We’re Not in Lake Wobegon Anymore

“I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we’re deaf, dumb and dangerous.

Written in 2004.

How did the Party of Lincoln and Liberty transmogrify into the party of Newt Gingrich’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk?


Something has gone seriously haywire with the Republican Party. Once, it was the party of pragmatic Main Street businessmen in steel-rimmed spectacles who decried profligacy and waste, were devoted to their communities and supported the sort of prosperity that raises all ships. They were good-hearted people who vanquished the gnarlier elements of their party, the paranoid Roosevelt-haters, the flat Earthers and Prohibitionists, the antipapist antiforeigner element. The genial Eisenhower was their man, a genuine American hero of D-Day, who made it OK for reasonable people to vote Republican. He brought the Korean War to a stalemate, produced the Interstate Highway System, declined to rescue the French colonial army in Vietnam, and gave us a period of peace and prosperity, in which (oddly) American arts and letters flourished and higher education burgeoned—and there was a degree of plain decency in the country. Fifties Republicans were giants compared to today’s. Richard Nixon was the last Republican leader to feel a Christian obligation toward the poor.

In the years between Nixon and Newt Gingrich, the party migrated southward down the Twisting Trail of Rhetoric and sneered at the idea of public service and became the Scourge of Liberalism, the Great Crusade Against the Sixties, the Death Star of Government, a gang of pirates that diverted and fascinated the media by their sheer chutzpah, such as the misty-eyed flag-waving of Ronald Reagan who, while George McGovern flew bombers in World War II, took a pass and made training films in Long Beach. The Nixon moderate vanished like the passenger pigeon, purged by a legion of angry white men who rose to power on pure punk politics. “Bipartisanship is another term of date rape,” says Grover Norquist, the Sid Vicious of the GOP. “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” The boy has Oedipal problems and government is his daddy.

The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, shriekChristians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shreiking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we’re deaf, dumb and dangerous.

Rich ironies abound! Lies pop up like toadstools in the forest! Wild swine crowd round the public trough! Outrageous gerrymandering! Pocket lining on a massive scale! Paid lobbyists sit in committee rooms and write legislation to alleviate the suffering of billionaires! Hypocrisies shine like cat turds in the moonlight! O Mark Twain, where art thou at this hour? Arise and behold the Gilded Age reincarnated gaudier than ever, upholding great wealth as the sure sign of Divine Grace.

Here in 2004, George W. Bush is running for reelection on a platform of tragedy—the single greatest failure of national defense in our history, the attacks of 9/11 in which 19 men with box cutters put this nation into a tailspin, a failure the details of which the White House fought to keep secret even as it ran the country into hock up to the hubcaps, thanks to generous tax cuts for the well-fixed, hoping to lead us into a box canyon of debt that will render government impotent, even as we engage in a war against a small country that was undertaken for the president’s personal satisfaction but sold to the American public on the basis of brazen misinformation, a war whose purpose is to distract us from an enormous transfer of wealth taking place in this country, flowing upward, and the deception is working beautifully.

The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few is the death knell of democracy. No republic in the history of humanity has survived this. The election of 2004 will say something about what happens to ours. The omens are not good.

Our beloved land has been fogged with fear—fear, the greatest political strategy ever. An ominous silence, distant sirens, a drumbeat of whispered warnings and alarms to keep the public uneasy and silence the opposition. And in a time of vague fear, you can appoint bullet-brained judges, strip the bark off the Constitution, eviscerate federal regulatory agencies, bring public education to a standstill, stupefy the press, lavish gorgeous tax breaks on the rich.

There is a stink drifting through this election year. It isn’t the Florida recount or the Supreme Court decision. No, it’s 9/11 that we keep coming back to. It wasn’t the “end of innocence,” or a turning point in our history, or a cosmic occurrence, it was an event, a lapse of security. And patriotism shouldn’t prevent people from asking hard questions of the man who was purportedly in charge of national security at the time.

Whenever I think of those New Yorkers hurrying along Park Place or getting off the No.1 Broadway local, hustling toward their office on the 90th floor, the morning paper under their arms, I think of that non-reader George W. Bush and how he hopes to exploit those people with a little economic uptick, maybe the capture of Osama, cruise to victory in November and proceed to get some serious nation-changing done in his second term.

This year, as in the past, Republicans will portray us Democrats as embittered academics, desiccated Unitarians, whacked-out hippies and communards, people who talk to telephone poles, the party of the Deadheads. They will wave enormous flags and wow over and over the footage of firemen in the wreckage of the World Trade Center and bodies being carried out and they will lie about their economic policies with astonishing enthusiasm.

The Union is what needs defending this year. Government of Enron and by Halliburton and for the Southern Baptists is not the same as what Lincoln spoke of. This gang of Pithecanthropus Republicanii has humbugged us to death on terrorism and tax cuts for the comfy and school prayer and flag burning and claimed the right to know what books we read and to dump their sewage upstream from the town and clear-cut the forests and gut the IRS and mark up the constitution on behalf of intolerance and promote the corporate takeover of the public airwaves and to hell with anybody who opposes them.

