Donald Andrew Henson II

Posts Tagged ‘alternative facts’

Healthcare Hypocrisy

In American Economy, American Society, Current events, The Trump Administration on May 5, 2017 at 11:44 pm
Botticelli's Canto XVIII

Botticelli’s depiction of the 8th circle of Hell – place of punishment for hypocrites

If you are a reader of this blog, and have not been off the grid for some reason, then you already know that the House GOP have finally passed a bill meant to repeal and replace the Affordable Healthcare Act, aka Obamacare. While it is considered a win for Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and GOP Congressmen, it is unlikely, in its current form, to ever become law. So I’m not going to cry wolf or tell you that the sky is falling just yet, because it isn’t. In a political season of big surprises, it’s best not to make predictions; however, I would be very surprised if anything similar to this bill ever becomes the law of the land.

What I would like to address is the astounding level of hypocrisy that surrounds any discussion of healthcare in the US these days. Even as a person accustomed to Beltway doublespeak, alternative facts, and FOX News hyperbole, I often find myself speechless at the audacity of the claims politicians are willing to make about ACA, AHCA, high-risk pools, deductibles, and anything else having to do with the role and provision of healthcare in America.

Before I address a few of the major hypocrisies (for there is not time enough to address them all), I think it’s important that I share with you my own healthcare status – this site proclaims the importance governing by the most rational course, meaning that pre-conceived ideas, creeds, religion, political viewpoints, etc., should have little bearing on the nature and construct of the laws of our great nation. If I had a heart condition that made me a huge beneficiary of ACA, for example, and would cost me thousands more under AHCA – that would of course color my view of the entire discourse. To be clear, I do not.

I have never benefited from Obamacare in any way, shape, or form. I have lived abroad for 14 of the last 18 years. Many of you may not know this, but Americans working abroad for a non-US entity do not face the same mandatory healthcare requirement that other Americans do – we are NOT required to have healthcare, and there is NO tax penalty for failing to acquire it. In fact, even if I wanted to enroll in Obamacare, I would not be allowed to do so. Assuming that AHCA does not add a requirement for expatriates – and I have seen no language to suggest that it will – whatever healthcare law is in force in the US effects no change in my status whatsoever. Whether I am subject to the healthcare mandates of my current country of residence depends completely on which country I live in.

Therefore, I feel I am in a unique position to look at healthcare objectively; I have no dog in the race, at least while I live abroad. I do, however, hope to return to the US at some point – and I’d certainly like to see something fair and affordable in place there when I return.

Now – on to the loathsome hypocrisy.

Before Obamacare, healthcare hypocrisy was already very much alive. When healthcare costs began increasing exponentially in the 1990s, conservative politicians explained that there was nothing that could be done – market forces. This of course, was BS. Government often steps in to re-direct market forces, subsidizing everything from farm products to big oil – and conservative politicians often vote in favor of these moves. The GOP has said for decades that we can’t afford government-sponsored healthcare, can’t afford to give ‘free stuff’ to everyone. This again is disingenuous. There are dozens of countries poorer than the US – using a variety of measurements of wealth – that provide universal healthcare to their citizens. So, it’s not a matter of whether or not we can afford it so much as it is whether it is a priority. Those countries that do provide healthcare don’t spend money on out-sized military commitments, corporate subsidies, or corporate bailouts. Most of them also have much more progressive individual tax rates – the citizenry of those countries have agreed that the general welfare of the nation is more important than producing or enriching a few more billionaires.

This is the classic conservative hypocritical argument, and it’s used for education, healthcare, climate change – anything that provides no benefit to the super-rich. First, say there’s not a problem. When that becomes untenable, say there’s a problem, but there’s really nothing that can be done about it. When sound solutions are offered, showing that something can indeed be done, claim that it would be wildly expensive, lower salaries, slow job growth – whatever. Finally, if necessary, proclaim that it’s too late, that it’s the new normal, the new status quo – grow up and stop being a snowflake. Repeat ad nauseum on FOX News and other conservative outlets.

