Archive for the ‘Krugman’ Category

Poverty Is Poison

February 18, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

Poverty Is Poison

“Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain.” That was the opening of an article in Saturday’s Financial Times, summarizing research presented last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As the article explained, neuroscientists have found that “many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.” The effect is to impair language development and memory — and hence the ability to escape poverty — for the rest of the child’s life.

So now we have another, even more compelling reason to be ashamed about America’s record of failing to fight poverty.

L. B. J. declared his “War on Poverty” 44 years ago. Contrary to cynical legend, there actually was a large reduction in poverty over the next few years, especially among children, who saw their poverty rate fall from 23 percent in 1963 to 14 percent in 1969.

But progress stalled thereafter: American politics shifted to the right, attention shifted from the suffering of the poor to the alleged abuses of welfare queens driving Cadillacs, and the fight against poverty was largely abandoned.

In 2006, 17.4 percent of children in America lived below the poverty line, substantially more than in 1969. And even this measure probably understates the true depth of many children’s misery.

Living in or near poverty has always been a form of exile, of being cut off from the larger society. But the distance between the poor and the rest of us is much greater than it was 40 years ago, because most American incomes have risen in real terms while the official poverty line has not. To be poor in America today, even more than in the past, is to be an outcast in your own country. And that, the neuroscientists tell us, is what poisons a child’s brain.

America’s failure to make progress in reducing poverty, especially among children, should provoke a lot of soul-searching. Unfortunately, what it often seems to provoke instead is great creativity in making excuses.

Some of these excuses take the form of assertions that America’s poor really aren’t all that poor — a claim that always has me wondering whether those making it watched any TV during Hurricane Katrina, or for that matter have ever looked around them while visiting a major American city.

Mainly, however, excuses for poverty involve the assertion that the United States is a land of opportunity, a place where people can start out poor, work hard and become rich.

But the fact of the matter is that Horatio Alger stories are rare, and stories of people trapped by their parents’ poverty are all too common. According to one recent estimate, American children born to parents in the bottom fourth of the income distribution have almost a 50 percent chance of staying there — and almost a two-thirds chance of remaining stuck if they’re black.

That’s not surprising. Growing up in poverty puts you at a disadvantage at every step.

I’d bracket those new studies on brain development in early childhood with a study from the National Center for Education Statistics, which tracked a group of students who were in eighth grade in 1988. The study found, roughly speaking, that in modern America parental status trumps ability: students who did very well on a standardized test but came from low-status families were slightly less likely to get through college than students who tested poorly but had well-off parents.

None of this is inevitable.

Poverty rates are much lower in most European countries than in the United States, mainly because of government programs that help the poor and unlucky.

And governments that set their minds to it can reduce poverty. In Britain, the Labor government that came into office in 1997 made reducing poverty a priority — and despite some setbacks, its program of income subsidies and other aid has achieved a great deal. Child poverty, in particular, has been cut in half by the measure that corresponds most closely to the U.S. definition.

At the moment it’s hard to imagine anything comparable happening in this country. To their credit — and to the credit of John Edwards, who goaded them into it — both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are proposing new initiatives against poverty. But their proposals are modest in scope and far from central to their campaigns.

I’m not blaming them for that; if a progressive wins this election, it will be by promising to ease the anxiety of the middle class rather than aiding the poor. And for a variety of reasons, health care, not poverty, should be the first priority of a Democratic administration.

But ultimately, let’s hope that the nation turns back to the task it abandoned — that of ending the poverty that still poisons so many American lives.

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Prostates and Prejudices

November 2, 2007

November 2, 2007

Op-Ed Columnist (NYT)

Prostates and Prejudices

“My chance of surviving prostate cancer — and thank God I was cured of it — in the United States? Eighty-two percent,” says Rudy Giuliani in a new radio ad attacking Democratic plans for universal health care. “My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England? Only 44 percent, under socialized medicine.”

It would be a stunning comparison if it were true. But it isn’t. And thereby hangs a tale — one of scare tactics, of the character of a man who would be president and, I’m sorry to say, about what’s wrong with political news coverage.

Let’s start with the facts: Mr. Giuliani’s claim is wrong on multiple levels — bogus numbers wrapped in an invalid comparison embedded in a smear.

