Sep 052012
English: President Barack Obama's signature on...

English: President Barack Obama's signature on the health insurance reform bill at the White House, March 23, 2010. The President signed the bill with 22 different pens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Democratic National Convention kicked off yesterday in Charlotte, North Carolina, and if the opening night is any indication of what’s to come, all those millionaires financing the great GOP propaganda machine better dig deep into their Swiss bank accounts. The contrast between the divisive “Me, me — keep your hands off what’s mine” theme of the RNC, and the uniting “We, us — nothing’s impossible when we work together” message of the DNC could not be more stark, nor could the choice confronting our nation be more important.

 Unity or division would seem a clear choice, but clarity is soon lost in the murky waters of politics, where information is readily distorted into much more useful forms of communication. It takes time and effort to filter the garbage and restore the pure, clean flow of information, especially when a handful of the uber-rich are willing to use their vast fortunes to pump toxic waste into the conversation, but for all those who are willing to hear, the purification process shifted gears last night.

For nearly four years, Republicans have done everything in their power to carry through on what Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell called the “single most important thing we want to achieve” — to make Barack Obama “a one-term president.” Toward that end, they’ve resorted to obstruction and distortion unparalleled in American history, and nowhere have those efforts been more dishonest than in their smear campaign on Obamacare. Fortunately, lies don’t hold up well in the sunshine, and as evidenced by the first night of the DNC, it appears that the Democrats are finally going to shine some light.

Personally, I can’t help it, but every time I hear some person complaining about the impact of “Obamacare,” I think of that Tea Party member holding the sign saying “Government Keep Your Hands Off My Medicare!” I know that the media is rife with misinformation regarding the legislation, and propagandists in the opposition camp have used every distortion possible to discredit the law, but at some point, you’d think people would take the time to actually check a fact or two.

The latest lie being told is the story about President Obama using the law to strip $716 billion from Medicare. Of course, what the perpetrators of the lie don’t  want people to know is that the cuts are not being taken from Medicare recipients but from providers in the form of future cost savings. One would think that cost control would be important for true fiscal conservatives, but evidently not when weighed against an effective political attack. The propagandists are also mum on the fact that the Paul Ryan plan for Medicare includes the same cost cuts, but what’s that little white lie when you’re so used to telling fat whoppers?

People also like to complain about how Obamacare is raising their premiums, which is obviously utter nonsense. The truth, as the Washington Post stated when assigning 3 Pinocchios to the RNC ad claiming that “Six in 10 Americans are seeing their premiums rise,” is that this would be quite a reach for a law “which largely has not gone into effect” yet. All of the most costly provisions of Obamacare aren’t scheduled to hit until 2014. And the best estimates for increases attributable to Obamacare are currently around 1.5%.

But that said, premiums are rising, and have been, quite steeply, since 2001 when they were on average 113% lower than today. Of course, premiums aren’t the only part of healthcare that’s rising. Costs are up as well, climbing to 17.3% of GDP while George Bush was president — the largest increase since 1960. And while the Bush years may have been bad for America, they were great for the medical insurers, who saw their profits soar 250% between 2000 and 2009.

Perhaps the most incredible whoppers being told are those casting Obamacare as the “biggest tax increase” in American history. It’s true that it is large, in raw, unadjusted for inflation numbers. But using any reasonable measure, such as percentage of GDP, which accounts for inflation, population growth, and all that normal stuff you’d be concerned about if you weren’t trying to distort perceptions, Obamacare is actually one of the smaller tax increases. At 0.42% of GDP, it’s about half the size of Reagan’s 1982 tax increase and less than 1/10th as large as the 5.04% Revenue Act of 1942.

Distortions mischaracterizing the “tax” component of Obamacare have become so severe that PolitiFact gave Rush Limbaugh’s claim a rating of “Pants on Fire” — a label placed on only the most bald-faced lies. And the assertion that the increases are targeted at the “poor and middle class” is even more patently absurd, as the largest single increase only applies to people making over $200,000, and most of the rest all applies to either “Cadillac” plans or is levied on manufacturers and providers. 