Unfortunately, the Demos fought hypocrisy with hypocrisy when they finally got their chance to make what they felt were positive changes to healthcare. (And I do believe, unlike the alt-right, that progressives and liberals are trying to make peoples’ lives better. Agree or disagree with how they go about it, to say the end goal is more government control of our lives is just detached from reality. Do you really think Michelle Obama wants to grab the family-sized bag of Doritos out of your hands and replace it with a kale salad? Your own wife can’t be bothered.) Nancy Pelosi told us we’d have to approve it before we could see it. Barack Obama swore we’d be able to keep the doctors and coverage we had if that’s what we liked. We were told ACA would drive costs down. These were all lies – and if the politicians who told them knew they weren’t true, then they truly belong in the Hypocrite Hall of Infamy – illustrated above.

Yet, the GOP weren’t content to sit on the hypocrisy sidelines from 2008 to 2010. There was talk of ACA bankrupting us, crashing the economy (quite ironic actually), of national debts that would leave us a lackey to the Chinese. There were ‘death panel’ scares, cries of socialism. All of this was hyperbole at best, hypocrisy at worst. The truth is that the entire, top estimate for Obamacare, for a decade, is lower than the bottom estimate for the 2008 bailout.

Let that sink in for a moment. The estimates for the 2008 Wall Street bailout range from 1.7 trillion USD to in excess of 29 trillion USD. A one-time bailout. The total cost of Obamacare – for a decade – ranges from a low of actually saving 143 billion USD, through the Obama administration estimate of costing 940 billion, to a CBO cost estimate of 1.7 trillion.

Do you think your average FOX News-watching, Trump-voting American knows that the highest estimate we have for a decade of ACA healthcare coverage is equal to the lowest estimated cost of the bailout? Which would you choose – giving Wall Street a 2 trillion dollar, one-time Christmas present? Or spending the same amount for a decade of healthcare for everyone?

March 21-23, 2010 was the beginning of the GOP’s 7-year-long healthcare hypocrisy extravaganza – the astounding orgy of partisan posturing, fear-mongering, grand-standing, and outright misrepresentation of the facts that have occurred since ACA was passed is unparalleled in our legislative history. The final reconciliation bill cleared the House on March 21, and then-President Obama signed it into law on March 23. The first GOP push to repeal was March 22. GOP Republicans voted more than 60 times to shut down Obamacare – pure political posturing, as they knew they’d never get the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. At least one smug, equivocating GOP face has appeared on FOX News to spread healthcare misinformation every single day for the past decade.

What is it that Republicans don’t like about it? Well, of course the rich don’t like paying extra taxes to fund it – big surprise. But why do lower and middle class Americans dislike it? Is it the fact that people with existing conditions can get insurance? That poor people are subsidized? The under-25s can stay on their parents’ insurance? No – these are aspects of the plan that a majority of all Americans clearly support.

It seems that the individual mandate bothers the libertarian wing (and I have a few problems with that as well), but for the vast majority of Republicans, what they hate most about Obamacare is – Obama.

Jerry Seinfeld once joked about how we go to a baseball game and cheer for a uniform. We don’t cheer for the individuals on the team, or cheer because our guys are better than the other guys – we cheer for the uniform. If Jose Conseco is wearing a Yankees uniform, I cheer him, because I’m a Yankees fan. If he’s wearing an Oakland uniform, I boo – I hate the A’s. This is a perfect description of American politics today – as it applies to us plebes, at least – the rich always support lower taxes and de-regulation, even if the Clintons are wearing the uniform.

If you are for the current House legislation simply because it’s a win for your team, a loss for the Demos, a slap in the face for Obama – welcome to the Hypocrite Hall of Infamy.

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Degraded American Fascism

In American Society, The Trump Administration on April 7, 2017 at 7:24 pm

I stated unequivocally in my last post that President Trump is not a Nazi, certainly not another Adolph Hitler. I think attempts on the left to paint him as such are misguided and hyperbolic, and hyperbole never helps to move the conversation further. In addition, whenever someone cries ‘Nazi’ for lesser crimes than the Nazis actually committed, it does a disservice to those who truly suffered under that ugly regime.

