A Few Republican Opinions

Idaho Rep Raul Labrador: Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.

Health Sec Tom Price: It’s reasonable that the elderly pay five times what the young pay.

Mo Brooks, AL: people who “lead good lives” should pay less for health insurance.

John Shimkus, IL: Men shouldn’t have to pay for prenatal care because they don’t deliver children.

Tila Hubrecht: Pregnancy by rape is God’s silver lining.

People protesting Trump are actually protesting God.

Mick Mulvaney of the White House says diabetics don’t deserve health insurance because they gave themselves diabetes.

GOP lawmaker: Poor women have abortions because “there is a free trip involved”.

Sen. Cotton: Black people are trying to be poor to get Social Security benefit.

WH Budget Director Rick Mulvaney attacked those who receive government benefits for the poor by claiming they are thieves for receiving this money.

Paul Ryan calls working moms with two jobs “takers”.

Rep Tim Walburg: God will take care of climate change, if it exists.

A Christian conservative: Jesus wouldn’t want me to care about global warming.

Pat Robertson: Non-religious children should be beaten until they respect Christian beliefs.

Rep. Robert Fisher: Rape isn’t an absolute bad because the rapist enjoys it a lot.

James Dobson says transgender people using public bathrooms should be shot.

Rep. Lawrence Lockman: If a woman has a right to an abortion why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman?

Paul Ryan: If we feed the poor, we will never get rid of them.

Louisiana Republican Rep. Clay Higgins said that Muslims should be hunted down and killed.

Published in: on 2017/06/08 at 1:45 pm  Comments (5)  
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Measuring Quality of Life

GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is convenient for economists and politicians, but it misleads us into thinking an increase in GDP makes us better off. More guns, worse natural disasters, and private prisons add to GDP, but show us that not every contribution to GDP improves our lives.

Measures of the improvement in the quality of our lives is vastly more important. Unfortunately, GDP is easier to measure, so that’s what we look at. As any laid-off or underpaid worker can tell you, the quality of life for everyone but the richest few has been stagnant or declining for decades in spite of rocketing GDP. The desperation of these workers is why Donald Trump’s lies about how he was going to make everything better convinced them.

Every demagogue knows he must tell his followers that they have an enemy who is to blame for all their miseries. Hitler blamed the Jews, and Trump blamed Democrats, especially Hillary Clinton. Those elite, pointy-headed, out-of-touch ivory tower intellectuals who never worked a day in their lives and don’t know what the real world is like. Liars. Criminals.

We don’t have a good, simple measure of the quality of life yet, but we do know that it does not lie in the realm of “stuff”. We already have too much stuff, and the addition of an 80-inch TV will not improve our quality of life.

Actually, it’s relatively easy in modern nations to have high quality of life. Why do we not have it? We do not have high quality of life because the very rich and corporate powers have given far too much wealth to themselves and to Congress. Members of Congress are all given fabulous amounts of money in the expectation that it will earn access for lobbyists to convince Congress to vote in ways that favor these interests. It works. Congress again and again votes for bills that make the rich richer and the rest of us less well off. We cannot, for example, use leverage to obtain better prices for medicines because Big Pharma paid Congress to pass a bill that says we can’t. So we are forced to subsidize a multi-million dollar bonus for a Big Pharma CEO when we buy our grossly overpriced meds.

Wealth is finite. If it goes to the very wealthy it cannot go elsewhere. The wealthy do not use it to build factories and provide jobs. They merely invest it for themselves, taking it out of circulation, where it would improve the quality of our lives.

Health care is one of the most important elements of quality of life.

Congress, almost entirely because of the Republican position, has never given serious study to one of the most important ways to improve the quality of life: national health care. We are literally the only modern nation without national health care, and it shows. Our health as a nation is much worse than virtually any other modern nation, in spite of the fact that we pay literally double what others pay. This doesn’t bother the wealthy because they can easily buy top quality medical care. The poor who can’t get treatment just die.

