I’ve never been much of a goal-setter for myself, but appreciate its importance. If one does not have at least a loosely defined plan for something, one can become subject to the whims of life’s shifting fortunes. Goals help pull us in the direction of preferred travel and is a more rewarding strategy than letting changing circumstances choose a route for us. We may not reach the goal, but at least we can create circumstances favorable to its realization and ensure more fulfilling experiences in the process. This is as true for societies as it is for individuals.
A utopiast is one who seeks a perfect society, as a GOAL, based on the notions of utopian ideals that “…often place emphasis on egalitarian principles of equality in economics, government and justice.” Detractors often point out that a perfectly egalitarian society can never be achieved. I agree, but state that it is a worthy goal and would compel us to adopt strategies to guide us in the proper direction. We won’t even get close to perfection, if we don’t try. An altruistic humanist seeks a utopian society for all and not just a few. This appears to be a fundamental difference between our new President-elect Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders, for example. Trump is an “I, Me, Mine” type of guy as opposed to Sanders who is clearly a “We, Us, Ours” type of person. This difference is also found in the conflict-ridden dichotomies of profits versus people and individualism versus collectivism. Trump often complains about fairness and like other narcissists, he is only concerned one half of the equation — his. This is an example of individualism. Luckily, we can point to many historical examples of collectivism in our nation’s history that involved governmental social engineering. For example, Federal legislation created Social Security and the interstate highway system and state or local action created various public transit systems. Everyone benefits from these creations, but they might be at risk of privatization, introducing the profit motive and raising the cost of usage and access, and curtailing benefits.
President-elect Trump has a goal, too. He wants to make America great again, but for whom and in what way? I think it is safe to say that Trump has and will continue to foster an under-regulated free-market capitalist’s model that stresses profits for the few that make up the investor class, thereby continuing the flow of wealth from the meager checking accounts of the working poor and the shrinking middle class to the owners of off-shore accounts who feign patriotism, but are only loyal to their interest-bearing accounts. Trumpanomics is a thing and as currently understood by some very smart people, Trumps’s trade policies and related economic theories will not make America great, at least in the economic sphere. Conversely, had the Democrats chosen their nominee wisely and Sanders had won the general election, we would be seeing a much different cast of characters filling Cabinet and White House staff positions and the philosophies that they would have brought with them would be more closely aligned with the GOALS of achieving a society built on “…egalitarian principles”. But, as we can see from recent news reports, that is not happening in Trump’s gold-covered Towers.
One of the more alarming cabinet selections is Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary. “The DeVos nomination should alarm anyone who values public education. First, she is wholly unqualified to be Secretary of Education. She has no education degree or background, and has never worked in, attended or sent her children to public school. More worrisome, she and her husband have been on a 20-plus year crusade to eliminate public education….Betsy DeVos freely admits that she buys political influence. As The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer wrote, DeVos declared that she expects a “return on our investment” in donating to politicians. The return she seeks is the creation a conservative Christian government….Among the DeVos’ long-running crusades in their quest to “christianize” America is their campaign to destroy public education. DeVos pushed Michigan’s first charter school law in 1993.”
Another cabinet that bodes ill for people who care about ethical and fair treatment of consumers in the marketplace is Steven Mnuchin, who like Trump, gets rich playing “by the rules”. Mnuchin is wealth-inheritor, hedge fund gambler, mortgage loan vulture, and all-around self-centered capitalist. Another cabinet pick that is cut from similar cloth is Wilbur Ross, who made big money buying troubled companies, selling off their parts, and putting hourly employees out of work, by of-sharing their jobs, or cutting their pensions or medical benefits. “Ross proceeded to purchase a series of bankrupt plants that he wrapped together into the International Steel Group. He got the companies up and running again — the tariffs helped — but in the restructuring process ended medical benefits for some 150,000 retirees while cutting jobs and jettisoning billions in unfunded pensions onto a federal insurance fund. He later sold ISG to Mittal Steel for more than $4 billion.”
Transportation Infrastructure (see link)
It is true that Trump has softened his campaign rhetoric on a number of issues. Let’s take infrastructure spending, as an example. While most key members of the GOP in Congress do not support infrastructure spending at all on a Federal level, Trump has expressed support for upgrading some infrastructure sectors — a long overdue task. But his plan, if passed by the GOP-controlled Congress, will likely result in fraud and over-charges due to patronage and a lack of government oversight or involvement. And fraud is something Trump knows about from first-hand experience as seen in his recent Trump University $25 million fraud settlement. Whereas, Sanders proposed plan, the Rebuild America Act includes measures to ensure accountability and fairness and funding comes from the Highway Trust Fund or capitalization grants for other sectors under the control of a newly-created infrastructure investment bank.
Picture two different hypothetical scenarios and outcomes: Trump’s completed transportation improvements would include upgraded bridges and newly paved and straightened freeways with all new toll charges going to the Eric and Donald Jr Highway to Hell Construction Company that made the improvements. Startup funds would be raised by corporate sponsors who earn the right to advertise on bridges, sound walls, and toll booths. They would see it as a cost to be recovered through marketing opportunities. If the U.S. Government is involved at all, Trump and the GOP Congress will have waived or eliminated any regulatory rules in procurement procedures and sub-contractor payment deadlines. Transparency would be lost and corruption rampant. Yes, the Sanders plan would rely on government funding and control to accomplish these improvements, but views infrastructure spending as an investment and would take open bids and award contracts to a minority-owned company that honors living wages for the crew. The Sanders’ plan includes oversights and audits. I think we already know what Trumps thinks about disclosure, audits, and paying sub-contractors on time or at all.
