Will California Show The Way To The Rest Of The US On Health Care?

Since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, the news coming out of the US are gloomy and pessimistic. Yet, resistance to Trumpism is growing across the country, and there are even highly encouraging developments at the state level, such as the effort to introduce a universal health care system in the state of California.

Indeed, on June 1, California senators voted to replace private health insurance with a single-payer system. Senate Bill 562, by senators Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins, passed 23-14, and will now advance to the Assembly where the measure would require two-thirds vote in both chambers to become law.

Clearly, the June 1 vote by California senators is an initial step towards the adoption of a government-run universal health care system, but it already signifies a major political victory for progressives in the United States, who have long advocated for a publicly-funded health care system. The proposed measure, i.e., SB-562, was backed by an economic analysis undertaken by The Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. It’s lead author, Distinguished Professor of Economics and Co-Director of PERI Robert Pollin, introduced the study at a Capitol news conference a day before the State Senate vote — a move that was undeniably instrumental in the passing of SB-562 which cleared the first huddle towards the replacement of private health insurance in California with government-run health care. The full content of the aforementioned study can be downloaded at the link below.

Link: PollinZetZalZECONOMICZANALYSISZOFZCAZSINGLE-PAYERZPROPOSAL—5-31-17 (1)

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Caught Between Scylla And Charybdis: The Effects Of Greece’s Loss Of Sovereignty

Photo: occupy.com

For the last several months, Greece’s international creditors – the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – had been at a standoff over debt relief, budget targets and various reforms, including taxes and pensions, thereby delaying the completion of a long overdue bailout review that should have been done in October 2016. The standoff added extra pressures to an economy that has been in recession for eight straight years, and even revived fears of a “Grexit” as bank runs had returned in full steam. In the meantime, the Syriza-led government of Alexis Tsipras was playing the role of a mere observer in a tug-of-war between two institutions that are in full control of the country’s finances, and merely trying to accommodate the demands of both sides.

Since the start of the current financial and economic crisis in Greece, which goes back to 2008 (although the actual outbreak of the debt crisis occurs in early 2010), the country’s GDP has shrunk by about 26 percent. Unemployment jumped to as high as 28 percent in 2013, and has now stabilized at 23 percent, but more than 42 percent of the population has “dropped below the poverty threshold of 2005.”

This harsh reality is the price the country is paying for its fiscal derailment as a member of a currency union (the euro) and the imposition of three consecutive bailout programs by the EU and the IMF. These bailouts have been accompanied by draconian measures of fiscal consolidation (austerity) and a radical neoliberal agenda which includes sharp cuts in wages, salaries and pensions, liberalization of the labor market and blanket privatization.

From the beginning, the bailout plans were never intended to rescue the Greek economy, but rather to avoid a financial meltdown on the continent, as several European banks had recklessly loaned to the public sector since Greece adopted the euro in 2001. Indeed, virtually all of the funds that have been provided to Greece since 2010 have gone towards the repayment of international loans – first to the European banks, and then to the country’s official creditors – rather than towards the economy.

But let’s return to the present: the standoff between EU and IMF over the “best way” to deal with Greece’s current financial and economic catastrophe, which finally came to an end a couple of weeks ago, with the Greek government agreeing to a new round of austerity measures which amount, essentially, to a fourth memorandum.

Spreading False Hopes About Recovery and Vague Promises About Debt Relief

Having grossly miscalculated the impact of the fiscal policies it proposed on the Greek economy, the IMF has been extremely reluctant to join in the third bailout program (agreed to and signed by the pseudo-leftist Syriza government of Alexis Tsipras), sensing that Greece will never be able to repay its loans. The country is essentially bankrupt, and the prospects for a return to the private credit markets any time soon are not very promising, as there are no signs of recovery on the horizon. At some point, small rates of growth will inevitably be registered solely because of the economy having hit rock bottom, but this is not the case at present.

Still, illusions of a recovery have been the hallmark of both the Syriza government and of the conservative government that preceded it. But this should not be surprising. Spreading false hopes to the citizens of a bankrupt nation that has lost its sovereignty is the last refuge of political scoundrels, of governments and their officials who have opted to become lackeys of the international elite rather than lead their people to resistance and to the overthrow of financial regimes imposing debt bondage.

