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“Authored By Reagan”: It’s Worse Than Paul Ryan, The Right Has A New Ugly, Racial Dog Whistle

While attention focuses on Paul Ryan’s remarks about inner city culture, another dog-whistle theme continues its slow roil: food stamp abuse. More even than Ryan’s twisting narrative, the brouhaha around food stamps helps make clear that conservatives seek to conjure a much bigger bogeyman than “lazy” minorities.

Ostensibly worried that too many people prefer welfare to work, House Republicans this January stripped $8.6 billion from the food stamp program. This threatened to reduce monthly food assistance by an average of $90 per family — from households that are barely hanging on, with average gross monthly incomes of just $744. Yet far from conceding defeat, states are joining battle by adjusting their programs in ways that evade the cuts, bringing the food stamp debate back.

Just last week, House Speaker John Boehner warned that “states have found ways to cheat, once again, on signing up people for food stamps,” and he implored his colleagues “to stop this cheating and this fraud from continuing.” Cheating and fraud constitute stock themes in the conservative assault on food stamps — tropes applied indiscriminately to both recipients and government. And therein lies a clue to the real target.

To see the actual agenda clearly, though, it helps to reach back to Ronald Reagan, for he perfected today’s conservative assault on food stamps.

Reagan frequently stumped by sympathizing with the anger of voters waiting in line to buy hamburger, while some young fellow ahead of them used food stamps to buy a T-bone steak. With this tale, Reagan invoked the stereotype of the welfare recipient who abuses government benefits to live in luxury (Reagan’s other version: welfare queens).

The comedian Jon Stewart recently compiled a montage of contemporary conservative talking heads spinning just these sorts of yarns about food stamps. It would have been funnier if people weren’t actually being pushed into hunger.

Going to the racial dimensions of these hackneyed fictions, when Reagan initially told the T-bone steak story, he identified the food stamp abuser as a young “buck,” a term then commonly used among Southern whites to refer to a strong black man. This veered dangerously toward open racism, and in any event proved unnecessary. Even after Reagan dropped that term from future renditions, the racial element continued just below the surface, with welfare recipients implicitly colored black.

But this was not a simple plot to demonize minorities. Rather, Reagan had another scapegoat in mind, and here we come to the heart of dog-whistle politics. Ostensibly, even more than grasping minorities, the greatest enemy of the middle class was liberal government. After all, it was government that was reaching into taxpayer’s pockets and wasting their hard-earned dollars.

By “darkening” government itself, Reagan provided the kindling for a taxpayer revolt that ostensibly would cut off funds to the lazy and irresponsible — but that in fact generated enormous windfalls for the very rich. In the 1980s, by one estimate, the top 1 percent of Americans reaped tax cuts worth a trillion dollars, and they’ve received a further trillion dollars from the Reagan tax cuts in each ensuing decade.

Tax cuts for the very rich were just the beginning. By trashing safety-net programs as massive giveaways to undeserving minorities and thereby engendering a general hostility toward government, the right has systematically attacked New Deal programs across multiple domains — from education and housing to marketplace and workplace regulation — undoing in area after area the policies that once promoted an equitable distribution of wealth.

Perhaps to understand the full devastation wrought by modern racial politics, we should bring forward another figure from the shadowed background of the T-bone steak story: the cashier. In the 1970s, she was more likely to be unionized and relatively well-paid, with good benefits. Today, whether white or black or some other race, she is likely working without union protection for a minimum wage whose value has sharply fallen and that cannot sustain a small family above poverty. Indeed, like many Wal-Mart employees, it’s the cashier who today is on food stamps.

When House Republicans war against food assistance, just as when Ryan tilts at government poverty programs that don’t work because of a tailspin of culture in our inner cities, their real target is progressive government. Yes, race-baiting superficially aims at minorities and hits nonwhite communities hard, including the 24 percent of food stamp recipients who are black. But just as cuts to food aid also afflict the 38 percent of program participants who are white, dog-whistle politics savages Americans of every race.

And it devastates every class, too, for this sort of racial politics doesn’t just slam the poor, it imperils all who are better off when government protects the broad middle rather than serves society’s sultans. When conservatives blow that dog whistle, government is the target, and you’re a likely victim.


