In order to allay any fears that I might have been born in Kenya or somewhere like that, I am today releasing, not my birth certificate, but the bill for my delivery.
This little piece of paper, which I found among my late father’s effects, tells an astonishing story. It’s not only evidence of how health care costs have grown during my lifetime, it reveals some of the major changes that have been made in medical procedures.
As you can see, I was born on December 20, 1947, and my mother and I remained in the hospital for ten whole days! No, it wasn’t a caesarean delivery, and my mother didn’t have complications. It was just standard procedure that women who had given birth stayed in the hospital for a long time.
But, to us, what is most astonishing is the cost of that stay. It only cost $5.50 to deliver me and $8.50 a day for my mother to recuperate. (She must have just about gone mad lying in bed that long, I’d think.) Anesthetic for childbirth was standard, and that cost $3.00, as did circumcision. (I know: way too much information.) The total was $119.25.
In 1947, all the dimes, quarters, and halves in your pocket were made of 90% silver, and that continued to be the case through 1964. Now, a bag of those silver coins with $1,000 face value and no numismatic value will set you back almost $20,000. But even at 20 times the cost, $2,385, you can’t get born today for anything close, and your mother will probably be discharged from the hospital by dinner time.
That’s why reforming health care is so important. Here’s another graphic, from Wikipedia, showing the cost of health care in this country as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product. Back in 1947, people spent less than 5% of their income on health care. I might add that doctors made house calls back then.
I realize that there have been incredible changes in medicine during my lifetime. There were no hugely expensive CAT scan or MRI machines back then, and a whole panoply of wonder drugs has been developed in the meantime. Lots of people who survive major illnesses and traumas today would have died from them in 1947.
But there are other factors. St. Joseph’s Hospital was a Catholic institution and wasn’t in the business for the money. Blue Cross-Blue Shield, when it started, was a non-profit organization. There were no for-profit HMOs adding another layer of cost. There were few drugs available, but those there were relatively cheap.
Whatever the causes, and there are many, we have been paying an increasing portion of our income on medical care. As you can see from the graph, it reached 16% in 2007, and there has been no reduction in the rate of increase since then.
This increase was the impetus for Barack Obama to make health care reform a major plank in his platform when he ran for president in 2008. It was also the impetus for many voters who supported him.
He was true to his word. When the Affordable Care Act finally made it to his desk, it was probably a lot less than he had hoped, but it was a good start. It didn’t promise to reverse the trend, but the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reported that it would reduce the rate of increase by a substantial amount over time.
We need to give this new program a chance. The best way to do that is to vote for President Obama and the Democrats running for Congress and local offices.
On Wednesday, after hours of debate, the U.S. House of Representatives voted for the thirty-somethingth time to repeal all or part of “Obamacare.” It was a belligerent but futile gesture to exhibit once again their contempt for that Black man that sits in the White House, whom they feel can do absolutely nothing right or praiseworthy.
Many Republicans really believed the assurances from “the bubble” of Faux News and the Limboids that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional, and they were really surprised when the chief justice appointed by George Bush, Jr. himself was the swing vote.
(When I was a kid, there were billboards around for years demanding, “Impeach Earl Warren,” the former Republican governor of California appointed chief justice by President Eisenhower. I wonder if we’ll soon see “Impeach John Roberts” versions.)
“Repeal and Replace” has been the recent mantra of the GOP. One wonders what they hope to replace the ACA with.
I’m a C-SPAN junkie. More precisely, I have C-SPAN2, which covers the Senate, droning on in the background much of the time. The grammar, rhetoric, and logic of the Senate are of a higher quality than those found in the House, although sometimes not by much. Nonetheless, I can only take so much of Louie Gohmert and Michelle Bachmann.
Anyway, for almost a year I watched and listened as many congressional committee sessions and interminable floor debates led up to the moment when the Democrats “sneaked” the ACA through Congress. I well remember the Republican talking points, because there were so few of them and they repeated them endlessly.
One of the only substantial proposals that I can recall was to permit interstate sales of health insurance. This was a “lowest common denominator” approach, which would allow a person in one state to buy an approved health insurance policy from any other state. No federal regulation was included, just the chance to find the state with the least restrictive insurance commissioner.
As I recall, there was also a proposal to allow corporations to join with each other to create more stable pools, and, of course, a call for some sort of individual medical savings accounts. The latter would certainly be appreciated by the banking industry, which contributes substantially to candidates and incumbents. But, I have to admit, there was some substance there.
Everything else was what used to be called a “red herring.” If the hounds are after you, drag a dead fish across your trail and throw it in the bushes, and maybe they’ll get sidetracked. That was the GOP strategy.
They spoke at great length about abortion and illegal immigration, two of their favorite topics that are always a hit with their base. The ACA didn’t give new rights to undocumented residents or expand abortion rights, but they endlessly warned that it would.
And then there was their spirited defense of the Medicare Part C program. This was a big giveaway to the insurance companies to entice them to offer policies that “wrapped around” Medicare and covered co-pays and provided extra health services. Under the ACA, this program would be cut by about half a billion dollars. That it was a bloated and inefficient program that they had all probably voted against was not mentioned.
I don’t recall them calling the “individual mandate” unconstitutional at the time, but of course that became the new mantra as soon as the measure was passed. It wasn’t mentioned that the concept had originated at the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing “think tank.” (Boy, there’s an oxymoron.)
And then there was the “death panel” issue, which had no basis in fact, and the dire warning that “the government will come between you and your doctor.” And that was it. If I’ve missed something substantive, please let me know.
