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Monday, February 15, 2016

Interview with Michael Coblenz, Democratic Candidate KY 6th congressional

Liberal in Kentucky's interview with Michael Coblenz.  He's running for KY's 6th congressional seat in 2016.  Andy Barr now occupies the seat after defeating Ben Chandler in 2012.

-Why are you running for Congress?

I’m running to try to fix our broken political system. I know most candidates say that, but I have developed a detailed plan to restructure our Congressional elections in a way that will allow third parties to participate in a meaningful way. We have had third parties throughout our history (Whigs, Abolitionists, Progressives) and they existed because we had multi-seat Congressional districts, which allowed a candidate with less than 50% of the vote to gain a seat in Congress. This will introduce new ideas into the political debate, and reduce (I hope) the divisive bitterness in politics.    

I am not running to fight with Republicans. I am running to change the system so that Democrats and Republicans can have a serious discussion about how to address the challenges facing the nation. 

I address my plan in detail on my website

 -What should be done about social safety nets?

Conservatives say that welfare programs strip people of their initiative to work, and should be cut to liberate people from dependency. If this was true then countries without welfare systems would be nations of hard working strivers with vibrant economies, and countries with welfare systems would be plagued by indolent citizens and a dissolute economy. Yet a look at a globe says that this is simply not true. In fact almost the exact opposite is true. Countries without welfare systems, even those with natural resources and an educated citizenry, are mired in poverty.

The other point to understand about welfare programs is that they were initially instituted to ensure that the poor did not become desperate and do socially disruptive things, like revolt. The main purpose was not simply to assist the disadvantages. Simply put, welfare protects society, not the poor.    

That’s a convoluted way of saying that I generally support social welfare programs. I certainly believe that we can modernizing them, make them more efficient, and make them less susceptible to fraud. But it is fallacious and historically ignorant to suggest that we help society by eliminating welfare programs.   

 -What would you change if anything about the ACA/Obamacare?  Should we move towards a single payer system?

Our health care system is a paradox. We lead the world in the development of new drugs and medical therapies, yet at the same time we lag much of the developed world in health care outcomes like life expectancy and infant mortality. The sad reality is that we have two systems, a bad one for the poor, and a very different one for those who can afford it.

There are a number of problems with this. One is that we all live in the same society, and a health emergency, like a pandemic, can’t be confined to households below the poverty level. Another problem is that unhealthy citizens aren’t able to fully participate in the economy, and can become a cost to society. It seems far smarter to provide decent health care on the front end, which will ensure people can contribute, than on the back end in caring for the disabled.

Our health care system is grossly inefficient. We spend a huge amount on the accounting and management of insurance, and that money would be better spent on actual health care.

That’s a round-about way of saying that I wouldn’t oppose a single payer system, but I am concerned about the potential impact on health care innovation.   

 -You're a veteran, what's your take on America's conflicts abroad?

We should obviously be thoughtful and judicious about our use of force in the world. Unfortunately even when we do something for the best of reasons it can cause problems and create enemies. I thought removing Muammar Gaddafi in Libya was a good idea, but it had disastrous results. I also thought removing Hosni Mubarak in Egypt was a good idea, but that turned out badly as well.

At the same time we can’t imply withdraw from the world. It is a tough balance and I don’t know where to draw the line.

I do know that calls by some politicians to bomb every enemy will only make things worse. Calls by Ted Cruz and Donald Trump to engage in scorched earth tactics in the Middle East are clearly irresponsible. No rational President would order soldiers to commit war crimes. I can tell you as a veteran that that will break the military. Such overly aggressive action will also further destabilize the Middle East and create far more enemies than we will ever kill.      

-What can be done about the looming student loan crisis and higher education overall?

I wish I knew. I have a daughter in college and the cost is outrageous.

There are a number of factors that have caused the dramatic increase in the cost of college education. One is that states have reduced funding for higher education. Inflation hasn’t stopped, so as costs increase due to inflation and state funding decreases, the costs for students increases far faster than inflation.   

One factor that is within the control of colleges, however, is the fact that the administrative staffs of colleges and universities have grown dramatically, and generally far faster than the increase in teaching staff. Colleges are also spending more on student housing and academic buildings.
I think states have been penny wise and pound foolish for decreasing funding for higher education. An educated workforce is one of the key components of a vibrant state economy.

I’m not sure what I think of Bernie Sander’s call for free college education. I can see how it makes sense in some ways, but the cost will have to be borne somewhere, and the only place is through higher taxes on someone. At the moment I don’t think that this is a fight worth having.  

-Are you in favor of a minimum income?

Absolutely. We now live in a global economy and many aspects of that economy create downward pressure on wage. If we removed the minimum wage, as a few conservatives have proposed, I have no doubt that wages would be forced down. While this might have some impact on employment it would mean that more and more people would be working poor.

I also think we should raise the minimum wage. Conservatives are fond of saying that raising the minimum wage hurts employment, but statistics don’t really bear this out. The minimum wage has been raised 28 times since it was instituted in 1938. We have comprehensive statistics for the US economy since 1950, and the wage has been raised 24 times since then. Unemployment went up seven times, down nine times and stayed roughly the same the remaining 8 times. So unemployment went down more times than it went up, disproving the supposed iron correlation between wages and employment.  

I wrote about the issue in some detail on my blog:

Michael Coblenz is a lawyer, veteran of the U.S. Air Force and lives in Lexington Kentucky.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Richard Wolff Global Capitalism Update: February 2016

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The World Population Explosion in 2000 Years (Video)