Monday, July 13, 2015

Jeb Says to Work Harder

It should come as no surprise that Jeb Bush, after saying he would not run, and was not interested in being President, has decided that he is going to run, because he is interested after all. Sure Jeb, you really had me fooled.

This post is only about his most recent foot-in-mouth moment, though he has had a number of missteps from the very beginning: Not good for the brother who was supposed to be the smart one. You can get the gist of it from the picture below.

Here is the interview with New Hampshire's The Union Leader, complete with a video, in which he said the following:
“My aspiration for the country and I believe we can achieve it, is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours” and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That's the only way we're going to get out of this rut that we're in.”
Most critics jumped on the "need to work longer hours" aspect, and with good reason. We, Americans, already work the longest hours in the industrialized world.

Bush claimed what he meant was that too many workers juggle part-time jobs, when they would prefer a single full-time job. That much is true; part-time work takes an even greater toll because of the additional logistic challenges, a point I have touched on before.

Jeb did not clarify how he would rectify that, nor, for that matter, was there a hint of recognition as to why Americans are forced to work such long hours at so many jobs just to get by. Republicans won't mention that the US has among the lowest minimum wage, the fewest paid vacations, relatively few national holidays, inadequate pensions, low job protection, and no paid maternity leave. But Jeb Bush thinks we just need to work harder.
But note also that Jeb said we need to raise productivity, and then maybe people will earn more. It is this observation that reveals how misinformed he is. Does he not realize the US is already among the most productive countries in the world, if not the most? A search taking all of 20 seconds showed the US as the most productive G7 member (2013 data). By all means, see the charts. The productivity has been there for decades, but the gains have been entirely garnered by those at the top. This is a fundamental reality of modern America.

JB just cannot bring himself to accept that growing inequality and rising hardships in this country are the result of policies and legislation promoted by his Party. They are the ones that have wanted cheap labor, the ability to outsource jobs, low minimum wages, weak unions, low employee benefits, low marginal tax rates, numerous tax advantages for the wealthy, massive defense spending, and generous subsidies to profitable companies.

America's overclass has created a blatantly rigged system, but Jeb thinks the solution is for the rest of us to work harder. And he is the smart one?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Selective Rage

I saw this on my FaceBook feed a few days ago. I saw it as ill-informed, but not particularly aggressive. But I got to thinking about it and realize how it exemplifies the selectiveness of right-wing contempt and where it is directed. I think what did it for me was a comment from someone who declared: "This is one of those issues that puts a burr under my saddle." A common expression, but in this case quite revealing.

In the first place, it is curious that the poster's creator says Social Security is running out of money, as if that is a factual observation. It isn't, it is a Republican conceit, but I suppose the joke doesn't work unless you have been conditioned to ignore evidence.

I wonder if he, Mr. bur-in-my-saddle, is equally bothered by unending corporate subsidies? Or the bank bailouts, where there was clear evidence of criminality. Or the phenomenal waste at the Defense Department which, wouldn't you know it, gets little press.

Sadly, there are quite a few who get worked up if a single mother on food stamps buys anything other than gruel. but excuse or even cheer on the likes of Cliven Bundy, who is both a thief and a scofflaw. Actually, it is not sad; it is disgusting. That law and order stuff is for the poor and vulnerable. As Scythian philosopher Anacharsis famously observed: "Laws are like cobwebs; strong enough to ensnare the weak, but not the strong."

When pressed, some on the Right will admit Bundy is wrong, or they will insist they don't like to see waste anywhere. But that is usually not their visceral, instinctive reaction. And they usually have to be called out on their inconsistency. It is not something that comes to mind easily. If you don't think your rage is selective, name one US Army General you demanded to be held accountable for the $8.5 trillion dollars the Defense Department cannot account for.

When we do look at welfare so many fail to see the broader picture; welfare payments go disproportionately to working class neighborhoods. The money helps to buy essentials --and little else-- for children and the elderly. It is almost never a matter of cash out of your pocket and into the pocket of a some deadbeat, though you have been encouraged to believe this. The Republican Party has, in recent decades, made an art form out of putting carefully selected burrs under your saddle. Much involves stoking white working class resentment. This has both divided voters that once were Democratic constituencies, and has deflected criticism away from the overclass.

