SFP Book Club: Our Revolution, Chapter Ten – Health Care For All

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Short and sweet today, folks. We open with another epigraph: "Health care is a right, not a privilege. The United States must join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee health care to every man, woman, and child through a Medicare for All single-payer system" (318).

This was a nice little chapter, in part because health care policy is what stirs me at my core, and in part because it wasn't 1/5 of the book. Bernie spends some time talking about Canada and being the Vermont drug runner we all know he is. He covers the deficiencies of the Affordable Care Act while assuring the reader he supports and supported it. He mentions how the United States overspends on health care that its citizens can't use and how "access," which is so commonly sold by politicians as being equivalent to health care, is wildly unequal in distribution, leaving many low-income rural and low-income urban areas in the lurch.

One talking point that I've really only seen the more advanced arguments make, once people get through the "right, not a privilege" bits, but a talking point that I really like is the "negative impact [our current health care system] has on our entrepreneurial spirit" (325). I think a skilled rhetorician armed with economic facts in the true savings of the system and this freedom-oriented outlook could probably win over some small-c conservative thinkers to supporting a single-payer system. Maybe that's just me.

Prescription drugs are a grift.

Something Bernie touches on that I don't remember for the campaign is the huge importance of dental care on the impact of people's lives. He spends a whole section of the chapter talking about how "bad teeth can not only lead to pain and illness, but it has an economic consequence. Try applying for a job when your front teeth are missing and you can't smile. Having bad or missing teeth makes it clear to the world that you are poor, which makes it hard for you to find employment, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty" (329). It reminds me of a short survey I did when I arrived at college and suddenly found myself surrounded by people of means. One simple question: "Do you know any adults under the age of 65 who has missing teeth?" Overwhelmingly, those of us from low-income areas would start listing names, and those of us who weren't would draw blanks. The survey was done as a result of my telling a story about my mother's occasionally-used partial dentures and the wild-eyed stares I received as though I was from another planet. Anyway, in Vermont, they've apparently put dentist offices into low-income schools, which is insanely cool to me, someone who went to the dentist approximately three times ever as a child.

Bernie calls for "a revolution in mental health treatment" before tying everything together into discussing how a holistic approach and single-payer system would improve society at large (331). The section concludes with his outlining his proposed legislation, detailing the benefits and the funding model that would put the United States on par with the rest of the world when it comes to caring for its citizens.

All in all some nice reading for an autumn afternoon. Sound off in the comments.

Solidarity, –/u/writingtoss

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SFP Book Club: Our Revolution, Chapter Nine – Ending A Rigged Economy

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Folks, this chapter is one-fifth of the book. This chapter is about one hundred pages and packed full of graphs and examples and generally ends the section by citing legislation to be passed (hopefully) and who is working on it. I'm going to do my best to pull out some really key stuff and to give an adequate synopsis, but what we've got here is essentially an in-book filibuster (ironic to an extent, given that Bernie references his iconic filibuster in this lengthy section). There's a chance that what I'm about to write comes out more like a list of subject headings than anything else because frankly, there's not enough characters in a single post for me to go in deep to everything we're about to touch on.

Bernie opens with the section header "THE MINIMUM WAGE MUST BECOME A LIVING WAGE" and the following bolded epigraph: "In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, a basic principle of American economic life must be that if you work forty hours or more a week, you do not live in poverty" (218). This is in line with how Bernie pitched it then, and it's in line with how Bernie has continued to pitch it. I would take an editor's pen and cut a bit to it because I feel that the stronger argument now would be to say that "In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, a basic principle of American economic life must be that if you work forty hours or more a week you do not live in poverty." Might just be me though.

As you might expect, he spends a lot of this opening talking about Fight for $ 15 and the work SEIU has done towards that. He is quick to point out that "the average worker who would benefit from a $ 15-an-hour minimum wage is thirty-six years old with an average of seventeen years in the workforce," dispelling the common talking point about these workers being teenagers which, for some reason, means they don't deserve money (219).

After going through the wheel of examples of localities where an increased minimum wage has led to job growth, Bernie pivots to the problem of corporate welfare, which he thinks is bad (shockingly). Apparently, Bernie thinks that when the American taxpayers give $ 6.2 billion dollars to Wal-Mart to subsidize its low wages and lack of benefits, there are better things that could be done with that money. Absolutely wild. "In total, low-wage employers across the country received a subsidy of nearly $ 153 billion each year from U.S. taxpayers for paying workers inadequate wages from 2009 to 2011, according to a 2015 report from the University of California Berkeley Research Center" (224). Oh, well, of course they would say that in Berkeley! He does make a quick point that while a lot of the research and fighting has taken place on the fast food front, "more than 85 percent of childcare workers—the people who are providing the intellectual and emotional support for little children, the future of our country—also make less than $ 15 an hour" (225).