By: Ian Haney-Lopez, Salon, March 22, 2014

March 22, 2014 Posted by | Food Stamps, Paul Ryan, Poverty | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Strangling, Even Without A Tie”: NBC Is Sticking With David Gregory As “Meet The Press” Slowly Dies

NBC’s “Meet the Press” is in trouble. After dominating the Sunday morning ratings war for decades, it has lately faltered, coming in third in the fourth quarter of 2013. Critics and media writers think host David Gregory ought to be replaced. But NBC executives, according to Michael Calderone, are sticking with Gregory. “We’re doubling down on David Gregory right now,” says NBC News senior vice president Alex Wallace. (Wallace may not understand that the phrase “double down” refers to knowingly making a high-risk bet. If that’s the case, she is not alone.)

While they are sticking with Gregory, NBC executives are not too proud to make some desperate grabs for a younger audience. Millions of people still watch the Sunday shows, but few of those viewers are under the age of 55. Network news executives and producers are keen to reach a younger demographic, but unwilling to make some of the more radical changes — like having a non-idiot host and not inviting John McCain on every goddamn week — that may attract a more youthful audience. Instead, NBC’s gambit is having David Gregory do additional interviews and panel discussions to be aired on “the Internet,” a global computer network known to be popular with the non-retired set. To emphasize that he is, as the kids say, “with it,” Gregory will sometimes not wear a tie.

Gregory has long done web-only interviews (“Press Pass”) for the “Meet the Press 24/7″ page, and has been conducting interviews over Twitter (“Tweet the Press”) in the past few months. On Thursday, NBC News launched “Meet the Press Express,” a mid-week digital video series, hosted by Gregory, which features a rotating group of journalists from the network’s Washington bureau.

In a play on the NCAA tournament, Gregory, sans tie, spoke with Roll Call’s Christina Bellantoni, The Atlantic’s Molly Ball, and the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery about their political brackets, and the group sized up the futures of key political players. The “Meet the Press Express” discussions are expected to be more casual than the Sunday roundtable and to feature a younger generation of political journalists who may someday appear on the television show alongside, say, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman or historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Brackets … but for politics? That’s just the sort of outside-the-box approach to political analysis that appeals to a guy like me, an 18-54-year-old male consumer.

All the network Sunday shows, “Meet the Press” included, are notorious for their conservative (in every sense of the word) booking choices. Old, white center-right men dominate the interviews and panels, with the same few faces appearing again and again. So it’s nice to hear that “Meet the Press” will finally feature some younger, fresher voices. But … only on the Web, apparently. Because they are, in some sense, auditioning to be allowed to sit at the Sunday morning grown-ups table with respected elders like Bill Kristol.

But “Meet the Press” is not losing viewers to “Face the Nation” and “This Week” because those shows skew younger — Bob Scheiffer is no one’s idea of a teen idol and those shows have nearly identical booking practices. “Meet the Press” is declining because it’s not the definitive version of its thing — the Sunday morning political chat show — anymore, and its competitors offer essentially the exact same product, giving no one a reason to remain loyal to one over the others.

So I will give NBC some credit. The solution is not to replace Gregory with someone like Chuck Todd, the human incarnation of the odious phrase “politics junkie.” That show would be largely the same. Instead, the network will apparently allow Gregory to continue to guide “Meet the Press” toward its inevitable, long-overdue demise. Which is fine! If there has to be a “Meet the Press” I’d prefer a good one to the current bad one, but there doesn’t actually have to be a “Meet the Press.”

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, March 21, 2014

March 22, 2014 Posted by | Media, Meet The Press | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Timidity Trap”: The Best Lack All Conviction, While The Worst Are Full Of Passionate Intensity

There don’t seem to be any major economic crises underway right this moment, and policy makers in many places are patting themselves on the back. In Europe, for example, they’re crowing about Spain’s recovery: the country seems set to grow at least twice as fast this year as previously forecast.

Unfortunately, that means growth of 1 percent, versus 0.5 percent, in a deeply depressed economy with 55 percent youth unemployment. The fact that this can be considered good news just goes to show how accustomed we’ve grown to terrible economic conditions. We’re doing worse than anyone could have imagined a few years ago, yet people seem increasingly to be accepting this miserable situation as the new normal.

