Here Are 16 of the Dumbest Things Americans Believe — And the Right-Wing Lies Behind Them We’ve gone beyond Stephen Colbert’s’ truthiness’ into a ‘truth-be-damned’ environment.

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Americans Can’t Stand Each Other, So Let’s Stop Forcing Our Preferences on One Another If you want to avoid conflict among hostile groups, decentralize power—preferably to individuals.

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As a display of Americans’ seemingly growing intolerance for one another, last week presented something of a perfect storm. The flash career of a prominent conservative writer at The Atlantic, the seeming endorsement by several tech executives of one-party rule, and the president waging war against businesses to punish media companies that criticize him provide the latest suggestions that some Americans don’t play well together and should probably withdraw to separate corners.

Kevin Williamson’s mayfly tenure at The Atlantic represented a rare and aborted effort by a mainstream media organ to connect with ideas with which many of its readers are unfamiliar. Williamson is “an excellent reporter who covers parts of the country, and aspects of American life, that we don’t yet cover comprehensively,” editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg told staffers in an internal email.

But maybe people prefer that some things remain mysteries. At least, that seemed to be the case once the blunt and provocative Kevin Williamson was revealed to actually believe that aborting a pregnancy should be treated as homicide, and subject to the applicable penalties—potentially including capital punishment. When Goldberg discovered that Williamson’s hard-core social conservative opinions “did, in fact, represent his carefully considered views,” Williamson was fired.

Exposure to opposing views can be scary for some—so scary, in fact, that prominent tech gurus think perhaps we should sideline them entirely somehow.

“We can’t have one step forward, one step back every time an administration changes. One side or the other has to win,” Peter Leyden, CEO of Reinvent Media, insisted recently. Leyden puts forward California, where the GOP has collapsed and been swept aside by a nearly one-party state, as the ideal outcome for “the new American civil war.”

Leyden doesn’t fret that the disappearance of one of America’s two major parties would turn democracy into a sham, because in the California primary system “the voters still got a choice between, say, a more progressive candidate and a moderate candidate…who almost all operate within a worldview that shares much common ground.” The rest of the country should follow California’s lead on embracing one-party rule, Leyden opined.

Evan Williams, cheif executive at Medium and the former head of Twitter, called this an “interesting take.” Current Twitter chief Jack Dorsey named it a “great read.” Sure—if you’re into creepy bedtime stories.

While we’re on creepy, let’s talk about President Trump’s battle against the Washington Post via Amazon. By all accounts, the nation’s chief executive has declared war against the online retail giant to punish the company’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, for his ownership of the Trump-critical Washington Post.

“Mr. Trump sees Mr. Bezos’s hand in newspaper coverage he dislikes and is lashing out at Amazon as a proxy,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Given my own family’s long experience with Trump’s thin skin (he threatened to destroy my father over the publication of an unauthorized biography), it’s easy to imagine the guy acting on his own intolerance of criticism (as well as the example set by his White House predecessors) to attack his political opponents.

And why shouldn’t we attack and try to sideline one-another at this point in our mutual loathing? Americans increasingly want very different things from their political system. “[I]n recent years, the gaps on several sets of political values in particular—including measures of attitudes about the social safety net, race and immigration—have increased dramatically,” Pew Research Center reported last October. Just two weeks ago, Pew added that while Democrats and Republicans embrace their political loyalties out of support for their preferred policies, “sizable majorities in both parties cite the other party’s harmful policies as a major factor.”

No wonder, as a CBS News poll found in February, “the percentage of Democrats and Republicans holding negative views of the opposing party has grown in recent years.” The same poll found that about half of us have a difficult time talking to people with different political views.

Americans have long been voting for different lifestyles with their feet, and those lifestyles correlate with different views of the world. A majority of Republicans (65 percent) “say they would rather live in a community where houses are larger and farther apart and where schools and shopping are not nearby,” polling finds. Meanwhile, most Democrats (61 percent) “prefer smaller houses within walking distance of schools and shopping.”