There is good news though — people are finally beginning to look at what’s inside Obamacare, and contrary to conservative myth, they’re liking what they find. People with adult children have already benefited from the provision that allows children up to age 26 to be included on a parent’s plan. The same holds true for parents of children with preexisting conditions who can no longer be denied coverage. Seniors too are benefiting from new rules that will close the prescription drug “donut hole” entirely by 2020. Small businesses are already receiving credits to help provide coverage for their employees; Medicaid is being made available to more people in desperate need, and lifetime and annual limits on coverage, the type that may have been a death sentence for young Zoe Lihn, are both on their way to elimination.

By the time Obamacare is fully implemented, nobody will be denied coverage because of preexisting conditions, and numerous provisions will be in place to reduce fraud, increase the availability of preventative care, streamline processing, and subsidize lower income access to individual policies. The system will also include policy exchanges to increase competition, reduce costs and provide access for individuals and small businesses to purchase coverage at prices now available only to the largest customers.

Adult Americans really should take the time to find out more about the Affordable Care Act, instead of just believing the lies they’re being fed by politicians who only want to discredit President Obama and the Democrats, no matter how many people they harm in the process. And as for all those fear-mongering liars on the right, from Limbaugh to Romney/Ryan, may they be revealed as the self-serving assholes they truly are, because they may love America — it’s certainly treated them well — but they obviously don’t give a fat flying fuck about the American people.

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Jul 272011

An investment firm named KPCB (Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers) has posted a lengthy presentation on YouTube that addresses the current issue of U.S. government debt and provides an ostensibly impartial analysis of the situation and how it may be addressed. This article is offered as a review and commentary of the presentation’s content:

This is one very skewed take on the federal debt issue presented by a very large global investment company with a seriously vested interest, including a major presence in China. While the slideshow pretends to be non-partisan, in reality, it’s a propaganda tool that emphasizes all GOP talking points and glosses over any mention of opposing views.

If you agree with the KPCB take, then the main problem with the U.S. economy is entitlement spending. The slideshow emphasizes this point over and over, throughout the presentation. It also distorts the truth about tax revenue, demonizes government employees, minimizes the impact of defense spending, and makes a series of unfounded comparisons backed by equally illegitimate half-truths.

The following are some specific criticisms:

They assault the growth in government spending by charting the growth starting with the Great Depression: it’s up to 24% of GDP following a 3% trend line prior to 1930 — no shit it grew — there was no prior safety net and no future for anyone but the robber barons and banksters. That’s why we had the Great Depression! The New Deal paved the way and the ensuing period of time following WW2 was the greatest sustained economic expansion in our history — all under a system of shared prosperity brought about through government programs and regulation.

They use the GOP favorite, a family example, as comparison to show what the government should do. Of course it fails to illuminate any of the distinctions between the two very different groups. You know, like one can actually address trade rules, modify tax structures, and print freaking money — or that one is focused on its own wellbeing and the other is supposed to be focused on the wellbeing of ALL the people.

They claim that entitlement costs are rising “exponentially,” which is, of course, true, but still a means of somewhat overstating the issue. Even in today’s sad state of economic affairs, our GDP is presently growing “exponentially” — at a rate of 1.6%, which is pathetic. But the fact that few Americans understand exponential growth provides an open opportunity to exploit their ignorance and make the situation sound as bad as possible. FYI, even the Heritage Foundation estimates claim that entitlement spending will “double” by 2050. I guess “double” just doesn’t sound scary enough.

They label the growth in entitlement spending as a “runaway freight train,” comparing it to the increase in tax revenues, claiming that the former has grown at 2 times the rate of the latter over the past 10 years. Of course, they conveniently leave out anything about the Bush Tax Cuts and the fact that tax rates are at their lowest mark in more than 50 years. Are low taxes really evidence of “runaway” entitlement spending?

They emphasize how large our entitlement spending is by comparing it to the GDP of India, the “world’s 9th largest economy, but they never state that India’s GDP is only $1.38 trillion, or less than 1/10th the size of our own.

They attack the entitlements, but they completely glaze over defense spending. They list it as only 20% of the total and $656 billion. Of course, the truth is that when looking at all defense spending, not just the department of defense, the number is over $1 trillion, and is pushing 30% of overall spending.