How did this happen? There were multiple reasons, of course. But I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately, in part because I’ve been asked to discuss a new assessment of Japan’s efforts to break out of its deflation trap. And I’d argue that an important source of failure was what I’ve taken to calling the timidity trap — the consistent tendency of policy makers who have the right ideas in principle to go for half-measures in practice, and the way this timidity ends up backfiring, politically and even economically.

In other words, Yeats had it right: the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

About the worst: If you’ve been following economic debates these past few years, you know that both America and Europe have powerful pain caucuses — influential groups fiercely opposed to any policy that might put the unemployed back to work. There are some important differences between the U.S. and European pain caucuses, but both now have truly impressive track records of being always wrong, never in doubt.

Thus, in America, we have a faction both on Wall Street and in Congress that has spent five years and more issuing lurid warnings about runaway inflation and soaring interest rates. You might think that the failure of any of these dire predictions to come true would inspire some second thoughts, but, after all these years, the same people are still being invited to testify, and are still saying the same things.

Meanwhile, in Europe, four years have passed since the Continent turned to harsh austerity programs. The architects of these programs told us not to worry about adverse impacts on jobs and growth — the economic effects would be positive, because austerity would inspire confidence. Needless to say, the confidence fairy never appeared, and the economic and social price has been immense. But no matter: all the serious people say that the beatings must continue until morale improves.

So what has been the response of the good guys?

For there are good guys out there, people who haven’t bought into the notion that nothing can or should be done about mass unemployment. The Obama administration’s heart — or, at any rate, its economic model — is in the right place. The Federal Reserve has pushed back against the springtime-for-Weimar, inflation-is-coming crowd. The International Monetary Fund has put out research debunking claims that austerity is painless. But these good guys never seem willing to go all-in on their beliefs.

The classic example is the Obama stimulus, which was obviously underpowered given the economy’s dire straits. That’s not 20/20 hindsight. Some of us warned right from the beginning that the plan would be inadequate — and that because it was being oversold, the persistence of high unemployment would end up discrediting the whole idea of stimulus in the public mind. And so it proved.

What’s not as well known is that the Fed has, in its own way, done the same thing. From the start, monetary officials ruled out the kinds of monetary policies most likely to work — in particular, anything that might signal a willingness to tolerate somewhat higher inflation, at least temporarily. As a result, the policies they have followed have fallen short of hopes, and ended up leaving the impression that nothing much can be done.

And the same may be true even in Japan — the case that motivated this article. Japan has made a radical break with past policies, finally adopting the kind of aggressive monetary stimulus Western economists have been urging for 15 years and more. Yet there’s still a diffidence about the whole business, a tendency to set things like inflation targets lower than the situation really demands. And this increases the risk that Japan will fail to achieve “liftoff” — that the boost it gets from the new policies won’t be enough to really break free from deflation.

You might ask why the good guys have been so timid, the bad guys so self-confident. I suspect that the answer has a lot to do with class interests. But that will have to be a subject for another column.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 20, 2014

March 22, 2014 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy, Global Economy | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Not So Fast!”: “The Sky Is Falling,” Says Anonymous Chicken

I’m sure many of you saw a certain headline from The Hill today: “O-Care premiums to skyrocket.” At first I thought the source was The Drudge Report.

If you actually read the accompanying article by Elise Viebeck, the rather alarming assertion is mostly a collection of blind quotes from “health industry officials.” Yes, one former Cigna executive went on the record to say his “gut” tells him premiums could go up, which is of course very convincing. Otherwise the closest Viebeck gets to attribution is an “insurance official who hails from a populous swing state.”

In an updated version of the article, Viebeck does quote by name two experts–who deny the whole premise of her story.

And the “premiums to skyrocket” claim directly contradicts a variety of on-the-record assessments by health insurance executives–e.g., Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, Wellpoint president Joe Swedish, and Cigna CEO David Cordani–that the Obamacare premium structure is working out relatively well. And the most reliable independent study, from the Kaiser Family Foundation, concluded that the much-feared “death spiral” of premiums that Viebeck seems to be predicting as a reality for much of the country is very unlikely to occur.

