First Order of Business: Healthcare Repeal?

January 7th, 2011 by Whitey No comments »

House Republicans have made repeal of the healthcare bill their number one priority. Politico reported: “The House on Friday cleared a key procedural hurdle in repealing the landmark health care law, voting 236-181 largely along party lines to move ahead to next week’s final vote on repeal.”

Republicans say they care about the deficit. They don’t. The care about staying in power. Their are major contradictions in their approach to healthcare.

First, these two things can’t both be true:

  1. The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office says repealing healthcare would cost the country $230 billion over ten years (in other words, the new healthcare law will save the country that amount over ten years
  2. Republicans say that “the healthcare bill does nothing to rein in costs.”

In their eyes, the reason it does not rein in costs is because Obama and the Democrats got it done. If Republicans had passed the same bill, they would embrace the CBO assessment about cutting costs.

Second, they say, “Let’s start from scratch,” but their “Pledge to American” says their version of a new healthcare bill has most of the same points as the one that passed. Why does their alternative plan have many of the same ideas? Because many elements in the bill poll very well as stand-alone items, even though the bill as a whole has been effectively demonized and is polling poorly. So which is it? Are these things a disaster for our system, as Speaker Boehner alleges, or are most aspects of the law good for America, as their Pledge to America would have a us believe?

Bottom-line,  it is not going to get repealed…ever. The fact say it is, by and large, a good thing for America. And Republicans have dig themselves into a whole, and they have to stay the course for the sake of power, and they are not looking out for the American people. Period.

See this: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/06/AR2011010606159.html?hpid=topnews

About the bill: I am glad there will be fewer bankruptcies now (good for the economy and lending in general), fewer uninsured young adults who are in start-up jobs with no benefits (they can now stay on their parent’s insurance longer, and not go to the ER when problems hit—and it allows their employer to keep their costs low for these positions); no child will be uninsured as a result of circumstance beyond their control, and we will get better economies of scale to lower costs when another 30 million newly-insured citizens are force to cover themselves (and lessen the ER approach to doctor visits). I am glad the government is not going into the healthcare business, just expanding regulation of the private healthcare thieves insurance industry. I absolutely love that insurance companies now have to spend a certain percentage of their revenue on direct care (pushing them into a velocity-quantity financial strategy, rather than a “denial-of-care” profit strategy that harms individuals).

Still…we still have not fixed long-term Medicare cost projections; the law probably requires too much paper work from small businesses; and we need to force doctors/clinics/hospitals to publish their costs for consumers, with insurer incentives, to involve consumers in cost control.

At the end of the day, however, the healthcare reform bill is a great thing for Americans. One has to wonder, though, given their agenda, if  Republican leadership is good for America. I, for one, seriously doubt it.

Let’s Take On Right-Wing Think Tanks

December 29th, 2010 by Whitey No comments »

How do you get people to vote against their own interests? How do you get working people to buy-in to false beliefs, such as the theory of trick-down economics? How do you get them to fight against policies and institutions that will give them greater opportunity, such as progressive taxes, regulatory agencies, and workers’ unions? One word: Propaganda.

Since at least the early 20th century, the powerful and privileged have used propaganda, as Walter Lippmann said, to “manufacture consent.” Since the 1950s, one of the primary distribution channels that has been used to disseminate propaganda has been through conservative think tanks. These think tanks are usually privately funded by wealthy families and corporations. They engage in policy research, advocacy, and consulting. Some of the more prominent conservative think tanks include, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Hover Institute. Some have called these conservative think tanks a response to “liberal academia.” However, there is a fundamental difference between research conducted at the university and “research” published by conservative think tanks. These think tanks do not have the same level of institutional review that is required at the university. Moreover, think tanks are often exclusively funded by powerful interest groups that have a defined agenda. Not that university research is not funded by interests groups. But there is a code of research ethics and peer-review that helps filter out shoddy research. This is not the case when it comes to conservative think tanks.

This is not to say that all think tanks are negative or turn out poor research. Think tanks like the Brookings Institute and the Council on Foreign Relations are much more independent and bipartisan in their research. The problem with many of the conservative think tanks is that they are not held accountable for the lack of facts contained in their research. The function that they serve is to provide “research” citations—ideology-driven “facts”—for those who are pushing a conservative agenda; whether it is a conservative pushing a big business agenda on the Senate floor, a right-wing pundit trying to create a conservative reality for his listeners, or a columnist or author trying make push a philosophy of free market utopia.

