Uncommon Sense

August 2, 2017

Medicare for All: Let the Hand Wringing Begin

Filed under: Morality,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:34 pm
Tags: , ,

Now that a “Medicare for All (MFA)” movement is gaining steam, it seems a day can’t go by without a great deal of angst being proffered by various and sundry columnists. I think this attitude is professional in nature as a “happy days are here again” attitude doesn’t sell papers, as they say.

There are all kinds of “problems” with MFA that are brought up. How will we pay for it? What happens to the insurance companies? How will businesses now providing health insurance cope with the issues?

I am reminded of a story of a very good friend of mine who remembered setting the dinner table with his young daughter one time and started mumbling to himself “wine, wine, wine,…” as he contemplated what bottle to open and his daughter burst out in tears saying “I can’t help it….” Like that young lady, these columnists can’t help but whine.

Yes, there will be massive institutional problems involved … so what?

Consider: How to pay for it? Currently most Americans receive health insurance as a fringe benefit through their work. Instead of that money going to health insurance companies directly from their employers, those funds will have to be paid to the employees. With those funds, they will be able to pay the taxes necessary to pay for the MFA plan. Those taxes will not be anywhere near as large as the cost of that private plan. For one reason, the Medicare folks have about a 3% overhead and 0% profits while the private insurers overhead and profit taking are closer to 20%. Also, if you haven’t noticed, Medicare doesn’t pay 100% of all medical expenses, it pays about 80% (at least on paper—my co-pays have been almost zero as most practitioners accept my Medicare payment as payment in full).

The rest of the money employees receive in lieu of employer provided health insurance will go to a supplemental policy to add to the basic coverage provided by Medicare. I hope that the government will make an adjustment to our income taxes and not confiscate a substantial portion of the “new income” that the direct payment to employees constitutes and allow us to deduct all taxes and payments for medical treatments, insurances, etc. I also hope that MFA continues to be basic and not get blown up into some “Cadillac version” by pandering politicians. Possibly the system could be run by a nonpartisan commission, much as many public pension system are.

The insurance companies will be very busy providing supplemental policies from minimal to lavish in scope, I am sure. Their profit margins will go up because they will not be spending so very much money researching the best ways to get away with denying honest claims.

So, will there be transition problems if we opt for MFA? Yes, of course. Only an idiot would think otherwise. Are those problems so daunting to have us consider not going down that road? Only an idiot would think that. The founders of this country basically created a representative democracy from scratch. Creating a modern health security system should be a much lesser task and is quite worth doing. Will the rich still have it better than the poor? Are you fucking crazy? Of course they will. They will spend quite a bit of money to guarantee that whatever the best care is, they will get it. (Their Medicare Plus plans will be Medicare Plus Plus (Platinum), I am sure.) The poor will have to settle for pretty damned good care, which is far, far better than they have ever had.

May 5, 2017

Egad, Economic Uncertainty is Real!

During the recent Democratic administration, Republicans often ranted about “uncertainty” with regard to investment. You see, the economy tanked in 2008 and the recovery was feeble (still is). Banks were given huge amounts of money at zero interest with the hope they would loan that money, cheaply but profitably, to businesses looking to expand. The key word was “hope” in that the government attached no strings to those zero interest loans. Consequently the banks bought securities with the money, causing the stock market to “recover” rapidly but no one else. When upbraided about this anti-social behavior, the Republicans countered with there was “too much uncertainty” in the market for business to expand. They rather should have stated there is too much bullshit in politics; that would have been closer to the truth.

The real reason businesses did not expand with all that cheap money around, is that they possessed even cheaper money (U.S. businesses had $2+ trillion dollars in cash reserves at one point.) and they weren’t spending that either. The reason? Simple: no demand. This is shockingly self-evident for people who know nothing about economics other than “supply and demand.” If there is no demand, supply is irrelevant (even though some economists tried to claim the opposite—see Say’s law). There was no demand because those business’s customers were broke, still are.

