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“The Grazing Moocher”: Cliven Bundy Is Free To Be Crazy And We’re Free To Call Him On It

I want to tell you one more thing I know about freedom of speech.

Having pontificated about how “the Negro” was actually better off when not burdened by freedom and government subsidies, fringe hero Cliven Bundy is shocked – shocked! – that people would dare take offense at his musings. He went on CNN Friday morning to explain (h/t ThinkProgress, which was kind enough to add the emphasis):

I took this boot off so I wouldn’t put my foot in my mouth with the boot on. Let me see if I can say something. Maybe I sinned and maybe I need to ask forgiveness and maybe I don’t know what I actually said. But you know, when you talk about prejudice, we’re talking about not being able to exercise what we think and our feelings.

We don’t have freedom to say what we want. If I call — if I say negro or black boy or slave, I’m not — if those people cannot take those kind of words and not be offended, then Martin Luther King hasn’t got his job done then yet. They should be able to — I should be able to say those things and they shouldn’t offend anybody. I didn’t mean to offend them.

Let’s set aside his truly weird suggestion that Martin Luther King Jr.’s “job” was to move society to a place where racism is completely acceptable in the public space. (I kind of thought that he was trying to move the country away from there, but whatever.)

Let’s instead talk about Bundy’s concept of freedom of speech. I get that Bundy – who achieved fame and a level of conservative-libertarian hero cred by asserting his sovereign right to freeload off of public lands – has some novel ideas about liberty and freedom. (Case in point, his belief that anyone could be better off without liberty and freedom.) But maybe I can help him out on this one.

The fact is that he does have the freedom to say what he wants. I know this because he said what he wanted and is still at large and able to make appearances on CNN trying to explain himself. He’s in absolutely no danger of being arrested for his racist views regarding black people. He has, in fact, been furnished a metaphorical megaphone in the form of just about every major media outlet in the country.

The best and most important expression of free speech is in the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” It says the federal government is not allowed to make freely expressing yourself illegal. It doesn’t say anything about a sovereign right to express yourself without other people expressing themselves back.

As a wingnut residing on the conservative end of the political spectrum, I would think Bundy favors free markets, but he seems genuinely mystified at his experience with the free market of ideas. He proffered his thoughts on race and – as happens with markets – consumers of information and ideas weighed them and decided that they weren’t buying.

So Bundy’s feelings are hurt because he expressed and society expressed itself back. But contrary to what he seems to think, this wasn’t an absence of free speech, it was an expression of it.


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, April 25, 2014

April 30, 2014 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, Freedom, Liberty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No, Really, You Didn’t Build That”: How The Rich Became Dependent On Government Subsidies

Remember when President Obama was lambasted for saying “you didn’t build that”? Turns out he was right, at least when it comes to lots of stuff built by the world’s wealthiest corporations. That’s the takeaway from this week’s new study of 25,000 major taxpayer subsidy deals over the last two decades.

Titled “Subsidizing the Corporate One Percent,” the report from the taxpayer watchdog group Good Jobs First shows that the world’s largest companies aren’t models of self-sufficiency and unbridled capitalism. To the contrary, they’re propped up by billions of dollars in welfare payments from state and local governments.

Such subsidies might be a bit more defensible if they were being doled out in a way that promoted upstart entrepreneurialism. But as the study also shows, a full “three-quarters of all the economic development dollars awarded and disclosed by state and local governments have gone to just 965 large corporations” — not to the small businesses and start-ups that politicians so often pretend to care about.

In dollar figures, that’s a whopping $110 billion going to big companies. Fortune 500 firms alone receive more than 16,000 subsidies at a total cost of $63 billion.

These kinds of handouts, of course, are the definition of government intervention in the market. Nonetheless, those who receive the subsidies are still portrayed as free-market paragons.

Consider Charles and David Koch. Their company, Koch Industries, has relied on $88 million worth of government handouts. Yet, as the major financiers of the anti-government right, the Kochs are still billed as libertarian free-market activists.

Similarly, behold the big tech firms. They are often portrayed as self-made success stories. Yet, as Good Jobs First shows, they are among the biggest recipients of the subsidies.

Intel leads the tech pack with 58 subsidies worth $3.8 billion. Next up is IBM, which has received more than $1 billion in subsidies. Most of that is from New York – a state proudly promoting its corporate handouts in a new ad campaign.

Then there’s Google’s $632 million and Yahoo’s $260 million — both sets of subsidies primarily from data center deals. And not to be forgotten is 38 Studios, the now bankrupt software firm that received $75 million in Rhode Island taxpayer cash. The company received the handout at the very moment Rhode Island was pleading “poverty” to justify cuts to public workers’ retirement benefits.

