The Road to Serfdom

Today’s Paul Krugman column is a must read. Shorter version: We are all New Orleans now.

Today, much of the Gulf Coast remains in ruins. Less than half the federal money set aside for rebuilding, as opposed to emergency relief, has actually been spent, in part because the Bush administration refused to waive the requirement that local governments put up matching funds for recovery projects — an impossible burden for communities whose tax bases have literally been washed away.

On the other hand, generous investment tax breaks, supposedly designed to spur recovery in the disaster area, have been used to build luxury condominiums near the University of Alabama’s football stadium in Tuscaloosa, 200 miles inland.

But why should we be surprised by any of this? The Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina — the mixture of neglect of those in need, obliviousness to their plight, and self-congratulation in the face of abject failure — has become standard operating procedure. These days, it’s Katrina all the time.

If you want to be worked into blubbering outrage, read Tim Shorrock’s “Hurricane Recovery, Republican Style” in Salon. Although tight-fisted with Louisiana, the Bushies have been more than generous to Mississippi and its Republican governor, former RNC chairman Haley Barbour. But distribution of the funds in Mississippi has favored the wealthy, and a large part of it is being used to build casinos and luxury condominiums while poor, devastated communities wait for help. And notice there’s little about this outrage in the mainstream media.

Krugman continues,

Consider the White House reaction to new Census data on income, poverty and health insurance. By any normal standard, this week’s report was a devastating indictment of the administration’s policies. After all, last year the administration insisted that the economy was booming — and whined that it wasn’t getting enough credit. What the data show, however, is that 2006, while a good year for the wealthy, brought only a slight decline in the poverty rate and a modest rise in median income, with most Americans still considerably worse off than they were before President Bush took office.

Most disturbing of all, the number of Americans without health insurance jumped. At this point, there are 47 million uninsured people in this country, 8.5 million more than there were in 2000. Mr. Bush may think that being uninsured is no big deal — “you just go to an emergency room” — but the reality is that if you’re uninsured every illness is a catastrophe, your own private Katrina.

Yet the White House press release on the report declared that President Bush was “pleased” with the new numbers. Heckuva job, economy!

Today E.J. Dionne wonders why the rising number of uninsured Americans isn’t getting more news coverage. “Why is it that the poor — and, for that matter, the struggling middle class, too — disappear in the media, barricaded behind our fixation on celebrity, our titillation with personal sin and public shame, our fascination with every detail of every divorce and affair of every movie star, rock idol and sports phenom?” he asks.

Poll after poll puts health care near the top of citizens’ concerns. But I’ve yet to see anything remotely resembling an intelligent discussion about the health care crisis in mass media. If the issue is addressed at all, it’s given a six-minute segment in which some well-paid partisans mouth talking points and demonstrate they are utterly out of touch with Americans’ real opinions and concerns.

Back to Professor Krugman:

The question is whether any of this will change when Mr. Bush leaves office.

There’s a powerful political faction in this country that’s determined to draw exactly the wrong lesson from the Katrina debacle — namely, that the government always fails when it attempts to help people in need, so it shouldn’t even try. “I don’t want the people who ran the Katrina cleanup to manage our health care system,” says Mitt Romney, as if the Bush administration’s practice of appointing incompetent cronies to key positions and refusing to hold them accountable no matter how badly they perform — did I mention that Mr. Chertoff still has his job? — were the way government always works.

And I’m not sure that faction is losing the argument. The thing about conservative governance is that it can succeed by failing: when conservative politicians mess up, they foster a cynicism about government that may actually help their cause.

This worries me, also. Younger people in particular (i.e., anyone born after 1970) can’t remember a time before the “government doesn’t work” meme took hold. My parents’ generation, whose ideas about government’s capabilities were shaped by FDR’s Hundred Days and World War II, generally trusted government. It was us Boomers who became cynical about government, and not without reason. But now that cynicism is paralyzing us.

Even as the health care crisis touches nearly everyone in the middle class, directly or indirectly, government and media continue to treat it as some little inconvenience for “the poor.” Being cut off from all but emergency care is considered a personal problem no doubt resulting from an individual’s bad choices. Just about every voice in Washington and mass media tells citizens that it’s wrong to expect government to make it possible to get decent health care. They should just suck it up and cut out trans fats. (See also “Let Them Eat Gold-Plated Cake.”)

But while ordinary Americans have bought the idea that government solutions are not for them, for the wealthy and well-connected government works just fine.

Of course, the Right cannot abide the thought of citizens using their own government to solve problems. Even though they mostly support the Republican Party, the Right doesn’t seem to grasp republican government. They think like 19th century imperialists who saw the “underclasses” as an intractable burden, and their “let it rot” attitude toward New Orleans is reminiscent of Britain’s treatment of Ireland during the Hunger.

Lurking behind much rhetoric about “big government” is Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, first published in 1944. Full disclosure: I haven’t read Hayek, although I’d be willing to bet not many of today’s wingnuts have read him, either. But I understand that his ideas had an enormous impact on people like Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. “Hayek’s central thesis is that all forms of collectivism lead logically and inevitably to tyranny,” says Wikipedia. For a synopsis I’m told is accurate, see the cartoon version.

