Saturday, May 26, 2012

How Stupid is America's Working Class?

Do Americans have mass amnesia?

Ronald Reagan told us that we could ramp up defense, lower taxes and pay off the deficit. He was wrong. The deficit escalated during the 8 years of Morning in America. He also sold us on the "trickle down" theory of economics. That didn't work either. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer in Ronnie's America.

During the administration of George Bush the Elder, we were told that we could ramp of defense, lower taxes and pay down the deficit. We couldn't. To give him credit, George H W saw the writing on the wall and reneged on his "read my lips: no new taxes" pledge. Under Old George, we had a great economic meltdown which jeopardized the economy. It was called the Savings and Loan Crisis. Remember that? It was caused because the S&Ls wanted to get on the same gravy train banks were riding. No longer content to simply make prudent loans to homeowners and pocket their modest profits, S&L's began taking fliers on bigger and riskier projects. Lots of them went under. Big names were caught up in the ugly aftermath. The Keating Five, George Bush's son, Neil, and others. It cost the taxpayers billions to bail out the S&Ls. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer in 41's America.

George W Bush was elected on a campaign promise of increasing defense spending and lowering taxes which we were told would decrease the deficit. George W couldn't keep that promise. He did lower taxes and increase the Pentagon's budget but the deficit skyrocketed. Also, during George Bush the Younger's eight years, the banks finally got their comeuppance, just as the S&L's had before them. They'd bundled mortgages together in insecure mega-packages, then sold them off until no one even knew quite who owned what. They were more like Las Vegas high rollers than bankers. Foreclosures became as common as rain drops. The entire economy went into a tailspin. The taxpayers had to pay out billions to bail them out because, we were told, they were "too big to fail". The rich got richer and the poor got poorer in 43's America.

Things have gotten better under Obama, not great, but better. The economy is coming back, unemployment is going down, manufacturing is up and so is energy production.

But, we have Mitt Romney waiting in the wings. Mitt, who tells us we can cut taxes, increase defense spending and lower the deficit. If Ronnie, George I and George II couldn't do it, what would make us believe Mitt can? Not only that, but Romney is all for de-regulating the same financial institutions whose butts we had to save twice before. Chase just made a $2 billion screw up which it's CEO (who kept his job, by the way) attributed to stupidity and sloppiness.  Oh, yeah, the banks seen the error of their ways all right.

Furthermore, Mitt wants to raise taxes on those making under $20,000 annually. He wants to increase class sizes in public schools. He want to put those wonderful banks back in as the middleman for student loans thus raising the costs for students (talk about getting money for nothing). He wants to repeal Obamacare and include a Personhood Amendment in the Constitution.

What the hell is the matter with the middle and lower classes of this country? They're on Facebook all the time, fighting for the right to be shafted by the Republicans. They buy the same story every election cycle somehow thinking it's going to be different this time....but it never is. And it won't be if we elect Mitt Romney, under whom the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.

Friday, May 18, 2012

What Would You Do?