And that, of course, was always the intent. Republican politicians and operatives know their voter base. They realize those on the Right are tribal, fearful, and insular. They also know conservatives are bothered by someone else getting benefits, not just anyone, but those perceived as undeserving, as they define it. Those who express anger, irritation, or contempt for welfare recipients and for the poor in general are revealing their own authoritarian personality.

It is that authoritarian personality, coupled with an often breath-taking level of misinformation, that compels so many on the right, tea baggers and plutocrats alike (I'm looking at you, Donald Trump), to so frequently mischaracterize that which they despise, but refuse to understand. The result is an intellectual whipsaw of contempt for food stamp recipients but not massive Pentagon waste; for social security, but not Wall Street's pension plunder. They rally behind Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's effort to undermine teachers, but shrug when defense contractors routinely gouge the government and then pay themselves obscene salaries.

That's a lot of burrs that somehow go unnoticed.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Where the Money Goes

As some readers know, I have lamented the dominance of Wall before. I and certainly many others, have expressed disgust over the way Wall Street sucks money out of the economy. This is not mere rhetoric spewed from that swirling cacophony called the Internet. Let me provide a very specific example of what I mean when the Wall Street feeding frenzy is damaging America: the current practice of stock buybacks. It is a simple enough to understand, and why corporations might want to do it when warranted. What is not as obvious is the broader ramifications.

As you should know, publicly-traded companies become public by issuing stock, shares of which are available to anyone who cares to buy them. Said companies often issue additional shares from time to time as a way to raise capital, which is not debt, and in lieu of borrowing, which is. Over time, a company, call it Acme Widget, may have raised a great deal of capital by issuing a flood of stock. Companies like Acme may or may not have grown as a result.

However, Wall Street doesn't just want to see Acme make profits; what it really wants is for the stock price to rise and it cares little about how it is done. Rising stock prices are harder to come by if Acme has gazillions of shares floating around. On a per-share basis, earnings look better if Acme has, say, 300 million shares instead of three billion. Obviously they are not better, they only look better.

What to do? Acme could use its profits on R&D, or on new equipment, two mainstays of stable growth. Or Acme could buy back shares of its stock. This has some ramifications. Apologists will tell you Acme is investing in its future, and buybacks should be seen as a mark of confidence. That is risible nonsense. What does Acme get by blowing its earnings on its own stock? Companies like Acme are now spending big money, billions of dollars in some cases, buying (back) something that is not a productive asset. Cash spent on buybacks is cash not spent on increased wages, new technologies, or something corporate America could really use; higher quality products and processes. But buybacks enrich the investor class, which insists that maximizing shareholder value should be a corporation's overriding objective. If they get rich, then, well, that's it.

There is, finally, a growing recognition that American capitalism, with its obsession of stock buybacks, is toxic to this country's long-term health. At MarketWatch, not exactly the New Left Review, Rex Nutting writes:
Many factors have been blamed for the plummeting fortunes of the American middle class: globalization, technology, deregulation, easy credit, the winner-take-all economy, and even the inevitable tide of history. 
But one under-appreciated factor is a pervasive business model that encourages top managers of American corporations to loot their company for short-term gains, depriving those companies of the funds they need to build and enlarge, and invest in their workers for the long haul. 
How do they loot their company? By using large stock buybacks to manage the short-term objectives that trigger higher compensation for themselves. By using those stock buybacks to manipulate the share price, which allows them to use inside information to time their own stock sales. By using buybacks to funnel most of the company’s profits back to shareholders (including themselves).
Upper management at publicly traded companies is highly incentivized to enrich the already rich, most of whom are passive investors and have nothing to do with those companies except that they own shares. CEOs have garnered enormous wealth in recent decades because they also own many shares. Their role helps explain the corporate America's felt need to aggressively engage in stock buybacks. CEOs generally don't get multi-million dollar paychecks; that's for professional athletes. They get big paychecks, to be sure, but the really big money comes from stock options, though with a catch. Generally the stock has to appreciate in value up to a pre-determined amount, and within a certain time frame. Therein lies the short-term thinking in so many American companies that focus on their stock instead of on their products, customers, and employees.

This unproductive but highly addictive practice plays out as such: CEOs know that if they can get or keep the stock price at a certain level, their previously awarded stock options can be exercised. He, or occasionally she, sell those shares on the open market. The result is a windfall of cash, sometimes many millions of dollars. And this is an ongoing process: stock options awarded, work the stock, cash in, fresh stock options, repeat and enrich yourself.

