Saturday, January 29, 2011

Boehner's Jobs Avoiding House

You might be wondering why HR 3 has nothing to do with creating jobs.  I would have been confused about this just a short while ago.  But in a horror-movie kind of way, the more I see it, the more inevitable the right-wing strategy becomes.

Just as the republic party screamed about reducing the deficit, except when they were screaming about cutting taxes for the wealthy, and about abolishing the estate tax so that people who did not earn the wealth of the wealthiest .05 percent get to keep every penny.  Just as those right-wing critics who attacked Obama for the Wall Street bailout fight him with every breath over every proposed reform of Wall Street.  Just as Boehner and McConnell and friends insist on stretching the poor and middle classes ever further beyond the ablity to live, much less live well, while insisting on huge corporate entitlements for oil, pharmaceutical, insurance, banking industries.

And before their less well-healed constituents can say, "Wait just a minute, what about the deficit?", in comes the vote to repeal Obamacare, in which the republic powers that be just plain old refuse to believe the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office's finding that it would save rather than waste government money.  Because the health care "debate" in the summer of 2009 brought so much fear and confusion to the issue, it will continue to be a popular song in the republic playlist.

Which has to be followed by an anti-abortion bill.  Again, no fan of the facts, it creates the falsehood that abortion is a scourge of the country, made common by government funding (which in fact does not exist).  Not relevant of course, that abortion has been on the decline, affecting less than 20 out of 1,000 women.  We need to keep beating this dead horse, because it fuels the fears and anger of the right-wing contituency.  Without ever addressing the fact that inadequate income, housing, health and education are the primary factors in unwanted pregnancies, not the availability of abortion services.

So why this strategy?  First of all, fanning the flames on social issues, in other words, that the sins of the poor are what are bringing down the country, always take attention away from the sins of the wealthy.  And, most important, it is the wealthy that pay for protection from Congress.

As long as we have a Supreme Court that gives corporations the rights of individuals without the responsibility, as long as lobbyists are payed grand salaries to deliver grand promises to our congress, until we elect an honest politician to fight for campaign finance reform AFTER the election, we will continue to see the party of wealth and power attack the freedom and wellbeing of the poor and powerless.  It is an easy fight to manipulate, and it seems to win every time.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The More Things Change

I was disheartened by the time I finished reading The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank.  It is an amazing history of the political right-wing, going way back, but especially since the Reagan years.  Apparently, the crazy, incoherent philosophies of people like John Boehner have all been choreographed by movement ideologues for decades.  It is no accident that the goal of the last Congress was to say no, and halt the movement of the Congress.  And it worked.

A party united is what the corporations that own our politicians paid for, and Frank documents the intricate relationship that has developed among corporations, lobbyists and members of Congress.  The Gingrich House exists today, Boehner's contract on America an echo of that penned by Gingrich.

If it seems strange that the Boehner promises, from transparency to jobs, have fallen by the wayside, and after the symbolic death of Obama's Affordable Health Care Act our House is now tackling issues like abortion, that is also a part of the plan.  While their social base is getting fired up about issues like abortion and gun rights, the fact that jobs are not being created is left for the upcoming election, when Obama and the Democrats will be blamed for the failure.

We all laughed when, after the 2008 landslide, the republicans, as united as ever, insisted that it was their agenda demanded by the American people.  But it worked.  Tossing out the words "socialist" and "nazi" can still get you mileage when the voters are too scared and exhausted to know better.

After I finished reading The Wrecking Crew, I decided to go back to Molly Ivins' collected essays on the Clinton years, You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You.

What I most remember from my first reading of this collection at the end of the 90's, is that it wasn't funny.  Molly Ivins, who made us laugh with the riotous stories of the Texas lege, wasn't laughing.  That Bill Clinton caved and compromised on so many issues critical to the welfare of the American people, I believe it broke her heart.

Making deals to benefit the corporations while cutting benefits to the poorest and youngest Americans.  Paving the way for those corporations to take jobs and dollars overseas, while slashing salaries and benefits for their workers back home.  Downsizing.  Increased productivity.  Record salaries for CEO's.  Record profits for Wall Street.

