Cutting Through The Crap

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Ration


Here's one of the clearest discussions of rationing of health care, the impossibilities, the need, the politics that I've read in a while.

....We want our doctors to go all-out for our loved ones and ourselves. But as voters and consumers, we send a different message. We pick politicians who promise to cut taxes, and we demand low-cost insurance. We're telling government and the health-care industry to hold the line on health-care costs, even if it means sacrificing clinical benefits. And we put doctors in the middle of this contradiction.

In recent weeks, private insurers have revealed plans for double-digit rate hikes. Our medical bills are already close to a fifth of our national income, on track to reach one-third within 25 years. Soaring Medicare and Medicaid costs are the main reason for nightmarish federal deficit projections over the long term. Yet as Republicans and Democrats battle over the federal budget to the point of threatening a government shutdown, serious health-care spending cuts remain unspeakable.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., recently proposed to cut Medicare and Medicaid by shifting their costs to poor and middle-class Americans who can't afford them. It's an unconscionable approach, but it at least acknowledges the urgency of gaining control over federal health-care spending. Neither President Obama nor congressional Democrats have put forth plausible proposals for doing so.


I'd disagree with the last sentence: the ACA calls for effectiveness research, which might well go a long way toward controlling unreasonable costs. Rs, of course, have convinced teabaggers that it's another form of death panel; as is the case with pretty much everything teabaggRs believe, the exact opposite is true.

Along similar lines, there's this thoughtful suggestion:

Andrew Sullivan has a proposal to lower health-care costs that actually makes some sense. “If everyone aged 40 or over simply made sure we appointed someone to be our power-of-attorney and instructed that person not to prolong our lives by extraordinary measures if we lost consciousness in a long, fatal illness or simply old age,” he writes, “then we’d immediately make a dent in some way on future healthcare costs. A remarkable proportion of healthcare costs go to the very last days or hours of our lives.”

His idea is voluntary. But I’d make a different suggestion. What if, to be eligible for Medicare, you had to give someone power of attorney and sign a living will? You could tell your attorney, and write in your will, that you want every possible measure employed to keep you alive. You could say cost is no object, and neither is pain or quality of life. You could make whatever choice, and offer whatever instructions, you want. You just have to do it. You have to make the decision.


The Palinites wouldn't be able to get past the "to be eligible part," of course. But, in fact, the suggestion reiterates what's always been true: living wills allow you to choose whatever you want.

Thoughtful people -- the President included -- have put thoughtful ideas on the table. Sadly, any thoughtful idea is necessarily fraught with the non-starter that realism no longer has a place in our politics. So we stumble on toward the darkening horizon, preferring to sling slime at those who actually try. No wonder birtherism, secret-Muslimism, have taken hold: when he took office, President Obama actually thought there'd be a place for give and take discussions, serious ones, about serious problems.

What planet was that guy from??? He sure as hell doesn't sound like one of us.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Suicide



For most of the life of this blog, I've been pointing to the ways in which Republican theocrats, teabagger know-nothing hate-everythings, and Foxobeckian RWS™ promoters are destroying any chance we have for a livable future. One aspect among very many is the rising tide against immigration: not just illegal immigration, about which there's surely a way to find agreement, but all immigration. To keep out the only group of people, I've said, that retain belief in and willingness to work for The American Dream is a form of slow suicide. Here's an article that puts flesh to the bones of the idea:
... I have heard from a senior scientist at a San Francisco Bay Area company, an award-winning engineer from the University of Texas who helped design Intel’s latest generation of memory chips, and a young woman whose entry into a Ph.D. program in chemical engineering was jeopardized by six months of bureaucratic delays—and many, many others. Taken together, they offer this troubling conclusion: the United States, a country built by generations of ambitious, hardworking newcomers, no longer wants to attract skilled immigrants. “We educate the best and brightest from around the world, and then we tell our companies that they can’t hire them,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said, describing current immigration policy as “a form of national suicide.” “We ship them home, where they can take what they learned here and use it to create companies and products that compete with ours. The rest of the world is thanking us. They’re doing everything they can to attract those very people—and we’re doing our best to help them.”...

Starting, perhaps, with 9/11, and accelerating with the election of a black man as president and allowing his family to live in the White House, we've become a nation that turned itself over to the phobes. Xenophobes, Islamophobes, homophobes, taxophobes. Factophobes. Sciencophobes. They've always been around, of course. But now they're taking over. And as they do, our hopes for a future are being diminished. In the context of this post, deported.

Actually, I suppose the correct term is assisted suicide. Or, maybe forced suicide. Suborned suicide. Because what's happening is overt deception, orchestrated by the ultra-powerful, abetted by their propaganda networks, convincing the nation to walk its own plank. How else to explain this? Regular people, deluded people, people convinced to vote against their own interest by those who stand to profit, electing representatives actively working to destroy an agency designed specifically to protect those electors from financial ruin. Again.

Closing our borders to the people we need from without. Closing our eyes to the damage being done from within. It's suicide, all right. And it's killing us.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Are You Sitting Down?


I'm not a Fox "news" watcher, but I play one on my blog. Word has it Sean Hannity devoted an hour to liberal bias in the media. And -- I know you won't believe this -- in order to make his point, he edited clips to make them appear to be the opposite of what they actually were.

I know, right? Sean Frickin' Hannity? On fair Fox "news?" Deceptive editing?

Breathing?


Of Course They Will



It was just one thought among many when I brought it up recently, discussing the teabaggR plan to privatize Medicare: why the hell would insurers want to take on the oldest, sickest, most expensive group of patients out there? And, if they did, what would keep them from raising rates precipitously or cutting coverage, or both, making the vouchers next to useless?

Now, others are raising the same point:

At first glance, Paul Ryan's plan to send millions of seniors into the free market with dwindling vouchers in hand might seem a boon to the private insurance industry. But would companies even want to participate?

