Big lies vs. health reform

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Labor and other analysts are noting that a virtual river of lies now being pumped into millions of American homes via the mass media underlies much of the confusion about health care reform.

Turning their noses up at the life or death struggle of Americans for adequate health care, right-wing media giants Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, each earning more than $20 million a year and enjoying good insurance coverage, are stepping up their claims that there isn’t a health care crisis and that the United States has the best health care system in the world.

Limbaugh, the highest paid talk radio giant in the country, signed an eight-year, $400 million contract with Clear Channel Communications in July, 2008. According to the New York Times, Limbaugh’s “$50 million a year paycheck represents a raise of about $14.4 million a year over his current contract, which was paying him $285 million over eight years and was set to expire in 2009.”

Three of the most outrageous assertions he is making were heard first during the last half of July:

Limbaugh claimed, on July 22, that “there isn’t global warming and there isn’t a health care crisis, but Obama says he’s gotta raise taxes over the private sector to fix both those things.”

Three days earlier, on July 18, he said, “There really isn’t a crisis in health care in this country. The crisis in health care that – if you wanna say, that does exist – is the fear that a major illness or catastrophe could wipe you out, which isn’t gonna change. In fact, the odds of you being wiped out by a catastrophe or accident once the government gets started running this stuff is greater than if the private sector – but day-to-day, there’s no health care crisis in this country. You can get it. So, it isn’t about health care, per, se. This is about gaining control, taking money, and controlling people’s lives, and wiping out Republicans – a nice cherry on top.”

His opening shot with this line of “reasoning” came two days earlier still, when he asserted: “The crisis in health care is like the crisis in everything else – manufactured.”

Limbaugh’s comrade-in-arms, Glenn Beck, makes at least $23 million a year.

A recent report in Forbes Magazine lists his income sources as “a TV show ($2 million), a radio show ($10 million), books ($5 million), speeches (half a million), appearances ($2.5 million) and a Web site ($3 million).”

The report also indicates Beck signed a contract with Premiere Radio Networks “valued at $50 million over five years, through a combination of salary and profit-sharing from syndication,” making Beck “the third highest-paid talk radio host.”

On top of all that, the New York Observer says that, in 2008, Beck signed “a huge new two-book deal with Simon&Schuster worth approximately $3 million.”

Despite the attention so much money must require, the multi-millionaire found time on his July 23 radio show to question President Obama’s story about a woman whose insurance claim for her cancer treatment was denied. Beck said: “I just think we need a little more details other than, ‘big insurance company bad, woman almost die.’”

Then Beck aired an audio of the president talking about a “middle class college graduate whose health insurance expired when he changed jobs and woke up from emergency surgery that he required with $10,000 worth of debt.” After the clip Beck attacked the man Obama described for failing to “go on COBRA. He was either stupid, or didn’t want to spend the money.”

Eight days earlier, on July 15, a caller into his show reminded Beck that “we’ve got people out here who are really sick and do need health care.”

Beck responded by mocking the caller and said, sarcastically, “You’re right, I read all the time about all of the people who are dying in the streets because they can’t go to a hospital and get health care. You are exactly right. We are letting people die left and right in this country.”

Sean Hannity earns $20 million a year for his talk radio show alone. In a July article the Wall Street Journal noted that he had a contract with Premiere Radio Networks worth $100 million over five years.

The New York Daily News reported last October that Hannity had signed a “new multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract” to continue his Fox News program through 2012.

On the March 10 Hannity radio show Bob Beckel, a Fox News contributor, noted that one of the major problems with the health care system is that in the past “businesses insured their employees, and very few of them are doing it anymore.”

“That’s not true, Bob,” Hannity responded. (Lie number 1)

Several minutes later Hannity said to Beckel, “I just don’t understand the logic, why you believe that the government can do what the free market had successfully accomplished, which was a health care system that was the envy of the world.” (Lie number 2)

Beckel protested: “The free market system has not worked that way if 46 million are not insured and cannot get medical coverage.”

Right-wing opponents of health care reform in the government join their co-thinkers in the media in at least one important respect. Statements they are making are so absurd that many of the claims require almost no answer.

