Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Townhalls Gone Wild": Hot New DVD Of Wingnuts In Action

Reports continue to surface about right-wing mobs, backed up by groups such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, shouting down Democrats trying to conduct town hall meetings on health care reform. Representatives Betty Reid and Kathy Kastor of Florida dealt with a crowd of over 1,000, many of whom were screaming, banging on windows and refusing to leave when ordered to do so by police with bullhorns. Representative Steve Kagen of Wisconsin was continually interrupted by shrieks and shouts. Representative Steve Driehaus of Ohio was subject to boos, hisses and howls of "move to Europe!"

For those who find wingnuts in action riveting, there's a hot new DVD out: "Townhalls Gone Wild." It's available for "the low price of selling your soul to the health insurance industry." The DVD comes with two limited-time free bonuses: the all-new "Teabaggers Gone Wild" DVD, "jam-packed with incredible birther madness," and "a verified replica of Barack Obama's actual Kenyan birth certificate." Check out this great value:


Hunter W said...

What choice do Conservatives have when the Democrats have said "We will push our reform bill through with or without the Republicans"? The "mob" is needed to overthrow the dictatorship-like mentality.

Ask virtually any conservative and he will tell you that yes there needs to be reform on health care. Most don't want a government plan -- and with their bungling of Social Security, public education, and FEMA (just to name a few) you can not argue that their stance has no merit. Any government sponsored plan would have to be on an equal playing field with the private sector (meaning no subsidies or special laws for the government) otherwise it would undercut the private sector and lead to a bad economic fallout. Payments to doctors would go down. That means less money for staff so some in health care would lose their jobs.

Also -- anyone with a calculator can figure out that a government run plan would mean a heavy increase in taxes of the average American family. Tax receipts in 2007 were $2.4 trillion. Health care expenditures in 2007 were $2.4 trillion -- an average of $15,000+ per worker. The cost for health care in 2017 is expected to be $4.3 trillion -- a 79% increase -- or equal to $27,000+ per worker (based on the most numbers of the workforce).

The only way the government can be more efficient is by changing the laws as it applies to them -- which would make it an uneven playing field. School lunches cost more than twice as much as lunches from food pantries. The government has yet to prove it is more efficient, cetus parabas, than the private sector.

So - why the mob scene? Because it is the only way the Democrats will actually look at what's best for America and not best for keeping them in office.

Jeff Tone said...

Hunter W.: It’s interesting to note that Ronald Reagan, an icon among conservatives, used reconciliation to push through his own agenda without the Democrats. No Republicans objected that he was establishing a “dictatorship.” In addition, mobs–especially those who are dedicated to shouting others down–don’t overthrow dictatorships. They establish them.

I’m sure that you are sincere in wanting to reform health care. But that is not the case for the conservative movement in general. Conservatives were in power for eight years under a president who said that everyone is covered: after all, you can just go to an emergency room. The Republicans did nothing to change the system. Now they are simply the party of no, dedicated to obstruction. It may just take reconciliation to push through some semblance of health care reform.

Regarding government programs, I believe that a tiny minority of seniors would advocate doing away with Social Security and Medicare, which have allowed them to live with some dignity and security. I believe in reforming tax laws so that more money would go to public education. As far as FEMA goes, Bush eviscerated that agency so that it was practically useless during Katrina.

A public option is the only way to keep the private insurance monopoly honest. For too long, they’ve raised rates outrageously, not allowed “pre-existing conditions,” and refused payments, all the while raking in outrageous profits. They have had a terrible effect on our economy. We pay more for health care than any other Western democracy, while we have more uninsured than any other ally. In addition, half the bankruptcies in this country are due to health care. We are already paying plenty through rising rates, as well as covering those who are forced to use emergency rooms and paying the overhead of insurance companies.

You present your case very thoughtfully, so it’s ironic that you are rationalizing the actions of those who don’t. Sorry, but these mobs are not interested in what’s best for America or in reform. They certainly don’t believe in democracy.

Hunter W said...


I appreciate the spirited debate and one that can be done on an intelligent and rational level. Most people I know -- both conservative and liberal -- can't do either.

