Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Matter of Honor. Is Paul Ryan(R-WI) Lying About His Budget Plan

A Matter of Honor. Is Paul Ryan(R-WI) Lying About His Budget Plan

During the congressional recess, Rep. Ryan and other Republican lawmakers have been selling their proposal to restructure Medicare with what appears to be a poll-tested phrase: It will be similar to a system “just like” what members of Congress have. The phrase pops up in all sorts of news releases and interviews with members of Congress, as well as no less than five times in the budget plan crafted by Rep. Ryan.

“This budget will save Medicare for future generations, protecting those in and near retirement from any changes while forging for younger workers a Medicare program modeled on the system of affordable, quality health coverage options now enjoyed by members of Congress,” the plan says.

The implication is that if it’s good enough for us, it is good enough for you. During the 2008 election campaign, then-Sen. Barack Obama used a variation of this line to tout the need for universal health coverage, saying during the third presidential debate: “If you don’t have health insurance, then we’re going to provide you the option of buying into the same kind of federal pool that both Senator [John] McCain and I enjoy as federal employees.”

Ryan’s phrase is alluring — many Americans apparently believe that members of Congress get great benefits — but is it accurate?
The Facts

Republicans say they would preserve the current Medicare system for people who are currently age 55 and older; the changes would only affect people who are younger. The current system, in place since the mid-1960s, is essentially a government-run health care program, with hospital and doctors fees paid by the government, though beneficiaries also pay premiums for some services as well as deductibles and coinsurance.

The new system envisioned by Ryan would transform Medicare into a competitive market. Retirees would get from the government what Ryan calls “premium support” — a set payment adjusted to inflation — and then use that money to pick from a range of plans offered by insurance companies through what is termed a Medicare exchange. (Democrats derisively term this payment “a voucher,” but the government would handle the funds.) Wealthier retirees would have to pay more; poorer Americans would get help with premium payments. Over time, the Medicare eligibility age would be raised from 65 to 67.

To participate in the Medicare exchange, insurance companies would have to accept all retirees. The benefits for a standard plan would be set by the Office of Personnel Management, which runs the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (i.e., what members of Congress sign up for.)

How does this system compare with what Congress gets?

The federal plan provides lots of health-care options, with a range of about five to 15 plans for each enrollee, according to the Congressional Research Service. All of the health plans offer a standard package, but there are variations in what those plans pay for. On top of that, members of Congress get some extra perks, such as care at military hospitals and, for a fee, limited medical services from the attending physician at the Capitol.

In many ways, the federal plan works a lot like the run-of-the-mill employee-sponsored health insurance plan. The bulk of the costs are picked up by the employer — in this case, the government — with the employee contributing his or her share according to a set or negotiated rate. Under a 1997 law, the government pays a set rate of 75 percent of the costs of the health plans selected by federal employees and members of Congress. The employee (and members of Congress) pick up the other 25 percent.

Ryan, in his quote, said the new Medicare would be “working like a system just like members of Congress and federal employees have.” But the comparison begins to break down once you consider the premium support payments. Ryan would peg the premium support to the consumer price index, a broad gauge that has been rising more slowly than have health care costs.

The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan arm of Congress, analyzed Ryan’s plan and estimated that by 2030, the government would pay just 32 percent of the health care costs, less than half of what the federal plan currently pays. The other 68 percent of the plan would have to be shouldered by the retiree. (The CBO estimated that if traditional Medicare stayed in place, the government would pay 70 to 75 percent of the costs.)

The CBO analysis also assumed that adding private insurance plans into the mix would raise administrative costs and would not keep medical inflation as low as traditional Medicare has done. Ryan disputes these assumptions. “We believe — based on experience — the competitive elements of patient-centered reform will exert downward pressure on the cost of a private plan, and that therefore the government’s share of the tab will be higher,” said Conor Sweeney, a spokesman for Ryan.

Sweeney said that the CBO overestimated the cost of adding a prescription drug plan to Medicare by 40 percent because its models underestimate the impact of competition and incentives. A recent study published by the Commonwealth Fund backs up this assertion, citing three examples, including the prescription drug plan, in which the CBO underestimated the savings from reforms.

“The agency has difficulty addressing the impact of multi­ple changes made simultaneously without historical precedent where there is an interaction effect among proposed changes,” wrote analyst Jon R. Gabel.

Of course, some might argue that it is better for the official congressional scorekeeper to be conservative in its estimates, allowing for a pleasant surprise in the future, rather than leaving taxpayers with an unexpected bill.

Sweeney said it was unfair to focus on what the CBO predicts might happen in the future because “the quote you grabbed did not say anything about the cost-sharing percentages.” Rather, he said there “are undeniable structural similarities in approach” between the federal health plan and what Ryan has proposed.

For members of Congress, “the government provides [a] list of OPM-approved plans; [the] member of Congress chooses a plan that works best for them and their family; [the] government supports premiums.” In the GOP-proposed system, “the government provides [a] list of Medicare-approved plans; [the] future beneficiary chooses a plan that works best for them and their family; Medicare supports premiums.”

Sweeney concluded: “We don’t think it’s fair to award Chairman Ryan any Pinocchios for saying that the new Medicare system will be similar to what members of Congress enjoy today, simply because the plan might be dissimilar in one respect, even as it is similar in most others. To my knowledge, the Chairman has never said that the new Medicare will be the plan that members of Congress have.”
The Pinocchio Test

The comparison to Congress is obviously a well-crafted applause line. Republican members of Congress have used it repeatedly in recent weeks, with many of the statements focusing on the question of choice. In that narrowly tailored fashion, there are indeed similarities, though one wonders why any reference needs to be made to Congress. Many employer-sponsored plans offer employees a variety of health-care options.

The focus on “a system just like members of Congress and federal employees have” suggests that this would be something better than the typical employee plan. But it will not have a key feature of the current plan — a promise that the government will pick up 75 percent of the health-care tab.

Indeed, the main reason for making the proposal is to help bring down health-care costs for the federal government and thus get a handle on the deficit. The CBO suggests this will be accomplished largely by shifting the costs onto beneficiaries; Republicans disagree and say competition will bring down overall health-care costs and thus beneficiaries will not suffer. That’s their theory, and it might be right, but the CBO estimate remains the standard that lawmakers will have to use when they debate this proposal.

We don’t mean to pick on Ryan, since this line is clearly from a set of GOP talking points, but he is the author of the plan. We think the reference to the health plan for members of Congress gives a false and misleading impression to ordinary people.
Ryan and his Republican comrades tell the same lie because it has been well established that Republicans know a lie from a chorus of liars sells better than a lie from just one person. Conservatives are betting that as usual most conservative voters will be blinded by partisanship and vote for the lies as usual. They are also betting, as usual, that the public has a short memory. Republicans just a few short years ago drove the economy off the cliff - they were largely responsible for not enforcing the regulation that helped lead to the Great Recession. Republicans ran up the largest debt in history. They based their numbers on pie in the sky predictions just like Ryan. We are still paying off the Republican debt plus the interests - they burned down the house and now claim Democrats are not repairing the house fast enough. Republicans have failed the American people again and again and now they want seniors, children and the disabled to trust them with their health care. In other words Republicans think the American public is a bunch of easily conned morons that they can fool without consequence or accountability. CBO Report: Plan Also Contains Deeper Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid Than Ryan RevealedLink

Friday, April 29, 2011

Elitist Republican of the Week Lou Barletta (R–PA) Laughs at Constituents

Elitist Republican of the Week Lou Barletta (R–PA) Laughs at Constituents

At a time when oil companies are posting record profits, Republican congressmen across the country are being challenged by constituents about their support for roughly $4 billion in annual tax incentives for the oil industry. Last month, every single Republican voted to preserve these subsidies, but under pressure, several GOP leaders, including Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), have admitted that Big Oil shouldn’t continue to receive taxpayer-funded subsidies. But yesterday Congressman Lou Barletta (R–PA) took at different approach: scoffing at the idea.

When a constituent asked him how he could vote for tax breaks for the oil industry, the congressman simply laughed at the woman and shook his head, ignoring her question. Another constituent then responded angrily, telling Barletta, “You’re our congressman, don’t laugh at us!”

Barletta continued to smirk in amusement as constituents began to debate one another, at one point even turning his back on the crowd and rifling through papers as he appeared to completely disengage from the discussion.