The next section header is "EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL WORK," going now into pay equity issues (228). "The reality is that our country still has a very long way to go to truly make gender equality a reality. The gender wage gap is a real and persistent problem that continues to shortchange women and families" (229). He does a good job of disarming a few of the talking points often lobbed at gender pay gap discussions. It's also got a fair enough history on court cases around the issue, focusing naturally a bit on Lilly Ledbetter. The closing argument is punitive: "Major corporation after major corporation gets caught for violating pay equity laws. The fines they pay are minimal. Companies that break the law regarding pay equity should not be treated with impunity" (232). I wholeheartedly agree.

"MAKING IT EASIER FOR WORKERS TO JOIN UNIONS" (232). That just about says it all, right? Apparently, union membership has been on the decline since the '70s, and workers who try to organize feel or are threatened. Bernie wants a big simplification and a big strengthening of how we let people organize in this country. If 50%+1 sign a card, that's a union. If they unionized, companies have to recognize it. If CEOs threaten workers…well, he doesn't say what exactly, but he says "we will no longer tolerate" it, so they better…or else (234).

Bernie then revives his cheeky campaign rhetoric of "REAL FAMILY VALUES," referring of course to "paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, and paid vacation" (235). This section has a lot of numbers and graphs to show where the American people stand in comparison to the rest of the world. Spoilers: not great. He also reports the outlandish claim that "studies show that nine in ten Americas report that their happiest memories are associated with vacations" (241). That's just preposterous, enjoying vacations, things of that nature.

The next section, "JOBS JOBS JOBS," opens with another bolded epigraph: "In a modern democratic society, people have the right to a decent job at decent pay. There are enormous needs in this country that must be addressed. Let's put the unemployed and underemployed to work transforming America. Let's create a full-employment economy" (241). He then goes into lengthy detail about the needed types of employment to undertake this transformation: infrastructure (with a lot of talk about Flint and some talk of transportation), clean energy, housing, and child-care and preschool. And then, he turns to a different subject, and he slips it in very quietly and naturally: "turning workers into owners" (259). He proposes a "U.S. Employee Ownership Bank to provide low-interest loans, grants, and technical assistance to help workers purchase businesses through a majority-owned employee stock ownership plan or a worker-owned cooperative" (262). He does an excellent detailing of worker-owned businesses nationwide, the benefits they provide to the workers and to the communities they serve, and how they function as a model for a fairer economy. This talking point is something much closer to pre-presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and one of the points that ended up fading away in mid-2015, perhaps to focus on more readily digestible points. I can only hope that its inclusion here would point to a more prominent place in a future platform. After all, "as Ronald Reagan said in 1987, 'I can't help but believe that in the future we will see in the United States and throughout the Western world an increasing trend toward the next logical step: employee ownership. It is a path that befits a free people'" (262). The stars must have been right for Ronnie that day.

"REAL TAX REFORM," now this section is wholly familiar to people who've been around (263). We get another epigraph:

For the past forty years, Wall Street banks, large profitable corporations, and the billionaire class have rigged the tax code to redistribute wealth and income to the richest and most powerful people in this country. At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, when major corporation after major corporation pays nothing in federal income taxes and many CEOs enjoy an effective tax rate that is lower than their secretaries', we need progressive income tax reform based on the ability to pay. (263)

This is probably the wonkiest section, and there's lots of fun tax rate numbers that I'm not writing out here. The Bush tax cuts were bad, Republicans aren't actually fiscally conservative, there's this loophole and that loophole, Ireland, offshoring…at one point, he just provides a list of Top Ten Corporate Tax Avoiders like he's going on Letterman. He calls for higher income taxes on the wealthiest of us, and a progressive estate tax on the wealthiest of us, a change on capital gains and dividends and how that income is treated, and limitations on tax deductions. "Look, I know estate tax minutiae are not exactly sexy," Bernie at least acknowledges (279).

What we need is "A NEW TRADE POLICY," the section yells out (280). "We need a trade policy that creates decent-paying jobs in America and ends the race to the bottom. Corporate America cannot continue to throw American workers out on the street while they outsource our jobs and enjoy record-breaking profits" (280). According to Bernie, while we can shift numbers around on a macroeconomic level to say trade policies do this or that, the microeconomic effects have been disastrous for the American people. He gives example after example across the country of how the trade deficits are affecting the people, the fallout of NAFTA, CAFTA, PNTR status with China, and how we still pursue things like the TPP…I often think of a quote from Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life in these discussions, the put-upon building-and-loan operator yelling at the banker in the boardroom: "This rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?" Bernie says that new American trade rhetoric must dissuade jobs from being sent overseas, giving those incentives to small "Main Street" businesses, and insuring that "strong and binding labor, environmental, and human rights standards are written into the core text of all trade agreements" (296).

"REFORMING WALL STREET" straight-up calls out four people, and I love it (298). He explains how the ideologies and actions of Robert Rubin, Henry "Hank" Paulson, Tim Geithner, and Alan Greenspan both caused the 2008 financial crisis and provided anyone from being held accountable for it (300-302). "There is something fundamentally wrong with our criminal justice system when not one major Wall Street executive has been prosecuted for causing the near collapse of our entire economy. That has got to change," Bernie says (306). I agree. There's a long long detailing of the crimes of Wall Street, and a lot of break 'em up rhetoric that should be familiar, support for a new Glass-Steagall to address modern issues, postal banking and ATM fees, and Federal Reserve reform.

