Later, after his words were stricken from the record, Weiner asked to substitute other words: "Every Republican that I have ever met is a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry."
See Weiner's entire remarks:
Later, after his words were stricken from the record, Weiner asked to substitute other words: "Every Republican that I have ever met is a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry."
See Weiner's entire remarks:
by David Sirota
Let's pause and give thanks to Glenn Beck.
No, seriously — because that's what he's due.
We owe this talk-show-host-turned-political-leader gratitude for using his televised keynote address to the Conservative Political Action Conference to so frankly outline what the conservative movement has become — and why it repulses so many Americans.
Coming days after an anti-tax terrorist kamikaze-attacked a government facility in Texas, and following Republicans like Sen. Scott Brown and Rep. Steve King expressing sympathy for that terrorist's grievances, Beck's homily stands as the moment's most forthright manifesto on the right's authoritarian objectives.
Beck began his speech posing as a libertarian against "big government." Notice that most Republican icons are now saying this, though not all resemble Beck — not all of them previously pushed the big-government Patriot Act or the even-bigger-government bank bailout.
From there, Beck worked up a drenching sweat, criticizing Theodore Roosevelt's notion that we should make sure the accumulation of wealth is "honorably obtained" and "represents benefit to the community."
His porcine complexion verging on crimson, Beck called that concept of "community" a "cancer" that "is not our founders' idea of America" — somehow forgetting the notions of community and solidarity inherent in the founders' "Join or Die" motto.
But ignorance, no matter how embarrassing, doesn't get in Beck's way. To wild applause, he labeled this alleged tumor of "community" the supposedly evil "progressivism" — and he told disciples to "eradicate it" from the nation.
The lesson was eminently clear, coming in no less than the keynote address to one of America's most important political conventions. Beck taught us that a once-principled conservative movement of reasoned activists has turned into a mob — one that does not engage in civilized battles of ideas. Instead, these torch-carriers, gun-brandishers and tea partiers follow an anti-government terrorist attack by cheering a demagogue's demand for the physical annihilation of those with whom he disagrees — namely anyone, but particularly progressives, who value "community."
No doubt, some conservatives will parse, insisting Beck was only endorsing the "eradication" of progressivism but not of progressives.These same willful ignoramuses will also likely say that the Nazis' beef was with Judaism but not Jews, and that white supremacists dislike African-American culture but have no problem with black people. Other conservatives will surely depict Beck's "eradication" line as just the jest of a self-described "rodeo clown" — merely the "fusion of entertainment and enlightenment," as his radio motto intones. But if Beck is half as smart as he incessantly tells listeners he is, then he knows it's no joke.
In a melting-pot nation of slave descendants and immigrant refugees haunted by ancestral memories of despotic violence, Beck is deliberately employing coded and menacing language, warning his opponents not to believe Sinclair Lewis' refrain that such horror "can't happen here." Beck wants adversaries to know that it can and it will — to them, and at his movement's hands.
Really, the threat isn't even veiled. To understand it, just ponder comparisons. For instance, ask yourself: What is the difference between Beck's decree and that of Rwanda's genocidal leaders in the 1990s? The former broadcasted a call to "eradicate" the "cancer"-like progressives; the latter a call to "exterminate the cockroaches." Likewise, what separates Beck's screed from a bin Laden fatwa? They may employ different ideologies and languages, but both endorse the wholesale elimination of large groups of Americans.
And so we finally see tyranny's hideous image within our midst: It's not a tightly cropped mustache in a beige uniform; it's a clean-shaven baby face in a suit — a rodeo clown with a chalkboard who unfortunately speaks for modern-day conservatism.
We should thank him, at least, for admitting what his movement truly wants.
While even Bunning’s fellow Republicans dislike him intensely, none of them cares enough about the unemployed to tell him to sit down and shut up. That has been left to the Democrats, who should make Bunning the poster boy of the right-wing filibuster — a symbol of obstructed democracy and discarded humanity.
Here’s a suggestion for anyone who runs into the former baseball pitcher on the Senate floor. Tell him that if he is truly worried about the deficit, he should stop using the Jim Bunning Foundation to shelter the money he makes from baseball memorabilia.
Ever since he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Bunning has operated this phony “charitable” operation as a front for his business selling autographed balls. As this outfit’s sole employee, working one hour a week, he has paid himself hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 10 years — considerably more than the amount donated to any actual charity.
Indeed, the only charities to which the foundation gives any significant sums are Catholic churches attended by Bunning and his family (so he gets other people to make his religious donations as well). Perhaps those churches ought to reconsider accepting his generosity in light of his nasty conduct toward the unemployed, whose plight is a matter of grave concern to the Catholic hierarchy.
Clearly Bunning is a man of low character, even for someone who belongs to what Twain described as “our only distinctly native American criminal class.” Not only does he exploit a charitable foundation to avoid taxes and ethics rules while greasing his own palm; he actually put a Washington lobbyist on the foundation board — and then arranged budget earmarks for clients of that same lobbyist, who oversees his self-dealing scam. Someone ought to file an ethics complaint against this dreadful, dishonest man.
The Republicans at Obama's Health Care Summit were given their marching orders: "just keep saying 'start over.'" Do these dingbats even have an original idea in their heads? It was a Greek chorus of variations on the phrase 'start over.' The Greek chorus kept serving up the same words: "The American people want us to start over." First of all do any of these guys really speak for 'the American people'? Pretty presumptuous, I'd say. Any time you hear from a politician about what the American people want, you should say to yourself 'how does this guy know what the American people want?' Don't they teach critical thinking in school any more? I don't think so or 'the American people' would dismiss this crap out of hand. If they were honest, the Republicans would say 'some of the American people want ...' or better yet 'some of my constituents want ...'. But they presume to speak for ALL of the American people. This is ridiculous. The American people are not monolithic.
And then there are the polls. "According to poll after poll, the American people want you to scrap this monstrous health care bill and START OVER." Well, whose polls exactly? Republican pollsters? You can get any results you want in a poll as long as you state the questions correctly. You can call a thousand people and ask each of them "When did you stop beating your wife?" One side says the polls show such and such and the opposite side says the polls show just the opposite. So the polls are for all intents and purposes meaningless.
And then there was Republican after Republican calling for an incremental 'step by step' approach. Those then were their mantras: "start over" and a "step by step approach." And then there was this variation: "a blank sheet of paper" as in "Let's start over with a blank sheet of paper." And then there was Leader Boner with his quibble about how many pages were in the health care bill. It was too big, but then Obama's 11 page bill was "too small." But where was the Goldilocks Republican bill that was "just right?" Missing in action.
And then there's the 'government takeover' meme. Republicans fulminate and bloviate that "the American people don't want a government takeover of the health care system. They don't want a government bureaucrat getting in between them and their doctor." Guess what? A private insurance company is now not only getting in between them and their doctor, it's ordering the doctor around! It's telling the doctor what he can and cannot do with regard to your treatment. If the American people think that their health care situation is between them and their doctor, they're nuts. Their health care is up to the insurance companies. So when you hear a Repugnican talk about a government bureaucrat getting in the way between you and your doctor, think about the fact that right now an insurance corporation is leading your doctor around by the nose and you have no say in what your doctor does or does not do whatsoever regarding your health care. In fact the insurance corporation can drop you altogether if they choose to do so. And bear in mind that Republicans are basically shills for their corporate paymasters, the giant and immensely profitable health insurance corporations like Aetna, Signa, Wellpoint, Blue Cross, United Health Group and Humana.
It all reminds me of the Saturday Night Live skit with a family sitting around the dinner table not talking and with miserable looks on their faces until somebody pipes up with an insult. After a few more insults one of the celebrants has had anough, gets up, throws her napkin down and is in the process of leaving until she hears a veritable chorus of "Judy, sit down!" Sit down, Judy! Judy, sit down. Judy sit. Sit down, Judy. Finally, reluctantly, Judy sits back down. The whole process continues and is repeated at various intervals with the same inevitable results. The Republicans acted out their variation on the SNL routine with "Obama, start over!" Start over, Obama! The American people want you to start over! The American people want us to start over! The American people insist that we start over! The American people demand that we start over with a blank sheet of paper and take a step by step, incremental approach!
As if the Repugnicans had not delayed passage of the health care bill long enough, they want to delay it another year or at least until the elections this November at which time they hope to score heavily as the "American people" throw the bums (incumbents) out, and, since most of the incumbents are Democrats, they hope to take control of Congress again. But who are the bums that are holding up progress and making a mockery out of the governing process? Why, the Repugnicans, of course.
And then they talk that, if the Democrats dare use reconciliation to pass the health care bill, that will be the biggest travesty in the history of constitutional government. But think critically, my fellow Americans. What is the travesty here? The reconciliation process just means that the vote will be taken according to majority rule. That's a travesty? No, the travesty is that the Republicans filibuster everything demanding that they control the governing process with a minority of votes. They demand minority rule. That's the travesty. They act like majority rule is a threat to the American government and the American way of life. Au contraire, it is just the opposite.
I applaud the Democrats for finally having the courage to pass the health care bill and then using reconciliation to fix the Senate version if in fact that's what gets accomplished. Because let's be clear, the Senate has already passed the bill. If the House then approves the Senate version, it's game over, the bill pass into law. What President Obama is proposing is to use reconciliation only to then pass a series of "fixes" to the Senate bill first in the House and then in the Senate where reconciliation would be used not on the whole bill but just on the fixes. Essentially, the fixes take the place of the process of compromise that usually takes place in conference to adjust the two versions of a bill so that it is acceptable to both Houses. And in a way the comtemplated approach is much stronger than the usual approach insofar as getting a meaningful, robust bill is concerned since the reconciliation bill with the fixes can pass the Senate with only 50 votes, Joe Biden's vote being the tie breaker.
The Republicans have used the reconciliation process themselves so they shouldn't be so shocked that the Democrats will probably now use it. For example, the George W Bush administration used it recently to pass tax breaks for the rich. Reconciliation effectively disallows the filibuster and requires an up or down vote, in other words, majority rule. It will negate the use of the filibuster by Republicans and allow passage of a bill with 51 rather than 60 votes. It allows for the restoration of democracy that has been hijacked by the Republicans, the Party of No. They are determined not to let Obama have any policy successes regardless of the cost to the American people whom they rhetorically claim to represent.
The Republicans are horrified, simply horrified, that the Democrats would use a parliamentary maneuver to out maneuver their parliamentary maneuver, the filibuster. Oh, c'mon. John Boner, sit down! John Boner, sit! John McCain, sit down! Sit down, John! C'mon, sit! And that goes for you Eric Cantor. Y'all Repugnicans, SIT DOWN!!!
Posted on Feb 23, 2010
|AP / Evan Vucci|
They do have a license to steal. There is no other way to read Tuesday’s report from the New York state comptroller that bonuses for Wall Street financiers rose 17 percent to $20.3 billion in 2009. Of course that is less than the $32.9 billion for bonus rewards back in 2007, when those hotshots could still pretend that they were running sound businesses.
The economy is anything but sound, but you would hardly know that from looking at the balance sheets of the big investment banks. The broker-dealer firms on Wall Street made a record profit, estimated at greater than $55 billion by the comptroller, and the only thing holding back even more grotesque bonuses was concern over criticism from a public that was hardly doing as well.
The enormous rewards last year come not from their having righted the ship of finance by lowering the rate of mortgage foreclosures for ordinary folks, one of four who are now “underwater” on their loans. Consumer confidence this month is the lowest in 27 years, and unemployment is expected to hover near 10 percent for the next two years. No, they get bonuses because the Federal Reserve, backed by the Treasury, bought the toxic mortgage securitization packages that Wall Street banks were left holding. They, and they alone, were made whole.
The way the scam worked is that the Treasury deposited taxpayer dollars with the Federal Reserve, which in turn purchased a whopping $1.25 trillion in toxic mortgages. That’s the figure after the Treasury on Tuesday committed to depositing $200 billion more with the Fed to increase spending on this program—one that was ostensibly designed to increase credit availability to small businesses and others but has hardly accomplished that goal. Credit is still very tight because the big financiers have used the low-cost cash they received from those charitable government programs to solidify their own positions through acquisitions and the like.
Call it the “no banker left behind” program. While this plan didn’t keep people in their homes, it did wonders for Wall Street profits. To be accurate, it’s mostly the big bankers who reaped the rewards, for, as the FDIC reported Tuesday, the list of smaller banks throughout the country faced with default is growing longer. The big financial conglomerates, which have come to be covered by the FDIC under questionable circumstances, benefit from that arrangement, but they are hardly the ones hurting. The victims are primarily the smaller traditional banks that played by the rules but were overwhelmed after the housing market became dreadfully corrupted.
The number of banks on the FDIC’s “problem list” soared from 252 at the end of 2008 to 702 last month, and the government’s fund to insure depositors fell to minus $20.9 billion. The source of the problems for those banks is the sorry state of the housing market, with the number of loans that are more than three months overdue at the highest level in the 26 years that such records have been collected. Those hurting are mostly smaller banks, which are paying for the havoc in the housing market that the Wall Street giants created with their collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and credit default swaps (CDSs). Those mysterious financial innovations meant turning the housing market into a grand casino using people’s homes as chips, with the Wall Street crowd holding all the high cards.
Yet when the crash occurred, it was not those who designed and sold the toxic packages that suffered but rather the individual homeowners whose mortgages had been put into play. They and the smaller banks were still playing by the old rules, which meant that houses were presumed to be worth the money loaned on them. But there was no such disadvantage for the brokers, who would convert those mortgages into stock bundles. They had succeeded in getting the U.S. Congress, at the end of 2000, to exempt those CDOs and CDSs from any regulation.
This debacle was the accomplishment of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, pushed through Congress during the last years of the Clinton administration by former Goldman Sachs honcho and onetime Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and his protégé and successor, Lawrence Summers, now the top economic adviser in the Obama White House. The intent was, in Summers’ words, to provide “legal certainty” for those CDO investment gimmicks, meaning no regulator could look to see what was inside the packages. We still don’t know, although we taxpayers now are on the hook for 1.25 trillion dollars’ worth of them.
Can’t say it didn’t work out for the folks at Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, where total average compensation was up last year by 31 percent. How did you make out?
by Ron Brynaert
The buck doesn't appear to be stopping anywhere in Afghanistan."Two days after Afghanistan's deadliest attack on civilians in six months, many questions remain unanswered," The Canadian Press reports. "Perhaps the two most pressing are: Who called in the air strike? And on what grounds?"
The article continues, "Dual investigations by NATO and the Afghan government are underway to answer those questions. But the cabinet of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has already made it clear the attack was, in a word, 'unjustifiable.'"
Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) -- whose own press release notes that he remains "a vocal critic of the war in Afghanistan" -- wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday (pdf link) "demanding information on the decision-making process and the underlying intelligence that led to a NATO attack on a civilian convoy."
"Media reports indicate that 27 civilians were killed, including women and children and many more were injured," Kucinich's press release notes, adding, "The U.S. government has an obligation to protect civilians under international law. As Secretary of Defense, you have an obligation to ensure that all military operations conducted in Afghanistan are conducted in accordance to such laws."
Kucinich writes, "Please provide information about the events leading up to the air strike, including the name of the person who granted authority to US Special Forces helicopters to conduct the aforementioned airstrike, the name of the person who ordered the airstrike, a detailed description of how it was determined that the civilians traveling by minibus were Taliban insurgents, and the protocol for ordering this airstrike and all other airstrikes."
The press release adds:
Kucinich demanded a response within two weeks, citing "the gravity of the situation and the tragic loss of life." Kucinich added, "The United States must demonstrate a clear commitment to protecting civilian lives in Afghanistan, and the results of this investigation are vital to ensure that an adequate system of oversight and accountability is in place."
Kucinich warned, "If necessary, I will direct the request for information via a Resolution of Inquiry in the House of Representatives." A Resolution of Inquiry is a procedure to force a House vote to force the release of documents from the Executive Branch. Under House Rules, a Resolution of Inquiry must be referred to committee and acted upon within 14 legislative days.
While specifics about what happened hasn't really been adequately addressed yet, the new Pentagon policy apparently believes in at least taking responsibility for errant actions.
The Christian Science Monitor notes, "Another botched airstrike, another apology."
"In a video distributed Tuesday in Dari and Pashto, the main languages spoken in Afghanistan, the top NATO commander here Gen. Stanley McChrystal said he was sorry to the nation for 27 civilian deaths, after US special forces killed a convoy of Afghan civilians they had mistaken for insurgents. It was the coalition's deadliest mistake in six months," Julius Cavendish writes for CSM.
The article adds, "While public apologies by NATO have become almost commonplace - this was just one of half a dozen in the past 10 days, and the second by McChrystal himself - the push to admit mistakes and say sorry is unprecedented in NATO's nine-year intervention in Afghanistan. It fits into McChyrstal's new strategy that prioritizes winning over the population."
by Donna Smith
Some patient stories just fill me with anger and shame. This one -- from Iowa -- is one of those stories. By now, we all know the plot. Patient has insurance. Patient gets sick. Patient cannot afford to keep insurance or find insurance that will cover illness. Patient goes without coverage. Providers demand up-front payment for cancer care. Patient calls on friends, family and community to help. Patient grovels. Cancer spreads. Patient grovels.
Ah, the mid-western values. This is Iowa. My mom was born in Boone during the Great Depression. Iowa is the place many think of when we think of those salt-of-the-earth, kind and hard-working Americans with traditional, perhaps even faith-based values. A kind and gentle place with a no-nonsense work-ethic. Iowa. Fields of farmers' dreams and the stuff of mid-America at its finest.
So, why in Iowa should we allow Deb, a cancer patient who is currently receiving chemotherapy, to beg and grovel for her care?
Is her life less valuable than her two Senators' lives? Come on, Senators Harkin and Grassley. Fess up. Is your constituent's life less worthy of protection and care than your own? And what about you, President Obama? Didn't the Iowans who braved the cold and ice of the primary day way back in 2008 help catapult you to the presidency? Deb's vote sure as hell mattered then. What happened? When did Deb's life become so expendable?
Do any of the leaders know what it feels like to face a cancer fight and have to come up with $2,000 up front every single month or be denied chemotherapy? Do they care enough to actually create a US healthcare system that would stop this horror from unfolding in Iowa?
Come on now, boys. And girls. This is clearly not rocket science. Other civilized countries have not abused their cancer patient like this for many years. We clearly could stop this through a proven and effective and enhanced Medicare for all. No more begging, groveling Iowa patients. No more providers booting patients like Deb to the curb to die. Just healthcare for all.
It's the ethical, moral, economical and sensible way to go -- so why are we stuck trying to have a bipartisan measure to keep the for-profit insurance companies, the pharmaceuticals and the big hospital corporations happy? I'll tell you why. Because Deb isn't invited to the summit. She's back in Iowa raising money for her next round of chemo. Shame on us all.
by Frank Thomas, the Netherlands, February 23, 2010
Back in January 2008, I spoke about Obama’s message of Change as being one of “Hope and Substance.” I still have faith this message was much more than a convenient electioneering theme to win over voters totally frustrated with politics as usual. But Obama’s resilience and determination to break through the corrupt, decadent gridlock in our system of governance is not very hopeful.
Has his call for real change and reform in effect become a “Message of Hope & Substance Lost” … caused primarily by a broken-down governance system where special interests sabotage and dominate our democracy, where winning at all costs and to Hell with the suffering majority is the polarizing modus vivendi? I hope not.
Here is a repeat, for the sensible open-minded centrists out there, of my thoughts back in early 2008 of Obama’s formidable challenges of HOPE for Change:
(1) HOPE we become more civil and rational in our social-political dialogue and tame the cultural virus of ideological stereotyping and personal demonizing that for so long has made a joke of our political system. I call this illness the “Ideological Purity Inquisitor” syndrome and “Fear Mongering” mindset eagerly adopted by politicians and media millionaire narcissistic rabble rousers like the Limbaughs, Becks, Cunninghams, Coulters, Fox News and other hate-stirring propagandists.
(2) Hope we “cool it” on an age-old divisive cultural demagoguery where one party is labeled the party of “Big Government, High Taxes, Profligate Spending” and the other party is labeled the party of “The Rich, Destructive Capitalism, Exorbitant Defense Spending & War Mongering” all to the detriment of balanced, common-sense unity around solving general welfare issues such as a decayed social-infrastructure, low and middle class income stagnation, deepening scarcity of jobs and duration of joblessness. unaffordable health care for most, and subpar pre-college educational systems, etc.
(3) HOPE we get realistic about a structurally out-of-balance social-economic paradigm: rampant consumption at 70% of GNP, pauper national savings, lowering taxes while having exorbitant, unaffordable defense spending at 5% to 6% of GDP, weak infrastructure investments, deluges of debt from all directions to facilitate and pay for an inherently destabilizing economic growth dependency on Consumption, an aging population and related out-of-control Social Security/Medicare costs. This Economic Model has conflicting elements that presage repetitive financial/social breakdowns of increasingly serious proportions unless intelligent reforms are undertaken soon. We need a sounder, more stabilizing balance between Consumption and internal Public/Private Investment. Reliance on a very high consumption rate with a poor savings rate severely constrains bank lending for investment especially when the economy goes south, thus compounding the economic pain for most Americans.
(4) HOPE we become better informed and educated about our government’s yearly historical and projected financial performance. This calls for a much improved, simple, transparent reporting of annual tax revenues and expenses. There can be philosophical differences of how to get from A to B with our tax/spend policies. But when starting from a misleading, incomprehensible factual framework of our government’s financial state and strategies — we sink into a sea of financial unreality and distortions where public manipulation by politicians and the media flourishes, and accountability for outrageous mistakes goes out the window.
(5) HOPE that we regain the world’s respect through less overbearing, condescending cooperation and discourse with the international community. This means dropping the arrogant, costly – in innocent lives and money – policy of pre-emptive or preventive war, a behavior suggesting we are God’s divine instrument to social engineer freedom and democracy around the world – when we can’t even repair the destruction caused by Katrina in New Orleans in a timely manner nor avoid the financial/human destruction caused by burgeoning state deficits and bankruptcies accelerated by the great recession. It means eliminating the endemic hypocrisy and double standards in our foreign affairs and moderating the insane culture of flagrant, proliferation of weapon sales to so-called “friends” (of convenience).
(6) HOPE we merge the best of our conservative and liberal ideals in finding clever, pragmatic solutions to soaring household debt, a casino-like credit card system, rampant spending with NO SAVINGS. Edmund Burke conservative ideals of financial prudence, inclusiveness, concern for the community as well as the individual have been lost to the forces of self-interest which could care less for those being crushed by SuperCapitalism’s rocketing health care, education, energy, and debt costs.
(7) HOPE that, like Europeans, we can separate passionate religious beliefs (not use them as vote bargaining chips) like abortion, gay rights and stem cell research from general societal necessities and issues viscerally affecting Everyone — namely, health care, energy independence, support/training for those crunched by downsizing, outsourcing, mergers & acquisitions, management failures and a 3rd rate pre-college educational system where U.S. students score in the bottom 20% on international high school exams competing with over 30 nations.
Obama has inherited a systemically, out-of-balance Economic Model embracing the spending/revenue self-conflicting elements of consume, consume, consume … borrow, borrow, borrow … lower, lower, lower taxes/interest rates, import more and more, productively invest less and less in society but spend more and more in Defense/Social Security/Medicare … all with NO SAVINGS … causing higher and higher federal Deficits & Debt, and … more and more social stratification between the Haves and Have Nots.
Obama’s message of HOPE is being discredited as lacking SUBSTANCE and leadership initiative to combat head on the poisoning dogmatic divisiveness in our political system that ends up marginalizing the problems of Mainstream America. I share this criticism to some extent. He appears overpowered by Republican obstructionism which makes “we the people” the ultimate victims of a sickly, broken-down governance system bought and run almost entirely by special interests. Unless we as a diverse community come to our senses and adopt a civil, common-sense approach to serious problems where we constructively, yes passionately, argue the issues and facts, weigh the options pragmatically, creatively come up with new ideas, strengthen or get rid of old ideas, and make the necessary compromises based on 21st century internal and global realities … then the SHIP is SUNK for EVERYONE!
“Social Democracy in America” ??
Klaus F. Zimmermann, Director of the Institute for the Study of Labor in Bonn, Germany and President of DIW in Berlin offers some similar critical perspectives on our U.S. Economic Model and social-economic challenges in his own interesting way. Here is a reprint of his analysis.
“The mere suggestion [that] the United States increasingly displays the characteristics of a European-style social democracy appears like heresy to quite a few Americans – and something to be avoided at all costs. Others argue the opposite, finding that the United States has long had a comfortable social safety net – and has therefore been a de facto, undeclared social democracy for some time. (editor’s note: I’m not sure where this information comes from!).
Whatever the merits of these contradictory findings, the interesting question is whether the U.S. society, in light of the economic challenges it faces and the resulting increases in the country’s socio-economic landscape, can escape from becoming ever more “social-democratized.”
Such a development would represent a remarkable closing of ranks across the Atlantic. For in Europe, one finds that virtually ALL political parties embrace social democracy. This is true even for many conservative governments – not just in Scandinavia, but also in France and Germany – which have embraced the originally German idea of a social market economy in which free market excesses are tempered with support for those who are falling through the cracks. Many Americans are tempted to describe this as European “socialism” and view it as antithetical to long-standing American business and personal values, including the horror of accepting government handouts.
It is important to note that the reality in Europe is quite different from how it is often characterized in America. As a result of global economic integration, significant reforms have been made to the comfy welfare state of old. Cutbacks in unemployment benefits, even in countries like Germany – Europe’s largest economy – have resulted in a considerably less comfortable safety net and some more U.S. style economic adjustments. (editor’s note: European safety nets are still considerably higher and more sophisticated than those in the U.S.)
Perhaps the greatest issue involving the global economy is the change that is in store for the U.S. Economic Model. In the past, except during the Great Depression, the great American job machine would always kick into action – doing so much faster than in other industrialized countries. In clear contrast to continental Europe, this reliable market mechanism kept U.S. policymakers from having to deal with the scourge of long-term unemployment, and the related challenge of pursuing active labor-market policies, including retraining costs.
