Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Oh, The Horror! Of the Financial Crisis

February 8, 2011

I’ve been reading material that is surely no snooze: The report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a horror story made worse by being true life.  Here’s the effect of the financial collapse of 2008 that led to our current “Great Recession:”

“As this report goes to print, there are more than 26 million Americans who are out of work, cannot find full-time work, or have given up looking for work.  About 4 million families have lost their homes to foreclosure and another four and a half million have slipped into the foreclosure process or are seriously behind on their mortgage payments.  Nearly $11 trillion in household wealth has vanished, with retirement accounts and life savings swept away.

…The collateral damage of this crisis has been real people and real communities.”

The commission’s charge was to determine how and why this collapse occurred, or “…how did it come to pass that in 2008 our nation was forced to choose between two stark and painful alternatives – either risk total collapse of our financial system and economy or inject trillions of taxpayer dollars into the financial system and an array of companies [TARP bailout], as millions of Americans still lost their jobs, their savings, and their homes?”

I recommend reading their report at  I’ll not repeat all the conclusions here but, in sum, they found that the crisis was avoidable, was caused by the mortgage financing industry, investment banks and Wall Street, and was enabled by a regulatory system they politically and ideologically controlled. “… there was a systemic breakdown in accountability and ethics”   similar to the lead-in to the Great Depression.

Yet we don’t hear much about this report from corporate-controlled media, do we.  What we do hear is conservatives and libertarians pushing the same stale economic policies that caused this crisis.  They have no solutions, only misinformation and attacks on the Democrats who DO have proven solutions that are working.

Somebody forgot the lessons in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” in which community banker George Bailey discovered his positive impact upon his community.  Let’s hear it for the community banks!  Most of them operate under the regulations enacted after the Great Depression. While making a reasonable profit, most of them handle our checking and savings accounts properly.  Most handle our loans properly because they OWN our loans; if we default it hurts them too.  So they don’t engage in predatory lending to unqualified borrowers.  They don’t sell our loans to others.  They don’t speculate on Wall Street using invented securities.  They’re lending banks, not investment banks, and vital to our economy.  Yet, when they do fail they are quickly restructured and put back on a steady course by the government.

It was the titans of our financial industry – mortgage brokers, credit rating firms, investment banks, holding companies and Wall Street – who engaged in “regulatory capture,” whereby an industry takes political control of the regulatory agencies and corrupts the standards that protect consumers and the country.  These financial titans did everything they were NOT supposed to do using a shadow banking system and artificial securities based on toxic mortgages that violated all reasonable safeguards.

To make matters worse they sold toxic investments around the world and, far worse, they lured elements of our safety net, retirement plans, to participate in the scheme with disastrous results. While most of us learned in kindergarten that rules help us live better lives, these people followed the myth that capitalism can operate properly without regulation.  This myth persists today in conservative and libertarian calls for deregulation. With financial reform we made a few steps to rein in some but not all misbehavior; we got back much of the TARP bailout money but now the stock market is in another bubble.  And conservatives want to go back to square one.

Few of the perpetrators have been prosecuted, but more may be.  Note that few of the truly malfeasant were homeowners who defaulted on loans.  And NONE were workers who lost their jobs.  Yet conservatives would have us believe homeowners caused this crisis and that the unemployed purposely destroyed their own jobs so they could “bask in the glory” of temporary unemployment insurance at a fraction of their earnings.

We haven’t slipped into another Great Depression.  For that we have our safety net of social programs to thank.  At the onset of the Great Depression we had no Social Security, no Medicare and Medicaid, few employee retirement plans, and no unemployment insurance. Wisely we put those in place to build the middle class in America and even out the ups and downs of the economy.

We now also averted a depression by government spending to stimulate demand while meeting known needs such as infrastructure.  The loans – they were NOT bailouts – to the auto industry were elements of that successful stimulus.  Yes, these increase the debt some, but, here’s another truth:  Growing back the economy is the BEST way to pay down that debt.

Yet, hawking the myth that our debt is the major challenge we now face, conservatives demand that the safety net and stimulative spending be cut. Until we get the economy going and employment up, stimulative spending should not be cut and the safety net should be enhanced not reduced.

The truth is that most of our debt, over half of which is owed to our fellow Americans by the way, came first from the Bush tax cuts followed by two unpaid wars and a prescription drug benefit giveaway to drug makers.  The next part of the debt came from spending to save the economy.  None of that was caused by President Obama or the Democrats.

It’s a blatant lie that Social Security is bankrupt. It’s not even in trouble, has a $2+ trillion trust fund separate from the general fund, not part of the budget deficit.  It has been the most successful program of its kind in history, never defaulted on benefits and is secure as is until 2037.  The fund is invested in US Treasury notes, not Wall Street.  Can you imagine what damage would have occurred had Social Security been privatized as conservatives want and its funds invested in this toxic soup of mortgage-backed securities?

All this conservative denial and misinformation begs the question:  Are conservatives so intent on winning the next election that they would try to prevent our recovery from an economic crisis THEY created?  Or have they too been “captured” by the financial industry to do its bidding?  Bottom line:  The financial industry should serve the people, not the other way around.

Don’t read the tea leaves wrong

November 4, 2010

It’s not clear at all that the American people are dissatisfied with the Democratic accomplishments or agenda. In fact, most of them may be both aware and supportive. Why do we always take exit polls of voters as the “will of the American people?” It’s not; it’s the sentiments of the people who voted. If you combined the progressives who voted and clearly support what this Administration has done with the millions who were disenfranchised or left out and thus could not or did not feel motivated to vote, the American people likely have very strong support for Obama and the Democratic agenda. Among the unemployed, which are millions, how many do you suppose would vote Republican? What about the people who have lost their voter registration because they lost their job and/or house and had to move? And the mobile young folk ? (There I will fault Obama for not keeping them and OFA more in the loop.)