A large part of this tragedy is because a quarter of our health care bill goes to private insurers, who provide absolutely no health care at all. Another big chunk goes down the drain because we can’t readily control the price of what we pay for medical care or medications. Countries with national care have neither of these major problems. We still have this antiquated system largely because Republicans have a pathological aversion to anything they think is “socialism”, which they apparently equate with Stalinist communism. They stick to this story because they are beholden to moneyed interests that get them re-elected.

Are we entitled to health care? Yes, we are.

Consider the case of one of the most important medical advances in recent centuries, penicillin. Penicillin and its later offspring has cured diseases that in the past claimed millions of lives. Penicillin greatly improved our quality of life. It also earned truckloads of money for those who manufactured it, but that money did not improve our quality of life.

I maintain that we are all entitled to penicillin if we need it, and it would be amoral to withhold this lifesaver from anyone, even if they are penniless. The same holds true even for expensive medical treatment. Half a million families every year are bankrupted after selling everything they own to pay for an expensive medical treatment. This creates a net negative effect for the whole country, because each of these families is thrust into worse quality of life. The children may have to give up college plans, so the effect lasts more than a generation. This national disaster happens only in the US, the only country without national health care.

Inexplicably, Republicans waste endless hours trying to preserve unearned wealth yet make health care affordable. They cannot understand that the biggest insurance pool is the most efficient, that the private health care insurance industry is completely useless, and that the cost of medical procedures and medicines can easily be managed by national boards. We are the only modern nation in the world that hasn’t figured this out.

Health care is not rocket science, it’s simple arithmetic.

Low Tax is Not What We Need

Low tax never made anyone’s life good.

Consider India. Millions of Indians pay no tax at all, and they are so miserable that suicide is at a record high. In the US, low tax means nothing to you if you can’t pay for your cancer treatment until you go bankrupt. We already have taxes that are too low.

Taxes too low!? How is that possible?

It’s very simple. The cost of a good life is not measured by how low taxes are. We forget that only the rich can afford high quality with low tax, because they can buy anything they want. That’s why they always want to cut their own taxes.

What we want is the best quality of life, and that’s very different from mere low taxes. Let’s attempt to determine what gives us high quality of life. Here’s what I think.

First, high quality of life isn’t very dramatic. The elements of a good life are pretty basic: clean air, clean water, safe housing, healthy food, competent medical care, and a few more. All of these will cost much more if they aren’t paid for with taxes.

We don’t really need public transit, right? But if we have nothing but private cars a simple trip downtown in any US city will cost a fortune, the trip will take much longer, and parking will be a bear. Good public transit is much better, and far cheaper. Scope it out yourself, beginning with car cost, insurance, and maintenance. Cars are damned expensive.

But perhaps medical care is the easiest element to illustrate why low tax can mean high cost.

It’s not a contradiction at all. As literally every modern nation except ours knows, the cost of national medical care is about half the cost of individually purchased healthcare.

Did that come through? We pay twice as much.

Look at it from the other end. Let’s say a new nation wanted to have health care for everyone. They might decide that $2,000 a year for every person is enough. That would work fine if everybody had the same income, because everyone would have the same advantages. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same income. Capitalists earn a lot, and the poor don’t earn enough to buy health care.

If health risks for the poor are not shared, any serious disease will easily kill them, which will cost everyone more. Repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act would cause 44,000 additional deaths each year. All of us eventually pay for these unnecessary events.

Back to our new nation. What happens if health care is paid for with private insurance? The cost for health care would be $2,000 plus the extra cost the insurance companies would add. Don’t forget that insurance premiums provide no health care at all, and capitalism demands that profit be maximized for the benefit of the owners.

In sum, we pay a lot of money to insurance companies that provide no health care at all, yet absorb a large part of the money spent on health care. And the poor are often left to die because they can’t afford the insurance. We have this gross malfunction even though we spend twice the money that countries with national health care pay.

