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Robert Buonaspina

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OpEd: Creating a Care Economy Can Transform U.S. Into Highly Functioning Society

care economy
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Some 95 percent of Americans identify as part of the middle class and working poor. Wages, adjusted for inflation, have stagnated for more than 40 years and good jobs have left our country to places with cheaper labor costs. 

Labor is not a “fair game.” People have to work to eat, and a business only hires if it thinks it can make a profit. It is an enormous disparity of power, where real wages will stagnate unless there is some support for labor.

Up until about 40 years ago, labor unions provided that support. They got their power from strong businesses that had pricing power to pass through wage increases. With international competition, business lost pricing power and unions, and therefore, lost their power as well.

And with these changes the middle class and working poor suffered a real body blow with few in political power — our “representatives” looking after them. So many Americans faced the devastation of losing their $25 an hour or higher jobs in the 1980s and were forced into lower or minimum wage jobs due to a failure of public policy that did not support full employment levels of incomes and spending.

So this got us thinking with all of this untapped political power, why not use it? Our middle class could unite around an idea that has the potential of recreating high wages and good benefits.

Creating A Care Economy

This idea is to create  a “care Economy.” The idea is not ours alone — a Stony Brook University Economics professor, Stephanie Kelton, elaborates on it fairly well in her recent book “The Deficit Myth”. Kelton envisions the creation of a Federal Job Guarantee (FJG) that financially supports potential millions of jobs with Americans serving the needs of our people in a wide range of part-time and full-time employment. This, she suggests, can be achieved by using principles inherent in Modern Monetary Theory supported by Congress.

$600 Billion Starter Block Grant

A care economy could be funded with a block grant shared with each state and sub-divided within each municipality. Kelton has suggested that our economy has around $600 billion to spend without affecting inflation and without the need to raise anyone’s taxes.

This money would be shared equitably among the states based on needs identified. From the start, this program will be evaluated as to its effectiveness and overall impact on our society. With a positive assessment, additional funding may be needed to fully fund this program.

The federal government would work hand in hand with the states. The states would work hand in hand with each municipality in their state to administer local needs assessment surveys.

Based on these surveys, jobs would be created serving the needs of people. Funds should go toward the creation of online locally administered needs assessments survey portals. A 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corp could be created with these funds creating community gardens and orchards to feed the food insecure. Families’ child care needs could be addressed and funded by this initiative by hiring people to provide free daycare. Seniors would receive the care they need at their homes. 

These surveys will be designed to garner as honest of an assessment as possible of the current needs of Americans. In Kelton’s estimate, some 24 billion hours of care could be provided to our nation’s citizens. A print version of these surveys should be sent to each home as well. This data would be used by local governments nationwide to determine needs and formulate job scopes and salaries.

Monies from the block grants administered by the Department of Labor will be sent to municipalities throughout the country with few strings attached, Organizations already in existence that aim to help people in need can assist in the data collecting process, creation of jobs, and in administering some of these programs. 

All of these jobs, both part-time and full-time, would come with benefit packages that include sick days, vacation days, and full medical coverage via a low-cost buy-in to Medicare coverage. These jobs in whatever part of the country they are created would need to provide an income that meets the basic monthly requirements for affordable shelter, food, transportation, and utility bills. 

A Vibrant New Middle Class Returns to America

By creating a FJG for all who need a job, we would in effect raise overnight the wages and living standards for potentially millions of Americans. Because of the attack on unions in America, the average unskilled middle class laborers have little to no negotiating power. Now the government, by providing living wage jobs throughout the country, would in effect provide leverage for those workers in the private sector, “automatically” pushing wages up for many.

The private sector may have to develop more flexible work-life balance jobs for their workers, similar to the European model in many countries there.  

And when the situation is not ideal in any particular low wage job, a FJG frees a person to quit his or her job and work for the government in a meaningful way tied to his or her interests and desires and tied to the needs of each community.