This is not the first time the freshman Republican has responded dismissively to tough questioning at home. At a town hall event one week ago, constituents confronted Barletta about his vote to end Medicare through the Ryan budget plan. He was rebuked by a 64-year-old woman who wanted to know why he backed “a plan that will destroy Medicare.” The congressman’s office brushed aside the complaint and tried to smear the woman, claiming she was part of a coordinated Democratic campaign to disrupt the event.

The congressman’s condescending attitude toward his constituents’ concerns is disconcerting, but not altogether surprising, given the generous support he’s received from oil companies. In the 2010 election cycle, the oil and gas industry was one of the largest contributors to Barletta’s campaign, kicking in more than $30,000.

Today, two of the world’s largest oil companies, Exxon and Shell, announced nearly $18 billion in profits in the first quarter, thanks to higher gas prices around to the world. Democratic congressional leaders Sen. Harry Reid (R-NV) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have called on Republicans to hold votes on ending the subsidies.
Oil companies are entitled to profits, but one old American value we used to have was to think greed was a sin. We used to think that politicians represented the people. Right-wing radical conservatives such as Barletta collect their high six figure salaries and ignore the people because they get so much of their campaign money from special interests. Barletta has even taken his contempt for voters to a new dimension - having contempt for those who depend on Medicare to survive.

Donald Trump's racial discrimination problem.

The People's Budget

The CPC proposal:

• Eliminates the deficits and creates a surplus by 2021
• Puts America back to work with a “Make it in America” jobs program
• Protects the social safety net
• Ends the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
• Is FAIR (Fixing America’s Inequality Responsibly)Link

Thursday, April 28, 2011

No Class The Conservative Supreme Court's Arbitration Ruling

No Class The Supreme Court's Arbitration Ruling

On Wednesday morning, the United States Supreme Court gave the world a preview of its coming Walmart class action ruling -- and right now things don't look good at all for the legions of female employees and former employees who claim the giant retailer discriminated against them based upon their gender. In AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the Court's five conservative justices banded together to hand Big Business yet another huge legal victory, this time in the context of compelled arbitration clauses, which sets back for decades the rights of individual consumers.

Here is how the Supreme Court described the facts and history of the AT&T Mobility case:

The cellular telephone contract between respondents (Concepcions) and petitioner (AT&T) provided for arbitration of all disputes, but did not permit classwide arbitration. After the Concepcions were charged sales tax on the retail value of phones provided free under their service contract, they sued AT&T in a California Federal District Court.Their suit was consolidated with a class action alleging, inter alia, that AT&T had engaged in false advertising and fraud by charging sales tax on "free" phones. The District Court denied AT&T's motion to compel arbitration under the Concepcions' contract. Relying on the California Supreme Court's Discover Bank decision, it found the arbitration provision unconscionable because it disallowed classwide proceedings. The Ninth Circuit agreed that the provision was unconscionable under California law and held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), which makes arbitration agreements "valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract," did not preempt its ruling.

I'll leave it to others to parse the details of Justice Antonin Scalia's majority opinion, which overturned the 9th Circuit, voided the intended impact of California's consumer law and case precedent, and declared that the Federal Arbitration Act allows corporations to force individuals to adhere to individual dispute arbitration no matter how unjust the results. Suffice it to say that the Court's decision completely defies the very federalism principles which are so often articulated by the very conservative members who agreed Wednesday to strike down a state's effort to level the consumer playing field for millions of its residents. This is as big a pro-business, pro-corporate ruling as we've ever seen from the Roberts' Court -- and it will take explicit Congressional action to overturn it. Paging Lilly Ledbetter!

The money quote of the day comes not from the majority, which contorted itself to lend a helping hand to AT&T, but rather from Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the four dissenting justices. Highlighting the absurdity of the result reached by the AT&T majority, Breyer wrote:

In general agreements that forbid the consolidation of claims can lead small dollar claimants to abandon their claims rather than to litigate. I suspect that it is true even here, for as the Court of Appeals recognized, AT&T can avoid the $7,500 payout (the payout that supposedly makes the Concepcions' arbitration worthwhile) simply by paying the claim's face value, such that "the maximum gain to a customer for the hassle of arbitrating a $30.22 dispute is still just $30.22." What rational lawyer would have signed on to represent the Concepcions in litigation for the possibility of fees stemming from a $30.22 claim? In California's perfectly rational view, non class arbitration over such sums will also sometimes have the effect of depriving claimants of their claims (say, for example, where claiming the $30.22 were to involve filling out many forms that require technical legal knowledge or waiting at great length while a callis placed on hold). Discover Bank sets forth circumstances in which the California courts believe that the terms of consumer contracts can be manipulated to insulate an agreement's author from liability for its own frauds by "deliberately cheat[ing] large numbers of consumers out of individually small sums of money." Why is this kind of decision--weighing the pros and cons of all class proceedings alike--not California's to make?

Now, there is no federal arbitration issue pending in the Walmart case. There is no contract clause over which the parties are arguing. There is no relevant state law to apply. Instead, the matter in Wal-Mart v. Dukes focuses upon the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governing class-action status. But, still, it's not hard to see the similarities between the two disputes. In the Walmart case, the company is asking the justices to dramatically limit the ability of potential plaintiffs to band together to pursue common claims based upon allegedly illegal conduct. In the AT&T case, the company was asking the justices to dramatically limit the ability of its customers to band together to pursue common claims based upon allegedly illegal conduct.
Now we can expect every corporation to have fine print that says that when it comes to the quality of their products and services - you will be happy with them because you as a citizen no longer have the right to seek legal recourse for any damage they cause or for suffering because of their lack of quality. Oh yea, corporations rule.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How Wall Street Thieves, Led by Goldman Sachs, Took Down the Global Economy

How Wall Street Thieves, Led by Goldman Sachs, Took Down the Global Economy

For all the damning evidence you’ll ever need about Wall Street corruption, take a look at the recent report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, “Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: An Anatomy of a Financial Collapse” (PDF). The 650-page indictment reveals the myriad of ways Wall Street lies, cheats, steals and defrauds on a routine basis. Arguably the report is as revealing as the Nixon tapes or the Pentagon Papers. Unfortunately, it’s too technical to get widely read. So here are the Cliff Notes.

This study, broken into four case studies, forms a biblical tale of how toxic mortgages were born, nurtured and spread like the plague throughout the land, making money for the financial philistines every step of the way.

The first case study focuses on Washington Mutual (WaMu), the nation’s largest savings bank, and its overt strategic decision to go big into selling high risk, high profit mortgages. Here you will find a detailed description of every type of dangerous mortgage foisted onto the public. Your blood pressure also will climb when you read how the bank used focus groups to help its mortgage brokers find better ways to sucker customers into risky mortgages even though the applicants had qualified for and wanted safer fixed-rate mortgages.

The report also details outright fraud committed by brokers – forging documents, making phony loans, stealing money – who then got rewarded again and again by the bank for their high sales records, even after they were caught! Nobody cared because the loans quickly were sold to Wall Street – the riskier the loan, the higher the interest rates and the more Wall Street would pay.

The second case recounts the pathetic tale of the Office of Thrift Supervision, the regulatory agency that was supposed to halt WaMu’s shoddy and corrupt practices. The report shows that OTS knew of these deceptive practices in great detail for five full years and still failed to stop the pillaging. Why? Because OTS’s top regulators didn’t believe in regulations. Banks should regulate themselves. OTS only wanted to help. And one way it helped was by deliberately impeding other regulators like the FDIC from enforcing stronger regulations on WaMu. The OTS, which mercifully has been eliminated, believed it was partners with the banks it supposedly regulated --- a textbook example of regulatory capture combined with financial Stockholm syndrome.

The third case study which focuses on the two largest rating agencies (Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s) is a story of prostitution. Here we learn how the rating agencies turned trick after trick for the big Wall Street banks, doling out favors (AAA ratings) to thousands of “innovative” securities based on the junk mortgages that WaMu and others originated and packaged. Then when it became obvious to everyone that the crap was still crap, the whores went virtuous by drastically downgrading thousands of toxic assets overnight. This forced pension funds and insurance companies, who by law could only hold investment grade securities, to dump their downgraded assets all at once. The result was a rapid and deep collapse of all financial markets. (You read this section of the report and you have to wonder how anyone in their right mind could take seriously S&P’s recent “negative outlook” rating on the U.S. Who are they shilling for now?)

