Thursday, March 29, 2012

Let the Spin Begin

Just a few thoughts on the just-concluded Supreme Court hearings on Obamacare. I am no legal expert, so let the lawyers nitpick the merits of the arguments or lack thereof. What I find fascinating -- and frankly disgusting -- is the lackadaisical reaction from Democrats to the possibly imminent demise of their landmark bill. 

Instead of lamenting the fate of the tens of millions of Americans who will be forced to do without even half-assed medical care if five black-robed right wing political hacks strike down the law, the Democrats see defeat as actually being good for them politically. Should the Court rule against the mandate requiring everyone to purchase private health coverage, they have no Plan B waiting in the wings. There will be no attempt to "fix" the law, no stampede to introduce a Medicare for All bill. Why should there be? The fate of Obamacare will not affect the presidential election at all.

Tribalism will trump policy and the outcome of the Rombama contest will hinge on which candidate raises the most cash from the oligarchy. If you're already an Obama supporter, you're going to vote for him no matter what. You are not going to blame him and his fellow corporatists for not pushing for a public option when they had the chance and making the pay-for a tax instead of a controversial mandate. You are going to gleefully blame the nasty Supremes if Obamacare goes down in flames. You are going to point out that this was originally Romneycare, the product of a Republican think tank -- and  the doofuses from "the other side" voted against their own plan! The GOP will be destroying our gigantic giveway to the insurances leeches and Big Pharma.  Not our fault! Maybe the health care industry will donate the big bucks to our side now.

Democratic strategist James Carville thinks that millions of people being deprived of medical care would be absolutely dandy:
 “I honestly believe this — this is not spin,” Carville said. “I think that this will be the best thing to ever happen to the Democratic Party because health care costs will escalate unbelievably. It’s 2012. Twenty out of 100 people are over 65. By 2020 it will be 26. And you know what the Democrats are going to say and it’s completely justified, ‘We tried. We did something and go see a 5-4 Supreme Court majority.”
(Translation: We were perceived to be caught trying, although our hearts have never really been in it.  Oh well. If millions of people have to sicken and die just to make us look good, so be it.)

Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times theorizes Obama will run against the Supreme Court in the good old progressive spirit of FDR, and fight against Congress as a Give Em Hell Harry copycat. One of Zeleny's unnamed Democratic sources confided they'll be unashamedly casting themselves as victims and playing the martyr card. The Dems will be drowning in the bathos as the GOP drowns government in the bathtub. The rest of us will be drowning in our own tears.

The lack of political urgency in what is essentially a humanitarian crisis is mind-boggling. Instead of meeting in emergency session to craft legislation to ensure that the 50 million and counting uninsured Americans get medical care, Congress is throwing out members who wear hoodies. It's passing a bipartisan act to make it easier for financial crooks to bilk investors and then having the chutzpah to call it a JOBS Act.

The White House remains "confident" that Obamacare will stand, and thinks the bumbling solicitor general did a heckuva job in his lackadaisical Supreme Court appearance.
Despite the solicitor general’s shaky performance before the court, (WH Deputy Press Sec. Josh) Earnest called Donald Verrilli Jr., the government’s lawyer in the case, a “very skilled advocate” and “one of the brightest legal minds in Washington, D.C.”
Verrilli “delivered a solid performance before the Supreme Court. That's a fact. We feel good about his performance,” he said.
Methinks Josh was joshing. And his claiming not to know whether Obama had been paying much attention to the court case beggars belief. But he was probably right when he warned against placing bets on Obamacare, calling it a "risky business."

Maybe he was listening to CNBC Mad Money guy Jim Cramer (the same guru who told everybody to buy Lehman Brothers stock right before it crashed.) Cramer was on TV yesterday talking about the futility of reading too much into the lines of questioning by the Supremes. (So far, at least as far as we know, there exists no hedge fund betting on Obamacare futures. But give the geniuses of Wall Street a day or so.)

