27 May 2011

My answer to "What would YOU do to ensure the survival of Medicare?"

A friend wrote in response to my strong condemnation of Ex-Pres. Clinton's conspiratorial comments to Paul Ryan caught on tape (here), said:
Clinton warned against the Dems thinking the current arrangement is sustainable. 
What are the options for Medicare in the decades of the teens and twenties? Make no changes at all?
[A recent personal medical situation] was very costly, not to me but mainly to Medicare. Cost controls on medical services seem impossible to enact. You can argue the wisdom of making changes, but the cold, hard, fiscal facts are hard to dispute. Medicare, alone, will require a huge percentage of the federal budget in the 2020's when most of you baby boomers are collecting benefits.   There is a fear of a generational fight when Gen X and Gen Y and Gen Zero discover that the oldsters are getting the lion's share of federal largesse and the youger people are left with almost nothing for medical coverage after 2040. 
May I ask, how would you fund Medicare for the years after your 65th birthday? Keeping it as it is is not a viable option.
This was my response:

You and I obviously see things very differently, on fiscal issues in general. Which is fine; discussion of issues and working towards some kind of common ground, even on the level of citizen exchanges of ideas, is how democracy works. So, since you've invited some discussion, I'll try to explain how I see it.

All the countries in Western Europe, even countries like the Czech Republic, plus South Korea, Japan and Taiwan... in other words the 1st World... provide a public health care system at levels of comprehensiveness (although not necessarily exactly what is covered)... far better than Medicare here, for all their citizens. (Read T. R. Reid's Sick Around the World if you don't believe that). Frankly, the concept that controlling medical costs is "impossible to enact," to me, is just an unwarranted acceptance in advance of inevitable political defeat. I just can't accept the concept that America is no longer a 1st World Country, which is what that would entail, as far as I'm concerned. I and people who think like me want to make clear to the pols that eviscerating decent medical care for seniors is going to be 'impossible to enact,' because we will fight to defeat anyone who thinks they can do it, of either party. And we intend to win. We have no intention of giving up without a fight, and a very bruising fight, if need be. So many people are affected by, in particular, Social Security and Medicare, that I think progressive Democrats have a real chance to change the whole direction of political movement in this country. I repeat: we intend to win.

(Social Security is a whole other issue, where there is even less rationale for cuts, but let's leave that be for the moment).

Democrats in politics need to get this and stand for keeping Medicare as a public system which provides an acceptable public single payer insurance system, at least for seniors. I would like to see Medicare, as it evolves, become the template for a universal health care system. This was President Johnson's original intention, and is why the Democratic leaders in the 1960s chose the name Medicare, which they borrowed from Canada's then relatively new universal health care system. They intended to phase in, after 1968, a Medicare for All system. This is historical fact, though not widely discussed. Nixon actually proposed a universal health care system in 1974 which would have been far better than what we got in 2009, but the Democrats in Congress rejected it because they thought they could do better. This was the era of Watergate, after all. As it turns out, that was obviously a historic blunder.

Back to Medicare for seniors. Looking at where we are now, are changes needed? Of course, and those changes can and should be integrated with changes in the for-profit insurance reimbursement system that were just begun under Health Care Reform. I reject the notion that current Republican-thinking-dominated politics are unchangeable or that the rightist agenda that has been in the ascendancy in this country since 1980 (mostly) is the inevitable and unchanging "way things are" forever. This (Republican votes to kill Medicare), in fact, could be the very issue that enables, perhaps over two election cycles, the election of strong Democratic majorities. Killing Medicare is really, really unpopular, even among Republicans in the electorate, but Republicans in both houses are now on record by vast majorities of voting for it. Democrats need to seize on this, hammer on it over and over, and use it to defeat Republicans wherever possible. If they instead say, oh, yes, we do have to make some cuts, let's just be reasonable, they'll lose this advantage, and the Republicans will seize it. They're very, very good at that. Politics is strategy, and they're a lot better at it than we are, but that can change. Which is not to say that Democrats can't do things to make Medicare work better for less. Such as requiring negotiated pricing for drugs, creating a strong enforcement system for fraud, and creating the beginnings of a systematic cost containment system.

If the public, led by smart politics, makes clear that it wants the medical costs problem, and the problem of 48 million uninsured Americans, and the problem of out of control Medicare costs, solved, and not for the benefit of Big Pharma or for the For-Profit Health Insurance or for For-Profit Health Provider industries, it most certainly can be done. To just conclude that it cannot, and accept the general tenor of the Republican plan to destroy Medicare, is defeatism. We have risen to greater challenges many times in our history.

