Opinion pieces

The truth behind the CBO

By Reps. Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan


Driving the 480 miles from Columbus, Ohio to Raleigh, N.C., should take you about eight hours. But what if your GPS device insisted you could make the trip in four? Blindly following such an unreliable estimate, even when made by your trusted GPS, would cause you a lot of problems.

Congress too often makes the mistake of blindly following projections of the Congressional Budget Office that later prove to be grossly inaccurate. The CBO’s reputation among the public and the media may be strong, but its track record in providing accurate estimates to Congress leaves much to be desired.

This isn’t a new problem. Scholar Alan Reynolds noted clear back in 2001 that CBO’s flawed projection model often leads to inaccuracies, pointing out several inaccurate CBO projections in the 1990s. He noted their budget projections widely missed the mark even though they were made only 12 months in advance.

Longer-term projections can be problematic as well. CBO’s cost estimate of the 2002 Farm Bill was off by $137 billion. Six years later, they miscalculated the cost of the 2008 Farm Bill by a whopping $309 billion.

Beyond short- and long-term budget projections, CBO has also proven grossly ineffective at forecasting consumer choices. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than the Affordable Care Act.

As the ACA made its way through Congress in 2010, policy decisions were made based on flawed CBO projections, such as the one saying 21 million Americans would enroll in the insurance exchanges by 2016. The actual number was less than half that, around 10 million, and the miscalculation was disastrous for consumers.

CBO also miscalculated other economic impacts of the ACA. For example, they projected Medicaid expansion to cost $4,200 per enrollee. The actual cost turned out to be to $6,366 per enrollee. Likewise, CBO projected a 3.2 percent annual GDP growth under Obamacare from 2010-2016. The actual economic growth rate during that time period was 2.1 percent.

Again, both errors directly impacted budgets and consumers.

The point is, CBO economists are trained to apply Keynesian economic formulas to predict future consumer behavior, but their projections don’t often account for common-sense realities, such as the wet blanket effect that Obamacare had on job creation and economic growth. Time and time again, their projections miss the mark because they don’t consider economic reality.

Fast-forwarding to today’s debate over replacing the ACA, the CBO has once again weighed in with a doomsday projection about how many people would lose coverage if either the House or Senate reform bills pass.

Unfortunately, we believe the CBO has missed the mark again.

First of all, the accuracy of their numbers has been called into question. As Foundation for Government Accountability experts noted in Forbes recently, the CBO projected around 19 million Americans would buy insurance on the individual market in 2018 should the BCRA become law. This would amount to a 7 million person reduction in insured as opposed to what would happen under the current law of the ACA, based on the CBO’s 2016 baseline projects.

However, there’s a significant problem with this analysis: the CBO updated its baseline projections in January 2017, based on the unexpectedly low ACA enrollment figures. Again, the FGA notes that the revised CBO projections for the ACA predicted that 19 million Americans would buy insurance in 2018 under Obamacare.

In other words, the updated CBO baseline for Obamacare showed that the exact same number of people would buy insurance in 2018 under the BCRA as would under Obamacare, a figure which would be one million more than the 18 million currently on the individual market.

More importantly, their projections miss the basic point that people are more likely to purchase an affordable product that meets their needs. The fundamental flaw of Obamacare was that it tried to force a one-size-fits-all plan on consumers that prefer choice. Reforms like removing penalties, lifting mandates, allowing consumers to shop across state lines and increase their purchasing power, will result in more people being insured than the CBO is projecting.

Healthcare reform needs to happen. Hard-working Americans deserve better than Obamacare, which was built on lies and forces too many people into coverage they can’t afford and don’t want.

We also believe it makes sense for Congress to explore the idea of reforming the culture of over-reliance on the CBO. We still need independent, nonpartisan analysis to hold our government accountable, but a thoughtful bipartisan review of this issue may help us find a more accurate alternative to the CBO. Such a review should also consider whether dynamic scoring models will provide a more accurate projection of the economic effects of public policy.

The value of having outside experts review legislation cannot be understated. But continuing to hinge congressional actions on the projections of an agency that has proven to be so consistently wrong does a disservice to not only members trying to represent their constituents, it primarily does a disservice to the public.

The GPS is right quite often. But when it mistakes a boat launch ramp for a road and tells you to “turn left here,” you have to stop and take a look at reality before blindly following the command and turning into a lake.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., represents North Carolina’s 11th district. He is chairman of the House Freedom Caucus. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, represents Ohio’s fourth district. He founded the House Freedom Caucus.

John McCain, Obamacare and Call 911 To Be Murdered

By Glenn Mollette

A Minnesota police office murdered Justin Damond recently.

According to reports she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault nearby her apartment where she lived. According to reports two police officers arrived after she called for help a second time. One of the police officers riding in the passenger side of the police car was reported to have been spooked and shot past the driving police officer and killed the woman approaching the car in her pajamas.