This is a great country, and it wasn’t made so by angry people. We have a sacred duty to bequeath it to our grandchildren in better shape than however we found it. We have a long way to go and we’re not getting any younger.

Dante said that the hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who in time of crisis remain neutral, so I have spoken my piece, and thank you, dear reader. It’s a beautiful world, rain or shine, and there is more to life than winning.

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Garrison Keillor is the host and writer of A Prairie Home Companion, now in its 34th year on the air and a syndicated newspaper columnist.

Emphasis Mine.


Americans Don’t Realize Just How Badly We’re Getting Screwed by the Top 0.1 Percent Hoarding the Country’s Wealth

With an unprecedented sum of wealth held within the top one-tenth of one percent of the US population, we now have the most severe inequality of wealth in US history.

N.B.: An oft disdained 19th century philosopher would hardly be surprised!

From AmpedStaus  – via AlterNet – by David Degraw

“With an unprecedented sum of wealth, tens of trillions of dollars, held within the top one-tenth of one percent of the US population, we now have the most severe inequality of wealth in US history. Not even the robber barons of the Gilded Age were as greedy as the modern-day economic elite.

As American philosopher John Dewey said, “There is no such thing as the liberty or effective power of an individual, group, or class, except in relation to the liberties, the effective powers, of other individuals, groups or classes.”

In my report, The Economic Elite vs. the People, I reported on the strategic withholding of wealth from 99 percent of the US population over the past generation. Since the mid-1970s, worker production and wealth creation has exploded. As the statistics throughout this report prove, the dramatic increase in wealth has been almost entirely absorbed by the economic top one-tenth of one percent of the population, with most of it going to the top one-hundredth of one percent.

If you are wondering why a critical mass of people desperately struggling to make ends meet are still not fighting back with overwhelming force and running the mega-wealthy aristocrats out of town, let’s consider two significant factors:

1) People are so busy trying to maintain their current standard of living that their energies are consumed by holding onto the little they have left.

2) People have very little understanding of how much wealth has been consolidated within the top economic one-tenth of one percent.

Considering the first factor, it is obvious that people have become beaten down psychologically and financially. A report in the Guardian titled, “Anxiety keeps the super-rich safe from middle-class rage,” suggests that people are so desperate to hold onto what they have that they are too busy looking down to look up: “As psychologists will tell you, fear of loss is more powerful than the prospect of gain. The struggling middle classes look down more anxiously than they look up, particularly in recession and sluggish recovery.”

Considering the second factor, people do not understand how much wealth has been withheld from them. The average person has never personally experienced or seen the excessive wealth and luxury that the mega-rich live in. Wealth inequality has grown so extreme and the wealthy have become so far removed from average society, it is as if the rich exist in some outer stratosphere beyond the comprehension of the average person. As the Guardian report states:

“… having little daily contact with the rich and little knowledge of how they lived, they simply didn’t think about inequality much, or regard the wealthy as direct competitors for resources. As the sociologist Garry Runciman observed: ‘Envy is a difficult emotion to sustain across a broad social distance.’… Even now most underestimate the rewards of bankers and executives. Top pay has reached such levels that, rather like interstellar distances, what the figures mean is hard to grasp.”

In fact, the average American vastly underestimates our nation’s severe wealth disparity. This survey, featured in the NY Times, reveals that Americans think our society is far more equal than it actually is:

“In a recent survey of Americans, my colleague Dan Ariely and I found that Americans drastically underestimated the level of wealth inequality in the United States. While recent data indicates that the richest 20 percent of Americans own 84 percent of all wealth, people estimated that this group owned just 59 percent – believing that total wealth in this country is far more evenly divided among poorer Americans.

What’s more, when we asked them how they thought wealth should be distributed, they told us they wanted an even more equitable distribution, with the richest 20 percent owning just 32 percent of the wealth. This was true of Democrats and Republicans, rich and poor – all groups we surveyed approved of some inequality, but their ideal was far more equal than the current level.”

This chart shows the survey’s results:

The overwhelming majority of the US population is unaware of the vast wealth at hand. An entire generation of unprecedented wealth creation has been concealed from 99 percent of the population for over 35 years. Having never personally experienced this wealth, the average American cannot comprehend what is possible if even a fraction of the money was used for the betterment of society.

Given modern technology and wealth, American citizens should not be living in poverty. The statistics demonstrate that we now live in a neo-feudal society. In comparison to the wealthiest one-tenth of one percent of the population, who are sitting on top of tens of trillions of dollars in wealth, we are essentially propagandized peasants.

The fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans are struggling to get by, while tens of trillions of dollars are consolidated within a small fraction of the population, is a crime against humanity.