A couple of clarifications -- when I mentioned things like Social Security I didn't intend to communicate that it should go away. I was trying to communicate that the government has screwed with it so much that it is in need of a major overhaul. My guess is by 2012 and definitely by 2016 we'll see a minimum across the board increase in SS of at least 50%. 30 years ago they knew this would be an issue. By simply raising the retirement age by a few years then they could have avoided this impending disaster. I'm 31 and don't expect to see a drop of it. I'm spending 12.4% of all the money I earn on a government program that politicians from both sides of the aisle were afraid to correct because of the political fall out.

Also - you mentioned that Bush "eviscerated FEMA". I just did some quick research so I can't vouch for the accuracy but FEMA's budget in 2005 was $5.4 billion -- more than 50% higher than in 2000. Yes -- things were bungled and the buck stops at Bush's desk but there is plenty of blame to go around. I don't think the budget is one of them.

I understand your point on higher health care costs and higher uninsured than other countries and I agree that it needs to be fixed. But I disagree that a public option is the ONLY way. I think if opened up health care to a national level, instead of a state-by-state level, you'd see a dramatic decrease in costs. If we were to lower the barriers to entry and give an increased economies of scale you'd see more competition, which leads to lower costs. Lower costs = more access = more insured.

You should look at Senator Jim Demint's health care plan (which has been sitting in Democratic-led committe). It provides incentives to the states and private markets to lower costs and increase coverage as well as opening up competition. Additionally, it reduces FRIVOLOUS lawsuits (which is likely to get it killed in committee, IMHO).

Finally, I'd like you to address your thoughts on health care spending vs tax receipts. I've not seen anyone else addressing this and, for me, this is a major issue (probably because I'm about to start paying 20% of my income to Social Security).

Let's say that through a government plan we achieve a 33% savings. BUT, since more people are now insured and there is less cost, demand goes up. Let's use an arbitrary number of a 15% increase (which I say is VERY LOW considering the number of American's uninsured and removing the barrier to go see a doctor at the slightest sniffle). We're now looking at health care costs of $1.85 trillion for this year. (Expect that to double as Boombers age but we're getting ahead of ourselves.) Health care spending is already somewhere around 14% of the budget - or $336 billion. That means there is a budget shortfall of approximately $1.5 trillion -- or 63%.

In order to stay budget neutral, and assuming there are no budget cuts, there would have to be a tax increase of 63% across the board. The highest tax bracket would go from 35% to 57%. The same is true for the highest corporate tax bracket. I'm sure even the most liberal of politicians would say that taxing more than 50% of someone's income is unfair.

How do we pay for universal health care? (Which is ultimately what a cheaper government plan will lead to.)

Jeff Tone said...

Hunter: Yes, it is indeed a pleasure to have an exchange of views without the rancor that characterizes so many discussions these days. I appreciate your considered analysis and perspective.

Both Democratic and Republican administrations have indeed screwed with Social Security, in part by borrowing too much money from it. What is to be done? Raising the retirement age should be considered, especially since so many are working past retirement years anyway. I also think that those who are too wealthy to benefit should be taxed. Do those who have no children avoid taxation for public education?

Consider for a moment Bush’s hiring of “Brownie,” who was supposedly doing “a heckuva job” as head of FEMA. What was Brownie doing before that? He was the head of the International Arabian Horse Association. Bush was more concerned with hiring his cronies than taking the mission of a governmental agency seriously. But why take it seriously when one doesn’t believe in government? Then, when an agency like FEMA is unprepared for a disaster, one can use that as “proof” that government can’t do anything right. That’s a self-fulfilling argument.

We are getting far afield from the original topic, so let’s return to health care. I do not agree that having private insurance operate on a national as opposed to private level will make the difference. I don’t know how we force private insurance to lower barriers or to “increase economies of scale.” Private insurance has a financial interest in denying service. If there were a public option, then and only then would it be forced to offer reasonable rates and insure everyone.

By the way, I don’t believe we should think in terms of “lowering barriers”; there should be no barriers. Nor do I believe in “more insured”; I believe in everyone being insured. Health care is not a privilege, any more than education is; it is a human right. Without it, there is no “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” There is no child who should be born without coverage.