So, when Mr. Trump was elected and the GOP captured both houses of Congress, well … “Happy days are here again, the skies …” uh, no? No. Even though gasoline is quite cheap now, no one is buying much. Retail business are offering lower and lower pricing and still no surge in buying.

People are sitting on the sidelines economically because, well, they are uncertain about the future. When a person’s future is potentially very bad, they hunker down, save their money, and prepare for the worst the best they can.

Mr. Trump’s policies have never been particularly coherent, which was by design. When Mr. Trump claimed he was going to deport 11 million “illegals” from the country, many people translated that into “I will have more job opportunities.” (Right, by picking crops and doing day labor out of the local Wal-Mart?) When Mr. Trump claimed that he was going to transform Obamacare into something better, people applied their own definitions of what “better” meant. But healthcare is a complicated subject (“Who knew?”) and Mr. Trump’s party’s first effort at it was horrifically negative. (Hunker, hunker, hunker,…) Then there was the “tax reform” promised. People thought “my taxes will go down” and “I could use the money.” What they didn’t think of was that rich people’s taxes would go down much more, thus reducing government tax receipts, causing many government programs to be terminated, government programs that ordinary citizens are dependent upon, of course, not the rich. (Hunker, hunker, hunker,…) Then the current administration launches missiles in Syria and threatens nuclear war in North Korea. (Hunker, hunker, hunker,…) and….

The economic uncertainty of businesses as a reason for why they weren’t investing in their own businesses was pure political spin. They were anything but uncertain, in fact they were absolutely sure there was no demand, so no expansions. But the economic uncertainty of individual citizens is palpably real. We are not spending much money right now because we don’t know whether we will have affordable healthcare available, whether Social Security will still exist, or Medicare … all of these have been threatened by the GOP.

All of these threats are coming home to roost. We are in line for another recession, possibly as early as this summer. The ordinary tools used to combat recessions are not available (cut interest rates … why? … how?) and the GOP is dead set against deficit spending (the tool that really works) unless it enriches the rich or the military industrial complex.

Buckle your seat belts, folks. If you think things are uncertain right now, well, winter is coming.

April 6, 2017

I Don’t Get It

The definition of “it” in the title is probably very, very long (very!). In this case it is our current debate about healthcare.

There is continuing support for certain functions of government to be paid by the government. Unlike knuckle-dragging conservatives, I do not see “government” as being some outside agency closely representing a skin cancer (something you want shrunk and or carved out), but as a representative of “us.” We are completely fine with “single payer” K-12 education. Citizens and non-citizens alike can register their children to attend a neighboring school and there the children receive an education with no further costs. (Yes, I do know there are myriad costs associated with a child in school, but those are not directly related to the education they receive.) This is, accurately, not a “single payer” system as multiple government agencies are involved, so maybe a better description is “government paid” for this schooling. We also have many other services that are “government paid.” For one, the military. For another, our government offices. When you go to your local councilman or alderman’s office for information or a complaint, there are no fees associated with those services. In all of those cases, the “government”—remember that means “us”—picks up the full tab.

The argument goes that those services are “essential,” that is we all need them and money should be a barrier to whether or not you receive those services.

Oh, there are also the police, fire services, the courts, etc. There are many things that fall into this category of “things we all pay so everyone can partake equally.” In some cases, this is the “many” protecting itself from the “few.” Many vaccinations are low cost, even free, to avoid the spread of diseases.

I don’t get why health care is not one of those things.

I understand that people, especially politically conservative people, have bought into a capitalistic “pay as you go” culture, uh, well, kinda sorta. The biggest proponents of “individual liberty/individual responsibility” are not all self-made people, many inherited money. If Donald Trump had invested all of the money he inherited in stock market index funds, he would have four times as much money now as he claims to have, according to some accounts. (So much for him being a good businessman, he has managed to lose only three quarters of his potential net worth. He is, at best, a mediocre businessman.) The Koch brothers inherited millions (and built upon those, yes). Mitt Romney, who claims that nobody helped him, was given two million dollars of “seed money” to help him get started as well as being given access to his really well-connected father’s associates. The Walton clan … well, daddy made the big pot for them.

