Crossing National Public Radio (NPR) Off My List for Health Care Coverage

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

But the treacly smooth, re-assuring voices! The civility! The diversity! The safety! And at this point, readers are probably snorting, saying “What, you still listen to NPR?” And in fact, I don’t have a radio, so I don’t. Worse, I’m about to look at the written word, not the spoken. But you know what I mean: The branding! The branding!

Anyhow, you may have friends who still listen to NPR, so perhaps the points in this quick post will help you in their conversations with them. But put down your coffee before you read Ron Elving’s article at NPR: “Trump’s Big Repealing Deal: 8 Takeaways On The Senate’s Health Care Meltdown Moment.” I didn’t, and I regret it! I’ll pull out five six quotes, in order from the article, by topic area:

1) Health Care Did Not Cause Democrats to Lose Control of Senate

[NPR:] People are always anxious about their health, their care and its cost, but when they actually get sick, lose their coverage or find their premiums rising, they get scared and angry.[1] Politically, it is often enough just to make them fear those things might happen.

Democrats found that out eight years ago, before they even got their bill across the finish line. The issue eventually flipped control of Congress

Anybody else remember what else was happening in 2009? That’s right: The Crash, and the worst economy since the 30s. And that’s what caused Democrats to lose control of the Senate in the Scott Brown v. Martha Coakely race in Massachusetts, not health care. Thomas Ferguson and Jie Chen, “1, 2, 3, Many Tea Parties? A Closer Look at the 2010 Massachusetts Senate Race” (pdf):

This paper takes a closer look at the Massachusetts earthquake. It reviews popular interpretations of the election, especially those highlighting the influence of the “Tea Party” movement, and examines the role political money played in the outcome. Its main contribution, though, is an analysis of voting patterns by towns. Using spatial regression techniques, it shows that unemployment and housing price declines contributed to the Republican swing, along with a proportionately heavier drop in voting turnout in poorer towns that usually provide many votes to Democratic candidates. All these factors are likely to remain important in the November congressional elections.

No. Liberal Democrats have constructed a warm-cocoon of reflexive virtue-signaling for themselves about their 2010 midterm debacle: They lost because they did the right thing on health care, and the stupid voters weren’t grateful. It’s not so. In fact, it was Obama’s miserable handling of the Crash (“foaming the runway,” “I stand between you and the pitchforks”) that caused voters to throw the bums out, not health care.[2]

2) The Role of the Public Option Is to Prevent Single Payer

[NPR:] Democrats in 2009 and 2010 did not necessarily want to protect and preserve the private health insurance industry. Many of them would have preferred a “public option” format as a faster track to single-payer “Medicare for all.”.

No. Just no. The so-called public option was a bait-and-switch operation, run by career “progressives,” to head off single payer, not provide a path to it (and a followup for the sordid story here). And that’s before we get to the fact that Obama had already traded it away to Big Pharma, even though “progressives” kept pushing it. (More here on the liberal version of events, as opposed to what actually happened, at “The Underground History of the So-Called Public Option (Plus Underpants Gnomes).”

3) Cost is an Ideological Red Herring

[NPR:] For more than a decade now, one major party or the other has been agitating for big changes in health care and insurance. The ever-escalating costs of high-tech care and the near-constant debate in the media guarantee the issue’s salience will continue to grow [as opposed to the deaths from lack of care]. The average American wants good health care, and has been increasingly promised “the best.” But we often do not focus on the cost until necessity arises. Nor do we realize the true cost and reality of insurance coverage. As this changes, health care will demand more political attention, not less.

This is just silly. If cost were the primary focus for health care policy, we would long since have adopted Canadian single payer, which demonstrably bent the cost curve with no loss of care, and of course we didn’t, because markets. It’s neoliberal ideology, shared by Democrats and Republicans alike, that prevents “big changes,” not cost. As I wrote in 2013:


We are blessed, on this continent, with the closest thing you can get to a controlled experiment in the real world on how to do health care right, and how to do it wrong. We have two countries, of continental scale, both from the English political tradition, each with a Federal system of government, and similar economies. The two countries are similar enough culturally that their citizens can move with ease from one country to another. Canada has a single payer system; the United States has a private health insurance system. And Canada “bent the cost curve” in the mid-70s, when it adopted single payer, and the United States did not.

What the chart shows is that the our private health insurance system is purely parasitic; it is useless; it exists solely for the purpose of rental extraction from its host, the body politic. Abolish it, and you bend the cost curve to look like Canada’s. If single payer had been adopted in 2009, and given a year to implement (like Medicare) the country would already have saved a trillion dollars, and several thousand people would not be dead. That is the cost, the harm, of the tapeworm that is the health insurance industry. Not science fiction; sober fact. (Because Canadians are always sober!) And ObamaCare seeks to fasten that tapeworm’s hooks and suckers to our body politic’s gut. Forever.

So you can understand when I hear people saying “Well, what we need to be doing is keeping our tapeworm healthy and happy, and maybe buffing it a little” I get annoyed.

4) Single Payer Is Not “Anathema” to All Republicans

[NPR:] Even without the friendly label of “Medicare for all,” government-guaranteed health care single-payer polls better today than it has for generations. Democrats are increasingly likely to favor it as a logical extension of current programs for children, retirees and lower-income families. Among Republicans, however, it is still “socialized medicine” and it remains anathema — just as when it was first proposed in the late 1940s.