The next time you are stressed out, struggling to make ends meet and pay off your debts, just think about the trillions of dollars sitting in the obscenely bloated pockets of the financial elites. I still cling to the hope that once enough people become aware of this fact, we can have the non-violent revolution we so urgently need. Until then, the rich get richer as a critical mass with increasingly dire economic prospects desperately struggles to make ends meet.

emphasis mine


The Ideological Crisis of Western Capitalism

A decade ago, in the midst of an economic boom, the US faced a surplus so large that it threatened to eliminate the national debt. Unaffordable tax cuts and wars, a major recession, and soaring health-care costs – fueled in part by the commitment of George W. Bush’s administration to giving drug companies free rein in setting prices, even with government money at stake – quickly transformed a huge surplus into record peacetime deficits.

Joseph E. Stiglitz, Project Syndicate From Truthout

“Just a few years ago, a powerful ideology – the belief in free and unfettered markets – brought the world to the brink of ruin. Even in its hey-day, from the early 1980’s until 2007, American-style deregulated capitalism brought greater material well-being only to the very richest in the richest country of the world. Indeed, over the course of this ideology’s 30-year ascendance, most Americans saw their incomes decline or stagnate year after year.

Moreover, output growth in the United States was not economically sustainable. With so much of US national income going to so few, growth could continue only through consumption financed by a mounting pile of debt.

I was among those who hoped that, somehow, the financial crisis would teach Americans (and others) a lesson about the need for greater equality, stronger regulation, and a better balance between the market and government. Alas, that has not been the case. On the contrary, a resurgence of right-wing economics, driven, as always, by ideology and special interests, once again threatens the global economy – or at least the economies of Europe and America, where these ideas continue to flourish.

In the US, this right-wing resurgence, whose adherents evidently seek to repeal the basic laws of math and economics, is threatening to force a default on the national debt. If Congress mandates expenditures that exceed revenues, there will be a deficit, and that deficit has to be financed. Rather than carefully balancing the benefits of each government expenditure program with the costs of raising taxes to finance those benefits, the right seeks to use a sledgehammer – not allowing the national debt to increase forces expenditures to be limited to taxes.

This leaves open the question of which expenditures get priority – and if expenditures to pay interest on the national debt do not, a default is inevitable. Moreover, to cut back expenditures now, in the midst of an ongoing crisis brought on by free-market ideology, would inevitably simply prolong the downturn.

A decade ago, in the midst of an economic boom, the US faced a surplus so large that it threatened to eliminate the national debt. Unaffordable tax cuts and wars, a major recession, and soaring health-care costs – fueled in part by the commitment of George W. Bush’s administration to giving drug companies free rein in setting prices, even with government money at stake – quickly transformed a huge surplus into record peacetime deficits.

The remedies to the US deficit follow immediately from this diagnosis: put America back to work by stimulating the economy; end the mindless wars; rein in military and drug costs; and raise taxes, at least on the very rich. But the right will have none of this, and instead is pushing for even more tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, together with expenditure cuts in investments and social protection that put the future of the US economy in peril and that shred what remains of the social contract. Meanwhile, the US financial sector has been lobbying hard to free itself of regulations, so that it can return to its previous, disastrously carefree, ways.

Help fight ignorance. Click here for daily Truthout email updates.

But matters are little better in Europe. As Greece and others face crises, the medicine du jour is simply timeworn austerity packages and privatization, which will merely leave the countries that embrace them poorer and more vulnerable. This medicine failed in East Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere, and it will fail in Europe this time around, too. Indeed, it has already failed in Ireland, Latvia, and Greece.

There is an alternative: an economic-growth strategy supported by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Growth would restore confidence that Greece could repay its debts, causing interest rates to fall and leaving more fiscal room for further growth-enhancing investments. Growth itself increases tax revenues and reduces the need for social expenditures, such as unemployment benefits. And the confidence that this engenders leads to still further growth.

Regrettably, the financial markets and right-wing economists have gotten the problem exactly backwards: they believe that austerity produces confidence, and that confidence will produce growth. But austerity undermines growth, worsening the government’s fiscal position, or at least yielding less improvement than austerity’s advocates promise. On both counts, confidence is undermined, and a downward spiral is set in motion.

Do we really need another costly experiment with ideas that have failed repeatedly? We shouldn’t, but increasingly it appears that we will have to endure another one nonetheless. A failure of either Europe or the US to return to robust growth would be bad for the global economy. A failure in both would be disastrous – even if the major emerging-market countries have attained self-sustaining growth. Unfortunately, unless wiser heads prevail, that is the way the world is heading.”

Emphasis Mine


Why Progressives Get No Respect.

“One of the biggest problems facing the Democrats going into this election is that they’re getting absolutely zero respect for everything they’ve done for the average American over the past two years. Tax cuts, health care reform, financial reform, expanded veterans’ benefits, direct funding of student loans

The Myth Of The Self-Made American: Why Progressives Get No Respect

“One of the biggest problems facing the Democrats going into this election is that they’re getting absolutely zero respect for everything they’ve done for the average American over the past two years. Tax cuts, health care reform, financial reform, expanded veterans’ benefits, direct funding of student loans — the list is long, and one that, by rights, should get the Democrats re-elected handily.

The problem is that the average voter has no idea that any of this ever happened. In fact, if you ask most Americans (even a lot of Democrats), they’ll tell you that Obama raised their taxes.