The reality, proven by careful studies by people like tax expert David Cay Johnston, is that the present overall medical system in the United States is costing far more than it should, and not just Medicare. He calculated that adoption of a single payer system with cost controls comparable to what are in place in France and Germany (and even Switzerland, which had one of the most American-like systems in Europe until recently), would virtually eliminate the deficit over time, by itself. In truth, this probably means that the medical profit system that has grown up in America, like a many-headed Hydra, has to go. But it should never have been allowed to develop in the first place, and represents an inherent conflict of interest. So, yes, of course, it's going to be hard to make these changes. But that's where leadership comes in: honest, unbought political leaders have to get the message across that we just can't afford to spend 17% of our GDP on medicine, but that medicine is not a luxury; it's something we as a nation need to ensure for our people, as the birthright of the citizens of an advanced civilized nation. We should not accept less. I believe if framed right this could indeed be a winning political issue in the not-too-distant future.

Also, in terms of how to pay for it, I imagine you would agree that at least for incomes over some level the Bush tax cuts have got to go. Doing that now, (with a cutoff of ~$125,000) would remove nearly 1/3 of the projected debt by 2019 all by itself. We do not have a spending problem, primarily, in this country (where we do is primarily in overseas military expenditures and unwarranted subsidy programs). We have
revenue and efficiency problems. (We also have to restore production and good American jobs to rebuild a revenue base, but again, that's a whole other issue; although, of course, everything is interconnected).

The idea that America needs to rein in spending on essential programs, shrink its commitment to its people, reduce its standards, accept the disappearance of the middle class and a production economy (a whole other issue, obviously)...I and progressives like me reject out of hand. We intend to continue plugging away at reform of our politics and economy to make our nation more functional for its people, not for elite corporate and wealthy interests. This is the essential progressive ethos. You don't read this in Time, the Washington Post, or the Economist, because the establishment media in America (and to some extent in Britain as well), is deeply beholden to the current finance-dominated political/economic regime, and profoundly biased towards a sort of permanent Thatcher-Reagan economic paradigm. But, just as these paradigms have changed before, they can be forced to change again. The repercussions of the economic meltdown have not yet run their course. I would have liked to have seen the Obama administration adopt a much more aggressive stance, but the fact is that the economy of the U.S. was profoundly changed, long term, and not to the advantage of the middle class. The electorate is angry, and will remain so until things change. That anger, properly channeled, can fuel a political sea change, and I don't believe this has yet played out.

To answer your specific question about how I would fund Medicare when I reach 65, which is only 7 years from now: Medicare then will probably be much as it is now. But you're essentially asking me what I would do, to ensure the survival of a viable medical insurance program for seniors going forward. I would, by 2018, when I will turn 65, have started the phase-in of Single Payer for All, with strongly regulated cost controls, which will also begin to bring down Medicare costs. I would eliminate Medicare Advantage overpayments... any private plan that wants to take what Medicare pays could operate, but nothing over what Medicare would otherwise pay (this was a Republican idea that was supposed to save money, but it didn't, of course, and has cost a bundle). (As in Britain, the rich can become "private patients" if that's what they want; what we're talking about here is what the commonweal will provide). And, although no one likes to talk about it, that does indeed mean some level of rationing will be inevitable. There will be rationing one way or the other: the question is whether rationing will be on the basis of ability to pay or on the basis of consensus view of medical necessity.

To pay for this and other essentials, in an ideal policy world, I would eliminate the Bush tax cuts completely, and impose new, substantially higher taxes on the highest income levels (including extremely high taxes on incomes over $1 million and elimination of the low taxes on capital gains above a certain income level (in other words, go part way to restoring the kind of tax system we had before the late 70s). I would impose a modest transaction tax on financial transactions. I would impose higher taxes on oil importation, and require cars sold in America to use less gasoline (a revenue measure as well as an environmental and national security one). Also, I would favor elimination of many deductions, such as the mortgage deduction above a certain level or on more than one property. I would eliminate oil and agribusiness subsidies and enact laws to prevent the offshoring of corporate profits to evade taxes in the United States. I would eliminate income caps on FICA and Medicare taxes.

With these combinations of cost constraints and, call 'em what they are, tax increases, we can easily afford a decent public health system for seniors, and a lot of other things. But even some combination of some of these changes, and not necessarily as early as 2018, would make Medicare viable for a good long while.

