A Recession Forty Years in the Making–Updated

This Great Recession  Didn’t Happen by Magic…My Rant

The Sniffer Returns. Photo Courtesy: Smith Detection UK

When last the Sniffer’s image appeared here on Extreme Thinkover, he (well, I think he’s a he) was celebrating the passage the the health care reform act, having sniffed out the “radiation” of American Health Insurance Providers and other members of Big Medicine’s failed assault against the legislation, spending undoubtedly hundreds of millions of their subscribers’ dollars in the process.  That money was intended by those who paid it, whether it was the funds directly from the insured or their employers, to pay for health care not to pay lobbyists and advertising to defeat every effort and piece of legislation devised to make it better.  Fortunes spent without consent.  A cruel form of taxation without representation.

We will probably never know how much money Big Medicine squandered in their complete and total defeat, as the benefits of health care for all Americans already taking effect, item by item, promises a future of access to medical care that for over two centuries we have never had the right and many have been denied by sheer accident of their socioeconomic status or a simple preexisting condition.

Now we have the right.  Obviously, we should be celebrating, right?  Right?

Political Memory Distortion

Some of our citizen sisters and brothers continue to snort and paw like an angry bull over the fact that they now have to participate in a society that cares for the medical needs of  all its citizens (joining finally nearly every other First World nation and many others), not just as country that rewards those who would hoard their worldly goods as if none of those around them had any role in the accumulation of that wealth.  In their anger, from distorted recollections of an earlier geopolitical battles, they call it socialism, an incoherent misunderstanding of that term in the history of political systems.  It is not socialism.

A Republic’s Highest Value

To the contrary, it is the highest value of a democratic republic: Sharing.  It is that simple.  In a democratic republic, one of the blessings of liberty is sharing.  To treat another as you would want to be treated.  We are now a large nation, over 300 million people and growing.  The day of a flat birth rate has passed.  It takes a lot of organizational structure to insure that the ideals and the order of a democratic republic are nourished over time.  It cannot be done by stinginess, or by isolationism.  The age of the Rugged Individualist has passed.  We now are connected in ways even those of us in our middle age could not dream of.  We now live in a shared world, a shared connectivity at the speed of light, the evolution of human ingenuity turned up on high, the 20th Century a platform for the 21st.

Equality consists in the same treatment of similar persons–Aristotle, 384-322 BCE.

Most of all it cannot be done by refusing to share in such a way that those with the most are continuously provided with more through no merit of their own, denying the dreams of those in the middle to improve their lot in life, it too a blessing of liberty, and effectively squelching the chance of those at the lowest rungs of life from ever daring to dream that those above them might welcome them to take those steps and dream those dreams out of their poverty.

The right to achieve prosperity in a democratic republic is not the exclusive right of those who have already achieved it through their own effort or inheritance.  At the same time, those who have achieved prosperity have no right to hoard their prosperity so that those who are trying to achieve it as well are denied their right to share in its blessings, regardless of their beginning station in life.  With all due diligence those who are prosperous must ensure that the efforts of those who desire to be so as well are rewarded and their growing prosperity welcomed.  But because human beings all have differing gifts, desires, capacities, and health, a democratic republic can exist living by its highest ideals when the prosperity of the whole also ensures the rights of the whole.

Rant complete.

An Unexpected Proof of Concept: 40 Billionaires’ Pledge

What I wrote in the previous paragraph is not just a flight of fancy or a theoretical construct that never would be tried by the very most prosperous people in our country.  On August 4, 2010, the foundation begun by billionaires Warren Buffet and Bill Gates announced that 40 billionaires have so far pledged to give away at least half of their fortunes during their lives or at their death.  Called The Giving Pledge, the list is available publicly online and, according to Buffet and Gates, this is only the beginning of their project.  For instance, the Wall Street Journal reported one of the pledger’s rational:

In an interview, Tom Steyer, founder of hedge fund Farallon Capital Management LLC in San Francisco, said he and his wife had planned to give away their wealth but decided to go public after Mr. Buffett called.

Mr. Steyer made the pledge to support what he sees as an effort by Mr. Buffett to show how those who profit from capitalism can help improve society.  “We want him to succeed in reshaping the way people think about the private enterprise system,” Mr. Steyer said.

MSNBC reported that the United States has about 400 billionaires, some 40% of the world’s total, and their net worth is estimated at $1.2 trillion.

Some of the billionaires have a very specific goal in mind for their pledge.  George Lucas, filmmaker and creator of the vast Star Wars empire stated,

“My pledge is to the process; as long as I have the resources at my disposal, I will seek to raise the bar for future generations of students of all ages,” filmmaker George Lucas said. “I am dedicating the majority of my wealth to improving education.”