For those without great wealth in this group are people who received help along the way from government (aka “us”) agencies. Help with their educations, help with business loans, help from other government agencies, etc.

But them poor people, they lack drive and ambition. They should go out and start a business. Really, you mean those business startups that have a 90% failure rate after three years? Where would they get the money to take that very risky venture? The banks? Wall Street? Venture Capitalists? (Sorry, laughing so hard my sides are aching.) If you haven’t noticed, over the last 30-40 years, businesses have stopped investing in their own business. They have accumulated trillions of dollars of cash reserves that are just sitting there. So, these are the people poor people are to emulate? (Step 1 Pile up a mountain of money. Step 2 Sit on it. Neoliberal Business Practices 101)

Poor people need to go out an get a job, then? Oh, do they mean the jobs conservatives have suppressed wages on for decades so they do not pay enough to meet a person’s expenses? Those jobs? All of the anti-union, anti-minimum wage rhetoric is not coming from poor people, it is coming from the same conservative ass holes who are insisting that everyone should “pay as you go.”

I do not want single-payer healthcare. (Currently I have Medicare and a Medicare supplement policy, and I pick up the slack those two do not cover, so there are at least three payers there, certainly at least two.) I want government paid health care. It is at least as important as an education for our kids, if not more so.

There’s more but my spleen just gave out.

* * *

Poverty is not due to a lack of character, it is due to a lack of cash. (I don’t know who said this first.)

May 28, 2014

Six Conundrums the Left Can’t Answer … Really?

Allen B. West, the deranged GOPer from Florida has posted the following:

Six Conundrums the Left Can’t Answer

1. America is capitalist and greedy – yet almost half of the population is subsidized.
2. Half of the population is subsidized – yet they think they are victims.
3. They think they are victims – yet their representatives run the government.
4. Their representatives run the government – yet the poor keep getting poorer.
5. The poor keep getting poorer – yet they have things that people in other countries only dream about.
6. They have things that people in other countries only dream about – yet politicians (mostly progressive socialists) claim they want America to become more like those other countries.

These, he claims, are conundrums that the Left can’t answer.

I don’t know about the “Left” as there is not much of one remaining in the U.S., but I can answer them.

#1 America is capitalist and greedy … uh, yes. But the estimate that half of the population is subsidized is too low. It is much closer to 100%. Every corporation, they are people, too, you know, is on the take. They get tax breaks, etc. from their bought and paid for politicians, so every one working for a corporation is also being subsidized. (Consider just the benefits Wal-Mart’s employees get to support their substandard wages.) Then all of those people getting Medicare, all of those people getting Social Security, all of those people getting a tax deduction to buy their homes (the greedy takers), all of those taking education expense deductions, etc. It would be hard to find anyone in this country not getting a subsidy.

The problem here is the amount of the subsidies. The corporations get billions. The rich get millions. The poor get peanuts and bad mouthed at the same time.

#2 The only people claiming victimhood are Fox (sic) News commentators. I’m sorry, the poor don’t have mouthpieces, or blogs, or paid PR flaks to make their point. Where do you get this idea that the “poor think they are victims?” Oh, you just made it up? Well, I can prove that the poor have been victims. Just compare the wages of the poor, go on, use the minimum wage, and compare it to the pay of CEOs whose companies hire workers for minimum wage jobs. Anybody who thinks that corporations are not using an economic downturn to hold wages down or are virulently anti-union to keep their workers wages down isn’t playing with a full deck of cards.

#3 The poor have representatives? Really? All those K Street Lobbyists the poor hired are having an effect, eh? Are you effing crazy? Our elected officials serve only their wealthy donors. Study after study proves this. On what planet did you grow up that has poor with effective political representation? Has this ever been the case in human history? When the minimum wage law was enacted in the 1930s, there were two groups of workers excluded; do you know which those were? They were farm workers and servants, i.e. black people. Did you see all of the black people’s lobbyists swarming Washington, D.C. to get that fixed? No? Neither did I.

