Wednesday, October 20, 2021

No, Democrats are not socialists

 No, Democrats are not socialists and are not trying to turn America into a socialist or communist country like Cuba, Venezuela, China or the former Soviet Union.

Countries like that not only own and control almost all business and industry, but their political systems consist of one party, making them authoritarian governments, not democracies.

Democrats, like Republicans, believe that capitalism makes for a better economic system because private ownership of business and industry unleashes competition and allows individuals to profit from their labor. Democrats and Republicans disagree about how much business and industry should be taxed and regulated and how much government should be involved in helping those who need help, not on whether our government should own business and industry.

When I was a teenager in the 1960s, Republicans and many Democrats railed against communism, an ideology that encouraged revolution. Many European countries had (and still have) socialist political parties that lobbied for more “social welfare,” in the form of free health care, higher education and, sometimes, child care or other social programs. We had programs that people referred to as social welfare in the United States, as well, to support poor families with food stamps and cash assistance, although, under Ronald Reagan, many of them were discontinued or began to require recipients to work or go to school to get assistance.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were all called socialist programs by many Republicans when they were passed.

Bill Clinton tried to pass universal health care, but advertising campaigns funded by the health insurance industry and some doctors’ groups called it socialism and defeated it, because it would have put most health insurance companies out of business. Barack Obama managed to pass the Affordable Care Act, in part, by allowing private insurance companies to continue to manage payment for health care, making the “socialist” label harder to deploy. Turns out that Americans agree that profit should not be the motivating factor when their lives and health are at stake.

Is President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which includes the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the jobs and “human infrastructure” bill, an example of socialism? No. It’s a perfect example of the Democratic Party’s long-term effort to make taxation more fair by increasing taxes on the richest among us, which includes hedge funds and corporations that, over time, have been rewarded by Republican tax breaks.

The money collected will be used to rebuild roads and bridges and help working families in a variety of ways, including lowering the cost of child care, prescription drugs and higher education.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has objected to the overall price tag, suggesting that increasing taxes might slow the economy. He has specifically objected to spending money for incentives to transition to clean energy. Manchin knows that the free market — capitalism — has been killing coal jobs for decades. First, it was because of mechanization and, more recently, competition from cheaper sources of energy, like natural gas. Solar and wind are getting even cheaper. Manchin is making a grave mistake by not factoring in the cost of continuing as we are: more floods, extreme weather, fires, droughts, extinctions, rising sea levels, etc.

Like Gov. Jim Justice and his hand-picked Public Service Commission, which recently stuck West Virginians with higher electricity bills for the next 20 years simply to keep coal-burning power plants running, Manchin suggests that quickly transitioning to clean energy is too progressive, or even socialist. It’s not. Transitioning as soon as possible to clean energy is sanity. It is insane not to.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Trump and his Supporters are Anti-American

As an elementary school teacher for 25 years, I’m pretty good at breaking down complicated ideas into smaller simpler ideas, and I’d like to think that I have some ability to help people think “critically,” which doesn’t mean to criticize things, but to weigh facts and evidence and analyze ideas to come to the most logical conclusion possible. My wife will tell me that this paragraph is condescending, that readers of the Gazette-Mail, at least those who read this section, are mostly smart or educated people. 

But my purpose isn’t to change minds, my purpose is, if you agree with me, to help, explain these ideas to someone who doesn’t in a way that might at least leave them open to considering the ideas.

My conclusion follows: Donald Trump and the Republican Party, at least those who support him, are anti-American.

What logic and evidence do I use to come to this conclusion? 

America is a democracy. Democracy depends on free and fair elections. Donald Trump does not believe in free and fair elections and has been working to undermine them for years. When he ran against Hillary Clinton, he cast suspicion on the upcoming election beforehand, refusing to say whether he would accept the results if he lost. After he won the election by a narrow margin in a few states, giving him a majority in the electoral college, but losing the popular vote by almost 3 million votes (2%), he claimed that he had actually won the popular vote except for non-citizens who had voted in large numbers—a fabrication.

Since his drubbing by Joe Biden in 2020, he has perpetrated what has come to be called “The Big Lie,” that Biden won because of voter fraud, an outrageous claim given all the recounts and all the law suits claiming voter “irregularities” that were thrown out by outraged judges, some appointed by Trump himself (his lawyers were careful not to claim “fraud” in court, because they’d be guilty of perjury).

The Big Lie is now the platform of the Republican Party. Because of it, Republicans in state legislatures have been passing laws to give themselves more control over elections and prevent Democrats from voting in the numbers they did in 2020. 

The United States of America is the world’s first modern democracy (okay, “representative democracy”, or republic), and undermining democracy in America is anti-American. Trump is undermining democracy, and the Republican Party, at least those who support Donald Trump, are therefore anti-American. If you’re Republican, settle down…but denounce him and the Big Lie and call on elected Republicans to do the same if you don’t want to be considered anti-American.