The last case study is the most pornographic as it strips bare two investment banks, Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs. The report accuses them of packaging and selling toxic securities while, at the same time, betting that those securities would fail. Furthermore, the report argues forcefully, that “Investment banks were the driving force behind the structured finance products that provided a steady stream of funding for lenders originating high risk, poor quality loans and that magnified risk throughout the U.S. financial system. The investment banks that engineered, sold, traded, and profited from mortgage related structured finance products were a major cause of the financial crisis.” (pg 19)

The Case against Goldman Sachs

It’s obvious that the subcommittee is gunning for Goldman Sachs, and for good reason. This elite investment house, the envy of all Wall Street, is shown to be corrupt to its core. Not only is it accused of creating toxic assets and unloading them on its own customers, but also, the report accuses GS of betting that the very assets they were selling would fail. They profited by selling the junk and then profited even more when the junk they were selling lost value. The deeper the financial destruction, the more they made. And of course, they didn’t tell the buyers of the toxic assets about GS’s hidden bets or the fact that their internal research showed that the assets were totally toxic. The report is the most detailed account ever written about the Goldman Sachs profitable trail of deceptions including lies that were told to Senate committees again and again.

Lie #1: 'Putting our Customers First'

The path of looting and destruction starts in 2006-'07 when the leadership of Goldman Sachs became convinced that the housing market was in decline and that they had to get rid of all their mortgage-related securities in a hurry. Well, how do you get rid of crap? You package it together, slice and dice it and get your favorite rating agency strumpets to kiss it with AAA-ratings. Then you send your sales force out on a mad scramble around the world to find customers. The problem was that by then most mortgage security buyers knew these assets were toxic AND that the ratings were phony. So GS told its sales agents to seek out customers who knew the least about mortgage-related securities. Nice.

Lie #2: 'Our interests are aligned with our customer’s interests'

Once the junk was packaged and sold, GS placed billions of dollars of bets that the mortgages contained or referenced in the securities would crash and burn. The more they crashed, the more the bets paid off for Goldman Sachs. However, GS failed to reveal this crucial information to its customers. Rather it said that GS’s interests were aligned with that of its customers, implying that GS was buying into the deal and holding the same garbage as the customers were buying. The report details many cases where GS bet big against what they were selling without providing this material information to its buyers.

The Goldman Sachs-Paulson Sting

The most egregious example of this swindle was the Abacus deal that GS cooked up with Paulson and Company, the hedge fund that bet billions that toxic mortgage-related assets would fail. Paulson approached GS with a plan to rig a bet that was sure to fail for the buyers and pay off big for Paulson. Without telling the buyers, Paulson was allowed to set the criteria for the selection of the toxic assets that were placed in the securities, and of course he picked the worst ones he could find. As the report says;

“With respect to Abacus, Goldman knew that the Paulson hedge fund wanted to take 100% of the short side and would profit only if the CDO lost value, yet allowed the hedge fund to play a major but hidden role in selecting the CDO assets.” (p 620)

To hide Paulson’s role, GS needed an independent “portfolio selection agent” to pretend to be the final arbiter of what mortgage pools became part of the security. They hoped that GHC Partners would play that role. But, as a key Goldman Sachs executive reported to his colleagues, GHC found the deal too unsavory:

“As you know, a couple of weeks ago we had approached GSC to ask them to act as portfolio selection agent for that Paulson-sponsored trade, and GSC declined given their negative views on most of the credits that Paulson had selected.” (p 564)

They soon found another shill agent to hide Paulson’s role. Within a year, the buyers of the security lost a billion dollars and Paulson made a billion on his bet. Goldman Sachs got the fees for arranging the deal. However, they later had to pay a fine of $550 million to the SEC for failing to disclose Paulson’s role. Meanwhile, Paulson became the most prosperous hedge fund manager in world. In 2010 he earned $2.4 million an HOUR.

Lie #3: 'Honest, we didn’t try to rig the market'

In order to place more and more bets against the toxic mortgages, Goldman Sachs wanted to purchase credit default swaps, which are like insurance policies. You pay a premium to buy a policy on a given toxic security. If that security fails, you get full value. And you don’t have to own the security to place this wager.

Around the time that Bear Stearns started to fail in 2007, GS wanted to buy up more and more of these bets. But first they wanted to drive down the insurance policy prices so they could get them on the cheap and make even more money. Well, it’s against the law to manipulate markets, but nevertheless GS tried to use its market power to “squeeze” the market downward. It didn’t work out because the cascading financial crash intervened. The Senate investigators found the following smoking gun (a self-evaluation from one of the key GS traders):

“In May, while we were remain[ing] as negative as ever on the fundamentals in sub-prime, the market was trading VERY SHORT, and susceptible to a squeeze. We began to encourage this squeeze, with plans of getting very short again, after the short squeezed [sic] cause[d] capitulation of these shorts. This strategy seemed do-able and brilliant, but once the negative fundamental news kept coming in at a tremendous rate, we stopped waiting for the shorts to capitulate, and instead just reinitiated shorts ourselves immediately.” (p 425).

He later denied this was really a squeeze by claiming to investigators that they placed too much emphasis on “words.” But, think about what this reveals. This GS employee in a self-evaluation to his superiors thought it would make him look good if he bragged about trying to engage in obvious illegalities. What does that really say about the venerable Goldman Sachs culture?

Lie #4: 'We’re only doing all this to make markets'

One of the biggest lies can be found in the concerted cover-up during the testimony before Congressional committees and investigators. After obvious coaching from their lawyers, GS executives stated again and again they are only trying to make markets so that sophisticated investors can make trades. The GS executives deny that they pushed the crap off their books onto investors. They were, instead, only trying to help investors find the deals they wanted. Some, GS argues, wanted to bet that the toxic assets would pay off and others that they would fail, and GS, they claim, only gave them both what they wanted. (They said this repeatedly because the disclosure rules for market making are much weaker than if they are promoting and selling securities to investors.)

Lies #5 ,#6, #7…….#101

The list goes on and on. GS manipulated assets to benefit themselves at the expense of their customers. They manipulated prices to benefit themselves at the expense of customers. As part of Abacus, they worked out a private deal with Paulson so that Paulson would pay less for his “insurance”, which in turn hurt the investors on the other side of the bet. And, even after all of these revelations, Goldman Sachs to this day continues to deny that it engaged in a strategy to bet big against the housing market.

In the end you come to one and only one conclusion. Every time Goldman Sachs had an opportunity to profit by cheating its customers, it did so.

What is to be done?

The Senate report calls for tighter regulations so that banks can’t play these games ever again. It calls for more effective regulatory agencies and rules, and it wants major reforms on the way the rating agencies work --- much of this already contained in the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. But in addition, the subcommittee obviously wants more federal prosecution of Goldman Sachs and others as it asks that “Federal regulators…. identify any violations of law…” (p 638).

No way are these reforms and indictments going to work.

We could put all the crooks in jail (and we should), but Goldman Sachs would still be there. We could tighten regulations more and more, but the big banks would still be armed with enormous wealth and power to subvert them. Regulations and jail are not good enough unless we want to construct massive regulatory and enforcement agencies that rival the banks in size and scope.

Rather, the report proves why the entire financial edifice must come down. Our nation cannot survive economically unless we do away with the large Wall Street banks and investment houses. It’s not just that they are too big to fail. They are too big – period!

At a workshop I recently conducted, one student asked if I thought it possible to go back to a system of local and state banks. I had my doubts. But after reading this report I realized that the student was right. Congress should undo the 1994 bill that “explicitly authorized interstate banking, which allowed federally chartered banks to open branches nationwide more easily than before.” (p 15)

We should break up the big banks and replace them with state and local ones. We should limit financial firms to no more than $10 billion in assets instead of the trillions they now control. We should heavily regulate the hedge fund gamblers. And we should shrink the size of Wall Street through a financial transaction tax.

You just can’t read this report without concluding that big finance, by definition, is bad.

I never make predictions, but this report offers a sure bet: If we don’t bust them up and limit their size, there soon will be another financial crisis that will eat away what’s left of our middle-class way of life.

As this startling report makes all too clear, it’s us or them and there’s no way around it.

Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute and Public Health Institute in New York, and author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do About It (Chelsea Green, 2009).
There is little chance of putting the genie of too big to fail financial firms/banks/insurance companies back in the bottle - Wall St has three lobbyist for every federal legislator. Some good news is that hedge funds managers are mad at Obama and Democrats for the very modest common sense financial reform they passed. Since they won't be getting the same Wall St dollars they got in the last election Obama will start listening to his base instead of Wall St insiders like Larry Summers.