However, that doesn’t mean I think he’s a good person, nor certainly does it mean he’s a good fit for the presidency. He is, in fact, uniquely unsuited for the job. He is someone who’s been granted every advantage in life who yet cannot pass on any opportunity to bully those who haven’t. Perhaps one could excuse an uneducated day-laborer for resentfully decrying that the Mexicans had ruined his economic opportunities, but where does the Wharton grad’s resentment come from? Daddy should’ve left him a few million more?

He’s not even a particularly good businessman. His multiple bankruptcies – and the fact that he refuses to release his tax returns – speak volumes. Much was made a few weeks ago about the fact that, if he had just put his inheritance into an index fund, he would be worth substantially more than he is today. Repubs like Trump are always saying the government should be run more like a business – I’m sorry, but I don’t think bankrupting the country three or four times to finally make it ‘profitable’ is the direction most of us want to go in.

The fact that the Right can still even make assertions like these just leaves me gobsmacked. I’m reminded of the parade of big shots asking the government to save their banks from their own incompetence, Hank Paulson on his knees begging George W to specifically NOT let the banks fail, as pure capitalism would’ve required. The very un-business-like business of bailing out Wall Street criminals less than a decade ago should have discredited this kind of talk for a generation.

But so should have Trump’s failures as a person and a businessman disqualified him as a viable candidate for president, even by the very low bar for behavior set by corporate America. As ever, Sam Harris puts it in the right perspective:

There isn’t a single Fortune 500 company, or a reputable university, or any other respectable institution in this country, which has a board of directors, which, three years ago, would have said the following, ‘You know what we need to take our organization to the next level? We need a truly brilliant leader. We need someone with vision and integrity, someone who is ethical and deeply knowledgeable. We need the wisest person we can find, to take us forward at this point. You know who we need? We need Donald Trump.’ I am confident that had those words been uttered in any boardroom in America, the result would have been derisive laughter. And there are good reasons for that.

Conservatives worry that a more progressive government might allow some ne’er-do-well to receive a few thousand bucks more than he or she deserves, thereby upsetting the survival-of-the-fittest, Ayn Rand ethos so necessary to a capitalist system; elevating a few thousand souls out of poverty might keep a ‘job creator’ from being a billionaire. But doesn’t the existence of a guy like Donald Trump indicate that our current system does not necessarily move the cream to the top? (Not to mention pretty much every other reality TV star).

So why is he President? Thomas Dumm, writing over a year ago for the blog Contemporary Condition, credits then-candidate Trump’s popularity to what he calls a degraded, 21st-century, American Fascism:

I would suggest that the European fascism of the first part of the twentieth century has its degraded counterpart in the form of an American fascism suited to the twenty-first. Trumpism is the current incarnation of this degraded fascism, in which the newsreel in the movie theatre is replaced by the resonating power of Fox News….and the impotent admiration of the MSNBC resonance machine.

Fascism requires propaganda to thrive, and Fox and other conservative outlets have been creating fertile ground for the extreme right and the alt-right to grow for nearly two decades now. Peddling half-truths and innuendo for years has conditioned their audience for a guy like Trump, who deals in ‘alternative facts’ – no truth at all. It’s telling that in his defense of tweets accusing the Obama administration of wire-tapping him, he said last week that they are becoming true. You make assertions, twist the facts, browbeat the press, and your assertions become truths.

Trumpites

But these new ‘newsreels’ created by Fox, Breitbart, and Trump’s tweets are only effective because they allow a particular group to hear a story they want to hear. Dumm explains, “This is fascism; it is a new means for giving expression to the masses, while ensuring that the underlying economic arrangements remain intact.” (italics mine)

This was so prescient – Trump, who ran as the champion of the working man, has made little pretense of doing anything for his voters at all, besides his attempted Muslim bans. He’s cobbled together the wealthiest, most inexperienced Cabinet in our history, with neither the ability nor the inclination to do anything for the angry white middle class. He promised to drain the swamp, but instead its brimming over with the financial and ethical conflicts brought in by his staff. He tried to push through Paul Ryan’s healthcare plan – knowing it was worse for the middle class than even an outright repeal would be. Even some in the GOP remarked that his budget proposal appeared to purposely punish the very people who voted for him.