Government is Good and Oh, By the Way, We Are That Government

The notion that the government cannot create jobs is false. Just look at the U.S. military as a prime example. We Americans employ over more than one million people defending us at home and all over the world. Let’s add in all the police, fire, teachers, post office workers, and countless other government-related services to acknowledge the huge role our government already plays in sustaining our economy for so many millions of Americans. It’s about public infrastructure that serves a public purpose.

Adding more workers to the pool will not bankrupt this economy; on the contrary, the economy will grow dramatically. Furthermore, as the issuer of currency, our government can always pay its bills, and never go bankrupt.

If you do not have money to spend, like the average middle class and working poor person these past 40 years, then you will have a weak, slow growth economy. Add, for example, a million more workers to the economy with decent wages and benefits, our economy will be that much stronger. 

Already, most European societies have some version of a care economy already in place. The Michael Moore documentaries “Where to Invade Next” and “Sicko” detail many such innovations in place in countries such as Italy, France, Finland, Norway, and Portugal, to name a few societies featured.

For example, in France, government employees help families with assisting mothers with raising their families as cooks, wet nurses, and babysitters, among other roles. 

Going on Autopilot

Once Congress votes to both support this idea and fund it, the system will go on autopilot. 

We need a caring economy now more than ever. 

Covid-19 has exposed how tenuous the economic situation is currently for millions of Americans. And there are millions more — those that have not been counted officially because they are part of the long-term unemployed who would benefit from this program as well. 

By creating this caring economy, we would in effect eliminate poverty in America and strengthen the fabric of our economy in the process. Our safety net, which has been weakened these past 40 years, will be shored up. So many other possible changes should occur as well, such as an overall reduction in crime.  

Get Active

How can you help promote a care economy? Get active now in joining coalitions around the country that support the creation of such a public initiative. Elect those candidates that take a written pledge to support this concept and supportive legislation.

Voting does matter. 

A unified citizenry is the way forward toward rebuilding our middle class and working poor growing a more vibrant economy.

Let’s harness the power of the vote and usher in change agents who pledge to support such an economy.

Democracy is not a spectator sport. A focused population set on bringing about real change can break through the gridlock and inaction that has so colored our politics these past 40 years. The middle class and working poor need to unite to restore our once healthy economy.

Robert Buonaspina is on the board of directors of New York Progressive Action Network, an elected steering committee member of Long Island Activists, and a history and economics teacher at Locust Valley Middle/High School.

Warren Mosler, father of Modern Monetary Theory and president of Valance Company, Inc., assisted with this piece.

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Now Is The Time For The NY Health Act

A doctor uses a stethoscope listen to the heartbeat of a patient. (Getty Images)

One thing is clear from the COVID-19 pandemic: This nation needs a Single Payer Health Care System.

Our national response to this health crisis was disjointed at best, criminal at worst. So many Americans have died unnecessarily because of our dysfunctional healthcare systems. With multiple providers of healthcare coverage — various private insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid — the result is chaos.

People are denied life-saving medications, subjected to catch-22 procedures to make claims, nickel-and-dimed with co-pays, shocked by “surprise” non-coverage when they need it most. It is not unusual for an accident victim to be denied coverage on the basis of not having received “prior approval” for the service of an ambulance. 

We have seen enough shortages of person protective equipment, testing kits, and hospital beds to convince us all that something different is needed. We need a unified approach to the delivery of healthcare, as well as its costs. 

Now that Bernie Sanders is officially out of the race for president, a Medicare for All system is on the backburner for the near future under a potential Biden presidency. However, there is a renewed push in New York for the passage of the New York Health Act (NYHA). This is a Medicare for All system for New Yorkers.

The NYHA bill would provide comprehensive, universal health coverage for every New Yorker. The NYHA covers all medically necessary care including dental, hearing, vision, mental health, substance abuse treatment, reproductive care, and long-term care and support. There are no copays, no deductibles, no premiums, no in-or-out-of network: All doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants, and other medical personnel will be in the plan. There would be no more denials of care.

While Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi does not support a national Medicare for All Single Payer Health Care System, she has encouraged the creation of one or more working models in individual states before it would be considered on a national level. 

