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“Who Hates Obamacare?”: Progressives Should Not Be Trash-Talking Progress And Impugning Motives Of People On Their Side

Ted Cruz had a teachable moment in Iowa, although he himself will learn nothing from it. A voter told Mr. Cruz the story of his brother-in-law, a barber who had never been able to afford health insurance. He finally got insurance thanks to Obamacare — and discovered that it was too late. He had terminal cancer, and nothing could be done.

The voter asked how the candidate would replace the law that might have saved his brother-in-law if it had been in effect earlier. Needless to say, all he got was boilerplate about government regulations and the usual false claims that Obamacare has destroyed “millions of jobs” and caused premiums to “skyrocket.”

For the record, job growth since the Affordable Care Act went fully into effect has been the best since the 1990s, and health costs have risen much more slowly than before.

So Mr. Cruz has a truth problem. But what else can we learn from this encounter? That the Affordable Care Act is already doing enormous good. It came too late to save one man’s life, but it will surely save many others. Why, then, do we hear not just conservatives but also many progressives trashing President Obama’s biggest policy achievement?

Part of the answer is that Bernie Sanders has chosen to make re-litigating reform, and trying for single-payer, a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. So some Sanders supporters have taken to attacking Obamacare as a failed system.

We saw something similar back in 2008, when some Obama supporters temporarily became bitter opponents of the individual mandate — the requirement that everyone buy insurance — which Hillary Clinton supported but Mr. Obama opposed. (Once in office, he in effect conceded that she had been right, and included the mandate in his initiative.)

But the truth is, Mr. Sanders is just amplifying left-wing critiques of health reform that were already out there. And some of these critiques have merit. Others don’t.

Let’s start with the good critiques, which involve coverage and cost.

The number of uninsured Americans has dropped sharply, especially in states that have tried to make the law work. But millions are still uncovered, and in some cases high deductibles make coverage less useful than it should be.

This isn’t inherent in a non-single-payer system: Other countries with Obamacare-type systems, like the Netherlands and Switzerland, do have near-universal coverage even though they rely on private insurers. But Obamacare as currently constituted doesn’t seem likely to get there, perhaps because it’s somewhat underfunded.

Meanwhile, although cost control is looking better than even reform advocates expected, America’s health care remains much more expensive than anyone else’s.

So yes, there are real issues with Obamacare. The question is how to address those issues in a politically feasible way.

But a lot of what I hear from the left is not so much a complaint about how the reform falls short as outrage that private insurers get to play any role. The idea seems to be that any role for the profit motive taints the whole effort.

That is, however, a really bad critique. Yes, Obamacare did preserve private insurance — mainly to avoid big, politically risky changes for Americans who already had good insurance, but also to buy support or at least quiescence from the insurance industry. But the fact that some insurers are making money from reform (and their profits are not, by the way, all that large) isn’t a reason to oppose that reform. The point is to help the uninsured, not to punish or demonize insurance companies.

And speaking of demonization: One unpleasant, ugly side of this debate has been the tendency of some Sanders supporters, and sometimes the campaign itself, to suggest that anyone raising questions about the senator’s proposals must be a corrupt tool of vested interests.

Recently Kenneth Thorpe, a respected health policy expert and a longtime supporter of reform, tried to put numbers on the Sanders plan, and concluded that it would cost substantially more than the campaign says. He may or may not be right, although most of the health wonks I know have reached similar conclusions.

But the campaign’s policy director immediately attacked Mr. Thorpe’s integrity: “It’s coming from a gentleman that worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield. It’s exactly what you would expect somebody who worked for B.C.B.S. to come up with.” Oh, boy.

And let’s be clear: This kind of thing can do real harm. The truth is that whomever the Democrats nominate, the general election is mainly going to be a referendum on whether we preserve the real if incomplete progress we’ve made on health, financial reform and the environment. The last thing progressives should be doing is trash-talking that progress and impugning the motives of people who are fundamentally on their side.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 5, 2016

February 6, 2016 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Bernie Sanders, Obamacare, Progressives | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Donald Trump And His Subversive Sense Of Humor”: A Man Who Views Assessments Of Women On Their Appearance

I used to have this poster in my office reflecting the timeless wisdom of a relief pitcher named Larry Andersen. Today he does Phillies radio broadcasts. A friend who’s a calligrapher made it for me.

“Hey, you’re only young once, but you can be immature forever.”