#4 The poor’s representatives run the government? You mean like in the House of Representatives in which the average personal wealth of members is over $1,000,000? Rich people are just lining up to represent the interests of poor people, . . . uh, not. This idea runs counter to your other idiotic idea that government is transferring wealth from ordinary folks (really rich people) to the poor (the shiftless and lazy, really, you know “dem folks”). If there were such massive transfers occurring, would the poor still be getting poorer? See #3 for more.

#5 Yeah, our poor have things people in other countries just dream about, people in countries like Chad and Bangladesh. Our poor are really living a life of luxury … as victims, too. The “socialist European” countries you sneer at have better health care outcomes for far less money spent, often to no cost to their citizens than do we. What kind of price to you put on your health? Is having a wide-screen TV or a pickup truck better? Is there a reason that black folks in this country live lives so much shorter than do others? Could it be they often can’t afford health care because they want to, you know, eat or stay warm? You would not get any of the citizens of those “socialist” countries willing to trade places and be “poor” in the U.S.

#6 Hell, even I want the U.S. to be more like those other countries. Countries that care about people and who provide support to citizens in the form of health care and child care. What is so effing special about “everybody is on their own?” Surveys of whether or not people are happy show Canadians are far happier than Americans. They have fewer worries. They have a banking system that didn’t melt down like ours did because they regulated greed out of their banking system, for example. And they have the dreaded “single payer” health care system (falsely maligned with made-up stores by the U.S. Right). I know the bubble that just opened in your head: if you think Canada’s so great, why don’t you go live there? Am I right? As if my wanting to live near my family and friends had no bearing nor does whether Canada wants people like me. Let me flip that around and say “if you think “everybody is on their own” is so great, like in Afghanistan or Somalia, why don’t you go live there?

Stop making asinine claims you can’t support. They are not even original, but that is not surprising as I suspect you have no thoughts of your own.


November 1, 2013

Weird Budget Negotiations

A Congressional committee has convened to try to come to agreement on a federal budget. Fat chance of that working. Republicans are adamant that there will be “no new taxes” and they consider taking away a tax loophole a tax increase. So, there will be no tax reform under the hands of these guys. In fact they really don’t want anything ordinary Americans want.

What many do not recognize is that the GOP has gotten its way since the Great Recession: the stimulus was so small it barely worked, there are many fewer federal workers now than before. Taxes are at the lowest rates since the 1950’s. The Sequester and other budget cuts have reduced the budget deficit to it’s lowest value in almost a decade.

And what has this gotten us? It has gotten us the slowest recovery from a recession in recorded history. Clearly the U.S. economy is one of the most robust in the world, yet we keep limping along at a minuscule rate.

Austerity is not the solution. It never has been. Repubs have been hysterical about the National Debt, currently about on par with our GDP (our national income). They also keep making comparisons with ordinary citizen’s household budgets, claiming “You wouldn’t do that.” I beg to differ. How many U.S. Household have less debt than their annual income? Unless you own your home and car outright, my guess is that your debt far exceeds what you make in a year. Let’s see, we owe $17,000 on the car and $238,000 on the house and the college loans for the kids, hmm.

The National Debt is not a big problem right now. The deficit is not a big problem right now. The big problem is righting the ship for ordinary Americans which means providing jobs through which they can pay their bills, including taxes that will lower the deficit.

We need to get past this bump in the road because if you think our problems are big now, consider what the near future looks like (and I am not talking Medicate and Social Security, they are just other bumps in the road). Capitalists of the Milton Friedman ilk have convinced us that the solution to all of our problems is “growing the economy.” This is necessary because the population is growing and we want our standard of living to be getting better rather than worse. Yep, growth is needed, absolutely.