Well, that glosses over everything in the chapter, and while it goes much…much deeper in a lot of place, there's the gist of it. In short, pretty good. Some good points and a few surprises in it. For my own sanity, I've looked ahead, and the next chapters aren't near this length. I'll read the comments if you have any, but I can't promise I'll respond. This has already hit my limit of typing for the day.

Solidarity, –/u/writingtoss

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SandersForPresident: search results – bernie

Maine’s Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Zak Ringelstein has been endorsed by: Brand New Congress, Demand Universal Healthcare, Democratic Socialists of America (National), Lincoln County Indivisible, Local Berniecrats Maine, Political Revolution, Southern Maine DSA, Veterans For Bernie

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Maine's Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Zak Ringelstein has been endorsed by: Brand New Congress, Demand Universal Healthcare, Democratic Socialists of America (National), Lincoln County Indivisible, Local Berniecrats Maine, Political Revolution, Southern Maine DSA, Veterans For Bernie submitted by /u/Attorney-General
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SandersForPresident: search results – bernie

Delaware Primary Election Day – Our Revolution Endorsements. Get out the Vote!

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If you live in Delaware, today is your primary election! Grab your friends, family, coworkers and neighbors and get out the vote!

Find Your Polling Station:

State Polling Location Poll Hours State Subreddit Highlights
Delaware Find Your Location 7AM – 8PM EST r/Delaware4Sanders

Our Revolution Endorsements:

Kerri Evelyn Harris – US Senate

Donald Allen – State Rep – District 36

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Election Protection hotline 1-866-OUR-VOTE – If you experience voter intimidation, want to report complaints or just have questions.


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SFP Book Club: Our Revolution, Chapter Eight – The Decline of the American Middle Class

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Howdy, y'all. This is a short chapter compounded with charts and graphs irreproducible here, which suits me fine because in words of the scholar Jon Bois, "welcome to college football saturday." Most of this chapter should not be news to you. It opens with Bernie painting a pretty bleak picture:

Today in America, more than 43 million Americans—including nearly 20 percent of all children in our country—live in poverty, many in extreme poverty. Almost 28 million Americans have no health insurance, and thousands of those die every year because they don't get to a doctor in time. Millions of bright kids can't afford to go to college without plunging deeply into debt. Millions of seniors and far too many disabled veterans struggle to stay alive on inadequate Social Security checks. (206)

Wow, you look at something like that, and it just smacks "America is already great," doesn't it? Certainly no room for improvement.

Bernie then goes on to talk about a subject he should know intimately for a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, wealth redistribution. But, contrary to what the bowtie-wearing finger-waggling pundits might tell you on any given day, he's talking about the funneling for wealth up from the middle class (and below) into the hands of the top one-tenth of one percent. "In 19790, the top one-tenth of 1 percent owned about 7 percent of the wealth in this country. Today it owns 22 percent" (207). There's some alarming bar graph near by, but I'm not going to read it. Charts are for suckers and upper management types (not mutually exclusive).

He pivots to income inequality next to touch on that before going somewhere interesting. He outlines what he believes created the economic conditions that are traditionally associated with "American prosperity" or "the good ol' days" or maybe even "again," to some folks. He speaks first of "American industrial might" where "the workers in those factories were often unionized, and had good benefits" (208). He talks of "millions of returning vets went to college on the GI Bill" which, "combined with a strong government-backed secondary mortgage system, also opened the door to homeownership for the first time to millions of American families" (208-209). He goes on to bring up Eisenhower and "massive investment in our infrastructure—particularly our transportation infrastructure" and how that functioned as a jobs program (209).

And having said all those things, he is then quick to immediately point out that the times were awful for just about every minority class, which they were, but people have a way making even the grimy parts of the past look a lot brighter than they were.

Bernie continues explaining how the special interests "started demanding a bigger and bigger slice of the pie" before very very briefly touching on the word "freedom" (210). He states:

They argued that "freedom" was no longer about workers having the right to earn decent incomes and live their lives in dignity and security. No, "freedom" was now about employers having the right to pay their employees the lowest wages possible without government interference. "Freedom" was about the right of Wall Street and hedge fund managers to make incredible amounts of money, without regard for whether their investments destroyed lives or fouled the environment. "Freedom" was the ability of billionaires to buy elections and create a government that worked for them, not the middle class or working families. (210).

All that to say that I wonder if Bernie is familiar with Erich Fromm.

He closes the chapter with a series of illustrative examples to show what exactly a hollowing out of the middle class looks like in urban centers like Detroit (and nearby Flint) and Baltimore to rural places like McDowell County, West Virginia. "Middle-class decline is not just an urban phenomenon," he is quick to point out (216). His final plea is for us to work towards an economy for all people, not just the ones at the top, and that's what the next chapter is about.

Well, I've written all the way up to kickoff, so sound off in the comments and I'll see them sometime.

Solidarity, –/u/writingtoss

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