Unlike the Affordable Care Act, which mandated that millions of young and healthy Americans purchase insurance with government subsidies, the Paul Ryan plan would instead bring the oldest, sickest, and least profitable demographic to the table. And with the CBO projecting that the average senior would be on the hook for over two-thirds of their health care costs within just 10 years of the plan's adoption -- a proportion that is projected to worsen in the long run --- the government subsidies backing them up may not bring in enough profitable customers to make things worthwhile.


Another points out:

If all of this is coming as a surprise, the problem runs deeper than politicians failing to be frank with the American people. The federal government has actively sought to silence providers’ warnings to their customers of these pending cuts. It was recently uncovered that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a division the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, placed a gag order on Medicare Advantage providers for sharing information with their enrollees about pending changes to their plans. Without regard for private health care plans’ right to inform their enrollees about consequential legislation, CMS has launched an investigation against Humana for mailing a factually verified warning about proposed cuts.

So why is it that this exact same problem won’t recur 11 years from now when according to Ryan’s plan we’re supposed to start seeing draconian cuts in payments to private Medicare insurers.


Hard to imagine, under the current circumstances wherein teabaggRs get all their info from the same dishonest sources, that such questions will ever be raised by any of them; nor even the thought occur to them. But since it's laid out quite clearly, I'd love to have one of my reliable negative commenters address it. And by address it I mean the actual point; as opposed to saying something useful like Democrats aren't happy unless babies are being killed, which is the usual sort of load that gets dropped on the bedspread around here in response to serious issues.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Insight


I just read a good explanation of why this guy I know thinks Obama hates America and is deliberately trying to destroy it -- he's a Republican:

President Obama, if you look closely at his positions, is a moderate Republican from the early 1990s. And the Republican Party he’s facing has abandoned many of its best ideas in its effort to oppose him.

If you put aside the emergency measures required by the financial crisis, three major policy ideas have dominated American politics in recent years: a health-care plan that uses an individual mandate and tax subsidies to achieve near-universal coverage; a cap-and-trade plan that attempts to raise the prices of environmental pollutants to better account for their costs; and bringing tax rates up from their Bush-era lows as part of a bid to reduce the deficit. In each case, the position that Obama and the Democrats have staked out is the very position that moderate Republicans staked out in the early ’90s — and often, well into the 2000s.



Well, that, and the fact that it's what I've been saying about his moderation ever since Obama came onto the scene. This guy I know wouldn't take my word if I told him Easter comes on a Sunday.

But they are serious points: both the article and my essay about the crazy. There are many things Obama has done and not done about which there are justified disagreements, from the left and from the right. But there's nothing -- NOTHING!! -- that justifies the paranoid and insane hatred of the man. The swallowing whole of the laughable internet rumors, the taking of Foxobeckian RWS™ lies as hallowed truths. Not based on his presidency, anyway.

Of course, there IS an explanation for that stuff, too...

Blueprint


From two field grade officers who are, as I understand it, associated with the Joint Chiefs, comes a very thoughtful (which means it'll be ignored) treatise on a strategy for America. It comes with the disclaimer that it represents their own opinions and not that of any branch of the military; yet I'd think they'd not have published it without at least the tacit approval of those of bigger wigs. Essentially, singing my song, they say we've over-reacted to the threat of terrorism, spending way too much on and putting way too much faith in the Department of Defense to secure us. Our future, they argue, is with not abandoning (as Rs would have us do) our real strengths: education, innovation, moral leadership, democratic ideals. Guns might win a battle here or there (my words, but consistent with their message) but the future will be determined by our commitment to our young people.

The preface, written by (uh-oh) a professor of politics and international affairs, includes:

Porter and Mykleby give us a non-partisan blueprint for understanding and reacting to the changes of the 21st century world. In one sentence, the strategic narrative of the United States in the 21st century is that we want to become the strongest competitor and most influential player in a deeply inter-connected global system, which requires that we invest less in defense and more in sustainable prosperity and the tools of effective global engagement...


...The move from control to credible influence as a fundamental strategic goal requires a shift from containment to sustainment (sustainability). Instead of trying to contain others (the Soviet Union, terrorists, China, etc), we need to focus on sustaining ourselves in ways that build our strengths and underpin credible influence. That shift in turn means that the starting point for our strategy should be internal rather than external. The 2010 National Security Strategy did indeed focus on national renewal and global leadership, but this account makes an even stronger case for why we have to focus first and foremost on investing our resources domestically in those national resources that can be sustained, such as our youth and our natural resources (ranging from crops, livestock, and potable water to sources of energy and materials for industry). We can and must still engage internationally, of course, but only after a careful weighing of costs and benefits and with as many partners as possible.


Credible influence also requires that we model the behavior we recommend for others, and that we pay close attention to the gap between our words and our deeds...


...A national strategic narrative must be a story that all Americans can understand and identify with in their own lives. America’s national story has always see-sawed between exceptionalism and universalism. We think that we are an exceptional nation, but a core part of that exceptionalism is a commitment to universal values – to the equality of all human beings not just within the borders of the United States, but around the world. We should thus embrace the rise of other nations when that rise is powered by expanded prosperity, opportunity, and dignity for their peoples. In such a world we do not need to see ourselves as the automatic leader of any bloc of nations. We should be prepared instead to earn our influence through our ability to compete with other nations, the evident prosperity and wellbeing of our people, and our ability to engage not just with states but with societies in all their richness and complexity. We do not want to be the sole superpower that billions of people around the world have learned to hate from fear of our military might. We seek instead to be the nation other nations listen to, rely on and emulate out of respect and admiration.


The article is the first step down that new path. It is written by two military men who have put their lives on the line in the defense of their country and who are non-partisan by profession and conviction. Their insights and ideas should spark a national conversation. All it takes is for politicians, pundits, journalists, businesspeople, civic leaders, and engaged citizens across the country to read and respond.


Sounds a little too liberal (ie, thoughtful and open-minded), eh? And yet, in a perfect world, conversations about such things would be at the heart of public policy. It's why, as I mentioned in a previous post, the idea of "American exceptionalism" is so dangerous: it's lazy, it's an excuse for living in the past, for not addressing our problems and needs honestly and directly.