The poster got lost after we moved, and my wife doesn’t miss it. Possibly because it reflects an aspect of my personality she’s sometimes uneasy with: the part that helps me do a pretty good Donald Trump impression. The part that reflects my bygone youth in New Jersey, the Insult State.

The part that makes her laugh until I imitate Trump attacking Hillary Clinton as a woman The Donald would not want to see naked.

The accent, gestures, and exaggerated mugging all come easy. You’ve just got to imagine a chimpanzee with a trust fund. See, if he hadn’t inherited a couple of hundred million bucks from his old man, Trump would have ended up cheating used car buyers and standing around on New York street corners patting his groin and hooting at passing women with the other primates.

“Hey baby, I got a piece of candy for you. Right here in my pants.”

Like that.

How Trump reacts to finishing second in Iowa remains to be seen. I’m guessing the minute he realizes he can’t bulldoze and bluff his way to the presidency, he’s gone. But at least he’s given us some laughs, more than you can say for most of them.

Which brings us to Trump’s big celebrity feud with Fox News head blonde Megyn Kelly. Has any victim of The Donald’s verbal assaults ever benefited more from his scorn?

Before the two tangled during the first GOP presidential debate, Kelly was best known among the cable channel’s audience of AARP All-Stars—a foot soldier in the annual “War on Christmas” who once indignantly assured viewers that Santa Claus is a white man. Also an imaginary man, but never mind.

Now thanks to Trump, she’s a name brand. It’ll be interesting to watch where the notoriety takes her. At 45, she’s probably too old to be the fourth Mrs. Trump, but wouldn’t that be an entertaining premise for a bad movie?

The feud began, as the world knows, when Kelly, an incisive interviewer, asked The Donald about his practice of calling women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.” He tried to joke his way out of it, but Kelly doubled down, asking about the time he told a contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice” how cute she’d look on her knees.

A classic bully, Trump whined that Kelly was biased. “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” he told CNN.

He’s all chivalry, our Mr. Trump.

Bickering continued until The Donald tried to make Fox News drop Kelly as moderator of its next GOP debate, which he vowed to boycott unless he got his way. CEO Roger Ailes called his bluff. Refusing to show up now looks like a mistake after Iowa. Trump’s going to bully foreign leaders into submission, but a TV executive defied him and he’s afraid of a girl?

Not good for the brand.

Smarting, Trump then said he wouldn’t call Kelly a “bimbo” because it would be “politically incorrect.” That’s Republican-speak for refusing to call a spade a spade. (Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Know what they mean?)

Next he reposted some pinup shots of Kelly on Twitter: “Criticizes Trump for objectifying women. Poses like this in GQ magazine.”

I hesitate to admit that I laughed out loud. Low-cut negligee, “Hello, Sailor” look and all, Megyn didn’t much resemble Walter Cronkite.

Not that valuing women strictly as sexual objects was what Kelly complained about. But whatever else you can say about Trump, he’s got a subversive sense of humor.

Should it matter that Mrs. Donald Trump, version 3.0, has herself posed buck nekkid for GQ? Perhaps not, but it’s funny too. Built like a Slovenian outhouse, the fair Melania.

I wonder if Mrs. Trump’s pre-nuptial agreement is fully vested. Because it’s hard to think that First Lady’s a role that would suit her. In some ways, the White House is the jewel of the federal penitentiary system.

Meanwhile, Washington Post reporter Janell Ross, seemingly not from New Jersey, asked some pertinent questions:

“Doesn’t the content of that tweet… strongly support the core theories behind the question that Kelly asked Trump in the very first debate? Is a man who seems to view assessments of women based largely or perhaps only on their appearance fit for the Oval Office in 2016? And, if he is, what are the political ramifications of putting him in office and giving him the bully pulpit?”

The correct answers are: yes, no, and more of the same.

But Melania can rest easy, because it’s not going to happen.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, February 3, 2016

February 4, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fox News, GOP Primary Debates, Sexism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Shorthand For Progressivity”: New York Values Are At The Heart Of The American Political Divide

New York City is playing an unexpectedly outsized role in the presidential race, with both of the two major parties being sharply divided by candidates who embody very different sides of the city. It’s perhaps not surprising in an age of economic inequality that New York, itself a city where the enormous gap between the 1 percent and the working class is greater than that found in Brazil, would produce two such starkly contrasting figures as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Trump, the boastful, putative billionaire with his gaudy skyscrapers, is the perfect representative of the Manhattan uber-rich, just as Sanders is the voice of the New York of the trade-union movement and the once-thriving Jewish socialist culture that Irving Howe captured in his 1976 book, World of Our Fathers.