We don’t know the full story yet as the police officer has yet to make comments about what happened. In Damond’s case calling the police ended her life. I am a fan of the police and applaud their work 95% of the time but this was a horrendous mistake in judgment that cost this woman her life. Police must keep their body cameras on and face repercussions when they don’t. A policewoman Miosotis Familia sitting in an R.V. command style vehicle two miles from Yankee Stadium was recently murdered in the Bronx. She was targeted because she was wearing a police uniform. She was loved and highly regarded by all who knew her and thus her murder was heinous.

Police officers are walking on eggshells and so are most Americans. Many Americans are afraid of the police. Wearing cameras and equipping all police cars with bulletproof glass are steps in the right direction. While everything is yet to be revealed it seems the Minnesota police officer murdered this lady who was simply trying to help someone who was being assaulted. Wearing a badge isn’t a license for murder.

Most everyone knows there is nothing affordable about Obamacare. If you have relatively low premiums then you probably can’t afford to go to the hospital. Your deductible might be as high as $10,000 or $15,000 plus you may be expected to pay 20% of a $50,000 bill. Most Americans don’t have $20,000 to $25,000 extra cash lying around and thus they end up in huge debt to the doctors and hospitals. Even people with higher premiums still have big deductibles. My wife and I pay about $2,000 a month and we each have a $6,000 deductible. We still pay $35 copays and pay quite a bit on prescriptions. Thus, there is currently not much good happening for Americans in the realm of medical insurance and paying for health care.

Medicare is touted to be “pretty good” by many Americans. So, I suppose you can wish your life away so you can hurry up and get on Medicare. Americans need medical care more than ever before. Every two years we elect people who supposedly want to go to Washington and help us. Every day we are disappointed in them. Put the very poor on Medicaid. Allow those with pre-existing conditions to buy into Medicare. Allow Americans to buy insurance across states. Shore up Americas county health departments with nurse practitioners who can write prescriptions. Make these places very cheap to visit. When my wife and I were in Paris, France she went to see a doctor at a clinic that was around the corner from our hotel. My wife was there about forty minutes. The visit was about $23. She was given two prescriptions. We walked down the street and filled both of them for less than $6. These were not copays but what we were charged for the services. In America we know it would have cost between $100 and $150 or more.

John McCain is a great man and we wish him health and recovery. His diagnosis of brain cancer is serious and he will now be in for the fight for his life. He will experience first hand what Americans go through in a life threatening illness plus all the medical costs involved in trying to survive cancer. I heard Rand Paul say on the morning news that Congress has Obamacare just like average America. If this is true then this is more bad news for McCain. Our prayers are surely with him and his health.

Glenn Mollette is a syndicated columnist and author of twelve books. He is read in all fifty states.

Republicans are Right: Going to College Hurts

Women owe two-thirds of the nation’s outstanding $1.3 trillion student loan debt.

By Jessicah Pierre

Going to college is a good thing, right? That’s at least what I was told as a kid, and what led me to get a college degree. I was the first one in my family to do so.

Yet new public opinion polling shows most Republicans think colleges have a negative impact on the country. Unfortunately, they might be right — but not for the reasons you might expect them to give.

Attending college has been proven to unlock opportunities. A report by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities found that college graduates are 24 percent more likely to be employed than high school graduates — and earn $1 million more over a lifetime.

Those with college degrees are also more than twice as likely to volunteer, and over three times more likely to give back to charity.

College educations also affect the way people vote. Three-quarters of bachelor’s degree holders vote in presidential elections, compared to just over half of high school graduates.

So why might some view college negatively? Well, there’s a lot of reasons — 1.3 trillion, to be precise. That’s how much debt students, current and former, are carrying in this country: $1.3 trillion worth, and rising.

Who’s hit worst by this skyrocketing debt? Women, who owe two-thirds of that amount — and especially black and Latina women.

A recent report from the American Association of University Women found that the average woman who graduated from a four-year university between in 2012 carried $21,000 in college debt. That’s about $1,500 more than the average man. Black women are even more negatively impacted, averaging over $29,000 in student loans.

Worse still, women are paid about 80 cents to every dollar a man makes — a number that falls to 63 cents for black women, and just 54 cents for Latina women, when compared to white men. That means these grads start out deeper in debt and then have a much harder time getting out.

So, is rising Republican opposition to the academy a result of their concern for the economic well-being of black or Latina women? Doubtful.

After all, our GOP-led Congress refuses to engage with potential solutions to close the gender wage gap, which could make huge strides in reducing overall student loan debt. And not a single Republican senator supported the Pay Check Fairness Act, which would make it harder for employers to discriminate based on gender.

Same goes for the College for All Act, a bill put forward by Senator Bernie Sanders to create a debt-free higher education system and help student borrowers refinance their debt. A lot more effort is needed on the federal and local levels to remove this economic burden systemically placed on women.

Unfortunately, the Pew study that showed Republican opposition to universities didn’t dive deeper as to why. However, an old quote from Karl Rove, the Republican mastermind responsible for bringing George W. Bush into office, offers a clue: “As people do better, they start voting like Republicans — unless they have too much education and vote Democratic.”

