"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Obamacare Won’t Cause Society To Collapse”: Americans Choosing To Work Less Doesn’t Mean They’re Losing Their Jobs

A small war has erupted over the recent Congressional Budget Office report on the employment effects of the Affordable Care Act. Last week, the CBO itself felt compelled to offer a lengthy and detailed rebuttal to the spin that millions of Americans will “lose their jobs” as a result of Obamacare.

So let’s first be clear about what the CBO report concluded: As a result of the ACA, millions of Americans will choose to work less, if at all. That doesn’t mean that they will “lose their jobs.” Rather, it means that many will choose to give up working double-shifts just so they can make enough to afford health insurance or leave jobs they hate but have kept simply because they can’t maintain their coverage otherwise. In virtually all cases, these are decisions people are making for themselves and presumably welcome. As the CBO points out, as opposed to “losing their jobs,” in which case we’d all feel sad for them, friends and neighbors will invariably feel happy for these individuals.

But, of course, not everyone. To conservatives, the CBO report demonstrates what they have said about Obamacare – and about the government dole generally – all along: It creates “perverse incentives” encouraging people not to work.

The conservative argument is based on several underlying assumptions, like a DirecTV ad: When you give things to people, they work less. When they work less, they’re worse off. When they’re worse off, they demand more. When they demand more, liberals give them more. And when liberals give them more, society collapses. Don’t have society collapse: Stop the Affordable Care Act.

Of course, the CBO report did in fact find that providing this health coverage will induce millions of people to work less or not at all. So let’s look a little more closely at this syllogism.

It’s undoubtedly true that if you give things to some people, they’ll work less. But it’s not true in all cases. Unfortunately, this sort of assertion is a staple of anti-government rhetoric: For any government expenditure, it can be shown to have enriched some deadbeat or rip-off artist. But so has the derivatives market. Meanwhile, plenty of people work more when you give them more.

In fact, most conservative policies these days are based on the idea that certain people need to be given more to induce them to work harder and to produce more. Of course, those highly-sensitive individuals are the rich and corporate executives, who, without more money (including from the government) simply wouldn’t keep working and creating. By the same logic, though, we should extend even more benefits to more working people – perhaps even raise wages at the low end – to encourage them to work. But for some reason low-income Americans, unlike the wealthy, are presumed to work best if we take incentives and benefits away from them.

Moreover, as the CBO pointed out, there is indeed a “perverse” work disincentive in Obamacare – but it’s the opposite of what conservatives have taken the report to say. Rather, it’s that, as people’s incomes rise, they get less support – a “tax,” in effect, on work. And, of course, taxes are bad. So we actually should be less stingy about giving even better health care benefits to even more people.

Of course, we’d need to pay for those expanded benefits, which appears to be the real point of the “collapse of our culture” argument – not so much that people won’t work as that people who do work will wind up having to support them. But there’s then an obvious way to pay for these benefits if you want to encourage work: tax unearned income (which accrues, by definition, to nonworkers) at a higher rate than we tax earned income. And if giving people money or benefits for which they didn’t have to work encourages sloth, then we’d best start taxing away all inheritance post-haste, as well.

We don’t, of course, because that would tax primarily the rich. But most parents want to leave something behind for their children, because we know that getting a leg up is usually the way to climb even higher. Few people throw their kids out of the house with no means of support, on the grounds that that will make them more successful. Nevertheless, many argue that helping other people’s children only cripples them as opposed to, well, helping them.

It is incumbent upon liberals to assert not just that children “deserve” health care or that people “shouldn’t have to” work grueling hours and still not make ends meet. Such assertions are, after all, merely subjective. But if investments in human capital actually improve total productivity, then the only argument against is that “the poor you always have with you” actually is a commandment, not a condemnation. And various studies (such as this and this) have shown – not surprisingly – that health care is one of the better bets for boosting productivity and workforce engagement.

And productivity, after all, is really the issue. No one longs for the days when people had to toil every waking moment to scrape out subsistence livings, instead of a modern world where a 40-hour work week can enable one to produce more economic value than the greatest medieval monarchs could even dream of. So do we really think it’s good if more and more Americans feel compelled to work 80 hours a week just to make ends meet? Would it mean our economy, or our morals, were headed downhill if more Americans decided they didn’t need to work two shifts every day but could get by, having all they want, on only one?

In short, it isn’t clear that more work is self-evidently good. Or that society will collapse if people work a little less – let alone if it makes them more productive overall – because they have health care. Just as it didn’t collapse when we moved to a 40-hour workweek and ended child labor. But it’s possible. After all, when I can’t get cable, I do get angry.