 The judges were probably just  funnin' with us anyway because, you know, people getting sick and dying for lack of health insurance is so damned hysterical. The word "broccoli" had everyone rolling in the aisles. Still, predicts Cramer, if Obamacare goes down, stocks will go up! If it stands, he advises investing in temporary employment agencies -- in order to avoid mandated coverage, "job creators" will simply hire people and fire them six months later to game the law. The profits of Manpower and other temp agencies will skyrocket as a result, he enthuses. Clip here.

That just about wraps it up. American-style health care policy doesn't have much to do with health. It has everything to do with pretend legislation, pretend bickering between the two sides of the Money Party, and ensuring that each side benefits both politically and financially whether it passes judicial muster or not.  Heads they win, tails we lose.


Valerie said...

Well, the Democrats in Congress and even the White House are so corporatised that they have no heart for a battle. You nailed it, Karen, it is all about spin and winning the next election – not about doing anything for the 99%. If Obama and Co. can demonize the Republicans as being against health care, maybe they can show us “ideological purist pink dogs” just how terrible the Republicans are and scare us into voting for them in November. Yet, the more people I talk to in the U.S, the more I am hearing, "I am not convinced my vote even counts." "I hate to say it but I am not sure the U.S is even a democracy anymore." - Even people who don't follow politics in the blogosphere are starting to cotton on! There is such a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. Our government is going to do what it is going to do (bail out the banks over and over again, give tax breaks to companies off-shoring their manufacturing, keep us in a constant state of war . . . ) and we ordinary citizens, even if we unite, have very little power to change it.

I would posit there isn't much of an up swell of anger from the public about the loss of ObamaCare because few people in the general public were going to benefit from the lame piece of legislation in the first place. Now if EVERYONE was going to be covered - even if it was just "major medical" - then Americans might have been up in arms and contacting their reps in Congress. But the average American seems to” get” that the insurance companies were the big winners and all they had to give up in return for millions of fully paying customers was dumping people with pre-existing conditions.

And, as @Anne pointed out in a previous post, it is probably a good thing this piece of faux healthcare legislation is defeated. Forcing people to pay a large sum of their monthly income to a hugely profitable PRIVATE industry is a bad precedent to set – particularly if there isn’t a huge discount on pricing and benefit to those forced to pay.

I remember when I was teaching in the U.S. and my husband was laid off because his employer filed for bankruptcy. We lost half our income (literally overnight) and could JUST meet our financial obligations: pay the mortgage, property taxes & house insurance (half my income), pay our bills including a modest car payment & car insurance (another quarter of my income), buy food, pay for my daughter’s health insurance, incidentals & set aside a little for a rainier day. We decided that my husband should work on renovating our 1912 house until he found another job. However, when I went in to put my husband on my state health insurance plan – with a supposed discount since it was covering all the teachers in the state - it was almost a quarter of my income. There was NO WAY that we could afford it. That last quarter of my income went to paying for necessities. So my husband joined the ranks of the uninsured. I can’t imagine how we would have managed financially if we had been forced to insure my husband. We would have had to borrow money to make it.

My husband and I both hold Masters’ degrees from good universities, are hard-working and were prudent in our spending habits. If people like us were struggling, how would others with less education and therefore less income potential and more debt have coped? I have to admit, health insurance was the main reason we immigrated. And luckily for us, we had that option. So many of my fellow Americans don't.

Anonymous said...

Two years of the horrors about ACA! Spare me your disgust that it is going down.


Jay - Ottawa said...

I agree with others that Obamacare is Nocare, except insofar as it guarantees the continued good health of the Private Health Insurance Industry. The ACA deserves to die.

But Karen's point is about the curiosity of why Democrats love to lose? And why they aren’t scrambling to come up with a single payer option or Medicare for All?

As @Will pointed out a post ago, these scenarios follow a tight script. It's something like the Old West’s sheriff who is so willing to step aside from the jailhouse door as soon as three or four falling-down drunks appear to string up a prisoner before his trial begins. The cowardly sheriff obligingly steps aside. Likewise, the Democrats are most nimble when stepping sideways.

