Friday, August 13, 2010

More Half Truths

No sooner do I try to reestablish my left wing credentials than Hardball and Countdown come out with a virtual parade of features that make me want to belong to any group other than the one they represent.

First Chuck Todd, filling in on Hardball, had a fascinating discussion regarding the state of gay marriage and the legal standing of California’s Proposition 8. He had a couple of visitors who knew what they were talking about, and the whole thing was very enlightening. Things are looking up.

Then things went completely to hell when he brought on David Gregory and the two of them had a discussion about the war in Afghanistan which reminded me of nothing so much as two monkeys simultaneously trying to copulate with a football. Todd’s questions were inane and Gregory began every answer with, “That’s very interesting…” His answers then proceeded to be supremely uninteresting, consisting of such gems as what a superb politician Petraeus is, and questioning whether or not the Karzai government can ever become non-corrupt, something which has been answered a long time ago.

Countdown followed that mess, providing an interview with a man who has been unemployed for a length of time that was impossible to determine from his interview, but which had clearly included more than one extension. The man kept repeating that unemployment is “insurance that we pay into” and expanded on that by saying that it justified turning down jobs that he didn’t feel paid enough; since he had paid the insurance it was okay for him to collect on it. Olbermann agreed with him during the interview and included that aspect in a later discussion with Howard Fineman, saying that “unemployment is insurance, not welfare.”

To even call that a half truth is stretching things slightly. Unemployment insurance fees are paid by the employer, not by the employee, but the argument can be made that the money would be paid as wages if it were not being paid as a benefit and is therefor part of the wage and can be considered a “deduction from wages.” That argument is a little easier to make for Social Security because it is a fixed rate, while UI is a sliding rate based on the employer’s record of hiring and firing. The fewer layoffs an employer makes, the lower UI rate he pays.

That program, however, only covers the first 26 weeks without a job. After that Congress provides for “extended benefit periods” which depend on the severity of economic conditions. Benefits paid under these extended periods are not provided from state funds paid into by employers and they are, in fact, welfare. We absolutely should be providing it, but let’s not pretend that it is something which it is not.

So Olbermann’s claim that “unemployment is insurance” is about 25% true; 26 weeks are insurance, the remaining 73 weeks are welfare.

The other question which Olbermann never even addressed is that one of the rules of the program which is “unemployment insurance” is that the person be actively seeking work and that the person not turn down any job which is offered. This man turned down jobs for as much as $310 per week, or $16,120 per year, in order to continue to draw extended unemployment benefits specifically because the benefits, welfare, paid more. I won’t argue with you if you think it was okay for him to do that, but thinking that it was not okay is by no means a ridiculous idea.

Olbermann, bear in mind, was trying to refute Republican claims about people staying on unemployment voluntarily. Did he accomplish that?

Countdown followed that by pleading for contributions for a health clinic to provide care for people in New Orleans who do not have access to health care. I hope people will contribute, but Olbermann seems immune to the irony of running such a clinic and pleading for funds half a year after Democrats pass “fundamental health care reform” that is purported to be “the greatest legislation in generations.”

Which segues neatly into a Hardball discussion of Democrats running on a “we’re not Bush” platform, which pundits seem to agree is a fine idea; Democratic politicians certainly do. If Democrats had achieved all of the things that they claim, you’d think they would run on their accomplishments, but they are not and it seems they cannot.

Obama made a wide tour to sell his “health care reform” and, while it polls well, it just flat is not turning into votes. Why not? Well, the health clinic in New Orleans is a sample; too many people still don’t have access to health care and costs are still too high. If this reform is going to have any kind of dramatic effect, we haven’t seen it yet.

They can’t run on financial regulation reform. Is the consumer protection agency thing working? I just got a notice from my credit card company which raises fees from $20 to $30 for virtually anything, other than simple charges, that I do with the card.

They can’t run on tax cuts because that would increase the deficit, because tax cuts is what Republicans do, and because everybody knows that they’re going to raise taxes. Make no mistake, I absolutely agree with raising taxes. My only disagreement is that I don’t think they are going to raise them on enough people.

All they have is “we’re not Bush and the other guys are.”

And Olbermann, true to form, closed his show with a discussion of the schoolboy prank played 27 years ago by the Republican candidate for Senator from Kentucky.

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