The two men both have husky outer-borough accents, leading them to pronounce words like huge (“yuge”) alike even as they shout starkly different messages. Yet as the results from the Iowa caucuses make clear, the two parties have responded quite differently to the rival versions of New York being offered. Trump’s undeniable saturation in New York values is turning out to be a liability among Republicans, even as midwestern Democrats have shown a surprising affinity for Sanders’s version of New York socialism.

Speaking to ABC News last night, Ted Cruz credited his win in Iowa to how he successfully stuck the label of “New York values” on Donald Trump. “As I travel the country here in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, everyone knows what New York values are,” Cruz said.

When Cruz first attacked “New York values,” many pundits thought he’d made a mistake, especially after Trump delivered a moving invocation to the city’s heroic response to 9/11 in the Republican debate in mid-January. But there is every reason to think that the attack was key to Cruz’s success. Forty-two percent of Iowa Republicans told entrance pollsters at the caucuses that the most important quality in a candidate was that he or she “shares my values.” Of that large block, 38 percent supported Ted Cruz, and 5 percent were for Trump. Simply put, Iowa Republicans accepted the idea that Trump was a cultural alien. Meanwhile, Trump’s own attempts to portray Cruz as an alien—by calling attention to his Canadian birth and loans from Goldman Sachs—fell flat.

Trump is not the first New York Republican to find that voters in his party just can’t stomach his origins in a city that many conservatives see as a modern Sodom and Gomorrah. In 2008, Rudy Giuliani looked on paper like a great candidate, widely admired in the GOP as a hero of 9/11. Yet Giuliani’s campaign floundered in the fields of Iowa, where his cultural liberalism, including a record of supporting reproductive freedom and LGBT rights, hurt him. In Iowa in 2008, came in 6th with 3 percent of the vote. (Admittedly, Giuliani avoided campaigning there because he knew he would do so poorly, but his campaign never picked up steam afterward). Given the track record of Trump and Giuliani, it seems unlikely that a strong New York personality, even one tied to foreign-policy hawkishness or hostility towards immigrants, can win over heartland conservatives.

The opposite is true of the Democrats. Sanders finished a very close second in Iowa, within a hair’s breadth of winning—an impressive achievement won against long odds given Clinton’s advantages in funding, name recognition, and endorsements. It’s notable that Clinton did not attack Sanders for his New York values, or even for his professed socialism. Her line of attack was that his policies, like universal healthcare, were politically infeasible—not that they were undesirable.

Instead, in her speech expressing “relief” over the Iowa results (which weren’t yet final), Clinton adopted a conciliatory stance and tried to appropriate Sanders’s politics by claiming to be “a progressive who gets things done for people.” Clinton sounded positively Sanders-esque in declaring that, as president, she would “protect our rights, women’s rights, gay rights, voting rights, immigrant rights, workers’ rights.”

Among the Republicans, association with New York is a political millstone around the neck that can sink a candidate. But if the New York values that Republicans dread are cosmopolitanism and egalitarianism, then among the Democrats, there’s no controversy around them, only disagreement as to how best to achieve them. In American politics, New York values has now become a shorthand for progressivity. That’s something both parties agree on, even as New York values lie at the fault lines of American politics.

 

By: Jeet Heer, The New Republic, February 2, 2016

February 4, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, New York Values | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sanders’s Story Provides A Comforting Fable”: What Bernie Sanders Doesn’t Understand About American Politics

At the recent Democratic town hall, moderator Chris Cuomo presented Bernie Sanders with what has been a common complaint about his presidential campaign: Sanders’s relentless focus on income inequality, in this campaign and through his career, raises the question of whether he is prepared to address the full spectrum of issues faced by a president. But there is a deeper problem with Sanders’s vision of American politics. It is not just that he has trouble talking about issues other than the redistribution of income; it’s that he has trouble conceptualizing those issues in any other terms. His rigidly economistic frame of mind prevents Sanders from seeing the world as it is.