This ignorance is on full display at your average Tea Party gathering, which is full of people who will proudly insist that they’re entirely self-made. “I did it all myself,” they’ll snarl, quivering in spittle-flecked outrage. “I didn’t get any government handouts. Nobody ever did anything for me — so why are all my tax dollars going to support those shiftless welfare cheats who aren’t willing to work like I did?”

The magnitude of the self-delusion is gobstopping. Did Mr. Self-Made Man grow up in a VA or FHA-funded house? Attend a public school or college? Go to school on the GI Bill, Pell Grants, or student loans? Does he claim a mortgage interest tax deduction every year? Does he support his retired parents out of pocket, or does Social Security do it for him? Does his employer get government contracts or subsidies that make his paycheck possible? Does his business depend on a sound currency, enforceable contracts, or reliable transportation systems?

It’s like his rich Uncle Sam, the benefactor whose generous bequests paid his way into the middle class, has been written totally out of his entire life story. Forget gratitude; these social contract deniers insist loudly that none of that ever happened. At all. They pay taxes; but they’ve never seen a cent returned to them for anything. And they write their “self-made” myths accordingly.

Unfortunately, this is just a symptom of a much larger problem, one that progressives need to resolve if we are to prevail in the future. The bizarre fact is that most Americans who’ve made it into the middle class got there with the help of seriously life-changing government investments and subsidies — and yet, ironically, if you ask them if they’ve ever used a government program in their lives, they’re very likely to tell you: Nope. Never. I did it all on my own.

Suzanne Mettler, a professor at Cornell, actually documented this effect in a 2008 study. She asked people who’d been the beneficiaries of 19 specific government programs — including some of the most popular and widespread programs in the country — whether or not they’d ever used a government social program. Here’s what she found:

Pct. of program beneficiaries who report they have not used a government program

There it is, in black and white. Sixty percent of people who get home mortgage interest deductions (one of the most important and lucrative middle-class subsidies going) don’t see this as a form of government help to their households, even though many of them wouldn’t be homeowners at all without it. Fifty-three percent of the people who got through college on student loans — and 40 percent of GI Bill beneficiaries — also think they’ve paid their own freight. And 44 percent of Social Security recipients don’t think that Social Security is a government program — which comes as no surprise to those of us who remember the ubiquitous calls during last year’s health care fight to “get your fllthy government hands off my Social Security.”

What’s going on here? How can so many people receive so much, and yet remain in such obstinate denial about where it all came from?

A big part of the problem, says Mettler, is that some government programs are simply more visible to the average voter than others. The visible ones tend to be the ones that are administered directly by a government agency, and show up in the budgets as clear line items. In particular, the programs that benefit the poor are often right out there on the table, where voters can see them and activists can ignite them into political issues: welfare, food stamps, government subsidized housing, education, Head Start.

But these programs are just a small fraction of America’s overall social spending. The bulk of our tax money goes to other programs — such as the mortgage interest deduction, student loan programs, and military spending — that are hidden from easy public view in what Mettler calls “the submerged state.” This spending is usually done in ways that are not directly visible to voters. A lot of it is corporate welfare, designed to prop up favored industries that are so powerful that no change is possible unless they’re somehow bought off with new profit opportunities or subsidies. These industries have a strong interest in keeping this spending out of the public eye and off the political table, where it might be challenged. An important subcategory includes government-funded programs that are run through private companies, like prisons or pre-reform student loans (or, for that matter, Obamacare). The money comes straight out of Uncle Sam’s pocket, but the beneficiaries never see his hand directly.

The big disconnect occurs because so many of the programs that benefit the middle class fall into this category. Take the mortgage interest deduction. This is, in effect, a subsidy that keeps America’s real estate and building trades sectors in business — and, as we’ve painfully discovered, was also of huge interest to the banks as well. But even though every homeowner in America profits handsomely from this subsidy, most Americans don’t understand very much about it. It’s just a line item on their income taxes. And there’s strong pressure to keep it that way. If the magnitude of this subsidy somehow moved into general awareness, it might be challenged. It would be subject to political debate. And that’s the last thing the builders and bankers want.

The 58 percent of our federal spending that goes to defense is almost certainly the biggest skeleton in the “submerged state” closet. A lot of that spending goes to businesses, large and small, around the country. If you’re a Congress member protecting jobs in your district (including your own), there is absolutely no upside to making an issue out of this. And, again, the beneficiaries are largely middle-class households, who fail to see the very real connection between these “government programs” and their own paychecks.

Mettler argues that any real reform that involves these hidden non-state actors must begin with explicitly making the invisible visible to the eyes of the public. It takes time and effort to bring the machinery of the submerged state up into the light of day, but it’s necessary — and effective. Obama’s effort to restore direct federal funding of student loans was a good example of this. The banks were making billions each year off this program, at the expense of millions of students who should have been getting that money instead. He was able to pull this off because activists and journalists had already spent several years hauling the ugly wreck of a policy up into public view, which weakened the ability of banking lobbyists to defend their position. By the time Obama arrived, they were weak enough that he could demand — and get — a complete end to this lucrative subsidy.