Hayek’s first step, “war forces national planning” of the economy, was no doubt a swipe at Franklin Roosevelt’s War Production Board, which I notice did not lead to serfdom. But generally, says Hayek, planned economies lead to planned everything else, and pretty soon you’ve got a totalitarian government. Certainly the Soviet-style planned economy was accompanied by political oppression, and bread lines to boot. But I have never in my life met a fellow American who seriously proposed establishing a planned economy, in which government controls all production and distribution of income. And there’s a huge difference between a planned economy and citizens choosing, through their elected representatives, to establish a universal health care system.

And the biggest laugh of all is that righties, fleeing in hysteria from serfdom threatened by communist government, run headlong into the waiting arms of serfdom imposed by a corporatist government.

Professor Krugman concludes:

Future historians will, without doubt, see Katrina as a turning point. The question is whether it will be seen as the moment when America remembered the importance of good government, or the moment when neglect and obliviousness to the needs of others became the new American way.

I think it can be argued that America has been at this crossroads for a long time. Certainly “neglect and obliviousness to the needs of others” was the rule through all the years when white America was able to shut racial minorities out of equal opportunity, for example. But the truth is that as long as America had a big, strong and upwardly mobile middle class, the nation also grew stronger and, in fits and starts, wealthier. But now the rot has reached into the middle class, and if we don’t turn this trend around, America can look forward to long years of diminishment and decline.

Knowing Not What They Do

Now and then we have a discussion in the comments threads about whether the Bushies know what they are doing. The “don’t know” argument points to the fact that everything the Bushies do gets bleeped. The “do know” argument says that allowing things to get and stay bleeped — New Orleans, for example — is part of the Master Plan to turn America into the sort of country the Right wants. And that country (ironically, considering the anti-immigrant hysteria on the Right) would be something like a big encomienda, in which the right-wing elite and its corporate cronies are the encomenderos and the rest of us are the peasants.

I acknowledge that the Bushies came into power with a plan, and they’ve put a large part of that plan into place. The Supreme Court now will more reliably protect the prerogatives of the privileged over the rights of citizens. The nation’s tax burden has been shifted almost entirely onto wage earners. The famous No Child Left Behind education “reform” has turned out to be a means by which public schools will be taken over by private corporations (all the better to prepare our nation’s youth for whatever McJobs they can expect in the future). Americans can be spied on without warrants and detained indefinitely without habeas corpus. Unions busted, public lands and resources exploited, federal agencies turned into Republican party machines. And don’t get me started on the military-industrial complex. We all worry that it will take years to undo the damage, and we all worry that Democrats in Washington are too compromised to do the undoing.

However, while the Bushies may have been largely successful in carrying out a plan, that’s far from saying that the Bush White House has been successful. Many of their objectives clearly have not turned out as they would have liked. Until recently they have been nearly invincible in achieving political objectives, yet it seems now that George W. Bush will leave office with no positive accomplishments in his “legacy.”

Some time back I wrote a post about the Bush Administration’s governing style, based on a Los Angeles Times article that is no longer online (for free, at least). Time and time again, the Bush Administration has stumbled because of three major flaws:

#1: They are utterly flummoxed by unexpected events that weren’t part of The Plan.

#2: They can’t communicate with each other.

#3: It’s hard to tell who’s really in charge.

I think points #2 and #3 are part of the same problem. Some parts of the Bush Administration may answer to Bush, but other parts answer to Dick Cheney, and much of it answered to Karl Rove. (For example, Sidney Blumenthal speculates that Alberto Gonzales chose to resign because he is lost without Karl Rove telling him what to do.) The Cheney contingent in particular seems to operate within its own loop and doesn’t play well with others. No clear lines of authority, no clear lines of communication. With Karl out of the White House this situation is likely to get worse.

Although the Iraq invasion for a time paid big political dividends for the Bushies, and allowed them to divert billions in tax dollars to its favorite contractor-cronies, I think it’s obvious they didn’t expect the war part to get so messy and complicated. Otherwise, they might have thought twice about the “mission accomplished” victory prance on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln. And management of the war and occupation has amounted to one mistake after another. But at this point they may have given up actually managing the war and are merely playing a policy shell game so that Bush can avoid admitting to failure while he’s in the White House. So far, they’ve been successful at that. Barring some miracle out of Congress, about the only factor that might trip Bush up is the fact that he’s running out of troops.

Point #1, on the other hand, tells us that while they’re intensely focused on their plans, Bushies never got the hang of governing. I think this, more than anything else, is behind Bush’s sorry ass job ratings.

The failure to respond to Hurricane Katrina may have been deliberate, and it may succeed in turning New Orleans into a Republican voting block, but at a huge cost. Dan Balz writes that analysis of Bush’s job approval numbers reveals a lingering “post-Katrina hangover.”

