Private insurers will make a lot of money off Medicare-for-all, but that’s okay: everyone will be covered and overall costs will go down

There are a number of myths floating around the mainstream news media that portray Medicare-for-all as politically unviable, too expensive and impossible to implement.

The biggest misconception is that there would be no place for the politically powerful private insurance companies if everyone is on the government plan. This myth proposes that the eradication of private insurers makes passing a Medicare-for-all bill virtually impossible. If it did pass, consumer choice in plans would be severely limited, because private sector competition creates choice. Yet even a cursory look at the real world proves that only people with no actual experience of Medicare could seriously entertain the idea that Medicare-for-all would eliminate private insurers.

Private insurance has been an integral part of Medicare for decades, in three ways:

  • Private insurance companies offer supplemental plans that pay for the 20% of medical costs that Medicare doesn’t cover.
  • Private insurers also sell Medicare Advantage plans, which replace Medicare coverage with coverage through a private insurance company that Medicare pays for. Typically these plans offer a dental and eye benefit and wellness programs, but they also usually force participants to use a limited healthcare network of physicians and facilities. All of the Advantage plans saddle participants with co-pays.
  • Private companies offer prescription drug policies (Medicare Part D).

I doubt an American single-payer system could exist without the support of private companies. What’s more, private companies should embrace the Medicare-for-all concept. Although they will be forced to offer less profitable policies, tens of millions more people will be covered, a bonanza opportunity for private healthcare insurers. Moreover, the more people who are covered, the lower the overall cost of healthcare coverage, which will cut costs at the level of the individual insurance provider.

The next myth is that Medicare-for-all will give people less choice. Nothing could be further from the truth. For one thing, people don’t get that much choice to begin with. Virtually every private healthcare insurer offers the same portfolios of benefits, with the same perks like wellness classes and on-line tools and apps, differing only in the size and composition of their provider networks and the combination of deductibles and co-pays they require. Everyone offers annual physicals. No one will pay for custom shoes unless the patient has diabetes. Cardiac stress tests, yes. Coronary calcium tests, no.

In fact, I would assert that Medicare offers more choice than private commercial insurance. For the past 15-20 years, it has been impossible to find a commercial plan that didn’t have co-pays or deductibles. I know, because I tried many times, having gotten use to buying healthcare plans without co-pays or deductibles for the employees of my company before the insurers did away with premium-only policies. (BTW, my company always paid the entire premium for employees and their families.)

By contrast, Medicare offers people the option of buying a supplemental plan—from a private insurance company—that pays all the costs that Medicare doesn’t cover without a deductible or a co-pay. That’s the kind of choice that appeals to this American!

Perhaps the most egregiously wrong-headed myth about Medicare-for-all is that it will be so expensive that it will bankrupt the country. That makes no sense, assuming that the money that companies and individuals now pay for commercial insurance goes towards taxes to pay for Medicare-for-all. It’s true that more people will be covered, but research and the results of Obamacare show that the more people who are covered, the lower the cost to insure each. The uninsured tend to wait until they are very sick to seek medical care, often using the very expensive emergency department. Society pays for those costs in one way or the other. It is much less expensive when people get regular check-ups, get their flu shots and other needed vaccinations, and are encouraged to go to the doctor as soon as they get sick. Most economic estimates predict that Medicare-for-all will eventually drive down the cost of medical care.

But who will pay? That’s the big question and the big fear. The answer, however, should be obvious: raise the Medicare tax on both employers and employees so that the additional tax collected is somewhat close to the current total cost for non-Medicare related commercial policies. We could exempt employees earning under a certain amount, but not their employers. We would, of course, have to make certain the tax applied to sole proprietors, freelancers and the companies who hire gig economy employees. At the end of the day, though, rich folk will tend to subsidize a Medicare-for-all system, while poor people will pay less than what they use. The same will be said for healthy people and young adults who will use the system less and the elderly and infirm, who will use it more.

This solution will leave some companies and individuals paying less for healthcare than they currently do and some paying more. But let’s remember that when governments decided to standardize weights and measures, merchants with scales that were “light” made less money as they adjusted what a pound meant up and merchants with “heavy” pound scales made more as they started selling “pounds” that weighed less. Likewise, when governments decided to prevent bakers from putting sawdust in bread—some bakers made more money and others made less. When American governments in the first half of the 20th century decided to tax mass transit systems while subsidizing the construction of highways, some companies and individuals made more money and some made less. When a government decides to go to war, change a safety standard, ask for a new piece of paperwork, or do just about anything, someone is going to make more money and someone is going to make less. That’s the nature of all economies. Don’t mistake these comments as an argument against regulation, though: the decisions of companies and consumers also always economically benefit certain parties and hurt others. Just ask towns when factories move away or the employees of small downtown stores when Wal-Mart builds a super store at a nearby mall. Or the people who manufacture Cleveland Cavalier paraphernalia.

Political questions always come down to who benefits and who pays. In the case of Medicare-for-all, a system can be created in which everyone, including the private insurance industry, benefits, except those rich folk who don’t like to subsidize the health care of others, those racists who don’t like society to help minorities, and those fanatics deathly afraid that people will like Medicare-for-all so much that they’ll start doubting the ideology of the free market which to many conservatives is their most cherished religious belief. In other words, only those who believe in or benefit from the politics of selfishness should fear Medicare-for-all.

In defiance of Nov’s blue wave & will of the people, NRA pursues challenging NYC’s strict gun law & Trump acts to make it easier to sell AK-15’s abroad

The blue wave that swept Democrats into office on the local, state and federal levels has given progressives and centrists hope that legislatures will soon start passing tougher gun control laws.

Meanwhile back at the ranch—or in Trump’s case, the garish, overpriced resort—those who want to expand the sale of guns and the rights of gun owners to create unsafe environments for everyone else are winning two major victories, both of which will lead to an increase in gun-related crimes, deaths and acts of terrorism in the United States and around the world.

