Monday, August 23, 2010

Dysfunctional, Corrupt Politics Are Killing The U.S.

...According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, making all of the Bush tax cuts permanent, as opposed to following the Obama proposal, would cost the federal government $680 billion in revenue over the next 10 years. For the sake of comparison, it took months of hard negotiations to get Congressional approval for a mere $26 billion in desperately needed aid to state and local governments.

And where would this $680 billion go? Nearly all of it would go to the richest 1 percent of Americans, people with incomes of more than $500,000 a year. But that’s the least of it: the policy center’s estimates say that the majority of the tax cuts would go to the richest one-tenth of 1 percent. Take a group of 1,000 randomly selected Americans, and pick the one with the highest income; he’s going to get the majority of that group’s tax break. And the average tax break for those lucky few — the poorest members of the group have annual incomes of more than $2 million, and the average member makes more than $7 million a year — would be $3 million over the course of the next decade.

...The original campaign for the Bush tax cuts relied on deception and dishonesty. In fact, my first suspicions that we were being misled into invading Iraq were based on the resemblance between the campaign for war and the campaign for tax cuts the previous year. And sure enough, that same trademark deception and dishonesty is being deployed on behalf of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

So, for example, we’re told that it’s all about helping small business; but only a tiny fraction of small-business owners would receive any tax break at all. And how many small-business owners do you know making several million a year?

Or we’re told that it’s about helping the economy recover. But it’s hard to think of a less cost-effective way to help the economy than giving money to people who already have plenty, and aren’t likely to spend a windfall.

No, this has nothing to do with sound economic policy. Instead... it’s about a dysfunctional and corrupt political culture, in which Congress won’t take action to revive the economy, pleads poverty when it comes to protecting the jobs of schoolteachers and firefighters, but declares cost no object when it comes to sparing the already wealthy even the slightest financial inconvenience.

So far, the Obama administration is standing firm against this outrage. Let’s hope that it prevails in its fight. Otherwise, it will be hard not to lose all faith in America’s future.

--Paul Krugman

Monday, August 9, 2010

"America's On Unlit, Unpaved Road To Nowhere"

...We’re told that we have no choice, that basic government functions — essential services that have been provided for generations — are no longer affordable. And it’s true that state and local governments, hit hard by the recession, are cash-strapped. But they wouldn’t be quite as cash-strapped if their politicians were willing to consider at least some tax increases.

And the federal government, which can sell inflation-protected long-term bonds at an interest rate of only 1.04 percent, isn’t cash-strapped at all. It could and should be offering aid to local governments, to protect the future of our infrastructure and our children.

But Washington is providing only a trickle of help, and even that grudgingly. We must place priority on reducing the deficit, say Republicans and “centrist” Democrats. And then, virtually in the next breath, they declare that we must preserve tax cuts for the very affluent, at a budget cost of $700 billion over the next decade.

In effect, a large part of our political class is showing its priorities: given the choice between asking the richest 2 percent or so of Americans to go back to paying the tax rates they paid during the Clinton-era boom, or allowing the nation’s foundations to crumble — literally in the case of roads, figuratively in the case of education — they’re choosing the latter....

How did we get to this point? It’s the logical consequence of three decades of antigovernment rhetoric, rhetoric that has convinced many voters that a dollar collected in taxes is always a dollar wasted, that the public sector can’t do anything right.

The antigovernment campaign has always been phrased in terms of opposition to waste and fraud — to checks sent to welfare queens driving Cadillacs, to vast armies of bureaucrats uselessly pushing paper around. But those were myths, of course; there was never remotely as much waste and fraud as the right claimed. And now that the campaign has reached fruition, we’re seeing what was actually in the firing line: services that everyone except the very rich need, services that government must provide or nobody will, like lighted streets, drivable roads and decent schooling for the public as a whole.

So the end result of the long campaign against government is that we’ve taken a disastrously wrong turn. America is now on the unlit, unpaved road to nowhere.

--Paul Krugman

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dead On Arrival: Obama's Financial Reform Fails

The House-Senate reconciliation process is still underway and some details will still change. But the broad contours of “financial reform” are already completely clear; there are no last minute miracles at this level of politics. The new consumer protection agency for financial products is a good idea and worth supporting – assuming someone sensible is appointed by the president to run it. Yet, at the end of the day, essentially nothing in the entire legislation will reduce the potential for massive system risk as we head into the next credit cycle....

more from Simon Johnson

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fascist U.S.: Love it, Leave it, or Do something

Many news reports about the Gulf oil catastrophe refer to it as a "spill." Wrong. A spill is a minor "oops" — one accidentally spills milks, for example, and from childhood, we're taught the old aphorism: "Don't cry over spilt milk." What's in the Gulf isn't milk and it wasn't spilt. The explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon well was the inevitable result of deliberate decisions made by avaricious corporate executives, laissez faire politicians and obsequious regulators.
As the ruinous gulf oil blowout spreads onto land, over wildlife, across the ocean floor and into people's lives, it raises a fundamental question for all of us Americans: Who the hell's in charge here? What we're witnessing is not merely a human and environmental horror, but also an appalling deterioration in our nation's governance. Just as we saw in Wall Street's devastating economic disaster and in Massey Energy's murderous explosion inside its Upper Big Branch coal mine, the nastiness in the gulf is baring an ugly truth that We the People must finally face: We are living under de facto corporate rule that has rendered our government impotent.

Thirty years of laissez-faire, ideological nonsense (pushed upon us with a vengeance in the past decade) has transformed government into a subsidiary of corporate power. Wall Street, Massey, BP and its partners — all were allowed to become their own "regulators" and officially encouraged to put their short-term profit interests over the public interest.

Let's not forget that on April 2, barely two weeks before Deepwater Horizon blew and 11 people perished on the spot, the public's No. 1 official, Barack Obama, trumpeted his support for more deepwater oil drilling, blithely regurgitating Big Oil's big lie: "Oil rigs today generally don't cause spills." He and his advisors had not bothered to check the truth of that — they simply took the industry's word. That's not governing, it's aiding and abetting profiteers, and it's a pathetic performance.

But that was only the start of Washington's oily confession that it has surrendered control to corporate arrogance and avarice....

--Jim Hightower

...Blanchard took us out into the Gulf to see the skimming operations. None of the boat owners would talk to us. Blanchard explained, “They’re scared to talk, and they’re scared to be seen, because BP has threatened them that if they talk to the media, they’re going to be fired.”

One fisherman, Glenn Swift, whom we met in Buras, La., confirmed that he signed a contract with a clause stating that speaking to the media was grounds for termination. When I asked him why, then, he was talking to me, he said: “I don’t feel it’s the right thing to shut somebody up. We’re supposed to live in the United States, and we’re supposed to have freedom of speech.”

Down the road from Blanchard, a family has erected 101 crosses in their front yard, each one commemorating something they love, like “brown pelicans,” “beach sunsets” and “sand between the toes.” The sign next to the cemetery of dreams reads, “In memory of all that is lost, courtesy of BP and our federal government.”

--Amy Goodman

...You, the graduating class of 2010, are caught in a system; then again, so are our leaders. In recent years, we've had two presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who could not be mistaken for one another. In most obvious ways -- style, thinking, personality, politics, sensibility, impulses -- they couldn't be more different, as have been the ways they have approached problems. One was a true believer in the glories of American military and executive power, the other is a manager of a declining power and what passes for a political "pragmatist" in our world. Yet, more times than is faintly comfortable, the two of them have ended up in approximately the same policy places -- whether on the abridgement of liberties, the expansion of the secret activities of military special operations forces across the Greater Middle East, the CIA drone war in the Pakistani borderlands and elsewhere, the treatment of prisoners, our expanding wars, Pentagon budgets, offshore oil drilling and nuclear power, or other topics which matter in our lives.

This should be more startling than it evidently is for most Americans. If the policies of these two disparate figures often have a tweedledum-and-tweedledee-ish look to them, then what we face is not specific party politics or individual style, but a system with its own steamroller force, and its own set of narrow, repetitive "solutions" to our problems. We also face an increasingly militarized, privatized government, its wheels greased by the funds of giant corporations, that now regularly seems to go about the business of creating new Katrinas.

Compared to the long-gone world I graduated into, yours seems to me little short of dystopian, even if, on the surface, it still has something of the look of American abundance. If nothing changes in this equation, your experience, as far as I can tell, will be of ever less available, ever less decent jobs and of ever less wealth ever less well distributed, as well as of a federal government ("the bureaucracy") that has everything to do with giant corporations, their lobbyists and publicists, and the military-industrial complex -- and nothing to do with you.