Much more than Katrina explains the continuing drop in Bush’s support in the past 12 months, but there is little doubt that the hurricane crystallized negative perceptions about Bush’s performance that he never has been able to shake. And in the fallout from the Gonzales resignation on Monday, there were renewed complaints that echoed the criticism after Katrina, that the administration lacks basic competence in dealing with problems.

By now this is a fully developed critique. Republicans look at the Gonzales tenure and see incompetence at almost every level. They see an attorney general who, for all his personal attributes, lacked the competence to run the Justice Department. They see a White House that, faced with a revolt that began with Democrats but eventually included many prominent Republicans, waited months before taking action to bring an end to his tenure.

But they see this now not as an isolated example but as a pattern. Even among Republican loyalists, almost no one defends the administration’s management of the war in Iraq. They resent that Bush took so long to get rid of Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. They recall his decision to nominate Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. They look at the midterm elections of 2006 and see a White House that, publicly at least, kept asserting that Democratic gains could be kept to a minimum.

What worries Republicans most is that the damage inflicted by the administration now costs them as much as it does the president, which has caused Republican elected officials, presidential candidates and GOP strategists to wish for a speedy end to the administration.

What does a party profit if it gains New Orleans but loses the majority of voters outside the South?

People are still calling the days after Katrina “the week that sunk the Bush presidency.” Michael Tomasky remembers the week and how stunningly tone deaf the Bushies were to the mood of the country. Bush wasn’t even bothering to go through the motions.

Bush still, dutifully, travels to New Orleans now and then for a photo op. On last night’s Countdown, Keith Olbermann asked “At this point, who does he think he is fooling? And why is he bothering to do it?” Jonathan Alter replied,

ALTER: That‘s a great question. All he has now is photo opportunities. His administration is basically over. He‘s just playing out the string here. And he does need to show up for a basic sense of respectability. He‘s gone several times recently.

Meanwhile, the job is not getting done. In most of the other areas there are huge bottlenecks. They are not doing anything about the particular canal that caused the flooding in the first place, which has many in Louisiana outraged that the source of all the damage has not been dealt with by the government. There has been a disproportionate share of the money that has gone to Haley Barbour, the lobbyist-turned governor of Mississippi. He has grabbed twice as much proportionally as Louisiana, even though it was New Orleans that was basically wiped off the map.

OLBERMANN: You hate to see states being pitted against each other about funding in this way. As you mentioned there and as the editorial mentioned today, but is that really materially true, even in this, the administration has rewarded Republicans and punished Democrats as if the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast was handing out postmaster jobs and not helping Americans?

ALTER: Politics got involved in this very, very quickly with the finger-pointing at the beginning. Haley Barbour has some problems. Some of his relatives got the contracts improperly in Mississippi. Mississippi has done much better than Louisiana, which has a Democratic governor. It is the overall level of attention and the overall failure to execute. And if that sounds familiar it is. The same thing that has bedeviled us in Iraq has been happening in the Gulf States. They are not getting it done. They are not interested in government.

Even at the most symbolic level, the failure to mention Katrina in the State of the Union address less than a year and a half after the hurricane was just outrageous. I have talked to friends in Louisiana who said that they were stunned as they listened to that speech that when he got to the end he had not mentioned Katrina they actually broke down in tears. They felt that abandoned by their own government.

Do the Bushies really know what they’re doing?

America, Its Back Stabbed

The “Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra” post from last week drew a lot of attention, and I’m glad to see someone else make a similar point. Gary Kamiya (who is very sharp, btw; I’m always impressed with what he writes) leaves out the Star Trek reference but writes that George Bush’s entire presidency is based on myth:

Bush’s entire presidency has been propped up by the War Myth. By aggressively presenting himself as a war leader, by wrapping himself in the sacred robes of patriotism, the military and national honor, Bush has taken refuge in the holy of holies, the ultimate sanctuary in American life. He has made criticism of his policies tantamount to criticism of the one institution in American life that is untouchable: the military. He uses the almost 4,000 new crosses in military cemeteries as a talisman against his opponents — notwithstanding the fact that he is wholly responsible for those crosses. …

… What is crucial to understand is that the War Myth can be effective even when reality utterly undercuts it. Myths appeal to transcendental values, shared sacred beliefs. Once we have entered the realm of myth, taboos replace rational discourse.

That irrational power explains the Democrats’ recent humiliating collapse on Bush’s intelligence surveillance bill. It explains why Republican politicians, whose ideology is steeped in the War Myth, have failed to rebel against a doomed war that could cost them their jobs. And it is why the American political establishment is waiting hat in hand for Gen. Petraeus’ predictable report, in which he will say the surge is working and ask for more time.

“Myths appeal to transcendental values, shared sacred beliefs. Once we have entered the realm of myth, taboos replace rational discourse.” A few people who read the “Darmok” post argued that lefties are just as bad about mythical thinking as righties. But I’m not sure these people understood what I was saying. A “myth” isn’t just a made-up story. Myths, whether religious or political, create a context in which we understand ourselves and others. People who are deeply steeped in mythos interpret everything in that context. For example, someone whose understanding of liberals is that they hate America will interpret everything liberals do or say through that filter. It doesn’t matter what liberals might do to prove they are patriots; it will be interpreted as phony. Because, you know, liberals hate America.