Most shares the CEOs care to sell end up in the open market, where they tend to weigh down the price of the stock. That won't make investors happy, nor the CEO, who hopes for more stock options in the future. That's where the stock buybacks come in. CEOs and compliant corporate boards are only too happy to accommodate them, for they, CEOs, others in upper management, boards and investors alike stand to benefit.

The situation is complicated only somewhat by dividends. CEOs and investors alike are more inclined to keep their shares if the company pays a dividend. Fine, you say, except that dividends can get very expensive. Again, this is cash that could have been plowed into productive assets. But once dividends are paid, they are gone forever and they go mostly to the hedge funds, investment banks, and the rest of Wall Street, as well as the CEOs.

It is essential that voters understand the damage being done. Corporate America extracts profits from the working- and middle-class. That is as it always has been. And that is not the problem since customers, that's us, get something in return. The difference now is that those profits are not finding their way back, in the form of increased wages, to middle America. To reiterate, corporate America is on a buyback frenzy to please investors, and it is using money that in the past went to increased wages and capital improvements.  Instead, the use of stock options and buybacks ensures that an ever-increasing portion of capital sifts upward to the very top, where it remains in control of the .01%. Even the rich are beginning to recognize the recklessness.

It is the antithesis of the intellectual asininity called "trickle-down." Indeed, it is an ongoing debate whether neoliberalism's warriors were ever ideologically naive enough to buy into the trickle-down argument, or they simply figured we were.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Insecure By Design

Question: What has been a defining feature of American socio-economic life for nearly all of its history, faded substantially for roughly two generations, and now has come back with a vengeance in the last two or three decades?

An insecure and vulnerable workforce. One that is compliant, scared, and with few workplace rights.

It is no accident that employee insecurity, those subject to dismissal without cause, has coincided with flat wage growth, a decline in union membership, the gradual disappearance of pensions, and the rise of the cynically-named "right-to-work" legislation.

Some will tell you that it is the inevitable result of globalization; it's a tough, competitive world out there, and hey, China. OECD data on worker protections in member countries belies this assertion. According to recent OECD publications, the United States has become unusually hostile to workers. As Les Leopold reports:
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranks 43 nations by the degree of employee protection provided by government. The 21 indicators used include such items as laws and regulations governing unfair dismissals, notifications and protections during mass layoffs, the use and abuse of temporary workers, and the provision of severance based on seniority. Countries are ranked on a scale of 0 to 6 with 6 going to those who provide the most legal protections for employees and 0 for those with the least. We're ranked #42 out of 43, meaning that we have among the fewest regulations to protect employees -- union, non-union, management, full-time and temporary workers alike.
The low level of worker security has always been the objective of most of those on the Right, whether they espouse neo-liberalism, laissez faire policies, or free trade. Enthusiastic support from the corporate world for cheap, compliant labor has varied over the generations, but has been especially strong in recent decades.

Through it all are those who may not be rich themselves, or may not run a corporation, or have well-developed views on economic doctrine, but still show a remarkable hostility to the "other": those not in the same tribe, religion, or race; those who are unacceptably different in thought, world view, and sexuality. A hostility that is directed against those who do not know their place and thus threaten the hierarchy.

This has been with us since colonial days. Both David Hackett Fischer, in Albion's Seed, and Colin Woodard, in American Nations, vividly reveal the brutal treatment that for centuries was meted out to the powerless; slaves, immigrants, indigenous Americans, indentured servants, sharecroppers, women, political subversives, the lower class in general.

The nature of employment, and of insecurity, have changed over the generations, though the working class remains the object of contempt. Workers are increasingly compelled to pursue jobs that not only offer low pay and no benefits, but are further away from home, are at odd hours, or, and this is the big one, are seasonal, temporary, or part-time. The result is a dystopian nightmare for millions of workers, some of them highly educated, who spend an inordinate amount of time, money and gas, to get to one part-time job, then must hustle off to another one. And you better not complain, because the boss does not need a good reason to fire you.