There was nothing that dealt directly with the real problems of health care in our for-profit system. It wasn’t mentioned that the insurance companies routinely came between patients and their doctors and made decisions without any regulation. There was no mention of pre-existing conditions and lifetime limits and all the other excesses of the industry. It wasn’t brought up that the federal government runs its Medicare and Medicaid programs for one or two percent of the cost while insurance companies were raking in ten and even twenty percent. There was no solution proposed for the rampant use of emergency room services, at public expense, by the millions of people who couldn’t afford health insurance. There was nothing to stop the health care industry from gobbling a bigger and bigger proportion of our resources. And they didn’t have a fix for the “doughnut hole” in Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, that they had created during Bush-Jr. and didn’t pay for.
So now they want to “repeal and replace” the ACA. From what the Republicans say, I take that to mean a return to the status quo ante. That would be a disaster.
Let’s face it, the Republicans don’t want a federal health insurance program. They didn’t want Medicaid either, or Medicare, or Social Security, for that matter. They really hated Brown vs. Board of Education, which is why they wanted to impeach Earl Warren, and, of course, Roe vs. Wade. If given their way, they would dismantle them all and replace them, if at all, with programs that benefit the banks and corporations, and the bigots and xenophobes, that they represent.
But, unless they can keep their majority in the House, get a filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate, and replace the president in November, we will have this new program, long overdue, to deal with one of the major problems in our society. Is it perfect? No. Is it a step in the right direction? Yes. Is it the right thing to do? It is.
So, my suggestion is: Don’t repeal and replace the ACA. Reject and replace the Republicans.
With almost 40% of the vote, Mitt Romney was the obvious winner in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary. Ron Paul was a strong second, with about 23%. John Huntsman, who worked longest and hardest in the state, was in third place, with almost 17%.
Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were the losers, despite the spin they’ve tried to give their numbers. Each received less than ten percent.
Gingrich has been dead in the water for months, but nobody has had the guts to tell him, and he wouldn’t listen anyway. He can be counted on, however, to continue throwing monkey wrenches into Mitt’s machinery while making outrageous statements that remind the electorate why he was sent off in disgrace not so many years ago.
Santorum, the second-place winner in Iowa, demonstrated that his evangelical Christian, Islamophobic message doesn’t play well outside the Bible Belt. Thank God. He’ll probably do better in South Carolina, but he’s dead meat in the majority of states.
So, the big winner? Once again, the Democrats. Mitt Romney is a caricature of a Republican superhero in mufti. Mild-mannered Mitt Romney, who changes into Conservativeman at night, if he can find a phone booth. All would be well in Smallville if it weren’t for that evil villain, Ron Paul, who keeps spreading deadly Libertarianite around the country and siphoning off about a quarter of Republican voters.
Romney is the ideal GOP candidate this year, at least from the Democratic point of view. He’s boring and superficial and unprincipled. He not only repeats the mantras of corporate excess, he was intimately involved in some of its ugliest episodes. You can find sound bites of Romney espousing just about any side of any issue, sometimes in the same speech. He is anathema to the Bachmann-Santorum evangelistic faction because of some of his previous stands on issues and because he is a Mormon. It appears that faction will not have a viable candidate this year, and its members could stay home in droves.
And Paul is the ideal spoiler for Romney’s campaign. The Republican Party is going to have to bend over backwards to keep its growing libertarian faction in the fold. Paul is not likely to beat Romney, but he and his supporters are going to want some major concessions. The rest of the party isn’t going to want to move toward personal liberty and military isolationism, but if it doesn’t, those libertarians are going to look elsewhere.
I don’t think Ron Paul will abandon the GOP this time. Don’t forget that his son, Rand, is now a Republican senator. He probably won’t seek the Libertarian Party nomination, but whoever gets it is likely to attract Republican votes if it is felt that the GOP has let down its libertarian cohort.
And what about Huntsman? I don’t think he’s in danger of winning the nomination, but his healthy showing puts him higher up the potential running-mate ladder. The only problem is that he, too, is a Mormon White guy (of course they’re all White guys now), and if Romney were the nominee, Huntsman wouldn’t add much to his constituency. I do think Huntsman is smarter and more consistent, but his chances are mighty slim.
Romney’s slim margin of victory in Iowa, bolstered by this healthy win in New Hampshire, will ensure that he has lots of money as he moves to the other primaries. It will also reduce the amount of money the other candidates can hope to raise. He hasn’t gotten the nomination sewed up, but it’s going to be harder and harder for the others to catch up with him.
As part of its coverage of the New Hampshire primary, C-SPAN aired some of the post-New Hampshire-primary speeches of the past, including Barack Obama’s from four years ago. It was that speech that convinced me to support him then, and I have gladly done so since. I put an “Obama 2012” bumper sticker on my car this week and I look forward to helping the president win a second term.
I will also work to elect Democrats to Congress. I am particularly hopeful that many of the Tea Party extremists will be one-term wonders. I have expected this to be a very difficult political year, but as it unfolds I am delighted how far the Republicans are willing to go to ensure a Democratic victory. The new majority in the House has incurred the disgust of all but the hardest-core Republicans. The endless filibusters of Senate Republicans are as welcome as a string of pointless practical jokes. The electorate is tired of hearing that GOP senators have once again short-sheeted their colleagues or given them hot-feet or wedgies.
Every time that President Obama speaks I feel pride that I helped elect him. He has great personal integrity, a quality sorely lacking in the other party. Off the top of my head, I can think of one Republican, just one, who has been consistent with his own values. That’s Ron Paul. I don’t agree with him on many issues, but I salute him for being true to his own convictions.
