Archive for Michael Hiltzik

Social Security and Medicare: "Distinctly good news"

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keep government out of medicare, social security

My favorite columnist at the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik (scroll), has written another excellent piece, this time covering the "no-bad-news day" for Social Security and the "distinctly good news" about Medicare. Sorry, GOP. I know I'm rubbing it in after my post about all those upbeat economic news reports that broke today, but hey, a blogger's gotta do what a blogger's gotta do.

Republicans *coughPAULRYANcough* are just dying to privatize us all into oblivion, which would mean cutting earned benefits for those who rely on them. Way to appeal to voters, GOP. It's a good thing we have Michael Hiltzik around to deliver a more even-handed (read: accurate) approach to informing us about the current state of both Social Security and Medicare.

Take it away, Michael:

"[T]he news is essentially that there is no news" in the reports, as Kathy Ruffing of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a leading expert on Social Security, said during a conference call Monday on the Social Security report.

The trustees still estimate that the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted in 2033 -- same as its estimate last year. The range of estimates -- for these things can never be exact -- places the date at some time between 2029 and 2041. Even then, the trustees say, there will still be enough money coming in to the program each year to pay 77% of currently scheduled benefits. And the trustees do, however, suggest that their best-case scenario for economic growth and other demographic and economic factors is brighter this year than it looked in 2013.

As of now, Social Security is in surplus (by $32 billion last year), and is expected to remain so on an annual basis at least through 2019.

Hiltzik goes on to say that the B Word (bankrupt) is more like the BS Word. His exact phrasing was, anyone who challenges the facts has "given up his or her right to be taken seriously as a policy expert." Are you listening, Wannabe President Ryan?

Now how about Medicare? Is there good news there, too? And if so, would it possibly have anything to do with the O Word (Obamacare)? Don't be silly! Oh wait:

As for Medicare, there's distinctly good news. The continuing drop in healthcare expenses has made Medicare healthier -- the estimated date of its trust fund's depletion has been moved out by four years, to 2030. If you're keeping track, that date has been moved off by a total of 13 years since enactment of the Affordable Care Act.

neener nanner tv

Hiltzik also includes a few warnings, so please link over to read the entire column.

He concludes by rightfully calling out Congress for taking a five-week break just when we need them to "pay attention." He's clearly as miffed at them as we are. One can almost hear him throwing his head back and screaming, "Enough!"

Or as I like to call it, the F G Word (Gaaa!).

Not a skit, our actual Congress, gaa! Maddow

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"What we are witnessing are the death throes of the anti-Obamacare crowd."

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obamacare is winning, anti-obamacare fight

My favorite columnist at the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik (scroll), has written another excellent piece, this time covering anti-Obamacare Republicans and their deadly and perplexing fight against Medicaid expansion.

Here is what Medicaid could do to keep the neediest Americans alive and well:

The final battle of the war over the Affordable Care Act is being waged today over expanding Medicaid. As the act was originally conceived, Medicaid would provide healthcare for more than 10 million of the poorest uninsured Americans, most of them childless adults with earnings up to 138% of the federal poverty level. (This year, that income ceiling is about $16,000.)

But then along came the Roberts Supreme Court to make Medicaid expansion voluntary, aiding and abetting GOP-run states in their quest to destroy all things President Obama. This "amazes and frustrates health experts. That's especially so because the federal government covers 100% of the cost of expansion through 2016. After that, the federal share will slowly decline to 90% in 2020 and beyond."

Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth:

What's most curious about states with Republican leaders ostensibly devoted to fiscal responsibility is that shunning Medicaid expansion makes no budgetary sense, given the huge federal financial commitment and the potential for reducing other state costs, including the public cost of treating uninsured patients.

Hiltzik goes into detail about how various states are handling health care coverage. At the end of his piece, he confirms what many of us have observed over the past few months-- that those self-professed "pro-life" Repeal, Repeal, Repealers are fighting a futile war and are losing.

But their fight is costing lives: Their own political lives, and sadly, the lives of those who need a helping hand in order to survive:

What we are witnessing are the death throes of the anti-Obamacare crowd. Expanded access to health coverage is here to stay. The GOP's resistance to expanding Medicaid has merely turned 5 million Americans into refugees from ideological warfare, awaiting the moment when peace offers them a chance at better health.

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Your complete guide to the murder of net neutrality. "Scream bloody murder!"

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net neutrality hands tied

If Internet service providers are allowed to charge content companies more for faster access to their subscribers, then we can kiss net neutrality good-bye. My favorite columnist at the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik (scroll), says as much in his latest piece, which was a little unsettling. And by "a little" I mean extremely.

Tom Wheeler is the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. He's also a former telecommunications and cable lobbyist. And now he's proposing to make rich and powerful companies richer and more powerful. And, per Hiltzik, you'll be getting the bill.

Michael Hiltzik defines net neutrality as "the principle that Internet service providers can't discriminate among content providers trying to reach you online -- they can't block websites or services, or degrade their signal, slow their traffic or, conversely, provide a better traffic lane for some rather than others." That about covers it.

He goes on to warn us that the real threat to net neutrality is lack of competition in the ISP market.

And that threat will become a reality unless we fight back. Hard.

Hiltzik:

What makes this plan especially frightening is that it arrives at the same time as another major threat to net neutrality on which the FCC must vote: the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, the nation's two biggest Internet service providers. [...]

It's this synergy between two anticompetitive developments that really spells danger for the open Internet, for innovators, for start-ups and for all consumers. As Tim Wu of Columbia Law School asserts, the Wheeler rule will leave bloggers, start-ups and nonprofits in Internet steerage. "They'll be behind in the queue, watching as companies that can pay tolls to the cable companies speed ahead," he wrote recently. The Internet's role as a facilitator of innovation will start to disappear.

Did someone say "bloggers"?

yikes!

The Wheeler plan vividly illustrates how Washington has been taken over by powerful businesses aligned against the public interest.

This whole 1% crushing the 99% thing is getting to be appallingly routine, which, as they say in the vernacular, sucks. What will happen to us peons if this deal goes through?

So here's what's in store for you. If the FCC approves the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal, Comcast will have less incentive than ever to bring its customers the fastest Internet connection at the most reasonable price. If the FCC approves Wheeler's net neutrality proposal, Comcast will have more leeway than ever to squeeze content providers, and consequently the public, for more money for barely adequate service. And every other Internet service provider in the nation will take advantage of the rules to the max.

eek

So what are dinky little American like us supposed to do? How do we fight the behemoths? What are our options?

The public's only option is to scream bloody murder.

And you know what that means: Call your Congress members. Call the White House. President Obama has come out strongly in favor of "incredible equality" on the Internet. Let's remind him of that by doing as he has asked us to do so many times: Hold him accountable and urge him to go to bat for us. As Al Franken so aptly put it, "Net neutrality is the First Amendment issue of our time."

net neutrality 2

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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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