For a modern analysis of how the wealthy are currently reshaping the lives of the working poor and, increasingly, the middle class, read Jeff Faux's The Servant Economy, or Robert Reich's analysis of "the sharing economy," Faux focuses on how so many of the jobs now appearing are designed to serve the wealthy; day care--for the very young and the very old--dog walking, auto detailing, pool and lawn care, and many more. The pay is low, the benefits mostly non-existent.  No unions, no protection; you serve at the pleasure of the rich. Reich describes an economy where "human beings do the work that’s unpredictable – odd jobs, on-call projects, fetching and fixing, driving and delivering, tiny tasks needed at any and all hours – and patch together barely enough to live on."

No slavery, not technically, but highly constrained conditions, along with wages that are no longer coupled with productivity, mean that America, a country that once had high social mobility compared to other industrialized economies, now has among the worst. We are returning to the rigid, stultifying hierarchy of class, low wages, and pervasive, and often aggressive, religiosity that has long characterized the American South.

We are becoming Dixie.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Southern Order

You've read here before how I have bemoaned Dixification, the preferred socio-economic model of Southern conservatives, and how it is spreading to the rest of the country. I've written about the centuries-long tradition of a deeply anti-democratic model of hierarchy and privilege, of low wages, benefits, taxes and regulations; replete with voter restriction, fierce hostility to unions, and the ongoing animosity to any social change that upsets long-standing social hierarchies.

Again, the argument is that conservative politicians support policies that do not make economic sense, but that is not the intent. Liberal policy wonks scratch their heads trying to figure out why Republicans are so determined to avoid sensible and proven policies. But they misunderstand the nature and intent of the deeply reactionary politicians that now dominate that party, many state governments, and come January, even more of the federal government.

It is gratifying, in a grim sort of way, to see there is a growing awareness of what Dixification is and how it is redefining national politics as never before.

To cite just one example, Doug Muder's recent post reminds us that the current invective from teabaggers is Southern at its core:
It’s not a Tea Party.
The Boston Tea Party protest was aimed at a Parliament where the colonists had no representation, and at an appointed governor who did not have to answer to the people he ruled. Today’s Tea Party faces a completely different problem: how a shrinking conservative minority can keep change at bay in spite of the democratic processes defined in the Constitution. That’s why they need guns. That’s why they need to keep the wrong people from voting in their full numbers. 
These right-wing extremists have misappropriated the Boston patriots and the Philadelphia founders because their true ancestors — Jefferson Davis and the Confederates — are in poor repute.

But the veneer of Bostonian rebellion easily scrapes off; the tea bags and tricorn hats are just props. The symbol Tea Partiers actually revere is the Confederate battle flag. Let a group of right-wingers ramble for any length of time, and you will soon hear that slavery wasn’t really so bad, that Andrew Johnson was right, that Lincoln shouldn’t have fought the war, that states have the rights of nullification and secession, that the war wasn’t really about slavery anyway, and a lot of other Confederate mythology that (until recently) had left me asking, “Why are we talking about this?”

By contrast, the concerns of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and its revolutionary Sons of Liberty are never so close to the surface. So no. It’s not a Tea Party. It’s a Confederate Party.
Let's be clear on this: the most powerful members of Congress are overwhelmingly from the old Confederate south. They are deeply overrepresented in Washington, all the more so when voting population is considered. They are not here to work together, or fix things, to improve government, to promote democracy, nor to put the economy back on track. They are here to reestablish the old order, destroy what they hate, and maintain privilege and power for the few.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Teachers and Their Detractors

One of the most depressing aspects of K-12 education, along with its massively inequitable nature, is the cynical and contemptuous attacks on public school teachers, part of a destructive and duplicitous agenda not found in other OECD nations. 

Teaching has become an increasingly thankless profession; teachers are expected to solve all the problems of their charges, who often come to them poorly prepared, if they come at all. Teachers in poorly equipped schools can and do help those students, but not as much as is needed, and not as much as in richer districts. Hence, achievement gaps between rich and poor do not lessen, they grow ever wider.

Many college graduates enter teaching, in part, because jobs seem to open up with regularity. This should be a warning flag. The turnover rate among teachers is high; roughly half have moved on to other employment after five years. And that is in a tough economy where there are not many reasonable alternatives. 

So why would a caring and smart recent graduate consider teaching? Society says we need more and better teachers, but unfortunately, that's not all society is saying. The teaching profession has worked for years to upgrade and further professionalize teachers and curricula. There has been, or was, a great deal of pressure on those entering the field to be properly credentialed, meaning, generally, not only that one should have a college degree, but an advanced one as well, in the appropriate field, at least for those teaching beyond elementary level.