They chart a picture where defense spending is actually below the statistical average since 1948 as a portion of GDP. Based on said chart, they assert that we’re actually not spending that much on defense. Of course, they chose a period of time that does include the spike for the Korean war and also the Viet Nam war years, but conveniently omits WW2, when spending peaked at 42% of GDP, and they made sure they stopped the chart in 2003 — eliminating the final $300 billion in Bush increases, not to mention Obama’s own.

They also never make any distinction in what might be considered appropriate defense spending between peacetime/wartime, nor do they address differences between wars of necessity versus wars of choice. They also fail to mention that defense spending has actually tripled since 1997, and they leave out entirely the true financial costs of war — those which echo through many facets of the economy and include a huge portion of federal interest payments and are in total estimated to be more than three times the direct costs.

They do mention defense cuts but only the most low hanging of fruit, like the extra engine for the F-35, and certainly nothing like actually ending the wars.

They show the future unfunded costs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, $35, $23, and $8 trillion respectively, but fail to mention (except in the fine print) that this is over the next 75 years. They also give nothing for comparison, like the fact that at the present rate, defense costs of over $1 trillion each year, which are taken from general revenue, would amount to more than $75 trillion over the same period.

They talk about healthcare costs and results but give only lip service to any real reform that might be made. They make no mention of soaring insurer and pharmaceutical profits, or of the fact that Medicare is prohibited from negotiating drug prices, nor do they mention the 3-6% administrative costs for Medicare as compared to the 12-30% for private insurers. They even understate total healthcare costs at 8.2% of GDP when it’s actually running over 17%.

They present a terrible view of the increase in Medicaid recipients, showing that in 1965 only 1-in-50 people relied on the program compared to 1-in-6 in 2007. Of course they present this as if it were solely an issue associated with program rules and say nothing about the impact of increased cost of living and falling median income and loss of benefits.

They present the only choices to “fixing” Social Security as increasing the retirement age to 73, increasing payroll taxes to 14.3% or reducing benefits by 12%. This paints a pretty bleak picture. But it may not be so bleak when you consider that the tax increase could come largely from lifting the salary cap, or the benefit reduction could apply only to those who are wealthy — or a combination of the two. They also never mention that the program is 100% solvent through 2037, or that it will still be able to pay 78% of benefits beyond that period without any program changes —but then that wouldn’t serve their purpose.

They also make the argument that life expectancy has increased in the U.S. by 26% since the inception of Social Security while retirement age has only gone up by 3%. Now that doesn’t seem very balanced, but of course when you consider that those who actually perform physical work are barely living any longer at all, and that the real increase in expectancy applies mostly to the high income earners who need Social Security the least . . . well, I guess it depends for whom you’re advocating.

They make assertions in pursuit of the GOP agenda item to divert attention from the impact corporate profits and reduced taxation of the economic elite have had on the economy, and they attempt to place the blame on government workers and unions. They actually choose to paint a picture that blames GM’s economic problems chiefly on retiree benefits, and then claim that the company’s recovery was achieved by removing employee healthcare benefits and focusing on quality. Oddly, they never mention the government bailout.

They assert that if a corporation fails to balance its books, they are forced to go out of business, but they neglect to say a word about Too Big To Fail — the socialization of Wall St. debt , the $16 trillion in loans made by the Federal Reserve to the nations biggest banks and corporations at near-zero rates, the auto industry bailout, or any of the billions of dollars in corporate subsidies, which were estimated by the conservative Cato Institute at $92 billion in 2006 alone.

They depict the debt picture in the U.S. by comparing it to other nations and using our gross public debt number, which unlike other nations has the added factor of including inter-government and state-issued debt, neither of which is typical of most other countries. The combination of these two categories is about 30% of the total, which puts the 86% number in a considerably different light. And BTW, even though they chose to use government spending trends from 1930, they fail to mention that the debt to GDP ratio was 122% after WW2 — a number that we paid down with economic expansion and higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

They totally distort the tax picture by placing blame on the 51% of Americans who didn’t pay taxes and never mention that the number increased because Wall St. had literally stolen trillions in middle class wealth and crashed the economy in the process, sending 8 million people to the unemployment lines and creating a situation where it was necessary for the Obama administration to extend $288 billion in further tax cuts as part of the much maligned stimulus program.