But I have to ask, what happens if we just keep growing? If we were a person that just kept growing we would be considered diseased and would be treated by doctors. The same would be true for any animal. Can an economy “just keep growing?” An economy consumes resources. Take oil, for example; when I was a boy it was inconceivable that we would exhaust the supplies of oil in this country. Now, it is done, we have little left. And if you think tar sands, fracking proceeds, etc. are new sources of energy, think again. They are sources of fuel, transportable fuel, but each gallon of oil extracted from those tar sands, for example, consumes more energy than the oil provides. The more we take out the less energy we have available. These are not sources of energy, they are forms of energy. We are running out of cheap, transportable forms of energy. The Middle East oil producing countries (remember OPEC?) claim they have the same reserves that they had a decade, even two decades, ago. Is it any wonder, OPEC sets quotas on how much oil a country in their group can extract annually based on the amount of reserves they have. That their reserves haven’t changed year after year is physically improbably to the nth degree, so what are their real petroleum reserves? Nobody knows. Are they likely to be as high as they were 20 years ago? (Ask yourself.)

Economies extract resources from the world around us. As economies grow, they extract more resources. The end result of economic “Grow, Baby, Grow” is . . . diminished or even exhausted resources. And a basic rule of nature is as resources become exhausted, additional resources become harder and harder to come by. Hey, if we need metals, we can always mine asteroids! Yeah, sounds cost effective to me. The era of cheap resources is pretty much done, so what do we do next?

This is a big issue, it will take years and years to work out.

There are bigger problems on our horizon than the ones we face now. If we could only get the GOP’s backers to look beyond their quarterly financial statements, we might be able to make some real progress.

September 25, 2013

A Republican Failure to Calculate

Congressional Republicans are threatening to take out the government and/or the full faith and credit of the U.S. if they don’t get their way regarding The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. The reason is, they say, is that it is a bad law, it “sucks,” and it will fail. So, unless Mr. Obama agrees to repeal it, they will destroy the economy, maybe the global economy. (Images of Cleavon Little holding a gun to his head in Blazing Saddles comes to mind.)

So, why not just say “we opposed this when it was passed by a Democrat Congress, we opposed this in front of the Supreme Court, and we opposed this by trying to repeal it 42 times, but we have just run out of ways to oppose this, so don’t blame us when it fails.”

It is the perfect out. Obamacare is a bad law, it will fail, Republicans did everything in their power to prevent it from happening, but it ends up getting implemented, failing, and the Democrats are blamed. What’s wrong with this scenario? Government of the type they detest is undermined, more Republicans get elected in the aftermath, etc. What’s wrong with this scenario?

What’s wrong with this scenario is summed up by Gene Robinson of the Washington Post, one of the more level-headed observers of our politics “Republicans scream that Obamacare is sure to fail. But what they really fear is that it will succeed. That’s the reason for all the desperation. Republicans are afraid that Obamacare will not prove to be a bureaucratic nightmare — that Americans, in fact, will find they actually like it.”

So this last ditch effort is a manifestation of Republicans failing to calculate reality: under Obamacare, insurance costs will be held down and more people will be insured, so the public won’t have to pay for the care of the uninsured as much (fewer freeloaders is always a good thing with the conservative crowd, heck even I like that), and for the vast majority of us there is nothing we need to do.

Clearly Republicans don’t believe their own rhetoric, nor can they do political calculus worth a damn.

And get this: I hate Obamacare! The reason I hate it is: why should we allow insurance companies to skim up to 20% off the top to just do paperwork when Medicare has proven that the actual cost of the paperwork is only a few percent? I believe everybody should get basic health care services paid by all of us. Rich people can then supplement the basic service with all of the Cadillac services they want (but not tax deductably) on top of that. The “Basic” doesn’t cover exotic cancers, Siamese twin births, weird shit like that, just the basics. Bad luck happens, but it is not our job collectively to ensure against the worst, just the ordinary (prenatal and postnatal care and births, women’s plumbing issues, broken bones, common diseases, etc.). The taxes needed to pay for this should be less than what the corporations are paying for medical plan premiums right now.

Republicans can’t do this calculation either.

February 3, 2013

What is the Value of Your Safety Net Contributions?

A pundit on Bill Maher’s show (Real Time) last Friday claimed that the problem with the U.S. economy is basically due to “entitlements” meaning Social Security, Medicare, etc. (Can you hear the echoes of “We have a spending problem. . . .” Thank you , John Boener, thank you Mitch McConnell.) She stated that people pay in $150,000 over their working lifetimes but take out $300,000.