I hope you and the rest of the electorate are sick and tired, as I am, of the hypocrisy and fear-mongering and barely-concealed racism that have characterized the GOP since that night four years ago when it became apparent that yes, we could. And we did. And we need to do it again.
There is a place for a rational Republican Party. We used to have one and I really miss it. The wingnuts and religious zealots who have taken it over may lose it again if they keep fighting among themselves. I sincerely hope they do.
Mitt Romney got 24.6%, Rick Santorum got 24.5% (just eight fewer votes), and Ron Paul got 21.4%. Who won in Iowa?
Barack Obama, that’s who, by several lengths, and the Republican Party suffered the greatest loss. Here’s why:
The three top candidates represent three distinct segments of the GOP. St. Ronald Reagan was able to form a coalition of all three that continued through the Bush, Jr. tenure, but it appears that the center can no longer hold. Each candidate has avid supporters who would find one or both of the other candidates utterly unacceptable as the party’s nominee, and that plays to the advantage of the Democratic Party and President Obama.
You might think the division is between the Tea Party and old guard Republicans, but both of them are rent asunder by this three-way split.
Gov. Romney represents the true core of the Republican Party, the same bunch of tycoons and magnates and power brokers who have controlled it since the 1890s: the people who have wealth and want to protect it. Romney is the corporate candidate and represents the One Percenters who have inspired so many people to camp out and play drums.
Those who make up this wing of the party want less government intervention in the activities of business. They work to maintain high military spending and push to privatize governmental functions. These are bottom-line people and they measure their success in dollars. They brought us the current recession and they’re quite prepared to do it again.
These people are most likely to classify other people on the basis of their net worth, so they aren’t necessarily intolerant of those with different cultures, religions, and life-styles. But there aren’t that many tycoons and magnates and power brokers around, so to win national elections they have to associate with people who do care about those things.
St. Reagan put that coalition together, and since then the rich and the “cultural conservatives” have enjoyed a rewarding confederation.
Former Sen. Santorum represents that other group, the “cultural conservatives.” These people care most about abortion, homosexuality, immigration, marijuana, ethnic distinctions, home schooling, prayer in school, and, obscurely, the threat of “Sharia Law.” Among them are xenophobes who long for some antebellum utopia that never existed. The parts of their lives they thought were most stable have been skewed and stretched by technology and rapidly-changing social mores. They see people who look strange and can’t speak English very well in their stores and on their sidewalks. Many worry that the United States is no longer the “Christian country” they thought it was, and there are some who are deeply offended that their country elected a Negro as its president.
And there are a lot of them. For decades they have helped the corporate wing of the party steer its way to increasing wealth. All the wealthy had to do was vote with the cultural conservatives on abortion and the definition of marriage and all those other issues. The favor was returned with support for lower taxes, less regulation, and a big military.
But what does a “Cultural” with a moderate income really care about the tax rate on estates over $5 million? And does the “Corporate” really care if his local county clerk issues a marriage license to John Doe and Joe Blow?
A lot of money has been spent to keep these two groups together. The Koch Brothers spent millions to embed the phrase “death tax” in every discussion of the estate tax. The Heritage Foundation and its fellows craft the party line, which includes both the Cultural and Corporate wish lists. Subsidized publishers produce an astonishing number of conservative books each year. The Faux News-AM radio echo chamber keeps everyone in line, castigating those who stray.
The coalition has persisted for years, but this is a three-way split, and the third faction’s wish list conflicts with the other two.
Rep. Ron Paul is from that third group, and he didn’t come out of nowhere. He’s been saying exactly the same things for many years. Nobody can accuse him of waffling.
There has always been a strong libertarian presence in our country: “Don’t Tread on Me.” “Liberty or Death.” Or, the motto on the state flag of Iowa: “Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain.” Or, a sign that was ubiquitous when I was young: “We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to Anyone.”
Ron Paul and his Libertarian supporters want smaller government, just as the Corporates and Culturals say they do, but they mean really small. They not only want to end the war in Afghanistan, they want to dismantle most of our military installations around the world. Not only does this infuriate the Corporates, it’s consistent with the views of many on the Democratic side. Faux News, the Corporate mouthpiece, has done its level best to ignore Rep. Paul or, failing, to denigrate him.
But that’s not all. The Libertarians infuriate the Culturals, too. They don’t care if someone is smoking pot or sleeping with the “wrong” person. They are for liberty, and by that they mean do what you want but don’t expect the government to support you if your action results in injury or destitution. Once again, there are many on the Democratic side who agree.
I think it took the recession to make the Libertarian message resonate as it has. Our citizens bump up against the government every day, in the form of parking meters and MVD lines and seat belt laws and zoning ordinances and airport security. If they start businesses they are appalled by the volume of regulations and licenses and reporting requirements. They don’t understand why the bailout of the banks was allowed to occur. And they feel they pay too much in taxes.
Paul’s campaign is within the Republican arena. He almost certainly won’t win, but he commands enough of a presence to jam the machinery. His participation has revealed the underlying inconsistencies of the Corporate-Cultural union.
If he wins the nomination, there will be a significant number of Democrats who vote for him. But there will be a huge number of Republicans who will vote against him (perhaps even a few for Obama), or not vote.
If he loses, many of his supporters will drift to the Democrats or not vote at all. And this is true of the other two factions, as well. It might not be Romney-Santorum-Paul, but the three factions will still be in play, and the losers are not going to be happy. The Corporates chose Romney over Gingrich, but they’d prefer Newt to any of the others. It’s the same with Santorum and Bachmann on the Cultural side.