I supposed it's fitting reading for January, when our President has just allowed cuts to the payroll tax that funds Social Security and Medicare while continuing the huge tax cuts for the top one percent of American earners.  Talking about extending social security retirement age being on the table, while the very wealthy (top 1/2 of one percent) maintain the right to pass millions of dollars, untaxed, to their heirs.

What would Molly say if she were still with us?  Maybe she would just shake her head and again say, "You got to dance with them what brung you."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Cold-Blooded Debate

When I saw my PCCC ad against extending the social security retirement age on YouTube, I was dismayed at the first crazy mean-spirited comments.  Basically, a couple of idiots contended that I should stop whining and get a job, and that I was just lazy.  Amazing that they could even write, given their listening skills.

I knew, from my son's comments regarding a recent Rachel Maddow YouTube video, that there is a vast membership of idiots in YouTube; apparently the anonymity allows them to do the internet equivalent of crank phone calls.  What a riot, showing the world how stupid we are, they must think.  Let's publish really ugly things about people and then laugh like crazy.

I recalled that Maddow has a wonderful healthy attitude about all this, making wisecracks on her show, once saying something like she felt flattered that the insult involved her actual political philosophy and didn't involve calling her a man.

But then there was the Keith Olbermann interview with Jonathan Alter on Countdown.

It was amazing that I was there, not just on national television, but on Countdown, in the middle of an analysis of the battle to make changes to social security.  I have great respect for Alter, and in fact his comments regarding what Obama might say Tuesday night and why were thoughtful and made a great deal of sense, although I hate the politics that are controlling this discourse.

I was stunned, though, when he made it personal.  "That woman in the ad...she made it sound as if Lindsey Graham wanted to take away her social security."

Well, no I didn't.  I actually said, "...people like me just won't make it."

And in fact, whether it be next year (which the republicans dare not even propose) or in forty years (which they will), people like me will still exist, and will be in great pain when they retire, whether it be at age 62 (when when they wouldn't even be eligible to collect full benefits) or age 70.

Alter failed to hear the real argument, because he works up in the stratosphere where health care is plentiful and affordable, and you take taxis if you don't feel like walking, and when your job makes you tired, there is no one there making sure you punch in and out and take no more than your allotted 15 minute break.

One of the snarky comments either on YouTube or one of the online articles about the ad was that I should quit and go on disability (which, according to other snarky comments, would make me one of those people sucking the government tit, regardless of the tax dollars I put in to the disability fund).

As ugly as the comments of the anonymous internet cranksters are, I am far more offended by the personal tone to Alter's criticisms.

Because, you see, I know that Lindsey Graham is not going to take away my social security.  What he will do, however, is make my children pay by working longer for less.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Big, Bad Government

Because it's big, our federal government has always been an easy target.  When the price of fuel goes up, when there is a coal mine disaster, when children are inadequately educated, it is the federal government that, somehow or other, ends up shouldering the blame.

President Obama is an easy victim here, because he has accepted that he is responsible for the welfare of the country.  Entirely.  Gulf spill?  Unemployment?  Global climate change?  If the man isn't fixing it, he needs to be drummed out of office.

What he needs to do is to start holding the people responsible for the state of the country.  Including the voters, but especially corporations.  (The media is also responsible, but I'd be willing to let Jon Stewart handle that.)

We may be spending an insane amount on the wars that George W. Bush screwed up, but a big part of those dizzying numbers is the graft of the corporations that supply everything from arms to food to mercenary guards and soldiers.

The cost of health care of course is primarily insurance industry profits, but there are also pharmaceutical companies and durable equipment (wheelchairs for example) manufacturers plundering government coffers.

And we can't stop it because these big industries pay far more to lobbyists to bargain (buy off) legislators, to prevent our government from pursuing the most efficient, cost-effective plan.

Indeed, regulation is constantly under attack by corporate lobbying, and has been since Reagan began to strip regulatory agencies in the name of good business in the eighties.  And now we have Susan Dudley, among other conservative defenders of "small government", i.e. unregulated industry, complaining about the cost of regulation.  Dudley was W's controversial appointment to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs; she infamously opposed the EPA's 2008 analysis of ways to control greenhouse gasses.