A leading GOP senator, earlier this week, railed against the public option supported by the president and said there was no need to keep health insurers honest.

“The health insurance industry is one of the most regulated industries in America,” said Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.) on the Senate floor Monday. “They don’t need to be ‘kept honest’ by the government.”

Again, the tactic was simply to lie.

Just weeks before Kyl made the remark The Los Angeles Times carried a story about a Blue Cross employee who earned a perfect score of “5” for “exceptional performance” because he had dropped thousands of policy holders and saved the company from paying for $10 million worth of medical care.

Kyl’s remarks were made less than a month after a congressional investigation found that WellPoint’s Blue Cross of California and two other companies saved more than $300 million in medical claims by canceling more than 20,000 sick policyholders over a five-year period.

The investigators found what they called “egregious” practices including insurance company targeting of every policyholder diagnosed with leukemia, breast cancer and 1,400 other serious illnesses.

Insurance companies conduct such investigations so they can do a fine tooth comb comparison of a policy holder’s original application with a year’s worth of medical and pharmacy records, in hopes of turning up discrepancies that would allow the company to withhold payments.

There’s a lot more behind the opposition to health care reform than just the right-wing media pundits and the Republicans in the Senate and House, however. Analysts are pointing to the existence among the wealthiest one percent of a well organized push to kill reform.

They see such reform as a first and dangerous move against their privileged status. “What if the struggle to get health care reform morphs into a struggle to end wealth disparity in America?” for example.

According to the government, the share of the nation’s total income earned by the top one percent is the highest ever since 1929.

On top of that wealth many in this class are profiting, via huge bonuses, from the $24 trillion in taxpayer bailouts which, according to the Treasury Department, could be on its way to the top financial firms.

Congress, in trying to deal with a situation in which 22,000 or more Americans die each year because of lack of health care, is considering a surcharge on income earned by people in this category.

The proposed surcharge, analysts note, would be much smaller than the windfall the group got from the Bush tax cuts for the rich. Those earning $1 million annually would pay just $9,000 more per year in taxes,

They have nevertheless reacted to the proposal by deploying “an army to destroy the initiative before it makes any progress,” writes David Sirota in his July 25 column for Creators Syndicate.

He described the effort by the wealthiest one percent to destroy health care reform as almost a “multi-layered” offensive.

Sirota describes even “Land Rover Liberals” as doing the bidding of the wealthy on health care reform. Some Democratic lawmakers, he notes, secure reform credentials by supporting good causes, like the right of women to choose. “However, being affluent and/or from affluent districts, they routinely drive their luxury cars over middle-class economic interests. Hence, this week’s letter from Boulder, Colorado’s dot-com tycoon Rep. Jared Polis, D, and other Land Rover Liberals calling for the surtax’s death.”

He notes that still another part of the gang-up on health reform is the group he describes as the “Corrupt Cowboys,” those like Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mt., “who come from the heartland’s culturally conservative and economically impoverished locales. These cavalrymen in both parties quietly build insurmountable campaign war chests as the biggest corporate fundraisers in Congress.”

Sirota said that politicians in this group make the absurd claim that because their constituents support gun rights and tend to be strongly religious, they are representing “conservatives” who oppose any moves to tax the rich. It’s an attempt, he notes, to divert attention from their own predisposition to accept payoffs from wealthy supporters and insurance companies who help guarantee their re-election.

The mainstream media has also joined the campaign to defend the prerogatives of the wealthy on this issue.

They brush aside the realities of injustice and inequality in the area of health care and take up the cause of the wealthy fighting against the surtax.

The Washington Post, in an editorial, attacks supporters of the surtax for believing “the rich alone can fund government.”

The Wall Street Journal asked why the surtax “soaks the rich” by “unduly lumping all the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of its households?”

NBC’s Meredith Viera, in her interview with President Obama, asked him why he is intent on “punishing the rich.”

His simple response, perhaps better than any other statement, summed up what the whole struggle is all about:

“No, it’s not punishing the rich. If I can afford to do a little bit more so that a whole bunch of families out there have a little more security, when I already have security, that’s part of being a community.”