The eventual winner of the GOP nomination will be bloodied and winded, and those who voted for the other two will be disappointed and apathetic.
“We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” –Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865.
Mike Lee is the new Republican senator from Utah. He replaced John Ensign, also a Republican, who left amidst allegations of ethics violations.
Sen. Lee is about the most coherent Republican I’ve heard speak in a long time. He certainly beats out the current clutch of GOP presidential hopefuls, whose attempts to communicate usually amount to repeating the latest mantras of Faux-Limbaugh. Lee is different. His arguments are cogent and he seems to believe what he’s saying. He is intellectually consistent. He scares the hell out of me.
“At the 50,000-foot level, the purpose of government is to protect life, liberty, and property. Government can’t do – government shouldn’t try to do – for me that which would be immoral for me to do by myself. The government shouldn’t, just because I know that it’s wrong for me to rob from my neighbor and take my neighbor’s money for myself, I shouldn’t enlist the government and outsource it as an agent to do that for me.
“When we pay taxes, we pay, as it were, at the point of a gun – not literally, it’s really at the point of a pencil or a pen. But we know that if we don’t pay them, eventually some guys with guns will come to our house and then we’ll have to pay them. So we just pay them. So we need to be careful about what we use government for, and I think we have to use government for only those things that no one else can do, that we really can’t do for ourselves, and that usually involves protection of life, liberty, and property.”
So, Lee believes, such government activities as welfare payments, disaster relief, medical assistance, research and development, educational support, and the like are immoral. The government takes money from some and gives it to others, and that’s just simple theft. I don’t know if he includes special tax breaks for corporations, agricultural price supports, and bail-outs for banks and brokerages. And isn’t taking a smaller percentage of the money earned by trading stocks than that taken from money earned through employment sort of immoral, as well?
Anyway, Sen. Lee gave the following interpretation about what the U.S. Constitution allows the federal government to do:
“Now, you won’t find in (the Constitution) any power that says Congress has the power to make everything fair. You won’t find anything in here that says Congress has the power to relieve suffering wherever it may exist, or to make things more just or equitable in society generally. You won’t find any power in there that says Congress can tell you where to go to the doctor and how to pay for it. You won’t find anything in here that says Congress can tell you that you have to buy health insurance, not just any health insurance but that kind of health insurance that Congress in its infinite wisdom deems necessary for you to buy.
“What you will find in here is the power for Congress to take care of a few basic things: national defense, regulating trade between the states and with foreign nations, regulating trademarks, copyrights, and patents, a uniform system of weights and measures, the federal court system, a federal bankruptcy system, declaring war, taking care of federally-owned property, and my personal favorite power of Congress, the power to grant letters of marque and reprisal. That’s a hall pass that allows you to be a pirate in the name of the United States. I’m going to get one some day. So, that’s the power of the government in a nutshell. That’s the purpose of the federal government, as I understand it, in the Constitution. There are a few other powers, but that’s it in a nutshell.”
Under those limitations, one wonders what the Founders thought Congress would do, or why they took so much time to create two diverse bodies within it. Were they expected to meet for just a couple days every two years to approve a new official definition of the ounce, approve a trade agreement with Zanzibar, and go home? Apparently Lee thinks so.
I am always bemused by way Republicans ignore the very start of our Constitution, where are set out its reasons for being: “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
Article One, Section 7, says: “Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate shall, before it becomes a law, be presented to the President of the United States.” It then goes through the procedures required in case of a presidential veto, and concludes, “it shall become a law.” I cannot conceive that the Founders put together this complicated structure just to allow Congress to redefine the ounce and the handful of other powers enumerated. But that’s what Sen. Lee thinks.
Under his standard, the Erie Canal should have been solely a project of the states it crossed. The land-grant colleges are just legalized theft from the citizens – and, for that matter, so were the various homestead acts. Private enterprise should have gone to the moon, not the federal government. The Soil Bank, the interstate highway system, Amtrak, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, federal assistance to education, all of our efforts to insure civil rights and equality, and so many other projects and programs that have helped this country grow and prosper were all illegal, unconstitutional, and morally wrong.
This is a bizarre and dangerous conception of the Constitution, but Mike Lee presents it clearly and convincingly. We’ll hear more from him.
A recent talking point of the Republican Party is that something like half of our citizens are not paying income taxes. Gov. Rick Perry, R-TX, a recent addition to the GOP presidential candidate loony bin, said he was “dismayed by the injustice” of this fact.
It is a fact, and it is a dismaying fact, but not for the reason Perry gives – that it’s an injustice. What is dismaying is that half of our people make so little money that they don’t have to pay income tax.
You know from filling out your own tax forms how much you have to make to pay income tax: more than the standard deduction. That’s $11,600 per adult and $3,700 (actually an exemption and not a deduction) per child. That allows a typical family of four to make $30,600 that’s not subject to income tax.
These numbers are scarcely larger than the federal government’s poverty guidelines, published annually by the Department of Health and Human Services. The corresponding figures in the 2011 chart are $10,890 for an adult and $22,350 for a family of four. (The figures are higher in Alaska and Hawaii.)
What these numbers tell us is that about half of our people are in poverty or damned close to it, and that is truly dismaying.
This is not to say that these people pay no taxes. There are no deductions for Social Security and Medicare contributions, and those in poverty pay a high percentage of their income in sales taxes because they essentially spend all of their money. They don’t have money to invest, so they can’t take advantage of reduced capital gains taxes. They don’t have money to hire tax attorneys, so they often don’t know about ways to reduce their tax expenses.