Along with propping up companies that are supposedly free-market icons, the subsidies are also flowing to financial firms that have become synonymous with never-ending bailouts. Indeed, companies like Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Citigroup – each of which was given massive taxpayer subsidies during the financial crisis —are the recipients of tens of millions of dollars in additional subsidies.

All of these handouts, of course, would be derided if they were going to poor people. But because they are going to extremely wealthy politically connected conglomerates, they are typically promoted with cheery euphemisms like “incentives” or “economic development.” Those euphemisms persist even though many subsidies do not end up actually creating jobs.

In light of that, the Good Jobs First report is a reality check on all the political rhetoric about dependency. Most of that rhetoric is punitively aimed at the poor. That’s because, unlike the huge corporations receiving all those subsidies, the poor don’t have armies of lobbyists and truckloads of campaign contributions that make sure programs like food stamps are shrouded in the anodyne argot of “incentives” and “development.”

But as the report proves, if we are going to have an honest conversation about dependency and free markets, then the billions of dollars flowing to politically connected companies need to be part of the discussion.


By: David Sirota, Salon, February 27, 2014

February 28, 2014 Posted by | Corporate Welfare, Corporations | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“$2,229.11 For Three Stitches?”: We Don’t Have To Wonder What The Unfettered Market In Health Care Produces, We’ve Been Living It

Twenty years ago I had my first knee surgery, after tearing some cartilage while skying for a thunderous dunk on the basketball court (or it might have been just falling backward while getting faked out on defense—who remembers the details?). Although I had insurance, I was responsible for a substantial copay, and I vividly recall the one item that stood out among the dozens on the bill. For the two steri-strips that covered an incision—tiny pieces of tape that even today cost about 20 cents retail, and which hospitals buy in bulk so surely cost them just a couple of pennies—I and my insurance company were charged $11, or $5.50 per strip. A miniscule amount in a five-figure bill, but it struck me as the most absurd, since it represented a markup of approximately 10,000 percent, if not more. More recently, I was getting some physical therapy for the same knee, and in what turned out to be a session that wasn’t covered by my insurance, a therapist put a piece of kinesio tape around my kneecap. The retail price for that length of tape is around 40 cents (though again, they buy it in bulk so it’s probably a quarter of that); and there was the therapist’s time to retrieve, cut, and apply the tape, which took about 60 seconds all told. Total tape charge: $75.

My experience is not at all uncommon, as an excellent piece in today’s New York Times explains. The article discusses things like people getting charged thousands of dollars to have a couple of stitches put on a finger, or my personal favorite, the $137 charge for an IV bag that costs the hospital one dollar. There are a number of reasons why they can get away with this, including the fact that nobody tells you what the charges are going to be before you’re treated, and the fact that information is diluted through the insurance system.

But since we’re now talking about what government is and isn’t capable of handling when it comes to health care, allow me to repeat something I’ve argued elsewhere: The government didn’t give us this kind of price-gouging, just like the government didn’t give us 50 million uninsured Americans. Nor did the government give us lifetime and yearly caps on coverage. Nor did the government give us now-outlawed “rescission,” in which your insurer cancels your coverage because you got sick. Nor did the government gave us denials for pre-existing conditions. You know what gave us all that? The free market. Government can certainly cause problems, but just about all the major reasons our health-care system is so expensive and serves so many people so poorly (or not at all) are the result of the free market.

Or more specifically, the health-care market, which is so different from other kinds of markets. The unique features of health care are what makes a far higher level of government involvement than exists in the markets for wristwatches or shoes necessary. If we don’t want to have a system that costs so much more than every other one in the world while giving us crappy results, then we’re just going to have to accept that. In other industrialized countries, the government says, “We can’t sustain a system in which an MRI costs $1,200. So an MRI is going to cost $300.” And guess what? The MRI manufacturers and the hospitals accommodate themselves to that reality, and not only do they manage to survive, but people still get MRIs when they need them.

If maintaining the ability of certain people to suck as much profits from the health-care system as possible is your highest value, you find that unacceptable. But if having a system that serves everyone, maximizes health, and is affordable rank higher for you than making sure there are hospital systems with 28 different executives pulling down salaries of over $1 million a year, you have to make a different choice.