Susan Dudley is one member of the huge conservative army determined to take the federal government apart, one bill or regulation at a time.  Tax cuts followed by demands to reduced the deficit, underfunded education followed by thunderous accusations that public education does not work, and the anticipated upcoming effort to defund Obama's health care law are just a few of the many many ways the right wing will continue to provide "proof" to voters that government is bad.  It has to be -- it's the way they want it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

That Fact-Killing Health Care Bill

I don't like the Affordable Care Act.  It is yet another boondoggle for the health insurance industry, a compromise wherein the big powerful group gets a whole lot bigger and more powerful, and the rest of us get, well, a little more health care.

Yet we needed that little bit more health care so desperately that we allowed the big guys to bully us into accepting it as better than nothing.

And, according to the Congressional Budget Office, ObamaCare will actually serve to decrease the deficit.  It makes sense, if the insurance companies are being forced, kicking and screaming, to provide health care to those who would turn to the government because they had no health care.  And then there are those who are only remaining employed because they need the health coverage, who would retire and open up jobs for people currently unemployed and for whom the government must give assistance, meager though it is.

So when a pollster asks if I'm happy with ObamaCare, or, as Rasmussen calls it when they poll, "the health care bill", I can either say yes, which isn't true, or I can say no, which is also not true.  What I do know, is that the republic party wants to repeal the whole thing.  And I am fairly sure, based on past behavior of the same old gang of republicans that is running things now, if that were to happen, there would be no health care reform.

No more ability to insure with pre-existing conditions.  No more allowing children up to age 26 to be included in a family's health care plan.  No more incentives for small business owners to insure their employees.

People stuck in jobs because to move or retire could mean loss of insurance benefits.

Now let's assume that the repeal of ObamaCare is defeated.  Could this mean less profit for insurance companies?

I think not.

Because with all the hot air over Congress regarding health care, the health insurance industry will be well protected.  Unlike the rest of us, they will have lawyers and members of congress, republican and democrat, figuring out ways to minimize the harmful effects that the devastating loss of profit will have on the industry.  After all, it was nearly a year ago that we learned that the health insurance industry earned record profits (56%) in 2009 over 2008, and no one expects that profits will have dwindled in 2010.  Health care bill or not, it is fairly certain that the primary purpose of the health care industry is going to remain increasing its profits.

No matter what else you may think about our Congress, it is safe to say that they are in business to protect the corporate sector.  All the rhetoric you are hearing about the "job-killing", "job-destroying", "job-mangling", "job-insert-scary-adjective here" bill, the bottom line is that the jobs that are being protected are those of wealthy insurance CEO's -- oh, and of our members of Congress.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Easy for You to Say

Senator Tom Coburn, on yesterday's Meet the Press, stated that there is no need for stronger gun restrictions.  He does not believe that the gun law is the problem.

Coburn believes -- are you ready for this? -- that the problem is in the mental health system.

Jared Lee Loughner was obviously unstable.  We all agree on that point.  He had crossed paths with authorities several times, from college administrator to military screener, and they all knew without a doubt that he was mentally ill.  How could someone this blatantly troubled fall through the cracks?

Coburn believes that the mental health system is the problem.  Loughner fell through the cracks "rather than somebody intervening and helping this individual."

You know, I wholeheartedly applaud Senator Coburn for this assertion.  That is why I will be totally behind him when he introduces legislation to mandate mental health funding for every American.  Because Loughner's mental health problems were a very long time in the making.

As a doctor, of exactly what I don't know, Senator Coburn surely is aware that families and individuals cannot simply be mandated to receive treatment.  Troubled families and individuals may actually want help and not have the financial means to obtain it, much less the know-how to find an appropriate mental health professional.  And then there is the treatment.  Senator Coburn surely knows that for someone with paranoid ideation treatment is not quick or cheap.