How is it even possible for Donald Trump and Republicans to refute this argument? It isn’t, so, once again, as an elementary school teacher, I recognize tactic #1 of every child desperate to avoid punishment—deny, and blame someone else for what you are guilty of, saying, “I’m rubber, you’re glue, everything you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” 

They call Democrats anti-American “Socialists.” Refuting that lie will be the topic of another essay.

Paul Epstein is a retired teacher and active musician living in Charleston

This appeared (with a couple small changes) in the Charleston Gazette-Mail on Oct. 13, 2021

Wolverton, Kercheval Good Analysts not Problem Solvers

Lee Wolverton and Hoppy Kercheval both were given space in the Saturday, September 25 Charleston Gazette-Mail to give their points of view. Wolverton, a publisher and executive editor of HD Media, which owns the Charleston Gazette-Mail and other WV newspapers, brings a formidable intellect, vocabulary, and knowledge of history to his writing that I suspect would leave a majority of West Virginians scratching their heads. Kercheval brings an everyman sensibility to his analyses of issues and appeals to what he considers the common sense of most West Virginians.

Both, are relatively conservative in their ideology, but neither is a fan of the current crop of Republicans who either chase after or cower under Donald Trump’s leadership of the Republican Party. Both, to my relief, give deference to facts and science and decry such conspiracy theories and false narratives as claims that the 2020 elections were stolen from Trump and rife with fraud, that Covid-19 is merely a flu or that the vaccines or mask wearing are either useless or harmful. 

But neither is immune to making what, to me, are either naive or fatuous (silly and pointless) conclusions.

Wolverton on Saturday spent most of his column lecturing on the history of the phrase “band of brothers.” He threw in a couple paragraphs on Lincoln’s words about a house divided (he wants us to know Lincoln got it from the Bible), and goes on to conclude that in order to solve our problems as a nation, we have to (my interpretation) follow the plea of Rodney King, who in 1992 pleaded, “Why can’t we all just get along?” during a particularly contentious period. Wolverton’s solution? A careful dodge. All we need to do is agree to some basic facts, “rallying around points in which all reasonable people can agree.” And “there’s the rub” as Shakespeare reminds us, but Wolverton ignores. 

When 40% of voters willfully decide to ignore facts and reason, to dismiss science and anyone who writes like Wolverton as elitist (you’ve got to admit, Mr. Wolverton, you fit that description), his solution is nothing short of naive.

Meanwhile Kercheval shows a good command of the facts that have made immigration such an insoluble problem in our country for at least 50 years by acknowledging that “what makes for good politics makes for lousy policies,” or in this case, outdated policy. In the opinion of Democrats like myself, Republicans don’t want to solve the problem because preventing solutions keeps their base angry, and angry people tend to vote in greater numbers. In the view of Republicans, Democrats won’t enforce the existing laws (not true) and want open borders (also false), or among the more extreme and racist of them, want people of color to come here and “replace us” (umm, Nazi ideology?).

But then Kercheval throws out his argument and suggests Biden could solve the whole problem by simply inviting politicians of all stripes to the border, show them the mess of problems and they’d immediately have an “a ha” moment and go back to Washington to solve it. I have one thing to say, Hoppy, “A ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!”

Paul Epstein is a retired teacher living and playing music in Charleston

This appeared in the September 27, 2001 edition of the Charleston Gazette-Mail

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Is Manchin afraid to Destroy our Democracy or Save It?

To many of my progressive friends, Senator Manchin might as well be Republican. In 1968, I was a “radical” who distrusted politicians. Hubert Humphrey ran against Nixon, Republican. Neither promised a quick end to the Vietnam War. They were “part of the problem, not part of the solution.” Then Nixon claimed he had a secret peace plan and won. There was at least one difference between them: Nixon was a liar. 

To progressives, Manchin and Republicans are complicit in supporting fossil fuel companies and obstructing policies to reduce fossil fuel use and transition to low carbon alternatives to slow global warming. His refusal to reform or eliminate the filibuster is support of a corporatist anti-democracy agenda. When he votes with Democrats, as he does unless a vote with Republicans would change the outcome, that does not mollify them.

Manchin wants to protect power the Senate gives him in the Constitution. WV, with a population of under two million gets 2 Senators. CA, with 20 times the population gets only 2 Senators. At our founding, most low population states were southern and interested in protecting slavery. Manchin wrongly conflates this advantage with the filibuster (it’s not a law, but a Senate tradition). The filibuster has changed form since first used in the 1830’s. It allows the minority party to stop bills and presidential appointments from proceeding to a final vote. In other words, it stymies majority rule. 

