Wednesday, November 26, 2008

ON THE LITE SIDE - Cartoons du Jour 11/17/2008

Before the memory fades, let us recall those special moments of the Republican culture wars with its greatest warriors. These pieces all done for "You Don't Know Me: A Guide to Republican Family Values," by Win McCormack, published this year by Tin House Publishing.

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Bill O'Reilly given to the harassment of a young producer
(He called a loofa a falafel, which even in the shower tastes better)



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In the early 1990s, Bob Barr was photographed at a fundraising
event licking whipped cream off of a woman



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Larry Craig, after an encounter, presumably after praying, would say,
"You don't know me"



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Neil Bush, younger brother of President Bush,
admitted to engaging in romps with women in Asia




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Newt Gingrich, big-time Clinton accuser,
was really a small-time Clinton imitator




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Rudy Giuliani announced his divorce at a press conference
That's how his wife found out about it




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Arnold Schwarzenegger tried the Method
on women on the sets of his movies


IRAQ - The Revolving Door of Influence

"Drill, Garner, Drill" by Anthony Fenton, MotherJones

Excerpt

In the history of the Iraq War, one name is perhaps synonymous with the collapse of the Bush administration's hopes for a post-Saddam world: Retired Lt. General Jay M. Garner. It was Garner who served as the first post-war administrator for Iraq, running the country during the fateful two months immediately following the invasion before being replaced by L. Paul Bremer III.

However, Garner's frustrating tenure in Iraq wasn't entirely wasted. This year, he and a small group of former US military leaders, officials, and lobbyists have quietly used their deep connections in Kurdistan to help Canadian companies access some of the region's richest oil fields.

Though Garner's involvement in these deals has, so far, remained under the US media's radar, the situation presents an embarrassment for the Bush administration. US policy holds that foreign companies should not jump into the Iraqi oil business until after Iraqis figure out how to apportion their petroleum between various regions and the central government. In fact, last year, an American company named Hunt Oil triggered a controversy when it signed a deal to produce oil in the area of Dahuk in Kurdistan. Hunt Oil's CEO is a friend of President Bush and a former member of his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board; congressional investigators discovered that even though the State Department eventually condemned the contract, the administration had long known about the deal and elected not to intervene. Garner has so far evaded a similar outcry because he's acting on behalf of companies in Canada.

But Garner's deal-making is not without risks. In the spring of 2007, Iraq's cabinet began working on an oil law to govern the country's oil reserves, which are the third largest in the world. Ever since then, however, Iraq's Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish factions have been locked in a contentious struggle over the proposal. According to several observers, including a State Department official familiar with the matter, Garner's efforts to help his Canadian employers preempt the oil law have undermined the already fragile possibility of a cohesive Iraq—which was, of course, what Garner was originally sent to Iraq in 2003 to achieve. Referring to Garner and his colleagues, the official says, "It's unfortunate that they are working for a company that is just adding fuel to the fire in disagreements between Baghdad and Erbil, but there's not much we can do about it."

So Garner screws up Iraq in the first place, now uses his influence for profit and the potential of screwing Iraq again. Now you know why Greed is one of the 7 Deadly Sins.

ECONOMY - Dirty Jobs

"What About the Dirty Jobs?" by Chris Lehmann, MotherJones

Excerpt

Why green-collar gurus should stop condescending to the brown-collar crowd.

You don't have to look far in the canon of the sustainability movement to get a sense of where labor fits into its world-transforming vision. In his enormously influential 1993 tract, The Ecology of Commerce, Paul Hawken hymns a new economic order where "certain industrial skills will become less valuable," to be replaced by "biological knowledge and understanding" that "will provide the means to integrate human needs with the carrying capacity of natural systems."

So, for example, farewell miners: "While coal mines will be shuttered, removing the last insult from the lives of men and women who have long suffered for the Industrial Age, opportunities in solar hydrogen will expand." We will, Hawken continues in an air of distinct managerial chagrin, "no doubt try to protect the livelihoods of coal miners, much as the Luddites were legitimately concerned about the destiny of hand loom operators." But we all know how that story turned out. When the civilizing mission of the postindustrial age beckons, well, then it's time to put away your childish things—or your drills and pickaxes, as the case may be. As Hawken puts things, in high-visionary style: We must not hold up "the critical process of economic evolution in order to continue outmoded forms of production," but rather "recycle lost livelihoods into the jobs of the future."

Surprised to find such patrician talk in one of the founding manifestos of today's sustainability movement? You shouldn't be. The idea of sustainability, as envisioned by Hawken and other lead theorists, was to reconcile modern business civilization with the urgent mandates of preserving the earth's household. It is, in other words, management theory, with its eye firmly fixed on maximizing production efficiencies—and its accounting hand eager to put the messier business of displacing workers, shuttering industries, and increasing the cost of living of the less well off far on the margins of that "framework of a broader perspective."

And make no mistake, with Congress now beginning the slow, grinding work of drafting legislation to enact cap-and-trade mitigations of greenhouse emissions, the workers caught in the unfashionable brown precincts of industry will bear disproportionate costs. A 2004 study conducted by the University of California-Berkeley noted that measures to curtail greenhouse emissions by 20 percent by 2020 would entail fearsome losses for the old polluting industries: 23,900 jobs in coal mining, 61,400 jobs in oil and gas drilling, 6,300 jobs at oil refineries, and more than 60,000 jobs at electric and natural gas utilities.

The standard sustainabilist rejoinder to such grim accounting is that other economic sectors in a greener economy will flourish. And there is some truth to this—though it's not the first time that American workers have heard such sunny rhetoric. After NAFTA, too, workers were assured they would be retrained to be credentialed members of the brave new information order. Then, too, their livelihoods were not so much "recycled" as kicked to the curb.

Much more in the full article.

POLITICS - The Administration of Lies and Deceit

"Bush Labor Department misled Congress in effort to privatize jobs" by John Byrne, RawStory

President George W. Bush's Labor Department misled Congress in an effort to prove outsourcing jobs to private companies was more efficient than assigning the jobs to government employees, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Monday.

The report (pdf here) found that the Department used fictional projected numbers to improve "savings reports" -- even when real numbers were already available. And when the government did find private firms to take a government job, that employee generally was either reassigned to another task with the same title or promoted.

The effort was called "competitive sourcing," aimed to increase government efficiency by having federal and private organizations compete for providing services. While part of a federal government approach since 1955, the Bush Administration has made the approach a key element of the President's Management Agenda under the Office of Management and Budget.

An investigation revealed, however, that the Labor Department -- under direction from Bush budget officials -- deliberately withheld information about true costs.

According to the report, the Department of Labor "excluded a number of substantial costs in its reports to Congress -- such as the costs for precompetition planning, certain transition costs and staff time and post competition review activities -- thereby understanding the full costs of this contracting approach."

The report noted that this approach was consistent with "guidance" given by the Administration's Office of Management and Budget.

In addition, the report found the Department's "savings reports" were "not reliable: a sample of three reports contained inaccuracies, and others used projections when actual numbers were available, which sometimes resulted in overstated savings."

Most workers were also demoralized as the government tried to find private firms to take over their jobs, the probe found.

Bush Labor Secretary Elaine Chao began having workers compete for their jobs in 2004. Few employees have lost their jobs. But when the government found a private company to take over their position, 84 percent were reassigned to different positions with the same title or were promoted.

Since implementation, 22 employees were laid off or demoted, all of them African American.

The senator who commissioned the report, Iowa's Tom Harkin, along with the House committee that oversees the Labor Department, David Obey, said in a letter Monday that the report proved "the negative impact the Bush Administration's failed policies have had" on the Department.

"Under the direction of this White House, the Department of Labor has increasingly attempted to move work performed by Federal employees to private contractors" and, in so doing, hurt workers' morale and "grossly overstated savings," they wrote. "We look forward to working with the Obama Administration to strengthen the Department of Labor as it undertakes the critical missions of making sure our workplaces are safe; protecting employee pensions, health benefits and rights; and providing workers with the skills they need to compete successfully in the 21st century economy."

Then again, the GOP generally does not know how to survive on telling the truth.

POLITICS - And While the American Economy Burns....

From Harry Hope, alt.politics.usa

The problem, and it’s becoming serious, is that no one is prepared to orchestrate a comprehensive program to stabilize the financial system, put a floor under housing prices and keep the economy from sinking into a long, punishing recession.

Bush could and should do it—he is still president, and avoiding economic collapse is part of the job description.

But he won’t.

It’s ironic that after being so aggressive and proactive in other areas, the Decider is so indecisive and passive about the economy.

He has limited his role to signing off on whatever Paulson says is necessary—most recently, $20 billion in cash and $306 billion in guarantees for Citigroup, which Bush apparently approved during his flight home from Peru.

In part, Bush’s inaction stems from ideology.

If the free market is always right, then it ought to correct itself and get back on course.

All the government really needs to do is take care of a few emergencies such as Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, IndyMac, AIG, Wachovia, Citigroup ... and, of course, whatever comes next.