By: Eric B. Schnurer, U. S. News and World Report, February 22, 2014

February 24, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP Having Trouble Threading The Needle On Crazy”: When You Court Crazy Long Enough, It’s Hard To Put It Back In The Box

A fight brewing in Virginia’s highly competitive 10th congressional district shows just how tough it’s becoming for conservative Catholic candidates to move to the center to woo moderates when they’re beholden to a base that’s now as unhinged on contraception as it is on abortion.

Three-term state delegate Barbara Comstock is vying in a crowded Republican primary field to replace retiring Congressman Frank Wolf in a purplish district that stretches from the moderate suburbs of Fairfax Country to the still bright red reaches of rural Virginia.

The candidacy of the former Bush administration official was off to a strong start, with the backing of numerous GOP insiders, including fellow conservative Catholic Rick Santorum, and the state’s business community. But despite a solid anti-abortion record she’s coming under fire from the influential LifeSiteNews for joining in a request last year to the Department of Health and Human Services to make oral contraceptives available over-the-counter.

Now it should be noted that this wasn’t due to a sudden fit of moderation but of political calculation. It came one month after Bobby Jindal penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed saying that the Republican Party should “take contraception out of the political arena”—and by inference diffuse the “war on women”—by pushing for the Pill to be made available without a prescription. “I believe that we have been stupid to let the Democrats demagogue the contraceptives issue and pretend, during debates about health care insurance, that Republicans are somehow against birth control,” he wrote.

According to Jindal, it was the perfect solution. Women could get all the birth control they wanted and employers with religious objections to contraception wouldn’t be “forced by government health-care edicts to purchase it for others.” The only problem was, as women’s health advocates were quick to point out, women would have to pay for something they would otherwise get for free under their insurance and Jindal’s nifty little work-around did nothing to address access to expensive, long-acting forms of birth control, which would still require a prescription.

Motivation aside, the request won Comstock praise from conservative columnist Mona Charen in the National Review, who called her the model for fighting the “war on women” meme. “It’s hard to paint her as someone who wants to keep women barefoot and pregnant when she advocates making birth-control pills easier to obtain,” she wrote.

But Comstock’s political ploy may have backfired. LifeSiteNews lambasted Comstock as a Catholic for promoting access to birth control, rehashing every conservative canard about oral contraceptives, from discredited claims that they cause breast cancer to everyone’s favorite far-right myth that the Pill is actually an abortifacient.

And disgraced former Bush “Catholic advisor” Deal Hudson joined in the fray with a column for Catholic Online in which he took Comstock to task for being insufficiently Catholic for voting against a measure to strip abortion coverage out of the state’s insurance exchange, which she claims was a procedural maneuver to register her opposition to ObamaCare.

The push back induced Austin Ruse of the truly wingnut Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute to call for an intraparty cease-fire on contraception in Crisis magazine, where he warned that fighting birth control was futile and asked, “Is Contraception the Hill We Want to Die On?

Even someone as far right as Ruse, who’s no stranger to crazy, grasps that attacking Comstock on birth control will destroy her ability to court moderates, but it just goes to show that when you court crazy for long enough, it’s hard to put it back in the box.


By: Patricia Miller, Religion Dispatches, February 20, 2014

February 24, 2014 Posted by | Contraception, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“From The Fringe To The Hill”: For Conservatives, Strange Ideas Effortlessly Seep Into The Mainstream

It’s alarmingly common to hear congressional Republicans repeat some deeply odd conspiracy theories. But more often than not, the theories didn’t start on Capitol Hill; they just ended up there.

This keeps happening.

Four Republican senators have sent FBI Director James Comey a letter regarding conservative author and political commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who was indicted for campaign finance fraud last month.

In the letter, Sens. Charles Grassley, Jeff Sessions, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee quote Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz as saying, “I can’t help but think that [D’Souza’s] politics have something to do with it…. It smacks of selective prosecution.”

“To dispel this sort of public perception that Mr. D’Souza may have been targeted because of his outspoken criticisms of the President, it is important for the FBI to be transparent regarding the precise origin of this investigation,” the senators write.

Last April, I laid out the flight plan, showing the trajectory of these theories: they start with the off-the-wall fringe, then get picked up by more prominent far-right outlets, then Fox News, then congressional Republicans.

