Sept 19, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 196


Topics: Senate Medicare for All bill breakdown; Hurricane Irma. People: Bill, Nate and Rachel. Produced: Sept 17th, 2017.

Episode 196 (55 min):
AFD 196

Please note that the show now airs/releases on Tuesdays instead of Wednesdays.

Related links

Medicare for All Act of 2017 Chapter by Chapter Summary
White paper: Options to Finance Medicare for All
Our episode on Dental Care
Our episode on how to nationalize oil and gas
Our episode on climate austerity governments


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Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

March 29, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 175

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.


Topics: The 14th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq and whether or not there is growing public support for universal programs in the United States. People: Bill and Greg. Produced: March 26th, 2017.

Episode 175 (57 min — extended version not aired on FM):
AFD 175

Soundcloud Excerpts:


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iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

August 5, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 137

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.


Topics: Presidential megadonors; Medicare turns 50; Nigeria asks US to close banking loopholes. People: Bill, Kelley. Produced: August 2nd, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– Presidential megadonors: Like ridiculously expensive racetrack betting and equally pointless.
– Medicare just turned 50: Are Democrats pushing Big Ideas in public policy these days?
– Nigeria’s new president argues closing corruption loopholes in the West is more helpful than loans.

Episode 137 (51 min):
AFD 137

Related Links

NYT: Million-Dollar Donors in the 2016 Presidential Race
The Hill: President: ObamaCare finishes job started by Medicare, Medicaid
NASI: Medicare’s Efforts to Reduce Disparities
AFD: Buhari: Anti-corruption help better than foreign aid, for Nigeria


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iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

March 31, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 78

Description: Guest expert Sydnee McElroy MD of the “Sawbones” podcast explains the science of vaccines. Bill and Nate look at why government steps in where charity falls short. Persephone on the future of nursing in the United States, by looking at Europe.

AFD 78

Related Links

Sawbones: “Dr. Mesmer and the Power of Animal Magnetism”

Read more

The distance we’ve come on poverty

The United States still has a long way to go on reducing poverty in the United States, but all things considered, things have gotten better. On a number of key underlying metrics as well as quality of life standards, we’ve seen improvements since the beginning of the “War on Poverty,” fifty years ago this month, under President Johnson.

It’s worth keeping this knowledge in mind when the “War on Poverty” social programs — Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, Head Start, Job Corps, welfare, etc. — that have provided safety nets and opportunities for low-income and struggling Americans are coming under attack today. They’re often dismissed as ineffective because topline poverty hasn’t moved very much since 1964 (though it also hasn’t exploded out of control, despite much higher levels of inequality, which is a good sign). So knowing the positives is key to defending them.

The New York Times published a short piece today summarizing the successes and failures of the anti-poverty efforts since January 1964.

The good:

Still, a broad range of researchers interviewed by The New York Times stressed the improvement in the lives of low-income Americans since Mr. Johnson started his crusade. Infant mortality has dropped, college completion rates have soared, millions of women have entered the work force, malnutrition has all but disappeared. After all, when Mr. Johnson announced his campaign, parts of Appalachia lacked electricity and indoor plumbing.

Many economists argue that the official poverty rate grossly understates the impact of government programs. The headline poverty rate counts only cash income, not the value of in-kind benefits like food stamps. A fuller accounting suggests the poverty rate has dropped to 16 percent today, from 26 percent in the late 1960s, economists say.


So on the brass-tacks/basics/fundamentals level, we’ve seen big improvements. And being poor, while certainly still no picnic, isn’t as horrendously bad as it was a half century ago, when it was still only a step or two away from “Grapes of Wrath” territory.

Then, the bad:

But high rates of poverty — measured by both the official government yardstick and the alternatives that many economists prefer — have remained a remarkably persistent feature of American society. About four in 10 black children live in poverty; for Hispanic children, that figure is about three in 10. According to one recent study, as of mid-2011, in any given month, 1.7 million households were living on cash income of less than $2 a person a day, with the prevalence of the kind of deep poverty commonly associated with developing nations increasing since the mid-1990s.