Finally, Warren Buffett co-founder, remains ever the optimistic example for First Citizen in our democratic republic:

“We contacted between 70 and 80 people to get the 40. A few were unavailable. We don’t give up on them. Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future. We’ll keep on working,” Buffett said.

Thank you, Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gates.  You get it.  But we are not done here…

So What Next: A Recession Four Decades in the Making

How bad is it?  Ironically, out of the past a major player has come to the horrified realization that the policies of the past forty years, in which he played a major role, beginning with the disgraced Richard Nixon, set in motion the recessionary calamity we are trying to survive.

David Stockman, who was the director of the Office of Management and Budget under the evangelist of  “trickle down economics” and the fomenter of the doctrine that all government is essentially bad, Ronald Reagan, wrote these words published in the New York Times:

Republican pretense that its new monetarist and supply-side doctrines are rooted in its traditional financial philosophy. Republicans used to believe that prosperity depended upon the regular balancing of accounts — in government, in international trade, on the ledgers of central banks and in the financial affairs of private households and businesses, too. But the new catechism, as practiced by Republican policymakers for decades now, has amounted to little more than money printing and deficit finance — vulgar Keynesianism robed in the ideological vestments of the prosperous classes.

This approach has not simply made a mockery of traditional party ideals. It has also led to the serial financial bubbles and Wall Street depredations that have crippled our economy. More specifically, the new policy doctrines have caused four great deformations of the national economy, and modern Republicans have turned a blind eye to each one.

Although I politely disagree with Mr. Stockman’s criticism of Keynes, arguing as would Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist, that had Keynes’ economics been followed, instead of Reagan’s supply side fantasy, we might have avoided some of the damage Mr. Stockman places right at the door of the Republicans, who claim they want more of the same.

As our nation moves along the unstoppable path of time toward the General Election in November of this year, Mr. Stockman’s accusations against his own party are even more troubling.  He continues:

But in the end it was a new cadre of ideological tax-cutters who killed the Republicans’ fiscal religion.  Through the 1984 election, the old guard earnestly tried to control the deficit, rolling back about 40 percent of the original Reagan tax cuts. But when, in the following years, the Federal Reserve chairman, Paul Volcker, finally crushed inflation, enabling a solid economic rebound, the new tax-cutters not only claimed victory for their supply-side strategy but hooked Republicans for good on the delusion that the economy will outgrow the deficit if plied with enough tax cuts. (Emphasis added)

Delusion or Voodoo Economics: Your Choice

Dr. Krugman, however, agrees with Mr. Stockman on one major point: tax cuts will not help our economy outgrow the deficit now, any more than they did by the time Ronald Reagan left office in 1989.  Earlier this  month, also in the New York Times, Dr. Krugman wrote:

Now there are many things one could call the Bush economy, an economy that, even before recession struck, was characterized by sluggish job growth and stagnant family incomes; “vibrant” isn’t one of them. But the real news here is the confirmation that Republicans remain committed to deep voodoo, the claim that cutting taxes actually increases revenues.

It’s not true, of course. Ronald Reagan said that his tax cuts would reduce deficits, then presided over a near-tripling of federal debt…

But we’re talking about voodoo economics here, so perhaps it’s not surprising that belief in the magical powers of tax cuts is a zombie doctrine: no matter how many times you kill it with facts, it just keeps coming back. And despite repeated failure in practice, it is, more than ever, the official view of the G.O.P. (Emphasis added).

Are we at an impass: Yes.  I have done a lot of counseling during my career and one thing I have seen dozens of times is that a person who is suffering a delusion is not aware of the distortion of reality that is affecting them.  Voodoo, and I will place it squarely in the Hollywood horror genre’ and not the religion of many who live in and around the Caribbean, and the image of zombies, plays on our deep fears of somehow having our dead bodies overtaken and made to do nasty things to, well, anyone, but, in this instance screaming attractive American teenagers.

In terms of economics, the accusation of either, is to say something is deeply wrong, but we know that.  What we are suffering from, is the gathering force of economic distortions that have gathered for forty years.  Forty years.  How many really smart people, in both parties, noticed this, and said exactly nothing?  Was it delusions or voodoo?  How could that be, though?  The delusional cannot recognize their delusions, and the zombie’s revivified by voodoo do not know they aren’t supposed to be in that very state.  Does that mean there are not any really smart people left in either party who can figure it out?  A tantalizing question to ponder, I admit, but the answer is no.

If the Answer is “No,” What was the Question, Again?