So there you have it. That's how I would ensure a decent public health system for seniors (at least), and I truly believe that we, as responsible citizens, owe it to the future generations to fight for nothing less. 


And now we read where McConnell is threatening to hold the entire economic security of the nation hostage by refusing to vote to raise the debt limit, unless a Republican plan to cut Medicare is adopted. If actually allowed to occur, most analysts agree, allowing the U.S. to default on its debt obligations for the first time in history would likely result in worldwide economic collapse. Terrific.

Right off a cliff. I say again, this issue has the potential to be a major turning point. Even if they succeed in the short term, we will use this against them, and hammer it home. They voted to kill Medicare. They voted to risk the economic security of our country, and the value of the savings of every working person in this country, to force their own way against overwhelming popular opinion. 

Dems: get some spine. Call their bluff. 

26 May 2011

Ex-pres. Clinton throws it all away

Over the years, most Democrats of the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, in Howard Dean's memorable phrase, have forgotten and forgiven many of Ex-pres. Clinton's sins against core Democratic values (and there were many). He has been an asset to the party and its loosely shared goals most of the time.

But watching him, obviously not realizing he was live on camera, taking Paul Ryan aside and saying "I hope the Democrats [as if that didn't include him!] don't use this victory [in NY-26] as an excuse not to do anything about Medicare" ...was absolutely stunning. 

Just think about that statement. If that isn't consorting with the enemy, and betraying the people who put him in office in the first place and everything he ever claimed to stand for, what is?

Whatever good will and appreciation he'd earned, he just threw away, as far as I'm concerned. He's made perfectly clear that he stands with the plutocrats, not the people, and, like all Democrats who stand in the way of moving forward with a Democratic agenda, that makes him part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Rebubs marching off the cliff

Dopey Pawlenty (nice guy uber-rightist presidential candidate from Bachmannistan) says if he were president (fat chance), he'd sign the Ryan Plan into law (that is, if it could get passed, again fat chance). And, sure enough, just as I predicted they would, Boehner says the NY-26 result was the result of the ringer TP candidate, and only as "small part" due to Medicare.

Great. Go on thinking that way, Rebubs. Right off the cliff.

25 May 2011

The Bush Debt Crisis

This is truly telling. Follow this link, and look at the chart. Right now, the legacy debt (mostly left over from Reagan and Bush I) is the largest segment of the national debt, but the component directly resulting from the Bush II Tax Cuts (which predominantly affect the richest Americans) is a close second. By 2019, if these cuts were extended, they would constitute by a considerable margin, the largest segment of the debt. That same projection, when added to the projected ongoing effect on the debt of the Bush II wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, would constitute approximately HALF the National Debt.

Now who, again, was it that the Republicans were accusing of "recklessness" with the debt?

Brit Ambassador dumps on Petraeus

Britain's former ambassador to Afghanistan says Petraeus's policies have "increased violence" and he should be "ashamed of himself." [here]

Nah, we'll just make him head of the CIA, where he can't do any more damage.

What a world.

What NY 26 means

It's almost conventional wisdom already, but I don't think there is any way to read the massive defeat of the Republican candidate in NY-26 (a deeply Red district) as anything other than a condemnation of Rightist plans to destroy the only two social programs that actually benefit the majority of Americans: Social Security, and especially Medicare.

I almost hope the Repubs read this awrong, and tell themselves that "but for the Tea Party candidate" they would have won, blah, blah, blah, because I see the potential for a massive political turnaround on these very issues as soon as '12. (But for Nader, Gore would have been president for 8 years, too, but never mind). 

NOW what do they think of the Auto "Bailout"?

With the recent repayment by even Chrysler of the balance of its Federal loan guarantees and the restoration to profitability of the US Auto Industry, which by all accounts was facing collapse before the president took bold action to ensure its survival, I trust those, like Republican Rerun Presidential Candidate Romney, who were heard loudly proclaiming at the time that "Detroit should go bankrupt," will now apologize for having been so obviously very wrong.

Incidentally, the CEOs of GM and Chrysler were shuffled out the door, and the unions agreed to massive givebacks. I've noted no comparable sacrifices from Wall Street execs and employees, who caused the financial meltdown that almost destroyed our economy.

24 May 2011

Netanyahu's abominable behavior

I have made no secret of my view that the present government of Israel, and particularly its intransigence on the settlement issue and obvious lack of real interest in genuine negotiations with the Palestinians, represents a stumbling block to resolution of the wider conflicts in the Middle East. I have long favored a tougher attitude on the part of the US government towards Israel's positions which run counter to US interests, even while recognizing that those interests do nonetheless include, as an essential element, a commitment to the fundamental security of Israel.

