Friday, February 14, 2014

The Culling of the American Herd

There was a mass outbreak of righteous indignation this week at the news that a Danish zoo had not only wantonly slaughtered a baby giraffe, it had fed the chopped-up remains to the lions. In full public view. In broad daylight. In front of the children.

News outlets just couldn't get enough of the spectacle, playing it over and over and over again, salaciously daring us to avert our eyes from the graphic content if we are sensitive viewers.... and above all, to get our precious children out of the room. CNN has run nine separate updates on the story so far this week. The shock, the outrage, the defense, the debate.... it's all there. No juicy angle, no pathetic tuft of adorable giraffe fur has escaped their discerning journalistic eye. It's Euthanasia! It's Eugenics! It's so.... Ewwww. And boy, does it sell. And stay tuned.... there may even be a second giraffe victim waiting in the wings for your appalled delectation.

Meanwhile, the recent report on the thousands of American humans being effectively condemned to untimely needless deaths has been met with a group shrug, if not a blind eye, by the Media-Political complex. No children are being sent from the room; no cable outlet is running constant loops of a middle-aged woman dying from treatable diabetes because some sleazy governor and legislature refused to expand Medicaid in their state. These stories are a dime a thousand-dozen, and the victims are usually not cute and cuddly with long eyelashes.

But let's call this out for what it is. It's Social Darwinism.The herd is being culled. "Excess genetic material" unable to pay cash for health insurance is being deliberately rooted out. It's no less inhumane or appalling than Marius the Giraffe being chopped into pieces and fed to the lions. The difference is that, as we're being ground up and served up to the predators of the plutocracy, we're told it's because we didn't work hard enough, or that our skills don't match the exacting technological demands of the Job Creators of the Future. Those who are not fit do not survive in this Land of Opportunity. Out of a population of 315 million, about 50 million of us are in immediate danger of being culled. Be it by having SNAP food assistance reduced to starvation levels, be it by losing a job or having unemployment benefits cut off by the bipartisan millionaires of Congress, be it by lack of basic health care.  No matter how you slice it, the results are the same: morbidity and mortality. One in six Americans is now listed by the Census Bureau as "officially poor." But the reality is far, far worse. Based on wage figures, the IRS estimates that fully half the people in the richest country on earth are living in poverty.

So, let's concentrate on just one aspect of the de facto policy of euthanasia as the solution currently being practiced in at least half the states of America. Dylan Scott of Talking Points Memo is one of the few journalists covering the orchestrated grisliness:
They projected that 423,000 fewer diabetics would receive medication to treat their disease. If opt-out states had expanded Medicaid, 659,000 women who are in need of mammograms and 3.1 million women who should receive regular pap smears would have become insured, the study found.
Most pundits, however (and that includes the estimable Paul Krugman) are still embroiled in the partisan nitpicking over the true meaning of a recent CBO report that estimates about a million people will now be free to quit their jobs and move because of the free market miracle of Obamacare. In his latest column, with its usual lambasting of Republicans and ignoring of complicit centrist Wall Street Democrats, he mulls the meaning of "dignity of work," and the constant insults  hurled at struggling people by the smarmy likes of Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor:
On the whole, working Americans are better at appreciating their own worth than either the wealthy or conservative politicians are at showing them even minimal respect. Still, tens of millions of Americans know from experience that hard work isn’t enough to provide financial security or a decent education for their children, and many either couldn’t get health insurance or were desperately afraid of losing jobs that came with insurance until the Affordable Care Act kicked in last month. In the face of that kind of everyday struggle, talk about the dignity of work rings hollow.
So what would give working Americans more dignity in their lives, despite huge income disparities? How about assuring them that the essentials — health care, opportunity for their children, a minimal income — will be there even if their boss fires them or their jobs are shipped overseas?
Think about it: Has anything done as much to enhance the dignity of American seniors, to rescue them from the penury and dependence that were once so common among the elderly, as Social Security and Medicare? Inside the Beltway, fiscal scolds have turned “entitlements” into a bad word, but it’s precisely the fact that Americans are entitled to collect Social Security and be covered by Medicare, no questions asked, that makes these programs so empowering and liberating.
The truth is that if you really care about the dignity and freedom of American workers, you should favor more, not fewer, entitlements, a stronger, not weaker, social safety net.
And you should, in particular, support and celebrate health reform. (my bold) Never mind all those claims that Obamacare is slavery; the reality is that the Affordable Care Act will empower millions of Americans, giving them exactly the kind of dignity and freedom politicians only pretend to love.
Obamacare is Dignity, Freedom is Strength. Health insurance for some people magically equates to health "reform." (that dreaded neo-liberal buzzword again.) Krugman basically rehashes an Obama speech here, even dutifully substituting "opportunity" for the newly-verboten "income equality". 