Much of the evidence from the current recession suggests that there are real doubts about the U.S. labor market regaining its vigor anytime soon. American companies have shed significant numbers of jobs, but are inclined to further maximize the productivity of current staff before adding to their payrolls. With 20% of working-age American males currently out of work, the need for support payments rises. (editor´s note: especially in combination with trend to much higher numbers becoming unemployed 6 months and longer and even permanently unemployed)
It is misleading to argue that it is only in America, not Europe, that people see a connection between effort and reward, and prefer low taxes to keep as much of their earnings as possible. The European welfare state spread its wings not because Europeans were soft-headed, but because economic transformations led to job losses in entire sectors, such as coal and steel, and people needed some encouragement for their personal future. (editor´s note: also, for many good reasons, there´s significantly less European worker flexibility to move to another country for a job.)
In the past, any proposition for the rise of social democracy in the United States was cast aside as unrealistic. And there was a good reason for that, as Americans relied on an innate sense of turning the corner and discovering another frontier on the horizon that would resuscitate their fortunes and reinvigorate the nation's pursuit of a free market model. However, that relentless optimism – based on the ethos of a culture in continuous global ascendance and always intent on uncovering new horizons – may prove hard to rekindle. America´s new normal condition may well be that it is not so exceptional anymore – that it may be discovering the limits of its economic dynamism, just as Europe did decades ago. The net effect is a considerably higher need for social support.
The inclination to avert such an outcome with facile talk about the U.S. federal government turning to “socialism” may be en enticing rhetorical device, but it is not a constructive way to deal with the underlying challenge, which is both human – and very real … nor is the categorical claim that it is fiscally impossible to afford such a structural change in American society. (editor´s note: as proven by more advanced European countries who spend much more on social nets and infrastructure, considerably less on Defense, e.g., 2% of GDP vs. 5-6% in U.S., much less on consumption while still achieving average GDP growth rates over past decades only slightly lower than U.S.)
From a European perspective, two easy—and probably unavoidable – things need to change: First, contrary to popular claim, many of the social benefits being awarded by the U.S. tax code and budget actually accrue not to those in dire straits (editor’s note: with job losses, low income, no or little health care coverage etc.), but rather to people comfortably situated in the American upper class (editor´s note: Zimmerman uses term here “middle class” incorrectly). The tax deductibility of home mortgage interest is but one example. Secondly, the other required change is that, while there has been a consensus for social spending in the U.S. for some time (e.g., Soc. Security/Medicare/Unemployment Compensation), the same is not true on the other side of the ledger – agreeing to higher taxes to cover the costs of the redistribution measures.
The main reason why the U.S. federal budget is so out of balance (editor´s note: as well as most U.S. state budgets) is because the government typically spends several percentage points more each year than what it takes in in tax revenues … a balance that is bound to worsen significantly over the next decade. (editor’s note: especially due to an aging, longer-living population) That stark fiscal mismatch supports the claim of those who argue that America in many ways has already become a social democracy.
Unlike the other main practitioners around the world, though, in the American case it is an un(der)funded social democracy.”
(Editor’s note: In the American case, it is also a “Me First” ingrained conservatism that minimum government is good government … even in times of social-economic crises when the power of global enterprises can warp the social-democratic process to their profit and shareholder priorities, where employees are reduced to an expendable afterthought, i.e., “government is more the problem than the solution.” in Reagan’s words.)
Over 100 years ago Henry Ford invented the automobile. There were many kinks to be worked out but faulty accelerator pedals was not one of them. Recent events with Toyota's random acceleration problems should give us pause as we ask the question - 'how much technology is too much technology?' Henry Ford had a fairly simple system for accelerating and braking. It was mechanical linkage. In a hundred years this system proved ultra reliable. You never heard of a problem like unwanted acceleration for the first almost hundred years of automobile technology.
However, since Toyota and other car manufacturers have incorporated super sophisticated technology into their automobiles, all of a sudden there are these problems that have caused a number of deaths including the ones on Mission Gorge Road in Santee, CA where I drive practically every day. There a loaner Lexus went out of control with unstoppable acceleration until the four occupants were killed. At that time it was thought that the problem involved improper floor mats. An ancillary problem was that there is no obvious way to turn off the engine since the key had been abandoned for the push button. Some times the simple way is the best way. Why should a tried and true technology that has worked well for 100 years be abandoned in favor of the never, never land of high tech?
Some times I think that Ted Kaczynski's diatribe against technology was correct. To quote him: "The continued development of technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human beings to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering, and it may lead to increased physical suffering even in "advanced" countries." Well, this would certainly be applicable to the overly technologized and sophisticated automobiles being manufactured today. Actually, Henry Ford had a better idea: mechanical linkages.
Although Toyota vehemently denies that the acceleration problems have anything to do with the electronics, there is mounting evidence that they do. First, let's consider why Toyota would want to rule this out in favor of a relatively simple mechanical fix. It would cost them a whopping huge amount of money, that's why, to fix the electronics compared to only a moderately huge amount for a recall involving a simple fix like they are doing now. Today's cars are increasingly run by computers, and for Toyota to redesign and replace all those computers would likely bankrupt the company. Instead of the simple mechanical linkage that has worked so well for 100 years, acceleration is accomplished by sending a signal to the "brains" of the automobile where it is processed and then a signal goes out to the engine to accelerate. Well, what could go wrong with this setup? Everything - that's what. Signals can get sidetracked; signals can go astray. Electromagnetic interference can create false signals that then will be acted upon as if the driver had initiated them. Signals can be spontaneously generated by malfunctioning electronics.
In some cars stepping on the brake will override any signals coming from the accelerator, but not in Toyotas. So there is the possibility for all kinds of electronic mixups which have caused the deaths of dozens of people. The electromagnetic incompatibility of the various subsystems connected up to the car's "brains" can alter the correct functioning of the car in the same way that electromagnetic compatibility problems have brought down airplanes. Wire bundles physically located in close proximity can cause signals to jump from one circuit to another causing erroneous signals to be sent to the car's various subsystems. It's entirely possible that a signal intended for the braking system could "jump tracks" and end up causing the accelerator to function improperly. Also signals originating outside the automobile can attach themselves to the wires of the cars subsystems with the result that the car goes out of control without the driver's ability to override these false signals. Extraneous signals can induce false signals in the automoble's control systems taking the car out of the driver's control.
Then it's entirely possible that the car's central computer itself was improperly designed or in many instances functioned improperly due to the failure of some chip, for example. Electronics malfunction all the time. Relying on the perfect functioning of a computer is skating on thin ice when it comes to preventing the loss of human life. Overtechnologized subsystems are probably responsible for not only cars malfunctioning with disastrous results but also airplane malfunctioning, railroad malfunctioning, signal malfunctioning of all sorts. All sorts of systems rely on the fact that some computer will not malfunction. It's better to rely on the old adage: 'The simple way is the best way.' When you consider all the dirt and pollution that a car is exposed to, the lack of cleanliness in the engine's components could cause various parts to gunk up, and then who knows how that will affect its operation? Dirty electronics have a tendency to malfunction. Mechanical vibrations and jolts can cause electronic components to fail, and cars are certainly exposed to all kinds of potholes and bumps in the road especially as infrastructure is allowed to deteriorate due to lack of funds. A certain number of electronic components will malfunction out of the box. After all they are manufactured by other computers which are not perfect. These are all reasons why there should be mechanical overrides for crucial automobile subsystems. What if, when the power steering failed, the car would be unsteerable? That's not a situation that drivers would probably contemplate with approbation.
Will Toyota go back to the simple mechanical linkages for braking and acceleration and the key starter rather than the push button starter. I doubt it. In the final analysis technology is alluring and seductive. A certain number of deaths will be found to be acceptable although no Congressman will ever say so in so many words. After all they have been paid off by Toyota's campaign contributions and lobbyists. Just as a certain number of deaths from railroad travel or airplane travel is found to be acceptable to the authorities, the same will eventually be the case for Toyota which may be required to "tweak" the system but will probably not be required to go back to mechanical linkages. That would be like requiring early car manufacturers to go back to the horse and buggy.
We can all look forward to continued malfunctioning of computers and electronics due to electromagnetic compatibility problems, due to component failure and reliability problems. All these systems need to be backed up with mechanical subsystems as a last resort when the hypersophisticsted, overdesigned, fanch schmancy, computerized subsystems fail. Ted Kaczynski had a point.
The stated goal of the US military in Afghganistan is to "win hearts and minds." But yet they are killing many more civilians than supposed bad guys. This creates a complete contradiction. It's impossible to win hearts and minds if you are constantly killing civilians.
NATO forces in southern Afghanistan bombed a civilian convoy, killing 27 people including women and children and injuring many more, Afghan officials said.
The airstrike in a remote part of Oruzgan province yesterday capped a bloody week for Afghan civilians that has seen some 60 innocent people killed by NATO weapons.
Afghanistan's cabinet called the attack "unjustifiable" and condemned the raid "in the strongest terms possible".
This should be enough to stop the war right there. The US is not winning. It is defeating itself because it can't pursue the Taliban without killing large numbers of civilians. Then after each attack General McChrystal has to get up and abjectly apologize to the Afghani people about American "mistakes." Oh we just knocked off another dozen women and children. So Solly! It's ridiculous. The Americans are losing the war not because of superior Taliban military tactics but because of inept and stupid US military tactics resulting in killing the wrong people. Winning hearts and minds would be building roads and dams; not winning hearts and minds is killing civilians. Oh, by the way that's what China is doing - building roads and cutting business deals while the US is killing civilians. Who do you think is really winning the hearts and minds?
And the US is spending billions upon billions of dollars to kill civilians in Afghanistan. That's money that can't be used to build roads and bridges in the US. That's money that's not being spent to protect US borders. That's money not being spent to create jobs in the US. How does killing civilians abroad and letting infrastructure crumble at home while going deeper into debt make the US more secure or more "free" or a better place? It's just so obvious that for a fraction of the cost the US could actually be winning hearts and minds around the world by sending in the Peace Corps instead of the Marines.
The US spends a pittance on Homeland Security and a paltry sum on US infrastructure while it devotes the major part of its resources to military adventurism. The US is spending $1 billion per year for every soldier in Afghanistan! Shouldn't that give us pause? Shouldn't we reevaluate our priorities? Then we have a huge recent victory in the Senate to pass a $15 billion jobs bill? That's just 15 soldiers worth a year in Afghanistan! It's nothing. And while the US military destroys Afghanistan and kills civilians, one guy is going around and building schools. In "Three Cups of Tea" Greg Mortenson tells about his experiences in Afghanistan that led him to go back there and build schools - one at a time. If one guy can do this kind of good, how much good could the US government with all its might and resources do if it chose to, instead of choosing to kill civilians in a quest for the fool's gold of eliminating Taliban leadership?
And the thing is no matter how many Taliban you kill, there will always be others to spring up elsewhere and everywhere around the world because the root cause is poverty and ignorance. The root cause is that earth is a Planet of Slums. One billion of earth's people live in abject poverty, living on less than a dollar a day, drinking filthy water, eating filthy food, ill housed, ill clothed. For a paltry sum, the majority of the world's people could be given a decent life, and this would do more for world peace and for the security of the US than all the civilian killing now in progress in Afghanistan ever will. Because you can't win hearts and minds by killing the hearts and minds you're trying to win. Winning and killing don't go together when the people you're trying to win are the people you're killing. Oh, I know it was just an accident - killing all those civilians - another accident, an ongoing accident. We're so solly. There's really no excuse especially when it happens over and over and over.
When McChrystal took over last year as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, he promised to reduce the number of civilian casualties after a series of similar errant bombings. A total of 2,412 Afghan civilians were killed last year, the highest number in any year of the war, according to a U.N. report.
Further complicating the U.S. effort, the deadly airstrike Sunday took place in an area under Dutch military control.
A day earlier, the Dutch government collapsed over an effort to extend the mandate of 2,000 Dutch troops in Afghanistan. The 2,000 troops from the Netherlands may leave by the summer. The Australian and Canadian governments are also under public pressure to pull out.
And while the U.S. military and its allies continue to push forward, they wait for Afghan troops to catch up.
Several media reports from the field have cited the high illiteracy rate within the Afghan National Army, and an inability of some of its troops to read maps.
A report in The New York Times cited an American Marine unit whose members said they led every one of its engagements against the Taliban, organizing the Afghan forces, transporting them in American vehicles, and supplying them with weaponry and ammunition.
The Afghans' lack of preparedness raises questions about President Obama's declaration that American forces will hand over more responsibility to Afghan security forces as they work toward a target date to begin withdrawing in July 2011.
2,412 Afghani civilians killed in 2009 - that's 2,412 hearts and minds that won't be won over to the American cause. Multiply that by 100 to include all the victims' relatives and townspeople and there's a whole lot more that won't be won over. How many bad guys were killed compared to the number of civilians? A handful, probably. And for all the bad guys killed there is a new generation of young men ready to pick up their banner and become freedom fighters because far from winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan what the US is really doing is creating enemies. They are losing hearts and minds and for this reason alone they are losing the war. They're creating a people who will hate America if for no other reason then that America has killed a relative, a friend, someone they knew.
The US spends more on its war machine than all the other countries of the world combined while spending a pittance on its own Homeland Security and being the world's largest debtor. US values are so out of whack that it's totally pathetic. And it has a political structure that, despite the noble efforts of a few, seems bound and determined to keep on conducting business as usual until there is a complete collapse. The level of political ignorance that is actively inculcated in the American people is alarming. The amount of money corrupting the political system is frightening. President Obama, who is to the right of Dwight Eisenhauer and Dick Nixon, is painted as a socialist! It's laughable. America is becoming a joke in the eyes of the rest of the world. It would be laughable if it wasn't also so pathetic because the US owns a nuclear arsenal that can pulverize the rest of the world. It owns military assets that can utterly destroy the rest of the world. When the likes of Dick Cheney take power again, they will be all too prepared to use it.
Right now there are over 700 US military bases in Afghanistan. There are that many or more in other countries throughout the world. The planet is literally being militarily dominated by a financially bankrupt nation whose only real asset is its military arsenal and its millitary-industrial complex. And this is the way America intends to win the hearts and minds of the rest of the world? Instead it is losing hearts and minds, day by day, civilian death after civilian death.
Let’s face it: The current system for overseeing chemicals used in consumer products is broken.
Last year, Congress banned lead in children’s products. But recently, we learned that some manufacturers that phased lead out of children’s jewelry are using cadmium, another brain toxin that’s a carcinogen to boot. How can we prevent the next chemical crisis from threatening our health and contributing to rising health costs?
When Congress enacted the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 1976 to protect us from toxic chemicals, it grandfathered in some 60,000 chemicals with no testing requirements. Another 20,000 chemicals were added to this list over the next three decades. Yet the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has required testing on only 200 chemicals. The EPA’s hands were so tied that it didn't even have authority to ban asbestos, an established carcinogen banned in 40 countries.
A recent report by some of the nation’s leading public health professionals describes the toll that toxic chemicals are taking on our health and our budget. This report, called the Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act, summarizes the insidious contribution of environmental toxins to an array of chronic health problems.
For example, childhood cancers have increased by more than 20 percent since 1975. A woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is now one in eight, up from one in 10 in 1973. Chemicals in common products like baby bottles and “sippy” cups have bisphenol A, a hormone disruptor linked to cancer. Composite wood used to make many things around the house often contains formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing toxin. Children’s toys and jewelry have been found to be contaminated with lead and cadmium, both neurotoxins.
And there’s more than cancer to worry about. Learning and developmental disabilities now affect one in six children. Since the early 1990s, reported cases of autism spectrum disorder have increased tenfold. Children and pregnant women are routinely exposed to chemicals known to be developmental toxins, including methylmercury, lead, cadmium, brominated flame retardants, dioxins, arsenic and many more. More than 100 chemicals that adversely affect the brain and nervous system have also been implicated as playing a role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Sound science links toxic chemicals to health problems that result in enormous health care costs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that chronic diseases affect 133 million Americans and account for 75 percent of health care costs. Some portion of these costs can be attributed to toxic chemical exposure. We could achieve significant savings to the health care system through better regulation of industrial chemicals. The Health Case report estimates that a 0.1 percent decrease in the incidence of chronic diseases would reduce direct U.S. health care expenditures by $5 billion per year by 2020. Numerous peer-reviewed studies estimate savings at much higher rates, for example: 5 percent decrease in childhood cancer, 10 percent decrease in neurodevelopmental deficits, and a 30 percent decrease in childhood asthma cases. And remember, every one of those statistics represents someone’s children.
We must reform the outdated, ineffective Toxic Substances Control Act to protect the most vulnerable, especially children and pregnant women, phase out the worst chemicals, and require basic safety data for all chemicals before they are put into products. Our consumer products like household cleaners, cadmium-laden children’s toys, or electronics with toxic flame retardants will continue to be packed with harmful chemicals. Congress is expected to consider new legislation to bring the outdated toxics law into the 21st century the coming months.
We can stop the toxic chemical of the month cycle and save money on health costs. Thirty years of a broken chemical policy is enough.
by Paul Krugman
O.K., the beast is starving. Now what? That’s the question confronting Republicans. But they’re refusing to answer, or even to engage in any serious discussion about what to do.
For readers who don’t know what I’m talking about: ever since Reagan, the G.O.P. has been run by people who want a much smaller government. In the famous words of the activist Grover Norquist, conservatives want to get the government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
But there has always been a political problem with this agenda. Voters may say that they oppose big government, but the programs that actually dominate federal spending — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — are very popular. So how can the public be persuaded to accept large spending cuts?
The conservative answer, which evolved in the late 1970s, would be dubbed “starving the beast” during the Reagan years. The idea — propounded by many members of the conservative intelligentsia, from Alan Greenspan to Irving Kristol — was basically that sympathetic politicians should engage in a game of bait and switch. Rather than proposing unpopular spending cuts, Republicans would push through popular tax cuts, with the deliberate intention of worsening the government’s fiscal position. Spending cuts could then be sold as a necessity rather than a choice, the only way to eliminate an unsustainable budget deficit.
And the deficit came. True, more than half of this year’s budget deficit is the result of the Great Recession, which has both depressed revenues and required a temporary surge in spending to contain the damage. But even when the crisis is over, the budget will remain deeply in the red, largely as a result of Bush-era tax cuts (and Bush-era unfunded wars). And the combination of an aging population and rising medical costs will, unless something is done, lead to explosive debt growth after 2020.
So the beast is starving, as planned. It should be time, then, for conservatives to explain which parts of the beast they want to cut. And President Obama has, in effect, invited them to do just that, by calling for a bipartisan deficit commission.
Many progressives were deeply worried by this proposal, fearing that it would turn into a kind of Trojan horse — in particular, that the commission would end up reviving the long-standing Republican goal of gutting Social Security. But they needn’t have worried: Senate Republicans overwhelmingly voted against legislation that would have created a commission with some actual power, and it is unlikely that anything meaningful will come from the much weaker commission Mr. Obama established by executive order.
Why are Republicans reluctant to sit down and talk? Because they would then be forced to put up or shut up. Since they’re adamantly opposed to reducing the deficit with tax increases, they would have to explain what spending they want to cut. And guess what? After three decades of preparing the ground for this moment, they’re still not willing to do that.
In fact, conservatives have backed away from spending cuts they themselves proposed in the past. In the 1990s, for example, Republicans in Congress tried to force through sharp cuts in Medicare. But now they have made opposition to any effort to spend Medicare funds more wisely the core of their campaign against health care reform (death panels!). And presidential hopefuls say things like this, from Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota: “I don’t think anybody’s gonna go back now and say, Let’s abolish, or reduce, Medicare and Medicaid.”
What about Social Security? Five years ago the Bush administration proposed limiting future payments to upper- and middle-income workers, in effect means-testing retirement benefits. But in December, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page denounced any such means-testing, because “middle- and upper-middle-class (i.e., G.O.P.) voters would get less than they were promised in return for a lifetime of payroll taxes.” (Hmm. Since when do conservatives openly admit that the G.O.P. is the party of the affluent?)
At this point, then, Republicans insist that the deficit must be eliminated, but they’re not willing either to raise taxes or to support cuts in any major government programs. And they’re not willing to participate in serious bipartisan discussions, either, because that might force them to explain their plan — and there isn’t any plan, except to regain power.
But there is a kind of logic to the current Republican position: in effect, the party is doubling down on starve-the-beast. Depriving the government of revenue, it turns out, wasn’t enough to push politicians into dismantling the welfare state. So now the de facto strategy is to oppose any responsible action until we are in the midst of a fiscal catastrophe. You read it here first.
Paul Krugman is professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University and a regular columnist for The New York Times. Krugman was the 2008 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics. He is the author of numerous books, including The Conscience of A Liberal, and his most recent, The Return of Depression Economics.
by Jerome Starkey in Kabul and Philippe Naughton
NATO forces in southern Afghanistan bombed a civilian convoy, killing 27 people including women and children and injuring many more, Afghan officials said.The airstrike in a remote part of Oruzgan province yesterday capped a bloody week for Afghan civilians that has seen some 60 innocent people killed by NATO weapons.
Afghanistan's cabinet called the attack "unjustifiable" and condemned the raid "in the strongest terms possible".
Officials said three vehicles were bombed, killing at least 27 people, including four women and one child, while at least 12 others were injured. The death toll had earlier been put at 33.
The cars were traveling between Kandahar and Daikundi, in Afghanistan's central highlands, when NATO and Afghan forces mistook them for insurgents.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said troops on the ground thought the civilians were militants "en route to attack a joint Afghan-Isaf unit" but they later confirmed that there were women and children at the scene and launched an investigation.
The local governor and the interior minister said all of the victims were civilians.
US General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said he was "extremely saddened".
"I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people, and inadvertently killing or injuring civilians undermines their trust and confidence in our mission," he said in a statement yesterday. "We will re-double our efforts to regain that trust."
NATO has been criticized in the past for relying on shoddy intelligence and calling in airstrikes when there is no immediate need.
General McChrystal has urged troops to refrain from using heavy weapons, by showing what he calls "courageous restraint". On Saturday President Karzai repeated calls for the coalition to eliminate civilian casualties.
"We need to reach the point where there are no civilian casualties," Mr Karzai said. "Our effort and our criticism will continue until we reach that goal."
But the last seven days have been anything but peaceful. Last Sunday at least nine civilians were killed when troops involved in Helmand hit a compound with a volley of rockets, during Operation Moshtarak.
On Monday NATO and Afghan forces mistakenly killed five men and injured two others in Kandahar province after deciding that they had been planting a roadside bomb. "The joint patrol called for an airstrike," Isaf said in a statement. "Following the strike, the Afghan-ISAF patrol approached the scene and determined the individuals had not been emplacing an IED."
On Thursday, an airstrike in northern Kunduz province missed insurgents and killed seven policemen while on Friday a man carrying a box was shot and killed in Nad-e Ali. "The man dropped the box, turned and ran away from the patrol, and then for an unknown reason turned and ran toward the patrol at which time they shot and killed him," NATO said in a statement. "After a search of the individual it was determined the box, which appeared to be filled with IED-making materials, was not an IED."
In December NATO was accused of killing 10 civilians, including eight schoolchildren, in Narang district in Kunar. NATO claimed they were part of a bomb-making cell.
Yesterday's civilian deaths come as a further blow to the Western effort in Afghanistan after the Dutch Prime Minister conceded that he could not prevent his forces being pulled out this year due to the collapse of his Government.
Jan Peter Balkenende lost the argument over extending the deployment at a 16-hour Cabinet session, in the first big reversal for the recently appointed NATO leader, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who had publicly requested a continued Dutch commitment.
"Our task as the lead nation [in Uruzgan province] ends in August," Mr Balkenende said. After a three-month draw-down, the Dutch will be completely out of Afghanistan by the end of the year.
There are concerns that other countries where public opinion is turning against the Afghan campaign could follow, notably Canada, which has had the biggest proportional casualty rate and is committed to withdrawing its 2,800 troops by the end of next year.
Another concern is the continued presence of 1,000 Australian troops. The Canberra Government has repeatedly refused to take over the lead role in Uruzgan if Holland leaves, demanding that a big NATO power provide the main share of troop numbers.
Just as important is the impression that European countries are struggling to find their share of the 10,000 extra troops requested by General McChrystal to join 30,000 extra US troops in Afghanistan, with France ruling out more forces and a fierce debate in Germany.
The Times understands that the Dutch forces in Uruzgan will be replaced by US troops, diverting them from the surge operation against the Taliban.
While an errant airstrike Sunday was not in the area of Marjah — the militant stronghold currently being targeted by a joint U.S.-Afghan army offensive — the mounting toll on civilians could undermine the effort to drive the Taliban from areas of Afghanistan's southern Helmand province and win the support of local villagers.
Winning Hearts And Minds
The incursion into the Marjah area may create a backlash against the U.S. among the ethnic Pashtuns who dominate the region, says Juan Cole, a Middle East historian and scholar.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Cabinet reacted angrily to the airstrike Sunday that hit a convoy of vehicles near Khotal Chowzar, a mountain pass that connects Day Kundi province with Uruzgan province in central Afghanistan.
A NATO statement said that the airstrike targeted vehicles that were believed to be carrying suspected insurgents. The statement said that when ground forces reached the site of the attack, they found the dead civilians.
According to the Cabinet statement, four women and a child were among the 27 killed in the airstrike. Last week, a stray rocket in Marjah killed 12 civilians.
"The repeated killings of civilians by NATO forces is unjustifiable," the statement said. "We strongly condemn it."
'Clear, Build And Hold'
McChrystal has said the aim of the Marjah offensive was to "clear, build and hold" — a strategy that Gen. David Petraeus employed in Iraq to stem the wave of sectarian killings.
Combating the insurgency in Afghanistan is vastly different from the task the U.S. faced in Iraq, Cole says. In 2006, Iraq's Sunnis were being systematically killed and displaced by Shiite militias, backed by the Shiite majority government.
That's not happening to Afghanistan's Pashtuns, Cole says.
"The Pashtuns don't feel they've lost any wars," he said, adding that if a military operation results in the removal of the Taliban but replaces them with corrupt warlords, it would only make things worse.
"Karzai won the presidency by cozying up to the warlords, and he's beholden to them now, and he's been putting them and their cronies in important positions," says Cole. "From the Pashtuns' point of view, this is a worse situation."
