Sunday, October 18, 2015

Feel the Bern!

Looks like the Republican candidates are beginning to feel the Bern, judging by the attention he is now getting on the campaign trail.  The Donald launched into a fiery attack on Bernie's "socialist-slash-communist" message, dragging Hillary in to boot.  Rand Paul (remember him?) similarly compared Sanders' ideas to communist tyrants of the past.  I guess these guys don't know that most of the European countries are social democracies, which is what Bernie is advocating, not autocratic communist regimes.  Bill Maher had this amusing piece on how Republicans see Bernie.

However, Bill also took Bernie to task over how he would pay for all these socialist programs, such as free university education and universal health care, which of course has been taken out of context by the conservative media, using clips to smear Bernie.  Granted, Bernie has been rather vague as to how he would cover the costs, but has any candidate offered a comprehensive financial plan to date?  Can we call these tax plans Trump, Rubio and Jeb have been offering anything more than giveaway programs for the rich, as they would see the lion's share of the tax cuts (again), leaving the federal government with a budget shortfall of trillions of dollars.  How on earth do they expect to balance the budget?

What Bernie has been trying to do is call attention to the enormous wealth disparity in this country, where the top 0.1 percent of Americans have almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 per cent.  Even the Republican rank and file are starting to wonder what the hell is going on, and Bernie is finding support among the fringes of the GOP.  This of course leaves our deca-billionaire apoplectic, as Bernie is now targeting his base of support.  Bernie even took his message to Liberty University and for the most part found a sympathetic audience.  Yet, Trump continues to lead in the GOP polls, harping on immigration with the hope of distracting Republican voters from what is the real issue at stake here -- the consolidation of wealth into so few hands, including that of Trump.

Here was a guy who said he would finance his own campaign.  He didn't need PAC's or any kind of support, dismissing his fellow GOP candidates as corporate tools.  He was prepared to drop as much as one billion dollars on his presidential run, but third quarter reports show that Trump is once again fleecing his audience, by not even matching the contributions he has received to date.  Basically, Trump is selling red truckers' caps in a feeble gesture to identify with the struggling middle class of this country.

Bernie himself is walking a thin line, because in social democracies even the middle class pays high taxes.  In Lithuania, the average rate is 33 per cent.  Add in 21% VAT and the tax rate climbs to over 50 per cent.  That's going to be a pretty hard sell in the United States.  He can possibly pitch it as an investment on the future, where this money goes to better comprehensive health care, employment protection programs and a living wage social security, but if you're young you are not thinking that far down the line, which is why the vouchers have greater appeal among the younger generation.  Millennials believe they can better invest their own money.

Sadly, this rarely proves to be the case.  If we look at professional athletes,who take home huge paychecks, very few have anything left to show for it at the end of their careers.  Many file for personal bankruptcies as a result of their spending sprees and shockingly bad investments.  If these guys can't hold onto upwards of $100 million, what makes a young person think he can save on his salary coming out of college, especially with student loan debts to pay?

If we look at social security, education and health care as an investment, where money is going toward the future not only for ourselves in social security but for our children in terms of education, then we would more likely be willing to pay more taxes.  This is how social democracies work and why they are very popular in Europe.  Of course, some work better than others.  You will come out much farther ahead in Denmark than you will in Lithuania, two countries of roughly the same size, but even in Lithuania you are assured free health care and free university education, provided you maintain a decent grade point average. This is a huge advantage to parents, who don't have to worry about mortgaging their homes to pay for their children's education.

Unfortunately in America, each time the word socialism comes up it is immediately attached to communism with tyrants' names like Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot added for further sinister impact.   What seems to elude these poor sots is that not that long ago we had high tax rates in the United States, which allowed Eisenhower, a Republican, to finance an interstate road system that we can no longer afford to maintain since the Republican Congress won't even approve a road bill without trying to attach their pet projects to it, like Keystone XL.  Our mammoth military industrial system is tax paid, largely to the benefit of corporate contractors like Halliburton, Raytheon and Boeing, while the Veterans Administration remains notoriously underfunded.

I do hope that Bill and Bernie can educate Americans on the meaning of socialism, but when you have uber-business tycoons like Trump inciting fear among the electorate that a new "red peril" is coming, it is pretty hard to overcome such heated rhetoric, especially on the campaign trail.  We live under this delusion that one day we could be rich too, and so we plan what we'll do with that $400 million we will win some day.  I'll leave it to John Oliver to explain to you why this is never going to happen.

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