These are the people Perry and others are disparaging for not paying their fair share of the cost of government. Income inequality is greater now than it has been since the Great Depression, and this is the result. Capital is lording over Labor, and setting the agenda in Congress and state governments. Don’t you dare increase taxes on the wealthy, they say – go get what you need from all those freeloaders who aren’t paying their share.
What we should be doing is providing these people with jobs, good jobs, so they can begin to pay taxes and, more importantly, participate in the “American Dream.”
The increase in the number of those in poverty did not come from those who have more than they need. It came from the middle class. Until St. Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, our middle class was growing. He set about to dismantle it, his followers have continued the process, and they have just about succeeded.
There are things we can do to reverse this trend. We can stop giving corporations tax breaks for moving jobs out of the country. We can increase tariffs on goods produced by workers without the basic benefits we require for our own workers. We can give tax breaks to companies that increase domestic jobs. We can adjust the tax rates on the very wealthy and on corporations.
You will notice that every one of these actions is opposed by the Republican Party and the Tea Party, but I think the electorate is beginning to realize that their positions on these issues are really hurting the United States.
I think the basic definition of a Third World country is that it has a tiny but strong wealthy class and a huge but weak working class. The Republican Party has worked for years to create just that – a Third World country – in the United States of America. It will succeed if we let it.
“Tact in audacity is knowing how far you can go without going too far.” –Jean Cocteau, 1889-1963.
Michelle Bachmann can’t pronounce it, but Mitch McConnell’s got it.
Chutzpah is a Yiddish word that means gall, audacity, nerve, impertinence, insolence, hubris, guts, etc. You can probably think of at least one plural spherical synonym that’s very close to its meaning. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-MN, said the other day that President Obama had chutzpah, annoying Jewish voters because she pronounced it “choots-pah” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=9_mWlXvKnq8). The pronunciation is closer to “khuts-pah,” and is hard to write in English because we don’t use that sound much.
Rep. Bachmann has often demonstrated her own chutzpah in the past, but Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, takes the Chutzpah Award for the week. That’s quite a feat in this Congress.
McConnell realized that the Teabags in the House of Representatives were not going to let a compromise happen in the current debt ceiling negotiation, so he came up with a face-saving proposal that, as I write this, may actually be what ends this ridiculous but gravely dangerous charade. The minority leader suggested giving Obama the authority to raise the debt ceiling, subject to congressional approval. The House would surely vote against any such increase, but the Senate wouldn’t have the 60 votes necessary to bring it to a vote, so it would go into effect.
Is that clear? Right. As mud.
What’s the point? If Obama raises the debt ceiling, as he must do, all the Republicans can vote against it and blame him for doing it. The only problem is that they have to pass the bill that sets it up.
This is about as clear as the procedure whereby a senator asks for unanimous consent to give a bill a second reading, then objects to his own request. No kidding, that happens. It’s procedural. So is McConnell’s concoction. But if it allows us to move forward without defaulting on our debt payments, I’m all for it.
The chutzpah came in when McConnell was interviewed by talk-show host Laura Ingraham and discussed his plan. He said if Republicans were to force default, President Obama would probably win in 2012. (He said earlier this year that his top priority was to make Obama a one-term president, so he wouldn’t want that.) Voters, he said, might think Republicans were making the economy worse.
(And here comes the chutzpah.) “You know,” he said, “it’s an argument he has a good chance of winning, and all of a sudden we have co-ownership of a bad economy.”
I don’t know whether to respond to that statement with extreme umbrage, outraged astonishment, or bottomless sarcasm, so I think I’ll try all three.
During the Bush Jr. administration, two major wars were begun, one of them under false pretenses, and taxes were cut, twice, because every Republican knows that the only way to improve the economy is to cut taxes. Moreover, for years Republicans had been chipping away at the safeguards on banks and stockbrokers that had been put in place after the Great Depression, and finally, just before Mr. Obama was to take the oath of office, the whole damned thing collapsed.
You own that, Mitch! We’re not about to accept joint tenancy of that fiasco.
Under those watered-down restrictions, those who have and play with money managed to reduce the value of our entire country by about forty percent just weeks before Bush returned to cutting brush in Texas. People were mad, and mad they should have been. But a year and a half later, President Obama hadn’t put everyone back to work, so they voted for the Republicans again.
What McConnell is really saying is that the U.S. electorate has the attention span of a mosquito, and his party has done a pretty good job of blaming Obama for all the ills of the past decade, but if the GOP sticks to its hard-line stand now, voters might just remember that in November of next year. He’s betting that voters won’t remember the vote to give Obama the power to raise the debt ceiling if every Republican in Congress votes against it a few days later when he exercises that power.
“Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in.”– Ray Bradbury.
My “Favorites” list has gotten out of hand again, so it’s time to make the sausages. I thought I’d start with some technological advances that are in the works or at least are claimed to be. New technology is how we’re going to have to get out of the fiscal slump we’re in and start moving forward again.