            Any number of prognosticators have foretold that the world will end on December 21, 2012, or at least near that date, including the Mayans, the Incans, the ancient Egyptians, as well as Nostradamus, the great future-teller. Even NASA predicts increased solar activity in the general time frame of 2012 which could indicate a corresponding increase in violent weather events. Put “world end 2012” in a Google search box and over 300,000 responses will pop up. People all over the globe have formed groups dedicated to surviving the cataclysmic events they believe will occur.
            I don’t know whether the world will end in roughly six months or not. If I had to guess, I’d say not. Over time, there have been many predictions about the end of the world and we’re still here, muddling along like always. Meanwhile, the true believers of the past had to come out of their caves and down from their mountaintops to try to slip back into society, claiming an error in interpretation.
            I’m more fascinated by what individual people would do if they knew for a fact that their months were limited to a precious few. Would we tend to be more sharing or more selfish, would we work even harder or take what was left of life easier, would we go adventuring or cling more closely to home and family?
            Of course, many of the Google groups are busily trying to prepare to survive. They’re researching isolated locations where they can store food and water purification tablets and gas masks. And these end-times ants have guns so they can hold off the optimistic grasshoppers among us who might try to take their stuff.
            That would never be my style. If there’s only going to be 87 of us left after it’s all over, in a world of fire and smoke and ash and pollution and raging water and putrefying corpses, I don’t want to be one of them. I’ll give my place to someone younger and more hopeful. I'll wish them luck starting the next generation to re-boot the earth’s population.
            And, anyway, I don’t think I could shoot anyone who came knocking at my door with hungry children. I’m pretty sure I’d share my supplies until they were gone.  But, you know, I also think most people would have the same attitudes they have now when we don’t believe the world will end any time soon.  As a species, we’re not particularly generous-hearted toward the less fortunate although we talk a good game on Sundays when we’re in church. If we were, there’d be no such thing as hungry children and homeless veterans or slums or wars.
            I know one thing - I’d go to Ireland before it was too late. It’s the one place I’ve always really, really wanted to go but could never afford the trip. If the world was going to end, I’d run my credit cards up to the max because it wouldn’t matter, would it? The telecommunications system would probably be off-line and anyway, there’d be no one left to make those harassing phone calls wanting my late payment. So, I’d be off to Killkenny and Galway and Connemara to see the glens and loughs and the misty green hills of Eire.
            Of course, selfishly, I’d hope that some people would keep doing what they do now, for my sake. I’d wish for racers to keep racing and writers to keep writing, right up ‘til the last minute. And I think they would because I believe some people are driven to competition or creativity by something beyond a paycheck or even a future. I wonder how many of the rest of us love our work enough to continue reporting in if we had a half of a year left?   
            I think I’d move to the seaside. Maybe the coastlines wouldn’t be so crowded because our ideas of cataclysm almost always include tsunamis and hurricanes and floods so a lot of folks would probably take refuge in the presumably safer middle ground. I’d take my chances. I couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing endless ocean waves sliding into shore ever again.
            I expect most families would band together if we knew the world was ending. Maybe some old feuds would be settled. Maybe some disgruntled husbands and wives would decide they love each other after all and renew their commitment to one another and maybe some would get apart while they still had a little time to find some happiness with someone else.
            The bottom line is that whatever you would do if you knew the world was going to end in six months is probably what you should do anyway. Because although The world probably won’t end in three and a half years, Your world might.

Monday, May 14, 2012

What's Not To Like?

I'm crying "Uncle". After going through a spell of unmitigated frustration responding to political posts on Facebook, I'm giving up and taking a "what will be, will be" attitude. I've decided it is a total waste of time to try to correct misconceptions. People, it seems, believe what they want to believe despite the roaring cognitive dissonance that you'd think holding such conflicting opinions would seem to cause.

Facebook friends who post that they support civil rights for women, gays, blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, nevertheless plan to vote against Barack Obama, who: signed the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, signed the first piece of legislation that included gays under the umbrella of federal hate crimes, signed an extension of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment bill, allowed the State Department to offer same-sex benefits for employees, proposed the Pentagon repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell (which finally happened), called for federal agencies to support gay partnerships and became the first president to publicly support gay marriage, increased funding for tribal school and the Indian Health services, signed an executive order for his cabinet to consult and work with tribes on issues impacting Indian land.

Facebook friends who post that the economy is their main concern nevertheless plan to vote against Obama, who: increased spending on infrastructure (George W was the first president not to do so), authorized a bail-out that saved the American auto industry, authorized a $789 billion stimulus plan (1/3 for tax cuts for working families - 1/3 to states for infrastructure projects and 1/3 to states to prevent layoffs of teachers, police officers, firefighters, etc), instituted new consumer protection from predatory credit card practices, ordered the federal government to make more loans to small business at lower rates, extended unemployment benefits for a million laid-off workers, expended agricultural benefits to farmers, signed the HIRE act (gives tax cuts to small business to hire someone unemployed for at least 2 months, allow small business to write-off equipment purchases more quickly), negotiated a deal with Swiss banks for government to get access to records of tax evaders and criminals, ended the Bush-era policy of offering benefits to corporations who outsource American jobs, gave tax cuts to 95% of working Americans, ordered the closing of off-shore tax havens, proposed doubling the Child Tax Credit.