The question, in the end, is not whether there were smart people following the economy for the last forty years; there were.  The question is how over forty years did nobody get it?  Since Richard Nixon brought the Union to its knees politically and economically, hundreds of economic models have been built, hundreds rejected because they didn’t work.  Computer modeling has entered the 21st Century–Economists of all stripes have access to these computers and run probably terabits of data through them to test the accuracy of their latest theory.

And yet we wallow in the debris of a Recession still threatening our national prosperity and influence, whose roots are easily traced to forty years ago.  This is a topic that must be more closely examined in the months ahead as the election approaches.  I think the Sniffer has a new assignment.

The Numbers of a Miracle: 220-215

One step closer.  Not done, but one step closer.  Plenty of  opposition still left.  The Sniffer will remain vigilant.  AHIP, PhRMA, Big Medicine, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Anti-Reform PACs and Astroturfers.  Probably not their best day.

The House of Representatives voted, 220-215, and the Affordable Health Care for America Act, H.R. 3962, passed.

Universal Health Care took its closest step to being a reality in the history of  the nation.  We stand at the threshold of being a  healthier people.  Those determined individuals who through choice or calling have dedicated their lives to being healers today were honored.  Yes, honored.  A doctor, a nurse, an aide, a therapist of any stripe, even the chaplain, administrator, clerk, or support staff.  Even those in Big Medicine who dedicate their lives to creating the best medical care possible, despite the the greed that has held them hostage.  Today they were given a new legitimacy, not in what they do, they’ve always had that.  Yes, I know there are those who take advantage of the trust they’ve been given, or reach a point of compassion fatigue where they lose their edge. And make mistakes.  But that is not the point.

Tonight we celebrate the majority, who work and work and work that the sick and injured are given the chance to have their lives back, or to be given a life for the very first time.  Tonight, in America, the healers have a new identity.  Or nearly so.  Like the subtle change from night to twilight, that just perceivable shift from sky black to the dimming of the stars, the new dawn of medical vitality is just over the horizon.

The Caregivers’ dawn is rising.  America the healthy will soon rise right along with them.

Dawn with Star Pike Pictures UK

Dawn with Star. Image Courtesy: http://www.pikepictures.co.uk/prints

Sniffer Report: AHIP Pushed the Button and…

The Sniffer

The Sniffer

e=mc2 (Excessive-influence = moola x congressional-greed squared)

America’s Health Insurance Plans pushed the button on their “nuclear option” bomb to blast health care reform into oblivion.  The safety was released, the countdown went to zero, and “click!”

This is what AHIP and Big Medicine wanted to hear:

bravo_test_s atomic mushroom cloud(Click on the photo)

Instead they heard this, from the President of the United States:

In fact, the insurance industry is rolling out the big guns and breaking open their massive war chest – to marshal their forces for one last fight to save the status quo. They’re filling the airwaves with deceptive and dishonest ads. They’re flooding Capitol Hill with lobbyists and campaign contributions. And they’re funding studies designed to mislead the American people.

It’s smoke and mirrors. It’s bogus. And it’s all too familiar. Every time we get close to passing reform, the insurance companies produce these phony studies as a prescription and say, “Take one of these, and call us in a decade.” Well, not this time. The fact is, the insurance industry is making this last-ditch effort to stop reform even as costs continue to rise and our health care dollars continue to be poured into their profits, bonuses, and administrative costs that do nothing to make us healthy – that often actually go toward figuring out how to avoid covering people. And they’re earning these profits and bonuses while enjoying a privileged exception from our anti-trust laws, a matter that Congress is rightfully reviewing.

Don’t think for one second that AHIP has conceded or surrendered.  As the bills move through the process of being reconciled, the intensity of the pressure on Congress and YOU and ME, will intensify into a political nuclear storm, the likes of which we have never seen.  The days before the final votes in the Senate and the House will be filled with a Big Medicine-financed noise that would turn an Orc to stone.

President Obama, however, did not stop there:

Last November, the American people went to the polls in historic numbers and demanded change. They wanted a change in our policies; but they also sought a change in our politics: a politics that too often has fallen prey to the lobbyists and the special interests; that has fostered division and sustained the status quo. Passing health insurance reform is a great test of this proposition. Yes, it will make a profound and positive difference in the lives of the American people. But it also now represents something more: whether or not we as a nation are capable of tackling our toughest challenges, if we can serve the national interest despite the unrelenting efforts of the special interests; if we can still do big things in America.

I repeat here what I posted on August 15, 2009:

There are times in the history of a nation, that certain reforms, regardless of the opposition, and, yes, even despite the fears of some must be overcome and guaranteed for all as part of the Common Good.  One of those times was the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery.  One of those times was the ratification of the 19th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States granting women the right to vote.  One of those times was Brown v. The Board of Education decision of the United States Supreme Court that revolutionized equality in education for all U. S. citizens.  Many more could be mentioned.

