THE FIX IS IN (Posted December 11, 2011)
Daily reports from Washington always seem to suggest that a solution is at hand for our budget problem, yet we never actually seem to come up with a specific solution that all parties can agree to.
The fact is that we already have a plan in place to resolve the matter and no further discussion is necessary.
Legislation is currently on the books that would do the following: first, the Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the end of 2012; then, beginning in 2013, the negotiated sequester will kick in, forcing a set of huge, across-the-board cuts to all Federal agencies and programs. Finally, during 2014, we will no longer have troops in either Iraq or Afghanistan and the Federal government will begin negotiating drug prices for Medicare.
Thus, if all goes according to plan, the Federal budget should be in balance by the end of 2014.
All we need is for the Congress to do what it has been so very good at doing recently—absolutely nothing. As an added bonus, we might suggest that Congress adjourn until 2015.
If only we could be so lucky.
THE REPUBLICAN DEBATES AND WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED (Posted September 8, 2011)
The two recent Republican debates have provided us with a fascinating insight into the mindset of the radical right wing to whom the party is appealing.
In the debate on September 7, 2011, a question asked of Gov. Rick Perry about the death penalty drew a vigorous round of applause – APPLAUSE, no less. The question had to do with whether Gov. Perry had lost any sleep about the possibility that anyone he had executed might have been innocent.
He obviously had not; moreover, innocence was obviously irrelevant. Mr. Perry’s accomplishment deserved a hearty round of APPLAUSE – and APPLAUSE we got.
Governor Perry has put more people to death than anyone in history. In fact, the 200+ people whom he has sent to death row in Texas are an order of magnitude more than the rest of the nation combined.
Again, APPLAUSE is what we heard for the governor.
But not one word about the fact that the crime rate in Texas is so bad – indeed so apparently out of control — that it requires putting people to death at a rate that far exceeds anything in the country – or the WORLD for that matter.
It also does not even begin to ask the question about whether the death penalty is a deterrent to crime. Perhaps because, given the sheer volume of executions there, that might be a hard case to make.
The second example is equally instructive. In the September 12, 2011 debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer asked a question of the panel about what should be done for someone who was sick and had no insurance. “Should he be allowed to die?” asked Mr. Blitzer. “YEAH!” — shouted someone in the audience, to which we heard yet another thunderous round of applause – APPLAUSE!
The two examples illustrate the kind of a society these people want for all of us – and what kind of candidates they will doubtlessly be voting for next year. The candidates, of course, are responding in kind. The characters on display are short on substance but are earning style points in any way possible.
The debate moderators are partly responsible for this. For example, on the crime issue, it would have been appropriate to ask for Governor Perry’s views on crime prevention as a means of generating a substantive discussion on a problem that threatens to become an epidemic in this country. Is punishment the only answer? Can we kill all the criminals? Is there something that we might collectively do to prevent kids from becoming criminals in the first place?
Further, the notion of universal health care is a subject that is totally taboo to the Tea party regulars who staff these debates. Thus we are not likely to hear much questioning on this matter, despite the fact that this issue could well be a winner for the any other party but the Democrats. So far all we’ve heard from the Republican hopefuls is criticism about Medicare and promises to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act, with little being said about what would replace either. It would be nice to hear the candidates asked if they are satisfied with the current state of the American Health Care system. If not, how would they improve it?
We have just heard that the poverty rate in the USA exceeded 15 per cent in 2010. How does that affect the candidates’ thinking? Will they replace Medicaid as well? With what?
Finally, we all know what they think about the “PONZI” scheme known as Social Security. Yet we’ve heard none of the candidates pressed for their plans to reform the system.
I not only reject the APPLAUSE we’ve been treated to in the first two debates, but I also reject the society they appear intent on developing. It appears to me that we are witnessing a regurgitation of George W. Bush’s concept of the “Ownership Society”, otherwise known as the “You’re on your own Society”. It is clearly part of a comprehensive Republican plan to destroy the American social safety net. The constant refrain that we hear from right-wing circles about “personal responsibility” might well attest to this.
We can only hope that, for the good of the country, our political system will be able to select out such extremes in the 2012 election.
MR. CHENEY’S REVISIONIST VIEW OF HISTORY (Posted September 4, 2011)
I’ve listened with interest this past week to our ex-vice president’s take on his administration’s conduct of the so-called “war on terror”.
The first and most palpable absurdity he proffers is that, because of the actions they took, we did not have another attack on US soil during the rest of the time they were in office. By inference, all the things that were done – torture, rendition, indefinite detention, warrantless wiretapping, etc. – were justified.
First, Mr. Cheney is correct on one level, i.e., there were no attacks for the balance of time he was in office. But the fact is, the terrorists didn’t need to hit us again. They accomplished everything they wanted with the first attack. They succeeded in instilling FEAR at all levels of American society with devastating consequences. We started two wars, sending 2-3 million troops into battle, spending trillions of dollars and incurring the loss of thousands of lives and countless others maimed forever. We have spent ourselves into debt from which we may never recover; we have incurred the wrath and hatred of many around the world who see us as a bully, an occupier and a nation that does not respect the rule of law.
ALL OF THIS BECAUSE OF THE ACTIONS OF 19 TERRORISTS ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001!