Making the invisible visible is also essential if we’re going to counter the Tea Party‘s self-serving, denial-wracked narratives, and open the way for Democrats and progressives to get the credit they deserve for the good that they do. We need to start pointing out, loudly and often, all the covert-but-effective ways that government investment and intervention has made the middle class possible.

Specifically, we need to drive home the fact that anybody who calls themselves an American cannot, in the same breath, declare that they are in any sense entirely “self-made.” This is indeed the land of opportunity. But those opportunities exist only as long as we work together to create them; and willfully denying that is an insult to every other American who sacrificed to make your opportunities possible. It’s like saying your parents had nothing to do with raising you. You’d expect them to be hurt, offended, and angry at your lack of gratitude. The rest of us who contributed to your success aren’t wrong to feel insulted, too.

Progressives know the truth: Nobody in America ever did it alone, for themselves. For the past 220 years, we’ve done it together, for each other. Bringing that interdependence back out into the light and putting at the center of our politics shifts the entire dialogue in ways that can help the progressives over the long haul, in at least three ways.

First, it reaffirms the democratic social contract. From the arrogant Wall Street bankers who still think they deserve bonuses for tanking the economy to the furious white men of the Tea Party, people who’ve convinced themselves that nobody ever gave them anything are justified (at least in their own minds) in deciding that they don’t owe anything to anyone else, either. And as long as they can keep the “self-made” lie going, they’ll also go on believing that they’re totally exempt from the whole social contract on which a democracy runs.

Second: It calls the conservatives’ politics-of-rage game. The self-made myth allows the conservative movement to keep feeding on the fury of aggrieved people who falsely think they’re getting nothing for something, even while they’re standing on a pile of wealth that we helped put under their feet. Setting the record straight on exactly what they did get for their tax dollars removes a lot of the justification for this outrage, and makes them look like the tantrum-throwing spoiled brats they are.

Third: It demands that people give credit where credit is due. Nothing changes until those of us who’ve paid our share of taxes, worked hard and played by the rules, struggled to raise sound families and build decent communities, and served our country at home and abroad start demanding acknowledgment, respect, and a proper “Thank you” for everything we’ve each contributed to make so much mutual success possible. And the real patriot is the one who always makes sure that Uncle Sam himself is the very first one to stand for applause.

Putting the lie to the “self-made” myth is critical to restoring the progressive ideas of common wealth, common sense, and the common good to a central place in our political story. It’s time to hand the country’s real “entitlement classes” the full, complete, annotated bill for everything they’ve received from the government’s hand — and demand that they never again forget to thank the 300 million of us who made it all possible.

see: http://ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2010104329/myth-self-made-american-why-progressives-get-no-respect

Emphasis Mine

Republicans vs. Medicare

And if Democrats don’t get their act together and push the almost-completed reform across the goal line, this breathtaking act of staggering hypocrisy will succeed.

Krugman, NY Times:

Don’t cut Medicare. The reform bills passed by the House and Senate cut Medicare by approximately $500 billion. This is wrong.” So declared Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, in a recent op-ed article written with John Goodman, the president of the National Center for Policy Analysis. And irony died.

Now, Mr. Gingrich was just repeating the current party line. Furious denunciations of any effort to seek cost savings in Medicare — death panels! — have been central to Republican efforts to demonize health reform. What’s amazing, however, is that they’re getting away with it.

Why is this amazing? It’s not just the fact that Republicans are now posing as staunch defenders of a program they have hated ever since the days when Ronald Reagan warned that Medicare would destroy America’s freedom. Nor is it even the fact that, as House speaker, Mr. Gingrich personally tried to ram through deep cuts in Medicare — and, in 1995, went so far as to shut down the federal government in an attempt to bully Bill Clinton into accepting those cuts.

After all, you could explain this about-face by supposing that Republicans have had a change of heart, that they have finally realized just how much good Medicare does. And if you believe that, I’ve got some mortgage-backed securities you might want to buy.

No, what’s truly mind-boggling is this: Even as Republicans denounce modest proposals to rein in Medicare’s rising costs, they are, themselves, seeking to dismantle the whole program. And the process of dismantling would begin with spending cuts of about $650 billion over the next decade. Math is hard, but I do believe that’s more than the roughly $400 billion (not $500 billion) in Medicare savings projected for the Democratic health bills.

What I’m talking about here is the “Roadmap for America’s Future,” the budget plan recently released by Representative Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican member of the House Budget Committee. Other leading Republicans have been bobbing and weaving on the official status of this proposal, but it’s pretty clear that Mr. Ryan’s vision does, in fact, represent what the G.O.P. would try to do if it returns to power.

The broad picture that emerges from the “roadmap” is of an economic agenda that hasn’t changed one iota in response to the economic failures of the Bush years. In particular, Mr. Ryan offers a plan for Social Security privatization that is basically identical to the Bush proposals of five years ago.

But what’s really worth noting, given the way the G.O.P. has campaigned against health care reform, is what Mr. Ryan proposes doing with and to Medicare.