Not the auto companies, however:

In Bushworld, the firms that created the toxic mortgage-backed securities that threaten to bring down the global financial system are somehow morally superior to the companies that created the Mustang, the Malibu and the minivan.

I don’t think ideology explains it all, though.

Even if he wanted to make a real run at righting the economy, at this point Bush has neither the energy nor the credibility to make it happen.

Frankly, he comes off as less a lame duck than a cooked goose.

That leaves the other president, who has plenty of energy and credibility—but no authority.

Bush said he called Obama to inform him of the Citigroup bailout, but informing isn’t the same as consulting.

Obama said his new economic team will be monitoring the situation and giving him daily reports on where things stand.

He could save them the trouble and just watch CNBC or Bloomberg all day.

Obama said he believes a huge economic stimulus is needed “right away.”

But he knows that won’t happen—it’s unlikely that anything big enough could get through the outgoing Congress, and in any event a big stimulus is not something that Bush is willing to support.

Obama said that “we cannot hesitate and we cannot delay,” but he knows full well that hesitation and delay are all but inevitable.

And he knows full well that by the time he gets the power to shape events, the economic situation might be much worse than it is now.

James Baker, the former secretary of state and current Republican eminence grise, made an amazing suggestion on “Meet the Press”
Sunday—that Bush and Obama develop and announce a joint economic rescue program.

It was a stunning acknowledgment of how weak the Bush presidency has become and how dangerous it would be to spend the next two months meandering from crisis to crisis.

But that’s the road we’re on.

When I get frustrated with Paulson’s zigzags and reversals, with his overnight decisions to buy huge companies or write hundred-billion-dollar checks, I remind myself that he doesn’t really have a president to work for.

The poor man may stumble here and there, but he’s dancing as fast as he can.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

HOMETOWN NEWS - San Diego 11/2008

"Libraries Saved But Tensions Between Mayor and Council Remain" by DAVID WASHBURN, Voice of San Diego

The San Diego City Council on Monday saved a number of libraries and recreation centers, and two fire crews, from the budget ax, but in the process added what could be another $10 million to an already gaping budget deficit projected for next year.

Council, by a 6-1 margin, approved $37.3 million of the $43 million in cuts Mayor Jerry Sanders proposed to close an historic mid-year budget gap -- but would not go along with Sanders' most unpopular proposals, which included shuttering seven libraries and nine recreation centers, and cutting two fire crews from the Fire-Rescue Department's daily rotation.

The vote was undoubtedly cheered by thousands of San Diegans who rely on the libraries and recreation centers in their daily lives, as well as the estimated 30 to 40 city employees who now won't lose their jobs in January. However, it was harshly criticized by Sanders because it relied largely upon one-time savings, and at best put off further drastic cuts by six months.

"Libraries are an essential service to the community," said Councilman Kevin Faulconer to applause in City Council Chambers.

Faulconer's sentiment was echoed by most of his colleagues. "It's really hard to sit and look at people and say we are going to shut down things you hold near and dear," said Councilwoman Donna Frye. "We can at least postpone it for the present time."

The lone no vote came from Councilman Jim Madaffer, who said he could not be party to "kicking the can down the road" on difficult decisions.

Not long after the vote, a visibly angry Sanders emerged from his office with several of his aides and a poster-board chart depicting a 2010 budget deficit growing from $44 million to $54 million because of council's action. The difference between the cuts Sanders sought and those council authorized amounted to $5.7 million of the $43-million mid-year budget deficit. On an annual basis, the difference grows to $10 million, according to the Mayor's Office.

"There will be no magic the next time around," Sanders said during the impromptu news conference. "I had thought that they would quit fooling themselves, and make the tough decisions so the new council wouldn't have to do that."

Sanders could veto council's resolution, but won't. He said it would serve only as a symbolic action because the 6-1 council majority would easily override the veto.

Sanders' angry response somewhat belies the fact that council went along with most of what he proposed including the halving of the number of recruits in they city's police and fire academies as well as scores of layoffs. Council also agreed to eliminate more than 100 beach fire rings, which are popular among residents and tourists.

Councilman Tony Young, who proposed Monday's the motion, characterized some of the mayor's budget-cut proposals as "unimaginative," and said that he his colleagues are willing to make difficult cuts, but are not willing to act hastily on proposals that are not backed up by sound analysis.

"To make a decision to shut down whole libraries and recreation centers based on just two weeks of discussion -- the public deserves more than that," Young said.

In making its decision, council largely followed recommendations by Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin. Specifically, Tevlin recommended that the libraries and recreation centers stay open until a comprehensive plan encompassing all of the facilities managed by those departments is brought to council.

And as per Tevlin's recommendation, the $5.7-million will come almost entirely from one-time withdrawals from the city's library reserve and hotel room-tax funds, according to the Mayor's Office.

Council also directed Sanders to save money through a mandatory furlough of city employees and user fee increases that could be instituted in the current fiscal year. Administration officials have said that both would be difficult to accomplish in short order.

Keeping the libraries and recreation centers open will cost $1.7 million and $800,000, respectively, according to the Mayor's Office. Keeping the fire crews operating will cost $1.6 million. Additionally, council refused to transfer to the general fund a total $1.5 million in infrastructure funds maintained by individual council offices, and left $68,000 in the budget to keep open rest rooms in Mission Bay Park that Sanders wanted closed.

The infrastructure funds consist of money individual council members can use on small infrastructure projects -- like replacing stop signs -- in their districts. Monday, Sanders referred to those funds as "slush funds," and chided council members for not giving them up. The motion by Young stated that each council office "will use their funds as they direct to address the budget deficit." Several council members did not return calls last night from a reporter seeking further explanation.

Monday's vote brought at least to a temporary pause a period of intense turmoil over the budget that began in early October when the administration first became aware that the rapidly deteriorating economy was causing an enormous deficit. Sanders presented his package of cuts after asking every department head to slash 10 percent from their budgets.

Council held two hours-long public hearings this month, during which dozens of residents voiced their opposition to Sanders' proposal. And in recent weeks residents have circulated petitions and held protests in front of popular libraries and recreation centers.

The age-old issue. Where to get the money, whose piece-of-the-pie goes to someone else?

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"Case-Shiller: Prices Slide to May 2003 Levels" by KELLY BENNETT, Voice of San Diego

Excerpt

Home prices in San Diego County continued to fall in September, reaching a point last seen in May 2003, according to the most recent Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index released this morning.

The price for a home fell by 26.3 percent compared to the same month a year earlier, and dropped by 34.4 percent from the market peak in November 2005.

The Case-Shiller index assigned a value of 100 to home prices in the year 2000 and has tracked the market's ascent and descent in relation to that value ever since. By November 2005, the index reached a peak of 250.34, meaning homes measured in the index had appreciated in value by 150 percent in just less than six years.

Now, the index has fallen to 164.12 -- that's a 34 percent drop from the peak, but prices are still about 64 percent higher than they were at the start of the decade.

ECONOMY - On Foreclousres, Prince William County, Va

The Foreclosure Epidemic
11/24/2008


POLITICS - Can Obama Learn From Other's Mistakes?

This is just a small excerpt from a long commentary in The Washington Independent, but has a point.

"Obama and Congress: Up Close and Personal"

The last time a sitting senator moved straight into the White House, familiarity with Congress bred only contempt. John F. Kennedy championed a slew of new programs, but with only a few exceptions the president could not get them enacted. The principal objectives of Kennedy’s domestic agenda — federal aid to education, a tax cut, and civil rights legislation — stalled on Capitol Hill.

The New York Times political reporter, Tom Wicker, described Kennedy’s inability to manage the Congress as one of the “great ironies of American politics. He wondered why “JFK, the immensely popular president, could not reach his legislative goals.” The stubborn opposition surprised Kennedy himself. “When I was a congressman,” the thwarted president mused, “I never realized how important Congress was. Now I do.”

Americans might hope that Obama learns that lesson sooner and better than his role model.

ECONOMY - America's Piggy-Bank Raid

"The Fed’s Secret $893 Billion Loan Portfolio" by Ben Protess, ProPublica

President Barack Obama's pick for Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner (pictured left, with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke), is said to be a leading architect of the Fed's massive lending program. (Reuters file photo/Lucas Jackson)And you thought the Treasury Department’s $700 billion bailout was massive and secretive.

In fact, the Federal Reserve is lending significantly more – $893 billion to a wide range of institutions — in a plan receiving even less public scrutiny, the Washington Post reports.

A leading mastermind behind the lending: Timothy F. Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Barack Obama's pick for Treasury secretary.

The Fed’s decision to withhold the names of companies receiving loans, among other key information, has caused a stir. Bloomberg News recently sued the Federal Reserve, seeking to learn what the central bank is accepting as collateral for the loans.

And at a hearing last week, Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) asked Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke: "When do you anticipate letting the public know" what collateral you're taking? His answer: Not any time soon. Bernanke argued that disclosure would be counterproductive. He said that naming the banks and collateral involved would create a "stigma" that would discourage further lending.

So the Fed has kept the details of its activities quiet and at the discretion of its five governors, as well as top officials of the 12 regional Fed banks, according to the Post.