NATO And The Afghan Army
When McChrystal took over last year as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, he promised to reduce the number of civilian casualties after a series of similar errant bombings. A total of 2,412 Afghan civilians were killed last year, the highest number in any year of the war, according to a U.N. report.
Further complicating the U.S. effort, the deadly airstrike Sunday took place in an area under Dutch military control.
A day earlier, the Dutch government collapsed over an effort to extend the mandate of 2,000 Dutch troops in Afghanistan. The 2,000 troops from the Netherlands may leave by the summer. The Australian and Canadian governments are also under public pressure to pull out.
And while the U.S. military and its allies continue to push forward, they wait for Afghan troops to catch up.
Several media reports from the field have cited the high illiteracy rate within the Afghan National Army, and an inability of some of its troops to read maps.
A report in The New York Times cited an American Marine unit whose members said they led every one of its engagements against the Taliban, organizing the Afghan forces, transporting them in American vehicles, and supplying them with weaponry and ammunition.
The Afghans' lack of preparedness raises questions about President Obama's declaration that American forces will hand over more responsibility to Afghan security forces as they work toward a target date to begin withdrawing in July 2011.
by Arianna Huffington, February 17, 2010
"You can't cross a chasm in two small jumps," said WWI-era British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. And you can't cross it in a series of little steps either.
On the first anniversary of the passage of the stimulus bill, the country's best economic research firms agree that the often-derided bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs -- with more on the way. This is obviously good news. But it shows how monumental a chasm we are facing that, even with those jobs, unemployment is still hovering around 10 percent -- and real unemployment at around 17 percent.
With 15 million people out of work (and if we count the underemployed and those too discouraged to look for work, 26 million), and with six unemployed jobseekers for every opening, it's no wonder the New York Times describes the jobs bill taking shape in the Senate as "so puny as to be meaningless."
Less than a month ago, during his State of the Union speech, President Obama declared, "jobs must be our No. 1 focus in 2010." So why is there no sense of urgency coming out of Washington?
Perhaps the reason can be found in the stunning results of a study conducted by Northeastern University's Center for Labor Studies that broke down the unemployment rate by income. Unemployment for those making $150,000 a year, the study found, was only 3 percent in the last quarter of 2009. The rate for those in the middle income range was 9 percent -- not far off the national average. The rate for those in the bottom 10 percent of income was a staggering 31 percent.
These numbers, according to the Wall Street Journal's Robert Frank, "raise questions about the theory behind what is informally known as 'trickle down' economics, since full employment at the top doesn't seem to be translating into more jobs below.'"
In fact, these numbers do more than raise questions -- they also supply the answers.
Does anyone believe that the sense of urgency coming out of Washington wouldn't be wildly different if it was the unemployment rate in the top ten percent that was 31 percent? If one-third of television news producers, pundits, bankers, and lobbyists were unemployed, would the measures being proposed by the White House and Congress still be this pathetic? Of course not -- the sense of national emergency would be so great you'd practically be hearing air raid sirens howling.
Instead we get baby steps, bipartisanship, and band-aids -- timid moves that, given the seriousness of the crisis, threaten to change the very fabric of our society. For much of our history, America was known for its upward mobility -- and the promise that hard work would be rewarded with your children being able to do better than you. That promise has been called into question over the last three decades, and an extended run of high unemployment could be its death knell.
"These are the kinds of jobless rates that push families already struggling on meager incomes into destitution," wrote Bob Herbert. "And such gruesome gaps in the condition of groups at the top and bottom of the economic ladder are unmistakable signs of impending societal instability. This is dangerous stuff."
So dangerous, in fact, that when it comes to jobs we can't afford a repeat of the health care reform fiasco, in which the president decided to sit out the debate, emerging only to give vague statements of encouragement and cryptic pronouncements about what he actually favored (does anyone, even at this late date, have a clue what that was, by the way?).
Already, the latest jobs bill is barely more alive than its near-comatose health care and financial reform cousins. It was a good sign last week when Harry Reid took the jobs bill away from Senators Max Baucus and Charles Grassley, who, under the increasingly fetid banner of "bipartisanship," were busy larding it up with all sorts of giveaways to big business and K Street. Republican senators responded to the move by taking to their fainting couches, but it was clear that the concessions being made to secure a "bipartisan" bill meant, essentially, a worthless bill.
"It does show," TNR's Jonathan Chait wrote, "just how steep the price of securing bipartisan support actually is -- you're reduced to essentially symbolic legislation."
So going mono-partisan was good. What wasn't good was replacing the bipartisan bill with measures that were simply way too small in scope. The provisions Reid proposes -- a Build America Bonds program for state government infrastructure needs, a small business tax credit, a payroll tax holiday -- are good, just grossly inadequate.
As James Galbraith notes, "we have to turn the corner on the notion that this is just a pump that needs to be primed, an engine that needs to be restarted, something that can be kicked back into functioning form with a little extra federal spending."
So what sorts of ideas are out there that Congress and the president should be considering?
• The most immediate step -- and one of the most effective -- is direct aid to local and state governments. Since August of 2008 over 150,000 state and local jobs have been eliminated, and, according to CNNMoney, states are currently looking at a total budget gap of $180 billion for fiscal 2011. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that state and local deficits could cost the country an entire point off the GDP, which would in turn lead to the loss of another 900,000 jobs next year. This is why the Economic Policy Institute recommends the federal government spend $150 billion on aid to state and local governments over the next year and a half, an investment that would save up to 1.4 million jobs.
The Reid bill, by the way, contains no state aid (although he hopes to back a state aid measure in the future).
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich also favors direct aid to state and local governments, as well as a focus on helping troubled homeowners by letting them include their outstanding mortgage in personal bankruptcy, which, as Reich notes, "would give them far more bargaining leverage with mortgage lenders."
• Create public service jobs. "The federal government could provide jobs by... providing jobs," writes Paul Krugman. "It's time for at least a small-scale version of the New Deal's Works Progress Administration... There would be accusations that the government was creating make-work jobs, but the W.P.A. left many solid achievements in its wake. And the key point is that direct public employment can create a lot of jobs at relatively low cost."
In fact, the EPI estimates that one million jobs could be created with an investment of $40 billion a year for three years.
This approach is also favored by Princeton's Alan Blinder. "Direct public-service employment is straightforward," he wrote. "As long as the new government jobs do not compete with the private sector, the net job creation should be one-for-one. So hire people to repair parks, not shopping malls."
• Incentivize Green jobs. To take just one example, as the rest of the economy was shedding jobs, the solar energy industry added nearly 20,000 jobs last year. Rhone Resch, head of the Solar Energy Industries Association, estimates that the solar industry could add up to 45,000 jobs in 2010 if Congress renews various incentive programs that are expiring this year.
• Rebuild the nation's infrastructure. A study by the Alliance for American Manufacturing concluded 2.6 million jobs could be created with $148 billion in infrastructure spending.
One way to finance this rebuilding would be through a National Infrastructure Bank, which has been proposed by Senator Chris Dodd and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. The idea has been given a boost by the president, who proposed giving it $25 billion over the next five years.
An example of what a real -- and really bold -- infrastructure jobs program can look like was provided by China. The Chinese bullet train, with the world's highest average speed, will be opening its Guangzhou to Wuhan line by 2012. It will go 664 miles in just more than three hours and is one of 42 lines that will be opening in two years. China's national high speed rail program was originally slated to be finished in 2020 but, because of the financial crisis, they moved up the date by eight years and spent $100 billion to do it, in the process giving productive jobs to tens of thousands of workers who were about to be laid off.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., we're hoping to have one 84-mile high speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando done by 2014.
• Economist Dean Baker suggests the promotion of publicly-funded prescription drug trials. "A direct result of government-granted patent monopolies is that prescription drugs are often incredibly expensive," writes Baker. With government-funded trials, "all the results would be fully public and available to all researchers as soon as practical," and "the government would pay much lower prices for the drugs for which it funded the clinical tests."
Will all this be expensive? Yes. But in the long run, not nearly as costly as long-term unemployment and the crumbling of America's middle class. The good news for Obama and congressional Democrats is that a robust jobs bill is not only the right policy, but good politics as well. As Nate Silver writes: "The jobs bill -- specifically, a $100 billion jobs bill that would consist of a combination of tax credits and infrastructure programs -- is favored 72-22 (!) by the public according to [a recent] Quinnipiac poll." So why have the Democrats, as Silver writes, "let it devolve into yet another process story while at the same time limiting their options to a menu of choices all of which seem inadequate to the scope of the program?"
It's unclear. Again and again, the administration has had the opportunity to show that it gets what's happening outside the fully employed sectors of Wall Street and Washington. And again and again, it comes up short.
It's time for something bold. Unfortunately, we've now seen enough of President Obama to know that boldness isn't exactly his forte. Bold rhetoric at times, sure, but not bold action. His natural caution and incremental approach would be well-suited to many times -- but this is not one of them. The jobs crisis is simply too large and the suffering too great. Obama needs to put aside the clichés about changing how Washington works and change the way he works.
The chasm America has fallen into cannot be crossed with bipartisan baby steps. The president needs to grab Congressional Democrats by the hand... and leap. How Obama responds to this crisis will not only define his presidency, but the long-term future of our nation.
February 21, 2010 from KQED
In California, it's been seven months since some 3 million poor and disabled adults lost their dental coverage to budget cuts.
And in thousands of dentist's offices and community clinics — from the rocky north coast to the Mexican border — it's the receptionists who are left to counsel and console patients who have lost their benefits.
"They will come here, crying they need help," says Claudia Rico, a receptionist at Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas, a safety-net dental clinic in the central coast town of Salinas.
Rico says more patients are showing up each day with swollen gums and infected teeth. Before the state budget cuts, Medicaid patients here could get annual exams, cleanings and, if needed, root canals to save their teeth.
Now, Rico says, patients can't afford to pay for root canals themselves — even at the discounted rate of $600. So they end up getting their teeth pulled.
"They'd rather take it out because they don't have the money," Rico says. "It's either rent, food or dental work, and they opt for the most convenient — well, inconvenient for them — but the only thing they can do to relieve the pain."
Waiting Until The Pain Is Unbearable
In interviews with dozens of dentists and safety-net clinics around California, providers say patients are forgoing routine cleanings and delaying care until the pain is unbearable. Dentists are offering discounts and payment plans, but they say few patients can afford them. Dental schools and free clinics are overrun, and some private dental offices and at least one community dental clinic have closed.
Under federal law, dental coverage is considered an optional benefit that states don't have to provide when insuring poor or disabled residents. In fact, at least seven states — Virginia, Delaware, Alabama, Texas, Colorado, Utah and Missouri — provide absolutely no coverage, even for emergency relief of pain and infection. And a growing number of states have scaled back their programs and cover dental emergencies only.
"In the last recession and this recession and when states are under severe budget strains, dental benefits for adults, since they are an optional benefit, are among the first things to go," says Julia Paradise, a Kaiser Family Foundation health researcher.
In California, the state will still pay to have a tooth pulled in an emergency, but it no longer covers the cost of expensive dentures. That's a big problem for seniors. Medicare doesn't cover dental, so poor seniors in California have long relied on state dental benefits when they need dentures.
'An Orphaned Organ'
Lucresha Renteria runs the Mendocino Coast Clinics in Fort Bragg, a fishing-and-lumber town.
"The nutritional needs of the patient can't be met if they can't chew and eat food appropriately," Renteria says. "So we have patients that suffer from a form of anorexia or have to have soft food only."
The mouth has long been an orphaned organ, says Dr. Burton Edelstein, a Columbia University professor of dentistry and health policy. When Medicaid and Medicare were created in 1965, Edelstein says, oral health was not well understood, and Congress didn't think to mandate dental coverage.
"It reflected policymakers' misunderstanding that the mouth is not part of the body and that oral health is not an important component of general health," Edelstein says.
That has largely changed. Over the last decade, federal public health agencies have aggressively promoted oral health, stressing its connection to diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Oral health advocates say the cancellation of dental coverage for poor and disabled adults in California — and elsewhere around the country — comes just as they were gaining ground on dental disease.
Not Likely To Change
But Michael Bird, from the National Conference of State Legislatures, says it will be a long time before states restore optional benefits, like dental coverage.
"The fiscal downturn is so severe that, even if you were to raise taxes or fees, you still aren't going to be able to plug all of the holes that exist right now," Bird says. "This is all about saving part of the school year versus the early release of prisoners versus an optional dental program versus whether you're going to be able to fill the potholes on the roads."
Bird says state coffers are empty and all the easy choices were made long ago.
By PETER S. GOODMAN
Published by the New York Times: February 20, 2010
BUENA PARK, Calif. — Even as the American economy shows tentative signs of a rebound, the human toll of the recession continues to mount, with millions of Americans remaining out of work, out of savings and nearing the end of their unemployment benefits.
Economists fear that the nascent recovery will leave more people behind than in past recessions, failing to create jobs in sufficient numbers to absorb the record-setting ranks of the long-term unemployed.
Yet the social safety net is already showing severe strains. Roughly 2.7 million jobless people will lose their unemployment check before the end of April unless Congress approves the Obama administration’s proposal to extend the payments, according to the Labor Department.
Here in Southern California, Jean Eisen has been without work since she lost her job selling beauty salon equipment more than two years ago. In the several months she has endured with neither a paycheck nor an unemployment check, she has relied on local food banks for her groceries.
She has learned to live without the prescription medications she is supposed to take for high blood pressure and cholesterol. She has become effusively religious — an unexpected turn for this onetime standup comic with X-rated material — finding in Christianity her only form of health insurance.
“I pray for healing,” says Ms. Eisen, 57. “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got to go with what you know.”
Warm, outgoing and prone to the positive, Ms. Eisen has worked much of her life. Now, she is one of 6.3 million Americans who have been unemployed for six months or longer, the largest number since the government began keeping track in 1948. That is more than double the toll in the next-worst period, in the early 1980s.
Men have suffered the largest numbers of job losses in this recession. But Ms. Eisen has the unfortunate distinction of being among a group — women from 45 to 64 years of age — whose long-term unemployment rate has grown rapidly.
In 1983, after a deep recession, women in that range made up only 7 percent of those who had been out of work for six months or longer, according to the Labor Department. Last year, they made up 14 percent.
Twice, Ms. Eisen exhausted her unemployment benefits before her check was restored by a federal extension. Last week, her check ran out again. She and her husband now settle their bills with only his $1,595 monthly disability check. The rent on their apartment is $1,380.
“We’re looking at the very real possibility of being homeless,” she said.
Every downturn pushes some people out of the middle class before the economy resumes expanding. Most recover. Many prosper. But some economists worry that this time could be different. An unusual constellation of forces — some embedded in the modern-day economy, others unique to this wrenching recession — might make it especially difficult for those out of work to find their way back to their middle-class lives.
Labor experts say the economy needs 100,000 new jobs a month just to absorb entrants to the labor force. With more than 15 million people officially jobless, even a vigorous recovery is likely to leave an enormous number out of work for years.
Some labor experts note that severe economic downturns are generally followed by powerful expansions, suggesting that aggressive hiring will soon resume. But doubts remain about whether such hiring can last long enough to absorb anywhere close to the millions of unemployed.
A New Scarcity of Jobs
Some labor experts say the basic functioning of the American economy has changed in ways that make jobs scarce — particularly for older, less-educated people like Ms. Eisen, who has only a high school diploma.
Large companies are increasingly owned by institutional investors who crave swift profits, a feat often achieved by cutting payroll. The declining influence of unions has made it easier for employers to shift work to part-time and temporary employees. Factory work and even white-collar jobs have moved in recent years to low-cost countries in Asia and Latin America. Automation has helped manufacturing cut 5.6 million jobs since 2000 — the sort of jobs that once provided lower-skilled workers with middle-class paychecks.
“American business is about maximizing shareholder value,” said Allen Sinai, chief global economist at the research firm Decision Economics. “You basically don’t want workers. You hire less, and you try to find capital equipment to replace them.”
During periods of American economic expansion in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, the number of private-sector jobs increased about 3.5 percent a year, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by Lakshman Achuthan, managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute, a research firm. During expansions in the 1980s and ’90s, jobs grew just 2.4 percent annually. And during the last decade, job growth fell to 0.9 percent annually.
“The pace of job growth has been getting weaker in each expansion,” Mr. Achuthan said. “There is no indication that this pattern is about to change.”
Before 1990, it took an average of 21 months for the economy to regain the jobs shed during a recession, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by the National Employment Law Project and the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented research group in Washington.
After the recessions in 1990 and in 2001, 31 and 46 months passed before employment returned to its previous peaks. The economy was growing, but companies remained conservative in their hiring.
Some 34 million people were hired into new and existing private-sector jobs in 2000, at the tail end of an expansion, according to Labor Department data. A year later, in the midst of recession, hiring had fallen off to 31.6 million. And as late as 2003, with the economy again growing, hiring in the private sector continued to slip, to 29.8 million.
It was a jobless recovery: Business was picking up, but it simply did not translate into more work. This time, hiring may be especially subdued, labor economists say.
Traditionally, three sectors have led the way out of recession: automobiles, home building and banking. But auto companies have been shrinking because strapped households have less buying power. Home building is limited by fears about a glut of foreclosed properties. Banking is expanding, but this seems largely a function of government support that is being withdrawn.
At the same time, the continued bite of the financial crisis has crimped the flow of money to small businesses and new ventures, which tend to be major sources of new jobs.
All of which helps explain why Ms. Eisen — who has never before struggled to find work — feels a familiar pain each time she scans job listings on her computer: There are positions in health care, most requiring experience she lacks. Office jobs demand familiarity with software she has never used. Jobs at fast food restaurants are mostly secured by young people and immigrants.
If, as Mr. Sinai expects, the economy again expands without adding many jobs, millions of people like Ms. Eisen will be dependent on an unemployment insurance already being severely tested.
“The system was ill prepared for the reality of long-term unemployment,” said Maurice Emsellem, a policy director for the National Employment Law Project. “Now, you add a severe recession, and you have created a crisis of historic proportions.”
Some poverty experts say the broader social safety net is not up to cushioning the impact of the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Social services are less extensive than during the last period of double-digit unemployment, in the early 1980s.
On average, only two-thirds of unemployed people received state-provided unemployment checks last year, according to the Labor Department. The rest either exhausted their benefits, fell short of requirements or did not apply.
“You have very large sets of people who have no social protections,” said Randy Albelda, an economist at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. “They are landing in this netherworld.”
When Ms. Eisen and her husband, Jeff, applied for food stamps, they were turned away for having too much monthly income. The cutoff was $1,570 a month — $25 less than her husband’s disability check.
Reforms in the mid-1990s imposed time limits on cash assistance for poor single mothers, a change predicated on the assumption that women would trade welfare checks for paychecks.
Yet as jobs have become harder to get, so has welfare: as of 2006, 44 states cut off anyone with a household income totaling 75 percent of the poverty level — then limited to $1,383 a month for a family of three — according to an analysis by Ms. Albelda.
“We have a work-based safety net without any work,” said Timothy M. Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “People with more education and skills will probably figure something out once the economy picks up. It’s the ones with less education and skills: that’s the new poor.”
Here in Orange County, the expanse of suburbia stretching south from Los Angeles, long-term unemployment reaches even those who once had six-figure salaries. A center of the national mortgage industry, the area prospered in the real estate boom and suffered with the bust.
Until she was laid off two years ago, Janine Booth, 41, brought home roughly $10,000 a month in commissions from her job selling electronics to retailers. A single mother of three, she has been living lately on $2,000 a month in child support and about $450 a week in unemployment insurance — a stream of checks that ran out last week.
For Ms. Booth, work has been a constant since her teenage years, when she cleaned houses under pressure from her mother to earn pocket money. Today, Ms. Booth pays her $1,500 monthly mortgage with help from her mother, who is herself living off savings after being laid off.
“I don’t want to take money from her,” Ms. Booth said. “I just want to find a job.”
Ms. Booth, with a résumé full of well-paid sales jobs, seems the sort of person who would have little difficulty getting work. Yet two years of looking have yielded little but anxiety.
She sends out dozens of résumés a week and rarely hears back. She responds to online ads, only to learn they are seeking operators for telephone sex lines or people willing to send mysterious packages from their homes.
She spends weekdays in a classroom in Anaheim, in a state-financed training program that is supposed to land her a job in medical administration. Even if she does find a job, she will be lucky if it pays $15 an hour.
“What is going to happen?” she asked plaintively. “I worry about my kids. I just don’t want them to think I’m a failure.”
On a recent weekend, she was running errands with her 18-year-old son when they stopped at an A.T.M. and he saw her checking account balance: $50.
“He says, ‘Is that all you have?’ ” she recalled. “ ‘Are we going to be O.K.?’ ”
Yes, she replied — and not only for his benefit.
“I have to keep telling myself it’s going to be O.K.,” she said. “Otherwise, I’d go into a deep depression.”
Last week, she made up fliers advertising her eagerness to clean houses — the same activity that provided her with spending money in high school, and now the only way she sees fit to provide for her kids. She plans to place the fliers on porches in some other neighborhood.
“I don’t want to clean my neighbors’ houses,” she said. “I know I’m going to come out of this. There’s no way I’m going to be homeless and poverty-stricken. But I am scared. I have a lot of sleepless nights.”
For the Eisens, poverty is already here. In the two years Ms. Eisen has been without work, they have exhausted their savings of about $24,000. Their credit card balances have grown to $15,000.
“I don’t know how we’re still indoors,” she said.
Her 1994 Dodge Caravan broke down in January, leaving her to ask for rides to an employment center.
She does not have the money to move to a cheaper apartment.
“You have to have money for first and last month’s rent, and to open utility accounts,” she said.
What she has is personality and presence — two traits that used to seem enough. She narrates her life in a stream of self-deprecating wisecracks, her punch lines tinged with desperation.
“See that,” she said, spotting a man dressed as the Statue of Liberty. Standing on a sidewalk, he waved at passing cars with a sign advertising a tax preparation business. “That will be me next week. Do you think this guy ever thought he’d be doing this?”
And yet, she would gladly do this. She would do nearly anything.
“There are no bad jobs now,” she says. “Any job is a good job.”
She has applied everywhere she can think of — at offices, at gas stations. Nothing.
“I’m being seen as a person who is no longer viable,” she said. “I’m chalking it up to my age and my weight. Blame it on your most prominent insecurity.”
Two Incomes, Then None
Ms. Eisen grew up poor, in Flatbush in Brooklyn. Her father was in maintenance. Her mother worked part time at a company that made window blinds.
She married Jeff when she was 19, and they soon moved to California, where he had grown up. He worked in sales for a chemical company. They rented an apartment in Buena Park, a growing spread of houses filling out former orange groves. She stayed home and took care of their daughter.
“I never asked him how much he earned,” Ms. Eisen said. “I was of the mentality that the husband took care of everything. But we never wanted.”
By the early 1980s, gas and rent strained their finances. So she took a job as a quality assurance clerk at a factory that made aircraft parts. It paid $13.50 an hour and had health insurance.
When the company moved to Mexico in the early 1990s, Ms. Eisen quickly found a job at a travel agency. When online booking killed that business, she got the job at the beauty salon equipment company. It paid $13.25 an hour, with an annual bonus — enough for presents under the Christmas tree.
But six years ago, her husband took a fall at work and then succumbed to various ailments — diabetes, liver disease, high blood pressure — leaving him confined to the couch. Not until 2008 did he secure his disability check.
And now they find themselves in this desert of joblessness, her paycheck replaced by a $702 unemployment check every other week. She received 14 weeks of benefits after she lost her job, and then a seven-week extension.
For most of October through December 2008, she received nothing, as she waited for another extension. The checks came again, then ran out in September 2009. They were restored by an extension right before Christmas.
Their daughter has back problems and is living on disability checks, making the church their ultimate safety net.
“I never thought I’d be in the position where I had to go to a food bank,” Ms. Eisen said. But there she is, standing in the parking lot of the Calvary Chapel church, chatting with a half-dozen women, all waiting to enter the Bread of Life Food Pantry.
When her name is called, she steps into a windowless alcove, where a smiling woman hands her three bags of groceries: carrots, potatoes, bread, cheese and a hunk of frozen meat.
“Haven’t we got a lot to be thankful for?” Ms. Eisen asks.
For one thing, no pinto beans.
“I’ve got 10 bags of pinto beans,” she says. “And I have no clue how to cook a pinto bean.”
Local job listings are just as mysterious. On a bulletin board at the county-financed ProPath Business and Career Services Center, many are written in jargon hinting of accounting or computers.
“Nothing I’m qualified for,” Ms. Eisen says. “When you can’t define what it is, that’s a pretty good indication.”
Her counselor has a couple of possibilities — a cashier at a supermarket and a night desk job at a motel.
“I’ll e-mail them,” Ms. Eisen promises. “I’ll tell them what a shining example of humanity I am.”
NEW YORK - A Senate report said Saturday that drug maker GlaxoSmithKline knew of possible heart attack risks tied to Avandia, its diabetes medication, years before such evidence became public.
In a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg that was also released Saturday, the senators said the committee's report was based on researchers' studies of Avandia, internal GlaxoSmithKline documents and FDA documents. They said committee investigators had interviewed GlaxoSmithKline and agency employees as well as what it called anonymous whistleblowers.
Based on its knowledge of the heart attack risks, GlaxoSmithKline "had a duty to sufficiently warn patients and the FDA of its concerns in a timely manner," the report said.
Instead, the company tried to downplay findings that the drug could increase cardiovascular risks while also working to downplay findings that a rival medication might reduce such risks, it said.
GlaxoSmithKline said in a statement the drug is safe. It said the committee report took data out of context from analyses of Avandia.
In May 2007, the New England Journal of Medicine published an analysis of dozens of studies on nearly 28,000 people who had taken Avandia. The journal said there was a 43 percent higher risk of heart attack for those taking Avandia compared to people taking other diabetes drugs or no diabetes medication. The findings raised concerns because two-thirds of the people with Type 2 diabetes, the most common form, die of heart problems.
Later that year, the FDA ordered a warning to be included on Avandia's label warning that it might increase the risk of heart attacks. But the label also says data on the risks are inconclusive.
"Contrary to the assertions in the report, and consistent with the FDA-approved labeling, the scientific evidence simply does not establish that Avandia increases cardiovascular ischemic risk or causes myocardial ischemic events," GlaxoSmithKline said.