In this context, I find totally unacceptable the outright insolence and disdain for the office of the President of his most important ally displayed by Benjamin Netanyahu in the last few days. I think Obama should have cut short the meeting and asked him to depart the country forthwith. Seriously, I do. This just isn't the way you speak to and about the President of the United States, not if you expect to be accorded the dignity of your own office. President Obama could have framed his comments on having done so in terms of the "regrettable" failure of the Israeli PM to maintain standards of decorum and respect for the American people and the institutions of their government.

The fact that Netanyahu is obviously pandering moneyed interests in this country to support Republicans is another extremely irritating element of all this. (This is nothing new; he did the same thing to Pres. Clinton, causing Clinton to mutter audibly Who exactly is the f'ing superpower here? after a meeting with him). Behind the scenes, I think the president or Sec. of State Clinton should (if they haven't already) make clear that this kind of interference in American domestic politics is unacceptable, and will not be tolerated. Netanyahu isn't here by right, he is here by invitation. He should not receive another for a good long while.

23 May 2011

NY-26 death knell for Ryan Kill Medicare Plan?

It's probably too soon to predict what will happen, and we'll know soon enough, but if the Democrat wins in the deeply red NY-26th District tomorrow, it should be, and may well be, interpreted by many Earthboud Republicans in the House as the death knell for the Ryan Kill Medicare Plan... as in, if they continue to support it, they will soon be dead politically. 

(Tea Partiers, whom I classify in this labored analogy as In Orbit, will probably not care: they are not in government to stay, and don't behave as if they were, even if they don't actually consciously understand that). 

20 May 2011

What is with Democrats buying into Republican Economic Mythology?

Seeing MN Sen. Klobuchar on Rachel Maddow last night was a depressing experience. Here is a relatively liberal Democratic Senator from an upper Midwest State buying in almost whole cloth to the idea that we have a spending crisis resulting in unsustainable debt in this country.

I wish some Democrats would grow some spine, bone up on some basic economics, and start selling the following simple message, which is purely factual, unlike the Repub propaganda story:


• IDLE WORKFORCE. Restore employment to "Full Employment" and most of the deficit will disappear.

(Yes, MORE, not less, stimulus and government spending... it's not a difficult concept. Say your plumbing business was in trouble because your truck was always breaking down. What do you do? Stop taking jobs and hope the people will come to you for your skills, or borrow money to buy a new truck and work hard to make enough money to pay the payments and earn a living? This country cannot grow its way back to prosperity by making cuts that result in more unemployment. That way lies Third World America. But get this... the richest who control the economy don't care. They hate working people and care nothing whatsoever about the health of the consumer economy. They are focused on themselves and their own personal wealth exclusively).


Just restore the tax rates to what they were at the end of Clinton administration and almost all the rest of the deficit will disappear. Restore them to what they were in 1960 and we would have a surplus within a very few years. The Republican "Starve the Beast" strategy, which Ronald Reagan was never able to really make work, has now finally reached its fruition, and is rapidly and thoroughly destroying the Middle Class. If Democrats can't make this a winning political issue, they deserve to go down and be replaced, probably after a long, dark, Depression, by a totally new political movement.

Combining these two things with even judicious (as opposed to massive) cuts in military expenditure, elimination of corporate welfare (oil and agribusiness subsidies and tax breaks especially), and serious efforts to control health costs (not by cutting benefits), and the rest of the deficit will disappear.

These are facts, and they are the basis of a potentially VERY POPULAR program... so how about it Democrats? What's with you guys? Oh, yeah, you're just as beholden to moneyed interests as the Republicans. I dare you... prove me wrong.

19 May 2011

Obama: time to reset Mid East relationships

I haven't had a chance to read or hear all of it, but from what I've seen it appears Pres. Obama's speech today was a positive step. I've argued for a long time that we need to really rethink our whole approach in the Middle East, including with regard to our policy towards Israel and a Palestinian state.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS-55; corn syrup reformulated to be 55% fructose, invented in Japan in 1966 and sometimes referred to by healthy food freaks as "Japan's revenge for Hiroshima") is an artificially reformulated food additive, which if you look at food labels is found is all manner of processed foods from hamburger buns and spaghetti sauce to sugary soft drinks. The use of this chemical in food should be banned