The Fed, meanwhile, continues to dole out funds for a variety of purposes. The Post explains:

As of last week, the Fed's loans included $507 billion to banks, $50 billion to investment firms, $70 billion for money market mutual funds and $266 billion to companies that use a form of short-term debt called commercial paper. It is considering a new program that would make billions more available to prop up consumer lending: auto loans, credit cards and the like.

The Fed’s lending last week was 1,900 times the weekly average for the three years before the current credit crisis, according to a Bloomberg News report. In total, the government is prepared to lend more than $7.4 trillion, or half the value of everything produced in the nation last year, Bloomberg reported. A full breakdown of the $7.4 trillion is listed in a post on Clusterstock.com.

Some of the Fed’s deals could be increasingly risky, the Washington Post explained:

The Fed has increased the size of its balance sheet and replaced the ultra-safe U.S. government bonds it normally keeps on its books with loans to banks and others.

A year ago, the central bank had assets of $868 billion, of which about 90 percent was in Treasuries. Last week, it had assets of $2.2 trillion on its books, of which 22 percent was in Treasuries. Much of the remainder represents the new lending to banks and other financial institutions.

Perhaps riskiest of all is the Fed’s decision to accept troubled asset-backed securities as collateral – the same sort of assets targeted by the original design for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson abandoned the plan to purchase the assets, but the Fed’s decision means that banks can still use them to obtain a loan, the Post reports. It’s a strategy that one economist dubs "TARP light."

HEALTHCARE - My Take, Universal Healthcare

This is my personal take on a good, ethical, healthcare plan. And this would take two things to implement.

1) I prefer the Single Payer healthcare proposed by some in our congress such as United States National Health Insurance Act United States National Health Insurance Act, and use by other nations in the world.

As I view what would be needed, here are my requests:


  • The government pays the difference between what a citizen can afford to pay out of their income (aka Means Tested)

  • The plan uses private Healthcare Providers (NOT government run)

  • The customer (American citizens) chooses what Healthcare Provider they want

  • The government ONLY provides strict standards Healthcare Providers must meet to be eligible to participate, AND would NOT include a fixed dollar celling

  • One standard must be NO Pre-existing Exclusions in a Healthcare Provider's plan

  • Another standard must be, ALL government approved drug must be covered AND the citizen's personal doctor make the decision on what drugs the patient needs

2) Note that for this to work we would need a firm definition of Means Tested than we have now.

At present the government tends to have a one-shoe-fits-all policies when it comes to Means Testing. This is the wrong idea.

Means Testing should be geared to what is the costs (including healthcare) for a citizen to live in their area. The "area" should be a state controlled, a Cost of Living data collected by each state (many do so now) and compared to Federal Government statistics. I envision that such a plan give each state the choice to use their state legislative districts OR U.S. House districts as the definition of "area" from which Cost of Living data be tracked.

Once we have a realistic Cost of Living for states, then the Means Testing healthcare become a simple formula:

Means = Income - Cost_of_Living + 5% (the 5% is fluctuation padding)

Therefore if the citizen Income = Means or Means+, government pays nothing to the Healthcare Provider.

Citizen Income less than Means, government pays the percent difference, up to and including the full amount, to the Healthcare Provider.

In other words:

If the Cost of Living where you live is $25,000/yr (including healthcare coverage) and your income is $35,000/yr, government does not pay for healthcare.

If the Cost of Living where you live is $25,000/yr (including healthcare coverage) and your income is $15,000/yr, which is 60% of Cost of Living, the government pays the difference of 45% of your healthcare coverage (40% + 5% padding) per year.

Of course, citizens with no income, government pays 100% of their healthcare.

NOTE: This method of Means Testing can be used in other issues than healthcare.

Now, would my idea work?

Of course I have no idea. I'm just an ordinary citizen who watches what is going on with healthcare in our nation and the, in my view, unethical way we approach the issue. A citizen of the United States of America should NOT have there health put at risk by their ability to pay (aka money).

What is the cost containment in this type of plan? Everyone gets healthcare but the government ONLY pays for those who cannot afford to pay.

Other references:


HEALTHCARE - More on the Ripoff of American Healthcare

"Studies Say Private Medicare Plans Have Added Costs, for Little Gain" by ROBERT PEAR, New York Times

Private health insurance plans, which serve nearly a fourth of all Medicare beneficiaries, have increased the cost and complexity of the program without any evidence of improving care, researchers say in studies to be published Monday.

The studies, questioning the value of some private plans for Medicare beneficiaries and taxpayers, were issued as President-elect Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats take aim at the plans and consider cutting the payments they receive.

Enrollment in private Medicare plans has nearly doubled in five years, to 10.1 million.

In one study, Marsha Gold, a senior fellow at Mathematica Policy Research, says that private Medicare Advantage plans “are now widely available nationwide,” even in rural areas, as Congress intended when it revamped the program in 2003.

But the study, to be published in the journal Health Affairs, says that 48 percent of the additional enrollment comes from a type of plan that mimics traditional Medicare and generally does little to coordinate care. Enrollment in these “private fee-for-service plans” has shot up to 2.3 million, from 26,000 in December 2003.

In a separate article, two analysts from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, Carlos Zarabozo and Scott Harrison, said that growth in private plans had driven up costs because the government pays them 13 percent more on average than what it would spend for the same beneficiaries in traditional Medicare.

The commission, an independent federal panel that advises Congress, has expressed concern about the disparity for years.

“The higher payment rates have financed what is essentially a Medicare benefit expansion for Medicare Advantage enrollees, without producing any overall savings for the Medicare program, and with increased costs borne by all beneficiaries and taxpayers,” Mr. Zarabozo and Mr. Harrison write.

The annual open enrollment period began on Nov. 15. Beneficiaries can sign up for private plans offered by companies like UnitedHealth and Humana and by many Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.

Under the formula adopted in the 1980s, Medicare paid private plans 95 percent of the projected cost for each beneficiary in traditional Medicare, on the theory that the private plans would save money by coordinating care and being more efficient.

The private plans, which frequently offer additional benefits like vision and dental care, have proved popular. Over the years, Congress has increased payments to private plans, as an incentive to enter more markets.

Beneficiaries choose from an average of 35 private Medicare Advantage plans in each county, Mr. Zarabozo and Mr. Harrison report. But they say, “Payment increases have been so large that plans no longer need to be efficient to offer extra benefits.”

Payments to health maintenance organizations are, on average, 12 percent higher than what the government would spend for beneficiaries in traditional Medicare, they write, while payments to private fee-for-service plans were 17 percent higher.

Insurance company executives and Bush administration officials defend the role of private plans.

“Medicare Advantage plans are offering an average of over $1,100 in additional annual value to enrollees in terms of cost savings and added benefits,” said Kerry N. Weems, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Karen M. Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group, said two types of plans — H.M.O.’s and preferred provider organizations — had produced tangible benefits by coordinating care. As a result, she said, disease is detected earlier and people have fewer visits to hospital emergency rooms.

But, Ms. Gold said, “these are not the types of plans that have been growing most rapidly.” Instead, the private fee-for-service plans are growing fastest, and they, she said, “are not set up to coordinate care.”

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission has said the payments to private plans should gradually be reduced to the level of traditional Medicare.

In a campaign statement, Mr. Obama declared, “We need to eliminate the excessive subsidies to Medicare Advantage plans and pay them the same amount it would cost to treat the same patients under regular Medicare.” In a debate on Oct. 15, Mr. Obama described the subsidies as “just a giveaway” to private insurers.

Similar views have been expressed by former Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who is Mr. Obama’s choice for secretary of health and human services. “Medicare’s solvency is now threatened by overpayments to private insurers,” Mr. Daschle said in a book published this year.

And another GOP lie bites the dust. They are fools if they expected the private Healthcare Industry to actually save money. They are pofit diven to make ever more money, not provide savings to customers.

Monday, November 24, 2008

POLITICS - The Facts Mame, Nothing But the Facts

More from FactCheck.org, questions posted by readers

"Q: Are congressional Democrats talking about confiscating IRA and 401(k) investment accounts?"

My mother has recently brought up a rumor that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid endorse a plan for the government to take people's 401Ks to make up tax dollars. Is this true and where did my mother get the information? (she can't tell me).

A: No. There's no plan to seize these accounts. One House witness at a committee hearing proposed to allow some people to trade their old accounts for a new type that would be less risky.

We've had many queries about this doozy. They all lead back to a Nov. 4 report posted by the Carolina Journal, a publication of the conservative John Locke Foundation of Raleigh, N.C. Its headline proclaimed, "Dems Target Private Retirement Accounts: Democratic leaders in the U.S. House discuss confiscating 401(k)s, IRAs." The report is wrong. There's been no such discussion.

What has been discussed is changing 401(k) and Individual Retirement Accounts in the future by limiting the deductibility of donations, and offering as an alternative a $600 tax credit and a new type of account with an annual return guaranteed by the government. That's a controversial idea to be sure, but it's a far cry from proposing that the government seize retirement assets that investors have already salted away in 401(k)s or IRAs. Nobody we know of is proposing anything like that.