This is the moment for New York State to take the lead. As the state hit hardest by the pandemic, New York is ready to transform how health care is delivered and paid for. Not only is New York a financial powerhouse in so many ways, we have, at present, Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature.

Unfortunately, the now-popular Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not yet voiced his support for the NYHA. Those who follow the governor know that he is not currently a champion of such a bold move, but progressives are hopeful that the voters, come November, will help move him in this direction. 

Now let’s talk about costs. The New York Health Act will save the state billions of dollars right at the start. Ninety-eight percent of New Yorkers would save money on health care, even though they would pay approximately $3,000 a year in a progressive tax for their health care. Real costs would drop significantly. 

By eliminating private insurance, which this bill will do, the average New Yorker will see a net savings of $8,000 per year. And so much more would change for the better as well. 

A 2019 Harvard University study indicates that medical expenses are the biggest cause of bankruptcy, representing 62 percent of all bankruptcies in the United States. That translates to more than 500,000 American families per year suffering bankruptcies as a result of either medical expenses or missed employment because of illness. Such experiences would not occur under the NYHA.

Union members are often skittish about single payer plans, believing that such plans would take away hard won negotiated benefits which were traded off for other benefits. 

But, that’s just the point: With healthcare off the table, unions could bargain for other benefits like eliminating or reducing contributions to pension funds, higher pay, and better working conditions. 

NYHA even has a provision for retraining those now working in the private industry. This job training would prepare such workers for positions having comparable pay. 

The New York Health Act was originated by state Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), and has passed the New York State Assembly every session since 1992. And under the leadership of state Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), this potentially historic bill nearly passed in the last session. It missed passage by one vote.

Currently there are many more candidates seeking to become a Democratic state senator. Many of them not only pledge to support the NYHA but promise to champion it once elected. Here on Long Island, Christine Pellegrino and Skyler Johnson have both taken the pledge to support and champion this bill. 

If you want to learn more about the myths and truths of the NYHA, visit the Campaign for New York Health website at nyhcampaign.org

Health care is a human right. Our state can set the standard for the country by implementing a just, affordable, and equitable healthcare system. Let’s pass the New York Health Act in the upcoming session of the state Legislature.

Robert Buonaspina is a Long Island Activists Elected Steering Committee Member and history teacher at Locust Valley Middle/High School.

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The Constitutional Case for Medicare for All and Tuition-Free State Colleges

“Promoting the general welfare” is a part of our social DNA. It is featured in the United States Constitution in the Preamble and tasked to Congress to address in Article 1 Section 8. It is part of their job scope to ensure that the general welfare needs of our people are met.

Also noted in our foundational document, as part of servicing the general welfare needs of the people, was the creation of “postal roads,” along with post offices, as resources needed by Americans. The Founding Fathers also called for the creation of free public libraries to keep our citizens informed and educated.

In short order, developing out what was meant by “general welfare” grew as the nation grew. In the early 1800s, with the construction of the Erie Canal, the government funded in the Northeast a fairly involved effort to improve upon the transportation needs of the growing country.

Also occurring during the first few decades of the new nation was the formation of free public schools to educate our population. Via the efforts of Horace Mann, Massachusetts became the first state to provide a public education to its state’s citizens. In time, as part of serving the general welfare needs of the nation, a free public education from K-12 became the norm.

The notion of building upon our transportation needs continued to be a priority with the mostly government funded and subsidized building of the Transcontinental railroad.

Any student of our history will know that in times of need, more government programs have been created to serve the general welfare needs of our people. During the Progressive Era, we created government funded police departments and fire departments, passed zoning laws and worker safety measures. All in pursuit of the general good.

During the Great Depression, under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, we established many government programs designed to get the nation back to work and put forth some long-term reform efforts such as the Social Security system, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Securities Exchange Commission to help stabilize the economy and assist our people in the future.

Under the leadership of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower we greatly expanded on the notion of the government providing better roads with his support of the Interstate Highway System — a mostly toll-free enterprise that greatly contributed to the growth of this nation and common general welfare needs of the people.