Indeed, for the last few months, senior-level officials in the Syriza government, such as Minister of Economy and Development Dimitri B. Papadimitriou, were propounding that growth had made a comeback and that the crisis was over before the official statistics for the fourth quarter of 2016 were finally released in early March 2017. However, those figures showed the Greek economy had contracted again by 1.2 percent.
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Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump And The Emergence Of New Right-Wing Movements

Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump and the emergence of a new right-wing radicalism in both Europe and the United States signify fundamental developments in the political and ideological landscape of Western societies, while at the same time, there is a resurgence of extreme nationalism and authoritarian politics virtually all around the world. For an understanding and explanation of some of these disturbing developments and the alternatives available, we spoke to political economist C.J. Polychroniou, editor of a forthcoming book consisting of interviews with Noam Chomsky, titled Optimism Over Despair: On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change (Haymarket Books, 2017).

Marcus Rolle and Alexandra Boutri: Today’s political landscape in many advanced capitalist societies is marked by the rise of a new right-wing populism centered around anti-immigrant sentiment, xenophobia and extreme nationalism fueled mainly by the antiglobalization rhetoric of authoritarian political leaders. We’d like to start by asking you to put in context the contradictions of global capitalism and the emergence of what has come to be known as the “alt-right.”

C.J. Polychroniou: For quite some time now, there have been clear and strong indications across the entire political and socioeconomic spectrum in advanced Western societies that the contradictions of capitalist globalization and the neoliberal policies associated with them have reached an explosive level, as they have unleashed powerful forces with the capacity to produce highly destructive outcomes not only for growth, equality and prosperity, justice and social peace, but concomitant consequences for democracy,  universal rights and the environment itself. Indeed, not long after the collapse of the former Soviet Union and its “communist” satellites in Eastern Europe — a development which led to such unbounded enthusiasm among supporters of global neoliberal capitalism that they embarked on an  audacious but highly dubious course of (pseudo) intellectual theorization to pronounce the “end of history” — it became quite obvious to astute observers that the forces unleashed by capitalism’s inner dynamism and the dominant capitalist states, with the US imperial state at the helm, were more attuned to the brutalities of societal regression, economic exploitation, war and violence than to the subtleties of socioeconomic progress, geopolitical stability and environmental sustainability.

To be sure, we now live in a world of unparalleled economic inequality coupled with massive economic insecurity and dangerously high levels of unemployment (especially among the youth), all while the depletion of  natural resources has reached highly alarming rates and climate change threatens the future of civilization as we know it. All these developments are interconnected as they are fuelled by globalization’s imminent contradictions, but ultimately sustained by actual government policies and measures that cater almost exclusively to the needs of the wealthy and the concerns of the corporate and financial world. In the meantime, authoritarianism is reestablishing a foothold in many Western nations just as the social state is being reduced to the bare bone under the pretext of fiscal discipline.

Yet, despite poll results showing rising support for socialism in the US, especially among millennials, growing discontent with the current economic order has thus far resulted not in a new socialist era but in the rise of ultranationalist leaders like Donald Trump who deploy rhetoric shrouded in racism and anti-immigration sentiment.

In France, Marine Le Pen is playing on similar strains of xenophobia and ultranationalism, arguing that “division is no longer between left and right … but between patriots and believers in globalization.”

What is called the “alt-right” is in some ways a new phenomenon in the sense that, unlike conservatives and neoconservatives, the new right-wing radicalism belongs expressly in the “antiglobalization” camp. But the “alt-right’s” grievance is not with capitalism itself. Instead its adherents blame economic globalization and immigration for their woes. The strengthening of this right-wing antiglobalization movement was behind Brexit and Trump’s presidential victory and can explain the resurgence of authoritarian, xenophobic political leaders in countries like France, Austria, Hungary, Italy and Germany, to name just a few.
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Hannah Arendt’s Theory of Totalitarianism – Part One

Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism in 1949, by which time the world had been confronted with evidence of the Nazi apparatus of terror and destruction. The revelations of the atrocities were met with a high degree of incredulous probing despite a considerable body of evidence and a vast caché of recorded images. The individual capacity for comprehension was overwhelmed, and the nature and extent of these programmes added to the surreal nature of the revelations. In the case of the dedicated death camps of the so-called Aktion Reinhard, comparatively sparse documentation and very low survival rates obscured their significance in the immediate post-war years. The remaining death camps, Majdanek and Auschwitz, were both captured virtually intact. They were thus widely reported, whereas public knowledge of Auschwitz was already widespread in Germany and the Allied countries during the war.[i] In the case of Auschwitz, the evidence was lodged in still largely intact and meticulous archives. Nonetheless it had the effect of throwing into relief the machinery of destruction rather than its anonymous victims, for the extermination system had not only eliminated human biological life but had also systematically expunged cumulative life histories and any trace of prior existence whatsoever, ending with the destruction of almost all traces of the dedicated extermination camps themselves, just prior to the Soviet invasion.

