The GOP’s Destructive Anti-Tax Crusade

I’m sure it would come as a surprise to many conservatives to learn that most Americans who could be described as politically liberal or moderate don’t enjoy paying taxes any more than they do.  And most share a healthy skepticism of government’s ability to solve all of our problems – sometimes more so than conservatives.  For example, it was absurd to expect that government policies, no matter what they were, could dramatically reverse the deepest economic recession since The Great Depression, in just two years.  Yet Republicans, the anti-government party, harnessed and rode a wave of national dissatisfaction with the failure of a Democratically-controlled government to accomplish that impossible task.

However, it’s difficult to see any good coming from the sort of pervasive and mindless hatred of government that seems to permeate the right-wing of the GOP these days, driven even further to the extreme by the Tea Party.  Furthermore, the GOP’s anti-tax crusade promises to do great damage to the country’s ability to flourish economically in the future.

Take education, as one critical example.  By most measurements, American children lag many of their peers among advanced nations.  There are plenty of reasons for this state of affairs but a key one, surely, is that American K-12 students spend up to a year less in school than children in many countries since we have one of the shortest school years (180 days compared to 200-225 in most advanced nations).   To increase the length of the school year, as President Obama has rightly called for, would add billions to states’ education spending at a time when they are suffering massive budget shortfalls and painful cuts to services, including education.  

American children underperform in math and science, in part because of a shortage of well qualified teachers at middle and high schools (precisely the levels where our children fall behind their international peers).  And the shortage is exacerbated by our inability to produce enough math and science majors at our universities from which to recruit the best and brightest for our K-12 schools, the result, in turn, of our inadequate education in those subjects.  A perfect and pernicious circle in fact.

In the best of all worlds the federal government would make the necessary investment to help states meet these needs, perhaps with financial incentives via a revamped No Child Left Behind Act.  However, the chances of making those investments, which to the GOP is simply another word for spending, are almost zero in the current political environment.

For the GOP, it’s evidently fine to extend tax cuts to America’s wealthiest citizens, thereby increasing the deficit, but not to invest in our children to the extent necessary in order to ensure a decent future for them.  This is acute myopia by any reasonable standard.

And what do the likes of Rand Paul, GOP senator and Tea Party darling, have to say on the subject of education?  Well according to his website his highest priority is homeschooling through bigger tax breaks.  Yeah that’ll fix everything.  He also blames the federal Department of Education which, as any informed politician should know, has far less of a role in educating our children than do states.  In fact, as a candidate in the 2010 mid-terms, Paul opined that education was best left to states and local school boards, a position that might carry more weight if he was from Massachusetts and not Kentucky.  Of course the fact that his state’s children perform in the bottom ten of all states in a country that places 27th in math achievement internationally might explain his retreat into homeschooling la-la-land.

What is desperately needed in America is a long overdue and informed debate (as free of demagoguery as possible) on the role of government and the nation’s critical needs.  It is a disservice to the nation for the GOP to relentlessly promote tax cuts as the cure for everything that ails us, while pressing for serious cuts to discretionary spending without any thought to the consequences.  And it is ludicrous to exclude the defense and homeland security budgets from any discussion of long term spending reductions.

Similarly, Democrats cannot take entitlements such as social security and Medicare off the table.  We can no longer afford to shield the nation’s seniors from the threat posed by a growing and unsustainable national debt when our children’s needs are not being met.  

For any of this to be possible, the GOP must rein in its extreme elements and give the anti-tax crusade a rest.  Government is not the enemy – it never was.

Only Stupid People Would Want to Get Rid of Social Security

That’s right.  The stupid people.

Who wrote these words?

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas.  Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

FDR?  LBJ?  Carter?  Clinton?  Obama?

Nope.  These words were written by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a letter to his brother, Edgar Newton Eisenhower, dated November 8, 1954.  Yes, a very popular Republican president who presided over our economy when the top tax rate was 91% said that about Social Security.

I bring it up just to illustrate how far right this country has shifted in the past 50 years.  If any Republican today were to suggest raising taxes on the rich to even 39.4% today and utter those words about the sanctity of Social Security, he or she would be blacklisted by the New Republican party that exists only to funnel more money to the rich and deny tho poor access to a poverty-free retirement and access to affordable healthcare.

New P.J. Harvey video “The Words that Maketh Murder”

From P.J. Harvey’s new album, Let England Shake, due to be released February 15th, here is the video for the song “The Words that Maketh Murder,” featuring Polly and her autoharp, directed by Seamus Murphy.


PJ Harvey – The Words That Maketh Murder
Uploaded by spektorholic. – Watch more music videos, in HD!

via twentyfourbit.com, via pattimsith.net.

More info at The Guardian.

The Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare” Explained

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as explained by Paul Krugman in a blog post yesterday:

The other route [as opposed to government provided insurance] is the one Mitt Romney took in Massachusetts, and the Democrats took nationally, combining regulation and subsidies to get everyone covered. The strategy has three parts:

- Community rating: insurers must offer the same policies to everyone

- Mandates: everyone must buy insurance, so healthy people can’t opt out

- Subsidies to lower-income families, so everyone can afford to buy that required insurance.

All three legs of the stool are essential. In particular, you can’t manage without the mandate; if healthy people opt out, and especially if they opt back in when they get sick, the death spiral will undo the whole thing.

It’s not really all that complicated. And as a way of getting everyone insured, it works – several European countries have systems more or less along these lines, and Massachusetts is up to 98 percent coverage.

It’s a bit of a Rube Goldberg device, a sort of indirect way of simulating single-payer. But it’s better than leaving tens of millions of Americans uninsured – and it also establishes the principle of universal coverage, which one can hope will lead to a better system over time. In particular, there may yet be a chance – not soon, but eventually — to reintroduce a public option, allowing people to bypass private insurers, and potentially leading in the long run to a simpler system.

Why are House Republicans so adamantly opposed to the law?  The number one reason is because it might work, and that would be bad for them because it wasn’t their idea, even though it kind of was since it was modeled after Mitt Romney’s plan for Massachusetts.  And number two is they absolutely despise the public option, and they want to nip the whole universal healthcare idea in the bud before we get anywhere near to implementing an affordable government-run alternative to greedy insurance companies.

So what we get this week from the puerile majority party is some political theater starring the Weeper of the House with his comically large gavel in hand presiding over a House vote on the “Job-Killing Health Care Act.” Yes, that really is the name of the bill. (Isn’t it great to have the adults back in charge of the House?)  They call it that even though independent experts say it does no such thing, and what the CBO actually said in the report referenced by the Republicans was:

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the legislation, on net, will reduce the amount of labor used in the economy by a small amount—roughly half a percent—primarily by reducing the amount of labor that workers choose to supply.

Or as Jon Stewart points out, the reduction in labor predicted by the CBO would be:

…due to older workers being able to retire earlier because they don’t have to worry about their healthcare, and others voluntarily leaving the workforce or reducing their hours.  So it is job killing in the sense that getting more sleep at night is “awake killing.”

There might even be a few Republicans who actually know the truth and would like to vote against Boehner’s silly bill, but they won’t.  If they did, Boehner would single them out as “dead men” (see two posts down) and make sure that they received no help from their party when they are up for re-election.

If you want to read some more analysis on the Republicans’ anti-healthcare reform agenda, please scroll down five posts and read “Republicans are Mindless on Healthcare” by N.J. Barnes.

Tom Delay “The Hammer” is in The Slammer

This story got lost in the wake of the Tucson shooting.

From The Washington Post:

AUSTIN – Former House majority leader Tom DeLay, the brash Texan who helped build and tightly control a Republican majority in his chamber until resigning in 2005, was sentenced by a state judge on Monday to three years in prison for illegally plotting to funnel corporate contributions to Texas legislative candidates.

State Senior Judge Pat Priest, citing the need for those who write the laws to “be bound by them,” rejected DeLay’s impassioned argument that he was the victim of political persecution and was improperly accused of breaking the law for doing what “everybody was doing.”

I love that.  “Well everybody else was doing it, so why are you picking on me?”  It reminds of the times I used the same argument when I was a kid and my dad would respond with, “Well if everyone was jumping off a cliff, would you do that too?”

Tom Delay would.

Another Reason Why I Don’t Like John Boehner

From Matt Taibbi’s article, “The Crying Shame of John Boehner” in the current issue of Rolling Stone, via Harper’s:

Another Ohio Democrat, Steve Driehaus, clashed repeatedly with Boehner before losing his seat in the midterm elections. After Boehner suggested that by voting for Obamacare, Driehaus “may be a dead man” and “can’t go home to the west side of Cincinnati” because “the Catholics will run him out of town,” Driehaus began receiving death threats, and a right-wing website published directions to his house. Driehaus says he approached Boehner on the floor and confronted him.

“I didn’t think it was funny at all,” Driehaus says. “I’ve got three little kids and a wife. I said to him, ‘John, this is bullshit, and way out of bounds. For you to say something like that is wildly irresponsible.’” Driehaus is quick to point out that he doesn’t think Boehner meant to urge anyone to violence. “But it’s not about what he intended—it’s about how the least rational person in my district takes it. We run into some crazy people in this line of work.” Driehaus says Boehner was “taken aback” when confronted on the floor, but never actually said he was sorry: “He said something along the lines of, ‘You know that’s not what I meant.’ But he didn’t apologize.”

The Weeper of the House will cry for you, but he’ll never apologize for being a jerk.

Sarah Palin’s “Blood Libel” – Ignorance or Anti-Semitism?

