Monday, May 23, 2005

Devil's Dictionary of the Bush Era

Some of the best new dictionary entries from Devil's Dictionary of the Bush Era:
Homeland n: A term successfully used by the Germans and the Soviets in World War II, less successfully (and in the plural) by Apartheid-era South Africa. It means neither home, nor land, has replaced both country and nation in American public speech, and is seldom wielded without the companion word "security." It is the place to which imperial forces return for R&R.

Nationalism n: How foreigners love their country (when they do). A very dangerous phenomenon that can lead to extremes of passion, blindness, and xenophobia. (See, Terrorism)

Patriotism n: How Americans love their country. A trait so positive you can't have too much of it, and if you do, then you are a super-patriot which couldn't be better. (Foreigners cannot be patriotic. See, Nationalism)

Homeland Security Advisory System: Color-coded program for emotional destabilization.

Democracy n: A country where the newspapers are pro-American.

Checks and Balances: The system whereby the campaign checks of the few balance the interests of the many.

Town-hall Meeting: A meeting in a hall in a town where all the participants have first been vetted for loyalty to the Bush administration.

Mandate: 1. The opinion expressed by about a quarter of the eligible voters. 2. The opinion reflected in an electoral-vote margin smaller than in any 20th century election other than 1916 and 2000. 3. The opinion expressed by the smallest popular vote margin obtained by a sitting president since 1916.

Democracy n: 1. A product so extensively exported that the domestic supply is depleted. 2. When they vote for us. (See, tyranny: When they vote for someone else.)

Ownership Society: You no longer own your national parks, your public transit, your commons, your government, your Bill of Rights, or your future, but you may purchase a Burger King franchise or some stocks with your Wal-Mart earnings.

Peace n: What war is for.

Security n: Something to be applied to the homeland but not to the social.

Social Security: A good idea except for two problems: Social verges on socialism and guarantees of security violate a free market.

Abuse n: Modern word for what was once referred to as torture. An interim term, soon to be replaced by "tough love" (which, in turn, is expected to be replaced by "freedom's caress").


In an effort to comfort poor ailing neocons, let's try to rationally analyze the terrifying monster sometimes called Socialized Medicine. Calm down! Everything will be alright if you only wake up the even more terrifying Rational Brain, to confront the evil minions of liberalism: facts and logic. Some information from Paul Krugman's series of articles on health care in the U.S. - I've cut and reordered them for brevity (believe it or not!), but the source articles are:

Most Americans probably don't know that we have substantially lower life-expectancy and higher infant-mortality figures than other advanced countries. It would be wrong to jump to the conclusion that this poor performance is entirely the result of a defective health care system; social factors, notably America's high poverty rate, surely play a role. Still, it seems puzzling that we spend so much, with so little return.

An important part of the answer is that much of our health care spending is devoted to passing the buck: trying to get someone else to pay the bills.

In 2002, the latest year for which comparable data are available, the United States spent $5,267 on health care for each man, woman and child in the population. Of this, $2,364, or 45 percent, was government spending, mainly on Medicare and Medicaid. Canada spent $2,931 per person, of which $2,048 came from the government. France spent $2,736 per person, of which $2,080 was government spending.

According to the World Health Organization, in the United States, administrative expenses eat up about 15 percent of the money paid in premiums to private health insurance companies, but only 4 percent of the budgets of public insurance programs, mainly Medicare and Medicaid. The numbers for both public and private insurance are similar in other countries - but because we rely much more heavily than anyone else on private insurance, our total administrative costs are much higher.

... private insurers generally don't compete by delivering care at lower cost. Instead, they "compete on the basis of risk selection" - that is, by turning away people who are likely to have high medical bills and by refusing or delaying any payment they can. Yet the cost of providing medical care to those denied private insurance doesn't go away.

First, in the U.S. system, medical costs act as a tax on employment. For example, General Motors is losing money on every car it makes because of the burden of health care costs. As a result, it may be forced to lay off thousands of workers, or may even go out of business. Yet the insurance premiums saved by firing workers are no savings at all to society as a whole: Somebody still ends up paying the bills.

Second, Americans without insurance eventually receive medical care - but the operative word is "eventually." According to Kaiser Family Foundation data, the uninsured are about three times as likely as the insured to postpone seeking care, fail to get needed care, leave prescriptions unfilled or skip recommended treatment. And many end up disabled - or die - because of these delays.