They assert that the number of people paying 50% of taxes had dropped by 60% between 1965 and 2005. All true, but what they don’t say is that the slice of people making enough money on which to live has also been dropping — that the share of income gouged by the top 1% had grown from 8% in the mid-1970s to 23.% in 2007, and that the median wage fell for the first time in decades under G.W. Bush. They also fail to mention that the corporate share of taxes also dropped from 20% of the total in the 1960s to under 9% in 2010 — from 4% of GDP in 1965 to 1.3% in 2009, which is the lowest of all OECD nations except Iceland.

They present an absurd picture of addressing the debt with tax increases by isolating such measures as a single-solution response. In so doing, the picture they paint is that income tax rates would have to double. Of course, they conveniently ignore any combined solution of spending cuts and tax increases; they completely skim over the potential for eliminating tax loopholes and tax havens, instead offering only the possibility of either taxing healthcare benefits or eliminating the home mortgage deduction — both obviously targeted at raising alarm in working Americans. They also leave out any possibility of limiting the increased tax rates to millionaires and billionaires — you know, like the hedge fund managers, many of whom rake in over $1 billion in a single year and are able to treat their income as capital gains, paying only 15%, while a single person making $35K has to pay 25%.

They speak about government action where “nearly all” Americans will share in the sacrifice, but they don’t want you to consider that what they really mean — when the bottom 98% of us pay the entire price, that is “nearly all” Americans.

Mar 202011
Smile & Frown

Image by Steve Snodgrass via Flickr

Is there any political issue upon which all Americans agree? If there is, it’s certainly not defense spending, social programs, taxation, campaign finance, healthcare, or abortion, nor is it energy, trade, marriage, foreign policy, guns, illegal immigration, unionization, or the national debt, the economy, the environment, education, civil rights, crime, or drugs . . . hell, we can’t even all agree on jobs and infrastructure!

Unanimous agreement on any of these issues is extremely rare, even on a historical scale. World War II may have brought us to statistical unanimity on defense spending, and back in 1789, there were few voices of dissent offered against the general provisions of the Second Amendment. Yes, true consensus seldom occurs, but the degree of division found today is equally uncommon.

Last year’s debate surrounding healthcare is an excellent example of not only how wide the chasm between liberal and conservative voter opinion, but also of the nature of the divide. From the onset, Republicans spared no effort to cast the healthcare bill in the most negative light possible; labeled “Obamacare,” it was a “government takeover” of healthcare; it was being “forced down the throats” of voters and would result in bringing “death panels” to destroy the “best healthcare system in the world.”

The result of this unrelenting slander campaign was to completely pollute public opinion amongst conservatives. Voters rallied against the bill, believing the hyperbole to be fact, and stood in stringent opposition. Conservative opinion became so stacked, that the repeal of “Obamacare” became a vital element of the Republican election campaign of 2010.

But then, as the din of election rhetoric started to subside, the campaign dust began to settle, and another dynamic soon emerged. Preposterous claims of “death panels” were replaced by a slow seeping of factual information regarding what the healthcare bill actually contained. This soon led to liberals and conservatives alike arriving at more well-developed positions, and public opinion on repeal quickly began to tilt.

Once the equation changed from “do you want to repeal the government takeover of healthcare” to “do you believe that insurance companies should be able to refuse coverage because of preexisting conditions,” people were suddenly empowered with real knowledge of the issues, and were soon to adopt a position that actually reflected their personal values.

Many voters previously in favor of repeal found that they actually supported certain aspects of the bill, like allowances to help Medicare recipients cover out-of-pocket prescription costs, parents being able to include children up to age 26 on their plans, and the prohibition on denial for preexisting conditions. Once armed with facts in place of manipulative hyperbole, support for complete repeal dropped to only one in four voters.

If this were an isolated story, it may be dismissible as an aberration in an otherwise healthy political process. But the sad truth is that this sort of deception and manipulation is the rule, not the exception, and the process in question is not only unhealthy but exceedingly destructive.

The real story about healthcare or jobs or the deficit, or whatever specific issue you choose, is that the Republican spin machine has become so expert at political theater that no matter what the underlying facts, they’re able to develop a script for each issue that portrays the conservative position as pro-American and patriotic. They’ve actually become so adept at this manipulation that conservative voters accept their contrived plots, and willingly suspend reality, without question, most often to their own demise.

