Archive for the 'corporatism' Category

03
Nov
10

The real winner was gridlock, and why we should be happy

Randy, Ronnie, Barry

As is typical, the most concise and most biting analysis of the recent Electiontainment Follies comes from Mr. Cockburn over at Counterpunch. “America the Clueless” is guaranteed to raise the hackles of partisans of all stripes (a good thing).

The American people have spoken, but it’s impossible to decode their incoherent message. Drunk with their capture of the House of Representatives, the Republicans thunder that the verdict of ballot boxes from Maine to Hawai’i is clarion-clear: the ultimate evil in America is government, specifically government as led by President Barack Obama. But when exit pollsters questioned voters on their way to those same ballot boxes, as to who should take the blame for the country’s economic problems, 35 per cent said Wall Street, 30 per cent said Bush and 23 per cent Obama. The American people want a government that mustn’t govern, a budget that must simultaneously balance and create jobs, cut spending across the board and leave the Defense budget intact. Collectively, the election makes clear, they haven’t a clue which way to march.

A couple of choice snippets:

On Harry Reid and the bizarre challenge mounted by Ms. Angle:

It should be added that the powerful corporate and labor interests in the state of Nevada , most notably in the gambling and entertainment and construction sector, were all aghast at the possibility that economically stricken Nevada might cease to have its cause promoted in Washington DC by the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate, and instead have as their tribune a racist dingbat with zero political clout. If ever there was a need for the fix to be in, and seasoned fixers available to face the task, it was surely in Nevada. But that said, Angle and the Tea Party may have engineered defeat all on their own.

And the Rand Paul/Reagan nexus (or disconnect):

The second craziest victory speech of the evening came from a Tea Party man, Rand Paul, now the Republican senator from Kentucky. “We’re enslaved by debt,” he screamed at his cheering supporters and followed this by savage diatribes about any constructive role for government. Now it’s possible that Paul, inflamed with libertarian principle, could actually try to filibuster the next vote in the US Senate to authorize an increase in the US national debt. As awed commentators swiftly noted, he could plunge the United States into default, bring economic devastation to the world.

On the other hand, the history of the Republican Party is supposed crazies, like Ronald Reagan who campaigned against the deficit in 1980, coming to heel and plunging the United States into a vast new ocean of red ink, courtesy of his tax cuts. It’s what drives the Tea Partiers crazy. They do know one basic truth – that to govern is to betray and they are in line for betrayal.

Nor does Cockburn sugar-coat things for the strikingly (still!) large contingent of Obama loyalists. (But if the die-hards can overlook the fact that the only peep to emerge from the White House on the night the President’s party was being slaughtered was a statement in praise of the defeat of Prop 19 (“screw you, young people“), this will probably roll off their backs as well):

The landscape has changed. The Republican swing in the House was as dramatic as in 1994, after two years of Bill Clinton. Democrats who entered Congress on Obama’s coattails have now been ousted. What lies ahead is a war of maneuver, between the White House and the Republican leadership. Obama has been weakened — deservedly so, because a large part of Tuesday’s disaster for his party can be laid at his door. He laid down no convincing political theme, mounted no effective offense, relied on a team of advisors of dubious competence, which had run out of steam. He himself tried to run for and against an effective role for government, made the same childish equations of domestic and federal budgets, sent out mixed messages, lost the confidence of the young and of a vital slice of the independents.

All the same, after two years, the polls show Obama is no more unpopular than was Clinton in 1994. By 1996 Clinton had outmaneuvered the Republican leadership and won reelection in 1996. Today the economic situation is far worse than it was in 1994. No effective political and economic strategy for recovery is on the cards in the current atmosphere. As always, these days in America, our last best friend will be gridlock.

He’s saying we can pretty much count on the incompetence of politicians of both classes. I wish I were as optimistic as he is.

By the way, Counterpunch needs MONEY!

26
Oct
10

Hedges: America more or less screwed, thanks to the liberal class. Have a nice day!

UPDATE BELOW: A defense of liberals!

Chris Hedges continues to hammer on the failure of the liberal class. And I can’t say I find much with which to disagree—either in the video above or his recent piece “The World Liberal Opportunists Made.”

I get so tired of the fearmongering about the threat to Democracy posed by Rush, Beck, Christine O’Donnell and Palin. It is absolutely true that they are are clowns, dangerous clowns. But at the moment they hold zero real political power. One wishes the Democrats would stop talking about how awful their opponents are, and just run things, as they were elected to do. But that is the only weapon left in their arsenal. Unwilling to actually enact changes that live up to their purported ideals, all they can do is say, “Look over there. What if those bad people actually took power!?”

Not that there’s any chance of the Dems finding their spine at this point, but even if they did, Hedges says it’s already gone too far.

An ineffectual liberal class, in short, means there is no hope, however remote, of a correction or a reversal through the political system and electoral politics. The liberals’ disintegration ensures that the frustration and anger among the working and the middle class will find expression in a rejection of traditional liberal institutions and the civilities of a liberal democracy. The very forces that co-opted the liberal class and are responsible for the impoverishment of the state will, ironically, reap benefits from the collapse. These corporate manipulators are busy channeling rage away from the corporate and military forces hollowing out the nation from the inside and are turning that anger toward the weak remnants of liberalism. It does not help our cause that liberals indeed turned their backs on the working and middle class.

 

UPDATED: “In defense of liberals, though, we…uh. Yeah, I got nothing.”

29
Sep
10

“I can’t stand you. Now go vote for me!”

Well, all righty. It’s now clear that the proliferation of Hippie-punching comments from the White House is not just a series of off the cuff remarks, not just blowing off steam, but an actual Campaign Strategy.

Blame the whiners and those who cling to their quaint literal understanding of the word Change. For it is they who are at fault for the Democrats’ impending electoral doom.

