Bernie, Hillary and Trump

by Tom Suhrbur

Bernie or bust! This is the sentiment among some Sanders supporters. It is so wrong. I supported Bernie Sanders in the primary and contributed more than $27 to his campaign. He best reflected my feelings about a wide range of issues such as income inequality, health care, social justice, environmental protection, trade and taxes. Sanders is absolutely right in supporting Hillary. A Trump presidency would likely give Republican control of all three branches of the federal government, embolden reactionary bigotry and undermine social progress for many years to come. Remember what happened the last time Republicans swept into power: two wars in the Middle East and the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.

While Hillary might be a flawed candidate, Trump is a disaster. The major differences between Trump and Clinton are the organizations and people supporting them. Although Hillary has had close ties to the wealthy, corporate elite (including Donald Trump), she cannot ignore the concerns of labor unions, environmentalists, minorities, feminists and other progressive groups. She needs their support to win. She has been pushed by Sanders’ insurgency to take positions on banking regulation, trade, student debt, minimum wage, environmental policies and a host of other reforms. Her election will create the political climate for progressive reforms. Progressives must continue to organize around the issues that Bernie raised in the primaries after the election.

Trump owes these groups nothing! He appeals to fear, anxiety and bigotry. He will appoint conservative, pro-corporate justices to the Supreme Court, deregulate environmental/ climate change regulations, increase funding for our already bloated military, kowtow to the NRA, oppose an increase in the minimum wage (He even said: “Having a low minimum wage is not a bad thing for this country.”), and possibly incite a disastrous nuclear arms race in the Middle East by encouraging Saudi Arabia to develop such weapons. His proposed tax cuts will go mostly to the wealthy and cause huge deficits leading to calls for cutting social services (but not the military). His wall is a joke and the deportation of 11 million undocumented aliens is not only inhumane but also devastating to families who have lived here for decades raising their children as Americans. Like Adolph Hitler, he says that he will order the military to use torture. Trump actually quoted Benito Mussolini in a tweet: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” Anyone who questions his judgement is attacked personally even to the point of making fun of a disabled reporter. He is an ill informed, intemperate, narcissistic and dangerous demagogue bordering on fascism.

Many of Trump supporters are working class and lower middle class whites. Trump claims that he loves the “poorly educated.” Really? Apparently he thinks these supporters are so gullible that they believe his absurd claims that Obama was born in Africa, thousands in New Jersey celebrated on the streets on 9/11, Mexico will pay for his wall, Ted Cruz’s father was involved in JFK’s assassination and countless other ridiculous statements. Like P.T. Barnum, Trump assumes that there is a “sucker born every minute.” He obviously holds his “poorly educated” supporters in high contempt. He jokingly stated that, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.” He appeals to the angst that corporate capitalism has created for the working class. Low paid jobs, longer hours of work, economic insecurity, and the terrorism. These are real concerns created by decades of conservative, economics policies and military adventurism in the Middle East. Trump does not have real solutions to these problems but knows how to exploit them for his personal aggrandizement.

Trump: “Believe Me”

by Tom Suhrbur

Trump has many numerous outlandish statements during the Republican primary races. The millions of people who voted for him apparently believe that…

  • “Having a low minimum wage is not a bad thing.”
  • Climate change is “a global warming hoax.”
  • The U.S. should abandon its non-proliferation policy and encourage Saudi Arabia, Japan and South Korea to develop nuclear arms (other nations then would likely want nukes too).
  • President Obama was born in Kenya.
  • Mexico will actually pay for Trump’s great wall along the U.S. border.
  • Trump will deport 11 million people.
  • Undocumented Mexicans entering the U.S. are mostly drug smugglers, criminals and rapists. He said: “And some, I assume, are good people.”
  • There should be “a total and complete shut down of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what’s going on.”
  • “Laziness is a trait in blacks.”
  • Mocking a disabled reporter is ok.
  • John McCain “is not a war hero.”
  • On 9/11 in New Jersey City “thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”
  • Public bragging about his manly prowess is appropriate.
  • Referring to women that he does not like as ‘bimbos’, ‘fat pigs’, ‘dogs’, ‘slobs’ and ‘disgusting animals’ is ok.
  • Name-calling, vulgar language and sexual innuendo are appropriate public responses to critics by a presidential candidate.
  • Trump’s countless flip-flops on issues and pandering to whatever audience he is addressing does not matter.

Will he make America great? Or not?

This list is just the tip of an iceberg of foul language, rumor-mongering, personal insults and utterly false statements made by Trump during the primaries.

Voter Registration and Turnout Among Young Voters

by Tom Suhrbur

In the 2016 election, control of the most powerful nation on earth is at stake. Americans will not only elect a new president but the political make-up of the U.S. Supreme Court will be determined. A Republican presidential victory will give conservatives complete control over all three branches of the federal government. Voter turnout will decide the direction that the nation takes. The U.S. has one of the lowest voter turnouts among the democratic nations of the world. According to Pew Research, the U.S. in 2012 had the 32nd lowest voter turnout of the 35 wealthiest democracies. Increasing voter participation can have a major impact on world events.