Was it worth it? Has it made us any safer? Could we have accomplished the same thing without resorting to the kind of extremes we have taken over the last ten years?
On the first two points: a case can be made that we are in fact LESS safe as a result of the course of action we took; we’ve killed perhaps hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings with our war machine, thus incurring the wrath of millions around the world. Yes they haven’t attacked us again; they don’t need to – as stated, we are in a much weakened state as a result of the first attack. Moreover, we certainly cannot claim to have stemmed the tide of international terrorism as a result of actions we took. The equally horrible attacks in London, Madrid, Bali, Mumbai, Sinai, etc. all occurred after 9/11. Thus, if anything, our actions seem to have encouraged more people around the world to become terrorists.
On the third point, could we have accomplished the same thing with less extreme reaction? The killing of Osama Bin laden is instructive; we used a combination of creative intelligence work and a daring commando raid to put an end to the guy who precipitated that 9/11 attack in a matter of just a few hours. Why couldn’t we have done so ten years ago?
I’m sure Mr. Cheney won’t have an answer for that.
THE END OF THE AMERICAN SOCIAL SAFETY NET (Posted September 3, 2011)
The Republican Party has been trying to roll back the essence of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, which spawned the American Social Safety Net in 1935 with the creation of the Social Security System. The year 2012 may be the beginning of the end for the systems (Social Security and Medicare) which have supported our seniors and kept them out of poverty for sixty six years (they are also taking aim at Medicaid for the poor as well). But everything depends on the outcome of next year’s election, which could well be the most important in this nation’s history.
We’ve heard proposals to end Medicare as we know it by eliminating the system’s guarantee and instead offering Seniors a voucher to purchase health care. Can you imagine what it will be like for a 65-year old to have to deal with the open insurance market and find health coverage with 65 years of pre-existing conditions??
Then we have the attempts at killing Social Security—“W” proposed privatizing it by allowing us to buy stock which seemed to gain some traction until the market crashed in the 2007-88 time frame.
Then we hear Rick Perry calling it a “ponzi scheme”, all the while promising to make government as “inconsequential” in our lives as possible. That’s just another way of positioning another run at creating Mr. Bush’s “ownership” society, AKA the “you’re on your own” society. If that’s the kind of “inconsequential” government he is proposing, we probably all should head for Europe.
What is especially unsettling are the latest examples of the Democrat’s apparent willingness to go along with some of the latest Republican proposals to “protect” the two systems. They have allowed the Social Security system to be “on the table” in the deficit reduction talks; the President has even OFFERED to increase the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67 and to include it in the same talks about the nation’s finances. This pattern of “incremental change” is dangerous; it allows a gradual weakening of the system which may eventually make its continued retention hard to justify.
Furthermore, the rationale for changing either system at this time is utterly nonsensical. There is no question that Social Security’s finances need to be improved; but the system does NOT contribute a cent to the deficit and so the system should not be part of the deficit debate. The financing issues need to be addressed as part of an effort to STRENGTHEN and not WEAKEN the system — which, by the way, could be accomplished easily by simply eliminating the cap so that everyone pays the same percentage of their income into the system.
As to Medicare, costs are an issue; but the cost issue for Medicare is nothing more than a reflection of the cost problems associated with the entire American health care system. The Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA) of 2010 is supposed to address cost for the system as a whole. Therefore I cannot understand why the Pols in DC are discussing Medicare as part of the deficit talks – and why the Democrats can’t (or WON’T) take a position on this and defend the work that was done on the AHCA by pointing to the savings that were and are projected to occur with those changes.
Finally, the tendency to offer these “payroll tax holidays” as part of a recovery plan is especially worrisome. As said earlier, the system’s finances are in need of “shoring up” as it is; further depriving it of current contributions only makes things worse and lends credence to the case being made by the Republicans that the system is unsustainable and thus needs to be done away with.
This is a dangerous period. We are entering a phase where we need to do some introspection. Are we a nation committed to taking care of each other — OR NOT? The answer to that question will undoubtedly settle the 2012 election.
I’ve got just enough frequent flyer credits to get Elaine and me to France. I hope I don’t need them.
MONEY WINS AGAIN (Posted August 3, 2011)
Our ‘Congress’, having finally reached a deal on the debt crisis, has proven that it cannot solve any of our problems – but it has taken care of the money-managers.
The plan apparently will try to balance the Federal budget by cutting government spending alone; we will not ask anything of the nation’s multi-billionaire set. Hedge Funders will going on earning billions while using the carried-interest gambit to pay their “fair share” at 15 percent; the rest of us, including presumably their secretaries, will pay higher rates. They make nothing, just push paper around and collect billions.
So where does that leave us? All we hear about is CUTS; not one word about INVESTMENT. Progress is expensive, & must be paid for. What are the plans to move this nation forward in a very competitive global economy?
We are backing away from the need to address this country’s problems; two examples: we have very nearly the highest rate of infant mortality in the industrialized world (according to the Annie Casey Foundation, we are tied with Latvia for 30th place—Turkey enjoys the last place at number 31), yet we have decided to defund Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest and most effective purveyor of pre-natal assistance for poor people. Our educational system is in shambles and other countries are outpacing us dramatically in terms of the rate at which they are producing mathematicians and scientists; our response is to lay off teachers and disembowel their unions. Our ability and more importantly our WILLINGNESS to solve this nation’s problems will require a new kind of leadership that changes the kind of thinking that we seen in these two examples.