No. Wrong. Gallup:

Now, I grant that 40% support among Republicans is not a majority, and of course results vary by the question asked. But “anathema”? No. Republican views static since the 50s? No.

5) The Key Battleground in Health Care Has Been Getting Single Payer a Hearing

[NPR:] ——But extending them to cover the generations from young adulthood to seniority remains the key battleground in health care politics.

No. The “key battleground” has been getting single payer a hearing, and there liberals have been just as much an obstacle as conservatives. Again:

A summary of what single payer advocates were up against; I hate to keep quoting myself on this, but the history is important and has been systematically erased:

I suggest the real constraints came from three sources, as indicated by their behavior from 2009, when battle for health reform was joined: (1) The Democratic nomenklatura, which censored single payer stories and banned single payer advocates from its sites, and refused even to cover single payer advances in Congress, while simultaneously running a “bait and switch” operation with the so-called “public option,” thereby sucking all the oxygen away from single payer;1 (2) Democratic office holders like Max Baucus, the putative author of ObamaCare — Liz Fowler, a Wellpoint VP, was the actual author — who refused to include single payer advocates in hearings and had protesters arrested and charged; (3) and Obama himself, who set the tone for the entire Democratic food chain by openly mocking single payer advocates (“got the little single payer advocates up here”), and whose White House operation blocked email from single payer advocates, and went so far as to suppress a single payer advocate’s question from the White House live blog of a “Forum on Health Care.” (Granted, the forums were all kayfabe, but even so.) As Jane Hamsher wrote, summing of the debacle: “The problems in the current health care debate became apparent early on, when single payer advocates were excluded [note, again, lack of agency] from participation.”

In short, if single payer was “politically infeasible” — the catchphrase of that time — that’s because Democrats set out to make it so, and succeeded.

6) Democrats Could Have Passed Single Payer in 2009 Had They Wished To Do So.

ZOMG, I forgot the quote that caused me to spit up my coffee in the first place:

[NPR:] [T]o cobble together the votes to prevail, they went for a hybrid model of public-private insurance, which in the 1990s had been a Republican-proposed compromise alternative

Np. Just no. “Cobble together the votes” is sloppy language that conflates two arguments: First, a sin of commission: The argument that Democrats needed 60 votes to pass the bill against a filibuster. This is a lie, since the filibuster rules can be changed with a majority vote, which Reid did in 2013 (but something mportant like judicial nominees, not saving American lives). Second, a sin of omission: ObamaCare was passed under reconciliation with a majority vote, so Democrats could have passed a real solution like single payer, as opposed to the best possible Republican plan, ObamaCare, which, as good neoliberals seeking a markets-rist solution, is what they did.


I want to thank NPR for consolidating so many liberal Democrat lies myths and shibboleths into a single article. It’s handy! Clearly, however, NPR is not a “safe place” for reliable health care reporting. They’re not trustworthy.


[1] Elving omits other options like — let me just go ahead and be crass here — staying sick, or dying. It’s not just about the feels. Or oozing empathy.

[2] To be fair to Coakley, she had all the demeanor of a wooden puppet on the trail was not a natural campaigner, but the national Democrats forced her to run on ObamaCare, instead of letting her run on the $60 million fine she clawed back from Goldman Sachs as Attorney General for their foreclosure practices, in a year when voters hated banks.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Gee

    Thanks for putting this together. Im sure you could do a similar take down of their view of the financial sector bailouts and everything that followed. (The basic rehabilitation of criminal syndicates that somehow still most Americans bank with. I got exactly ZERO of my friends to switch banks. They never understood.) Hell, even after all the JPM frauds and WFC frauds, they STILL bank with them. But I digress.

    NPR was pretty untrustworthy during the financial crisis, shortly after which, I abandoned them and began telling my still-hooked liberal friends that they need to wake up and realize that NPR is not on their side. People are very slow to change, and for some, breaking with NPR is anathema. I mean, where do they turn? A site like Naked Capitalism? Wait, didnt the WP post something about them being fake news, russia lovers, etc etc. I know, I know. See? This is the game they play. Keep you hooked on false information, and denigrate anyone that wants to speak the truth about what is going on. As much as Trump is a blithering idiot disaster, his point about fake news is not totally off base. It is just that it has always been this way, and the news about his administration is one of the few accurate things being reported now, but only because Putin derangement syndrome. But it has been interesting seeing some news sources delving into his history with Russia. Amazing we elected a Russian mafia patsy as President. And yet, during the entire campaign, no one brought up a word about this. Talk about running a pathetically bad campaign. All this seedy Russian stuff has been going on for two decades or more with Trump. And the media legitimized him. (Looking at you CNN, you P.O.S.)

    1. sgt_doom

      Thanks for mentioning that about NPR and the financial crisis, although that certainly applies across the board to various fake news outlets:

      Fake News Forever

      Dateline: The Emerald Socialist Hellhole, a k a Seattle

      Dave Ross, on CBS affiliate, KIRO, was interviewing Jesse Eisenger, senior editor and fake newsy at Propublica (and they have had some real newsies there, from time to time — wonder who chased them away???), on Eisenger’s book, an official fake news apology for the Department of Justice being entirely crooked and never litigating against the banksters.