Under the leadership of Lyndon B. Johnson and Congress, two major programs designed to serve the healthcare needs of our people — Medicare for our senior citizens and Medicaid, to serve the needs of our poor — were created.

Today, there is a push on the state level for the passage of the New York Health Act (NYHA) and on the national level for a Medicare for All health-care system to provide quality healthcare to all Americans.

The NYHA act, co-authored by New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera and New York State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, would create a comprehensive health-care system for all New Yorkers covering not only medical care but also vision, dental, mental healthcare and long-term care. It would truly be a sea-change improvement on the status quo, saving most Americans expenses in the process.

A Medicare for all national system would best serve the millions of Americans currently enduring poor coverage, with private insurance poorly covering major ailments and nickle-and-diming via co-pays every aspect of seeing a doctor. It would be a logical growth to our health-care system for a government-run program aimed at addressing our entire population’s needs, cradle to grave.

Providing for tuition free-college at state schools is also a logical outgrowth to providing for the general welfare needs of the people. An educated populace is in the best interest of all of us as we compete and interact with the rest of the world.

Ultimately, it is the role of government to do what it can to assist the people it serves. We have done this since our founding and have developed a stronger safety net over time.

So the next time you attend a town hall, press your elected officials on where they stand on providing for the healthcare and educational needs of us all. And as you do, remind them of the Preamble and Congress’s responsibility to promote the general welfare of all the people. Let them know that doing so is part of who we are. It is in our national DNA to do so.

Robert Buonaspina is an Elected Steering Committee Member of Long Island Activists and a History Teacher at Locust Valley High School, Locust Valley, New York with more than 25 years of experience.

OpEd: We Need A Second Progressive Era

I believe we are currently living through a second Gilded Age. It began officially with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and has continued through both Republican and Democratic administrations to the present.

As both U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have stressed, the system is rigged and the richest 1 percent of Americans and other wealthy donors have been controlling our political processes. But living during a Gilded Age is nothing new to us. 

More than a century ago in the 1880s, America saw the first Gilded Age, when the robber barons preyed on the masses. That era was ended in large part by the Progressive Era. So much good came from those “woke” at that time in the world of reporting, writing, and advocacy. 

Substantial reforms were passed from the creation of the primary system, the development of the initiative process for citizen-written laws, and the referendum process for citizens to vote on ballot measures that could also become law. 

Police and fire departments were created by people arguing for a safer society. Building codes were passed. Job safely measures enacted. Large trusts like John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil were broken up by the U.S. Supreme Court because they had too much power and had abused the trust of the people in the process.

Thus from the perspective of the masses the 99 percenters of the day this was a fairly healthy time period for positive change. What we need today is a second Progressive Era, bigger and bolder than the first, to right so much wrong that has crept into our politics.

The current woke among us need to push back the political, social, and economic pendulum firmly toward serving the needs of the majority of Americans. We need a return to a liberal-progressive America that values people over profit first. 

Bernie would be a great leader in that effort and so would Warren. Fighting the right fight would place our economy on a much firmer and secure footing to create a vibrant future America. The status quo and current political reality is not a sustainable one. 

Robert Buonaspina is a Long Island Activists steering committee member

 

The Way Forward: An Unconventional Way to Usher in a Progressive Agenda

National Popular Vote Movement

Recently the U.S. Supreme Court blocked rulings from two federal courts that had previous struck down voting maps in Ohio and Michigan as unconstitutional. In the cases of Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisek, the court ruled that the Constitution does not bar extreme partisan gerrymandering.

In effect, what the court is doing here by its decision in those two cases is allowing the status quo to continue. To the many recently awakened progressives out there who are seeking to break through the current status quo, this is not a welcome decision.
Nearly a decade ago, Republicans — more so than Democrats  made gerrymandering an art form that in effect gave them control of Congress for several years and control over most state houses.

See David Daley’s book Rat F**Ked — The True Story Behind The Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy for a detailed explanation on how this was done. Such efforts will no doubt continue in 2020 — especially now that the court has in effect condoned these undemocratic practices as Constitutional by not forcibly weighing in on this practice.

