Jan 302011
 
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Article first published as Michele Bachmann’s State of the Union Tea Party Commercial on Technorati.

TeaPartyHD, the television and Internet network responsible for the unseen camera and teleprompter that Michele Bachmann looked toward while delivering her rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address, finally posted their video of the congresswoman’s speech on Friday. And yes, she’s looking squarely at the camera.

So now, with a little luck, this will be the end of media coverage of the strange off-angle shot aired on CNN. In the big picture, who really cares what camera Michele Bachmann was looking at? The gaff made the speech a bit odd to watch, but it really could have happened to anyone. This aspect of the Bachmann story has been given far too much attention — so much that nobody’s talking about the insaniTea of her message.

First off, to call Bachmann’s speech a “response” or “rebuttal” to the State of the Union is to completely ignore everything she said. She didn’t deliver a response; it was nothing more than a rerun of the same fact-free Tea Party commercial we’ve all seen over and again, ad nauseam. It is on this inane content where criticism for the Bachmann slideshow should be focused.

Bachmann wants Americans to blame President Obama for unemployment, so she shows a nice red and blue chart depicting unemployment rates by year. According to Bachmann, the spike in 2009 is Obama’s fault. Of course, she failed to mention that we were hemorrhaging jobs at a rate of 600,000 per month when he took office, and that the economy was in a freefall stemming from the Bush orchestrated bank collapse, but what the heck . . . it’s all fair in politics.

The congresswoman then hit the tried-and-true “attack the Stimulus” chord. The “failed stimulus,” as she referred to it, gave America nothing more than “a bureaucracy that now tells us what light bulbs to buy.” This is a great tactic: just make up your own story, completely devoid of truth, throw in some exaggeration (the trillion dollar stimulus), play upon people’s emotions, ignore the facts, arrive at a hyperbolic conclusion, and BAM — the falsehood lives on. Keep repeating it, and you will gain believers.

This works well so long as the audience just buys the bullshit without checking any facts. But if people have even the slightest inclination to think for themselves, to actually understand the situation, the bald-faced nature of Bachmann’s nonsense shines through. It’s just too bad that so many people don’t care that the Stimulus actually staved off total collapse of the economy — that it added as much as 4.5% to the GDP, saved or created as many as 3.3 million jobs, kept unemployment from climbing to 11.5% or higher, and gave tax cuts to 94% of Americans. If they took the time to know the facts, they’d understand that the biggest problem with the Stimulus was that it was too small.

But the truth doesn’t always play well for the political goals of the speaker, so politicians and pundits are often forced to turn to propaganda — fact selection that results in lying by omission. According to Ms. Bachmann, while there had been “unacceptably high” deficits under the Bush administration, these “exploded” under Obama. She illustrates with a graph showing huge blue bars that tower above the short red Bush deficits, and she assigns all blame for the spending increases on President Obama.

Bachmann’s graph appears to be accurate, but like an iceberg, what’s seen on the surface doesn’t accurately reflect all that’s hiding below. And since the congresswoman doesn’t really want people to recall that her tallest blue bar, the one for 2009, actually reflects President Bush’s budget through October, or that it included much of the $700 billion “bailout” that was passed under Bush, she conveniently leaves these details out. And so what if she failed to mention that those little red bars didn’t include the spending for the two deficit-expanding wars that President Bush chose to keep off the budget. If President Obama didn’t want the billions in war expense reflected in his budget, he should have kept the costs hidden.

But as disingenuous as is Bachmann’s Tea Party spin on jobs and the deficit, there’s really nothing more egregious than the distorted fantasy of fear mongered hype she spewed regarding healthcare reform. In Bachmann’s words, “Unless we fully repeal Obamacare, a nation that currently enjoys the world’s finest healthcare might be forced to rely on government-run coverage that could have a devastating impact on our national debt for even generations to come.” What a crock!

Between Tea Party and more mainstream Republicans, there is no piece of legislation more illegitimately maligned than the Healthcare Reform. Their fallacy starts with erroneous claims about the quality of the American healthcare system, one that consistently produces outcomes inferior to other developed nations, and it always extends to outright lies about the nature of the legislation that was passed.