It troubles me to have to rain on Doctor Senator Coburn's parade like this, but in the real world, it is people like Doctor Senator Coburn who are preventing people from reaching out to troubled individuals like Jared Loughner, because, frankly, they don't think they should have to pay for the treatment.

Now all we really need is for some sharp interviewer to ask Doctor Senator Coburn where the next Loughner should send the bill.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Still Held Hostage

Pardon me for being a cynic, but when all the hot air was rising above Washington in December it was hard for me to get excited.  I had absolutely no delusions that the tax cuts for all Americans included me.  You see, since I reduced my hours to part-time, I earn half of the already shameful $23,000 that I was making as an employee of Charleston County.  I may be middle class in many ways, but I was not one of the people Obama or Congress were fighting over.  So I thought, big deal, they're going to kill Social Security, and I'll get maybe a dollar or two.  So hold me hostage.  Big deal.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I looked at my first payroll statement for 2011, and found that there was an actual net decrease of $10 for the two-week period.  Hopefully, that amount doesn't mean a lot to you, but believe me, it brought a lump to my throat.

Preliminary investigation in the form of an "I hope this is a mistake" email to the staff accountant revealed that it was indeed not an error.  We will all be paying more federal taxes, to the tune of $400 per person, as a result of Congress failing to renew the Make Work Pay tax credit.

That's right, while we are raiding our children's social security fund, we are nonetheless doing our part to pay down the damned deficit.

David Dayen in a December FireDogLake article provides a chart drawn up by Nancy Altman of Social Security Works which shows dramatically just how bad a hand the working poor have been dealt by this tax cut trade-off.

The irony is, for most people in the low to minimum wage earner category, the details  become obfuscated by other changes, for example, insurance deduction amounts, which of course usually increase.  Also, with direct deposit and online payroll statements, it becomes less likely that the average worker will compare the last statement of 2010 with the first statement of 2011, line by line.  Which is what I did.

My FICA did indeed drop from $34.61 to $25.56.  But my federal taxes withheld increased from $.65 (remember I earn under $12,000 per year) to a whopping $19.99, which resulted in a drop in my bi-weekly net pay from $377.73 to $367.44.

It may seem crass to describe my salary in such detail, but I believe that this is a change that we Americans need to make in order to wake up from the somnolence of the march of the financial numbers that affect us dramatically.  Friday I did something I have never done with my co-workers:  I discussed in numbers what we gained and lost in our pay.

In my lifetime it has become perfectly acceptable to talk about sex, but not salary.  (Prior to that, it was not permissable to discuss either.)  Which has allowed all kinds of financial discrimination to flourish in the workplace.  Which prevented the Obama administration from getting credit for cutting taxes for the middle class in 2009, but allows government in 2011 to take away from the middle class and especially the working poor and give to the wealthy, all the while plundering social security.

I don't believe I was alone in resenting President Obama's conceding to this plan by comparing it to a hostage situation.  I would have gladly continued to pay in to Social Security so that he could stand firm on not renewing the tax cuts for the wealthy.  What we have lost from this concession is inconceivable; the depletion of Social Security and Medicare, a long-sought-after goal of conservatives and big business, is just the beginning.  My $215 annual loss in salary hurt, but what hurts more is knowing that this is just the first concession.

Talk about your hostage situation.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Health Care or Prisons

As we look back on the shooting in Arizona, one of the questions that comes up is that of how could this act have been prevented.  And I have to admit, as cold as it is where I am, I appreciate the hot air.  But what it comes down to is something nobody really wants to do.  We need to put a great deal of effort, read, money, into mental health care.

Since Ronald Reagan saved us from ourselves by cutting budgets for psychiatric hospitals, throwing people with chronic mental illness on the streets, we alternate between trying to find bandages that won't cost much and ignoring the problem entirely, until the next crazed individual commits a violent act that cannot be ignored.

Understand, most of those psychiatric hospitals didn't work either.  Because they were bandages, albeit very large ones, as well.   After we found out that hosing people down and shocking them to within an inch of their lives didn't work, we found drugs.  And some drugs in some cases worked miracles, allowing people to return to homes and communities and live productive lives.  But in many cases drugs at best created compliance, and you know what?  That was good enough for us.