Stick to your guns, progressives and Democrats, and fight for ALL the people, those who voted and those who did not.

All this election proves is that

A) hate, fear and lies will motivate significant people to vote against their own best interest; and

B) social disruption on the scale we’ve seen since 2008 disenfranchises millions; and

C) corporate control of the media and the message destroys democracy.

Income Inequality and Societal Health

March 29, 2010

Recently, we’ve heard and read demands from some that our tax dollars not be taken “against our will” and given to “those who refuse to produce anything.”  How do these folks know their money is going to “people who refuse to produce anything?”  There’s no evidence of this.  Where are these slackards and ne’r-do-wells?

The fact is most tax dollars go to businesses and organizations to provide services and to state and local governments which in turn provide other services through businesses and organizations.  Their employees are recipients of the money but only in a context of working to earn it.  Employees, in turn, buy goods and services from businesses.  Our entire workforce is not a bunch of non-producers.  They’re taxpayers too!

And what about the case of the government paying for health care for those who cannot pay, such as Medicaid and SCHIP?  That money never crosses the palms of the patients.  It goes directly to the providers of health care and their WORKING employees. The patient gets the benefit of treatment, which may enable them to work rather than sit at home sick or die.  It improves their quality of life and enhances their future, but they can’t “bum a living” off health care assistance.  The same applies to the food stamp program which pays in food and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) which is, as its name, “temporary.”  So, there are few refusing non-producers under those rugs either.

Also, strike from the pack of non-producers those 18 and under who are not yet of “producing” age and the retirees who already “produced” for many years.  And strike those in higher ed or technical schools who are still learning how to “produce.”  Then there are those with debilitating illness that are unable to work.

About 10% of the working age population has applied for unemployment assistance – this generates our official unemployment rate.  Since seeking a job is a necessary condition for obtaining assistance, unemployment recipients are actively trying to return to “producing” something.  The unavoidable conclusion is that there can’t be many “people who refuse to produce anything” receiving government assistance.  They may be out there, but they’re not living on your tax dollars.

This reminds me of the phantom “welfare Cadillac” that conservatives claimed a woman – of course a woman of color – drove, back in the day.  Supposedly the Caddy, that strangely could never be located, was funded by the taxpayers.

Why are some of us so irrationally distrustful of our fellow human beings?  Why did a “tea party” crowd verbally assault a man with Parkinson’s Disease who sat at a rally with a sign saying he needed health care coverage and they might too some day. They called him a communist, threw money at him and taunted that he was just looking for a handout. It was sickening to see someone abused in that way. (One of his tormentors has now come forward to apologize, expressing shame for his behavior.)  And now, why are our elected representatives who supported health insurance reform being subjected to threats of violence, racial and ethnic slurs, and acts of vandalism?  All they have done is extend to all Americans the access to health care enjoyed by people in all the other advanced nations of the world.

The answer to “why?” rests, in part, in purposefully ramped up mob behavior.  However, another more significant part of the answer can be found in a book I recently read: “The Health of Nations:  Why Inequality is Harmful to Your Health” by Ichiro Kawachi and Bruce P. Kennedy.  This book is a real eye-opener for those who would see.  Their prescience, in 2002, of the recent economic collapse is astounding.  Years before it occurred, they touched on all aspects of the collapse – the housing boom, the deregulation, the power of corporations, the media, consumerism, income inequality, credit debt and even the derivative trading on Wall Street!

The book is not based upon hunches and opinions, but on solid research – comparisons of countries and of states within the US regarding economic measures and indicators of societal health.  The economic measures were things like personal income, taxation, employment, GNP, ownership, savings, hours of work and wages.  The measures of societal health were things like life expectancy, infant mortality, child abuse, suicide, mental health, school dropouts, divorce, teenage pregnancy, crime, alcohol and drug abuse, participation in community organizations, voter participation, attitudes toward government and personal expressions of cooperation, happiness and trust/distrust for others.

Note the last item.  Some of this research specifically examined feelings of trust/distrust for other people. Typical research questions asked if people felt that “most people can’t be trusted” or that “most people would try to take advantage of you if they got the chance.” In a 1999 study, more than HALF (!) of Texan research subjects agreed that most people can’t be trusted and ALL of the states in which more than half agreed with that statement were southern US states!  It’s sad that so many viewed their fellow beings so harshly.  There’s no way it’s the truth; it’s irrational.

Where does it come from and why is distrust so much more common in the US and in southern US states?  Those who favor laissez-faire capitalism and elimination of social programs are not gonna like the findings of this research.  While I’m sure it was not intentional, conservative/libertarian political and social policies of laissez-faire capitalism and disinvestment in social programs have resulted in a large and growing gap in disposable income between the wealthy and the rest of us.  And greater income inequality has led directly to downward trends in virtually all measures of societal health.

In “The Health of Nations” the authors report that “Between 1947 and 1973, American families at every step of the economic ladder enjoyed income growth – and the poorest families had the highest growth rate of all.  But, beginning in 1973, the economy began registering sharp increases in both earnings and income inequality.”  Between 1977 and 1999, the income of the wealthiest 1% rose 115% while the income of the poorest 20% actually dropped by 9%.  The authors reported that in 2002, “Forty percent of American families are either no better off or worse off today in real terms than they were back in 1977.”  That was in 2002; it’s gotten measurably worse since then.