When I write “in the United States,” I specifically mean my home town of New York City. As Amy Davidson Sorkin describes so well in her “Talk of the Town” article in the February 4 New Yorker, the New York state affiliate of the National Rifle Association and two Bronx gun owners are trying to get the Big Apple’s gun law declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The law is so tough that gun owners can take their guns out of their home only if they are unloaded and in a locked case.  It will be the first time the Court will be considering gun rights since its awful 5-4 decision in D.C. v. Heller that proposed that the Second Amendment gave people an absolute right to bear arms that had nothing to do with serving in a government militia. With Brett Kavanaugh on the court, it’s likely that the New York City gun law will be overturned.

I take this lawsuit personally. In fact, it pisses me off bigly. One of the reasons I moved back to New York seven years ago after being gone for decades was because of the extremely tough gun control laws. It’s a no-brainer to figure out why New York has among the very lowest rates of crime, violent crime and murders anywhere in the United States. It is effectively illegal to carry a gun in the street and there is a relatively low level of gun ownership. Every legitimate study on the issue shows that the lower the number of guns in a locality, region or country, the fewer deaths and injuries from guns; the higher the number of guns, the higher the deaths and injuries from guns. No wonder New York is so safe. I can’t be the only New Yorker offended to the quick that these Bronx bozos and the NRA want to force their minority views on the overwhelming number of New Yorkers who like to be able to walk the streets and ride the subway safely. Keep in mind that large majorities of Americans, including gun owners, want stronger gun control laws, including the banning of assault weapons like AK-15’s and wait periods for all gun purchases.

Gun sales are down in the United States, primarily because gun owners loaded up on weapons during the Obama years, when they feared administrative action to regulate firearms ownership. But while enjoying success in corrupting and intimidating legislators on all levels of government, the NRA has not been able to grow its market, as the number of gun owners has declined steadily over the past 50 years. Of course, each of these gun owners own more guns than they used to. There are, however, still only so many guns the shrinking number of gun owners can afford to buy.

Luckily for U.S. firearms manufacturers and unfortunately for everyone else, the Trump administration intends to rescue them from a shrinking market by making it easier to sell AR-15s and other weapons to individuals in other countries by loosening export regulations and oversight. Many American gun and ammunition manufacturers that sell primarily to consumers will no longer have to register with the State Department, which currently licenses international arms sales, or to pay the department an annual fee. Instead, those sales would be licensed by the Commerce Department, which has a simpler process and does not charge a fee. According to the New York Times, the State and Commerce Departments privately told Congress that they intend to finalize the new rule soon. Once the administration gives Congress formal notice of the rule change, lawmakers will have 30 days to decide whether to intervene. It’s unlikely that Congress could permanently prevent the rule from going into effect unless the Democrats controlled both houses.

So it looks as if the federal government is going to facilitate the spread of the epidemic of mass shootings from the United States to the rest of the world.

As is usual with gun laws and gun violence, the hands of both major parties are dripping in blood. The Times reports that the Obama administration originally wanted to make a similar change. They were about to complete the rule when the Sandy Hook massacre occurred. Even though the rule change affects sales outside the United States, the Obama administration thought it was politic to drop the idea.

Trump uses threats to public safety that don’t really exist to justify building a wall along our southern border with Mexico that we don’t really need. Yet he and the Republican Party ignore the pressing need to strengthen gun control laws. Instead, they create more of a danger to the public by supporting laws, regulations and lawsuits that make it easier to buy guns or give gun owners more rights in the public square.

Let’s face it. The GOP has become the party of death and the culture of death. While both parties are dominated by militaristic thinking, the Republicans spend far more on the armed forces than the Democrats and start more wars, which after all, help their crony defense contractors and suppliers. Republicans are just as enthusiastic about helping commercial gun sales, as shown by their eager embrace of every proposed law and regulations of the gun lobby.

But the conservative predilection for death goes well beyond support for gun manufacturers and policies that kill people. We can start with their approach to healthcare, which denies coverage to people who can’t afford it to save wealthy taxpayers a few bucks. The GOP’s environmental and energy policies support the coming death of other species and millions of people in areas suffering extreme weather events. The GOP’s support for gutting social welfare programs shows a mean-spirited disregard for human life. The immigration policy if taken to its extreme will lead to the death of the American economy, since native-born Americans are reproducing at very low rates which, if unaugmented by immigration, will result in a rapidly shrinking population within a few years.

Even the GOP’s support of laws that prevent abortions is pro-death. Here’s my reasoning: You can’t die unless you are born. By forcing unwanted births and then shredding the social net that helps children in impoverished circumstances, anti-abortion laws almost by definition add to the toll of human suffering, including some number of unnecessary premature deaths.

The Democrats aren’t much better when it comes to killing people outside the country, but their domestic policies for the most support the health and well-being of the population.

I would like to write that never has a political party been so dedicated to death and so fascinated by destruction as the current edition of the GOP. But then I remember our genocide against the Indians, our dropping of two atomic bombs on Japanese cities, slavery’s destruction if human life. That’s just in U.S. history, and doesn’t consider the Soviet Union, England, France, China or Rwanda. The collective thinking of individuals that occurs in political parties too often falls prey to the dark nightmares of its most blood thirsty members.   

If Schultz runs for president, will business-oriented Republicans planning to hold nose & vote for Trump instead desert the Donald for Mr. Café Latte?

In daydreams I imagine a 2020 Democratic presidential ticket consisting of some combination of Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Jeff Merkel, Chris Murphy and Kamala Harris trouncing Trump or whoever the GOP nominates in 2020. Sometimes I throw Corey Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand into the mix, or reluctantly configure a ticket that includes pre-boomers Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. My craziest fantasy is that Democrats nominate Hillary and she gets her, and the country’s, sweet revenge.