Cyanobacteria: Here’s the concept: build solar panels filled with water and blue-green algae (yes, the stuff they were touting as a nutritional supplement a few years ago), more formally known as cyanobacteria, that have been bio-engineered to excrete something that can be used as diesel fuel. Pump in carbon dioxide – an unwanted byproduct from a nearby factory – as food for the algae, and pump out fuel from the other end. It sounds promising: http://www.jouleunlimited.com/
Megawindmills: If you’ve seen semi trucks carrying individual blades for windmills that generate electricity, you know these things have gotten huge. Just how big can they get? A 23-million-Euro project in Denmark called “UpWind” aims to find out. The biggest windmills today produce five to six megawatts; UpWind is working to see if a 20 MW monster could be mechanically and economically feasible: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110415083320.htm
Infrastricture: Sometimes we can’t move forward until we figure out where we’ve gone wrong in the past. Here’s a website that calls into question our post-war reliance on suburbs as the appropriate mechanism of growth. The problem is that single-family houses are built on lots that are too big to allow utilities to be maintained. The roads, sidewalks, and water and sewer lines have too far to travel between connections, and there isn’t critical mass to support transit facilities. Dense developments surrounded by open space may be the solution: http://www.grist.org/sprawl/2011-06-22-the-american-suburbs-are-a-giant-ponzi-scheme
Got fungi? They’ll eat up an oil spill, decontaminate water, kill the termites under your house, even break down nerve gas. If you’re only familiar with fungi in the form of button mushrooms or athlete’s foot, you’ve got a lot to learn. You could find worse ways to spend 18 minutes than by watching Paul Stamets’s video about fungi and how they can save the world: http://www.ted.com/talks/paul_stamets_on_6_ways_mushrooms_can_save_the_world.html
Got magic? This one is a little bit on the far side, but it still has to do with mushrooms saving the world. Johns Hopkins School of Medicine researchers found that psilocybin, found in “magic mushrooms” or “shrooms,” as some call them, not only improves your life, it has long-lasting positive effects. Seems like someone told me that 40 years ago; they were illegal back then, too: http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2011/06/magic-mushrooms-safe-still-illegal
Floating cannon ball: This one’s really out there, but it’s fun. Canadian scientist John Hutchinson bombarded a 75-pound cannon ball “with high-frequency waves produced by Tesla coils, radio waves, and Van de Graaf waves” and made it float. Is this what allows UFOs to change course instantaneously while traveling at high speeds? See for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WK-BziiId_0&feature=share
Déjà vu all over again: Well, back to politics. Political scientist Laurence Britt studied fascist regimes, including Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, Suharto’s Indonesia, and Pinochet’s Chile, and came up with fourteen common traits. The list is eerily familiar: http://www.ellensplace.net/fascism.html
Perspective: House Republicans have proposed cutting the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) by over $830 million. Pat Garofalo points out that this is roughly equivalent to one week of the revenues we would have collected from millionaires if Congress had not extended the Bush tax cuts last December: http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/06/02/234878/gop-nutrition-cuts-one-week/
“In war, the strong make slaves of the weak, and in peace the rich make slaves of the poor.” – Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900.
Congress will raise the debt limit. If Congress doesn’t raise the debt limit in the next few days – before August 2nd at the very latest – the world will face economic collapse. Yes, there are Teabags who hope that will happen, but there will be enough “cool heads” to avoid default and its dire consequences. Congress will raise the debt limit.
What is despicable is how long this whole process is taking. It is not something new, something out of the blue.
In June, 2002, Congress raised the debt ceiling to $6.400 trillion; in May, 2003, to $7.384 trillion; in November, 2004, to $8.184 trillion; in March, 2006, to $8.965 trillion; in September, 2007, to $9.815 trillion; in July, 2008, to $10.615 trillion; in October, 2008, to $11.315 trillion; in February, 2009, to $12.104 trillion; in December, 2009, to $12.394 trillion; and in February, 2010, to the current limit of $14.294 trillion. (See http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/hist07z3.xls.)
The only question left is how the compromise will look. We are involved in the age-old conflict over what government should do and how it should be paid for.
The Republican Party discovered a few decades ago that the best way to influence the electorate was to select only a few very simple messages and repeat them until people start believing them to be true, ignoring all facts and complications and nuances. The utter and obvious inanity of St. Ronald Reagan’s assertion that government can’t solve our problems because government is our problem didn’t stop him, or his many disciples in the intervening years, from making it.
The current message is equally simple and equally inane: “We don’t have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.” The only basis for this assertion is repetition, and they all repeat it. It falls apart if you give it the most casual inspection, but they still repeat it.
You can certainly find fraud, waste, abuse, duplication, redundancy, tautology, inefficiency, obsolescence, obstinacy, inequality, cronyism, paternalism, elitism, and all sorts of well-beaten-but-still-well-funded dead horses in the federal budget, and there is a lot of money that can be saved by weeding these things out, but doing so is not going to solve our fiscal problems.
You can cut the throats of those already hurting the most by cutting unemployment compensation, nutrition assistance for pregnant women, Food Stamps, literacy programs, home care, and Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Health Care Act, but doing so is not going to solve our fiscal problems.
You can curtail the space program and let our highways and railroads and water lines and sewer lines and electric lines all go unmended, but doing so is not going to solve our fiscal problems.
You can get the government out of the business of regulating business, but in doing so you will allow a return to the excesses of the banks and stock brokers, and the poisoning of our food, air, and water; you will permit child labor, illegal immigrant labor, and labor under unfair and hazardous conditions – and doing so is not going to solve our fiscal problems.
Yes, we have a spending problem – but we have a much greater revenue problem. In order to put a cap on our federal debt, we’re going to have to stop operating at a deficit, and that means we need to bring in a lot of money.
Unfortunately, you can’t just raise the taxes on the obscenely rich, or the filthy rich, or the extremely rich, or the very rich, or the rich, or even on everybody and everything that moves, and solve our fiscal problems.
What we must do is get our engine running again, running well and leaving everybody else in its dust. This is something we have done many times in our history, and there is absolutely no reason why we can’t do it again.
To do this again we need to support education and research and development. We haven’t been doing those things very well recently. The cumulative knowledge and awareness of the average U.S. citizen is woefully inadequate to the needs of the present era. We have to fix that.