In the Ryan proposal, nobody currently under the age of 55 would be covered by Medicare as it now exists. Instead, people would receive vouchers and be told to buy their own insurance. And even this new, privatized version of Medicare would erode over time because the value of these vouchers would almost surely lag ever further behind the actual cost of health insurance. By the time Americans now in their 20s or 30s reached the age of eligibility, there wouldn’t be much of a Medicare program left.

But what about those who already are covered by Medicare, or will enter the program over the next decade? You’re safe, says the roadmap; you’ll still be eligible for traditional Medicare. Except, that is, for the fact that the plan “strengthens the current program with changes such as income-relating drug benefit premiums to ensure long-term sustainability.”

If this sounds like deliberately confusing gobbledygook, that’s because it is. Fortunately, the Congressional Budget Office, which has done an evaluation of the roadmap, offers a translation: “Some higher-income enrollees would pay higher premiums, and some program payments would be reduced.” In short, there would be Medicare cuts.

And it’s possible to back out the size of those cuts from the budget office analysis, which compares the Ryan proposal with a “baseline” representing current policy. As I’ve already said, the total over the next decade comes to about $650 billion — substantially bigger than the Medicare savings in the Democratic bills.

The bottom line, then, is that the crusade against health reform has relied, crucially, on utter hypocrisy: Republicans who hate Medicare, tried to slash Medicare in the past, and still aim to dismantle the program over time, have been scoring political points by denouncing proposals for modest cost savings — savings that are substantially smaller than the spending cuts buried in their own proposals.

And if Democrats don’t get their act together and push the almost-completed reform across the goal line, this breathtaking act of staggering hypocrisy will succeed.

see: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/12/opinion/12krugman.html?em

Misinformation leads to misunderstanding – again!

public’s lack of robust support for healthcare reform legislation is based on misunderstanding

Health Care Information Gap

From Fivethirtyeight:

” It’s rare that I disagree with Gallup’s straight-shooting Frank Newport, but I don’t think the data he’s citing in this blog post (from a Gallup survey conducted in November) does much at all to contradict the notion that a substantial amount of the opposition to health care reform is based on misinformation:

[Obama and Gibbs reinforce] the same talking point: The public’s lack of robust support for healthcare reform legislation is based on misunderstanding engendered by the debate, the process, and the strong forces arrayed against the bill.

We don’t necessarily see it in the data. When we ask Americans why they oppose healthcare legislation, the two dominant responses are: “cost” and “too much government involvement.” Neither of these objection categories reflect — at least not directly — a failure to understand the specifics of what is in the bill. Or personal self-interest. The objections appear to be more global in nature.

Here, again, is the survey that Newport refers to; it asked an open-ended question about what “concerns” people had about the health care bills and then broke those numbers down between those people who supported the bill and those who opposed it. I’ve reproduced their numbers below the fold.

There are relatively few items in this tally that unambiguously reflect either legitimate reasons for opposing the health care bill or unambiguously reflect false beliefs. The former category would probably include: “Overall costs to government, taxpayers” (7 percent of those opposed to the bill), increased taxes (5 percent), “how it will be paid for” (3 percent), and the individual mandate (3 percent). Perhaps also the public option belongs here (7 percent) — it was still “alive” at the time Gallup’s survey was conducted (although there are a lot of people who don’t know exactly what the public option is). If we do count it, these probably legitimate concerns amount to about 25 percent of those opposed to the bill, or 12 percent of the country overall.

On the other hand, there are also relatively few concerns that unambiguously seem to point toward false information. “Coverage for illegal immigrants” (4 percent of those opposed to the bill) is probably one. Items like “ability to get needed care”/rationing/wait times (4 percent), “being able to see current doctors” (3 percent) and “effect on quality of care” (8 percent) most likely also fit into this category, although even here there is some ambiguity.

And in most other cases, there is a lot of ambiguity. The largest single reason for opposition that Gallup identifies — 28 percent of those opposed to the bill — is what they call “government-run healthcare / bureaucracy / socialized medicine / government takeover”. Perhaps there are a few people in this group who have legitimate worries about the government’s ability to effectively regulate insurers or believe that the imposition of additional rules and regulations may carry unintended or undesirable consequences. But phrases like “socalized medicine” and “government takeover” are talking points that more likely than not are symptomatic of incorrect beliefs about what the health care bill would actually do.

A lot of categories are like this. The category “effect on senior citizens/Medicare” (5 percent) for instance — does this reflect legitimate concerns about the savings that the bill would try to achieve in Medicare, or people worried about death panels and the plug being pulled on granny?

Finally, there are quite a few people who don’t know why they’re opposed — 9 percent of those opposed can’t cite a reason at all, another 6 percent simply say they don’t understand the bill, and a further 9 percent say “costs”, but don’t specify which type of costs they’re concerned with.

This isn’t really a criticism of Gallup’s survey — unlike the Kaiser poll that I’ve cited frequently, they weren’t really trying to test people’s knowledge about the bill. But also for that reason, it can’t really be used to refute Kaiser’s data. People, to use Newport’s term, may have concerns which are “more global in nature” — but why do they have those concerns? (If I ask you: “why do you oppose the health care bill” and you say “because it’s bad”, we haven’t really learned anything.)