The Carolina Journal report claims that Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee held hearings Oct. 7 on "proposals to confiscate workers’ personal retirement accounts." The report describes in particular the testimony of Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor at the New School for Social Research in New York City. We've reviewed Ghilarducci's written testimony and a video recording of the entire hearing, both of which are posted on the committee's official Web site and are available to anybody who cares to read or listen. Contrary to the Carolina Journal report, nobody at the hearing talked about confiscating or seizing accounts. We also contacted Ghilarducci independently and asked if she's expressed support for confiscation. She told us in an e-mail message that she hasn't:

Teresa Ghilarducci, Nov. 18: It is utterly ridiculous [to suppose] that I advocate seizing 401k assets.

Ghilarducci was one of six witnesses at the Oct. 7 hearing, convened by chairman George Miller of California, a Democrat, to examine the impact of the financial crisis and stock market meltdown on workers' retirement accounts. Ghilarducci has long proposed limiting tax deductions for money put into 401(k) and similar retirement accounts and setting up a new type of account instead. Ghilarducci touts the idea in a book published earlier this year and in an opinion article published in the New York Times on Sept. 26. A spokesman for Rep. Miller has been quoted as calling her idea "intriguing" and "part of the discussion," but so far nobody in Congress has adopted it in the form of proposed legislation.

What she proposes is strong medicine and has been sharply criticized by conservative commentators including Rush Limbaugh and the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. She would force all workers to save 5 percent of their annual income in a new type of retirement vehicle, which she calls a Guaranteed Retirement Account. These savings could not be controlled by workers like IRAs and 401(k) assets, but would instead be deposited with the government. Workers could not touch the money until retirement, she says, and even then the savings could not be drawn out any way workers might desire, but would be converted to an annuity – a guaranteed stream of income for life. Ghilarducci argues that these new accounts would avoid stock market risks; the government would guarantee that the savings earn a 3 percent annual return on top of inflation. The government would also pay each worker $600 a year in the form of a tax credit, which would help workers who now earn too little to take advantage of a tax deduction because they owe little or no federal income tax anyway.

At the Oct. 7 hearing, Ghilarducci further proposed that Congress address the recent stock market drop by allowing workers to trade their existing 401(k) or IRA accounts for her proposed Guaranteed Retirement Accounts. (Her words can be heard starting at 33 minutes and 23 seconds into the video of the hearing.)


Ghilarducci, Oct. 7: I propose ... that the Congress allow workers to swap out their 401k assets, perhaps at August levels, for a Guaranteed Retirement Account. Just a one-time swap, trading your 401(k) for a Guaranteed Retirement Account that will be composed of the equivalent of government bonds that pay a 3 percent real return.

Note that she used the word "allow." This proposed swap would be voluntary, the opposite of a seizure or confiscation. And many might find such a trade attractive. Note also that she said "perhaps at August levels," suggesting that Congress might replenish the value of beaten-down stocks in IRAs and 401(k) accounts before making the swap. That would be quite a generous offer; the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped nearly 17 percent between August 1 and the day of the hearing. Far from proposing to "confiscate" accounts, she proposed to restore their value. Congress has not acted on her suggestions.


Standing By a Falsehood


We contacted the John Locke Foundation to ask about the basis for the "confiscation" claim. We wondered if the Carolina Journal's reporter knew something about the plan that we didn't. Spokesman Jon Ham said: "[W]e, as the saying goes, 'stand by our story.'

"Ham argued that holders of 401(k) accounts and IRAs would feel "coercion" to convert those accounts into Ghilarducci's proposed GRAs. He said: "Even though transferring of a 401(k) to a GRA would be 'voluntary' under Ghilarducci’s proposal, the loss of the 401(k)s tax advantage makes it coercive, with the intent of forcing individuals to transfer their accounts to a GRA. ... Absent the loss of the tax advantage, we would not have described the Ghilarducci plan as 'confiscation.'

"But Ham's argument won't wash. Even if there were coercion to convert an IRA or 401(k) account to a GRA account, it would be a rather serious exaggeration to describe it as "confiscation." The old account owners would still own them, in a new type of account. And anyway, Ham is simply wrong to claim that there would be any coercion.

What Ghilarducci proposes is to pay for her proposed $600 tax credit by taking away the deductibility of money put into an IRA or 401(k) over $5,000 per individual, per year. (IRAs for those under age 50 would actually not be affected, since the current limit for them is $5,000 anyway.) This would certainly reduce the incentive for upper-income workers to put more than $5,000 into such accounts in future years, but it would in no way reduce the tax advantage of keeping money already in those accounts. All interest, dividends and capital gains realized inside those accounts would continue to go untaxed until the account holder withdraws the money. Ghilarducci told us:

Ghilarducci: If people put money into 401(k)s they could keep it there, and taxes would continue to be deferred until withdrawn. It is unthinkable that Congress would take a tax break away for activities already undertaken.So much for "confiscation." We don't endorse or oppose Ghilarducci's ideas. But it's simply a fact that neither she nor anybody we're aware of is proposing a government seizure of retirement accounts.-Brooks Jackson

Correction, Nov. 18: We originally referred incorrectly to the John Locke Institute. The correct name is the John Locke Foundation.


NOTE: This would be a voluntary program.

"Q: Is Obama planning a Gestapo-like "civilian national security force?"

A: This false claim is a badly distorted version of Obama's call for doubling the Peace Corps, creating volunteer networks and increasing the size of the Foreign Service.

This question stems from an interview that Republican Rep. Broun of Georgia gave to The Associated Press Nov. 10. The story carried a headline, "Georgia congressman warns of Obama dictatorship." It said that Broun "fears that President-elect Obama will establish a Gestapo-like security force to impose a Marxist or fascist dictatorship." And it quoted him this way:

Rep. Paul Broun, Nov. 10: It may sound a bit crazy and off base, but the thing is, he's [Obama's] the one who proposed this national security force. ... That's exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it's exactly what the Soviet Union did.

Similar claims have been circulating in right-leaning blogs and conservative Web sites ever since July, when Obama made a single reference to a "civilian national security force" in a campaign speech in Colorado. Obama's detractors make much of his expansive (and exaggerated) description of such a force as being "just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded" as the U.S. military. They also ignore the context.

Obama was not talking about a "security force" with guns or police powers. He was talking specifically about expanding AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps and the USA Freedom Corps, which is the volunteer initiative launched by the Bush administration after the attacks of 9/11, and about increasing the number of trained Foreign Service officers who populate U.S. embassies overseas.

Here is the relevant portion of what Obama actually said, with the sentences quoted selectively by Broun and others in bold.

Obama, July 2, Colorado Springs, CO: [As] president I will expand AmeriCorps to 250,000 slots [from 75,000] and make that increased service a vehicle to meet national goals, like providing health care and education, saving our planet and restoring our standing in the world, so that citizens see their effort connected to a common purpose.

People of all ages, stations and skills will be asked to serve. Because when it comes to the challenges we face, the American people are not the problem – they are the answer. So we are going to send more college graduates to teach and mentor our young people. We'll call on Americans to join an energy corps, to conduct renewable energy and environmental clean-up projects in their neighborhoods all across the country.

We will enlist our veterans to find jobs and support for other vets, and to be there for our military families. And we're going to grow our Foreign Service, open consulates that have been shuttered and double the size of the Peace Corps by 2011 to renew our diplomacy. We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set.

We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded. We need to use technology to connect people to service. We'll expand USA Freedom Corps to create online networks where American can browse opportunities to volunteer. You'll be able to search by category, time commitment and skill sets. You'll be able to rate service opportunities, build service networks, and create your own service pages to track your hours and activities.

This will empower more Americans to craft their own service agenda and make their own change from the bottom up.

Does that sound like a force that could kick down your door in the middle of the night and haul you off to a Gulag or concentration camp? You decide.

POLITICS - New American Face for the World Stage?

"Obama poised to rebrand America, experts say" by Kristi Keck, CNN

President-elect Barack Obama is poised to restore the United States' image in the international community, but experts say the president-elect must show the world that his actions will live up to his rhetoric.

Receiving a warm welcome is not the same as maintaining one, and Obama has a lot of work to do to improve the U.S. brand.

America's image has declined in nearly every region of the world in recent years, but Obama's victory "enables the United States to start again with a clean slate," according to John Quelch, the senior associate dean at Harvard Business School.

"Americans can actually go to dinner parties and cocktail receptions around the world today and not have to apologize for the United States the way they have had to do the last several years," he said. "The election has made life a little bit easier for Americans living and traveling abroad to hold their head up high again."

The United States' tarnished reputation has been fueled by a combination of factors, including opposition to U.S. policies like the war Iraq and alleged torture and abuse of prisoners, the perception of hypocrisy, unilateralism, and the perceived war on Islam, according to a congressional report released in June.

Obama represents a "clean break" from the past, and his election is the first big step toward change, said Dick Martin, author of "Rebuilding Brand America."