--Tom Engelhardt

Monday, May 10, 2010

Obama Pushes Supreme Court To The Right

President Obama ...[has replaced] John Paul Stevens [with Elena Kagan, and] the Supreme Court will move rightward. The nomination is very disturbing, especially because it's part of a pattern. The White House is in the grip of conventional centrist wisdom. Grim results stretch from Afghanistan to the Gulf of Mexico to communities across the USA.

On numerous policy fronts, such conformity to a centrist baseline has smothered hopes for moving this country in a progressive direction. Now, the president has taken a step that jeopardizes civil liberties and other basic constitutional principles....

"During the course of her Senate confirmation hearings as Solicitor General, Kagan explicitly endorsed the Bush administration's bogus category of ‘enemy combatant,' whose implementation has been a war crime in its own right," University of Illinois law professor Francis Boyle noted last month. "Now, in her current job as U.S. Solicitor General, Kagan is quarterbacking the continuation of the Bush administration's illegal and unconstitutional positions in U.S. federal court litigation around the country, including in the U.S. Supreme Court."

Boyle added: "Kagan has said ‘I love the Federalist Society.' This is a right-wing group; almost all of the Bush administration lawyers responsible for its war and torture memos are members of the Federalist Society."

The departing Justice Stevens was a defender of civil liberties. Unless the Senate refuses to approve Kagan for the Supreme Court, the nation's top court is very likely to become more hostile to civil liberties and less inclined to put limits on presidential power....

For more than 15 months, evidence has mounted that President Obama routinely combines progressive rhetoric with contrary actions. As one bad decision after another has emanated from the Oval Office, some progressives have favored denial -- even though, if the name "Bush" or "McCain" had been attached to the same presidential policies, the same progressives would have been screaming bloody murder.

But enabling bad policies, with silent acquiescence or anemic dissent, encourages more of them. At this point, progressive groups and individuals who pretend that Obama's policies merely need a few tweaks, or just suffer from a few anomalous deficiencies, are whistling past a political graveyard....

The Justice Department continues to backtrack on civil liberties. And now...the president's nomination of Elena Kagan...will move the Supreme Court to the right.

Norman Solomon is a journalist, historian, and progressive activist. His book "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death" has been adapted into a documentary film of the same name. His most recent book is "Made Love, Got War." He is a national co-chair of the Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign. In California, he is co-chair of the Commission on a Green New Deal for the North Bay; Essay originally published in Common Dreams.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Back In the U.S, U.S., U.S.AAAAA.

Back in the U.S., U.S., U.S.AAAA.,

You don't know how luck you are boy!

Back in the U.S., U.S., U.S.AAAAAA!

I'll be back in the U.S.A. in May, after my annual 6 month tour of Asia.

Naturally, it will take time to adjust.

To the violence.

In Thailand, for example, while thousands of impovrished farmers block the major intersections of Bankok at the moment. No one has thought to threaten their political leaders with death for passing a particular bill, like those Amerians who have done just that because one congressman or another chose to pass Obamacare.

Also, in Thailand, it was a big deal when the protesters invaded the halls of government and discovered that some policemen had a stash of guns at the ready. But none of them thought to use the guns against the protesters, unlike the cop in New Orleans during Katrina who shot and killed two defenseless citizens on the Danziger Bridge.

In short, it will take some time to adjust to living in such a violent society that the U.S. has become.

What's wrong with us? Here's an answer I can get behind, written by Chris Hedges, who graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times:

The language of violence always presages violence. I watched it in war after war from Latin America to the Balkans. The impoverishment of a working class and the snuffing out of hope and opportunity always produce angry mobs ready to kill and be killed. A bankrupt, liberal elite, which proves ineffectual against the rich and the criminal, always gets swept aside, in times of economic collapse, before thugs and demagogues emerge to play to the passions of the crowd. I have seen this drama. I know each act. I know how it ends. I have heard it in other tongues in other lands. I recognize the same stock characters, the buffoons, charlatans and fools, the same confused crowds and the same impotent and despised liberal class that deserves the hatred it engenders.

"We are ruled not by two parties but one party," Cynthia McKinney, who ran for president on the Green Party ticket, told me. "It is the party of money and war. Our country has been hijacked. And we have to take the country away from those who have hijacked it. The only question now is whose revolution gets funded."

The Democrats and their liberal apologists are so oblivious to the profound personal and economic despair sweeping through this country that they think offering unemployed people the right to keep their unemployed children on their nonexistent health care policies is a step forward. They think that passing a jobs bill that will give tax credits to corporations is a rational response to an unemployment rate that is, in real terms, close to 20 percent. They think that making ordinary Americans, one in eight of whom depends on food stamps to eat, fork over trillions in taxpayer dollars to pay for the crimes of Wall Street and war is acceptable. They think that the refusal to save the estimated 2.4 million people who will be forced out of their homes by foreclosure this year is justified by the bloodless language of fiscal austerity. The message is clear. Laws do not apply to the power elite. Our government does not work. And the longer we stand by and do nothing, the longer we refuse to embrace and recognize the legitimate rage of the working class, the faster we will see our anemic democracy die.

The unraveling of America mirrors the unraveling of Yugoslavia. The Balkan war was not caused by ancient ethnic hatreds. It was caused by the economic collapse of Yugoslavia. The petty criminals and goons who took power harnessed the anger and despair of the unemployed and the desperate. They singled out convenient scapegoats from ethnic Croats to Muslims to Albanians to Gypsies. They set in motion movements that unleashed a feeding frenzy leading to war and self-immolation. There is little difference between the ludicrous would-be poet Radovan Karadzic, who was a figure of ridicule in Sarajevo before the war, and the moronic Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin. There is little difference between the Oath Keepers and the Serbian militias. We can laugh at these people, but they are not the fools. We are.

The longer we appeal to the Democrats, who are servants of corporate interests, the more stupid and ineffectual we become. Sixty-one percent of Americans believe the country is in decline, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, and they are right. Only 25 percent of those polled said the government can be trusted to protect the interests of the American people. If we do not embrace this outrage and distrust as our own it will be expressed through a terrifying right-wing backlash.

"It is time for us to stop talking about right and left," McKinney told me. "The old political paradigm that serves the interests of the people who put us in this predicament will not be the paradigm that gets us out of this. I am a child of the South. Janet Napolitano tells me I need to be afraid of people who are labeled white supremacists but I was raised around white supremacists. I am not afraid of white supremacists. I am concerned about my own government. The Patriot Act did not come from the white supremacists, it came from the White House and Congress. Citizens United did not come from white supremacists, it came from the Supreme Court. Our problem is a problem of governance. I am willing to reach across traditional barriers that have been skillfully constructed by people who benefit from the way the system is organized."

We are bound to a party that has betrayed every principle we claim to espouse, from universal health care to an end to our permanent war economy, to a demand for quality and affordable public education, to a concern for the jobs of the working class. And the hatred expressed within right-wing movements for the college-educated elite, who created or at least did nothing to halt the financial debacle, is not misplaced. Our educated elite, wallowing in self-righteousness, wasted its time in the boutique activism of political correctness as tens of millions of workers lost their jobs. The shouting of racist and bigoted words at black and gay members of Congress, the spitting on a black member of the House, the tossing of bricks through the windows of legislators' offices, are part of the language of rebellion. It is as much a revolt against the educated elite as it is against the government. The blame lies with us. We created the monster.

When someone like Palin posts a map with cross hairs on the districts of Democrats, when she says "Don't Retreat, Instead-RELOAD!" there are desperate people cleaning their weapons who listen. When Christian fascists stand in the pulpits of megachurches and denounce Barack Obama as the Antichrist, there are messianic believers who listen. When a Republican lawmaker shouts "baby killer" at Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, there are violent extremists who see the mission of saving the unborn as a sacred duty. They have little left to lose. We made sure of that. And the violence they inflict is an expression of the violence they endure.

These movements are not yet full-blown fascist movements. They do not openly call for the extermination of ethnic or religious groups. They do not openly advocate violence. But, as I was told by Fritz Stern, a scholar of fascism who has written about the origins of Nazism, "In Germany there was a yearning for fascism before fascism was invented." It is the yearning that we now see, and it is dangerous. If we do not immediately reincorporate the unemployed and the poor back into the economy, giving them jobs and relief from crippling debt, then the nascent racism and violence that are leaping up around the edges of American society will become a full-blown conflagration.