Halliburton Brings In Record $5.3 Billion In First Quarter, Credits Increased U.S. Oil Production Under Obama

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Republicans Holding The Country Hostage to Shove Catastrophic Policies Down Our Throats Has Become Standard Operating Procedure

Republicans Holding The Country Hostage to Shove Catastrophic Policies Down Our Throats Has Become Standard Operating Procedure

The standoff du jour in Washington is about a vote to raise the federal debt ceiling. Democrats and the White House insist it must be done—as does Wall Street—while fiscal conservatives and Tea Party activists are demanding serious concessions, and in some cases, an unconditional “no” vote. As the conversation reaches a crescendo, it’s useful to take a quick look at what the debt ceiling actually is, and what forces are at play in the debate.

When the United States needs to borrow money, the Treasury Department issues bonds in order to pay for the deficit spending. Before 1917, Congress had to approve this borrowing every time it happened, but World War I created a need for more flexibility and lawmakers gave [1] the federal government unchecked borrowing powers, provided the total amount was less than a certain limit.

Congress now needs to approve any borrowing past the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, which the United States will reach “no later” than May 16, according [2] to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. If Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling, the government would have to stop spending—including stopping interest payments on those Treasury bonds, meaning that the United States would effectively default on its debt.

Opportunistic Republicans have correctly understood this vote as a chance to force Democrats into approving several goals held by fiscal conservatives and the Tea Party. Though the debt ceiling will be reached because of past spending—including many Republican initiatives like the Medicare drug benefit and the costly invasion of Iraq—Republicans insist that concessions on future spending are needed before they will agree to raise the limit.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said [3] last month that all forty-seven Republican Senators were unified in their opposition to raising the debt ceiling unless “credible” efforts were made to cut federal spending. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has also said [4] his caucus would not vote to raise the debt ceiling unless “it is accompanied by meaningful action by the President and Congress to cut...the job-killing spending binge in Washington.”

Tea Party activists, meanwhile, are working furiously to ensure Republicans in Congress stand firm. The Tea Party Patriots, the largest organized Tea Party group in the country, warned [5] that “Republican credibility as fiscally responsible managers of public resources is on the line” with the debt ceiling vote.

The group is holding [5] a televised town hall this week on the issue, and urging [6] activists to crash Congressional offices on Thursday to demand their representatives hold the line. The far-right website World Net Daily is has already sent 250,000 letters [7] to 242 House Republicans, urging them to vote against a debt limit increase.

The conservative position makes sense on both messaging and strategic levels. It's simple to push the idea that the United States has somehow reached the limit of what it can spend—though of course this “limit” is arbitrary, and has been raised [8] ten times just since 2001, again often by Republicans who needed to finance expensive tax cuts or wars.

From a strategic perspective, the threat of default is a gun to the head of Democrats who would otherwise be unwilling to even negotiate on many of the demands currently being made by Republicans. As Representative Michael Burgess (R-TX) told [9] World Net Daily, “I must be convinced we have wrung every nickel of spending out of this.... This is the one tool available to us, and unilateral disarmament leads to financial Armageddon.”

However, Republicans—to their detriment—haven’t really made it clear what they want in return for approving a debt ceiling increase, beyond the aforementioned "credible cuts." When they have, these demands are often wildly unrealistic.

Republican leaders in Congress are proposing “a wide range [10] of major structural reforms” to the budget process, including statutory spending caps, a constitutional amendment mandating balanced federal budgets and a two-thirds threshold for approving tax increases or debt limit increases in the future.

The balanced budget proposal is simple posturing, since it would require sixty-seven Congressional votes along with the approval of thirty-eight state legislatures. It would also impose almost impossibly stringent requirements on a government that often needs to deficit spend, especially in times of multiple wars and economic distress.

The two-thirds approval requirement on new taxes, meanwhile, would essentially spell the end of tax increases in America. California has such an amendment on the books, and the impossibility of getting legislative approval of new taxes left the state with “no choice but to cut its budget to ribbons during the economic downturn,” as the Wonk Room’s Pat Garofalo noted [11]. It’s easy to imagine conservatives might actually enjoy this outcome, but not easy to imagine that the current Congress would impose such a strict measure.

Tea Partyers in the House and presidential candidates eager to ride the activist wave building around the debt limit vote are issuing even more preposterous demands. Former senator and current presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said yesterday [12] he would “absolutely” let the United States default on its debt unless healthcare reform was entirely defunded first. Fellow White House hopeful Newt Gingrich doesn’t want [13] the debt ceiling to be raised unless Congress immediately enacts the Ryan plan to block-grant Medicaid spending. Freshman Tea Party Representative Allen West (R-FL) says [14] he would like to cut corporate tax rates in half before approving a debt ceiling increase.

Representative Michelle Bachmann (R-MN)—a professional one-upper of Tea Party rage—has given up issuing any demands at all, and is advocating a straight “no” vote [15]. In her view, the United States wouldn’t have to default on its debt—it would make the Treasury bond payments with money that would otherwise have been used to send out those pesky Social Security checks, or whatever other spending that would no longer be “prioritized,” in her words.

So much like the recent budget showdown, the Republican base is animated and the demands of the party’s elected leaders are increasingly extreme and do not really coalesce around a specific list of reasonable proposals. The White House has been asking for a simple, “clean” reauthorization of the debt limit with no string attached, though it recently opened the door [16] to adding “defict-reduction elements.”

An additional factor working against Republicans is that the threat of default may be so dangerous that Americans realize the party is playing with gasoline next to a flammable economic recovery. If the debt limit is not raised, Treasury bonds would suddenly become a shaky investment and, as Annie Lowery outlines [17] in Slate, financial markets could start dumping bonds en masse, possibly even before an actual default occurs. They might never be viewed as a safe investment again, meaning also that the US dollar would lose its position as the default currency. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told [18] Ezra Klein that “the system will collapse into turmoil.”

Other analyses [19] say the end-game might not be that bad, and that the Treasury Department could take several to avoid default and calm investors. Perhaps that’s true, but nobody involved really wants to find out. Boehner was told [20] in no uncertain terms by Wall Street that debt ceiling politics risk “catastrophic outcomes.”

Republican leaders are caught in a place they’d probably rather not be—between diametrically opposite demands of Wall Street and the Tea Party. Leadership will ultimately cut a deal to get loose from this situation, and safe money is on Tea Partiers being disappointed--the Constitution won’t be rewritten to include balanced budgets. The only real question now is what the consolation prize will be.
One of those situations where it is tempting to give the extremists the medicine they asked for, than sit back and watch them choke on it. Defaulting on our financial obligations would likely cause another financial collapse and end the use of the US dollar as the world's reserve currency. Many of the tea nuts are middle-class workers. They think they'll be punishing Washington, but it is their jobs and homes that will be lost. The multi-millionaires and their lobbyists who write most legislation always survive, they live in a comfortable little bubble. From the 1980s until now it has been the conservative movement - with help from both Republicans and conservative Democrats who went on a deregulation binge. That lead to the financial collapse of the savings and loans of the 1980s and our current recession - which is responsible for loosing $4 trillion of the nation's wealth. These are the very same conservatives who now think it is in our best interests to have another round of misery. If a fortune teller kept giving people false readings they'd demand a refund and never frequent that fortune teller again. In the case of the conservative philosophy people just keep going back, rewarding the same failed fortune telling over and over.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Have President Obama and Democrat's Economic Programs Been Successful

Have President Obama and Democrat's Economic Programs Been Successful

Despite a deep recession, very high unemployment, and widespread hardship, a combination of existing safety net programs and temporary expansions in them enacted in 2009 all but prevented a rise in the poverty rate that year, according to a Center analysis of new poverty data the U.S. Census Bureau released this week that includes the effects of non-cash benefits and tax credits. This is a remarkable achievement; poverty usually burgeons in major recessions.

These findings come to light at an important time — just as Congress prepares for a major debate on the role of government in addressing economic and social problems.

The poverty protection came partly from existing programs — such as unemployment insurance, assistance programs for low-income households, and tax credits for low-income working families. But the bulk of the poverty protection came from improvements that the 2009 Recovery Act (ARRA) made in various programs. Although the Recovery Act was designed chiefly to bolster a collapsing economy, it generated the important side effect of protecting millions of families against poverty and massive income losses. Center analysis of the new Census data shows that the Recovery Act kept more than 4.5 million people out of poverty in 2009: 1.3 million people through extensions and expansions of federal unemployment benefits, 1.5 million people through improvements in the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, nearly 1 million people through the Making Work Pay tax credit, and another 700,000 people through an increase in benefit levels for the SNAP program (previously called food stamps).