"Changing America's standing in the world was going to be the work of a generation, and it would have to start with some kind of grand gesture that demonstrated that things were changing. His election in itself is that kind of grand gesture," he said.

Throughout the election season, Obama was largely well received across the globe.

More than 200,000 people came to watch his speech in Berlin, Germany, in July, according to police estimates -- and it wasn't because they'd read his book or memorized his policies.

"It was because they all felt that he was the incarnation of change and they admired him. They had an emotional connection," Martin said.

When Americans voted for Obama on November 4, citizens around the world celebrated his resounding win. People in cities and villages danced and cheered in the streets, and Kenya declared the day after the election a national holiday.

In China -- where the media is state-run and domestic stories are almost always the top stories -- newspaper headlines read "First Black President of the United States."

When President Bush was elected for his second term, the cover on the U.K.'s Daily Mirror read, "How can 59,054,087 people be so dumb?" The day after Obama's victory, the paper's cover read, "GOBAMA!"

While the reaction around the world was mostly positive, some areas have been more hesitant to embrace Obama. The day after the election, IslamOnline published an article titled, "Pakistanis Skeptical About Obama."

In the months before the election, a survey by the Pew Research Center suggested little enthusiasm for Obama or Sen. John McCain in the Middle East, especially in Muslim nations.

But in general, people across the world have reacted with joy to Obama's election because they are looking forward to the end of the unpopular presidency of Bush, said Robin Oakley, CNN's European political editor based in London.

"The arrival of Obama, as an African-American president, gives people a reason -- an excuse even -- to start loving America again," Oakley said.

But with expectations so high, experts say Obama will have to work to capitalize on the opportunity before him.

"Obama needs to show that he is prepared to listen to America's allies, to consult with them genuinely on issues like Afghanistan and climate change, to open up to new thinking about Iran and Cuba, to re-shape the world's economic institutions," Oakley said.

The biggest thing Obama could do to reshape U.S. foreign policy would be to capture Osama bin Laden, Quelch said.

"For eight years he dodged George Bush and I think President-elect [Obama] has been pretty strong in terms of indicating his determination to secure bin Laden," he said.

If that were to occur, Quelch said, "the U.S. could then in a sense close that chapter in its history and perhaps reopen dialogue with many parts of the Arab world that the relentless pursuit of al Qaeda and the Iraq war have closed off in the last few years."

Obama must also bring a greater level of professionalism to the selection of the ambassadors he appoints, Quelch said.

"I think previous administrations have not served U.S. overseas interests and image that well by in some cases appointing cronies who haven't even set foot in the country to which they were appointed before they were named as ambassadors," he said.

Martin said that most importantly, Obama must listen to what the international community wants if he wants to restore America's reputation.

"The number one thing the people hold against us is that we don't appear to take their interests into account," he said.

Closing Guantanamo, adhering to the Geneva Conventions and eliminating torture are key issues for people around the world because they are the symbols of American unilateralism, Martin said.

Martin also suggested that Obama take a page out of President Eisenhower's playbook and give the rest of the world an opportunity to experience American culture through an agency like the now-defunct United States Information Agency.

In addition to exposing the rest of the world to U.S. culture, Obama should also make sure young Americans are citizens of the world. Martin recommends education reform, with an emphasis on world history and language classes.

"They think we are clueless, they absolutely think we are clueless, and in many cases we are," pointing to a 2002 National Geographic study indicating that nearly a third of young Americans could not locate the Pacific Ocean.

Alessio Vinci, CNN's Rome bureau chief, said that if the president-elect wants to change the world's view of the United States, "Obama has to be Obama."

"Obama's support in Europe is pretty much based on the fact that most people on this side of the Atlantic are fed up with the Bush administration, not with America as a nation," he said.

OH, please let it come true.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

ON THE LITE SIDE - Women Can Park


POLITICS - A Postmortem Commentary, the GOP

"The craziest party that could ever be" by Alex Nursall, The Varsity


Hatred and childish name-calling is killing the GOP

There’s been much speculation about what lost the election for the Republicans (answer: plenty), but in a word, the most significant factor was hate. Hate for the opposition. Hate for people who are different. A hate that will eventually destroy the party if they don’t make some serious changes.

It goes without saying that smear tactics, though petty, will happen in any election. But the Republicans’ campaign against Obama seemed extra vindictive. From the claims that he was in cahoots with Bill Ayers to the rumours that he was a raging socialist, the McCain campaign (especially Sarah Palin, who seemed to know more about political gossip than any of the issues) pointed fingers in an attempt to ruin the Democrats’ credibility. Instead, such accusations slowly ate away at their own.

Hate is killing the GOP. The intolerant attitudes espoused by the party and its supporters drive many away. Whether it’s Proposition 8, the racist remarks made by participants at Republican rallies, or a continued reliance on fear-mongering, the party’s ideas are outdated—a diversifying country will not elect a group that seems bent on removing rights from a majority of them.

In the past, the Republicans have relied on winning over Evangelical Christians. But this time a fair number of Evangelical youth voted Democrat, and even Gordon College—an Evangelical College near Boston—stood behind Obama. The Republicans are losing their base, and if the trend continues, they’ll be nothing more than a party of fanatics, clutching at their guns and religious texts, weeping bitter tears for an America that never existed in the first place.

The party, in avoiding accusations of “elitism,” has been accused of anti-intellectualism, further alienating those who might have stood with them. Although they may have solid support among white voters in Appalachia, this won’t win them the country. Exploiting people’s fear of the unknown and inflating the threat posed by anti-freedom terrorists is ignorant and pointless, and reflects badly on those perpetuating these ideas.

Part of the GOP’s problem is those representing them in the media. From Ann Coulter to Rush Limbaugh to the cast of Fox News, conservative pundits draw from rumours, broad extrapolations (Obama is friends with Ayers!), to flat out lies (he will make us USSA!). Between screaming and name-calling, they are no better than playground bullies, and the public is beginning to notice.

American society is moving away from its conservative values. The Republican Party needs to align itself closer to the center in order to regain political ground. A platform of hate makes the respected politician seem more like the crazy guy on the corner, screaming about the invisible threat that’s always out to get him. And no one wants him in the White House.

Hatred is all the GOP can fall back on.

In their subservience to Big Money, worship of greed, and Corporations before the man-on-the-street, they cannot come up with justifications for their policies. AND THEY KNOW IT, hence the hate and name-calling. That's all they have left.

POLITICS - From the GOP's Own

"Hagel, Unrestrained, Lashes Into Bush, Rush And The GOP" by Sam Stein, Huffington Post

Two months before he leaves office, Sen. Chuck Hagel is increasingly unrestrained by political niceties.

Appearing at a forum at the Johns Hopkins School of Advances International Studies, the outgoing Nebraska Republican leveled harsh criticism at his own party, the lack of intellectual curiosity among some of his colleagues, the Bush administration's handling of nearly every aspect of governance and -- perhaps most bitingly -- the conservative radio voices that often dictate the GOP agenda.

"We are educated by the great entertainers like Rush Limbaugh," said Hagel, sarcastically referencing the talk radio host who once called him "Senator Betrayus." "You know, I wish Rush Limbaugh and others like that would run for office. They have so much to contribute and so much leadership and they have an answer for everything. And they would be elected overwhelmingly," he offered. "[The truth is] they try to rip everyone down and make fools of everybody but they don't have any answers."

It wasn't all an exercise in unloading pent-up frustrations. Hagel offered praise for Robert Gates -- creating the impression that he would like the current Pentagon chief to remain at the post once President-elect Barack Obama takes office. He also deflected questions about whether he would serve in the Obama administration or what he thought of the possibility of Hillary Clinton at Secretary of State. Moreover, Hagel offered what amounted to an hour-long plea for the next administration and Congress to reconfigure the way it works together and within the international framework when it comes to foreign affairs.

"Eighty-seven percent of the American people said America is going in the wrong direction," said Hagel. "You don't need to know another number about anything, and so the election was pretty predictable: the American people don't like what is going on... they want us to start doing what leaders are expected to do, address the problems, find some consensus to governing. Get along. There will be disagreements, sure... but in the end we can't hold ourselves captives to this raw, partisan, political paralysis."

But the truly memorable bits came when -- unrestrained by formalities -- he deployed a sharp tongue while riffing on the GOP. Reflecting on the Bush administration, Hagel, one of the earliest critics of the Iraq war, held back few punches.

"Yes, there have been some differences and some pretty significant ones in [the Republican Party]. But when you ask the question: 'Has [our approach] worked? I don't think many people will say it has worked," he said, adding later: "God knows I would never question the quality of our elected officials, that's why I'm so popular with many of them."

The main thrust of his critiques was aimed not at any individual specifically, but at a closed-off mindset that he believed had taken hold of Republican politics and, consequently, the GOP's approach to foreign policy. "Engagement is not appeasement," he said. "Diplomacy is not retreat. Somehow too many in this town and in this country have disconnected all of that."

Later in the question-and-answer session, he offered an example to illustrate this quip, gently mocking those officials and voters who, for one reason or another, had problems with things from France or people who were Muslim.