The problem with getting such a treatise into the conversation is that it's not simple; and, in (as I see it) questioning the right-wing mantra of cutting taxes at the expense of paying for our existential needs, it'll be seen as some sort of lefty screed. But, as Stephen has taught us, facts have a well-known liberal bias. When something is true, you'd think it would not be politicized. It'd be engaged.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Hearts And Minds

Looking good. Other than the fact that he let 480 Taliban escape through a thousand-foot tunnel built over a few months, under his nose, within sight of the towers, he's a model guard.
A man who claimed he helped organize those inside the prison told The Associated Press in a phone call that he and his accomplices obtained copies of the keys for the cells ahead of time from "friends." He did not say who those friends were, but his comments suggested possible collusion by prison guards.
"Possible collusion." Ya think?
"This is a blow," presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said. "A prison break of this magnitude of course points to a vulnerability."

Vulnerability. Yes.

When I think of war, I think of sides. Two of them, for simplicity's sake. In Afghanistan, there are no sides. It's just a soup of tribes and local allegiances, with self-preservation above nation. (Hmm.... Sounds a little like teabaggers...)

I suppose a few hundred prisoners one way or the other doesn't tip the battle one way or the other; but it sure as hell tells a story. "Winning," over there, is just a word.

And as long as we're talking truth, the latest leaks, while not really surprising, just reinforce the shame of Gitmo. Doubly shameful, because it was, as usual, the stupidity and demagoguery of members of Congress, especially, but not limited to, the Rs, who whipped up the ridiculous notion that housing prisoners on US soil was somehow dangerous, effectively keeping Obama from closing the place. Idiots. Cynical, dishonest, useless idiots. Whatever else might be true, ain't no way they'd be tunneled out of a supermax.

Schizo




One of my best friends in college recently wrote to me, in part,

Barack Obama ran for office in 2008 on many liberal planks. I gave him $500. He has abandoned almost all of them. His press secretary castigated "professional liberals" who would not get in line. He has declined to fight for many correct liberal positions. He gave away the public option in the health care debate at the starting line. We have not heard a peep out of him on climate change--the most important issue of all.

Another guy I know thinks -- is certain -- that Barack Obama is (and I quote) "purposefully destroying the USA, bringing it down without firing a shot, that he is a radical muslim and black activist whose concept of US as a great land which has discovered, invented, helped, aided, pioneered and yes, made some awful mistakes."

I assume he left something out of the final dependent clause, but the meaning is clear: Obama hates America and wants to destroy it.

Two minds. One talks reality, the other talks mythology.

Well, I guess it proves one thing: Obama is hardly the crazy liberal portrayed by the RWS™. He's got both ends of the spectrum pissed off. Don't they say the perfect contract is one in which both parties think they got screwed?

Both of the aforementioned people are smart. Ivy League educated, matter of fact, and each has a post-graduate degree. I fully understand disagreement with Barack Obama, from both the left and the right. Count me, in several things, among the former. But, coming from a well-educated and otherwise thoughtful person, the crazy paranoid stuff is simply beyond my ken. From the uneducated, incurious, gullible, hate-filled, Foxobeckially misinformed racists, the folk in a recent video I posted; sure. But this guy I know, this smart guy, mystifyingly, he'll never stop believing the above and I can't figure it out. Worse: to bolster his position, he keeps referring to things that have been debunked over and over (merely one example). And he always will. (The missing phrase above is, no doubt, regurgitation of the RWS™ myth that Obama doesn't believe in [the meaningless at best, destructive at worst, concept of] American exceptionalism. Also false. Debunked. But who cares about facts, right?) (Added: here's the latest Foxodrudgery, already riling the riled.)

Lately I've read a lot of articles about how the mind closes, about the mechanisms at play in the brain to defend its hold on those things that keep it free of discordance. Funny, huh?: the times seem to have gotten thinkers thinking about that stuff. Wonder why that is. The election of a black man to the presidency has sent the nation into flights of paranoia and dysfunction never before seen. Yeah, there were Bush-haters. There was, as the Obama-deranged Charles Krauthammer coined the term, "Bush derangement syndrome." But -- at least for me -- it was based on things that actually happened, that really did nearly destroy this country: his tax cuts, his deregulation, his unnecessary (one) and abandoned (one) and unpaid-for and mismanaged (two) wars. Turning surplus into unprecedented deficit. His politicization of the Justice Department, his theologizing of foreign policy. On and on. Whatever else it might have been, my "hatred" was not paranoid; it wasn't based on internet rumors fanned and fomented by (who knows which?) crazies or liars.

And yet, despite the fact that George Bush actually came goddamn close to bringing us down, I never thought that was his intention. Enriching his buddies, sure. Not caring about the consequences, evidently. Proudly ill-informed? Was the Pope a Nazi? But deliberate destruction? A bridge too far, even for me.

So, much as I understand criticism -- too little stimulus or not enough; too many tax cuts or not enough; mishandled oversight of TARP or did it too well (it made money, after all); should get out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya or up the antes -- the kind of stuff I hear from this guy I know defies understanding. False on its face, disproved without breaking a sweat, it lives like mold in a damp basement. (As I recall, that guy I know has never actually shown anything real that demonstrates Obama's hatred for and deliberate destruction of the US; we are, after all, in virtually all ways better off than when he took over -- not as much as we'd like, but demonstrably better; and whereas Obama has, sadly, continued many of Bush's destructive policies, he's not the one who started them. So who's the America-hater?)

Whatever the beliefs some people hold, it appears that when facts arise that contradict them, it's preferable simply to ignore those facts. Discount them. It's how conservatives roll: studies show it. Needed beliefs, embedded like fossils, are too precious to let go. Facts are irrelevant. In the case of right-wing Obama-hatred, what are those needed beliefs, so strong, so impervious, so seductive? I can guess.

Much as I rant and rave here, as partisan as I most often am, I don't think I hold insupportable beliefs. And if I do, I can't imagine not amending them if evidence showed any to be false. That Obama has been a bad president, sure, make the case, based on policies. That he's a Muslim extremist intent on destroying us: based on what, other than that debunkery? The mind blows. I can't deal with it any more. I like arguments. But this. This is a brick wall.