Republicans created a huge backlog of judges and cabinet members during the Obama administration by threatening filibusters. The mere threat now accomplishes what used to require Senators to speak without break for hours.  To break the backlog, Democrats exempted appointments of federal judges and cabinet appointees from the filibuster in 2013. When Republicans regained the presidency and the Senate in 2016, Republicans changed the filibuster rule to allow Supreme Court justices to be confirmed by simple majority. Without that change, they likely would not have been able to install arch conservatives like Kavanaugh and Amy Barrett. 

Previously, appointments were mostly non-partisan exercises in which presidents were given their picks absent egregious misconduct or radical philosophy. Members of both parties agreed presidents were entitled to their choices with Constitutionally mandated advice and consent of Senators.    

With few exceptions, Senators didn’t filibuster bills simply because they disagreed with them. They voted no if they disagreed with a bill.

The election of an African American president spawned the “Tea Party” movement whose underlying racism was obscured by talk of higher taxes and deficits. Manchin entered the Senate in 2010 as Republicans were perfecting obstruction. While claiming bipartisan intentions, they negotiated for changes in bills, then voted against them or invoked the filibuster to keep President Obama from succeeding in improving the economy and people’s lives.

Manchin fears that if Democrats reform the filibuster, the next time Republicans gain control of Congress and the Presidency, they will abolish it so they can roll back Democrat passed bills—maybe even the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, or Social Security. He believes that would lead to the end of our democracy.

What he has wrong is that bipartisanship has run in only one direction for at least the last 12 years since Obama’s election. Mostly white rural states have been steadily moving into the red column where they have outsized power in the Senate.

Republicans also consolidate power through gerrymandering— drawing Congressional districts to give them advantage in the House of Representatives and state legislatures. They pass state laws to suppress voting among young and non-white Democrats.  In the 2020 election, which the former president has yet to concede, if the more radical elements of the Republican Party had its way, the election would have been awarded to Trump by the electoral college, state legislatures, or even by Congress itself. Overturning a free and fair election as Trump, his lawyers, and the insurrectionists of January 6 tried to do is by definition an attempt to destroy our democracy.

If Senator Manchin is truly concerned about our democracy, he should be willing to do whatever it takes, including reforming the filibuster to insure the passage of the For the People Act, which ends gerrymandering in favor of non-partisan Congressional redistricting and makes voting easier.  The John Lewis Act should be passed immediately. It would allow the Justice Department to intervene in state laws that unConstitutionally affect minority voting rights. 

Manchin is in a tough spot. He could agree to reform the filibuster, but he’s claimed that would destroy our democracy. He hoped that his Republican colleagues would show that they are still capable of bipartisan action. Instead, they are showing us the same playbook they used to stymie President Obama—obstruction, obstruction, obstruction. It’s time for Joe Manchin to do the right thing. Yes, West Virginia’s Trump base and the big money that buys ads will demonize him. They will do that no matter what. It’s time for Joe to prove my progressive friends wrong, help reform the filibuster and clear the way for Congress and President Biden to save our democracy. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

This IS Who We Are (at least some of us)



Fellow West Virginians, we have come through four years of a presidency that forced us to take positions that starkly shine light on differences in our beliefs, derived from sets of so-called facts that describe our world in starkly different ways and lead us to see it, each other, and the possibilities for what lies ahead in profoundly different ways. 

High falutin’ language? I must be a Yankee, or a college man, maybe even a lawyer or a Jew. Guilty on 3 counts. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, but I lived in WV—on 17 acres in Roane County— for 18 years until 1992, and in Charleston since then. Despite the fact that I’ve lived here longer than most born and raised here, I am not considered a West Virginian by many. As to Jewishness, yes, by birth, though I do not practice any religion, preferring to live my life following what I consider basic human morality: honesty, helpfulness, loving and forgiving as much as possible.

I attended WVSU (College, then) and Marshall University (COGS, then) as a young working parent, completing undergraduate and graduate degrees in elementary education. I taught at Clendenin Elementary school for 7 years and Ruffner Elementary in Charleston for 18 years. I was a founding member and first president of FOOTMAD, the Friends of Old Time Music and Dance, and have played traditional WV string band music and other styles in bands all over the East and Midwest, and many years ago in Greece and Turkey on a U.S.O. tour where I remember meeting a young soldier on an island off the coast of Greece at a satellite communications site who grew up a couple miles from where my wife and I were raising a baby and growing vegetables. 

When we meet on the street, we say howdy, talk about the weather, our families, our health, and the state of the roads. But if we veer into politics or the news, it’s not long before our conversation may become suspicious or angry. Each person makes statements about the facts that they believe and the sources where they get them. The facts don’t agree, and my sources, which are usually called the “mainstream media,” are called fake news by the other, while his or her sources are usually a website, a friend, neighbor, or family neighbor they know, or one of a few cable news networks they trust.