What else about college might rub conservatives the wrong way?

Colleges provide a space for critical thinking where students can expand their minds and become more knowledgeable of the world. That might be why universities have historically played major roles in the resistance to bad public policy — from Vietnam to Iraq to today’s #resistance to Donald Trump.

Fixing higher education means reducing barriers to college, not increasing them. Greater investment in debt-free higher education and debt relief for the most impacted students, including black women like me, is what’s needed — not mindless broadsides against the idea of education.

Jessicah Pierre is the Inequality Media Specialist at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by OtherWords.org

Border Adjustment Tax Could Devastate Ohio Importers and Jobs

By Nathan Nascimento

Congress has a rare opportunity in the coming months to replace our nation’s broken and dysfunctional tax code with one that is simple, efficient, and fair for all Americans. But one provision being debated would do the exact opposite—imposing up to $14 billion in new taxes on Ohio businesses that import goods, while threatening thousands of their jobs.

Those are among the findings of a new report by my organization on the effects of a “border adjustment tax” that would impose on U.S. companies a new 20 percent tax on all goods they import, whether final products, component parts, or raw materials. Ohio’s congressional delegation should do everything it can to keep this harmful provision out of any tax reform legislation.

Start with the harms the tax will do to Ohio’s businesses, especially importers—95 percent of which are small businesses. If the tax had been in place in 2014, it would have cost each of the state’s 9,766 importers an average of $1.4 million that year. That’s money that could otherwise be spent on higher salaries and more benefits for employees, or creating new jobs.

The state’s retail industry would be especially hard hit, as factors like high taxes, government mandates, and costly regulations in recent decades have forced many retailers to depend on imported goods. With retailers accounting for 570,800 jobs in 2015, this new tax could jeopardize thousands of Ohioans’ careers.

There’s also the impact on family budgets. Studies have found much of the tax will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for everyday goods. According to an analysis by the National Retail Federation, the average family could see their expenses rise up to $1,700 in the first year alone. Clothing costs could rise over $400 per year, while another study found gas prices could rise by 30 cents per gallon or more.

These burdens will fall hardest on the poorest families, who already spend a larger portion of their income to clothe their family and drive to work.

Proponents argue that if this new tax is enacted, the U.S. dollar will strengthen relative to other currencies, and the prices we pay for imports will remain unchanged. This theory, however, has never been tested outside of the classroom. Even the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve has cast doubt on these claims, recently saying it is “very uncertain” what exactly would happen.

Ultimately, this new tax is an economic experiment that is not likely to end well for the ordinary Ohioan.

Comprehensive tax reform is a worthy goal—one that my organization strongly supports. But it must be done in a way that doesn’t increase the burden on American families, or unfairly handicap certain sectors of the economy.

Rather than imposing a new 20 percent import tax to pay for tax cuts elsewhere, Congress should balance tax cuts with an equivalent amount of spending cuts. This can be achieved by eliminating tax loopholes for special interests, ending wasteful government programs, and shrinking the size of the federal workforce, to name just a few alternatives.

Federal lawmakers have a rare opportunity to fix the tax code and promote prosperity for all Americans, but this new import tax is the wrong approach. Ohio’s members of Congress should stand firm in opposition to this dangerous provision.

Nathan Nascimento is the vice president for policy at Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce.

Patriotism in the Trump era

By Katrina vanden Heuvel

Washington Post

In one of his first official acts upon taking office, President Trump designated the day of his inauguration a “National Day of Patriotic Devotion.”

While it’s not unusual for incoming presidents to issue symbolic proclamations, Trump’s choice of words reflected the extreme nationalism of a White House that “seriously considered” an inaugural parade with military tanks rolling down the streets of Washington, D.C. “A new national pride stirs the American soul and inspires the American heart,” he proclaimed.

As George Orwell once wrote, however, “Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism.” And nearly six months into Trump’s presidency, it seems especially fitting on this Fourth of July to reflect on the meaning of patriotism and to consider how one can be patriotic during such deeply troubling times for the country.

Throughout our history, American patriotism too commonly has been associated with uniform praise for the military and uncritical support for war, along with a visceral belief in America’s “greatness” that provided the rhetorical foundation for Trump’s campaign. Especially in times of conflict — from the Spanish-American War to Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan — those who dare to dissent have frequently met with public scorn and shouts of disloyalty. Protest, too often, has been deemed unpatriotic.

But there is also a different view, which defines patriotism as working to ensure the country lives up to its highest ideals. That view inspired the Nation magazine, which has amplified dissenting voices ever since its founding by abolitionists, to publish a special issue on patriotism for its 125th anniversary in July 1991. As the dust was settling on the Persian Gulf War, dozens of progressive writers, activists, scholars and leaders shared personal reflections on the topic, many of which feel particularly relevant today.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, for example, linked patriotism to the fight against oppression. “America at its best guarantees opportunity,” he argued, “and so fighting to expand the horizons of oppressed people is an act of patriotism.” Noting that real patriotism is not always popular, especially among the elite, he wrote that “true patriots invariably disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed, and are persecuted in their lifetimes even as their accomplishments are applauded after their deaths.” And he made it clear that empty displays of patriotism are no substitute for unwavering devotion to progress, saying, “We must never relinquish our sense of justice for a false sense of national pride.”