Really, I’d be delighted with just about any Democrat considering a presidential run, except for Beto or Tulsi. But like most people I know fed up with Donald Trump’s stupidity, racism, anti-intellectualism, bad policies and possible treason, I’d hold my nose and even vote for these inexperienced and undistinguished centrists rather than chance another term of ignorant and autocratic insanity.

But this week, those dreams turned ugly as I pondered the very real possibility that in November of 2020 Americans have the choice of a qualified Democrat versus two unqualified conservatives, Howard Schultz and Donald Trump. If Schultz runs, most experts and pundits expect him to filch more voters from Democrats than from Republicans, for one simple reason: Schultz, who proclaims he is a Democrat, will split the anyone-but-Trump vote. Non-racist centrists and conservatives planning to vote Democratic will flock to the Starbuck’s founder instead. In both 2000 and 2016, votes for third-party candidates handed the election to an unqualified Republican candidate who got fewer votes than a qualified Democrat.

I’m not sure whether this analysis is correct. We know that many business-oriented Republicans—you know, those who only care about low taxes on the wealthy and no government regulation of business—voted for Trump rather than any Democrat. It’s possible that those voters, fearful that a Democratic president will reverse Trump’s regulatory rollback and enormous tax cut for the well-heeled, are currently planning to vote Trump again, but will see Schultz as a “responsible” business-friendly alternative. In such a scenario, Schultz hurts Trump.

No one really knows what Mr. Café Latte’s influence on voters will be, but whatever it is, an independent Schultz run complicates the race into something other than Trump versus decency and science.  

Schultz qualifications are as illusory as Beto’s. That he is at all qualified to be president is as ridiculous as the false but highly publicized notion that Hillary or Warren are not likeable or that Octavio-Cortez acts inappropriately. But as long as the mainstream and right-wing news media keeps pumping out these myths, the American public will have to shift through the deceptive labeling and conflation.

If Schultz runs, the media will have a field day repositioning the Democratic candidate, making her/him seem far more left-wing than he/she really is. They will keep jabbering that Schultz is a centrist, someone who represents a middle position between the generic Democrat and Trump.

His statements about issues so far put Schultz at the far right of the Democratic Party, inhabiting a space similar to Beto or West Virginia’s Joe Manchin: He thinks the national debt is the most important problem facing the country. Remember, just about every politician who has ever stated that the deficit was our biggest threat, or a bigger threat than global warming or wealth inequality, has proposed cutting Social Security and Medicare to close the deficit. While Schultz favors same-sex marriage, gun control and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, he has stated explicitly that universal healthcare—“Medicare for all”—is un-American. His negative comments about Alexandria Octavio-Cortez’s realistic and fiscally responsible proposal to raise marginal tax rates to 70% suggests that his stated support of comprehensive tax reform probably means he wants the middle class and poor to pay more and the rich to keep paying a miniscule portion of their fair share. He wants to enhance border security, but is against building a wall.

There are a lot of issues about which Schultz hasn’t thought or has only expressed superficial or fuzzy ideas, unlike the typical candidate who has a long list of positions and specific proposed legislation before forming an exploratory committee. Whereas Harris, Gillibrand and Warren will be able to give you detailed policy analysis on every major or minor issue, for the most part Schultz hasn’t thought through much, not even his aversion to budget deficits.

And yet the news media takes him seriously!

Schultz’ billions of dollars and public visibility as the creator of one of the most prominent 21st century brands gives him several unfair advantages over other candidates for president. First and foremost, his money and prominence enable Schultz to capture the imagination of the news media, much as Trump did. He is immediately considered serious, regardless of his lack of policy or government experience. The quality of his ideas matters not. Now in Schultz’s case, he really has had great success in business, unlike Trump who has run every business he ever managed into the ground except for his forays into entertainment and branding. But over the history of the United States, there has been absolutely no correlation between success in business and success in government.  More important, only one president never either served in the military or in government before his election. That, of course, is the disaster who won the Electoral College vote in 2016.

Mr. Café Latte’s money enables him to ignore the primaries, and thus avoid the sifting through of candidates and positions that a political party does before agreeing on a nominee. Obama, Hillary, Bush II and even the Donald fought heavily contested primaries. By virtue of his billions, Schultz can automatically declare himself a finalist. Like so much in today’s society, it’s the privilege of instant credibility that is reserved only for the ultra-wealthy.

If Schultz is a patriot and not another billionaire full of himself, he will either run in the Democratic primaries or declare himself out of the race. If he truly cares about the United States, he will realize that his independent candidacy will only make things easier for Donald Trump. If he truly respects our American democracy, he won’t use his money to cut in line, but follow the system of primaries and caucuses that we have established after a few centuries of trial and error.  

AUMFs are really MFs, as they give POTUS authority to wage wars w/o first asking Congress. Let’s support Barbara Lee’s legislation to repeal 2001 & 2002 AUMFs

Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California wants to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and the 2002 Iraq AUMF, which three presidents have now used to start shooting wars in what the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) calculates to be 18 different countries.

AUMFs authorize the president as commander-in-chief to authorize the use of American military forces unilaterally, without having to go to Congress for the permission or money. The 2001 AUMF enabled President Bush II legally to invade Afghanistan, and pretty much anywhere else he wanted to send troops. The 2002 AUMF specifically allowed Bush II to invade Iraq without having to go back to Congress for approval.   

These AUMFs are really MFs, to use the parlance of Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. Until repealed, they just keep on keeping on, giving a legal fig leaf to unconstitutional authoritarian actions by the president. Our Constitution states that Congress has the sole authority to decide when we go to war. Yet a majority of current members of Congress did not vote on any war that the United States is currently fighting.  