For those interested in knowing more about the standard script explaining how and why Democrats repeatedly seize defeat from the jaws of victory, allow me re-enter the link Will found for us earlier. In it you will learn additionally how Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, champion of the public option, found a way at the last minute to dash all hope for the public option in the ACA as it entered the reconciliation stage of bill passing. Or should we call it buck passing?

Karen Garcia said...

If you had read my piece carefully, you would have comprehended that the disgust I feel is with the Democrats' reaction to the possibility of the ACA going down in flames -- to wit, how it will affect them personally and politically rather than how it will affect 50 million and counting uninsured. The law itself is a fatally flawed product of the Heritage Foundation. The Democrats are passive aggressive sellouts. Half the Supreme Beings are political hacks, and Obama is still too arrogant to realize it. Or, he knows, and simply doesn't care. He does like to be caught "trying" though.

Zee said...

I don't have time today to prepare the kind of detailed comment that I would like, so I hope that the following makes sense.

I, too, am repelled by the Democrats' concern more for their personal and political well-being than they are for the future of health care in this country. At the same time, I am looking forward to the demise of the PPACA on constitutional grounds for reasons that I have discussed before.

From the outset of discussions on health care reform, Democrats and Progressives have allowed the political Right to frame a single-payer system as “socialism,” a word that is a “red flag” to maybe up to 80% of the electorate. Indeed, you Progressives have successfully allowed the Right to make progressivism entirely synonymous with socialism, when I don't believe that most Progressives are really Socialists in the true meaning of the word, as we have also discussed before. I think that most of you out there really support “mixed economies” or “social market economies,” which are distinctly not socialism, though perhaps I am wrong in this belief.

I was preparing a long post on this topic as a comment on some things that @Jay said a couple of threads ago, but the the threads moved on and subject has, perhaps, become passe.

Neither Canada nor Australia are “socialist” states, yet they both enjoy the benefits of a single-payer system combined with private insurance, the type of system that I have been pushing for. Nor are any of the European states, with their various approaches to health care.

In brief, if, as I suspect, most Progressives are not diehard Socialists, I think that you need to give serious thought to “rebranding” yourselves. Take on the Right even in places like Fox News, which I know you abhor. But they often have commentaters from the left on their news programs. You need to persuade the American public that single-payer health care is not “socialism,” and that—I think—progressivism is not synonymous with “socialism,” either.

If Democrats don't have a “Plan B,” it's partly because they—like the Republicans—are owned lock, stock and barrel by corporations, including insurance companies. But I think that it's also partly because they have been so battered with charges that health care reform equates to socialism, and they have neither the heart nor a plan to refute the charge. In fact, I don't think that I have ever heard a Democrat of Progressive try to frame the debate in this way.

Maybe Progressives could help clear the air.

I apologize in advance if any of you are offended by having a Conservative tell you what you should be doing, but as one who is on your side on at least some of the issues, this is the way I see it.

Valerie said...

I have wondered the same thing, @Zee. Why is it that we have allowed the Fox-heads and the Republicans to steal the narrative and define (label) us and what we are asking for? - What am I saying? Most Democratic politicians are exactly the same. Obama called progressives "ideological purists" for trying to hold him to his campaign promises and the Democratic Party went along with it. Reasonable, proven ideas - such as universal health care - are portrayed as being radical by both corporate parties and the MSM echoes these corporate messages.

I can only surmise that the Mainstream Media and the politicians work in tandem to keep the language and the message exactly where the moneyed interests want it to be. And those being branded don't get the air time to contradict what is said. It is a matter of who is screaming the loudest. And quite frankly, when your own party marginalises you and your ideas (as the Democratic Party has done to Progressives) it gives the impression to the less informed and brainwashed, that your ideas are inherently flawed, no matter how reasonable they sound.