There is nothing wrong with having many voices in a marketplace of ideas—in fact, it is preferable. But when ideas are placed on the alter of public discussion, there should be winners and losers—and ultimately, the facts should stand at the end of the day. Unfortunately this is not what is happening. Propaganda produced by conservative think tanks feeds the myths that reverse progress.

Although left-wing think tanks have also sprung up over the past decade—such as MoveOn.org, ActForChange.com, and TrueMajority.org—they do not have nearly the influence that the right-wing organization have. George Will wrote that liberals were “tardily trying to replicate that [conservative intellectual] infrastructure.” According to a FAIR report, in 2007, of the top 25 media-cited think tanks, the media cited conservative think tanks 37% of the time, whereas progressive were only cited 16% of the time. So much for the “liberal media” myth. As a result, many of the unsupported ideas of these conservative thinks tanks persist in the minds of many voters, leading them to vote against their own interests. Let’s look at one example. » Read more: Let’s Take On Right-Wing Think Tanks

The Prince of Peace

December 24th, 2010 by Whitey No comments »

During the holidays, there is ubiquitous paradox that we can see in every Christmas-celebrating consumer. On the one hand, more than at any other time of the year, we are out worshiping the god of materialism, frantically engaged in the busy race to get our Christmas shopping done—elbows out, running shoes on, cutting off the other guy with the accelerator to the floor. It is almost entertaining to observe the bizarre behavior of Christmas shopper (especially in oneself).

On the other hand, it is a time of year that many in our society chose to celebrate the life of Christ—a figure whose life and teaching are a massive contradiction to the bonanza of our shopaholic culture. Yet, in the craziness of it all, we can also see people who are genuinely kind: People who offer to let the other guy go first in line; who let that person merge in front of the on the freeway; who give generously to others in the form of donations or service; and who spend time celebrating the relationships in their lives.

I am tempted to call one group “conservatives” and the other group (the genuine Christians) “liberals.” But that is an unfair, simplistic characterization. In reality, there are gay Republicans and anti-war conservatives,  pro-business liberals and anti-immigrant Democrats. The real issue in politics should be this: Are we trying to improve the lives of others or are we supporting policies that make life more difficult for the vulnerable in our society. Instead, we tend to spend our time demonizing the side that we think disagrees with our positions. In a recent interview with Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart of the Daily Show made a great point about this us vs. them mentality:

“We’ve all bought in to the [idea that the] conflict in this country is left and right, liberal/conservative, red/blue…It amplifies a division that I don’t think is the right fight…I think the fight in the country is corruption vs. not corruption; extremist vs. regular…My problem is it’s become tribal. [It is a result of the] twenty-four hour networks, whose job is to highlight the conflict between two sides—and I don’t think that’s the main conflict in our society. [I want to] deflate that idea that it is a real conflict in our society, red/blue, democrat/republican. But I feel like there’s a bigger difference between people who have kids and people who don’t have kids than red state/blue state.” (source)

Perhaps the holiday season is a good time to remind ourselves that these divisions are unhealthy, and extending our hand to others is the more productive approach. Whether we celebrate Christmas or not, there is a powerful message in the figure who is praised at Christmas time. And it seems that very few—Christians and or non-Christians—are practicing the kind of compassion advocated by Christ. But it is the practice of compassion that is most needed in our politics and personal lives. So, in the spirit of Christmas, I am going to review the message of Christ. I think there is a very important message in his teachings that we often forget about during the busy holiday season. » Read more: The Prince of Peace

There’s a War Going On!

December 10th, 2010 by Whitey No comments »

In his recent speech on the Senate floor,  Senator Bernie Sanders passionately declared, “There is a war going on…a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in this country, against the working families of the United States of America, against the disappearing and shrinking middle class of our country” (see his video speech below). There are a number of data points that indicate the truth of Senator Sanders claim. Let’s look at a few of these:

  • Corporations are enjoying record profits (source)
  • Unemployment is at a 30-year high (source)
  • The unemployed tend to be out of work longer than ever before (source)
  • US hit the highest poverty level in 15 years (source)
  • Top earners’ income continue to grow while wages are stagnant for everyone else (source)
  • Union membership has declined from one-third of the labor force in 1960, to 10% by the year 2000 (private sector union membership)(source)

We need to think about what is causing these trends and how they can be countered. We know they are not countered by extended income tax cuts for the wealthy or raising the estate tax exemption amount. Republicans seem to be doing everything in their power to speed up these trends; and taking the House this year will give them some power to continue the status quo. It it worth think about what kind of country we end up with if they have their way. It is not pretty for anyone, not even the rich. These trends need to be reversed if we are going to preserve our way of life.