If you read Gary Taubes, both in Good Calories, Bad Calories and his latest Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It, as well his article from last month, Is Sugar Poison?, from the NY Times magazine, you'll realize that fructose, which is half of the sucrose molecule and even more than half of HFCS-55, is the main culprit. It's actually rather rare in natural foodstuffs (found in some fruits, and a byproduct of some starch metabolism). Fructose is entirely metabolized by the liver, is mostly turned into glycerides, and is implicated (along with sugar), as probably the most frequent causative factor in Type II Diabetes, stroke, premature ageing (it preferentially cross-links to proteins in the blood and other tissues, causing age-related changes), coronary artery and other circulatory diseases, as well as metabolic syndrome X, insulin resistance syndrome (more or less the same thing), and NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which was formerly usually lumped together in hyperlipidemia). Quite a range of charges against it, n'est-ce pas? The kicker is that sugar is essentially the same thing as far as your body is concerned.

18 May 2011

French reaction to the Strauss-Kahn affair.

I think of myself as no more prudish than the next person. Less so, in fact, generally. And I take this LA Times story about US-bashing in France over the Strauss-Kahn arrest somewhat with a grain of salt.

Having said that, and basing my comment only on reports of what happened, which may turn out not to be entirely true, I find this more than a little distasteful and even shocking. What this man is accused of is rape. This is not some minor matter, indicative of a puritanical obsession of Americans. The French need to take a deep breath, assess the actual facts, and ponder the realities of the situation from a moral perspective. If what Strauss-Kahn is accused of is true, he has no leadership role to play in any civilized society. To the contrary, he belongs in jail.

Ryan thinks a few days default "OK" ??!!!

I find it even more amazing than ever that Paul Ryan was ever taken seriously by the supposed wise men of our culture. Now he's saying "the Wall Street he knows" would be "OK with" a first time in history default on US debt "for a few days."

This man is profoundly, incredibly stupid, clueless, and dangerous. He has absolutely no idea what he's talking about, and he and his mendacious and foolish Repub colleagues are playing with the economic well being of our nation without the mental tools of the average high school senior.

This is getting scary. And once investors, including overseas investors, start getting scared, watch out. Can you spell "I-M-P-L-O-S-I-O-N" ?

17 May 2011

Maybe Progressives aren't the only ones with a tendency towards the Circular Firing Squad

From Reuters: 

[In an]April 25 meeting ... convened by the Speaker of the House of Representatives at the request of Tea Party leaders, who were seething over recent Republican compromises, most notably on the 2011 budget[:]

One of the 25 or so leaders, all from Boehner's district, asked him if Republicans would raise America's $14.3 trillion debt limit.
According to half a dozen attendees interviewed by Reuters, the most powerful Republican in Washington said "yes."

"And we're going to have to raise it again in the future," he added. With the mass retirement of America's Baby Boomers, he explained, it would take 20 years to balance the U.S. budget and 30 years after that to erase the nation's huge fiscal deficit.

That answer incensed many of the Tea Party activists, for whom raising the debt limit is anathema."You could have knocked me out of my chair," said Denise Robertson, a computer programer who belongs to the Preble County Liberty Group. "Fifty years?"

She said "my fantasy now" is someone will challenge Boehner in the 2012 Republican primaries. "If we could find someone good to run against him, I'd campaign for them every day," Robertson said.

"I am sick of the tears," she added, a sarcastic reference to Boehner's famous propensity to cry. "I want results."

16 May 2011

Class Warfare!?

I just find it so incredibly rich when Repubs accuse us of "class warfare," as the insufferable snob Paul Ryan did today in connection with his bill to destroy health care for the elderly. [Here]. As if destroying health care for the elderly weren't CLASS WARFARE, for crying out loud!

More health care reform anyone?

Nobody much on the left is talking about further reforms to Health Care and Medicare/Medicaid lately, but since the Repubs are still talking about turning Medicare into a coupon system, I thought I'd throw out my two cents for some generalized elements I'd like to see adopted, in stages.

1.   Legislation to allow regulation and price controls for most medical procedures, drugs, therapies, etc. (such as they have in France and Germany, which have private insurance systems), subject to a review system, and applicable to both private and public insurance. Obviously, this would eliminate the prohibition against negotiated prices for prescription drugs. We must get medical costs under control if we are to have any chance of adopting a system that provides universal health care for real.

2.   Phased in elimination of for-profit institutions providing health care (i.e., institutional providers receiving government funds would be required to convert to non-profit organizational status). This may be controversial, but I am convinced that for-profit health care does not and will never work; and, in fact, for profit health care and especially health insurance, because it involves inherent conflicts of interest, is essentially legalized racketeering. 