      At one point, Eisenger says: “Timothy Geithner didn’t send an email telling Eric Holder not to prosecute the bankers.” (I am so glad he mentioned this.)

      No, but we know from those WikiLeaked emails that a newly elected President Obama received an email from Citigroup directing the president to appoint Covington & Burling’s Eric Holder as his attorney general — which he did!

      (Now why doesn’t Dave Ross know anything about the new or current events? That’s right, I forgot, Ross has nothing to do with the Real News!)

      My obvious point, which should be obvious to any real newsy or real journalist or real reporter by 2017: everything the bankers did was illegal — everything!

      Numerous laws were violated millions of times — contract laws, property laws, real estate laws, tax laws, improper and false affidavits filed, falsified court documents, etc., etc., etc.!

      The establishing of MERS (Mortgage Electronic Reporting System) and its operation — by Covington & Burling for the bankers, was illegal! (Covington & Burling? Now where have I heard that name before???)

      Read David Dayen’s incredible book, Chain of Title.

      Read Mary Kreiner Ramirez’s incredible book, The Case for the Corporate Death Penalty.

      Everything the bankers, mortgage lenders, fraudclosure specialists — and their attorneys — did was illegal. Period!

      And that is one gigantic conspiracy, the official omerta of the fake newsies!

      Today, fake news is simply the safe injection site for the banksters.

      Recommended Reading:

      Chain of Title by David Dayen

      The Case for the Corporate Death Penalty by Mary Kreiner Ramirez

      Michael Parenti’s talk, Conspiracy and Class Power:

  2. Ted

    Lambert, of course you know but it bears repeating: NPR exists to promote narratives that their base of listeners want to hear — it is straight up propaganda for the elite classes and their retainers among the professions.

    Thing is … no one can escape the escalating costs of care or its exclusive capture by biomedicine…no one. So, this sort of nonsense is not going to penetrate as deeply as it once might have.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > straight up propaganda for the elite classes and their retainers among the professions

      In my university town, it’s a little different, because there are so many who consider themselves professional, and by cultural markers still are, but are adjuncts, or out of work, or retired, or “consulting”….

      So NPR is nostalgic rather than aspirational, reminding the downwardly (or outwardly) mobile of what they once hoped to be….

      1. sgt_doom

        Mr. S,

        You do realize, don’t you, that since 2008 the Koch brothers have been fully financing the WGBH Educational Foundation which owns PRI (which produces the majority of NPR shows) and PBS and Frontline, etc.?

      2. fajensen

        Really wealthy (and successful), people are incredibly careful, stingy even, with the one thing they have that cannot be procured: Time.

        The true elite simply does not “consume” mass media, they employ secretaries and researchers to write personalised briefings for them. They will simply not waste time on something that does not contribute to moving their current “enterprise” forward, whatever that is (business, fun, fitness, ….).

        The second/third rate echelons strongly believe they need to be “informed” but haven’t considered “Why”.

        Rather than applying their skills and “smarts” working out specifically what they need to know Now about Their Current Situation for The Next Action / Step, too many will spend their time steeped in generalities and emotional-trigger “issues”. Which are absolutely not helping *their*, personal, situation at the only moment where one can influence anything, Right Now.

        So, wasting their time worrying about things they cannot control, never mind influence, they mostly stay angry, poor and live hand-to-mouth, a.k.a. consulting or (worse) start dealing to fund their “habit”, a.k.a. become “SoMe”-“Influencers”.

        Well-off, not-quite-elite, that is: Everyone who is paid a salary however large it is, will procure their information via specialist magazines or newspapers, which are expensive, at most weekly and with fewer but “deeper” articles.

    2. sgt_doom

      Gee, do you think the fact that the Koch brothers have been fully financing the WGBH Educational Foundation which owns PRI (source of the majority of NPR shows) and PBS, and Frontline, etc.???

      I do.

  3. Tomonthebeach

    Ouch! I read NPR feeds, and yes, they can be annoying at times. However, as Lambert demonstrates, they can also challenge readers to think: “Waitaminit!”

    Thanks, Lambert, for the Pogo reminder of whose mess healthcare is. ACA is a great example of how you cannot change a national system without, well, nationalizing it. Otherwise you get an hugely inefficient system subject to being undermined by capitalism’s greed factor.

    BTW, I have been a recipient of socialized medicine my entire life, and I live in the USA. Since I graduated from college and was drafted, I have been treated by the military health system. Even as a 70-year old retiree, I am still partly treated by DOD via TRICARE, and by SSA via Medicare, and by VA because of some disabilities. All 3 are socialized medicine. I am living proof that socialized medicine works, it just does not make physicians richer.

    1. Synoia


      I am living proof that socialized medicine works, it just does not make insurance companies, hospitals and physicians richer.

      I apologize for being particular about identifying the causes.

      1. Anon

        Yes, and many physicians know the increase in fees goes to insurance companies, not them. My Oncologist regularly notes that the cost of medical service would drop by 30% if this rentier service were eliminated. (And billing made easier, too.)