The truth of the matter is that “Obamacare” is not “government-run.” It’s actually an extension of the public/private system currently dominant in the U.S.. And as far as costs go, it’s designed to reduce them. In fact, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), it will reduce the deficit by $230 billion. And although that doesn’t solve the problem, at least it’s a step in reducing the costs of a system that now outspends the average of the developed world by more than two to one.

Bachmann is right about one thing regarding healthcare, it will bankrupt the country if allowed to continue on its present course. But the issues driving that dynamic are actually made better under “Obamacare,” although not to the extent needed — that would have required the “public option,” but the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats made sure that didn’t happen. There was no way they were going to do anything to cut into the record profits of the medical insurers and Big Pharma.

Our nation faces serious problems, and President Obama’s State of the Union was light on specifics regarding how he will address them. But unless the American people want more poverty, more debt, more concentration of wealth, fewer jobs, lower wages, and a healthcare system that puts the insurers above the patients, they will do with Michele Bachmann’s “response” what they do with all fecal matter — flush it and forget about it.


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Jan 292011
 
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It appears that House Republicans may soon be launching an attempt to privatize Medicare. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) is testing support for his idea to replace Medicare with a so-called “voucher” system that would require recipients to purchase coverage through a private medical plan.

According to Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) — as of Thursday, “No decisions have been made . . . there are a lot of ideas out there.” So, we’ll have to stay tuned to see where this goes, but in the meantime, a closer look at the situation is definitely in order.

So, let’s see: the problem is that we have rapidly escalating healthcare costs and a growing population of elderly who will be reliant upon Medicare. Either situation would present a major economic issue by itself, but taken together the impact is of historical proportions.

Looking at the cost of healthcare, we have soaring premiums, deductibles, and copayments. Premiums alone nearly doubled between 2000 and 2008, and the total out-of-pocket for the average family climbed by more than 30% just between 2001 and 2006. The problem is so large that healthcare spending as a portion of GDP jumped to 17.3% in 2008 — the largest increase since 1960 — and it’s expected to climb to over 19% within the decade. We’ll be spending nearly $1 out of every $5 on healthcare.

Meanwhile, in spite of spending levels that are more than twice the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) average ($7,538 per capita in 2008) we trail most other developed countries in health outcomes. OECD data shows the U.S. ranking 26th amongst 34 nations in life expectancy and 30th for infant mortality. We may have the best healthcare available for those who are either wealthy or well-insured, but for the rest of us, we simply pay more and get less.

But alas the news isn’t all bad. All that money we’re spending is providing a great deal of benefit . . . for the bank accounts of the medical insurers and pharmaceutical companies. The 10 largest insurers are reaping a plentiful harvest. They’ve seen their profits soar over 250% from 2000 to 2009. In fact, they’re doing so well that despite a struggling economy, the top 5 insurers still managed to book a 56% jump in profits during 2009 alone.

So, what’s the GOP solution for this mess?

Well, we need look no further than the last major healthcare legislation authored and passed by Republicans to understand their priorities and strategy. That effort brought us Medicare Part D as part of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. The bill was passed with the support of only 11 Democrats in the Senate and 16 in the House. It was completely unfunded, and in fact piled on the deficit only a few months after the second round of Bush tax cuts were passed by an even slimmer partisan margin.

Medicare Part D has obviously had its positive impact, providing much-needed prescription drugs to America’s seniors. But with expenditures of nearly $50 billion in 2008 and projected expenditures in the next decade of around $1 trillion, it is without doubt a major source of our nation’s expansion of unfunded liabilities. The sad truth is that these costs could have been contained, but not without price controls. And with corporate profits being sacrosanct to Republicans, the program was designed to prohibit the federal government from negotiating prices with the drug companies. The result is that Medicare Part D pays a 58% average premium on the same drugs purchased by the Veterans Administration, which is allowed to negotiate prices.

So, with anything that might reduce corporate profits off the table, there’s really little latitude for alternative action. Since the federal deficit has already been ballooned to record levels in order to save Wall Street profits, another Medicare Part D unfunded gift to the healthcare industry won’t fly. Add in the strict Republican prohibition against any tax increases that could increase revenues, and the GOP is left with but a single path of action — reduce services.

Vouchers are the answer for maximizing government funding of healthcare industry profits without increasing expenditures. It’s the GOP’s way of saying, “Here you go Cigna. Uncle Sam just can’t afford anymore, but we’ll make sure you get every penny available.”