That is the end of the conversation for me. At that point, I say, “It’s been great seeing you and I’m glad you told me what you think, but if we can’t agree on what sources can provide trusted facts, then there’s really no way we can have a productive discussion.”

I have learned this lesson online. I often post what I consider articles from trusted sources to counter what I consider falsehoods or articles that make unlikely or wrong conclusions based on known facts. I do that even though I know I won’t change the mind of people making false claims. I hope someone who isn’t so steeped in alt-beliefs will be exposed to another view.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, among others including Joe Biden, has described the 1/6/21 attack on the Capitol as “not who we are.” While I’m glad Capito is willing to call out violence against the Capitol where she was briefly in danger, that IS who some of us are. Despite our mostly white, rural demographic, West Virginians include a multitude of kinds of people who believe in multiple things. I think that Shelley would agree that many, if not all, of those who entered the Capitol acted deplorably. Many wore or carried symbols associating them with far right groups, including Proud Boys, KKK, Nazis, the Confederacy. The group included racists, women haters, terrorists, and people who want to destroy United States government and remake it in their own image. Only a few West Virginians may behave that deplorably, though we elected a state representative who was among them and a president who incited them.

So it’s time to acknowledge who we are and talk about who we want us to be. How can we educate, or “deprogram” or change minds of those who have deplorable beliefs if we just tell people they are not us—they are “Other?” Accepting who they are does not mean we don’t ask them to change. When an evangelical Christian meets a non believer who they believe will go to hell, they presumably don’t call for them to be locked up or banished. They invite them in, offer food, companionship, love, and song, hoping to persuade them their way is better. They acknowledge they’re not perfect, “We are all sinners,” they say. Well, maybe it’s time to take a page from them.

In West Virginia, almost 70% voted for Donald Trump this year. Who are they? They are us.

But they have been told by media they consume and their political leadership, repeated by friends and family, many of the following lies:

Liberal and Progressive Democrats are Socialists or Communists 

Most Democrats accept some ideas that Socialists have, such as government sponsored health care, Democrats don’t want government to take over factories and ban private ownership.

Liberal and Progressive Democrats want to defund the police.

 Few Democrats use this phrase. Most who do mean that they believe police are expected to solve too many problems they’re not suited for, like mental health problems and homelessness—programs that need better funding, and some of the funding could come from police departments relieved of those burdens.

Liberal and Progressive Democrats want to take away our guns 

Many Democrats support laws to improve gun safety such as requiring background checks, doing away with loopholes, banning large clips and/or assault weapons only useful for killing people.

Liberal and Progressive Democrats want to take away our health care or force us to use government health care 

Millions of people have gained insurance and affordable health care under Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, and the Affordable Care Act-Obamacare. Republicans have fought these programs and tried to destroy them. Their philosophy is that people are responsible for their own health, and should spend their own money on their health when they get sick.

Liberal and Progressive Democrats are anti-coal. 

Democrats believe that all workers deserve safe working environments and pay that can support a family. They support coal miners in forming unions to fight for safety and good pay. Coal companies must be held liable for the damage that coal mining and coal burning do to our environment. If Coal companies cannot produce and use coal safely and cleanly compared to other forms of energy, they will go out of business. We must insist they pay to clean up their messes. We must help workers losing jobs in coal industries to learn and find good paying jobs to replace those lost to cleaner, more affordable energy.

Liberal and Progressive Democrats kill babies. They are pro-abortion

Almost no one is "pro-abortion". Democrats acknowledge that not every pregnancy is viable, safe, or healthy. Many pregnancies result in unavoidable miscarriages, which is often painful and disappointing to the woman, and perhaps her partner. Some pregnancies must be forced to be miscarried--aborted--to protect the life or health of the woman. Some pregnancies, especially those caused by rape or incest, or perpetrated on underage girls as young as nine or ten are dangerous to the mental state of women forced to carry a fetus to term. A "pro-life" position should consider these issues and "pro-choice" proponents believe women should make these decisions in consultation with their doctor. 

Liberal and Progressive Democrats are evil pedophiles: 

The Q-anon conspiracy is a dangerous fantasy. People sometimes believe literally any whacky idea made up and promoted on the Internet. Like an addiction to drugs, sex, gambling, or membership in gangs, militias, or cults, belief in conspiracy theories like this give people a high and creates a community that supports each other’s ideas. 

I’m doing the easy work of defining problems. We need people to solve problems. Howard Swint (who contributes op-eds to the WV Gazette-Mail), recently reached out to me to suggest we form a diverse group of West Virginians to travel around talking to people who have not met many people different than themselves to talk and get to know one another. I told him that after I got my vaccination, I would consider doing that.