Among advanced nations of the world, the United States is the richest, but has the 2nd highest income inequality (Singapore is 1st) and has far more health and social problems than any other country.  Among US states, southern states, including Texas, are among the highest in income inequality and have the highest frequency of health and social problems.  And in the US, especially in the southern states of the US, conservative economic and social policy has held sway for the last three decades.

Tax cuts for the rich have been paired with a suppression of earnings for the rest of us.  Anti-government actions such as tax and budget freezes have eroded our social capital and infrastructure.  We basically dismantled welfare for the poor, but the “welfare for the rich” continued apace, reaching its most egregious level in the recent bailout of the financial system.  In search of illusory “free markets,” deregulation of businesses and free trade agreements sent US jobs packing and corporate profits soaring.  The promotion of consumerism has urged everyone to “keep up with the Joneses” while doing so has become harder.

People are hurting, and in societies with greater income inequality, even the rich suffer a diminished quality of life.  Everyone has increased anxiety, greater alcohol and drug use, lower feelings of cooperation and happiness, and increased distrust both of other people and of social institutions.  We become the “me” society, not the “we” society, comparing ourselves to everyone else instead of seeing ourselves in everyone else.  Prejudice against “others” is heightened as we look around in anger and distrust, for someone to blame.

If medical researchers announced a treatment that would cure a serious disease or that a currently used treatment was found to be ineffective or even damaging to our health, would we not use the curative treatment or stop using the ineffective or dangerous treatment?  Rational people would do so and most of us are rational.  Most of us, even those who formerly advocated conservative public policy, are seeing that it has not worked for our society.  They’re able to see that the pendulum needs to swing back to re center our society.

We recently saw that, if health insurers are taking advantage of health care consumers, we can change that.  If our extreme income inequality, the worst in the world, is harming our society and causing us to have the largest frequency of social problems, we can change that as well.  We just need to raise our rational heads above the rhetoric, expose the misinformation, avoid the buzzwords, reject the politics of hatred and mistrust and focus on doing what works.

The Supremes Sing the Corporate Tune

January 22, 2010

“Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.”- Theodore Roosevelt

I was busily writing an article regarding the destructive effects on our society of huge bonuses for corporate CEOs, when the January 20 news interrupted such that I must comment.  An astounding Supreme Court decision was handed down that effectively handed our democracy over to corporations, including multi-national, even foreign-controlled, corporations!  The case was titled Citizens United v Federal Election Commission.  The issue was whether or not corporations could pay for material that advocated for or against specific candidates for President, Senator or U.S. Representatives. This ruling overturned a 20-year-old ruling that prohibited corporations from using money from their general treasuries to pay for campaign ads.  It also reversed the McCain Feingold law that kept them from running ads within a certain date before elections.

Historically, corporations and unions have been prohibited from spending their own funds on broadcast ads or billboards urging election or defeat of a federal candidate.  This restriction dated from 1907, when President Theodore Roosevelt asked Congress to prohibit corporation, railroads and national banks from using their money in federal election campaigns.  At the end of World War II, Congress applied the restriction to labor unions.

Now the Court said that corporations have free-speech rights just like natural persons. They are free to use their billions to distort, exaggerate and lie, if they so choose, to support or oppose as they see fit. And it doesn’t matter who runs the corporation, even non-Americans.  They could be a Saudi oil company (ARAMCO) or a Chinese manufacturing company, or a corporation owned by anti-American extremists. Are you ready for the next President from Citibank?

Corporations and unions still can’t give money directly to campaigns.  But they won’t need to since they can run their own ads.  And they do have to identify themselves in the ads, but not necessarily who their backers are.

I don’t know about you but I take deep offense at the idea that corporate entities are anywhere akin to human beings.  The US Constitution begins, “We the people of the United States,….”  Were they talking about anything other than human beings?  Does anyone really believe the First Amendment  to the Constitution refers to the speech of anyone other than natural persons?

The ruling passed 5-4.  Those in favor were the conservative bloc on the court, ALL appointed by Republican Presidents.  Here it is, folks, as if we needed any more evidence that the “Party of Lincoln” has been taken over completely by corporatists.  Conservatives railed against “activist” judges who “legislate from the bench,” yet this ruling from their anointed Court is EXTREME activist legislation from the bench.  In this ruling, the Court ignored its long-standing rule of stare decisis (“Maintain what has been decided”).

However, in a 90-page dissent from the opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens said that the framers of the Constitution “had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings, and when they constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind.”  Good for him and good for the other dissenters, Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg and Breyer.  Those who rail against liberal justices should take note that THEY are the ones who stood for YOUR rights in this case.

Aside from Republicans and Libertarians, too many Democrats are cozy with corporations as well.  As we’ve recently seen in health insurance reform debates, a few Democrats and one Independent have carried water for their corporate insurance backers, trying to give them everything they want including the mandate that everyone buy insurance from for-profit corporations.  I’ve come to believe that the battle of this century will be between the populists and the corporatists.  The Democrats should step up to be the party of the people, because Republicans and Libertarians have already sealed their deal with the corporations.

Like many Americans, I’ve created a corporation.  It’s as easy as 1-2-3 and there are plenty of websites that will throw one together for you on the spot.  But corporations are the creation of the government which authorizes their existence.  Does it not seem sickly circular that they should now be able to directly manipulate election of candidates to positions that set their taxes and operational standards?

If you think this decision doesn’t affect us here in West Texas, think again.  Texas politics is already controlled to a great extent by the energy industries and by insurance companies.  With this ruling, there is nothing to stop them now from taking more of our money then spending it to buy politicians who will let them take even more of our money.  Long gone will be legislation that benefits ordinary Americans or protects the environment and wider will be the gap between the rich and the rest of us which is eroding our society.  And we’ll be drowned by more lies from corporate-backed entities such as Freedomworks, Americans for Prosperity and Fox News.