In a perfect world, indeed, what I’d like to see is a survey that even more explicitly related people’s knowledge about the bill to their beliefs and overall impressions about it. You might ask a battery of questions related to:

— Overall support/opposition to the bill.
— Knowledge of bill contents.
— General beliefs about the bill (e.g. effect on coverage, costs, premiums, etc.)
— Self-rating of informedness (about the bill and about politics in general)
— Change in support based after being read various descriptions of the bill.
— Volume and type of news sources consumed.
— General political ideology.
— Demographics.

I’m not going to design a whole survey in a blog post, but you get the general picture. You’d need to design the survey fairly carefully, but you could probably get pretty close to an objective answer about how much of the opposition to the bill (and the support for it) was indeed based on false beliefs about its contents.


(Emphasis mine)

A time not for retreat

As one who labors for social and economic justice and other Progressive causes, and who has experienced many of life’s vicissitudes, I am not willing to give up our goals based on the results of the special election of Jan 19, 2010.

o Because the campaign was not well run from the Democratic side, it is not valid to draw many conclusions on the mind sets of the voters – Fox News etc, to the contrary.

o It is also not correct, because of the turn out, to interpret these special results as a general message.

(A poll (DFA) commissioned from Research 2000 taken immediately after voting ended on Tuesday night in Massachusetts. The results send a clear message to Democrats in Washington: Be bold, fight for more change — not less, and pass healthcare with a public option.


It is correct to:

o Inventory our positives, our achievements, and our assets.

o Assess our goals, identify the obstacles, and formulate a plan to achieve them: Yes We Still Can!

“I am not discouraged by Tuesday’s election results. Actually, I’m energized and I want you to be, too. Working America is demanding major change NOW—not timid, go-slow, partial solutions.” -Richard Trumka Pres. AFL-CIO

It is for us … to be dedicated here to the unfinished work …. thus far so nobly advanced…to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us ” (Lincoln)

On The Bill: Politics is the Art of the Possible

Politics is the Art of the Possible

Krugman, 25 Dec 2009, the New York Times:

“…”…the legislation that passed the Senate on Thursday and will probably, in a slightly modified version, soon become law will make America a much better country.

So why are so many people complaining? There are three main groups of critics.

First, there’s the crazy right, the tea party and death panel people — a lunatic fringe that is no longer a fringe but has moved into the heart of the Republican Party

A second strand of opposition comes from what I think of as the Bah Humbug caucus: fiscal scolds who routinely issue sententious warnings about rising debt. By rights, this caucus should find much to like in the Senate health bill, which the Congressional Budget Office says would reduce the deficit, and which — in the judgment of leading health economists — does far more to control costs than anyone has attempted in the past.what really motivates them is “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, is receiving social insurance.”

Finally, there has been opposition from some progressives who are unhappy with the bill’s limitations. Some would settle for nothing less than a full, Medicare-type, single-payer system. Others had their hearts set on the creation of a public option to compete with private insurers. And there are complaints that the subsidies are inadequate, that many families will still have trouble paying for medical care.

Unlike the tea partiers and the humbuggers, disappointed progressives have valid complaints. But those complaints don’t add up to a reason to reject the bill. Yes, it’s a hackneyed phrase, but politics is the art of the possible.

The truth is that there isn’t a Congressional majority in favor of anything like single-payer. There is a narrow majority in favor of a plan with a moderately strong public option. The House has passed such a plan. But given the way the Senate rules work, it takes 60 votes to do almost anything. And that fact, combined with total Republican opposition, has placed sharp limits on what can be enacted.

If progressives want more, they’ll have to make changing those Senate rules a priority. They’ll also have to work long term on electing a more progressive Congress. But, meanwhile, the bill the Senate has just passed, with a few tweaks — I’d especially like to move the start date up from 2014, if that’s at all possible — is more or less what the Democratic leadership can get.

And for all its flaws and limitations, it’s a great achievement. It will provide real, concrete help to tens of millions of Americans and greater security to everyone. And it establishes the principle — even if it falls somewhat short in practice — that all Americans are entitled to essential health care.  (N.B.: This is what I call a ‘beachhead’.)

Many people deserve credit for this moment. What really made it possible was the remarkable emergence of universal health care as a core principle during the Democratic primaries of 2007-2008 — an emergence that, in turn, owed a lot to progressive activism. (For what it’s worth, the reform that’s being passed is closer to Hillary Clinton’s plan than to President Obama’s). This made health reform a must-win for the next president. And it’s actually happening.

So progressives shouldn’t stop complaining, but they should congratulate themselves on what is, in the end, a big win for them — and for America.”

(Emphasis mine)

see: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/25/opinion/25krugman.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1261753212-RwiQATMIBUa+By+dIKRN/A

Have heart- approval rising for Health Insurance Reform!

The ship is turning!