Senator Bernie Sanders really says it all:

See additional graphs by clicking “read more.” » Read more: There’s a War Going On!

Obama at Midterm

December 7th, 2010 by Whitey No comments »

Obama isn’t doing nearly as bad as the media has made you think.

True, he isn’t making a lot of friends these days. Liberals feel like he is not pushing their agenda, or he is compromising too much; and conservatives think he is a socialist.

You can’t please all the people all the time, but you have to please most of the people most of the time if you are going to be a two-term president (Or in the case of George W., of you need to have most of the supreme court in your corner, and run against Herman Munster in term two).

This is a graph shown on Meet the Press from Sunday, Dec. 5th 2010.

The Era of Corporate Rule: Why Corporate Personhood is Wrong

November 25th, 2010 by Whitey 4 comments »

Corporations are not mentioned in the Constitution. During our first century, the U.S. Supreme Court consistently ruled that corporation are not persons. This changed in 1886 when the Supreme Court recognized corporations as “persons.” The Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad ruling open the door to applying the Bill of Rights and the Equal Protection Amendment to corporations.  The Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment states that: States [shall not] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” This protection was now being applied to corporations. The court’s decision was not debated publicly or in the halls of congress. This society-changing decision was made by the Supreme Court (though some have doubted that even the Supreme Court made this decision). It is one thing to give corporations the right to enter into contracts with other persons or corporate entities, or to limit the liability of its owners, but it is another thing to grant a corporation the rights of a living person, especially when corporations act nothing like a normal person.

In 1933, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called corporations “Frankenstein monsters” capable of doing evil. Joel Balkan pointed out that, “The corporation’s legally defined mandate is to pursue , relentlessly and without exception, its own self-interest regardless of the often harmful consequences it might cause to others…The corporation is a pathological institution,  a dangerous possessor of the great power it wields over people and societies” (source, p. 1-2). The corporation could be seen as manifesting the characteristics of a sociopath, with no regard for the harm its actions may inflict to individuals and communities (think BP, Massie Energy, Enron, Humana).  When real people act like this, their rights are taken away and they are locked up. In this sense, corporations are given greater freedoms than individual citizens.

The case against corporate personhood is not a criticism of responsible entrepreneurs who create healthy competition for goods and services. The free market can have very positive outcomes for our society. But some segments need to be heavily regulated or even taken over by government for the sake of transparency and removal of the profit-motive (healthcare is one example where the profit-motive can harm people while increasing profit for corporate owners and managers). Regulations are designed to force corporations to pay for the costs that would otherwise be forced onto society and the environment (source, p. 150). To minimize harm, the corporation simply needs to be limited in its reach. Without effective regulations, the free market self-implodes (as we saw in the Great Depressions and again in 2008), and it can produce unintended and harmful consequences to individuals and communities. If unchecked, it can also destroy democracy.

“Whatever one thinks of government, they’re to some extent publically accountable, to a limited extent. Corporations are to a zero extent. One of the reasons why propaganda tries to get you to hate government is because it’s the one existing institution in which people can participate to some extent and constrain tyrannical unaccountable power.”

-Noam Chomsky

(source, p. 152)

Corporations now have a disproportionate influence on our political system. OpenSecrets.org pointed out that, “the 2010 midterm elections will be remembered for spawning a new breed of political animal — the ‘super PAC,’ officially known as ‘independent expenditure-only committees,’ which are legally allowed to raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations and unions to expressly advocate for or against federal candidates.” When the Supreme Court removed the ban on election spending earlier this year, in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, it opened the flood gates for corporate control of elections. This is a serious threat to democracy. When corporations are declared “persons,” and given freedom of speech, and money is called “speech,” we have a broken system. Barbara Steisand said it well when she called the ruling a “corporate coup d’état of America’s Democracy.” She went on to say, “By reversing well-established election law, their judicial activism has set the stage to possibly erode the very fabric of our country” (source).