Which is to say, the stereotypes may be largely correct—urban liberals are facing off against rural-to-suburban conservatives. And once settled in their varying homes and kicking back to catch up on the day’s events, lefties and righties strongly disagree on which news sources are worthy of their attention—or whether the media should be trusted at all.

If you increasingly disagree with your political opponents, don’t like them, rarely encounter them, get your information from different sources, and can barely speak with them during scarce meetings, it really does become tempting to treat them as the “other.” In the modern context, that means shaming, muzzling, punishing, and trying to side-line them completely so you can force your preferences down their throats.

But why treat every political preference as a collective endeavor that must be imposed on the unwilling? This country started as a federal system, with most decisions devolved downwards on the premise that each state should be entitled to indulge in stupid political experiments without dragging in the neighbors. Reviving federalism would continue to give dissenters to California’s experiment in one-party rule borders to run across if it turns out to be something of a mistake.

We could devolve decisions down even further. If—as Nate Cohn pointed out—”liberals and conservatives have self-segregating preferences, with many explicitly preferring to live around people with similar political views, and others expressing preferences that indirectly lead them toward communities dominated by their fellow partisans,” than that suggests that more local decision-making would minimize the number of unwilling conscripts into potentially contentious policies.

Relatively unburdened by impositions from our political enemies, we might feel less compelled to resist alien views with bursts of righteous and intolerant outrage. Reducing centralized power and decision-making would also have the very real benefit of stripping thin-skinned government officials of the power to punish critics and enemies.

And who knows? If power is devolved far enough—to individuals, by preference—we might even come to see our divergent views as harmless eccentricities rather than existential threats.

By  J.D. Tuccille/Reason

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Senate Passes FISA Reauthorization Act, With Help of Democrats

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With the help of 21 Democrats, the U.S. Senate passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 on Thursday, a bill that critics argue expands the government’s ability to spy on digital communications without a warrant.

The legislation, which passed the House last week, focuses specifically on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was initially passed as part of the FISA Amendments Act in 2008. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) explains:

Section 702 is supposed to do exactly what its name promises: collection of foreign intelligence from non-Americans located outside the United States. As the law is written, the intelligence community cannot use Section 702 programs to target Americans, who are protected by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. But the law gives the intelligence community space to target foreign intelligence in ways that inherently and intentionally sweep in Americans’ communications.

(Screen shot via the U.S. Senate roll call)

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With Few Watching, Republicans Have Put in Place New Poll Tax to Disenfranchise Voters

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Preventing people from voting because they owe legal fees or court fines muzzle low-income Americans at a time in our nation’s history when the rich have more political power than ever.

More from Robert Reich at Common Dreams

Posted by Libergirl

CBO: High costs if Trump follows through on ACA sabotage threats | MSNBC

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For health care advocates, congressional Republicans’ difficulties in passing regressive health care legislation have brought some comfort, but the threats haven’t gone away. Not only are many GOP lawmakers committed to returning to the issue, but systemic sabotage from Donald Trump remains a real possibility.

Indeed, as we’ve discussed many times, the president has made repeated threats to cut off cost-sharing reductions (or CSRs) – a component of the Affordable Care Act that helps cover working families’ out-of-pocket costs – which Trump has effectively turned into a political weapon. The mere threat has already pushed consumers’ costs higher.

But what if the president followed through on the threat and decide to use this weapon? NBC News’ Benjy Sarlin noted the latest findings from the Congressional Budget Office.

Health care premiums will spike, insurers will exit the market, and deficits will increase if President Donald Trump follows through on his threats to cut off government payments to insurance companies, according to a new Congressional Budget Office report.

The cost of a “silver” insurance plan under Obamacare would be 20 percent higher in 2018 and 25 percent higher by 2020 compared to current law, according to the report. About five percent of the population would not be able to buy insurance through Obamacare at all next year, the CBO predicted, because companies would withdraw plans in response to the “substantial uncertainty” created by the move.