Fact is, it seems to me the ones actually, literally, openly, make-a-case-for-it rejecting our most basic democratic principles are the newly-powerful Republicans. From tossing out a cityful of elected officials to turning voting rights on their head, the evidence is real, not imaginary. Given our improving (not fast enough) economy, job creation (too few, but better than Bush's losses), stock market growth (not back to where it was), seriously attempting to improve health care for millions (too capitalistic, not at all socialistic); and given the behavior in Michigan with more to follow, which, as Rachel Maddow said recently, implies a belief that democracy is the problem, not the solution -- given all that, about whom is it saner to say they're literally trying to destroy the foundations of America?

Riddle me that.

So here's the thing: much as I share my college friend's frustrations with Obama, it'd take a hell of an alternative liberal candidate for me to vote against him in a primary, even as symbolism. And for me to vote for a Republican, they'd have to come up with an as-yet unknown opponent, thoughtful and brilliant and fact-filled, reasonable, in ways heretofore unseen, as so far all of their crop of potentials have pandered to or fomented the paranoia, the birtherism, the anti-knowledge and simple-mindedness of the teabaggers.

Were Barack Obama to lose on the merits, so be it. A case can be made. But because of lies and delusions? It would mean the end of reason. And therefore, since democracy depends on at least a minimal amount of thoughtful citizenry, the end of us all: the real actual not made-up true literal undeniable and irreversible "purposefully destroying the USA, bringing it down without firing a shot."


Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Just People Who Feel Strongly"


But, never let it be said I'm not fair. The following is from a teabagger rally in New Hampshire.


I guess I should say something about blue states here; but I'll let the two speak for themselves.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Poor Mitt


As pointed out by America's Finest News Source, Mitt'll never get the vote of real Republicans.

...Romney, who signed the state's 2006 health care reform act, has said he "deeply regrets" giving people in poor physical and mental health the opportunity to seek medical attention, admitting that helping very sick people get better remains a dark cloud hovering over his political career, and his biggest obstacle to becoming president of the United States of America.

"Every day I am haunted by the fact that I gave impoverished Massachusetts citizens a chance to receive health care," Romney told reporters Wednesday, adding that he feels ashamed whenever he looks back at how he forged bipartisan support to help uninsured Americans afford medicine to cure their illnesses. ...

[...]

According to Romney, if he could do things over again, he would do everything he could to make certain that uninsured individuals got sicker and sicker until they died. Promising his days of trying to provide medical coverage to the gravely ill are behind him, Romney said that if elected president, he would never even think about increasing anyone's quality of life or trying to lower the infant mortality rate.

[...]

"I don't think I can vote for someone like that," Pennsylvania Republican Eric Tolbert said. "He says he's sorry, but how do I know that's the real Mitt Romney? What happens if he gets elected and tries to help sick people again?"

"I like Michele Bachmann now," Tolbert added. "Because what this country needs is a president who doesn't give a fuck about helping people."

Breaking Bad


President Obama is right about many things, but, as I've said, not about Libya. Well-intentioned, most likely. But deeply wrong.

"It's a mess," lamented a senior U.S. official. Washington took the bold step of committing military force, but not enough to win. The administration waited to apply very limited military force until it was almost too late, and now, the official says, it has painted the U.S. "into a corner." In the resulting stalemate, Libyan rebels and civilians are being ruthlessly pursued and killed while the United States, in effect, stands helplessly by.

The White House wanted the Pentagon to come up with a low-cost regime-change plan for Libya. Ideally, this strategy would have toppled Col. Muammar Gaddafi without bogging the U.S. down in another inconclusive foreign adventure. And by no means could the plan have included young American infantrymen advancing under fire across the sand.

The military kept insisting that no such option existed. A real regime-change operation, some officers argued, requires "boots on the ground." That was a cost the White House, given rising domestic pressure to bring the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq, was unwilling to consider.

In long meetings and email exchanges, arguments over strategic details often led to more serious disagreements, the official told The Huffington Post. The White House thought the Pentagon was disrespecting the president by refusing to propose a politically acceptable action plan, while the Pentagon became furious that White House officials didn't "seem to understand what military force can and cannot do,'' the official said.



I find this really, really disappointing. To say the very least. Let the escalation begin.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

When Words Collide


Following up on this morning's post, here's a little gem that makes even more mystifying the teabaggRs approach to budget sanity. Threatening to hold hostage the raising of the debt ceiling, they're making demands which, were they to become law, would make their current budget which they just passed... impossible. Like everything else they do and say, it'd be funny if it weren't so unfunny:

House Republicans voted to make the Ryan budget law. But the Ryan budget includes $6 trillion in new debt over the next 10 years, which means that to become law, the Ryan budget would require a substantial increase in the debt ceiling. But before the Republicans agree to increase the debt ceiling so that the budget they passed can become law, Republicans are demanding the passage of either a balanced budget amendment that would make the Ryan budget unconstitutional or a spending cap that the Ryan budget would, in certain years (and if you’re using more realistic numbers, in all years), exceed.

The point? Republicans have done a lot more thinking about how to run against spending, debt and deficits than thinking about how to handle them going forward. The specific plan they voted for blows through both their spending and debt caps, and that’s if you grant a series of assumptions it makes about health-care spending that even conservative wonks agree are “magical.”



To make it even more amusingly self-contradictory, Ryan's budget actually specifies the amount of higher debt for the next few years; higher than the current amount by a couple trillion bucks, here or there. Gee. Did Rs pass a bill without reading it? Seaspray? Seaspray?

Do I repeat myself? Sure. When will I stop? When teabaggRs start making sense.


No Explanation



The above polling reiterates what I wrote recently: everyone likes the idea of cutting spending until they find out how the teabaggRs plan to do it. And when you detail their plan for Medicare, it gets even more dramatic. People hate it, as well they should.