Left unchecked, the hatred for radical Islam will transform itself into a hatred for Muslims. The hatred for undocumented workers will become a hatred for Mexicans and Central Americans. The hatred for those not defined by this largely white movement as American patriots will become a hatred for African-Americans. The hatred for liberals will morph into a hatred for all democratic institutions, from universities to government agencies to the press. Our continued impotence and cowardice, our refusal to articulate this anger and stand up in open defiance to the Democrats and the Republicans, will see us swept aside for an age of terror and blood.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Bush Lite: "Drill, 'Bama, Drill

Barack Obama took the Republican slogan "drill, baby, drill" as his own today, opening up over 500,000 square miles of US coastal waters to oil and gas exploitation for the first time in over 20 years.

The move, a reversal of Obama's early campaign promise to retain a ban on offshore exploration, appeared aimed at winning support from Republicans in Congress for new laws to tackle global warming. Sarah Palin's "Drill, baby, drill" slogan was a prominent battle cry in the 2008 elections..
The areas opened up are off the Atlantic coast, the northern coast of Alaska and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. However, in a concession to his environmentalist base, Obama did retain protection for Alaska's Bristol Bay, the single largest source of seafood in America and home to endangered species of whale. The Pacific Coast from Mexico to Canada is also off-limits....

Interior department officials said the areas opened up today are thought to contain the equivalent of three years' annual US useage of recoverable oil and two years' worth of natural gas.

Under the proposals, a vast swath of Atlantic coast from northern Delaware to central Florida, including about 167m acres of ocean, would be open to drilling. An additional 130m acres of ocean in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas north of Alaska could also open up for drilling following environmental assessment studies. About two-thirds of the eastern Gulf of Mexico would be open for exploration though the plan would bar rigs within 125 miles of the Florida coast.

The state of Virginia could see drilling within 50 miles of the coast, and could issue its first licences as early as next year. However, actual drilling would probably not get underway for years. Drilling would be off-limits throughout the US Pacific coast. Bristol Bay in south-western Alaska would also be off the table until 2017....

The go-ahead for drilling is also a bitter disappointment for environmentalists and Democrats. That could make it even more difficult to stitch together a compromise proposal on climate change in the Senate. Last week, 10 Senators from coastal states, including those now opened up for drilling, issued a letter expressing concern that offshore exploration would hurt fishing and tourism industries....

As a presidential candidate, Obama had repeatedly attacked his opponent, John McCain, for suggesting drilling would lower gas prices, arguing that it would take several years and billions in investment before those areas became productive....

Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at the Centre for Biological Diversity, said: "Today's announcement is unfortunately all too typical of what we have seen so far from President Obama - promises of change, a year of 'deliberation,' and ultimately, adoption of flawed and outdated Bush policies as his own."

--The Guardian (UK)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Want To Be Happy? Read This.

The relationship between happiness and income is complicated, and after a point, tenuous. It is true that poor nations become happier as they become middle-class nations. But once the basic necessities have been achieved, future income is lightly connected to well-being. Growing countries are slightly less happy than countries with slower growth rates, according to Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution and Eduardo Lora. The United States is much richer than it was 50 years ago, but this has produced no measurable increase in overall happiness. On the other hand, it has become a much more unequal country, but this inequality doesn’t seem to have reduced national happiness.

On a personal scale, winning the lottery doesn’t seem to produce lasting gains in well-being. People aren’t happiest during the years when they are winning the most promotions. Instead, people are happy in their 20’s, dip in middle age and then, on average, hit peak happiness just after retirement at age 65.

People get slightly happier as they climb the income scale, but this depends on how they experience growth. Does wealth inflame unrealistic expectations? Does it destabilize settled relationships? Or does it flow from a virtuous cycle in which an interesting job produces hard work that in turn leads to more interesting opportunities?

If the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not. The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.

If you want to find a good place to live, just ask people if they trust their neighbors. Levels of social trust vary enormously, but countries with high social trust have happier people, better health, more efficient government, more economic growth, and less fear of crime (regardless of whether actual crime rates are increasing or decreasing).

The overall impression from this research is that economic and professional success exists on the surface of life, and that they emerge out of interpersonal relationships, which are much deeper and more important.

The second impression is that most of us pay attention to the wrong things. Most people vastly overestimate the extent to which more money would improve our lives. Most schools and colleges spend too much time preparing students for careers and not enough preparing them to make social decisions. Most governments release a ton of data on economic trends but not enough on trust and other social conditions. In short, modern societies have developed vast institutions oriented around the things that are easy to count, not around the things that matter most. They have an affinity for material concerns and a primordial fear of moral and social ones.

--David Brooks

Thursday, March 25, 2010

GOP: The Party Of Violence And Bigotry

What has been really striking has been the eliminationist rhetoric of the G.O.P., coming not from some radical fringe but from the party’s leaders. John Boehner, the House minority leader, declared that the passage of health reform was “Armageddon.” The Republican National Committee put out a fund-raising appeal that included a picture of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, surrounded by flames, while the committee’s chairman declared that it was time to put Ms. Pelosi on “the firing line.” And Sarah Palin put out a map literally putting Democratic lawmakers in the cross hairs of a rifle sight. All of this goes far beyond politics as usual. Democrats had a lot of harsh things to say about former President George W. Bush — but you’ll search in vain for anything comparably menacing, anything that even hinted at an appeal to violence, from members of Congress, let alone senior party officials. --Paul Krugman

Unfairly or not, the defining images of opposition to health care reform may end up being those rage-filled partisans with spittle on their lips. Whether the outbursts came from inside Congress — the “baby killer” shout of Rep. Randy Neugebauer, and his colleagues who cheered on hecklers — or outside, where protesters hurled vile names against elected representatives, they are powerful and lasting scenes of a democracy gasping for dignity...Most of these vignettes are isolated incidents — a few crazies going off in a vein-popping binge. But the Republican Party now has taken some of the worst elements of Tea Party anger and incorporated them into its own identity. They are ticked off, red-faced, frothing — and these are the men in suits. --Timothy Egan

In Washington on Saturday, opponents of the health care legislation spit on a black congressman and shouted racial slurs at two others, including John Lewis, one of the great heroes of the civil rights movement. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, was taunted because he is gay.

At some point, we have to decide as a country that we just can’t have this: We can’t allow ourselves to remain silent as foaming-at-the-mouth protesters scream the vilest of epithets at members of Congress — epithets that The Times will not allow me to repeat here.

It is 2010, which means it is way past time for decent Americans to rise up against this kind of garbage, to fight it aggressively wherever it appears. And it is time for every American of good will to hold the Republican Party accountable for its role in tolerating, shielding and encouraging foul, mean-spirited and bigoted behavior in its ranks and among its strongest supporters.

For decades the G.O.P. has been the party of fear, ignorance and divisiveness. All you have to do is look around to see what it has done to the country. The greatest economic inequality since the Gilded Age was followed by a near-total collapse of the overall economy. As a country, we have a monumental mess on our hands and still the Republicans have nothing to offer in the way of a remedy except more tax cuts for the rich.

This is the party of trickle down and weapons of mass destruction, the party of birthers and death-panel lunatics. This is the party that genuflects at the altar of right-wing talk radio, with its insane, nauseating, nonstop commitment to hatred and bigotry....If you’re all fired up about Republican-inspired tales of Democrats planning to send grandma to some death chamber, you’ll never get to the G.O.P.’s war against the right of ordinary workers to organize and negotiate in their own best interests — a war that has diminished living standards for working people for decades.

A party that promotes ignorance (“Just say no to global warming”) and provides a safe house for bigotry cannot serve the best interests of our country. --Bob Herbert

Now that we have an insurance bill, can we move on to healthcare reform?"

Where the bill falls short

-The mandate forcing people without coverage to buy insurance. Coupled with the subsidies for other moderate income working people not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid, the result is a gift worth hundreds of billions of dollars to reward the very insurance industry that created the present crisis through price gouging, care denials, and other abuses.

-Inadequate healthcare cost controls for individuals and families. 1. Insurance premiums will continue to climb. Proponents touted a "robust" public option to keep the insurers "honest," but that proposal was scuttled. After Anthem Blue Cross of California announced 39 percent premium hikes, the administration promised to crack down with a federal rate insurance authority, an idea also dropped from the bill. 2. There is no standard benefits package, only a circumspect reference that benefits should be "comparable to" current employer provided plans. 3. An illusory limit on out-of-pocket medical expenses. But even in the regulated state exchanges, insurers remain in control of what they offer and what will be a covered service. Insurers are likely to design plans to attract healthier customers, and many enrollees will likely find the federal guarantees do not protect them for medical treatments they actually need.