I listen to someone like Elizabeth Warren, who is so clear and makes so much sense, and I see how her words and her message are perverted. I wonder if it is even possible to get your message out there as it truly is. It comes down to a false equivalency of message. A group can have a totally reasonable message and reasonable points and a person or group with no good alternative is given equal time to pick at the edges and hijack the discussion. They label you – as they have Warren – as something you are not.

This is why a compromised media is such a problem. Good investigative journalists are marginalised (fired) and stenographers are put in their place. And soon, only the corporate version of “the truth” is what is echoed. And if people hear it enough times, they don’t even question it.

Valerie said...


You are such a mouthpiece for the Obama Camp. You never offer any information, opinion or message other than "toe the party line." Really, you should be embarrassed at your own shallow “reasoning.”

It may have escaped your notice but we are having a meaningful discussion here about issues around health care in this country and the truly flawed ACA. Perhaps if Obama hadn't allowed the Health Insurance Lobby to write the thing, it might inspire more regret at its potential passing.

Just because a Democrat proposes something – even gets legislation through Congress – like the ACA and the NDAA - doesn't mean I jump on board. I think for myself not as a party acolyte.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

@Zee (also Valerie, and all):

I'm not offended by strategic advice from a conservative. In fact, Zee, you've quite accurately zeroed in on a couple of major failure points: the Democratic conflict of interest, significantly due to corporate campaign funding, and progressives allowing the right wing to seriously distort progressive positions and therefore frame the debate on countless issues.

Both have been occurring for decades.

I think that the corrupting influence of money needed for election could have been substantially reduced had television stations, as part of the reallocation of spectrum for digital broadcasting, been obligated to provide large blocks of free airtime for election purposes, both frequent debates and individual candidate positions. (With regard to the latter, free airtime or not, I'd like to see a requirement that it be just the candidate speaking in front of a plain background, with at most a whiteboard should he/she want to emphasize points or numerical quantities. Wouldn't that be a change we could believe in, rather than the slickly-produced propaganda that characterizes contemporary politicking?! However, I am aware that demagoguery has occurred using only a microphone; I'm not sure what can prevent that other than a historically-knowledgeable, rational, and decent populace, which doesn't seem likely soon.)

As far as the Republicans mischaracterizing progressivism, it started with "liberal" being used by Republicans as a toxic descriptor, and has only gone downhill from there. Nearly as offensive is many progressives not appropriately voicing and fiercely fighting for what they claim to believe in. (I've written a piece of nearly 2000 words that deals with that and media issues, and that I think is quite good. I'm shopping it around to publications with substantial circulation in the hope that it can have a much wider audience than the handful of people who occasionally read my blog, but if no one wants it, I'll eventually post it there. Stay tuned.)

@Jay: thanks for the link to the old Greenwald piece at Salon re the public option.

@Karen: good pithy comment from you at Krugman's column at the NYT re the Supremes and their health care hearings.

One recent example of the consequences of our current "system":

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Link to political cartoon in the Tucson newspaper re the Supreme Court hearings on the healthcare law:

Zee said...

Ms. Garcia--

I guess I have to ask what qualifies only the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court as "political hacks?"

As I quickly survey via Wikipedia the variegated careers of the nine justices, only Thomas stands out as an entirely political animal prior to being appointed a judge.

With the exception of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose career was entirely in academia and as a volunteer attorney for various causes prior to becoming a judge, almost all the rest have very diverse careers that often include work as (1) law clerks to Federal or Supreme Court judges,
(2) in either the government sector or as political appointees, (3) in the private sector, and (4) teaching at universities.

I don't see any of the Justices save Thomas as being "political hacks."

Valerie said...

@Zee, Scalia wouldn't recuse himself when the Supreme Court heard the case about Dick Cheney's secret meetings which we know involved chopping Iraq up into chunks and handing them off to oil companies BEFORE 9/11. He was/is good friends with Cheney - I would call that a political move, totally unethical and totally unbecoming of a Supreme Court justice. Calling Scalia a political hack is a pretty mild insult - I call him something far worse.