To those who claim President Obama is trying to establish fascism in this country, take note:  This is the REAL fascism – wedding the corporation to the government.  Government of, by and for the corporation, brought to you, not by Obama, progressives and Democrats, but by conservatives who put these people on the Supreme Court.

In 1857, the US Supreme Court ruled, in the infamous Dred Scott decision, that people of African descent and their descendants were not persons and could never be US citizens.  They were deemed property, not people.  This decision so outraged the people that they enacted the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.  A similar outrage should consume us now.  We need to amend the Constitution to state once and for all that corporations are NOT persons and are not entitled to the rights of natural persons.  Corporations are things, not people.  Think of it as the battle of Man vs Machine.  I know which side I’m on; do you?

Want to take action?  See:

Move to Amend

Free Speech for People

Public Citizen

Moving the Progressive Agenda in the Democratic Party

December 20, 2009

If we’re disappointed in the direction of recent events, progressives should take heart and double down on efforts to bring about change by working within the Democratic Party.

First, consider that it was NOT ALL Democrats who have given in to corporate greed in both the health care and financial reforms.  In fact MOST have not and the platform for the Democratic Party called for universal health care.  And we are going to get SOME reforms that WILL help millions of people.  It’s NOT enough, but it’s NOT nothing.

Second, unlike the situation when Republicans were in the bare majority but had support of some key Democrats, today with Democrats having a nominal super majority, there are NO progressive Republicans assisting with their agenda.  About 40+ Democratic Senators and 200+ Democratic Congress Members are progressive.  Clearly the problem is that there are a sufficient number of corporatist Democrats who wield inordinate power.

Third, some members of Obama’s staff and cabinet are enthralled to the corporatists, but not all are; and he will move more progressive if we the people make him do so.

Fourth, this trend toward corporate control of the government has been going on for 30 years; we should not be so naïve to assume we can change the trend of the entire society in a few months or a year.

Finally,  because the mass media is corporate-owned, there is little support for facts and ideas that support progressive goals.  Today we have one major media outlet that is entirely devoted to the corporate agenda, Faux News.  This means we need to make changes in the media and maximize use of the internet for rational, fact-based, and effective political change.

Instead of throwing the entire Democratic Congress or Obama under the bus, we progressives should be:

  1. Boosting support for those Democrats and Independents like Bernie Sanders who stood with the people
  2. Identifying progressive Democrats to run against the corporatist Dems in the primaries and support those challengers
  3. Identifying progressive Democrats to run for the currently Republican seats of Congress and support them
  4. Maintaining the pressure on Obama to take progressive options and change his staff and cabinet to more progressives.  There’s a way of telling him what we want without demonizing him and tagging him with labels like “sellout.”  And
  5. Boosting progressive media of all kinds; maximize use of the internet.

To be sure, the corporatists really like to hear progressives attacking the Democrats or Obama and saying they’re not going to turn out and vote in 2010 or 2012, or advocating third parties, rallies in the street, “kill the bill,” etc.  The corporate banksters are well aware that the Republican Party has self-destructed.  Now they want to see the same happen to Democrats because the ONLY effective control on corporate power can be a government controlled by and beholding to the people.  They WANT to so fracture American society that the government can pose NO restraint upon them whatsoever.

I say resist the urge to fracture the Democratic Party and demonize Democrats.  Be smart.  Be effective.  Draw together progressives for effective action in the only political party that has a prayer of moving government in a more progressive direction. (It does take a major political party to get anything done.)  With Obama in the lead, Democrats already have budged the agenda a bit in these past 11 months; reinforcing that is our best hope of becoming the change we all seek.

Responding to Anti-government Ranting

December 10, 2009

Though written for a West Texas audience, readers can readily adapt this to their own locality.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

–Mark Twain

There is history behind why some today express disdain for the federal government.  I’ll save that history for later but say here that a cruel joke has been played upon many Americans of moderate means.  They’ve been persuaded to think, talk and act politically against their own best interests, all to benefit controlling big banking, corporate and Wall Street interests.

Those interests I call “the banksters” want you to believe that your federal government can’t do anything right and is only bent on violating your rights, invading your privacy, taking away your guns, demolishing your religion and taxing you to death.  Funded and misinformed by the banksters, pundits and political mouthpieces doggedly sing this tune to make the lie become truth if only repeated often enough.  They do this because the only possible effective restraint on predatory capitalism would be the federal government; they want you to weaken your government or redirect it’s mission for their financial gain.

Let’s consider the accuracy of anti-government claims.  The US government is the foundation upon which our American society is built.  We’re lucky as residents of this country in that our social foundation was well thought out and crafted to withstand the test of time.  Perhaps the only thing that can bring it down is our own lack of understanding about it.  (These days we’re skating perilously close to that cliff.)

The government was established by adoption of the US Constitution with its purposes expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution.  It’s just one sentence but arguably the most important “mission statement” of modern times. With editorial assistance, the text as written is displayed for clarity:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to

form a more perfect Union,

establish Justice,

insure domestic Tranquility,

provide for the common defence,

promote the general Welfare,

and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,

do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

While the meaning of some purpose statements can be debated, some are crystal clear.  The rest of the Constitution, including Amendments, directs the organization and actions of the government to serve those basic six purposes. With the inclusion of the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution (The Bill of Rights) the focus of this government and society clearly is on PEOPLE, those living at the time of adoption and their posterity (that’s us).  Any way you cut it, this society was organized as a “we” society in which we collectively look after and care for each other.  (And nowhere in this mission statement will you find mandates to preserve the profits of multi-national corporations.)