In their letter to Hamburg, the senators said the documents the committee reviewed included an analysis conducted by two safety officials at the agency. The analysis compared Avandia to Pfizer Inc.'s Actos diabetes drug, and found that Avandia has an increased risk of heart attack and heart failure.
The letter also quoted the researchers as saying that said the study itself was dangerous, as it meant patients continued to take the drug.
"Meanwhile, Commissioner Hamburg is reaching out to ensure that she has a complete understanding and awareness of all of the data and issues concerning this drug," Strait said.
Finance Committee letter and report: http://finance.senate.gov/press/Gpress/2010/prg022010b.pdf
"Later today, I will offer to her majesty the Queen the resignations of the ministers and deputy ministers of the (Labour Party) PvdA," premier Jan Peter Balkenende told journalists in the early hours.
He made the announcement after the cabinet held more than 16 hours of talks in The Hague to try to settle the dispute between the PvdA and Balkenende's Christian Democratic Appeal, the senior partner in the governing coalition.
In the latest in a string of political rows, vice-premier Wouter Bos invoked the ire of his cabinet colleagues by stating this week that his PvdA would not support extending the Dutch deployment in Afghanistan beyond 2010.
NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen had asked the Netherlands earlier this month to take on a new training role and remain in Afghanistan until August 2011, a year later than originally planned.
Bos' comments prompted Balkenende to respond that the matter was still under discussion, while the Christian Union (CU), the junior partner in the coalition, chided Bos for speaking out of turn.
The public spat resulted in a snap parliamentary debate Thursday, during which Bos was accused of using the issue for political gain as polls show his party lagging in the run-up to March 3 municipal elections.
The deployment of Dutch troops in Afghanistan was an unpopular move with voters from the outset.
"As the leader of the cabinet, I came to the conclusion that there is no common road for the CDA, PvdA and the Christian Union to take into the future," Balkenende said.
"For days we have seen that unity has been affected by ... statements that clash with recent cabinet decisions."
This was Balkenende's fourth government in a row in eight years. All have collapsed before their mandate expired.
Around 1,950 Dutch troops are deployed in Afghanistan under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
The Dutch mission, which started in 2006, has already once been extended by two years and has cost 21 soldiers' lives.
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: February 18, 2010
Health insurance premiums are surging — and conservatives fear that the spectacle will reinvigorate the push for reform. On the Fox Business Network, a host chided a vice president of WellPoint, which has told California customers to expect huge rate increases: “You handed the politicians red meat at a time when health care is being discussed. You gave it to them!”
Indeed. Sky-high rate increases make a powerful case for action. And they show, in particular, that we need comprehensive, guaranteed coverage — which is exactly what Democrats are trying to accomplish.
Here’s the story: About 800,000 people in California who buy insurance on the individual market — as opposed to getting it through their employers — are covered by Anthem Blue Cross, a WellPoint subsidiary. These are the people who were recently told to expect dramatic rate increases, in some cases as high as 39 percent.
Why the huge increase? It’s not profiteering, says WellPoint, which claims instead (without using the term) that it’s facing a classic insurance death spiral.
Bear in mind that private health insurance only works if insurers can sell policies to both sick and healthy customers. If too many healthy people decide that they’d rather take their chances and remain uninsured, the risk pool deteriorates, forcing insurers to raise premiums. This, in turn, leads more healthy people to drop coverage, worsening the risk pool even further, and so on.
Now, what WellPoint claims is that it has been forced to raise premiums because of “challenging economic times”: cash-strapped Californians have been dropping their policies or shifting into less-comprehensive plans. Those retaining coverage tend to be people with high current medical expenses. And the result, says the company, is a drastically worsening risk pool: in effect, a death spiral.
So the rate increases, WellPoint insists, aren’t its fault: “Other individual market insurers are facing the same dynamics and are being forced to take similar actions.” Indeed, a report released Thursday by the department of Health and Human Services shows that there have been steep actual or proposed increases in rates by a number of insurers.
But here’s the thing: suppose that we posit, provisionally, that the insurers aren’t the main villains in this story. Even so, California’s death spiral makes nonsense of all the main arguments against comprehensive health reform.
For example, some claim that health costs would fall dramatically if only insurance companies were allowed to sell policies across state lines. But California is already a huge market, with much more insurance competition than in other states; unfortunately, insurers compete mainly by trying to excel in the art of denying coverage to those who need it most. And competition hasn’t averted a death spiral. So why would creating a national market make things better?
More broadly, conservatives would have you believe that health insurance suffers from too much government interference. In fact, the real point of the push to allow interstate sales is that it would set off a race to the bottom, effectively eliminating state regulation. But California’s individual insurance market is already notable for its lack of regulation, certainly as compared with states like New York — yet the market is collapsing anyway.
Finally, there have been calls for minimalist health reform that would ban discrimination on the basis of pre-existing conditions and stop there. It’s a popular idea, but as every health economist knows, it’s also nonsense. For a ban on medical discrimination would lead to higher premiums for the healthy, and would, therefore, cause more and bigger death spirals.
So California’s woes show that conservative prescriptions for health reform just won’t work.
What would work? By all means, let’s ban discrimination on the basis of medical history — but we also have to keep healthy people in the risk pool, which means requiring that people purchase insurance. This, in turn, requires substantial aid to lower-income Americans so that they can afford coverage.
And if you put all of that together, you end up with something very much like the health reform bills that have already passed both the House and the Senate.
What about claims that these bills would force Americans into the clutches of greedy insurance companies? Well, the main answer is stronger regulation; but it would also be a very good idea, politically as well as substantively, for the Senate to use reconciliation to put the public option back into its bill.
But the main point is this: California’s death spiral is a reminder that our health care system is unraveling, and that inaction isn’t an option. Congress and the president need to make reform happen — now.
After a plane was driven into a building in Austin, Texas, yesterday, we were reassured by TV commentators that this was not, I repeat not, an act of terrorism. It was just another isolated, disgruntled American. How reassuring! As if we are in total fear of terrorists, but horrific acts by American citizens are no big deal. It was just a crime not an act of terror. It was the same with the Fort Hood shooter who killed 12 people. He was just another nut, not a terrorist. Get real, folks. How many Americans have been killed by "legitimate" terrorists on American soil since the attacks on 9/11/2001? Well, none. How many have been killed by disgruntled Americans? There was the Fort Hood massacre. There was Amy Bishop, the Huntsville professor who killed three people just the other day. These incidents go on and on, one or two a day. Drip. Drip. Drip. Violence in the workplace where disgruntled workers kill current or former employees or supevisors. Campus violence. Virginia Tech where a student killed 32 people. Going postal. When you sum up all these incidents, they involved thousands of people being killed by people with no former criminal records since 9/11. Call them domestic terrorists or random nuts, but they are definitely not common criminals.
So what is a terrorist? Do we really need to parse it? Politicians have us in fear of rag tag groups on the other side of the planet so they can justify $700 billion in military expenditures while here at home where the real violence occurs, why, we shouldn't be afraid at all. After all as long as these incidents are not performed by terrorists, we have nothing to fear. The terrorist/fear industry is crucial to the careers of politicians, lobbyists, defense contractors, but isolated violence undertaken by disgruntled Americans such as the Austin pilot are nothing to be concerned about. Luckily, only two people were killed yesterday including the pilot. But how much property damage was done. Probably millions. The building was largely ruined.
Meanwhile, 45,000 Americans die every year from lack of health insurance. Nobody seems to be concerned about this. Part of Joe Stack's suicide statement addresses this:
Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it's time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours? Yet at the same time, the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies, are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and stealing from the corpses and victims they cripple, and this country's leaders don't see this as important as bailing out a few of their vile, rich cronies. Yet, the political "representatives" (thieves, liars, and self-serving scumbags is far more accurate) have endless time to sit around for year after year and debate the state of the "terrible health care problem". It's clear they see no crisis as long as the dead people don't get in the way of their corporate profits rolling in.
So was this guy crazy, insane? Many people who have not gone to such extreme measures have voiced the same sentiments. The corporate media would like to dismiss this act as well as numerous others as the acts of a random, isolated nut. But there are many random isolated nuts in the world. Some of them are more organized and live in mountains on the other side of the world. But those guys have not been effective. Yet we devote hundreds of billions of dollars to dealing with them. Politicians base their careers on dealing with them. They can't be seen as being "soft on terrorism." This is the same crew who couldn't be seen as being "soft on communism."
Yet the same guys who devote hundreds of billions of dollars to wiping out a few disgruntled rag tag gropups like al Quaida or Taliban (don't worry, they'll spring up again no matter how many #2s we kill) devote an extremely paltry sum to actual defense of the American "homeland." The Homeland Security budget is less than a tenth of the "Defense" budget. The budget for the Coast Guard which is reponsible for 12,383 miles of American coastline is less than $10 billion. No wonder that they are outspent by Mexican drug smugglers whose budgets far exceed this amount and can afford submarines! Yet US politicians are not the least concerned about this. Defense contractors grease their palms. The Coast Guard doesn't. It's that simple.
The whole Homeland Security budget for 2010 is only $55 billion. The Department of Homeland Security is reponsible for protecting US borders - both land and sea borders. They are also responsible for cyber security, protecting transportation systems (TSA), disaster preparedness (FEMA), financial infrastructure, illegal immigration, illegal drugs and much more. In other words real defense of the US is in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security. Offensive wars of aggression are in the hands of the Department of Defense which is really a misnomer. It should be called the Department of War, its original name. The so-called war on terrorism is really a war of aggression against non-state groups of rag tags which involves invading sovereign countries. Military invasions of foreign countries should be reserved for countries that have taken military actions against the US not rag tag stateless actors. Those should be dealt with by covert operations not full scale military invasions. And I fully support US intelligence gathering operations and covert operations designed to get rid of bad guys without causing civilian casualties. Infiltration and surveillance of networks of bad guys makes sense; full scale military invasions against them doesn't.
Within the budget for Homeland Security is the budget of the US Customs and Border Patrol agency (CBP) which includes the budget for the Border Patrol which is responsible for 7458 miles of US land borders including the borders with Mexico, Canada and the Canadian Alaska border. President Obama's 2011 budget calls for cuts in border patrol agents in Arizona. It's virtually impossible to find out what the 2010 budget for the Border Patrol is by googling it. This information is apparently well guarded. I did find that the 2008 budget for the whole CBP was around $10 billion. This is indeed a paltry sum compared to the budget of the US Army ($225 billion), the US Navy and Marines ($172 billion) or the US Air Force ($160 billion). If the US Defense Department was really concerned with US defense and not the pursuit of aggressive wars against rag tag groups, the Army would be protecting US borders and the Navy and Marines would be protecting the coastlines. At least a large percentage of the budgets for the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force would be going to border and coastline protection and not to foreign wars. At least Mexican drug dealers would be outspent.
Instead the US has a pathetic defense of its borders and ports. It has a pathetic defense of its electrical grid and other vital facilities. It has a pathetic defense against illegal drugs, immigrants, gun and money shipments. It has a pathetic excuse for disaster preparedness. Natural disasters alone are causing many more deaths than terrorists. In short the US is spending more than all the other countries of the world combined on military adventurism while leaving the "homeland" relatively unprotected against incursions by illegal immigrants, illegal terrorists, illegal weapons, illegal money, illegal cyber attacks and natural disasters.
But this situation should not surprise anyone. When has the US government in recent years been more concerned about the safety and welfare of its citizens than the safety and welfare of its corporations and lobbyists? A lot of this blog post addresses the same concerns - but in a less personal way - as those of domestic suicide bomber and domestic terrorist Joe Stack who flew his plane into a building housing a branch of the IRS. I don't recommend taking that approach. The only point I'm trying to make is that domestic terrorism or domestic disgruntlement or whatever you want to call it is a far greater threat then al Quaida or the Taliban. The killing of civilians by the US military which killed several including children just the other day in Afghanistan is enough to stoke the continuing hatred of foreigners for the US. But despite that they have been relatively ineffective insofar as attacking US citizens on American soil. The far greater threat is the disgruntlement of US citizens who have been sold out by their government which is far more interested in protecting the rights of transnational corporations than it is in protecting US citizens. So I question US government priorities both military and civilian.
Here are four vignettes about four women who have been fighting and still are fighting for health care each in their own way. It's interesting that this fight has been taken up at least on the front lines by women. It has been women who have been the activists. It has been women who have been arrested for trying to be heard. It has been women who have been shouted down at Town Hall meetings. It has been a woman whose only recourse, due to a preexisting condition, was to advertise for a husband who already had health care insurance to which she could be added as a spouse.
Marianne Hoynes was heckled and jeered at a town hall meeting in Red Bank, NJ by an angry mob who had no consideration for the fact that she was disabled or was in fear of losing her home. Her cost for one medication was $389. every two weeks. The crowd basically had no sympathy for her. Were these people on the payroll of the health insurance corporations whom they seemed to be siding with? I don't think so. It goes deeper than that. It was reminiscent of the 1923 beer hall putsch in Germany where speakers were shouted down by Nazi brown shirts. The hecklers and jeerers at this meeting were participating in sheer political hatred as commentator Lawrence O'Donnell stated: "This is just blind political hatred."
These people seemingly on the side of the insurance companies were just there to shout down any political views that they disagreed with, the same tactic the brown shirts used in Munich beer halls. This is hatred of the strong for the weak, hatred of the healthy for the sick and hatred of the able bodied for the disabled. And it's tied up with being macho, with the kind of male ego who thinks it's unmanly to show any kind of sympathy for the less fortunate, the kind of egos that think only the strong should survive. Right wing demagogues have been able to tap into this facet of the male ego since time immemorial. That has a lot to do with the fact that poor white males vote against their own economic interests, side with insurance companies who are ripping them off and vote for those politicians who are the most angry, warlike and hard nosed and have the least sympathy for those who need help.
Although many women at the Town Hall meeting sided with their male counterparts, there is a primary affinity to war and destruction for the male ego while women tend to be the nurturers of society. War, hatred, machoism and jingoism seem to be woven from the same cloth, the cloth elaborately stitched together by right wing politicians. While women fight for heath care, men deprecate their efforts.
Here is a video of Marianne's experience at the Red Bank Town Hall meeting:
Marianne is now involved in a project to get health care for musicians. They are making a movie about musicians and health care. This is from their website:
We are a small, not for profit group, creating a documentary film about Musicians and their access to affordable health care in the U.S..
If you are willing to speak on camera, tell us whether or not you have health insurance, and how this has impacted you or your family, please contact us. This video is strictly not for profit, and there is no financial compensation for speaking with us.
The Musicians Project is not religious, political or partisan in any way.
Donna Smith has a different story. Here it is in her own words.
Published on Tuesday, February 16, 2010 by Mike & Friends Blog
A Mother’s Personal Mission: Healthcare Not Warfare
by Donna SmithThis week, the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign I help co-chair for Progressive Democrats of America becomes even more deeply personal for me. My son leaves for his volunteer tour of duty in Afghanistan. And I won’t be there to say goodbye. Because I advocate a position of peace, my son believes my priorities are off kilter, and for some time now he has believed that he goes to war so whiners at home can keep griping about less critical concerns — like healthcare or economic justice.
As is sadly the case with many parents and grown children, my son and I do not see eye-to-eye and that causes a distance of the heart that hurts everyone involved. Though separated, we are both on a mission.
Peace nearly always seems the better path than war to me, and providing healthcare for all seems the better offering than enrichment of the health-industrial complex. These basic energies drive me and millions of my fellow advocates to give time and money in anti-war efforts and also in the effort for healthcare justice. There is little personal enrichment for any individual advocate through this struggle aside from the shared hope that we may leave this nation a safer, healthier place for future generations.
Healthcare not warfare is my life’s mission. I am as mission-driven as many of our best soldiers have trained to be, as this battle for healthcare is not for the weak of spirit or the meek. And it is a war that claims 45,000 American lives every single year. It’s a war carried out on American soil, by Americans allowing the preventable deaths of 45,000 of their fellow Americans, so I do think it’s a war we must fight as aggressively as any threat that caused that much loss of life.
Though some may not think sacrificing one’s home, life savings, personal safety and health is as deep a commitment to a mission as risking one’s life in military battle, I tend to think of all preventable suffering and death as, well, preventable.
Dr. Margaret Flowers has spoken out at congressional hearings only to be ushered out of the room by security. She's attempted to deliver a letter to the White House only to be arrested. Maybe if she had attempted to sneak into a State Dinner, she would have been more successful. Here's her story:
By MARGARET FLOWERS, M.D.
On May 5, eight health care advocates, including myself and two other physicians, stood up to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the Senate Finance Committee during a “public roundtable discussion” with a simple question: Will you allow an advocate for a single-payer national health plan to have a seat at the table?
The answer was a loud, “Get more police!” And we were arrested and hauled off to jail.
The fact that a national health insurance program is supported by the majority of the public, doctors and nurses apparently means nothing to Sen. Baucus. The fact that thousands of people in America are dying every year because they can’t get health care means nothing. The fact that over 1 million Americans go into bankruptcy every year due to medical debt – even though most of them had insurance when they got sick – means nothing.
And so, as the May 5 meeting approached, we prepared for another one of the highly scripted, well-protected events that are supposed to make up the “health care debate” using standard tools of advocacy. We organized call-in days and faxes to the members of the committee requesting the presence of one single-payer advocate at the table of 15. Despite thousands of calls and faxes, the only reply – received on the day before the event – was, “Sorry, but no more invitations will be issued.”
We knew that this couldn’t be correct. We had heard Sen. Baucus say on that very same day that “all options were on the table.” And so, the next day, we donned our suits and traveled to Washington. We had many knowledgeable single-payer advocates in our group. And as the meeting started, one of us, Mr. Russell Mokhiber, stood up to say that we were here and we were ready to take a seat. And he was promptly removed from the room.
In that moment, it all became so clear. We could write letters, phone staffers, and fax until the machines fell apart, but we would never get our seat at the table.
The senators understand that most people want a national health system and that an improved Medicare for All would include everybody and provide better health care at a lower cost. These facts mean nothing to most of them because they respond to only one standard tool of advocacy: money, and lots of it.
The people seated at the table represented the corporate interests: private health insurers and big business and those who support their agenda. The people whose voices were heard all represented organizations which pay huge sums of money to political campaigns. These interests profit greatly from the current health care industry and do not want changes that will hurt their large, personal pocketbooks.
And so, we have entered a new phase in the movement for health care as a human right: acts of civil disobedience. It is time to directly challenge corporate interests. History has shown that in order to gain human rights, we must be willing to speak out and risk arrest. We must engage in actions that expose corporate fraud and corruption. We must make our presence known.
And that is why the eight of us, knowledgeable health care advocates and providers, most of us parents, some of us grandparents, spoke out one-by-one at the Senate Finance Committee. And it is why we will continue to speak out and encourage others to do the same. Our voices must be strong enough to drown out the influence of corpo rate dollars.
Health care must become the civil rights movement of this decade. The opportunity is here. And we can create a single-payer national health care system.
Yes, we can.
Dr. Margaret Flowers is a pediatrician in the Baltimore are and co-chairs the Maryland chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP). Her statement was co-signed by Mark Dudzic, Labor Campaign for Single Payer; Russell Mokhiber, Single Payer Action; Carol Paris, M.D., PNHP; Katie Robbins, Healthcare-NOW!; Pat Salomon, M.D., PNHP; Adam Schneider, B’more Housing for All; and Kevin Zeese, ProsperityAgenda.us.
Terri Carlson is a Vista, CA woman who, because of a preexisting condition could not get health care insurance. So she advertised for a husband with the main characteristic that he should have a health care insurance policy to which she could be added as a spouse. This divorcee has a genetic disorder called C4 Complement Deficiency, and there are no known cures. Here's her website.
Terri has gone from seeking a personal solution for her problem to being an activist in general for health care reform for all the suffering people out there. She's created a number of YouTube videos. Here's one:
It may be that women will be the primary force behind ending war and providing health care for everyone. They are the ones who give birth, who want their children to grow up healthy, who don't want to see them die in war. While the male ego affliates itself with the hardness of war which calls for a lack of sympathy, the softness and nurturefulness (to coin a word) of women lends itself to an identification with the well being of all God's chillun'.
Margaret Flowers http://www.counterpunch.org/flowers05082009.html
The economic elite have robbed us all. The amount of suffering in the United States of America is literally a crime against humanity.
February 15, 2010
"The American oligarchy spares no pains in promoting the belief that it does not exist, but the success of its disappearing act depends on equally strenuous efforts on the part of an American public anxious to believe in egalitarian fictions and unwilling to see what is hidden in plain sight." -- Michael Lind, To Have and to Have Not
It has now become evident to a critical mass that the Republican and Democratic parties, along with all three branches of our government, have been bought off by a well-organized Economic Elite who are tactically destroying our way of life. The harsh truth is that 99 percent of the U.S. population no longer has political representation. The U.S. economy, government and tax system is now blatantly rigged against us.
Current statistical societal indicators clearly demonstrate that a strategic attack has been launched and an analysis of current governmental policies prove that conditions for 99 percent of Americans will continue to deteriorate. The Economic Elite have engineered a financial coup and have brought war to our doorstep...and make no mistake, they have launched a war to eliminate the U.S. middle class.
To those who feel I am using extreme rhetoric, I ask you to please take a few minutes of your time to hear me out and research the evidence put forth. The facts are there for the unprejudiced, rational and reasoned mind to absorb. It is the unfortunate reality of our current crisis.
Unless we all unite and organize on common ground, our very way of life and the ideals that our country was founded upon will continue to unravel.
Before exposing exactly who the Economic Elite are, and discussing common sense ways in which we can defeat them, let's take a look at how much damage they have already caused.
Casualties of Economic Terrorism, Surveying the Damage
The devastating numbers across-the-board on the economic front are staggering. I'll go through some of them here, many we have already become all too familiar with. We hear some of these numbers all the time, so much so that it appears as if we have already begun "to normalize the unthinkable." You may be sick of hearing them, but behind each number is an enormous amount of individual suffering, American lives and families who are struggling worse than they ever have.
America is the richest nation in history, yet we now have the highest poverty rate in the industrialized world with an unprecedented amount of Americans living in dire straights and over 50 million citizens already living in poverty.
The government has come up with clever ways to downplay all of these numbers, but we have over 50 million people who need to use food stamps to eat, and a stunning 50 percent of U.S. children will use food stamps to eat at some point in their childhoods. Approximately 20,000 people are added to this total every day. In 2009, one out of five U.S. households didn't have enough money to buy food. In households with children, this number rose to 24 percent, as the hunger rate among U.S. citizens has now reached an all-time high.
We also currently have over 50 million U.S. citizens without health care. 1.4 million Americans filed for bankruptcy in 2009, a 32 percent increase from 2008. As bankruptcies continue to skyrocket, medical bankruptcies are responsible for over 60 percent of them, and over 75 percent of the medical bankruptcies filed are from people who have health care insurance. We have the most expensive health care system in the world, we are forced to pay twice as much as other countries and the overall care we get in return ranks 37th in the world.
In total, Americans have lost $5 trillion from their pensions and savings since the economic crisis began and $13 trillion in the value of their homes. During the first full year of the crisis, workers between the age of 55 - 60, who have worked for 20 - 29 years, have lost an average of 25 percent off their 401k. "Personal debt has risen from 65 percent of income in 1980 to 125 percent today." Over five million U.S. families have already lost their homes, in total 13 million U.S. families are expected to lose their home by 2014, with 25 percent of current mortgages underwater. Deutsche Bank has an even grimmer prediction: "The percentage of 'underwater' loans may rise to 48 percent, or 25 million homes." Every day 10,000 U.S. homes enter foreclosure. Statistics show that an increasing number of these people are not finding shelter elsewhere, there are now over 3 million homeless Americans, the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population is single parents with children.
One place more and more Americans are finding a home is in prison. With a prison population of 2.3 million people, we now have more people incarcerated than any other nation in the world -- the per capita statistics are 700 per 100,000 citizens. In comparison, China has 110 per 100,000, France has 80 per 100,000, Saudi Arabia has 45 per 100,000. The prison industry is thriving and expecting major growth over the next few years. A recent report from the Hartford Advocate titled "Incarceration Nation" revealed that "a new prison opens every week somewhere in America."
The government unemployment rate is deceptive on several levels. It doesn't count people who are "involuntary part-time workers," meaning workers who are working part-time but want to find full-time work. It also doesn't count "discouraged workers," meaning long-term unemployed people who have lost hope and don't consistently look for work. As time goes by, more and more people stop consistently looking for work and are discounted from the unemployment figure. For instance, in January, 1.1 million workers were eliminated from the unemployment total because they were "officially" labeled discouraged workers. So instead of the number rising, we will hear deceptive reports about unemployment leveling off.
On top of this, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently discovered that 824,000 job losses were never accounted for due to a "modeling error" in their data. Even in their initial January data there appears to be a huge understating, with the newest report saying the economy lost 20,000 jobs. TrimTabs employment analysis, which has consistently provided more accurate data, "estimated that the U.S. economy shed 104,000 jobs in January."
When you factor in all these uncounted workers -- "involuntary part-time" and "discouraged workers" -- the unemployment rate rises from 9.7 percent to over 20 percent. In total, we now have over 30 million U.S. citizens who are unemployed or underemployed. The rarely cited "employment-participation" rate, which reveals the percentage of the population that is currently in the workforce, has now fallen to 64 percent.
Even based on the "official" unemployment rate, just to get back to the unemployment level of 4.6 percent that we had in 2007, we need to create over 10 million new jobs, and most every serious economist will tell you that these jobs are not coming back. In fact, we are still consistently shedding jobs, on just one day, January 27, several companies announced new cuts of more than 60,000 jobs.
Due to the length of this crisis already, millions of Americans are reaching a point where the unemployment benefits they have been living on are coming to an end. More workers have already been out of work longer than at any point since statistics have been recorded, with over six million now unemployed for over six months. A record 20 million Americans qualified for unemployment insurance benefits last year, causing 27 states to run out of funds, with seven more also expected to go into the red within the next few months. In total, 40 state programs are expected to go broke.
Most economists believe the unemployment rate will remain high for the foreseeable future. What will happen when we have millions of laid-off workers without any unemployment benefits to save them?