  4. Enquiring Mind

    NPR seems intent on trying to No Platform itself by insistence on tone-deafness, misleading stories and outright falsehoods. They tried to fool some of the people some of the time and got caught in their own trap. They have had some barely-disguised agendas for decades but used to be a little better at their messaging. And they wonder why people drifted away from their fund-raising campaigns. /end rant

  5. Arizona Slim

    Ahhhh, brings back the memories of the summer of 2009, when Yours Truly participated in demonstrations that were organized by We gathered outside of Sen. McCain’s Downtown Tucson office and we were there to support the Public Option.

    Of course, our health insurance industry-backed Senator was nowhere to be found, and his office was locked up tighter than a drum. No one was inside.

    And we were told, no, exhorted, not to breathe a word about (gasp!) Single Payer. Because we weren’t there for that. We were there for the Public Option.

    Recall that, by the summer of 2009, the Public Option wasn’t even on the table anymore. So, why were we out there in the Tucson heat? I’m still trying to figure that one out.

    But I realized that didn’t have an effective strategy, unless it involved building up their mailing list.

    1. Anon

      …wait for McCain to see the bill for his new medical condition. Chemo and radiation treatment is some of the most expensive treatment provided. (Of course, the public will pay most of the bill. Why not “just die”, John?

      1. Arizona Slim

        McCain married into the Hensley family, which owns Hensley Beverage Company. They’re in the business of distributing, ahem, mind-altering substances that just happen to be legal.

        I don’t think that the McCain-Hensley clan will be fretting over John’s medical bills.

    2. Code Name D

      DFA gave us similar instructions. Comprmizes were to be expected, so we already comprmised for thePublic Option. I remember this was when we sirusly started to qustion how independent DFA realy was. (Turned out, not very.) The healthcare battle proved to be the night of the long knives, splitting the activits that activly worked for Obama at the time. Even the OFA was not spared.

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      > And we were told, no, exhorted, not to breathe a word about (gasp!) Single Payer. Because we weren’t there for that. We were there for the Public Option.

      And the Indivisible crowed is, AFAIK, doing exactly the same thing with #SaveTheACA.

    4. oh conned the people who supported it on single payer. I was one of them. IIRC, they performed a survey of the supporters who overwhelmingly chose single payer. And yet, after the survey they did a 180 and went with O and the DimRats (could be the name of a rock group, heh, heh) and helped the insurance crooks et al. MoveOn was found to be disengenuous on other issues too.

    5. fajensen

      But I realised that didn’t have an effective strategy, unless it involved building up their mailing list.

      Everybody Knows that most consultants are great builders and poor finishers, because Incentives: Finishing the job means finding another gig and starting all over again.

      Thus, organisations dominated by consultants, like the DNC, will always be “building”, never “finishing”.

  6. Old Jake

    It might be a quibble, but I find it interesting that the Gallup poll finds a 4% group of Dems who want to both keep the ACA and to repeal it. Who are these Dems? Do they have any clue as to what they are talking about?

    Note too that somehow the Repubs have latched onto something that the (bare) majority of Americans want, which is to repeal the ACA. I’m sure there are followup questions that went unasked, such as if those people want a replacement or just to go back to the way it was previously, but the simple fact does make you think a bit.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The phrase bandied about is “repeal and replace.” Its easy to see how a supporter of single payer might be under the impression ACA has to be “repealed” because the phrase has been repeated so often. Democrats give into the framing.

      My general sense the longer a poll taker remains on a poll the more likely they are lonely and want positive assurance and are giving the “correct,” “active,” or “positive” answer versus a negative or passive answer.

  7. RUKidding

    My NPR loving “progressive” friends never cease to blame all the bad problems with ACA – “progress” of a sort bc it took them up till now to actually admit to all of the huge honking problems w ACA – on the mean bully Republicans who simply “wouldn’t let” Jesus Obama enact Single Payer blah blah blah.

    NPR does nothing to inform them that this notion is Epitome of Fake News.

    Good post however in terms of solid points to debunk all the fake news nonsense about ACA & health insurance in general.

    1. Disturbed Voter

      I voted for Obama twice, but never confused him with Jesus, MLK nor Lincoln. But this was the baby of Congress 2010. He can’t take all the blame. We only get a subsidy from money printing, because foreigners haven’t rejected dollars .. yet.

      There is an automatic escalation of per capita health care costs, partly because of constantly improving technology … both to detect problems you didn’t know you had, as well as treatments for those problems. Cost couldn’t have escalated in medicine if it had stayed at the “doctor with the black bag, making house calls” level.

      And I am glad it didn’t. But this means that the unlimited demand for health care, will swallow the whole economy.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        So Obama had no leverage over Congressional and Senate Democrats? Or is the company line to just pretend Democrats didn’t have majorities?

        1. Richard

          Well we couldn’t count on the Blue Dogs, of course. It was important to elect them, because go team.
          We just couldn’t use them in any way that helped actual people, because, markets I guess.

      2. Anon

        But this means that the unlimited demand for health care, will swallow the whole economy.

        Nonsense! Health care employs a more varied group of people and would generate “velocity” in the economy. (Not “swallow” it.)

        And providing a nation, that is now 30% pre-diabetic (over-weight), with readily accessible early-life health care is likely to improve productivity, reduce mortality, and reduce the high cost of “end of life” intervention.