Throughout this discussion, this nation has been moving toward the precipice.
We still are.
GUNZO GONZO (Posted July 25, 2011)
Not to be outdone by the Norwegians, the good ol’ USDA scrambled to protect its grand reputation as the greatest ‘shoot-em & kill-em’ nation on earth over the weekend.
It was literally an “I’ve got a bombing and a shooting spree” as against “I’ll raise you 4 shootings” as the USA countered the slaughter in Norway on Friday with a set of massacres of its own almost in response.
What more to say? Another set of innocents taken from us, grieving families all over the country and, if the past is any guide, we can be sure that nothing – ABSOLUTELY NOTHING – will be done about the epidemic of gun violence that threatens us all.
Any smart, caring human being can see the problem and make a judgment as to what needs to be done. The only problem is that he powerful, moneyed interests are aligned against any effort to reduce the easy access – by the wrong kind of people (criminals, kids and mental defectives) – to high-powered weaponry that takes so many of our citizens from us each and every year: 15-20 thousand each an every year, two-thirds of which are caused by guns.
People the world over look at us and wonder why it is that we – the ‘supposed’ most powerful nation on earth — are so incapable of making the obvious choices needed to fix problems like gun violence.
And I must admit – I do not have an answer for them.
OUR FISCAL MESS (Posted July 18, 2011)
Sen. Jim Demint (R-SC) called it right on the money when he suggested the Republican party’s strategy would be to “create gridlock”.
The folks in DC are doing their best to make Mr. Demint’s dream come true. If there ever was a glaring example of Washington’ ineptitude, it is on display as the DC pols debate the debt-ceiling issue.
The problem is two-fold: first, the parties are completely polarized. They actually seem to hate each other. We’ve heard the President of the United States called a “liar” and last week Rep Alan West (R-FL) called a colleague, Rep Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), “a vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the US House of Representatives” in response to a simple challenge she made to him on the floor of the House.
Aside from the horrible message these actions convey to our children, they certainly demonstrate that the two parties will likely never be able to agree on anything. So, gridlock here we come. In other words, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED (to quote another member of the loony right-wing)!
But the other reason has to do with a deeper, more insidious strategy that may be part of the Republican game plan: that is, to take advantage of the collapse of the financial markets that undoubtedly will occur if/when the debt ceiling isn’t raised.
Over the course of the last 40 years the ‘wealth gap’ – the gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of us – has been growing dramatically. Median income during that period has been absolutely FLAT, while income growth for the upper one percent of Americans has sky-rocketed. There are lots of reasons for this; for one, the shameful influence of money in our political system has rotted the decision-making process in Washington. For another, the well-to-do have benefitted immensely from the economic crises that have occurred, particularly in the past thirty years. Every time the stock market crashes, the wealthy, having all kinds of disposable income regardless of the economy, are able to buy stock at heavily depressed prices and thus acquire more control over the rest of society.
It’s almost sadistic; it doesn’t take much analysis to understand why the Republican party of today – also known as the party of the ‘one-percents’ – are quite likely to allow this country to go into default in order to encourage another crash. They did it under Reagan and under Bush II. It is to their advantage and to the advantage of the people they represent to allow that to happen. They are shielded from the problem while the rest of us will be devastated.
The ‘other’ party – the Democrats – seem utterly incapable or unwilling to provide an effective antidote to this callous power-grab, likely because they too are becoming more and more beholden to the ‘vested interests’.
We need a wholesale change to governance and a constitutional convention is about the only way we can make the necessary changes. We should open up the political process to enable other parties to form and become involved. Term limits must be mandatory; there should be a complete prohibition against contributing anything of value to our legislators and, finally, public funding of elections is a must.
It’s a big change, but it’ll be worth the effort.
POVERTY IN AMERICA(Posted July 10, 2011)
Last week I listened to Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah offer a tortured rationale for adjusting the US tax code.
He was clearly suggesting that the top income earners pay too much in taxes while the “bottom 51% don’t pay enough”. The poor, he said, “need to share some responsibility”.
It is hard for me to believe that the climate of political discourse in this country has so deteriorated that a politician can actually utter those words on the floor of the US Senate.
I believe that Sen. Hatch is a practicing Mormon. I don’t know if he considers himself a Christian, but if so his view of Christianity is much different than the one I was born into.
The nuns under whom I studied in grade school taught us that “it was our responsibility as Christians to help the poor among us”. That thought should inform
everything we do as Christians on a day-to-day basis.
When I hear millionaire politicians decrying the notion of helping the poor while pleading for ever more favors for the millionaire set, I have to wonder what has
happened to our values.
Have we lost our way? I think so.
BIN LADEN IS GONE–NOW WHAT? (Posted May 11, 2011)
Bin Laden is gone, there are at best 100 Al Quaeda operatives in Afghanistan–can somebody explain to me why it is STILL necessary to have a standing army of 150 thousand soldiers in that country? The reality is that we are fighting an insurgency — Afghan people who had nothing to do with 9/11.
Al Quaeda has been dispersed–splintered into pieces and have been taken up residence in many other parts of the world. And we are left to expend blood and treasure in an action that has no effect whatsoever as regards improving our national security.