And here’s the thing – his supporters knew he wouldn’t deliver – that it was all just symbolism. From coal jobs coming back to better healthcare to locking Hillary up – it was all about “giving expression to the masses” never about really fixing anything. It was all about the right to say and do all the politically incorrect things they wanted to say and do, to poke a finger in the eye of those uppity liberals. And of course to proclaim a kind of cultural mythology in the face of a diversifying and changing country. But no real plan to actually fix the holes in our economic system that technology has torn.

Dumm continues:

But I want to suggest something more — that this is nihilism as well. Why? Fascism, as a totalitarian political force, insists upon an intense organization of its masses. That is a part of its aesthetic. Trumpism — for lack of a better term – is not nearly so organized….His policy pronouncements are closer to being automatic writing than coherent attempts to demonstrate solutions to problems, sketches on the back of envelopes that are then farmed out to hack consultants to puff up in to white papers.

There does seem to be an ominous message – not sure if it’s from Breitbart or where – but the idea that if we can’t somehow drag things back to the 1950s or some other ‘past of former greatness’, then it would just be better to blow the whole system to bits. There’s an entire  sub-culture on the right actually preparing for this as an eventuality

This ties in with my series of posts about unemployment (which I promise to finish) – my real fear is that these new fascist sentiments, degraded or otherwise, will make it impossible to honestly tackle the problems we’ll face when the future position of the working class becomes even more tenuous. If real structural changes can’t be made – in other words, if the progressive agenda America needs to implement is instead viewed as truly socialist (and not just rhetorically so) by an increasingly nihilist right – then we are facing a very ugly future indeed.

Which Economy is Trump Talking About?

In American Economy, Current events on January 28, 2017 at 4:30 pm

I’ve written about the apparent confusion of the language here in the US between conservatives and liberals, commented on how the word ‘entitled’ has been transformed from a criticism of the upper classes to a pejorative for the working poor, and lamented that some accept lies as facts simply because they have heard them hundreds of times. And now we have Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway giving us ‘alternative facts’. But in all of this confusion, there is one idea that is so muddy and unclear that one hardly knows what it means – or whether it means anything at all. In fact, I think we may all have quite a different idea in our heads when we hear the words ‘the economy’.

Studies of bi-lingual children have shown that the same word spoken in different languages can produce very different images in the mind. One study involved French-Canadian children between the ages of 4 and 7 years old who had one English-speaking parent at home and one French-speaking one, and could use both languages with equal skill. The children were given a piece of paper and some crayons and were asked by an instructor, in English, to “draw a dog for me, please.” The children happily complied. The drawings all looked very similar, as do most drawings done by children of this age. No surprises.

The next day, the same children were given the exact same instruction, but this time, the whole event was conducted in French instead of English, so the children were told to “dessinez un chien pour moi, s’il vous plait.” Again, all of the drawings looked very similar to each other – but to the astonishment of the instructors, they all looked decidedly different from the drawings of the previous day. The study was repeated with a variety of different objects and creatures school children might be familiar with – every time with the same surprising result.

It seemed that when the children were communicating in French, they were actually thinking differently than when they were speaking in English. Is it possible that ‘un chien’ produces one image in the mind, while ‘a dog’ conjures another? Can it be that not only do different cultures have different ideas kicking around in their brains, but also different ideals?

Or, that what one person means when he says ‘the economy’ isn’t the meaning I get when I hear him say it? This might explain why we are in so much disagreement about how to fix our ‘economy’.