Sarah Palin released a video today in response to the attacks on her and her infamous map with cross-hairs over congressional districts she posted prior to the mid-term elections.  Representative Gabrielle Giffords was one of the Democrats targeted by Palin.  Liberals have condemned her and others like her for creating a climate of hate that may or may not have influenced Jared Loughner’s decision to open fire at a Giffords forum outside a Safeway in Tucson on Saturday morning.

Sarah Palin said in her video statement:

“Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own,” Ms. Palin said in a seven-and-a-half minute video posted to her Facebook page. “Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.”

The term blood libel is generally used to mean the false accusation that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals, in particular the baking of matzos for passover. That false claim was circulated for centuries to incite anti-Semitism and justify violent pogroms against Jews. Ms. Palin’s use of the phrase in her video, which helped make it rapidly go viral, is itself attracting criticism, not least because Ms. Giffords, who remains in critical condition in a Tucson hospital, is Jewish.

Reaction to Ms. Palin’s video was swift.

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida, who is a close friend of Ms. Giffords, issued a statement condemning her use of the phrase “blood libel.”

“Palin’s comments either show a complete ignorance of history, or blatant anti-Semitism,” said Jonathan Beeton, Ms. Wasserman Shultz’s spokesman. “Either way, it shows an appalling lack of sensitivity given Representative Giffords’s faith and the events of the past week.”

Given the intellect Palin has shown in the past few years, I am going with complete ignorance. Even Sarah Palin, had she known the origins of the term, couldn’t be so politically tone deaf to use “blood libel” in a statement meant to clear her gun-centric campaign rhetoric and graphics from any culpability for the senseless shooting of a Jewish Democrat by a schizophrenic psychopath.  Seems like anyone with a bit of compassion and some political sense could pull that off, but she blew it.

It’s going to be very difficult for her to recover from her blunder, and that’s a good thing for all of us.

Republicans are Mindless on Healthcare

The phrase “government takeover of healthcare,” deserving winner of PolitiFact.com’s  2010 Lie of the Year award, was thought up by a Republican marketing strategist named Frank Luntz as a slogan for the use of GOP politicians to describe the Democratic plan for healthcare reform.  It wasn’t the only whopper repeated ad nauseam by Republicans as the debate unfolded on the health bill that ultimately was signed into law by President Obama (remember death panels?), but it was certainly the most effective.

The GOP failed to stop the Affordable Care Act but, with a new majority in the House and a strengthened minority in the Senate, GOP lawmakers are set to impede and, if possible, prevent the implementation of the new law by withholding funds necessary for that purpose.  Meanwhile, GOP state attorneys general have challenged the constitutionality of the individual insurance mandate in federal court.  The Supreme Court will decide that issue.  

There can be little doubt that Republicans won the public relations battle with their sustained campaign of misinformation, disinformation and outright lies, ably assisted by right-wing propaganda organs such as hate radio and Fox News, and their own uninformed, loud-mouthed and selfish base, personified by the Tea-Baggers.  Going forward, however, it is far from clear how the issue will play out in the future.

Democrats will use the opportunity presented by the GOP’s piecemeal healthcare reform repeal efforts to make the case yet again for the ACA and, as more of the bill’s benefits come into play, will highlight what Americans will lose if the GOP is successful.  Polling by the Kaiser Foundation among others has shown repeatedly that among those Americans who oppose the bill there is a marked ignorance of even its main provisions (which, taken separately, even opponents support).

And then there’s that perplexing legal challenge to the individual health insurance mandate.   Obviously, Republicans have seized on this feature of the bill as being most vulnerable on constitutional grounds in the hope that if it’s stripped from the law the whole thing will unravel.  But does it make sense on either policy or political grounds to challenge the individual mandate?

Despite their “government takeover of healthcare” nonsense, even the dimmest Republican lawmaker knows that the ACA is not anything of the sort. Rather, it is at its heart a more muscular regulation of the private insurance industry, an effort to turn a chaotic mess into something resembling an actual system.  The individual mandate dramatically increases the pool of the healthy insured to enable insurance companies to absorb regulatory changes that prevent them from dumping policy holders who actually get sick, and from turning away any individual with a pre-existing condition.  Take away the individual mandate and it raises a real doubt that the private health insurance industry will remain viable.  In effect, if they win in court Republicans may enjoy a classic Pyrrhic victory: the unraveling of national private health insurance, as embodied in the ACA, while making the case that only a single payer healthcare system can really work to provide universal care.  And in the interim it will return America to  healthcare chaos.

If anyone is in any doubt that Republicans are not merely liars but also hypocrites on the subject of healthcare reform in general and rationing in particular, then read Norm Ornstein’s timely piece in Saturday’s Washington Post on the real “death panels” in America.  Only they reside not in the Affordable Care Act, but in Republican-run states where life-saving care is being dropped from Medicaid coverage to save money in hard-hit budgets.  After all tax cuts are so much more important than quality healthcare.