Further, we took out the bad guy with a combination of intelligence gathering and special operations forces. It seems to me that this experience illustrates the secret to fighting international terrorism, namely, that we first need the kind of intelligence that will enable us to find out where they are, what they are planning & how they are funded; then we freeze their assets and use a combination of drones and special OPS to capture/kill the leadership.
No army required. Gets the job done & saves billions (trillions?).
Is it possible that I’m the only one who is thinking this way???
IS AMERICA A “JUST” NATION? (Posted May 1, 2011)
The current budget debate in Congress is proving to be invaluable, both in terms of defining our priorities as a nation and for drawing a distinction between the two political parties. The extent of our humanity will be on display for all to see with the choices that will be made in the weeks and months ahead.
Everyone has a right to be concerned about this nation’s financial situation, and neither party has demonstrated a commitment to deal with the issue in an effective way. Democrats seem to be inclined to spend limitlessly while paying scant attention to the implications for America’s long-term fiscal health; Republicans point endlessly to “out-of-control spending” as the source of all our problems and propose the fiction of achieving a balanced budget by cuts in spending alone, most of which are focused on programs designed to help the poor and/or those who are in need.
The solution to our debt crisis is clearly a mix of both spending cuts and tax increases. And, as every clear-headed human being has suggested, “everything must be on the table”.
After putting everything on the table, herewith is a formula that just might achieve a balanced budget in a reasonably short period of time. First, repeal the effects of George W. Bush’s 8 years in office by
-allowing the obscene Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire immediately
-allow the remainder of the Bush tax cuts to expire at the end of 2012, as agreed to by the Congress and White House in December, 2010.
-ending our military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan—immediately
-completely revising the unpaid-for giveaway to the Pharmaceutical industry with the prescription drug benefit under Medicare by allowing the government to negotiate prices with the companies involved
-requiring the CBO to score these four steps.
This exercise may by itself show that the budget deficit has been eliminated. But just in case¸ there are a few other ideas that could garner huge financial paybacks for our nation:
- Defense spending has to be scrutinized severely, particularly with respect to the military bases we have around the world. What would be the effect of bringing all those young men and women home? It’s time to get beyond the fantasy that the world’s problems can be solved only by military force. Similarly, consolidating the myriad of functions that are duplicated within each of the services (like procurement) must be considered. Finally, it’s time to stop spending billions building the kinds of weapons that were needed to fight the Soviets back in the 1960s.
- An even closer look at health care should be undertaken. Much has been said about the precarious state of Medicare’s finances. But the reality is that the problem is not with Medicare but with our whole system of health delivery. While an attempt was made to fix things last year, the exercise simply pointed out that we have a system that cannot be repaired, primarily because it is designed solely to make money and not to deliver high-quality, affordable health care to all Americans. Every change that is attempted affects the profit margin of hundreds, if not thousands, of organizations involved in the medical industry and thereby invites massive resistance. Further, health care in America has been compartmentalized—one program for seniors (Medicare), one for prescription drugs for seniors (Part D), yet another for the poor (Medicaid), one more for kids (Chip) and, oddly, nothing for the rest of us. The only effective solution is to bring all the pieces together into a total systems approach rather than tinkering with each of the pieces separately.
- Those advocating to repeal “Obamacare” have a point; the only question is what should replace it. In reality there is only one option; this country must immediately transition to a system of nationalized health care as has been successfully implemented in most advanced societies. Not only can a great deal of money be saved in doing so, but, as the European experience has shown, much better outcomes can be expected.
- Also, we must end the subsidies — agriculture, oil, etc. They’ve all got to go. At the same time, some serious changes must be made to the tax code. The deficit commission had some terrific ideas about eliminating most tax deductions and corporate loopholes, adding a VAT tax and reducing rates concurrently. In the process an honest discussion is needed about the Flat and Fair tax proposals that are currently circulating.
- Finally, the savings realized would enable America to 1) live up to its promise by fulfilling its obligations to those who are in need and 2) avoid the unproductive talk recently engaged in about spending cuts that hurt America’s ability to prosper and make the kinds of investments that will move this country forward in the 21st century—in education, energy, health care, etc.
This is the America that is worth fighting for. A nation that is committed to the following principles:
- Ensuring that every child has the opportunity to get off to the right start in life.
- Enabling our Seniors to have a safe and secure retirement.
3. Allowing the rest of our citizens, those who work and upon whom the USA depends for its well-being, to pursue their passions and their dreams unaffected by the scourge of employer-provided health insurance. In this way, America’s best and brightest can go to work for the organization that best suits their talents; and those mired in the proverbial dead-end jobs can make the transition to new careers without having to put their well-being and that of their young families at risk of life-altering illnesses.
There are enormous obstacles to making this happen¸ because the social¸ economic and political processes are tightly controlled by the moneyed interests in America. The ability of the wealthy to control our lives must be restrained and to do this radical changes will be needed. Comprehensive campaign finance reform, elimination of the profoundly absurd electoral college system that threatens to warp the entire voting process are just afew of the changes that must be undertaken. To get this done, nothing short of a constitutional convention may be necessary. But it’s worth doing— the only question is whether or not there is a willingness to make the effort.
Is America a “just” nation? Stay tuned
THE DEATH PENALTY: THE END IS NEAR (Posted March 10, 2011)
We just received a note from Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois advising us that he had just signed a bill eliminating the death penalty in Illinois. HOORAY!