Mr. Giuliani got his numbers from a recent article in City Journal, a publication of the conservative Manhattan Institute. The author gave no source for his numbers on five-year survival rates — the probability that someone diagnosed with prostate cancer would still be alive five years after the diagnosis. And they’re just wrong.

You see, the actual survival rate in Britain is 74.4 percent. That still looks a bit lower than the U.S. rate, but the difference turns out to be mainly a statistical illusion. The details are technical, but the bottom line is that a man’s chance of dying from prostate cancer is about the same in Britain as it is in America.

So Mr. Giuliani’s supposed killer statistic about the defects of “socialized medicine” is entirely false. In fact, there’s very little evidence that Americans get better health care than the British, which is amazing given the fact that Britain spends only 41 percent as much on health care per person as we do.

Anyway, comparisons with Britain have absolutely nothing to do with what the Democrats are proposing. In Britain, doctors are government employees; despite what Mr. Giuliani is suggesting, none of the Democratic candidates have proposed to make American doctors work for the government.

As a fact-check in The Washington Post put it: “The Clinton health care plan” — which is very similar to the Edwards and Obama plans — “has more in common with the Massachusetts plan signed into law by Gov. Mitt Romney than the British National Health system.” Of course, this hasn’t stopped Mr. Romney from making similar smears.

At one level, what Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Romney are doing here is engaging in time-honored scare tactics. For generations, conservatives have denounced every attempt to ensure that Americans receive needed health care, from Medicare to S-chip, as “socialized medicine.”

Part of the strategy has always involved claiming that health reform is suspect because it’s un-American, and exaggerating health care problems in other countries — usually on the basis of unsubstantiated anecdotes or fraudulent statistics. Opponents of reform also make a practice of lumping all forms of government intervention together, pretending that having the government pay some health care bills is just the same as having the government take over the whole health care system.

But here’s what I don’t understand: Why isn’t Mr. Giuliani’s behavior here considered not just a case of bad policy analysis but a character issue?

For better or (mostly) for worse, political reporting is dominated by the search for the supposedly revealing incident, in which the candidate says or does something that reveals his true character. And this incident surely seems to fit the bill.

Leave aside the fact that Mr. Giuliani is simply lying about what the Democrats are proposing; after all, Mitt Romney is doing the same thing.

But health care is the pre-eminent domestic issue for the 2008 election. Surely the American people deserve candidates who do their homework on the subject.

Yet what we actually have is the front-runner for the Republican nomination apparently basing his health-care views on something he read somewhere, which he believed without double-checking because it confirmed his prejudices.

By rights, then, Mr. Giuliani’s false claims about prostate cancer — which he has, by the way, continued to repeat, along with some fresh false claims about breast cancer — should be a major political scandal. As far as I can tell, however, they aren’t being treated that way.

To be fair, there has been some news coverage of the prostate affair. But it’s only a tiny fraction of the coverage received by Hillary’s laugh and John Edwards’s haircut.

And much of the coverage seems weirdly diffident. Memo to editors: If a candidate says something completely false, it’s not “in dispute.” It’s not the case that “Democrats say” they’re not advocating British-style socialized medicine; they aren’t.

The fact is that the prostate affair is part of a pattern: Mr. Giuliani has a habit of saying things, on issues that range from health care to national security, that are demonstrably untrue. And the American people have a right to know that.

Sliming Graeme Frost

October 12, 2007

Sliming Graeme Frost

Two weeks ago, the Democratic response to President Bush’s weekly radio address was delivered by a 12-year-old, Graeme Frost. Graeme, who along with his sister received severe brain injuries in a 2004 car crash and continues to need physical therapy, is a beneficiary of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Mr. Bush has vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have expanded that program to cover millions of children who would otherwise have been uninsured.

What followed should serve as a teaching moment.

First, some background. The Frosts and their four children are exactly the kind of people S-chip was intended to help: working Americans who can’t afford private health insurance.

The parents have a combined income of about $45,000, and don’t receive health insurance from employers. When they looked into buying insurance on their own before the accident, they found that it would cost $1,200 a month — a prohibitive sum given their income. After the accident, when their children needed expensive care, they couldn’t get insurance at any price.

Fortunately, they received help from Maryland’s S-chip program. The state has relatively restrictive rules for eligibility: children must come from a family with an income under 200 percent of the poverty line. For families with four children that’s $55,220, so the Frosts clearly qualified.