However, I still think on balance it’s been more successful than not, and we should keep fighting for more gains and not turn our backs on these programs by mythologizing their failures.

There’s a lot of wishful, rose-colored-glasses nostalgia surrounding the 1950s and early 1960s, in terms of glamorous economic good times. There’s at least some truth to that, in that the United States was the only industrial economy left standing for a brief time and high-paying jobs were plentiful for many segments of the workforce. But it was, in reality, also a period (as noted above) where large parts of the country still didn’t have electricity or other basic features/services of modern society.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotations:

“In the world of politics, nostalgia is a kind of quitting. It says, ‘I can’t deal with today, can we go back to yesterday?’ But a particular yesterday, without its attendant problems.”
– Ta-Nehisi Coates


The War on Poverty hasn’t done as much as we had hoped it would. But it has made a difference for many millions of Americans over the past fifty years. I also agree with those who say that broader economic efforts — including raising the minimum wage need to be made to reduce poverty more widely. Even so, I still want prioritize protecting and strengthening these social programs, not gutting them.

The Fiscal Cliff Deal (and What It Means for Boehner)

So the House of Representatives passed the New Year’s Fiscal Cliff Deal that the Senate passed in the middle of the night by a large margin, a few weeks after Speaker John Boehner’s unilateral “Plan B” proposal failed abysmally because neither the House Democrats nor his own Republican Majority were interested. So instead of the conservative Republicans getting a pretty good deal, they had to sit and watch in impotent rage as Speaker Boehner, 81 other Republicans, and nearly all the House Democrats held and passed a vote on a pretty damn great deal for the Democratic White House.

Here’s the quick summary of what Democrats got:
It’s a pretty good deal (for us). No changes to entitlement benefits (i.e. Social Security or Medicare), income taxes go back up to Clinton levels for the super-wealthy (individuals making over $400k/yr, couples making over $450k/yr), everyone else’s income taxes remain at the Bush Tax Cuts levels, unemployment insurance benefits are extended after expiring a few days back, all scheduled “sequester” spending cuts are delayed for 2 more months, milk prices are stabilized, and there’s some delay on a Medicare payment restructuring plan with regards to doctor compensation (but I don’t know much about that). The payroll taxes will roll back up to at least 2008 levels (which helps Social Security’s solvency), which was theoretically always supposed to happen eventually, since the cuts were a short-term stimulus. Democrats only conceded about $200 billion over ten years in potential revenues on the marginal incomes between $200k/$250k and $400k/$450k, which is not that big a problem in the grand scheme. I guess this means there’s a new tax bracket, which is fine by me. There’s also no resolution on the next debt ceiling raise that will need to happen in a few months, but that wouldn’t have been likely in an 11th Hour (or 13th Hour?) deal anyway, and it wasn’t urgent.

About those Spending Cuts:
If this were still going to be the ultra-obstructionist, big-Republican-majority 112th Congress we’ve had since January 2011, it would be a big problem that the spending cuts were delayed by 2 months, because it would just manufacture another artificial crisis/showdown in two months. But the 113th Congress is sworn in on Thursday of this week, and that means a new calculus, even if the Republicans still control the House. I think the 2 month postponement only helps the Democrats, not the Republicans. It’s now more on our turf to decide. Tuesday was the last opportunity for House Republicans to use their big 2010-won majority to shape cuts, and they blew it. Their majority isn’t as big once the 113th Congress is sworn in on Thursday. If Boehner and the remaining GOP moderates keep caving, Pelosi, Reid, and the White House will be calling the shots on things like spending cuts.