Because mental health is expensive.

Mental health requires something we no longer value in this country:  people.

It begins with a family that can afford good health care for their children.  And schools with low teacher to student ratios and qualified educators that are paid appropriately for the important job that they do, with comfortable and adequately heated buildings, nutritious lunches, stimulating and up-to-date instructional material and plans.  And parents to come home to, that are not working so many jobs for so little income that they are either not present or not emotionally available.

And since none of us is emotionally invulnerable, we need people there for when we slip.  Who these days has a family member not so mired in their own emotional crises that they will open their arms when a person is in need?  If you are not that fortunate, you are already among those at risk.

And yet we are fighting about whether or not health care should be provided to every individual in the country.  We are debating whether the unemployed should be entitled to subsistence funds until their luck and the economy turns around.  We are arguing about whether our moms and dads should have to work until they die, or simply break down.

So, if we can't even agree that people trying to function within society deserve to be fed, housed, and educated, and taken care of when they are sick, where does that leave the poor and poorly educated, those who lack the skills or support systems to help the family member with the psychiatric illness?

We have decided long ago to throw our limited resources at prisons rather than mental health care.  I fear that today's debate will end the same way.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Toning Down the Rhetoric

Words really can't express the horrific nature of the violence wrought in Arizona over the weekend, although everyone wants to keep trying.  But for every politician or pundit that sincerely talks about toning down the rhetoric, there is at least one other one that makes sure to stand his/her ground, re: how wrong the other side is and how hard they have to keep fighting to make sure the other side doesn't do horrible things to our democracy.

For example, on This Week with Christiane Amanpour yesterday, fake Tea Party windbag Dick Armey, in response to the question about toning down the angry rhetoric, went on and on ad nauseum about "the important critical issues of public policy that must be sorted out", and that "this incident is no basis by which anybody who sees their duty to America to stand down from their duty but to redouble it".  And if that garbled nonsense wasn't clear enough, he added that we "must do out duty to defend our liberties in this great country."

And to what liberties are you referring, Dick?  Maybe the freedom to call the President of the United States names and accuse him of lying?  Or how about creating paranoia by claiming the proposed health care bill would create death panels? talks about John Boehner's efforts to calm and reassure Americans as well as colleagues in Congress during a massive conference call:

“At a time when an individual has shown us humanity at its worst, we must rise to the occasion for our nation and show Congress at its best,” Boehner said on the call.

I can't help but be cynical.  Not that Boehner et al are not being sincere.  But we have had the Kumbaya moments, the most notable being on the steps of Congress after 9/11.  And that ended up with Democrats linking arms with Republicans all the way down the road to Iraq, with the Patriot Act guiding the way.

Let's not forget that Boehner is leading the party that believes in cooperation, as long as you go along with their plan.

So listen carefully.  Lots of people are going to be singing the song about getting together and loving each other right now.  But let's hope we don't end up on another wild ride because we wanted to prove we trusted people who are really not saying anything different.

I do have a suggestion for Mr. Boehner.

How about changing the name of that idiotic "Repeal the Job Killing Health Care Law Act"?  While the rest of us may have seen it for the nonsense it is, there are some who may have truly been scared and angered by the violent rhetoric.  Just to give an example.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Capital Violence

I was planning on writing a humorous entry today, about the irony-filled 112th Congress.  I really really needed a laugh.

But the news from Arkansas got here first.  I almost said, "shot that down".  How violent this country has become -- again.  We're told it is because of emotions raw because of the economy, but it is not people who have lost jobs and homes that are taking guns to streets and rallies.  It is those who still have health care, retirement, a roof over their heads.

Yet they have been filled with the fear and helplessness of seeing others facing catastrophic loss.  Helpless because it could happen to them.  They need to know that it can't happen to them.  They need to know that it was the fault of the homeless, the uninsured, the unemployed.  They need to have something to do to protect themselves.  They need to know that their security isn't going to be taken away from them.

