Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Is reducing the national debt a legitimate excuse for gutting the ACA and Medicaid expansion? No.



For the moment it seems that after claiming that the House healthcare bill was “dead on arrival” before proceeding to negotiate in secret a bill that is not only very similar to the House version, but in some ways even worse, Mitch McConnell and his far-right Senate colleagues’ have stubbed their toes in wading into the healthcare quandary. After years of denouncing the Affordable Care Act, yet expecting to do little but use it as a rhetorical tactic for their own re-elections after the expected Hillary Clinton election, Republicans have once more exposed the fact that they not only never had a “plan” of their own, but never expected that they would have to concoct one—and it shows with their rushed, badly thought-out legislation. 

The Congressional Budget Office report suggests that instead of being just as “mean” as the House version, the Republican Senate healthcare bill is actually “meaner,” principally because although it spreads out Medicaid cuts a few years longer, the cuts are in the long-run deeper than the House version. It also continues the House action to essentially deny affordable care for those with pre-existing conditions, and shifts the burden of cost from the wealthy to the low-to-middle-income and older Americans. 

It is now reported that a bi-partisan network of governors worked behind the scenes to derail the Senate bill, persuading a few Republican Senators from their states to oppose the bill. Because of these defections that bill has been shelved for the moment, although one should take a cautionary note since the awful House bill also had its hiccup—and what was eventually passed was even worse than the original. There is some light talk about abandoning a partisan bill and crafting a more “bi-partisan” bill that will likely shed those on the radical fringes of both parties, but might actually pass and be “better.” But no one should be overly sanguine about that possibility.

Meanwhile, we have to discuss one of the reasons why there are still voters who oppose what they admit is in their own best interests. In some locales, low-income Republican voters are questioning the party’s attitude toward affordable health insurance, particularly in regard to ending Medicaid expansion. But The Guardian recently visited a West Virginia country music hoedown and discovered that in spite of reservations about ending the current system, some people insisted that there are “legitimate” reasons for gutting the ACA and replacing it with something worse. “I know it’s risky, at my age” not to have health insurance, one man said. But something should be done about the national debt: “They’ve got to do something to get it under control.”

Another Republican voter, a disabled former construction worker who relies on Medicaid—one of over 500,000 people in West Virginia who do—it’s also about the “debt”: “They want all these things kept in that we just can’t afford to keep in.” He’d rather “suffer now” and do his little bit to reduce the national debt, so that future generations (or rather his) “can have it better”. He added, bizarrely, that “Just like we have to cut the music programs. I hate to see them cut, but they got to be.” When you have voters equating grade school music programs as having the same importance as healthcare, you know that there is something seriously wrong with the thinking of many people in this country.

Is reducing the national debt a legitimate excuse for denying healthcare to 22 million more people? According to the CBO, the House bill will reduce the deficit by a little over a $100 billion over ten years, while the Senate will save over a $300 billion. But those numbers could be subject to change, like the cost of needless military adventures. And is that “savings” really that much in the grand scheme of things? Forget that proposed tax cuts for the wealthy far outstrip those figures; consider this: Even with the Vietnam War and Great Society programs, under the LBJ administration the national debt grew from only $308 billion to $362 billion from 1963 to 1969. The debt only increased marginally during the administrations of Nixon, Ford and Carter. 

But then the national debt tripled under the Reagan administration, thanks to massive military spending, massive tax cuts for the wealthy, and major adjustments to marginal tax rates (not to mention that “trickle-down economics” was a destructive sham that led only to runaway income redistribution to the wealthy). The debt then increased 50 percent during the four years of the elder Bush administration, then 40 percent during the eight years of the Clinton administration, and finally nearly doubling during the second Bush and Obama administrations. Today the national debt is in the neighborhood of $20 trillion. That is a lot, isn’t it? But not to Republicans who told us that ballooning debt is “good”—if it is Republicans who are creating it; it’s only “bad” if it is created during Democratic administrations.

Last year, Jeff Spross wrote in The Week the prevailing view among economists concerning the national debt:

But it can enable wealth creation. The government can hire people to build roads and bridges, to clean up public spaces and parks; to provide education and health care. All that is real economic production made possible by the government's power to borrow and create money. Similarly, while simply giving money to the poor doesn't create wealth, it does give them the initial resources they may need to re-enter the economy — and thus begin creating wealth again.