New York Times editorial noted, “The Supreme Court has handed lobbyists a new weapon. A lobbyist can now tell any elected official: if you vote wrong, my company, labor union or interest group will spend unlimited sums explicitly advertising against your re-election” (source). Jonathan Alter called it the “most serious threat to American democracy in a generation” (source). » Read more: The Era of Corporate Rule: Why Corporate Personhood is Wrong

Paul Ryan’s Road Map to Disaster

November 21st, 2010 by Whitey 1 comment »

In a previous column, we looked at the Republican agenda. Knowing how Republican’s plan to govern as they take control of the House next year should be of interest to every U.S. Citizen. Specifically, our column looked at the Republicans’ “Pledge to America.” The Pledge is one of two recent Republican platform proposals. The second document is Representative Paul Ryan’s (R – WI) “A Roadmap for American’s Future.” The Roadmap continues the conservative fear-mongering about deficit spending, which we have also addressed in a previous column.

See this Critique of Paul Ryan’s “Road Map by economist Dean Baker; and this report. Dean Baker found 20 inaccuracies and 4 references to raiding Medicare in the Road Map. See also Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman’s critique of the Road Map. He points out that Ryan’s plan would reduce federal government revenues by $4 trillion over the next decade, which would add significantly to the current deficit (something Republicans see to worry about on the surface). Krugman goes on to state that, “the Road Map wouldn’t reduce the deficit. All it would do is cut benefits for the middle class while slashing taxes on the rich…even as it slashed taxes at the top, the plan would raise taxes for 95 percent of the population.” The Road Map assumes zero dollar growth in domestic discretionary spending (including energy, education, the courts, etc.), but, outside of Medicare, he does not say specifically what specific programs he would slash.

Representative Ryan’s proposal, if implemented, would be a disaster for the economy, for working families, and would essentially redistribute wealth upward. Ryan is really proposing the same destructive policies that have been pushed bu Republicans for the past thirty years, usually with painful result for low-income and middle class families. In 2012, voters will have a choice about whether they want to live in a society of massive inequality and increased vulnerability for the majority of hard working Americans, or the more-centrist approach that Obama and the Democrats are pushing for. To read excerpts from Paul Ryan’s Roadmap, click the “more” button. » Read more: Paul Ryan’s Road Map to Disaster

Obama – A Model President

November 15th, 2010 by Whitey No comments »

Obama…the very model of a modern U.S. president:

Deficits Don’t Matter?

November 7th, 2010 by Whitey 2 comments »

In a moment of honesty, Vice President Dick Cheney told a reporter, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter” (source). Yet, more often the Republicans and their fringe backers, Fox News and the Tea Party, have made the public debt a source a public anxiety and anger. The reality is that deficit spending is required for a healthy economy, and we have been in much more debt in the past (i.e., during WWII) and we experienced the greatest boom and largest middle-class in our history (source). This is not an endorsement of “welfare for the rich, capitalism for the poor.” I think it is a crime when the government bails out corporations who have been irresponsible, and the public gets stuck with the bill. No, I strongly disagree with what went on during the Bush and Reagan years: Redistribution of lower-income/middle-class wealth to the rich, through corporate welfare (i.e., tax cuts/loopholes/shelters, no-bid contracts, bailouts, deregulation, privatization of public resources, etc.). But being against welfare for the rich does not mean all deficit spending is a bad thing. In fact, it may actually be essential for a thriving economy.

(Rick Seaman of Portland, Oregon, made this chart from data he found on TreasuryDirect.gov.)

Republicans seek to spook the population into balanced budget spending, but then they go on a spending spree when they are in power (see the chart above). Keynesian economics have proven over and over, and history bears this out, that during economic downturns government spending is essential for recovery. Some economists even insist that ongoing deficit spending is required for a vibrant economy, and deny that there is a downside. Republicans pose as the “fiscal conservatives” who are for “fiscal responsibility,” but this is a ridiculous claim. It is Democrats that have been the fiscal conservatives, and have tried to balance the budget during economic booms.

Joe Conason of Salon.com wrote that, “In our time, the Republican Party has compiled an impressive history of talking about fiscal responsibility while running up unrivaled deficits and debt. Of the roughly $11 trillion in federal debt accumulated to date, more than 90 percent can be attributed to the tenure of three presidents: Ronald Reagan, who used to complain constantly about runaway spending; George Herbert Walker Bush, reputed to be one of those old-fashioned green-eyeshade Republicans; and his spendthrift son George “Dubya” Bush, whose trillion-dollar war and irresponsible tax cuts accounted for nearly half the entire burden. Only Bill Clinton temporarily reversed the trend with surpluses and started to pay down the debt (by raising rates on the wealthiest taxpayers)…Not all of the warnings about deficit spending are false. Wasteful federal spending can eventually lead to inflation; excessive deficits can cause interest rates to rise, although that doesn’t always occur. But as Clinton proved in confronting the huge legacy of debt left over from the Reagan era, it is possible to raise taxes and slow spending without damage to the broader economy” (source).