There are other reasons we spend so much on health care. First, training for health care professionals is very expensive, which leaves new doctors with huge debt they must discharge through high earnings. In other countries the government pays for their training, and they don’t have to earn a huge salary just to get by. Second, the cost of medications is determined by capitalists, who, as we have seen, have no compunction about pure greed. They apparently do not understand that they are not making fly swatters, that health care is a sacred duty. Third, charges for care often have little relationship to the quality of care because they are controlled by profit-maximizing capitalists. In countries where the government manages all the elements of health care, all costs are kept at a fair and consistent level. Providers are paid fairly and everyone gets all the care they need, paid for with taxes, because that’s the most efficient and fairest way.

In virtually the same way, all the other elements of good living—clean air and water, healthy food, safe housing, and so on—are most efficiently paid for with tax revenue and/or managed by the government. Everyone benefits and the cost to individuals is much lower. Imagine having to pay for clean water by yourself—think Flint—with corporations allowed to dump whatever they wanted to into the water supply. Imagine your house wired by some dodo unclear on the concept of electrical codes.

But, some say, government just can’t do anything right. That is nonsense. Government services, from federal to local, are full of programs that are well managed and efficiently priced.

It’s not low taxes we need, it’s the best services, and that has very little to do with low taxes. Low tax virtually guarantees higher cost.

The Lingering Death of the Carbon Age

Donald Trump’s presidency, custom built for the benefit of the very rich, is not a new fashion. Every few years the power shifts in an unsteady balance between those motivated by the welfare of the people, as Lincoln’s memorable Gettysburg address states, and those who think money itself is the highest order because they have a lot of it.

What is new is the failure of the latter to understand that the larger world has changed. But it has, a lot. Republicans show every sign of resisting or ignoring the increasingly obvious sea change from from carbon captured millions of years ago in the age of dinosaurs, to energy from the sun that surrounds us every moment and will not be exhausted. Energy from sunshine in the form of electricity and heat, wind-derived electricity, ocean wave-generated energy, natural purification powered by the sun, from tides, and many other sources, and continually improved by the ingenious devices of people everywhere.

This change is happening no matter who doesn’t want it or how rich they are. Several nations have either achieved or are about to achieve complete energy derivation from the sun, and independence from all fossil-based fuels. These are nations where government isn’t so interested in making a few people very rich, and are permanently focussed on the welfare of all their people.

The very rich deniers, in fact, risk the very lives of their own descendants—and ours—because the Carbon Age has died, and they waste large sums of money that should be spent on the future, not on dinosaurs.

Some of you have probably seen the bones of the colossal dinosaur in New York’s Museum of Natural History. It’s so big that its tail extends out of the huge main hall and into a hallway. It is said that the tail is so far away from its tiny brain that there needs to be a sort of second brain to operate the tail.

What has happened is that the Carbon Age dinosaur has died, but the little tail-brain of carbon investors doesn’t know it. Those who do are moving on, building new societies not built around oil and coal.

Here’s another way of looking at it. We’ve all seen the guy in the cab at the rear of the fire department’s “hook and ladder”. He steers the rear wheels. He turns the rear wheels first in the “wrong” direction, then the “right”, so the very long truck can make sharp turns. He is like the old carbon investors who deny that the world has changed. They are not going to steer in the “wrong” direction because they deny that it’s necessary. And they are going to crash the fire truck, which then becomes useless, like a 21st century economy built around coal-powered steam trains.

The US has from the very beginning been a nation ruled by the Almighty Dollar, something noted by Alexis de Tocqueville in his mid-1800s tour of the country. As a nation of inventors and innovators, there were more than a few people who turned their talents into wealth, sometimes vast wealth. Among these were the millionaires, now the billionaires, whose great wealth derived from oil, gas, and coal. Today many descendants of these same people expect their carbon-powered festival to continue forever.