Working More for Less
The millions struggling to find work are just part of the story. Due to the fact that we now have a record high six people for every one job opening, companies have been able to further increase the workload on their remaining employees. They have been able to increase the amount of hours Americans are working, reduce wages and drastically cut back on benefits. Even though Americans were already the most productive workers in the world before the economic crisis, in the third quarter of 2009, average worker productivity increased by an annualized rate of 9.5 percent, at the same time unit labor cost decreased by 5.2 percent. This has led to record profits for many companies. Of the 220 companies in the S&P 500 who have reported fourth-quarter results thus far, 78 percent of them had "better-than-expected profits" with earnings 17 percent above expectations, "the highest for any quarter since Thomson Reuters began tracking data."
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national median wage was only $32,390 per year in 2008, and median household income fell by 3.6 percent while the unemployment rate was 5.8 percent. With the unemployment rate now at 10 percent, median income has been falling at a 5 percent rate and is expected to continue its decline. Not surprisingly, Americans' job satisfaction level is now at an all-time low.
There are also a growing number of employed people who, despite having a job, are still living in poverty. There are at least 15 million workers who now fall into this rapidly growing category. $32,390 a year is not going to get you far in today's economy, and half of the country is making less than that. This is why many Americans are now forced to work two jobs to provide for their family to hopefully make ends meet.
A Crime Against Humanity
The mainstream news media will numb us to this horrifying reality by endlessly talking about the latest numbers, but they never piece them together to show you the whole devastating picture, and they rarely show you all the immense individual suffering behind them. This is how they "normalize the unthinkable" and make us become passive in the face of such a high causality count.
Behind each of these numbers, is a tremendous amount of misery; the physical toll is only outdone by the severe psychological toll. Anyone who has had to put off medical care, or who couldn't get medical care for one of their family members due to financial circumstances, can tell you about the psychological toll that is on top of the physical suffering. Anyone who has felt the stress of wondering how they were going to get their child's next meal or their own, or the stress of not knowing how they are going to pay the mortgage, rent, electricity or heat bill, let alone the car payment, gas, phone, cable or Internet bill.
There are now well over 150 million Americans who feel stress over these things on a consistent basis. Over 60 percent of Americans now live paycheck to paycheck.
These are all basic things every person should be able to easily afford in a technologically advanced society such as ours. The reason we struggle with these things is because the Economic Elite have robbed us all. This amount of suffering in the United States of America is literally a crime against humanity.
This is Part I of David DeGraw's report, "The Economic Elite vs. People of the USA. " AlterNet will run Part II in the coming days.
Read more of David DeGraw's work on Amped Status.
However, their pivotal work in the health sector has received scant media coverage.
The Cuban team coordinator in Haiti, Dr Carlos Alberto Garcia, says the Cuban doctors, nurses and other health personnel have been working non-stop, day and night, with operating rooms open 18 hours a day.
During a visit to La Paz hospital in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, Dr Mirta Roses, the director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) which is in charge of medical coordination between the Cuban doctors, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and a host of health sector NGOs, described the aid provided by Cuban doctors as "excellent and marvellous".
La Paz is one of five hospitals in Haiti that is largely staffed by health professionals from Havana.
History of cooperation
Before the earthquake struck, 344 Cuban health professionals were already present in Haiti, providing primary care and obstetrical services as well as operating to restore the sight of Haitians blinded by eye diseases.
More doctors were flown in shortly after the earthquake, as part of the rapid response Henry Reeve Medical Brigade of disaster specialists. The brigade has extensive experience in dealing with the aftermath of earthquakes, having responded to such disasters in China, Indonesia and Pakistan.
"In the case of Cuban doctors, they are rapid responders to disasters, because disaster management is an integral part of their training," explains Maria a Hamlin Zúniga, a public health specialist from Nicaragua.
"They are fully aware of the need to reduce risks by having people prepared to act in any disaster situation."
Cuban doctors have been organising medical facilities in three revamped and five field hospitals, five diagnostic centres, with a total of 22 different care posts aided by financial support from Venezuela. They are also operating nine rehabilitation centres staffed by nearly 70 Cuban physical therapists and rehab specialists, in addition to the Haitian medical personnel.
The Cuban team has been assisted by 100 specialists from Venezuela, Chile, Spain, Mexico, Colombia and Canada and 17 nuns.
Havana has also sent 400,000 tetanus vaccines for the wounded.
Eduardo Nuñez Valdes, a Cuban epidemiologist who is currently in Port-au-Prince, has stressed that the current unsanitary conditions could lead to an epidemic of parasitic and infectious diseases if not acted upon quickly.
However, in reporting on the international aid effort, Western media have generally not ranked Cuba high on the list of donor nations.
One major international news agency's list of donor nations credited Cuba with sending over 30 doctors to Haiti, whereas the real figure stands at more than 350, including 280 young Haitian doctors who graduated from Cuba. The final figure accounts for a combined total of 930 health professionals in all Cuban medical teams making it the largest medical contingent on the ground.
Another batch if 200 Cuban-trained doctors from 24 countries in Africa and Latin American, and a dozen American doctors who graduated from Havana are currently en route to Haiti and will provide reinforcement to existing Cuban medical teams.
By comparison the internationally-renowned Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF or Doctors without Borders) has approximately 269 health professionals working in Haiti. MSF is much better funded and has far more extensive medical supplies than the Cuban team. Left out
But while representatives from MSF and the ICRC are frequently in front of television cameras discussing health priorities and medical needs, the Cuban medical teams are missing in the media coverage.
Richard Gott, the Guardian newspaper's former foreign editor and a Latin America specialist, explains: "Western media are programmed to be indifferent to aid that comes from unexpected places. In the Haitian case, the media have ignored not just the Cuban contribution, but also the efforts made by other Latin American countries."
Brazil is providing $70mn in funding for 10 urgent care units, 50 mobile units for emergency care, a laboratory and a hospital, among other health services.
Venezuela has cancelled all Haiti debt and has promised to supply oil free of charge until the country has recovered from the disaster.
Western NGOs employ media officers to ensure that the world knows what they are doing.
According to Gott, the Western media has grown accustomed to dealing with such NGOs, enabling a relationship of mutual assistance to develop.
Cuban medical teams, however, are outside this predominantly Western humanitarian-media loop and are therefore only likely to receive attention from Latin American media and Spanish language broadcasters and print media.
There have, however, been notable exceptions to this reporting syndrome. On January 19, a CNN reporter broke the silence on the Cuban role in Haiti with a report on Cuban doctors at La Paz hospital.
When the US requested that their military plans be allowed to fly through Cuban airspace for the purpose of evacuating Haitians to hospitals in Florida, Cuba immediately agreed despite almost 50 years of animosity between the two countries.
This deal cut the flight time of medical evacuation flights from the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba's southern tip to Miami by 90 minutes.
According to Darby Holladay, the US state department's spokesperson, the US has also communicated its readiness to make medical relief supplies available to Cuban doctors in Haiti.
"Potential US-Cuban cooperation could go a long way toward meeting Haiti's needs," says Dr Julie Feinsilver, the author of Healing the Masses - a book about Cuban health diplomacy, who argues that maximum cooperation is urgently needed.
Rich in human resources
Although Cuba is a poor developing country, their wealth of human resources - doctors, engineers and disaster management experts - has enabled this small Caribbean nation to play a global role in health care and humanitarian aid alongside the far richer nations of the west.
Cuban medical teams played a key role in the wake of the Indian Ocean Tsunami and provided the largest contingent of doctors after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake. They also stayed the longest among international medical teams treating the victims of the 2006 Indonesian earthquake.
In the Pakistan relief operation the US and Europe dispatched medical teams. Each had a base camp with most doctors deployed for a month. The Cubans, however, deployed seven major base camps, operated 32 field hospitals and stayed for six months.
Bruno Rodriguez, who is now Cuba's foreign minister, headed the mission - living in the mountains of Pakistan for more than six months.
Just after the Indonesian earthquake a year later, I met with Indonesia's then regional health co-coordinator, Dr Ronny Rockito.
Cuba had sent 135 health workers and two field hospitals. Rockito said that while the medical teams from other countries departed after just one month, he asked the Cuban medical team to extend their stay.
"I appreciate the Cuban medical team. Their style is very friendly. Their medical standard is very high," he told me.
"The Cuban [field] hospitals are fully complete and it's free, with no financial support from our government."
Rockito says he never expected to see Cuban doctors coming to his country's rescue.
"We felt very surprised about doctors coming from a poor country, a country so far away that we know little about.
"We can learn from the Cuban health system. They are very fast to handle injuries and fractures. They x-ray, then they operate straight away."
A 'new dawn'?
The Montreal summit, the first gathering of 20 donor nations, agreed to hold a major conference on Haiti's future at the United Nations in March.
Some analysts see Haiti's rehabilitation as a potential opportunity for the US and Cuba to bypass their ideological differences and combine their resources - the US has the logistics while Cuba has the human resources - to help Haiti.
Feinsilver is convinced that "Cuba should be given a seat at the table with all other nations and multilateral organisations and agencies in any and all meetings to discuss, plan and coordinate aid efforts for Haiti's reconstruction".
"This would be in recognition of Cuba's long-standing policy and practise of medical diplomacy, as well as its general development aid to Haiti," she says.
But, will Haiti offer the US administration, which has Cuba on its list of nations that allegedly "support terrorism", a "new dawn" in its relations with Cuba?
In late January, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, thanked Cuba for its efforts in Haiti and welcomed further assistance and co-operation.
In Haiti's grand reconstruction plan, Feinsilver argues, "there can be no imposition of systems from any country, agency or institution. The Haitian people themselves, through what remains of their government and NGOs, must provide the policy direction, and Cuba has been and should continue to be a key player in the health sector in Haiti".
by Gar Alperovitz, Ted Howard & Thad Williamson
Something important is happening in Cleveland: a new model of large-scale worker- and community-benefiting enterprises is beginning to build serious momentum in one of the cities most dramatically impacted by the nation's decaying economy. The Evergreen Cooperative Laundry (ECL)--a worker-owned, industrial-size, thoroughly "green" operation--opened its doors late last fall in Glenville, a neighborhood with a median income hovering around $18,000. It's the first of ten major enterprises in the works in Cleveland, where the poverty rate is more than 30 percent and the population has declined from 900,000 to less than 450,000 since 1950."The only way this business will take off is if people are fully vested in the idea of the company," says work supervisor and former Time-Warner Cable employee Medrick Addison. "If you're not interested in giving it everything you have, then this isn't the place you should be." Addison, who also has a record, is excited about the prospects: "I never thought I could become an owner of a major corporation. Maybe through Evergreen things that I always thought would be out of reach for me might become possible."
These are not your traditional small-scale co-ops. The Evergreen model draws heavily on the experience of the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in the Basque Country of Spain, the world's most successful large-scale cooperative effort (now employing 100,000 workers in an integrated network of more than 120 high-tech, industrial, service, construction, financial and other largely cooperatively owned businesses).
The Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, the flagship of the Cleveland effort, aims to take advantage of the expanding demand for laundry services from the healthcare industry, which is 16 percent of GDP and growing. After a six-month initial "probationary" period, employees begin to buy into the company through payroll deductions of 50 cents an hour over three years (for a total of $3,000). Employee-owners are likely to build up a $65,000 equity stake in the business over eight to nine years--a substantial amount of money in one of the hardest-hit urban neighborhoods in the nation.
Thoroughly green in all its operations, ECL will have the smallest carbon footprint of any industrial-scale laundry in northeast Ohio, and probably the entire state: most industrial-scale laundries use three gallons of water per pound of laundry (the measure common in industrial-scale systems); ECL will use just eight-tenths of a gallon to do the same job. A second green employee-owned enterprise also opened this fall as part of the Evergreen effort. Ohio Cooperative Solar (OCS) is undertaking large-scale installations of solar panels on the roofs of the city's largest nonprofit health, education and municipal buildings. In the next three years it expects to have 100 employee-owners working to meet Ohio's mandated solar requirements. OCS is also becoming a leader in Cleveland's weatherization program, thereby ensuring year-round employment. Another cooperative in development ($10 million in federal loans and grants already in hand) is Green City Growers, which will build and operate a year-round hydroponic food production greenhouse in the midst of urban Cleveland. The 230,000-square-foot greenhouse--larger than the average Wal-Mart superstore--will be producing more than 3 million heads of fresh lettuce and nearly a million pounds of (highly profitable) basil and other herbs a year, and will almost certainly become the largest urban food-producing greenhouse in the country.
A fourth co-op, the community-based newspaper Neighborhood Voice, is also slated to begin operations this year. Organizers project that an initial complex of ten companies will generate roughly 500 jobs over the next five years. The co-op businesses are focusing on the local market in general and the specific procurement needs of "anchor institutions," the large hospitals and universities that are well established in the area and provide a partially guaranteed market. Discussions are under way with the "anchors" to identify additional opportunities for the next generation of community-based businesses. Evergreen Business Services has been launched to support the growing network by providing back-office services, management expertise and turn-around skills should a co-op get into trouble down the road.
Significant resources are being committed to this effort by the Cleveland Foundation and other local foundations, banks and the municipal government. The Evergreen Cooperative Development Fund, currently capitalized by $5 million in grants, expects to raise another $10-$12 million--which in turn will leverage up to an additional $40 million in investment funds. Indeed, this may well be a conservative estimate. The fund invested $750,000 in the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, which was then used to access an additional $5 million in financing, a ratio of almost seven to one. An important aspect of the plan is that each of the Evergreen co-operatives is obligated to pay 10 percent of its pre-tax profits back into the fund to help seed the development of new jobs through additional co-ops. Thus, each business has a commitment to its workers (through living-wage jobs, affordable health benefits and asset accumulation) and to the general community (by creating businesses that can provide stability to neighborhoods).
The overall strategy is not only to go green but to design and position all the worker-owned co-ops as the greenest firms within their sectors. This is important in itself, but even more crucial is that the new green companies are aiming for a competitive advantage in getting the business of hospitals and other anchor institutions trying to shrink their carbon footprint. Far fewer green-collar jobs have been identified nationwide than had been hoped; and there is a danger that people are being trained and certified for work that doesn't exist. The Evergreen strategy represents another approach--first build the green business and jobs and then recruit and train the workforce for these new positions (and give them an ownership stake to boot).
Strikingly, the project has substantial backing, not only from progressives but from a number of important members of the local business community as well. Co-ops in general, and those in which people work hard for what they get in particular, cut across ideological lines--especially at the local level, where practicality, not rhetoric, is what counts in distressed communities. There is also a great deal of national buzz among activists and community-development specialists about "the Cleveland model." Potential applications of the model are being considered in Atlanta, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Detroit and a number of other cities around Ohio.
What's especially promising about the Cleveland model is that it could be applied in hard-hit industries and working-class communities around the nation. The model takes us beyond both traditional capitalism and traditional socialism. The key link is between national sectors of expanding public activity and procurement, on the one hand, and a new local economic entity, on the other, that "democratizes" ownership and is deeply anchored in the community. In the case of healthcare the link is also to a sector in which some implicit or explicit form of "national planning"--the movement toward universal healthcare--will all but certainly increase public influence and concern with how funds are used.
Whereas the Cleveland effort is targeted at very low-income, largely minority communities, the same principles could easily be applied in cities like Detroit and aimed at black and white workers displaced by the economic crisis and the massive planning failures of the nation's main auto companies. Late in October, in fact, the Mondragon Corporation and the million-plus-member United Steelworkers union announced an alliance to develop Mondragon-type manufacturing cooperatives in the United States and Canada. Says USW's Rob Witherell: "We are seeking the right opportunities to make it work, probably in manufacturing markets that we both understand."
Consider what might happen if the government and the UAW used the stock they own in General Motors because of the bailout to reorganize the company along full or joint worker-ownership lines--and if the new General Motors product line were linked to a plan to develop the nation's mass transit and rail system. Since mass transit is a sector that is certain to expand, there is every reason to plan its taxpayer-financed growth and integrate it with new community-stabilizing ownership strategies. The same is true of high-speed rail. Moreover, there are currently no US-owned companies producing subway cars (although some foreign-owned firms assemble subway cars in the United States). Nor do any American-owned companies build the kind of equipment needed for high-speed rail.
In 2007 public authorities nationwide bought roughly 600 new rail and subway cars along with roughly 15,000 buses and smaller "paratransit" vehicles. Total current capital outlays on vehicles alone amount to $3.8 billion; total annual investment outlays (vehicles plus stations and other infrastructure) are $14.5 billion. The Department of Transportation estimates that a $48 billion investment in transit capital projects could generate 1.3 million new green jobs in the next two years alone. There are also strong reasons to expedite the retirement of aging buses and replace them with more efficient energy-saving vehicles with better amenities such as bike racks and GPS systems--the procurement of which would, in turn, create more jobs.
President Obama has endorsed a strategy for making high-speed rail a priority in the United States. In a January 28 appearance in Florida he announced support for rail expansion in thirteen corridors across the nation based on an $8 billion "down payment" for investments in high-speed rail included in last year's stimulus package. The administration plans an additional $5 billion in spending over the next five years. Interest at the state level is also strong; in November 2008 voters in California approved a $10 billion bond to build high-speed rail.
Even more dramatic possibilities for a new industry organized on new principles are suggested by experts concerned with the impact of likely future oil shortages. Canadian scholars Richard Gilbert and Anthony Perl, projecting dramatic increases in the cost of all petroleum-based transportation, have proposed building 25,000 kilometers (about 15,000 miles) of track devoted to high-speed rail by 2025. Along with incremental upgrades of existing rail lines to facilitate increased and faster service, they estimate total investment costs at $2 trillion (roughly $140 billion each year for fifteen years).
All of this raises the prospect of an expanding economic sector--one that will inevitably be dominated by public funds and public planning. In the absence of an effort to create a national capacity to produce mass-transit vehicles and high-speed-rail equipment, the United States in general, and California and other regions in particular, will likely end up awarding contracts for production to other countries. The French firm Alstom, for example, is likely to benefit enormously from US contracts. The logic of building a new economic sector on new principles becomes even more obvious when you consider that by 2050 another 130 million people are projected to be living in the United States; by 2100 the Census Bureau's high estimate is more than 1 billion. Providing infrastructure and transportation for this expanding population will generate a long list of required equipment and materials that a restructured group of vehicle production companies could help produce--and, at the same time, help create new forms of ownership that anchor the economies of the local communities involved.
As reflection on transportation issues and the current ownership structure of General Motors suggests, the principles implicit in the nascent Cleveland effort point to the possibility of an important new strategic approach. It is one in which economic policy related to activities heavily financed by the public is used to create, and give stability to, enterprises that are more democratically owned, and to target jobs to communities in distress. The model does not, of course, rely only on public funds; as in Cleveland it serves a private market and hence faces the "discipline" of the market.
We are clearly only on the threshold of developing a sophisticated near-term national policy approach like that suggested for transportation--to say nothing of the fully developed principles of a systemic alternative. The Cleveland experiment is in its infancy, with many miles to go and undoubtedly many mistakes to make, learn from and correct. On the other hand, as New Deal scholars regularly point out, historically the development of models and experiments at the local and state levels provided many of the principles upon which national policy drew when the moment of decision arrived. It is not too early to get serious about the Clevelands of the world and the possible implications they may have for one day moving an economically decaying nation toward a new economic vision.
America's economic development has been predicated on boom and bust cycles. First there were the railroads which contributed mightily to an economic boom that lasted well into the twentieth century. They provided a lot of jobs as well as creating a lot of rich people like Jay Gould, Mark Hopkins and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Then there were the great technological advances of the twentieth century. The automobile created a lot of wealth and provided a lot of jobs. It was the same for the radio, TV and movie industries. In each case a technological innovation created a boom, provided jobs for a period of time and then, as the industry consolidated, the number of jobs diminished. As the pace of technological development quickened, the pace of the boom and bust cycles quickened. All the many technological developments of the 1920s were followed by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Earlier technological developments were at a more primitive stage that required more human labor as an input to the manufacturing process. Later technological developments were automated sooner so they required less human labor once the various projects got off the ground and consolidated.
By the time of the personal computer and internet boom, the initial phase that required human labor and provided jobs was quite short. In fact this boom facilitated the offshoring of labor and led to an overall decline of US jobs. Also the leveraged buyout business in which a private equity fund takes over a company, lays off its workers and sells off the component parts or takes it into bankruptcy is a relatively new phenomenon. Baran and Sweezy in their book, "Monopoly Capital," have put forth the thesis that the development of American capitalism is completely dependent on technological development and entrepreneurialism, and, in fact, that is the only thing keeping American style capitalism alive. Many people are wondering what is the next Big Thing that is going to get us out of the Great Recession and start providing jobs again. Where is the next boom coming from?
All of this begs the question, what if the next Big Thing which supposedly will end the Great Recession and provide good solid middle class jobs for a time doesn't come along? Is it possible that American capitalism is so dependent on a succession of Big Things that it will just dry up and become untenable unless there is another great innovation or technological revolution? Could it be that the lack of a technological revolution will lead to a political revolution? The US has been known as a society which encourages entrepreneurialism and innovation. This has led to the creation of great wealth and in the process has provided a lot of good jobs for short periods of time. Most jobs are provided by small businesses and in fact small businesses which are recent start-ups. But recent technological developments combined with the lack of a US industrial policy have led to the destruction of good jobs as corporations have opted to increase profits by going to where labor is cheapest. And government has encouraged the process by offering incentives for corporations to offshore jobs. NAFTA and the WTO encourage this process. It's important to remember that corporations are not in the business of providing jobs. They are in the business of maximizing profits, and one way to do that is to minimize the outlay for labor. This can be done by driving down wages and eliminating workers. This in turn can be accomplished by a process of automation and outsourcing jobs to where labor is cheapest.
In an environment where there is a fairly long period of consolidation and in which there are no technological innovations on the horizon, it may turn out that American style capitalism is at a distinct disadvantage. In such a period of history a society predicated on technological innovation and entrepreneurialism may lose its economic dynamism. Less entrepreneurial societies that are better organized at the governmental level and with more focused industrial policies may be better suited for economic development. Societies which have industrial policies and which encourage industrial development on the micro level while setting parameters at the macro level which encourage not only the development of wealth but the creation and retention of jobs might just have the upper hand. In particular China, while not being known for innovation up to now, may gain the upper hand simply because it is better organized in terms of overall industrial policy and because its governing model is more direct and simplified compared to the relative chaos of American government which involves a whole host of competing self-interests and has shown signs of sclerosis and dysfunction recently. A strong hand at the tiller is preferable to a boat that is completely adrift.
In a period of consolidation compared to a period of rapid technological advance, more authoritarian governments might be better able to exploit technological developments that have already occurred rather than depending on technology yet to be invented and exploited. US capitalism is relatively unorganized. Corporations seek less government involvement because they want to maximize their ability to operate unilaterally, innovate and make quick profits. The bottom line and the stock price are more important than the provision of jobs. In fact the provision of jobs is counterproductive to the making of profits. That's why the stock price goes up when the number of workers goes down. Societies which are less innovative tend to be more organizational and to be able to exploit periods in which less technological innovation occurs. They are better able to organize overall systemic development because they are more singleminded in their approach to the economy. American capitalism is better at componental innovation as opposed to systemic development because nobody is in charge of organizing the whole of society. Corporations develop components not overall societal systems.
It would be unthinkable that private enterprise without governmental oversight could have developed the interstate highway system, for example. Government was largely involved in the development of railroads after the Civil War by providing incentives for private corporations. Private enterprise can do economic development based on technological developments and at the component level, but overall systemic development is best organized by government which can set parameters and provide incentives and public private partnerships. The development of components like automobiles, TV sets and personal computers was best carried out by private enterprise, but the development of infrastructure like the highway system, the assignment of the electromagnetic spectrum and the internet are areas where the government needs to play a role. High speed internet can be compared to high speed rail in terms of infrastructure and in both areas the US lags behind due to the fact that government has not played its proper role.
For example, green infrastructure development, which is one of the looming innovations, is better organized on a societal level rather than on the component level. Individual corporations can develop and manufacture the components such as solar panels and windmills, but only government can organize all these components into an overall energy system which efficiently provides energy when and where it's needed. This requires an electrical distribution network, transmission system or backbone and the dimensions and blueprints for this can only be done at the societal level. No corporation is capable of determinig or mandating the overall systemic parameters and infrastructure. In fact corporate development would lead to a hodge podge of nonstandard, non-interrelating components which would compete with each other producing a mish mash at the system level. Therefore, more authoritarian, less innovative societies are in a postion to better exploit technology when it comes to infrastructure.
The same reasoning applies to other aspects of infrastructure. Corporations are notorious for externalizing costs while internalizing profits. This means that they exploit existing infrastructure while not maintaining it. If government does not mandate that they repair or maintain infrastructure that they use or does not step in and do it itself, eventually corporations will not be able to function due to outdated or malfunctioning infrastructure. Societies that have an overarching vision of economic and infrastructure development are better suited to see to it that infrastructure development occurs simultaneously with technological advancement and that jobs are created and maintained rather than workers exploited and their jobs exported. Societies with industrial policies will seek to create and maintain jobs while they export products and import raw materials. Societies without industrial policies will export jobs and raw materials and become dumping grounds for other societies' manufactured exports as citizens are increasingly persuaded to become passive consumers and nonunionized workers.
It's not hard to see areas in which the US has fallen behind other societies due to lack of infrastructure development because corporations have insisted on lower taxes and smaller government. Their lobbyists and campaign donations have created a society that reflects their own short term interests. High speed rail, common in other advanced industrialized societies, is almost completely non-existent in the US. High speed internet is more advanced in South Korea and other societies than it is in the US. Again that is a function of lack of infrastructure in the supposedly "freer" US. A modern electrical transmission grid is lacking in the US nor is there any political impetus for developing it. And then the older infrastructure technologies of water develoment, sewers, roads and bridges have largely been neglected. A concomitant of lack of infrastructure development in the US is the lack of jobs that all that infrastructure development and maintenance could provide. But again infrastructure development is something that is not profitable for US corporations and would have to be pursued by government, and the prevailing philosophy in the US is not to give government the resources it would need to provide the jobs to do this. This is considered to be socialism and as such is anathema in the US. Other societies, though, do not have American hangups and phobias about socialism and are better suited to pursue infrastructure development side by side with technological component development. Research budgets and educational systems in other societies are now beginning to outstrip similar developments in the debt ridden US so that, even in the area of technology, the US is falling behind. Education is free and proliferating in most other advanced societies while in the US education budgets are stagnant or diminishing. And the most talented, instead of going into science and engineering, go into the financial sector where much more money is to be made in financial engineering and the development of financial products.