You state that no one is addressing how to pay or health reform, but clearly there is a national debate on this very issue. Of course no one wants to be taxed at a percentage of 63%. But isn’t this number somewhat arbitrary–alarmist, even? Huge savings on private insurance overhead, less use of emergency rooms and lowered rates would leverage increased demand. How is it that Canada, which has universal coverage, doesn’t have 63% taxation? According to the Canada Revenue Agency, the 2009 rates are between 15%-29%. So the highest rate is 34% less than your number. How is it that Canada can do what the United States can’t? I refer you to the following:

Hunter W said...


I don't see how my numbers are alarmist at all. The 33% savings I mentioned would put us in the same ballpark as what other countries spend. I also said that with no cuts elsewhere the tax rates would have to double in order to have UHC. It is unlikely that even the Democrats would raise taxes to 57% on the wealthy and on businesses so that would be made up elsewhere -- instead of my tax bracket growing from 15 to 30%, it is likely to 35%.

DEEP cuts would have to be made to the budget. If we eliminate defense spending completely we're still $900 billion short -- which would mean a 38% increase in tax rates. So what do we cut? How do we eliminate 50% of our budget so we only have a 50% increase? Canada's budget priorities are very different from ours so it really isn't a fair comparison.

You say that health care is a right and you tie it to "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness". Doesn't high taxes (again -- the 20% I'm going to be paying in Social Security taxes as a business owner and the minimum of a 10-15% tax for health care) impede my ability to experience liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

The term "lowering barriers" was in reference to increased competition. If we make it easier for companies to get into the health insurance market then it would mean more companies would do it.

You say that insurance companies have a vested interest in denying claims. I don't disagree with this statement. But the government does as well. At the very least they have an interest in delaying service.

In a sense, I agree with some denial of claims. If, for example, a patient intentionally lied on his application form. Or what about those who get insurance for the sole purpose of paying for medical treatment and then canceling the policy as soon as the treatment is over? These are dishonest ways that people try to game the system.

American's have some of the lowest life insurance rates in the world. Part of the reason is that life insurance companies compete on a national scale -- you can buy the same policy in Delaware that you can in Arizona. This large market allows the companies to reach economies of scale to keep prices low. Also, since the market is so large price is the #1 competing factor. Virtually all of the term life companies are within $5 of one another for the super-preferred (only given to the most healthy -- about 10% of all policies) rates. The companies make themselves different in how they look at the rest. Some companies look back to your grandparents for a history of cancer while others only look to your parents. These companies carve out niches and find ways to be competitive. Some have a suicide clause of 12 months and others say 24. Life insurance companies don't make money by paying claims but by collecting premiums (sound familiar?) yet we don't hear of wide-spread non-payment in this industry.

Why can't we do the same with health insurance? Why not set up national minimum standards and then let the companies fight it out from there? It will drive competition, it will keep government out of the business of under-cutting the private sector, and it will lower costs while increasing the number of those covered. There is the plan right there.

Jeff Tone said...

Hunter: Actually, every country’s priorities are different from every other’s. But how is it that every other Western democracy is able to cover everyone, but in our case we break the bank? Remember, we already have the most expensive health insurance in the world for reasons already mentioned. One of the goals embraced by the administration is to lower costs. So before we project these percentages, let’s examine the plan they actually come up with (that is, if they come up with a public option at all. The money and power of the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries may yet succeed in scuttling the whole thing). You are correct in stating that no Democrat is going to raise taxes to 57% on any bracket.

Of course while wanting UHC, I don’t want everyone to be taxed to death, liberal though I may be. I want you to be able to prosper in your business. I also agree with the denial of falsified claims.

Health care is a much more complicated issue than life insurance. There are too many players driving up costs–the medical profession, pharmaceuticals, hospitals, the insurance industry–and they want to continue to do so. I was recently disturbed, for example, to learn that the Obama administration has agreed not to let the government bargain for lowered costs for pharmaceuticals.

Another point to consider is that while life insurance is a good asset to have, one can do without it. Health insurance, on the other hand, is a necessity. It’s also a necessity that not everyone can afford. That is the critical difference. Again, “increasing the number of those covered” is not satisfactory. I don’t see how we can cover everyone in a privatized system. To use an analogy, if education were completely privatized, competition may lower the costs of sitting in a classroom, but there will still be millions who couldn’t afford it. Some of life’s necessities, like health care and education, should be publically guaranteed. This country with its wealth should not allow its youngest and most vulnerable to be born without coverage.