60 Minutes Whitewashes Obamacare Opponents

60 MinutesI caught a bit of 60 Minutes tonight. They did an interesting and even inspiring story, Affordable Care for Those Still Uninsured. It follows two nurse practitioners, Teresa Gardner and Paula Meade, who drive around in an RV providing free healthcare to the working poor of Appalachia. These women are doing God’s work, which is very good because not only is God not doing it, the local government isn’t much interested either.

But something about the story really bothered me. It tiptoed around the reason that “the health wagon” was necessary. It started with a voice-over by Scott Pelley saying, “For the sake of those [working poor] people, Obamacare told the states to expand Medicaid, the government insurance for the very poor. But 24 states declined.” He should have noted that Obamacare provided those states with 100% funding for the first three years and then 90% funding after that.

It was only later that Pelley added, “These patients would be taken care of in the 26 states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare. The federal government pays the extra cost to the states for three years but Virginia and the others that opted out fear that the cost in the future could bankrupt them.” This is a total distortion. This description gives the impression that the federal government pays for the program for three years and then drops it in the lap of the states. That just ain’t so.

Even worse, Pelley has no way of knowing that states have opted out of the Medicaid expansion because they fear it will bankrupt them. They have used that excuse for not expanding Medicaid and that is the most that you could say. The evidence, however, shows that this is all about politics. No blue states think Obamacare will bankrupt them.It’s only the red states. It’s clear to me that the real reason is that the Republicans want to kill the president’s signature achievement. But it would have been wrong to claim that that was what was really going on inside their heads. 60 Minutes doesn’t know what is going on inside their heads so it shouldn’t claim that it does.

I’m pretty sure if things were reversed, 60 Minutes would have provided some “he said, she said” coverage. They would have noted that Democrats were concerned about the costs but the administration noted that they were paying for almost all of the costs in perpetuity. They might have added something that I think would show the lie to the hypothetical Democratic position (and the real Republican position): the states could take the free funding for three years and if in the fourth year they found they just couldn’t afford it, they could stop doing it. But of course, things are not reversed, so 60 Minutes just pushed the idea that Republican controlled states aren’t just callously hurting the poor in the name of registering their dislike of the president. They pushed the Republican line that the states just can’t afford it. 60 Minutes has been really good recently pushing conservative issues.

The story of two medical professionals driving around Appalachia giving out healthcare to the working poor shouldn’t be inspiring. It should be embarrassing. It should be especially embarrassing to the 24 states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs. The old 60 Minutes—the one I watched as a kid—would have made that part of the story. Instead, we get a feelgood story about two heroic women. But no mention is made of the evil that makes their heroism necessary.

Who Else but Raphael?

RaphaelWhat was I going to do? Talk about geneticist James Watson? I’m trying to rid myself of people with really vile opinions. And his attitude toward the great geneticist Rosalind Franklin is totally unacceptable. And let’s face it, Watson and Crick were not that great. They were the first of many who were very close to doing the same thing. They also stood on the shoulders of many great scientists who went before them. So James Watson? No no no!

And could I give the day to Merle Haggard? He too has some vile ideas that are not limited to “Okie From Muskogee,” although that would be enough. I hate all that, “We’re the good ones because we drink booz unlike those hippies who smoke that marijuana!” And it is particularly bad because he was and probably still is a big cannabis smoker. So he is little more than Sarah Palin, pushes divisive politics for his own personal gain. But at least he has something to offer unlike Palin:

No, my hands were tied. Today we have to talk about Raphael who was born on this day ( or maybe 28 March) in 1483. He was following in the family business, being the son of Giovanni Santi. He was apprenticed at the age of eight with the great painter Pietro Perugino. But he was orphaned at the age of eleven. To give you some idea of his talent, check out his self-portrait from around that time.

It is remarkable to compare the work of Raphael from those who went before him. He adds so much naturalism to the High Renaissance style. It is not surprising that he is normally compared with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. To the list, I would add Fra Bartolomeo, who is generally underrated. But just look at Saint George and the Dragon:

Saint George and the Dragon - Raphael

Or Madonna in the Meadow:

Madonna in the Meadow - Raphael

Sadly, he died on his 37th birthday after a short illness. According to legend, the illness was caused by especially vigorous sex with Margherita Luti. But you know what they say: correlation does not imply causation. I doubt that was the real cause. It is quite likely that the doctors killed him, since that tended to be what doctors did in those days. Regardless, it’s sad. The currents of art were changing and it would have been interesting to see how it affected Raphael. Still, we have a lot of great art from him.

Happy birthday Raphael!