3.  Immediate elimination of any supplemental funds for Medicare Advantage and other private health care Medicare alternatives. If private plans want to take what Medicare pays, without its costing the public a dime more, OK, otherwise, forget it. This is costing billions now, in a plan originally sponsored by Repubs claiming it would save money. (It hasn't, obviously). This would be coupled to improvements to Medicare that would make supplemental insurance unnecessary and less desirable. Those who wished to purchase supplemental coverage for luxury medical coverage could do so, as they do in many European countries. But the basic system needs to be universal and medically recognized as adequate; beyond that, you pay for it yourself.

4.  First, and relatively quickly, offer a Public option, in the form of a Medicare Buy-In for people under 65.

5.  Then, after some not-too-long period of years, this would be replaced with a single payer system, phased in over perhaps a decade (with the Public Option buy-in still available for those not yet eligible). The single payer phase-in would be by age decades (first lower Medicare age to 55 (and include minors to age 18), then to 45, then 35, then everyone). (Those who prefer to pay for private insurance could be allowed to opt out, but private insurance would still be subject to price controls and required to be non-profit). All of this would be financed by "premiums" (taxes) that would be comparable overall to what employers and working people pay now, with progressive elevators to cover the cost of the currently uninsured.

My challenge to anyone reading this: apart from politics, tell me one reason why this wouldn't 1) work far better than the present system for the majority of people; 2) save a ton of money; (i.e., cut the deficit by a substantial fraction); and 3) achieve the goal of universal health care in our time.

Glenn Beck is a megalomaniac

Who knew?

Please, please, please, Paul Ryan, do run!

I would absolutely love to see Paul Ryan run against Russ Feingold for Herb Kohl's Senate seat.

There are no guarantees in life, and I've been flummoxed repeatedly by the depth and girth of American political ignorance and irreality, but it seems to me if Progressives, after the bruising battles and Recall races in Wisconsin this season, can't win that race, we're doomed to a Plutocratic America without respite anyway. 

17 May. Paul Ryan will not run, according to news reports, but Tommy Thompson will. Given the really strong unpopularity of Ryan's plan to Kill Medicare, Thompson will probably be a more difficult candidate to beat, although, ironically, among Repubs his support for Health Care Reform during the debate over it in 09 will probably hurt him among his own party base.

Unpatriotic Republicans

Since the, in my view, unquestionably profoundly unpatriotic Repub Congressional leadership seems to be unperturbed by the probability of another financial meltdown, this time caused by their willingness to allow our country to default on its debt for the first time in history, maybe President Obama should consider selling stuff. Starting with Federal property in the reddest of the Red States. See how they like it when some contractor wants $10 admission to enter the courthouse in Charleston.

OK, that's not serious, but come on, neither are they. Except that they don't seem to realize that confidence in the full faith and credit of the US government is a slippery thing, that could be easily lost well before the actual brink, costing the American taxpayers and investors an incredible amount of money... for nothing gained at all.

Oh, and as for those Tea Party types, like Rand Paul, who actually seem ready to let the default really happen: they are not only unpatriotic, they are absolutely INCREDIBLY stupid. What kind of economy do they think would survive that? Never mind; they're just too ignorant and stupid to form an intelligent opinion on any subject. 

Time for Obama to get on the tube and shame these people.

Repub Big Blunder on Medicare

Maybe I'm completely out to lunch on the political pulse of America. I've been completely befuddled before by just how totally the Right Wing Message Machine has managed to sway large segments of the voting populace to policy positions that are entirely contrary to their own interests.

But I just have to believe that the House Republicans, in (reportedly) recommitting to killing Medicare (by turning it into a coupon system that no sane economist will endorse as even possibly workable), have just misread the mood of the public in a historic blunder. Even Newt Gingrich pretty unequivocally bailed on this plan over the weekend after announcing his quixotic presidential run.

12 May 2011

Support the Dream Act

The president is on the right track in pushing again to support the Dream Act. In the meantime, as Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D=IL) urges, the Administration could administratively scale back deportations, particularly of those who would (will be) eligible for the Dream Act.

(It's rererred to as paroling, and it has been a common practice at various times, but right now deportations are actually being rather aggressively pursued).

William D. Cohan in NYT: don't let go of anger at Wall Street

William D. Cohan, author of House of Cards, a Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street, and Money and Power, How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World, has an important op-Ed in the Times. The title sums it up: the American people have been far to passive in the wake of the most gigantic financial fraud in all of History. Here.