And let’s be clear about this: what conservatives are arguing for is the maintenance of the status quo that gives us the $2,229.11 hospital charge for putting in three stitches. It was their devotion to the primacy of market freedom in health care that put us where we are now. When the government doesn’t work properly, by, say, making a terrible website that took months to fix, the answer is to make it work better. Because we don’t have to wonder whether the alternative is worse. We’ve been living it.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 3, 2013

December 4, 2013 Posted by | Health Care, Health Care Costs | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Econ 101 For The Party Of Sore Losers”: Tea Party Politics And Policy Limit Economic Freedom And Growth

Our businesses, markets and citizens are breathing sighs of relief. After wasting billions and toying with America’s creditworthiness, the so-called tea party has ceased, for the moment, holding our democracy and our economy hostage. Nevertheless, the fringe faction that calls itself by this name has made it abundantly clear that it lacks the character to own up to its folly. This Party of Sore Losers (POSERS, for short) has hacked at the proverbial cherry tree and, learning nothing from young George Washington, has failed to own up. In fact, it is holding the axe behind its back, ready to hack again.

This past month, attention was appropriately focused on the short-term consequences of the government shutdown and the POSERS’ game of chicken with sovereign default – default at the national level. This is serious. As Warren Buffett emphasized during the crisis in an interview with Fortune, we’ve spent hundreds of years building up our credibility; it takes but a moment to ruin it. Worldwide, markets have enormous confidence in our financial integrity and the functioning of our government. To date, the free market believes in America’s capacity and commitment to make good on its obligations. Let’s keep it that way.

During the Reagan years, it was liberals who thought the world was ending because of mounting federal debt. Eventually the country paid it down. We must do this again, but if we’re serious about it, first we need policies that support enterprise and growth. We have come through long wars and a stubborn recession. More of our veterans need employment in the private economy, and more of our businesses need to be able to hire and to invest in innovation again.

It is under such conditions that the Party of Sore Losers thought it would play with default at the national level. This shows a blatant disregard for growth and what growth means to our nation. In their zeal, they have put the economic cart before the horse. It’s as if they truly don’t understand that the horse – private enterprise and the growth and employment it generates – pulls the cart.

Much has been written in recent weeks about what the shutdown cost the nation and what a default would have cost. If the brinksmanship that brought us there were only a one-time tactic, it would have been bad enough. As it is, this tactic was merely the latest instance in a consistent pattern of fixation on cuts and obstruction, to the exclusion of growth. If you were out of a job, would it do you much good to stop showering, doing the laundry or paying rent and utilities, all in an effort to cut expenses? It would bring your costs down, to be sure. But it wouldn’t help you get a job.

As vivid as this analogy might be, it makes the point. POSER policies block investment in infrastructure, financial transparency, food safety, pollution controls and education. These are our Internet, our shower, our breakfast, laundry and rent; these fundamentals provide the stable conditions we need to get back to work. Investment in them is something business owners repay many times over. When a stable and functioning government does its job, we entrepreneurs can do ours: creating value and hiring people without unnecessary hindrance.

There are significant dangers when the government starts doing what private industry does best. Think of the last time you were in line at a government agency, and of the level of customer service you received, compared to what you got from a company that would lose you as a customer if it did a bad job. You can vote your representatives out, but the staff at your local government agency isn’t typically up for re-election.

There are, of course, many dedicated civil servants who give you their very best. Still, overall, beware the performer playing to a captive audience. Private companies that succeed in locking you in as a customer only underscore the point. Think of the last time you were on hold with, or tried to use the latest software from, a business with which you as a customer were more or less stuck. When a company becomes the only game in town, or seduces you into signing that contract, a certain disdain for your needs often follows.

The POSERS who call themselves the tea party appear to be seized by a great fear that we will all be waiting in line at government health clinics. The trouble is that they’re forcing their version of free choice down our throats. It can be hard to see the irony in this when you’re convinced that you’re channeling the will of the people. In an interview in Business Insider just days before the recent debt-ceiling deadline, POSER Rep. Ted Yoho claimed to know what “the people” wanted. He broke it down for the rest of us: “They have chosen not to fund the government.”

How did we get to this point? Did the POSERS get so good at dismissing their perceived political opponents on ideological grounds that they started to hear nothing but their own voices? Was it the hay this faction made by obstructing government, while screaming that the president was a socialist, that allowed its arguments to become divorced from what a functioning market economy is?

However they talked themselves into it, the POSERS have demonstrated their readiness to play havoc with the most basic needs of the business owner in America. They have shown their disregard for what it means to carry on our work with some confidence that government will do its job, while we do ours. What’s so tragic about this, among other things, is that it discredits legitimate efforts to keep government out of places it shouldn’t be.

