Weekend Update 04-09-2011

USAID Administrator: GOP Bill Could Kill 70,000 Kids. Explain to me again how the GOP is even vaguely pro-life? Because I’m not seeing it. I see how they are pro-wealthy (as in the top 1% wealthiest), pro-corporation, pro-bank, etc. But pro-life? Not so much.

Five Myths about why the South Seceded. I’m a child of the South and I can confirm that many of these myths continue to be widely believed.

Monsanto’s GMO corn linked to organ failure. So they do their own studies for a mere 90 days and discount any study they do like in order to demonstrate their products are safe? Of course, the Tea Party would have us believe our country’s problem is too much regulation …

Clues to gluten sensitivity. At least with celiac disease, I know what I have and there’s no uncertainty. Those suffering from non-celiac gluten sensitivity or intolerance are not so fortunate.

Robert Reich has a good column on why we’ve reached the point where we need to move beyond a naive belief in trickle down economics. Unfortunately, his point requires that his readers be able to grasp basic arithmetic. I think that may be demanding too much.

Apparently, a Monsanto apologist claims that farm subsidies haven’t subsidized cheap and unhealthy junk food. This post begs to differ.

Rice Krispies are going gluten free! Regular Rice Krispies have always had malt flavoring (from barley) like virtually every other mainstream commercial cereal — even the ones that didn’t otherwise contain wheat. The gluten free version will also be made from brown, rather than white rice, and doesn’t use HFCS. Of course, it’s not really “healthy” but it’s nice to have one other option on the regular cereal aisle.

The theater of the absurd continued this week with the House GOP. Before I share links and discuss some of my thoughts on details, I want to share this post by Robert Reich. I believe he captures a key and central element in this observation: “Either we’re all in this together, or we’re a bunch of individuals who happen to live within these borders and are mainly on their own.”

Government of the 1%, by the 1%, and for the 1%. Watch the videos.

If you just want to read some quick summaries of the fundamental problems with the proposed GOP House budget, Krugman’s column and Fr. Orthoduck’s post provide good ones. Basically, this budget confirms they have no serious intention to actually try to govern. It’s numbers are complete fantasy and it’s utterly mean-spirited as well on a scale that surprises me. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised anymore by the rampant greed and outright cruelty that rules the Republican Party today. After all, it’s been building for a long time. Nevertheless, it still manages to shock me from time to time.

Now I’ll share a flurry of posts I’ve been reading this past week going through Ryan’s budget. First, the only people for whom Ryan’s plan is a “Path to Prosperity” are the people who are already extremely prosperous. This post lists some of the additional giveaways to the wealthiest (on top of the still unfunded Bush tax cuts which actually produced much of the current deficit) alongside the cruel cuts to people who are struggling to get by. Basically, this plan continues the unprecedented (in America, at least) concentration of wealth within the top 1% of Americans by stripping everything that supports not only the poor, but the middle class in our country. It’s a reverse Robin Hood plan (steal from those who are not rich — not just the poor, who don’t have enough to steal to make a difference — and give the money to the already rich) on a massive scale.

Of course, the plan itself just invents numbers. Krugman almost immediately tagged a couple of the most absurd claims here and here and here. Basically, Ryan’s numbers only worked if he claimed that unemployment would immediately drop to roughly pre-recession levels and eventually reach 2.8% (something that only happened briefly during the Korean War) and if non-mandatory, discretionary spending (including Defense!) magically fell from 12% of GDP to 3.5%. Some of those claims in the economic projection Ryan used have since vanished from the web. Apparently political sorts still haven’t learned that once you’ve put something on the Internet, you can’t take it back. As usual, screen shots and copies abound. Politicians have always shaded numbers, used the most optimistic projections that supported their point, and played similar games with the numbers. That’s nothing new. But those numbers used to have at least some connection to reality. Apparently, such connections are no longer necessary. I’m reminded of a Dilbert cartoon a friend of mine has on his desk. The pointy-haired boss asks him for some cost or budget estimates on something where Dilbert isn’t allowed to gather any actual data. Dilbert tells him that he has an infinite supply of incorrect or invalid numbers. His boss tells him to keep those in his back pocket in case they need them. Dilbert replies that he’ll encrypt them to keep them safe. That’s the sort of nonsense in this plan. Not that it seems to matter, but the non-partisan CBO analyzed the plan and said that if it implemented it would actually increase deficits and our level of debt over the next decade. That’s not a surprise, really. It’s what every Republican plan from Reagan to now has done. Part of it is a fantasy that you can cut taxes and magically end up with more revenue. That’s never happened and basic common sense tells you it can’t happen. Part of it is a deliberate plan to achieve ideological goals by cutting the very revenue their public fantasy asserts that tax cuts will increase.

