Archive for Michael Hiltzik

Billionaires and Supreme Court undermine our "1st Amendment right not to be drowned out"

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citizens united check republic billionaires Koch brothers dark money

Today Michael Hiltzik gets a twofer at TPC, this time regarding the appalling Supreme Court decision that favors billionaires, the decision that extends the influence of big money on elections... brought to us by SCOTUS's previous Citizens United ruling.

Via a New York Times email alert:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a major campaign finance decision, striking down limits on federal campaign contributions for the first time. The ruling, issued near the start of a campaign season, will change and probably increase the role money plays in American politics.

The decision, by a 5-to-4 votes along ideological lines, was a sort of sequel to Citizens United, the 2010 decision that struck down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions. But that ruling did nothing to disturb the other main form of campaign finance regulation: caps on direct contributions to candidates and political parties.

I'm beyond furious, way past frustrated, and drowning in worry over turning on enormous spigots of money that will drown out the majority of ordinary (aka 99% of us) political donors. Our voices will no longer be heard (are they now?) over the deafening ka-chings and the triumphant stomping all over our rights and campaign finance reform efforts.

We are being silenced by five Supreme Court Justices and the powerful entities with gigantic bank accounts to which they genuflect. Money talks, we're just audience members. But we are not applauding.

booo

Think it was bad before? You ain't seen nothin' yet. You thought Sheldon Adelson and the ass-kissing at Jewish Mingle were obscene? Billionaires like him are just getting started. Super PACs are morphing into Super Duper PACs, Mingles will become orgies, and the kajillions of TV ads will turn into mini-series sponsored by Deep Pockets, Inc.

Anyone still wondering why the GOP is trying to kill labor unions? If so, here's why: They tend to support Democrats, and those very few union sources for campaign cash are dwindling:

chart maddow unions v corps campaign spending smaller

Hiltzik:

The notion that an unrelenting torrent of money can suborn the entire political process doesn't seem to occur to Chief Roberts.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the minority, didn't accept this charade. [...]

It's not only the 1st Amendment right to be heard, but also the 1st Amendment right not to be drowned out that are at issue, he wrote:

"The First Amendment advances not only the individual’s right to engage in political speech, but also the public’s interest in preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters.... Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard."

For proof, he needed to go no further than the majority opinion.

So what do we do? Vote in droves. It's time to stop the endless obstruction by the GOP: Obstruction to voting rights, civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, and constitutional rights. Get. Out. The. Vote. We can do this.

Please read the entire piece by Hiltzik here.

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Don't let Paul Ryan near your money

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Paul Ryan ugh this guy

He's ba-a-ack. Yes, Paul Ryan and his "budget" (quotes required, because it's not a budget, it's a redundantly cruel joke) have returned to make the 99% miserable as it caters to the top 1%.

In his Los Angeles Times column, the brilliant Michael Hiltzik takes Paul Ryan and his Very Serious Plan apart. He rips into Privatize Ryan's latest attempt to screw the middle class and the poor by cutting government programs, killing Medicare and Social Security, and thumbing his nose at everyone who knew better than to vote for him and his "severely conservative" running mate.

Read our lips, Paul: Austerity doesn't work.

Via AusterityNut.com

What's the definition of insanity again? Oh yeah:

insanity doing same thing over different results

Hiltzik also manages to get a word or two in about GW Bush's squandering of the Clinton surpluses on tax breaks for the wealthy and how he spent borrowed funds on wars without bothering to raise income taxes.

Take it away, Michael:

There should be a rule--or even a law--that politicians who propose "fixes" to Social Security should at least show they know something about the program. By that standard, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., would flunk. [...]

But the trust fund is still growing, because Social Security's income streams--the payroll tax, interest on its bonds, and revenues from income taxation of benefits--still are sufficient to cover current benefits, and then some. [...]

As I've written before, when you hear people like Paul Ryan talk as though the country can't afford to pay back the money by redeeming the bonds in the trust fund, what you're hearing is the sound of the wealthy preparing to stiff the working class. [...]

[I]f Ryan has his way, yes, the money will be stolen. It's up to you and me to make sure that doesn't happen. So, to put all these pieces together, there's no "dubious government accounting" involved here--the dubious accounting is all Ryan's. [...]