-No meaningful restrictions on claims denials insurers don't want to pay for. Proponents cite a review process on denials, but the "internal review process" remains in the hands of the insurers, and the "external" review will be up to the states, many of which have systems now in place that are dominated by the insurance industry with little enforcement mechanism.

-Significant loopholes in the much touted insurance reforms: 1. Provisions permitting insurers and companies to more than double charges to employees who fail "wellness" programs because they have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol readings, or other medical conditions. 2. Permitting insurers to sell policies "across state lines", exempting patient protections passed in other states. Insurers will likely set up in the least regulated states in a race to the bottom threatening public protections won by consumers in various states. 3. Allowing insurers to charge three times more based on age plus more for certain conditions, and continue to use marketing techniques to cherry-pick healthier, less costly enrollees. 4. Insurers may continue to rescind policies, drop coverage, for "fraud or intentional misrepresentation" -- the main pretext insurance companies now use.

-Taxing health benefits for the first time. Though modified, the tax on benefits remains, a 40 percent tax on plans whose value exceeds $10,200 for individuals or $27,500 for families. With no real checks on premium hikes, many plans will reach that amount by the start date, 2018, rapidly. The result will be more cost shifting from employers to workers and more people switching to skeletal plans that leave them vulnerable to financial ruin.

-Erosion of women's reproductive rights, with a new executive order from the President enshrining a deal to get the votes of anti-abortion Democrats and a burdensome segregation of funds, that in practice will likely mean few insurers will cover abortion and perhaps other reproductive medical services.

-A windfall for pharmaceutical giants. Through a deal with the White House, the administration blocked provisions to give the government more power to negotiate drug prices and gave the name brand drug makers 12 years of marketing monopoly against competition from generic competition on biologic drugs, including cancer treatments.

Most critically, the bill strengthens the economic and political power of a private insurance-based system based on profit rather than patient need.

As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote after the vote "don't believe anyone who says Obama's healthcare legislation marks a swing of the pendulum back toward the Great Society and the New Deal. Obama's health bill is a very conservative piece of legislation, building on a Republican (a private market approach) rather than a New Deal foundation. The New Deal foundation would have offered Medicare to all Americans or, at the very least, featured a public insurance option."

Unlike Social Security and Medicare which expanded a public safety net, this bill requires people -- in the midst of the mass unemployment and the worse economic downturn since the Great Depression -- to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket to big private companies for a product that may or may not provide health coverage in return.

Too many people will remain uninsured, individual and family healthcare costs will continue to rise largely unabated and private insurers will still be able to deny claims with little recourse for patients. [For example, the penalty for using pre-existing conditions to deny coverage is a puny $100/day, a real bargain for Insurance companies. --Politex]

--Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Reconciliation: Proposed Changes in the Final Health Care Bill

To avoid the threat of a filibuster by Senate Republicans, Democratic leaders are planning to pass health care overhaul in a three-step process. The House completed the first two parts on Sunday by passing both the health bill approved in December by the Senate and a separate package of changes in a budget reconciliation measure -- which can be adopted in the Senate by a simple majority. A look at key provisions of the Senate bill and the changes proposed in the reconciliation bill passed by the House Sunday:

read here

Saturday, March 20, 2010

No Saving: Obama's Payoff To The Health Care Industry Will Cost Over 500 Billion

ON Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office reported that, if enacted, the latest health care reform legislation would, over the next 10 years, cost about $950 billion, but because it would raise some revenues and lower some costs, it would also lower federal deficits by $138 billion. In other words, a bill that would set up two new entitlement spending programs — health insurance subsidies and long-term health care benefits — would actually improve the nation’s bottom line.

Could this really be true? How can the budget office give a green light to a bill that commits the federal government to spending nearly $1 trillion more over the next 10 years?

The answer, unfortunately, is that the budget office is required to take written legislation at face value and not second-guess the plausibility of what it is handed. So fantasy in, fantasy out.

In reality, if you strip out all the gimmicks and budgetary games and rework the calculus, a wholly different picture emerges: The health care reform legislation would raise, not lower, federal deficits, by $562 billion....

...The bottom line is that Congress would spend a lot more; steal funds from education, Social Security and long-term care to cover the gap; and promise that future Congresses will make up for it by taxing more and spending less.

The stakes could not be higher. As documented in another recent budget office analysis, the federal deficit is already expected to exceed at least $700 billion every year over the next decade, doubling the national debt to more than $20 trillion. By 2020, the federal deficit — the amount the government must borrow to meet its expenses — is projected to be $1.2 trillion, $900 billion of which represents interest on previous debt.

The health care legislation would only increase this crushing debt. It is a clear indication that Congress does not realize the urgency of putting America’s fiscal house in order.

--NYT Ed

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A look at the health care overhaul bill

-- Congressional Democrats have released a final version of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul bill in advance of a House vote planned for Sunday. Some of the main features of the legislation, which makes changes to the bill the Senate passed on Christmas Eve:

COST: $940 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

HOW MANY COVERED: 32 million uninsured. Major coverage expansion begins in 2014. When fully phased in, 95 percent of eligible Americans would have coverage, compared with 83 percent today.

INSURANCE MANDATE: Almost everyone is required to be insured or else pay a fine. There is an exemption for low-income people. Mandate takes effect in 2014.

INSURANCE MARKET REFORMS: Major consumer safeguards take effect in 2014. Insurers prohibited from denying coverage to people with medical problems or charging them more. Higher premiums for women would be banned. Starting this year, insurers would be forbidden from placing lifetime dollar limits on policies, and from denying coverage to children because of pre-existing medical problems. Parents would be able to keep older kids on their policies up to age 26. A new high-risk pool would offer coverage to uninsured people with medical problems until 2014, when the coverage expansion goes into high gear.

MEDICAID: Expands the federal-state Medicaid insurance program for the poor to cover people with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, $29,327 a year for a family of four. Childless adults would be covered for the first time, starting in 2014. The federal government would pay 100 percent of the tab for covering newly eligible individuals through 2016. A special deal that would have given Nebraska 100 percent federal financing for newly eligible Medicaid recipients in perpetuity is eliminated. A different, one-time deal negotiated by Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu for her state, Louisiana, worth as much as $300 million, remains.

TAXES: Dramatically scales back a Senate-passed tax on high-cost insurance plans that was opposed by House Democrats and labor unions. The tax would be delayed until 2018, and the thresholds at which it is imposed would be $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families. To make up for the lost revenue, the bill applies an increased Medicare payroll tax to investment income as well as wages for individuals making more than $200,000, or married couples above $250,000. The tax on investment income would be 3.8 percent.

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS: Gradually closes the "doughnut hole" coverage gap in the Medicare prescription drug benefit that seniors fall into once they have spent $2,830. Seniors who hit the gap this year will receive a $250 rebate. Beginning in 2011, seniors in the gap receive a discount on brand name drugs, initially 50 percent off. When the gap is completely eliminated in 2020, seniors will still be responsible for 25 percent of the cost of their medications until Medicare's catastrophic coverage kicks in.

EMPLOYER RESPONSIBILITY: As in the Senate bill, businesses are not required to offer coverage. Instead, employers are hit with a fee if the government subsidizes their workers' coverage. The $2,000-per-employee fee would be assessed on the company's entire workforce, minus an allowance. Companies with 50 or fewer workers are exempt from the requirement. Part-time workers are included in the calculations, counting two part-timers as one full-time worker.

SUBSIDIES: The proposal provides more generous tax credits for purchasing insurance than the original Senate bill did. The aid is available on a sliding scale for households making up to four times the federal poverty level, $88,200 for a family of four. Premiums for a family of four making $44,000 would be capped at around 6 percent of income.

HOW YOU CHOOSE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE: Small businesses, the self-employed and the uninsured could pick a plan offered through new state-based purchasing pools called exchanges, opening for business in 2014. The exchanges would offer the same kind of purchasing power that employees of big companies benefit from. People working for medium-to-large firms would not see major changes. But if they lose their jobs or strike out on their own, they may be eligible for subsidized coverage through the exchange.