There are any number of good pieces on Firedoglake on the topic.  Jane Hamsher offers the most perceptive take on the motivation behind the strategy, and points out how self-defeating it is.

I also liked Cenk  Uygur’s rant on Ratigan, but this from Bluetexan was perhaps the most succinct.

Just so we’re clear, here are a few examples of messages that don’t appeal to me at all.

Wake up!”

Get over it.”

Get in gear, man.”

Right back at’cha. Right back at’cha.

That’s not reality.”

You know who you are.”

Yes, I do.

And none of these phrases motivate me to want to vote, canvass, give money, phone bank, blog, you know, generally take time away from putting food on my family to pull the lever for Democrats in November.On the other hand, these would do the trick.

“We’ll fight to add the public option to the health care bill.”

“We’re getting out of Afghanistan.”

“We are pulling the remaining 50,000 troops out of Iraq.”

“We’re going to cut the approximately $1T annual defense budget in half and use the remainder to fund US infrastructure projects, including high speed rail.”

“We will roll back the Bush/Cheney executive power grabs.”

“We will repeal DADT.”

“We will fight for marriage equality.”

“We will reform the Senate and eliminate the filibuster.”

“We will make the Fed transparent.”

“We will legalize marijuana.”

Hope that helps.

On the other hand, these would do the trick.

20
Sep
10

Obama to lefty supporters: Drop dead!

If you ponied up $30,000 per plate to attend that DNC fundraiser at a 1,500-acre gated community in Greenwich, Connecticut, congratulations. You got to hear Obama tell his real constituents (people like you) what he thinks of the earnest saps who worked so hard to get him elected, and then had the temerity to expect results:

If we get an historic health care bill passed — oh, well, the public option wasn’t there. If you get the financial reform bill passed — then, well, I don’t know about this particularly derivatives rule, I’m not sure that I’m satisfied with that. And gosh, we haven’t yet brought about world peace and — (laughter.) I thought that was going to happen quicker. (Laughter.)

Wow. Really? It’s like that?

Glenn Greenwald, as is his habit, is right there with evidence to the contrary, and offers this nice summary, in headlines, of the lowlights of the Obama reign so far. Taken as a whole, these headlines don’t depict an administration that hasn’t yet gotten around to enacting progressive, or even liberal, legislation. As Greenwald writes:

It’s true that there are good things Obama has done …. But there have been many, many awful things* — not things which he has failed yet to do (i.e., “quickly enough”), but multiple policies he’s affirmatively adopted, including many which directly violate his campaign pledges and ones which Democrats spent years during the Bush presidency vehemently condemning. Sitting at a $30,000 per plate fundraising dinner and mocking liberal critics as irrational ingrates while wealthy Party donors laugh probably does wonders for bruised presidential egos, but it doesn’t seem to be a particularly effective way to motivate those who are so unmotivated. Then again, Barack Obama isn’t actually up for election in November, so perhaps the former goal is more important to him than the latter. It certainly seems that way from these comments.

Last week we also had Biden on Rachel Maddow telling progressives to “get in gear, man” (really, he said “man”!). A master of motivation, that guy!

Obama, Biden, Emanuel are all now on record. They find their progressive base an annoyance, and appear to enjoy painting the people who got them into power as whiny, unrealistic, idealistic losers who don’t understand the game of politics.

The problem is that they understand all too well.

________________________

* For a thorough accounting of the “many, many awful things” we’ve seen so far in the Obama reign, see the Obama scandals list. Lest you think it targets the current administration unfairly, have a look at its predecessor, the Bush scandals list. It’s pretty good too.

08
Sep
10

Are the Dems stupid? Or not?

rahm

"Either way, I win." REUTERS/Jim Young

Money makes the Democrats stupid is a pretty decent rant by Eli at Firedoglake.

The Republicans, he observes, have a big advantage in terms of money because the ideology of conservatism lines up perfectly with giving rich people and corporations more money and power.

Not because they have more [money], although they usually do.  No, it’s because their base is almost completely aligned with their corporate and wealthy big-money donors, while the Democratic base is the complete opposite.

Republicans can deliver their megadonors tax cuts, deregulation, corporate welfare, and protection from prosecution, all cocooned in a conservative narrative of supply-side economics, free enterprise, and independent frontier can-do spirit that their base just loves.

Contrast this with the Dems, who, with a few exceptions, are pretty much on the same level in terms of greed and lack of scruples. But they have this nagging problem with their party’s (purported) ideology, which isn’t a good fit. They have to be sneaky because “there’s simply no way to spin pro-corporate, pro-wealth policies as congruent with progressive values.”

The best they can manage is to play the DLC/Third Way game of pretending that capitulation is really some kind of principled pragmatic centrism which is the only way to win elections or get anything done against the all-powerful GOP and its 55 49 40 41 Senate seats.

Some of the base reluctantly goes along with this because half a loaf is better than the enemy of the good or whatever, but none of us are particularly happy about always settling for a compromise of a compromise of a compromise. Think how much leverage Obama and the Democrats had after two huge electoral landslides, a huge Republican-branded financial crisis, and a huge congressional majority… and how little they did with it. They didn’t deliver on progressive priorities because that wasn’t what their big campaign donors wanted.

And now they’ve failed so miserably, sold out so blatantly, demoralized their base so completely, and ceded the populist ground so thoroughly to the Tea Party, that they’re on the brink of losing the House and maybe even the Senate. All of the Democrats’ kabuki to protect their corporate friends so they could rake in campaign cash and get re-elected will end up costing them their seats instead. Because it is possible to fuck up so badly and so obviously that all the money in the world can’t save you. Just ask the Republicans.

I like this, and I’m down with Eli’s disgust, but wonder if he might be missing something, like maybe the fact that it’s on purpose?

Not sure about this, but I’ll throw it out there and wonder aloud if perhaps we are in for a few decades where control of Congress (and maybe the Presidency) will swing from party to party with every election.