Knowing that the issue was being considered in Illinois, Elaine and I had sent a letter recently to the Governor stating our views on the matter.
For anyone who doesn’t know, we are adamantly opposed to the death penalty. We were very much against imposing it on the two who took Renée’s life and were greatly relieved when the prosecutor (s) decided not to seek it (he/they were unable to convince the judge that it was an option to be considered in our case).
Our opposition is two-fold: first, is it a JUST system? The test must be 1) is it visible (and thus a deterrent)? and 2) is it equitable (i.e., is applied universally)? In the case of visibility, the average time a condemned individual spends on death row is over 10 years, making it very difficult if not impossible to connect the crime with the punishment; on the matter of equity, consider who gets the death penalty: since the reinstatement of the DP in 1976, has a rich white person (or for that matter a rich person period) ever been executed? Nope. The only people we execute are poor people, indeed poor black people, those unable to adequately defend themselves. So the DP fails on both counts: visibility and equity.
On a very personal basis, we have dedicated out lives to doing what we can to help this great country reduce if not eliminate the scourge of homicide. We find it very difficult to accomplish this BECAUSE of the death penalty. Why? Because it is difficult to teach our children that it is wrong to kill when our justice system itself kills!
The Governor of Illinois has taken a step which will help our cause. If only the rest of the states will follow suit.
THE REASON WE HAVE SO MUCH CRIME IN AMERICA (Posted March 9, 2011)
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution (AJC) recently published an article about an author, Karen Slaughter, extolling her success as a writer of murder mysteries.
We have a problem with both the author’s writing style and the paper’s celebratory review of her work. Ms. Slaughter is no ordinary crime author; she provides the reader with graphic, gory details about the acts of murder she portrays. It is an utterly gratuitous , violence-for-violence’s-sake approach to writing, appealing to the most prurient, worst instincts of human nature.
Making matters worse, the article points out that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) is assisting her efforts by taking her on criminal investigations to enhance her understanding of the process.
So what do we have here? We have an author who has a preoccupation with extolling the virtues of the extraordinary acts of killing human beings and is being aided and abetted by two of our most prominent institutions, the AJC and the GBI. Is there something wrong with this picture?
There sure is. First, we have several industries, most notably media and entertainment, that are dulling America’s senses to the harsh reality of murder. There are any number of examples of how this is done. For instance, in the Atlanta area we have a couple of religious institutions, a church and a synagogue, that have recently been putting on –of all things — MURDER MYSTERY COMEDIES! Can you believe this? We are actually able to find something FUNNY about MURDER! What’s next? RAPE MYSTERY COMEDIES?? How about CHILD MOLESTATION COMEDIES???
Second, the consequences of this “trivialization” of murder is potentially devastating. It can have the effect of de-sensitizing the American public to crime in general. The fiction of murder has thus displaced the reality of it; the result is, quite naturally, that we are less likely to be horrified by that reality. The very component of the human spirit that is the most powerful weapon we have in the fight against crime, our ability to be morally outraged, is being lulled into acquiescence. There is no longer any indignation at the slaughter that goes on year after year on the streets of this country’s cities and towns. Thus crime continues to increase and these industries may in fact be aiding and abetting that phenomenon.
In the Atlanta case, the work of writer Karen Slaughter is GLAMORIZED by the AJC and given a boost by the GBI. In other words, we as taxpayers are subsidizing the increasing crime rate that may be caused by writers such as Karen Slaughter.
Sometimes you can’t win for losing.
MORE ON PRIORITIES (Posted March 8, 2011)
Observing the great budget debates of 2011 teaches us a great deal about our national priorities.
Every state has a budget problem and is looking for ways to close the gap between income and expenses. Watch the actions of the Republican governors and you can get a good idea not only of what their priorities are but the direction that the Republican party is taking nationwide.
The governor of Wisconsin, facing a billion-dollar shortfall, immediately passed a corporate tax-cut depriving the state of badly needed revenue and making the state’s financial position much worse. So what did he propose to fix the problem? Cut the pay of teachers and kill unions, naturally. Tax cuts for corporations, pay cuts for teachers. In Florida, a similar scenario: the gov there passed another tax cut (1.5billion) for corporations while cutting a similar amount from the state education budget. Tax cuts for corporations, pay cuts for teachers. Sound familiar? Similar stuff going on in Ohio and Indiana, all under REPUBLICAN GOVERNORS. Then you have the guy in Michigan (another Republican) who asked the legislature to pass a bill giving him the ability to take over a town/city’s government if he (the gov) see’s fit and offer management and control of the city/town to the lowest commercial bidder. Can you believe this? Do we know what’s happening to this country?
Consider the rebuttal to this concern: we hear much from the right wing about redistribution of income. They cite examples of tax money from the upper classes going to lower classes in the form of transfer payments–welfare, earned income tax credits, etc. They are really worried about the effect on the high earners (top 10 percent), but they make it seem as though the middle class is being abused as well.