For example, yesterday Digby posted some right-wing comments published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Could’ve been a dead body on the stage and no delegate or speaker would have called attention, so desperate are they to appear mainstream. These are folks who think hiding their beliefs is necessary, because you wouldn’t like them if you found out.

Translation: The Democrats are not saying what the writer’s mythos tells him Democrats believe. Therefore, the Dems are hiding their beliefs.

This is the George McGovern anti-war party. Omega Lamont of Peachtree City calls it the “Botox convention.” Any cosmetic to dress up Kerry and his band of ’60s peaceniks as a party that can be trusted to lead in a world in which fanatics are determined to destroy us.

Translation: The George McGovern myth informs the writer that Democrats are “peaceniks” who will not defend America. I’ve written before that the McGovern myth is based on a gross distortion of history. See, for example, “Don’t Blame McGovern” and “Don’t Blame McGovern II.” But the important point here is the writer doesn’t feel a need to justify his claim that Democrats can’t be trusted to handle national security. He just evokes McGovern.

Once we have entered the realm of myth, taboos replace rational discourse. In this case, the “taboo” is entertaining the possibility that a Democrat might want to defend America from enemies and be as “tough” on national security as anyone else. This is in spite of the fact that two Democratic presidents led the nation in World War II, and another saw us through the Cuban Missile Crisis. The McGovern myth overrides all. Democrats are pansies, by virtue of being Democrats. The McGovern myth says so.

Elements of the far Left are not immune to mythic thinking. Alexander Cockburn explains,

These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx via the small, mostly Trotskyist groupuscules. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, or the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale (the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos) or supposedly “rogue” agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list. The 9/11 “conspiracy”, or “inside job”, is the Summa of all this foolishness.

However, what I think of as mainstream lefties — which includes pretty much all of the leftie blogosphere and the more progressive parts of the Democratic Party — were never Marxists to begin with and barely pay attention to the truthers, except to ban them from our blogs for being tiresome.

But our counterparts on the Right live in the land of myth. And, as Gary Kamiya says, plenty of Democrats are hemmed in by rightie myths, either because they believe them or they think it’s political suicide to argue with them.

When Bush trotted out his highly imaginative version of Vietnam history last week, I realized that the facts of Vietnam were not the point of the speech. He was speaking of what Vietnam represents to the Right, emotionally and mythically. Gary Kamiya continues,

But for Bush, Vietnam’s real relevance to Iraq isn’t the early withdrawal issue — it’s the “stab in the back.”

The “stab in the back” holds that America was only defeated in Vietnam because we lost the will to fight. And those who sapped our will, those who betrayed our fighting men, were cowardly protesters and craven politicians. As Bush told “Meet the Press'” Tim Russert in 2004, “The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me as I look back was it was a political war. We had politicians making military decisions, and it is lessons that any president must learn, and that is to set the goal and the objective and allow the military to come up with the plans to achieve that objective. And those are essential lessons to be learned from the Vietnam War.”

As Kevin Baker noted in an in-depth analysis in Harper’s, the “stab in the back” thesis is the ur-right-wing credo. It brings together two keystone beliefs: the idea that America is omnipotent and incapable of defeat, and that any war the U.S. engages in must be noble and heroic. Therefore, if America is defeated, traitorous elites — craven politicians, un-American punks, degenerates, longhairs, pinkos and agitators, and the cowardly elite media — must be to blame. Nixon and Agnew’s demonizing of “nattering nabobs of negativism” and Reagan’s claims that war protesters were giving “comfort and aid” to the enemy sprang from this belief.

I’ve written several posts that cite the Kevin Baker article, several of which are archived here; see this post in particular. Baker argues persuasively that in the postwar years Republicans saved themselves from irrelevancy by propagating the “FDR and Stalin at Yalta” myth. He wrote,

A growing chorus of right-wing voices now began to excoriate our wartime diplomacy. Their most powerful charge, one that would firmly establish the Yalta myth in the American political psyche, was the accusation that our delegation had given over Eastern Europe to the Soviets. According to “How We Won the War and Lost the Peace,” an essay written for Life magazine shortly before the 1948 election by William Bullitt—a former diplomat who had been dismissed by Roosevelt for outing a gay rival in the State Department—FDR and his chief adviser, Harry Hopkins, were guilty of “wishful appeasement” of Stalin at Yalta, handing the peoples of Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Baltic states over to the Soviet dictator.

Please do read the Kevin Baker article if you haven’t already. The basic point is that the Vietnam myth and the McGovern myth are really just add-ons to the Yalta myth. And when you’re discussing Iraq with someone whose understanding of American defense policy is entirely steeped in the Yalta-Vietnam-McGovern mythos, you might as well be talking to a tree stump. And a nasty little bugger of a tree stump at that; one who thinks the only reason anyone would want to end the war is to stab America in the back.

Gary Kamiya thinks that most of America is no longer buying the “Bush the War President” myth.