Now that's just the subject matter. The push, especially in response to the No Child Left Behind Act, has been for teachers to be knowledgable about pedagogy as well. Thus, a teacher's credential is called for. In some jurisdictions, that has meant successfully completing a course of instruction that might last one year. After passing a few qualifying exams, taking several courses in classroom management, learning theory, curriculum development and more, and after spending a few weeks as a student teacher, you were considered, in most school districts, a certified teacher, though not necessarily a most highly qualified one.

The trend within pedagogy, as with subject matter, was to further ratchet up the requirements. A mere teacher's certificate was not good enough. After NCLB the ambitious teacher, those who aspired to most highly qualified status, would be expected to obtain a master's degree, this one in education. That's in addition to the masters in the subject the teacher intends to teach.

And now, most recently, there are trends in the opposite direction threatening to undo recent gains. Politicians and political operatives, mostly Republican, are pushing far different ideas and outcomes. With little good evidence, they proclaim teachers, at least experienced, tenured, and unionized ones, to be inherently the problem, but nothing that can't be fixed by stripping them of their pensions, tenure, and union membership. A pay cut is also in order; got to balance that budget you know. And that mantra that you have to pay top dollar if you want top talent? It's a truism held up by free-market ideologues as applicable everywhere --except for teachers.

So now, especially in red states, teachers can no longer expect additional pay to match higher qualifications. For Republicans, all public school teachers already earn too much. Nor can teachers expect a decent retirement. Recall that the recent recriminations against teachers, coinciding with the presidency of Barack Obama, are after the NCLB era that demanded that teachers be more highly credentialed. In other words, many thousands of teachers spent huge sums of money to upgrade their credentials and become better qualified. It was a trend that didn't last.

So those smart enough to get advanced degrees in math or science, and might have once considered teaching, now face a hostile environment where teachers are publicly ridiculed by students, parents, the media, and members of congress. They are told they make too much, their retirement plans are too high, and they are thus a drag on state and municipal budgets. In an nauseating display of obtuse thinking, teachers are expected to be social worker, friend, counselor, foster parent, pastor, babysitter, as well as teacher, and then are blamed because they have not solved all the problems that others have created, including pathetic, criminally irresponsible parents.

It is true that some teachers are not performing well. Leave aside for the moment that teacher evaluations are fraught with difficulty; never forget that a major reason you hear diatribes against public schools and, of course the unions, always the unions, is because they are a target of a conservative agenda. The religious right remains hysterical about sex education, secular, and more inclusive, curricula, the teaching of evolution, and, incredibly, critical thinking skills. And Republicans of a broader stripe have long worked to undermine teachers' unions for the same reason they have opposed all unions; doing so undermines the Democratic Party's base, especially when it comes to voter turnout in elections. 

Others have written extensively on the depressingly well-orchestrated and politically-motivated effort to undermine public education and teachers' unions as well as the failure of charter schools to live up to the hype. See, for example, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools, by Diane Ravitch. Others argue that public schools are doing better than critics care to admit. I'll come back to these issues another day. But I'll finish here with a point not often made by others.

What is fundamentally different now than in the past is the investor class, which with the help of mostly conservative legislatures, has entered the field and is in the process of monetizing education. Billionaires promising market-based miracles have found receptive politicians always looking to shift education from the public sector to the private. Their favorite Trojan horse has been charter schools, a right winger's wet dream, because they rarely involve unions, or tenure, teacher pay is lower, and in some cases they have been able to reintroduce religious dogma into the classroom on the public dime, as in Bobby Jindal's Louisiana.

And what about the teachers that really are not performing well? Conservatives will overstate the numbers, but surely there are some that don't measure up (as in every other field). First, some context; at the start of every school year, large numbers of young, freshly minted teachers enter the classroom for the first time. 
The same holds for those who, for a variety of reasons, take up teaching later in life. In either case, economic circumstances compel many to enter a field they might not have otherwise considered, not because they don't want to be good teachers, or because they don't care, but because teachers and those considering teaching suffer, like most of us, from a terrible job market, where free trade has stripped away millions of jobs, unions have been crushed, the minimum wage is far lower than in comparable countries, and where overall wages have been flat for decades, even if productivity, corporate profits, 
and the cost of living have not. In other words, many teachers cannot just up and leave for a comparably paying job. They cannot walk out just because certain critics endlessly taunt and complain. If one cares to look, job opportunities for both inexperienced grads and middle-aged workers on their second career are very tight, unless you think big-box retailers and the like are acceptable alternatives. 