Facebook friends who post that treatment of veterans is their primary cause, nevertheless, plan to vote against Obama, who: ordered the Pentagon to cover expenses of families who want to be on-site when the bodies of their loved ones arrive in the U.S., provided upgraded body armor to soldiers, funded new Mine Resistant Ambush Vehicles, initiated policy to promote federal hiring of military spouses, ended the practice of awarding "no-bid" defense contracts, authorized construction of additional health centers for veterans, pushed for new "G.I. Bill" for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, signed bill giving assistance to caregivers of wounded veterans, eliminated co-pays for veterans who are catastrophically disabled.

Facebook friends who worry about healthcare, nevertheless, plan to vote against Obama, who: removed restrictions against Stem Cell research, expanded Children's Healthcare Program to cover 4 million more children, reversed Bush-era restrictions forbidding Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices, signed healthcare reform (which prevents insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, prevents rescission so insurance companies can cancel coverage for people who keep policy current or become ill, closes the "donut" hole on prescription drugs, caps individual's out-of-pocket expenses, small business get a tax credit for offering healthcare, families keep children on their plan through college or age 26 and incidentally, illegal immigrants are NOT eligible for healthcare coverage).

Facebook friends who believe in the importance of education, nevertheless, plan to vote against Obama, who:  authorized construction funds for broadband access in K thru 12, increased funding for school construction, increased funding for student loans, eliminated the banks as the middle man between students and loans while passing the savings on to students, changed the rules making it easier to re-finance student loans.  

Facebook friends who cite the environment as one of their main issues, nevertheless, plan to vote against Obama, who: rescinded Bush-era rule that weakened the Endangered Species Act, announced the federal government would once again engage in Superfund clean-up, proposed a new refuge for wild mustangs, cancelled Bush administration permits for mountain-top removal, re-engaged in treaties to protect the Antarctic (from which Bush had withdrawn), overturned Bush policies to allow uranium mining near national parks, executive order for new strategies and commitment to protecting lakes and oceans. 

Facebook friends who say they want more ethics in government, nevertheless, plan to vote against Obama, who: ordered White House and federal agencies to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, placed limits on lobbyists access to the White House, signed measure strengthening reporting requirements for lobbyists, ordered that lobbyists are no longer permitted to serve federal and White House boards and advisory panels, companies and individuals who are delinquent on taxes can no longer bid on federal contracts, developed "Do Not Pay" list for those who are deemed ineligible due to fraud and abuse.

So, I ask, what's not to like? Which of your issues do you believe will receive better treatment with a Mitt Romney presidency and a Paul Ryan budget?

*Thank you to Robert P Watson, Ph.D, Professor of American Studies, Lynn University for compiling a list of Obama accomplishments, of which I cited only a part. Says Professor Lynn - "like all presidents, Barack Obama has made mistakes. But, as a presidential historian, I have been struck by claims being put forward by Obama's many critics and the news media that he has accomplished little when, in fact, his presidency is easily one of the most active in history."



I Guess Ignorance Really Is Bliss

My sister-in-law told my son that I am a political bully. She advised him to start watching Fox News and then he'd know the truth about how Obama and the Democrats are trying to destroy America. I can't respond directly to her because she made him promise not to tell me what she said so I'm not supposed to know.

My sister-in-law has been on assistance her entire life. First it was Aid for Dependent Children and Medicaid and Food Stamps and Section 8 Housing and Project Safe and free school lunches and let's not forget the secretarial degree she earned through a free education program (and never used). When her son was ready to turn 18 so that Aid for Dependent Children was about to come to a screeching halt, she managed to get on SSI and has received a check every month for almost quarter of a century. To be fair, she does have multiple medical problems. This is not a screed against unworthy benefit recipients although I'll admit I was sometimes envious when we were younger that she got to stay home with her son while I was stuffing mine into a snowsuit at 6:00 a.m. to go to daycare or that her son was having his teeth bonded via Medicaid when I couldn't afford take mine to a dentist or that she got new glasses every two years while I had to wait until I damned well saved enough money to pay for mine.

So, yes, I've had my moments of resentment but over all, I've always been supportive of helping others who were unluckier than me. (There, but for the grace of God, go I).  I've always been willing to pay taxes because I want all hungry children to be fed and all sick Americans to have healthcare and and all poor people to have roofs over their heads and all American kids to have a good education.