The Party Out of Power promises Change, gets in power, doesn’t change anything, and is sent packing. Or it promises to reverse the Mooslem Socialist Mismanagement of this Once-Great Nation. Until the voters realize they get screwed there too. Rinse and repeat.

Either way the party pros win. If in power, hey, you’re In Power. Out of Power you can make massive amounts of money in the private sector. (Think of Rahm’s waltz with hedge fund Magnetar Capital. Think Tom Daschle. Bob Dole.) Leverage your public service. G’head. You earned it. Take a position with one of the corporations you’ll be in charge of “regulating” when you get back into power. Money’s much better, and you will probably get to spend a little more time with the family.

And don’t worry. You’ll be back in D.C. before you know it. Count on the Other Party not satisfying those pesky voters either. Because there’s no way the non-rich 95 percent can be satisfied–unless legislation happens that actually reverses the flow of wealth.  And both parties have shown how firmly they are allied on the issue of wealth distribution.

At the moment, polls indicate voters will throw the current regime out, WITH AUTHORITY as Marv Albert used to say…. To replace it with a regime that makes no bones about its intention to give an ever bigger piece of the pie to the wealthy and powerful.

Does that makes sense? Not so much. Will it work for a few more election cycles? I wouldn’t bet against it.

30
Jun
10

Baby steps in the right direction

This week, the FDA issued a “draft guidance” that in effect asks industrial meat producers to pretty please, at least think about limiting the practice of pumping massive quantities of antibiotics into factory animals meat machines.

The big lobbying groups, predictably, were outraged by this intrusion of mere science into their god-given right to make a bundle at the expense of the world’s health (both animal and human).

Tom Scocca at Slate sums up just how late this is in coming:

Forty-one years after the United Kingdom concluded that feeding antibiotics to healthy animals to make them gain weight could promote drug resistance in bacteria, 12 years after the European Union banned the use of medically important antibiotics in livestock for weight gain, nine years after researchers found widespread antibiotic-resistant salmonella in American ground beef, and four years after the EU banned all feeding of antibiotics to healthy animals, the Food and Drug Administration today issued a “draft guidance” urging “judicious use of medically important antimicrobial drugs” in the American livestock industry.

At Grist Tom Laskawy some excellent background on the issue as well as a slightly more optimistic view. “While this may sound like so much bureaucratese, it represents a strong statement by the FDA and suggests further action is forthcoming.”

This draft, though clearly preliminary and subject to industry feedback, also gives Congress a reason to move forward on legal restrictions knowing that a scientific consensus is forming — though in reality it’s unlikely a law could be passed much before November, if at all.

The question remains just how hard Big Meat will fight this guidance. The FDA wants to bend over backwards to limit problems for livestock producers by phasing in restrictions and taking their concerns into account. But will groups like the Pork Board — which denied the very existence of the problem to CBS News anchor Katie Couric in her blockbuster report on the subject — take the hand the FDA has offered? Or will they bite it?

Or will CAFO operators simply seek to bypass any regulation altogether, by claiming that routine doses of antibiotics are medically necessary to prevent disease in close quarters? I’m contacting an expert on this topic to find out if the FDA’s draft guidance indicates such loopholes will exist, and whether industry will head for them.

We know that subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock is unnecessary. The Danes have, somewhat famously, proved it by banning the practice and significantly reduced the threat of antibiotic resistance with no long-term effects on livestock health or productivity. The American Society of Microbiologists knows it. The FDA does, too. Even over a hundred House members and 17 senators (that being the number of cosponsors attached to the pending legislation) know it. With any luck, the industry will finally get the message.

22
Jun
10

Futureless farming?

I imagine there must be a proverb or several somewhere about the farmer who travels in springtime, when a huge chunk of the year’s work has to get done.

This year, I had to travel not once but three times in the crucial spring months, and since returning have been scrambling to rescue my little farmstead from total chaos. Calves still coming in, new chickens to tend to, the beehives thriving but needing a lot of attention, weeds galore in the garden. Weeds. Weeds. Weeds. WEEDS! (Did I mention weeds?)

But I think I’m getting there.

Which raises the question of “where is there”?

In general I’ve downplayed my farmerly ambitions by claiming only that I’m trying to feed my family better, and perhaps create a better sense of self-reliance. I do hold out a hope, not often expressed, that someday this farm will be our livelihood. Slowed food revolution, in this month’s American Prospect, makes me wonder how realistic that dream is.

The author, Heather Rogers,  offers a thorough look at the state of the American organic or alternative or sustainable farmer, seen from a policy perspective as well as through the eyes of Morse Pitts, who farms in the Hudson Valley and can charge what for me is a jaw-dropping price of $14 for a dozen eggs at the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan. In spite of this, and the fact that he is hard-working and resourceful, he still has had enough with a life that promises (and delivers) so many rewards, save one—the ability to earn a steady and decent living.

… despite having no mortgage debt (he inherited the place), a ready market, and loyal customers, Pitts wants to leave his farm. His town recently rezoned the area as industrial, and if he wants to cultivate soil that’s not surrounded by industry and its attendant potential for water and air pollution, he has to move. The problem is, he can’t afford to.

Aside from the standard instability farmers must endure — bad weather, pests, disease, and the vagaries of the market — holistic and organic growers face great but often overlooked economic hardship. They must shoulder far higher production costs than their conventional counterparts when it comes to everything from laborers to land. Without meaningful support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, their longevity hangs in the balance. In the meantime, the USDA showers billions on industrial agriculture. Growers who’ve gone the chemical, mechanized route have ready access to reasonable loans, direct subsidy payments to get through tough years, and crop insurance, plus robust research, marketing, and distribution resources. Whether organic and holistic growers raise crops, like Pitts does, or grass-fed, free-range livestock, they must contend with circumstances made harder by a USDA rigged to favor industrial agriculture and factory food.