No one has really paid a price; in fact, quite the opposite, the perpetrators got their casinos rebuilt and recapitalized at public expense, and got to keep all the loot, while ordinary working people got stiffed. Most people are just too busy trying to keep their heads above water and too unfocused to really understand what's been happening. The Administration made a decision, a terribly, terribly wrong decision, early on, that restoring the status quo was more important than fixing what caused the problem in the first place, so there's really no one in Washington who cares about restoring the financial system to a healthy and equitable balance. The result: it's still just about as broken as it was before the meltdown, and very little in the way of new regulation is in place and working to make sure another fraud bubble doesn't just happen again, with even worse results.

11 May 2011

Repubs dumber than a rock, want to wreck country

This should be revised to read: "supporters say they are so stupid they don't understand the first thing about the constitution and, besides, they want to destroy America anyway."

Republicans: Wah! Don't use our death to Medicare vote against us! Wah!

Republicans, who thought it was just dandy to outright lie about "cuts" to Medicare in Health Care Reform (which were really cost controls), in order to get elected in 2010, now want the president to "rein in" Democrats' using negative advertising on their votes to kill Medicare outright, saying there's blame enough to go around and let's hit the reset button. See this.

Are these people out of their minds? I will admit that Democrats tend to be suckers and nice guys, but they have just got to be kidding.

I say, wipe the floor with 'em. It's not so often we have a really unpopular unanimous Rightist vote against a really popular program to cream them with. 

09 May 2011

Paki PM says Pak authorities not incompetent, not complicit, in Bin Laden affair

TPM reports Pakistan's Prime Minister is denying both complicity and incompetence in the Bin Laden affair, here

Look, Mr. Gilani, no matter how stupid and gullible you may think Americans are, we not so dumb as to be able to figure out that it's not possible that Pakistani authorities were not either incompetent, or complicit in Bin Laden's hideout. Both, very likely; neither, not possible. Give it up.

06 May 2011

Hat Creek SETI array offline, for now

I have mixed feelings about this story, (L.A. Times), which reports that the Allen SETI array (named for contributor and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), in Hat Creek, Calif., near Mt. Shasta, is being mothballed, at least for now, due to lack of funds. On the one hand, it's part of the overall cutback in scientific research thanks to the essentially pessimistic and negative world view that's come to prevail in our culture and politics, and that's a bad thing. But on the other hand, I have a pretty strong intuitive feeling that the way SETI is being conducted, essentially looking for a relatively nearby alien civilization that's more or less like us... is not likely to succeed in any reasonable amount of time. See this for why I think about it this way.

I have a feeling we're more likely to discover evidence of an extremely ancient and very advanced civilization at a great remove, and purely by accident, than for this kind of search to succeed.

I would support modest investment in continuing this project, especially since the hardware is there and there is enough interest among professionals in the field to maintain the effort, but, to tell the truth, I would be truly astounded if they were to succeed in my lifetime.

Who is the GOP Base that wants Medicare killed?

To my 2½ readers, amongst whom may be ½ or 1 who is tired of hearing about Medicare-Killing Republicans, I apologize and suggest skipping this post.

I find this, from an article in Salon, virtually incomprehensible:
From a general election standpoint, last month's vote [in the House, to turn Medicare into a coupon to buy private health insurance, which would probably be unavailable at any price anyway] ...was potentially suicidal for the GOP brand and for individual House incumbents in competitive districts. But from a primary election standpoint, it was potentially helpful -- if not necessary -- for the survival of all of the GOP lawmakers who backed it. As we saw in last year's primaries, the Republican Party base in the Obama era is a restive bunch, unimpressed with incumbency and establishment credentials and vigilant against sellouts. The Medicare overhaul, which would replace the current program with vouchers that could be used to purchase private coverage, represents precisely the type of legislation that the GOP base now insists its elected officials embrace.
 Who is this supposed "GOP base?"  It appeared to me from the coverage of Town Halls and such, as well as some hard data from polling, that even the Tea Partiers are opposed to  this plutocratic idea that really only benefits those too rich to care about Medicare. Hell, as I noted the report here, even health insurers oppose turning Medicare into a coupon: they know they can't profitably sell insurance for the value of the coupon, but would end up with a huge mess on their hands if the over-65 population were suddenly mostly uninsured.

So, as I say, this makes no sense whatsoever. But, to the extent the Repubs have committed to a suicide pact over Medicare, and it makes it that much easier to replace a good number of them with Democrats in '12, I say Hallelujah and Om Ah Hum.