According to their own stated standards, Republicans regularly commit the unpardonable sin of massive deficit spending. If we buy-in to their fear-mongering about deficit spending (even during recessions) then we must give Republicans very poor ratings. It is worth mentioning that when Republicans implement deficit spending, the spending usually ends up in the hands of the ultra-rich, who tend to save; whereas Democrats typically channel deficit spending to the middle-class, who are likely to spend, which leads to a stronger economy. There is a big difference between awarding no-bid military contracts to Haliburton and Blackwater, and on the other hand, extending unemployment benefits. Only the later actually ends up helping the economy.

Conason also points out that, even though deficit spending is an essential part of sound fiscal policy,”Not all of the warnings about deficit spending are false. Wasteful federal spending can eventually lead to inflation; excessive deficits can cause interest rates to rise,although that doesn’t always occur. But as Clinton proved in confronting the huge legacy of debt left over from the Reagan era, it is possible to raise taxes and slow spending without damage to the broader economy” (source). Tax rates in the U.S. are among the lowest of industrialized countries (only Mexico, Turkey, South Korea and Japan have tax rates lower than ours), and we spend more on our military than all other nations combined—if our deficit become a real problem, we could easily make some changes in these areas, without cutting “entitlements,” and wipe our our debt in a decade. Ron Paul has said, “Deficits mean future tax increases, pure and simple.” Perhaps there is truth to this. However, take a look at countries that have higher taxes. For example: Denmark. » Read more: Deficits Don’t Matter?

Party Like It’s 1994!

November 3rd, 2010 by Whitey No comments »

The Republicans have tried their best to make 2010 the new 1994.  In 1994, after 46 years of Democratic control, the Republicans finally won the majority in the House. They remained in control of the House for 12 years until 2006, when the Democrats took back the House. From 2002-2006 the Republicans controlled the House, the Senate, and the Executive Branch. During that time they had the opportunity to implement everything important to them. What they did do (and didn’t do) is telling: They started an unprovoked war in Iraq. They tried to privatize social security (and failed), but did nothing to expand healthcare to millions of uninsured citizens. They did nothing to improve government transparency, but rather, they allowed illegal wiretapping. They did nothing to rein in unchecked spending, but instead set spending records and allowed no-bid contracts to private contractors such as Halliburton and Blackwater. When the Republicans now claim to want to fix healthcare, create transparency, and rein in spending, why would we believe them. We need to look closely at the Republican agenda. Why would we give them power, when in fact their agenda is against the interests of most Americans?

This week, they took the House, and picked up seats in the Senate. Commentators are trying to make sense of the shift. It can’t be the Tea Party, because very few of those candidates won. It isn’t a “mandate” of their agenda or a “referendum” on Obama’s party because a number of Democrats won, such as Cuomo as New York Governor, and Senate Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Rather, the shift was a predictable change that comes with most mid-term elections for a first-term president. But this time around, voters are disgruntled about the slow progress of the economy, and they took out their frustration at the polls. The problem with giving Republicans another chance at fixing the problems that they created is that they don’t have a different plan from what they have done in the past. That is, their plan  is to do what they have always done over thee past several decades.

Since the 1980s, the Republicans have basically used their “Starve the Beast” strategy. This strategy is basically to cut taxes (i.e., revenues) so that we can’t afford government programs. The ultra-rich are given special tax cuts, breaks, credits, loopholes, etc. Military spending is increased to suck up most of the federal budget. With less tax revenues they drive up the deficit, blame the Democrats, and scare the public about the mounting deficit. Once voters throw them out of office, Republicans happily leave behind a huge mess for the Democrats to clean up. Democrats now have to make the tough choices about spending and reviving the economy. While out of power, Republicans sit on the sideline and criticize anything the Democrats do to fix the mess, and even try to block anything that might help people, such as extending unemployment benefits. Republicans do everything they can to cut social programs that actually help people and create a middle class, and to cut taxes that would actually help us pay down our debt. They turn the public against Democrats with their rhetoric about “tax-and-spend-liberals,” and throw in a few words about abortion and gay marriage to please the religious right (but do nothing on these issues while in office). And then they bet on public amnesia to try to regain power in subsequent elections. This strategy has worked for them over the past several decades, but it has harmed our country.

Now that Republicans have reclaimed power in the House, what will be their agenda? » Read more: Party Like It’s 1994!