There it was, in broad daylight on my computer screen, a Wall Street Journal headline so shocking in its brazen embrace of an alternate reality that despite my best interests for mental self-preservation, I was forced to react:

“The GOP strategy of principled opposition is winning over independents.”

You can call the GOP strategy a lot of things, including, no question, “effective.” But the one word you cannot use to describe it is “principled.” When Sarah Palin talks about “death panels” and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) warns about “pulling the plug on grandma,” they are not being “principled.” They are consciously lying for political gain. In my dictionary, that is the opposite of “principled.”

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has even gone so far as to say the US is “where Germany was before World War II,” making, it would seem, an extraordinary analogy between President Obama and Adolf Hitler. It seems incredible, but then you see the posters waved by protesters at town hall meetings featuring Obama as an SS trooper, and you realize that DeMint is being taken at his word by a significant fraction of the general populace.

Yes, the GOP went there. So let’s go there too.

Over my break, I started reading Ron Chernow’s engrossing The Warburgs, a history of the German Jewish banking family that was probably second only to the Rothschilds in its international success. In the early 1920s, when the Nazi Party was still only a minor player in German politics, the Warburgs became a target for vicious propaganda. Among numerous other sins, the Warburgs were blamed for directly contributing to Germany’s defeat in World War I.

“With Jews suddenly prominent in so many areas, the Nazis could hold them responsible for every novelty from industrial consolidation to financial speculation to avant-garde thought ... In this atmosphere, it no longer sufficed to charge the Warburgs with isolated acts of betrayal. Now every random fact of their existence had to be closely spun into a fantastic conspiracy ... The theory was infinitely elastic, weaving every thread of Warburg history into a lurid tapestry. The Nazis didn’t worry about internal contradictions. The Warburgs were secret stooges both of Wall Street and Russian revolutionaries ... The point was not to be accurate but to breed suspicion and confusion ... No lie was too preposterous or fantastic.”

In 1925, Adolf Hitler described this propaganda technique in Mein Kampf as “the big lie.”

“[I]n the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

What makes that passage so monstrously mind-bending is that Hitler was accusing the Jews of engaging in the big lie, when in fact the Nazis would be history’s greatest practitioners. Jim DeMint suddenly appears in a different light, because he is actually deadly accurate when he compares the present climate to pre-WWII Germany. The GOP’s avid willingness to wield the big lie makes the comparison valid. — Andrew Leonard, Salon.com

DEMS AT RISK. The big lies may be working. After reviewing recent polling, Charlie Cook, a highly regarded political handicapper, recently told subscribers to his Cook Political Report, “the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and Congressional Democrats,” and he thinks Dem losses in the House next year could top 20 seats. Cook avoided any mention that Democratic control of the House is in jeopardy but, noting a new Gallup poll showing Congress’ job disapproval at 70% among independents, concluded that the post-recess environment could feel considerably different than when Congress left in August. “We believe it would be a mistake to underestimate the impact that this mood will have on Members of Congress of both parties when they return to Washington in September, if it persists through the end of the Congressional recess.”

MEDICARE BUY-IN SIMPLIFIES THINGS. If health reform has gotten too complicated, liberal radio host Thom Hartmann (thomhartmann.com) proposed (8/17) that President Obama simplify it by letting younger Americans buy into Medicare. “It would be so easy. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel with this so-called “public option” that’s a whole new program from the ground up. Medicare already exists. It works. Some people will like it, others won’t — just like the Post Office versus FedEx analogy you’re so comfortable with.

“Just pass a simple bill — it could probably be just a few lines, like when Medicare was expanded to include disabled people — that says that any American citizen can buy into the program at a rate to be set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which reflects the actual cost for us to buy into it.”

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) included a Medicare buy-in program in his white paper on health care reform last year. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) is sponsoring a Medicare Early Access Act (S 960), which would allow individuals between 55 and 65 who do not have public or employer coverage to buy into Medicare.

In December 2008 the Congressional Budget Office estimated that a limited Medicare buy-in option for people aged 62 through 65 would cost about $7,600 annually, or $634 per month, including prescription drug coverage. In comparison, the Sacramento Business Journal reported that a private insurance policy for a 64-year-old can easily cost $12,000 to $16,000 a year, excluding copayments and deductibles.