I’ve never been rich, so I have a decidedly middle-class idea of what a good economy might look like. To me, a good economy means that everyone who wants to work can find a job, and that those jobs pay enough to provide the necessities of life. With a bit of hard work, other opportunities to obtain better jobs with better pay become available, and some of the niceties of life, such as a house or car, can be afforded as well. Over time, not only can one afford a few comforts and modest luxuries, but a modicum of financial security. Professionals and successful entrepreneurs can scale to even greater financial heights, but pretty much everyone can expect to exchange his or her labor for a typical American lifestyle. Government assistance is for those who have temporarily fallen upon hard times or who legitimately can not work.

NAFTA, North American Free Trade AgreementWhat about for those who don’t work for a living, but instead depend on the accumulation of wealth and a positive return on investments? The availability and quality of work is an integral part, in my mind, of a good economy. But, I’m guessing that ‘a good economy’ means something altogether different for investors than it does for me.

Notice that how well Wall Street is doing doesn’t factor into my thinking about the economy, but it would be perhaps the single most important factor for someone with a huge accumulation of wealth. For me, I’d like to do something I enjoy doing, and pay the bills doing it. For a person who doesn’t need to work, doing what he wants to do and paying the bills while doing it is a foregone conclusion; what he wants is something completely different from what I want – and thus his idea of what is ‘good for the economy’ probably doesn’t line up with mine.

He wants a good return on his investment. I want a good return for my labor. He might be able to win some, lose some; I cannot afford to work at something that doesn’t pay.

So, when conservatives tell us that tax cuts for the rich are good for the economy, we need to ask, “Which economy?” When the rich have more cash, they invariably invest more into the stock market. As more money pours in, stock prices rise – whether the companies selling shares perform better or not, more buyers than sellers creates an influx of cash for a finite number of shares, causing  prices to rise. Therefore, tax cuts are good for the stock market and those who invest in it. If this is your measure of ‘a good economy’, then saying that cutting taxes for the rich is good for the economy is true.

However, if your idea of a good economy looks like mine, then tax cuts are counter-productive. Teachers, policeman, firemen, and other government employees get axed when taxes are cut, which sends most communities into a downward spiral. Those who lose their jobs can no longer shop or buy, meaning that local businesses lose income as well, meaning they may have to lay off employees as well. All those folks without jobs means lower tax revenues next year, which necessitates even further job cuts.

Depending on how it’s managed, this can still be good news for shareholders. Those redundant employees might be forced to take lower-paying jobs than they had before, and low wages increase the bottom line for big business.

But notice the big difference – the investor class can do well in either type of ‘good economy’, when companies are expanding and adding employees or when they are cutting costs by letting them go. If he’s savvy, the investor can make even more money when stock prices go down.

The man who depends on his labor for his living is not in the same predicament. When the economy is bad, he suffers. Some may find a way to start a new business in bad times, but most end up making less money than they did before. There’s no upside to a downturn for the working man.

I think this is one of the reasons Donald Trump is now POTUS. While I think the man is abhorrent, there are a great number of people who voted for him because they haven’t seen their personal economies improve in decades, despite watching the stock market double in the last 20 years. I don’t see how cancelling trade agreements like TPP and NAFTA are going to reverse that trend – what I really think is that, while people have had stagnant wages, they’ve enjoyed cheaper prices on goods. ‘Renegotiating’ trade agreements will do little to bring back jobs or raise wages, but will certainly raise prices on everything from computers to shoes to vegetables. So, the working man will lose again.

I certainly do NOT see how more tax cuts for the rich will create those jobs or raise wages – not in the US anyway. And I’m afraid I don’t have much sympathy for what ails the rich, nor am I concerned about what benefits that class without benefiting others. A guy like Mitt Romney pays 15% in taxes on his millions, which grow while he sleeps, while I pay 30% on what I earn by the sweat of my brow. He can adjust his investment strategy to incorporate a downturn; I’m left with the ultimate tax break – I get to pay 0% if I have no income at all.

Can Trump improve the middle-class economy while slashing taxes for the rich? It hasn’t worked in my lifetime – but I’m guessing we’ll know the outcome soon enough.