The impact of these programs helps to explain why, under the “alternative” poverty measures that the Census Bureau released yesterday — which count non-cash benefits like food stamps and tax credits and which most analysts consider superior to the official poverty measure — poverty did not rise between 2008 and 2009, even as the economy fell deeper into recession, unemployment increased sharply, and many Americans lost their homes to foreclosure. The official poverty measure misses these effects because it counts only conventional cash income and does not reflect the income that non-cash benefits and tax credits provide.

The Census Bureau’s Findings

Yesterday, the Census Bureau issued eight alternative poverty measures that reflect poverty-measurement recommendations that a blue-ribbon National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel made in the mid-1990s.[1] Most experts strongly prefer these NAS measures over the Census Bureau’s official poverty measure. All but one of the NAS measures tell the same story: the poverty rate in 2009 was statistically indistinguishable from the rate in 2008.

Under the measure most similar to the NAS panel’s recommendations, for example, 15.7 percent of Americans were poor in 2009, not statistically distinguishable from the 15.8 percent rate in 2008. Under one of the eight NAS measures, the poverty rate did rise a statistically significant amount — by 0.4 percentage points — but even that was far less than the increase shown in the official poverty measure, which rose 1.1 percentage points, from 13.2 percent in 2008 to 14.3 percent in 2009. [2]

Why Are the Alternative Poverty Rates Flat? The Role of the Recovery Act

The Center analyzed the household-level survey files that the Census Bureau released this week to determine the impact on poverty of seven provisions in the Recovery Act: three tax credits (the new Making Work Pay tax credit and improvements to the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit); temporary expansions in SNAP benefits; two unemployment insurance provisions; and a one-time payment for people who are elderly or have serious disabilities and receive benefits through Social Security, the Supplemental Security Income program, veterans’ compensation, or the Railroad Retirement program. The methodology for this analysis is discussed in the appendix.

These seven Recovery Act provisions kept more than 4.5 million people from falling below the poverty line in 2009. In other words, without these provisions, over 4.5 million more people would have been poor.

These findings indicate that the Recovery Act is one of the single most effective pieces of legislation at preventing poverty to be enacted in decades. No program other than Social Security and the EITC kept this many people above the poverty line in 2009. (Social Security kept more than 20 million people out of poverty; the EITC kept 5 million out of poverty.)

Moreover, given that the EITC and most other programs are the result of gradual expansions under several different laws, it is difficult to think of a single piece of legislation since the Social Security Act of 1935 that kept more people above the poverty line in 2009 through direct assistance to households than the Recovery Act.
Yet Republicans claim Democratic policies have done nothing to help Americans. We can do better as someone once said, but Republican have fought the very programs which have kept millions of Americans out of extreme poverty. Those people have also helped American business by buying essentials like food and personal consumer items such as toothpaste and soap.

Glenn Beck, right-wing nut and hero to people too lazy to read the actual history that Beck frequently rewrites to fit his agenda picks a fight with fellow right-winger Mike Huckabee, Beck Rewrites History To Claim: "I've Never Said Progressive Is The Same As Nazi"

In the latest installment of Glenn Beck vs. Mike Huckabee, Beck seemed to think he had dealt Huckabee the ultimate blow. If only. In hitting back at Huckabee today on his radio show for the latter's recent criticism (in fact, a reply to Beck's first strike a few days ago), Beck accused Huckabee of trying to "smear" him by twisting his words. Beck fervently denied Huckabee's claim that Beck has said progressives are "the same as a 'cancer' and a 'Nazi.' "
Documentation of Beck's infantile attempts to link progressives like Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy to Nazism and communism. Its the same old story, when you lie as much as Beck, all to make millions off the rubes that watch him, you have a lot of trouble remembering all the lies you told. Beck's memory might be better if he had more integrity and lied less.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why Do Republicans Hate the Rule of Law - Conservatives Model Governing Style on Anti-Democracy Despots

Why Do Republicans Hate the Rule of Law - Conservatives Model Governing Style on Anti-Democracy Despots

Last month, a New Jersey state judge struck down Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) $820 million cuts in education because they disproportionately affected low-income students in violation of the state constitution. That case is now pending before the New Jersey Supreme Court.

In an interview with radio host Eric Scott today, Christie suggested that if the state’s highest court hands down a decision that he does not like, he may simply defy the court order:

HOST: In all seriousness, governor, what if the ruling comes down, and [the state supreme courts says] you’ve gotta spend $1.7 billion, and you just say “no”?

CHRISTIE: Well, that’s an option too.

HOST: You’ve considered that? You’ve considered actually saying we’re not going to do it? . . .

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I’m not going to sit here and speculate. Um, have I thought about that? Of course I have. You asked me if I was coming up with a contingency plan. Yeah, there’s a whole bunch of options in the contingency plan and we’ll see what happens.

Sadly, Christie’s apparent belief that the law only applies to him when he feels like it is shared by many of his fellow conservatives. Indeed, the New Jersey governor is only the latest conservative leader to claim that the courts can be ignored — or even punished — when they hand down decisions that the right doesn’t like:

Court Packing: After the Florida Supreme Court tossed out a wildly unconstitutional ballot initiative attempting to nullify part of the Affordable Care Act, Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon (R) devised a plan that would neutralize three of the Florida Supreme Court’s democratic appointees and give right-wing Gov. Rick Scott (R) the ability to appoint several new justices.

Court Stripping: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) recently told a gathering of social conservatives in Iowa that Congress should strip the federal courts of their ability to hear marriage equality cases in order to prevent gay Americans from being afforded their constitutional right to “equal protection of the laws.”

Abolishing Courts: Former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich proposed punishing the Ninth Circuit court of Appeals for upholding the constitutional separation of church and state by eliminating that court entirely.

Justice for Sale: A corporate lobbying group spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to reelect incumbent Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser after Prosser allowed them to write the court’s “justice for sale” ethics rules.

Buying Hate: Anti-gay hate groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars last year to depose three of the seven justices who joined a unanimous marriage equality opinion in Iowa.

Tea Party Revenge: Florida Tea Partiers tried to depose two state supreme court justices to punish them for keeping an unconstitutional nullification initiative off the state’s ballot.

At the end of the day, conservatives don’t want to live under the rule of law — they want a veto power over any attempt to make them follow the parts of the law they don’t like.
Republicans seem to have been watching and learning how to govern from tin-horn banana republic military leaders and middle-east despots. They are establishing a clear pattern. When the courts do not fellow right-wing extremist marching orders the justice system itself is attacked. Conservatives do not want to be bothered with coming up with legal arguments or persuading people at the ballot box, or using due process to change the law. That is exactly what egotistical little tyrants do.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Is America Becoming an Anti-Democratic Plutocracy? The Proof is Happening All Around Us

Is America Becoming an Anti-Democratic Plutocracy? The Proof is Happening All Around Us

In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein demonstrates how wealthy elites often use times of crisis and chaos to impose unpopular policies that restructure economies and political systems to further advance their interests. She calls these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, “disaster capitalism.”

Disaster capitalism is on display around the country, as legislators use the debt crisis afflicting their states as an opportunity to hollow out the public sector. In Michigan it’s being packaged as “emergency financial management” by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who is looking to exploit an economic crisis that has left his state with a severe budget deficit. In March, Snyder signed a law granting state-appointed emergency financial managers (EFM) the ability to fire local elected officials, break teachers’ and public workers’ contracts, seize and sell assets, and eliminate services, entire cities or school districts, all without any public input. He claims these dictatorial restructuring powers will keep Michigan communities out of bankruptcy.

Michigan currently has unelected EFM’s in charge of the schools in Detroit, as well as the cities of Pontiac, Ecorse, and Benton Harbor. In Benton Harbor, the city’s elected mayor and city commissioners were stripped of all power by unelected EFM, Joseph Harris. Harris issued an order saying the city commissioners have no power beyond calling meetings to order, approving minutes, and adjourning meetings. This decimation of local democracy is spreading. Robert Bobb, the EFM that has taken over Detroit’s public school system, sent layoff notices to all of the district’s 5,466 unionized employees. Bobb says he will exercise his power as EFM to unilaterally modify the district’s collective bargaining agreement with the Federation of Teachers starting May 17, 2011.

ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss said the law raises concern about separation of powers, its impact on minority communities, collective-bargaining rights and privatization of services. She is absolutely correct. Faced with a deficit, emboldened EFMs can sell off public property to developers, close public schools and authorize charter schools, and void union contracts with literally no recourse for local, tax-paying residents or their elected officials to stop it.

And, it gets worse. Michigan has joined with the Turnaround Management Association (TMA) to develop a training program for prospective emergency managers. According to their website, TMA members are a professional community of turnaround and corporate renewal professionals who share a common interest in strengthening the economy through the restoration of corporate value. Michigan Treasurer Andy Dillon, while speaking about the new program during a seminar on municipal distress, said that mayors and school superintendents are essentially running big businesses that, in many cases, are more complicated than private companies. It’s no surprise then, that Wall Street investors are thrilled about the potential impacts of the EFM law.

An estimated 400 accountants, lawyers, school employees, and city workers began classes offered by the program in Lansing, Michigan this week on topics including “Dealing with the Unionized Workforce,” navigating municipal bankruptcy and negotiating contracts for sewer, water and other utilities. ”Dealing with the Unionized Workforce” is code for destroying unions and has nothing to do with balancing the budget. Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) in an appearance before the House Oversight Committee, under questioning from Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), admitted a key provision in his state budget proposal to curb union rights had no fiscal benefit, putting to rest the notion that union-busting governors like Rick Snyder have any intention of actually solving their state’s economic woes. As for “negotiating contracts for sewer, water, and other utilities”, this is code for privatize, privatize, privatize!

This so-called financial emergency is really a democracy emergency. Local governments are NOT corporations, nor should they resemble them. The true purpose of emergency financial management is the conversion of a democratically elected government into a hierarchal business entity through economic “shock therapy”, which would be impossible if workers, elected representatives, and residents had any say. Michigan has become a laboratory for CEO Governor Rick Snyder to impose disaster capitalism onto his state. If we allow what is taking place in Michigan to continue unabated, it won’t be long before disaster capitalism finds its way to a city, town, or school district near you.
Rania Khalek

Rania Khalek is a young, progressive activist with a passionate dedication to social justice. Check out her blog at
Most of these states are run by Republicans. How ironic that it was conservative Republicans and their expertise on all things economic that crashed the economy. Now states do not have the revenue they projected they would just five years ago. That is the "emergency". The disaster they brought to America is now sufficient cause to attack the basic rights of Americans - to make elections meaningless, to attack contracts negotiated in good faith, to attack teachers and firefighters, to disregard basic rights guaranteed in the constitution such as the right to petition, free speech and the right to assemble. Who are these radical anti-American Republicans putting in charge - a legion of Wall St princes and dukes - the same ways that we trusted to run the economy. In RepuliWorld failure is rewarded and just being an American workers is punished. There is nothing free and American about that.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Paul Ryan(R-WI) Budget's Radical Priorities

The Ryan Budget's Radical Priorities - Provides Largest Tax Cuts in History for Wealthy, Raises Middle Class Taxes, Ends Guaranteed Medicare, Privatizes Social Security, Erodes Health Care

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Deficit problem is a Lack of Revenue Problem, Not a Spending Problem

Deficit problem is a Lack of Revenue Problem, Not a Spending Problem

In the past week, Fox News figures have adopted the GOP talking point that the nation's deficit is a "spending problem, not a revenue problem." But numerous economic experts have said that decreased revenue is a major cause of the deficit.

..But Numerous Economic Experts Say That We Have A Revenue Problem

Krugman: "Government Spending Has Continued To Rise More Or Less On Its Pre-Crisis Trend" While "Revenue Has Plunged." In an October 17, 2010, blog post, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote:

For all those commenters saying that we must have had a surge in government spending -- I mean, look at the deficit! -- a simple picture:


Government spending has continued to rise more or less on its pre-crisis trend. Revenue has plunged, because the economy is deeply depressed. [, 10/17/10]

Krugman: Since 2007, "Revenue Plunged, Leading To Big Deficits." In an October 18, 2010, post, Krugman wrote:

During the pre-crisis period, spending grew slightly faster than GDP -- that's Medicare plus the Bush wars -- while revenue grew more slowly, presumably reflecting tax cuts.

What happened after the crisis? Spending continued to grow at roughly the same rate -- a bulge in safety net programs, offset by budget-slashing at the state and local level. GDP stalled -- which is why the ratio of spending to GDP rose. And revenue plunged, leading to big deficits.

But I'm sure that the usual suspects will find ways to keep believing that it's all about runaway spending. [, 10/18/10]

Krugman also included this chart: see above

...Former Reagan OMB Official: "I Think The Biggest Problem Is Revenues." In an interview with Talking Points Memo, David Stockman, a former Office of Management and Budget director under President Reagan, responded to Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) budget plan and stated: "I think the biggest problem is revenues. It is simply unrealistic to say that raising revenue isn't part of the solution." From Talking Points Memo:

While the government teetered on the brink of a shutdown last week over short term funding, economists across the ideological spectrum weighed in on the GOP's long-term plan with negative reviews. The biggest shock came from high-profile economists with GOP leanings, who also criticized it on the merits.

"It doesn't address in any serious or courageous way the issue of the near and medium-term deficit," David Stockman told me in a Thursday phone interview. "I think the biggest problem is revenues. It is simply unrealistic to say that raising revenue isn't part of the solution. It's a measure of how far off the deep end Republicans have gone with this religious catechism about taxes."

...David Cay Johnston: "There Is A Simple, Factual Way To Describe What Is Happening To Our Government: We Have A Revenue Problem." In a March 4 column, Pulitzer Prize winner and economics author David Cay Johnston wrote: "There is a simple, factual way to describe what is happening to our government: We have a revenue problem." From Johnston's column:

Right after the midterm elections, when false claims that lower tax rates increased revenues helped win votes, Fox News captured the lockstep approach perfectly in a piece on its website about how Republican leaders were "on message."

...Harvard Business Review Group Director: "[T]he Giant Deficit Is Mainly The Result Of The Collapse In Tax Receipts Brought On By The Recession." In an October 2010 post on his Reuters blog, Justin Fox, editorial director of the Harvard Business Review Group, analyzed the deficit and concluded that it was "mainly the result of the collapse in tax receipts brought on by the recession":

The Treasury Department reported on Oct. 15 that the deficit in fiscal 2010, which ended Sept. 30, was $1.294 trillion. That's less than FY 2009's $1.416 trillion, but it's still really really big. Why is it so big, though? Is it because of all that stimulus and bailout spending? Or is something else going on?

Anyone who has ever had a hardheaded friend or relative who refuses to accept responsibility or admit their mistakes knows what is going on with Republicans and our economy. They recklessly cut taxes, failed to pay for two wars and trashed the housing market and the economy. Now they say all our problems are runaway government spending. Conservative Republicans are the party of irresponsible welfare queens who now refuse to pay the bill which has come due.

Conservative media stands by one of its most infamous liars, Fox News And Hannity “Forget” Breitbart’s History Of Deceit And Dishonesty While Helping To Flog His Book

We do have death panels in America. Its run by Congressional Republicans, with Paul Ryan (R-WI) steering the ship - Republicans Violate Their "Seniors' Bill of Rights"

That didn't take long. As the battle over health care reform reached a fever pitch in the fall of 2009, the Republican National Committee rolled out a "Seniors' Bill of Rights." But with the midterms safely won, the GOP has predictably turned its back on its pledge of "no cuts to Medicare to pay for another program." After all, the House GOP budget passed last week not only and massively shifts costs onto the elderly. As it turns out, the Ryan plan calls for the very same cuts to the Medicare Advantage program Republicans decried during the 2010 elections.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Paul Ryan and The Tea Party Agenda Goes On the Record As Anti-Democracy and Pro Elitist

Paul Ryan and The Tea Party Agenda Goes Goes On the Record As Anti-Democracy and Pro Elitist

For years people have accused the Republican Party of being the servants of the rich and powerful at the expense of the broader public. In the past, they would deny this charge and claim that they just had a different view of how the economy works.

Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan sought to eliminate any confusion on this point. He proposed, and last week the Republican House approved, a budget bill that will transfer tens of trillions (yes, that is "trillions" with a "T") of dollars from ordinary working people to the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry and generic rich people from any industry. This money will come in the form of higher payments by seniors in their old age for health insurance and another round of tax breaks for the country's richest people.

