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