So, how well is the federal government addressing its mission statement?  Specifically, how is it enhancing the lives of those of us here in the wilds of West Texas?  We weren’t part of the original organization, but we wisely got ourselves adopted in 1845.  Since then, we’ve given the countless lives and vast personal and material resources to our government.  We have invested heavily, yet some are blind to all we receive in return.

Speaking of only one purpose, to “promote the general Welfare,” here’s just some of what we return to ourselves via our federal government:  Big Bend National Park, McDonald Observatory, NASA, Sul Ross State University (student grants, loans and program funding), AMTRAK; our non-commercial, public radio (Marfa Public Radio) and TV systems; food and drug safety systems including FDA and USDA (which also assists agriculture development); the federal highway system that conveys everything to and fro; money and regulation of our banking and commerce systems; transportation safety; disease and injury control; emergency response in disasters; environmental protection through research funding and regulation of pollution; employment assistance and occupational safety; housing assistance including construction funding, lending, regulation and support; the National Weather Service; and assistance to small businesses.

I left some biggies for last:  Social Security is a federal disability insurance and retirement system that provides basic income for many of our citizens who contributed to it and might otherwise be destitute.   TANF provides temporary assistance to needy families.   Medicare is a federal single-payer health care assurance system for those 65 and older.  Medicaid is the same for low-income folks (funded 50/50 by the Feds and the states).  Tricare serves military families and retirees.  And the State Children’s Health Insurance Program with joint federal/state funding covers care for uninsured children. These health care assurance (funding) systems are ALL federal programs, but many are operated by private insurance companies as contractors for the government.  Unlike for-profit health insurance, however, these programs focus on caring for people not making profit; overhead is low and client satisfaction is high.  The actual care is provided by our superior, mostly private professionals, hospitals and clinics. The VA health care system provides our veterans with health care both at government-run facilities and indirectly through payments to private doctors and pharmacies.  To those who consider health insurance reform intrusive, note that the government, at our request, is already deeply involved in health care financing and it works quite well.

“We the People” insisted that these services be provided.  It’s more efficient to provide them collectively and no one else does what the government will do.  Individual services may not be provided to our satisfaction, but if they are not, we have recourse.  They belong to us!  Consider too that these endeavors not only benefit West Texans, they also provide jobs for friends and neighbors.  And each of these endeavors creates demand for other goods and services provided by our local businesses.  If, as it now seems, we avoid a full-blown depression, we have this safety-net, this purpose to thank:  “…to promote the general Welfare.”

Those attacking the federal government “know for sure” some things that “just ain’t so.”  Believing what they say could get us all in deep trouble.

The President’s Afghanistan Strategy

December 2, 2009

I was adamant that we get out of Afghanistan, but Obama has convinced me that his way of doing just that is the best of no good alternatives.  I think a lot of progressives may have had wax in their ears – all they heard in the speech was the boosting of troops. What I heard said up front was “to bring this war to a successful conclusion.”  I don’t know how successful it will be; but there’s a better chance of it being relatively more successful with the temporary boost in troops, prior to withdrawal.

I listened to the speech again and made an outline of what he said.  He was right in going back over the history of the Afghanistan war and making a clear distinction between it and Iraq and between it and Vietnam.  I supported the war in Afghanistan and most of the country did as well – most of the world did. We went in there with the full backing of Congress, NATO and the UN.  And then George Bush dropped the ball.  Now, in our thinking Iraq and Afghanistan are all confused together.

Regardless of my belief that al-Queda was coddled and promoted by the US under the table, and encouraged and left unrestrained from attacking us, the fact is that THEY did do the dirty work on 9/11.  Go back and remember that they attacked us before 9/11 too, and Bill Clinton made attempts to decapitate them.  Bush pulled back investigation and preemption of terrorism in order to boost his globalist agenda (Iraq) and to give legitimacy to his stolen Presidency.  All that is true, but the al-Queda brand of extremist violence was a threat then and will be in the future if we don’t take action to further erode it in its main pocket of control.

And he correctly pointed out, pretty much without resorting to the constant “threat” “terror” fear tactics of Bush Inc, that recent attempts to attack us by extremists based in the area HAVE been disrupted.  And it is obvious that al-Queda would love to get hold of some nuke material in Pakistan.

I also think that many progressives also had wax in their ears when Obama listed his 3 objectives in the speech:
1) Military strategy to break Taliban momentum, strengthen Afghanistan’s security forces.  This with our NATO allies.  Begin withdrawal July 2011.  It’s not as if all problems will be solved at that time.  It’s more like he’s saying “go do all you can do to get it as good as possible by that time.”  That is motivating.  And I think the Karsai regime is on notice to get their ducks in a row before the American military leaves.
2) Civilian strategy with the UN to combat corruption, boost things like agricultural development.  (i.e., nation building)  Work with UN.  This doesn’t appear to have a deadline of July 2011 and it should be open-ended. (Please see Secretary of State Clinton’s testimony before congress at  <>
3) Pakistan strategy.  They are most at danger from extremism, and opinion has now shifted against the Taliban.  They’ve got the nukes we’re worried about.  This also does not appear to be time limited.

Why are so many of us not listening to all of the objectives?  Number Two at least has been something I’ve been claiming in my emails to Obama that he should be doing.  And that is said with the realization that some military may be needed for security for non-military personnel to do their job.  Objectives 2 and 3 make crystal clear the difference between Barack Obama and George W Bush, for whom military action was the cure for everything.  Did we progressives not even listen to the last part of Obama’s speech?  He talked openly about the financial cost – when did Bush ever do that?  He talked about how our involvement can’t be open ended because we need to turn to work at home.  And he reminded us that the US does not seek world domination or claim the resources of other countries as our own.  How different from Bush was that?