The inescapable truth is that Bush’s war of choice has destroyed an entire nation — and there is no way for the United States or anyone else to control what happens next. The increasingly shaky plight of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki shows just how unstable Iraq’s cobbled-together political system is. U.S. dreams of replacing him with a secular strongman like Ayad Allawi are delusional. The war is not winnable, and there is thus only one possible rationale for continuing it, the one Bush raised: preventing an even more apocalyptic blood bath than we have already caused.

If we knew that by staying we could avert such a blood bath, we would owe it to the Iraqi people, whom we have harmed so grievously, to remain. But the fact is that no one can really predict whether our departure will cause such a blood bath. Moreover, it is now obvious that the political and sectarian schisms that could lead to it will not heal themselves. As Gen. Petraeus has admitted, it might take a decade to achieve real stability in Iraq. In other words, Bush is asking the U.S. to keep troops in Iraq, possibly indefinitely, in an attempt to forestall an outcome that might never happen — precisely what he argues we should have done in Vietnam.

This is not a scenario that Congress or the American people are going to accept. We are now approaching an endgame in Iraq that has its own inexorable logic, which not even Bush’s appeals to the War Myth will be able to stop.

However, Bush’s “Vietnam” speech may serve other purposes.

In some part of his brain, Bush knows this — which explains his other motivation for invoking Vietnam and attacking war critics as defeatists. As a partisan Republican, still dreaming of Karl Rove’s permanent Republican majority, he wants to ensure that the Democrats take the blame in the coming argument over “who lost Iraq?” By defiantly insisting, contrary to all evidence, that victory is within grasp, he is planting the seeds of a resentful revisionism, a stab in the back II, which he hopes will come to fruition in the future.

But Bush has little credibility with most Americans. “Bush’s attempt to claim he was stabbed in the back is certain to meet the same fate. That notion will live on only where it always has, in the danker corners of the extreme right wing.”

I do believe that we lefties need to create and promote some narratives of our own to counter the Right’s narratives, but I don’t want to copy them and demonize the entire Republican Party, including moderates. I just want the darker corners of the extreme right wing to release its grip on Washington and mass media. Let the wingnuts take their myths and go home.


Bought and Sold

From Derrick Jackson’s column in today’s Boston Globe:

The hold of the healthcare industry on the top candidates is already apparent. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the top recipient of campaign contributions so far from the pharmaceutical and health products industry is Republican Mitt Romney ($228,260). But the next two are Democrats Barack Obama ($161,124) and Hillary Clinton ($146,000). The top recipient of contributions from health professionals is Clinton ($990,611). Romney is second at $806,837, and Obama third at $748,637.

The top recipient of cash from the insurance industry, which includes health insurers, is another Democrat, Connecticut’s Christopher Dodd, at $605,950. Romney and Republican Rudolph Giuliani are second and third, with Clinton and Obama fourth and fifth. Even though Obama is in fifth place, he still has collected $269,750 from insurance companies.

In a category that is relatively small in money thus far, but huge in terms of healthcare morality, Democratic presidential candidates occupy four of the top six spots in receiving money from death-dealing tobacco companies. After Giuliani’s $69,500 from tobacco companies, Dodd has received $45,400, Clinton $32,300, Romney $31,400, Obama $7,885, and Democrat Joe Biden, $4,000.

No surprise:

The top recipient from lobbyists by far is Clinton at $406,300. She is still so badly smoldering from the torching of her healthcare efforts as first lady that she recently asserted to the National Association of Black Journalists, “I have never advocated socialized medicine. That has been a right-wing attack on me for 15 years.”

One of the several reasons I don’t want Senator Clinton to be the nominee is that she is in a uniquely weak position to work for real healthcare reform.

Jackson’s column focuses on Dennis Kucinich, who is the only candidate advocating a universal, single-payer, not-for-profit healthcare system. And, of course, Kucinich will not be the nominee. John Edwards, who has a shot at the ticket and who has proposed a healthcare plan I don’t like, at least doesn’t seem to be in the health insurance industry’s pocket.

See also this editorial in today’s New York Times.

Send CARE Packages

Via Kevin Drum — L.J. Williamson writes in the Los Angeles Times says the local school districts have to make a choice:

The Los Angeles Unified School District receives about $2.85 a child a day from the state and federal governments to provide breakfast and lunch to students. Of that amount, according to the nonprofit group California Food Policy Advocates, or CFPA, about $2 must be spent on milk, supplies, salaries and benefits, leaving about 85 cents for the food on your child’s Styrofoam tray. Given this paltry budget, it seems astounding that our children are fed at all, yet L.A. Unified’s food service manages to serve nearly half a million meals each school day, and it does so within or exceeding U.S. Agriculture Department nutrition guidelines.

If this feat seems miraculous — and I defy anyone else to make an even moderately healthy meal for that amount — try doing it with even less.

That’s the kind of loaves-and-fishes territory that the food service might soon find itself in if the school board passes an initiative today expanding healthcare for cafeteria workers.