But what about the redistribution that is going on in the other direction? A bunch of Wall-street deadbeats almost ruined the national (and the world) economy and what happened? The taxpayers in the USA had to bail them out. These bastards were betting other peoples money — illegally — and we ordinary people paid twice, once in the loss of our stock and retirement portfolios because of their fraudulent actions and again when we bailed them out. They didn’t lose a penny of their own money—in fact, they made more money than ever (note the just announced gains on Wall Street for 2009, 2010) since the breakdown occurred. And by the way, have we had prosecuted any of these robber barons for their misdeeds?
But the Republicans don’t seem to want to discuss that aspect of the redistribution that is going on. It should be quite obvious whose side they are on. I’m not a Democrat, but it would be nice if they — or someone — would take the side of ordinary people in this argument. There is a case to be made. We have experienced an enormous transfer of wealth in this country over the last 30 years. Median income has been essentially flat, meaning we’ve lost ground to inflation (i.e., we are all poorer). But the upper groups –the top 10% or more emphatically, the top 1% has seen enormous gains )300-400-500%) during that same period.
What does all this mean? I get very conservative on this matter, believing that it is very dangerous to a society when money (and thus power) flows unevenly in one direction — to the top in our case. If allowed to go to the extreme we might begin to look like a feudal society where the great mass of us would be totally beholden to a very few at the top.
I just simply want more for America. Surely we can do better.
MASS TRANSIT: CAN WE AFFORD IT? (Posted March 3, 2011)
Lots of speculation about this issue. The Obama administration is recommending a sizable investment in high-speed rail while the nay-sayers (usually on the right-wing) insist that we can’t afford it or that “it’s a complete waste of money”, citing our experience with Amtrak (ignoring the fact that they have tried continuously to defund it over the years).
Can’t afford it? How many times have we heard that in the past as we contemplated major investments aimed at improving our way of life? I have a feeling that much the same was said in the late 1940s or early 1950s as we contemplated building the Interstate Highway system.
But let’s address the substance of the issue as it relates to affordability. As a businessman, I know that any decision to invest in a new product or service necessarily must be made by balancing the costs against the expected return. So let’s try this with high-speed rail:
First the cost: yes it’ll likely cost a few hundred billion dollars of initial investment to upgrade tracks and acquire new equipment. Then there will be the ongoing investment of perhaps upward of another hundred billion or so in annual maintenance costs. What then can we expect in return? Or, in other words, what are the offset costs. i.e., the savings that would accrue as a consequence of the investment? Well, let’s start with the 780 billion to 1 trillion dollars we send each and every year to places like Saudi Arabia as a result of our seemingly unquenchable thirst for oil. Is that OK for starters? Then of course we need to consider the fact that a good bit of that money goes to pay for Al Quaeda’s jihad that they are waging against us. How much does defending ourselves against that threat cost? How much exactly did 9/11 cost us?
How about the cost of polluting our air and water each and every year?
I think you can begin to see that there are some real dollar issues associated with NOT doing anything about high-speed rail. Indeed, it would seem that this investment alone can save this country huge amounts of money over and above both the up-front investment and the annual costs (anyone want to solve the deficit?) while improving the quality of life for us all.
Invest in high-speed rail? Sounds like a no-brainer to me.
MISPLACED PRIORITIES (Posted February 28, 2011)
As with most states, Georgia is grappling with the escalating cost of corrections and various alternatives are being examined to deal with the problem.
Unquestionably, alternatives to incarceration are badly needed. Unfortunately, the only ones that are being considered are those dealing with offenders who are currently in the system. Rarely mentioned is the need to examine options for keeping Georgia citizens out of the system in the first place.
What actually works to keep kids from becoming criminals? For starters, there is a wealth of credible evidence that shows that up-front investments in children, such as child-care, after-school, parenting assistance, mentoring and child-abuse prevention programs are effective at reducing delinquency rates and they are cost-effective.
Despite this, the legislature is planning drastic cuts for HOPE, Georgia’s first-in-the-nation Pre-K program and, most abysmally, to health-care services for the poor.
There is a direct relationship between health-care, education and crime, and making these investments early pays off in the long run.
As the saying goes, you can pay now or later.
THE DEATH OF UNIONS (Posted February 22, 2011)
The battle of Wisconsin in on-going.
As in Libya, we have an autocratic despot who is leading the charge to fundamentally dismantle worker protections in that state.
Under the guise of ‘balancing the budget’, the governor there is insisting that destroying unions is necessary to achieve financial nirvana in his state. He fails to mention that, had he not done the typical Republican charade of passing a massive tax cut, the budget might well be in the black. The unions have even agreed to pay and benefit cuts to help resolve the state’s financial situation. Not good enough for the ‘gov’.
So let’s see what’s happening here: the Supreme Court recently decided, in the Citizens United case, that corporations were free to spend unlimited sums to influence elections in the USA. Their largesse is directed primarily to the Republican party. What happened? In 2010, tons of money poured into election campaign and, as expected, the Republican party gained majorities all across the country — in Congress, governorships and state legislatures. Then, newly-elected governors and legislatures began to take away bargaining rights and/or to outlaw unions all together. Sound fishy?
What’s wrong with this picture? Is there a coordinated effort to deal with “the union problem? Are unions being made the scapegoats for political purposes? Let’s consider the reality of the situation.