My response to Krugman: (due to the New York Times reader comment "character limit", it truncates what I just wrote in this blog-post. So I apologize for the redundancy)
 Social Security and Medicare are so successful because they're centrally and publicly administered. Since they're not out to make a quick profit off desperate people, they're reliable and cost-effective. And best of all, they eventually cover everybody -- if we're lucky to live so long.
But meanwhile, we feel abjectly grateful that the ACA will "empower" perhaps a third of our uninsured neighbors in their quest for medical treatment. Several million lucky duckies will now be able to "consume" health care. Only in America could medical treatment become perverted from a basic human right into Shopping and Freedom and Opportunity. If you work hard, that is, and "play by the rules."
Where's the outrage over the 30 million people who are being left out of the health insurance market sweepstakes?
All of America exploded in righteous indignation this week when a Danish zoo deliberately killed a giraffe to feed to the lions. But the recent Harvard/CUNY study projecting that as many as 17,000 people will needlessly die every year in the 25 states refusing to expand Medicaid? That's been met with a collective yawn by the media-political complex.
What the free market ideologues are accomplishing is no less inhumane. They're Social Darwinists gleefully culling the herd, slashing unemployment insurance and food assistance with abandon, slicing us up into tender morsels for the plutocratic gluttons.
Why they haven't yet choked on their own venom is anybody's guess.
Krugman, besides his eerie silence on the Trans-Pacific Partnership corporate coup being stealthily engineered by Obama, persists in pretending that Obamacare is universal healthcare. He actually compares this privatized kludge to FDR's and LBJ's great social insurance programs. He also persists in the theory that Austerity is Dead, by dint of the fact that Wall Street billionaires are no longer openly agitating for a "grand bargain" of earned benefit cuts for their inferiors. Krugman chooses not to notice that Obama himself was still touting deficit reduction as recently as last week, as the thing to love most about the food stamp-cutting Farm Bill. Krugman should take a gander at Obama's own White House website. Bragging about pro-austerity measures past, present and hoped-for is still very much there, in all its digitized ignominy.

Joe Firestone of New Economic Perspectives is among those noticing Krugman's blind spot. The deficit hawks have seemingly gone away, he writes, because they've already gotten pretty much what they want: the shrinking of social programs and the shrinking of deficits. Austerity has already won:
Here’s CBO projecting deficits of 3.0% of GDP this fiscal year, followed by 2.6%, 2.8%, and 2.9% for fiscals 2015, 2016, and 2017. Those deficits are mostly smaller than Warren Buffett’s and the Eurozone’s favorite deficit target of 3.0%. They are the same too small deficit targets that have prevented the Eurozone’s PIIGS from responding effectively to the crash of 2008, and the prolonged depression and astronomical unemployment rates which have engulfed them since. When one considers that CBO’s projections are usually too conservative when it comes to projected deficits, so that the reality of these is likely to be smaller, as it has been regularly, for the past few years, then it’s even more apparent that Peter G. Peterson and his other austerian friends have gotten where they want to go for the time being.
Nor are there any other major influences in Washington, DC advocating higher deficits. Even “progressive” groups and politicians always talk about “pay fors” and offer 10 year deficit reduction plans that envision deficits averaging far less than the 3% target.
 The real slash-o-rama -- raising the Medicare and retirement ages and the chained CPI method of further immiserating already impoverished Social Security recipients --  can wait until after the 2014 midterms, when politicians will no longer have to pretend to be for the little guy. Republicans, Democrats -- all of them morph into born-again populists whenever their own jobs are on the line.


Will said...

I believe it was Joseph Stalin who said, "The death of one giraffe is a tragedy. The death of millions of people is a statistic." Something like that.

Here's a Lee Camp video from last year that he tweeted this morning. Thought it made for a nice dessert after consuming Karen's brilliant post today:

Jay - Ottawa said...

Some types in our herd work nicely with the poachers. It took most of us too long to learn what Obama was made of, and it has taken us even longer to discover the real Krugman. And we thought he was an exception in the stable of the Gray Lady’s op-ed opinionators.

To borrow a shrewd line from a writer dead for more than a century, Krugman is “a buffalo with the feathers of a swan.”* The species is not new, thrives in the US and will never go extinct.

*Harper’s Magazine, March 2014, p. 21, col. 2.

Cirze said...


You are the best reporter today.

Bar none.


The Little Guy(s)

turgid state said...

very bad, yes awful for the people. but most of the people are uninformed an disengaged from politics, and i hate to say, are reaping the benefits of apathy. Social Darwinism.

the patrons of Social Darwinism know the only push back to their fascist policies are a few nasty blog comments. those are endured under the ‘sticks and stones’ theory. Social Darwinism.

‘sticks and stones my break my bones but blogs will never hurt me’
‘call me this and call me that, but call yourself a culled giraffe’ Social Darwinism.

where are the pitchforks? gone the way of the dodo bird. Social Darwinism.

fahrenheit451 said...

Scathingly done, Karen.

James F Traynor said...

The sad part is that, in parts of this country, the herd approves of being culled. They have implicit faith in the judgement of the cullers, and they dismiss horrific examples of specific culling with the explanation that "mistakes were made" or "they (or we) wouldn't do that " or "how else can you handle 'those people' ".

Will said...

"There are three classes of people: those who see; those who see when they are shown; those who do not see." -Leonardo da Vinci

It's the last group that's the problem. I always thought all you had to do was show people the unvarnished truth & it would set them free. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, right?