The phrase Sanders invokes constantly, and which distinguishes him from Hillary Clinton and other Democrats not merely in degree but also in kind, is “political revolution.” The political revolution is the secret sauce. When presented with any concrete obstacles that would stand between him and his desired policy outcomes, Sanders brings up the revolution, which will transform the world he inhabits into the one he desires. One questioner at the town hall asked how Sanders proposes to pass his left-wing economic program, given “the likelihood that Republicans will win control over at least one house of Congress.” This poses a massive obstacle, given the twin facts of a map that requires Democrats to win Republican-leaning districts in order to gain a majority and polarization so deep that almost all voters now choose the same party up and down the ballot. How to get around these obstacles? Sanders again brought up (this time, without using the term) the revolution:

In my view, you have a Congress today that is much more worried about protecting the interest of the wealthy and the powerful and making sure they get campaign contributions from the wealthy and the powerful.

If we are serious about rebuilding the American middle class, if we are serious about providing paid family and medical leave to all of our people, if we are serious about ending the disgrace of having so many of our children live in poverty, the real way to do it is to have millions of Americans finally stand up and say, enough is enough, for people to get engaged in the political process, to finally demand that Washington represent all of us, not just a handful of very wealthy people.

Note that Sanders, asked about Republican opposition to his proposals, defined that opposition as “protecting the interest of the wealthy and the powerful.” It is certainly true that fealty to the interests of the rich heavily colors Republican policy. But Sanders is not merely presenting corruption as one factor. It is the entirety of it. Likewise, Sanders has difficulty imagining any reason other than corruption to explain disagreements by fellow Democrats, which he relentlessly attributes to the nefarious influence of corporate wealth. One does not have to dismiss the political power of massed wealth to acknowledge that other things influence the conclusions drawn by Americans who don’t share Sanders’s full diagnosis.

In reality, people have organic reasons to vote Republican. Some of them care more about social issues or foreign policy than economics. Sanders would embrace many concepts — “socialism,” big government in the abstract, and middle-class tax increases — that register badly with the public. People are very reluctant to give up their health insurance, even if it is true that Sanders could give them something better.

What’s more, the interests of the wealthy do not cut as cleanly as Sanders indicates. It’s true that business and the rich tend to oppose parts of his program like higher taxes on the rich, more generous social insurance, and tougher regulation of finance. But the Obama administration’s stimulus encountered intense Republican opposition even though it did not pose a threat to any business interests. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce even endorsed the stimulus, which profited business both directly (by pumping billions into contracts for projects like infrastructure) and indirectly (by goosing public demand for its members’ products). That did not stop 100 percent of House Republicans from opposing it. Nor did the unified opposition of the business lobby dissuade Republicans from holding the debt ceiling hostage in 2011, or persuade them to pass immigration reform in 2013. Sanders currently proposes a massive infrastructure program, which would make lots of money for the construction industry. Clearly, subservience to big business only goes so far in explaining Republican behavior.

The depiction of conservatism as a mere cover for greed is a habit Sanders indulges over and over. Donald Trump’s appeal, in Sanders’s telling, has nothing to do with xenophobia or nationalism: “They’re angry because they’re working longer hours for lower wages, they’re angry because their jobs have left this country and gone to China or other low-wage countries, they’re angry because they can’t afford to send their kids to college so they can’t retire with dignity.” Sanders does not explain why this economic security has manifested itself almost entirely among white voters when minorities are suffering the same conditions. He simply assumes Trump has converted economic frustration into a series of pseudo-concerns, and rather than deal with those beliefs, Sanders proposes instead to convert them back into their original form: “I think for his working-class and middle-class supporters, I think we can make the case that if we really want to address the issues that people are concerned about … we need policies that bring us together that take on the greed of Wall Street, the greed of corporate America, and create a middle class that works for all of us rather than an economy that works just for a few.”

It is not only Republican voters whose ideas Sanders refuses to grapple with. Here he is in the previous debate explaining Republican climate-science denial: “It is amazing to me, and I think we’ll have agreement on this up here, that we have a major party, called the Republican Party, that is so owned by the fossil-fuel industry and their campaign contributions that they don’t even have the courage, the decency to listen to the scientists.” It is surely true that fossil-fuel contributions have encouraged the spread of climate-science denial. But the doctrine also appeals philosophically to conservatives. It expresses their disdain for liberal elites, and, more important, it justifies opposition to government action. Psychologists and social scientists have poured years of study into identifying the causes of climate-science denial. One does not need to harbor even the slightest whiff of sympathy for climate-science denial to grasp that its causes run deeper than a cash transaction with Big Oil. Figures like George Will and Charles Krauthammer dismiss climate science because it is a way to maintain order within their mental world. Many other conservatives have social or professional reasons to believe, or at least to say, that Will and Krauthammer are serious intellectuals rather than loons spouting transparently preposterous conspiracy theories. There are deep tribal influences at work that cannot be reduced to economic self-interest.