The Medicare story is the bigger transfer here. Representative Ryan wants to replace the current Medicare system with a voucher system. The size of the voucher in Ryan's plan is held even with the overall rate of inflation. This means that it will not rise at anywhere near the rate of projected health care cost growth. As a result, a greater portion of the cost of health care will be shifted from the government to retirees.

However, this is the less important part of the story. The main reason that retiree health care costs will increase is that the private sector is less efficient at delivering care than the existing Medicare program. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that, under the Ryan plan, the increase in the cost of buying Medicare equivalent policies would be more than $30 trillion over Medicare's planning horizon.

This additional waste comes to almost $100,000 for every man, woman, and child in the country. It is approximately equal to six times the size of the projected Social Security shortfall. This waste is a direct transfer from retirees to the insurance industry and the health care industry.

This is not the only way that Representative Ryan and the Republicans dip into the pockets of ordinary workers for the benefit of the obscenely rich. He also wants to give an additional $2.9 trillion in tax breaks to the wealthy over the next decade. These tax breaks would be paid for with cuts to Medicaid, Food Stamps and other programs that middle-income and poor people depend upon.

The tax breaks would be real money for the people who get them. For example, Representative Ryan's tax breaks could give Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, another $3 million a year based on his $20 million annual paycheck. That's the equivalent of more than 2,600 monthly Social Security checks.

Representative Ryan and the Republicans in Congress are likely to justify their budget by saying that they believe that their health care plan will hold down costs and their tax cuts will spur economic growth. While we can never know what politicians believe, we do know that these are not plausible stories.

We have already tested expanding the role of private insurers in the Medicare system. We did this in the 90s when the Gingrich Congress pushed through their Medicare Plus Choice plan. We did it again more recently with the Medicare Advantage program that was promoted by President Bush. These plans did not lower costs; they raised them. That is the basis for the non-partisan CBO's projections that the Ryan plan will raise costs.

Similarly, Representative Ryan and the Republicans claim that tax cuts for the wealthy will spur growth. We have also twice tested this one. The first time was when President Reagan gave us big tax breaks beginning in 1981. The 80s were the worst decade of growth since the Great Depression, prior to the 00s, when President Bush tested his tax cuts for the wealthy. Certainly the economy's bad performance during these decades cannot be blamed solely on the tax breaks for the wealthy, but it is a bit hard to maintain tax cuts to the wealthy gave a big boost to growth in these years.

While Representative Ryan and the Republicans may actually believe that giving private insurers more control over health care lowers costs and that cutting taxes for the rich increases growth, who cares? These people may believe that the moon is made of green cheese, but this does not make the green cheese theory true or even plausible.

We have extensively tested both parts of the Ryan transfer program to the wealthy, and they don't work as he claims. They redistribute money to the rich: end of story. Thanks to Representative Ryan we have the Republican Party on record as supporting these massive transfers to the wealthy. We just have to hope that the Democratic Party takes a different position.
But don't we owe the wealthy a break, they create jobs, right? The wealthy get their wealth from the value their employees create and make money by selling their products and services to working people. Every millionaires wealth ultimately comes from a partnership with labor. Labor is holding up its end of the deal - they have made America's wealthy richer than they have ever been. Now its time the millionaires lived up to their obligations under that partnership. No more welfare for the rich.

While Slashing Social Services, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) Flew More On State Plane In 3 Months Than Predecessor Did In 13.

Kasich’s unprecedented spending on travel at the beginning of his term comes during a period when he passed a budget that cut services beneficial to low- and middle-income Ohioans. With the state facing an $8 billion budget gap, Kasich’s budget featured steep cuts in education, children’s health, public libraries, and local governments. His union-busting legislation, SB 5, made cuts from public employee pensions and has widespread effects on teachers and public safety officials, including firefighters and police officers. And he’s attempting to save more money by making cuts to the state’s prison system, which is among the program he would like to privatize.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Republican Pundits Use Planned Parenthood For Race Baiting and Eugenics Myth

Republican Pundits Use Planned Parenthood For Race Baiting
and Eugenics Myth

Rush Limbaugh Claims Planned Parenthood Is Conspiring Against Minorities

Limbaugh: The Left "Literally Preside[s] Over The Death Of 60% Of Black Babies In The Womb Via Planned Parenthood." From the March 2 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

Limbaugh: "Planned Parenthood Is Doing The Job The Klan Could Never Finish." From the February 25 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
Limbaugh personifies the typical conservative in his tactics. Demonize Planned Parenthood as being in the abortion business - most of their work has to do with women's health - cancer screenings, birth control information and other women's health issues. PP in fact does not perform abortions - a procedure that is legal. In addition to the scare tactics the radical Right is also engaged in race baiting, hoping to get the African-American vote. Again the fact is that PP has provided millions of dollars worth of health care to minority women when there was no place else to go.
However, Martin Luther King Jr. Accepted Planned Parenthood Award And Praised The Organization For Its Dedication To Family Planning. From King's "Family Planning -- A Special and Urgent Concern" speech, delivered by his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King:

There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available. Family planning, to relate population to world resources, is possible, practical and necessary. Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess.

What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and education of the billions who are its victims.


For the Negro, therefore, intelligent guides of family planning are a profoundly important ingredient in his quest for security and a decent life. There are mountainous obstacles still separating Negroes from a normal existence. Yet one element in stabilizing his life would be an understanding of and easy access to the means to develop a family related in size to his community environment and to the income potential he can command.

This is not to suggest that the Negro will solve all his problems through Planned Parenthood. His problems are far more complex, encompassing economic security, education, freedom from discrimination, decent housing and access to culture. Yet if family planning is sensible it can facilitate or at least not be an obstacle to the solution of the many profound problems that plague him.

The Negro constitutes half the poor of the nation. Like all poor, Negro and white, they have many unwanted children. This is a cruel evil they urgently need to control. There is scarcely anything more tragic in human life than a child who is not wanted. That which should be a blessing becomes a curse for parent and child. There is nothing inherent in the Negro mentality which creates this condition. Their poverty causes it. When Negroes have been able to ascend economically, statistics reveal they plan their families with even greater care than whites. Negroes of higher economic and educational status actually have fewer children than white families in the same circumstances.
If the Right really cared about children - real ones, living their lives in the real world - they would stop their attacks, fear mongering and myth making - and help real children get access to health care, instead of taking health care access away from children.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Taliban Comes To Texas Dressed Up as Republicans

The Taliban Comes To Texas Dressed Up as Conservative Republicans

Before I met with Texas State Representative Dan Flynn last month during Texas’ pro-choice lobby day, I truly believed that even the most passionate anti-choice conservative couldn’t look me in the face and tell me they didn’t really care whether I got the reproductive health care I needed. Who would seriously tell me their religious beliefs are more important than making sure hundreds of thousands of women just like me—women with high-risk HPV--don’t develop cervical cancer?

But like I said, that was before I sat in front of Rep. Flynn, in his Austin office next to his model airplanes and elect-Dan-Flynn gum, and told him how I’d lost my job and my health insurance and needed regular, affordable pap smears to keep an eye on my pre-cancerous cervical dysplasia. I told him Planned Parenthood could provide low-cost paps, breast exams and contraceptives to keep me healthy despite my lack of insurance, and I believed they should continue to be funded by government family planning dollars. He scoffed, waving around a handful of papers—spreadsheets and maps, it looked like—and told me that Planned Parenthood was nothing but a tax-evading abortion machine (he knew because he used to be a bank examiner and had heard some things from some people) and there were so many other options besides Planned Parenthood in Texas. I should and could go to one of those, he told me, so we could spread some of the wealth around to these smaller providers. It would be very easy, he said.

I asked him if he could give me that list he had in his hand, the long list of places I could get low-cost reproductive health care without insurance near my home in Dallas. He glanced at the list and rattled off some names, something about Dallas Emergency Services and Dallas County Hospital District. He didn’t exactly wait for me to get out my pen and pad. I filed out of Flynn’s office with the rest of the women I’d teamed up with for lobby day feeling surprised and disappointed. But I still wanted (needed!) to know where those low-cost health centers were that Flynn had referenced, because I knew the Texas Legislature to be hell-bent on cutting the family planning funds that keep Planned Parenthood and clinics like it afloat.