All of this is separate from the actual workday. When they enter the classroom most new public school teachers are immediately hit with a hellacious shit storm from every direction. It is not always students specifically, or the endless bureaucratic torments, but rather the totality of the experience that makes public school teaching difficult and stressful. Those who have not taught in an American public school, most especially the most adversely affected ones, cannot truly appreciate how difficult the job is. The pay is unusually low in the United States, commensurate with public opinion of what teachers are worth. What is harder to quantify, and impossible to appreciate for non-teachers, is the way years of teaching in a crowded, hot, underfunded school grinds down all but the most resilient, not to be confused with the best or most talented.

Teaching is not immune to the growing realization among American workers that they have declining employment options and thus feel they must hang on to whatever job they have, regardless of the stress and indignities. Those who do have options either avoid teaching entirely, or leave when they can. Some may be putting in their time until retirement, but most who choose to stay in teaching are talented and devoted, yet the attacks on unions and pensions hurts all teachers. 

The most talented young graduates see and hear the vapid platitudes about the satisfaction and nobility of teaching on the one hand, and the now widespread attacks to lessen pay, degrade the profession, and balance state budgets by firing teachers and shuttering schools. 

Why would our most capable recent graduates enter the field under these circumstances? Why be devoted to a system that treats you as the problem?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Pat Robertson

I have always considered Pat Robertson to be a hideous ass, but the video below shows him about as vapidly inane as I have ever seen him. He has been more aggressive, vicious and hateful at other times, but this segment brings "laughably wrong" to a new level. Perhaps it is his advanced age that makes him incoherently lash out at all that he hates, much like Justice Scalia, who is in his own cognitive downward spiral. If so, I would cut him, and Scalia, some slack. But if he is going to remain on TV and spout his nonsense, then he can forget it.

First, Robertson calls for a revolution. He could have stopped there, but I should have known bullshit would follow. You can seen from the video that Robertson is recounting a recent visit to his doctor. He complains that the nurse was asking him many questions, but he admits they are medically related. So the problem with this is what, exactly? The nurse should not be asking you such questions? Really, Pat?

And she, the nurse, was typing the answers into a computer, and thus, a database. What are you saying, Pat? That she should not bother to record the data? And it took a long time, what with all those questions and all that typing? Perhaps medical professionals should skip asking and recording medically relevant information? Because you know better, Pat?

The implication I draw is that Robertson wants us to think his horrific experience was the direct result of Obamacare. He wants you to feel the Affordable Care Act has created new levels of big-government intrusiveness while draining him of his last bit of freedom. Apparently even the omniscient power of his ever-loving god is not enough to save us. I thought we were supposed to pray and leave everything to god, who knows best and always guides us, never lets us down, should always be relied upon, ad infinitum. Revolution is what those secular guys do, 'cause Jesus doesn't whisper in their ear. Hey Pat, millions claim their prayers were answered when the ACA was passed. I guess those prayers don't count.

The inane implication in all of this is that he wants this revolution because:
   Nurses never asked those questions before Obamacare;
   They didn't record your medical history before Obamacare;
   Health care didn't use computers before Obamacare;
   There wasn't a lot of paperwork before Obamacare;

Perhaps Pat has forgotten that medicine has been switching to computerized medical records for some time, and for good reason. Who wants to go back to pen and paper? I mean, besides Pat?

And one of the reasons why health care in the US has been so expensive for so long, long before the ACA, is the incredible amount of paperwork brought on by what, liberal bureaucrats? Wrong again, Pat. We have been choking on paperwork beyond what other nations do because of the privatized nature of our health care system, dominated as it was, and mostly still is, by a profit-seeking insurance industry.  Europe and Japan provide coverage for all; it's cheaper and it is better. They have not had many thousands of their citizens die each year because they didn't have health insurance. And they didn't have many thousands more file for bankruptcy every single year because they couldn't pay their medical bills, or lose their insurance just because a private insurer didn't want to pay. It is these unacceptable realities that have defined the United States for generations, and that the Affordable Care Act has begun to change.