GOVERNMENT-RUN PLAN: No government-run insurance plan. People purchasing coverage through the new insurance exchanges would have the option of signing up for national plans overseen by the federal office that manages the health plans available to members of Congress. Those plans would be private, but one would have to be nonprofit.

ABORTION: The proposal keeps the abortion provision in the Senate bill. Abortion opponents disagree on whether restrictions on taxpayer funding go far enough. The bill tries to maintain a strict separation between taxpayer dollars and private premiums that would pay for abortion coverage. No health plan would be required to cover abortion. In plans that do cover abortion, policyholders would have to pay for it separately, and that money would have to be kept in a separate account from taxpayer money. States could ban abortion coverage in plans offered through the exchange. Exceptions would be made for cases of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother.

--Associated Press

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Senate Watch: Stand By For Another Major Economic Crisis

If you think health care reform has been an unsatisfying test of the government's ability to deal with our pressing problems, brace yourself for bigger disappointment in its attempt to bridle Wall Street. This is when the true heavies go to work and, as opposed to the medical industry lobby, the moneychangers fear not the wrath of their clients or, as Scripture tells, any higher power.

Certainly not that of the Congress or the president whose powers they have so confidently purchased. That is how we got into this mess. The bankers wrote the rules of the road that allowed them to exceed all reasonable limits when Democrat Bill Clinton was in the White House. And when the crash came, it was the Republican George W. Bush who made their problems go away. Having survived that disaster of their own creation, they are not about to let anyone make them change their ways.

It will definitely take more than the likes of Connecticut's lame-duck Sen. Christopher Dodd, a likely candidate for more lucrative employment in the financial sector that he has served so faithfully. On Monday he made a big show of introducing legislation to rein in Wall Street, having failed to elicit a single Republican vote after months of caving in. He has abandoned his earlier proposal for a truly independent regulatory agency that would challenge the Fed, which got us into this jam. His bill rejects a public audit of the Fed, where he would house what remains of the president's proposed consumer protection agency.

There is only a nod in the direction of a return to the Glass-Steagall Act's separation of investment and banking firms, a regulation that Dodd, along with New York Democrat Charles Schumer, helped kill a decade ago. As The New York Times reported on Oct. 23, 1999: "Dodd, whose state is home to the nation's largest insurance companies, and Schumer, with strong ties to Wall Street, have long sought legislation to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act."

That's what legally made possible the too-big-to-fail mergers of insurance giants like Travelers and AIG with banking companies. As Peter Eavis pointed out in Monday's Wall Street Journal, Dodd's current bill "still flunks the AIG test," in that "if the Senate bill became law, it looks like the government could still find itself making the sort of payments it made to AIG counterparties." And that's before the lobbyists go to work. --Robert Scheer

"I'm sure by the time all the banking lobbyists are done the Senate bill will become one of the key primary sources for students 100 years from now on how broken the Senate of the early 21st Century was. But in terms of lobbying there seems to be nothing that needs to move. Which should worry us all." --Mike Konczal

[Dood's new bill] reads like the chairman and his Senate colleagues couldn't make up their minds about who or what caused the financial crisis or who could be trusted to fix the system. They've come up with a set of jury-rigged patches designed to placate as many interest groups as possible while preserving the existing regulatory apparatus and prerogatives.... There are so many political accommodations involving carve-outs and size limits and overlapping responsibilities that it creates exactly the kind of complexity, the opportunities for regulatory arbitrage and the lack of accountability that got us into this mess in the first place --Steve Pearlstein

Friday, March 12, 2010

Three Myths About Health Care Reform the claim that President Obama is proposing a government takeover of one-sixth of the economy, the share of G.D.P. currently spent on health.

Well, if having the government regulate and subsidize health insurance is a “takeover,” that takeover happened long ago. Medicare, Medicaid, and other government programs already pay for almost half of American health care, while private insurance pays for barely more than a third (the rest is mostly out-of-pocket expenses). And the great bulk of that private insurance is provided via employee plans, which are both subsidized with tax exemptions and tightly regulated.

The only part of health care in which there isn’t already a lot of federal intervention is the market in which individuals who can’t get employment-based coverage buy their own insurance. And that market, in case you hadn’t noticed, is a disaster — no coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions, coverage dropped when you get sick, and huge premium increases in the middle of an economic crisis. It’s this sector, plus the plight of Americans with no insurance at all, that reform aims to fix. What’s wrong with that?

The second myth is that the proposed reform does nothing to control costs. To support this claim, critics point to reports by the Medicare actuary, who predicts that total national health spending would be slightly higher in 2019 with reform than without it.

Even if this prediction were correct, it points to a pretty good bargain. The actuary’s assessment of the Senate bill, for example, finds that it would raise total health care spending by less than 1 percent, while extending coverage to 34 million Americans who would otherwise be uninsured. That’s a large expansion in coverage at an essentially trivial cost.

And it gets better as we go further into the future: the Congressional Budget Office has just concluded, in a new report, that the arithmetic of reform will look better in its second decade than it did in its first. Furthermore, there’s good reason to believe that all such estimates are too pessimistic....

Which brings me to the third myth: that health reform is fiscally irresponsible. How can people say this given Congressional Budget Office predictions — which, as I’ve already argued, are probably too pessimistic — that reform would actually reduce the deficit? Critics argue that we should ignore what’s actually in the legislation; when cost control actually starts to bite on Medicare, they insist, Congress will back down.

But this isn’t an argument against Obamacare, it’s a declaration that we can’t control Medicare costs no matter what. And it also flies in the face of history: contrary to legend, past efforts to limit Medicare spending have in fact “stuck,” rather than being withdrawn in the face of political pressure....

more from Krugman

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Obama Ticks Off Arab World With Toothless Attempt To Stop Israeli Expansion

The president didn’t say all the right words in his [Cairo] speech. He created an obstacle for himself by demanding that Israel stop expanding settlements when it was not going to do so — even though it should — and when that wasn’t the most important condition to Arabs.

Now Obama seems ineffectual, as Israel pushes ahead on 600 more new homes in East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians want their capital, despite the White House protest in November about 900 other houses that Israel plans to put up there.

I asked Prince Saud if he thinks America has less influence over Israel than it used to.

“You’re asking me about something that has tickled our imagination,” he replied. “If the settlements are illegitimate, the least you would expect is that the aid the United States gives to Israel would cut that part that is going to build settlements. Israel is getting away without implementing the Geneva Convention as an occupying authority. Now if it were somewhere else, in Burma or somewhere like that, hell would be raised.”...

“There are no troops arrayed on the border of Israel waiting for the moment to say, ‘Attack Israel,’ ” the prince said. “Nobody is going to fight them and threaten their peace. But they didn’t accept that. So it makes one wonder, what does Israel want?”

If anyone deserves to be paranoid, of course, it’s Israel. But Israel can’t be paranoid because paranoia is the mistaken perception that people are out to get you.

Asked about the possibility that Israel could attack Iran with its new drones, Prince Saud said dryly: “Talk about changing lifestyle. I think this would change lifestyles at once, forcibly.”

Hillary Clinton was in the region recently, warning that Iran was “moving toward a military dictatorship” and could trigger a nuclear arms race.

“God help us if we see countries with atomic weapons in the Middle East,” said Prince Saud. “The way to resolve this is through the United Nations.” Good luck.

more Maureen Dowd

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Obama Health Plan Features Senate's Worst Elements

WASHINGTON - President Obama's health care proposal, preserving as it does a central role for the for-profit, private health insurance industry, is incapable of achieving the kind of universal, comprehensive and affordable reform the country needs, a spokesman for a national doctors' group said Wednesday.

"Regrettably, the president's proposal is built on some of the worst aspects of the Senate bill," said Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program, an organization of 17,000 doctors who support single-payer, Medicare-for-All approach to reform. Young's statement comes on the eve of the president's bipartisan summit in Washington.

"For example, the president's proposal would ship hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to the private health insurance industry in the form of subsidies," Young said. "And to help finance this, it would impose a new tax on health benefits of workers, especially those in high-cost states.

"Its individual mandate would force millions of middle-income uninsured Americans to buy insurers' skimpy products - insurance policies full of gaps like ever-rising co-pays, deductibles and premiums. Such policies already leave middle-class American families vulnerable to economic hardship and medical bankruptcy in the event of a serious illness like cancer," continued Young, citing a recent study.