I found this claim interesting in that it was posited as a feature of an unsustainable system, a system like your wallet; you can’t take out more than you put in without big trouble.

Let’s look at this. Consider that an average (meaning median) income in the U.S. is a bit over $50,000. We’ll use $50,000 for simplicity (and we will make all calculations based on current values which will in essence account for inflation, etc.).

Current payroll taxes are 6.21% on the first $114,000 of income, so this covers our average blokes $50,000 worth of income. If our average bloke works for 40 years, his total income comes out to be $2,000,000 and his contributions to SS and Medicare would be $125,000, close to the $150,000 figure quoted. Given that the average income is over $50,000, that probably makes up the difference. I am going to go with the $150,000 figure as I am trying to see if her figures are legitimate.

Realize that those contributions were made over a 40 year period and that Congress requires that excess contributions be invested in Treasury bills that pay interest. So, the question is, what would be the future value of such contributions at the end of a 40 year period. Zip, I am off to the Internet and a Future Value Calculator.

If roughly $300 per month ($150,000/480 months) were invested at 3% interest at the end of 40 years one would have accumulated $278,000!

If roughly $300 per month ($150,000/480 months) were invested, at 6% interest at the end of 40 years one would have accumulated $600,000!

Currently Treasury bills aren’t at 6% or even 3% but it wasn’t that long ago that they were. Over a 40 year time span, those are not unreasonable averages.

Now, Congress has chosen to use my contributions to pay other people’s benefits rather than invest it, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t effectively contribute as much as I will take out.

A more sensible discussion of these systems would be to look at what they can provide, the various options to provide it, and then make our choices. Unfortunately, politics is the only basis upon which decisions are currently made.

For years and years, people have been crying “the Boomers are coming, the Boomers are coming!” and they (we) were going to lay waste to the economy, shred the social safety net, etc. I am part of the leading edge of the Baby Boom generation, the “Boomers” in question. I retired in 2006. The “Baby Boom” lasted from 1946 to 1964, 18 years. In other words, in 2024 (2006 + 18 years) the Boomers will have all passed into the system and the numbers of people entering will fall way off.

According to the SSA’s 2010 Annual Report, the Obamacare healthcare law has extended the exhaustion date of the Medicare trust fund from 2017 to 2029. The SS System would not be similarly depleted until 2037. This means that if nothing is done and the system and economy stay as they are projected, the SS System will have to cut benefits to roughly 75% of current amounts at that point.

In other words, there is no real problem with Social Security. Raising the amount that is taxed to higher income levels would solve all problems for the foreseeable future.

The real problem with Medicare is not in providing the services but that the costs of services keeps escalating. Interestingly enough, Medicare critics, aka Republicans, claim that Medicare isn’t holding down cost enough. Tell that to doctors who take Medicare patients. Most accept what Medicare pays as payment in full and Medicare pays a fraction of what those services are billed at (according to my small sample, between 50% and 75% of billed amounts). Medicare is the only public health service which is actually holding down costs. Private insurance companies have no interest in doing so as it would reduce their profits (which are based on the costs of services).

So, pundits sling figures around, self-serving figures which are often quite misleading. When listening to these folks, you have to ask whether they are trying to inform you with their comments or convince you. Someone trying to convince you is an activist who has a point of view they are trying to sell. Someone who is just trying to inform you is a safer source of reliable information.

January 13, 2013

The Modern Conservative Movement and Social Darwinism

Regular readers of this blog will recognize my claim (and that of others) that American conservatives are hell bent on destroying the remnants of the New Deal and the safety social net so many look to as a god send. Currently conservatives are shouting about the national debt as a reason that social welfare programs need to be reined in. These same folks, of course, couldn’t have been bothered with anything like the national debt just four years ago. It is being used as a “reason” to do what they want even though it is not a cause of a problem per se.