Regardless of political views, any observer of this dynamic has to be in awe of its power. The spinmeister’s craft is dedicated to beguiling the unwitting victim by playing on emotions of fear, pride, and fairness. By evoking the emotional response, the skilled spinmeister obscures the facts, avoids troubling questions about substance and effectively uses distraction to open his victims to exploitation.

Who isn’t against “government takeovers” — of any kind? The government is supposed to represent the people, not rule over them. And “death panels” or having anything “rammed down your throat?” What American wouldn’t be repulsed by such imagery?

The truth is that these characterizations have nothing to do with the underlying issues. They’re offered for the sole purpose of poisoning the well in order to drive opinion without any real evaluation of substance.

In reality, when all the extraneous bullshit is stripped away, all Americans care about the same things: about the wellbeing of their family and friends, and about the values upon which they base their lives. These core values may vary from person to person in terms of what they might hold as most important in a given situation, but they are, at the same time, universal. All people care about fairness and reciprocity, and they also care about protecting others from harm, about loyalty and respect and the sanctity of life. These values form the moral foundation of our culture.

Sadly, the Republican spin machine has succeeded in co-opting this basic set of American values, casting them as unique unto itself, and has in the process managed to artificially split the nation. They’ve created an alternate reality where they alone are held to believe in hard work, where fairness is dictated by the market (instead of by people), and where corporations are entitled to more rights than the citizens of our nation. Amazing? Absolutely, but the truly inconceivable part is that something approaching half of all Americans buy into this nonsense.

The truth of the matter is that what divides Americans is much less about a split in values and much more about the split in valuables. If left to discuss and debate our values without self-serving provocation by manipulative elites, the vast majority of Americans would be able to find common ground on which to build consensus and develop workable solutions. But such interaction would not serve the goals of those who seek to keep us divided, so they do everything they can to drive the wedge as deep and often as possible.

We’ve allowed the politicians and media to cast the debate as “big government” versus “small government,” when we all know that what we really need is “effective government.” We argue over raising or cutting taxes without first discussing the services We the People deem appropriate and how best to fund them. We accept that we’re divided over energy and defense and abortion and all manner of social and economic issues, but instead of engaging in dialogue and attempting to find real solutions, we just accept the winner-take-all, zero sum game of American politics that’s been defined for us.

This is not the way our democracy was intended to work. The Founding Fathers established a republic designed to ensure that the interests of all citizens would be taken into account. But in spite of their sage efforts, our representative government increasingly represents only the interests of a very small, very wealthy, and very powerful minority.

The real division in America has nothing to do with left and right. This is an artificial construct designed to keep the masses in perpetual tension — to keep us divided. Today’s public is presented with one fraudulent dichotomy after another, all stemming from complex political positions built on heaping assumptions with questionable logic. It is this complexity that prevents solution, because it ensures that the public never engages in meaningful discourse at a level low enough to find our common ground — the level of our core values.

There is no issue on the social landscape upon which a majority of Americans cannot find a suitable compromise. All that’s needed is an earnest discussion at the most basic level. Americans are decent people with a true sense of fairness, who have proven time and again that they’re capable of working together for the common good. All they need is leadership willing to speak the truth and stop beating the drums of division long enough to foster real dialogue.

Unfortunately, politicians want us all to believe that our differences are irreconcilable, that the other side is the enemy, unpatriotic and incapable of coming together and agreeing upon workable solutions. This is a fallacy, but it’s kept alive by constantly reintroducing issues that are recirculated and debated over and again, whenever The People threaten to expose the truth — that the only real divide in America is top and bottom, between the haves and have-nots, and that divide is widening with every passing year.

It is up to We the People to reject yet another season of the Kabuki Theater that is left/right politics in America. We must demand an end to the deceptive practices of both major parties, equally to Republican fear-mongering and Democratic lip-service, for it is their dance that’s taken us to the edge of destruction. We must come together as a people and insist on a real conversation, or else continue to be exploited by our nation’s economic elite and their servants in public office.

The People only win when we unite.

If interested in a look at how your personal values fit with your politics, pay a visit to Your

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