05 May 2011

Repubs balking at Death to Medicare

It's at least a little bit encouraging to see that the Repubs in Congress have apparently concluded that killing Medicare is unpopular, and probably not so good for their political careers. Here.

UPDATE: And now both Cantor and Boehner have bailed... not on any kind of principle or compassion, of course, but just because they can read the political tea leaves.

04 May 2011

Forget about the Conrad Plan; forget about the Gang of Six

Kent Conrad has released a budget that must be a wet dream for Republicans. Here. Democrats need to realize that the Republican budget ideas are profoundly unpopular. Americans do not want massive cuts in social programs, or caps on spending. They want their government to work again.

The war in Afghanistan is extremely unpopular. The real mood in this country is to scale back overseas commitments, rethink our policies with an eye towards domestic economic growth and jobs, and increase taxes on the rich in order to preserve the social network.

Conrad's and the Gang of Six's budget ideas are completely out of synch with these interests, and Democrats should reject them out of hand.

02 May 2011

Bin Laden in Pakistan

It's not in the least original or a remarkable insight on my part, but it's still worth saying. It seems to me that one little remarked upon element of the Bin Laden decapitation operation is the obvious fact that the Pakistani military and intelligence apparatus has almost certainly been complicit in hiding him. If not, then their level of sheer incompetence simply beggars belief. But almost everyone, inside and outside the US military and diplomatic services in the area, and whether in public or only in private, acknowledges the truth: the Pakistanis have been playing us for decades, and almost everything they say to us is lies.

The Arab Spring, the Hammas/Fatah rapprochement, this Bin Laden event, the unfortunate unraveling of the effort to support the "rebels" in Libya, the shift in leadership at the CIA and Pentagon... all of these factors point to an opportunity to make some major shifts in foreign policy in this region in the near future. Our Bush and Post Bush foreign policy has been incoherent and lacking in any clearly defined goals. I hope one of the elements of a new approach is to cease any reliance on Pakistan as an ally, and to take it as a given that the regime there, until they prove otherwise, is duplicitous, essentially inimical to our interests, and unreliable in anything they do or say.

UPDATE: From Slate: 
BBC News says the compound "lies well within Abbottabad's military cantonment, and it is likely the area would have had a constant and significant military presence and checkpoints," which further suggests Pakistani complicity.)
This same article notes that Pres. Obama's giving credit to Pakistan for cooperation when it's pretty clear that not only was there none, but the Pakis were complicit in hiding Bin Laden, is actually a clever ploy: it makes it more likely the Pakis will cooperate in the future, knowing we didn't tell them about this but pretended they were on our side anyway. Maybe. But I'd bet that no one in the administration, and hardly anyone in the U.S. military command or diplomatic corps, advocates trusting Pakistani intelligence or government assurances at all in the future. Their record is just abominable, from lying about developing nuclear weapons in the 70s and 80s to actively supporting people who are fighting against US forces in Afghanistan. My hope is that all these factors, together with the clear lack of real cooperation or support from the Karzai regime, will lead the president to decide on ending the engagement in Afghanistan as soon as it's feasible to do so.

On Bin Laden

It seems to me people have to recognize that States act differently from people, and that there are circumstances in which the in extremis nature of someone like Bin Laden justifies the kind of action taken yesterday. Most Americans celebrate this. I acknowledge its justification, but I can't help feeling that it's a bit unseemly to jump for joy at an assassination. Particularly since, realistically, so much time has passed that the tangible effect of this "decapitation" operation will likely not be enormous.

Having said that, I think the whole operation was handled with more intelligence than many such in the recent past, including the discreet and rapid disposal of the body, so as not to give grist to the martyrdom mill, so to speak. I hope that, whatever benefit it does or doesn't have in the fight against Muslim extremist terrorist criminals, it has a political benefit for the president. After all, Bush made a big deal out of the "war on terror," foolishly using the term "jihadist," which is a noble word to Muslims, and elevating a gang of criminals to the status of an existential threat to America, which they never were. Then he rather disingenuously downplayed the whole "get Bin Laden" mission after Rumsfeld screwed up Tora Bora beyond all recognition, and Iraq became their main focus. So it seems to me no reasonable person can conclude other than that the Bush administration completely failed at retribution for the attacks, to the extent that was a US foreign policy goal all these years (which it was). It took a change of administration for the goal of removing the symbol of the attackers of 9/11 to be accomplished, and if there is to be credit for that, Obama deserves that credit.