If younger people were allowed to buy into Medicare, the cost of providing the service would drop. Health care spending for 50-64-year-olds averaged $5,069 per year in 2005, or $422 per month, AARP reported in June.

15 DEMS NEED CONVINCING. Democrats appear to be headed toward enacting at least some of the healthcare reforms through the budget process, where they cannot be filibustered, but it still is unclear whether Democratic leaders can muster a majority for a strong government-run “public option” to compete with private insurance companies. Chris Bowers of OpenLeft.com counted 44 Democrats supporting a “non-trigger” public option (which would not depend on whether insurance companies failed to reduce their costs to a predetermined level) after Sen. Ted Kennedy succumbed to brain cancer (8/25). With a special election needed to replace him, there will be no immediate relief. Among those still on the fence, according to Bowers and StandWithDrDean.com (8/25), which has a running count, are Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Robert Byrd (W.V.), Tom Carper (Del.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.). Also Repubs Jon Isakson (Ga.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine).

WHAT HAPPENED TO BAUCUS? As recently as April, Finance Chairman Max Baucus was on the same page as Ted Kennedy in working together to pass healthcare reform legislation. Both senators pledged, in a letter to President Obama, to “contain costs, improve quality, enhance disease prevention and provide coverage to all Americans ... without delay.” Last November, Baucus said his vision included universal coverage, an individual mandate, a public option and subsidies up to 400% of the poverty line, which would cover costs well up into the middle class. “So, what happened?” Steve Benen wondered at WashingtonMonthly.com. “Kennedy, obviously, fell ill and was unable to complete his work, but Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) capably picked up the slack and delivered an excellent bill, right on time. Baucus, meanwhile, proceeded to take a far different direction in order to work on finding a “bipartisan” solution with conservative members of the discredited minority that doesn’t support health care reform.

“Can we trade the August Baucus for the April Baucus?,” Benen asked. “Just ask Baucus to recommit himself to the work he’d done before ‘bipartisanship’ became the most important thing?”

In a conference call with Montana Democratic central committee chairs (8/17), Baucus reaffirmed his support for a public option for insurance coverage, even as his Finance Committee is poised to produce a bill that lacks a government-administered plan, Firedoglake.com reported (8/23). “I want a public option, too,” Baucus told the Dems. When several county chairs said they didn’t want a health care system that allowed private insurance companies to police themselves, Baucus responded, “Neither do I.”

Baucus’ office told Sam Stein of HuffingtonPost.com (8/24) his support of the public plan was not news, noting that it was part of his November 2008 white paper on healthcare reform.

MEDICAL MALPRACTICE CLAIMS NEGLIGIBLE. While conservatives push for more limits on medical malpractice lawsuits as a way to control rising health costs, a new analysis shows that insurance companies pay victims of medical negligence on average only $42,607. This is only slightly more than the average payout a decade earlier — $39,093. Moreover, medical malpractice costs as a percentage of national health care expenditures are at an all-time low of 0.55%. The analysis was conducted for the Center for Justice and Democracy (centerjd.org) by Robert Hunter of the Consumer Federation of America (consumerfed.org).

The analysis noted that Texas enacted severe limits on medical malpractice claims in 2003. The next year, major insurers requested higher rates, saying the cap on damages would save no more than 1%. Texas insurance companies are still charging doctors premiums not much different from any other state. Rural communities that lost physicians supposedly due to the cost of insurance, which the limits were supposed to relieve, saw no improvement in access to physicians.

DEATH OF TRUTH ON FOX. After the success in promoting the idea that authorizing Medicare to pay for counseling for terminally ill patients amounted to “death panels,” Fox “News” alleged that President Obama is trying to prematurely end the lives of millions of veterans by forcing them to read a “death book” that urges them to “pull the plug” and commit “assisted suicide.” But Jed Lewison of DailyKos.com noted (8/24) that Fox’s attack, led by Chris Wallace, is “totally made up.” The “death book” is Your Life, Your Choices, an optional guidebook on drafting “living wills” that was originally drafted in 1997 to help veterans understand issues relating to advanced directives should they experience a medical condition (such as a coma) where they cannot communicate their treatment preferences. It had been listed in a Veterans Health Administration handbook by the Bush administration in 2007 and the guidebook makes clear that it has nothing to do with assisted suicide, which remains illegal. And despite Wallace’s claim that the Obama administration was reviving a guidebook that was killed by the Bush administration, Lewison noted that the guidebook was listed on the VA website through December 2008. The main critic of the guidebook cited by Fox was James Towey, a former Bush administration official whose organization sells a rival guidebook on end-of-life issues.