And I don’t see many other alternatives Obama had because of the Bush ineptitude.  I think a wholesale removal of troops from Afghanistan would be, as he termed it for Iraq and Afghanistan, irresponsible.  You just don’t do military withdrawal that way.  Where would it leave our non-military personnel?  We’d  have to give up on that too and that’s would be a shame.  So, what he’s chosen to do is give the troops some assistance to see what they can do to help our security there and they’ve got a time line to meet some objectives.  Can we really expect that they could do as well with the current force of 70,000 as they could with 100,000?  If we left the level where it is, as he said, it might be longer before we could extricate ourselves from there.  And if we can improve the security situation it will help the non-military people who might remain to help Afghanistan.

Finally, all this is consistent with what Barack Obama said during the campaign, that he was going to focus on Afghanistan and get the job done there.  This seems to be a reasonable way to try to do it.  Obama seems to be taking a calculated risk to his Presidency here.  I don’t think he would do that without good reasons.  I think we should “trust but verify” him on this.  The anti-war protest should continue to keep on the pressure, but I won’t be joining them until July 2011 comes around and Obama is nowhere near doing what he said.

Debunking Conservative Talking Points on Health Care

November 24, 2009

Joan Neubauer, of the Davis Mountains Trans-Pecos Heritage Association has posted an article entitled “Government in My Doctor’s Office” which can be read here:

She also submitted  it to the Alpine Avalanche and it was printed under the title “Address health concerns through free market” in the November 19, 2009 issue of that paper

This article is written in response and will be published in the Alpine Avalanche as well.

Joan Neubauer wins the prize for the most misinformation per square inch of print for her latest column on the US House version of health care reform.  However, rest assured that most of the inaccuracies she repeated didn’t originate with her.  Her entire column was a repetition of talking points corporate America is slipping into the hands of conservative and libertarian spokesmen and pushing on their media subsidiary, Fox News.

Their purpose is simple and it goes like this:  The United States is the only advanced nation that collectively finances health care primarily through corporate, for-profit insurers. (Note, I’m talking about health care financing, not the provision of care by doctors and hospitals and other providers; this is how we PAY for care, not how it’s provided.)  Those for-profit, corporate insurers have pocketed our health care dollars instead of paying for the care we need. Meanwhile, forty-six million Americans are uninsured, and 45,000 die every year because they don’t have access to a doctor. Almost a million Americans have gone bankrupt because of health related costs, and costs are rising such that we are spending almost twice as much per person on health care as any other nation.

Private insurers broke this system and they know it.  They want to keep our money flowing their way so their CEO’s can live in the “manner to which they have become accustomed” and their stockholders can make more money with our money.  The only way they can keep this scam going is to prevent regulation and corner their already restricted market.  There is NO “free market” in health care financing!  We’re talking about an industry that was mistakenly given exemption from anti-trust regulation!

There is only one entity big enough to stand up to mega-corporations (if it will), and that is the US government. So, at the first moves in over a decade to rein them in, their strategy is to demonize the government and elected representatives who are seeking reform. Folks, the US Government is not some beast out there bent upon devouring us; it is the collective representative of us, operated by our elected representatives, with our tax dollars and for the purposes stated in the US Constitution.  In the Preamble to the US Constitution you will see one purpose is to “promote the general welfare.” Ask yourself this:  When was the last time your friendly neighborhood health insurer came to your home town, conducted public town hall meetings or held regular office hours to hear from and help you?  Never!  Did you vote for them?  No way!

Further, Ms Neubauer spoke of the fraud that has been discovered in Medicare, and that certainly is important to control.  But one reason we know about that fraud is because Medicare is a government-run program with some transparency, oversight and accountability.  Just imagine what’s happening in the private health insurance realm where there is less accountability and no incentive to control costs.

The corporate insurers know the real facts, but they don’t want YOU to know.  So they make things up.  I’ll just run through a few of the tales, but, in sum, Neubauer’s column contains nothing BUT misinformation.  Here’s one whopper:  Health care reform is “government intrusion into one of the most private of human relationships, that between a patient and doctor.”  Talk to some folks who receive health care financed by Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, SCHIP and the VA (all of them government managed) and you will find patient satisfaction is high.  The government ENABLES doctor/patient relationships to exist where none would otherwise exist at all!  Yet the for-profit insurers intrude in that relationship daily, as any doctor who has had to negotiate to get their patients care will tell you.  And they prevent millions from even seeing a doctor.  Furthermore, decisions on coverage by government programs are based on patient care, while decisions made by private health insurers are based on corporate profits.

Here’s another:  It is not Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who established that health care reform would lower our deficit.  It’s the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office who analyzes and scores federal bills.   And they also confirmed that our deficit will be far, far worse without reform because we would continue to fund the corporate profits and there will be no downward pressure on prices.  How genuinely concerned can conservatives be about the deficit anyway, since they endorsed Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, two unjustified wars and the TARP giveaways.   By the way, if we would end those wars, we could easily pay for health care for all.

And another:  The planned cuts in Medicare are cuts in payments to certain providers who are now being overpaid, not in benefits to patients.  Instead of harming those 65 and older, reform will make Medicare coverage more secure.

Here’s another:  Health care reform does not contain ANY federal funding of abortion.  It enables the current status whereby 85% of private insurance plans, using private funds, cover abortions along with other reproductive health services.

The public option is a non-profit plan some can choose that provides competition for corporate insurance.  There is no plan for it to become mandatory.  On the contrary, as it stands now, the public option will only be available in the individual market, not in the much larger employer-paid insurance market.  While they tout the free market, insurers have already weakened the competition of the public option.

Finally, health care reform will help, not hurt, small businesses (and employers of all kinds, such as state and local government) and it will boost, not cut, employment and wages. And health care provider jobs will increase as those needing care finally get it.

Multiple columns would be required to detail all the points of health care reform winding its way through Congress.  It’s not perfect, but it’s a real start, long overdue.  I urge everyone to become informed of the true facts and to back genuine reform that serves the interest of ordinary Americans, not the corporations.  They have tremendous clout – about 2.5 lobbyists for every member of Congress. They’re using our money to spread misinformation.  But we know where they’re coming from and the facts are on our side.  We have to insist that our government enact true health care reform now!

The President’s Plan and My Comments on It

September 13, 2009

The President’s Plan for Health Reform

“It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance.
It will provide insurance to those who don’t. And it will lower the cost of health care
for our families, our businesses, and our government.”

If You Have Health Insurance,
the President’s Plan:

  • Ends discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions.
  • Limits premium discrimination based on gender and age.
  • Prevents insurance companies from dropping coverage when people are sick and need it most.
  • Caps out-of-pocket expenses so people don’t go broke when they get sick.
  • Eliminates extra charges for preventive care like mammograms, flu shots and diabetes tests to improve health and save money.
  • Protects Medicare for seniors.
  • Eliminates the “donut-hole” gap in coverage for prescription drugs.

If You Don’t Have Insurance,
the President’s Plan:

  • Creates a new insurance marketplace — the Exchange — that allows people without insurance and small businesses to compare plans and buy insurance at competitive prices.
  • Provides new tax credits to help people buy insurance.
  • Provides small businesses tax credits and affordable options for covering employees.
  • Offers a public health insurance option to provide the uninsured and those who can’t find affordable coverage with a real choice.
  • Immediately offers new, low-cost coverage through a national “high risk” pool to protect people with preexisting conditions from financial ruin until the new Exchange is created.

For All Americans,
the President’s Plan:

  • Won’t add a dime to the deficit and is paid for upfront.
  • Requires additional cuts if savings are not realized.
  • Implements a number of delivery system reforms that begin to rein in health care costs and align incentives for hospitals, physicians, and others to improve quality.
  • Creates an independent commission of doctors and medical experts to identify waste, fraud and abuse in the health care system.
  • Orders immediate medical malpractice reform projects that could help doctors focus on putting their patients first, not on practicing defensive medicine.
  • Requires large employers to cover their employees and individuals who can afford it to buy insurance so everyone shares in the responsibility of reform.

I can only support this plan if the following changes are made:

  • Also limit premium discrimination based on health status, i.e., pre-existing conditions.
  • Replace tax credits for individuals with a sliding-scale, direct assistance to buy health insurance.  Tax credits are helpful only to people who make enough money to pay taxes in excess of the credit.  Furthermore they only provide that help as much as a year after people have had to buy health insurance.
  • The public health insurance option needs to be available immediately to the uninsured, then expanded to be available to everyone.  The fastest, best way to implement it is to modify Medicare, not create a new program.  Co-ops are not acceptable because they do not control costs.
  • If premium discrimination based on health status as above is ended, there is no need for placing people in a high risk pool.  The private insurers should be able to cover them at a reasonable cost.  High-risk pools have the taint of discrimination and people often can’t afford the premiums, the deductibles  or other out-of-pocket costs.
  • Eliminate Medicare Advantage and other subsidies to the private health insurance companies related to Medicare.  They do just fine writing supplemental insurance for Medicare clients.
  • Re adjust Medicare payments so that the same reasonable reimbursement is provided to doctors and hospitals across the country.
  • Eliminate the mandate for individuals to obtain insurance.  If it is available to them at a reasonable price they will take it; we have far more people who want to be insured but can’t get it than we have people who don’t want it at all.  A mandate is meaningless without enforcement and fining people because they can’t afford insurance is repugnant.  We’re supposed to be helping people, not punishing them.
  • Taxes need to be increased on the wealthiest Americans.  If the private insurers are going to continue to take their profits out of the health care system, a portion of that needs to be returned to the system.  Alternatives are taxes on all sales of stock or stock in private insurance companies.  Another alternative is to limit deductions for the wealthiest Americans.  To say “Requires additional cuts if savings are not realized.” is meaningless.  If the savings don’t occur immediately, and they won’t, what are you going to cut, benefits?  Why not immediately tax profits taken outside the health care system?

Mary Bell Lockhart

To President Obama Regarding His Speech on Health Care Assurance

September 12, 2009

President Obama

Your speech was excellent!  And, you have my full support for reform as long as it is real reform, not reform in name only.  I’ll just focus here on my suggested improvements.

You talked about the economic downturn.  Great, but I would suggest making a connection between those economic conditions and health insurance reform.  The fact is that genuine assurance of health care (single-payer) would be the greatest aid to the economy across the board for individuals, businesses small and large, cities, counties, states, organizations and anyone who employs someone or manages tax dollars and elements of the health care system.  It would meet ALL of your goals thoroughly.  I realize that we’re not going to implement single-payer now, but the point remains.  We’re only taking half measures here, and, in absence of single-payer, a national government-run public option is essential.

You implied in your speech that it was only people on the left who favored single-payer.  Not so – fully 75% of people favor at least a government-operated public health assurance option.  A substantial number of those folks have insurance now and a substantial number must be conservative and moderate. Single-payer is not the far left idea you portrayed it to be.  We, the citizens, have been very clear about what we want.