Now is the time for health care to be added to those moments of sublime national change, to join those great reforms, cast as the finest, hardest steel into our Nation of Laws as an inalienable right and an eternal Blessing of Liberty.


Sniffer Report: The Countdown to Annihilate Health Care Reform is Running

The Sniffer: Big Medicine's Atomic Radiation Detected!

The Sniffer: Big Medicine's Atomic Radiation Detected! Credit: Smith Detection, UK

Update: The Senate Finance Committee voted 14-9 today, 13 Oct, (Olympia Snowe, R-ME, was the sole Republican to vote with the Democratic majority) to pass the Health Care Reform Legislation they have been working on since January.

************

For years Big Medicine–led by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP)–has been planning to obliterate the next attempt at health care reform.  I call it their “nuclear option.”

For the past year I’ve been sleuthing between the lines of the great media Sturm und Drang over health care reform legislation for clues to what AHIP was up to, which turned out to be far easier than I ever imagined. I assumed that they were trying to surreptitiously maneuver their anti-health reform nuclear device into position.  Only it wasn’t very surreptitious.  They were clumsy, overplayed their hand, their corporate brow becoming sweatier by the week.  So, today, AHIP released a study that was supposed to turn us all to stone.  Or something like that.  It had to be outrageously expensive to commission. Therefore the anticipated effect should have been just as extreme, reasserting their ascendancy over all things health care related.  MSNBC reported:

The study commissioned by America’s Health Insurance Plans marked a shift in strategy by the industry, which had been working for months behind the scenes to help shape health care legislation. With the Senate panel set to vote on legislation the industry fears could result in a loss of revenue, the insurers went on the attack, in dramatic fashion.

Maybe MSNBC can’t say AHIP’s plan has come apart at the seams, is in disarray, and the attack is a panic attack, but I can.  I’m writing political commentary.  AHIP should have called PhRMA and asked for a few semi’s filled with tranquilizers sent over to their headquarters.  But then AHIP would have to exercise rescission on itself for a pre-existing condition, a psychiatric anxiety disorder.  Or else, raise the rates on themselves so high for filing a claim that no one in AHIP could afford their own insurance.  To my way of thinking that leaves the Big Wigs of AHIP with the sole option of chewing on their fingernails.

Despite hundreds of millions of our health care dollars spent on lobbying and advertising by AHIP–the money we pay for the health insurance that is supposed to cover our medical costs–the wave of public sentiment, including many progressive politicians, for universal health care, a public option, and a right to medical care has grown higher and stronger.  It has begun to crest, a powerful rolling tube of determination racing toward the shore.

The strategies of Big Medicine, on the other hand, have been not at all as successful as they believed their money and influence should be.  They are angry; they are frustrated.  No one, they believe, has the right to interfere with their carefully crafted system that keeps the people at the top fabulously wealthy while the common rabble who pay them grow less and less healthy, creating desperation for medical care at any price those at the top choose to charge.  No one!  It must be stopped regardless of the consequences.

Today, instead of stunned submission, they got unbridled derision.

As reported by the Associated Press, the new report was immediately blasted for its conspicuous conspicuousness:

Questions about the technical soundness of the industry analysis by the PricewaterhouseCoopers firm was a big part of the discussion Monday. The release of the study late Sunday on the eve of the federal Columbus Day holiday had Democrats crying foul.

“The misleading and harmful claims made by the profit-driven insurance companies are politicking for corporate gain at its worst,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

You can read AHIP’s defense of the report by their spokesperson, Nancy Ignagni, who was interviewed by the News Hour’s Margaret Warner, by clicking here.  I watched the interview.  Nancy looked very grim and used lots of insurance jargon as a way to sound quite peckish and put-out with all of us mere peons who immediately recognized this report was the biggest crock of bantha poodoo since George the 43rd declared “Mission Accomplished” in, what was it, 1383.

Courtesy Getty Images

Courtesy Getty Images

Nevertheless, it is zero hour.  The anti-health care reform atomic bomb is in position.  AHIP has its finger on the button.  They will not be trifled with.  The so-called “report” (undoubtedly a work of fiction so cleverly devised it would make Dan Brown envious) is the start of the count-down clock.

Make no mistake about it.  AHIP will push that button.  Only the will of the American People, demanding from the President and the Congress no compromise on the establishment of Universal Health Care will determine whether or not the bomb goes off.

bravo_test_s atomic mushroom cloud