So, what's going on here? Given their brilliance at messaging, heretofore able to convince teabaggRs to vote against their own interests (not to mention those of their country) as easily as getting a penguin to laugh, have the Ryanophiles finally blown it? Did they completely misjudge the public? Are they that insulated from reality? I find it a very interesting and puzzling question, and I don't have an answer. It's right up there with the discordance that a pro-abortion atheist is the fountainhead and revered icon of their philosophy. It doesn't grok.

It's one thing to be serious about addressing the problematic depth of our fiscal future. But what is it when a serious attempt produces such unworkable ideas? On one level, it's certainly brave. There's no doubt it's kindled a debate that is long overdue and which, until now, has been foolish on both sides. In that, there's much to be admired; and on some level I'm in awe of their willingness to go all in. No Democrat has, not in a long long time.* But to have come up with such uniformly bad ideas, so out of balance, so blatant in their fealty to the wealthy at the expense of everyone else... What the heck explains it?

For one thing, ironically, it might be the easy gullibility of teabaggers that led them down this path. For two years, Republican leaders (by which I don't just mean guys like Ryan and Boehner: I mean the Foxobeckians, the megamillionaire RWS™ and the billionaires who make Koch suckers of them all) have had their way with teabaggers, so easily that they must laugh themselves to sleep every night under their 1500 thread-count sheets of Egyptian cotton. Seriously. How not to get, well, incautious, if it's become so easy to get everything you want, simply by convincing teabaggers that down is up? Maybe they just stopped even pretending to care about the country as a whole. Why waste the time, they must figure. We've got them right where we want them; they're buying everything we're selling, like magnetic cure-alls on late-night tv.

Still, I don't sense that Mr Ryan is entirely dumb. Of his honesty, I have no way of knowing. Apparently, he absolutely believes in cutting taxes on the wealthy and that to pay for it it's perfectly acceptable to cut programs for the needy and, for practical purposes, to wipe away Medicare and all ability to underwrite our future. And yet, teabaggers notwithstanding (and even they don't like his reverse Robin Hood medicare plans), it seems so obvious that these needs of his wouldn't be acceptable to a majority -- anywhere near a majority -- of voters. So what made him put it out there anyway?

Did he figure that, as it always has, the RWS™ and Foxabeckohannitean blanket of propaganda would smother the country in disinformation? They've gotten away with everything else, so why not this?

Or perhaps he's the world's greatest and most selfless politician, willing to take the hits in order eventually to get to a plan that meets half way and is workable. Maybe he thought from the beginning that it was the only way to get the conversation started and he expected that the end point involved raising revenues and making less drastic cuts to social programs. But it doesn't seem so: before there was any reaction at all he proclaimed the only possible criticisms would be demagoguery and lies. Boehner has said changes in the tax ideas are off the table.

No, the impression I have is that they're deadly serious about their plan, and wish to brook no compromise. By all appearances, they're just out with it: they're rich, they want further to enrich themselves, and they don't seem to care about the consequences for anyone else. Or for the country.

But, sure, maybe it's a rope-a-dope.

An alternate explanation suggests the opposite: CongressionRs don't really believe in their budget, but they're afraid of teabagger backlash. There's no doubt that that small group of highly vocal and lowly knowledgeable people have disproportionate influence; god knows they've elected some impressively idiotic people at the expense of some, for Republicans, half-reasonable ones. But can the R brain trust be fully dismissive of the idea that their party could contain significant numbers of people who know arithmetic? Maybe so. And maybe they're right. They're just worried about their own political asses.

As I think I've made clear, I'm all for serious reform of the tax code, social programs, defense spending. More than most in my party, I'm okay with sensible changes in both Social Security and Medicare. Unlike some members of both parties, I'm on board with the idea of effectiveness research and oversight of implementation, as a serious plan, the best hope to control health care costs. But it's as clear to me as morning dew in sunshine that we cannot get our fiscal house in order and have the funds needed to maintain our infrastructure, education, research, energy needs, without also raising taxes. And cutting defense spending. It all has to happen in some form or another. Through the smoke, that's undeniable; the argument needs to be about how, and how much.

Paul Ryan has proposed an approach that he must have known would be unacceptable. Likely, he's even smart enough to know that even if he could sell it to teabaggers -- on whose selfish gullibility and magical thinking the RWS™ have always been able to count -- it can't actually work as a blueprint for our nation to survive. There's the plan, and then there's math.

So what explains it? Is it the overreach of the overprivileged, like rock stars and athletes who think they can get away with anything because to them the rules have never applied; do the Foxobeckians think that they're entitled to whatever they want, simply because it's they who want it?

Or was it a giant miscalculation? I've written several paragraphs now, and I still have no idea.
________________________

* I misspoke, and I should have known it, because I was aware of this plan by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. It's bold. Bolder than Ryan's, I'd say. It has gotten, however, rounded-off, zero attention from the media.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Just The Facts


Regarding the health care aspect of the House teabaggR budget plan, readers interested in factual and objective reporting would do well to read this:

....With regard to health care, the Ryan plan envisages a major withdrawal of at least the federal government from the financing of health care in America. Among the major provisions to that effect are these:

• Through block grants rather than sharing actual outlays by the states on Medicaid, it would drastically reduce the federal government’s contribution to the state-run Medicaid programs, which, of course, might force states to raise their taxes on their residents or significantly reduce eligibility for the program.

• It would repeal and defund the president’s health-care law, in particular the large federal subsidies that would go either to low-income families toward the purchase of health insurance or to the states to enroll such families in Medicaid. Instead, the plan says, it would “advance common-sense solutions focused on lowering costs, expanding access and protecting the doctor-patient relationship.” What the alternative solutions expanding access would be, especially the financing of these solutions, is not made clear.

• For people now 55 or younger, the traditional Medicare program – a defined benefit plan — would cease to exist and, starting in 2022, would be converted to a defined contribution program. Starting in 2022 the eligibility age would gradually be ratcheted up to 67 from the current 65.

It is not surprising, and altogether healthy in our democracy, that Mr. Ryan’s vision has drawn sharp criticism from the liberal camp, including a speech by President Obamahimself. In this post, I will leave such commentary untouched and focus on only one aspect of the proposal....