It has been the Democrats who have mostly made it possible for my sister-in-law to have collected all those benefits for all those decades. From the beginning, it was liberals who fought for Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and food stamps and education programs and school lunches and Head Start and winter fuel assistance and free legal assistance for the poor and well, I could go on and on.... Until my 65th birthday, I neither needed or wanted to turn to any of those things, although I favored and helped pay for all of them. At 65, I began collecting Social Security and got my Medicare card.

And now that it's finally my turn to qualify for the benefits of working all my life, low and behold, my ignorant sister-in-law wants to throw out Obama and the Democrats in favor of Mitt Romney and the Paul Ryan budget which will gut all those programs that she and I both now depend on! In the most epic fit of self-destructiveness, she has decided to root for the very ones who've always hated people like her.....the very ones who'd have thrown her out on the street to fend for herself if they'd had their way.

Sometimes, it seems to me that if Americans are so blindly stupid, they deserve exactly what they get. Problem is, if they go down, they'll take me right along with them.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Willing Slaves

My friend's employment finally came to an end. She'd been expecting it to happen for at least a year. She was a telemarketer and believe it or not, if you were proficient at it, that was a good job to have back when she first started. Not only did it pay well but it provided excellent benefits and generous bonuses. Gradually, the business went down. My friend took pay cuts, bonuses were reduced and then finally eliminated altogether, the health care plan offered less coverage and higher co-pays every year (which was similar to what was happening to most health plans). Eventually, wages had been cut so drastically, my friend was working simply to continue to have health insurance for herself and her husband. Then even that ended and she was placed on permanent lay-off. She's frightened. The job market pickings are pretty slim for a 62 year old. She could begin collecting her social security to at least have an income but that doesn't help with health insurance. And when you're in your 60's, health insurance is not just desirable, it's critical.

My friend and I got to talking about how much we allow health insurance companies to dominate the lives of individuals as well as the entire economy of the country.

For instance, insurance often determines which jobs people can accept. When I was fired at the Sheriff's Department seven years ago, I got down to my last unemployment check before I found another. I had been offered three different positions as a legal secretary, for which I was highly qualified....but attorneys generally don't offer health insurance and they don't pay high enough salaries to purchase private policies. I was 58 and on medication for high blood pressure and diabetes. I could not afford to take a job without insurance.

Similarly, I would have retired two years sooner than I did, giving my job up to someone younger who desperately needed that position during this time of slow job growth....but I had to keep working until Medicare kicked in when I turned 65. Many of my friends were, or are, in the same boat...continuing to work solely because of the need for health insurance. If all those who are tied to jobs for health insurance could retire, freeing those slots for younger workers seeking employment, I expect our unemployment rate would drop precipitously.

Sixty-two percent of all bankruptcies in America are due to catastrophic medical bills, the number one cause, and that's in spite of 78 percent of those filers having some form of health insurance. I was between jobs for six months. Of course, I had the option of maintaining COBRA but it is prohibitively expensive for someone depending on an unemployment check to survive. Had I been struck with a major health crisis during that time, I would have been forced to declare bankruptcy (assuming I hadn't died as a result of being denied treatment).

Preventative care is almost nil for people who have no insurance. They let things go, put off tests, don't take prescribed medications. How many diseases could have been cured or conditions caught more quickly if this were not so? By the time the uninsured are forced to the doctor or hospital, their cancer is more advanced, their appendix has burst, they're in the throes of a stroke. Some of them die but whether they do or don't, the cost of their treatment will be passed on as higher premiums to the rest of us. It is estimated that caring for the uninsured adds $922 to the price of a typical family health care policy.

Similarly, America's pathetic excuse for a health care policy (it is really a deliberate non-policy) has a huge impact on business. General Motors states that they add $1,525 to the cost of a vehicle to cover employee health care costs. G.M. spent $5.2 billion in 2004, more than they paid for steel. Repeat similar percentages and add-on costs for other American corporations that provide health care to their employees.

