Foundations

It seems that many people distrust Hillary Clinton because of the Clinton Foundation, or, to be more precise, the media-fed perception that Ms. Clinton used the foundation for both personal and political gain. But, one may ask, is this accurate? And just what has the foundation been up to?

Dylan Matthews, writing for Vox, takes a deep look at the Clinton Foundation. He reports:

After reviewing foundation documents and talking to numerous people in the philanthropy and global health sectors familiar with its work, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Clinton Foundation is a real charitable enterprise that did enormous good. Its projects are of varying effectiveness, but its work is supported by credible, discriminating funders, and the foundation has least one huge accomplishment under its belt — an HIV/AIDS program that saved an untold number of lives.

So, what about the foundation of Mr. Trump? Again, Matthews:

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s opponent runs a foundation that is very clearly a scam, which used tax-exempt funds to purchase an autographed Tim Tebow helmet and a giant portrait of Donald Trump.

The media has botched this story. The amount of ink spilled on as-yet-unsubstantiated insinuations that the Clintons sold access through their foundation, as opposed to the foundation’s actual lifesaving work in public health, is ludicrous.

There is little to no evidence that anyone received meaningful favors from the Clintons in exchange for donating to the foundation. There is definitely no evidence that Hillary Clinton altered her policies as secretary of state in reaction to donations. There’s no evidence that the Clintons or their foundation engaged in some of the more egregious activities of Trump’s foundation, like donating to a state attorney general to deter her from an investigation into Trump’s activities, or giving to a nonprofit to fund a lawsuit against another state AG who did opt to investigate, or even paying off the legal bills of his for-profit businesses.

“The media has botched this story.” Rinse. Repeat.

I blame the Cookie Monster

It seems that the sugar industry has been cooking up bad “science” for years, according to this article in Vox. For example, it sought to distract us from the dangers of sugary diets by focusing research on dietary fats, whether saturated or not.

This chart included in the Vox article speaks volumes about the role of sugars (and saturated fats) in mortality.

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-10-12-24-am

Time to dump the cookies and deli meats. Again.

Weep for America

Tragedies abound, here in the good old USA. Judging by the concerted inaction among those parading as our representatives to stop the mayhem and bloodshed, we can look forward to more of the same, if not worse.

Indeed, on nearly every issue that matters, from health care and employment security to skewed priorities favoring military spending over basic services like education and guaranteed pensions, America’s elected officials consign us to an ugly, nasty, and brutish existence. Except, of course, for the billionaires, who have fashioned a legislative-economic-and-political system that redounds to their benefit, while the Rest of Us practice a crude, spiteful form of social Darwinism. The many must fend for themselves against increasingly miserable odds.

Much of this was brought into sharp, albeit somewhat ironic relief in the newest film by Michael Moore, Where to Invade Next. I commend the movie to you, but here is the quick takeaway: most European countries have those basic services as a matter of right and culture. The promise of our Constitution’s Preamble is being fulfilled elsewhere. Meanwhile, we Americans have been beaten down, denied necessities, and been forced to worship at the altar of unbridled capitalist greed.

I mentioned culture. The many people interviewed by Moore across Europe embraced their countries’ general welfare policies as common-sense givens, integral to the widespread notion that decent society demands people care for one another. Let’s take a quick look.

Moore spoke with several Italians who benefit from extended vacations, holidays, and generous family-leave programs. Italians, both business owners and their employees, believe that happy, well-rested workers make for improved productivity and company balance sheets. Despite receiving upwards of two months or more of paid time off, Italian productivity is just a shade lower than America’s, said Moore.

In Portugal, drug possession and use has been decriminalized completely. As a consequence, usage has plummeted, in part because the Portuguese spend resources on curing addictions. America’s wars on drugs, in contrast, targeting mostly African-Americans, has stocked our nation’s burgeoning prison system. Moore suggests that America reintroduced slavery via its draconian drug policies. And it was no accident.

Moore took us to a public school in France. The cafeteria, to be exact. There a full-time chef plans and produces three-star meals for children, who sit at round tables to which food is delivered by servers. No greasy pizzas. No cans of soda pop. Nothing that is found in the typical American child’s lunch. All healthy stuff, with plenty of vegetables and fruit, eaten over a leisurely hour or so.