So Pat, is it asking too much for you to do some homework? There is a reason, whether you like it or not, why France is often regarded has having the best health care system in the world. France! Not the US, and quite frankly, we are not even close, even though circumstances have improved, thanks to the ACA, for America's poorest -- those who had no insurance at all. You forgot about them, didn't you Pat?

For the record, I had good insurance before the ACA went into effect. I have not had to do anything different because of Obamacare. I didn't have to switch, I didn't have to change doctors, no premium hikes, nothing. I'm guessing multi-millionaire Pat Robertson also had good medical insurance before the ACA kicked in. Nothing has changed with his insurance plan; no new doctors, no hike in premiums. Nothing. If he had real issues to complain about, the kind of disaster ideological fucks like Robertson claimed would happen, you know damn well he would have enumerated them in whining detail.

No changes with Pat Robertson either. Same asshole he has always been. But he loves Jesus, so it's OK.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Come Together?

Ralph Nader has a new book out, called Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. In it, Nader argues that some elements of the Right and Left are beginning to come together as they slowly realize they have a common enemy, Wall Street in particular, corporatism in general.

Progressives, including Nader, had much of this figured out long ago; whether it be the corrupting influence of wealth and privilege, the contradictions of neoliberal economics, the laughable asininity of supply-side economics, the  illogical and self-serving gospel of free trade and more: It was the Left, the true Left, not the Clintons and their Democratic Leadership Council, nor the New Democrats, nor other Republican Lites, including President Obama, that long ago saw the corporate train wreck heading our way.

Only now, with so much evidence that even Fox cannot spin it all away, we see at least some working and middle class conservatives, including those who identify with the Tea Party, are finally realizing they have been played by the Republican establishment, those at the very top of the conservative wealth and power structure. 

The Left, broadly defined, has long wondered how the reactionary Right, especially working class rank and file Republicans, could so blindly and aggressively support Republican politicians who so clearly violate what teabaggers claim they stand for, or what they consider to be morally sound.

Nader is not alone on this. I myself have argued there is a substantial ideological and policy opening that could allow the two otherwise disparate forces to work together. Issues such as an abusive financial sector, corruption, inequality before the law, the bill of goods called free trade, secret offshore bank accounts -- an issue that hurt Romney with working class Republicans --are issues that animate both the Left and more than a few Tea Party adherents.

Mike Konczal argues that the Tea Party and Wall Street actually get along just fine. He makes some good points, but it is important to note that Konczal's focus is on elected politicians, those whose elections are financed by Wall Street, and not rank and file teabaggers. It is this latter group's interests which diverge most strongly with the plutocracy, even if they often seem doggedly unaware of it.

And ultimately, this is why Nader's belief that liberals and teabaggers will work against a common enemy may be wishful thinking, at least until even more pain is felt. Few conservatives, and especially tea partiers, even now, will listen to arguments made by progressives. Or to put it differently, many teabaggers will be open to an idea or policy until they realize it is a progressive one, or on those occasions when President Obama supports it. As an aside, I might add they also don't realize how often President Obama sides with the center-right, such as through his enforcement of domestic spying programs initiated by Bush, his unwillingness to prosecute Wall Street banks, or the continued care and feeding of a bloated military.

Their common sense is overwhelmed by a condition that Fox News has worked hard to develop. Fox News Channel President Roger Ailes once said he was less interested in giving viewers the news than in how they felt about it. Blame it on cable TV and the Internet, but fewer of us are willing to listen to, and think through, viewpoints we don't like and may not want to hear. Authoritarians, which populate the Tea Party, are especially impervious to uncomfortable facts and are especially rigid, often contradictory, in their views, but we are all susceptible. Add to this a visceral hatred for liberals that runs deep in America, even though conservatives support liberal policies far more than they realize, that ensures that many on the right will reject policies and programs they would otherwise support if psychology played less of a role and evidence-based economics played more. It does not help that progressive views are relatively complex and do not lend themselves to easy bromides, slogans, or bumper stickers.

It would undoubtedly gall many teabaggers, were they suddenly to acquire a more rounded education, that Marx was right; class defines everything. Those at the very top have always used the state for their own ends. The enduring challenge for the rest of us, one we are currently failing, is to keep in check the predatory nature of the neoliberal overclass.