But it won’t. It can’t, because the combination of over 7.5 billion people in the world and the pollution caused by the use of these fossil fuels has poisoned everything and created global warming and other signs of radical change that are now inescapable. But, in spite of massive undeniable evidence, the carbon dinosaurs still don’t believe it, because to do so would mean the end of their big celebration. So they spend many millions to convince others by means of manipulated evidence and outright lies that the changes that are all around us don’t exist.

Our new president is one of these ignorant deniers, because he too gets richer from these antique investments. As the commander in charge of the country he will do all he can to preserve his own bragging-wealth, along with the other very wealthy. These are the people who keep the dying Carbon Age on ever more expensive life support, while more advanced countries understood long ago that a new age of renewable power was already upon us, and we must shift our efforts to survive. They have succeeded, whereas the deniers harm the future for the sake of money they don’t need.

National medical care is not hard

This is why national health care plans always win out over our ridiculous greed-driven plan.

Just imagine you go in for a checkup and the doc gives you bad news. You have a cancer. Fortunately, it’s treatable. She schedules you for a CT scan and a number of other tests. You are scheduled to see an oncologist, who will be in charge of your case. You go in. The oncologist reviews your CT and your lab tests, and establishes a series of treatments that include the very latest developments. She consults with a nearby teaching hospital, which gives you a series of injections and medications that make your own body attack your cancer. After a number of treatments you are returned to health. Your oncologist monitors your health for years after your treatment. For this extensive and expensive medical care you pay nothing out of pocket.

Who gets paid, and how much? Everyone is paid a salary. Nobody gets money for scheduling extra tests. Nobody gets more for scheduling extra appointments. Or for prescribing a particular drug. Nobody’s salary is ridiculously huge; nobody’s is too low. The technologists and administrative personnel are also salaried. There are far fewer administrators because there are no insurance companies to pay. All pay follows a government pay scale, with adjustments according to locale, with extra pay in occupations and in places where there is extra need. All personnel earn more with longer service and more advanced expertise.

The government pays off the educational debt of newly minted physicians. They do not need insurance, because the government treats all conditions, including bad outcomes, and accommodates patients who were injured by their treatment. Each doc’s practice is monitored by government agencies, and extra training is required in the case of deficiencies. The government requires continued training to keep them up to date.

Every person in the country receives unlimited medical care paid through taxes. Health care workers are salaried, and all products, including medicines, are not allowed to be exorbitant as at present.

Is national health care free, as we so often hear? Of course not. It’s paid for through our taxes. But paying for it through taxes means it costs 50% of the market-driven cost we pay now.

Here are some of the reasons we pay so much now. Docs graduate with enormous education debt, which requires them to earn a high salary from the first. They also pay huge malpractice insurance premiums. The technologists in their service are paid moderately. The many administrative personnel who are required to manage the massive paperwork required by the insurance companies are paid the least the system can get away with.

But insurance companies are the biggest reason our health care costs so much. Insurance companies try to minimize all services in order to maximize profit for their shareholder owners. They pay full time people to disallow medical care. They may disallow expensive tests. They may refuse to pay for the treatments the doctor requests. They may refuse to renew any patient’s insurance, or even pay for treatment if the patient’s condition is presumed to exist prior to signing on to their insurance plan, or even if they decide it’s too expensive. Their upper executives are paid tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Stockholders expect a significant return on their investment.

The result is that our healthcare costs literally double what other countries pay. Double! Moreover, the quality and success rate of our medical care is inferior to many others, not to mention that many Americans have no insurance at all, and their health suffers for it. Lack of insurance often results in medical bankruptcy, or death from untreated conditions.

And yet conservative Republicans will not even consider proven superior systems. Why? Mostly because that would remove the possibility for the top administrative officers to become billionaires, and it is Republican dogma that says making the rich still more rich will somehow benefit the country. In spite of years of claims to the contrary, Republicans simply do not have a viable plan for health care. That is because they insist on a for-profit capitalist plan, and not a single dollar of the billions spent on for-profit insurance goes toward medical care of any kind.

The real purpose of our present plan is to maximize profit and executive pay.