Part-time food service employees are seeking the same health benefits — including coverage for their families — that their full-time counterparts enjoy. Extending these benefits to cafeteria staff who currently work only three hours a day would cost an estimated $40 million a year, according to school board calculations.

Nowhere in the private sector do three-hour-a-day employees expect to be eligible for full family benefits; nowhere but in the surreal world of L.A. Unified would anyone have the nerve to ask for them.

Williamson concludes that the school districts should just say no to the cafeteria workers. But as Kevin, Ezra, and Melissa gently suggest, perhaps Williamson is not seeing the bigger picture.

Here we are, the Richest Nation in the World, and children in a major city are being fed a breakfast and lunch for $2.85 a day (what do those children eat, I wonder? Stuff rejected by the dog food factory?), and the cafeteria workers don’t have health benefits. And all this motherbleeper concludes is that the cafeteria workers have some nerve.

Exactly what is wrong with us?

Notice, Ezra says, “that every single time a group of individuals seeks health coverage, they’re forced into direct warfare with their immediate colleagues, place of employment, etc. So in this case, cafeteria workers who need coverage are set in opposition to children who need food.” The notion that we ought to be doing better than this for both the children and the cafeteria workers doesn’t even flicker through Williamson’s head.

To paraphrase the Ronald Reagan quote in the last post, someday we will tell our children and our children’s children what it once was like when America wasn’t a third-world shithole.

“We Are All Uninsured Now”

Laurence J. Kotlikoff writes in the Boston Globe:

BIG NUMBERS, like 45 million uninsured Americans, are hard to grasp. But that number came home to me at a recent conference. The keynote speaker was former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Her topic was our healthcare system, and her message was personal and anguished.

The gist was that even she lives in constant fear of major uninsured health bills. Not her own — those of her son. He can’t afford insurance because his son — her grandchild — has a preexisting condition.

As I listened, a light dawned: O’Connor and the rest of us with health coverage are also uninsured. We too face terrible, albeit more remote, healthcare risks — the risk that our employer will drop our plan, that Medicare will go bust, that our plan won’t cover our needs, that premiums will eat us alive, that our doctor will stop taking our insurance, that long-term care will wipe us out, and that our uninsured friends and family members will need major financial help.

These risks are entirely avoidable. We can have an efficient, transparent system that includes everyone; treats everyone fairly; covers all the basics, including prescription drugs, home healthcare, and nursing home care; and costs little more than what we now spend. But we can’t get there via the piecemeal reforms that President Bush, most of his would-be successors, and our state governors are advocating.

To clarify, state governors are not necessarily “advocating” piecemeal state-by-state solutions. It’s more correct to say that the states are stepping into the leadership void and crafting whatever solutions they can. Currently on the Right, “let the states do it” is a favorite health care talking point. On the other hand, righties love to point to the failures of several state programs to argue that the same programs would fail at the national level, also.

As Ezra Klein explains here in detail, “providing health care for all citizens is one of those tasks, like national defense, that the states are simply unequipped to manage on their own.” States cannot tackle the underlying cause of the problem, which is that the private health insurance industry and other moneyed interests are setting the rules and calling the shots. Any solutions the states come up with will be no better than work-arounds.

Kotlikoff writes that we seem to be heading “toward a balkanized healthcare system with the old in Medicare, the poor in Medicaid, most workers in employer plans, and the losers — the otherwise uninsured — in highly subsidized, limited-coverage plans. Loser plans.” But as we’ve seen with the S-chip controversy, right wingers don’t even want to pay for the “loser plans.”

Although he seems to understand the problem, Kotlikoff’s “solution” is for Washington to hand out vouchers that people can use to purchase health insurance. The private health insurance industry and other moneyed interests would still setting the rules and calling the shots. Not a solution, I say.

But his larger point is one politicians, particularly those in Washington, need to wake up to. The health insurance crisis is no longer just a matter of poor people, or the unemployed, being left uninsured. The health insurance crisis has spread to the middle class. If even a former Supreme Court justice is worried, it is spreading to higher-income citizens as well.

Righties are still pretending that people without health insurance are somehow all poor and undeserving. The uninsured are supposed to be content that, at least, if they get really sick, and treatment can no longer be postponed, they can show up at an emergency room and wait most of a day to see a doctor so they can be “stabilized” and sent home. I don’t expect the hard core Right to see the problem until they’re the ones dumped out of the system, leaving them one aneurysm away from death or financial ruin.

According to a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll, 64 percent of Americans think government should provide a national health insurance program for all Americans, even if this would require higher taxes, and 73 percent think that government should provide health insurance for all children under the age of 18.

In 1988, Michael Dukakis made health care reform an important part of his platform. Back then, most middle class Americans were still paying only a small deduction from their paychecks for insurance plans that let them see any doctor they wished without worrying about networks. I remember that when George H.W. Bush was asked about healthcare reform, he looked somewhat baffled and said (all together now) “America has the best health care system in the world,” and he didn’t understand why Dukakis wanted to fix something that wasn’t broken. I think, back then, most middle class Americans bought that argument.