Furthermore, the “savings” even in the Senate healthcare bill is a relative tiny drop in the bucket even if that was the “goal”—and it isn’t, because if the ACA was a Republican creation they’d be fighting tooth-and-nail to preserve it. And it is nothing compared to estimates of tax evasion in this country, with estimates anywhere from $100 to $300 billion a year. 

Like all the rationalizations of people whose opposition to social programs is based on their racial and class attitudes without consideration to the greater good of all, the national debt rationalization for cutting Medicaid expansion—which like most such expenses actually helps rather than hinders job creation and the economy, and not simply winding up in the pockets of those who already have much more than what they need—has no sense at all to it.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Past U.S. Open Championship proves that without Woods, mediocrity reigns in golf



Since the exit of Tiger Woods from the PGA tour I have lost almost total interest in golf, save to observe that there has been a succession of “young guns” who have turned out to be mere pretenders to his pedestal. At this year’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day—the 1, 2 and 3 ranked players in golf—failed quite miserably to even make the cut. Another darling of the tour, Jordan Spieth, finished over par and in 35th place. All told, 8 of the top 12 golfers failed to make the cut. 

One would assume that the course must have been extremely difficult, as the U.S. Open historically is meant to be. But in a “record-setting” tournament, it played more like a free-swinging PGA Championship; 32 players broke par for the tournament. Some no-name named Brooks Koepka won the tournament by four strokes with mind-boggling 16-under par—in a tournament where the winner is often the only player to sneak in under par. Five other players came in with double-digit scores, none of them “stars” on the tour. Steve Stricker was the closest “name” player, finishing 11 strokes off the pace in 16th place.

None of this should be a particular “shock” to anyone, given the current state of the “talent,” and the way the sports media has attempted to inflate the current state of the game. Is it “good” that there is no one “dominate” player in the game who represents the gold standard? Not really. For the “casual” fan, you need to have a vicarious connection to a player who you know is going to be not just competitive every week, but has a very good chance of winning. Instead, we see McIlroy falling off the map after one stellar season, and Spieth has done nothing since winning two majors. They are not Woods’ “successors”—they are just more of the same that he would have run into the ground in his prime. 

The “dominate” factor in professional golf (other than the fact that the LPGA is dominated by Asian players) is that there is a lot of mediocrity, with being the “best” meaning fortunate in having a good season or two before returning to mediocrity. In other words, golf without Woods is back to being what it was before.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Behind closed doors, the American people are faring worse than Trump



For months now, attacks upon the person and character of Donald Trump have continued unabated, while fired FBI director James Comey’s recent Congressional testimony offers fuel to those with a conspiratorial bent, and Reichsf├╝hrer Jeff Sessions—taking time off from overseeing his chain of “secret” concentration camps for immigrants down in the Southland—expressed his deep anger about the “lies” told about him before appearing weak and defensive running any credibility he ever had into the ground. As a side note, only the UK’s aptly named The Guardian newspaper has reported in depth at the outrages occurring at those immigrant concentration camps; one may recall (or not, if you are watching “mainstream” cable news) that is was a Guardian reporter who was physically assaulted by the Republican candidate in Wyoming’s recent House special election for merely for being there. Since there are no white “Handmaids” whose rights are being molested at those camps, Wonder White Woman doesn’t have any rationalization to show-up and save the day (more on that for another day). 

While all this is going on, under-the-radar the full-on assault on the American people has slivered its slimy way through the halls of Congress. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives just passed what it calls the Financial Choice Act, but don’t be fooled; it doesn’t provide you with a “choice” to decide how financial institutions “handle” your money, but allows banks to do anything they want with your money. You know, the way things were in the run-up to the Great Depression and the recent Great Recession, which was instigated by another financial “reform” act back in 1999. Is this a set-up of a repeat of 2007? Probably, but who said Republicans and people dumb enough to vote for this behavior had the “common people’s” interests in mind, ever? All they want to do is take every right you have and give it to the power elites, whether economic or political. Of course, they use social code words to suggest that other groups of people, who have no “power” save that which those with the actual power deign to toss at their feet, are the ones who are responsible for this country’s vast wealth disparities. But as long as the search for scapegoats does not go beyond race in the minds of many, the real villains will continue to be protected from their crimes in this way.