Graeme Frost, then, is exactly the kind of child the program is intended to help. But that didn’t stop the right from mounting an all-out smear campaign against him and his family.

Soon after the radio address, right-wing bloggers began insisting that the Frosts must be affluent because Graeme and his sister attend private schools (they’re on scholarship), because they have a house in a neighborhood where some houses are now expensive (the Frosts bought their house for $55,000 in 1990 when the neighborhood was rundown and considered dangerous) and because Mr. Frost owns a business (it was dissolved in 1999).

You might be tempted to say that bloggers make unfounded accusations all the time. But we’re not talking about some obscure fringe. The charge was led by Michelle Malkin, who according to Technorati has the most-trafficked right-wing blog on the Internet, and in addition to blogging has a nationally syndicated column, writes for National Review and is a frequent guest on Fox News.

The attack on Graeme’s family was also quickly picked up by Rush Limbaugh, who is so important a player in the right-wing universe that he has had multiple exclusive interviews with Vice President Dick Cheney.

And G.O.P. politicians were eager to join in the smear. The New York Times reported that Republicans in Congress “were gearing up to use Graeme as evidence that Democrats have overexpanded the health program to include families wealthy enough to afford private insurance” but had “backed off” as the case fell apart.

In fact, however, Republicans had already made their first move: an e-mail message from the office of Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, sent to reporters and obtained by the Web site Think Progress, repeated the smears against the Frosts and asked: “Could the Dems really have done that bad of a job vetting this family?”

And the attempt to spin the media worked, to some extent: despite reporting that has thoroughly debunked the smears, a CNN report yesterday suggested that the Democrats had made “a tactical error in holding up Graeme as their poster child,” and closely echoed the language of the e-mail from Mr. McConnell’s office.

All in all, the Graeme Frost case is a perfect illustration of the modern right-wing political machine at work, and in particular its routine reliance on character assassination in place of honest debate. If service members oppose a Republican war, they’re “phony soldiers”; if Michael J. Fox opposes Bush policy on stem cells, he’s faking his Parkinson’s symptoms; if an injured 12-year-old child makes the case for a government health insurance program, he’s a fraud.

Meanwhile, leading conservative politicians, far from trying to distance themselves from these smears, rush to embrace them. And some people in the news media are still willing to be used as patsies.

Politics aside, the Graeme Frost case demonstrates the true depth of the health care crisis: every other advanced country has universal health insurance, but in America, insurance is now out of reach for many hard-working families, even if they have incomes some might call middle-class.

And there’s one more point that should not be forgotten: ultimately, this isn’t about the Frost parents. It’s about Graeme Frost and his sister.

I don’t know about you, but I think American children who need medical care should get it, period. Even if you think adults have made bad choices — a baseless smear in the case of the Frosts, but put that on one side — only a truly vicious political movement would respond by punishing their injured children.

Op-Ed Columnist

September 28, 2007

September 28, 2007

Op-Ed Columnist

Hired Gun Fetish

Sometimes it seems that the only way to make sense of the Bush administration is to imagine that it’s a vast experiment concocted by mad political scientists who want to see what happens if a nation systematically ignores everything we’ve learned over the past few centuries about how to make a modern government work.

Thus, the administration has abandoned the principle of a professional, nonpolitical civil service, stuffing agencies from FEMA to the Justice Department with unqualified cronies. Tax farming — giving individuals the right to collect taxes, in return for a share of the take — went out with the French Revolution; now the tax farmers are back.

And so are mercenaries, whom Machiavelli described as “useless and dangerous” more than four centuries ago.

As far as I can tell, America has never fought a war in which mercenaries made up a large part of the armed force. But in Iraq, they are so central to the effort that, as Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution points out in a new report, “the private military industry has suffered more losses in Iraq than the rest of the coalition of allied nations combined.”

And, yes, the so-called private security contractors are mercenaries. They’re heavily armed. They carry out military missions, but they’re private employees who don’t answer to military discipline. On the other hand, they don’t seem to be accountable to Iraqi or U.S. law, either. And they behave accordingly.

We may never know what really happened in a crowded Baghdad square two weeks ago. Employees of Blackwater USA claim that they were attacked by gunmen. Iraqi police and witnesses say that the contractors began firing randomly at a car that didn’t get out of their way.