And in 1993, when the Clintons brought out their health care plan, the insurance industry’s “Harry and Louise” ads effectively frightened people to stick by the status quo. I had problems with the Clinton’s approach, but it’s interesting to me that the Right still speaks of it as a failure. It didn’t fail, because it was never tried. What is failing is the status quo.

I have thought for years that, some day, we’d reach a tipping point at which enough Americans were personally impacted by the failures and inequities of The Best Health Care System in the World that they would be desperate to change it. I think we’ve reached that tipping point. Even corporations are now calling for reform, although they are still talking about a “market-led” system. They can’t yet see that sticking to a “market-led” system is what brought us to this crisis, and all the “market-led” solutions amount to using tax dollars to keep the “private” health insurance beast alive. People are so invested in “government is not the solution” ideology that they make government the solution for maintaining a failed “private” system.

And even the states, the “laboratories” of new policy, are hamstrung by right-wing ideology. In today’s Los Angeles Times, the speaker of the California Assembly, Fabian Nuñez, describes the fight within the Golden State:

In the next 15 to 18 days before the Legislature adjourns, the narrow window of opportunity we have to achieve healthcare reform in California — reform that expands access for those who don’t have health coverage and keeps costs down for those who do — will start to close. If history is a guide, we can expect an anything-goes campaign in the next few weeks to delay, derail and demonize healthcare reform. We need to focus on some basic truths to keep that campaign from succeeding.

First, for nearly 10 months now, the reform proposals I put forward with Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata have been vetted in the legislative process, fiscally analyzed by academics and scrutinized by the media. Yet you can count on opponents saying, “We’re moving too fast; let’s slow down.” Practically speaking, what they are really trying to do is kill any reform — delay means death to controversial big-issue legislation. Given more time, the forces against healthcare reform will find ways to take more potshots at the proposals. We don’t need a special session of the Legislature later this year. We don’t need to punt to the 2008 election year.

After a discussion of various proposals, he continues,

Those who want to see more complete coverage also will object to our plan because they’d rather see a single-payer system — in which a government-run entity contracts with doctors and hospitals and handles all claims.

I embrace the idea; it is a noble goal and may one day prove to be the ultimate answer. It’s overwhelmingly supported by legislative Democrats and has growing support from Californians. But in 2007, a single-payer plan would be vetoed by the Republican governor just as he did the version the Legislature sent him in 2006. Sacrificing the good for the perfect doesn’t make sense in the world of public policy.

That’s the tune we’re all singing. Most Americans know what the solution to our problem is. What’s standing in the way is the Right. And the Right has so dominated politics in recent years that even progressive politicians are inhibited from bringing the the solution they really want to the table. Instead, they patch together something less comprehensive and less workable and hope it won’t be completely eviscerated by the Right before it comes to a vote.

And then, when the state program fails, the Right will point to it and say, see? Government doesn’t work.

Regarding S-chip, Bob Herbert writes in today’s New York Times:

The program is popular because it works. It’s cost effective and there is wide bipartisan support for its expansion. But President Bush, locked in an ideological straitjacket, is adamant in his opposition.

In addition to the new rules drastically curtailing the ability of governors to expand local coverage by obtaining waivers from the federal government, the president has threatened a veto of Congressional efforts to fund a more robust version of the overall program.

“It’s stunning,” said New York’s Gov. Eliot Spitzer. “He says he’s going to veto health care for kids because it’s too expensive at the same time that these continuing resolutions for the war, where we don’t even know what the cost is, are going through unabated. This is insanity.

“Everybody agrees this is the right thing to do except the Bush administration.”

States want to expand S-chip to middle class children not to undermine health insurance industry profits, but because more and more middle-class children are uninsured.

Wherever there are large numbers of families without coverage, you will find children who are suffering needlessly and, in extreme cases, dying. They don’t get the preventive care or the attention to chronic illness that they should.

“That has not only an immediate effect on their development,” said Mr. Spitzer, “but a long-term cost to society that is incalculable.” …

… Administration officials have argued that the CHIP program should adhere closely to its original intent of limiting coverage to families only slightly above the official poverty line. They said there is a danger that families with higher incomes would begin substituting CHIP for private insurance coverage.

The reality is that under the administration’s approach enormous numbers of children in families without a lot of money will be left with no coverage at all, private or otherwise. The expansion of CHIP is the most efficient, cost-effective way of reaching those youngsters.

And here we come to the plain truth:

What’s happening is cruel. Children who should be eligible for CHIP are being held hostage to policies driven by a desire to protect the big insurance companies and an ideology that views CHIP, correctly, as yet another important step on the road to universal health care.

Ronald Reagan, one of the tribunes in the fight against Medicare and Medicaid back in the ’60s, pumped up the warnings against “socialized medicine” by saying that if Medicare becomes a reality “you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”

I wonder what crazy things the ideologues think would happen if CHIP is expanded to cover the children who have no health insurance today.

The whole bleeping nation is being held hostage by right-wing insanity. When’s it going to stop?

Why Is the Right Afraid of Universal Health Care?

Today’s Paul Krugman column connects the S-chip controversy and public school education, and wonders why one is bad but the other acceptable.