Just as bad if not worse for the low-income of all age groups, the Republicans in the Senate have quickly disavowed their “disdain” for the House “healthcare” bill, meeting in secret to craft their own version that eases the fears of “moderate” Republican senators in Medicaid expansion states at least long enough to the next election. The principle “change” from the House bill is not to maintain the Medicaid expansion or preventing insurance companies from pricing-out those with “pre-existing conditions” as the House bill does, but to drop Medicaid expansion after seven years instead of three. That is supposed to “appease” queasy “moderates”? Trump has supposedly asked Republican senators to be more “humane” than the House bill which he previously praised, and put more money into their bill. The problem, of course, is that the Senate has to match the supposed cost savings of the House bill, and to do that and make their bill more “humane” means to keep certain taxes they wish to cut, such as for the wealthiest who don’t even need insurance to afford the best health care. 

If they do that, alt-right elements in the House will not support the bill, and Mitch McConnell and company desperately want to pass something, which explains the bill being crafted strongly resembles the House bill, only extending the day of judgment for four more years. Meanwhile, many insurance companies are pulling out of the current marketplace plans not because the ACA is “bad” for them, but because of the uncertainty that Republicans are placing on the system. Why continue to offer plans if the Republicans are going to kill the concept anyways? Currently, only those states with Medicaid expansion are able to offer insurance to the poorest Americans, but that will be all over before you know it. And Republican and Trump voters thought they “cared” about you. They don’t. They conceptualize this country not by the people in it and their requirements, but by the way they want to “project” their personal power. 

And where is the media in all of this? In today’s pathetically slim  Seattle Times, there is a brief story about the Republicans’ secret meetings on page 7—out of a total of 9 pages devoted to “news.”

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

For Trump supporters, "patriotism" and racism are inseparable




Back in the old days of television, comedian Red Skelton was a self-promoting “patriot” who lectured television audiences about, well, “patriotism,” and such things as the meaning of the “Pledge of Allegiance.” But his “patriotism” could be of a singularly avaricious nature; for example, he opined against the act of charity, because giving to the less well-off means “taking” from you, and what is yours is not yours to give away. In effect you are “stealing” from yourself. The irony of his “Freddie the Freeloader” character is that if he didn’t rely on the “charity” of others, then how exactly did he live? But we shouldn’t be too surprised by this insular ideology; Skelton claimed as a “dear friend” John Wayne, who revealed an ugly strain of racism in an infamous Playboy interview. The reputation of these two “icons” of the entertainment world have remained untouched by such views, but then again they were not politicians and never ran for public office.

For some people, “patriotism” and racism has always been synonymous concepts. We saw this today in a Portland courtroom, where a white supremacist charged with killing two men shouted that he was a “patriot” and not a terrorist, but this has been a part of the American fabric practically since the creation of this country. Outside the South, where racists draped themselves in the flag, most avoid overt displays of racial rhetoric, some because they were at heart “moral” persons, but mainly because they were concerned about how they would viewed by history. After all, who wanted to share a seat in the history books with Adolf Hitler, who also styled himself as the ultimate “patriot” of his country?

But the line between “patriotism” and “racism” began to blur as the Republican “Southern Strategy” initiated in the late 1960s adopted the “white identity” movement within that party, although usually in racial “code” words that offered a degree of “deniability” when confronted, However, what was once said privately behind closed doors is now an “accepted” part of the public discourse, thanks to Donald Trump. Never in the history of this country has a major party candidate openly embraced the violence and hatred of the so-called “alt-right,” or so white supremacists and neo-Nazis prefer to fashion themselves as. Never in this country’s history has the “white identity” movement been given a reason to vote for a candidate who “speaks” their “language”—and has been so loath to denounce their terrorist ideology and activities.

Naturally, “mainstream” Republicans, as if they exist outside the likes of John McCain, are only too happy to use the support of domestic terrorists without actually embracing them publicly. Look how slowly it took for Trump to respond to former CBS anchor Dan Rathers call for him to make a statement on the recent killings by a neo-Nazi on a Portland commuter train.  According to police, Jeremy Christian was “yelling various remarks that would best be characterized as hate speech toward a variety of ethnicities and religions,” but directed at two apparently Muslim female passengers. Onlookers tried to stop Christian, who pulled out a knife and stabbed three men, Ricky Best, Taliesin Meche and Micah Fletcher; Best and Meche died of their wounds. 