      3. sgt_doom

        Thanks for repeating all the mindless, robotic memes — good to think independently once in awhile, ya know?

      4. juliania

        Yes, he totally can! The very first question he was asked on his post election tour of town meetings in Rio Rancho, New Mexico was about single payer. Deftly he sidelined the issue by saying oh, he was for it as an ideal, but it would mean tearing down the system and remaking it, and we can’t do that, can we?

        He blunted and sidelined the issue from the getgo.

      5. oh

        Obama was the primary cheerleader for the big giveaway to the insurance industry. Bacchus was the drafter of the bill (amply helped by the pharma and insurance lobbyists). If Obama isn’t to blame how come he fervently excluded Physicians for Health Care (single payer advocates) and other similar groups? He’s to blame for 95% of the ACA.

  8. Ernesto Lyon

    All those nice people voices spitting out garbage. I can’t stand NPR anymore.

    Fox radio has become my favorite now. They are the only major media treating the Russia story like the nothing burger it is and they are not pushing the resistance. Also, Tucker Carlson has become quite entertaining with his perceptive bashing of Dem stupidity. He may even read NC for ideas.

    They shill for the GOP, but it’s more open and honest than the cryptoshilling of NPR.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Fox radio? Hmmm, I’ll have to give it a try. Because I already have a secret crush on American Conservative, which I was led to by …

      … Naked Capitalism.

      1. Massinissa

        Well, the American Conservative is Paleocon, not Neocon, and they’ve always been highly critical of the Republican party, so I’m not sure you should really be confusing them with more mainstream conservatives. If all conservatives were like the folks at American Conservative, I would probably be a conservative too. But they’re not.

            1. sgt_doom

              Perhaps for the same reason Blyth did not support Scottish independence (a secret Brit at heart). . .

            2. Heraclitus

              Mark Blyth also said he thought the question of who defines one’s gender, the individual or the state, is a very important one. He just thought it very short sighted to focus on it in a political campaign.

    2. Johnnygl

      Tucker carlson interviewed max blumenthal the other day. That is sure to make heads explode!

    3. sgt_doom

      Koch brothers at NPR, Rupert Murdoch at Fox — tell me we don’t live in a whackadoodle country????

  9. Sandwichman

    “We are blessed, on this continent, with the closest thing you can get to a controlled experiment in the real world on how to do health care right, and how to do it wrong.”

    And we in Canada are doubly blessed by being the do-it-right country.

    1. ger

      Interesting … one of my grandsons married a Canadian women and relocated to Canada. Recently, I asked him if he would ever come back to America. He said “What, and lose my Canadian health care”. He further commented about Canadians that were fearful of traveling to the US because they were afraid they might have an accident or get sick while out of Canada. Maybe over concerned, but the Canadians are aware of the sorry health care system in the US.

  10. Sandwichman

    And on NPR, they lost me permanently in the 1980s with their romantic paeans to the “rebel” Contras in Nicaragua. Neo-cons masquerading as folkies.

    1. Arizona Slim

      My British relatives, who were Tories to the core, loved the National Health. Loved it.

      When they came to this country for a visit, they had to buy expensive private insurance because we didn’t have the National Health. They weren’t happy about that.

      OTOH, they loved the Orange County, California bus system. Because the drivers would wait for them when they transferred from bus to bus.

  11. RickM

    I stopped listening to Tote Bag Radio news a long time ago, but once in a while I slip up and get a reward. I was at the beginning of a long drive early Saturday morning, July1st, and was listening to Scott Simon, sentimental war monger par excellence, interview a Seattle politician about a study showing mixed results after the new minimum wage law in Seattle went into effect. The interviewee pointed out that there were several shortcomings in the study that should be considered, whereupon Simon asked him if he was just going to wait until he got a study that he liked and trumpet that one. The reply was priceless (paraphrase): “No, Mr. Simon, I am just a moron who fails to understand anything you are talking about, thank you very much!” A better “go f*ck yourself” I have seldom heard. Made me laugh off and on the remainder of the day.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Only Saturday morning program I listen to is “Car Talk.”

      I never cease to be amazed by this program’s popularity. I mean, come on. It features a couple of (gasp!) auto mechanics who (yikes!) get very dirty while doing their jobs. Not very upscale NPR, now is it?

      BTW, I was also a huge fan of the “Dirty Jobs” TV series.

      1. O4amuse

        Yeah, dirty auto mechanics with degrees from MIT and an acquired taste for Bluegrass Music living on forever to make money from edited reruns now that one of them has died. O, so very down scale!

    2. Ryan

      Scott Simon is one of the primary reasons I quit listening to NPR. He’s a fraud and a turncoat.

  12. Cat Burglar

    Every NPR story comes with a moral at the end: “Go back to sleep.”

    Every piece of propaganda has at least one truth: what they want you to think.

      1. polecat

        Man/ Ghoul at magazine stand, dishing out the stink eye : “Hey, what’s your problem ? … I SAID, What’s Your PROBLEM !!”