Of course, one of the highlights of Ryan’s plan is the privatization of Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, another of the assumptions in the budget is that the percentage the government spends on health care will also dramatically fall. This is an ideological vision that ultimately does nothing but try to strip access to health care from millions more people. He has nothing in it to actual control costs, regulate insurance companies, or improve the overall health system. Instead, he wants to rollback even the modest steps in that direction in the Affordable Care Act. On Medicare, new seniors will just get a voucher to try to buy some health insurance. The amount of the voucher is not even tied in any way to the cost and the CBO estimates that by the time that provision kicks in, the vouchers will only cover about a third of the cost of insurance. Medicaid is turned into a block grant program to the states and the federal requirements are removed. Savings are achieved by either shifting the burden to the states or by the states kicking more people off Medicaid. (It’s a certainty that Texas and some other states would take that approach.) So basically Ryan and the GOP just want to strip health care coverage from those who need it most and use the money saved to partially fund more tax cuts for the wealthiest. And Krugman’s right. Seniors who voted for the GOP based on their promises to “protect” Medicare? Suckers!!! P.T. Barnum was right.

However, the plan is not only fundamentally immoral, it won’t work. It’s most likely that when we reach the point where seniors who would actually get the inadequate insurance vouchers reach the point where that part of the plan kicks in, there will be such a political outcry that Congress will put some kind of bandaid on the lesion and at least increase the amount of the vouchers to cover the insurance costs. That’s what has always happened in the past with efforts to shift Medicare costs to seniors like this. However, assume it does actually stick. What then? At that point we’ll be living in a two-tier society where younger workers are paying for health benefits for seniors that they will never receive themselves. In whose demented mind is that situation sustainable?

If you aren’t at least in the top 10% of Americans in terms of wealth (and really closer to the top 1%) and you voted for Republicans, the open contempt in which they hold you is now evident. They aren’t even trying to hide it anymore. Heck, even if you don’t care one whit for any other human being, you’re voting against your own self-interest by electing these nut jobs. I’m baffled by the apparently self-loathing nature of a large segment of our country.

Read to the bottom of this report on the Republican Medicare proposal. Lots of the information in it rehashes the above, but it reports the medical loss ratio of Medicare. And it’s a staggering 98%. That means that out of every Medicare dollar, ninety-eight cents is spent directly on health care. Even back in the 1980s and early 1990s, when most of the health insurance companies where non-profit, the best medical loss ratios were about 95%. Under the Affordable Care Act, present-day insurance companies loudly complain about the requirement to meet an 85% medical loss threshold (80% for some insurance). So the Republican plan does nothing to control costs, instead tossing the burden of spiraling, out of control costs on individuals — most of whom won’t be able to afford it. (I guess Republicans just want them to go ahead and die. They were right. No death panels are needed in their plan. If you aren’t rich, you’re toast. Across the board.) It basically tosses a huge pool of money at the already corrupt and poorly regulated health insurance companies while dismantling the little regulation the ACA tried to add. And the proposal dismantles the best-performing health program in the United States today. Explain to me again why we didn’t want to fix health care by expanding Medicare to cover everyone? 98% medical loss? There has never been a private insurance company, for-profit or non-profit, that could beat that number.

Another note on Ryan’s budget. I can’t believe people outside the top 1% actually support his plan. Bizarre. As I texted my son, you can’t fix stupid. Here’s your sign …

Slate has a good article on the House negotiations over the current year budget.

And everyone knows racism has nothing to do with the GOP strategy in the South. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Say no more.

This PSA for the SSA is pretty funny.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted April 9, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    “I’m baffled by the apparently self-loathing nature of a large segment of our country.”

    Once you recognize the pattern you see it over and over again like some weird psychological fractal repeated at all levels of humanity, global to individual. I frequently muse to my family on how the fact that we haven’t collectively completely annihilated ourselves from the face of the earth is proof for a benevolent deity.

  2. Posted April 9, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Ha. That’s funny. I like it.

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