The truth is that there’s no difference in principle between saying that every American child is entitled to an education and saying that every American child is entitled to adequate health care. It’s just a matter of historical accident that we think of access to free K-12 education as a basic right, but consider having the government pay children’s medical bills “welfare,” with all the negative connotations that go with that term.

And conservative opposition to giving every child in this country access to health care is, in a fundamental sense, un-American.

Here’s what I mean: The great majority of Americans believe that everyone is entitled to a chance to make the most of his or her life. Even conservatives usually claim to believe that. For example, N. Gregory Mankiw, the former chairman of the Bush Council of Economic Advisers, contrasts the position of liberals, who he says believe in equality of outcomes, with that of conservatives, who he says believe that the goal of policy should be “to give everyone the same shot and not be surprised or concerned when outcomes differ wildly.”

But a child who doesn’t receive adequate health care, like a child who doesn’t receive an adequate education, doesn’t have the same shot – he or she doesn’t have the same chances in life as children who get both these things.

Actually, much of the Right wants to dismantle public education also — for our own good, of course. But let’s stick to health care.

Krugman may have a point about a “historical accident.” People are comfortable with the familiar, “the way we’ve always one things.” It’s like the “reefer madness” phenomenon. Liquor is legal and marijuana is not, even though liquor is the more dangerous of the two substances — people do become physiologically addicted to alcohol, and it is possible to die of an overdose of alcohol, which is not true of marijuana. But we’re used to liquor, so it’s OK. And we’re used to universal public school education, but not universal health care for children (or the rest of us), so the first is acceptable but the second is scary.

This blogger argues for the status quo:

Where in the Constitution does it say that every one has the right to health care?

Where in the Constitution does it say that every one has the right to an education? Or the right to call the fire department if your house catches fire? What’s the big bleeping deal with allowing We, the People, to use the federal government to solve national problems that aren’t being solved any other way? Isn’t that what bleeping government is for?

Besides, I bet you most people think that everyone should have access to affordable health care, but that is not the same as making it the responsibility of the federal government to provide it.

Well, yes, and if the U.S. health care system were providing at least basic health care to everyone who needs it, at an affordable cost, then we wouldn’t have a “health care crisis,” would we?

Certain conservatives may, for instance, think that it is unconstitutional to get the government (too much) involved or they may think that private companies can deal with the problem… or (shocker to people like Krugman who seem to believe that States in the US are not much different that provinces in the Netherlands) that States could and should deal with it.

Certain conservatives think that universal health care is unconstitutional, but that suspending habeas corpus or warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens isn’t. This is why I don’t give a bleep about what certain conservatives think.

And states are not going to come up with anything but band-aid solutions; Ezra Klein explains why.

The blogger continues,

This issue is not between conservatives who do not want children to have a health care insurance on the one hand, and progressives who do want that on the other, it is about what solutions / plans actually work and the power of the federal government. Krugman, then, does not approach this subject from the perspective of someone who tries to bring people together to join forces on an issue, he approaches this subject from the perspective of a partisan liberal.

Krugman has written a ton of columns about possible solutions to the health care crisis. Here’s just one of them. But today’s column was not about solutions. This column is about why we haven’t been able to have a sensible national discussion about these solutions, much less put any of these solutions into practice.

Part of the reason is that politicians — and I’m not just talking about Republicans — are in the pockets of the health insurance industry. But the larger reason is that the American Right is in deep denial about the true dimensions of the crisis and what it will take to correct it. In fact, I have yet to see a substantive discussion about health care in mass media. What I’ve seen by way of “discussion” are right-wingers screeching about waiting lines in Canada. Thus, the United States remains the only industrialized democracy on the planet without universal health care for its citizens, and the only thing most Americans know about health care in other countries is that there are waiting lines in Canada.

Are there any conservatives out there who say that children should, quite simply, never see a doctor? Of course not. This is not what the debate is about.

I’m sorry, but that is what the debate is about. Children are being denied medical care. This is really happening. It is not imaginary. It does those children no good to say that, in principle, we’re fine with all children seeing a doctor. We’re just not going to do anything to make it possible.

I write about health care a lot, and I’ve written several posts that look at various solutions. And I don’t much care which party or which politician comes up with a workable solution. In fact, so far none of the Democratic presidential candidates has come up with a plan that I’m all that excited about.

But the Right is coming up with nothing. Less than nothing. For example, I’m certain that Health Savings Accounts would make the problem worse, for reasons Kevin Drum explains. As he says, “solutions” coming from the Right don’t even rise to the level of band-aids; they’re more of a papering-over.

If by some miracle someone comes up with a workable plan that does not involve a federal program, I’d be thrilled. I am not advocating or a federal solution just for the sake of a federal solution. I’m advocating for a federal solution because I haven’t seen any other plans that would come even close to solving the problem.

The first step in finding a solution is understanding the problem. I see no indication that anyone on the Right has made that step.

We’re back to “lead, follow, or get out of the way.” On health care, the Right won’t lead, they won’t follow, and they won’t get out of the way. They just obstruct and deny.