LIES, DAMN LIES AND STATISTICS. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) appeared on ABC’s This Week (8/16) and claimed that reform would force “up to 119 million people into Medicaid,” which, as Steve Benen noted at WashingtonMonthly.com (8/23) “isn’t even remotely accurate.” Hatch added that members of an Independent Medicare Advisory Council will determine “what kind of health care you’re going to have,” which Benen said, “is just crazy.”

Seven days later, Meet the Press invited Hatch on to address healthcare again. This time, he argued that the Congressional Budget Office concluded that “tens of millions of people” would lose their private insurance, go with the public option and “destroy the private health industry.” NBC’s David Gregory tried to correct Hatch, noting that the CBO said the reform would result in 3 mln more enrolling in private insurance and 10 million people would go into a public plan. Hatch responded, “Well that’s plenty. Others are saying up to 119 mln people.”

Hatch cited the Lewin Group, which is owned by UnitedHealth Group, but Harold Pollack of The New Republic noted (8/16) that the Lewin report, issued in April, was “based on quite different provisions from what is proposed in the various Senate and House bills.” The Lewin Group has not analyzed the current legislation.

Benen concluded, “Hatch appeared on This Week and made claims about health care reform that weren’t true. Seven days later, he appeared on Meet the Press and made claims about health care reform that weren’t true, some of which were debunked on the air during last week’s appearance.

“Will Hatch’s misstatements of fact discourage producers from booking him again in the future? Of course not; that isn’t how the game is played. It’s why Hatch doesn’t feel the need to tell the truth — the falsehoods serve his agenda, and he’ll get invited back onto the air whether he’s honest or not.”

REASONS TO PUSH HEALTH REFORM. While the proposal to set up a “public option” is the most controversial feature of the proposed Democratic healthcare reform, Families USA (familiesusa.org) notes that there are at least 9 other reasons to support healthcare reform. Bills approved by House and Senate committees currently include:

• A major expansion of Medicaid coverage — fully federally funded — for millions of low-income working families who currently fall through the cracks or are denied coverage;

• Regulations that clamp down on insurance company abuses so people can no longer be denied coverage or charged exorbitant premiums because of pre-existing conditions, health status, gender or age;

• Requirements that insurance companies spend more of the premium dollars they collect on patient care (some companies spend only 60 cents of every premium dollar on health care);

• Sliding-scale subsidies so middle-class, working families can afford the coverage they need to keep their families healthy;

• A strong public plan option that will provide choice, stability, and an honest yardstick to keep costs down;

• Limits on out-of-pocket spending, giving Americans real health security and peace of mind (even when people have coverage, the high cost of healthcare sends millions of people into debt every year);

• Much-needed relief for small businesses so they can afford to offer coverage to their employees (more than half the uninsured — 26mln Americans — are small business owners, employees or their dependents while small businesses pay higher premiums than their larger counterparts);

• Improvements to Medicare that will help seniors and people with disabilities afford their drugs and their cost-sharing, significantly reducing the “doughnut hole” in Medicare drug benefits;

• Better access to coverage for uninsured children so they can get the care they need;

• Long overdue steps to modernize the system, improve the quality of care provided, and curb unnecessary spending so our American health care system delivers the best possible care.

Michael Tomaskey wrote in the London Guardian (8/23): “So now, liberals have to fight hard for something they’re not terribly excited about. A health bill will likely have a very weak public option or it won’t have one at all. But liberals will have to battle for that bill as if it’s life and death (which in fact it will be for thousands of Americans), because its defeat would constitute a historic victory for the birthers and the gun-toters and the Hitler analogists. In the coming weeks, building toward a possible congressional vote in November, progressives will have to get out in force to show middle America that there’s support for reform as well as opposition, even though they may find the final bill disappointing.”

REFORM SCALEBACK: DUMB POLICY, DUMBER POLITICS. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) was on Face the Nation (8/23), explaining why the Democrats needed to scale back healthcare reform from what three House committees and one Senate committee already have produced. Conrad has made clear both moves are too ambitious for him. But Jonathan Cohn noted at TNR.com’s Treatment blog (8/23) that those bills already have been “scaled back,” to keep the price tag at or below $1 trillion over 10 years. Reforms roll out slowly, over several years, so that the new system will not be in place until 2013 or later.