Remember that while democracy requires capitalism, the reverse isn't true. Capitalism isn't about free trade (which has nothing to do with the movement of capital overseas). Capitalism isn't about competition (witness the vigor with which growing corporations swallow competitors and cross into new industries, and how entrepreneurs position themselves to be bought out by large corporations). Privatization isn't about additional opportunities for you and me - it's about additional opportunities for large companies poised to bid big for new markets. And none of the above is about healthy government or healthy citizens. The neocons would have you believe that all of the above are natural fallout from "freedom," but the evidence says different.

And by "evidence," I mean something more than a friend of a friend who had a neighbor who had to wait for a medical procedure in Canada, or dittoheads calling in to Rush to say how a second cousin of a co-worker lost a toe there. Such things happen here too, though more frequently to those with inadequate health care - probably no one reading this on his or her computer.

I was wrong about Bush

Recently I thought Bush might have accidentally done the right thing in his Social Security pitch. Unfortunately, I was wrong, as A Gut Punch to the Middle gently reminds us:
Sure enough, a close look at President Bush's proposal for "progressive price indexing" of Social Security puts the lie to claims that it's a plan to increase benefits for the poor and cut them for the wealthy. In fact, it's a plan to slash middle-class benefits; the wealthy would barely feel a thing.

The average worker - average pay now is $37,000 - retiring in 2075 would face a cut equal to 10 percent of pre-retirement income. Workers earning 60 percent more than average, the equivalent of $58,000 today, would see benefit cuts equal to almost 13 percent of their income before retirement.

But above that level, the cuts would become less and less significant. Workers earning three times the average wage would face cuts equal to only 9 percent of their income before retirement. Someone earning the equivalent of $1 million today would see benefit cuts equal to only 1 percent of pre-retirement income.

In short, this would be a gut punch to the middle class, but a fleabite for the truly wealthy.

If the Bush scheme goes through, the same thing will eventually happen to Social Security. As Mr. Furman points out, the Bush plan wouldn't just cut benefits. Workers would be encouraged to divert a large fraction of their payroll taxes into private accounts - but this would in effect amount to borrowing against their future benefits, which would be reduced accordingly.

As a result, Social Security as we know it would be phased out for the middle class.

No, this is about ideology: Mr. Bush comes to bury Social Security, not to save it. His goal is to turn F.D.R.'s most durable achievement into an unpopular welfare program, so some future president will be able to attack it with tall tales about Social Security queens driving Cadillacs.

I guess it's my own fault. I should know by now that when the Bush administration talks about inconveniencing the wealthy and helping the poor, they really mean hitting the upper middle class and hands-off the poor. Actually hindering the truly wealthy, in any way at all, is so ideologically inconceivable that it never enters consideration.

'Compassionate conservative suppository'

Now that some of the smoke has cleared over the Schiavo case, and Tom DeLay has removed his hand from inside the poor woman's backside and moved on to new ventriloquist dummies, some post-debacle commentary is in order. Needless to say, someone else has said it well - from The Culture of Death: Let us Prey, America:

Is there any American who has not agonized over the final hours of a loved one? And is there anyone who has not lost a loved one who doesn't thereafter think of that person every single day of their life? And is there anyone who isn't himself or herself going to one day be lying in a hospice or hospital bed with, if they're lucky, their loved ones by their side and, if they're horribly unlucky, Tom DeLay and Jeb Bush and Jerry Falwell and James Dobson and Randall Terry drooling down their feeding tube?

Right. Thought so. These people don't "love life," they hate the freedoms the rest of us so blithely took for granted before George W. Bush was inserted by the Supreme Court in the nation's rectum as a compassionate conservative suppository.

Which should send a collective shudder down the spine of all who are growing more nauseated by the day with the Republican Party and the right-wing extremists in whose grips it has fallen. If the GOP continues to pander to this insane agenda, we may all hereafter be denied the freedom to grieve for our loved ones in peace. But that's a small price to pay for promoting the "culture of death," just as the loss of our civil liberties was a small price to pay for security.

How can one even respond to such criminal stupidity? It's like trying to argue with someone whose only rebuttal is, "Why do you hate America?"