Insurance companies dictate what care we may have, how long we can stay in the hospital (overruling our doctors) and what medicines we may take. Of course, they are for-profit entities with an eye to their bottom line so they prefer generic medications, more procedures done on an out-patient basis and cheaper treatment plans, which may not be in our best interests. I had to fight like hell to have my hysterectomy approved when my insurance company's "gatekeeper" determined that my pain was not severe enough to justify the expense of an operation. Oh, really? Can you tell me what yardstick you used to arrive at that conclusion, please?

In short, our system of health care in America is a mixed up mess. Obamacare is a a somewhat better mixed up mess than we already have but we've been so brainwashed by lobbyists for insurance companies and politicians who receive mega-contributions from insurance companies that we fight against the very improvements that would help us, such as the Obamacare proviso that insurance companies cannot refuse us coverage due to a pre-existing condition. What? We want to be discriminated against because we have rheumatoid arthritis or hypertension? We seem to be unaware that we pay for the uninsured anyway in the form of hidden costs and higher prices and, in fact, pay even more because the uninsured can't afford preventative care.

Imagine the impact on the economy if the number of bankruptcies dropped by 62 percent. Imagine if corporations that manufacture their products in America were rewarded rather than penalized. Imagine if everyone who wanted to retire could do so, allowing their jobs to go to younger workers? Imagine the unemployed being able to accept any position without regard to whether it offered healthcare. Imagine if no child died as a result of being turned away from an emergency room due to lack of insurance.

But no, evidently Americans like being slaves to the insurance companies. We prefer paying tribute to their power to dictate where and how long we will work and how much we will pay for the things we buy and even, at times, who may live and who should die. We've fought tooth and nail against any leader, Republican and Democrat, who threatened to end the insurance companies' dictatorial power over us for generations.

I guess we like the system we have or else we're just too ignorant to be aware of all the ramifications of its awfulness.




Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Bad, the Ugly and the Good

Yesterday was such a depressing news day.

 First, I learned that my state, Indiana, threw out long-time Senator Dick Lugar in favor of a guy, Richard Mourdock, who believes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are unconstitutional, who spent $2 million of taxpayer dollars on a lawsuit to stop the Chrysler bail-out and who has said his idea of bipartisanship is forcing the Democrats to come to the Republicans. I have split my ticket several times to vote for Lugar because I believed his vast knowledge of foreign policy and willingness to work with Democrats for the good of the country outweighed my disagreements with him on other issues. That kind of attitude is now verboten in today's Republican party. I'll be doing no more ticket-splitting.

Second, I learned that North Carolina voted yes on Amendment One by a wide margin. That state already had a law limiting marriage to a man and a woman but that wasn't enough. No, they had to codify their bigotry right into their constitution. That'll show'em that we mean business, by God!

Third, I learned that polls show the Scott Walker recall effort in Wisconsin is an absolute tie. Hopefully, this will change but the powerful conservative Republican millionaires and billionaires are pouring tons of money, from states all over the country, into Walker's campaign - about $25 million so far. Can the will of regular people like teachers and firemen and cops and nurses win out against a huge dollar disadvantage. Is America even still a democracy? I guess we will see in June.

Fourth, I learned, or re-learned, really, that the first target of most Republican governors elected in 2010 was public education in their states. They have cut their education budgets by millions, if not billions. It appears to be the goal of this new breed of ultra-conservative Republicans to take down the teacher's unions, even if they have to destroy the system to "save" it. Screw all the students who'll be hurt in the process. Of course, their second target is women's health and work place issues, passing hundreds of new anti-abortion, anti-Planned Parenthood, anti-Equal Pay for Equal bills.

Fifth, I learned that Rush Limbaugh started a new Facebook page specifically for women who side with him in believing women who use contraceptives are sluts and prostitutes. He calls them RushBabes and the page got more "likes" in a few hours than the NOW Facebook page has since it started. Seriously, what kind of woman glories in being a RushBabe? When I worked at the Sheriff's Dept and saw women come in to leave money in the commissary account of the men who gave them them black eyes, bruises and broken bones, I swung between pity and anger at their lack of self-respect. I feel the same about RushBabes.

Then in the midst of all that ugliness, President Obama came out in favor of gay marriage. I don't know how much longer it will take for the virulence of the 21st century Republican party to run its course but the president is on the side of the future in this one. Conservatives can slow it down but they can't stop it anymore than civil rights could be stopped when its time had come. It is fitting that an African-American president should be the first to affirm the civil rights of another discriminated against minority.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Who Needs Democracy?