To most Representatives and Senators, handing war-making authority to the president lets them off the hook with their constituents. They can say that they are in favor of or against a particular conflict, but they never have to have a voting record to put the lie to their words. It gives foreign powers—and the president himself (until a woman president comes along)—the illusion that the country is unified in supporting the war. Of course, I dare say most Americans would be unable to name the 18 countries in which we have fought under cover of the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.

Tragic to note, not one of these wars has worked out with the U.S. getting what it wants. Iraq was perhaps the most foolish American invasion ever and led to the growth of ISIS throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. Afghanistan has been the quagmire that even a cursory reading of world history would have predicted.

We must repeal the two AUMFs as a first step in shrinking the military budget and changing U.S. foreign policy to focus on multilateral negotiations and economic actions, not brute force. In 2019, the United States is going to spend more than $700 billion in the military budget. We could easily cut the military budget to under $400 billion if we withdrew from our many dirty little wars and stopped development of robotic weapons that work without human command and the next generation of nuclear weapons.

Imagine having $300 billion to spend on building dedicated mass transit, fixing roads, bridges and sewer systems, cutting the number of children in public elementary school classes, preparing vulnerable areas for extreme weather events and investing in carbon neutral technologies. Combine that with the billions more we could raise by doing what Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposes: returning to the income tax system pre-Reagan, when the highest marginal rate was 70%. Then we would have enough to address our many social problems and pay down our national debt. The entire history of the United States and the Western European democracies demonstrate that replacing military spending with domestic investments and raising taxes on the wealthy leads to a stronger economy in which there are mostly middle class people, with few ultra-wealthy. The opposite approach, favored by Republicans, of lowering taxes on the wealthy and spending as much as possible on the military to the detriment of domestic programs, has proven to create a society in which most are struggling to get by and a few have fabulous incomes and assets.

Repealing the AUMFs thus carries constitutional, moral, foreign policy and economic implications. Constitutionally, it will put war-making decisions back where they belong—in the hands of Congress. The moral dimension is obvious: fewer wars, less death, destruction and displacement. On the foreign policy level, we will end up in fewer wars, because the bar for starting a war will be much higher—not just the whim of an imperial president, but the vote of democratic Congress. Finally the economic case for repealing the AUMFs is compelling: fewer wars means fewer expenditures, which in turn should lead to investing more in building our future.

Representative Lee is working to get 50 co-sponsors to legislation to revoke the two AUMFs. I urge all readers to write, call, email or telegraph their Representatives and Senators and tell them that you want them to support and co-sponsor legislation to repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.

Trump’s wall is a typical GOP maneuver: Propose a stupid idea that hurts non- whites to solve a non-existent problem

As Stephen Colbert pointed out, Republican strategist Stuart Stevens best characterized Donald Trump’s Oval Office speech about the proposed wall along our Southern border hours before Trump gave the speech: “There are numerous examples of presidential addresses made to calm a public. This will be the first to frighten a calm public.”

The partial federal government shutdown is now well into its third week and millions of Americans are suffering because Donald Trump and his Republican flunkies in the Senate insist on building a wall along the border of Mexico, a bad solution to a non-existent problem. We already do tight security screening and illegal entry is way down, thanks to a combination of better Latin American economies and the unwelcoming attitude of the current administration.

It’s not the first time that Republicans have addressed a non-existent problem with a solution that will hurt many people, primarily non-whites, and not help the country. Remember, the states under GOP control have passed dozens upon dozens of restrictive voting laws to address the non-existent problem of voter fraud by individuals. Just as the origins of building a wall is racism, so was the wave of new voter laws, which have targeted minorities, the young and the poor. For example, the Texas voter ID law allows voters to use a hunting license as proof of identification, but not a Texas university ID card. As with the wall, new voter registration laws solved a non-existent problem by targeting non-whites.

Time and time again, Republicans have used non-existent problems in the economy as the excuse to give tax breaks to the wealthy. Once again, there were no long-term problems with the economy. But even if there had been—as there were in 2008—the way to grow the economy and create jobs is never to give tax breaks to the wealthy. What works much better is to give tax breaks to the poor and lower middle class. But what works the best is to raise taxes on the wealthy and invest the money in the economy—building new dedicated mass transit, fixing roads and bridges, making college more affordable, developing carbon neutral technologies. Yet every time the Republicans seize power, the first thing they do is lower taxes on the wealthy. They did it under Reagan, Bush II and now, Trump. Lowering taxes on the wealthy hurts not only racial minorities and the poor, but the middle class and most of the upper middle class, in several ways: It takes money out of the economy, as the rich invest their tax savings in the secondary stock market, bigger houses and other non-productive assets. More important, the government has fewer funds to invest in programs that actually grow the economy and create jobs.

The Afghanistan war breaks the GOP pattern of solving a problem that doesn’t exist with something stupid and racist, but just a little bit. We did have a terrorism problem in 2001. The Afghan War started within a month of 9/11, supposedly to hunt Al Qaida. So the problem was real, but the solution was just plain stupid—the wrong answer, almost by definition, since every outside power that has ever tried to invade or control Afghanistan has instead got caught in the worst kind of intractable, unending, unwinnable quagmire. The Soviet Union, England, the Sikhs, the Mughals—all of these governments invaded Afghanistan, and all soon regretted it. As has the United States.

That brings us to Iraq. Let’s set aside the war for a second and think about what the government had done by 2003 to fight terrorism—greater cooperation with allies, an enormous increase in surveillance, enhanced airport and border security and the development of drones are just some of the many ways we fought terrorism from outsiders after 9/11. Some would say, and include me in this group, that we committed overkill. By 2003, terrorism was no longer a problem, thanks to the Draconian measures the Bush II Administration took, with the cooperation of the Democrats. Thus the war in Iraq was another wrong-headed GOP solution to a non-existent problem that ended up severely hurting populations of non-whites. It perfectly follows the pattern of the wall, voting restrictions and tax breaks for the wealthy.