The most important factor is the one that people like Ryan want you to forget: The money in the Social Security trust fund came directly or indirectly from the payroll taxes paid by millions of American workers--100% of it. It was paid by workers in the trust that the government would pay it back. Paul Ryan is hinting, pretty strongly, that he doesn't want to pay it back. 

So why would you trust him? 

Exactly. Why would anyone trust this guy? Especially after the abysmal response to his previous Kill Medicare/Social Security proposals.

paul ryan really really bad screen grab

Please read Hiltzik's entire piece here.

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Abby Huntsman, "really, really upset about Social Security," would lead her generation into poverty

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Abby Huntsman The Cycle Social Security

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

"Abby Huntsman is really, really upset about Social Security." That's how Michael Hiltzik begins his Los Angeles Times column today, and he is really, really upset about Abby Huntsman's message. We should be, too. Just watch the video above, and then read Hiltzik's dissection below. As the L.A. Times hard copy title put it, "On the reality of Social Security, she tells it like it isn't."

Michael Hiltzik points out how Abby Huntsman is part of a show (The Cycle on MSNBC) that tries to cater to a younger audience, but that doesn't mean she has to lie to them. And mislead them. And be uninformed and pass misinformation on to them. She rants about Social Security going bankrupt, and that her generation will be left with nothing.

As Hiltzik put it, "Unfortunately, almost everything she said about Social Security in the name of making it "sustainable" for her generation was wrong. Dead wrong... And if her generation believes what she said, it's going to be in deep trouble." He goes on to explain how she exaggerated demographics to make her point. Are we surprised? No, we are not.

Hiltzik:

She concludes: "We might disagree about the prescription for the ailing patient, but doing nothing about it--that will lead to none for all, rather than at least some for us."

Where Huntsman got this idea is a mystery, because no one who understands the program--from progressive supporters of Social Security to its conservative critics--says anything like that.

The most dire projections of the program's future say that "doing nothing about it"--no benefit cuts, no tax increases--will leave the program still able to pay 75%-80% of scheduled benefits. Not "nothing at all." And that 75% to 80% would still be much more per month 75 years from now than retirees get today.

By the way, it's also untrue that President Obama's budget plan makes "no mention of entitlement reform. None," as Huntsman claims. His budget proposes a very damaging cutback in Social Security disability, as we documented here, as well as changes to Medicare payment formulas to save money.

Huntsman has stitched her spiel together out of scraps and tatters of misinformation, of a sort we've heard from the older generation for years. They're no more accurate coming out the mouths of a "millennial." But it's tragic to see that what she's learned from her elders is how to mislead her public.

That Abby Huntsman is allowed to go on MSNBC and substitute talking points for the truth is, indeed, "really really" upsetting. Click here to demand that MSNBC issue an on-air correction.

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Expert on cultural production of ignorance "watches Fox News all the time"

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ignorance via Armando Lioss smallerPhoto via Armando Lioss

One of my favorite columnists, Michael Hiltzik (scroll), along with most sane people (read: not right wing extremists), does not think ignorance is bliss. In fact, he points out how the commercialization of ignorance has not only dumbed down America, it has endangered it. Hiltzik describes how industries thrive on disseminating public misinformation while they profit off of selling harmful concepts and products, exploit a willing media, all at the expense of increasingly oblivious consumers.

He cites the work of Robert Proctor, a professor of the history of science at Stanford and "one of the world's leading experts in agnotology, a neologism signifying the study of the cultural production of ignorance."

Hiltzik's piece in the Los Angeles Times is one that should be read in its entirety, but the highlights alone will make your hair stand on end. Alcoholic beverages and/or sedatives strongly recommended prior to reading:

Robert Proctor doesn't think ignorance is bliss. He thinks that what you don't know can hurt you. And that there's more ignorance around than there used to be, and that its purveyors have gotten much better at filling our heads with nonsense. [...]

The tobacco industry was a pioneer at this. Its goal was to erode public acceptance of the scientifically proven links between smoking and disease: In the words of an internal 1969 memo legal opponents extracted from Brown & Williamson's files, "Doubt is our product." Big Tobacco's method should not be to debunk the evidence, the memo's author wrote, but to establish a "controversy."