Rachel Maddow has been sounding the alarm about how Michigan Republicans have been systematically dismantling democracy in their state for quite some time now. Oddly, it seems to be a story that makes the rest of the mainstream media yawn in boredom. I have often asked Republicans: "what would the country look like if you totally got your way?" The answer, I think, is Michigan.

Essentially, the Emergency Manager law allows the governor to appoint an EM for any town or school district he deems in trouble. Thanks to the economy there are many governmental entities in financial straits in Michigan, providing rich pickings Governor Rick Snyder and his jolly band of pillagers and plunderers.

The law says that an Emergency Manager "may exercise any power or authority of any officer, employee, department, board, commission or other similar entity of the local government whether elected or appointed". The Emergency Manager's power was expanded under Governor Snyder. They may takeover governance in place of the Mayor and City Council members, overrule school boards, rewrite pension plans and abrogate collective bargaining contracts. After an EM has been put in place, the elected officials of the town or school boards are allowed to do exactly three things: 1) call meetings to order, 2) approve minutes and 3) adjourn. That's it.

Does this sound more like a dictatorship than democracy to you? Yeah, me too.

It probably will not surprise you to discover that the infamous Koch Brothers, the Walton family and Dick DeVos have been active behind the scenes in supporting Snyder and these draconian new measures via a group called the Mackinac Center which strongly supports privatization of almost all governmental responsibilities (other than calling meetings to order, approving minutes and adjourning, of course). .

Michigan's constitution states that new laws must wait until after the next election to take effect to give voters the opportunity to voice their disapproval (ironically, this was passed under the governance of Mitt Romney's father, George, one of that breed of moderate and respected Republicans that are now almost extinct). In order for a law to go into effect immediately, two-thirds of the state legislature must approve it doing so. You can see in the link to Rachel Maddow's video above how arbitrarily the Michigan Republicans handled this minor inconvenience. They simply had a voice vote and declared a 2/3rds majority had voted aye, although everyone knew the Democrats voted no en bloc which would not have given the Republicans the number needed. No matter, they declared victory and rolled on.

Of course, some Michiganders are outraged by what has been happening in their state. They collected more than enough signatures to put a recall of the EM law to a referendum. The State certified the results. Okay, here we go! But, no. A suit was filed asserting the signatures were invalid because the font on the recall petition  was too small. The freakin' font size was too small! And guess what? One of the canvassers who would vote on whether to allow the recall to proceed owns the same law firm which is home to the group that filed the suit to deny it. You would think this would be a clear conflict of interest and that particular gentleman would have to recuse himself. Ha!ha! You're not thinking like a Michigan Republican. He did not recuse himself. He voted, unsurprisingly, for tossing thousands of his constituent's signatures into the garbage as did his fellow Republicans. So much for the recall attempt.

You might be able to make a case for the Emergency Manager law if it worked. There is no doubt that many of Michigan's communities are experiencing economic hard times and something needs to be done. But has stripping voters of their constitutional right to elect their own representatives been the answer? Nope, most of the cities and school districts (and there are many, including Benton Harbor, Flint, Pontiac, Ecorse, Highland Park, etc.) are worse off now than they were before. Emergency Managers are the Bain Capital of state government. They go into failing towns in the same way Mitt Romney and Bain went to failing companies, stripped them of their assets, collected their big paychecks and moved on to their next victim, leaving the people worse off than they had been before. And, again, I'm sure you will not be shocked to be told that most of the entities put under the tyrannical thumbs of Emergency Managers by Governor Snyder are primarily minority and poor (and most likely to be Democratic voters - not that the Republicans would ever be swayed by that, of course - sarcasm alert here).

Mostly, our Republican elites try to pretend they are acting in the best interests of their fellow Americans. In Michigan, they have become so arrogant and confident of their power, they barely even pay lip service to that philosophy anymore.

So, take a look poor and middle class Republicans. Is this really what you mean by smaller government? Is despotic control by men hand-picked by the governor, without regard to any vote you may cast, really what you see as preferable to democracy?