"There is always going to be a certain know-nothing element to democracy," said Hagel. "That is their choice. But in a world that is so vitally interconnected, it does help if you try to understand the other side... Ask them: 'What is it that scares you about the French so much?'"

There were, additionally, some compliments to spare. Hagel, on several occasions, lauded the work and approach of Gates, who he said had taken the right ethos to the job at Defense. Finally, he offered a sincerely funny line about Warren Buffet, the heralded financier, Oracle from Omaha and (seemingly) one individual to have weathered the current financial market meltdown.

There is news today that [Obama] is in serious negotiations with Warren Buffet for Buffet to buy the entire United States government," Hagel joked in the opening of his speech. "I applaud that. I am seeking the job of buffet's driver. He is the only one who has money. Obviously we think highly of warren and we take great pride that he is a cornhusker."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

ECONOMY - Thank You Republicans... NOT!

"‘Tis the Season for Mass Layoffs" by Mary Kane, Washington Independent 11/17/2008


Well, this is no way to start a Monday: First, Citigroup announces it plans to cut 53,000 jobs, the Wall Street Journal says.

Then, economist Rebecca Wilder at News N Economics chimes in with her prediction of more “mass layoffs” set to explode in the current recession.

From Wilder:


Anectodal evidence suggests that layoffs into 2009 will be big (mass in scale), broad-based (across all industries), and thus add up quickly. And with credit markets on red alert week after week, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere for the labor market to go but down even further.

This is going to be a very difficult time for unemployed workers, and according to the Herald Tribune (the global edition of the NY Times), the U.S. welfare infrastructure is not equipped to handle the oncoming severe contraction in the labor force. I hope that I am wrong, but after the very dismal October labor report, it seems that things have worsened substantially for the labor market.

In case you may have missed it, Wilder provides a handy list of major layoffs announced just since Nov. 12:


Fidelity Will Eliminate 1,700 More Jobs in Early 2009
Sun to Cut up to 6,000 Workers Amid Financial Crisis
Credit Suisse Said to Plan Job Cuts, a Fund Unit Sale
Nokia Lowers Market Growth Outlook as Spending
“On Nov. 4, Nokia said it may cut as many as about 600 jobs in marketing and research to improve efficiency.”

RBS May Eliminate Up to 3,000 Jobs in Securities Unit
QVC Cuts 5.8 Percent of U.S. Jobs in Cost-Cutting Bid
“QVC Inc., the home-shopping channel controlled by cable billionaire John Malone, said it will eliminate 700 jobs, or about 5.8 percent of its U.S. workforce, as part of a cost-cutting drive.”

BT to Cut 10,000 Jobs; Second-Quarter Profit Falls
“Most of the 10,000 cuts [6% of its labor force], out of a workforce of 160,000, will be “indirect labor” such as agency workers, contractors, subcontractors and offshore employees, the company said in a statement today.”

Chrysler in Crisis, Needs U.S. Aid, Nardelli Says
“Chrysler has announced the elimination of 35,000 jobs since February 2007, including plans to trim as many as 5,000 salaried positions by the end of this year.”

Citigroup to cut 10 percent of jobs: source

Hope the rest of the week turns out better than what we’ve got going so far.

Yap, all under the "business savvy" stewardship of the GOP.

POLITICS - Another Right-Wing Fairy Tale Bites the Dust

"Denver think tank refutes Reagan’s ‘government is problem’ meme" by Wendy Norris, Colorado Independent

That sound you hear isn’t the economy trickling down but what may prove to be the slow drip-drip-drip of a public repudiation of a long-held conservative political belief that “government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.”

Popularized by President Ronald Reagan in his first inaugural address, the phrase set the stage for a dissembling of a wide range of federal safety net programs and corporate regulations that amplified the savings and loan crisis in the mid-1980s and the 1987 stock market crash.

Flash forward to September 2008. Under Reagan acolyte President George W. Bush, the nation experiences an historic Wall Street meltdown, employment crash, skyrocketing national debt and housing crisis precipitated by the same “trickle-down” economic theories and tax cuts for the super wealthy that are leaving millions of Americans in serious financial straits with underfunded public programs ill-prepared for the onslaught of those seeking assistance.

Last week, the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute revisited its May 2008 report on federal community investment projects in light of current economic conditions:

Not too long ago, when collectively facing monumental challenges like the Great Depression or millions of veterans returning home from World War II, the federal government led the effort to solve problems that the private sector and the free market were either unwilling or unable to fix themselves.

Likewise, this paper validates the view that increasing public investments during difficult economic times, as opposed to decreasing such investments, is an effective strategy for economic progress. Bold public investments propel broader economic growth.

While the last 30 years has seen large-scale erosion in the trust and connectivity that people feel towards government, evidence suggests that change is indeed coming. In the 2008 elections, exit polling showed there was virtually no ideological shift in the electorate, compared to most recent elections. However, for the first time since exit polling began in 1994, a slim majority of voters — 51 percent — want government to do more to solve problems.

That’s exactly what we believe government can and should do.

The shift in public perception toward the “common good” and government’s unique role in equalizing opportunity among the citizenry is encouraging in light of the many challenges ahead. It also serves as a signal that the electorate may indeed be rejecting the faux bootstrapping conservative economic principles that reward those who got us into this mess while middle- and working-class families get the bum’s rush from their banks, creditors and financial service regulators.

POLITICS - Ah Yes, America for Sale


"Bush's "Fire Sale" For Oil, Gas Industries" AP, CBS News

Excerpt, pg 1 of 2


Administration Will Lease 50,000 Acres Near National Parks For Drilling

The view of Delicate Arch natural bridge - an unspoiled landmark so iconic it's on Utah's license plates - could one day include a drilling platform under a proposal that environmentalists call a Bush administration "fire sale" for the oil and gas industry.

Late on Election Day, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced a Dec. 19 auction of more than 50,000 acres of oil and gas parcels alongside or within view of Arches National Park and two other redrock national parks in Utah: Dinosaur and Canyonlands.

The National Park Service's top official in the state calls it "shocking and disturbing" and says his agency wasn't properly notified. Environmentalists call it a "fire sale" for the oil and gas industry by a departing administration.

Officials of the BLM, which oversees millions of acres of public land in the West, say the sale is nothing unusual, and one is "puzzled" that the Park Service is upset.

"We find it shocking and disturbing," said Cordell Roy, the chief Park Service administrator in Utah. "They added 51,000 acres of tracts near Arches, Dinosaur and Canyonlands without telling us about it. That's 40 tracts within four miles of these parks."

Top aides to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne stepped into the fray, ordering the sister agencies to make amends. His press secretary, Shane Wolfe, told The Associated Press that deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett "resolved the dispute within 24 hours" last week.

A compromise ordered by the Interior Department requires the BLM to "take quite seriously" the Park Service's objections, said Wolfe.

However, the BLM didn't promise to pull any parcels from the sale, and in an interview after the supposed truce, BLM state director Selma Sierra was defiant, saying she saw nothing wrong with drilling near national parks.

"I'm puzzled the Park Service has been as upset as they are," said Sierra.

"There are already many parcels leased around the parks. It's not like they've never been leased," she said. "I don't see it as something we are doing to undermine the Park Service."

Roy and conservation groups dispute that, saying never before has the bureau bunched drilling parcels on the fence lines of national parks.

"This is the fire sale, the Bush administration's last great gift to the oil and gas industry," said Stephen Bloch, a staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

"The tracts of land offered here, next to Arches National Park or above Desolation Canyon, these are the crown jewels of America's lands that the BLM is offering to the highest bidder," he said.

Monday, November 17, 2008

POLITICS - The "Stupid Party"

"The dumbing down of the GOP" from The Economist Magazine - Copyright 2008 Economist Newspaper Ltd., SeattlePI.com

John Stuart Mill once dismissed the British Conservative Party as the stupid party. Today the Conservative Party is run by Oxford-educated high-fliers who are busy reinventing conservatism for a new era.

As The Economist's pundit Lexington sees it, the title of the "stupid party" now belongs to the Tories' transatlantic cousins, the Republicans.

There are any number of reasons for the Republican Party's defeat. But high on the list is the fact that the party lost the battle for brains.

Barack Obama won college graduates by two points, a group that George Bush won by six points four years ago. He won voters with postgraduate degrees by 18 points. And he won voters with a household income of more than $200,000 -- many of whom will get thumped by his tax increases -- by six points.

John McCain did best among uneducated voters in Appalachia and the South.

The GOP lost the battle of ideas even more comprehensively than the battle for educated votes, marching into the election with nothing more than slogans.

Energy? Just drill, baby, drill. Global warming? Crack a joke about Ozone Al. Immigration? Send the bums home. Torture and Guantanamo? Wear a T-shirt saying you would rather be waterboarding.

The Republican Party's divorce from the intelligentsia has been a while in the making. The born-again Bush preferred listening to his "heart" rather than his "head." He also filled the government with incompetent toadies like Michael "heck-of-a-job" Brown.