This fraying of the fabric of democracy was given a near body blow with the 2010 decision in the Citizens United vs. The Federal Elections Commission case. Via that decision to allow for the unlimited spending of corporate and union monies to political action committees to spend on behalf of candidates, our system has become even more controlled by the rich and powerful among us. Another undemocratic attack on our electoral processes.

I understand why U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Q-Queens) vented her frustration recently to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the lack of support for progressive ideas like a Green New Deal. The reality is the system as currently structured whether you are a Democrat or Republican is rigged against the change agents among us.

As a progressive in the likes of Bernie Sanders and AOC and an activist serving on the steering committee of Long Island Activists, I find the times we live in to be extremely frustrating if you really want to see positive changes in the lives of average Americans. The government at present is not serving the current needs of the people. However, as an American history teacher for more than 25 years, I am aware that change can and does happen when the people push back.

One needs to only look back at the Gilded Age of the late 1800s. A time period much like our own, that saw great changes brought about by the woke of their day  the muckrakers, leading to a progressive movement that made many needed changes at the time. Changes aimed mostly as serving the needs of the majority.

I believe we are living during a second Gilded Age that has gone on for more than 40 years and began officially with the election of Ronald Reagan and continues to today. And just like the first Gilded Age was busted through by the Progressive Era, we progressives need a second progressive movement to address all that has happened during these last forty years to hurt most Americans.

So In light of the court’s gerrymandering decision that is basically allowing an unfair, undemocratic practices to continue, why not play that game as well and un-rig the system? In the end, put more of one in an area, and that person’s party will win. So why not use this thinking to bust through the status quo? Here is my idea. I call it The Way Forward.

What if we progressives were to lead a movement that involved taking the woke among us and physically move to parts of the country where congressional and state legislative seats can be easily flipped?

It could involve people who are most hurt by the status quo such as the willing long-term unemployed, which there are millions of such people who do not appear in the current data used to look at unemployment figures  those in need of life-saving medical care, those idealistic among us. The “Berners” and other progressives who are seeking a better day.

It could encompass the energies and idealism of the Freedom Summer movement of 1964, and the activism of the ’60s anti-war movement and other movements of social change that occurred simultaneously. Go Fund Me accounts could be created to fund this Marshall Plan-like idea and concerts given by those who endorse this idea to fund the moving of people and paying for living expenses for at least one year.

Monies could be also used to fund a website that keeps real time information on where people are leaving and moving to. This alone could help people make informed decisions when they relocate for a variety of reasons. This would certainly be a major undertaking one that may not show results quickly however, overtime, real change will occur because progressives will win office in various places and, like AOC and others, push for real change to help average Americans.

In the near future though, target number one would be U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with ideally an influx of people into Kentucky that will give the Democrats the edge this time around. They should also settle within all the Republican gerrymandered districts to push them deep blue from deep red.

Currently, the U.S. Senate has 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats, including two independents. A flip of nine Republican Senate seats to the Democratic party in 2020 would give them a 60-vote majority enabling all major legislation to pass this body. There should be a concerted effort to go after the most vulnerable Republican Senate seats out of the 22 that are up for re-election.

With the election of 60 Democratic senators and a Democratic House even more progressive than now combined with a progressive president like Bernie Sanders — all of the key changes that progressives and many Americans support are possible. What is at stake here would be the passage of a Medicare-for-all system, a Green New Deal, tuition-free state schools, and so much more that would move our country in a better healthier position. It would truly make America great great for the average America, whose real needs have been ignored for way to long.

We should also target voters in the four states that gave Trump his electoral win: Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Flood these states with enough voters to turn the tide for the Democratic candidate. This progressive candidate would need to address the needs of these people as well with offering a plan to create quality livable wage jobs.

Such an effort would demonstrate quite clearly the power of the people — the power of the 99-percenters — to un-rig a system that is currently rigged and not serving their needs. And elect in the end a new progressive leadership block in Congress and throughout state houses ready and willing to do the people’s bidding.

In effect use the Tea Party playbook to gain control of the agenda. I call this plan The Way Forward. Are you with me?