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March 2021

A Coterie of Unhappy Billionaires

A Coterie of Unhappy Billionaires

                        Robert A. Levine

Even billionaires must realize that America’s infrastructure is decrepit and resembles that of a third world country more than that of a modern state. For a nation whose main mode of transportation is the automobile and that moves goods mainly by truck, one would think that the federal and state governments would keep our roads and bridges in tip-top shape. But the opposite is true. Civil engineers in the last few years have given the nation’s infrastructure a failing grade between C- and D.

Roads and bridges were supposed to be maintained by funding derived from gas taxes and tolls. However, it’s been 27 years since the gas tax was last raised. It remains at 18.4 cents for a gallon of gas and 23.4 cents for a gallon of diesel. Yet in the last quarter century, the number of automobiles using our roads and bridges has increased significantly and more and heavier trucks are being used to transport goods but destroy the roads. State gasoline taxes vary from state to state but have not been high enough to keep the roads and bridges in fine condition. Gasoline taxes are basically user fees which would seem to be a fair way to maintain the roads and bridges. But many drivers are working class or middle class people who would be hurt by raising their road taxes.

And there are numerous other elements of infrastructure that need to be upgraded or installed aside from roads and bridges. We probably have the worst railroad system of any developed country in the world. While China, Europe and Japan have high speed, sleek trains that can go at over 200 miles per hour, American passenger trains creep along at speeds below 100 miles per hour. It’s no wonder that more Americans do not travel by train. But it’s not only the train that has to generate speed, the train tracks must be able to handle trains traveling at high speeds. In many areas, new tracks have to be installed to utilize modern trains.

There are also many of our airports and airport terminals that appear as if they were lifted from a third world nation. While some of the terminals are decent, others are in dire need of repair and rebuilding. And our ports need reconstructing, both to handle goods in container ships and people going on cruises or traveling by boat. Broadband access also has to be provided to rural areas and poor sections of major cities. If poor people don’t have access to the Internet for communication and education, they are severely handicapped in their efforts to advance to higher levels.

So how are we going to pay for all of these requirements to improve the nation’s infrastructure to compete with other modern nations? Should we employ user fees on everything and force poor and middle class people to pay for what is needed. Or should we just raise their taxes, Given the overwhelming inequality in America, corporations and the wealthiest among us should bear the cost of these improvements. Remember that federal and state governments are partially responsible for the success of our corporations and the wealth that the affluent have accumulated. The infrastructure that we have, allowing products to get to consumers was built by the government. Education was provided to train skilled workers.

Thus, the burden of paying for infrastructure improvements and new elements should be borne by corporations and the super-wealthy. Billionaires may not be happy but they should be taxed adequately so that no further debt is accumulated to pay for infrastructure. Remember that it was only four years ago that Trump provided1-2 billion dollars in unnecessary tax cuts primarily to American billionaires.

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Voter Suppression- Who Wins

Voter Suppression- Who Wins

            Robert A. Levine

If the Republicans cannot win fairly, they will do anything to suppress groups of voters who tend to support the Democrats. This is short term thinking for down the road, the minority groups whose votes they are trying to eliminate will be in the majority and will vote regularly for the Democrats. At the moment, many minority voters are mixing their votes and some are backing Republicans. This is not the time to alienate minorities and drive them to the Democratic Party which voter suppression will do.

Currently, in state legislatures across the land that are controlled by Republicans, hundreds of laws are being introduced to suppress voting by minority groups that provide support for Democrats more than Republicans. But this support of Democrats was starting to change in the 2020 elections where Latino men and women and Black men gave significant percentages of their votes to Republicans. Suppressing the votes of these groups by making it increasingly difficult for them to vote is not going to endear the GOP in the minds of these voters and in the long run will probably dissuade Democratic voters from switching.

In addition to blatant gerrymandering expected after the census results are released, Republican state legislatures are shortening the time devoted to early voting, eliminating absentee and mail-in voting without a good excuse and proof of a problem, demanding accurate IDs when voting in person and limiting what can be used, cutting down on the boxes where absentee votes can be dropped off, comparing signatures very carefully on IDs versus forms that allowing voting, shortening the hours on voting day, cutting down on the number of places to vote, situating voting stations in white neighborhoods that are difficult for minorities to reach, preventing people from collecting the ballots of older or disabled individuals (ballot harvesting) because it is difficult for these voters to hand in their ballots. Any measures that will cut down on minority voting will be considered by GOP controlled legislatures.

While it is likely these moves may decrease minority voting temporarily, there are groups that have formed that will transport these voters to the places where they can vote. They are also being helped to fill out the necessary forms. Voters have long memories and as minorities attain majority status, they will remember how the Republicans used underhanded methods to lessen the importance of their votes or made it difficult for them to vote at all. In the long run, the GOP will pay for their actions.

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Trumpism Without Trump

Trumpism Without Trump

            Robert A. Levine

There is no question that Democrats would like to see Trump completely sidelined and out of the political limelight. However, there are plenty of Republicans who feel the same way though they are afraid to express their feelings. For one thing, Trump is draining money from the Republican Party and Republican candidates and directing it to himself. And the money he receives from his base is used mainly for Trump’s personal expenses rather than for political purposes. Those who are sending him the money have no clue how it is being utilized.