So, why are they doing this, other than from hatred of the New Deal and social programs memes, why does the hatred exist? My claim is that modern conservatives and most Republicans are Social Darwinists. Again, this is ironic because these selfsame folks also are science deniers, especially with regard to the theory of evolution, brilliantly begun by Charles Darwin. Hence, if you would accuse one of these conservatives of being a “Darwinist,” they would most assuredly take umbrage.

The form of Social Darwinism is actually pseudo science equating to “social survival of the fittest.” They believe that if all of the props were to be pulled out from the “underclasses,” they would surely sink to the bottom of the social strata where they belong. Fueling this is their belief that the “fittest” are most assuredly white and that the black and brown members of our society have been artificially raised up where they do not belong. (We want our country back! is not something blacks or Hispanics say.) It is no accident that these people also oppose any form of “affirmative action” in education or employment.

Their beliefs not only extend to the supposed superiority of white Americans over African-Americans and Hispanics, but also with regard to the superiority of men over women. These conservatives (they do not deserve a capital C) are traditionalists who think women have gotten far too uppity, especially sexually. So, they not only oppose equal pay for women, they oppose structural support for the sexual independence of women (e.g. Planned Parenthood, availability of abortions, even the availability of contraception). It may be an overstatement but they would prefer modern women to be closer to “barefoot and pregnant” than to any example of a modern woman, but I expect not.

So, how is the class/gender war being waged? These people, who are often already wealthy, have conspired to make sure that the laws of this country expand their wealth at a much greater rate than anyone else’s. They did this by buying “think tanks” to create battle plans and hired lobbyists to execute them (just twenty years ago there were merely hundreds of registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C. where there are thousands now). With that wealth, an indicator of their economic superiority in their minds (imagine the arrogance and sense of entitlement of any Wall Street mogul here), they have been buying political influence in the GOP, in the Democratic Party, and in the court system all the way up to the Supreme Court. The deck is well and truly stacked against: blacks, whites, women, and anybody in the middle class for whom Social Security and Medicare are bulwarks against poverty.

The question I have is: when will we begin to fight back? So far we have pretty much just rolled over and spread the orifices between our legs with lubricant.

December 10, 2012

Entitlements Under Attack by Entitled Class—WTF?

Republicans are keeping up their drumbeat that only by reforming Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare can we solve our financial woes. This, of course, is part of the game plan designed by conservative Think Tanks back in the 1970’s.

Consider what has happened to the Middle Class in that time. Here is what happened to wages.


For a very long time, the social compact in this country was that if worker’s productivity went up, workers would benefit proportionately. The conservatives worked hard to decouple those two and they succeeded starting in . . . the 1970’s. If you look at the chart, you can see that if wages had kept paced with worker’s increases in productivity, wages would now be over twice as high as they are. Let’s say that translates into a median family income of not, roughly the $53,000 per year it is now, but almost $120,000 per year. So, conservatives have deliberately stolen tens of thousands of dollars out of your pocket. For the 40 years from roughly 1970 to 2010, this equates to roughly $1,300,000 of income lost on the average. This is each of us! With half of Americans losing more, half less.

How did they do this? One aspect, just one mind you, was to attack and disempower labor unions. Consider our northern neighbor, Canada, which is so much like us (except that they didn’t repeal their version of Glass-Steagall and they didn’t deregulate banks, so they didn’t have a financial collapse, nor did they have a bank bailout). Compare Canada’s proportions of union jobs to ours.

unions-canada-united-states-membershipCanada has a fraction of jobs that are covered by unions in the 30-35% range, just as we once had. But in this country that figure has slid to around 11% (higher in the public sector, lower in the private sector) starting in about . . . (wait for it) . . . the 1970’s. This wasn’t people voting with their feet, this was deliberate actions of Congress and the states to do so. (Did you notice Michigan just passed a “right to work” law. This is another of those misnomers. It is really a right to work for lower wages law in that it disempowers unions. They are still at it.)

“This was done deliberately. A deliberate act of class warfare.”