What we do know is that more than 20 civilians were killed, including the couple and child in the car. And the Iraqi version of events is entirely consistent with many other documented incidents involving security contractors.

For example, Mr. Singer reminds us that in 2005 “armed contractors from the Zapata firm were detained by U.S. forces, who claimed they saw the private soldiers indiscriminately firing not only at Iraqi civilians, but also U.S. Marines.” The contractors were not charged. In 2006, employees of Aegis, another security firm, posted a “trophy video” on the Internet that showed them shooting civilians, and employees of Triple Canopy, yet another contractor, were fired after alleging that a supervisor engaged in “joy-ride shooting” of Iraqi civilians.

Yet even among the contractors, Blackwater has the worst reputation. On Christmas Eve 2006, a drunken Blackwater employee reportedly shot and killed a guard of the Iraqi vice president. (The employee was flown out of the country, and has not been charged.) In May 2007, Blackwater employees reportedly shot an employee of Iraq’s Interior Ministry, leading to an armed standoff between the firm and Iraqi police.

Iraqis aren’t the only victims of this behavior. Of the nearly 4,000 American service members who have died in Iraq, scores if not hundreds would surely still be alive if it weren’t for the hatred such incidents engender.

Which raises the question, why are Blackwater and other mercenary outfits still playing such a big role in Iraq?

Don’t tell me that they are irreplaceable. The Iraq war has now gone on for four and a half years — longer than American participation in World War II. There has been plenty of time for the Bush administration to find a way to do without mercenaries, if it wanted to.

And the danger out-of-control military contractors pose to American forces has been obvious at least since March 2004, when four armed Blackwater employees blundered into Fallujah in the middle of a delicate military operation, getting themselves killed and precipitating a crisis that probably ended any chance of an acceptable outcome in Iraq.

Yet Blackwater is still there. In fact, last year the State Department gave Blackwater the lead role in diplomatic security in Iraq.

Mr. Singer argues that reliance on private military contractors has let the administration avoid making hard political choices, such as admitting that it didn’t send enough troops in the first place. Contractors, he writes, “offered the potential backstop of additional forces, but with no one having to lose any political capital.” That’s undoubtedly part of the story.

But it’s also worth noting that the Bush administration has tried to privatize every aspect of the U.S. government it can, using taxpayers’ money to give lucrative contracts to its friends — people like Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater, who has strong Republican connections. You might think that national security would take precedence over the fetish for privatization — but remember, President Bush tried to keep airport security in private hands, even after 9/11.

So the privatization of war — no matter how badly it works — is just part of the pattern.

Politics in Black and White

September 24, 2007

September 24, 2007

Op-Ed Columnist

Politics in Black and White

Last Thursday there was a huge march in Jena, La., to protest the harsh and unequal treatment of six black students arrested in the beating of a white classmate. Students who hung nooses to warn blacks not to sit under a “white” tree were suspended for three days; on the other hand, the students accused in the beating were initially charged with second-degree attempted murder.

And one of the Jena Six remains in jail, even though appeals courts have voided his conviction on the grounds that he was improperly tried as an adult.

Many press accounts of the march have a tone of amazement. Scenes like those in Jena, the stories seemed to imply, belonged in the 1960s, not the 21st century. The headline on the New York Times report, “Protest in Louisiana Case Echoes the Civil Rights Era,” was fairly typical.

But the reality is that things haven’t changed nearly as much as people think. Racial tension, especially in the South, has never gone away, and has never stopped being important. And race remains one of the defining factors in modern American politics.

Consider voting in last year’s Congressional elections. Republicans, as President Bush conceded, received a “thumping,” with almost every major demographic group turning against them. The one big exception was Southern whites, 62 percent of whom voted Republican in House races.

And yes, Southern white exceptionalism is about race, much more than it is about moral values, religion, support for the military or other explanations sometimes offered. There’s a large statistical literature on the subject, whose conclusion is summed up by the political scientist Thomas F. Schaller in his book “Whistling Past Dixie”: “Despite the best efforts of Republican spinmeisters to depict American conservatism as a nonracial phenomenon, the partisan impact of racial attitudes in the South is stronger today than in the past.”