Now note the Dinesh D’Souza conspiracy theory. It started with Alex Jones and Drudge. It was then picked up by Limbaugh. And then Fox News. And now four members of the U.S. Senate.

It is one of the more striking differences between how the left and right deal with wild political accusations: for conservatives, strange ideas effortlessly seep into the mainstream.

In this case, D’Souza, a fairly obscure anti-Obama provocateur, was charged with violating federal campaign finance laws, allegedly using straw donors to make illegal third-party donations to a Senate candidate in 2012. D’Souza has denied any wrongdoing.

Looking at this in the larger context, let’s make a few things clear. First, there’s no evidence to suggest politics had anything to do with the charges against D’Souza. Second, if the Justice Department were going to politicize federal law enforcement, risk a national scandal, invite abuse-of-power allegations, and use federal prosecutors to punish conservative activists, it’d probably go after a bigger fish than Dinesh D’Souza.

Third, when the Bush/Cheney administration actually politicized federal law enforcement during the extraordinary U.S. Attorney purge scandal, and there was overwhelming evidence of a genuine scandal, Senate Republicans couldn’t have cared less. Now that an obscure right-wing activist is accused of campaign-finance violations, they’re interested?

And finally, there’s just the unsettling pattern in which Alex Jones and Drudge come up with some silly idea, and within a few weeks, congressional Republicans – including the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for goodness sakes – are demanding answers from the Justice Department.

As we talked about last year, this just doesn’t happen on the left. This is not to say there aren’t wacky left-wing conspiracy theorists – there are, and some of them send me strange emails – but we just don’t see Democratic members of Congress embracing ideas from the far-left fringe.

On the right, however, no one seems especially surprised when a story gradually works its way from Alex Jones’ show to Chuck Grassley’s desk.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 21, 2014

February 24, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Conspiracy Theories | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bad Incentives Haven’t Gone Away”: You Still Need To Care About Sky-High Wall Street CEO Pay

According to a new regulatory filing, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan received a compensation package for 2013 worth $14 million, a $2 million increase over 2012. This places Moynihan third on the list of big bank CEOs, behind Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein, who made $23 million last year and JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, who made $20 million. Moynihan’s top underlings also received multi-million dollar compensation packages of their own.

With these numbers, it seems that Wall Street’s biggest banks are trying to put the financial crisis of 2008 firmly in the rear view mirror. (Never mind that many of them, most prominently JPMorgan, are still paying out hefty fines, penalties and settlements due to their actions in the lead up to that crisis.) Nothing more to see here! Back to business as usual! All’s well that ends profitably!

Over at the New York Times’ Dealbook this week, Ohio State University professor Steven Davidoff even lamented the outsized attention still garnered by CEO pay at Wall Street firms, when, for instance, tech CEOs sometimes make much more. “This double standard for finance and technology doesn’t make sense,” he wrote, adding that “perhaps it is time to call a truce on the Wall Street bias in looking at executive compensation.”

But there’s a good reason for the focus on Wall Street pay. For tech firms, misaligned incentives aren’t likely to crash the economy. For Wall Street, however, short-term risk-taking in pursuit of bigger bonuses can cause systemic problems, as several studies have shown. That’s why the Dodd-Frank financial reform law included new regulations meant to tie executive compensation at banks to longer-term performance (and it didn’t hurt that reining in Wall Street pay makes for good politics).

Sure, Davidoff is right that sky-high CEO pay deserves a broader look across the board. After all, it’s a big driver of income inequality. As the Economic Policy Institute has found, “Executives, and workers in finance, accounted for 58 percent of the expansion of income for the top 1 percent and 67 percent of the increase in income for the top 0.1 percent from 1979 to 2005.” Not only that, but taxpayers are subsidizing these big pay packages thanks to a loophole allowing corporations to write off CEO pay that is “performance based.” (Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, has introduced legislation to fix that particular problem, but given what the Republican-held House is interested in these days, I wouldn’t expect it to come up for a vote anytime soon.)

But the fact remains that Wall Street pay is unique due to its ability to cause harm to the wider economy. The simple solutions for reining in pay that would work in other industries – such as higher taxes, more transparency and stronger unions – don’t reduce that risk. And the fixes in Dodd-Frank, while helpful, haven’t done enough, as professor J. Robert Brown Jr., an expert in corporate law, wrote recently:

Executive compensation is not adequately bounded by legal standards under state law. Efforts to address these concerns by Congress have been useful but remain incomplete. The system as it currently exists does not ensure that compensation will be based upon actual performance or that the approach will not encourage excessive risk taking.