Similarly, Texas columnist Molly Ivins reminded us that there is more to patriotism than flag-waving and fireworks. “I believe that patriotism is best expressed in our works, not our parades,” she wrote. “We are the heirs of the most magnificent political legacy any people has ever been given. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident … ’ It is the constant struggle to protect and enlarge that legacy, to make sure that it applies to all citizens, that patriotism lies.”

Today, that struggle has taken on a renewed sense of urgency. The ongoing efforts to weaken access to health care, gut environmental protections, roll back voting rights, restrict immigration and ban travel from Muslim-majority countries (among other policies) constitute a full-blown assault on the rights to life and liberty envisioned in the Declaration of Independence. For many Americans, the pursuit of happiness is getting harder every day.

Yet in the face of such threats, it is inspiring to see millions of people nationwide engaging in the political process, many for the first time in their lives, and making their voices heard. In the resistance to Trump, we see clearly the resilience that has enabled Americans to overcome dark chapters in our country’s past. In the growing movements demanding justice and equality for all, we see the hard work of patriotism flourishing all around us.

“In times of crisis,” the historian Eric Foner wrote after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, “the most patriotic act of all is the unyielding defense of civil liberties, the right to dissent and equality before the law for all Americans.” This is one of those times.

Editor and publisher of the Nation magazine, vanden Heuvel writes a weekly column for The Post. Follow @KatrinaNation

Our President’s Word Wars

“America First” apparently means making us the first to get mixed up in yet another endless, costly war — or three.

By Olivia Alperstein

These days I find myself thinking often about a cartoon by the late Theodore Geissel.

In it, a woman with a sweater that reads “America First” reads aloud from a storybook to two children: “And the Wolf chewed up the children and spit out their bones,” she relays. “But those were Foreign Children and it didn’t really matter.”

Geissel — better known as Dr. Seuss — was criticizing Americans’ purposeful isolationism during World War II. But it’s never felt more prescient, as a sitting American president embarks on a dangerous and deadly new “America First” policy.

These days, “America First” is apparently code for using language to provoke other countries into aggressive stances or all-out war. “America First” apparently means making us the first to get mixed up in yet another endless, costly war — or three.

Instead of “America First,” we really need “Diplomacy First.”

On the global stage, even a slight miscalculation or poor choice of words by a world leader can provoke a diplomatic crisis. That’s why I was shocked to see the White House’s brief statement on the recent attacks in Iran, which states: “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.”

That sounds awfully like the president was blaming the innocent Iranians targeted by ISIS gunmen a few weeks back for their own murders.

The last administration negotiated the Iran deal for the precise purpose of avoiding an unnecessary war with Iran and deescalating the country’s nuclear program. It was arguably life-or-death diplomacy.

The new administration’s approach, on the other hand, is more like kicking the hornet’s nest until it stings you then blame the hornet.

Our president has a history of strange and poorly timed statements and tweets — for instance, he called for a Muslim travel ban right after a recent terrorist attack in London, only expressing sorrow or sympathy for victims or families several hours later.

This is impulsive and intentionally careless. Those are words you never want to hear about foreign policy, especially in a world so beset by crises. It’s playing whack-a-mole with a bunch of brush fires — while someone else is lighting a cigarette.

Iran isn’t the only country to get Trumped. The complex crisis in Syria has come at a huge human cost — and yet Trump is considering escalating the conflict. In Afghanistan, he recently authorized the first battle use of the “Mother of All Bombs,” and now he’s giving the generals the go-ahead to send thousands more U.S. troops there.

A few weeks ago, Trump also handed over a $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which routinely violates human rights and continues to wage war on its poorer neighbor Yemen. As for the Yemenis, Trump has been unwilling to aid in the humanitarian crisis that war has caused — including a growing famine — by using U.S. leverage over the Saudis.

And I’ve yet to hear Trump speak a single word on the systematic slaughter of LGBT people in Chechnya while he defends Russia.

As Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Trump seems to love picking fights with European allies and countries we’ve cut hard-won diplomatic deals with, but can’t seem to find the words to speak up about real humanitarian crises caused by his friends.

The United States is no longer a global leader. While other countries try to work together to solve problems and continue to lead on global progress, we’ll get left behind chanting “America First.”

Olivia Alperstein is the Deputy Director of Communications and Policy at Progressive Congress. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

Companies Can Either Make Things or Make CEOs Rich

Making breakthroughs for consumers is hard, companies have found. But making fortunes for CEOs is easy.

By Sam Pizzigati

Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric since 2001, is retiring. The 61-year-old will be making a well-compensated exit.

Fortune magazine estimates that Immelt will walk off with nearly $211 million, on top of his regular annual pay. Immelt’s annual pay hasn’t been too shabby either. He pulled down $21.3 million last year, after $37.25 million in 2014.