"Even so, at least 23 million people would remain uninsured," he said. "We know that being uninsured raises your chance of dying by about 40 percent," he continued, citing another recent study. "That translates into about 23,000 unnecessary deaths each year. As physicians, we find this completely unacceptable."

"In short," Young said, "this proposal is an insurance company bonanza, not good, evidence-based health reform. The president would do better by abandoning the insurance and drug companies and instead taking up the single-payer approach." His group has estimated that such an approach could save hundreds of billions of dollars annually by simplifying health administration.

more, if you can stand it

Monday, February 22, 2010

Obama Justice Department Covers Up Bushie Torture Transgressions

Washington - Lawyers for the Bush administration who wrote the legal rationale for water boarding and other harsh interrogation methods of terrorism suspects will not face discipline, according to information sent Friday to US lawmakers by the Justice Department.

The Washington Post, which obtained a copy of the correspondence, reported that justice officials found that John Yoo and Jay Bybee had 'exercised poor judgement' but did not need to face disciplinary actions by state legal disciplinary panels.
The report was conducted by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, which ruled that Yoo and Bybee had not violated legal ethic rules when they wrote memos authorizing the interrogation techniques which in the eyes of many represented torture.

An earlier report from the same department had found the lawyers had committed 'professional misconduct.' But that report was overruled by David Margolis, a career lawyer in the Deputy Attorney General's office, according to the documents sent to legislators Friday.

The 'poor judgement' finding triggered calls from human rights organizations for a broader, deeper criminal investigation into the conduct of Yoo, Bybee and a third lawyer, Steven Bradbury.

'Justice Department lawyers have an obligation to uphold the law, so when they write legal opinions that were designed to provide legal cover for torture, they need to be held accountable with more than a slap on the wrist,' said Andrea Prasow, the senior counter-terrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called on the Justice Department to 'expand its criminal investigation of the torture programme.

The Senate judiciary committee is to hold a hearing on the report on February 26.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Great Depression of 2010: Long-Term Victims

Even as the American economy shows tentative signs of a rebound, the human toll of the recession continues to mount, with millions of Americans remaining out of work, out of savings and nearing the end of their unemployment benefits.

Economists fear that the nascent recovery will leave more people behind than in past recessions, failing to create jobs in sufficient numbers to absorb the record-setting ranks of the long-term unemployed.

Call them the new poor: people long accustomed to the comforts of middle-class life who are now relying on public assistance for the first time in their lives — potentially for years to come....

Every downturn pushes some people out of the middle class before the economy resumes expanding. Most recover. Many prosper. But some economists worry that this time could be different. An unusual constellation of forces — some embedded in the modern-day economy, others unique to this wrenching recession — might make it especially difficult for those out of work to find their way back to their middle-class lives....

Some poverty experts say the broader social safety net is not up to cushioning the impact of the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Social services are less extensive than during the last period of double-digit unemployment, in the early 1980s.

On average, only two-thirds of unemployed people received state-provided unemployment checks last year, according to the Labor Department. The rest either exhausted their benefits, fell short of requirements or did not apply.

“You have very large sets of people who have no social protections,” said Randy Albelda, an economist at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. “They are landing in this netherworld.”


How The Senate Is Killing The U.S.

Challenges of historic import threaten America’s future. Action on the deficit, economy, energy, health care and much more is imperative, yet our legislative institutions fail to act. Congress must be reformed.

There are many causes for the dysfunction: strident partisanship, unyielding ideology, a corrosive system of campaign financing, gerrymandering of House districts, endless filibusters, holds on executive appointees in the Senate, dwindling social interaction between senators of opposing parties and a caucus system that promotes party unity at the expense of bipartisan consensus.

Many good people serve in Congress. They are patriotic, hard-working and devoted to the public good as they see it, but the institutional and cultural impediments to change frustrate the intentions of these well-meaning people as rarely before.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Krugman: "We're Doomed"

President Barack Obama said he doesn’t “begrudge” the $17 million bonus awarded to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon or the $9 million issued to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, noting that some athletes take home more pay.

First of all, to my knowledge, irresponsible behavior by baseball players hasn’t brought the world economy to the brink of collapse and cost millions of innocent Americans their jobs and/or houses. And more specifically, not only has the financial industry been bailed out with taxpayer commitments; it continues to rely on a taxpayer backstop for its stability.

Bank executives are not free agents who are earning big bucks in fair competition; they run companies that are essentially wards of the state. There’s good reason to feel outraged at the growing appearance that we’re running a system of lemon socialism, in which losses are public but gains are private. And at the very least, you would think that Obama would understand the importance of acknowledging public anger over what’s happening....

Oh. My. God....We're doomed."

--more Paul Krugman

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Greatest Depression Continues For The Low Income Households

What you’re not hearing from the politicians and the talking heads is that the joblessness and underemployment in America’s low-income households rival their heights in the Great Depression of the 1930s — and in some instances are worse. The same holds true for some categories of blue-collar workers. Anyone who thinks this devastating problem is going away soon, or that the economy can be put back on track without addressing it, is deluded. There has been talk about income inequality over the past several years, but what is happening now is catastrophic....

The unemployment rate of the lowest group, which had annual household incomes of $12,499 or less...during the fourth quarter of last year was a staggering 30.8 percent. That’s more than five points higher than the overall jobless rate at the height of the Depression. The next lowest group, with incomes of $12,500 to $20,000, had an unemployment rate of 19.1 percent.

These are the kinds of jobless rates that push families already struggling on meager incomes into destitution. And such gruesome gaps in the condition of groups at the top and bottom of the economic ladder are unmistakable signs of impending societal instability. This is dangerous stuff. Nothing good can come of vast armies of the unemployed just sitting out there, simmering.

When the data about underemployment is factored in — meaning individuals who are working part time but would like to work full time, and those who have stopped looking but would take a job if one were available — the picture only worsens.The people suffering the most drastic employment reversals in this recession have been those who were in the lower-income groups to begin with — the young, less well-educated workers, especially black and Hispanic high school dropouts, and certain categories of service workers, such as food preparers and building cleaners. Blue-collar workers were also hammered, especially those in the construction industry....

The point here is that those in the lower-income groups are in a much, much deeper hole than the general commentary on the recession would lead people to believe. And none of the policy prescriptions being offered by the administration or the leaders of either party in Congress would in any way substantially alleviate the plight of those groups.

--more Bob Herbert

Ongoing U.S. Downfall Exacerbated By Senate

We’ve always known that America’s reign as the world’s greatest nation would eventually end. But most of us imagined that our downfall, when it came, would be something grand and tragic.

What we’re getting instead is less a tragedy than a deadly farce. Instead of fraying under the strain of imperial overstretch, we’re paralyzed by procedure. Instead of re-enacting the decline and fall of Rome, we’re re-enacting the dissolution of 18th-century Poland.

A brief history lesson: In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Polish legislature, the Sejm, operated on the unanimity principle: any member could nullify legislation by shouting “I do not allow!” This made the nation largely ungovernable, and neighboring regimes began hacking off pieces of its territory. By 1795 Poland had disappeared, not to re-emerge for more than a century.

Today, the U.S. Senate seems determined to make the Sejm look good by comparison....The truth is that given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.

Don’t hold your breath. As it is, Democrats don’t even seem able to score political points by highlighting their opponents’ obstructionism.

--more Paul Krugman

Friday, February 5, 2010

Obama Refuses To Lead On Health Care

“What I’d like to do is have a meeting whereby I am sitting with the Republicans, sitting with the Democrats, sitting with health care experts and let’s just go through these bills,” Mr. Obama said. “Their ideas, our ideas. Let’s walk through them in a methodical way, so that the American people can see and compare what makes the most sense. And then I think that we have got to move forward on a vote. We have got to move forward on a vote.”

"...I think it’s very important for us to have a methodical, open process over the next several weeks and then let’s go ahead and make a decision. And it may be that if Congress decides, if Congress decides we’re not going to do it, even after all the facts are laid out, all the options are clear, then the American people can make a judgment as to whether this Congress has done the right thing for them or not...."

can you stand reading more?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Obama's Just More Of The Same

Take his State of the Union Address.

Did we need Barack Obama to say “the true engine of job creation will always be America’s businesses”?

Did we need Barack Obama to give corporations, big and small, more tax breaks, when even John McCain’s top economist recognizes that such tax breaks are among the least effective ways to get the economy moving again?

Did we need Barack Obama to come out for an across-the-board spending freeze, exempting the Pentagon, of course?