“The saving grace of those four bills was that the consumer protections and financial assistance in them remained reasonably strong. If reform ends up looking like those four bills, then financial assistance would be available to people earning up to four times the poverty rate — or around $88,000 a year in family income, Cohn wrote, adding that “Such a measure would also limit out-of-pocket expenses to $10,000 a year per family, while providing other crucial protections. And, of course, it would include a real public insurance option.”

If Conrad and the conservatives get their way, the new health care system won’t be nearly as generous — or protective. Based on drafts of legislation leaked from the Senate Finance Committee, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (cbpp.org) projected an individual with income above $32,490, and a family of three with income above $54,930, would not receive any subsidy to help pay for coverage.

Consumer protections would be weaker, too, particularly if there’s no public plan to push private insurers to provide better coverage. Under such a plan, the Center concluded, “families with modest incomes who buy the lowest-cost coverage could face significant challenges if they experience a serious illness or injury, because their plans could leave them subject to steep out-of-pocket costs.”

Cohn concluded, “Put aside, for a moment, whether this makes sense substantively. It makes absolutely no sense politically. Scaling down legislation basically means gutting the benefits that would go to the working and middle class. In other words, it would help fulfill the fear many of these voters already have and that opponents of reform have tried hard to stoke: That reform doesn’t have much to offer the typical middle-income American. You can imagine why Republicans might think this is a dandy idea. But why on earth would Democrats agree?”

DEFICITS NEED TO BE BIGGER. When the White House and Congressional Budget offices announced that deficit projections were worse than they previously thought, economist Dean Baker noted at TPMCafe.com (8/24) that it wasn’t because Congress had suddenly blown another $2 tln of taxpayer dollars on frivolous projects. “Rather, the main reason for the jump in the projected deficit is that CBO is now projecting lower growth and higher unemployment over this decade than it did last January.” CBO now expects the unemployment rate to be near 10% through most of 2010. Unemployment will only return to more normal levels in 2013 or even 2014. “The implication of the new CBO projections is that millions more people will be needlessly suffering because of the economic mismanagement of the Greenspan-Bernanke-Bush crew,” Baker wrote.

If 4.5% is the sustainable rate of unemployment, he noted, that means that 10% unemployment means that more than 8 mln people are needlessly out of work, with another 5 mln or so working part-time because they cannot find full-time employment. “These people will be struggling to pay their health care bills, cover their mortgage or rent payments, and meet other necessary expenses for themselves and their families,” Baker wrote.

“Unfortunately, the same people who wrecked the economy are largely still running it ... The deficit hawks who wrecked the economy will be insisting that the government cannot borrow this much money. They will do their best to scare people by talking about ‘trillion’ dollar deficits. To be sure, these are big deficits, but there is no reason to believe that the economy cannot support them.”

Right now, federal debt is $7 tln, or about 50% of GDP. Japan has a debt-to-GDP ratio of close to 180%, Baker noted. That would be the equivalent of a $27 tln debt in the US. “Yet investors around the world are happy to hold yen and in fact hold 10-year Japanese government bonds at interest rates of less than 2%.

After World War II, US debt to GDP ratio rose to 120%, he noted. Yet, the three decades following the war were the period of most rapid growth in US history, and the debt to GDP ratio fell to less than 30%.”

“The basic story is that we need to have large deficits now for the next several years in order to boost the economy back to full employment. Forcing a large portion of our workforce to endure a prolonged period of unemployment will inflict an enormous cost on these workers and on their children (i.e. the future generations whom the deficit hawks claim as their main concern).”

He added, “The deficit hawks were hugely wrong in ignoring the $8 tln housing bubble and the country is paying an enormous price for their mistake — including much higher deficits. It is time to stop taking these birds seriously.”

Robert Reich said the only item with looking at is the prediction that the government will have nearly a $1.6 tln deficit in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 — but not because that number is alarmingly large. “It strikes me as alarmingly small. I’d prefer the government run a larger deficit. With unemployment and underemployment still rising, consumers still pulling away from the malls, business investment still in the basement, and exports still dead, the federal government has to spend more — and the deficit has to be larger — in order to get people back to work.”