As it stands now, our plan is a boon for the for-profit health insurers who are not in need of financial help.  There are some consumer-friendly changes to be sure.  However, I caution that what is said in speeches be matched by what is in the bills.  For example, I understand that, although we have been repeatedly told that people will not be excluded from coverage due to pre existing conditions, the bills don’t contain that reform.

Your goals are 1) Security and stability for those who have insurance 2) Insurance for those who don’t have it and 3) Holding down costs.  Simply put, you cannot achieve 3) without the government-operated public health assurance option available widely.

Exactly what the public option will be, or even IF it will be, is unclear.  For example, you said that it should compete with the private insurance programs on a level field by being funded primarily by premiums.  That’s fine, but next we were told that people who have private insurance cannot choose the public option.  Thus, the only market in which it can compete is the uninsured market.  That immediately means that it will provide no incentive for private insurers to control premium costs; in other words it won’t be the competition we need.  Simply put, the public option must be available to everyone.  Co-ops just won’t accomplish anything.

Another important aspect of controlling costs is to prevent insurers from charging differential premium rates for people based on pre existing conditions or other characteristics of the person – age, sex, etc.  There is nothing in your plan about this at all.  While insurers may not be able to deny coverage to those with pre existing conditions, what’s to keep them from charging so much that effectively people are still bankrupted for being/getting sick.  So-called “high risk pools” are running the same scam right now.  They are often the functional equivalent of “death panels.”

If you use high-risk pools to help people in immediate need, we will have the very sick over here in one pool and the relatively well over there being covered by private insurance.  Instead, if you make the real, complete reforms of the insurance industry immediately, there’s no reason why they can’t take on those who previously would have been denied by them and dumped into a high risk pool.  After all, isn’t that what the reforms are intended to accomplish?  This can be done day one from your signing of the bill.

Premiums need to be stable within a reasonable range for ALL people. This is NOT the same as car or home insurance where the risk of using benefits can govern the premium prices people pay.  This is health care financing where ASSURANCE of care should be the focus, not financial stability of insurers.  It’s not just catastrophic insurance as car and home insurance are.   Almost everyone will be using the system from day one.  Premium prices thus cannot be based upon the “risk’ of using the benefits.  Otherwise you will be taxing the sick for being sick as we are right now.

And without the public option widely available, there can be no controls on drug costs.  I can understand why that particular can is being kicked down the road, politically, but we should position ourselves so that programs to save drug costs can be pursued in the future. Having a public assurance option large enough to negotiate drug prices is essential.

You said that individuals and small businesses who could not afford health insurance would be given tax credits to help them buy it.  This is economic nonsense.  Tax credits only help people who earn enough to pay taxes greater than the credits.  And they do nothing to help with upfront costs, coming as they do a year later than the person has incurred the costs.  The only effective scheme is to have the government provide direct assistance to buy the insurance on a sliding scale.

The mandate for individuals to obtain insurance coverage is frankly unworkable and political suicide.  The truth is that most people who aren’t covered want to be; they just can’t afford it.  Even young people who see themselves as invulnerable see the rationale for having insurance so that when they do need the care it’s there.  I’ve been told that, under the plans Congress is working on, individuals would be fined $3800 if they didn’t buy the insurance.  Whether it’s $100 or $3800 that should not be a fine, it should instead buy them the insurance they need.  If people can’t afford it, how is a fine going to help that?  The point I’m making is that a mandate is only ethical if there is a sliding scale upfront to help people buy the insurance.  Imagine how angry at us people will be when enforcement of this provision starts.

And how can we justify a mandate to buy insurance if the only source of insurance is the for-profit health insurers?  We will be mandating that people send a significant portion of their health care dollars out of the health care system (into the profits of the insurers).  The health insurers are NOT in need of a bailout and the American people and businesses ARE; this plan runs in the opposite direction of who needs to help whom.  Again it spells doom for the Democrats once people have experienced enforcement of this mandate.  It’s a poison pill.

How we will pay for costs beyond the saving that can be achieved within the system?  The answer should be very simple really:  If the private insurers are going to continue to make their profits, then their taxes need to go up to fund the health care system.  Some of what they are taking out of the health care system needs to be restored to it.  You mentioned the high price of the Bush tax cuts; they need to be undone.  And stick by your idea that deductions should be limited for the very wealthy.

This picture is being needlessly muddled; and too much of it is about preserving the status quo of corporate for-profit insurance dominance.  Single-payer would simplify everything and provide more economic benefit to everyone except big insurance. And it would not disrupt any part of the system that does not critically need disrupting.  Again, what is this really about:  Assuring health care for Americans or preserving the insurance companies profits?  If they could have given us a good system, they should have done it long ago.  The fact that they did not says volumes about how they will behave in the future.

As it stands right now, we’re putting in place some reforms for the existing insurers.  I predict, that, unless the changes I suggested above are made, the opponents of reform will use the individual mandates and the lack of real cost reductions to defeat the Democrats.  Then when the Republicans return to power the reforms placed upon the insurers will be rolled back.  If we’re going to kick some cans down the road, we’d better look down the road first to see what’s there.

By the way, why is no one mentioning that either single-payer health care ASSURANCE or the public option would actually be operated by the private insurers and that private insurers would continue to handle supplemental insurance?  Medicare, Tricare, Medicaid are all operated by private companies under contract to the government, are they not?
Seeing our failure to make these points clear, leads me to believe that someone is just not trying hard enough to give us what more than 75% of Americans have said they want:  a government public option to the for-profit health insurance. Co-ops just won’t cut it, folks.

Kind Regards,

Mary Bell Lockhart/