First, the notion that unions are responsible for all the state budget shortfalls is pure nonsense — and it doesn’t take much analysis to see that this is being done for purely political purposes. Unions after all are a critically important base of support for the Democratic Party and dis-emboweling them puts us on a road to a one-party state. This is clearly the goal of the Republican party. Under their direction, the rich will get richer and the gap between rich and poor — indeed between the ‘upper class’ and the rest of us — as great as it is now, can only get worse. This is an ominous development in our nation’s history.
Feudal America here we come!
THE END OF THE DEATH PENALTY (Posted February 8, 2011)
The state of Illinois is in the process of abolishing the death penalty — we hope! The legislature has passed a bill to do this and it currently awaits the signature of Governor Pat Quinn.
Our daughter was murdered in Chicago in 1994. As death penalty opponents, we were very gratified that the two who were convicted of her murder were spared the death penalty and instead given long-term sentences.
Our view is that the death penalty is simply wrong, for both practical and moral reasons. Practically speaking, it in no way deters crime, is fraught with error and is utterly inequitable in its application. From a moral perspective, we wonder how we can possibly convince our children that it is wrong to kill by supporting an institution that itself kills?
We hope the governor will do the responsible thing and abolish this absurdly inhumane policy as soon as possible. Then, and only then, can the USA claim its rightful place among the decent, caring nations of our planet.
THE FOOD STAMP PRESIDENT (Posted January 30, 2011)
Who the hell do these Republican bozos think they are—criticizing President Obama for providing nutrition assistance in the form of food stamps to people in need?
It is all the more galling in the face of the fact that THEY(i.e., the Republicans) caused the problem that he — the President – is responding to.
At the time he took office, the economy – thanks to the Bush crowd – was hemorrhaging jobs at a rate of 750 thousand a month! Homes were going into foreclosure faster than at any time since the great depression! And they criticize him for trying to deal with the problem THEY created!
Rather than criticize, we should applaud him for doing the right thing—the AMERICAN THING.
Yes, he is the FOOD STAMP PRESIDENT — and he should wear that title as a badge of honor! And the rest of us should be proud of what he has done for the least of us.
TONE-DEAF POLITICIANS (Posted January 15,2011)
In the face of another great national tragedy, American politicians have once again shown us where their priorities lie.
Most Americans were devastated by the slaughter that occurred in Tucson on January 8, 2011. While we were grieving with everyone in Tucson and trying to figure out what we might do to help those poor souls, Sarah Palin gave a speech on the day of the memorial suggesting that Sarah Palin’s thoughts were on ….. Sarah Palin.
Yep, the half-term governor barely acknowledged the tragedy in Arizona while venting her spleen on the “main-stream media” for the criticism of her incendiary comments that are laced with firearm imagery. As usual, the talk was loaded with contradictions, misunderstanding and misstatements. For example, she insisted at the beginning of the speech that her comments had no effect on the AZ assassin by saying “that violent act stands alone”. Subsequently – in the same speech – she accused the media of “fomenting the same violence they were concerned about” by criticizing her. In other words, incendiary words can have an impact – but it’s also true that they do not. Is that clear?
Not to be outdone by Ms. Palin, the erstwhile Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, had his own priorities. Offered a seat on Air Force One in order to attend the memorial service, Mr. Boehner decided instead to attend a fund-raiser in Washington, DC on the same day as the memorial.
This is the same guy who just a few years ago was passing out checks from the tobacco companies to House members on the House floor. In this case he was playing the same game as Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, who spent most of his time last summer in meetings with the titans of Wall Street getting their input as to precisely how they wanted the financial reform legislation to be worded – in their favor, of course.
The net of all this is: we can be sure that politicians of the Boehner/Palin ilk are surely not going to do anything by way of helping ordinary Americans. As these two examples show, our elected representatives are too self-focused and beholden to the moneyed interests in this country.
Crime, Poverty, deficits, immigration, energy – they’ll simply have to wait. It seems that Washington has reverted to “business as usual”.
DOMESTIC TERRORISM (Posted January 9, 2011)
The USA faces threats from two kinds of terrorism: international and domestic.
Nearly three thousand 3000 people were lost to international terrorism on 9/11/01. Fifteen to twenty thousand souls are lost by homicide in domestic terrorism incidents each an every year. Clearly we have much more to fear from the domestic kind of terrorism. While we have made a great national commitment to deal with international terrorism, we have failed or otherwise been reluctant to deal with our own home-grown brand of terrorism.
The reality is that two-thirds to three quarters of all homicides are gun-related. Additionally, most suicides are inflicted with guns and there are an ever-increasing number of gun-related accidents. Despite this enormous toll, there is great reluctance to deal with the epidemic of gun violence in America. Gun rights advocates insist that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”.
The problem goes much deeper – here’s why: It is one thing to have a bunch of crazy people running around the streets of our cities and towns – and every country on earth has them. But it is yet another thing to have a bunch of crazy people running around the streets of our cities and towns WITH ACCESS TO WHATEVER HIGH-POWERED FIREARM THEIR HEARTS COULD EVER DESIRE. And in that respect THE USA STANDS ALONE.
Dramatic changes are needed to our gun laws in order to prevent certain individuals – criminals, mental defectives, children, etc. – from owning or even having access to guns. Likewise, legitimate gun owners must act responsibly in their use of guns and should be held fully accountable if they fail to do so. The public has every right to expect government to ensure that this happens.