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Trevor Tompson, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The fever has broken. The patient is out of intensive care. But if you’re President Barack Obama, you can’t stop pacing the waiting room. Health care overhaul is still in guarded condition.

The latest Associated Press-GfK poll has found that opposition to Obama’s health care remake dropped dramatically in just a matter of weeks. Still, Americans remain divided over complex legislation that Democrats are advancing in Congress.

The public is split 40-40 on supporting or opposing the health care legislation, the poll found. An even split is welcome news for Democrats, a sharp improvement from September, when 49 percent of Americans said they opposed the congressional proposals and just 34 percent supported them.

Anger about health care boiled over during August. Lawmakers returning home for town hall meetings faced outcries that the government was trying to take over the system, ushering in higher costs, lower quality — even rationing and euthanasia.

“It’s very significant that there’s an upturn in support for the plans because after August there was a sense that the whole effort was beginning to decline and would not come back in terms of public support,” said Robert Blendon, a Harvard professor who tracks public opinion on health care.

“Even with this,” added Blendon, “the country is still divided over whether or not moving ahead is the right thing to do.”

Behind the shift seems to be a growing determination among Democrats that going forward would be better. Meanwhile, political independents don’t appear as alarmed about the congressional proposals as they were just a few weeks ago. Still, opponents remain more passionate in their convictions than do supporters.

In a significant change, opposition among older Americans dropped 16 percentage points. Seniors have been concerned that Congress would stick them with the bill by cutting Medicare to pay for covering the uninsured. Among the most reliable voters, they were much more wary of the changes than the public as a whole. The gap has narrowed.

The poll found that 68 percent of Democrats support the congressional plans, up from 57 percent in early September. Opposition among independents plunged from 51 percent to 36 percent. However, only 29 percent of independents currently support the plans in Congress.

Among seniors, opposition fell from 59 percent in September to 43 percent now. Almost four in 10, 38 percent, now support it, compared with 31 percent in September…Republicans remain solidly against the congressional health care plans, with four out of five opposed.

Americans overwhelmingly say it’s important that health care legislation have the support of both parties.

Blendon credits Obama’s speech to Congress in early September and his blitz of media interviews and appearances since then for moving public opinion toward the positive column. What some have criticized as presidential hyperactivity, many Americans took as a sign that the president was taking ownership of the issue, Blendon said.

Before his prime-time speech to Congress, 52 percent disapproved of Obama’s handling of health care. Now the public is split, with 48 percent approving and 47 percent disapproving.

“Getting more directly involved in the outcome is what people expect a president to be doing,” said Blendon.

There’s still deep skepticism that the government can fix the health care system to expand coverage and tamp down rising costs…

The congressional bills would require all Americans to get health insurance, either through an employer, through a government program or on their own. Tax credits would be offered for many of those who buy their own coverage but failure to comply could result in a fine.

“I don’t think that the government should supply health care to the people,” said Newcomb.

The AP-GfK poll was conducted Oct. 1-5, based on a nationally representative sample of 1,003 adults age 18 or older, contacted by telephone on land lines and cell phones. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for results based on the entire sample.”

(Emphasis mine)


Obama (And America) won August!

The worst thing that could have happened to Democrats — and the one thing that needed to happen in order to kill health reform — did not happen

Why? How? When?

Marc Ambinder, the Atlantic: “…the White House was taken aback by the ferocity of the health care debate, the media was confused, activists were alarmed, and Republican enthusiasm shot up. But a funny thing happened on the way to the morgue…

The worst thing that could have happened to Democrats — and the one thing that needed to happen in order to kill health reform — did not happen. The Democrats held together. Moderates were not intimidated. Don’t confuse their constituent meeting pander with changed minds.

Did more than a handful — if any — Democrats who were leaning towards voting “yes” on health care before August change their minds during August? Probably not. Another irony: the public option debate helped. It helped by offering itself up as a sacrifice. The new Maginot line, drawn by advocates of a single payer system, turned out to be a bit of a feint because it was never the sine qua non of reform.  Initially, given the GOP success (aided by progressive elites who essentially agreed) in framing the option as essential to health care, its putative failure and demagoguery seemed to be a significant blow to the White House. But — and here is the key point — it became something for the Blue Dogs to “oppose” and thus satisfy their constituents’ concerns about reform in general…the White House would rather have the bill they’re probably going to get now and worry about Netroot anxiety later. From the start, the least convincing argument made to the White House about strategy starts with the premise that compromising with recalcitrant Republicans is inherently bad.
After August, under the worst case scenario, there is majority support for the following major changes to health care: real (albeit limited) competition in the insurance industry (even absent a public plan). A cap on what a person pays for catastrophic illnesses. An end to insurance company recision policies. Guaranteed issue. A basic benefit package. Significant subsidies to help people who earn as much as $64,000 a year pay for health insurance. Better cost and coverage incentives. And lots more. Say what you will about these reforms — maybe they’re incremental — but they’re a foundation for center-left policy in the future.”
My anxiety is reduced – thanks!

see: http://politics.theatlantic.com/2009/09/why_obama_won_august_really.php