Those who say Trump has taken over the Republican Party are absolutely and completely wrong. Trump and the GOP were a match made in heaven. Trump’s policies and actions are completely consistent with Republican ideology since Reagan. His decision-making process fits right into Republican strategizing: Create a problem and solve it with a cockamamie idea that hurts non-whites. The wall represents the apotheosis of Reaganism. Those Republicans like Romney and Corey Gardner who criticize Trump only dislike his obvious emotional instability, his crude style, his addiction to lies and the overtness of his racism. They’re fine with his policies.

Trump’s foreign policy does represent a break from Republican ideology, to be sure. He rejects traditional alliances and seems fond of autocrats—perhaps picturing himself as the de facto leader of an international white nationalist movement. Of course, the true leader is Vladimir Putin.

But he deserves credit for announcing the drawdown of about half the troops in Afghanistan. We can only hope that he follows through on this promise, and soon brings home all our remaining troops in Afghanistan.

That would be a start to dismantling the global U.S. military machine now operating in 80 countries total. We have active troops fighting in 14 countries and have recently bombed or used drones in 7. Our military personnel conduct counterterrorism training in 65 countries. All this, in addition to our 40 military bases around the globe. While Trump courts disaster to turn his back on our allies, start a trade war with China and replace multilateralism with go-it-alone bellicosity, his instinct to bring home U.S. troops is a good one.

But even when he gets it right, Trump screws it up. Of all the many places where the United States has an active military engagement, just about the only one we can justify is our presence in Syria. We have no business in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, the Central African Republican, Yemen, Mali and elsewhere, but our small force in Syria does bring a small measure of stability to the civil-war ravaged country. We can only leave once there is a permanent political solution that protects the Kurdish population. To do otherwise would mean we have abandoned an ally, a despicable action that we know Trump has embraced before in both his business and political careers.  

The Party will matter more than the candidate for Democrats in 2020, so Dems should play the Electoral College game

Whoever the Democrats run as president in 2020 will represent the Party and the Party platform far more than is usual, mainly because there is so much unity among Democrats when it comes to platform issues—no matter what the mainstream media says.

On every issue on which the mainstream media says there is disagreement—be it minimum wage, healthcare or immigration—all Democrats are at a position extremely to the left of Republicans and relatively close to each other. All want a dramatic increase in the minimum wage. All will return to a foreign policy built on negotiating treaties and acting in unison with our allies. All will open the borders to refugees and end the crackdown on immigrants. They all will increase the federal government’s hand in healthcare and rollback the Trump rollbacks of Obama regulations. All will want to increase incentives to use solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy. Every Democrat will nominate pro-abortion judges. Under each and every Democrat, a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress will lead to tax increases on the wealthy and corporations.

Thus, to select a 2020 Democratic candidate because of his or her stand on the issues is foolish. There are not the stark contrasts between potential candidates, as there were between Gerry Ford and Ronald Reagan in 1976, or between Edward Kennedy and Jimmy Carter in 1980. It’s more like the Republicans in 2016, when everyone running agreed on every issue with the eventual nominee.

With issues out of the consideration, Democrats should nominate the most electable candidate. While some, especially believers in Beto O’Rourke’s “magic,” would define electability entirely in terms of charisma, I prefer to look at the electoral map, which as we know favors the GOP because it gives a greater say to smaller, more rural states. Even though 21st century Democrats have enjoyed a huge advantage in the popular vote for president, winning four out of five times, the electoral advantage Republicans hold have led to their winning three of five elections.

Current political divides leave the election in the hands of a handful of states with 93 votes in the Electoral College, all of which went for Trump in extremely tight races in 2016: Florida (29 electoral votes), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), Pennsylvania (20) and Wisconsin (10). At the very least, the Democrats have to figure out a way to turn 39 of these 93 electoral votes.

Luckily, the good citizens of Florida almost assuredly just gave Democrats 29 of the 37 electoral votes they need by voting to allow Sunshine State ex-cons who have served their time to vote. That move has the potential to add 1.3 million people to the Florida voting rolls in 2020, most of whom are predicted to vote a straight Democratic Party line. Recent Florida elections have seen razor thin margins, meaning that the vote to give rehabilitated felons the vote should turn Florida a deep shade of blue.

With Florida’s 29 electoral votes in the Democratic column, all Democrats have to do is turn one other of these swing state. One of the surest ways to get a swing state to vote for a candidate is if the candidate calls that state home. Since 1920, there have been 30 presidential elections. Win or lose, 45 of the candidates (75%), won their home state and 15 (25%) lost their home state. In four of the elections, 1920, 1940, 1944 and 2016, both major party candidates came from the same state. If we net out those elections, candidates win their home state almost 80% of the time (41 candidates out of 52).

The male candidates currently under discussion include Corey Booker, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke, Martin O’Malley, Eric Holder, Andrew Cuomo, Chris Murphy and Sherrod Brown. Only one of these men resides in one of the key swing states, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, a likeable guy, a long-time liberal, friend of labor and admired by both the centrist and the leftist wings of the Democratic Party.

Sherrod Brown is the safest bet if the Democratic Party decides to play the Electoral College game because running Brown for president almost guarantees winning Ohio’s 18 electoral votes, which when added to Florida’s give the Democrats the White House. The wild card, of course, is John Kasich, another Ohio favorite son. If Kasich heads the Republican ticket—a distinct possibility if Trump has resigned or been impeached and convicted—it would cancel out the home state effect.