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Exposing The Myths Of Neoliberal Capitalism: An Interview With Ha-Joon Chang

Professor of Economics Ha-Joon Chang. Photo: wikipedia

For the past 40 years or so, neoliberalism has reigned supreme over much of the western capitalist world, producing unparalleled wealth accumulation levels for a handful of individuals and global corporations while the rest of society has been asked to swallow austerity, stagnating incomes and a shrinking welfare state. But just when we all thought that the contradictions of neoliberal capitalism had reached their penultimate point, culminating in mass discontent and opposition to global neoliberalism, the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election brought to power a megalomaniac individual who subscribes to neoliberal capitalist economics while opposing much of its global dimension.

What exactly then is neoliberalism? What does it stand for? And what should we make of Donald Trump’s economic pronouncements? In this exclusive interview, world-renowned Cambridge University Professor of Economics Ha-Joon Chang responds to these urgent questions, emphasizing that despite Donald Trump’s advocacy of “infrastructure spending” and his opposition to “free trade” agreements, we should be deeply concerned about his economic policies, his embrace of neoliberalism and his fervent loyalty to the rich.

C. J. Polychroniou: For the past 40 or so years, the ideology and policies of “free-market” capitalism have reigned supreme in much of the advanced industrialized world. Yet, much of what passes as “free-market” capitalism are actually measures designed and promoted by the capitalist state on behalf of the dominant factions of capital. What other myths and lies about “actually existing capitalism” are worth pointing out?

Ha-Joon Chang: Gore Vidal, the American writer, once famously said that the American economic system is “free enterprise for the poor and socialism for the rich.” I think this statement very well sums up what has passed for ‘free-market capitalism’ in the last few decades, especially but not only in the US. In the last few decades, the rich have been increasingly protected from the market forces, while the poor have been more and more exposed to them.

For the rich, the last few decades have been “heads I win, tails you lose.” Top managers, especially in the US, sign on pay packages that give them hundreds of millions of dollars for failing — and many times more for doing a decent job. Corporations are subsidised on a massive scale with few conditions — sometimes directly but often indirectly through government procurement programs (especially in defense) with inflated price tags and free technologies produced by government-funded research programs. After every financial crisis, ranging from the 1982 Chilean banking crisis through the Asian financial crisis of 1997 to the 2008 global financial crisis, banks have been bailed out with hundreds of trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money and few top bankers have gone to prison. In the last decade, the asset-owning classes in the rich countries have also been kept afloat by historically low rates of interests.
In contrast, poor people have been increasingly subject to market forces.

In the name of increasing “labor market flexibility,” the poor have been increasingly deprived of their rights as workers. This trend has reached a new level with the emergence of the so-called “gig economy,” in which workers are bogusly hired as “self-employed” (without the control over their work that the truly self-employed exercise) and deprived of even the most basic rights (e.g., sick leave, paid holiday). With their rights weakened, the workers have to engage in a race to the bottom in which they compete by accepting increasingly lower wages and increasingly poor working conditions.
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How Do We Prepare The Next Generation Of Citizens?

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www.tc.columbia.edu

“College and career readiness” is the objective American educators are focused on these days, and it’s one both students and their parents will approve. Both want assurance that the cost and rigors of getting into and through college will pay off as a sure ticket to life success. A recent Harvard poll showed achieving this personal success to be the number one concern of today’s youth, and parents are likely glad to know. The broader purposes once associated with higher education have taken a back seat as college increasingly becomes a strict means to an end.

An initiative introduced recently at a premier suburban public high school in the US Northeast seems well aligned with this focus. Taking advantage of now widely available technology, beginning in 9th grade students are required to begin a “digital portfolio project” to “track their accomplishments throughout their high school careers and choose how the world perceives them.” Student reactions are reported to be positive. One spoke of it as an opportunity to set new goals for herself and a good reflection of what she achieves over the next four years. Another said it will be a good tool, especially for college applications. Instituting this future-oriented focus early on will perhaps be useful in helping teens to construct an identity and succeed in communicating it to others who can acknowledge and validate it, rather than postpone this task to the extended adolescence now frequent among twenty-somethings.

Yet absent from this focus is another dimension of preparing for adulthood, one that extends beyond individual success, to collective prosperity. It’s one long regarded as a central aim of education in a democracy – preparation for citizenship. A US election year reminds Americans of its significance. The American president elected this year will likely still be in office when today’s high schoolers begin their adult lives. Is establishing a personal identity and life trajectory enough to prepare them sufficiently for responsible citizenship under this president in their increasingly troubled nation and world?