But Immelt’s millions don’t come close to matching the haul that his predecessor Jack Welch collected. Welch’s annual compensation topped $144 million in 2000. He stepped down the next year with a retirement package valued at $417 million.

What did Immelt and Welch actually do to merit their super-sized rewards? What did they add to a GE hall of fame that already included breakthroughs like the first high-altitude jet engine (1949) and the first laser lights (1962)?

In simple truth, not much at all.

“We bring good things to life,” the GE ad slogan used to proudly pronounce. Not lately.

And not surprisingly either. Mature business enterprises, we’ve learned over recent decades, either make breakthroughs for consumers or grand fortunes for their top execs. They don’t do both.

Why not? Making breakthroughs, for starters, takes time. Enterprises have to invest in research, training, and nurturing high-performance teams.

Years can go by before any of these investments bear fruit. By that time, the executives who made the original investments might not even be around.

Grand fortunes, by contrast, can come quick. CEOs can downsize here, cut a merger there, then sit back and watch short-term quarterly earnings — and the value of their stock options — soar.

If those don’t do the trick, CEOs can always just slash worker pensions or R&D and put the resulting “savings” into dividends and “buybacks,” two slick corporate maneuvers that jack up company share prices and inflate executive paychecks.

On any CEO slickness scale, Jack Welch would have to rank right near the top. In 1981, his first year as the GE chief, Welch quickly realized he was never going to get fabulously rich making toasters and irons.

So Welch started selling off GE’s manufacturing assets. In his first two years, analyst Jeff Madrick notes, Welch “gutted or sold” businesses that employed 20 percent of GE’s workforce.

By 2000, Welch himself was making about 3,500 times the income of a typical American family.

By contrast, in 1975, Welch’s predecessor took home merely 36 times that year’s typical American family.

As Welch’s successor, Jeffrey Immelt would give an apology of sorts in a 2009 address at West Point. Corporate America, he told the corps of cadets, had wrongfully “tilted toward the quicker profits of financial services” at the expense of manufacturing and R&D, leaving America’s poorest 25 percent “poorer than they were 25 years ago.”

“Rewards became perverted,” Immelt went on. “The richest people made the most mistakes with the least accountability.”

Unfortunately, and sadly, Immelt never took his own analysis to heart. As a rich CEO in his own right, he continued to make mistakes and suffer no particular consequences.

One example: After the Great Recession, Immelt froze the GE worker pension system and offered workers a riskier, less generous 401(k). Within five years, notes the Institute for Policy Studies, the GE pension deficit widened from $18 billion to $23 billion — even as Immelt’s personal GE retirement assets were nearly doubling to $92 million.

“If we want to slow — or better yet, reverse — accelerating income inequality,” the Harvard business historian Nancy Koehn noted a few years ago, “the most powerful lever we have to pull is that of outrageous executive compensation.”

How many more outrageously compensated executives will retire off into lush sunsets, the Jeff Immelt story virtually begs us to ask, before we start yanking that lever?

Sam Pizzigati, an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow, co-edits Inequality.org. His latest book is The Rich Don’t Always Win. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

What is our experience of our flawed democracy?

By Robert J. Gould

Last year, the Economist Intelligence Unit dropped its score for the U.S. from 8.05 to 7.98 (Above 8 is a full democracy; below 8 is a flawed democracy). Not much of a change, and according to the report, no fault of the current President, as the rating has been “teetering on the brink of becoming a flawed democracy for several years.” Like other flawed democracies (France, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and India), we have “weak governance, an underdeveloped political culture, and low levels of political participation, according to the EIU.”

What is our collective experience of a flawed democracy? I suggest that powerlessness is the feeling. In this way, ordinary Americans are more unified emotionally than our deep divisions might seem politically. A new poll by The Associated Press NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that “three-quarters of Americans agree that people like themselves have too little influence in Washington, rare unanimity across political, economic, racial, and geographical lines.” This poll finds unity among those who approve and disapprove of President Donald Trump.

The left felt powerless under the Obama presidency because he presided over our perpetual war with false endings that echoed George W. Bush’s, “Mission Accomplished,” as well as Obama being unable to break the Congressional gridlock, and by making smaller policy changes that are easily being undone by his successor. The right felt persecuted during the Obama years and is also beginning to feel impotent, as Trump has been incapable of following through on large policy changes that he promised as a candidate.

One might wonder if anyone feels empowered in America, as politicians themselves seem so weak. My first thought is that American billionaires must feel powerful, as they continue to get richer and command more power and status because of their wealth. However, billionaires are generally obsessed with competition, not unlike those of us further down the food chain. And, as we all know, competitors hate to lose, no matter how poor or wealthy they are. To lose is to feel frustration in the face of defeat.

The great philosopher, Hanna Arendt, said, “Power corresponds to the human ability not just to act, but to act in concert. Power is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together.” The question that this quote raises is, how do we “act in concert”? Too often public dialogue consists of adversarial processes, including, public and media side-taking, legal processes, and voting, where there are always winners and losers, so this battlefield cannot be ‘acting in concert.’