...In an Op-Ed piece in The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Ryan wrote, “Starting in 2022, new Medicare beneficiaries will be enrolled in the same kind of health-care program that members of Congress enjoy.”

He repeated that assertion on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on April 10, when he said, “For future generations, what we are proposing is a personalized Medicare, a Medicare system that works exactly like the health care I have as a member of Congress and federal employees have.”

Exactly? I beg to differ.

There is a huge difference in one important aspect between the Medicare program in the Ryan budget plan and the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan, or F.E.H.B.P., for federal employees and for members of Congress.

Basically, the F.E.H.B.P. is best described as a typical employer-sponsored health insurance plan. The federal government’s – that is, taxpayers’ – annual contribution to the premiums paid to competing private insurers by employees and members of Congress would rise in step with the average premiums charged by the private insurers (see Page 1). ...

... By contrast, under the Ryan plan, the federal contribution toward the purchase of private health insurance by future Medicare beneficiaries would be indexed only to the Consumer Price Index (see Page 2 of the C.B.O. analysis).


I've called the House teabaggR budget a fork in the road, because it is. If it's the direction voters want to go, so be it. But it would help if, for the first time I know of in the bowels of teabaggerism, they knew exactly what it is they'll be choosing. Sadly, to do that, they'd have to move from their most trusted source of "news" to one of the few remaining sources of actual news. And if Fox, and the string-pullers on the bags of tea, and the rest of the RWS™ have their way, that'll never happen.


Words Fail


I gotta say, this huffing and puffing, these shrieks and weeping and hurt feelings by Congressional Republicans and teabaggers over President Obama's recent speech is a new level of stupid, hypocritical self-parody, even for this current crop of hysterical and hyper-partisan purveyors of political porn. Really? They didn't like his tone? People who've, on the floor of Congress, claimed Obama had plans for concentration camps? Who continue, daily, to claim he's intent on destroying our country, hates our country, is in cahoots with terrorists? They take exception to his tone?

Seriously?

They've produced and signed on to a plan, the truth of which our president spoke as he outlined the differences between his approach and theirs, a plan which is mathematically and historically and politically and economically unworkable, is blatant in its skew toward the wealthy at the expense of the poor, is built on false assumptions. Congressional teabaggRs say any changes to it would be "non-starters;" they lie about "Obamacare," distort and demagogue it relentlessly, in the most inflammatory and dishonest terms; and they're offended by what Obama said? After two years of smears that make Bush-haters seem like Mr Rogers? Have I passed through some sort of wormhole? Might there be a planet on which this makes sense, and I'm just not on it?

Is there no point -- none -- beyond which our house teabaggRs won't drag the corpse of their hypocrisy? Is there no blame, for the very things they do as often as Muslims pray, which they'd not place on others? Hell, is there no time when they'd just stop and listen to themselves? Or do they actually -- confounding the most common of common sense -- not realize the irony, the dishonesty, the laughability of what they're saying?

Could it be a joke, and we're just not in on it?

I'm hardly naive; I grew up with a few politicians and I think I've heard it all. My aunt spent years in hard-scrabble politics; my parents were close friends of senators, congresspeople, governors. My brother was a U.S. Senate page; I visited him in D.C back in the good old days, watched at least a little of the goings-on. But these guys are literally beyond words; exceptional in a world of exceptional dishonesty. I have no way, nothing to bring to bear to describe them. It is both to laugh and to cry; to know their unseriousness is beyond doubt, and, yet, to be forced to realize that there are millions of people in this country who actually buy what they're selling. Swallow it whole. Are impervious to persuasion, refractory to the obvious.

What is there to say about that? It's literally unbelievable to me, as beyond my comprehension as insisting the earth is six thousand years old. Insisting that cutting taxes on the wealthy creates jobs, when it never has; demanding further cuts in taxes on the wealthy when they're at historical lows, paying for them by cutting services to the most needy, and expecting people to sign on. Who could possibly think that normal people would buy such discredited, dishonest, deceptive, and patently unworkable plans? That the very people who'll be hurt by it, will line up to support plans to enrich the already rich, at their own expense, to the detriment of our nation?

And yet, there it is.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Speaking Frankly


Some may have noticed that there haven't been many comments from Frankie lately. It occurs to me that some readers might have concluded that I've been deleting him, as I have, occasionally, various particularly vapid and useless comments from other BOFFO guests. Not the case. Like his blog, Frank Drackman seems simply to have disappeared without a trace. He was with me back in the Surgeonsblog days, and got a pass for longevity and loyalty (if that's what it was).

So, Frank: if you still come by here (I'm marginally savvy with my statcounter, but there's more than a couple of long-time visitors from Georgia), give us a shout and let us know how you are. Email me? (It's in my profile.) Or if anyone else knows what's going on, chime in.

To my eternal shame, I miss the guy.


Deductive Reasoning







I've stated several times here that economics is not my forté. In such matters, I tend to defer to others whose credentials seem substantial and undeniable. For example, Nobel prizes endow Stiglitz and Krugman with a certain je ne sais quoi for me, myself being more of a je ne sais pas kind of guy.

I don't speak French.

So, anyhow, the above displays come from this article in the Sunday Times Magazine. The author, David Leonhardt, is a respected economics reporter who just won a Pulitzer; so, despite the fact that he went to Yale (which I assume means he couldn't get into Amherst or Harvard), it's food for thought when he says:

If there is one big-ticket budget item on which Democrats and Republicans should be able to find common ground, it’s tax breaks. Each of the various bipartisan deficit panels has called for a big reduction, saying such breaks — exemptions, deductions, credits and other loopholes — are inefficient and unaffordable. All told, they cost the federal government about $1.2 trillion in lost revenue last year. As it happens, the budget deficit was $1.3 trillion.

Why else is getting rid of tax breaks a good idea? For one, economists say many of them slow growth by forcing individuals and businesses to waste time complying with the tax code. A tax code with lower rates and fewer loopholes would almost surely be more efficient. Meanwhile, from a political perspective, some Republicans who oppose just about any tax increase think cutting tax breaks is an acceptable way for the government to refill its coffers.