Particularly in its revised form, Viebeck’s piece has a number of “to be sure” qualifiers that undermine the headline. But it’s the headline that will get big coverage today–to be sure–maybe on Drudge Report itself. And it’s pretty clear which political constituency is driving the “story.”


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 20, 2014

March 22, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Insurance Premiums | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“More Stuff Made Up About Obamacare”: A Nasty Ideological And Racial Undertone To Bobby Jindal’s Latest Campaign

It’s been obvious from the beginning that a big part of the GOP strategy for demonizing Obamacare has been to convince existing beneficiaries of federal health programs that ACA coverage would come out of their hides. Thus the constant efforts to convince Medicare enrollees that ACA was financed by “Medicare cuts” (not at all true with the exception of the reductions in super-subsidies offered to the Bush-era conservative pet rock of Medicare Advantage policies offered through private insurers). There’s also a nasty ideological and even racial undertone to this campaign aimed at white middle-class retirees who view their Medicare benefits as earned (via both payroll tax contributions and a lifetime of work), as opposed to the “welfare” being offered to those people supported by Medicaid or Obamacare.

But leave it to Bobby Jindal to come up with a line of attack that pits existing Medicaid beneficiaries against those who would qualify for coverage if, over his dead body, the ACA’s Medicaid expansion were to be enacted in Louisiana. TPM’s Dylan Scott has the story:

Engaged in all-out war with the liberal group over a pro-Obamacare billboard, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has accused the organization — and liberals in general — of endorsing discrimination against the disabled through their support of the federal health care reform law and its Medicaid expansion.

“Liberal groups like won’t say one word about caring for individuals with disabilities, or how Obamacare prioritizes coverage of childless adults ahead of the most vulnerable,” Jindal wrote in an op-ed in the Shreveport Times last Thursday. “They just want to intimidate states into accepting Obamacare’s massive new spending programs.”

What does Bobby mean by “prioritizing” coverage of childless adults? Simply that expanded coverage comes with a higher federal match rate than is available for traditional Medicaid (not high enough, of course, to convince ideologically motivated Republicans, especially in the South, to execute an expansion that in many cases would represent a fiscal windfall for state governments while significantly reducing the ranks of the uninsured).

How, exactly, does that hurt people with disabilities, or others currently qualifying for Medicaid? The short answer is that it doesn’t, as Scott explains with some help from experts:

[T]here are a few huge problems with Jindal’s rationale, which effectively undermine the whole line of attack. First, some disabled people could actually qualify for health coverage under the Medicaid expansion, according to MaryBeth Musumeci, associate director of the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured.

“People with disabilities can be within the new expansion group,” she said. “The ACA provides the opportunity for some people with disabilities to qualify for Medicaid who never qualified before. Their incomes, while still low, could have been above the very, very low limits states had set or they may not have been eligible at all if they fell into the category of single, childless adults. So it creates an expanded opportunity for people with disabilities to gain coverage.”

Second, Obamacare should have no policy bearing on the traditional Medicaid program. Federal funding for the traditionally eligible population remains exactly the same, and the states retain the same flexibility to manage their programs as existed prior to the law. The ACA brings a new population into the program, but there is no policy reason that it would lead to “discrimination” — as Jindal calls it — or any other detrimental effects for disabled people enrolled in the traditional program.

“I think that’s right,” Musumeci said when asked by TPM if the Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion should have no effect on traditional Medicaid. “What the Medicaid expansion essentially does is it creates a new eligibility category. Like any other time Congress has expanded eligibility of the program, it is adding statutory authority to cover this new group of people.”

“But it’s built into the same underlying Medicaid program. States still have all of the flexibility that they previously had in terms of how they structure their care delivery system, their benefits packages, and all of those things.”

It would be interesting to know how well people with disabilities, and other current Medicaid beneficiaries, would fare in Louisiana if the national Republican “reform” of Medicaid, a block grant that reduced federal funding over time, were to be enacted. Let’s hope we don’t find out. But in the meantime, the “prioritization” argument against the Medicaid expansion is just another effort to frighten one group of safety net beneficiaries they have a stake in excluding others. It’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from self-styled conservative Christian warriors like Bobby Jindal.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Politica Animal, March 20, 2014

March 22, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Bobby Jindal, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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