McCain, once the chattering classes' favorite Republican, refused to grapple with the intricacies of the financial meltdown, preferring instead to look for cartoonish villains. In a desperate attempt to serve boob bait to Bubba, he appointed Sarah Palin to his ticket, a woman who took five years to get a degree in journalism and was apparently unaware of some of the most rudimentary facts about international politics.

Republicanism's anti-intellectual turn is devastating for its future. Its electoral success from 1980 on was driven by its ability to link brains with brawn.

The conservative intelligentsia not only helped to craft a message that resonated with working-class Democrats, which emphasized entrepreneurialism, law and order and American pride. It provided the party with a sweeping policy agenda. The loss of brains leaves it rudderless, without a compelling agenda.

This is happening at a time when the American population is becoming more educated. More than a quarter of Americans now have university degrees. Twenty percent of households earn more than $100,000 a year, up from 16 percent in 1996.

The Republican Party's current "redneck strategy" will leave it appealing to a shrinking and backward-looking portion of the electorate.

Why is this happening? One reason is that conservative brawn has lost patience with brains of all kinds. Many conservatives -- particularly lower-income ones -- are consumed with elemental fury about everything from immigration to liberal do-gooders.

They take their opinions from talk radio and regard Palin's apparent ignorance as a badge of honor.

Another reason is the degeneracy of the conservative intelligentsia itself, a modern-day version of the 1970s liberals it arose to do battle with: trapped in an ideological cocoon, defined by its outer fringes and incapable of adjusting to a changed world.

The movement has little to say about pressing problems and expends too much energy on xenophobia, homophobia and opposing stem-cell research.

Conservative intellectuals are also engaged in their own version of what Julian Benda dubbed la trahison des clercs, the treason of the learned.

They have fallen into constructing cartoon images of "real Americans," with their "volkish" wisdom and charming habit of dropping their "g's."

How likely is it that the Republican Party will come to its senses? There are glimmers of hope. Business conservatives worry that the party has lost the business vote. Moderates complain that the Republicans are becoming the party of "white-trash pride."

One of the most encouraging signs is the support for giving the chairmanship of the party to John Sununu, a sensible and clever man who has the added advantage of coming from the Northeast.

But the odds in favor of an imminent renaissance look long. Richard Weaver, a founder of modern conservatism, once wrote a book titled "Ideas have Consequences"; unfortunately, too many Republicans are still refusing to acknowledge that idiocy has consequences, too.

POLITICS - "Drug Industrial Complex" Panics

This is about the BIG Drug Companies trying to protect their overly-fat profits over the ability of the-man-on-the-street being able to afford to pay for them.

"Drugmaker ads to target Obama idea" by Sean Lengell, Washington Times

Excerpt, page 1 of 2

Lobbyist readies for prescription price fight

The nation's largest pharmaceutical lobbying group is preparing a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign to tout the importance of free-market health care and undercut an expected push by the Obama administration for price controls of prescription drugs.

The effort, which will include a national television commercial scheduled to begin airing next week, is the first salvo in what likely will be a huge battle over health care reform during the Obama presidency.

Other major industries are also gearing up for the fight, including big businesses and insurance companies. But the stakes are especially high for drugmakers, which stand to lose as much as $30 billion in revenue if President-elect Barack Obama's plan to let the federal government negotiate Medicare drug prices is implemented, according to one independent report.

"There's no question that next year will be a challenging year," said Ken Johnson, senior vice president with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, which is organizing the campaign.

Mr. Obama attacked drug companies repeatedly during his election campaign.

PhRMA says its upcoming advertisement, which will feature TV talk show host and PhRMA spokesman Montel Williams, doesn't criticize the pending Obama administration or any of its health care proposals.

"We're going to do an ad campaign that is designed to make people aware of the importance of preserving your free-market health care system," Mr. Johnson said.

He added that PhRMA recognizes that "some reforms are needed in order to keep that system vibrant."

Mr. Johnson said PhRMA would've embarked on exactly the same ad campaign if Mr. Obama's Republican presidential rival, Sen. John McCain, had won last week's presidential election.

Mr. Obama has said he will hold drug and insurance companies "accountable for the prices they charge and the harm they cause." He has promised to allow Medicare to negotiate with drugmakers for cheaper prices, he said.

This also highlights the MISTAKEN belief that our Free Enterprise System does not have its faults. Free Enterprise as practiced in the USA, is a human invention and therefore faulty as are all things we humans invent. To err is human.

In the context of Drugs & Healthcare, the fault in our Free Enterprise System is that a company's goal of ever more profits (aka greed) DOES put an individual's health and welfare at risk, and can even be a matter of life-and-death.

POLITICS - GOP Looses But They Still Spin & Get Dizzy

"Pathetic Right-Wing Attempts To Spin '08 Election Results" by Jack Clark, OpEdNews

So, what kind of post-election spin from the right have you heard?

Whatever the variety, their spin is designed to rev themselves up, and to demoralize us.

Won't work, I'm afraid.

Let's take three right-wing attempts to delude themselves.

The most idiotic take I've heard is a repeat from prior presidential elections. Right-wingers present a map of the US color-coded blue-red not by state, but by county. The country is awash in red.

Tom Brokaw even was on the air talking about this.

Such a map is meaningless. Sparsely populated counties voted for McCain. There are a lot of square miles there. But few people. That's why McCain lost. Few people.

What, is this Empty Acres for McCain?

Now, another doozy I've heard purports to tell us, that Obama's victory shows the public embraces right-wing policies.

This, amazingly enough, comes from people who mere days before, were warning the nation that Obama was espousing socialism.

Brent Bozell is the head of a right-wing media watchdog group called Accuracy in Media.

A week before the election, Bozell said on Fox & Friends:

audio: Bozell

But when you go through the entirety of the campaign saying the kind of things that you're saying in the debates, where on, for every question, you've got a redistribution of wealth answer, where you've got socialism, where you've got the government controlling every aspect of life. You don't expect a reporter to ask you, "Is this socialism?" Because the media don't ask that question.

OK, you'll recall that my entire last podcast before the election, was devoted to debunking that final right-wing attack line, that Obama plans to turn the country into a socialist state.

Yet listen to what Bozell said, three days after the election, on Fox News' America's Newsroom:

audio: Bozell

[T]he fascinating thing, Bill, is that Barack Obama ran as a Reaganite and won over the fiscal -- the public as a fiscal conservative. That's what the polling data shows…Barack Obama won as a conservative. That means that Barack Obama does not have the mandate to enact the left-wing agenda he wants to enact. He didn't run on it, he ran from it. So, this is not necessarily bad news for conservatives.

So, Obama ran as a Reaganite. But I thought he ran as a socialist. A Reagan socialist, perhaps? No, no, of course, it's a socialist Reaganite…

Arguing that government must step in to strengthen the social safety net, that we must raise the taxes on the wealthy, those are certainly Reagan-like positions, huh?

The right-wing capacity for self-delusion is seemingly endless.

Okay, the third right-wing spin attempt, is to admit that Obama ran to the left and still won, but that the country remains a "center-right" nation. That's the term du jour: center-right.

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham told the Associated Press:

I think this is a center-right nation. America did not wake up one day and become liberal…

Wrong. For a complete, detailed debunking of this, you should check out my three part series, called Reason To Cheer. It's in podcasts 105, 106 and 108.

In short, several polls from major polling organizations show that Americans support progressive policies on most every economic and social justice issue, that our progressive majority is growing larger and larger, and, that increasingly left-leaning youth will turn the country increasingly progressive.

That last item was pretty prescient, huh?

What issues are these? For starters, try the overall role of government, health care, taxes, and moral values. Yes, moral values.

Majorities, sometimes even super-majorities of Americans, believe that:

--the government should provide more, not less services

--the government should guarantee health care for every American.

--the distribution of wealth in this country is unfairly concentrated

--the wealthy pay too little in taxes

--Democrats reflect the nation's moral values more than do Republicans

Gallup just found that 51% of the public wants to heavily tax the wealthy in order to redistribute wealth. Two-thirds of the public supports a government guarantee of health care for every American.

You may also run into right-wingers who are now bringing up a post-election poll that says Americans describe themselves as conservative, moderate and liberal in the same percentages as four years ago. That would be 34% conservative, 44% moderate, and 22% liberal.

Part 2 of the series, addressed this very mystery, that if more than half, often two-thirds or more of Americans espouse progressive positions, shouldn't two-thirds or more of Americans describe themselves, given the choices liberal-moderate-conservative -- as liberal?

They should, but they don't. Why not?

A couple of reasons, according to analysis and polls: the word liberal has become so demonized, that many people espousing progressive positions will instead call themselves moderates. And perhaps the main reason, many self-described moderates and conservatives don't understand their positions are actually progressive, not moderate or conservative.

We all recognize the the GOP has NEVER been the party of reality. They live in what is now called Bush World (aka Reagan World) which is akin to Alice's Wonderland.