Yes, infuriatingly, they peddle doubt and go out of their way to create controversy in order to implant big question marks in the minds of an unsuspecting, undereducated public. By inducing the media to "present both sides" when, in fact, there may not be two legitimate sides (science, anyone?), they divert focus and evade facts. For example, we've seen how they "sow doubts about the safety of childhood immunizations" (coughBachmann!cough) and deny climate change. And don't get me started on the lies about the Affordable Care Act:

When this sort of manipulation of information is done for profit, or to confound the development of beneficial public policy, it becomes a threat to health and to democratic society. [...]

And all those fabricated Obamacare horror stories wholesaled by Republican and conservative opponents of the Affordable Care Act and their aiders and abetters in the right-wing press? Their purpose is to sow doubt about the entire project of healthcare reform; if the aim were to identify specific shortcomings of the act, they'd have to accompany every story with a proposal about how to fix it.

My head couldn't stop nodding in agreement when I caught this part:

"Nonsense is nonsense, but the history of nonsense is scholarship." As part of his scholarship, Proctor says he "watches Fox News all the time."... Citing the results of a 2012 Gallup poll, Proctor asks, "If half the country thinks the Earth is 6,000 years old, how can you really develop an effective environmental policy? This sort of traditional or inertial ignorance bars us from being able to act responsibly on large social issues."

He goes on to explain how Big Tobacco exploited the tea party's obsession with what they love to call "freedom" and "choice," which of course plays into their anti-government meme, a position that consequently benefits the cigarette industry. Hiltzik emphasizes the importance of educating Americans in order to renew their trust in science. Competent journalism wouldn't hurt in that regard, now would it? He ends with this quote:

The effort needs to begin at a young age, [Proctor] says. "You really need to be teaching third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-graders that some people lie. And why do they lie? Because some people are greedy."

in greed we trust

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GOP health care proposal "should be shunned like a bad disease."

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obamacare health care cartoon by Dave Granlund Cagle.com

Before I get into Michael Hiltzik's consistently excellent health care columns over at the Los Angeles Times (this time regarding the Affordable Care Act), you must, must, must link over to this post by The Rude Pundit. It's about the new CBO report and the usual GOP willfully misleading spin. He totally skewers the right wing talking points like nobody else can. Go. Now. Yes, that's an order. I'll wait.

*tapping foot, looking at watch* Oh good, you're back. It was worth the trip over, wasn't it? Lee kicked major GOP ass while being informative in an easy-to-understand way that even conservatives can follow. Well, at least some of the less mentally deficient ones.

But back to Hiltzik. He continues where Rude left off in a new column here. Please give that a read, too.

Meantime, since we're on the subject of how Republicans gleefully lie and misinform America about the Affordable Care Act, Michael Hiltzik rips into the GOP health care plan, describing it as offering "less coverage, less choice, less access." I'm sorry, did I refer to it as a health care plan? My bad.

Here are some excerpts, but they're not going to do Hiltzik's column justice, so hop over and read it all here:

The Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility, and Empowerment Act ("CARE") bears the names of Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.), Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah). It preserves some of the things people like about the Affordable Care Act--insurance for those with pre-existing conditions, for example--but does so in a way that's guaranteed to fail most of those affected. Among other things, it eliminates minimum coverage standards written into the ACA, including items like maternity coverage, which will inevitably make insurance more expensive for women relative to men.

Oh those sly Republicans, going out of their way to alienate women again. They can't seem to grasp the concept of, you know, outreach.

And did you catch their tried and true use of a word that means the opposite of what their measure (it's not even a bill yet) represents? "CARE". Seriously?

Moving on:

[T]wo provisions perpetuate two issues with the Affordable Care Act most often cited by its critics: people discovering they can't see their previous doctors or go to their choice of hospitals; and older enrollees being confronted with sticker shock at the premiums on exchange-issued individual plans. The CARE Act acknowledges that narrow provider networks are a fact of life in the healthcare market, and allows higher premiums for older consumers than the ACA.

What's that word again? Oh yeah:

oopsie cat

The GOP plan cuts off premium subsidies at 300% of the poverty line, compared to 400% for the ACA. That means millions of Americans would be left without financial assistance provided by Obamacare. The Republicans would exclude all non-citizens from financial assistance, even those here legally; since nearly 20% of the uninsured are non-citizens, that's another huge exclusion.

And wait until you see what they do to the extremely popular part of President Obama's health care plan that covers pre-existing conditions.

Doesn't all this sound swell? Apparently Burr, Coburn, and Hatch think so.