Did we need Barack Obama to dwell on the “burdens facing the middle class” while barely mentioning the burdens of those in poverty?

Did we need Barack Obama to issue an Executive Order to establish a commission that will pave the way for slashing Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security?...

Did we need Barack Obama to advocate offshore oil drilling—and clean coal, as if there were such a thing?...

He talked about improving the nation’s image abroad, but he’s been disastrously ineffectual in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which lies at the heart of our sullied reputation.

In Latin America, he showed his true colors by failing to throw his weight behind restoring President Zelaya in Honduras and by signing a military base agreement with Colombia.

And for all his talk about ending torture, the United States is still disappearing people into black sites in Afghanistan—and still torturing them there. (See Anand Gopal’s horrifying report)

On civil liberties, his record is extremely mixed, and that’s being generous. The ACLU just put out a report, “America Unrestored,” that goes item by item.

Suffice it to say that he’s done nothing to prohibit the warrantless spying that was the hallmark of the Bush Administration. He’s done nothing to end the Secret Service’s use of “free speech zones.” And he continues to assert the right to hold people, indefinitely, without charge.

On the economy, he baked half a loaf of stimulus, even when he was warned by Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman and the brilliant economist Dean Baker that a full loaf was needed to prevent 10 percent unemployment. And Obama surrounded himself with Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, and Ben Bernanke, the architects of disaster and bailouts....

And on health care, he took the best proposal—single payer—off the table at the start and never, ever even put the second best proposal on the table, which would have been Medicare for All Who Want It. The bill he favors is a giveaway to the insurance industry....

--more Matthew Rothschild

Monday, February 1, 2010

U.S Has Begun Descent Into Mediocrity

A bullet through the skull replaced Kennedy with Nixon. We shall overcome was replaced with the vicious "Southern Strategy;" the Cold War exploded in hot jungles; then came the idiot wasteland of the regimes of Ford and Carter and Reagan and Clinton and Bushes, a degenerative march as the machine of America rusted and died.

And here we are today, begging for spare parts from China and my daughter glued to YouTube videos of Lady Ga-Ga's crotch, and my son slicing off a cop's head in Grand Theft Auto and a President, telegenic and painfully hollow, playing the lost and ineffectual shepherd over an electorate divided between the terrified and the greedy. In place of prophets, we are offered a caravan of kvetching clowns piling out of the Volkswagen on MSNBC. --Greg Palast

In a federal budget filled with mind-boggling statistics, two numbers stand out as particularly stunning, for the way they may change American politics and American power.The first is the projected deficit in the coming year, nearly 11 percent of the country’s entire economic output...

But the second number, buried deeper in the budget’s projections, is the one that really commands attention: By President Obama’s own optimistic projections, American deficits will not return to what are widely considered sustainable levels over the next 10 years. In fact, in 2019 and 2020 — years after Mr. Obama has left the political scene, even if he serves two terms — they start rising again sharply, to more than 5 percent of gross domestic product. His budget draws a picture of a nation that like many American homeowners simply cannot get above water.

For Mr. Obama and his successors, the effect of those projections is clear: Unless miraculous growth, or miraculous political compromises, creates some unforeseen change over the next decade, there is virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors. Beyond that lies the possibility that the United States could begin to suffer the same disease that has afflicted Japan over the past decade. As debt grew more rapidly than income, that country’s influence around the world eroded.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Obama Will Cut Money To People, More For Corporations, Pentagon

President Obama will call for a three-year freeze in spending on many domestic programs..The freeze would cover the agencies and programs for which Congress allocates specific budgets each year, from air traffic control and farm subsidies to education, nutrition and national parks...But it would exempt the budgets for the Pentagon..The payoff in budget savings would be small relative to the deficit.

Because Mr. Obama plans to exempt military spending while leaving many popular domestic programs vulnerable, his move is certain to further anger liberals in his party. Senior Democrats in Congress are already upset by the possible collapse of health care legislation and the troop buildup in Afghanistan, among other things.

Administration officials also are working with Congress on roughly $150 billion in additional stimulus spending and tax cuts to spur job creation....One administration official said that limiting the much smaller discretionary domestic budget would have larger symbolic value....Only when the public believes such perceived waste is being wrung out will they be willing to consider reductions in popular entitlement programs [such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security], the official said.

more, if you can stand it

Your Vote Is Now Worth A Thimble Of Warm Spit

A ruling by the Supreme Court regarding spending on advertising is based on the idea that corporations are human beings. On Thursday, the court voted 5-4 that corporations can throw as much money as they want to back or oppose candidates in elections. The decision is based on the concept that corporations have the right to freedom of speech.

When the men who put this country together back in the 1700s decided that freedom of speech should be guaranteed, I'm pretty darned sure they were thinking that the people doing the speaking would be people. You know, living, breathing human beings who do things like, you know, help a kid do his math homework.

Has a corporation ever helped a high school kid do her geometry?...Has a corporation ever put on a 100-pound backpack and gotten off a helicopter in 120-degree heat in Afghanistan with bullets flying all around? Has a corporation ever died for its country?...A corporation has never fallen in love. A corporation has never sent a girlfriend a basket of flowers on Valentine's Day. A corporation has never helped an old lady cross the street. A corporation can't join the Boy Scouts...Has a corporation ever had a heartbeat? Has a corporation ever had a pulse?

more John Kelso

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Obama's Bankers: Do As We Say, Not As We Do

Some homeowners may keep paying because they think it’s immoral to default. This view has been reinforced by government officials like former Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., who while in office said that anyone who walked away from a mortgage would be “simply a speculator — and one who is not honoring his obligation.” (The irony of a former investment banker denouncing speculation seems to have been lost on him.)

But does this really come down to a question of morality?

A provocative paper by Brent White, a law professor at the University of Arizona, makes the case that borrowers are actually suffering from a “norm asymmetry.” In other words, they think they are obligated to repay their loans even if it is not in their financial interest to do so, while their lenders are free to do whatever maximizes profits. It’s as if borrowers are playing in a poker game in which they are the only ones who think bluffing is unethical.

That norm might have been appropriate when the lender was the local banker. More commonly these days, however, the loan was initiated by an aggressive mortgage broker who maximized his fees at the expense of the borrower’s costs, while the debt was packaged and sold to investors who bought mortgage-backed securities in the hope of earning high returns, using models that predicted possible default rates....

Banks are unlikely to endorse [a moral approch] if they think people will keep paying off their mortgages.

--more from NYT story

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Friends, Death, and PC Think

My best friend here in Thailand happens to be a conservative. Not an irrational barbarian, but a man who is so distrustful of big government, he's willing to cut the corporations some slack. We have yet to discuss how the Bush Supreme Court turned our election process over to corporations the other day. According to the Supremes, corporations are people but its workers are not: corporations have a perfect right to contractually limit the civil liberties of its workers, and can even get paid by insurance companies when their workers die. Naturally, my friend is anti-PC. Then, again, so am I when it goes "too far." But how much is too far?

Do you agree that killing people is not good? If so, why do we show people killing people in movies? How about if the killer is a "bad guy"? If killing is bad, only bad guys kill, right? How about if the bad guy is on "our side"? Then it' ok, right? In our present Obamanation, can we all agree that it is ok to kill a "bad guy" if he is on the "other side"? No?

"The logic of the Smoke-Free Movies campaign, which seeks an R rating for almost all instances of on-screen puffing, is straightforward enough," writes the NYT. If the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings board advises parents about sex, violence, language and drug use, why should it not also shield children from exposure to a lethal (if legal) product that hooks, sickens and kills hundreds of thousands of people a year? Since 2007 the M.P.A.A. has considered smoking when it makes its judgments, and one studio, Disney, has since then made all its family films smoke free....Smoke-Free Movies has claimed that the R for tobacco is not only right but also inevitable, and such questions, and the quarrels that follow from them, are also inevitable. As are further attempts to expand the purview of the M.P.A.A., to include other products and behaviors. What about guns? What about trans fats? What about beer and Styrofoam and high-fructose corn syrup?" What about killing people?

Our government has legally killed millions of people in one way or the other during the past decade. If we don't want to show smoking on screen, even by the "bad guys," isn't it logical not to show killing on screen as well? During the Bush years pics of returning dead soldiers' coffins were deleted from the wiew of U.S. citizens. Was that PC? How about the torture pics that Obama has banned? Will our government prevent us from seeing another pic of a burning child screaming down an Asian road in the name of PC? Like Katrina it was a defining moment, wasn't it?