Of course, the countervailing message to America’s elderly is akin to “Thanks for your contribution. You’re on your own now. We hope you won’t become ill, but if you do, may you die quickly.” But, oh well, that’s life; resources are limited and somebody has to make a sacrifice.

As with most things, the choices we make usually depend on our priorities, and healthcare in America is no exception. There are those who believe that a person who has worked their entire life deserves for the society they’ve supported to reciprocate with this most basic of humanitarian services. These people believe that one of the other variables, corporate profits or tax revenues, should be adjusted to fulfill this duty. Their belief is that we are not only the United States but also a united people.

Then there are others who don’t see American society as a union of all the people. They believe in division instead of unity, in winners and losers. For these people, there is no shame in runaway corporate profits or the skyrocketing wealth of the top 1%, because that’s the way the game is played. They view society as a competition, not a brotherhood. Exploitation is the path to victory, and to the victor belong the spoils.

Everyone understands that healthcare in America is on an unsustainable path. We’re in desperate needs of solutions, and whatever they are, sacrifice will be required. The decision to be made is who will bear the burden. Will we as a nation ask for the wealthy to give out of their abundance or will we take from those least able to fend for themselves?

The answer is all about priorities: people or profits. And we all have to answer for ourselves which side we’re on.


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Jan 262011
 
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Article first published as Capitalism and Democracy, Out of Balance in America? on Technorati.

Accountants, plumbers, teachers . . . lawyers, barbers, technicians — people and societies have many needs and many professions to fill them. If your car’s broken, you take it to a mechanic. If it’s your body that’s ailing, you call a doctor. But what do you do when it’s the society itself that’s in need of emergency care?

America is hurting, and even those who love to wave the flag and speak of our greatness are hard pressed to argue otherwise. We have 15 million people out of work and long-term unemployment at a record high; 44 million Americans now live below the poverty line, with many millions unsure of the source for their next meal; real median household income has been in decline since the turn of the century, and those people now lucky enough to find a job often do so at a significant reduction in pay.

From coast to coast, American infrastructure is in decay, needing more than $3 trillion in repairs. Our healthcare costs continue to spiral out of control, with per-capita spending as a nation more than double the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) average — and in return we achieve inferior outcomes. The federal debt is presently over $14 trillion, about 94% of GDP, and the budgets of 46 states across the Union are in crisis, some approaching default.

Our education system is in disarray; we can’t seem to break our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels; we’re destroying our environment with pollution and activities like hydraulic fracturing; the foreclosure crisis is still wreaking havoc on the middle class; our manufacturing base has been decimated; private debt is at an all-time high; our trade balance is upside down — and worst of all — the American people seem more divided than at any time in modern history.

The fact of the matter is that if America were a car, it would be in desperate need of an overhaul; if it were a person, the transplant of multiple organs would be in order. Few and far between are any Americans who would argue that we’re not headed toward disaster, but fewer still are those who offer any real solutions. So, where do we turn for answers? Who do we call?

It is the responsibility of the government to “ensure domestic Tranquility” and “promote the general Welfare.” So, with the domestic climate being anything but tranquil, and the welfare in recent years far from general, it would seem sensible to look to government for leadership — after all, this is the reason for its existence. Our elected representatives are then the people we should call . . . but alas, that really hasn’t been working very well.

The problem is that far too many of those representatives have, in practice, changed employers. They no longer work for the American people. They’re now employed by our nation’s largest corporations. You see, elections are expensive. The 2010 edition ran up a tab exceeding $4 billion. And the sad truth is that the candidate who doesn’t have a sufficient war chest doesn’t get elected. So, unless they’re independently wealthy, candidates are forced to fill their chests with the donations of those willing and able to give. That all too often means taking money from those who the government is established to oversee.

Sadly, for the American people, the average citizen is but a pawn in this national game of influence purchasing. Even the capacity of organized labor, a favorite villain of the right, pales when compared to the might of Big Business to fund elections. In the 2010 campaign alone, business outspent labor by more than 15 times over — paying out nearly $1.3 billion to labor’s paltry $81 million. And make no mistake, those corporate donors don’t support candidates for altruistic reasons — they act only for profits, and they demand favors for their contributions.

Tragically (again, for the American people), many of the corporations controlling Congress actually have no national loyalties whatsoever. In fact, 83 of the 100 largest American corporations maintain foreign bank accounts and shelter their income in tax havens — many paying nothing in U.S. income tax. In fact, it’s so bad that General Electric, fourth on the Fortune 500, made profits of $10.3 billion in 2009, and Uncle Sam wound up owing them $1.1 billion. It’s estimated that companies using tax havens manage to evade more than $100 billion in U.S. taxes every year. The problem is actually so widespread that estimates conclude one-third of all global wealth is stashed in offshore accounts.

The realization that has thus far somehow escaped the American public is that we live today in a globalized economy, and the paradigm that “what’s good for General Motors is good for America” is a relic of times gone by. In all too many cases, what’s good for “American” corporations is actually a poison pill for the average American. And the loss of tax revenues stolen by multinational corporations that use American taxpayer funded infrastructure and services, from roads and utilities to police and fire protection, all without paying their fair share, is only the tip of the iceberg.

All one has to do to see the disconnect between corporate wealthfare and the wellbeing of the American people is to look at Wall Street’s recovery over the past two years and compare it to Main Street’s continued struggle. The Dow Jones, after dropping below 7,000 in March of 2009, was invigorated by the second TARP payout and climbed steadily to finish 2010 at 11,577 — a 77% rise. Bankers rejoiced and passed out record bonuses, $20.3 billion for 2009 and promises of even larger handouts for last year.

Meanwhile on Main Street, 2009 began with unemployment at 7.3% and climbed right along with the Dow to peak in October 2009 at just over 10%. Federal stimulus dollars helped to provide some relief, and 2010 ended with some improvement but still with the jobless rate at 9.4%, and the more reflective U6 rate, which includes the underemployed, stuck at nearly 17%. Yet, as bad as this sounds, the situation is worse still — much worse. The stark truth hidden beneath the published rates is that we now have the lowest labor force participation rate since April 1984 . . . long term unemployment is still rising and people are just not being counted anymore.

And what are those “American” corporations doing? Well, they are creating lots of jobs; it’s just that the majority of them are not in the U.S.. According to the Economic Policy Institute, “American” corporations created 2.4 million jobs in 2010, but nearly 60% of them, 1.4 million went to foreign nations.

Fueled by cheap foreign labor, free trade and government subsidies, the profits of American businesses are soaring. Posting their highest profits ever, $1.659 trillion in the third quarter of 2010, things are good for corporate America. There was a time when that would have translated into prosperity for the average American, but not so anymore. Today, American workers are in a race to the bottom. Their compensation is dropping while commodity prices are climbing. They struggle to provide the basic essentials for their families, while politicians and pundits are increasingly selling the tale of an unavoidable economic shift.

Americans are being sold a bad bill of goods that insists that they accept a new normal . . . one with high unemployment, low wages, weakened social safety nets, and in the final analysis — a lower standard of living. This is the path to continually increasing corporate profits in a globalized economy. Such profits require cheap labor, which means that unemployment will not stem until Americans are willing to work for third-world wages. This is the tyranny of the elite, and it’s a direct result of corporate control of the United States government.

Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the market is alive and well, and it’s painting a new America, one that’s increasingly focused on the wellbeing of We the Corporations instead of We the People. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way, but it’s not going to change through the voluntary actions of a government that’s bought and paid for by those who benefit from exploiting the populace.

The bottom line is that Big Business and American politicians have developed a symbiotic relationship that’s poisonous to the people. Big Business thrives on low taxes, deregulation and cheap labor, and American politicians fund their elections on Big Business donations. The quid pro quo in Washington is operating with unprecedented precision, firing on all cylinders and serving well the needs of the economic elite.

The unavoidable truth is that American democracy has let down the American people —there is nobody to call when those charged with service have been corrupted and no longer seek the greater good. So, what do you do when there’s nobody to call? You do the best you can to tend to the matter yourself. In this case, that starts with asking a new question: what’s good for America?

Without doubt, the answer will most assuredly be in perfect harmony with what’s good for most Americans. And as was the design of the Founding Fathers — that will be a society consisting of a strong democracy intended to curb the excesses of its capitalism, not vice versa.

We need to get the money out of politics, and you can help.


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