Income Inequality Problems

Joseph StiglitzIn recent years, Joseph Stiglitz has focused on the issue of income inequality. And last week, he testified before the Senate Budget Committee. The topic was, Opportunity, Mobility, and Inequality in Today’s Economy. It’s all standard stuff around here, but it can’t be repeated enough. Every day I hear parts of the conservative disinformation campaign. There’s always someone like Greg Mankiw around to argue, “We really don’t have inequality; and even if we do, we have equality of opportunity; and even if we don’t, it doesn’t really matter; and even if it does, there’s nothing we can do about it; and even if there is, we shouldn’t because income inequality is good!” If such people were honest, they would just say, “We don’t care!”

Stiglitz’s paper is fairly short and if you are interested in the subject, I highly recommend reading it. But I’ll give you the rundown here. He makes eight points, but there is overlap, so I’ve whittled them down to six points:

Inequality is the result of policies. This gets back to what I was talking about this morning in, Warren Buffett Counter-Counterargument. Conservatives claim the privilege of the rich is “God given” or “natural.” It’s the old libertarian belief that capitalism is natural, as though modern capitalism is anything close to that.

The Rich are compensated according to their value to the economy. This is part of that same “natural” argument. Robert Reich wrote an excellent article countering this, The “Paid-What-You’re-Worth” Myth. But Stiglitz makes a great point, “If we look at those at the top, they are not those who have made the major innovations that have transformed our economy and society; they are not the discoverers of DNA, the laser, the transistor; not the brilliant individuals who made the discoveries without which we would not have had the modern computer.” No they aren’t! They are people who are good at “figuring out how to get a larger share of the nation’s pie, rather than enhancing the size of that pie.”

Trickle-down is a lie. Milton Friedman’s old canard that income inequality was great because everyone was doing better has been shown to be a cruel lie.

Inequality is bad for economic growth. Another conservative argument is that inequality is good for growth. Stiglitz points out that the 2008 financial crisis proved that this was a lie. But the truth is that our economic performance for the last 35 years has shown this to be true. The only reason anyone has ever taken this talking point seriously is because the rich push it.

Inequality makes us a less democratic nation. Just check out McCutcheon vs FEC where the Supreme Court Strikes Blow for Oligarchy.

Inequality is bad for the federal budget. I don’t think this is a particularly important issue. It is true. But a more important truth is that conservatives don’t care about the budget deficit. They just use it as a convenient cudgel to push for cutting social spending. If they really cared about the issue, they would call for at least some increase in taxes. They don’t so they don’t care.

It’s sad that we even have to discuss income inequality. It is yet another issue like global warming. I discussed the three stages of global warming denial in, It’s Raining, But Not for Long. At one time, income equality was an issue open to debate. But the more clear the data get, the more extreme the conservative arguments get. Yet they aren’t held accountable. The newest excuse for doing nothing is accepted as being as valid as the last one was.

We really should be talking about solutions. I started a series of articles, “Income Inequality Solutions.” But I haven’t worked on in the last couple of months. I’ll have to get back to that. Until then, here are the first two articles:

Income Inequality Solutions 1: Estate Tax
Income Inequality Solutions 2: Higher Inflation

Warren Buffett Counter-Counterargument

Warren BuffettWarren Buffett famously noted that his secretary paid a higher income tax rate than he did. It was a good illustration of the reason we have such high income inequality in this country. As one goes very high in earnings, one’s tax rate goes down. This is primarily because we don’t tax capital gains as much as we do earned income. The government is implicitly saying that owning is more valuable than working. Yes Virginia, we have a very screwed up country.

Conservatives struck back with one primary argument, “If Warren Buffett wants to pay more taxes, no one is stopping him.” It is a shaming argument implying (and sometimes saying explicitly) that Buffett is trying to force others to pay more in taxes and that he ought to just shut up. The argument has a certain appeal because it is technically right. It does make Buffett sound a bit hypocritical.

There are a couple of problems. The most obvious is that in saying this, Buffett is using himself as an example of how the policy is bad. He is making a policy argument. But no one ever makes this argument against the Koch brothers. They argue that their taxes should be lower and so no one can say that they should just pay less than they have to. So the argument here is that rich people can’t advocate for higher taxes but they can advocate for lower taxes.

What’s more, the idea behind the shaming argument is simply to take attention off the cruelty of the policy. By saying that Buffett should just pay more taxes himself and shut up, they are implicitly saying that it is just fine that the Koch brothers pay less tax than their secretaries. Since conservatives have no reasonable arguments for why this ought to be that way, they simply change the subject. It isn’t about the middle class getting screwed for the benefit of the rich; it’s about the rich getting screwed by that old meanie Warren Buffett.

Most conservative arguments on any issue come down to a belief that any privilege that the powerful have is God given. And in this case it is worse because Buffett is supposed is seen as a class traitor. The only way that the low capital gains tax can be a given is if everyone who matters agrees about it. It doesn’t matter what the poor think, because they just don’t get it. But if rich people break rank on this issue, it undermines the definitional aspect of low capital gains taxes. Thus Buffett must be destroyed as a hypocrite who could choose to pay more in taxes. No rich person should question God’s law.