An industrial policy considers the best ways that government and private enterprise can work together to develop society, create wealth, distribute it somewhat equally and create and maintain jobs. All these elements need to be in balance and work together harmoniously in order for an economic system to function in a healthful manner. The US with its emphasis on component level development and lack of government oversight has created a society in which job creation and preservation is of little value. Long term goals by society at large give way to short term profits by private corporations. Private corporations dominate government instead of the other way around. When new consumer products at the component level such as the automoble, the TV and the personal computer are not brought forth in rapid succession and infrastructure is left to languish, societies predicated on individual components will falter and societies focused on a harmonious balance between component level development and overall societal development including the provision of a stable job infrastructure will prevail in the creation of not only individual but also societal wealth and well being.
by Steve Fraser
On March 4, 1933, the day he took office, Franklin Roosevelt excoriated the "money changers" who "have fled from their high seats in the temples of our civilization [because...] they know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision and where there is no vision, the people perish."
Rhetoric, however, is only rhetoric. According to one skeptical congressional observer of FDR's first inaugural address, "The President drove the money-changers out of the Capitol on March 4th -- and they were all back on the 9th."
That was essentially true. It was what happened after that, in the midst of the Great Depression, which set the New Deal on a course that is the mirror image of the direction in which the Obama administration seems headed.
Buoyed by great expectations when he assumed office, Barack Obama has so far revealed himself to be an unfolding disappointment. On arrival, expectations were far lower for FDR, who was not considered extraordinary at all -- until he actually did something extraordinary.
The great expectations of 2009 are, only a year later, beginning to smell like a pile of dead fish with new rhetoric -- including populist-style attacks on villainous bankers that sound fake (or cynically pandering) when uttered by Obama's brainiacs -- layered on top of the pile like deodorant. Meanwhile, the country is suffering through a recovery that isn't a recovery unless you happen to be a banker, and the administration stands by, too politically or intellectually inhibited or incapacitated to do much of anything about it. A year into "change we can believe in" and the new regime, once so flush with power and the promise of big doings, seems exhausted, vulnerable, and afraid. A year into the New Deal -- indeed a mere 100 days into Roosevelt's era -- change, whether you believed in it or not, clearly had the wind at its back.
A Tale of Two Presidencies
If, a few days after Roosevelt pronounced them ex-communicant, the "money-changers" were back inside the temple -- "temple," by the way, was how the Federal Reserve used to be known before its recent fall from grace -- no one was too surprised. He, like Obama, was initially worried about alienating big business and high finance. He arrived in the Oval Office, in fact, still a prisoner of his own past and the country's. He believed, for example, in the then-orthodox wisdom of balancing the budget and would never entirely abandon that faith.
Not long before he assumed office, his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, vetoed a bill calling for the accelerated payment of bonuses to World War I veterans. Many of them had only recently gathered in makeshift tents on Anacostia Flats in Washington D.C., an army of the destitute, to plead their case. Hoover, to his lasting dishonor, ordered Army Chief of Staff General Douglas McArthur to have their tents set on fire and drive them away at bayonet point. Not long after FDR took the oath of office, he vetoed the same bill. He shared, as well, in a broad cultural repugnance for what was then called "the dole," and today is known as "welfare."
The legendary first 100 days of the Roosevelt administration, memorable for a raft of reform and recovery legislation, also prominently featured an Economy Act designed to reduce government expenditures. Fearing the possibility of a break with the commercial elite, the president tried forging a partnership with them, much as Hoover had. As a matter of fact, the first two pieces of recovery legislation his administration submitted to Congress -- the National Industrial Recovery Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act -- were formulated and implemented in a way that would seem familiar today. They gave the country's major corporations and largest agricultural interests the principal authority for re-starting the country's stalled economic engines.
However, even as the administration tried to maintain its ties to powerful business interests and a traditional fiscal conservatism, it broke them -- and it severed those connections in ways, and for reasons, that are instructive today.
*The Glass-Steagall Act: This emergency banking legislation passed during those extraordinary first 100 days separated commercial from investment banking. It was meant to prevent the misuse of commercial bank deposits (other people's money like yours and mine) in dangerous forms of speculation, which many at the time believed had helped cause the Great Wall Street Crash of 1929, prelude to the Great Depression. Today, ever more people wish Glass-Steagall had never been repealed (as it was in 1999), as its absence helped open the door to the financial misadventures that brought us the Great Crash of '08.
The bill infuriated what was called, in those days, "the Money Trust," especially the once omnipotent house of Morgan, the dominant member of an elite group of Wall Street firms that had run the financial system since the turn of the century when J.P. Morgan, America's most famous banker, was revered and feared around the world. (Jack, the patriarch's son, was so incensed by New Deal financial reform that he banned all pictures of the President from the bank's premises.) Glass-Steagall, as well as the two Securities Acts of 1933 and 1934 which created the Securities and Exchange Commission and left the doyens of the New York Stock Exchange apoplectic, represented real reform, and so were different in kind from TARP and all the other contraptions designed by the Bush and Obama Treasury Departments simply to bail out the financial sector.
*The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA): Offspring also of those first 100 days, the TVA uplifted a vast, underdeveloped, and impoverished rural region of the country by bringing it electric power, irrigation, soil conservation, and flood control. It introduced the then-alien (and once again alien) idea of government-directed economic planning and development. It left the private utility industry irate at the prospect of having to compete with effective, publicly owned electrical-power-generating facilities. Fast-forward to today when, on the contrary, the private health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, conniving behind closed doors with Obama's people, proved triumphant in a similar confrontation, leaving government competition in the dust.
*Jobs: And then there was, as there is again, the question of jobs and how to create them. In 1933, American politicians still took the notion of balancing the budget each year with deadly seriousness. In our present era, every president from Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton to George W. Bush and now, apparently, Barack Obama talks the talk without any intention of walking the walk. What made the Roosevelt moment remarkable was this: balanced-budget orthodoxy notwithstanding, the new administration soon forged ahead with a set of jobs programs that not only implied deficit spending but an even more radical departure from business as usual.
Initially, the Public Works Administration (PWA), created as part of the National Industrial Recovery Act, relied on large-scale infrastructure projects farmed out to private enterprise. Undertaking such projects inevitably entailed government borrowing and deficits. Partly for that reason, the PWA proceeded at a glacial pace, put few to work right away, and -- in the way it looked to the private sector to take the lead -- resembled the latest thinking of the Obama administration whose newest tepid suggestions for creating jobs depend almost solely on funneling tax relief to business.
Simultaneously, however, the New Deal pursued a more daring alternative. FDR diverted a third of the PWA's budget to the Civil Works Administration (CWA), out of which was born the legendary Civilian Conservation Corps, an agency that deployed hundreds of thousands of unemployed young men to restore the country's forests and parklands. The CWA skipped the private sector entirely and simply put people to work: four million people in the summer and fall of 1933. (That would be the equivalent, today, of ten million Americans back on the job.)
During the first nine months of the Roosevelt administration manual laborers, clerks, architects, book-binders, teachers, actors, white and blue collar workers alike became Federal employees. They laid millions of feet of sewer pipe, improved hundreds of thousands of miles of roads, and built thousands of schools, playgrounds, and airports. Harry Hopkins, who ran the CWA, was authorized to seize tools, equipment, and materials from Army warehouses to get the new system up and running. (The Works Progress Administration, a subsequent incarnation of the CWA, would later create eight million jobs on the same principle of public employment.)
This isn't even within hailing distance of where the current Administration is now as it frets about the deficit and pledges to freeze domestic spending (and implies, without having the courage to say so, that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security had better watch out). Coming from a regnant Democratic Party this is change we can't or don't want to believe in.
Like Obama, Roosevelt was denounced by his enemies in the Republican Party and the business community as a closet socialist (not to mention a cripple, a Jew, and a homosexual). While the administration would sometimes trim its sails considerably to weather the right wing storm, its general reaction to Republican opposition was the opposite of Obama's. Even during that first year, and at an accelerating pace afterwards, the momentum of the New Deal carried it irresistibly to the left.
This was true, in fact, of the whole Democratic Party. The Congress elected in the off-year of 1934 was not only more overwhelmingly Democratic, but the Democrats who won were considerably more progressive-minded. They were far readier to jettison the shibboleths of the old order and press a still cautious President in their direction. By 1936, the essentials of the social welfare and regulatory state were in place, an insurgent labor movement had won the elementary right to organize (while becoming the New Deal's most muscular constituency), and the president was denouncing "economic royalists" and "tories of industry" whose "hatred" for him he "welcomed."
Today the Obama administration and the Democratic Party are visibly moving in the opposite direction. They read the lesson of humiliating defeat in Massachusetts and the voluble hostility of the populist right as an advisory to move further to the right. Tacking rightward, tailoring policy to match the tastes of business and finance, cautioning Americans that they'll need to tighten their belts (as if they hadn't already been doing so), adopting the parsimonious sanctimony of the balanced budget, slimming down their great expectations until what little is left mocks the hopes of so many who elected them -- all of this is seen as smart politics.
Smart like a chicken. This is the same cleverness that, beginning with Ronald Reagan's triumph, turned the Democratic Party into Republican-lite. Shrewdness like this helps explain, in part, why Obama's inner circle and Democratic leaders took the early, fateful steps that were bound to land them where they find themselves today.
Would the Republican right and its tea-party populists -- marginal, mockable political freaks less than a year ago -- have enjoyed their current growth spasm if the administration hadn't been committed to bailing out the very institutions most people considered the villains responsible for running this country into a ditch? Would the Democratic Party have been in imminent danger of losing its faltering grip on Congress had it found the will to pursue serious health-care reform and environmental legislation, or wrestled the financial oligarchy to the mat as Roosevelt did? A long generation spent cowering in the shadows of the conservative ascendancy has left the newly empowered Democrats congenitally incapable of seizing their own historic moment.
After a year of feinting to the left without meaning it, how seriously is anyone going to take the administration's latest call to tax the banks or break their addiction to reckless speculation? Even if Obama now means to push ahead with some sort of health-care reform or put some teeth into new financial regulations, he has spent so much political capital moving in the opposite direction and seeking partners where there never were any that his quest, even if genuine, may now be purely quixotic. As for the surge in Afghanistan and the endless war that goes with it, by election time 2010, it's an even bet that it will have further undermined any hopes of a late-inning Democratic Party revival.
Conventional wisdom notwithstanding, off-year elections do not always favor the minority party. Indeed, 1934 may be the best example of the opposite effect. Exactly because the New Deal showed itself ever readier to junk the ancien régime, break with economic orthodoxy, and above all say goodbye to its erstwhile corporate friends, it was rewarded handsomely at the polls. None of that apparently will be repeated in 2010, given an administration that seems to be running a New Deal in reverse.
Steve Fraser is the co-editor of The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order and author, most recently, of Wall Street: America's Dream Palace. He is Research Associate at the Joseph Murphy Center for Labor and Community Studies at the Graduate Center of the City of New York. (To catch him in an exclusive TomDispatch audio interview discussing why Obama has ignored the public-works job model Franklin D. Roosevelt pioneered, click here.)
by Robert Reich, Posted Thursday, February 11, 2010
Washington is paralyzed by snow and partisanship. Nothing is getting done – even as the Great Recession pulls more Americans into its maw.
In the midst of this paralysis, the President was asked about the giant pay packages of Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase & Co. ($17 mullion for 2009) and Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs ($9 million). “First of all, I know both those guys,” Obama said. “They’re very savvy businessmen. And I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That’s part of the free market system.”
Free market system? As I remember it, American taxpayers forked out hundreds of billions to keep JPMorgan, Goldman, and other big Wall Street banks afloat through most of 2009. Had we not done so, Dimon, Blankfein, and most other top executives on Wall Street would not have earned a dime last year. In fact, some would be out on the street, reather than sitting pretty on the Street.
The free market system has been unleashed instead on average Americans. According to real-estate data firm First American CoreLogic, about one-fourth of American households with a mortgage are under water – owing more on their homes than their homes are worth. Mortgage-bond trader Amherst Securities estimates that 7.1 million of the 7.9 households now behind on their mortgage payments will lose their homes to foreclosure if nothing is done to modify their loans. Already cities and towns are littered with foreclosure sales, pulling down the values of all homes in the area.
Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, and most of the rest of Wall Street don’t worry about what’s happening to homes on Main Street because their savings are invested in stocks and bonds. But most middle-class Americans do worry because most (if not all) of their savings are in their homes. As home values continue to slip, average Americans’ one big asset is shrinking.
The best way to help reverse this downward slide would be to let bankruptcy judges restructure shaky home mortgages, reducing what borrowers owe. The problem is, the big banks hate this. If mortgages could be restructured this way, the banks would take big hits. They’d be forced to cut the amounts owed by borrowers. They figure they do better by squeezing as much as they can out of distressed homeowners, then collecting as much as they can on foreclosed properties.
So, not surprisingly, the big banks have been mounting a major lobbying campaign to block legislation that would allow homeowners to use bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy has been part of the “free market system” for hundreds of years, but its details are determined through politics – the same politics that arranged the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. In fact, you might say that during 2009, Wall Street went through its own kind of bankruptcy restructuring, with the generous aid of American taxpayers. JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo, along with their top executives, traders, and major investors, have benefited handsomely.
Now, a quarter of American homeowners need help restructuring their loans, but Wall Street is blocking the way.
Rather than defending the outsized paychecks of Dimon, Blankfein, and the rest of Wall Street as part of the free market system, the President needs to demand that Wall Street help homeowners on Main Street. The Obama White House should have made this a condition of getting the giant bailouts in the first place. The least it can do now is to is to make the free market system work for everyone.
Posted on Feb 10, 2010, by Truthdig
By Robert Scheer
“Buyer’s remorse” is the way Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate Republicans’ fundraiser, gleefully refers to Wall Street moguls’ current disenchantment with the U.S. president they thought they had bought. They didn’t like it when Barack Obama, after a year of throwing trillions of American taxpayer dollars into the bailout sinkhole, dared remark that he had hoped there might be some return for ordinary folks trying to save their jobs and homes. Not just huge bonuses for the folks the president dared refer to as “fat cats.”
“That’s it!” the moguls declared, and promptly shifted their political donations from Democrats to Republicans. Among the unglued was Jamie Dimon, who, as The New York Times put it, “is a friend of President Obama’s from Chicago, a frequent White House guest and a big Democratic donor.” Dimon, who just gave himself a $17 million bonus for last year’s work—after his bank was bailed out by taxpayers—is the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase. As the Times observed: “If the Democratic Party has a stronghold on Wall Street it is JPMorgan Chase. … But this year Chase’s political action committee is sending the Democrats a pointed message. … [I]t has rebuffed solicitations from the national Democratic House and Senate campaign committees. Instead it gave $30,000 to their Republican counterparts.” Chump change, given the hundreds of millions that Wall Street doles out to buy legislation, but a warning shot nonetheless.
Dimon had lunch with the president last month to tell him he doesn’t like this talk of forcing banks like Chase to decide whether they are working for federal insured depositors or are high rollers in the Wall Street investment casino. Joining Dimon and the president was Robert Wolf, chief of the U.S. division of the Swiss-owned bank UBS. Wolf, who plays golf and watches fireworks with the president, was appointed by Obama to the Presidential Economic Recovery Advisory Board, headed by former Fed Chair Paul Volcker. Wolf was upset when Obama recently endorsed Volcker’s proposal for restoring the spirit of the Glass-Steagall Act by separating investment from commercial banking, as it was for six decades of financial stability before that sensible restraint was reversed during the Clinton years.
How sensitive they are about words! It’s not as if those “fat cats” are about to lose their jobs or homes or be saddled with legislation they don’t want. There isn’t the slightest possibility of serious financial reform now that Obama has wasted his filibuster-proof majority in the Senate by flummoxing heath care while ignoring banking reform. He has no more money to throw at the banks, so why should their lobbyists cooperate on financial reform legislation any more than the health insurance companies did on their issues?
All he has left are verbal arrows, and surely $145 billion in banking bonuses for devastating the U.S. economy supports Obama’s all-too-rare rhetorical jabs at a rapacious Wall Street. How else to counter Sarah Palin and the tea-baggers who blast the big government bailouts as if they represent an Obama invention rather than a creation of the last Republican White House? Since Bill Clinton’s presidency the only difference in the two parties’ programs is over who best serves Wall Street and hence deserves to be more handsomely rewarded with campaign funding.
Take the mask off the Obama candidacy and there was always a deeply disturbing reality that his massive Internet-driven grass-roots contributor base concealed. Obama was the first major-party presidential candidate since Richard Nixon to base his campaign fundraising exclusively on private rather than public funds. But the appearance of all those coins flowing in from the common folk denied the harsh reality that his campaign contributions established him as the darling of Wall Street financiers—the very folks whose interests he served so faithfully during his first year in office as he endorsed, and indeed expanded, the Bush bailout.
While his base was distracted with a never very bold health care proposal, designed to mollify the insurance companies while providing at least the appearance of universal health care, Obama ceded the genuinely populist cause in the midst of a banking meltdown by coddling Wall Street. It was only a year into his administration, at a point when the banks had obviously failed to deliver on a promise to aid distressed homeowners and increase lending, that Obama in direct response to adverse poll results once again sounded the populist notes of the early months of his primary campaign.
And for that too-little-too-late response to the catastrophic economic crisis they caused, Wall Street titans will now take Obama to the woodshed to teach him and the Democrats a lesson about who’s really in control.
Posted on Feb 11, 2010, by Truthdig
By David Sirota
Last month, President Barack Obama proposed to freeze government spending on everything other than defense, veterans’ benefits, homeland security, Medicare and Social Security. The New York Times reported that administration officials depicted the initiative as proof of the president’s “seriousness about cutting the budget deficit.”
Such spin may fly in Orwell’s Oceania or Washington, D.C., but if you happen to live in the real world, basic arithmetic tells a far more accurate tale about what is “serious”—and what is not.
The nondefense discretionary spending that Obama aims to reduce now totals $477 billion a year—or just 14 percent of the federal budget. Freezing this outlay would save $25 billion a year, or about 2 percent of the annual $1.4 trillion deficit.
Had this plan been part of a governmentwide belt-tightening effort, the White House might have been able to call itself “serious about cutting the budget deficit” anywhere other than in a fantasy land. But the announcement came as the Politico reported the administration was telling defense contractors of its commitment to “steady growth in the Pentagon’s budgets”—budgets so distended by wars and outdated weapons systems that they now top $700 billion a year.
The good news is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she does “not think the entire defense budget should be exempted” from deficit-cutting initiatives, and rightly so. Short of eliminating every department in the nondefense discretionary budget (Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, to name just a few), she knows there’s not enough money in that budget category to dent the deficit. She understands, in other words, that getting “serious” about deficit reduction means beginning the frank conversation about Pentagon bloat that the White House refuses to initiate.
That, of course, gets to the bad news about what Obama’s budget freeze proposal is actually “serious” about reducing—not deficits, but honest discussion.
For 30 years, Republicans and conservative Democrats have precluded factual debates about spending priorities. They’ve done this for three reasons: They seek to protect defense-industry campaign contributors; they fear an electoral backlash against cuts to mandatory programs like Social Security and Medicare; and they are afraid to antagonize the wealthy with pragmatic tax legislation to shore up these mandatory programs (for instance, they avoid bills that would apply Social Security taxes to all income—not just income below $106,000).
Hence, these lawmakers deviously portray nondefense discretionary programs as the cause of our deficit. Their favored instrument of deceit is the malicious tale of loafers supposedly getting rich off these programs and driving us into debt—the tale that Obama’s budget proposal implicitly reinforces.
These fantasies, no matter how untrue, achieve two objectives: (1) They get the middle and working classes fighting each other for budgetary scraps, rather than fighting the plutocrats feasting on real budget meat, and (2) they lobotomize the electorate.
A new Rasmussen survey tells that latter story: When asked if they believe that defense, Social Security and Medicare alone now make up half of all federal spending, 20 percent of Americans said they did not know and 44 percent said no. That’s two-thirds of national poll respondents too brainwashed to realize the truth—too blinded by mythology to accept that most federal spending has nothing to do with the nondefense discretionary programs that Obama and his Reaganite predecessors have cited as a prime deficit culprit.
Thus, even if Congress rejects this particular budget freeze proposal, long-term damage has already been done. In adding a Democratic president’s name to deceptive propaganda, Obama has helped perpetuate mass ignorance by short-circuiting the national discussion we need to have—the discussion about defense spending and taxes that the country requires and the deficit demands.
David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books “Hostile Takeover” and “The Uprising.” He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at OpenLeft.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2010 Creators.com
by Jim Hightower
There's always a celebration when politicos "win" one of these cash-for-jobs gambles. The media gather, politicos prance, the Chamber of Commerce chief grins from ear to ear and the corporate CEO mouths platitudes about free enterprise (while stuffing taxpayer cash in his pockets).
Only six years ago, Winston-Salem, N.C., had its lucky day, having won the spin of the roulette wheel to land a corporate gem. Dell, the computer giant, was headed to town, pledging to erect a state-of-the-art assembly plant and hire up to 1,500 folks.
"We won," crowed all the local poobahs. They had put down about $318 million in tax giveaways, cash and other freebies to land the prize, and in October 2005, they enjoyed the glorious grand opening of Dell's $7 million plant. The future was bright.
However, one thing that governors and mayors absolutely hate to do is to face up to the fact that their prize has reneged, failing to deliver the promised number of jobs. Real bad politics.
Last October, four years and two days after Dell's gala opening in Winston-Salem, the giant suddenly upped and left! It abruptly announced that it would soon cut out for the cheap-labor havens of Asia, shut down the still-sparkling assembly plant, discard the 900 people it had hired (600 short of its promise) and kiss off North Carolina. Thanks for the memories. Adios, chumps.
Formerly gleeful politicos were now howling, demanding "every red cent of incentive money" back. But they had put down their money and taken their chances, and corporate gods are notoriously fickle.
While much of North Carolina's subsidy had not yet been doled out, taxpayers still took a hit of about $17 million for its fling with Dell. Meanwhile, the roulette wheel continues to spin, and more and more taxpayers across the country are learning that they're getting stiffed, receiving only a fraction of the jobs they were taxed to bring to their area.
This is always embarrassing to the public officials who've so enthusiastically played the game, but leave it to a Texas politico to come up with a slick political fix. When Gov. Rick Perry's corporate job subsidies don't succeed, he simply — abracadabra! — redefines success.
Texas has a long history of governors who have a genetic resistance to ethics, but this guy can't even spell the word.
A watchdog group, Texans for Public Justice, recently exposed Perry's flimflam in a report documenting extensive job shortfalls in his corporate deals. TPJ revealed that Gov. Slick had quietly been "amending" the terms of the contractual agreements that corporations signed to get our tax dollars.
Without even informing the other state officials who supposedly oversee the corporate subsidy fund, Perry eased the job-creation requirements to make the deals look like they are succeeding. Such slackers as Lockheed Martin and Tyson Foods have had their job quotas slashed, been permitted to count part-time jobs as full-time and even been allowed to use foreign workers (and possibly illegal immigrants) rather than Texas citizens to meet their job-creation obligations.
When he learned last month that the TPJ was about to bust his little secret "fix," Perry rushed out a statement lamely insisting that nothing was amiss, that his redefinitions were merely meant to "refresh" the state's job contracts.
Refresh? Why do I feel an urgent need to shower when I hear such a clean word ooze out of the mouth of such an oily politician?
The whole game of Corporate Welfare Roulette is oily. For more information on the scams that come from it — and on what can be done to stop these giveaways — contact Good Jobs First: www.goodjobsfirst.org.
National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be - consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.
by Paul Krugman
I'm with Simon Johnson here: how is it possible, at this late date, for Obama to be this clueless?
The lead story on Bloomberg right now contains excerpts from an interview with Business Week which tells us:
President Barack Obama said he doesn't "begrudge" the $17 million bonus awarded to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon or the $9 million issued to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, noting that some athletes take home more pay.
The president, speaking in an interview, said in response to a question that while $17 million is "an extraordinary amount of money" for Main Street, "there are some baseball players who are making more than that and don't get to the World Series either, so I'm shocked by that as well."
"I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen," Obama said in the interview yesterday in the Oval Office with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which will appear on newsstands Friday. "I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free- market system."
Obama sought to combat perceptions that his administration is anti-business and trumpeted the influence corporate leaders have had on his economic policies. He plans to reiterate that message when he speaks to the Business Roundtable, which represents the heads of many of the biggest U.S. companies, on Feb. 24 in Washington.
Oh. My. God.
First of all, to my knowledge, irresponsible behavior by baseball players hasn't brought the world economy to the brink of collapse and cost millions of innocent Americans their jobs and/or houses.
And more specifically, not only has the financial industry been bailed out with taxpayer commitments; it continues to rely on a taxpayer backstop for its stability. Don't take it from me, take it from the rating agencies:
The planned overhaul of US financial rules prompted Standard & Poor's to warn on Tuesday it might downgrade the credit ratings of Citigroup and Bank of America on concerns that the shake-up would make it less likely that the banks would be bailed out by US taxpayers if they ran into trouble again.
The point is that these bank executives are not free agents who are earning big bucks in fair competition; they run companies that are essentially wards of the state. There's good reason to feel outraged at the growing appearance that we're running a system of lemon socialism, in which losses are public but gains are private. And at the very least, you would think that Obama would understand the importance of acknowledging public anger over what's happening.
But no. If the Bloomberg story is to be believed, Obama thinks his key to electoral success is to trumpet "the influence corporate leaders have had on his economic policies."
Paul Krugman is professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University and a regular columnist for The New York Times. Krugman was the 2008 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics. He is the author of numerous books, including The Conscience of A Liberal, and his most recent, The Return of Depression Economics.
An interview with Joseph Stiglitz in yesterday’s Independent gave me cause to think of the 2003 documentary, The Corporation. Stiglitz, when asked whether it was a good idea to cut the public deficit even by a token amount to “appease” the markets, said:
“I’ve always been sceptical about the notion that the market is a person you can engage in an argument with, and that that person is an intelligent, rational, well-intentioned person: it is fantasy. We know that that person, the market, is subject to irrational optimism and pessimism, and is vindictive.”