Complexity and importance. A prescription for getting nowhere, most likely.

But it's a start. Nevertheless, from my below-ground-level view, tax rates on the wealthy need to be back where they were when we last had a balanced budget, no matter what is done about deductions. Lowering those rates even further, as the Rs propose, is insanity (definition: doing something for which there's no basis in historical fact, their claims to the contrary being no more salient than their claims about global warming or the age of the earth.) Maybe the definition of "wealth" could be addressed, and the higher rates made to cut in at family incomes somewhere higher than $250K. But raised they must be if the future is a priority.

Yeah. Right. Like that'll happen.



Monday, April 18, 2011

Funny. Or Not.

These cartoons, by Mike Luckovich and appearing in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, are perfect followups to this morning's post:





The Truth Will Set You ... ?


Tell people the Republicans have a plan to cut trillions from the federal budget while managing to cut taxes, and people like what they hear. Tell them what the cuts are and who gets the tax breaks, and things change dramatically.

The Republican deficit reduction plan does not even win majority support, but when voters learn almost anything about it, they turn sharply and intensely against it. They have particularly grave concerns about the plan to end Medicare and slash Medicaid spending, pushing seniors into the private insurance market and costing them thousands of dollars more in out-of-pocket expenses. [emphasis added]

From the above, I draw the obvious conclusion:

We're screwed.

If we've learned nothing else from the teabaggers, we know it's not about content; it's about message and messaging. Read through comments here, and you understand that no amount of information can penetrate the fog of bumper-sticker thinking. To them, the ACA is still -- still! -- about the fact that not everyone read every word in it, and that it included a skate park somewhere. That it covers millions, lowers the deficit, prevents exclusion by virtue of preexisting conditions, eliminates life-time limits, lets kids stay on parents' plans until age twenty-six, makes serious attempts to control costs, allows states to come up with their own ideas and test them... not only does that stuff not matter, it doesn't even seem to be known. Not to teabaggers.

The differences between the R budget and Obama's are not subtle; they couldn't be more dramatic and consequential. They are a fork in the road, a stark choice between continuing (or, perhaps more accurately, trying to get back) to being a nation of progress, of caring for one another, of innovating, of thinking ahead, of education, of having and building for a future; or becoming a non-nation, a discohesive collection of individuals vying with one another to get the most they can for as long as they can in their own lifetimes, at the expense of everyone else, of the environment, of the future, with no concern for anyone or anything but the most narrow confines of their immediate self-interest. Especially as regards the already wealthy.

I do not exaggerate.

Now, it's clear that to many people the latter vision is just fine. It's not as if we are anymore -- if we ever were -- a nation of altruists and futurists. I want mine. Screw you. It worked well for Wall Street, it works well for the people financing and deceiving the teabaggers, it resonates with a lot of people (ironically and mystifyingly, they tend to think of themselves as Christians.) (And, yes, I know not all Christians think that way. It's just that, in this country, the people that do also happen to be Christians. You know: the ones who want schools to teach the Bible, who like to deprive people who love each other of the right to marry... Those guys...) So it's not as if, even if made fully to understand the implications, all people would choose the road that veers left. But -- so I'd like to believe, and, based on polls, I'm probably right -- enough would that we'd actually have a future.

Which is why we're screwed.

Democrats couldn't sell slickers in a sleetstorm. Hell, they couldn't give them away. Republicans would hand out bumper stickers that said "Slickers aren't slick." They'd say the sun is shining, and people would take off their shirts. They'd say shit was Shinola, and teabaggers would rub it on their shoes.

And then they'd drop by here, teeth chattering and stink rising from below their ankles, to tell us that only communists wear rain gear.



Sunday, April 17, 2011

Regular Folks


One of my readers likes to argue that teabaggers are just regular folks who believe strongly. She still hasn't answered what, exactly, it is that they believe, and why. But she does claim they belong to no particular party.

Because I'm a helpful guy, here's the latest bit of info that might help her to clarify her thinking:

Republican Tea Partiers just can't seem to get enough of those Obama/black people/chimpanzee jokes


President_Obama_Monkeys.jpg

This is the image e-mailed to her friends by Orange County Republican committeewoman and Tea Party activist Marilyn Davenport

Republicans seem to have a really, really narrow idea of what constitutes racism -- which is how they're able to claim that the Tea Parties aren't riddled with racism throughout.

But then little stories like this one from Orange County keep bubbling up to the surface of their fetid little Tea Party cesspool:

The Weekly has obtained a copy of an email sent to fellow conservatives this week by Marilyn Davenport, a Southern California Tea Party activist and member of the central committee of the Orange County Republican Party.

Under the words, "Now you know why no birth certificate," there's an Obama family portrait showing them as apes.

As always, the "sweet little old lady" who sent the mail had no idea that anyone might possibly construe the mail as racist, even though comparing black people to various kinds of apes has always been a stock feature of racist denigration in America. Why, some of her best friends are black! ...




Point one: Central committee of Republican Party.

Point two: Teabagger.

Point three: ..... do I really have to spell it out?

Related question: how many "isolated incidents" does it take to confirm a pattern?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Shouting Softly

He's Shocked... Shocked!


Charles Krauthammer, Fox "news" pundit, whose commentary on Obama always borders on derangement, which is ironic because it was he who coined the phrase "Bush Derangement Syndrome," was apoplectic over the partisan nature of Obama's speech.

I thought it was a disgrace. I rarely heard a speech by a president so shallow, so hyper-partisan and so intellectually dishonest, outside the last couple of weeks of a presidential election where you are allowed to call your opponent anything short of a traitor. But, we’re a year-and-a-half away from Election Day and it was supposed to be a speech about policy.


Well, first of all, everything President Obama said was true. If it was partisan, it was because he pointed out -- rightly -- the difference between the teabaggR plan and his own. Factually. Trumanesque. And, given the stakes for our future, absolutely necessarily.