--Jerry Politex

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fascist U.S.A.: Supremes Decide Corporations Will Control Elections

With a single, disastrous 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century. Disingenuously waving the flag of the First Amendment, the court’s conservative majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding....

As a result of Thursday’s ruling, corporations have been unleashed from the longstanding ban against their spending directly on political campaigns and will be free to spend as much money as they want to elect and defeat candidates. If a member of Congress tries to stand up to a wealthy special interest, its lobbyists can credibly threaten: We’ll spend whatever it takes to defeat you....

Congress must act immediately to limit the damage of this radical decision, which strikes at the heart of democracy.

more NYT Ed

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Bush Katrina/Haiti Statement "Tragically Bungled"

Joined by former President Bill Clinton during a series of interviews on the Sunday shows, Bush [43] touted the need to get relief to the Haitian people, in both a streamlined and responsible way. Asked by host David Gregory if he drew any lessons from the recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina (widely regarded as tragically bungled), Bush replied:

"First of all, it takes time to get the supplies in place. That shouldn't deter them. In other words, there's an expectation-- amongst people that things are going to happen quickly. And sometimes it's hard to make things happen quickly. Secondly, there is a great reservoir of good will that wants to help. And that's why he asked us to help, and we're glad to do it."


Obama Health Care Disaster Killing Dem Majority, Alienating Public

How could the health care issue have turned from a reform that was going to make Barack Obama ten feet tall into a poison pill for Democratic senators? Whether or not Martha Coakley squeaks through in Massachusetts on Tuesday, the health bill has already done incalculable political damage and will likely do more. Polls show that the public now opposes it by margins averaging ten to fifteen points, and widening. It is hard to know which will be the worse political defeat -- losing the bill and looking weak, or passing it and leaving it as a piñata for Republicans to attack between now and November. Either way, the Massachusetts surprise should be a wake-up call of the most fundamental kind. Obama needs to stop playing inside games with bankers and insurance lobbyists, and start being a fighter for regular Americans.

more from Robert Kutcher

Obama Info Head Advocates " Illegal" Bush-Like Propaganda Center

Cass Sunstein has long been one of Barack Obama's closest confidants. Often mentioned as a likely Obama nominee to the Supreme Court, Sunstein is currently Obama's head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs where, among other things, he is responsible for "overseeing policies relating to privacy, information quality, and statistical programs...".

The Bush Pentagon employed teams of former Generals to pose as "independent analysts" in the media while secretly coordinating their talking points and messaging about wars and detention policies with the Pentagon. Bush officials secretly paid supposedly "independent" voices, such as Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher, to advocate pro-Bush policies while failing to disclose their contracts. In Iraq, the Bush Pentagon hired a company, Lincoln Park, which paid newspapers to plant pro-U.S. articles while pretending it came from Iraqi citizens. In response to all of this, Democrats typically accused the Bush administration of engaging in government-sponsored propaganda -- and when it was done domestically, suggested this was illegal propaganda. Indeed, there is a very strong case to make that what Sunstein is advocating is itself illegal under long-standing statutes prohibiting government "propaganda" within the U.S., aimed at American citizens....

Covert government propaganda is exactly what Sunstein craves. His mentality is indistinguishable from the Bush mindset that led to these abuses, and he hardly tries to claim otherwise. Indeed, he favorably cites both the covert Lincoln Park program as well as Paul Bremer's closing of Iraqi newspapers which published stories the U.S. Government disliked, and justifies them as arguably necessary to combat "false conspiracy theories" in Iraq -- the same goal Sunstein has for the U.S.

more from Glenn Greenwald

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Anti-Gay Obama Forgets His Parents' Plight

As the sun set on the Bay Bridge behind him and the curtain dropped on the first week of the dramatic trial to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, [ex-Bush conservative Ted] Olson reviewed the case: “We’re going to explain why allowing same-sex couples to have that same right that the rest of us have is not going to hurt heterosexual marriages. It has no point at all except some people don’t want to recognize gays and lesbians as normal, as human beings.”

While Charles Cooper, the lawyer on the anti-gay-marriage side, cited President Obama’s declaration that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, Olson noted that Obama’s parents could not have married in Virginia before he was born.

I asked the lawyers if they were disappointed that the president who had once raised such hope in the gay community now seemed behind the curve.

“Damned right,” Boies snapped. “I hope my Democratic president will catch up to my conservative Republican co-counsel.”

Olson added: “I’m not talking about Obama, but that’s what’s so bad about politicians. They say, ‘I must hasten to follow them, for I am their leader.’”

Obama sees himself as such a huge change that he can be cautious about other societal changes. But what he doesn’t realize is that legalizing gay marriage is like electing a black president. Before you do it, it seems inconceivable. Once it’s done, you can’t remember what all the fuss was about.

more Maureen Dowd

Shameful U.S. History In Haiti

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, ousted by coups that received backing from the US, said he was ready to return to Haiti from South Africa in a jet filled with emergency supplies...

...Against [a] backdrop of violence, an economy in which three-quarters of Haitians lived on less than two dollars a day, and a country where hope had vanished...Mr Aristide emerged in the Port-au-Prince slum of La Saline. Preaching a mix of political empowerment and liberation theology from his pulpit in Saint John Bosco's church, he gradually built up so much popular support that his opponents felt threatened enough to firebomb his chapel during mass, with the loss of 12 lives....

Aristide was elected with a landslide in a 1990 election, but his tenure did not last long. His opponents, covertly supported by the CIA, carried out a coup the following year. The exiled leader would be reinstalled by the Clinton administration and then re-elected for a second term in 2000.

He remained highly popular among the Creole-speaking poor, but his policies calling for higher wages and resisting demands to liberalise the economy continued to anger Haiti's elite as well as powerful elements in Washington.

Loans worth $500m were blocked, and when his enemies turned on him a second time no-one was prepared to help. Indeed, there is evidence the Bush administration prevented additional private security guards, contracted to Aristide's government, from reaching Haiti. When René Préval, Haiti's current president, was elected in 2006, he said there was nothing preventing Aristide from returning to Haiti, though it is likely that a tacit understanding between the US and Aristide's opponents in Port-au-Prince has kept him in South Africa....
--from Andrew Buncombe

GOP Victory In Mass Senate Race May Save Obamacare

Yes, you read it right, a GOP victory in the Mass race for Kennedy's Senate seat may save Obamacare. From Obama and the Dems. Now that the health care reform that the nation wanted is safely dead, killed by Obama, the Dems, and the GOP, the health care industry is resting easy, awaiting the additional riches it will receive because everyone will have to have an insurance policy, but the industry's over-the-top greed will not be hindered by rules without loopholes and hints of competition.

Now that the real battle to reform health care for the people has failed, Obama and the Dems are doing what they should have done to make true health care reform a reality. Obama "has taken full control" over the house-senate negotiations, reports the NYT, serving as head negotiator "during a 72-hour marathon of talks." As for the Dems, the GOP is livid that they have been cut out of these negotiations. Please recall that during the actual creation of the health care bills, Obama refused to get personally involved and the Dems refused to play hardball. In other words, what Obama and the Dems wanted is what we have gotten.

What this means is that in order to get true health care reform, we can only hope that "Obmacare" will be defeated. This could be done if a Republican wins the Senate seat in Mass, and that Republican is willing to vote against the house-senate compromise bill, along with the other 40 GOP Senators who are against it. Personally, we don't think this will happen, because Republicans really want "Obamacare" to pass because it's so beneficial to the health care industry. It has always been the GOP's intention to gut the reform bill as much as possible, and then point to its obvious inadequacies while running against the Dems in 2010. --Politex

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

U.S. a Democracy in Name Only

There are 100 members of the Senate. But...because of the filibuster rule, it takes only 41 to stop any bill from passing.

U.S. population: 307,006,550.

Population for the 20 least-populated states: 31,434,822.

That means that in the Senate, all it takes to stop legislation is one guy plus 40 senators representing 10.2 percent of the country.

People, think about what we went through to elect a new president — a year and a half of campaigning, three dozen debates, $1.6 billion in donations. Then the voters sent a clear, unmistakable message. Which can be totally ignored because of a parliamentary rule (*) that allows the representatives of slightly more than 10 percent of the population to call the shots.

Why isn’t 90 percent of the country marching on the Capitol with teapots and funny hats, waving signs about the filibuster?

(*) That can be removed by a simple majority vote at the start of any Senate session. --Politex

from Gail Collins