This argument runs parallel to that sketched out in the film, which investigates the legal standing of the modern day corporation in society, which enjoys many of the same rights as individuals. Given this apparent personhood, the film asks, what sort of person would a corporation be? The answer comes via a series of examples demonstrating lack of empathy, cruelty, amorality and deceit in corporations’ day-to-day business, leaving us with the conclusion that the closest psychological profile for the corporation is that of a psychopath.
The parallels are striking, as Stiglitz goes on with his warning against treating markets as human:
“You’re dealing with a crazy man, you’re asking what I can do to placate a crazy man: Having got what he wants he will still kill you.”
Stiglitz argues that it is immoral of financial institutions to now try and hold the UK to ransom by threatening its AAA rating. He remains convinced that continued stimulus is what is needed from the Government, rather than public spending cuts, which risk plunging the economy back into recession if inflicted too soon.
Stiglitz’s makes a pertinent comment: “If there is a speculative attack against you it is not an issue of appeasement but a judgement about whether they can break your back.” This highlights part of investor strategy in markets: if an investor has confidence in a market or currency, they believe that a speculative run on that market or currency will not be profitable. If, however, investors calculate that a swift profit can be made by temporarily abandoning that currency or market, they will not hesitate to do so.
Stiglitz goes on to say:
“The crisis was predictable. And I hoped that it wouldn’t happen and I thought we in the US and UK could do better because we had democracy.”
Tellingly, though, we do not have economic democracy.
Speculators, by betting massively – to the tune of £5 billion – on Greece’s financial problems leading to a fall in value of the Euro, exercise an alarming degree of control over the economic policy of smaller countries. By threatening to pull its money from a country or a currency, large financial corporations can put pressure on a government to follow a particular policy that will be more favourable to investment.
One hedge fund manager interviewed in the Guardian tried to defend the role of these funds in financial speculation. Rejecting blame for betting against the Euro, he said:
“The markets have the right to express a negative opinion, as much as a positive one. I know it makes it harder for the politicians, but what they should do is come up with a credible plan and execute it, that’s what they’re paid to do.”
This, though, ignores the self-fulfilling effect that this sort of speculation has. It also misses the morality of the issue, which is the anti-democratic functioning of such transactions. By having so much economic power, these corporations are able to affect the workings of governments which should be the domain of the people of sovereign countries.
Speculation with capital that flows freely and easily in and out of countries, that is not tied to any one place and has no interest in the long-term wellbeing of the countries in which it invests corrupts democratic processes. Hedge funds looking for a quick profit should not be allowed to undermine democracy in this way.
California state budget cuts could mean the closure of several hundred centers. Seniors would lose care and camaraderie, and relatives could lose respite and possibly a paycheck.
At the Graceful Senescence adult day healthcare center in
At 10 a.m. sharp, the central room at the Golden Age center started thumping with rap music. Staff members scurried around, urging everyone to set aside their cards and conversation.
"Exercise time! Exercise time!" the activity coordinator shouted as she began marching in place. "Up, up! Arriba, arriba!"
Gilberto Hernandez wheeled himself to the front of the room and took his place in a semicircle of wheelchairs. His left arm remained limp, but he lifted his right arm into the air and moved it in circles to the beat.
Hernandez, a former construction worker left partially paralyzed by a stroke and heart attack 12 years ago, needs help eating, bathing, changing and going to the bathroom. Each weekday, he and about 130 others spend several hours at the Golden Age Adult Day Health Care Center in Lynwood.
"When I am here and listen to the music, I forget about my problems at home," Hernandez, 48, said with a slur. "In my home I feel very alone."
Hernandez isn't the only one who relies on the center, decorated with brightly colored balloons and Valentine's Day coloring sheets. While he is here, his wife, Emiliana, gets a brief respite from her duties as his caretaker.
Under the most recent cost-saving budget proposals, 327 adult day healthcare centers throughout California would be eliminated. Cuts could save the state $135 million in fiscal 2011, state projections show.
But advocates and center operators said care for many of the 37,000 low- income participants -- who suffer from diabetes, brain injuries, dementia and other chronic conditions -- would cost the state even more money if the centers close. More than 40% of participants would end up in nursing homes, said Lydia Missaelides, executive director of the California Assn. for Adult Day Services. Others would be hospitalized.
Missaelides and nearly 20 others testified at a recent state Senate budget committee hearing in Sacramento against the elimination of the centers, which could occur as early as March 1.
"We are taking this extremely seriously," she said. "We are in as much danger as we have ever been."
Medi-Cal pays the vast majority of a center's care costs, which run about $76 per person per day, Missaelides said. The average age of a participant is 78, but centers serve centenarians as well as people in their 20s. All centers have nurses, dietitians, social workers and occupational, speech and physical therapists.
Eliminating adult day healthcare services would affect family members as well as participants, operators said.
"They would have to figure out how to take care of their family members," said Cástulo de la Rocha, chief executive of AltaMed Health Services Corp., which runs Golden Age and seven other centers in Southern California. "It would impact their jobs."
Emiliana Hernandez said her husband is more relaxed and less depressed after spending the day at the center.
At Golden Age, he sings, dances, plays bingo, attends church and chats with his friends -- activities that take his mind off his life before becoming disabled.
Closing the center, Gilberto Hernandez said, "would ruin me."
He dabbed the drool on the side of his mouth with a towel tucked into his shirt as he prepared for a physical therapy session. Therapist Charlie Evans maneuvered the wheelchair in between two bars and braced herself so she could help Hernandez lift himself up.
"You ready?" she said. "Take your time. One . . . two . . . three. Lift. Breathe in. Breathe out.
"Good! You got to do that four more times," she said. "It will help you stand up for your wife."
One morning at another center, in South Los Angeles, staff members welcomed participants and took their vital signs. Paper snowflakes hung from the ceiling. Aretha Franklin could be heard softly in the background. A sign at the front said, "Graceful Senescence -- Where Seniors Are Celebrated." About 60 "young men and women" come to the center each day, said program director Nina Nolcox.
Adelina Lindo, 98, who has dementia, wore a plastic apron over a lavender sweater and bluejeans. A nursing student fed her French toast with a plastic spoon. Lindo stared into space, communicating by nodding and shaking her hand. Lindo's great niece Adelina McCloud said she might have to put her in a nursing home if the center closed.
"I would do the very best I could," said McCloud, a single mom studying to be a nurse. "But who would watch her while I go to school?"
Another participant, Dorothy Greenwood, her silver hair pulled back in a bun, arrived just after 8 a.m. and greeted a staff member enthusiastically.
"Good morning, baby," she said. Her daughter Mary Nonnette kissed her cheek and jumped back into the car, running late for her job as a hairdresser.
When Nonnette, 66, started taking care of her mother in 2003, she had to learn how to bathe her, change her diaper and monitor her medicine. She said her mother going to the center three days a week is like "a child going to school."
"I am able to know she is being taken care of for that period of time," she said. "If it was not for that center, I do not know what I could do for her. . . . I would have to quit my job."
Greenwood, 85, has diabetes that resulted in a leg amputation, a hand deformity that prevents her from feeding herself and a swallowing disorder that requires her meals to be pureed.
Sitting in a shiny blue wheelchair and wearing hoop earrings, she said she feels at home at the center, where she goes to art class, exercises and chats.
"I used to pray that the Lord would take me so I don't be a burden on anybody," she said in a Southern accent. "But he don't listen. So here I am."
Now Greenwood looks forward to art class. "It's just fun to come and be with other people," she said. "If this place closes, I would be home with me and the puppy because my daughter works."
In the afternoon, a volunteer led the participants in spiritual songs. Some sang along. Others clapped. "Oh Lord!" one yelled out. Greenwood sat at her table, swaying gently.
I'll fly away, oh glory, I'll fly away. When I die, hallelujah, by and by, I'll fly away.
Prime minister predicts financial deal by G20 in June
"Support is building" for a deal to potentially tax the international financial services sector to the tune of tens of billions of pounds, the prime minister said in an interview in today's Financial Times.
Brown said he hoped a deal would be hammered out at the G20 summit in Canada in June, glossing over the possibility that he may not be in charge by then.
He insisted he was not attacking banks or their wealthy employees for ideological reasons, but to raise funds.
The prime minister said those with the "broadest shoulders" should pay more, and insisted that the tax would raise "a substantial amount of money". But he admitted that many high flyers would do their best to avoid paying, and so the amount raised would be "not as high as you would like it to be".
He defended the new 50p top rate of tax, saying the government did not want to introduce it, but that needs must. "We have no desire to have a tax rate that is higher than necessary," he said.
Quite how a global tax would work is unclear, but Brown said he thought the International Monetary Fund would propose a method that would be "somewhat different" from the tax on wholesale funding proposed by Barack Obama.
The US president disagreed with Brown earlier in the year after he proposed that the state should take a cut of bank transactions – a Tobin tax – but the IMF is thought to be considering alternatives, such as a tax on bank profits, turnover or remuneration.
Brown also said he wanted to build up Britain's universities. "There are 1,000 universities being built in India and we want to be part of this educational export. I think that education will be perhaps our biggest export in 20 years' time," he told the Financial Times.
In an unlikely success story here in Maine, ten family dairy farms that were dropped by an out-of-state processor have banded together to form, with the help of state agencies, their own organic milk company. Run like a co-op but legally a low-profit corporation, Maine's Own Organic Milk Co., aka MOO Milk, sells milk produced, processed and trucked by Maine family businesses, with 90% of profits going back to the farms. Very cool. See MOO here.
by Robert Reich, Tuesday, February 9, 2010
My health insurer here in California is Anthem Blue Cross. When I first opted for it, it was just called Blue Cross. Then, a year or so back, I was notified that an entity called “Anthem” would now be running my insurance policy. I didn’t think much about it at the time. I’ve had the usual problems most people have with their health insurers – confusing bills, co-payments and deductibles that never seem to add up, a bureaucracy that gives every impression of being more interested in fighting me than helping me — but nothing more.
Now, Anthem Blue Cross is going a step further. It’s raising rates for individual policyholders by as much as 39 percent. That’s fifteen times faster than inflation. So far, my group policy hasn’t been affected but I’m expecting the worst.
Anthem says it has no choice. It says the recession has forced many policyholders to drop coverage because they can’t afford it. So Anthem has to spread its costs over a much smaller pool, which ratchets up the cost of each. In addition, says Anthem, too many of those remaining policyholders have greater medical needs than the average. So Anthem is just doing what it has to do to survive.
This argument sounds logical until you look more closely. First, Anthem and its corporate parent, WellPoint, are enormously profitable. WellPoint’s profits rose to $2.7 billion last quarter. Even if you subtract one-time-only financial maneuvers, WellPoint is still fat and happy, which makes Anthem fat and happy. Everyone is fat and happy except Anthem’s policy holders, who are being skewered.
Anthem’s argument is even more questionable when you consider that Anthem has been among the most aggressive opponents of the health-care bills passed by the House and Senate. If Anthem were sincere about why it’s raising its rates, it would be embracing the legislation. The Senate and House bills would add tens of millions of Americans to insurance pools – thereby spreading the costs over more people and avoiding the very problem Anthem says is now forcing it to raise its rates so much.
Even more troubling is the fact that Anthem obviously believes it can raise its rates by as much as 39 percent without losing every one of its remaining customers with average or even somewhat above-average medical needs. The only way it could possibly raise its rates so high and expect to keep its customers would be if Anthem’s customers have no other choice. In other words, Anthem’s strategy makes sense only if Anthem faces little or no competition from other health insurers.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this were the case. Insurers, remember, are exempt from the federal antitrust laws. And WellPoint, Anthem’s parent, is the largest insurer in America.
Anthem is a microcosm of what ails our private for-profit health insurance system – the most expensive in the world, whose costs are rising faster than anywhere in the world; a system rapidly becoming unaffordable to more and more Americans, in which insurers are rapidly consolidating into behemoths that have almost no competitors. And a system in which the biggest health insurers are lobbying like mad against reform because they like things just the way they are. They can squeeze the public and the public has no alternative but to pay up.
All this makes Anthem one of he best arguments for reform — which is probably why the President mentioned Anthem today when he emerged from what was billed as a “bipartisan” meeting to talk about health care and jobs.
Obama says he’s open to any new ideas from Republicans for how to control health care costs and expand coverage. The problem is Republicans don’t want to play this game. They don’t care about controlling costs or expanding coverage. They care only about taking back the House and/or the Senate next November. And they believe a means toward attaining this goal is to prevent Obama from achieving a victory on health care. The sooner the President accepts that undeniable fact — and gets the House to pass the Senate’s bill, and then uses the reconciliation process (that requires only 51 votes in the Senate) to deal with any remaining irreconcilable differences between the House and Senate — the better.
In the meantime, next chance I get I’m switching to another insurer — if that makes any difference at all in what I pay or the service I get, which seems increasingly doubtful. I’m also joining any Tea Party of mad-as-hellers fed up with how Big Insurance, Big Pharma, Wall Street, and much of the rest of corporate America have taken over our democracy.
You'd think Obama would drop the bipartisanship crap especially after it has proven to be singularly ineffective judging by his first year in office which was almost wholly devoted to a bipartisan approach to health care. But after the Republicans used Obama's bipartisanship to water down, delay and eventually defeat the health care reform initiative, Obama seems more determined than ever to take the bipartisan road. The alternative would be to abandon his failed policy of bipartisanship and instead muster all the political power of which majorities in both Houses of Congress are capable and ram through his agenda. But no, Obama is still talking bipartisanship giving Republicans renewed opportunities to run a government that the Democrats seem incapable of running. Obama is still trying to placate and even appease Republicans.
Obama's latest thing is another "bipartisan" jobs bill which will consist almost entirely of what the Republicans want: tax cuts. Of course his first jobs bill was heavily laden with tax cuts. Obama seemingly has almost entirely capitulated to Republicans after being given an overwhelming mandate by the voters to govern as a Democrat. In this he is following in Bill Clinton's footsteps. Clinton famously "triangulated" with Republicans in order to get anything passed at all, but in Clinton's case Republicans controlled Congress. What's Obama's excuse? Obama is just too timid to actually take on the Republicans and get his agenda passed despite their overwhelming opposition. He's no FDR. FDR rammed his agenda through Congress and created millions of jobs within a few short weeks of being elected. He denounced the Republicans as "economic royalists." Obama instead bends over backwards to accomodate them, and they in turn bend over backwards to accomodate their paymasters - the corporations - Big Oil, Big Banks, Big Media, among others.
Obama's trying to change the tone in Washington to be more civil. He's afraid that if he really confronts the Republicans, they will go bananas and create an "uncivil" tone. But lawdy, lawdy, does he have to make civility the hallmark of his administration at the expense of passing his actual agenda? He can still remain civil even if the Republicans go apeshit. The problem is he's at the Republicans' affect. He won't do what he knows he should do because the Republicans will react negatively and he's letting that run him. But how much more uncivil could Republicans even get compared to how uncivil they've been to him already. It's better to fight and win than to sacrifice his whole agenda on the altar of civility.
Obama's Presidency is a huge disappointment, a capitulation, fast becoming a total charade. His single-minded pursuit of bipartisanship in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Republicans are not interested in reciprocating his overtures will turn the disaster of his first year in office into a continuing and worse disaster in his second year. The disaster will become almost complete when the 2010 elections give control of Congress back to the Republicans. What will Obama do then? All his initiatives so far have been failures even when the Democrats controlled both Houses. What's going to happen when the Republicans take over? So far the disasters have included banking reform, the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, student loan reform, health care reform, mortgage modification, global warming initiatives such as cap and trade, the Israel-Palestine peace initiative and on and on. He's got an army of lobbyists working on Congress and an opposition party in bed with the lobbyists. The Congressional Democrats aren't immune to lobbyists' implorations either.
The issue isn't whether Obama can give a good speech. The issue is whether or not the Democrats can use the political power that they still possess to pass their agenda into law. It's as simple as that. Actually, it isn't all Obama's fault. It's the fault of the Democrats in Congress as well. But Obama sets the tone for Congress. If Obama said he wanted Congress to ram his agenda through despite overwhelming Republican opposition, they could damn well do so. But that's not the tone Obama sets. Instead he sets the "bipartisanship" tone so what are the Congressional Democrats supposed to do? He gives them no encouragement to get tough. Instead, having fallen into the Republican trap big time, having been led down the garden path by Republicans, having been sold a bill of goods, he continues to buy into the failed policy of bipartisanship.
Among the tactics and techniques Republicans have used are to vote for a bill in committee after having tied it up for an extended period of time and then vote against it on the Senate floor making it obvious that their initial support was insincere. Some tribute to bipartisanship! Richard Shelby in the Senate has unilaterally put a "hold" on the seating of some 80 Obama appointees until he can get a piece of pork for his state of Alabama, but still nothing is done to deny him his right to pull this outrage. Republicans voted unanimously against Obama's jobs bill, and then went back to their home districts and had photo ops with their constituents holding up a big fake check as if to say, "See, I delivered for you, I brought home the bacon!" The Republicans will unanimously vote against every initiative which they don't completely dictate to Obama, and, if you think this is outrageous, you ain't seen nothing yet. Just wait till after the 2010 elections! Obama will then be in Clinton's position: if he wants to have anything to say about his accomplishments in office he had better pass the Republican agenda and then hope against hope that it's not as disastrous as some of Clinton's Republican lite "accomplishments."
Clinton was responsible for setting in motion the exodus of American manufacturing with his NAFTA and other initiatives that have resulted in globalization which means that US corporations have been encouraged and enabled to move plants, equipment and jobs to China where labor is cheapest. Clinton was also responsible for the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 which deregulated banking, repealed the New Deal era Glass-Steagall Act and led directly to the financial meltdown of September 2008. In short Clinton's "triangulation" strategy was a total disaster not only in terms of the Democratic agenda but in absolute terms. Now Obama is heading down the same road only worse. This time he is capitulating right out of the box. He will not triangulate; he will just totally give in to Republican demands. The Republicans have him on the run and they know it. They have already stated that their goal is to destroy Obama, to ruin him, and they are largely succeeding. Obama has already met his "Waterloo," as Republicans so pithily put it, with health care reform. Chalk up one big win for Republicans, one big loss for Obama and, by the way, the American people.
The amazing thing is that Obama still thinks he can get somewhere by being nicey- nice to Republicans. They will just make mincemeat out of him as they have largely done already. They will continue their tactics of delay and water down and then vote against. They will play make believe bipartisan just so they can draw Obama into a trap, make him waste time and political capital as they did successfully with health care, and then at the last minute completely oppose him. The lesson is that you can't be bipartisan if the other side doesn't at least meet you half way. You can't be bipartisan if your extended hand is greeted by a slap in the face. You have to ask the question: what is Obama thinking?
Obama may be starting to wise up to the game Republicans are playing, but the question is what is he going to do about it? Reconciliation bills and an attack on the filibuster rule are the only two things worth talking about at this juncture. All the rest is a sideshow and a waste of time.
by Frank Thomas, The Netherlands, February 10, 2010
(Data in $ Billions From CBO Reports)
I. Debt Balance: 1980 &2009
Debt Increase End of
Debt Increase: 1980-2009
Debt Increase: 1980-2009
II. Debt Increase: By President
Bush : 1989-92
Bush : 2001-08
Debt Increase: 1980-2008
$ 9,691= 83% Reagan/Bushes
Debt Balance: 2008
$10,600 =75% of
Obama: 2009 Deficit % (a) Policies Enacted by Bush (33%) $ 561 (b) Bush Policies Extended by Obama (20%) $ 340) (c) Recession Impact (37%) $ 629) = $1,139 due to Obama 11.0% (d) Obama’s New Policies (10%) $ 170) Debt Increase: 2009 $1,700 16.5% Debt Increase: 1980-2009 $11,391 9.4% Debt Balance: 2009 $12,300 = 84% of
Obama: 2009 Deficit %
(a) Policies Enacted by Bush (33%)
(b) Bush Policies Extended by Obama (20%)
(c) Recession Impact (37%)
$ 629) = $1,139 due to Obama
(d) Obama’s New Policies (10%)
Debt Increase: 2009
Debt Increase: 1980-2009
Debt Balance: 2009
$12,300 = 84% of
$8,625 = 76% Reagan/Bushes*
$1,627 = 14%
$1,139 = 10% Obama
$11,391 Debt Increase: 1980-2009
*= ($9,691 – Clinton $1,627 + Bush $561)
SOURCES: CBO Budget Reports/Studies, NY Times Study of 2009 Deficit
Conservative Republicans and media networks have turned up their fear-generating lie machine as they repeat the latest hypocritical theme of blaming Obama for the growing Deficit-National Debt development. The party that has been the perpetual "Father promoter" of the Debt ‘at-your-service’ economy – an economy so irresponsibly mishandled by Bush for eight years – suddenly has become the newborn "Mother" of fiscal prudence at a time when our nation is in a destructive, stagnant pit of joblessness.
As the above Facts show, the Reagan and Bush administrations caused 83% of the $9.7 trillion increase in the National Debt to $10.6 trillion at the end of 2008 – from $909 billion at the end of Carter´s term – dropping to 76% with the $1.7 increase in 2009, bringing the National Debt to $12.3 trillion.
And if one looks at the Facts of this $1.7 trillion increase, studies of our sharp reversals to annual Deficits from 2001 to 2009 indicate approximately 33% or ±$561 billion reflected legislation signed by Bush for tax cuts for household incomes below $250,000, Medicare prescription drug benefit, a costly entitlement plan, and jump in interest payments; 20% or ±$340 billion was caused by Obama’s support of Bush’s Iraq War, the Wall Street bailout, and tax cuts for households earning less than $250,000; 37% or ±$629 billion was caused by current recession (plus hangover from 2001 recession and Bush’s 2001/2003 tax cuts) which reduced tax revenues requiring more spending on safety net programs; 10% or ±$170 billion was caused by Obama’s stimulus bill signed in February 2009, his programs for education, health care, energy, etc. As is evident, Obama has hardly been the high priest of Deficits and Debt as preached by Tea Partiers and doctrinaire conservatives.
Tax revenue reductions not paid for in 2001 and 2003 by Bush and the current recession sharply reduced tax revenues to 15% of GDP in 2009, the lowest level in the past 40 years where the average was 18.3%!
All this has brought our National Debt to $12.3 trillion (including Intragovernmental Debt) at year-end 2009 or 84% of GDP compared to 33% at the end of Carter’s term, 54% at the end of Clinton’s term, and 75% of GDP at the end of Bush´s term. So Obama inherited a Bush ±$1.3 trillion Deficit flowing into 2009 and a $9.7 trillion increase in the National Debt from 1980 to year-end 2008 of which ±$8.6 trillion or 83% was the responsibility of previous Republican Administrations (including $5 trillion or 50% the responsibility of Bush Jr's floundering Administration).
Compare these Facts to the underhanded question posed to Obama by the novice Representative, Jeb Hensarling of Texas, at Obama´s recent face-to-face meeting with Congressional Republicans:
"You are soon to submit a new budget, Mr. President. Will that new budget, like your old budget (the lying begins), TRIPLE the National Debt (the lying stupidly escalates: Obama will raise National Debt in next budget from $10.6 trillion under Bush to $31.8 trillion!) and continue to take us down the path of increasing the cost of government to almost 25% of our economy?" (the lying softens a bit: Bush brought the annual budget cost of government from 19% of GDP to 22% vs. 24% under Obama to help save a crisis economy in 2009-2010 and beyond).
Obama answered Representative Hensarling's dimwitted distortions of financial facts very well. But it's really frightening to see how pervasive such a culture of repeated lies is destroying civil discussion and sound, creative approaches to deep problems threatening our democracy.
Annual Deficits could continue at an annual average of ±$650 billion or possibly (God forbid) even higher through 2013 as a result of reduced tax revenues, slow growth, the Afghanistan War, time it takes to regenerate sustainable new industries and related jobs, and the near-term added costs required to stimulate NOW the stagnant job situation of ±15 million unemployed and another ±10 million seriously underemployed. Obama should be held to his goal of putting in place sustainable development/job growth plans NOW that will reduce Deficit levels from exceptionally high ±10% of GDP in 2009 to 3% of GDP in years 2015-20. This means eliminating all wasteful spending and getting out-of-control Medicare-Medicaid and private health care costs down as well as reforming Social Security payments.
This also means adhering to CBO's recommended goal that any tax cuts be paid for by cuts in spending. For all CBO and other studies of Reagan-Bush tax cuts conclusively show that if government cuts taxes without cutting spending, you end up with seriously damaging Deficits. The so-called Laffer Curve of Reaganomics that a tax cut will so stimulate growth that govenment ends up taking in more revenue in the end has been long proven utterly false and, yes, laughable!
In fact, the ultimate long-term solution must be some combination of tax increases and Defense and other spending cuts through tough reforms of Medicare/Social Security, and discontinuation of the Bush tax cuts for the top 10% income segment. Tax cuts will only further reduce capacity of government to finance Social Security and Medicare benefits as well as desperately needed investments in schools, health care for all, infrastructure, and basic research … while accelerating after tax income inequalities … fomenting a "race to the bottom," a systemic, a socially dangerous polarization between America’s Haves and Have Nots where more and more people will be excluded from participating in what we call a middle-class life.
Michael Hudson, a former Wall Street economist, likened the spreading financial squeeze and economic polarization to what happened to the Roman Empire:
“As the Roman Empire polarized, the economy and its political wrapping were beyond saving. All that Christianity was able to do was to provide charity on an individual basis. It could only deal with the symptoms, not the root causes. When the point has been reached where you can deal only with people who have slipped through the cracks, the long-term game is lost.”
The problem is, as I’ve said in a prior writing, the economic system as such is broken and we seem incapable of coming together to fundamentally repair it.
I. In Robert Reich's Feb. 9th article, "Obamanomics One Year Out," he mentions a Debt-To-GDP ratio of 53% -- which he accurately says is
manageable and in effect not earth checking, and, in my opinion, manageable even at 75% if his GDP ratio definition is correct. My writing shows a National Debt-To-GDP ratio of 84% as of year-end 2009. What's the difference? Many other experts, politicians, and
media use my higher figure.