Kasich aside, a Brown-Harris, Brown-Warren, Brown-Gillibrand or Brown-Klobuchar ticket would be nearly ideal: It starts with a distinct electoral edge. It sends competent, deeply experienced and likeable progressives to the White House. And it readies the American people to elect a woman in 2024 or 2028

But really, any of the men on the above list except Beto O’Rourke would be fine to lead the 2020 Democratic ticket. To these names I would like to add Gavin Newsom, Jay Inslee and Phil Murphy. The Democrats do indeed have a deep bench ready to steer the country away from the disastrous economic, tax, foreign, environmental, educational and energy policies of the current administration.

If Democrats want to win in 2020, they won’t nominate a woman for president and will nominate a woman for vice president

The Democratic Party is full of smart, experienced and personable women who would do a great job as president. The list begins with Hillary Clinton, but obviously nominating her would court disaster, as the irrational “lock her up crowd” is still rather quite large. Why give Republicans another reason to come out to the polls? Hillary would perform particularly poorly against any Republican other than Trump, because none of them would have Trump’s baggage and Hillary would still have hers.

The four women I like for president are Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand. I personally think it’s about time that a woman served as president.

But nominating any of these truly competent woman or any other woman would be a mistake. About 34% of all voters, including 59% of Republicans, do not personally want to see a woman as president in their lifetime. That’s a steep demographic hill to climb. We know that any male Republican candidate, but especially Trump, will attempt to associate a female candidate with weakness. The news media is sure to exercise its double standard for female candidates: questioning them for past actions and family situations that go unspoken when the candidate is a male.

There is plenty of evidence that a backlash against the very necessary and important #Metoo movement has formed. Leading the anti-#Metoo-ist charge is Trump Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who has pushed through new college regulations regarding claims of assault that favor the accused. Of particular interest is a recent Bloomberg News report that men at Wall Street investment banks, brokerages and other financial institutions are avoiding being alone with women, rather than risk an accusation of sexual harassment. These powerful business men, virtually all of whom had a mentor at the beginning of their careers, call it the Pence Effect, after Vice President Mike Pence, who will be alone in a room or at dinner with a woman only if it’s his wife. Now Pence can blame his squeamishness on his religion, but these Masters of the Universe blame it on the potential for a misunderstanding or false accusation. The article never mentions the fact that a mere 2% of sexual harassment or assault accusations are false. That means the likelihood of dining alone with a woman resulting in a false accusation is close to nil. That is, if the man keeps the conversation during business hours to business matters, and the dinner conversation to business or non-threatening personal matters. No physical contact beyond shaking hands, when appropriate. That these men don’t realize that all it takes to avoid assault charges is not to assault suggests a terrible truth about the lack of respect that women still suffer in the business and public worlds.

Whoever the Republicans run, it’s essential for Democrats to win in 2020. Why take a chance? What if the answer to the question, “Is America ready for a woman president?” is still no?

But on the other hand, it is extremely important that America moves forward. We have to lay the groundwork for a female presidency in the near future. A woman has twice run for vice president and once for president. Running a woman as a vice presidential candidate in 2020 keeps women in the presidential campaign limelight. And let’s face it, Harris, Klobuchar, Warren and Gillibrand are all more competent and presentable candidates than Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin were. A woman vice presidential candidate will make a Democratic ticket more attractive to millennial voters.

But whereas all four women would make wonderful presidents and vice presidents, I would not consider Elizabeth Warren as someone’s running mate, because she’s already 69. In four or eight years, she’ll be in her seventies, on the verge of being too old to run for our highest office.

Interestingly enough, running one of the three younger women as vice president makes Joe Biden a more appealing choice to head the ticket. Biden will turn 78 in 2020 and, if elected, figures to serve one term only. Whoever is his vice president will be the presumptive presidential frontrunner in 2024. Making it Harris, Klobuchar, Gillibrand or another woman sets up the probability that a woman is elected president in 2024, assuming the Democrats do what they say they’re going to do.

Biden wouldn’t be my first, second, third or fourth choice among Democratic men. I still don’t like the way he mistreated Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in 1991. Moreover, I would rather see a younger, more vigorous person in office.

But who should it be? Tune in tomorrow for the last in my series of articles on who the Democrats should nominate in 2020.

With a deep bench of talent, the Democrat’s mantra should be ABB: Anyone but Beto

The Democrats are blessed with a large number of candidates whose experience, politics and personality make them qualified to assume the office of the presidency. Even if we rule out the most well-known but all fairly ancient Democrats—the septuagenarians Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders—the Democrats’ cup runneth over with talented candidates.

Unfortunately Beto O’Rourke is not one of them.

Yet, Beto is the one that the mainstream news media want to focus on. The other day, MSNBC’s pseudo-progressive Chris Matthews pumped up O’Rourke’s candidacy. This week, The New York Times ran a front-page feature focused  focused on his potential candidacy. The only other possible candidates mentioned in the article are those the writer believes Beto particularly threatens—Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker and Joe Biden

What’s more, strong anecdotal evidence exists that large numbers of probable Democratic voters are intrigued by Beto. Other than Biden, Bernie and Hillary, O’Rourke attracted the most support in a recent national poll, although he won a mere 9% of participants. My Facebook universe of more than 3,500 friends, which is decidedly Democratic and progressive, generates at least two dozen updates a day about the 2020 election. About a sixth of the posts wail over the possibility of Hillary running and another sixth propose Bernie as the top choice. A handful of posts mention other candidates, while the remainder—about two-thirds—propose Beto as the top candidate.

Yet what has he done? Not much, as it turns out.

He served three undistinguished terms as a back bencher in the House of Representatives. Between forming an environmental coalition, speaking out (sometimes inaccurately) on many issues and paying her interns a decent wage, the spunky Alexandria Octavio-Cortez has already had a greater impact as a congressional representative than Beto did in six years, and she hasn’t even taken office yet. Before he ran for office, he had an undistinguished career in business.