In Slovenia Moore found American students earning degrees from that countries’ universities. And get this, at no cost to themselves. Education is completely free, and there is no such thing as student debt. The benefit is afforded to anyone from anywhere, and a hundred or more classes are taught in English.

Workers comprise half the corporate boards of German companies. Moore visited the Farber pencil company. He interviewed workers and managers alike. They reported that the employee involvement in decisions at all levels yielded a better-functioning workplace. Moreover, employees earned a living wage, supplemented by free health care, of course.

What about education? Moore flew north to Finland. I’ve written often about Finnish lessons. (Just search for the term on this site.) Finland completely reformed its education system, which bans private charter schools, by the way. That system is now the envy of the world. Shocking to Americans bombarded by Race to the Top, and No Child Left Behind, not to mention the excessive impositions of Bill Gates, et al.—Finnish children spend the least amount of time in the classroom of all OECD children. They do no homework, and there are no standardized tests.

Iceland was the first nation to elect a woman to its highest political office. That was in 1980, five years after a nationwide strike by women. Today, political bodies and company boards must have at least 40 percent of their membership female, though no gender can exceed 60 percent. During the 2008 global economic crisis, those Icelandic banks led by men all failed. The one dominated by women survived. Also, and worth noting, the male bankers are now spending time in a remote prison. No prominent U.S. banker was ever prosecuted. One woman CEO interviewed by Moore said that she could never live in America, because America is all about the individual and getting more of everything. There is no sense of caring for others, demanded of a decent society. Amen.

I admit to shedding a tear for what could be here in America. We could have all the services and cultural amenities enjoyed by our European counterparts. Indeed, as Moore emphasized at the end of his film, most of the ideas that have become reality in Europe had their origins in the U.S., including the abolition of the death penalty (Michigan in 1846). The Finnish education transformation is based on the teachings of John Dewey, an American philosopher and educator. The Equal Rights Amendment predated Iceland’s woman’s movement, though its ratification failed by three of the 50 states.

Alas, we’re confronted by a growing fascist spectacle and a citizen-less democracy. You, too, should weep for America.

 

Learning from the Swedes

Americans, as a rule, believe against all evidence to the contrary that they live in the greatest country on the planet. I doubt, however, that Americans can articulate why, other than to parrot tired platitudes that are much more myth than reality. Worse, in our patriotic cocoon, we cultivate a pervasive ignorance of alternative viewpoints and practices, believing that we have nothing to learn from others.

It is refreshing, then, to encounter different perspectives from those with direct experience by which to compare the American way from a more rational, sensible approach to living life. For example, we have this essay posted in Vox by a retired professor who divides his time between Sweden and Wisconsin. Tom Heberlein punctures a few misconceptions about Sweden, especially tax policies, while also pointing out obvious deficits in America’s approaches.

Take health care, for example. Heberlein writes:

The 33 million Americans who are still not covered by health insurance don’t have much choice when they get sick, unless you think, “Your money or your life?” is a choice. Paradoxically it turns out the bloated, heavily lobbied, privatized US system spends more tax money ($4,437) per person than Sweden’s socialized health care ($3,184).

This is due to Swedish efficiency rather than poor service. I do get to choose my doctor, have high-quality care a short walk from my home, same-day appointments and short waits when I walk in unannounced. And one day my physician himself phoned to tell me I had left my gloves in his office — it was my choice to walk back and get them.

The rest of the essay is worth the read. Fair warning, you may become further depressed by the yawning chasm between a society that works and a country, our own, that conjures new opportunities to transform basic necessities into profitable extractive enterprises. Somebody has to get rich. Why not you?

Get some virtues

Republicans as a rule argue that one’s problems are one’s own damn fault. They believe that the difference between poverty and posh can be explained by virtues: those who succeed have the right ones in spades; losers, in the Trumpian vernacular, lack them. The achievement gap can be closed only if those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder acquire appropriate behaviors, usually expressed as “accountability,” “responsibility,” “discipline,” “perseverance,” and “thrift.”