Second of all, there's this:

Right now, House liberals are pushing a budget -- the so-called liberal Democratic budget -- that, if implemented, would reverse the progress we've made and wreck our program to rebuild the economy. They want to throw out the window much of the domestic budget savings we've achieved over the last 2 years. And they would go much further, seeking $181 billion in higher domestic spending over the next 5 years, excesses that would send the budget, prices, and interest rates soaring out of control and our economy into a tailspin.


Spoken ex-cathedra by the holiest of holies, at exactly the same point in his presidency.

Upchuck.

Poor Chuck. The specter of his tax cuts disappearing, of fairness returning to political reality, of actual shared future, has him crying into his Chateau d'Yquem, which is delicious, by the way.

Political hypocrisy is nothing new, of course. It's just that teabaggRs and neocons have elevated to operatic levels. Except for the fact that there's no one among teabaggR voters capable of seeing it or recognizing it for what it is, it's hysterically funny.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

It's Official



The man who changes wives as often as he visits bankruptcy court, an egomaniacal real-estate baron whose main claim to political fame is the jumping onto the birther bandwagon like Hugh Hefner into a pile of Viagra, when even Ann Coulter -- Ann Coulter!!! -- thinks birtherism is bullshit (although she also lies about it, setting the tone, no doubt, for future disinformation campaigns), that guy now tops polls of Republicans -- and not just teabaggRs -- in presidential preferences. He, and a carefully affable but hate-filled religious zealot.

From nowhere, recognizing opportunity in the craziness of Republican majorities believing Obama is Kenyan and going for it like a tween girl to a Justin Bieber (whose hair he'd take if he could) concert, Donald Frigging Trump, famous for being occasionally rich and always famous, having flipped like a fish named Mitt to pander on every social issue, seeking stroking like Sarah, with the opposite of credibility on any subject you'd like to mention, is the favorite of the party that claims seriousness. Number one. Numero uno. رقم واحد.

And with that simple fact, everything I've been saying about the stupidity and unseriousness and dishonesty and gullibility and shallow thinking and hypocrisy of the current iteration of the Republican party is verified, substantiated, vindicated, validated, affirmed, redoubled, stamped indelibly and undeniably, confirmed without prejudice, to be one-hundred percent, decidedly, clearly, completely, entirely, altogether, downright, wholly, thoroughly, utterly, unreservedly, unconditionally and most sincerely ... true.

True.

TRUE.

TRUE!!!

[In fairness, here's a contrary take, from this point of view. I'd say it reinforces my point.]

[[Update, 4/15: now he's the clear leader. Because, perhaps, and according to a commenter below, he "speaks out." Doesn't matter, evidently, that what he says is bullshit. All it takes to get the attention of teabaggers is to talk really loud.]]


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Not Bad





In the opening of his speech on the budget, President Obama did exactly what I hoped he'd do: he made very clear the different Americas envisioned by the teabaggR plan and his own. Given the choice, I'd hope (because I can't quite say I'm sure) a voting majority of Americans would prefer the latter. Much prefer. He spoke directly and persuasively about those differences, and gave convincing examples. He offered the choice -- because such a choice is exactly what's at stake -- between a country which cares for its own and prepares for an improving future, and one that doesn't, in order to maintain tax cuts for the most wealthy. Good.

"A 70% cut in clean energy. A 25% cut in education. A 30% cut in transportation. Cuts in college Pell Grants that will grow to more than $1,000 per year. That's what they're proposing. These aren't the kind of cuts you make when you're trying to get rid of some waste or find extra savings in the budget. These aren't the kind of cuts that the Fiscal Commission proposed. These are the kind of cuts that tell us we can't afford the America we believe in. And they paint a vision of our future that's deeply pessimistic.

"It's a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can't afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can't afford to send them. Go to China and you'll see businesses opening research labs and solar facilities. South Korean children are outpacing our kids in math and science. Brazil is investing billions in new infrastructure and can run half their cars not on high-priced gasoline, but biofuels. And yet, we are presented with a vision that says the United States of America -- the greatest nation on Earth -- can't afford any of this.

"It's a vision that says America can't afford to keep the promise we've made to care for our seniors. It says that ten years from now, if you're a 65 year old who's eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today. It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn't worth enough to buy insurance, tough luck -- you're on your own. Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it.

"This is a vision that says up to 50 million Americans have to lose their health insurance in order for us to reduce the deficit. And who are those 50 million Americans? Many are someone's grandparents who wouldn't be able afford nursing home care without Medicaid. Many are poor children. Some are middle-class families who have children with autism or Down's syndrome. Some are kids with disabilities so severe that they require 24-hour care. These are the Americans we'd be telling to fend for themselves.

"Worst of all, this is a vision that says even though America can't afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can't afford to maintain or commitment to Medicare and Medicaid, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. Think about it. In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined. Meanwhile, the top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. And that's who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that's paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs? That's not right, and it's not going to happen as long as I'm President."


And he said this, with which I entirely agree:

"There's nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. There's nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don't have any clout on Capitol Hill. And this is not a vision of the America I know."
Starting with Ronald Reagan, our president enumerated the steps that had been taken to address budget problems, all of which included some tax hikes, culminating with the balanced budget of Clinton and its paying down of debt while the economy boomed over the objections of the R Congress. And Mr. Obama made it clear when it all took a turn for the worse, by whom, and how. Plus, he stood to the right of some in his party, as we all knew he would.

On the other hand, specifics were a little thin. And, it seems, there's yet another commission in the plans. So my approval is 90% full-throated (and that 90% is meant to be factual.)

Some have criticized President Obama for dragging his feet on presenting his own plan. Where's he been, they've asked. And now we know: right where he wanted to be. He let the teabaggRs present and rally around their awful -- their pessimistic, as BHO called it -- plan to let the country slip into ruin in order to preserve and increase tax cuts for the wealthy; gave them time to make clear what they're really about. And now, as the people (the thoughtful ones, anyway, including many conservatives) have had enough time to digest the dangers, he has reminded us all what this country -- the greatest country on earth, he called it, for the exceptionalists out there -- has always stood for: caring for one another, creating opportunity, leading the world in innovation; and which it will never again be if the House teabaggRs have their way.

Not bad. Not bad at all.