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Liberty lost? Americans increasingly unhappy with levels of freedom, survey says

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America is often referred to as the “Land of the Free,” but as citizens prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, their satisfaction with the country’s freedom is significantly lower than it was a decade ago, according to a newly released Gallup poll.

The survey found that although 91 percent of Americans were satisfied with the freedom in their lives in 2006, only 75 percent feel the same way today.

Furthermore, while the US ranked 11th worldwide (out of 118 countries) in the 2006 Gallup poll, it came in 71st (among 139 countries) in the current poll.

“This puts the US in the bottom half of all countries measured,” Gallup managing partner Jon Clifton wrote on the organization’s blog.

The US decline is unique, as such results are not happening in other wealthy democracies.

For example, Denmark, Finland, and Canada were all tied for first place in 2006, with 96 percent of their populations satisfied with their freedom. Those figures are “virtually unchanged” in the recent poll, with all three remaining in the top 11.

Clifton noted that two things typically come to mind when people are asked about their personal freedom – their government and their financial situation.

Corruption seemed to play a major role in the recent poll, with 76 percent of respondents stating that they believe corruption is “widespread throughout the government.” That figure represents a sharp rise from the 2006 poll, when just 59 percent shared the same belief.

As for the financial situations of Americans, Clifton noted that “despite widespread reports that the US economy is improving, many Americans may not be feeing the same economic gains in their daily lives.”

He noted that although household income is up since 2011, it’s flat since 2007. He went on to state that workforce participation is the lowest it’s been in 40 years, despite unemployment dropping below 5 percent.

Clifton cited a separate poll, the 2017 Index of Economic Freedom, which also found a significant drop in America’s standing in the world since 2016. That poll is mostly based on government regulation – another major factor that people usually consider when thinking about their freedom.

The most recent Gallup poll was conducted by interviewing approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and over, in more than 150 countries between 2006 and 2016. The interviews took place in person and over the telephone.

From RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Why Won’t More American Corporations Support Single-Payer Health Care?

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Warren Buffett is rare among CEOs in publicly recognizing the economic benefits of Medicare for All.

Talk of single-payer health care in the United States popped up in an unexpected place recently: the most recent Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. “The whole system is cockamamie,” the company’s vice chair, Charlie Munger, declared. “I think we should have single-payer medicine eventually.” As for partner Warren Buffett, the man known by his fans as the Sage of Omaha, he called health-care costs “the tapeworm of American economic competitiveness” and claimed he “personally” supported a single-payer system.

Those of us who cover individual investing know that the utterings of Buffett and Munger are generally repeated, and repeated again. They turn into aphorisms—how many times have you heard it said of the stock market, “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked?” But when it comes to health care, it’s something else. There is a day or so of attention, and then it’s nothing but crickets.

What’s going on? You can thank a toxic stew of ideological blindness, fear of controversy, and rampant cost shifting for the silence. The size and power of the industry is a factor too. Healthcare “is the military industrial complex of the 21st century,” says Richard Master, the chief executive officer of MCS Industries, a supplier of picture frames based in Pennsylvania, and the rare C-suiter to publicly support single-payer.

The United States spends more than $3.3 trillion on health care annually. Employer-based insurance covers about half the non-elderly population. The cost is not unsubstantial. Medicare spends less than 2 percent of its budget on administration vs. 18 percent for private insurers. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average premium for a family was $18,142 in 2016. The typical employer picked up about two-thirds of that total. The numbers are adding up, and the politically vaunted small-business sector is yowling. The National Federation of Independent Business’s 2016 Problems and Priorities survey found more than half of those they polled claimed the cost of health insurance was “a critical issue,” they faced.

Healthcare costs also eat away at American business competitiveness. Prior to the Great Recession, General Motors claimed that providing health-care coverage adds another $1,500 onto the sticker price of every new model sold. Starbucks reported around the same time it spent more on health care than on coffee beans. The Affordable Care Act has slowed the overall pace of health-care spending, which nonetheless still exceeds the rate of inflation.