A cursory look at the current political climate could be seen as reassuring in this regard. Although a segment of the citizenry lament the emphasis of image over ideas, modern media provide us a never before known opportunity to get to know the candidates, up close and personal. Candidates are well aware of their need for a skilled team to project a carefully shaped and managed image – their life story, the experience they bring to the job, and, most important, what kind of person they truly are. Above all, this image must portray them as personable and likeable, appealing to many.

Possibly, then, beginning as a young teen to shape one’s image and even to communicate it effectively in modern digital form is not far off the mark. Many of the teens afforded this opportunity aspire to leadership roles, and they are getting a head start in projecting who they are. They are learning the art and craft of branding and promoting a self.

Another view is that this accomplishment falls short and that we can and must do a good deal more if we wish to prepare our youth as citizens, ready to act in a democratic society that depends on their contribution. More than a few observers today find the level of discourse of the presidential candidates unsatisfying. There is a range, of course, from Trump at one extreme (“Look who I am”) to Sanders (“Here’s what we must do”) at the other. Yet, most of us, given the choice, would prefer all candidates, as a matter of course, to debate ideas rather than merely project images and for citizens to cast their votes based on these ideas.

If so, it is our responsibility to prepare our youth to become citizens who will have the vision and will to transform this preference into a reality. If we want people to think and talk about ideas, and solutions, we need from early on to afford them extended practice in doing so. There is of course a significant segment of the adult population who want their youth to consider only those ideas these adults themselves subscribe to. Yet, in work my colleagues and I have undertaken using modern technology to engage middle- and high-school students in electronic dialogs with peers on controversial social issues, we have found them keen to contemplate such issues at length with multiple partners, culminating in their writing individual “Letters to the Editor” position statements on them. Abortion is a topic they most frequently want to address, among numerous others such as foreign aid and criminal justice. Their initial ideas are often naïve and narrow, but that changes as they confront and respond to others’ ideas and examine evidence that bears on them. Some, for example, propose that instead of testing new drugs on animals, it would be better to use human prisoners since they are guilty and animals are innocent. With deliberation such ideas in time self-correct. Students also gain awareness of issues worth talking about. When we asked young teens in a New York City low-income school what the most important issues were that the new president will have to address, all but a very few mentioned just two, homelessness and stealing.

Although there are signs of change, peer discourse has never found much of a place in the American middle- or high-school curriculum. If students talk at all, it is in response to a teacher’s question, hoping to get the “right” answer. The social studies curriculum would seem the natural place for students to debate issues of current concern to the society they live in, but doing so is largely crowded out by an established curriculum designed to insure students know the history of their country, state, and city and the structure of these respective governments. We know not much of this information sticks. A recent video on Facebook showed American college students clueless when asked who won the civil war (yet all were successful in naming Brad Pitt’s present and former spouse).

Only belatedly, likely at the end of a term with time running out, do curriculum standards propose students be asked to consider the future – how what existed in the past or exists at present might change. New York State curriculum standards for social studies, for example, at the end of its comprehensive guidelines for American history, conclude with a brief section titled, “The US begins a new century.”   The new century, the standards suggest, offers an opportunity for “federal and state governments to reevaluate their roles,” and it is recommended that students contemplate these. The particulars listed under this heading are wide-ranging – “fiscal and monetary policies: 
taxation, regulation, 
deregulation” and “social programs: health, welfare, education.” The topic of reevaluating government’s role is a quite different topic than the descriptive historical topics that precede them in this and similar curriculum guides. “Teaching the future,” rather than only the past, calls for a different kind of intellectual engagement. It demands envisioning and weighing possibilities – what could be, rather than only what is or was.

Little in students’ school experience prepares them to shift gears to engage in this kind of thought, individually or with peers. If we believe it important that 21st century citizens be able and disposed to think in such ways, we must provide the opportunities that will prepare them, whether or not such thinking fits today’s culture.

ArgueDeanna Kuhn is professor of psychology and education at Teachers College Columbia University. She holds a Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley, in developmental psychology. She has been editor of the journal Cognitive Development, editor of the journal Human Development, and co-editor of the last two editions of the Cognition, Perception and Language volume of the Handbook of Child Psychology. She has published widely in psychology and education, in journals ranging from Psychological Review to Harvard Educational Review. She is an author of 4 major books — The development of scientific thinking skills, The skills of argument, Education for thinking, and, most recently, Argue with me: Argument as a path to developing students’ thinking and writing (Routledge, 2016). Her research is devoted to identifying and determining how best to nurture the intellectual skills that will prepare young people for lifelong learning, work, and citizenship.

Personal website: http://www.educationforthinking.org/

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