What did the tweet-mad Trump have to say about the incident? He intended to say nothing. He was too busy praising Greg Gianforte, a Republican businessman who won a House seat in a Montana special election despite the fact he went bestial on a British reporter for the UK The Guardian, for the “offense” of simply asking a question. Gianforte was apparently disturbed by the fact the Guardian had the gall to do what no one in the American media—even the so-called “liberal” MSNBC—would do, and that was to demand that he answer questions about his policy “positions.” Once more, Trump justified and even praised the violence of supporters, as he repeatedly did during the past presidential campaign.
 
The day after the killings in Portland, “centrist” CNN and “progressive” MSNBC had already moved on from the story, the former back to debating Trump’s Russian connections, the latter still bemoaning Hillary Clinton’s loss (one female commentator insisting that Clinton lost Wisconsin because of “voter suppression,” as if laziness  wasn’t the greater factor). The old school Rather was having none of this breach of duty to the public, writing on his Facebook page of the victims:

One was a recent college graduate. The other was an army veteran and father of four. I wish we would hear you (Trump) say these names, or even just tweet them. They were brave Americans who died at the hands of someone who, when all the facts are collected, we may have every right to call a terrorist.”

This story may not neatly fit into a narrative you pushed on the campaign trail and that has followed you into the White House. They were not killed by an undocumented immigrant or a ‘radical Islamic terrorist.’ They were killed in an act of civic love, facing down a man allegedly spewing hate speech directed at two young Muslim women. That man seems to have a public record of ‘extremist ideology’ – a term issued by the Portland Police Bureau.

This ‘extremism’ may be of a different type than gets most of your attention, or even the attention in the press. But that doesn’t make it any less serious, or deadly. And this kind of ‘extremism’ is on the rise, especially in the wake of your political ascendency.

Trump was clearly annoyed by the attention that Rathers’ missive generated; instead of posting his belated “condolences” to the victims of the hate he has fostered on his personal tweet-monster page with its millions of readers, he hid it on his less traveled POTUS page (without naming the victims, as Rather suggested). Portland mayor Ted Wheeler brushed-off Trump’s response, pointing out that “violent words can lead to violent acts.” We of course recall the many acts of violence perpetrated by Trump supporters on lone protestors at his campaign rallies which he found ways to “justify.” Obviously taking his cue from Trump’s attitude toward hate and violence that served his “interests,” local Republican county chair James Buchal took the opportunity to pour gasoline on the flames, asserting that he would consider “employing” such white supremacists as “security” at Republican-sponsored public events. So this what this country has come to? 

Yes, I too was disgusted by the photo of comedian Kathy Griffin holding up a depiction of a bloody, decapitated head of Trump; but why is this more “disgusting” than the scene of the Portland butcher in court, who is apparently otherwise a vagrant with no income or home and in need of scapegoats like so many haters are, shouting racist epithets and that anyone who thinks he is a terrorist rather than a “patriot” should die? Trump has said nothing about this, but he did of course tweet that the Griffin photo was “typical” of “liberals.” Such is how “freedom of speech” and actual racially-inspired murder by those emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric of hate has become a matter of “relativity.”
 
Recently The Nation exposed the sordid truth about what this country has become. In the past, the “mainstream” media ignored the reality that the “Tea Party” movement was first and foremost a “white identity” movement like so many that had come before it, only called different names (dating at least from the nativist and xenophobic “American” or Know-Nothing Party from the mid-19th century). Today, the media continues to ignore the racist impetus of Trump’s support, continuing to insist that perceived “economic distress” is the core concern of his support. 

But The Nation’s analysis of polling on economic and racial attitudes blew this hypocrisy up. While the media (because it doesn’t want to alienate right-wing viewers?) explains away right-wing racial animosity (particularly in regard to “Mexican” immigrants) on “economic” fears and anxiety, this is plain head in the sand stuff. Those identifying themselves as either Democrat or Republican both expressed similar economic “fears” and “anxieties”—except that they typically placed the blame in entirely opposite directions. The only conclusions that could be inferred from data was clear to anyone who valued truth above all else:

Our analysis shows Trump accelerated a realignment in the electorate around racism, across several different measures of racial animus—and that it helped him win. By contrast, we found little evidence to suggest individual economic distress benefited Trump. The American political system is sorting so that racial progressivism and economic progressivism are aligned in the Democratic Party and racial conservatism and economic conservatism are aligned in the Republican Party. 