This paragraph highlights the mechanism of how privatization follows the money and and creates a segregated America based on who can pay and who can’t. “In any event, one obvious disadvantage of relying so heavily on private developers, as the Washington Post notes, is that it would mostly encourage new building in wealthy areas that can afford to pay high user fees. Private companies go where there are private profits to be earned, after all. Poorer areas — areas where infrastructure may be more likely to be crumbling! — could end up being neglected.” This will also be the result in the underfunded and crumbling public education sector when DeVoss takes over there. Her voucher system will create a faster flow of tax supported revenue out of the inner city public school systems and accelerate flight to private schools.
Flint, Michigan and many more cities and towns suffer the effects long-deferred maintenance or upgrades aggravated by 35 years of shrinking public coffers. I am sure the Trumpsters would be glad to upgrade those systems and they won’t raise your taxes to pay for it either. All you need to do in return is turn your public utility over to a private company and you will have your clean water, but at a much higher price. Anytime profits are built into the equation, consumers pay more, have less oversight, and are held hostage to resource availability, service disconnection, and draconian penalty charges. A person should never be disconnected for an inability to pay for a utility that provides a life-preserving product or service like water, heat, or power. If we can subsidize the fossil fuel industry in the billions, we can subsidize the poor on this matter. I’m referring to private companies that control public utilities for profit, like the Pueblo area Black Hills Energy (link updates recent PUC action, including a reduction of penalty fees charged for reconnect, etc) and Xcel Energy. Remote shareholders care about the bottom line. They want returns on their investment and seem to care less about the decisions that affect consumers. This oppression could be flipped if the resident consumers in states and locales recognized and acted on the the right and responsibility to take back control of public utilities from private ownership, but it isn’t easy.
National Park Service
Developers have been salivating for years over the prospect of privatization of public lands. Soon, you will have a chance to visit Chevron’s Arches National Park or Citi Bank’s Acadia National Park. Be sure to crop your pictures accordingly when taking that selfie next to the entrance sign of Trump’s Yosemite Hotel Lodge and Resort.
Environmental and Wildlife Concerns
Since there are no profits to be made in preserving wildlife or their habitats, look for funding to be cut from programs meant to preserve them, except for one species, the newly named Gyps capitalistus.
Veterans Health Administration
In the GOPs rush to profitize everything, the Veterans Health Administration is now looking a lot more vulnerable. As an enrollee and patient of this system, I can tell you that notwithstanding some problems with certain regional centers, that the system delivers excellent care to millions of veterans who could not otherwise afford it. If this system is privatized, many of those vets will go without care because the insurance premiums will be too exorbitant. The American public foots the bill for these people and rightfully so. If Trump and the GOP moves to privatize it, watch various Veteran organizations scream and wail — VFW, for example. They have it coming, since the members of these largely conservative organizations voted for Trump 2 to 1. Nice going guys.
However, there is one “veteran” organization that likes the privatization idea found in the Veterans Independence Act and they are backed by the Koch brothers (duh) and previous GOP candidate for Congress. “The protections veterans now have in the VA system, particularly when health care goes awry, do not exist in the private sector,” Paralyzed Veterans of America deputy executive director Sherman Gillums Jr. said in a statement. Privatizing health care for veterans will create a cottage industry for ambulance chasers who will be the only available option for veterans with medical malpractices cases……The plan, called the Veterans Independence Act, is the result of a six-month effort launched last fall by a health-care task force led by former Republican Senate majority leader and physician Bill Frist and former Democratic congressman Jim Marshall, a Vietnam veteran and former Army Ranger…..Concerned Veterans for America is led by Hegseth, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and former Republican candidate for Senate in Minnesota. It’s also funded by the politically conservative Koch brothers, though it bills itself as a nonpartisan group. Hegseth has seen his organization gain prominence since Republicans took back the Senate, as was reflected in the speaker’s list at Thursday’s launch in Washington.
The GOP and their capitalist friends (including some so-called Dems) have decried government-sponsored social engineering for decades and have instead heralded the “god-given” principles of free and unfettered open-market capitalism. They say the market should decide. Well, it has decided and the result is an abomination that cannot be defended by someone claiming to be a Christian and nearly all GOPers make that claim. Their behavior suggests a different definition than that posited by their poster boy in his oft-quoted Sermon-on-the-Mount. Jesus was a utopiast who dreamed of a perfect loving society achieved through non-violence. Now, instead of preaching sharing and kindness as a way to heaven, Jesus now wears a suit and tie and invites folks to pray for salvation from all kinds of disasters, natural and man-made, that God apparently caused and presumably only God can resolve. I guess God created the gross disparity in wealth, opportunity, and justice and only he can correct that? I prefer to think that we created our current points of conflict and we can correct such errors, if we choose to and in the past we have chosen to. We can and must do it again. Waiting for God to take action is costly and deadly to most Americans who cannot afford to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune caused by a poorly designed healthcare system, criminal justice system, financial regulatory system, and on and on. Under Trump, the U.S. Government is about to be privatized as much as possible and “Promote the General Welfare” will be removed from the Constitution’s Preamble. We weren’t using that phrase anyway. It will be replaced by, “In God We Trust”. Oh, wait…
Richard Ringler — 12/3/16