As he has done in so many other areas, the president raised hopes for progressive farmers to the sky, and then sent them crashing. An organic garden at the White House! Beehives! But not a heck of a lot of tangible things have been delivered to folks like us. And even modest things like the Know Your Farmer campaign have met with angry resistance. “In an April letter to the new agriculture secretary, agribusiness-friendly senators Saxby Chambliss, John McCain, and Pat Roberts opposed even the meager support the USDA is giving small unconventional growers. ‘American families and rural farmers are hurting in today’s economy, and it’s unclear to us how propping up the urban locavore markets addresses their needs.'” Which of course is a hugely disingenuous piece of cow dung. And then there’s the “urban locavore” dig—a “trendy food choice” by well-to-do foodie snobs doing their evil mischief again. You know, if it weren’t for Alice Waters, America could be made whole again.

It’s a really good article, if not particularly encouraging for me, or for any of the other kooks out there who want to eat real food that isn’t farmed in ways that are killing the earth. I recommend you read the whole thing….

24
Mar
10

“Aspirin for cancer”

“Aspirin for cancer.” That’s the way a doctor in my neck of the woods characterized the health reform bill passed this weekend, to the wailing and gnashing of teeth (and worse) from some quarters, and to some nearly as deluded self-congratulatory partisan nonsense from others.

Unicorn-bestriding super-prez saves Captain Sulley AND passes historic health legislation!

I’m still waiting for those public forums on C-SPAN that Obama promised when campaigning. You know, where all parties come to the table, instead of legislation based on a series of shady back-room deals with insurance and pharmaceutical execs and lobbyists.

Those deals were again confirmed recently by New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick on the Ed Show.

[Y]eah, I think the hospital industry’s got a deal here. There really were only two deals, meaning quid pro quo handshake deals on both sides, one with the hospitals and the other with the drug industry. And I think what you’re interested in is that in the background of these deals was the presumption, shared on behalf of the lobbyists on the one side and the White House on the other, that the public option was not going to be in the final product.

And last week I wrote that the basic outlines of this bill owe a lot to that great progressive Bob Dole. Now, I am reminded, via Taylor Marsh, that an even more ironic architect stands cackling offstage, none other than the mighty Milhouse himself:

It was back in 1971 and President Nixon was concerned that he would once again have to face a Kennedy in the next year’s election — in this case a Kennedy with a proposal to extend health care to all Americans. Feeling the need to offer an alternative, Nixon asked Congress to require for the first time that all companies provide a health plan for their employees, with federal subsidies for low-income workers. Nixon was particularly intrigued by a new idea called health maintenance organizations, which held the promise of providing high-quality care at lower prices by relying on salaried physicians to manage and coordinate patient care.

At first, Kennedy rejected Nixon’s proposal as nothing more than a bonanza for the insurance industry that would create a two-class system of health care in America. But after Nixon won reelection, Kennedy began a series of secret negotiations with the White House that almost led to a public agreement. In the end, Nixon backed out after receiving pressure from small-business owners and the American Medical Association. And Kennedy himself decided to back off after receiving heavy pressure from labor leaders, who urged him to hold out for a single-payer system once Democrats recaptured the White House in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

But it should tell you how far the country has moved to the right that the various proposals put forward by a Democratic president and Congress bear an eerie resemblance to the deal cooked up between Kennedy and Nixon, while Nixon’s political heirs vilify it as nothing less than a socialist plot.

Yes, we’ve come a long way, in an icky direction. But the Republicans’ appalling behavior is really the sputtering of the powerless. The GOP and its elected functionaries are simply obstructing a deal they wish they had struck. As for their shock troops, the dissonance is simply too much and they are bellying up to the table and scarfing down vast quantities of their peculiar comfort food: paranoid ideas of a super-powerful government and, that old standby, race-based vilification. They are burrowing deeper into their crazy places than I had thought possible.

But the lunacy of certain powerless factions, while capable of generating horrific acts, is a sideshow.

The main event is this: the party in power made a bargain with industries with a proven record of doing actual harm to the health and well-being of the electorate. The president spoke in favor of a public option while in private reassuring insurance and pharma that it ain’t gonna happen on his watch. Really. He did. There is no electoral justification for this strategy, as the Republicans were going to oppose anything he put forward anyway.

Obama is indeed a walking Rorschach test, but I would humbly submit that he is not the Hitler/Stalin/Chavez/Satan composite of the teabaggers’ fevered imaginings. Just as important, some of his partisans need to get a clue. He falls waaaaaaayyy short of being a heroic champion of progressive values.

This bill, if it ever gets enacted, four years down the line, might be a step in the right direction. Or, even its supporters must accept, it might not. It’s a mess. As Michael Moore points out, some will benefit hugely, but, as Donna Smith, a blogger on his site, also notes, in the near term, people will keep dying by the thousands for the crime of not being able to pay for health care. “The dead SiCKOs would still die; the bankrupt and broken would still break; and the ill would still suffer.” In large part this is because the President and Congress suddenly value thrift with the national budget (except, uh, it need hardly be said, here) and the patronage of cronies over their voters’ lives.

The Democrats can count their blessings that they exist at the same time as the current version of the Republican party, which has pretty much gone completely crazy. In the presence of such batshit opposition, they get a pass for being merely appalling.

With the groundswell of support and good will they had in the 2008 elections, the sky was the limit, but they took single payer off the table immediately, and cut a deal eliminating any kind of public option (while singing its praises, and fretting that they didn’t have the votes). We’re still going to have a single payer system in this country. We could have done it this year, but it will have to wait until millions more are overwhelmed by the costs of health care, which this legislation does nothing to contain.

15
Mar
10

Kucinich shames progressives who caved in, becomes a target

I think it's time you took a shower with my good friend Rahm....