Voter turnouts are highest in presidential elections; turnouts drop off significantly in mid-term elections. The election of President Barack Obama in 2008 witnessed the highest turnout in 40 years. 61.6% of the voting age population cast ballots; Democrats swept into power that year winning control of both houses of Congress. When Obama was re-elected in 2012, 58% voted. In the 2010 mid-term election, only 41% of the eligible voting age population voted. In that year, Republicans captured the House of Representatives and swept to power in many state capitols. In the 2014 mid-term election, 36% voted. It was the lowest turnout since 1942 – 72 years ago. Republicans not only won control of the Senate but also significantly increased their majority in the House. They also won a number gubernatorial seats previously held by Democrats including Bruce Rauner in Illinois. Low turnouts favor the Republican Party. It is no secret why Republicans have passed laws designed to make voting more difficult. The rationale for these laws is to prevent voter fraud even though there is very little evidence to support claims of voter irregularity.

Eligible voters must take the initiative to register themselves in order to vote. In the U.S., about 25% of the eligible voting age population is not registered. Coupled with the fact that many registered voters do not cast ballots, the U.S. has very low turnouts. Many nations automatically register their voting age citizens. Except for California and Oregon, there is no automatic registration in the U.S. Naturally, Republican legislators voted in unison against the laws that established automatic registration in these two states.

The low rate of registration coupled with the fact that so many registered voters do not show up accounts for the very poor turnouts. In the “huge” 2008 turnout, Obama received 52.9% of the ballots cast; he received just 32.6% of the eligible voters. In 2014, 40.2% voted. Republican Bruce Rauner won 50.27% of the ballots cast; he was elected governor by just 20.2% of the eligible voting age population.

Voter registration and turnout correlates directly with the age of the voters. Those 65 and older are most likely show up at the polls; 18-34 years olds are the least likely to be registered and to vote. In 2014, 59.4% of seniors 65 years and older voted; only 23.1% of those 18- 34 years old cast ballots. Democrats would gain the most by increasing voter participation, especially among younger Americans. According to the Gallup Poll, “Only around 20% of young Americans below the age of 25 identify as Republicans…. Democrats are quite strong among the youngest Americans, particularly those under age 24, among whom more identify as Democrats than independents.” If the Democrats are going to do well in the November election, they should encourage younger voters to register and to vote.

The low rate of registration, in itself, does not explain why so many young voters do not vote. In the past, political campaigns have not focused on issues that win over younger voters. The 2016 election could be different. Bernie Sanders is turning out huge crowds by campaigning on issues that resonate with young voters. Climate change, student debt, war and peace, social justice, economic inequality, and the corruption of big money in politics are major concerns especially among younger Americans. Sander’s success points out the importance of getting young voters to the polls in November. No matter who wins the presidential nomination, Democrats need to campaign on these issues to court these young voters. There will likely be a very large turnout in November since so much is at stake that will impact on their lives.

What is needed is voter registration drives in Illinois high schools, community colleges and universities. Since students are the least likely group of eligible voters to be registered and to vote, it makes sense to encourage the young, voting age population to register. The Illinois Education Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Chicago Teachers Union, and AFSCME have direct access to voting age students through their unions. High school social studies teachers could organize registration efforts as civic engagement projects this spring and next fall. Higher education unions could set up registration tables on campuses across the state.

In Illinois, it is now easier to register than ever before. The state has same day registration as well as online registration. Online registration only takes a few minutes. It can be done on a computer or cell phone.

How to Become Eligible to Vote: It’s Easy!

Go to https://ova.elections.il.gov

To vote in Illinois:

  • You must be a United States citizen.
  • You must be 18 on or before the date of the General Election.
  • You must live in your election precinct at least 30 days prior to Election Day.

To register online, you will need:

  • An Illinois Driver’s License or an Illinois State ID.
  • The last four digits of your Social Security number.

It only takes a few minutes to exercise your citizenship rights. Your future is at stake. Remember: whether or not you’re interested in politics, politics is interested in you.

The New American Economy

by Tom Suhrbur

Deindustrialization! Globalization! Post-industrial economy! Service economy! These are just a few phases used to describe the radical transformation of the U.S. economy over the last 35 years.

From the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, manufacturing drove the U.S. economy. Steel, railroad, textiles, automobiles and countless other enterprises made the U.S. the leading industrial power of the world in the 20th Century. Industry also gave rise to labor unions. Following WWII, a third of the workforce mostly in the private sector was unionized. Strong labor unions shifted income from capital to labor. The U.S. working class enjoyed the highest standard of living in the world in the 1960s.

Today, a growing portion of American business profits is derived from financial transactions instead of manufacturing. In 1947, the U.S. financial services industry comprised only 10% of total non-farm business profits. Today more than half of all profits are derived from investment, trading, rent, student loans, mortgages, brokerage, credit cards and other financial transactions.