Who out there is watching out for workers? The government did for a while, but it succumbed to the whims of conservatives and has almost stopped, leaving only the unions to protect worker’s pay and benefits and rights. So, as union power declined, so did worker’s pay.

This was done deliberately. A deliberate act of class warfare. And to solve the current financial mess that Republican policies got us into (financial deregulation leading financial collapse, predatory lending on housing, the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan not paid for, etc.) is for ordinary Americans to give up earned benefits like Social Security and Medicare. Why? Because the conservative attitude is: if I win, you lose and if I lose, you lose, too.

Interestingly it is the conservatives who use the words “entitlements” and “entitled” with scorn. The use of those words is loaded with implications that these are unearned, unwarranted, and profligate. You can hear the sneer when you close your eyes and just listen to Republicans speak. (Also part of the strategy.) These are really earned benefits. Do you not pay a payroll tax for years before you get any benefit? I paid a tax for Medicare for 35 years and then had to wait five more years before getting Medicare that I now pay even more for with a monthly deduction from my Social Security. While I was paying for Medicare for 35 years, I also had to pay for private health insurance because I got no benefit from that Medicare tax. Medicare is an insurance policy that you cash in when you are of an age, it is not a government giveaway.

And the people most adamant that these programs be done away with . . . don’t need these benefits as they are quite rich. Paying their share of the taxes is quite small (payroll taxes are capped, so Mitt Romney, for example, stops paying payroll taxes on Jan 4th or 5th every year.

How rich are they? Consider the following chart.

Chart-Middle-Class-Wealth-e1355118104304In 1962, the median net worth of Americans, a measure of our wealth, was $51,900 while our mean net worth was $194,100. What’s the difference? The median value is basically what you got if you lined all Americans up from poorest to richest and found the middle of that line. The mean, or average as it is commonly referred to, involves adding up our total wealth and dividing by the number of Americans. Basically it is what we would have if everybody had an equal share of the accumulated wealth (houses, cars, cash, etc.). In 1962 the mean was 3.74 times as large as the median (194.1/51.9). In 2010 it was 8.14 times as large(463.8/57.0)! The telling reason for how this happened is that the median net worth of Americans in 2010 is about the same as it was in 1962, 50 years earlier. Average Americans have not seen their wealth (corrected for inflation) change at all. So where has all the wealth gone? To the very, very wealthy and conservative few.

And these folks are the “real entitled.” The rich bankers feel they are entitled to bailouts if they get into too much trouble making super risky investments with other people’s money. The hedge fund managers (11 of whom made over $1 billion in 2011, that’s a minimum of $532,000 per hour if you were wondering) feel entitled that their income be taxed at a lower rate than teachers and policemen, because what they do is so, so much more important. These people feel entitled to tell us who to vote for because they have so much more money than us, therefore they are clearly superior people and should just know these things better.

I don’t know how close we are to the pitchforks and torches stage of revolt but we should be very, very close. If this were done to us by a foreign power we would consider it an act of war.

November 21, 2012

Republicans Launch Campaign Against White People

Brazenly ignoring the advice of Senator Lindsay Graham (“if you are in a hole, stop digging”) the Republican Party is doubling down in its effort to cleanse the party of pantywaists and ribbon clerks.

In the election, the Republicans did well only amongst white people. In every other category (Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, the young, and women in particular, along with the New Black Panthers and fraudulent voters) they got spanked.

In an effort to cleanse the party of everyone but the staunchest white voters, the Republicans have doubled down on their need to curb Social Security and Medicare, eliminate them if possible. Both of these programs are popular with “takers” and if you were to characterize the average recipient of the government’s largess, it would be as an old white woman. The vast majority of the recipients of these services are white, possibly because most minorities don’t live long enough to collect much from them (another reason to curse Obamacare!).

In this manner the Republicans hope to get down to a rock solid base of mostly white, mostly male party members from which to base future election bids.

We wish them well with that!

And if that doesn’t work, they might want to try to ask the American public what they are willing to spend for those services. You know, suggest a way of paying for them and then, like, ask people if it is worth that. Just a suggestion.

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