The media and some populist “progressives” have belatedly blamed Clinton’s defeat on her failure to sufficiently speak to white working class voters (as she did in the 2008 primaries, using racial code against Barack Obama). Yet

Although the plight of economically insecure white people has been placed at the center of much of the analysis of the election, our analysis indicates that black and Latino respondents tend to express significantly higher levels of economic peril compared to whites or Asians, who as a group, express below average levels of economic peril. 

The last Democrat to win the white vote was LBJ in 1964, and it is clear that his civil rights and “Great Society” programs caused the party significant damage among Southern voters, who gradually switched their allegiance from the Democratic to the Republican Party, a move that helped Richard Nixon narrowly win election in 1968. It is clear what the “wild card” in this change was, yet the “mainstream” media continues to deny its existence. The Nation further asserts that

Although Republicans and Democrats do not, on average, express different levels of economic anxiety, there are clear differences between Republicans and Democrats on the measures of racial attitudes towards African-Americans and the measure of pro-immigration attitudes. Democrats express dramatically lower anti-black attitudes on both scales compared to Republicans or Independents. On the black influence animosity scale the divide between Democrats and Republicans is even greater than on the racial resentment scale…Both racial resentment and black influence animosity are significant predictors of Trump support among white respondents, independent of partisanship, ideology, education levels, and the other factors included in the model. 

But it is immigration—and anti-Hispanic in particular—that is even more a predictor of racial animus:

The effect of immigration attitudes for white people is even stronger than anti-black attitudes. The results predict an approximately 80 percent probability of voting for Trump for an otherwise average white person with the most anti-immigrant attitudes, compared to less than 20 percent for a white person with the most pro-immigrant attitudes. 

It comes to no surprise, then, that The Nation found that anti-black and anti-Hispanic racial attitudes the most significant indicator of party affiliation:

To put these results in context, the magnitude of the effects of each of the three variables—racial resentment, black influence animosity, and immigration attitudes—is comparable to the effect of partisan identification. The change in probability of a Trump vote for a white person with the highest to the lowest levels of racial animus is similar to changing their party identification from Republican to Democratic. 

The irony is that this resentment is directed at the people with little or no power. Many white people have this bizarre fantasy that being a minority is somehow this magical thing that is endowed with some special power that whites have no access to and is “unfair” to them. But the reality is that for most minorities (blacks and Hispanics especially), there is little that is theirs save what white people allow them, since all the power is in fact in the hands of whites, or at least in the hands of the white political and economic elite.  In the election of Trump, whites have demonstrated the full and vengeful extent of their power. Will anything actually change in their lives now? No, but for white voters for whom hate consumes all sense of reality, the fact that more undocumented immigrants were deported at a faster rate during the Obama administration than thus far during the Trump administration  and still people think that Trump is more “credible” on the issue reveals just how important the very mainstreaming of hate is.

But why should white people—or any non-whites who are enamored by Trump’s racist rhetoric as long as it is aimed against other groups—care? After all, he gives them all the excuses they need to rationalize their bigotry—Trump has a long history of denigrating the work ethic of blacks, and of course Hispanics are all criminals and rapists—and the White People’s Party is there to serve the “interests” of who else? But white voters with any intelligence know that they have more important things to consider rather than simply be consumed with hate for people without power, such as the growing wealth gap between people like Trump and everyone else; the maintenance of civil society, not by more “law and order” but through the support of so-called “entitlement” programs for the poor and working people, made more essential than ever by the increasing disparity in wealth by those who actual decide how that wealth is distributed; the environmental catastrophes that even the Prince Prosperos of the world will be forced one day to reckon with, notwithstanding the James Watts of the world who believe that environmental protection is needless because the “end of the world” is coming soon anyways; and the undoing of hard-fought health care reform that will beget a human disaster that will be only temporarily stayed if Trump and the Republicans get their evil way. 

Unfortunately, as a report by the Guardian on the Montana election that sent a man to Congress despite being charged with assaulting a reporter merely for asking a question of vital interest to this country, many white supporters of the Trump agenda have no clue about the ramifications of their denial of reality, and some are unable to articulate beyond simple prejudice; as one frustrated long-time resident said, they are voting for one thing: A “white man’s country,” and what that means is not something even the white man or woman can count on.