Enter the Michele Bachmanns, the Glenn Becks, the Sarah Palins, the Jan Brewers to fill in the blanks.  The government is your enemy.  The government, President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, are going to take your health care away from you, will take your job, your home.  The words, the ideas, are stupid, and reek of paranoia, but they echo the fears in the souls of those who have, but not too much.  Those who also could lose everything.

And meanwhile, the corporations are feeding the flame of those fears with their anonymous, patriotic sounding websites, tour buses and rallies.  The government is fascist, socialist, communist, atheist.  The hispanics  -- no, the illegals -- will cross the border, carrying drugs, take your jobs, and kill you.  Health care for all really means death panels.  Are you going to let them get away with it?  Are you???

And people who are stupid, but shrewd, greedy, power hungry, use words and phrases about gun sights and the right to bear arms.  Voters approve idiotic amendments to state constitutions that insure that their guns won't be taken away.  And while they are making sure they have the right to shoot, they also want to make sure none of those illegal aliens vote, so they'll add a new amendment to the US Constitution, and waste resources on voter id's that will deny the most powerless in our country their right to vote.


Follow the money.  Watch those mouthpieces on t.v. and in Congress get rich.  And see whose pockets they are in.  Their allegiances are to the largest corporations, the wealthiest of the wealthy.  Who know that the problem with this country is not hispanics, or health care.  But as long as we are fighting to take our rights away from each other, they are free to continue to run our country and its citizens into the ground.

And in Arizona, yesterday, that happened literally.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Let's Give It a Try

The voters have spoken.  We now have a republican House and an even less democratic Senate than we had last year.  The philosophy of the lawmakers will govern the land.

So I think we should be more philosophical about this.  And less rigid.  And, as Speaker Boehner has put it, we should start acting like grown-ups.

So I propose that we all adopt the republican economic plan within our own families.  After all, they really believe it will work, so in the spirit of cooperation, we should give it a try.

Children need to stop assuming that they are "entitled" to all those extras, like education and health care.  When you make those things readily available, they will start to expect that you will provide bikes, movies and clothing.

Teenagers are just going to have to grow up and contribute their fair share.  Maybe an extra after school job.  Cut back on the number of years of teenage social security, moving it from 18 to, say, 12.  They will need to pay a more reasonable share of their income toward household expenses, for example, the mortgage and groceries.  Increased productivity will certainly improve the overall wealth of the family.

Which leaves the most important family members, the CEO's if you will.  If the above all goes according to plan, the parents, the people with the most worth, will be free to expand the family interests.  They will have the economic freedom to buy that new car, take that vacation, invest in that summer home.

And that wealth will of course trickle down to the rest of the family.

But, you argue, the middle and lower classes will end up with less education and possibly poorer health.  They will be less likely to reap the financial rewards of their parents.

Not true.  Because, since we have republicans running Congress, we can be assured that when Mom and Dad die, the kids will get every penny that's left.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Price Is Right

Uncompromising.  The party of "no".  Unyielding.  These are the ways the republicans in the Senate have been described since the Democratic takeover in 2006.

But is this true?

What we have learned in the past two years is that even the republic party has its price.

They want their Christmas vacation.

For the past two years, the threat of having to work through the holidays has caused the unthinkable to happen:  the Senate republicans have agreed to legislate.  They have worked with the Democrats, albeit kicking and screaming and, yes, whining, toward completing a legislative agenda.

Of course, the Democrats, always willing to compromise, have ended up agreeing to allow the people who own the country to continue to hoard resources which should be used to fuel needed governmental services like bridges and education while decreasing the national debt, but this is another story.

The big event is that republicans will not only pass legislation that they have agreed on but blocked, but will actually even compromise in order to pass legislation.

Because they want their Christmas vacation.

Imagine if the party of no were willing to continue to say no through the holiday season.  They truly would have reached their goal of crippling the federal government.  Fortunately, everyone does indeed have a price.  And the republicans come a lot cheaper than we thought.

All it takes is making them work through the holidays.

Imagine how little they must be willing to accept from their corporate sponsors to say no to bills that  they have actually supported and even sponsored.

It boggles the mind.