Planned Parenthood or not, I’d still need well-woman exams, birth control pills and suchlike, and I wanted to know where I could get these things if I had to spend weeks or months scraping by on a freelancer’s salary without health insurance. So here’s what I did: I spent my own time, money and energy trying to find a health care clinic that anti-choice conservatives, legislators and organizations would approve of—namely, to find a Federally Qualified Health Center or “look-alike” center that, by virtue of federal grant funding, cannot provide abortion services except in cases of rape, incest or threat to a mother’s life, as dictated by the 36-year-old Hyde Amendment. (I know—that amendment also applies to Planned Parenthood, which only uses private, non-taxpayer funds for its abortion services at separate, privately-funded locations, but we’re talking about conservative ideology, not logic, so just go with me here.)

But I thought, I’ll play this game. If it turns out I was wrong—and I really thought maybe I could be, because how could it seriously happen that “pro-life” Texans didn’t want me to get cancer screenings?—I would be the first to admit that you can take Planned Parenthood out of the equation and still find easily accessible, low-cost reproductive health care in a sprawling metropolitan area like Dallas. But I wasn’t wrong. I was, maddeningly, right. Considering the rate at which conservatives are defunding family planning in my state, and for that matter, across the country, I’m very sorry about that. All of this is an ideological, not fiscally conservative, battle. After all, family planning saves taxpayers $4 for every $1 spent. But I was trying to work around family planning dollars, since conservatives seem to think they go straight to gleeful baby-killing cocktail hours, and stick with straight-up FQHC's. If they’re lucky, Dallas women will be told what I was told: an appointment at an anti-choicer-approved FQHC might be available in May if I called back in three weeks—at a location two cities away and five miles from the closest bus stop.

Or women can call Planned Parenthood, like I did, at lunch time on a Friday, and be told that an afternoon appointment including a full pelvic and breast exam is available that same day for about $100 at a location a few yards from a major public transportation hub that I could easily reach in a half-hour or so. But I’m getting ahead of myself. You see, I first had to do a little divination to figure out where exactly anti-choicers wanted me to get my health care (besides not Planned Parenthood), since I couldn’t actually get any of them to pass along that list of their approved providers to me. First thing in the morning, the day after I met with Rep. Dan Flynn, I called and e-mailed his office. After a day or so, they got back to me and advised I contact the anti-choice religious groupTexas Alliance For Life for a list of alternatives to Planned Parenthood. I e-mailed the Alliance on March 10:

Hi, TX Alliance for Life - I was referred to you by the office of Rep. Dan Flynn. I’m looking for a comprehensive list of alternatives to Planned Parenthood–when I visited with Rep. Flynn this week he referenced a document that appeared to be just such a thing. Karah Carr, a legislative aide for Rep. Flynn, tells me the Alliance for Life provided it. I was wondering if I could get a copy of the same list? Thanks! Andrea

So, what’s today? April the something? I haven’t heard back from the Alliance yet. I’ve even been Tweeting at both the Alliance and Rep. Flynn asking for that list of providers that can they believe can give me the same or better care as Planned Parenthood.

But, nada.

I know Flynn and his conservative counterparts were very busy over the weekend deciding which Texans deserve health care (hint: it’s not women of reproductive age) but I hoped that at least in Flynn’s passion for defunding family planning, he’d develop a passion for helping women find health care providers he approved of. I was wrong about that one.

I posted about my travails on my personal blog, where I have a number of anti-choice trolls who are always more than happy to share their wealth of knowledge with me. There, someone from another anti-choice group eventually commented and told me they wouldn’t mind if I went to a Federally Qualified Health Center or “look-alike” center that offers sliding fee scales. And look, said the "pro-life" Texan, there are seven such centers in Dallas! So that’s what I did: Last Friday morning, I went out of my way to find a doctor based on the fact that some people have a personal dislike of Planned Parenthood for providing abortions--a safe, common and legal medical procedure.

It hardly felt like easy-access, low-cost health care. It felt more like coercion, and it was a hassle, and it forced me to make decisions about my own body and health care based on what other people—people who never met me, who are not medical professionals—think I should be doing based on their religious beliefs.

I found that list of FQHC’s—I am privileged to have a flexible work schedule, home phone and home internet access, so I didn’t have to take time off work to go to the public library and use a pay phone, and I didn’t have to sneak around on a conservative, religious or abusive family or partner--and started making calls. Most places I telephoned did not provide reproductive health care and instead focused on providing low-income housing, job training and addiction-recovery programs. A homeless shelter on the FQHC list did tell me I could get a free pap smear if I could prove I was homeless. I then got sidetracked looking into something called Project Access, a low-cost program that helps uninsured people who don’t qualify for Medicaid—but because I made more than about $20,000 last year as an unmarried woman without kids, I don’t qualify for that, either.

And the Texas Breast And Cervical Cancer Services, which is supposed to provide low-cost screenings for Texas women? It referred me to Planned Parenthood. So that was a no-go.

Back to the phones: a clinic close-ish to my home had no receptionist and a full voicemail. Another receptionist laughed at me because I’d been given the number for the county hospital front desk and told me to call a place called Los Barrios Unidos Community Clinic. When I called Los Barrios, I got an individual’s voice mail and had to take down another number to a switchboard, after which I was transferred to another voicemail that said the women’s health care folks would get back to me in 24 hours if I left my phone number. They’ve yet to call me. Later in the morning, I finally got through to the Los Barrios clinic in Grand Prairie, which is a western suburb of Dallas. They had appointments open in May, potentially, if I could call them back the morning of April 25th. There, a pap smear would cost me as little as $30, but maybe more depending on my income.

I made my last call to a Planned Parenthood clinic in central Dallas. The receptionist there told me they could schedule me that same afternoon for a full pelvic and breast exam. It’d be about $100, but there was a sliding scale. Without Planned Parenthood and family planning funding that funds actual medical centers—not crisis pregnancy centers or adoption agencies, as may happen in Texas after this year’s budget--poor, uninsured and under-insured women in my city do not generally have access to quality reproductive health care in any real way. They sit on waiting lists for weeks and months, and that’s if they can take time off work to do what I did: spend a morning surfing the internet, finding phone numbers and addresses of health clinics and hospitals, calling them only to be put on hold, laughed at or hung up on, and if they do find the a clinic, leaving a message in hopes of getting a return call to schedule appointment.

I’m not saying I tried my absolute hardest to find a reproductive health care provider that Texas anti-choice conservatives approve of. I could have called back the clinics I had to leave messages at, the ones that promised they’d get back to me in 24 hours. I could have spent another morning calling clinics in Fort Worth, Denton, Waco or Oklahoma City, to see if one of them could get me in for an appointment in the next two months. Of course, to visit those places, I’d be spending in gas what I’d be spending to go to a local Planned Parenthood here in Dallas. So there wouldn’t really be any money savings, there’d just be conscience-savings on the part of people who don’t really want to hear or care about my personal health unless I’m pregnant or might be pregnant.

Anti-choicers like Flynn and “pro-life” activists want me and women like me to jump through these hoops not because it's medically safer for us to go somewhere other than Planned Parenthood, but because they don't want women hanging out with anybody who provides a safe, legal and common medical procedure. And for what it's worth, I imagine the anti-choice folks who told me to seek out an FQHC should know this: FQHC's do provide referrals to abortion providers at their discretion, even though they don't provide the procedure on-site.

Of course, once you get to the next level, here--after anti-choicers have first told you they don't want to fund the abortion industry with taxpayer dollars--then it magically becomes about some pseudo- socialist ideal about spreading the health care access around, just like Rep. Dan Flynn told me in his office last month. Suddenly, all those things they told you about the abortionists and the dead babies goes out the window, because really, it's about making sure the little guys get their fair slice of the pie.

Nobody knows these two excuses—barring taxpayer funding for abortion and spreading the health care wealth around--are straight-up lies better than the anti-choice movement members themselves. There's a reason why anti-choice legislators and activists are so strong on these two talking points: they're simply, plainly, not true. Taxpayer funding for abortion does not exist. It hasn't existed for thirty-six years thanks to the Hyde Amendment. And we need only to look to Nebraska, where five babies have died so far this year because conservative lawmakers do not allow hospitals to care for undocumented immigrants, to know that spreading the health care wealth around to everyone is a total farce. Besides, wasn’t Jesus a capitalist, anyway?
Why do conservative have such deep paranoid fears of the Taliban. Their social and cultural agenda are so much alike. The Taliban and conservative Republicans are kindred spirits who think it best the world go back in time to the 17th century - a time where men and a government run by men owned and controlled every woman's uterus.

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