      2. timotheus

        I find the collegiate smarty-pants voices the opposite of soothing. We used to call them Buffy and Gerard, as in, “Put on Buffy and Gerard so we can catch the headlines.” Could never listen to them for more than the 5 minute news wrap-up on the hour. Anything longer was excruciating. And all those clever little noises so that we could be reminded that we were hearing Sophisticated Radio for Adults: “Wolves return to Louisiana Wooooooo!” [wolf sounds] or “Local railroads survive in the West,” CHUGGA-CHUGGA [Locomotive sounds]”.

        Massively annoying self-regard (early Obamamometer stuff] goes back to the origins of Small Things Considered, i.e. Susan Stamberg’s laugh, long bits of which were ALWAYS left on the taped interviews, at her explicit instructions. [I knew engineers there at the time.] I rest my case.

  13. Code Name D

    The power of propaganda is not its ability to feed you the narative, but its ability to sheild you from anything that might challange that narative.

    1. Cat Burglar

      So, for example, making cost the issue distracts the listeners from the deaths resulting from the present system. Fill public discourse with BS so there is no room for anything else.

      Indirect propagation of fatalism (Jerry Brown asking “How do you pay for it?”) would count as another shielding trick.

      1. Code Name D

        Such as how the ACA is constanty braging about how many new insurance policys it has crated. But ignoringthe numbers that still do not, and can not have healthcare under the ACA, or even that the numer of new policiyes only reach half of the origanl CDC projections.

  14. psp

    And that’s what caused Democrats to lose control of the Senate in the Scott Brown v. Martha Coakely race in Massachusetts, not health care.

    Huh? The Democrats lost the House in the 2010 midterms but kept the Senate. They didn’t lose control of the Senate until the 2014 elections.

    What the Democrats lost in the Brown v. Coakley race was their 60-vote supermajority.

    What the chart shows is that the our private health insurance system is purely parasitic; it is useless; it exists solely for the purpose of rental extraction from its host, the body politic. Abolish it, and you bend the cost curve to look like Canada’s.

    I don’t completely disagree with you here, but the ACA imposed the medical loss ratio (MLR) of 80% to 85%. It’s still more expensive per-capita then Medicare due to Medicare’s leverage, but the high costs are from providers and pharma, not private insurance. Granted, private insurance does not help with price transparency, but I disagree that abolishing private insurance will bend the cost curve, at least not without a significant cost in human lives.

    Now, I grant that 40% support among Republicans is not a majority, and of course results vary by the question asked. But “anathema”? No. Republican views static since the 50s? No.

    Maybe single payer isn’t anathema to all Republicans, but it is to all elected Republicans. I see your point, but there’s a large difference between the priorities of the average Republican voter versus the average Republican official, and I think that’s where the difference in perspective comes from.

    1. Anon

      So how does a 60/40 Republican voter base split on single-payer result in uncompromising stance by their electoral representatives? Voter inertia? Or political corruption (better known as lobbying)?

    2. Yves Smith


      I have no idea where you get your data from. I’ve read repeatedly that the MLR was 90% in the early 1990s, confirming that 85% is profiteering by insurers, particularly since they do no underwriting under Obamacare, and the MLR WAS ~85% when the ACA was passed. Many commentators were scandalized that Obamacare explicitly permitted a MLR of 80%. That is one of the reasons insurer stocks traded higher in a big way the day it was finally passed.

      Links please. This sounds like BS to me. At best, matters got no worse under the ACA.

  15. dcblogger

    lambert strether is the best healthcare reporter on the net

    everyone put some $ into his tip jar so that he can come to DC.

    1. Roger Smith

      Here, here. Truly the best write ups I have seen. Well… second to WaPo maybe [now we are both under the table!]

  16. Ryan

    “Clearly, however, NPR is not a “safe place” for reliable health care reporting. They’re not trustworthy.”

    And…. they haven’t been trustworthy since 2000 when Bush stacked the Board with right wing ideologues.

    That’s when I stopped listening to NPR. If you haven’t, then you should, too.

    1. Left in Wisconsin

      I think not listening, and engaging, is a mistake. There really isn’t a national news source that is reliable and trustworthy. It seems to me that publicly calling them on BS, as Lambert does, is a lot more useful than letting them get away with their version of history because everyone who knows better has tuned out.

      The economics “profession” was able, over a generation or two, to rid itself of virtually all non-like-minded thinkers. The end result, we now see, is that they have complete control of ALL the apparatuses (apparati?) of political-economic governance. We squawk and call it BS, but they run the show and we are seriously hamstrung in trying to challenge them.

      A big part of power is controlling the narrative. Absence of dissent makes it all the easier.

      1. Richard

        I acknowledge your point for us as a collective, but for me as an individual, life is too short and it would drive me insane. Sorry guys, I’ll contribute somewhere else.

    2. Anon

      Although not as many stations carry it, Democracy Now! is a much more vibrant alternative.

      1. Yves Smith

        Democracy Now ignored Sanders and touted the no-threat-to-the-Dems Jill Stein during the campaign, and then gave a dismissive interview with him post election when he appeared to be a has-beem. I didn’t hear it, but an LA reader at the meetup who warned, “You need to know who your friends are” said Amy Goodman started by saying, “Aren’t you a fringe candidate?” and it didn’t get any better than that.

        So don’t kid yourself re their allegiances.

  17. Roger Smith

    This is great Lambert, thanks! It even brought out some older writings of yours on the topic that I had not seen!