For any number of reasons there is enormous resistance to taking even the most reasonable steps in this regard. First and foremost, we have a gun lobby whose mission is to preserve and protect the profit interest of its clients, the gun industry. It uses a variety of measures to do so, including the kinds of fear tactics that suggest that the government is out to take all our guns away or that the second amendment precludes any kind of restriction on the use of guns.
Additionally, we have recently experienced the onset of the kind of toxic political discourse that characterized the last election period: Palin‘s constant exhortations to “re-load” or her ‘Take back the 20 campaign’ targeting the intended candidates with crosshairs imagery; Representative Alan West’s original choice for his chief of staff suggesting that “if ballots don’t work, bullet will”; Sharron Angle suggesting the need for “second-amendment” remedies. To fully understand the likely consequences of this kind of rhetoric, we need look no further than the slaughter that occurred in Tucson, Arizona on January 8, 2011 where six more of our citizens were lost and thirteen were wounded.
In order to reduce the carnage in our streets, laws must be enacted that will require all gun owners to be licensed and guns to be registered. Further, states must strictly control the purchase and transfer of guns, including those occurring at licensed dealers, gun shows and by individuals. Finally, individuals using the kind of reckless speech that so obviously leads to violence of the kind witnessed in Tucson must be held fully accountable for that behavior.
Nothing less should be acceptable. Lives are at stake and far too many have already paid the ultimate price for our negligence. By failing to act we are condemning ourselves and our children to lives in a society where the violence – as bad as it is now – can only get worse.
THE RETURN OF DEATH PANELS (Posted January 8, 2011)
The first (and most urgent) priority of the new Republican majority in the House is to repeal the Health Care changes signed into law by President Obama last year.
In doing so, they should be mindful of potential consequences, such as 1) REPEALING the ban on pre-existing conditions; 2) REPEALING the provision allowing children to remain on parent’s insurance until age 26; 3) REPEALING the provision that removes lifetime maximums for payouts and 4) REPEALING the provision that forbids an insurance company from cancelling policies indiscriminately, particularly if you are sick and incurring too many charges.
There was much discussion about ‘death panels’ as we debated the health care changes. The sudden concern about ‘death panels’ at this time seemed a bit unusual, especially since we’ve had them all along—for years, in fact. THEY ARE CALLED INSURANCE COMPANIES.
A decision to repeal the new health care law will have the potentially devastating consequence of creating a new, deadlier form of the death panels. The insurance industry lobbied vigorously against the reform effort and, by giving in to them now, they are likely to be even more callous in the way they deal with sick, vulnerable Americans.
Our health care system badly needs the changes in the President’s plan. While a single-payer system would have been more effective, it is important to support this initial effort to put us on a path to make health care a fundamental right for all Americans. To do this a system must be put in place whose purpose is not simply to make a profit, but to provide quality health care at affordable prices for everyone.
The Obama plan provides a base for us to do this. It isn’t perfect and changes will need to be made as we proceed to implement its provisions. As states begin to make adjustments to meet their individual needs, the system will evolve and improve and the beauty of our Federalist system will be seen. This is just the way it should work.
It can work. The system puts us on a path to coverage for all. Now we simply need a Congress willing to reaffirm that commitment.
THE RETURN OF “VOODOO ECONOMICS” (Posted January. 7, 2011)
When George H.W. Bush nailed Ronald Reagan’s enfeebled attempt to play economist during the 1980 presidential primary campaign by excoriating the Gipper’s obviously pained attempt to be serious about America’s then-budget crisis, he was actually reflecting a bit of reality as to how Republicans think about economics, specifically the Federal government’s budgetary situation.
The Republican majority in the House of Representatives is about to reaffirm this kind of inept thinking about financial matters. Witness the Republican approach to reducing the deficit:
1) Tax cuts: the loss of revenue from permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts cannot be counted in deficit calculations;
2) Health care: losing the financial gains by the repeal of health care also cannot be counted;
3) Offsets: increases in spending can be offset by spending cuts alone, not tax increases. 4) Social Security: the system will have to be privatized in order to prevent further negative impact on the deficit.
Realistically, the Republican majority in he House will have to provide some specifics as to how they are going to accomplish all this. They must identify the specific areas they want to cut, how they will make up for the tax revenue that is lost and, most importantly, how their plan fares when independently (CBO) scored.
Senator Johnny Isakson has been asked some feedback on this but as yet he has not responded. Mr. Isakson’s problem – indeed the Republican problem – may be that the numbers aren’t working out very well for them.
The reason for this may be that the numbers cannot work out at all. First, as any credible economist will admit, we can’t cut our way out of this problem. Yes, spending will have to be restrained, but taxes will have to go up and everyone will have to bear some pain. Of course the politicians won’t say so—they are averse to offering any bad news to the voting public.
Further, the idea that Social Security relates in any way to the deficit is beyond absurdity. It is a separately financed system and, while its financing needs to be strengthened, it does not impact the Federal deficit, plus or minus.
There is another critical consideration that should be made as we contemplate cutting the Federal budget: this is the worst possible time to trim spending for education, infrastructure and new technology research (climate, energy, medicine, etc.) . The USA already lags behind the rest of the industrial world in these areas, and, if anything, our nation must dramatically increase our investment in these areas just to remain competitive and to deal with other critical issues like poverty and crime.
The real question is whether Washington can/will respond appropriately to this challenge.