We used to expect our high school graduates to know how to read, write a legible sentence, make change, know the basics of government and geography, and have a measure of common sense. These days we can’t even expect that of our college graduates! Our children won’t be able to invent the new technologies we need with that kind of preparation. Children in other countries will have that ability.
We need to use our technological prowess to guarantee we will keep that prowess. We have the tools to reform our educational system, and we need to use them. Our present school is modeled after Henry Ford’s assembly line, and it doesn’t work.
We need to use our technological prowess to reform our medical system from top to bottom. We used to spend about five percent of our money for medicine, but today we’re getting close to spending a quarter of all our income to stay healthy or tend to our illnesses. We can’t keep doing that.
We need to re-evaluate our military position in the world. After World War II, when Europe was in shambles and the Soviet Union was spending every extra ruble on war toys, it was appropriate for us to take the lead. Things have changed. Other countries need to start spending more to help protect the world, and we need to spend much less. We need to use our technological prowess to create a smaller but more efficient military machine, and use it very sparingly.
We need to re-evaluate how our government and our nation interact with corporations. We need to reward those that provide good jobs at home and penalize those that move their jobs elsewhere. We need to restrict corporate donations to elected officials, even if that means we have to amend the Constitution. We need to restrict financial institutions and watch them carefully.
We need to develop new sources of energy and recognize the influence of the petroleum industry over our elected officials. This industry is as outdated as our schools are.
And those are just the first things that come to mind. We have to start collecting more than we spend so we can start paying down our debt. To do that we must energize the economy and ensure that it will continue to be viable. We can cut spending and we can increase revenue through new taxes or tax reform, but we must rev up our economic engine to get out of the hole we’re in.
But first, we have to raise our debt limit again. If we don’t we’re doomed to experience a depression of huge scope and duration, and we’ll bring the rest of the world down with us.
Congress will raise the debt limit. The sooner the better.
“These are questions that every member of Congress needs to think about long and hard, but especially my Republican colleagues.” –Sen. John McCain.
In what has been a stifling atmosphere since the present Congress convened in January, I appreciate any breath of fresh air that stirs the lockstep Republican miasma. Once again, Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, has provided a bit of a breeze.
He made the above comment this morning in reference to participation of the United States in NATO‘s military operation in Libya. Our role in the action has been limited to missile and drone strikes and the like, and we have put no troops on the ground there. Yesterday the Obama Administration made the assertion that because our involvement was limited in this way, it doesn’t require congressional approval under the War Powers Act of 1973.
That act requires the president to inform Congress within 48 hours after committing forces, and limits military actions to 60 days, with a 30-day withdrawal period, unless war is declared or Congress authorizes more time.
Sen. McCain was not supporting the White House in its assertion that what we are doing in Libya is exempt from this restriction, but he did make a strong case in favor of the action itself.
Lots of GOP members of Congress have criticized President Obama for supporting the NATO mission, and there is Democratic opposition as well. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH, has announced that he is suing the president for violating the War Powers Act.
But many of the Republicans who are now chastising Obama for his decision were among the most vocal, before he acted, in calling on him to do something for the poor, oppressed people in Libya. Such legislators make it clear that it is the president himself they really oppose, and they appear to be quite oblivious to the hypocrisy of their reversed positions.
Personally, I have mixed feelings about our participation in Libya; I think most of us do. I see a valid point in the argument that Congress needs to authorize further action. I am not going to imitate the lockstep Republicans and defend the administration at all costs. I think Kucinich’s lawsuit is an appropriate way to determine the scope of the War Powers Act and its restraint on executive power. In this case, especially, the law is not clear.
What I found refreshing in McCain’s speech this morning was his exhortation to fellow lawmakers to consider involvement in Libya itself, not just the fact that it was ordered by a president from the opposing party.
“Many of us remember well the way that some of our friends on the other side of the aisle savaged President Bush over the Iraq war, how they sought to do everything in their power to tie his hands and pull America out of that conflict…” he said. “We were right to condemn this behavior then, and we would be wrong to practice it now ourselves simply because a leader of the opposite party occupies the White House.”
Wow! And there’s more:
“Republicans need to ask themselves whether they want to be part of a group who are earning the grateful thanks of a murderous tyrant or trying to limit an American president’s ability to force that tyrant to leave power.”
For the second time in less than a month, McCain has spoken out against the politically correct GOP dogma. The first time was his condemnation of the assertion that torture of U.S. prisoners had helped track down Osama bin Laden. This time he stood in opposition to the most basic Republican tenet: anything President Obama does is wrong.
In between those two events we saw what happened to Newt Gingrich when he called the Ryan plan to dismantle Medicare “right wing social engineering.” The Faux-Limbaugh echo chamber almost blew a 50-amp fuse on that one, and Newt couldn’t backtrack, recant, apologize, or temporize quickly enough.
McCain escaped unscathed the first time; it’s hard to second-guess a man who was in captivity for years when he gives his opinion about torture. Will he get by with it this time?
I think so. He’s not running for president this time around, so his candidacy can’t be shot down, and he still commands a lot of respect from rank-and-file Republicans and independents who supported him in 2008. He was re-elected to his Senate seat just last year, so he can afford to speak out.
And usually McCain can be counted on to toe the party line. He’s careful about choosing the issues on which he differs from it. But that gives even more weight to his words when does decide to play the “maverick.”