In 1975, the total value of stock trading in the US was $171 billion – less than 5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP); in 2014, it increased to almost $27 trillion (about 1.5 times or GDP). Besides stock market trading, there is a largely unregulated market in over the counter trading (OTC) in equity-based derivatives include forwards, futures, options, swaps, and variations of these such as synthetic collateralized debt obligations. In 2010, the value of the derivative market was estimated at $21 trillion. Speculation, in effect gambling, guides much of this trading activity. Day traders, hedge fund managers and high frequency traders have turn Wall Street into the biggest casino on earth. Managers of private equity firms and hedge funds become mega-millionaires and billionaires almost overnight. Lord Turner, UK’s senior financial regulator, dubbed this speculation as “socially useless.” So powerful is the financial services sector that, when the economy crashed in 2008 as a result of the reckless behavior, no one was prosecuted. Instead, the federal government bailed them out.*

This new economy has winner and losers. The biggest winners, by far, are those who earn much of their income from financial assets. The biggest losers are bottom 80% — the working class as well as many college-educated lower middle class who are deep in debt and stuck in low paying jobs. The bottom 80% relies almost exclusively on earnings from wages and salaries. They own just less than 9% of all stocks. Less than 1% of their income is derived from capital gains and dividends.

A large portion of the income for top earners, on the other hand, comes from investments. The top 10% wealthiest possess 80% of all financial assets. The top 1% own over 35% of all stock. Those in the top 0.1% receive most of their income from their financial assets. Given this situation, it is not surprising that those who own the most financial assets are reaping the greatest benefits in the growing financial services economy. According to a 2014 Organization for Economic Co-operation report, 80% of total income growth went to the top 10% from 1975 to 2007.

The shift in wealth and income to the top earners is intentional. It was guided by conservative economic policies. Tax cuts during the Reagan and Bush II administrations were designed enrich the rich. Sold as “supply side economics,” Reagan cut the top income tax bracket from 70% to 39%. Bush I, and Clinton cut capital gains. Bush II not only cut capital gains but also the income tax and the estate tax. According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, capital gains tax cuts were the single most important contributor to the growing income inequality since 1996.**

Free trade agreements have globalized the labor markets without any meaningful labor or environmental standards. As a result, millions of manufacturing jobs has been transferred overseas. American workers cannot compete with desperately poor and oppressed workers in South America and Asia. Clothing, electronics, appliances and many other consumer products are no longer made in the U.S. Small American flags handed out at 4th of July Parades are made in China.

While cheap foreign labor has enriched the investor class, it has devastated working class wages and unions. Millions of good paying manufacturing jobs have outsourced to low wage nations. Wages in the U.S. have stagnated. Many workers have been forced to work two or more jobs, typically in the service economy, to pay their bills. College education is no longer a guarantee of the good life. Many educated lower middle class students are strapped with huge college loans debts but end up working low paid jobs. The standard of living has fallen for many.

In the private sector, outsourcing jobs to low wage countries has given employers a powerful tool to fight union organizing and to force concessions in bargaining. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, labor unions represent just 6.6% of the workforce. Total union membership has dropped from 17.7 million in 1983 to 14.6 million in 2013. Most of the successful organizing has been in the public sector employment. Unions represent over 35.7% of public employees. Not surprising, the public sector unions are now the chief target of conservatives and the business community.

For the bottom 80%, the further down you go on the income ladder the worse off it gets. The income gap between rich and poor in the U.S. is greater than in any other developed country. According to U.S. Census, half of the U.S. population lives in poverty or are low-income with no real savings and barely able to pay their bills. According to a survey by the Associated Press, four out of five U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives. In 2013, child poverty reached record highs, with 16.7 million children living in food insecure households, about 35% more than 2007 levels.

The election of President Reagan in 1980 signaled the triumph of conservative, free market economics. The so-called Reagan Revolution did not end when he left office. Every presidential administration that followed enacted free market policies that created the new economy. Despite opposition from Labor Democrats, many so-called “New Democrats” joined Republicans in support of free (but not fair) trade agreements, banking deregulation and tax cutting. Conservative Republicans carried free market policies much further attacking labor union rights, environment regulations, the social safety net and other public policies that infringe upon their free market ideology and corporate prerogatives. The 2016 election could be a watershed in American politics. Will the Republican Party win the White House controlling all three branches of federal power? Will the slide into plutocracy accelerated with a conservative election victory? Will unionism survive? Will the Democratic Party coalesce around a working class agenda?

*See the movie “The Big Short.” It does a good job covering some of the issues raised in this article.

**Supply side is a cute way of saying trickle down economics. It claims that, by supplying them with money through large tax breaks, the rich will create jobs through investments and personal spending thereby creating prosperity for others. Of course, they may use the money to speculate in securities and land, purchase a yacht on the Mediterranean, or buy a chalet in the s Swiss Alps. They may invest the money overseas manufacturing. Nothing guarantees that they will create jobs for Americans. But the lost revenue will restrict governmental investments in research, education, infrastructure and other socially beneficial spending in the home economy.