Remember when moveon.org and other “progressive” groups raised over $400,000 to support members of Congress who refused to support any health care bill without a public option?

Well that was then. This is Now, and Moveon is threatening to “primary” progressives like Kucinich who haven’t changed their minds and continue to insist on a robust public option.

Jane Hamsher, pithy and succinct as usual:

I said “I find it odd that when it’s down to Joe Lieberman’s one vote, everybody shrugs their shoulders and says ‘oh well, we just have to write the bill Joe wants, because what can you do, one vote.’ And when it’s Dennis Kucinich’s one vote, which represents what 80% of the American people want, it’s “lets crush Dennis Kucinich so we can give Joe Lieberman everything he wants.” Somehow the argument keeps switching so that the corrupt deal that the White House negotiated with the pharmaceutical companies gets passed no matter what.”

We are all familiar with the president’s remarkable turnabout on his signature issue. We can speculate, with varying degrees of cynicism, about why he changed his mind, but the nation’s needs have not changed, and the legislation currently being considered does not begin to meet them.

Dr. Marcia Angell, editor emeritus of the New England Journal of Medicine, reminded us of the big picture on Bill Moyers Journal last week:

BILL MOYERS: So, has President Obama been fighting as hard as you wished?

MARCIA ANGELL: Fighting for the wrong things and too little, too late. He gave away the store at the very beginning by compromising. Not just compromising, but caving in to the commercial insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry. And then he stood back for months while the thing just fell apart. Now he’s fighting, but he’s fighting for something that shouldn’t pass. Won’t pass and shouldn’t pass.

What this bill does is not only permit the commercial insurance industry to remain in place, but it actually expands and cements their position as the lynchpin of health care reform. And these companies they profit by denying health care, not providing health care. And they will be able to charge whatever they like. So if they’re regulated in some way and it cuts into their profits, all they have to do is just raise their premiums. And they’ll do that.

Not only does it keep them in place, but it pours about $500 billion of public money into these companies over 10 years. And it mandates that people buy these companies’ products for whatever they charge. Now that’s a recipe for the growth in health care costs, not only to continue, but to skyrocket, to grow even faster.

And I like Dave Lindorff’s straightforward argument about the costs of expanding Medicare to cover everyone. As far as I can see, no one else has pointed out the glaringly obvious fact that expanding Medicare would cost a lot, but it would subsume other programs that cost hundreds of billions:

This is madness. Expanding Medicare to cover everyone, as I have written earlier, would actually save everyone money immediately, and the country as a whole. Consider that the most expensive consumers of health care–the elderly–are already in the system. Adding younger, healthier people to Medicare would cost incrementally much less. That’s why the Canadians spend about 9 percent of their GDP on healthcare, while covering every Canadian, while we spend nearly twice as much and leave 47 million of our citizens uninsured and unable to visit a doctor. How could it be cheaper to add everyone to Medicare? Expanding Medicare to cover everyone would probably cost somewhere between $800 billion and $1 trillion a year. That sounds like a lot of money, until you consider that we already spend $100 billion a year to care for veterans through the Veterans Administration, and $400 billion a year to care for the poor through Medicaid. We also spend $300 billion a year subsidizing hospitals that have to provide “free” charity care to the poor who don’t qualify for Medicaid, too. Since all those people would be covered by Medicare under Medicare-for-All, that’s $800 billion a year in current expenditures saved right there.

I will just pass on Hamsher’s urging to take whatever action you can:

I still don’t know if they can pass this monstrosity of a bill. But if progressives stand down and do nothing while corporate America runs roughshod our institutions and our representatives, no member of Congress will ever have the political courage to stand up against corporate power again.

Call members of Congress who said they would vote against any bill that doesn’t have a public option. Tell them to keep their promise.

Update: Kucinich caved. “[A]las, the will of the people and the decisions made by those who are constantly trolling for corporate campaign contributions are seldom aligned.”

11
Mar
10

Bob Dole sez: “Stop lyin’ about Bob Dole’s health plan”

Seth Ackerman goes to town on Ezra Klein’s assertion that whatever health care reform bill passes will be a “huge progressive victory.”

It’s a complex, nuanced piece, and well worth reading in its entirety, but a point Ackerman makes in his conclusion screams out for comment.

This is not an argument about whether Obama “pushed hard enough” on this or that, or whether Harry Reid sold out such-and-such. The obsession with this kind of short-term thinking is the whole reason why we’re in this mess. It’s quite possible Obama couldn’t have gotten elected if he’d proposed anything more ambitious than the “Demo-plan.” And once in office he may not have been able to get his Demo-plan passed without dropping the more liberal features.

But all of that is beside the point. Whether or not a better health reform plan could have passed at this precise moment is a secondary issue. The larger question is what this bill tells us about this precise moment. Obama came into office with every whim of history leaning in his direction: a discredited Republican predecessor, a crisis of deregulated finance that reached a crescendo literally weeks before the election (what luck!); the largest Democratic majorities in decades (in a sense, even larger than the 1965 majorities; not counting southerners, the Democrats had 47 Senate seats in 2009, versus 40 in 1965). Such a clear shot will not return for decades.

And the result: The Democrats shot their historical wad on health care by re-introducing Bob Dole’s bill from 1994 and justifying it as a free-market solution. How is that a “huge progressive victory”?

Wait? Uh, what? Bob Dole’s bill from 1994? Ackerman just sort of snuck that in there. But take a look at this “executive memorandum” from the Heritage Foundation, “Dole’s Health Care Compromise: A Prudent Foundation for Reform”:

[Dole’s]  bill requires insurers to renew policies and prohibits pre-existing condition limitations in new policies, while protecting insurers by allowing reasonable waiting periods. It also limits premium variations to differences based on age, family size, geogra- phy, and other risk factors, but not health condition. Further, the bill blocks states from mandating insurers to include costly benefits that buyers do not want. It introduces malpractice reforms to reduce legal costs, and reforms the antitrust rules to make it easier for groups of physicians or other providers to do business.