In view of what the POSERS have put us through of late, Americans of all mainstream political persuasions should be on guard. The so-called tea party may pose the greatest threat to free enterprise in decades. The POSERS would block moves to reestablish the financial transparency on which savers and investors rely. They would make us pay the costs of other people’s pollution. They would restrict the economic opportunity for immigrants on which this country’s success is based. And they would rob us of our right to enjoy or to suffer from that which we have chosen for ourselves in free elections.

Whether “Obamacare” turns out to hurt businesses and employees more than it helps them, we’re going to find out in practice. Far more threatening to private industry is the way the POSERS would cut off our economy’s nose to spite its face. One can only assume they earnestly believe themselves to be in a mortal struggle to keep government from interfering with our choices. In reality, of course, POSER economic policies limit those choices, in the ways I’ve described.

Moreover, these policies function to keep the private economy small and constrain recovery and growth, thereby perversely increasing our dependence on debt spending. We badly need to teach these ideologues the basics of cash flows, debt and investment, value generation and growth. Alas, the Party of Sore Losers has been busy teaching the rest of us a course of its own design. The textbook is titled, “Converting Resilient American Innovation into Entirely Unnecessary, Government-Induced Economic Paralysis (A Sore Loser’s Approach: 2013 Edition).”


By: Alejandro Crawford, U. S. News and World Report, October 29, 2013

October 30, 2013 Posted by | Businesses, Economy, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Country For Old Tea Partiers”: Conservatives Who Caused The Shutdown Must Make Peace With Themselves And Modern America

Fareed Zakaria has a very sharp op-ed in the Washington Post this week dissecting conservatism’s longtime “diet of despair” and how conservatism’s traditional rhetoric of “decay, despair and decline” has created an anti-American mentality among the set that very self-consciously claims to love the country more than everyone else.

But one section in particular crystalized something that has been nagging me over the last few weeks, especially when tea party conservatives denounce compromise and deal-making as if they are bad things, when the smug Ted Cruz goes on about waging a “multi-stage, extended battle” to change Washington or, as Zakaria notes, John Boehner utters with exasperation that “the federal government has spent more than what it has brought in in 55 of the last 60 years!”

Zakaria’s reply is spot on:

But what has been the result over these past 60 years? The United States has grown mightily, destroyed the Soviet Union, spread capitalism across the globe and lifted its citizens to astonishingly high standards of living and income. Over the past 60 years, America has built highways and universities, funded science and space research, and – along the way – ushered in the rise of the most productive and powerful private sector the world has ever known.

I asked half-kiddingly the other day why conservatives are trying to convince markets not to invest in the United States (“the markets should be terrified of a country that is trillions and trillions and trillions of dollars in debt,” according to Heritage Action’s Michael Needham, for example), but there’s as much truth as humor to the question.

As Zakaria puts it, the conservatives who spurred the recent government shutdown (and, let’s remember, voted against both reopening it and against the U.S. paying its bills) must make peace with modern America:

They are misty-eyed in their devotion to a distant republic of myth and memory yet passionate in their dislike of the messy, multiracial, quasi-capitalist democracy that has been around for half a century – a fifth of our country’s history. At some point, will they come to recognize that you cannot love America in theory and hate it in fact?

They may, but it won’t be soon. This is why less than a year after getting beaten soundly in last November’s elections, the conservative fringe shut down the government and threatened to force a national default as part of a quixotic, suicide-run quest to roll back a law it couldn’t stop using the ordinary legislative process. And it had the gall to claim the mantel of “the American people” as they did it.

As I wrote last November:

Think about the animating faction of the GOP in the Obama era – a group conservative in the literal sense of being angry with and afraid of change. These are the people who would show up at Tea Party rallies toting signs about the need to “Take Back America.” For four years they were assured by the conservative entertainment complex that restoring the America they grew up in was a real possibility. The vertiginous changes remaking the land could be ascribed to Barack Obama, an illegitimate fluke of a president who won only because of a one-off surge of young and minority voters powered by excitement about his historic nature and vapid “hopey–changey” rhetoric. He was “Barack the Magic Negro,” in Rush Limbaugh’s formulation. He was, simultaneously, helpless without his teleprompter but also a radical instituting a nefarious plan to sap America of its God-given freedoms.

He was the problem; real America was the solution.

The 2012 elections shattered that illusion. Obama was only a symptom of changes in the country, not the cause. Inexorable demographics have relegated the Tea Party’s America to memory. So ask yourself, how are those voters likely to react? A warm embrace of the new America? Or, faced with an unacceptable reality, will they retrench in their fantasy and double down on crazy and angry?

We’ve seen an initial double-down. Its failure won’t stop more of the same – the question is whether the rest of the GOP will keep indulging the hardliners.


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, October 18, 2013

October 20, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, Government Shut Down, Tea Party | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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