Friday, November 07, 2008

POLITICS - The Warmongers & Iran

"New Beltway Debate: What to Do About Iran" by CAROL GIACOMO, New York Times

It is a frightening notion, but it is not just the trigger-happy Bush administration discussing — if only theoretically — the possibility of military action to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Of course, no president or would-be president ever takes the military option off the table, and Barack Obama and John McCain are no exception.

What is significant is that inside Washington’s policy circles these days — in studies, commentaries, meetings, Congressional hearings and conferences — reasonable people from both parties are seriously examining the so-called military option, along with new diplomatic initiatives.

One of the most thorough discussions is in a report by the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center, founded by four former senators — the Republicans Robert Dole and Howard Baker and Democrats Tom Daschle and George Mitchell — to devise policy solutions both parties might embrace.

The report warns that the next administration “might have little time and fewer options to deal with this threat.” It explores such strategies as blockading Iran’s gasoline imports, but it also says that “a military strike is a feasible option and must remain a last resort.”

Its authors include Dennis Ross, top Mideast adviser to Mr. Obama, and former Senator Dan Coats, a McCain adviser.

Ashton Carter, a senior Pentagon official in the Clinton administration, wrote a paper for the Center for a New American Security, a prestigious bipartisan think tank, that asserts military action must be seen as only one component of a comprehensive strategy, “but it is an element of any true option.”

At a conference in September in Virginia sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “surrogates” for Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama insisted America must focus on preventing Iran from developing a bomb, not on allowing Iran to produce one and then deterring its use.

“John McCain won’t wait until after the fact,” declared the columnist Max Boot, from the McCain team. The Arizona senator has previously said risking military action may be better than living with an Iranian nuclear weapon (and to his regret jokingly sang a song about bomb, bomb, bombing Iran).

Richard Danzig, Mr. Obama’s surrogate, said his candidate believes a military attack on Iran is a “terrible” choice, but “it may be that in some terrible world we will have to come to grips with such a terrible choice.” Early in the primary campaign, Mr. Obama declared that as president he would sit down in his first year in office with — among others — Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (He has been rephrasing that commitment ever since.)

Given the global economic meltdown and other crises, it is not surprising if the American public is largely unaware of this discussion. What makes me nervous, is that’s what happened in the run-up to the Iraq war.

In those days Americans were reeling from the shock of 9/11 and completely focused on hunting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In Washington, though, talk quickly shifted to the next target — Iraq.

Bush administration officials drove the discussion, but the cognoscenti were complicit. The question was asked and answered in policy circles before most Americans knew what was happening. Would the United States take on Saddam Hussein? Absolutely.

As a diplomatic correspondent for Reuters in those days, I feel some responsibility for not doing more to ensure that the calamitous decision to invade Iraq was more skeptically vetted.

This time the debate is not so one-sided. Most experts acknowledge that military action poses big risks and offers no guarantee of destroying Iran’s nuclear program.

Both presidential candidates have also promised new diplomatic initiatives. Mr. McCain talks of tougher sanctions and Mr. Obama proposes a comprehensive approach involving sterner penalties, more compelling incentives and direct talks with Iran.

Mr. Ross, who was top Mideast negotiator for the first President George Bush and for President Bill Clinton, said that in the prelude to Iraq, nearly all of the talk focused on military action. He says this time experts are taking a harder, more systematic look at all options — including force — because diplomatic efforts have failed to slow Iran’s rush to master nuclear technology.

“I want to concentrate the mind and make people understand, ‘Look, this is serious and you don’t want to be left with only those two choices’ ” — war or living with an Iranian bomb, he said.
With Iran projected to produce enough fuel for a nuclear weapon by 2010, the next president is going to have to concentrate his mind quickly. We hope he, unlike George W. Bush, will encourage a broader public debate about all of America’s options, and the high cost of another war. I will certainly be a lot more skeptical.

aka, we hope Obama is smarter than Bush.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

AMERICA - 44th President of the United States


ELECTION '08 - Someone Else's Closing Comment

"Yes We Did" by Mark Morford, San Francisco Chronicle

Party like it's 2009, 'cuz baby, now the real work begins

This is no time for gloating.

This is no time to get carried away by some sort of rapturous rose-colored ROTFLMAO celebration full of streamers and confetti and blissful weeping in the streets, all wrapped in a big creamy ribbon of stunned disbelief, the overwhelming sense that, oh sweet God in heaven, our wary and battered nation has finally agreed, after all these years and seemingly all at once, to grow the hell up.

Is that not the feeling? That we as a country just did the impossible, just chose to get a little bit serious with ourselves, to actually attempt to right our myriad wrongs and rid the national body of our Republican toxins and oh yes by the way make a huge, shocking jolt of unprecedented history while we're at it? You're damn right it is.

The best news of all: Despite all vicious rumors to the contrary, it turns out that we are not too collectively stupid to know a rare and historic opportunity when we see one, no matter what his middle name. I mean, thank God.

So then, a warning, a caution, a hard-bitten piece of buzz-killin' advice, right here right now, before it's too late and you get all ecstatic and naked and drunk on the sheer WOW-ness of it all:

Put down the kazoo. Hold off on the champagne. Do not get too cozy. Do not let President-elect Obama's stunning victory go to your progressive thoughtful oh-my-God-I-Can't-believe-it's-true liberal head. This is not a time for cocktails and screaming and dancing in the streets (that comes about six paragraphs down. Shhh).

After all, there is much work to be done. There is a staggering pile of damage so deep and so wide it would take a hundred Obamas and three trillion dollars and a forklift the size of Shiva to even make a dent.

That is no joke. Did you notice? Buried beneath the avalanche of Obama stories, this bitter hunk of gristle: Right this minute, the Bush admin is trying like the Devil's own biotoxin to sneak through a whole slew of last-minute rollbacks and deregulations, a final parting gift to Bush's corporate cronies and a parting sucker punch to the country.

It's like the world's worst chef spitting on your food one last time before sending it out, cold and limp and full of as much MSG and rat feces as he can jam in there because, well, why the hell not?

And don't forget something else: The sickly, reclusive billionaires and scabrous Blackwater moms who spent their personal millions forcing their intolerance on California by way of Proposition 8? The kind of dysfunctional, ultrawealthy fanatics who not only pray to a dour and heartwrenching God every single day that Christian militants take over the country so we could, quite literally, stone all the gays to death, but who have the millions to fund their nightmares? They are not exactly going away anytime soon.

And as if this writing, their sad fearmongering and outright dishonesty appears to have succeeded in scaring a sufficient number of the less educated, more easily panicked mid-staters into condemning a variant of love their congested and confused souls simply cannot allow. Marriage equality has been, once again, slapped down. For now.

So please, defy your temptations. Do not, under any circumstances, join with the entire planet right now and enjoy President-elect Obama's dazzling victory, because the world is still in shambles and the nation is in super-duper trouble and... still must have to think... er, resolve the serious financial crisis because blood and banana creme pie and...

...that is, I mean racism and raging turmoil in the... death all around, war raging and puppies... um... pain and suffering in the sunshine shoelace... wait... oh yes, drugs and death and... er... anarchy and foreign policy... sex and tickling Paris Hilton and... and... andandanddddd...

Wait. What? What the hell was I just saying? Did I really just write all that? What the hell is wrong with me?

I am so sorry. I don't know what just happened. Shall we start over? Here, let me splash this water on my face. And then this cold sake. And then this refreshing sense of oh my God would you look at the country right now and can you hear all the horns honking and the children grinning and the massive collective sigh? There now. Ready?

Hell yes, this is a time for screaming. For dancing, crying, celebrating with a rare feeling of renewal. It is a time for feeling it fully. A great thing has been done. A great shift has just transpired. Best news of all: There is no going back.

Forget what I said before. Gloating is allowed, a great joyous I-told-you-so straight in the scowling faces of the racists and the warmongers and those so horribly terrified of the new and the different and the possible. Please feel free to let those rivers of gratitude course through you like molten joy coupled to the train of possibility pulled by the giant hand of hell yes.

Above all, it is a time to exhale, to relax a little, to get the hell on with it. I know I speak for roughly five thousand fellow media lackeys when I say, sweet Lord, I am just so glad this damnable beast of an election is finally over. It's like a combination of the day after Christmas and post-coital orgasm and giving birth. You can only sit in the wobbly afterglow, warm and buzzing and dizzy, insanely grateful you didn't get a stocking full of Satan and Alaskan moosemeat and dirt, or a baby with three tiny heads and a nail gun where his arm should be.

This, I think, is perhaps the most important sentiment of all. Not merely relief, not liberation, not even unadulterated joy.

It's gratitude. Deep and satisfying and good. A sense of profound thanks that, well, we made it through. The hopefulness prevailed. That Obama not only survived and flourished, but appears more determined and assured than ever. What's more, our massive, ungainly democratic system? That hugely flawed beast of burden, gutted by eight solid years of the worst kind of abuse and misprision? It still seems to work. Well, mostly. How astonishing is that?

And now, here we are. What a time it has been. What a time it shall be. There is no turning back. And for that, we can only say, thank you. Thank you, thank you, oh sweet God, thank you.

Now pass me that damn champagne.