The bill also encourages the creation of purchasing groups, including non-employer associations, to bargain for good insurance rates. But wisely, it does not mandate health alliances, or force- employers to pick plans for their employees. Thus, Americans could join health insurance purchasing associations based on, say, a church, a union or a farm bureau, not just an employer-sponsored pool.

Mmm. Yes. That does look vaguely familiar. Wow. Obama sweeps into power with “every whim of history leaning in his direction,” and an unprecedented opportunity to push for real reform, and we get… Bob Dole.

And if you, like me, are sick and tired of hearing “it’s a start” and “it’s better than doing nothing,” there’s this:

But it gets worse. The decentralized private payment system will inevitably start crowding out the public insurance we already have, especially Medicare. With continued double-digit medical inflation, the slow-motion dismantling of Medicare isn’t a possibility, it seems like an eventual certainty. (Just look at the current deficit hysteria, which is now being propitiated by the White House and its independent commission.) We are on a moving train going in the wrong direction; instead of turning the train around, this bill tries to solve the problem by having us all run towards the caboose.

Barring some sort of divine intervention, whatever version of health care reform that passes will be an unmitigated disaster for America. I didn’t vote for Obama (or, I should not have to add, McCain), and wasn’t expecting much, but this tops my most pessimistic imaginings.

09
Mar
10

Stop presses: Politician found with a spine

The Obama regime has, for me, been an even bigger nightmare than the preceding eight years. The Democrats first swept into power in the 2006 midterms, and cemented their stranglehold on Congress and the Executive branch two years later. They promised change, and transparency, and delivered neither.

Whatever protestations Obama and his party make about ideals and values, the Health Care Reform debacle shows the real lay of the land. If you thought the Democrats would take decisive action to actually represent the interests of the voters against the predations of corporations, by now you should be pretty well disabused of any such notions.

For the White House and most of Congressional Democrats, the idea behind their version of “reform” is simple. Cut a deal with the insurance and pharmaceutical industries in exchange for … money, and throw a few cosmetic improvements into the package that will in no way flatten the ever ascending arc of the profit margins of the insurers and pharmaceutical companies.

It’s really that simple. The Republicans, for their part, hate the Deal not because it violates their principles, but because they want to be the party cutting it.

Only Dennis Kucinich has consistently spoken up for what is the only rational (and ultimately much cheaper) solution to what is a crisis for many, if not most, Americans: single payer, medicare for all. Take five minutes and listen to this man.

For further reading, spend some time at firedoglake, where Jane Hamsher and Jon Walker and others have been providing enlightening accounts of the deceptions and delusions behind this disastrous piece of legislation. Here is a list of health care-tagged posts.

12
Feb
10

“it will take 2 million angry moms to change school food”

free for all“It will take 2 million angry moms to change school food,” says Susan Coombs, former Texas Agriculture Secretary, who is quoted in Janet Poppendieck’s Free for All: Fixing School Food in America.

I’ve only just read a review of the book, and want this dad’s name added to the list of angry moms.

This happens to be a week I am also digesting  a full-hour interview with Michael Pollan on Democracy Now, as well as my third viewing of Food Inc., which is the best single document to introduce the unaware into the batshit crazy place that is America’s food system.

It’s a convoluted contraption, with a few big winners and lots and lots of losers.

Those profiting (mightily) from our national food dysfunction include executives and shareholders of the various Big Ag corporations–Monsanto, ConAgra, ADM, Cargill,  Smithfield, Tyson, Perdue– and the large farms that receive the bulk of subsidy payments for growing massive surpluses of corn and soybeans.

The losers are just about everyone else. The victims who suffer the most include small farmers; the abused cattle, pigs, and chickens who are treated like mechanical cogs, not living beings; the horribly stressed and underpaid factory farm workers who are treated only marginally better than the animals;  and … and … our children, who, via the school lunch program, are the last stop for the last bits of that surplus production that no one else wants.  Pollan calls it “a dispose-all system for surplus agricultural commodities.”

Here is a summary of the problem, and Poppendieck’s proposed radical solution, via Mark Winne on Civil Eats:

Why, for instance, have we developed three different ways to pay the lunch lady–one for the poor students, one for the nearly poor, and one for those who supposedly are being driven in BMWs to school? The logical answer might be because that’s fair; the rich kids should pay more and the government should subsidize the cost of feeding lower income children, as it does currently to the tune of $11 billion annually. But as Poppendieck peels back the layers of the onion, we find the issue has always been less about compassion for needy children and more about accommodating political and commercial interests. Harry Truman (school lunch is good for national security), Ronald Reagan (ketchup is a vegetable), nutritionists and nutritionism (its nutrients that count, not the quality and taste of food), and various agricultural lobbies wanting to unload their farm surpluses are just a sampling of what has driven the school food agenda. Somewhere low on the totem pole you’ll find concern for the health and well-being of boys and girls.

Poppendieck’s jargon-free narrative takes us step-by-step through the deals, concessions, and compromises that have bureaucratized the school food process while simultaneously dumbing down the food. Why is so much processed food used to prepare school meals? Because it’s cheaper and “cooking from scratch” kitchens have been removed from the schools. Why does it have to be cheaper when we’re talking about feeding our children? Because the federal government (or anyone else for that matter) will not provide enough funding to enable schools to buy fresh, whole ingredients. (And by the way, taxpayers are spending billions of dollars to subsidize corn and soybeans, the prime ingredients in processed food.) Why do we have so many junk food items sold “a la carte” in our schools? Well, in addition to using a French culinary phrase to disguise what is otherwise crappy food, schools must sell these items to those with discretionary cash–supposedly the ones in the BMWs–to compensate for the low reimbursements they receive for meals that meet mandated USDA standards. And on it goes.