There must be a better way of thinking about America being a group that acts together as a group. Luckily, this better way exists in the processes of conflict resolution and, specifically, public policy facilitation. The National Center for Public Policy is a leader in the transformation from power-over to power-with by facilitating dialogue processes, where as many stakeholders as possible meet, and try to find common ground for policies that grow from that commonality.

As an example, Mediate.com published an article in 1998 about pro-life and pro-choice advocates working together: “The ongoing dialogue groups that have been established have addressed a range of issues, including the state and welfare of women and children, the feminizing of poverty, adoption options, reduction of unwanted pregnancies, community safety and harmony, and more. Initiatives have included jointly authored papers and a jointly developed set of principles for sexuality education presented to a state legislature. In several cities, pro-life and pro-choice supporters have made joint public appearances to reduce tensions and potential violence in their communities and to show the public that pro-choice and pro-life people can work together.”

This kind of “working in concert” is how we can elevate the U.S. status back to “full democracy,” rather than continue to suffer the countrywide powerlessness of being a “flawed democracy.”

Robert J. Gould, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an ethicist, Founding President of the Oregon Peace Institute and Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution at Portland State University.

Rising Chronic Disease Rates Portend Unsustainable Costs

By Kenneth E. Thorpe

12 percent of Americans suffer from five or more chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. This fraction of the population accounts for 41 percent of total health care spending.

If we don’t do more to prevent people from acquiring chronic disease, the resulting health care bills could blow a gaping hole in the federal budget.

A new study conducted by RAND Health and supported by my organization, the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, shows just how costly it is to treat the severely ill.

In 2014, the latest data available, 32 percent of those with five or more chronic conditions visited an emergency department at least once. ER visits cost over $1,200 on average.

The sickest patients also require more prescriptions. In 2014, patients with five or more chronic conditions filled nearly six times the number of prescriptions as people with one or two chronic diseases.

Chronic disease prevents people from living independently. More than half of those with five or more chronic conditions report having physical limitations that affect their daily lives.

As a result, patients have to cut back on work or ask someone to help them. More than 34 million Americans provide unpaid care to adults who are older than 50. This leads to a loss in worker productivity that could cost society $794 billion by 2030.

If we hope to save lives and avoid such staggering costs, we must undertake key reforms to help patients manage and prevent chronic diseases.

First, policymakers need to work together to ensure that care is affordable and accessible. A third of privately-insured Americans recently reported receiving a “surprise” medical bill, one in which their health insurance plan paid less than what they expected. And many insurers have started dropping certain prescriptions from their coverage, leaving patients to either try a new drug or to pay for their current drug out-of-pocket.

When patients can’t access the care they need, they get sicker — and health care costs rise. Improving medication adherence alone could save America more than $105 billion a year.

Second, we ought to expand programs proven to prevent chronic diseases. For instance, the Diabetes Prevention Program, which is offered by private insurers, helps patients at risk of developing diabetes improve their diet and exercise more. The program has worked tremendously well — patients aged 60 or older who made lifestyle changes through the program reduced their risk of developing diabetes by 71 percent. Medicare will cover it for those at risk and age 65 and older starting in 2018, but if Medicare offered the program to at-risk adults aged 60-64, it could save $7 billion more.

Altogether, increasing access to health care and promoting behavioral changes could save society $116 billion a year.

Finally, America needs to encourage the development of new treatments and medicines. In 2016, there were 93 medicines in development for Alzheimer’s disease, more than 170 for diabetes, and more than 130 for mental illnesses. Fostering the development of medicines and treatments that target chronic disease would save millions of lives and save $418 billion a year.

If current trends continue, chronic diseases will claim millions of American lives and cost us trillions of dollars. To lower that toll, we need to promote prevention efforts and improve access to recommended care for those who are already diagnosed.

Kenneth E. Thorpe is a professor of health policy at Emory University and the chairman of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease.

Nukes and the global schism

By Robert C. Koehler

The United States boycotted the U.N. negotiations to ban — everywhere across Planet Earth — nuclear weapons. So did eight other countries. Guess which ones?

The international debate over this historic treaty, which became reality a week ago by a margin of 122 to 1, revealed how deeply split the nations of the world are — not by borders or language or religion or political ideology or control of wealth, but by possession of nuclear weapons and the accompanying belief in their absolute necessity for national security, despite the absolute insecurity they inflict on the whole planet.

Armed equals scared. (And scared equals profitable.)

The nine nations in question, of course, are the nuclear-armed ones: the U.S., Russia, China, Great Britain, France, India, Pakistan, Israel and … what was that other one? Oh yeah, North Korea. Bizarrely, these countries and their short-sighted “interests” are all on the same side, even though each one’s possession of nuclear weapons justifies the others’ possession of nuclear weapons.

None of these countries took part in the discussion of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, even to oppose it, seeming to indicate that a nuke-free world isn’t anywhere in their vision.

As Robert Dodge of Physicians for Social Responsibility wrote: “They have remained oblivious and hostage themselves to this mythological deterrence argument that has been the principal driver of the arms race since its inception, including the current new arms race initiated by the United States with a proposal to spend $1 trillion in the next three decades to rebuild our nuclear arsenals.”

Among the nations — the rest of the planet — that did participate in the creation of the treaty, the single vote against it was cast by the Netherlands, which, coincidentally, has stored U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory since the Cold War era, to the befuddlement even of its own leaders. (“I think they are an absolutely pointless part of a tradition in military thinking,” former Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers has said.)

The treaty reads, in part: “…each State Party that owns, possesses or controls nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices shall immediately remove them from operational status and destroy them, as soon as possible …”

This is serious. I have no doubt that something historic has happened: A wish, a hope, a determination the size of humanity itself has found international language. “Prolonged applause broke out as the president of the negotiating conference, Costa Rican ambassador Elayne Whyte Gomez, drove through the landmark accord,” according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “‘We have managed to sow the first seeds of a world free of nuclear weapons,’ she said.”

But nonetheless, I feel a sense of cynicism and hopelessness activated as well. Does this treaty sow any real seeds, that is to say, does it put nuclear disarmament into motion in the real world, or are her words just another pretty metaphor? And are metaphors all we get?

Nikki Haley, the Trump administration’s U.N. ambassador, said last March, according to CNN, as she announced that the U.S. would boycott the talks, that as a mom and daughter, “There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons.”

How nice.

“But,” she said, “we have to be realistic.”

In years gone by, the diplomat’s finger would then have pointed to the Russians (or the Soviets) or the Chinese. But Haley said: “Is there anyone that believes that North Korea would agree to a ban on nuclear weapons?”

So this is the “realism” that is presently justifying America’s grip on its nearly 7,000 nuclear weapons, along with its trillion-dollar ‘modernization’ program: tiny North Korea, our enemy du jour, which, as we all know, just tested a ballistic missile and is portrayed in the U.S. media as a wildly irrational little nation with a world-conquest agenda and no legitimate concern about its own security. So, sorry Mom, sorry kids, we have no choice.

The point being, any enemy will do. The realism Haley was summoning was economic and political in nature far more than it had anything to do with real national security — which would have to acknowledge the legitimacy of a planetary concern about nuclear war and honor previous treaty commitments to work toward disarmament. Mutually Assured Destruction is not realism; it’s a suicidal standoff, with the certainty that eventually something’s going to give.

How can the realism manifest in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons penetrate the consciousness of the nuclear-armed nine? A change of mind or heart — a jettisoning of the fear that these insanely destructive weapons are crucial to national security — is, presumably, the only way global nuclear disarmament will happen. I don’t believe it can happen by force or coercion.

I therefore pay homage to South Africa, which played a crucial role in the treaty’s passage, as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reports, and happens to be the only country on Earth that once possessed nuclear weapons and no longer does. It dismantled its nukes just as it went through its extraordinary transition, in the early ‘90s, from a nation of institutionalized racism to one of full rights for all. Is that the change of national consciousness that’s necessary?

“Working hand in hand with civil society, (we) took an extraordinary step (today) to save humanity from the frightful specter of nuclear weapons,” said South Africa’s U.N. ambassador, Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko.

And then we have the realism of Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing on August 6, 1945. Recounting the aftermath of this horror recently, which she experienced as a young girl, she said of the people she saw: “Their hair was standing on end — I don’t know why — and their eyes were swollen shut from the burns. Some peoples’ eyeballs were hanging out of the sockets. Some were holding their own eyes in their hands. Nobody was running. Nobody was yelling. It was totally silent, totally still. All you could hear were the whispers for ‘water, water.’”

After the treaty’s passage last week, she spoke with an awareness I can only hope defines the future for all of us: “I have been waiting for this day for seven decades and I am overjoyed that it has finally arrived. This is the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.”

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

There’s No ‘Free Market’ Solution to Health Care

A fully privatized system can never adequately provision the nation.

By Geoff Coventry

The Republicans have big plans for health care in this country: to eliminate coverage for millions of Americans while delivering a big tax cut to the rich.

As someone who stands to benefit from that tax cut, let me just say: I don’t need it, and I don’t want it. No tax cut is worth excluding millions of Americans from the health services they need.

Any new health care legislation should be focused on providing the best available health services for all Americans, not deliberately putting them out of reach. And yet, this is exactly what the twin monstrosities that came out of the House and Senate would have done.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the House bill would’ve left 23 million Americans uncovered by 2026. The Senate version was only a shade better, leaving 22 million people out. Those bills were nonstarters with the public — the party was forced to pull them, along with any immediate plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

This Republican-majority Congress has shown their cards: They favor less coverage for workers and the elderly and lower taxes for the wealthy.

Republicans in both chambers claim they’re doing this to support “freedom” and “choice” for the American people. They say the “free market” is the only way to provide Americans with access to affordable health care. They claim deregulation will help drive down health costs.