I think both of his stances are courageous in the face of the bulldozer tactics of the right-wing media. I am reminded of the excesses of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Everyone was so frightened of communists, or of being accused of being one, that McCarthy was able to trample the rights of many innocent people and pervert the protections of the Bill of Rights as he crusaded against them. Finally, some courageous Republicans stood up to him and he quickly crumbled.
Faux News and the Limbaugh clones are just as vicious, and just as wrong, as Joseph McCarthy was. It is heartening to see at least some resistance to their excesses.
"There is absolutely no greater high than challenging the power structure as a nobody, giving it your all, and winning!" – Abbie Hoffman, 1936-1989.
I remember walking through a parking lot with my mother when I was quite young.
“Look, Morrie,” she said, pointing, “a two-toned car!” She explained that this was a new fad in Detroit, where they made cars. I thought about it a moment and then asked why cars didn’t come in lots of colors.
Two-toned 1955 Packard
“Well!” she responded, “I think two colors are quite enough!” She made it clear from her tone that this was something dangerously close to cultural excess, a disturbing distortion of the envelope of propriety.
This was in the 1950s, just after many thousands of young men had come home from World War II, where they had all worn uniforms and functioned in a strict hierarchal system. They exchanged their old uniforms for new ones: the gray flannel suit, the wide tie, the fedora. Their wives wore gloves and hats with veils and only wore white shoes in months without “r”s, or whatever that rule was. Any deviation from the norm was unsettling and subjected the “deviant” to possible censure.
Making up for lost opportunity, they had lots of kids – so many that the press started talking about a “baby boom.” That’s where we came in.
Most everyone agreed that we were “spoiled,” that our generation was better off than any before it, but that didn’t mean we were happier. We had lots of toys and unprecedented opportunities, but we saw flaws in the culture that had provided them.
We didn’t want to wear gloves or fedoras and we saw nothing wrong with two-toned or even fifty-toned cars. We would have been satisfied with fewer toys if that had reduced the stress caused by our parents’ pursuit of material advancement and superficial appearances. The pundits of the day called it “keeping up with the Joneses,” and we didn’t buy into it. We had to live behind the façades. We were the Jones kids.
Eventually we went to college, or we went to war, or we went to the streets – or all three.
I entered college in the fall of 1965. In June there had been about 23,000 U.S. “advisors” in Vietnam or on the way. Before the year ended there were 184,000, and the charade that they weren’t simply soldiers evaporated. Ever more thousands were added, and before I graduated the total exceeded half a million. The draft was reinstituted and student deferments were cancelled.
Most of us smoked pot and a lot of us dropped acid, and so did the musicians we listened to. We turned on, dropped out, went back to nature, burned our bras (or stood by watching and enjoying it), let our hair grow, made love not war, invented ecology, took our shoes off, gave peace a chance, didn’t trust anyone over 30, ate brown rice, went to concerts with light shows, and participated in sit-ins, love-ins, and lots of other “-ins.” At least a quarter of our vocabulary was comprised of the words “wow,” “groovy,” “man,” “cool,” “like,” and “really,” usually in combinations like “Wow, man, like really groovy, man!”
(If you’ve forgotten what it was like, go back and read your Zap Comix and watch a few Cheech and Chong movies.)
We really thought we were changing the world, and for a while we really were. We ended a pointless war. We helped to break down centuries of prejudice against women and minorities and we ignored economic class distinctions. We respected not only fellow humans but all of Earth’s denizens. We crippled the power structure in the music industry and wreaked havoc on institutions of higher learning. We were open to new things. It was beautiful, man, really beautiful!
But of course it wasn’t. Not all of it. There were nightmares, too. The worst was the way many of us who weren’t soldiers treated those who were when they came home. Our “free love” was often used as an excuse to brush aside those who loved us. Our experiments with marijuana left some of us dazed and useless on some couch as the years went by, or even led us into the darker holes of harsher substances.
Perhaps the most disappointing shortcoming was our political evolution. We saw the excesses and injustices of the generations that came before us, and we all sang with Mr. Dylan as he wondered how many years it could continue. We took to the streets to protest these wrongs and make them right, but when Richard Nixon started replacing soldiers with bombers we sort of forgot about it. We had railed against our parents’ ridiculous social conventions, but we simply replaced them with new ones. It wasn’t the same line, but we all toed it.
And then it was gone. Money managers replaced flower children; cocaine and eventually double lattes replaced pot; sexting replaced free love; “drill down” replaced “groovy;” Beemers and then SUVs replaced hippie vans; and The Tea Party replaced the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. It isn’t the same line, but lots of us are toeing it.
Economic class snobbery and prejudice and pointless wars have made big comebacks, trashing the planet is in vogue again, and some of us have adopted yet another ridiculous set of social conventions. It’s “Alice in Wonderland” all over again, but this time with diamonds instead of hearts. The caterpillar still makes no sense. The Dormouse still ends up in the tea kettle.
After all these years, now that we’re all hitting thirty-something for the second time, can’t we sit back and look at where that “long, strange trip” has led us? We were always prone to take to the streets and yell and shake our fists, and less likely to listen and ponder and check things for accuracy. We think of ourselves as lone wolves, but we’re often just sheep in wolves’ clothing.
There are lots of problems left, and while we helped solve some of them, we also made some of them worse. Maybe we should look at ourselves through the same critical eyes that once stripped our parents of their pretensions. Maybe this time we can get beyond simplistic slogans and unquestioned assumptions.
There was a time when our generation woke up, realized that everything and everyone in the world was interconnected, and found the awareness that love was the most important thing we could give or receive. For that brief time, we knew that our fellow humans were infinitely more important than money or cars or a new dining room set or the guns and bullets with which they could be so easily killed.