Granted, that’s obviously a big if. So let’s examine whether or not that is likely to happen. The 113th Congress will start with a Republican majority with only a 23 seat edge. I think that’s probably in the neighborhood of the size of the northeast/northern Republicans and the small cadre of people who still back Boehner to the hilt. They won’t vote with the Democrats on a lot of stuff, but they’ll vote with them on quite a few national-scale priorities if Boehner asks them to. Boehner won’t get voted out as speaker, but he has clearly lost all control of his caucus. Previously he could control his caucus to some extent, so he could be obstructionist and fight the White House and still get things. But now he can’t deliver Republican majorities for anyone’s bills. His only power play now — to demonstrate any level of control over the situation and to leave any kind of mark in his tenure as speaker — is to show that he can get some things, or rather any things, through. (Because at the end of the day, he’s still not one of the Burn Everything Down tea party Republicans, and he probably thinks of himself as a statesman.) Those things will from now on be designed by the White House and by the Senate Democratic Leadership, and they will only pass with Democratic help in the House. If the filibuster gets reformed, the Senate Democrats will have an even easier time passing legislation to send to the House. So Boehner will have to choose between trying and repeatedly failing to pass conservative legislation because neither the House Democrats nor the House Republican Conservatives will vote for it or trying to persuade House Democrats to vote with him and two dozen Republicans on centrist policies. And some Republicans will agree to do this either because they are actually moderates or because they realize that they are more likely to retain the Republican majority in 2014 by being able to claim some amount of credit and cooperation on accomplishing some stuff than by preventing anything from getting passed for two years. A lot of the few remaining folks in the Boehner loyalist cadre were veterans of the Gingrich Majority of the 1990s that almost collapsed in the 1998 & 2000 elections due to inability to pass almost anything and get it signed into law. The Republicans already got dinged badly in the 2012 House elections (and would probably have lost their majority were it not for favorable redistricting by the state legislators elected in the 2010 Republican wave) because Americans saw them as uncooperative bordering on saboteurs. Right direction or wrong direction, Americans nearly always prefer action in some direction over action in no direction.

About that Debt Ceiling:
The debt ceiling, untouched in this middle-of-the-night deal, is going to need to be raised again in, I guess, March or thereabouts. I’m not totally sure of the timeline but it’s not all that important here. It’ll be after the spending cuts postponement is up in 2 months. But it’s another point where the 2011 Republicans would have seized the opportunity to create a crisis and force a showdown right up to the brink of disaster. They did that in 2011. But the Republican majority and Speaker Boehner in particular won’t have that kind of leverage anymore.

I think the world-ending showdowns from 2011 and 2012 are probably over for the next two years or will be far, far less frequent. Once again, Boehner’s majority will be a lot smaller starting Thursday (only a 23 seat edge) in the 113th Congress, and he no longer has influence over most of that majority. He and some of his supporters would really prefer not to bring down the government and economy, even if the conservative wing is claiming to be just fine with that outcome. Since he’s never going to reach a deal that could win a Republican majority and Senate and White House passage, and will in fact embarrass himself every time he tries (as happened with the “Plan B” proposal), he no longer has an incentive to futz around trying to get such a deal — and the White House knows that. No leverage for him, now. Likelier scenario is that he bangs his chest a bit and then puts together a deal with the Senate Majority and White House that the House Minority Democrats will back. And then he, his merry band of two or three dozen Republicans who aren’t complete maniacs on the debt ceiling, and the House Democrats will cobble together a slim majority and pass a deal. The White House, I believe, has already said that they will exercise the Amendment 14 Section 4 option (a unilateral raise) if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling. They don’t want to do that — it’s still an open question has to whether or not the Courts would accept it and no one really wants to find out the hard way — but they will do it if they have to. So he can negotiate or not negotiate, but the debt ceiling will be raised either way, so it’s in his interest to negotiate the best deal he can get, given that this White House would prefer a deal to that extreme option.

One final unavoidable caveat to all of this:
Never underestimate the power of the current crop of Republicans to cut off their noses to spite their faces. All of what I’m saying could be woefully over-optimistic and naive. They’ve shown on more than a few occasions that they will go to all kinds of unprecedented extremes unseen in the modern era even when it hurts them. They’re a bit fundamentalist in that regard. I’m arguing on a questionable assumption that at least a couple dozen of them (including speaker Boehner) are still acting on a rational self-interest basis. And you know what happens when you assume…