Well, for starters, so-called “free markets” are unicorns — fanciful creatures with magical powers that don’t exist in the real world. All markets are designed; they don’t emerge spontaneously from nature. We form, structure, regulate, and enforce markets through policy and institutions which reflect private and public interests.

When it comes to health care, we’re talking about something closer to a “natural monopoly” like electricity, not an industry like autos or breakfast cereals. Everyone needs basic medical services on a regular basis, and we need to make sure the same quality is available to everyone — even in hard to reach or low-income areas.

This will always require some form of direct government funding of services, especially with respect to primary care. Failing to do so means we’re not serious about the goal of quality care for all Americans.

This doesn’t necessarily mean an entirely government-run system — there’s plenty of room for private medical practices and businesses to provide the spectrum of services we need. But it does mean some degree of public funding is essential.

A fully privatized system can never adequately provision the nation. Rural communities don’t have adequate medical facilities and staff. Underdeveloped urban communities suffer from the same lack of basic resources, and their residents often don’t have the ability or time to travel to other locations.

Republican leaders claim they want affordable access to quality health care for all Americans, but all of their proposals have focused on lowering taxes on businesses and the rich, regardless of the very real cost in terms of human life.

It’s a false choice, and the effects will be cruel.

A healthy nation is a prosperous nation. This is primarily a challenge of real resources and the distribution of those resources, not of money. Congress can and should authorize any necessary funding to achieve the stated public goal simply by appropriating the funds.

This includes designing a system that will ensure there are enough facilities, doctors, nurses, specialists, transportation systems, and all the other elements of quality care in close proximity to all who need it — at any level of need and ability to pay.

Members of the House and Senate were put there by the voters and have an obligation to fight for and protect all of their constituents, not just the ones wealthy enough to bankroll their campaigns.

Geoff Coventry is a member of the Patriotic Millionaires and a founder and principal of Tradewind Energy, Inc. He runs the blog, “It’s The People’s Money.”

The Torture-Friendly Trump Administration

By Medea Benjamin

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Donald Trump is pro-torture. He said on the campaign trail he’d approve waterboarding “in a heartbeat,” plus “a hell of a lot worse.”

He added: “Only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work.”

There are certainly a lot of stupid people then, because everyone from interrogators to researchers have repeatedly concluded that torture doesn’t work. People will say whatever you want them to say to make the pain stop, making torture not only inhumane but also bad for intelligence.

A 2009 Senate Armed Services Committee review concluded that torture “damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.” That’s why the Senate voted in 2015 to turn the presidential ban on torture into official law.

To his credit, Trump did water down his original support for torture, allowing Defense Secretary James Mattis — who opposes torture — to override him.

But if the Trump administration is now opposed to torture, why are they nominating the architects of America’s torture fiasco to key posts?

Take Steven Bradbury, nominated to be general counsel for the Transportation Department. Bradbury is infamous for writing the legal memos authorizing CIA torture at the Bush Justice Department.

Bradbury’s confirmation was placed on hold by Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq veteran who lost her legs in the war. “The actions you helped justify put our troops in harm’s way, put our diplomats deployed overseas in harm’s way, and you compromised our nation’s very values,” she said angrily at his confirmation hearing.

Or what about Donald Trump’s nominee to head the FBI, Christopher Wray?

Wray was at the Justice Department when attorney John Yoo and others were drafting their torture memos. Wray knew about detainee abuse and did not, as head of the criminal division, bring charges against any of the Bush administration torturers — except for one low-level CIA contractor who beat a prisoner to death.

A third person connected to torture is Gina Haspel, who was appointed deputy director of the CIA. Haspel ran a “black site” prison in Thailand where suspects were waterboarded — and then helped destroy video of the interrogations.

The Senate Intelligence Committee meticulously documented the sordid U.S. record of torture under the Bush administration in a 6,770-page report. But the public hasn’t been able to read it — only the executive summary has been released.

Yet this isn’t just an exercise in history. In June, Human Rights Watch and the Associated Press published explosive reports revealing a secret network of prisons in southern Yemen run by U.S.-allied United Arab Emirates and Yemeni forces.

The reports reveal horrific practices in which prisoners, including children, have been arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, sexually assaulted, and tortured. One torture method, known as the “grill,” had victims tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire.

Reports indicate that the U.S. military knew about the torture, received transcripts of the interrogations conducted by Yemeni interrogators, and interrogated several detainees themselves. According to one Yemeni security officer, American forces were only yards away from a facility where torture took place.

Senators John McCain and Jack Reed immediately expressed outrage, calling on the Trump administration to investigate the allegations. But the reaction of the White House to these revolting reports is telling: radio silence.

Trump’s refusal to publicly condemn these secret prisons, together with the appointments of people who played a role in George W. Bush’s torture program, should set off alarm bells.

Only stupid people say torture works, and one of them is sitting in the White House.

Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, is the author of The Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

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Guest Columnists

The views expressed in these editorials are not necessarily supported by the editor or publisher. They are meant to provide a different viewpoint that may not be commonly held, to provoke thought and encourage polite debate.