Many of Trump’s acolytes who would like to see him gone want to try and replace him as the Big Kahuna in the Party, getting the support and money from his adoring base. These are people like Ted Cruz, Ron DeSantis and Josh Hawley who see themselves as potential presidential candidates in 2024 and want to get Trump out of the way. As he long as he presents himself as a possible presidential candidates in 2024, no other Republican can make a move.

Trump is also giving his imprimatur to House and Senate candidates in 2022 to try and control the party completely. He is at odds with Mitch McConnell who is probably the second most powerful Kahuna in the GOP. To say that they cannot stand each other would be an understatement. So Mitch would certainly like to see Trump gone.

Aside from Trump stepping aside voluntarily, he faces criminal charges in Georgia and New York State and it is possible that he could wind up in prison. He has broken campaign finance laws and tax laws and has a number of potential witnesses willing to testify against him.

Trump also has a number of family members who want to enter politics with the Trump name. These include Lara Trump, Eric’s wife, Don Jr. and Ivanka, all willing to carry the Trump name forward.

Whether or not Trump himself runs in 2024 depends on his mood, unless the legal system puts him away. But even not running, he can hold that out as a possibility to keep money flowing in, support from his base and the role he loves as king-maker.

Come to think of it Trumpism without Trump may not be such a good thing, with younger politicians keeping his standard flying. Of course, that standard is Trump over all, a man who knows it all, and will do anything to aid Trump. Trumpism in any form is bad for America.

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Creating a Third Party of the Center

Creating A Third Party of the Center

Robert A. Levine

            “It must be realized that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more uncertain of success, or more dangerous to manage than the establishment of a new order of government; for he who introduces it makes enemies of all those who derived advantage from the old order.”

            Niccolo Machiavelli- The Prince [i]

            The time has come for a seismic shake-up of America’s political system. The nation’s current political parties are corrupt and self-serving, tethered to lobbyists, special interests and their own partisan bases, and unable to govern productively. To bring about change, a permanent third party of the center is necessary to recalibrate the political equation and start the country on the road to reform. This party must not be dependent on PAC financing but derive direct funding from its supporters. The Republican Party is already splitting three ways, with supporters of Trump, true conservatives and moderates. Trumpists have even considered forming their own third party. The Democrats are split between leftists and moderates.                       

The idea of a permanent third party for America is not new, the reasons that argue for its creation having existed for many decades. Indeed, there have been a number of unsuccessful attempts at gestation, resulting in stillbirths or early demises in infancy. Currently, disillusionment with the government and dismay about the ability of the established political parties to fix matters remain at a high level. Unless the nation is able to accomplish a meaningful revision in the way it is governed, the United States is destined to decline. To effect the required metamorphosis, a permanent third party is needed that values moderation, pragmatism and compromise.

Though revolutionary changes in political systems and mass social movements are usually initiated by the left or the right, this revolution should arise from the center, a protest against America’s two entrenched parties. John Avlon in his book Independent Nation remarked- “Centrism frees voters from the false dichotomies that dominate American politics by offering them a third choice between the rigid extremes of the left and right, a commonsense path that acknowledges the inevitability of change while never straying far from fundamental American values or founding principles… Centrism is the most effective means for achieving the classic mission of politics: the peaceful reconciliation of competing interests. Extremists and ideological purists on either side of the political aisle condemn compromise. But inflexibility either creates deadlock or dooms a cause to irrelevance.” 

A Pew Poll in May of 2019 had 38 percent of Americans identifying as politically independent. An NBC News poll in 2013 had 51 percent of Americans considering themselves as moderates, independents or centrists. Most surveys have the percentage of independents between these two numbers. But voters are accustomed to voting for either Democrats or Republicans and starting a new centrist party that is competitive will not be easy. With the current parties holding a duopoly of power, state and federal laws place barriers in the path of any upstart that might challenge their control. And aside from the legal obstacles, there are also emotional impediments that must be overcome in America’s citizenry to allow a new third party to gain traction. But a new permanent third party of the center can be viable, with the opportunity to realize its goals and win both local and national elections. There are new tools and transformative technologies available for an interloper to level the playing field with the two established behemoths, even though their deep pockets are constantly being refilled by the lobbyists and special interests.

The main asset this new entity will have in its favor is the dissatisfaction of Americans with the political climate. There is a vast body of citizens in America who do not participate in the political process or vote in elections because they feel their votes are inconsequential. Some of these men and women can form the base of a new party, along with independents and centrist Republicans and Democrats who hold their noses when they go to the polls, casting ballots because they feel it is their obligation as citizens. These people might flock to the banner of a political organization that pledged to run incorruptible candidates and would try to end the ideological bickering that has precluded action on so much necessary legislation. To be successful in this insurrection, the new party must persuade Americans that it is a real alternative to Republicans and Democrats, will have staying power and will not fold after one election cycle. It must be able to convince average citizens that it is worthwhile for them to cast their ballots for an untested political upstart that has a vision for a new way of governing. And if it is able to gain credibility among the electorate, it will make centrist politicians who are on the fence more willing to commit themselves to this intriguing new player.

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