  18. flora

    NPR presenters say the darndest things. I’m sure they go into a Monty Python “wink,wink,nudge,nudge” routine after they spout this stuff, off mic of course.

  19. Roger Smith

    Obama’s town hall transcript is definitely worth revisiting. During question and answer, answer (starting with that mealy mouthed “well” that Clinton drove me nuts with):

    ” Well, as you know, I campaigned vigorously on health care reform, and I think that we have a better chance of getting it done this year than we’ve had in decades.

    I am optimistic about us getting health care reform done. Now, health care is one-sixth of our economy, so it is a complicated, difficult task. And Congress is going to have to work hard. And everybody is going to have to come at this with a practical perspective, as opposed to trying to be ideologically pure in getting it done.”

    I’d love to see the citizen’s face at this early point in the exchange.

    Listen [implying the audiences lack of refined coherence… ugh], by far the biggest contributor to our national debt and our annual deficit is the costs of Medicare and Medicaid — as well as the other entitlement, Social Security — defense, and interest on the national debt.

    The phrasing here is meant to echo the conservative talking point that entitlements are killing our societal welfare… ….ahem oh and yea, the military, *cough*… Looking it up again, the Military itself accounted for 54% of discretionary spending in 2015. Social Security plus Medicare & Health… 9%. Throw in VA benefits and you are still only at 15%.

    Now, this brings to the last principle, and so this touches on your point, and that is,
    why not do a single-payer system. (Applause.) Got the little single-payer advocates up here. (Applause.) All right.

    We have historically a tradition of employer-based health care. And although there are a lot of people who are not satisfied with their health care, the truth is, is that the vast majority of people currently get health care from their employers and you’ve got this system that’s already in place. We don’t want a huge disruption as we go into health care reform where suddenly we’re trying to completely reinvent one-sixth of the economy.

    So what I’ve said is, let’s set up a system where if you already have health care through your employer and you’re happy with it, you don’t have to change doctors, you don’t have to change plans — nothing changes.

    With a national Medicare for all program, why would doctors need to be changed? Maybe that is how and imbecile like this hack would do it, but a more well facilitate approach would simply keep the basics in place and bring the new people in as they choose their new doctors. This is false flag non-sense. Those average contented people would have cheaper and more comprehensive care as well.

    1. Jeff W

      I recall that town hall in New Mexico in May, 2009—at the time I thought President Obama’s answer was nonsense.

      We don’t have a “tradition” of employer-based health care.* It’s an accident arising as an unintended consequence of the Stabilization Act of 1942, which was designed to limit wage increases during wartime. Its effect was that more and more employers began offering health insurance as a fringe benefit, promoted, of course, by the insurance companies.

      And you’re right about the “disruption” or lack of it—you could keep your doctor with single payer under any sensibly-designed system. It’s just a unified payment system.

      That “starting from scratch” line is still a Democratic Party talking point: see Nancy Pelosi’s tabula rasa line from her March, 2017 town hall. We’re prisoners of the crappy status quo, according to Democratic “leaders.”

      Empty talking points—people have really had enough of those.

      *One thing I always detested about Obama, aside from, obviously, his patent neoliberalism, is his utter ahistoricism.

      1. juliania

        Thanks to you and the above poster for more accurate account of that New Mexico town hall than mine. I lost faith in Obama then and there.

  20. Tobin Paz

    I have been listening to NPR for my daily commute due to the inability to listen to the local AM sports station. Their coverage of anything Russia, Ukraine or Syria is criminal. The Nuremberg tribunal prosecuted Hans Fritzsche for propaganda as an instrument of aggression.

    US prosecuted Nazi propagandists as war criminals: The Nuremberg tribunal and the role of the media

    It is likely that many ordinary Germans would never have participated in or tolerated the atrocities committed throughout Europe, had they not been conditioned and goaded by the constant Nazi propaganda.

  21. TheCatSaid

    This is a great analysis of the NPR perspective and its misrepresentations.

    Even during the “good old days” of NPR its range of views was strictly limited. NPR never seriously questioned the assumption that modern Western approaches to medicine are the most effective ways of addressing health. That little bit of brainwashing was a contribution of Rockefeller et al, as well documented by James Corbett and many others.

    While “heroic” medicine can accomplish many things in relation to catastrophic injuries, in many other diseases and conditions, physical and/or emotional, there are diverse ways of understanding and addressing health that are more effective and that avoid the downsides of “modern” approaches. To give one example, in many Asian and Latino and first nation traditions there is knowledge and respect for food being used as powerful medicine.

  22. sierra7

    I stopped (STOPPED) including NPR in my “evening” education way back in the “First Persian Gulf War” when Bush the elder was spewing lies and James Baker was “supporting alternatives to war”, rhetoric repeated (rinse and repeat) by NPR nightly news; and the obsequious military personnel with their sidearm wands with allegro pointing out the targets in the invasion of Iraq!! Ye Gods! How much bullshit can you Americans consume!!!! They were not less responsible for the subsequent murderous slaughter of Iraqis and (our Warriors!!!! What a word to describe our young who we nonchalantly feed the beast with!) in the FPW but also when the genetically deficient Bush 2 invaded in 2003 with the smarmy assistance of the blathering idiots of NPR and the NYT!
    NPT is really National Petroleum Radio….and TV.
    My their souls rest in Hell with the rest of the corporate media!
    (And, we want to label Kim Sung 3 a lunatic!)