Sanders’s story provides a comforting fable for his party. Not only are Democrats not hemmed in by the Republican hold on Congress, but they don’t even need to do the laborious work of persuading the political center to come to their side. They need only to rise up and break the grip of moneyed interests on the political system.

There are many reasons to doubt Sanders’s promise that he can transform American politics. Perhaps the most fundamental is that he does not actually understand how it works.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 27, 2016

January 30, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Congress, Economic Inequality, House Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Plutocrats And Prejudice”: The Base Isn’t Taking Guidance The Way It Used To

Every time you think that our political discourse can’t get any worse, it does. The Republican primary fight has devolved into a race to the bottom, achieving something you might have thought impossible: making George W. Bush look like a beacon of tolerance and statesmanship. But where is all the nastiness coming from?

Well, there’s debate about that — and it’s a debate that is at the heart of the Democratic contest.

Like many people, I’ve described the competition between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as an argument between competing theories of change, which it is. But underlying that argument is a deeper dispute about what’s wrong with America, what brought us to the state we’re in.

To oversimplify a bit — but only, I think, a bit — the Sanders view is that money is the root of all evil. Or more specifically, the corrupting influence of big money, of the 1 percent and the corporate elite, is the overarching source of the political ugliness we see all around us.

The Clinton view, on the other hand, seems to be that money is the root of some evil, maybe a lot of evil, but it isn’t the whole story. Instead, racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice are powerful forces in their own right. This may not seem like a very big difference — both candidates oppose prejudice, both want to reduce economic inequality. But it matters for political strategy.

As you might guess, I’m on the many-evils side of this debate. Oligarchy is a very real issue, and I was writing about the damaging rise of the 1 percent back when many of today’s Sanders supporters were in elementary school. But it’s important to understand how America’s oligarchs got so powerful.

For they didn’t get there just by buying influence (which is not to deny that there’s a lot of influence-buying out there). Crucially, the rise of the American hard right was the rise of a coalition, an alliance between an elite seeking low taxes and deregulation and a base of voters motivated by fears of social change and, above all, by hostility toward you-know-who.

Yes, there was a concerted, successful effort by billionaires to push America to the right. That’s not conspiracy theorizing; it’s just history, documented at length in Jane Mayer’s eye-opening new book “Dark Money.” But that effort wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far as it has without the political aftermath of the Civil Rights Act, and the resulting flip of Southern white voters to the G.O.P.

Until recently you could argue that whatever the motivations of conservative voters, the oligarchs remained firmly in control. Racial dog whistles, demagogy on abortion and so on would be rolled out during election years, then put back into storage while the Republican Party focused on its real business of enabling shadow banking and cutting top tax rates.

But in this age of Trump, not so much. The 1 percent has no problems with immigration that brings in cheap labor; it doesn’t want a confrontation over Planned Parenthood; but the base isn’t taking guidance the way it used to.

In any case, however, the question for progressives is what all of this says about political strategy.

If the ugliness in American politics is all, or almost all, about the influence of big money, then working-class voters who support the right are victims of false consciousness. And it might — might — be possible for a candidate preaching economic populism to break through this false consciousness, thereby achieving a revolutionary restructuring of the political landscape, by making a sufficiently strong case that he’s on their side. Some activists go further and call on Democrats to stop talking about social issues other than income inequality, although Mr. Sanders hasn’t gone there.

On the other hand, if the divisions in American politics aren’t just about money, if they reflect deep-seated prejudices that progressives simply can’t appease, such visions of radical change are naïve. And I believe that they are.

That doesn’t say that movement toward progressive goals is impossible — America is becoming both more diverse and more tolerant over time. Look, for example, at how quickly opposition to gay marriage has gone from a reliable vote-getter for the right to a Republican liability.

But there’s still a lot of real prejudice out there, and probably enough so that political revolution from the left is off the table. Instead, it’s going to be a hard slog at best.

Is this an unacceptably downbeat vision? Not to my eyes. After all, one reason the right has gone so berserk is that the Obama years have in fact been marked by significant if incomplete progressive victories, on health policy, taxes, financial reform and the environment. And isn’t there something noble, even inspiring, about fighting the good fight, year after year, and gradually making things better?

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 29, 2016

January 30, 2016 Posted by | Election 2016, Plutocrats, Prejudice | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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