Buffett’s economic point—one he’s made for a number of years—is that corporate honchos obsess about the weight of taxes on their bottom line when they should be pondering the impact of skyrocketing health-care costs instead. For years, he’s pointed out that health-care expenditures were approximately 5 percent of the gross domestic product in the 1960s. Now they are at about 17 percent. Other countries spend significantly less. Healthcare costs make up 11 percent of Canada’s gross domestic product. In Australia—about which Donald Trump recently said, “you have better health care than we do”—it’s approximately 9 percent.

But all this spending isn’t exactly doing wonders. About one in ten American adults still doesn’t have health insurance. Our reputation for world-class care might be a tad exaggerated; our maternal mortality rate has increased substantially since 2000. Never mind the moral argument for health care for a moment. Pay more money for lesser results? Surely, no sane businessman or businesswoman would want to deal with this, not for one blasted moment. In this environment, business and corporate support for single-payer/Medicare For All/whatever you want to call it should be the proverbial no brainer.

But it’s not. Many in the United States business world remain in thrall to a marketplace ideology, mixed with a whiff of self-help. The glory of the market is paramount, and any attempt to enhance the role of government—even when it is in the best interests of the players to do so—is looked on with suspicion. For example, when runaway medical costs caused mass business agita, former Safeway CEO Steve Burd founded a group called the Coalition to Advance Health Care Reform. It endorsed universal coverage but argued it needed to be “market-based” and offer “universal coverage with individual responsibility.” These days, people needing insurance or medical care are routinely referred to as “shoppers” who should compare the price of medical services like they would a can of peas.

The American Sustainable Business Council, a left-leaning business trade group, is now seeking to change things. It recently debuted, in conjunction with a documentary Big Pharma: Market Failure, an action group called Business Leaders Transforming Healthcare that is making the case for single-payer as a business imperative. More than 150 businesses have signed on to the campaign, including Richard Masters’s MCS Industries, who is also in the film. But it’s going to be a battle. Many of the American Sustainable Business Council’s most recognizable corporate partners have yet to join in.

In an effort to find out why, I contacted Ben & Jerry’s, Eileen Fisher, Patagonia, Seventh Generation, Dansko, Etsy, and The Honest Company—all members of the council who have yet to sign onto the healthicare campaign. A spokeswoman for Ben & Jerry’s told me, “We all know the US health-care system is broken,” adding, “We believe strongly that everybody should have access to quality care” and that the company could not make a decision on whether or not to sign on to the initiative “until we have formulated our position.”

Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company—a self-described “mission-driven company” dedicated to, among other things, “corporate social responsibility” and “taking selfless actions that benefit others”—wrote back that they work with the American Sustainable Business Council on “issues related to chemical safety and ingredient disclosure” and aren’t “currently engaged” in other initiatives with them.

The others ignored me. I can’t say I am surprised. Corporations are notoriously loath to endorse controversial positions, especially ones that have the potential to put them in the firing line of activists on one side or the other. Then there is the power of the health-care industry, which is responsible for the largest number of jobs added since the last economic downturn. Business leaders stick to the powerful until it’s all but unsupportable.

In lieu of asking for government help, many American corporations are dealing with the health-care expense in a time honored capitalist fashion: they’re sticking it to the workers. A majority of those with employer provided health insurance now have a deductible of at least $1,000, which partly explains why out-of-pocket health-care spending for someone with employer provided health insurance has increased by more than 50 percent since the beginning of the decade. Little wonder recent Congressional Town Halls feature many plaintive pleas for single-payer or a Medicare expansion.

Masters told me he thinks the comments at the Berkshire Hathaway meeting are a game changer. “It’s a remarkable green light for business leaders to start thinking about single-payer.” Maybe he’s on to something: The week that began with Munger endorsing single-payer ended with Aetna Healthcare’s chief executive officer Mark Bertolini saying the United States needed to “debate” single-payer but stopping short of endorsing it. “If the government wants to pay all the bills, and employers want to stop offering coverage, and we can be there in a public-private partnership,” he told a group of Aetna employees in a private conversation subsequently leaked to Vox, “then let’s have that conversation.”

By Helaine Olen/TheNation

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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