Poppendieck has a solution that is as elegant as it will be hard to achieve–universal free meals for all students K through 12. She acknowledges the cost, an additional $12 billion per year (our present wars, please note, are costing about the same amount each month) that would not only feed all students for free, but also improve the quality of the food.

If the arguments for universal school meals–efficiency, equity, no one excluded–sound eerily familiar, then you’ve probably been paying attention to the arguments for universal health care. If nothing else, it’s certainly ironic to consider the consequences of removing each system’s respective middlemen: processed food purveyors for school food, and private health insurers for health care. Might we all be healthier as a result?

This food and kids thing is a big battle in our house. I work hard to have good food around: we raise our own meat and veggies (in season), but we’re always battling peer pressure, fast food and (this one really kills me) all the free toys the kids get when they eat fast food.

In spite of all my efforts, my kids ingest more than their fair share of sugary cereal, pizza, and chicken nuggets– both at school and (sadly) at home. I have to weigh the risk of alienating them from good food altogether (if I push too hard) against the ill effects of the crap they prefer. It ain’t easy. I like to hope that the exposure to real food will at some future point mutate into a desire to eat it, but I can’t be sure.

I’m not exactly optimistic that Congress and the White House will find the $12 billion to give free, nutritious school lunches for all of our kids. That’s putting it mildly. It’s not going to happen with the current crew. But we have to start demanding it.

08
Feb
10

Margaret Flowers evokes memories of another Margaret

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A terrific, informative Bill Moyers interview with Dr. Margaret Flowers of Mad as Hell Doctors and Physicians for a National Health Program.  Dr. Flowers presents her case for Medicare for All/Single Payer in a calm, resolute, persuasive manner.

Dr. Flowers and Dr. Carol Paris have spoken before Congress, and were arrested at the Senate Finance Committee Hearings on HCR for daring to speak up for single payer after the solution favored by most Americans was yanked off the table.

More recently, Drs. Flowers and Paris took Obama up on his “Let me know” spiel at the State of the Union address–and were again arrested for their troubles.  (“If anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen medicare for seniors and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Let me know. Let me know. I’m eager to see it.” Does ANYONE in America believe that?)

The tale Dr. Flowers tells is not a pretty one, and it may be surprising, if you still harbor the delusion that the Obama Administration is a force for positive change.

I loved the Moyers comment:

When I saw pictures of Margaret Flowers being led away, I remembered those famous words attributed to another Margaret, the anthropologist Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Against all the evidence, I find Dr. Flowers’ resolve to be a reason for optimism. And I am grateful for Moyers, who has given her air time on his program (which, sadly, is in its last season on television).


more about “Bill Moyers Journal . Watch & Listen …“, posted with vodpod
22
Jan
10

Keeping America safe … from foodies

Grass-finished beef. I KNOW where this has been. Photo by yours truly.

Updated below.

As I was sayin’, there’s something a little fishy about all these contrarian takes on conventional wisdom, by writers who style themselves as brave iconoclastic thinkers but really are just defenders of the status quo.

Here’s another one, on a subject dear to my heart, the merits of grass-fed (and -finished) over “conventionally raised” beef.  In the ominously titled Beware the myth of grass-fed beef at Slate, Dr. James McWilliams, associate professor of history at Texas State University, scores yet another high-profile national opinion place. Previously, he had posted pieces on the New York Times‘ “Freakanomics” blog with provocative titles like “Are Farmer’s Markets that Good for Us?” Last April he snared the prime real estate of the Times opinion page with Free-range trichonosis, in which he argued that free-range pork could be more dangerous that the pork that comes from factory farms.

About that particular 0p-ed. It was published April 9. On April 14, this disclaimer appeared at the bottom of the piece:

An Op-Ed article last Friday, about pork, neglected to disclose the source of the financing for a study finding that free-range pigs were more likely than confined pigs to test positive for exposure to certain pathogens. The study was financed by the National Pork Board.

(Oops. Maybe someone on the Times‘ opinion staff might have thought to ask about that before running it in the paper of record. Or maybe they did. Nobody reads the retractions….)

And McWilliams is also called out in this (generally favorable) Publishers Weekly review:

At times, McWilliams shortchanges his own arguments by failing to disclose the financial or institutional backing of his sources (including various talking heads, esoteric-sounding think tanks, and scientific journals), leaving readers to comb extensive footnotes and web links to determine how the evidence stacks up.

If  McWilliams’ goal has been to ruffle the feathers of alternative agriculture advocates everywhere, he has succeeded admirably.  Mr. Google turns up many angry responses to his sometimes shady polemics.

This one, by Tom Laskowy, pegs McWilliams as as a willing participant in the FUDosphere (FUD standing for Fear Uncertainty Doubt), a “network of Sith-lord scientists and unrepentant PR flacks who have no compunctions about tweaking their research methodologies … to generate results both favorable to industry and confusing to those trying to understand the truth.”

The FUD-osphere includes doctors who perform industry-funded research to demonstrate the safety of new drugs (Vioxx, anyone?). It includes crackpot scientists and historians, like James McWilliams, who has an op-ed in the NYT in defense of factory-farmed pork—shown to be fiction by Marion Nestle and and Civil Eats. McWilliams has a history with this kind of thing—he authored a deeply flawed article in Slate —debunked here—accusing organic agriculture of responsibility for the presence of heavy metals in soil. Meanwhile, he has written a forthcoming book about the evils and dangers of local food. Really.

In a review of his Just Food, also in Grist, Stephanie Ogburn identifies McWilliams’ modus operandi:

Again and again, one gets the uncomfortable feeling that McWilliams creates fanatical straw men in order to make his own presentation of facts seem like a rational alternative. “The problems that I have with organic agriculture have less to do with how it is currently practiced than with the inflated claim that it’s the only alternative to today’s wasteful conventional production,” he writes. But do any serious proponents seeking more sustainable alternatives to conventional agriculture claim this?