Beto, like JFK, both Bushes, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Brown and Mitt Romney, does have the advantage of coming from a politically connected family. His mother is the stepdaughter of the Secretary of the Navy under JFK, while his father served as county commissioner and county judge and is a longtime political crony of former Texas Governor Mark White. We can assume that Beto called in decades of chits in first running for office as an unknown mediocrity.

When the news media and social media gush about O’Rourke, they focus on one fact and two feelings. First and foremost, they mention his charisma, which is, to quote Webster’s “a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure.” Charisma is an amorphous feeling that has been applied to JFK, Reagan, Clinton, Obama and George W. Bush (only in comparison to his 2000 opponent, Al Gore). No one likes to use the “c” word when talking about Donald Trump, Adolph Hitler, Huey Long or Mussolini, but we know that large numbers of people were irrationally devoted to these individuals. Some individuals with charisma were decent leaders, but most were fairly mediocre like JFK or Clinton, or full scale disasters like Ronnie and Georgie. Then there are the manipulative, lying demagogues. Many Democrats seem very likable, especially Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Corey Booker. Others have the gravitas that I prefer in a leader, including Kamala Harris, Jay Inslee and Sherrod Brown. All have greater credentials and have accomplished more in their lives than Beto.

Beto-heads like the fact that O’Rourke raised so much money from so many small donors for his failed campaign to unseat Texas Senator Ted Cruz. That’s the fact. We’ll never know, however, what portion of the small givers were as much anti-Cruz as they were pro-O’Rourke. A lot of people despised Cruz before they ever heard of Beto. Remember that Cruz is considered unctuous, hypocritical and untrustworthy by large numbers of people, and is even disliked by many of his allies in the Senate. No one has ever written that Ted has even a modicum of charisma, charm or even likeability.

Finally, supporters of O’Rourke believe that his great showing against Cruz in Texas demonstrates that he can beat Trump nationally in 2020. The implicit reasoning behind this feeling seems to be that the nation as a whole is more liberal than Texas. Yet Texas has a lot of minorities. Its demographic future seems to be similar to the path taken in Nevada, Virginia and Colorado, all states that are turning or have turned blue. Besides, it is Trump not Cruz who commands the so-called Republican base of evangelicals, those opposed to immigration and racists. They preferred Trump over Cruz in the 2016 primaries. If Beto couldn’t beat a despicable Cruz, why does anyone think he can handle the more formidable Trump?

Compare Beto to the last newcomer anointed as a charismatic Democratic savior who leaped ahead of more experienced Democrats, Barack Obama. First of all, Obama had far more relevant experience. He had been a prominent Senator who had made noises during his four years representing Illinois, and a Constitutional law professor before that. When we focus only on domestic affairs, Obama turned out to be a good president, but during his first few years in office he made several mistakes stemming from his lack of experience as an administrator. Can we expect the less experienced and less well-educated O’Rourke to do any better than Obama?

It’s not just that Beto is at best marginally qualified to be president. It’s that the Democratic bench is so deep and talented that it makes little sense to put the nation’s future in Beto’s hands.

In a related column tomorrow, I will consider some of these other Democrats from the standpoint of what should be the most important factor in 2020—electability.

Great victory for Dems & the American people last night no matter what mainstream media says, but we have to start preparing for 2019

Media pundits are trying to shade the election as a wash, but I see it as a major victory for Democrats, everyone who believes America is a multicultural society, and the 99.5% of us who don’t have a lot of money.

The central outcome of the 2018 midterm election is that the Democrats won back the House. The Dems will now be able to block obnoxious Republican legislation and open a series of investigations into Trump and Trump administration corruption and lawbreaking. For example, it’s a cinch that one or more House committees will now subpoena Trump’s past tax filings. The Democrats will also be able to wrestle concessions from Republicans in some no brainer areas such as criminal justice reform and repairing our frail infrastructure of mass transit, roads, bridges and sewer systems. While it’s doubtful progressives will see progress on the big issues such as healthcare and raising taxes on the wealthy, we also won’t face defunding of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

Perhaps most important, control of the House means that something is now blocking the Trump and GOP’s path towards authoritarian control by a minority party. That the Republicans picked up a couple of Senate seats does not change the balance of power the way the Dem’s House victory does. It was always a pipedream to think that the Senate could change hands with so many Democratic seats open this year. On the bright side, a lot of GOP Senators will be up for reelection in 2020, vulnerable to Trumps’ unpopularity among a large majority of voters. The Trump agenda is now effectively blocked, except when it comes to installing rightwing judges.

One reason why the results look so much more balanced than actuality is that the GOP won many of the races the mainstream media focused on: Florida Governor and Senate, Georgia Governor, Texas Senate. Many of the vilest of Republican candidates won, like Ted Cruz, Ron DeSantis and Marsha Blackburn, and at this point Brian Kemp and Rick Scott, too. To the good, Scott Walker and Chris Kobach, two of the most deplorable of the deplorables, did lose. But many of the most attractive Democrats went down, mainly Beto O’Rourke and Andrew Gillum (and maybe Stacey Abrams), all christened by the news media as rising stars. Pundits on multiple cable stations salivated at the thought of Beto running for president in 2020.

Luckily, the Democrats have plenty of attractive possible candidates who could prove formidable in 2020, including Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Gavin Newsom, Chris Murphy, Corey Booker, Martin O’Malley, Andrew Cuomo and Jay Inslee (not to mention yesterday’s news such as Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine). All, except maybe Bernie, would make competent presidents. All would tack left on healthcare, Social Security, infrastructure development, public education, social inclusiveness, a foreign policy paced on cooperation with other countries and action to address global warming. One will catch fire with Democratic voters. Let’s then hope that before too long the cable analysts stop pushing Beto. Someone who couldn’t even defeat Ted Cruz won’t have a chance against the Donald.