  23. bob

    NPR: Your contributions keep us on the air, your betters pick the programming.

    Just today I found myself in the car and spinning through the stations. NPR. They’ve got a virtual lock in the area I was in. Almost a complete monopoly.

    Cue the techno-fascist pushing google glass for factory workers. “it’ll be great!”

    Nothing about how google, or the glass, does anything other that push the problems to another person in the chain. Tech? Where?

    “It’ll be great! The future!”

    I can handle about 5 minutes before I start yelling back.

  24. whiteylockmandoubled

    Great piece. Agree with it all except point 1. It’s absurd to claim that health care had no impact on the 2010 elections. The crappiness of Obamacare certainly helped inflame the right’s base, and its crappiness also gave people looking for improved heatth care nothing to celebrate.

    Otherwise a terrific summary of a desultory history, and a reminder that if we keep fighting, we’ll win this.

    If you want an even more horrific bit of NPR propagandizing, listen to this cross-talk about a press conference by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

    The “news” was the Iranian Foreign Minister speaking on the record to Western reporters. But NPR is so spine-watering terrified that their listeners will abandon the US/Israeli/Saudi consensus if exposed to the tiniest bit of contradictory information, that they reduce the event to a radio MST3K mockery, with not one but two white guys yammering away about a conversation that the listeners don’t actually get to hear.

    173 words of the 943-word transcript (18%) are Zarif. The rest is David Greene and Steve Inskeep huffing and snickering and mocking Zarif as he makes a few self-evident points. The transcript does not do it justice, you have to hear these pathetic shills to believe them. If NPR took the corporate media nonsense about “objectivity” even marginally seriously, David Greene would have been out on his ass 2 seconds after the broadcast, and had no chance at a job in journalism for the rest of his life.

  25. Epistrophy

    Lambert – I’m struggling to understand your message here – you are knocking NPR – but launch into a fairly deep discussion of healthcare. The comments are all over the place on the board – mostly anti-NPR but some healthcare related stuff too. Don’t get me wrong – I am not criticising your work that is always very thought provoking.

    I’m going to weigh in with an opinion on what I consider the more important issue: US health care. This is coming from a person who has worked in many different countries under different health care systems.

    The comparison chart under Item 3, showing costs over time in various nations, which on the surface illustrates the outrageously expensive American system, in essence reinforces the message that I have been trying to put forward for some years now: that trying to make a ‘single payer one-size-fits-all’ healthcare system that is centrally controlled for the entire USA is simply impossible.

    The referenced chart compares countries, each of which could be a single state in America in terms of population. Each has its own unique system that works for its own purposes. Some of the systems are almost entirely state-run, some are a mixture, and others lean towards more private models. In other words, they are all different systems run over far smaller geographical regions and markets that the USA.

    Thought experiment: imagine that Brussels announced the imposition of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ healthcare system for the whole of Europe. This is an impossible action and could never happen politically. The Germans would never accept the British system, the British would never accept the Italian system, and so on.

    So we return to the USA. The DC government is completely delusional trying to make a national system and in this respect I also include the Obama legacy – that has only caused an acceleration of health care costs. The American people are completely delusional if they think that DC is the solution.

    In fact, DC is the problem. It is a single point of contact for vested interests to exert control over everything. The only viable solution is that we abolish the Obamacare programme and get this out of the hands of DC.

    Instead, establish a bipartisan commission linked to state medical and administrative professionals, to come up with (1) guiding principles and (2) a framework system that can be used by the states to develop their own competing healthcare networks. Let the states tell DC what to do – not the other way around. A sort of ‘Declaration of Independence for Healthcare’. This must be the starting point of agreement. At the moment there is no plan, no strategy, just knee-jerk after knee-jerk with regulations written by the healthcare industry.

    This problem has been around for a long time and is not going to be solved overnight. It needs time and intelligence to sort out, two attributes for which many Americans would agree DC is not well regarded.

    And these types of systems are never static. In those countries of the referenced chart, the systems are continuously evolving under a guiding set of principles.

    1. Yves Smith

      Were you paid to write this?

      Australia has a vastly cheaper healthcare system than the US. Even when I was there, in the early 2000. a full 25% of its population was immigrants. They have lots of regional diversity, and some very distressed populations (high drug use when I was there, high Hep C due to tattoos, and the economically very marginalized Abos, plus great difficulties in delivering health care in the bush). England in case you missed actually now has a very large immigrant population, both EU and non-EU, hugely distressed areas in the North and West. France has a large marginalized immigrant population (Algerians and other Muslims) and desperately poor suburbs around Paris. Your picture of pretty white homogeneous Europeans is bullshit.

      This “the states should do it” is the new Democratic party plan to thwart single payer. 60-70% of medical spending in the US NOW is funded by Uncle Sam. Once you get past CA, pretty much no state will have the heft to bargain for drug prices. That’s for starters.

      Moreover, states don’t have the ability to create currency. The Federal government does.

    2. Adams

      You are correct. Regional differences are a reality. However, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid seem to work ok, especially when compared to the idiotic private insurance system that sucks 20%out of every health care dollar.

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