The difference is that Robert Reich's ratio EXCLUDES Intragovernmental Debt i.e. Debt comprising largely loans FROM the Social Security Trust Fund to our federal government over past decades to finance OTHER government budget expenditures, thereby reducing need for Foreign Borrowings to cover past federal budget Deficits. Economists like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich always exclude these Intragovernmental borrowed funds when citing Debt-To-GDP ratios. I've never been given nor have found a simple explanation of why the much lower (more comfortable and less publically disturbing) ratio of 53% is a more truthful or accurate picture of the level of our national indebtedness IN relation to GDP? I assume past government borrowings from Social Security together with interest must eventually be paid down in some way ... meaning by US taxpayers. So I stick to total National Debt figures including Intragovernmental Debt, as many others do, when computing the nation's Debt-To-GDP ratios.
II. Concerning the "Mad-as-Hell" rhetoric and Hysteria being orchestrated about our accelerating National Debt and Deficits -- remembering that in the last 30 years we've only had 3 years (in Clinton's Administration) when budget surpluses occurred for a few quarters as he got the Republicans to come to a devil's agreement to accept tax increases in exchange for eliminatiing legislation regulating and controlling banking/investment institution practices -- the public needs to be simply shown by independent institutions/experts like the CBO (Congressional Budget Office), Robert Reich, Paul Krugman, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Kenneth S. Rogoff, etc. what the 2009-2013 Debt-Deficit figures would likely be if NO Stimulus package and NO added Job Generation efforts were undertaken by the federal government -- faced with the nasty reality of banks refusing credit and loans to firms and individuals as result of irresponsible casino Over-Leveraging and promotion of Junk Financing during 2001-07. (Ed. note: Consider what the Debt-Deficit figures would be if Clinton hadn't raised taxes!)
Banking and investment institution actions are presently impoverishing the middle and lower classes and will be ruining the country for some time to come. Intelligent, objective and strictly focused government "pump-priming" for short-term (2009-2012) and long-term sustainable recovery is the ONLY answer to get back to a BALANCED re-industrialized Production-Consumption Economy vs. (an empire wealth grabbing) Financial-Property-Based Economy ... a BALANCE that controls budget surpluses in the form of SAVINGS and INVESTMENT for more enduring, stable growth and job generation. Our economic model is far out-of-balance with its +70% dependency on Consumption vs. ±60-62% in Europe, very low Savings (vs. ±10% in Europe) and huge current account Deficits (vs. modest Deficits in Europe). This economic paradigm, besides giving us budget Deficits almost every year, has led to an average GDP growth of about 2.8% a year the past 30 years or only slightly above Europe's 2.6% GDP growth rate. One of the many reasons for this is that it has been more profitable in the US to debt leverage rather than to invest in industrial capital.
One economist has said that the financial crisis and dysfunctional financialization of our economy is like a "boa constrictor wrapping itself around the economy and slowly strangling it to death as the wealth-holders keep on trading and accumulating, spreading gains globally, often tax-free while Main Street is stuck with paying for the bailouts. Debt-wracked firms cut back on new capital investment, research and development while outsourcing manufacturing and jobs, and constraining wages. Result? A growing majority of Americans end up struggling to get by with a 'race to the bottom' wage paradigm, having little job security, being health care underinsured or not insured, etc., while a small minority are getting richer and richer living in their own world of exotic private health care (like our US Senators and Congressmen), exclusive private education, and gated mansions that are hard often to keep track of."
What a Mess we are in!
The municipal funds bill was approved 65-0 (roll call - PDF), and is subject to a vote by New Mexico's Senate. Governor Bill Richardson told the bill's sponsor that he supports the legislation.
Credit Union Times, spoke to one banker who believes that the bill got a boost from Huffington Post's Move Your Money campaign:
The altered view of New Mexico lawmakers in favoring local control of state funds, officials said, follows national mention of the New Mexico effort in the "Move Your Money" campaign of New York pundit Arianna Huffington in her online Huffington Post columns.
"I think Huffington gave this bill a little traction," said Juan Fernandez, vice president of government affairs for the Credit Union Association of New Mexico
Move Your Money is a project started by Arianna and Rob Johnson that aims to spur financial reform at big banks by encouraging account holders to move their money to smaller credit unions and community banks. New Mexico currently keeps $1.4 billion in accounts at Bank of America.
New Mexico State Representatives Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe) and Timothy Keller (D-Bernalillo) sponsored the bill, HB 66. Rep. Eglof told the Huffington Post in January that the legislation would "direct the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration to 'give a preference to a community bank to act as the fiscal agent of the general fund operating cash depository account.'"
by Eric Margolis
U.S. President Barack Obama calls the $3.8-trillion US budget he just sent to Congress a major step in restoring America's economic health.
In fact, it's another potent fix given to a sick patient deeply addicted to the dangerous drug - debt.
More empires have fallen because of reckless finances than invasion. The latest example was the Soviet Union, which spent itself into ruin by buying tanks.
Washington's deficit (the difference between spending and income from taxes) will reach a vertiginous $1.6 trillion US this year. The huge sum will be borrowed, mostly from China and Japan, to which the U.S. already owes $1.5 trillion. Debt service will cost $250 billion.
To spend $1 trillion, one would have had to start spending $1 million daily soon after Rome was founded and continue for 2,738 years until today.
Obama's total military budget is nearly $1 trillion. This includes Pentagon spending of $880 billion. Add secret black programs (about $70 billion); military aid to foreign nations like Egypt, Israel and Pakistan; 225,000 military "contractors" (mercenaries and workers); and veterans' costs. Add $75 billion (nearly four times Canada's total defence budget) for 16 intelligence agencies with 200,000 employees.
The Afghanistan and Iraq wars ($1 trillion so far), will cost $200-250 billion more this year, including hidden and indirect expenses. Obama's Afghan "surge" of 30,000 new troops will cost an additional $33 billion - more than Germany's total defence budget.
No wonder U.S. defence stocks rose after Peace Laureate Obama's "austerity" budget.
Military and intelligence spending relentlessly increase as unemployment heads over 10% and the economy bleeds red ink. America has become the Sick Man of the Western Hemisphere, an economic cripple like the defunct Ottoman Empire.
The Pentagon now accounts for half of total world military spending. Add America's rich NATO allies and Japan, and the figure reaches 75%.
China and Russia combined spend only a paltry 10% of what the U.S. spends on defence.
There are 750 U.S. military bases in 50 nations and 255,000 service members stationed abroad, 116,000 in Europe, nearly 100,000 in Japan and South Korea.
Military spending gobbles up 19% of federal spending and at least 44% of tax revenues. During the Bush administration, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars - funded by borrowing - cost each American family more than $25,000.
Like Bush, Obama is paying for America's wars through supplemental authorizations - putting them on the nation's already maxed-out credit card. Future generations will be stuck with the bill.
This presidential and congressional jiggery-pokery is the height of public dishonesty.
America's wars ought to be paid for through taxes, not bookkeeping fraud.
If U.S. taxpayers actually had to pay for the Afghan and Iraq wars, these conflicts would end in short order.
America needs a fair, honest war tax.
The U.S. clearly has reached the point of imperial overreach. Military spending and debt-servicing are cannibalizing the U.S. economy, the real basis of its world power. Besides the late U.S.S.R., the U.S. also increasingly resembles the dying British Empire in 1945, crushed by immense debts incurred to wage the Second World War, unable to continue financing or defending the imperium, yet still imbued with imperial pretensions.
It is increasingly clear the president is not in control of America's runaway military juggernaut. Sixty years ago, the great President Dwight Eisenhower, whose portrait I keep by my desk, warned Americans to beware of the military-industrial complex. Six decades later, partisans of permanent war and world domination have joined Wall Street's money lenders to put America into thrall.
Increasing numbers of Americans are rightly outraged and fearful of runaway deficits. Most do not understand their political leaders are also spending their nation into ruin through unnecessary foreign wars and a vainglorious attempt to control much of the globe - what neocons call "full spectrum dominance."
If Obama really were serious about restoring America's economic health, he would demand military spending be slashed, quickly end the Iraq and Afghan wars and break up the nation's giant Frankenbanks.
Eric Margolis is a columnist for The Toronto Sun. A veteran of many conflicts in the Middle East, Margolis recently was featured in a special appearance on Britain’s Sky News TV as “the man who got it right” in his predictions about the dangerous risks and entanglements the US would face in Iraq. His latest book is American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World
by Paul Krugman
We’ve always known that America’s reign as the world’s greatest nation would eventually end. But most of us imagined that our downfall, when it came, would be something grand and tragic.
What we’re getting instead is less a tragedy than a deadly farce. Instead of fraying under the strain of imperial overstretch, we’re paralyzed by procedure. Instead of re-enacting the decline and fall of Rome, we’re re-enacting the dissolution of 18th-century Poland.
A brief history lesson: In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Polish legislature, the Sejm, operated on the unanimity principle: any member could nullify legislation by shouting “I do not allow!” This made the nation largely ungovernable, and neighboring regimes began hacking off pieces of its territory. By 1795 Poland had disappeared, not to re-emerge for more than a century.
Today, the U.S. Senate seems determined to make the Sejm look good by comparison.
Last week, after nine months, the Senate finally approved Martha Johnson to head the General Services Administration, which runs government buildings and purchases supplies. It’s an essentially nonpolitical position, and nobody questioned Ms. Johnson’s qualifications: she was approved by a vote of 94 to 2. But Senator Christopher Bond, Republican of Missouri, had put a “hold” on her appointment to pressure the government into approving a building project in Kansas City.
This dubious achievement may have inspired Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama. In any case, Mr. Shelby has now placed a hold on all outstanding Obama administration nominations — about 70 high-level government positions — until his state gets a tanker contract and a counterterrorism center.
What gives individual senators this kind of power? Much of the Senate’s business relies on unanimous consent: it’s difficult to get anything done unless everyone agrees on procedure. And a tradition has grown up under which senators, in return for not gumming up everything, get the right to block nominees they don’t like.
In the past, holds were used sparingly. That’s because, as a Congressional Research Service report on the practice says, the Senate used to be ruled by “traditions of comity, courtesy, reciprocity, and accommodation.” But that was then. Rules that used to be workable have become crippling now that one of the nation’s major political parties has descended into nihilism, seeing no harm — in fact, political dividends — in making the nation ungovernable.
How bad is it? It’s so bad that I miss Newt Gingrich.
Readers may recall that in 1995 Mr. Gingrich, then speaker of the House, cut off the federal government’s funding and forced a temporary government shutdown. It was ugly and extreme, but at least Mr. Gingrich had specific demands: he wanted Bill Clinton to agree to sharp cuts in Medicare.
Today, by contrast, the Republican leaders refuse to offer any specific proposals. They inveigh against the deficit — and last month their senators voted in lockstep against any increase in the federal debt limit, a move that would have precipitated another government shutdown if Democrats hadn’t had 60 votes. But they also denounce anything that might actually reduce the deficit, including, ironically, any effort to spend Medicare funds more wisely.
And with the national G.O.P. having abdicated any responsibility for making things work, it’s only natural that individual senators should feel free to take the nation hostage until they get their pet projects funded.
The truth is that given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.
Don’t hold your breath. As it is, Democrats don’t even seem able to score political points by highlighting their opponents’ obstructionism.
It should be a simple message (and it should have been the central message in Massachusetts): a vote for a Republican, no matter what you think of him as a person, is a vote for paralysis. But by now, we know how the Obama administration deals with those who would destroy it: it goes straight for the capillaries. Sure enough, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, accused Mr. Shelby of “silliness.” Yep, that will really resonate with voters.
After the dissolution of Poland, a Polish officer serving under Napoleon penned a song that eventually — after the country’s post-World War I resurrection — became the country’s national anthem. It begins, “Poland is not yet lost.”
Well, America is not yet lost. But the Senate is working on it.
Paul Krugman is professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University and a regular columnist for The New York Times. Krugman was the 2008 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics. He is the author of numerous books, including The Conscience of A Liberal, and his most recent, The Return of Depression Economics.
by Matt Ford
The price of power has always been a political issue -- but now campaigners argue it could be the key to starting a green energy revolution.On February 1, the British Government announced details of the rates that will be paid for renewable power generated by homeowners and communities.
Called the Clean Energy Cashback, or feed-in tariff (FIT), the aim is to provide an above-market bonus that will encourage individuals and groups to invest in solar panels, wind turbines and other forms of green power.
It's the first national scheme of its kind in the UK, although FIT plans have been operating in other EU countries and at regional levels in the U.S.
Paul King, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council told CNN that the announcement will help make small scale renewables a more attractive and viable option, for householders, communities and businesses. King also believes that it will also support an emerging green industry and generate high quality jobs.
But others are less enthusiastic about the UK's plan, and believe the Department of Energy and Climate Change's ambition that two percent of electricity generated from small scale renewables by 2020 doesn't go far enough.
"Research shows that a successful incentive mechanism set at the right level, like the FIT scheme, could deliver up to six percent of the UK domestic electricity demand," Jemma Robinson, Renewable Energy Association, told CNN.
When Germany introduced a similar FIT scheme 10 years ago -- but with targets of ten percent -- it started a green energy revolution in the country, turning it into a European leader in renewables.
There has been considerable public interest to the scheme in the UK.
A YouGov survey published at the end of January for the Renewable Energy Association, Friends of the Earth and the Co-Operative Group, revealed that 71 percent of UK homeowners said they would consider installing green energy systems if they were paid enough cash.
If widely adopted micro-power generation could transform the shape of our homes and how housing is built.
"It could mean in future that not just new-build homes but existing homes too will include at least some small-scale renewable energy generation," Steve Turner, Home Builders Federation, told CNN.
"At present the technologies most likely to be used appear to be solar thermal panels and photovoltaic panels which can be accommodated on or integrated in roofs [but] we can look forward in the future to community scale electricity and heat generation from renewable technologies."
However the key is finding the right technology for the right area.
"Householders need the best possible advice on what works for their home -- one solution will not 'fit all'," John Alker, Head of Advocacy at the Green Building Council told CNN.
"That is also important in order for technologies to remain credible. For example, in the past micro wind turbines have been used in built up areas and credibility has suffered as a result.
"But without a sufficient financial incentive, homeowners and house builders will be reluctant to invest, and there will be little progress."
At stake in the future of micro-power generation are not just carbon emissions -- campaigners also argue that localized green energy will have other benefits.
"Renewables are decentralized by nature, largely benign and can work effectively at small as well as large scale. Small scale power technologies are about the economics of mass manufacturing and deployment - rather than economies of scale," Leonie Greene of the Renewable Energy Association told CNN.
"That also means a change in ownership patterns. Potentially everyone can become an investor. These smaller technologies are also important globally -- the implications for the global south, which often lacks grid infrastructure, are extremely positive."
Oliver Harwood, Chief Surveyor of the UK's Country Land and Business Association Limited believes that micro-power generation will make people much more aware of their energy use.
"The growth of smaller scale energy influences neighbors and the wider community: it has a knock on effect which multiples. It can address fuel poverty, and insulate against rising fossil fuel prices into the future," he told CNN.
Yet Harwood remains skeptical that the UK has the right approach to renewable energy in general.
"One can argue that the UK approach to renewables has to date been an abject failure," he said.
"[Incentives so far have] supported only the cheapest very large scale projects that have been imposed on unwilling communities, causing significant resistance, and overall leading to a much lower rate of delivery than in other EU countries.
"The UK is 26th out of 27 EU member states in renewable electricity generation, only Malta does worse.
"In contrast the 20 or so EU members who have used Feed in Tariffs to drive power from the people have ended up with far more renewables (Germany at more than 13 percent compared to UK's 5.8 percent) with far less public concern. We note communities in other countries do not protest against their own wind turbines."
It seems at best unclear whether the announcement of Britain's FIT scheme will enable the country to join its European neighbors and take a great leap forward in green energy.
Globalization is killing Europe, just as it's already wiped out much of the American middle class.
Spain and Greece are facing immediate crises that many other European nations see on the near horizon: aging boomer workers are retiring with healthy benefit packages, but the younger workers who are paying for those benefits aren't making anything close to the income (or, therefore, paying the taxes) that their parents did.
Globalists/corporatists/conservative "free market" and "flat earth" advocates say this is a great opportunity to cut benefits for the old folks (and for the young folks in the future), thus bringing the countries budgets back into balance, and this story is the main corporate media storyline.
But it overlooks the real issue (and the real solution): how globalization is killing these nations' economies and what can be done about it.
From the days of Adam Smith, classical economics pointed out that manufacturing and extraction are the only two ways to "create wealth."
"Wealth" is different from "income." Wealth is value, which endures at least for some time. Income is simply compensation for work. If you wash my car for $10 and I mow your lawn for $10, we have a GDP of $20 and it looks like we both have income and economic activity. But no wealth has been created, just income.
On the other hand, if I build your car, I'm creating something of value. And if you turn my lawn into a small farm that produces food we can all eat, you're creating something of value. Not only do we have an "economy" with a "GDP," we also have created wealth.
A stick on the ground has no commercial value, but if you add labor to it by carving it into an axe handle -- a thing of commercial value -- you have "created wealth." Similarly, metals in the ground have no commercial value, but when you add labor to them by extracting, refining, and forming them into products, you "create wealth." Even turning seeds and dirt and cows into hamburgers is a form of manufacturing and creates wealth.
This is the "Wealth of Nations" that titled Adam Smith's famous 1776 book.
On the other hand, when a trader at Goldman Sachs makes a "profit" trading stocks, bonds, or currencies, no wealth whatsoever is created. In fact, to the extent that that trader takes millions in commissions, pay, and bonuses, he's actually depleting the wealth of the nation (particularly to the extent that he moves his money offshore to save or invest, as many do).
To use the United States as an example, in the late 1940s and early 1950s manufacturing accounted for a high of 28 percent of our total gross domestic product (and much of the rest of the economy like agriculture that, in a classical sense is "manufacturing" wasn't even included in those numbers), and when Reagan came into office it was at a strong 20 percent. Today it's about ten percent of our GDP.
What this means is that we're creating less wealth here, because we're not making much anymore. (And the biggest growth in American manufacturing has been in the military sector, where goods are made that are then destroyed when they explode over foreign cities, causing even more of our wealth to vanish.)
The main effect of the globalism fad of the past 30 yearrs -- lowering the protective barriers to trade that countries for centuries have used to make sure their own local economies are self-sufficient -- has been to ship manufacturing (the creation of wealth) from developed nations to developing nations. Transnational corporations love this, because in countries with lower labor costs and few environmental and safety regulations, it's more profitable to manufacture products. They then sell those products in the "mature" countries -- the places that used to manufacture -- and people burn through the wealth they'd accumulated in the earlier manufacturing days (home equity, principally, along with savings and lines of credit) to buy these foreign-manufactured goods.
At first, it looks like a good deal to consumers in developed nations. Goods are cheaper! But over a decade or two or three, as the creation of real wealth is reduced and the residue of the old wealth is spent, the developed nations become progressively poorer and poorer. At the same time, the "developing" nations become wealthier -- because those are the places that are producing real wealth.
Which brings us to Spain and Greece -- and the problem of all developed nations including the USA. So long as globalism continues apace, the transnational corporations and their CEOs will continue to become fabulously wealthy. But, more importantly, they also acquire the political power that comes with that control of economies.
So they tell us that instead of putting back into place tariffs, domestic content laws, and other "protectionist" policies that built America from the time the were first proposed by Alexander Hamilton in 1791 (and largely adopted by Congress in 1793) until they were dismantled by Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush, we should instead simple "accept the reality" that we're "living beyond our means" and we have to "cut back our wages and social programs."
In other words, they get richer, our nations become poorer, and national sovereignty is reduced.
Nations -- and in large countries like the USA, even states -- must again rebuild their manufacturing base and become locally self-sufficient, so their own consumers are buying products manufactured by their own workers.
"But won't that make Wal-Mart's stuff more expensive?" whine the flat-earthers.
Yes, it will. But most Americans (and Greeks and Spaniards) would gladly pay 10 percent more for the goods in their stores if their paychecks were 20 percent higher. And manufacturing paychecks have always been higher, because manufacturing is where "true wealth" is generated (thus the basis for most union movements, which further guarantee healthy worker income and benefits).
The transnational corporations benefiting from globalization are also, in most cases, the transnational corporations that own our media, so even the word globalization is rarely heard in reports on economic crises around the world.
But globalization is the villain here, and one that needs to be taken in hand and brought under control quickly if we don't want to see virtually the nations of the world end up subservient to corporate control, a new form of an ancient economic system known as feudalism.
Thom Hartmann (thom at thomhartmann.com) is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program The Thom Hartmann Show. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People: A Call To Take Back America," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It," and "Cracking The Code: The Art and Science of Political Persuasion." His newest book is Threshold: The Crisis of Western Culture.
From Salon: Monday, Feb 8, 2010 20:20 ESTBomb Iran and privatize Social Security. Really? That's all you've got?
On "Fox News Sunday," where the former Republican vice-presidential candidate is now a paid commentator, Palin suggested that Obama might be likely to win reelection if he "played the war card."
The AP reports:
Palin says that declaring war on Iran or showing stronger support for Israel might convince voters that Obama is tougher than they think on national security and doing all he can to protect the U.S. Otherwise, according to Palin, Obama won't be re-elected if he continues on his current path.
As if the Obama administration were not escalating the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, who aided and abetted the al-Qaida attacks on the U.S., while continuing the war in Iraq, which had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11.
As if invading two countries that did not attack the U.S., Iran and Iraq, would be more statesmanlike than merely invading and occupying one.
As if the public, sickened by the cost of the Iraq war in American dead and maimed and trillions of dollars in the long run, had not turned against wingnut militarism and tossed Palin's party out of Congress back in 2006.
As if singing "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann" helped Palin's running mate John McCain win the White House in 2008.
As if swing voters were concerned, not about the highest levels of unemployment since the Great Depression, but about what they considered to be too few American military deaths abroad.
But the contemporary right's claim to intellectual dynamism is not limited to Sarah Palin's suggestion that another unnecessary, unprovoked war in the Middle East might be good policy as well as a a good idea. In domestic policy, Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, recently unveiled an alternative budget that would deal with the long-term deficit problem (about half of which was caused by Bush's and the Republican Congress's wars and tax cuts) by privatizing Social Security and turning Medicare into a voucher system.
As Michael Myers' Doctor Evil might say: .......R....r......r.....right.
That's what Americans are demanding, Rep. Ryan. Millions of Americans are not content to have lost much or all of their 401K and other private retirement savings in the stock market in the last decade, with nothing but Social Security remaining to rescue them in their retirement years. No, Americans are angry because they weren't allowed to lose all of their Social Security money, as well, in the stock market. Clearly they are angry because Wall Street brokers aren't able to rake in commissions from middle-class and working-class retirees by flipping stocks bought with diverted Social Security funds. The bailouts to Wall Street were not enough. We need to give the rent-seeking bankers the vast funds of Social Security as well and let them charge us fees for "managing" it with the legendary expertise we all know and admire.
Bomb Iran and privatize Social Security now! There's a chant for the tea partiers.
These ideas are not going to bring the Republican Party back to power in Congress in 2011 or into the White House in 2013. Which is not to say that the Republicans can't come back to power. In a two-party system, frustrated voters could vote the out party back in, while ignoring the out party's message, even if the message is as crazy as "Bomb Iran and privatize Social Security."
If they came back in, would the Republicans bomb Iran and privatize Social Security? Almost certainly not. Bush talked tough about Iran but didn't do anything. (Correction: He accidentally promoted a major goal of Iranian foreign policy, by deposing the minority Iraqi Sunnis detested by Iran and bringing the Iran-supported Shia to power in Iraq. Oops).
Nor are the Republicans likely to privatize Social Security. A few years back, the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the White House and a freshly reelected Republican president made partial Social Security privatization a major part of his second-term agenda. Result? The very idea of channeling Social Security savings into the stock market was so unpopular with Republican voters -- forget Democrats -- that the central domestic policy initiative of the conservative movement for the last 30 years was not even brought to a vote in either house.
So there is little or no chance that even under a Republican president the U.S. will declare war on Iran or privatize Social Security. These are not serious policy proposals. They are just lollipops for the Limbaugh listeners. Boob bait for Bubba.
The Republicans have specialized for a generation now in running as radical right-wing revolutionaries and then, once in power, governing on behalf of their K Street lobbyist friends, until the next election, when, for a few weeks, they are leading the American Revolution or World War II all over again until Election Day.
Eric Hoffer observed that movements tend to turn first into businesses and then into rackets. The racket side of the Republican machine is illustrated by a New York Times story about Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Cornyn visits New York twice a month to take advantage of Wall Street's "buyers' remorse."
Buyer's remorse is what the voters should feel when they vote for a party that promises a bold reform agenda and then acts between elections as though it were a lobby for the financial industry. But wait -- which party are we talking about here?
Michael Lind is policy director of the Economic Growth Program at the New America Foundation.
John Coltrane: One Down, One Up
Monk and Coltrane: Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall
Best album of 2005 (*****)
Doug Ramsey: Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond
This is a great book! Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck formed the heart of one of the best all time jazz groups. Paul was the quintessential intellectual, white jazz musician. A talented writer, he never published anything. However author, Doug Ramsey has collected Paul's letters here. How ironic that now his writing in the form of letters to his father and ex-wife, among others, is finally published showing another window on the mind of this talented person. A sideman, for the most part, his entire life, the Dave Brubeck Quartet might never have happened at all due to the fact that Paul had managed to offend Dave to the point where he never wanted to see him again. It had to do with a gig that Paul actually was the leader of. Paul wanted to take the summer off to play another gig, and Dave wanted Paul to let him take over the gig at the Band Box in Palo Alto, CA. Paul wouldn't let him and Dave, married with two children, proceeded to starve. Due to an elaborate publicity campaign, when he realized the error of his ways, Paul managed to worm himself back into Dave's good graces. The rest is history. This book is remarkable for the insight it gives into a working jazz musician's mind, wonderful pictures and interviews with the significant figures in Paul's life. Author Ramsey, not a remarkable penman himself, has nevertheless done a magnificent job of assembling all these various materials. Unlike a lot of jazz authors, he doesn't overly idolize his subject with the result that you get the feeling that you have met a real person and not a idealized version. That's high praise indeed for any biographer. (*****)