But before 2020 comes the very important off off year of the 2019 local elections that will do much to determine whether we continue to become an autocratic government whose sole objective is to enrich those already wealthy. If Democrats can continue to grab state legislatures, they can be in firm control to implement the results of the 2020 census. Remember that Dems lack of competiveness in 2010, the last election to determine who set the boundaries of Congressional districts, led to the current dire situation. Democratic state legislatures will also be able to end the wave of voter suppression laws that in all likelihood caused the defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016, and of the statewide candidates in Georgia and Florida this year. Finally, state legislatures can serve as a bulwark against an increasingly conservative federal court system.

Participation in the electoral process can never be a one-off activity, like a vacation to Machu Picchu. You have to keep voting for Democrats at every level in every election and keep participating to drive the Democratic Party further left. I urge all readers to begin now to investigate the open offices and who is running as a Democrat in their 2019 local races and communicate to everyone you know how important it is to keep coming out to vote for Democrats in 2019.

A lay sermon on voting against Trump and for Democrats on November 6

In Jewish tradition, the Tree of Life, the name of the synagogue where an anti-Semite with an AR-15 killed 11 worshipers, is the Torah. For example, the final song before closing the synagogue ark after reading from the Torah calls the Torah a “tree of life. The passage goes ”It is a tree of life onto them that lay hold of it, and happy is every one that retaineth it.” (from the 1958 Hebrew Publishing Company edition of the Synagogue Service New Year and Atonement)

The Torah—or the Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch, as it is also known—records the mythic history of the Jewish people from the birth of the universe through the exodus from Egypt and the wandering in the desert for 40 years before entering the Holy Land. But beyond the narrative, the Tree of Life is a guide for how to live one’s life. Rabbis have identified 613 specific commandments in the five books, most of which have been subject over the centuries to repeated interpretation to bring them up to date to cover situations, technologies and times that have changed dramatically since the original writing of the Torah, about 2,600 years ago. Each time someone follows any one of the 613 commandments, he or she performs a “mitvah,” a good deed. The idea of the Torah as a book of action as much as a book of history is central to all branches of Judaism.

I don’t believe I’m wrong to propose that action in the world—be it prayer, acts of kindness or bravery of making your voice known, dominates the way Jews live in the world, be they Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or atheist. Moses stresses the importance of acting in the world in his very last speech to the Jewish people, at the end of Deuteronomy. I’m going to give two translations, first the standard one you can find on the internet: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law.

Now the slightly more formal translation in the 1962 Jewish Publication Society of America translation: “Concealed acts concern the Lord our God; but with overt acts, it is for us and our children ever to apply all the provisions of this Teaching.”

There’s a double message here. First that our salvation and our objectives on earth can only manifest themselves through action. It doesn’t matter what you say or what you think. You are judged on what you do. It sounds very existential to me, which may explain why so many atheists of Jewish background insist they are good Jews and that there are a number of Synagogues for atheist Jews across the country.

The second message is just as clear: Our actions should depend on the real world—the things that are revealed. This affirmation of science and the application of facts stands in stark opposition to certain other religions that expect us to ignore facts in favor of faith, which, as Emily Dickinson once pointed out, “is a fine invention when gentlemen can see, but microscopes are prudent in an emergency.”

The countdown of the 2018 midterm election has seen so many truly disturbing events that the more religious among us may have come to believe we are living in apocalyptic times. The brutal assassination of Jamal Khashoggi; the wave of pipe bombs sent to public figures whom Donald Trump has constantly demonized in speeches and tweets; the racist murder of two African-Americans outside a supermarket in Kentucky; the dreadful Tree of Life slaughter. Many others probably feel as I do—as if I’m on the ropes of a fight ring and am being hit on the jaw time and again by a heavyweight boxer. That the violent and hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump and the Trumpites running for office has engendered an atmosphere of permission for the crimes and hate speech is hard to dispute. Since the latest mass murder and hate crimes, Trump and his administration have put the pedal to the metal in advocating various forms of racism both directly and using coded language and action. In talking with Pittsburgh Jewish leaders, Trump said that he, like them, likes to negotiate, an anti-Semitic slur. Mike Pence invited a spiritual leader who is a Jew for Jesus to pretend to be a rabbi and give a speech at a memorial ceremony for the Tree of Life dead, a poke in the eye to virtually every Jew. Trump used his authoritarian streak to ratchet up the hate when he asserted that he could overrule the 14th amendment and outlaw birthright citizenship with an executive order. We wake up each morning asking ourselves, what fresh hell will come today?

While the Torah is clear that we shouldn’t wait around for a miracle of faith, but act, its writers could not have anticipated the complex challenges of a post-industrial world in which the ultra-wealthy have made a devil’s pact with racists and the authoritarian right. But I infer a very clear application of the Torah’s message: Vote, and do not vote for liars and those who dispute scientific truth.

Scientific truth, of course includes a belief in global warming and the idea that racial constructs are meaningless. It includes an understanding that immigrants—legal and illegal—raise the wages and employment of everyone and commit fewer crimes than the native born. It recognizes that single-payer universal healthcare leads to lower healthcare costs; that lowering taxes on the wealthy does not create jobs; and that the more guns in a society, the more people are killed and injured by guns. It dismisses outrageous lies like the Saudi arms deal will create a million jobs, the caravan of refugees 900 miles from the border represents a national threat, or the United States is the only country to grant birthright citizenship. It discounts all racial and cultural stereotyping. In other words, to vote for truth requires us to reject Trumpism in its whole and its parts.

For Americans of good faith, be they Jewish or non-Jewish, believers or atheists, that means one thing and one thing only: wherever you are, vote straight line Democratic. I know that no Democrat will align exactly with your positions, but 2018 is one year when must vote by party, not individual, if we are to defeat the evil of Trumpism. Hold your nose and cast your ballot for that imperfect candidate, as long as she/he is a Democrat. The future of our country depends on it.

And you’d be doing a mitzvah.