Republican politicians, who understand quite well that the G.O.P.’s national success since the 1970s owes everything to the partisan switch of Southern whites, have tacitly acknowledged this reality. Since the days of Gerald Ford, just about every Republican presidential campaign has included some symbolic gesture of approval for good old-fashioned racism.

Thus Ronald Reagan, who began his political career by campaigning against California’s Fair Housing Act, started his 1980 campaign with a speech supporting states’ rights delivered just outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered. In 2000, Mr. Bush made a pilgrimage to Bob Jones University, famed at the time for its ban on interracial dating.

And all four leading Republican candidates for the 2008 nomination have turned down an invitation to a debate on minority issues scheduled to air on PBS this week.

Yet if the marchers at Jena reminded us that America still hasn’t fully purged itself of the poisonous legacy of slavery, it would be wrong to suggest that the nation has made no progress. Racism, though not gone, is greatly diminished: both opinion polls and daily experience suggest that we are truly becoming a more tolerant, open society.

And the cynicism of the “Southern strategy” introduced by Richard Nixon, which delivered decades of political victories to Republicans, is now starting to look like a trap for the G.O.P.

One of the truly remarkable things about the contest for the Republican nomination is the way the contenders have snubbed not just blacks — who, given the G.O.P.’s modern history, probably won’t vote for a Republican in significant numbers no matter what — but Hispanics. In July, all the major contenders refused invitations to address the National Council of La Raza, which Mr. Bush addressed in 2000. Univision, the Spanish-language TV network, had to cancel a debate scheduled for Sept. 16 because only John McCain was willing to come.

If this sounds like a good way to ensure defeat in future elections, that’s because it is: Hispanics are a rapidly growing force in the electorate.

But to get the Republican nomination, a candidate must appeal to the base — and the base consists, in large part, of Southern whites who carry over to immigrants the same racial attitudes that brought them into the Republican fold to begin with. As a result, you have the spectacle of Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, pragmatists on immigration issues when they actually had to govern in diverse states, trying to reinvent themselves as defenders of Fortress America.

And both Hispanics and Asians, another growing force in the electorate, are getting the message. Last year they voted overwhelmingly Democratic, by 69 percent and 62 percent respectively.

In other words, it looks as if the Republican Party is about to start paying a price for its history of exploiting racial antagonism. If that happens, it will be deeply ironic. But it will also be poetic justice.

An Immoral Philosophy by Paul Krugman

August 1, 2007

An Immoral Philosophy by Paul Krugman



by Paul Krugman
Common Dreams
Published on Monday, July 30, 2007 by The New York Times

When a child is enrolled in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (Schip), the positive results can be dramatic. For example, after asthmatic children are enrolled in Schip, the frequency of their attacks declines on average by 60 percent, and their likelihood of being hospitalized for the condition declines more than 70 percent.

Regular care, in other words, makes a big difference. That’s why Congressional Democrats, with support from many Republicans, are trying to expand Schip, which already provides essential medical care to millions of children, to cover millions of additional children who would otherwise lack health insurance.

But President Bush says that access to care is no problem – “After all, you just go to an emergency room” – and, with the support of the Republican Congressional leadership, he’s declared that he’ll veto any Schip expansion on “philosophical” grounds.

It must be about philosophy, because it surely isn’t about cost. One of the plans Mr. Bush opposes, the one approved by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the Senate Finance Committee, would cost less over the next five years than we’ll spend in Iraq in the next four months. And it would be fully paid for by an increase in tobacco taxes.

The House plan, which would cover more children, is more expensive, but it offsets Schip costs by reducing subsidies to Medicare Advantage – a privatization scheme that pays insurance companies to provide coverage, and costs taxpayers 12 percent more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare.

Strange to say, however, the administration, although determined to prevent any expansion of children’s health care, is also dead set against any cut in Medicare Advantage payments.

So what kind of philosophy says that it’s O.K. to subsidize insurance companies, but not to provide health care to children?

Well, here’s what Mr. Bush said after explaining that emergency rooms provide all the health care you need: “They’re going to increase the number of folks eligible through Schip; some want to lower the age for Medicare. And then all of a sudden, you begin to see a – I wouldn’t call it a plot, just a strategy – to get more people to be a part of a federalization of health care.”