OK. To the subject at hand, the “myth” of grass-fed beef. McWilliams’ point is not wrong. It just does not merit being treated as a sensational revelation.
The news peg is pretty dramatic: one particular strain of E. coli bacteria, O157:H7, has been present in several massive recalls of beef, most recently Monday’s recall of 864,000 pounds of ground beef by California’s Huntington Meat Packing.
McWilliams accepts that the acidic stomach of grain-fed cattle is capable of spawning up to a million times more acid-resistant E. coli than grass-fed cattle, as studies at the beginning of the decade demonstrated.  However, he points out that more recent studies have shown “that grass-fed cows … become colonized with E. coli O157:H7 at rates nearly the same as grain-fed cattle.” This is not an unimportant fact (though  it ignores the important context of cleanliness at slaughter–see below).   But McWilliams takes it as earth-shattering, and  as an opportunity to deliver a knockout blow to his favorite straw man:
The point in dredging up these studies … [is]  a warning that advocacy for a trendy food choice might result in a public health hazard. Such a fear is confirmed by consulting the cooking directions provided by many purveyors of grass-fed beef. The home page for one major producer explains that “cooking ‘real food’ is not the same as cooking concocted food. … Grass-fed meats are best when raw (steak tartar), rare, or medium rare.” Given that the FDA recommends cooking ground beef to 160 degrees to guarantee safety from E. coli, this eat-it-undercooked advice could be dangerous.
Here comes the giant leap in logic: a loose claim by a purveyor of grass-fed beef  “offers a disturbing lesson in how culinary wisdom becomes foodie dogma and how foodie dogma can turn into a recipe for disaster.”Ah, the foodie, “the right-on, ‘yes we can,’ ACORN-loving, public-option-supporting man or woman of the people” of Caitlin Flanagan’s fevered dreams. Wealthy, trendy, elitist, and ultimately dangerous. Honestly, I am not always nuts about the pretentiousness of foodie culture. But there is nothing monolithic about it. Certainly, not everyone opting out of industrial agriculture can be tarred with the foodie brush either. Quite simply, there is no foodie orthodoxy, or dogma.
And that is the case with regard to the dangers, or potential dangers, of eating any kind of food. I know there are risks of salmonella even with my free-range poached eggs, but I still like them  a little runny. Just because I raise my own beef doesn’t mean there are no food safety issues to consider when serving it rare or bleu. I’ll take my chances. We all will.
At this point, those of us who are choosing alternatives are doing it not because we think we have hit on the final solution to the world’s food problems. Opting out is also in large part a protest, a refusal to buy into an industrial food system that is cruel, inefficient, unsustainable and in many ways toxic. So we still have to be careful regarding E. coli. Thank you. We knew that.
Facts are facts, and I’m sure Dr. McWilliams only toils in the service of the Truth, but one wonders how loud a splash an associate professor from Texas State would have made if his edgy, contrarian posturing wasn’t so reassuring to the corporations and trade associations that control industrial agriculture today.
Update: Another important point from eatwild.com:

Whether or not grass-feeding reduces the number and acidity of E. coli in the digestive tract of cattle, there is another undisputed reason that eating grass-fed beef may be safer. Cattle raised on pasture are cleaner at the time of slaughter.

E. coli contamination takes place in the slaughterhouse when manure from an animal comes in contact with meat. The less manure on an animal when it enters the slaughter house, the less likely the meat will become contaminated.

It is difficult to remove all the fecal contamination from feedlot cattle because they stand all day long in dirt and manure. In a recent article in the magazine Meat Marketing and Technology, the associate editor stated that pasture-raised animals were much easier to clean “because they come from small herds raised in relatively clean pastures.” Most U.S. cattle, he said, “are raised in far larger numbers in congested and typically less sanitary feed lots.” (“The Future of Food Safety,” by Joshua Lipsky. Meat Marketing and Technology, April 2001.)

21
Jan
10

“Whores-Race Politics”

USA, LLC

Supreme Court rejects limits on corporate spending in electoral campaigns:

A divided Supreme Court on Thursday swept away decades of legislative efforts to restrict the role of corporations in election campaigns, ruling that severe restrictions on corporate spending are inconsistent with the First Amendment’s protection of political speech.

Chris Lehmann has the best headline: High Court Upholds Whores-Race Politics, although the metafilter one-liner (“The Business Plot of 1933 has reached a logical conclusion”) comes close, and gives me a chance to name-check Smedley Butler again.

Lehmann’s analysis:

The ruling also effectively rolls back many curbs on “soft-money” campaign financing–the coy corporate practice of doling out dosh on candidates’ behalf via dummy interest-group expenditures–during the homestretch of elections that were instituted in the already weak McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy stirringly pronounced that “the censorship we confront is now vast in its reach,” neglecting of course to mention that virtually every other Western democracy has far stricter curbs on rampant private-sector electioneering while also mysteriously permitting their private citizens to express themselves just fine.

And Dahlia Lithwick’s The Pinocchio Project has the best subhed: “Watching as the Supreme Court turns a corporation into a real live boy.”

The court had to reach out far beyond any place it needed to go to strike down century-old restrictions on corporate spending in federal elections. This started off as a case about a single movie. It morphed into John Roberts’ Golden Globe night.

Funny. This is a silly case, and what the Court has wrung from it is so preposterous that you want to laugh. But no.

But you can plainly see the weariness in [dissenting Justice John Paul] Stevens[‘] eyes and hear it in his voice today as he is forced to contend with a legal fiction that has come to life today, a sort of constitutional Frankenstein moment when corporate speech becomes even more compelling than the “voices of the real people” who will be drowned out.

“A Constitutional Frankenstein moment.” It has been a pretty awful week.




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