over the centuries the United States has developed what is often termed “a mixed economy,” as have many other countries.

Nations also found additional ways to socialize (or share) the wealth. These included facilitating the organization of unions and cooperatives, as well as establishing a minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and a progressive tax policy―one with the highest levies on the wealthy and their corporations.

Over the course of U.S. history, these policies, sometimes termed “social democracy,” have enriched the lives of most Americans and have certainly not led to dictatorship and economic collapse. They are also the kind championed by Bernie Sanders and other democratic socialists.

Why, then, does a significant portion of the American population view socialism as a dirty word?

One reason is that many (though not all) of the wealthy fiercely object to sharing their wealth and possess the vast financial resources that enable them to manipulate public opinion and pull American politics rightward. After all, they own the corporate television and radio networks, control most of the major newspapers, dominate the governing boards of major institutions, and can easily afford to launch vast public relations campaigns to support their economic interests. In addition, as the largest source of campaign funding in the United States, the wealthy have disproportionate power in politics. So it’s only natural that their values are over-represented in public opinion and in election results.

But there’s another major reason that socialism has acquired a bad name: the policies of Communist governments. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, socialist parties were making major gains in economically advanced nations. This included the United States, where the Socialist Party of America, between 1904 and 1920, elected socialists to office in 353 towns and cities, and governed major urban centers such as Milwaukee and Minneapolis. But, in Czarist Russia, an economically backward country suffering under a harsh dictatorship, one wing of the small, underground socialist movement, the Bolsheviks, used the chaos and demoralization caused by Russia’s disastrous participation in World War I to seize power. Given their utter lack of democratic experience, the Bolsheviks (who soon called themselves Communists) repressed their rivals (including democratic socialists) and established a one-party dictatorship. They also created a worldwide body, the Communist International, to compete with the established socialist movement, which they denounced fiercely for its insistence on democratic norms and civil liberties.

In the following decades, the Communists, championing their model of authoritarian socialism, made a terrible mess of it in the new Soviet Union, as well as in most other lands where they seized power or, in Eastern Europe, took command thanks to post-World War II occupation by the Red Army. Establishing brutal dictatorships with stagnating economies, these Communist regimes alienated their populations and drew worldwide opprobrium. In China, to be sure, the economy has boomed in recent decades, but at the cost of supplementing political dictatorship with the heightened economic inequality accompanying corporate-style capitalism.

By contrast, the democratic socialists―those denounced and spurned by the Communists―did a remarkably good job of governing their countries. In the advanced industrial democracies, where they were elected to office on numerous occasions and defeated on others, they fostered greater economic and social equality, substantial economic growth, and political freedom.

Their impact was particularly impressive in the Scandinavian nations. For example, about a quarter of Sweden’s vibrant economy is publicly-owned. In addition, Sweden has free undergraduate college/university tuition, monthly stipends to undergraduate students, free postgraduate education (e.g. medical and law school), free medical care until age 20 and nearly free medical care thereafter, paid sick leave, 480 days of paid leave when a child is born or adopted, and nearly free day-care and preschool programs. Furthermore, Sweden has 70 percent union membership, high wages, four to seven weeks of vacation a year, and an 82-year life expectancy. It can also boast the ninth most competitive economy in the world. Democratic socialism has produced similar results in Norway and Denmark.

Of course, democratic socialism might not be what you want. But let’s not pretend that it’s something that it’s not.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).

OtherWords

Trump Hates Farmers

He tweets odes to America’s small farmers, but his actions are tearing them apart.

By Jim Hightower | March 26, 2019

Have you noticed how often Donald Trump prefaces his comments and tweets with phrases like “frankly,” “to tell the truth,” and “believe me”?

More than a verbal tic, these qualifiers subliminally admit that being frank, truthful, and believable are not normal for him. So, like a carnival barker selling snake oil, he strains to convince us rubes that he’s not flimflamming.

Among those who’re learning about the truthfulness of The Donald are farmers who voted for him, having bought his campaign promise to restore farm prosperity.

Once in office, though, he quickly sold them out, throwing a fit of a trade war with China that ended up slapping U.S. farmers by lowering the already low prices they get for their crops. Instead of prosperity, the average farm profit last year was minus $1,500!

Trying to smooth over this betrayal of the heartland, Trump tweeted out a message to Ag producers in December meant to warm their hearts: “Farmers I LOVE YOU!” he professed. (I’m guessing he offered the same sweet insincerity to Stormy Daniels.)