Now, why should Mr. Bush fear that insuring uninsured children would lead to a further “federalization” of health care, even though nothing like that is actually in either the Senate plan or the House plan? It’s not because he thinks the plans wouldn’t work. It’s because he’s afraid that they would. That is, he fears that voters, having seen how the government can help children, would ask why it can’t do the same for adults.

And there you have the core of Mr. Bush’s philosophy. He wants the public to believe that government is always the problem, never the solution. But it’s hard to convince people that government is always bad when they see it doing good things. So his philosophy says that the government must be prevented from solving problems, even if it can. In fact, the more good a proposed government program would do, the more fiercely it must be opposed.

This sounds like a caricature, but it isn’t. The truth is that this good-is-bad philosophy has always been at the core of Republican opposition to health care reform. Thus back in 1994, William Kristol warned against passage of the Clinton health care plan “in any form,” because “its success would signal the rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy at the very moment that such policy is being perceived as a failure in other areas.”

But it has taken the fight over children’s health insurance to bring the perversity of this philosophy fully into view.

There are arguments you can make against programs, like Social Security, that provide a safety net for adults. I can respect those arguments, even though I disagree. But denying basic health care to children whose parents lack the means to pay for it, simply because you’re afraid that success in insuring children might put big government in a good light, is just morally wrong.

And the public understands that. According to a recent Georgetown University poll, 9 in 10 Americans – including 83 percent of self-identified Republicans – support an expansion of the children’s health insurance program.

There is, it seems, more basic decency in the hearts of Americans than is dreamt of in Mr. Bush’s philosophy.

Paul Krugman is Professor of Economics at
Princeton University and a regular New York Times columnist. His most recent book is The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century.
© 2007 The New York Times
h/t: ICH

All the President’s Enablers

July 20, 2007

July 20, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist, nytimes.com
All the President’s Enablers
By PAUL KRUGMAN

In a coordinated public relations offensive, the White House is using reliably
friendly pundits — amazingly, they still exist — to put out the word that President Bush is as upbeat and confident as ever. It might even be true.

What I don’t understand is why we’re supposed to consider Mr. Bush’s continuing confidence a good thing.

Remember, Mr. Bush was confident six years ago when he promised to bring in Osama, dead or alive. He was confident four years ago, when he told the insurgents to bring it on. He was confident two years ago, when he told Brownie that he was doing a heckuva job.

Now Iraq is a bloody quagmire, Afghanistan is deteriorating and the Bush administration’s own National Intelligence Estimate admits, in effect, that thanks to Mr. Bush’s poor leadership America is losing the struggle with Al Qaeda. Yet Mr. Bush remains confident.

Sorry, but that’s not reassuring; it’s terrifying. It doesn’t demonstrate Mr. Bush’s strength of character; it shows that he has lost touch with reality.

Actually, it’s not clear that he ever was in touch with reality. I wrote about the Bush administration’s “infallibility complex,” its inability to admit mistakes or face up to real problems it didn’t want to deal with, in June 2002. Around the same time Ron Suskind, the investigative journalist, had a conversation with a senior Bush adviser who mocked the “reality-based community,” asserting that “when we act, we create our own reality.”

People who worried that the administration was living in a fantasy world used to be dismissed as victims of “Bush derangement syndrome,” liberals driven mad by Mr. Bush’s success. Now, however, it’s a syndrome that has spread even to former loyal Bushies.

Yet while Mr. Bush no longer has many true believers, he still has plenty of enablers — people who understand the folly of his actions, but refuse to do anything to stop him.

This week’s prime example is Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, who made headlines a few weeks ago with a speech declaring that “our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests.” Mr. Lugar is a smart, sensible man. He once acted courageously to head off another foreign policy disaster, persuading a reluctant Ronald Reagan to stop supporting Ferdinand Marcos, the corrupt leader of the Philippines, after a stolen election.

Yet that political courage was nowhere in evidence when Senate Democrats tried to get a vote on a measure that would have forced a course change in Iraq, and Republicans responded by threatening a filibuster. Mr. Lugar, along with several other Republicans who have expressed doubts about the war, voted against cutting off debate, thereby helping ensure that the folly he described so accurately in his Iraq speech will go on.

Thanks to that vote, nothing will happen until Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, delivers his report in September. But don’t expect too much even then. I hope he proves me wrong, but the general’s history suggests that he’s another smart, sensible enabler.