In fact, Andrew Leonard noted at Salon.com, the projected $1.6 bln budget deficit for this year actually is $200 bln lower than the initial White House estimate earlier this year, primarily because the government will not be spending as much TARP money as expected.

Leonard also noted that the Financial Times recently reported that the US government is sitting on a paper profit of $11 bln on its 34% stake in Citigroup. The Treasury received more than 7 bln shares at $3.25 apiece. Since then, Citi’s shares have rallied, and closed at $4.70 on 8/21. The government also earned an annualized return of 23% from its $10 bln investment in Goldman Sachs under TARP. American Express and other banks have also bought back warrants attached to TARP aid, leaving taxpayers with substantial profits.

TEXAS POLS EDIT HISTORY TEXTS. Texas high school students would learn about significant conservative individuals and organizations, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority, but nothing about liberals, under the first draft of new standards for public school textbooks being developed for the State Board of Education, the Houston Chronicle reported (8/20). Texas tastes will likely be reflected in textbooks distributed throughout the country, since Texas is one of the nation’s biggest buyers of textbooks, and publishers are reluctant to produce different editions of the same subject. Earlier, conservative “experts” argued that the state’s social studies and history textbooks are giving “too much attention” to civil rights leaders, such as Latino labor leader Cesar Chavez and former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Peter Marshall, an evangelical minister who is one of six “experts” advising the state as it develops curriculum standards, wants more teaching of Christianity’s role in America’s past, the Dallas Morning News reported (7/9). Another “expert,” Dave Barton, a former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, insisted on emphasizing “republican” values in Texas curriculum rather than “democratic.” Final adoption of history textbook standards by the 15-member panel, which is stacked with 15 Republicans, is set for next March.

OBAMA’S FCC WILL KEEP NET OPEN. The Obama administration’s Federal Communications Commission plans to keep the Internet free of increased user fees based on heavy Web traffic and slow downloads. Julius Genachowski, the FCC chairman, told The Hill (8/25) that his agency will support “net neutrality” and go after anyone who violates its tenets. The statement by Genachowski comes as the commission remains locked in litigation with Comcast. The cable provider is challenging the FCC’s authority to penalize the company for limiting Web traffic to its consumers.

UNION BOSS HEADS N.Y. FED. Denis M. Hughes, a former electrician, the grandson of a boilermaker and a carpenter, and the current president of the New York AFL-CIO, was named chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (8/24). Hughes has been acting chair since the resignation of Stephen Friedman in May. But the spectacle of a “union boss” — as the Wall Street Journal put it — chairing the Fed has caused some consternation among  socialism-fearing red-blooded Americans. Andrew Leonard wrote, “Union thugs are taking over Wall Street! The horror. The horror!” The Obama administration undoubtedly influenced the choice, and Leonard noted that Hughes’ blue-collar labor credentials are impeccable. He played a critical role in getting the minimum wage raised in New York five years ago. “Combine his chairmanship with the news that the White House is considering putting another labor veteran, Ron Bloom, the current auto-restructuring czar, in charge of national ‘manufacturing policy’ — and it starts to get hard to argue that the change in White House occupant did not make a fundamental difference in how this country is being governed,” Leonard wrote.

The board of directors of the New York Fed consists of nine members, with six members named by member banks and three named by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in D.C. Hughes was elected to the board in 2004 by the bankers.

NOW HE TELLS US. Top advisers to George W. Bush pressed for a politically-motivated terror alert a few days before the 2004 election, ex-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge charges in a new book. “Ashcroft strongly urged an increase in the threat level and was supported by Rumsfeld,” Ridge writes in the book due out Sept. 1 by St. Martin’s Press. No intelligence hinted of a new attack. Ridge aides objected to the White House and no change was made to the threat level. Mark Corallo, Ashcroft’s spokesman in 2004, denied the ex-AG played politics with national security, and said Ridge should “use his emergency duct tape” on himself. But research by the New York Daily News in 2004 found that Ashcroft’s Justice Department rolled out terrorism announcements frequently to give Bush a boost in the polls against Democrat John Kerry.

NURSES TO UNITE. Three major nurses organizations expect to unite into the largest registered nurses union and professional organization in US history. Leaders of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, United American Nurses and Massachusetts Nurses Association will hold a founding convention of the 150,000-member National Nurses United 12/7-8 in Scottsdale, Ariz. All three organizations will have national conventions prior to December to ratify the pending unification.

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2009

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