Karen Garcia said...

Valerie is right --"political hacks" was too kind. Rather, they are right wing extremists who side with Republican ideology time and time again. Ex., Bush V Gore in which five extreme conservatives put a stop to the Florida vote recount.

Justice Roberts led the political charge declaring that money is speech, in Citizens United.
Scalia speaks regularly before Neocon groups and enjoys hunting with good buddy Dick Cheney.

Nobody cares much for the individual mandate, but the conservative judges made no secret of the fact that they are considering yet more overreach and may just decide to declare the whole thing unconstitutional, just because they can. Who could have guessed that would take the expansion of Medicaid upon themselves, too?

These old fogeys are lurking dangerously close to the clinic psychopathy diagnosis, in my opinion. Scalia can joke about broccoli and uninsured sick people and have his fellow ideologues rolling in the aisles. There is no human heart beating under those black robes.

Of course, Obama and the neolibs could have avoided this whole thing if they hadn't embraced Republican ideas.

Zee said...

@Valerie and @Karen--

"[N]o matter whether th' Constitution follows th' flag or not, th' Supreme Coort follows th' iliction return." --Finley P. Dunne via the Irish-American voice of his literary creation,bartender Martin T. Dooley

I'm afraid that this is an area where we will have to—I hope—respectfully agree to disagree.

As Mr. Dooley said, not only does the “ Supreme Coort' iliction return,” but it is—and has been since the Founding—a product of "th' iliction return.”

Supreme Court Justices have always been appointed by The Powers That Be at any particular instant in time. It is naïve to believe that any President will knowingly appoint Justices that don't generally share her/his political philosophy, no matter how carefully they may hide their prejudices during the confirmation process.

That's how so many ObamaBots justify their robot-like dedication to The One: “It's not Obama that matters, it's his SCOTUS appointments !”

At this particular instant in time, we have a generally conservative Court, and I like it that way. But it hasn't always been that way, and it probably won't always remain that way.

Moreover, we don't have an altogether conservative Court, nor did we even when the notorious Bush v. Gore was decided 5-4 in Bush's favor. The result was indeed along “partisan” lines—if you go by who appointed them—with Kennedy, O'Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas in the majority, and Bryer, Ginsburg, Souter and Stevens in the minority.

But to describe O'Connor and Kennedy as conservative extremists is, to me, faintly ridiculous. They have generally been described as “swing votes” by Court observers, who occasionally side with the liberal wing of the Court. (Example: I thought Kennedy had completely lost his marbles when he sided with the liberals in the Kelo v. City of New London decision.)

But had there been one more Democratic appointee on the Bush v. Gore Court and one less Republican, and the majority opinion had narrowly gone your way 5-4, you would likely have hailed it as a triumph of judicial wisdom rather than partisan liberal extremism.

Had we a truly extremist conservative court, Heller v. District of Columbia and MacDonald v. Chicago would have been much more to the National Rifle Association's liking, too.

I can't speak to Scalia's failure to recuse himself in the case of Cheney v. United States District Court. It seems inappropriate to me, too. Still, he evidently did write an extensive explanation as to why he did not recuse himself, and anyway, the case was decided 7-2 in favor of Cheney, with Bryer in the majority and Stevens concurring. Are Breyer and Stevens right wing extremists?

I don't agree with Citizens United either, but there it is. The wag who said that a legal education is a special form of brain damage seems proven right by this case.

But if Roberts “led the charge” on that case, he didn't cave to right-wing howls that Elena Kagan should recuse herself from Florida, et al. v. Dept. of H&HS, et al. either. To me, that speaks well of him.

And regarding this last case, yes, it is important to temper justice with mercy. But a judge's first job is to apply the law, not to apply his/her heart. That a Justice might want to do the right thing regarding health care for the poor and indigent can't be overridden by the necessity to consider first the scope of the Affordable Care Act and its implications for governmental constraints if it is found to be constitutional.

Else we cease to be a nation of laws and become a nation of judges' consciences.