Actions speak louder than words, of course, so on March 11 Trump took actions to express his true love for farmers: He whacked $3.6 billion from the safety-net programs that offer a measure of relief to hard-hit producers when crop prices crash. Revealing his plutocratic core, his cuts specifically targeted programs that benefit small farmers — a deliberate manipulation meant to drive more families off the land and increase corporate monopolization of agriculture.

Not satisfied with intentionally injuring family farmers, Trump added insult by calling the dab of support they get from the government “overly generous.” This from a real estate conman who continues to rake in millions of dollars in government cash and special tax breaks.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

Opinion: A Preacher Teacher Advises Politicians — Don’t Bore Us

By Alyce M. McKenzie

InsideSources.com

My job is to teach preachers how to have something important to say and to say it well from the pulpit. After explaining to them that they are up against TV, movies, the digital age and all those palm-size devices when trying to keep a congregation’s attention — there is one thing I caution them not to do.

Don’t bore the hell out of people.

At Southern Methodist University I oversee the Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence. In focus groups of laypeople and clergy it has come to my attention that, these days, people want sermons that are coherent, compelling and true.

After learning about the advice I give my students, an editor asked me to calibrate my preaching tips and apply them to the politicians who are going to be bombarding us with political sermons from now until November 2020.

So, those of you running for mayor, Congress or the presidency — Lord knows somebody new parachutes to the podium nearly every day — I offer this advice if you want to connect effectively with your congregation, the voters. It’s not just advice about rhetorical strategies, important as those are. It’s advice about content that acknowledges the complexity of issues, respects the experience and differing views of listeners, and, perhaps most important of all, comes from a speaker with integrity.

To borrow from Steven Wilkens and Mark Sanford in their book, “Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Stories that Shape Our Lives,” we live amid the clamor of competing narratives: individualism (I am the center of the universe), consumerism (I am what I own), nationalism (my nation, under God), and scientific naturalism (what you see is all you get).

These competing worldviews know how to market themselves as appealing alternatives via blog posts, websites, Facebook, twitter and Instagram for starters. As preachers and speakers, we have to compete. The Internet’s constant barrage of options has eroded many people’s ability for sustained, coherent thought needed to follow the line of thought of a sermon or address from start to finish.

In the 5th century Saint Augustine, a student and teacher of secular rhetoric before converting to Christianity, wrote a book called “On Christian Doctrine.” In the final chapter he went on a rant, venting that secular orators held listeners spellbound, while Christian preachers left them somnolent. My paraphrased version is what I stated earlier: You can’t bore the hell out of people.

We need to up our game:

—Speak from a sincere motivation to improve the world around you. Greek and Roman teachers of rhetoric identified three streams of persuasion in a public address: pathos (a connection with something people care deeply about), logos (a coherent logical argument) and ethos (the character of the speaker — the kind of person listeners perceive a speaker to be). Make sure your life matches your words. If not, sooner or later, it will be discovered and shouted from the rooftops. The way to be the real deal in the character department is to be the real deal.

—Be clear, coherent. Have one theme that runs through the whole message, what screen writers call “the through line.”

—Be compelling. Having a sharp hook is a must. That means beginning with a question, scene, or story that intrigues and promises a payoff, then moving from negative to positive. In sermon terms this would be a move from guilt to grace, despair to hope, shadow to light, death to life.

—Don’t put the sermon or address/speech in reverse and revisit the problem at the end. That’s like backing over the spikes when you return your rental car. Know when to land the plane. Don’t circle the airport.

—Don’t talk too much. As Episcopal priest, author and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor says, “It is better to sit down too soon than to stand up too long.”

—Be brief and concise. That’s why TED talks are a successful. They are 18 minutes, not 28 minutes.

—Respect complexity. Novelist Edith Wharton’s advice for novelists is some of the best I’ve heard for preachers and speakers. She recommends that novelists choose a subject that is worthy of their audiences. “There are subjects trivial in appearance, and subjects trivial to the core; and the novelist ought to be able to discern at a glance the difference between the two …”

—Say things that are true and that make a difference in listeners’ everyday lives. Don’t seek to denigrate your opponents, take credit for others’ accomplishments, or offer explanations that aren’t yours to make.

—Don’t offer false assurances, promises you can’t keep. And make sure the promises you make are worth keeping.

—Respect the listener. They bring their own experiences and wisdom to the occasion.

—Acknowledge the risk, mystery and complexity of life. Don’t oversimplify complex issues. Don’t make everything “either or.” Don’t seek to spray Windex on the glass the Apostle Paul reminds us “we see through but darkly.” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

ABOUT THE WRITER

Alyce McKenzie is the Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship and Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor at Perkins School of Theology, SMU Dallas. She directs the Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence at SMU. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.

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Staff Reports