For example, a Republican in Washington state’s Senate penned an op-ed for this morning’s Seattle Times. Audacity being a singular trait of all Republicans, Mark Miloscia of Federal Way offers his views on homelessness, taking a swipe at liberal King County for its “failed” efforts to end this particular injustice. He writes:

What’s forgotten is that any plan for helping people must begin with holding individuals accountable for improvement. Unfilled rehabilitation and vocational slots and shelter beds show the problem is not a lack of money, but a lack of willingness to make people abandon self-destructive behaviors that make them homeless and unwilling to work.

Until we address the permissive culture issues and hold individuals accountable for their progress, we might as well burn money for homeless programs in the numerous campfires around Seattle.

As you might guess, Senator Miloscia resists any attempts to steer tax dollars to those who need them the most, particularly the homeless. They are virtueless and therefore undeserving. The senator, I presume, would make virtues available—for a price, of course. Markets über alles.

Meanwhile, Professor Krugman blogs. This time, he’s commenting on the recent revelation that white older men in America are dying off with increasing frequency, exactly the opposite trend of their counterparts elsewhere.

When urban areas like Detroit and Oakland suffered industrial collapse following the end of WWII, white majorities abandoned cities in favor of more homogeneous suburban environs. Conservatives accused the remaining blacks of moral turpitude; Krugman offers the explanation of sociologist William Julius Wilson, who argued that African-American job loss yielded social collapse.

Now it’s the white man’s turn, and ready for the call-to-virtue cause are the likes of David Brooks and the National Review‘s Kevin Williamson, the latter suggesting that it’s…

the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy

Krugman:

And what is the lesson? Why, that poor whites are moral failures, and they should move to where there are opportunities (where?). It’s really extraordinary.

Oh, and lots of swipes at food stamps, welfare programs, disability insurance (which conservatives insist is riddled with fraud, despite lots of evidence to the contrary.)

It’s surely worth noting that other advanced countries, with much more generous welfare states, aren’t showing anything like the kind of social collapse we’re seeing in the U.S. heartland.

As I’ve asserted previously, Republicans are bad for our health.

Some thoughts on Flint and DOT

The New York Times editors fingered Republicans for the crimes against the people of Flint, Michigan.

The state government, whose officials caused this crisis, has been loath to commit substantial funds to long-term needs, and Congress, under the control of Republicans, is finding excuses not to rescue this poverty-stricken, majority-black city of nearly 100,000 people.

Closer to home, Republicans in Olympia essentially “fired” Washington state’s Department of Transportation head, Lynn Peterson, by refusing to confirm her three years after she was appointed by Governor Jay Inslee. I was struck by the comments of Curtis King, R-Yakima and chair of the Senate Transportation Committee:

He also said Peterson is making it too cheap for Sound Transit to acquire right of way along state roads.

“She’s very partial to transit, very partial to bike and pedestrian paths, all those things,” King said. “We need to protect the citizens that want to travel on our roads. That’s why we’re there. We need to protect the ability of people to use our roads, use their cars. From the get-go, she was about moving people on transit, moving people on light rail.”

We may recall conservative pundit George F. Will’s denunciation of trains. He was writing for Newsweek at the time (Feb. 2011):

Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

Mr. Will’s attitudes are on full display along Puget Sound’s interstates, where all those “unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted” motorists embrace their individualism en masse, victims of their own shortsightedness. The vehicular goo is constant and thick.

Conservative Republicans, there is really no other kind, pose an existential threat to the planet. Mr. Will, we also know, denies climate change. It’s also clear that in their zeal to shrink governments, Republicans condemn millions of Americans to extreme environmental risk, from Flint to Florida, where global warming has already been exacting its toll for decades. Trains can help mitigate by increasing transportation efficiency and reducing carbon emissions.

Charles Koch has dedicated his political life to destroying “collectivism,” which he deems pernicious. Of late he has tempered his language and softened his image. But as Jane Mayer records in her book Dark Money, Mr. Koch is unavoidably off-the rails when it comes to his born-in-the-womb libertarian views. Now he has married money with mayhem, spreading his vast tentacular network into and around even the smallest government branches. In this he has been spectacularly successful, as evidenced by the “incredible” transformation of America’s states from blue to red. His fingerprints will no doubt be discovered in Washington state, the once-proclaimed “soviet” of the United States.

Insofar as Republicans will literally be the death of us, they should at least be quarantined. Kansas seems to be a suitable location for such purpose.