I don’t know why the op-ed article that General Petraeus published in The Washington Post on Sept. 26, 2004, hasn’t gotten more attention. After all, it puts to rest any notion that the general stands above politics: I don’t think it’s standard practice for serving military officers to publish opinion pieces that are strikingly helpful to an incumbent, six weeks before a national election.

In the article, General Petraeus told us that “Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously.” And those security forces were doing just fine: their leaders “are displaying courage and resilience” and “momentum has gathered in recent months.”

In other words, General Petraeus, without saying anything falsifiable, conveyed the totally misleading impression, highly convenient for his political masters, that victory was just around the corner. And the best guess has to be that he’ll do the same thing three years later.

You know, at this point I think we need to stop blaming Mr. Bush for the mess we’re in. He is what he always was, and everyone except a hard core of equally delusional loyalists knows it.

Yet Mr. Bush keeps doing damage because many people who understand how his folly is endangering the nation’s security still refuse, out of political caution and careerism, to do anything about it.

Health Care Terror by Krugman

July 9, 2007

PAUL KRUGMAN: Health Care Terror


These days terrorism is the first refuge of scoundrels. So when British authorities announced that a ring of Muslim doctors working for the National Health Service was behind the recent failed bomb plot, we should have known what was coming.

“National healthcare: Breeding ground for terror?” read the on-screen headline, as the Fox News host Neil Cavuto and the commentator Jerry Bowyer solemnly discussed how universal health care promotes terrorism.

While this was crass even by the standards of Bush-era political discourse, Fox was following in a long tradition. For more than 60 years, the medical-industrial complex and its political allies have used scare tactics to prevent America from following its conscience and making access to health care a right for all its citizens.

I say conscience, because the health care issue is, most of all, about morality.

That’s what we learn from the overwhelming response to Michael Moore’s “Sicko.” Health care reformers should, by all means, address the anxieties of middle-class Americans, their growing and justified fear of finding themselves uninsured or having their insurers deny coverage when they need it most. But reformers shouldn’t focus only on self-interest. They should also appeal to Americans’ sense of decency and humanity.

What outrages people who see “Sicko” is the sheer cruelty and injustice of the American health care system — sick people who can’t pay their hospital bills literally dumped on the sidewalk, a child who dies because an emergency room that isn’t a participant in her mother’s health plan won’t treat her, hard-working Americans driven into humiliating poverty by medical bills.

“Sicko” is a powerful call to action — but don’t count the defenders of the status quo out. History shows that they’re very good at fending off reform by finding new ways to scare us.

These scare tactics have often included over-the-top claims about the dangers of government insurance. “Sicko” plays part of a recording Ronald Reagan once made for the American Medical Association, warning that a proposed program of health insurance for the elderly — the program now known as Medicare — would lead to totalitarianism.

Right now, by the way, Medicare — which did enormous good, without leading to a dictatorship — is being undermined by privatization.

Mainly, though, the big-money interests with a stake in the present system want you to believe that universal health care would lead to a crushing tax burden and lousy medical care.

Now, every wealthy country except the United States already has some form of universal care. Citizens of these countries pay extra taxes as a result — but they make up for that through savings on insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical costs. The overall cost of health care in countries with universal coverage is much lower than it is here.

Meanwhile, every available indicator says that in terms of quality, access to needed care and health outcomes, the U.S. health care system does worse, not better, than other advanced countries — even Britain, which spends only about 40 percent as much per person as we do.

Yes, Canadians wait longer than insured Americans for elective surgery. But over all, the average Canadian’s access to health care is as good as that of the average insured American — and much better than that of uninsured Americans, many of whom never receive needed care at all.

And the French manage to provide arguably the best health care in the world, without significant waiting lists of any kind. There’s a scene in “Sicko” in which expatriate Americans in Paris praise the French system. According to the hard data they’re not romanticizing. It really is that good.

All of which raises the question Mr. Moore asks at the beginning of “Sicko”: who are we?

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.” So declared F.D.R. in 1937, in words that apply perfectly to health care today. This isn’t one of those cases where we face painful tradeoffs — here, doing the right thing is also cost-efficient. Universal health care would save thousands of American lives each year, while actually saving money.

So this is a test. The only things standing in the way of universal health care are the fear-mongering and influence-buying of interest groups. If we can’t overcome those forces here, there’s not much hope for America’s future.