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.”