Nope. Not even close.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Yes, very well done, Karen. As have been all your recent columns.

(Also a tardy appreciation and thanks to @Jay - Ottawa, for his "A Class War Soliloquy" back on February 5. I myself have on occasion made use of the word "opportunity", without adequate accompanying reference to (or thought; and language does often constrain thought) the ways in which opportunity is nowadays massively limited. The "opportunity" for "health care" means far less than is implied by all the positive hype of the ACA, once true costs to the individual of policies, deductibles, and copays are considered. Likewise, the "opportunity" for advancement via higher education means much less than is often implied, once the bad jobs market, foreign outsourcing, and a lifetime of educational debt are considered. And the same goes in countless other spheres.)

Even prior to reading this fine column of yours, Karen, on the cruelty of contemporary public policy, I too thought about the phenomenon of many people objecting vehemently to examples of animal cruelty, but nary a peep about cruelty that impacts people.

I remember from back in the days of anti-Vietnam-war activity at UCSC, one group of students had a particularly telling protest that made use of that phenomenon. They announced that they were going to, as a demonstration, napalm a dog. Of course, there were justified howls of objection. But that brought to the fore the point that some people were loudly, actively willing to object to that, but were either silent or relatively uninvolved in protesting the Vietnam war and the use of napalm against people.

No living animals were actually harmed by the protest; it was "called off", but had made its intended point. (And by the way, if I remember correctly, one of the students involved is now on the Council on Foreign Relations!).

For a couple of very interesting articles by Bill Domhoff:

By the way, although Arizona did recently expand Medicaid, Arizona State House Speaker Andy Tobin now wants, among other things, to limit receipt of Medicaid benefits to a lifetime maximum of five years.

from the Arizona Daily Star article:

"The measure is crafted so the five-year limit applies even if the person is working but is simply in a job which pays so little as to make him or her eligible for Medicaid."

These toadies to the 1% just wont quit!

And speaking of the 1%, did anyone catch the latest pronouncement by "venture capitalist" Tom Perkins, that only taxpayers should have the right to vote, and that votes should be proportional to taxes paid?!

Of course, while he may actually desire what he proposes, his statements may only be deliberate outrageous trolling by him. It's somewhat analogous to the Stalinist technique of asking for an arm and a leg from his opponents, who will then be thrilled when as a "compromise" they only have to forfeit an arm. In this case, by proposing the adoption of greater outrages, Perkins is distracting from or promoting the popular acceptance of current ones.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

With regard to Obama, Krugman, and all that:

Despite the risk of incurring derision connected to "Godwin's Law" (of Nazi Analogies) and its corollaries, I nevertheless would like to offer up one such analogy. While I do well appreciate the differences between Nazism and current U.S. politics, the U.S. has high potential to become a full-fledged tyranny, and some analogies do seem relevant to the situation.

The quote below is from Victor Klemperer in “The Language of the Third Reich”, writing about “The plebiscite for the Führer’s policies and the ‘unified list of candidates (Einheitsliste)’ for the Reichstag” in November 1933 — Nazi Germany having become a de-facto single-party state in mid-1933 when other political parties were banned:

“He has already won a massive victory over the Jews. On Sunday there was a repulsive scene with Herr and Frau K., whom we had had to invite for coffee. I say had to, because the snobbery of this woman, who without so much as a thought repeats parrot-fashion the latest tittle-tattle or current opinion, has been getting on our nerves for a long time now; but her husband [...] always seemed to me to be tolerably sensible. So it was that on Sunday he explained that ‘with a heavy heart’ he had decided, just like the Central Organization of Jewish Citizens, to vote ‘Yes’ in the plebiscite, and his wife added that the Weimar system had finally proved itself to be unworkable and that one had to ‘see things for what they really are’. I lost my composure entirely, banged my fist on the table so that the cups rattled and repeatedly shouted the same question at the husband: did he believe the policies of this government to be criminal or not. He answered in a most dignified manner that I was not entitled to ask this question, and then inquired sarcastically for his part, as to why, in that case, I was remaining in office. I said that I had not been appointed by Hitler’s government, didn’t serve it and hoped to outlive it. Frau K. continued to maintain that the Führer — she really did say ‘the Führer’ — was undeniably a brilliant man, whose extraordinary influence couldn’t be denied and from whom one could not pull back… Today I almost want to offer my apologies to the K.s for the extent of my ferocity. In the meantime I have heard very similar opinions expressed by all kinds of Jewish people in our circle of friends. People who, without a doubt, must be regarded as intellectuals and who would generally be numbered among the quiet and independent thinkers… Some kind of fog has descended which is enveloping everybody.”

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

Really outstanding essay, Karen. So true - Those in power are out to cull the herd. Right now they are after the infirm and those they perceive as "living off the fat of the lamb." But who is next? School teachers, certainly, along with all those other lazy government employees. I enjoy watching British murder mysteries and period dramas. What strikes me lately is how hard was the life of the servant class even a hundred years ago. They worked like animals and were put out without a pension to disappear and die. Is that the direction we are heading? Back to the life our great grandparents worked so hard to save us from?