Established Principles That Don’t Work

The differences between liberal and conservative principles are simple enough to spell out: the primary concern of liberals is people, all of them; of conservatives, money, stability, which are expected to help people.

Of course it’s not as simple as that. Conservatives dislike change. They want to conserve things as they are for as long as possible. Liberals realize that change cannot be retarded, it will happen one way or another, particularly in our fast changing world.

But this explains the conservative fear of people who aren’t exactly like themselves, because they are, or represent, change. Since most US conservatives are pale like me, they fear people with darker skin because they are “new”, different, and weird. Languages they speak are suspicious: those housekeepers are probably plotting something. Arabic spoken on an airplane must be about the hijacking being planned. Even German, the language of the ancestors of many US citizens, elicits fright.

“Speak English!”, some of these fearful people shout at the startled newcomer. People who speak only one language, in contrast to those they castigate. People who expect someone fresh off the boat to speak fluent English, it having never occurred to them that they themselves would be utterly baffled for years if they moved to virtually any Asian country. (But of course they wouldn’t make such a move, because that would be change.)

Liberals celebrate these differences. They make our experiences richer, with foods, art, music, and culture that are fresh and interesting. Liberals feel ashamed when they themselves haven’t mastered another language than American English.

But these are individual differences between conservatives and liberals, whereas the inoperative principles are most apparent in the practice of government, and especially of economics.

In each incoming Republican conservative administration, the president-elect spells out the goals of reducing taxes, cutting wages, reducing or eliminating bureaucracies or whole departments, and reducing taxes on the rich. The assumption is that taxes are too high, government operations are inefficient and better left to private enterprise, and that it is the rich who will build the economy if they are given the right conditions.

Each and every one of these assumptions is easily proven to be false, yet conservatives have built an unshakable faith around them that has endured for a long, long time.

The US has some of the lowest taxes in the modern world. That’s because we prevent the government from providing certain efficient services and instead entrust it to private enterprise, where the primary goal is always profit maximization. We remain the only modern nation that doesn’t have nationally sponsored health care.

If you don’t believe that the profit motive drives up our health care costs, then you must explain why these costs are so high where doctors are free to determine how many tests they order, where they profit from ordering more, yet costs are much lower where doctors do not have such a free hand. In national plans Big Pharma’s disgusting greed is not given free reign either, yet in the US it routinely crushes the household finances of families when someone has a serious disease and they have only moderate income. This never happens with national plans, yet in the US the most common bankruptcy is caused by disease.

Health care costs here are double what the rest of the modern world pays, and insurance is the primary reason. The insurance industry contributes absolutely nothing to health care, yet consumes a huge part of the cost, as much as one in three dollars. Nearly this entire cost vanishes with national health care, yet for some reason conservative Republicans continue to recite the rosary of private enterprise in the face of such facts.

The belief that government is incapable of efficient operation is equally false. Numerous government operations have been models of efficiency, including Census, Environmental Protection, Social Security, and so on. Except, of course, when Congress meddles, particularly with the purpose of proving how inefficient they are, something that is easily accomplished with big budget cuts.

We have had several recent illustrations of how inoperative is the belief that improvement occurs when money is given to the rich. Kansas under Brownback is the poster child. Tax cuts for the rich always result in a decrease in tax revenue. This is not offset with new factories, as claimed, because the very rich don’t build factories. They invest in “investments”, and send manufacturing jobs overseas, along with their hidden income. The resulting decrease in tax revenue creates budget cuts in essential services, greater unemployment, and a general decline in the quality of life.

We would all be better off if conservative Republicans occasionally took time off to consider their beliefs and assumptions. The same is true of liberal Democrats, of course, but it is the Republicans who have held us back. It was Harry Truman who said, “Even the Republicans are better off under the Democrats”.

There are many important things to debate in Congress, but nothing will improve until Republicans quit making obstruction their sole operational principle and examine their beliefs in view of the evidence.

Let us hope they do so before the country collapses.