In sum, the CARE Act is a bill of rights for health insurers and an unaffordable invoice for millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans. The analysis by the Center for Health and Economy says that by 2023 it would cover 244 million people; but the Congressional Budget office says the ACA will cover 256 million.

From the GOP standpoint, the bill's virtue lies in those words "choice," "responsibility" and "empowerment," which are Republican shibboleths. But it undermines the affordability and accessibility of health insurance in countless ways, and it should be shunned like a bad disease.

Bad disease, indeed. There's only one way we can inoculate ourselves against that: Vote Republicans out of office, stat!

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#Obamacare will 'reduce budget deficits over 2012–'21 period.' Get it? Reduce the deficit, not add to it."

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dirty tricks smaller
GOP obamacare dirty trick

In the video above, Chris Hayes covers one of the multitude of dirty tricks that Republicans are using to undermine the Affordable Care Act. In this instance, they've been creating bogus websites to divert potential customers away from legitimate sites that would actually sign people up rather than print lies intended to discourage enrollment.

My favorite Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik chimed in about that particular Healthcare.gov's evil twin today to set readers straight and expose the GOP and their systematic attempts to derail Obamacare and prevent those interested in getting better coverage from doing just that.

Here is an excerpt from Michael's piece, but please read the entire thing, because he does his usual thorough job of debunking the right wing bunkitude:

For example, the website claims that the Affordable Care Act will increase the federal deficit, asserting that the "non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in a March 2012 report that coverage expenses under the Affordable Care Act will cost the country a total of $1.76 trillion total by 2022 and add over $1 trillion to the federal deficit."

Is that so? The site links to this report by the CBO, which states on page 2 that the act will "on net, reduce budget deficits over the 2012–2021 period." Get it? Reduce the deficit, not add to it. The GOP's nasty trick is to consider only the costs of coverage, without netting out the cost reductions and new revenues in the law. Oh, by the way, the CBO also projects that the ACA will reduce the number of uninsured people in the United States by more than 30 million. That's a plus, by most reckoning. [...]

One can certainly sympathize with the California GOP's desire to become relevant again to the lives of Californians, who have all but voted the party out of existence in the Golden State. Given that California is one of the real bright spots in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, one might think that the state's Republicans would recognize its value to voters, instead of trying to fill their constituents' heads with irrelevancies, misinformation, and misrepresentations. One would be wrong.  

And Hiltzik, as usual, would be right.

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#Obamacare stories you won't hear from GOP

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blame obamacare

Regular readers of TPC know that I'm a fan of Michael Hiltzik and quote him all the time. For example: The myths of #Obamacare's "failure": "Don't buy the hype, they're playing you for suckers."

He's written yet another column for the Los Angeles Times that once again justifies my fangirlitude. In this column, he gives us what the woefully inadequate and GOP sabotage-complicit "news" media won't: Obamacare success stories. Yes, the Affordable Care Acts works... but we don't often hear about that, now do we?

He explains that pre-ACA, "even an undiagnosed condition might render you uninsurable. Where your insurance could be canceled after you got sick or had an accident. Where your financial health was at risk as much as your physical well-being." And then he brings us face to face with people whose lives will benefit from the Affordable Care Act.

Here's how his column ends:

The difficulties of the federal government's healthcare.gov and some state enrollment websites are real, and have kept hundreds of thousands of Americans, even millions, from enrolling. But many of those who understand the benefits of the Affordable Care Act know that obsessing about the technical glitches is like mistaking the scoreboard for the game.

Political opportunists (like House Speaker John Boehner), exploit near-term difficulties to obscure the tangible benefits the Affordable Care Act will bring to tens of millions of their constituents. When they say "this law has to go," as Boehner's spokesman did this weekend, they're talking about returning people to the era of exclusions for pre-existing conditions. To people learning they're uninsurable because of injuries from accidents, or chronic diseases, or the sheer bloody-mindedness of insurance company bureaucrats.

Let's hear Boehner and his people explain to Holzman and Vezina, the Shevlinos, the Nobles, the Sheppards, and Silverstein--and to 20-30 million other Americans like them who might be locked out of the individual insurance market without the law they ridicule as "Obamacare"--how they'd be better off that way.

Bam!

And if you need another reality fix, please check out Patt Morrison's interview, "Peter V. Lee, Obamacare's California savior?" It's chock full o' good ACA stuff.

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