Now, Wall Street will tell you up, down and all around that its new pay packages are not like those of yesteryear. And maybe that’s even the case for now. But as 2008 fades further and further into memory, it’s worth remembering just how the economy was brought to the brink and what still hasn’t been done to fix those problems. Without firm rules, there’s nothing stopping Wall Street from slipping right back to the same old bad habits when it thinks everyone has lost interest.


By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, February 20, 2014

February 24, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Executive Compensation, Wall Street | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Indefensible By Any Measure”: Ted Nugent And How The Conservative Press Can’t Hide Its Hate Streak

It’s too soon to tell whether Ted Nugent’s noxious career as a conservative pundit reached a tipping point this week, but the moment he called in sick to CNN and backed out of a scheduled interview with Erin Burnett as Republican politicians denounced him might soon be seen as a flash point for the fading rock star and the incendiary brand of hate rhetoric he’s been cashing in on for years. It might also be viewed as a key stumbling moment for the conservative media, which have been unable in recent years to establish any sort of guardrails for common decency within the realm of political debate.

Increasingly reliant on bad fringe actors like Nugent to connect with their far, far-right audience, the conservative media have built up Obama-bashing personalities who no longer occupy any corner of the American mainstream. Yet Nugent enjoys deep ties with Republican campaigns all across the country. When those ties receive media scrutiny, they cannot be defended.

National Rifle Association board member Nugent found himself at the center of a campaign controversy this week when he was invited to two public events for Texas Republican Greg Abbott, who is running for governor. Of course Nugent, a former Washington Times columnist who now writes for birther website WND, recently called President Obama a “communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel” and has a long and vivid history of launching vile attacks on women. (He’s called Hillary Clinton a “toxic c**t.”)

Following waves of condemnations for the association, and a torrent of critical media coverage, with reporters and pundits wondering why a gubernatorial candidate would voluntarily campaign with someone who spouts “insane and racist talk,” as CNN’s Jake Tapper put it, Abbott claimed he wasn’t aware of Nugent’s history of racist and misogynistic comments. If so, Abbott’s campaign staff is utterly incompetent. (The “subhuman mongrel” comment, unearthed last month by Media Matters, was highlighted by a number of outlets at the time, including on MSNBC.)

It’s likely Abbott and his staff did know about Nugent’s dark rhetoric, since that’s all he traffics in. But because that kind of hate speech has become so accepted and even celebrated within the bubble for right-wing media, they failed to see the danger of embracing it.

Following the ill-fated campaign events, which made national headlines, Abbott has defended the decision to bring Nugent to the state, claiming that in Texas politics Nugent remain popular. But if inviting Nugent to become an Abbott surrogate was so clever, why did likely Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul step forward to denounce Nugent and his “offensive” Obama commentary?

Why did Abbott’s fellow Texan, Gov. Rick Perry “recommend” Nugent apologize? And why did Nugent back out of his CNN interview just two hours before taping?

As the media scrutiny settled on Nugent, even staunch conservative Republicans have been unable to defend him — his commentary over the years is just too vile. If the Abbott campaign didn’t directly insist on the CNN cancellation (Nugent cited illness), it’s fair to say his aides were greatly relieved that Nugent didn’t fuel the story for another 24-hour news cycle via an extended CNN interview where no doubt more confused Nazi analogies would have been aired. (CNN’s Wolf Blitzer had already condemned Nugent’s comments, noting that the phrase “subhuman mongrel” bore resemblance to “untermensch,” which is “what the Nazis called Jews … to justify the genocide of the Jewish community.”)

And then there was Fox News, Nugent’s longtime ally in the pursuit of Obama demagoguery, and where just last month Bill O’Reilly welcomed Nugent. As Abbott’s self-inflicted wound deepened this week, and as news outlets all across the country addressed the clumsy campaign association, Fox News went silent. Not only refusing to defend Nugent, Fox wouldn’t even cover the burgeoning controversy.

The network — which was happy to give Nugent a softball interview just two weeks ago — still hasn’t mentioned the firestorm over his campaigning with Abbott.

Ted Nugent has been practicing his brand of openly vile hate for a very long time. And with each passing year of the Obama administration he’s been welcomed deeper and deeper into the heart of the conservative media machine. This week’s Abbott uproar was instructive in that the bright spotlight shone on Nugent helped remind people just how radical, dangerous and out of touch that movement has become, and how that hate cannot be hidden.


By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, February 21, 2014

February 24, 2014 Posted by | Racism, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

%d bloggers like this: