31 December 2012

On Social Security

I've previously made my views on Social Security very clear.  So it will be no surprise that I am glad that the Administration has apparently withdrawn its offer of a few weeks ago to include a change in how the COLAs are calculated ("Chained CPI"), which amounts to nothing more or less than a long term stealth benefit cut to a program that should be increased, not cut. Were that terribly dumb idea actually put into effect, Social Security, which is the primary income for more than 70% of retirees, would gradually cease to do its most essential job, which is to keep the elderly out of poverty. I am totally intransigent on this point: if Democrats agree to this, they will have betrayed their constituency and forfeited any claim to being the party of Progressives.

Now, it also appears that the payroll tax holiday will not be extended. And here, I hope, my view is consistent. I also applaud that outcome. Along with Bernie Sanders, I and many other Progressives were deeply suspicious of the idea of using a payroll tax cut as a stimulus measure in the first place.

The key to Social Security is that it is and always has been self-funded. (This also true, but not entirely true, of Medicare, but let's keep the focus on Social Security). Taxes are paid into the Trust Fund, which uses the funds, including past surpluses, to pay benefits. The tax is regressive, in that it is levied essentially only on wages and salaries, and only up to a certain level. There is no maximum benefit, per se,  but there is, effectively, because you only receive benefits based on the amount of income that was taxed, and that's capped, currently at $110,000. Of course, the General Fund has always, in effect, borrowed the surplus, but this is not, as many people seem to think, commingling. It is actual debt, in the form of US Securities, whose full faith and credit is a critical factor in the financial health of America. So that the idea that Social Security is a house of cards because it only has a bunch of IOUs is a pernicious and frankly profoundly stupid canard: if politicians were to allow the debt to the Trust Fund to be defaulted upon, it would be indistinguishable from defaulting on our national debt to China or other creditors. And it would amount to theft from the American people themselves. All of which is why I repeat Ronald Reagan's comment whenever this subject comes up: Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit. 

Not only that, but the very idea that Social Security is even a problem right now is ridiculous. Under current projections, it is solvent to 2033 (used to be 2037, but there was that not-too well-advised payroll tax holiday... possible only because Social Security was, in fact, so fiscally healthy). Any insurance or pension system that could show it was solvent with current income and surplus to 2033 would be declared solid gold and would have no competition.

So right wingers and ill informed Democrats who crow about how Social Security is "unsustainable" and "going broke" just don't know what they're talking about. Or they're deliberately lying, which I suspect is often the case.

Since the long term health of Social Security is important, however, I am glad to see that payroll taxes, which are its funding source, are going to go back to their statutory intended level after the first of the year. We do need stimulus, no doubt about it, but this is bad policy. 1) Tax cuts are relatively ineffective as stimulus, as any rational economist will tell you; and 2) if a program's long term viability is a policy issue, cutting its funding makes no sense.

So then, you may ask, what should we "do about" Social Security. (So glad you asked).

The most obvious fault of Social Security is that it is a social insurance system funded by taxes, but that those taxes are not progressive. We need to make a decision as a society that we are going to provide a buffer against poverty for all our citizens, and continue the guaranteed income to all payees that makes the whole system popular. (After all, if it were just welfare, it would be SSI, which we already have, for the indigent elderly and disabled, thanks in part to that notorious liberal, Richard Nixon, but that's another issue). Having committed ourselves to Social Security as a benefit system more or less in its current form, we need to enhance the way in which its paid for. I actually think that Roosevelt's plan to fund it separately from general tax revenues was pure genius. Americans hate income tax but they by and large don't resent paying for Social Security (or Medicare). But there are some improvements that could be made. Here's my idea:

The portion that employers pay should remain essentially the same, except for two major changes. First, the cap on wages and salaries subject to tax should be lifted. Not raised. Removed. All compensation should be subject to the tax. (Benefits would remain capped, based on current levels, and the difference would fund the surplus necessary to keep the program solvent forever, which this scheme would accomplish). The other big change would be that no form of deferred income
should be exempt from either income tax or payroll taxes.should be exempt from either income tax or payroll taxes. (Stock options, in-kind perks, fancy schemes to treat income as dividends or carried interest, etc. -- all of which should be addressed in more comprehensive tax reform anyway). If it's compensation, it's taxed. Period.

Now, the portion of Social Security (and, incidentally, Medicare) taxes paid by the employee should be handled a bit differently. I would like to see the same lifting of the cap on income subject to tax, and the same application to all compensation. But for incomes up to $110,000, I would like to see tiered rates, so that those who are earning less than a defined "middle class threshold" income should pay at a lower marginal rate, while keeping benefits the same. This is a recognition that there is  a component to the program that comprises social welfare. Again, I'm proposing that the benefit system be capped, but that all compensation be taxed. For compensation above a certain level, perhaps $75,000, the payroll tax rate would go to maximum, and stay there above the present cap. The system would be adjusted so that current levels of income to the trust fund would be generated from the taxes on compensation below some level, say $150,000, and taxes on compensation above that level would pay for a trust fund surplus, to keep the program solvent forever. 

26 December 2012

To WH: don't back down on Hagel nom

 This is my e-mail to the White House contact site today.
Never thought I'd be writing to the White House urging them to stand behind a Republican (potential) cabinet nominee, but the Right Wing attacks on Chuck Hagel should be resisted resolutely. Hagel is as honest and straightforward as they come in politics, and his position on reasoned restraint towards Israel's Right Wing government, and a rational and cool review of America's relations with Iran, are EXACTLY what is needed right now. Assuming Hagel is in fact the president's choice, he should not back down. 
This opinion is a reflection of the comments of Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson on Ian Masters's show on Sunday, the 23rd. See ianmasters.com .

Too late for Grand Bargain/Great Betrayal, plenty of options for can kicking

I often disagree with Matthew Yglesias, but in this instance, I think he's got it just about exactly right. 

Apart from the relatively brief likely effect of Market nervousness from now until after the 1st, I think the way things have turned out in these negotiations is actually better for the prospects for long term benefit to the American people than if some deal had been struck this month. 

I fully expect that the Bush tax cuts for the under $250K income cohort will be extended or made permanent, and some version of can kicking will occur, but the fact that the idiotic plan to permanently cut Social Security under the so-called chained-CPI scheme, or other ill-advised cuts to essential services, will not be occurring, is a very definite plus. We in the reasoned liberal community can try like hell to sound the voice of reason and keep these terrible ideas from resurfacing, while lobbying for more revenue from progressive tax reforms, including a modest financial speculation tax, reform to increase tax rates on capital gains, dividends, and carried interest (possibly with a floor to protect middle class investors), real reform (i.e., elimination) of overseas tax havens, elimination of corporate and Agribusiness welfare, restoration of substantial estate tax, and a lifting or raising of the cap on income subject to payroll taxes. If anything like the bulk of these could be enacted sometime in the next decade, we could easily put this country on the road to quite sustainable fiscal health, and maintain the essential services which are an obligation of the government to its people, based on years of regressive taxes to pay for them, every bit as much as its bonds and securities are obligations to the investors who've purchased them. 

21 December 2012

The Price of Civilization

Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute (Columbia University) laid it out really well in an interview Thursday with Ian Masters (ianmasters.com). Allow me to very briefly summarize, with a bit of my own panegyric thrown in for good measure:  

The current budget negotiations are a case of both parties toying around the edges of a much more fundamental problem, which is that, in thrall to a destructive Right Wing ideology, this country is no longer paying the price of civilization. Our infrastructure is crumbling, we are not investing in the energy resources of the future or the social systems and services (education, preventive health options, housing for aged and poor, transportation, etc.)... that would be necessary for us to have the kind of robust democratic civilization we once strove for. Obama and the Republicans are arguing about a revenue rise of 0.7% of GDP vs. 1% of GDP when what we really need is to increase revenues substantially to pay this price. And hysterical concern over debt, when the world clamors to buy our debt and money is practically free, is beyond stupid right now. 

Major corporations and rich people are avoiding all social responsibility. They ensconce their money in foreign tax havens, and live in a privatized world, while the country as a whole has lagged far behind other developed countries in these essential government functions.

Rich people have essentially all the power, over both parties, and until the people demand that government start paying attention to the needs of the many, not just the few, we will have an oligarchy and a society in decline, resembling ever more and more a third world country: with a wealthy elite and a rapidly declining standard of living for everyone else. Eventually, America’s ability to carry on the technological innovation and cost of being a superpower will also collapse, if we don’t go back to forcing everyone with means to pay a fair share of the price of civilization, and for those with the most means to pay the largest share. This is how it works; and nothing else will work. Period. 

President Obama has failed to lead. He has the right rhetoric, but he tries to accomplish policy goals through backroom negotiations, not by taking the case to the people and asking them to make the policymakers do it, which is how these kinds of reforms (both Roosevelts, Kennedy, Johnson), have been accomplished in the past. If he doesn’t change course soon, things will continue to get worse, and the proposals being discussed now will actually make matters worse than just letting the stupidly named “fiscal cliff” happen, which would at least bring in Clinton era revenues for a while. Of course, there are much better ways to do it (such as really eliminate tax havens and subsidies to oil, tax media companies for use of airwaves, impose a transaction tax on speculation, bust up big banks, raise top marginal tax rates a lot, increase payroll tax cap, impose carbon tax, convert the ACA to single payer, restore estate tax and some excise taxes… in other words make those who have benefited most from the American economic system pay the real costs of maintaining it). But none of this can be made to happen by negotiating with people who hate the very idea of commonweal, and whose goal is only to protect the narrow, selfish interests of plutocrats. Only sweeping leadership… a broad and emotionally charged appeal to the masses to force change; in other words what people were hoping for when they voted for Obama in the first place… would have any chance of achieving what we must do.

We can’t give up, even if this president will not or cannot do what is needed. We have to work to elect people who understand what we’re up against, and make them do it. There is no other way.

02 October 2012

What Obama could do about the House

Obama should make a huge priority of (1) traveling to House districts where there's a chance of pickup; and (2) coming right out in his stump speeches and advertising, and asking people to vote for the Democrat in each of those districts, in order to help get something done for the economy and move the country forward, etc. etc.

Someone should ask him, right now, don't you WANT to be able to get your agenda passed, finally?  Then do something about it, damnit!

Senate & House

TPM polltracker is now showing polling at one pickup (=54) for Democrats in Senate. Six months ago the punditocracy said it was unlikely Democrats could avoid a Rightist takeover.

How 'bout the House? Conventional wisdom has it that there's no way to gain 25 seats
(mainly because 2010 was a Census year and the Rightists executed a Statehouse Takeover strategy that allowed them to have a heavy hand in redistricting). Nancy Pelosi is saying it is possible, with her "drive for 25" campaign (possibly just so as not to concede the inevitable). I'd sure like to see some hard data about which 25 seats they've figured out could be won, (if they have), and how we're doing.

01 October 2012

Ross Douthat on Why Obama's Winning

As is typical of the Times's house Rightist Ross Douthat, he gives an incisive analysis of the glaringly obvious, but makes no credible case for his conservative "solutions." In fact, in this particular piece, he doesn't even bother to mention them.

He leaves unspoken the implication that it's just obvious that Republican policies would lead to more jobs and real growth, but, in fact, all evidence is precisely to the contrary: the reason growth and job growth have been subpar is due to the effects of continuing global slowdown, in part, and, probably in larger part, to post-2010 Republican obstructionism of every single one of President Obama's efforts to take action to improve both.

Krugman: Referendum on New Deal does not translate to Deficit Reduction as a priority

Paul Krugman's column today does a fine job of explaining how this election has become a referendum, all right, but not on Obama's presidency, but rather on the legacy of the New Deal --  and why embracing something like the Simpson/Bowles deficit reduction plan after the election would be a huge mistake. 

I agree with Krugman completely on these points. 

12 September 2012

Critique of "Forks Over Knives"

A colleague recently asked me to see the film Forks Over Knives and comment on it, from the perspective of one who has followed a carbohydrate restricted diet. Due to limitations on my time, I have not yet done this, but I offer the following in response.

Here is a detailed critique of the film, by Denise Minger.

In a nutshell, the documentary makers are doing a typical apples and oranges argument, and citing anecdote and non-scientifically significant "studies" from which they derive unsupported conclusions.

For example, as Ms. Minger points out, the film will frequently conflate the "American diet" with animal foods, when what is most characteristic of the "American diet" is the consumption of large amounts of processed foods, containing refined carbohydrates, and especially sugar and HFCS. The science just doesn't support the conclusions about deleterious effects of animal protein. In truth, human epidemiological studies of the harmful effects of specific foods are very difficult to do, and the history of good nutrition studies is dismal. You can't take data that totally fails to control for a wide range of variables and draw conclusions that disregard most of those variables, from that data. Doing that is quintessentially "junk science," and this is what this film does, over and over again, per Ms. Minger. A good example is the 1970s-80s MRFIT study, which was designed to test the theory that dietary cholesterol contributes to heart disease. Although the way it was written up was equivocal, and Time Magazine falsely concluded that it supported that theory, the actual statistics showed that there was no correlation between dietary cholesterol and coronary artery disease or incidence of MI (heart attacks) at all.

You will notice, though, that Denise Minger readily acknowledges that the diet being recommended is clearly better than a junk food diet, for the reason that the foods recommended are not refined carbohydrate. For example, most fruit, although it contains a lot of fructose, also contains to an extent its own antidote, i.e., fiber. (As
Dr. Robert Lustig has explained in his famous lecture on the toxicity of sugar (here: Sugar: the Bitter Truth). So consuming natural plant foods is certainly healthier than a diet of french fries and ho-hos. But the science does not support the conclusion that meat and fish, or dietary fat in general, are causes of cancer and heart disease. These are conclusions based on an interesting hypothesis, but the science just isn't there, and, as Gary Taubes has shown in his books (esp. Good Calories, Bad Calories), there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

See Peter Attia's The Eating Academy  (theeatingacademy.com), where he talks about the current effort to launch NuSi (the Nutrition Science Institute) to fund and commission serious scientific research into just these questions. 


As an aside, I would like to quote Dr. Attia on the subject of sensible moderation and the importance of reducing, if not eliminating entirely, sugar. (Ketosis, which is the body substituting ketone for glucose, as a result of the near total elimination of foods from which the body derives glucose, is an extreme which most people, unless they are seriously afflicted with metabolic syndrome or Type II diabetes, (i.e., severely insulin resistant) need not worry about).

Low carb is NOT an all-or-nothing proposition, but nutritional ketosis is. For most people, a gradual reduction in carbs, beginning with the worst offenders (e.g., sugar, followed by highly refined and processed grains) yields fantastic results, including fat loss, reduction in triglycerides, increase in size and maturity of HDL and reduction of LDL particles number (notice I didn’t say LDL cholesterol concentration, which is irrelevant). Ketosis, however, is a binary place to be, and certainly is not for everyone. The main caveat I give folks is this: If you continue to eat lots of sugar, you’re probably not doing yourself any favors eating much of anything, including fat. Sugar is a metabolic bully, and whatever you eat with sugar, your body will deprioritize metabolizing. In the late 1960′s John Yudkin published a study suggesting that it was pretty harmful to eat “lots” of sugar with fat (maybe even worse than just sugar alone, and certainly worse than fat alone, which causes no harm). If you’re avoiding sugars and highly refined carbs, the only thing else you need to think about is (fat-wise) is reducing your intake of omega-6 fatty acids. [From certain plant sources, primarily; i.e. many vegetable oils: use olive oil and canola oil]. 

04 September 2012

David Brooks: Dispatch from Out of Touch

This, in my opinion quite stupid op-ed by David Brooks in the NYT, shows just how out of touch even the more rational-minded among the Republicans are. His analysis of the "issues" that are important to Obama is like a dispatch from another planet. He completely misses the shift in the political winds that's taken place this year. Americans don't want to hear about failed attempts to compromise with the Republicans. They want to hear reasons to cast their lot with a new Democratic majority that can push through and make some major changes, such as greatly reducing the ability of the super rich to hide their wealth and pay little in taxes on their income, a sensible revamping of out of control overseas and unnecessary Cold-war weapons military spending, investment in American jobs, a shift in trade policy to promote American jobs (something the Obama people haven't quite gotten on board with yet), protecting Medicare, Social Security and basic government services; the list goes on... not rehashing the stupid ideas of Simpson-Bowles, which in any case the goddamn Republicans, including Paul Ryan, torpedoed, for crying out loud!

17 August 2012

Voter Suppression Upheld in PA.: SHAMEFUL

Not much time for a detailed comment, except to say the Judge's decision in Pennsylvania Commonwealth court to uphold a law that admittedly could disenfranchise 9% of the state's electorate, to address an essentially nonexistent "problem," and the Minority Leader of the legislative body publicly admitted that the motivation of the law was political, i.e., to skew the election in that state for partisan purposes, is just breathtaking. I used to say the Republicans wanted to turn the clock back to McKinley, having gone so far right that merely obliterating the New Deal wasn't enough for them, they had to do away with the Progressive Era reforms as well. Now, it seems, they want to go all the way back to the era of the backlash against Reconstruction, of the 1870s and 80s, when Rightist judges were upholding things like poll taxes and literacy tests for voting.

This is truly shameful. It makes me wonder, and not for the first time, if we really are witnessing the death of the American Republic. 

13 August 2012

Reforming Medicare and Health Care Costs

A friend wrote about the enormous cost of a recent hospital stay, and an anecdote about another friend whose elderly parent incurred over $1 million, billed to Medicare, in the last month of his life.

Here's my comment:

This is why our share of GDP for medical care in the USA is 18%, the highest in the developed world. A lot of it has to to do with the "boutique" nature of American medicine. Specialists choose their own treatments, follow their own preferred regimens, there are no economies of scale, no standardized competitive selection of products and proven effective, and cost-effective, medication. What I would propose to counter Ryan Romney Right Wing Extremist Slash it and Burn It, were I involved in policy for the Obamians would be something like this:

Medicare will transition to supporting major treatment only in not for profit institutions which agree to adhere to medical best practices, to be devised by regional conference boards made up of elected top specialists and medical technology experts, chosen by the doctors and nurses themselves. These conference boards will approve standard regimes for all the most commonly prescribed procedures and medicines, and set cost controls based on competitive bidding. (No more knee replacements that range from x to 5x in price when the technology was standardized a quarter century ago). Also, there needs to be a set up of continual consultation and oversight to make sure that every ICU patient (since this is where a lot of the money goes) is monitored for best outcome, adherence to patient health care directives, and efficient use of resources. (No more specialists coming in and ordering a raft of tests that have already been done).

There are times when medicine is terribly expensive because of undiagnosed problems, difficulty and unavoidable cost of rare treatments, etc., but MOST of the excess cost comes from inefficiencies and excessive use of costly services, devices, and medications when the need is dubious or non-existent.

With these reforms, which would effectively spread into the general population and private health insurance, and with Medicare's historically low administrative costs, it should be possible to get a real handle on escalating health care costs. Medical technology is expensive, and no one wants to return to the days when if you got really sick you died; in other words, we all WANT to spend a certain chunk of GDP for necessary medicine; what's needed is to control inefficiency and excess, of which almost all informed observers seem to agree there is a great deal. Especially excess cost, and in that respect the presence of a profit motive is an inherent conflict of interest and needs to simply be excised from publicly supported medical care.

It would be politically difficult because FOR PROFIT Big Med has a lot of pull in Washington, but many big hospital groups have reorganized as not for profit, and it can be done. With regional video monitoring and automatic best practices consultations, costs can be brought down, and here's the thing... when this has been done (notably in Boston), the outcomes improve.

I believe in "Health Care is a Right, not a Privilege," but I also believe that the public has a right to make sure its money is wisely and reasonably spent. 

The issue of unnecessary CYA testing and procedures, often cited by Rightists, can be addressed as well. I would impose some reasonable caps on damages, the way we've done it in California since the late 1970s, and also change the standard of care, from negligence equals anything that falls below what amounts to the ideal standard, which is the way it is now, to negligence can only be found when it can be shown that the care provided was below what a reasonably well trained health care provider would reasonably have been expected to have done in like circumstances. This would reduce malpractice awards and medical practices mainly designed to avoid liability as an engine of high health care costs.

*See "Big Med" in the current issue of the New Yorker.

06 August 2012

The Amazing Success of the Landing of Curiosity on Mars, August 5, 2012

The amazing success of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity's descent and landing on Mars last night should be more prominent in our country's affairs right now: proof that, whatever our economic malaise and challenges to our educational, scientific, and technological preeminence, our nation can still produce triumphs of the sheer human drive to go out and find out what's out there.

And to those who love to knock California, and Southern California in particular, I would like to point out that one of the main parts of NASA that's producing the most amazing results for the least money (JPL) , and the most promising private enterprise space developer (SpaceX), are both located here, despite the fact that the big military contractors that did most of the development of the space technology industry back in the 50s-70s have abandoned our area. All of the Mars landers were built and guided from Pasadena, California, and this robotic space exploration is some of the most innovative and thoroughly thought-out in advance technology the world has ever seen. 

If you take a look at nasa.gov/mars and see just how complex and original in concept the landing of the compact-car sized Curiosity on Mars, 14 light-minutes away, actually was, you should feel a certain amount of awe. This thing had to work entirely on its own; in a complex and zero fudge factor series of operations, that simply could not be controlled from Earth. They actually turned off the transmitter before entry into the thin Martian atmosphere, because by the time the signal reached Earth that entry had begun, the landing ... or crash... of the vehicle had already happened. Fortunately, it was a spectacularly successful landing, and even those of us Americans who had nothing to do with this, other than contributing about half the price of a movie to the enterprise as taxpayers, should feel just a bit of pride in the sheer determination to get this done that resulted in this success. Maybe we don't usually pay a lot of attention, but this is a moment when we should. 

Why is Mars important, some may ask. You might as well ask why knowledge is important, why civilization is important. It is our essence as human beings to look over the next hill, to wonder what's over the horizon, to wonder how we might fashion tools and technology to evolve our life into something better. Exploration of space, and the answering of fundamental questions, are one of the frontiers of this essential human endeavor. We abandon that quest only if we are giving up, choosing extinction over growth. Yes, it is that basic, in my view. 

More specifically, the Mars Science Laboratory, for the first time since Viking (the other landers were heavily geared towards geology), will perform experiments that may well answer the question Was there ever life on this other Solar System World? If so, what kind of life? We now have reason to speculate (not believe just yet), that terrestrial life just might have actually originated on Mars, since it appears that Mars once had the temperate, liquid water, protective atmosphere, and protective magnetic field environment (since failed due to the planet's smaller size and distance from the sun)... that could have made the evolution of life possible. And here's the kicker... it had that environment earlier in the evolution of the Solar System than Earth did. Since life seems to have appeared on Earth almost immediately after it became possible, the conclusion that life just might have migrated here on one of the many trans-Earth orbit impact ejecta from Mars cannot be ruled out. In fact, it looks quite plausible. Curiosity will likely give us considerable information that will shed light on all these issues. 

Then, can there be any doubt that eventually, humans will travel to Mars? It has been a dream for well over a century. Only the collapse of our entire civilization could prevent it from eventually happening. So this important mission, which will help answer many important questions that need answering before human travel to Mars could be feasible, is just essential.

Congratulations to JPL, and NASA for this important milestone in human exploration.

03 August 2012

An (I hope) reasoned comment on the whole sad, stupid Chick Fil-A controversy

Two points on the whole sad, stupid Chick Fil-A controversy. (Besides that the food looks entirely inedible; we fortunately don't have this place here, and I quickly rejected it when I encountered them in Florida not long ago).

1.  Offending your customers is stupid. The appropriate response is to not give the business your custom. (I was very saddened to see long lines of people rallying behind the hate-filled, discriminatory, and narrow-minded comments of the CEO that started all of this, but, again, the appropriate response is withholding business, or boycott).

2.  It's overreacting to try to penalize the business legally, so the mayors who said they will "block" Chick Fil-A from locating in their cities were overreaching. On the other hand, where there are city franchises or other choices of contractors for public venues, I think legislatures have every right to take the public image of a business as favorable or unfavorable to non-discrimination into account. And what Rahm Emmanuel, for instance, said, that the chain's values (as stated by its CEO; he didn't qualify his comments as speaking only for himself), were "not Chicago's values"; well, those kinds of remarks are just as protected by the First Amendment as the CEO's remarks in the first place. There was a similar reaction to the anti-health care remarks of Whole Foods' CEO (a notorious libertarian)... people have every right to say "Whole Foods values are not our city's values" in response, and to not shop there, even organize boycotts. What they probably don't have a right to do is categorically ban their stores from locating in their jurisdiction because they disagree with the stated political views of the CEO.

Why this is important is that with roughly half the country in thrall to Rightist propaganda about "excessive government control" and all of that nonsense, it's generally a good idea not to hand them an issue on a platter, so to speak. 

02 August 2012

Lying, Cheating, Stealing Right Wingers

As usual, our favorite Right Wing Presidential campaign displays disingenuous lack of contact with reality, and outright hypocrisy. During the primary season, Romney was happy to cite the Tax Policy Center's studies as "impartial," but when the selfsame reported that his tax plan to cut tax rates by 20% (with hugely disproportionate benefit to the top half of 1% or so) would necessarily mean tax changes that amounted to a huge tax increase for 95% of Americans, his campaign just called it a "joke," but failed to produce any analysis that showed otherwise.

These people lie, cheat and steal, and expect to be congratulated for it, and handed the keys to power. I say, like hell.

01 August 2012

Popular/Electoral Vote picture in current polls -- Focus on the Do Nothing Congress!

The popular vote/electoral vote disparity I was on about earlier this week has gotten even weirder. These early polls may not mean much, but the PollTracker weighted average is now 47.3/47.2 in favor of Romney (a dead heat), but the electoral vote, based on leads in state polling, has Obama with 310, Romney holding with 191 (270 wins).

I still say that the Congressional balance is just as important as the presidential election this year. I would like to see Obama going on a broad scale offensive, along the lines of "Republicans have blocked every attempt we've made to move forward. We can't afford to extend the Bush tax cuts for the highest wealth of the richest and corporations when our country needs important investments to recover the economy. Mr. Romney's plan increases taxes on 95% of Americans while cutting taxes even further for the richest Americans, and he has endorsed virtual elimination of Medicare in the Heartless Paul Ryan budget plan. The Affordable Care Act will ensure access to health care for the vast majority of Americans, and all the obstructionist do-nothing block-everything Republicans in Congress can come up with is over thirty pointless, futile bills to repeal this law, while passing bill after bill that will never become law to cut back on women's health care, repeal the important financial reforms we passed to prevent another financial collapse, and refusing to pass even the most basic needs like the Transportation bill. We need your support not only to keep the White House but to get rid of this Do-Nothing Congress and end the deliberate obstruction of the Republicans so the people's business can get done again!"

31 July 2012

Mittster on the defensive

Romney: I Did Not Speak About Palestinian 'Culture’ [LINK]

(In reference to reports that Romney, in another of his many foreign tour gaffes, attributed the 2:1 difference in GDP/capita in Israel vs. the Occupied Territories to "culture" and "providence." [The actual ratio is more than 20:1; he got his facts entirely wrong, too]).

MEHey, Mitt. To quote you, if you're on defense, you're losing.

Health Care Here and There (examples)

Here are a couple of examples of how differently we in America treat the provision of the essential service of health care, as compared to other, perhaps in this respect more civilized, parts of the World.

One of Mitt Romney's many gaffes of his overseas trip was to marvel publicly about how Israel manages to keep health care costs to 8% of GDP while providing its citizens with excellent care. (Compared to our 18% with 50 million uninsured and indifferent outcomes for many more). How do they do it? Mandatory, non-profit, public service-oriented and highly cost-regulated health insurance, of course. (Not exactly socialized medicine, but a lot closer to it than the Affordable Care Act that Romney demonizes every chance he gets).

Rachel Maddow reported on how NBC cut an 11 min. synchronized musical choreography routine with nurses in habits and rolling hospital beds from the Olympics opening ceremony... a paean to the National Health Service, which the British revere as a fundamental element of their civilization. Too "controversial," I guess. From what little I saw of it in a clip, it was a hoot.

20 July 2012

LIBOR Scandal and a little reality, please

Reading in HuffPo about how Matt Taibbi called out CNBC anchor Larry Kudlow for claiming that the Big Banks' manipulation of the LIBOR interest rate was "victimless," you just gotta wonder... how could someone like Kudlow even get a job at CNBC? Claiming that massive bank fraud that resulted in enormous costs to cities, towns, and states across America when these local governments are in many cases close to bankruptcy is victimless? The guy's either too craven or too stupid to be on television, in my humble opinion.

And now, kids, speaking of unbelievable bank fraud, how many of you have heard of Carl Levin's investigation (which should have been done by the regulators, who were asleep at the switch as usual), of the truly incredible fraud and outright criminal conduct being carried out by Super Global Big Bank HSBC, some of it right here in America? If HSBC were an individual or small company, there would be 30 FBI agents at the door, drawn guns, prosecutions, convictions, huge fines, and long prison terms for what they did. (It's a big story in England: see Daily Mail). But, as usual, this Super Bank is too big to fail, too big to regulate, and too big to tolerate. Of course, the American media barely reports on this.

We need a new era of Trust Busting. We need new laws to break up big banks and replace them with investment banks where the owners are investing their own money and commercial banks that are regulated to prevent this kind of fraud, and limited in size.

Some sobering thoughts on the presidential election

I have to take note of an unpleasant fact. I've been commenting, along with many in the Progressive Universe, about how Romney seems to be amazingly politically inept, how not releasing the tax returns makes him look like he has something to hide.

But, we have to remember, this election is going to be determined by the movable vote; the people who know little and care less about policy or politics, and who are easily swayed by propaganda. People who have definite knowledge on policy and are politically aware and active have already long since made up their minds, and will not be changing their votes. We (these people) are not the targets of campaign messaging. In the queer logic of electioneering, we are essential but we don't really matter: we don't play a significant role in determining the outcome.

The relatively ignorant, unconcerned, uninformed, and persuadable people, who do determine the outcome, for the most part, see commercials but pay no attention to "coverage."

And the fact remains that the polls are a dead heat, and have actually moved the WRONG WAY in the last ten days or so, in several key swing states.

My thought that Romney's campaign was "collapsing," was probably wishful thinking. We have to remember that the Rightists have 1) tons of money; 2) really efficient and effective propagandists working for them.

So we just have to beat them at their own game, with the resources we are able to muster.

19 July 2012

Romney's Tax Returns: What the hell?

I find it just amazing that Slick Willard Romney didn't have a plan in place for the inevitable demand that he pony up his tax returns for at least the last decade. This stonewalling is positively Nixonesque, given the level of disclosure that has become the norm in American politics. But the merits of the right of the American people to know about the financial status of a presidential candidate aside, the political ineptitude here is really remarkable. Given what even members of his own party are saying, you have to wonder at this point if Romney can even go forward as the presumptive nominee. Is it conceivable that his candidacy will simply collapse? It's hard to imagine, but it's also hard to imagine how he thinks he can go forward with a campaign that says, "I don't care what you the people think; I'm not telling you this stuff that every presidential candidate tells you."

18 July 2012

Electoral College Politics, these early days

Looking at electoral maps, such as the one on Huffington Post, it looks like the Obama campaign needs to focus on


all of which are toss ups

and, to shore up losable current leads

which are must-wins

Coloradowhich is a sure-would-be-nice-to-have

Some other states where he's currently winning, like Wisconsin and
Minnesota are probably less critical, but nonetheless worth campaigning in.

The numbers show that if Obama can carry Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania he will almost certainly win the election. Without Michigan he'd have to carry a couple of the other current toss-ups to be assured of victory, or just Florida would do it. Of course the experts in the campaign have gamed every possible scenario and will focus spending like a laser as the campaign unfolds (as will the Rightists, of course, but at this point, their job will be more problematical, which is music to my ears to be able to say. What isn't music to my ears is that they will probably have at least 50% more money than us to spend).

Unfortunately for those of us who live in the far west, (Calif., Oregon, Washington and even Nevada), both campaigns will probably ignore us entirely (even though California alone is about 12.5% of the nation), because we are going blue, almost no matter what. (Which is a good thing).

17 July 2012

My Ban on the Boy Scouts

LA Times: "Boy Scouts, after review, reaffirms ban on gays." Here.  And I reaffirm my ban on contributing to any organization that supports bigots, including the United Way, which funnels money to the Boy Scouts. I get a lot of pressure at work to contribute to the United Way, and I say, nope. Not until they sever all ties with this outfit. I contribute to the charities I support directly.

I also think that schools and public parks should advise the Boy Scouts that their refusal to comply with reasonable accommodation to all people makes them ineligible to use public property for any activities (and the same should apply to churches that insist on a right to discrimination that would be illegal in any public accommodation context).

It's time we stopped tolerating intolerance.

John Sununu's insulting and stupid remark

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I found Romney "surrogate" John Sununu's deprecating remarks, to the effect that the president needs to "learn how to be an American," in response to Pres. Obama's thoughtful and correct defense of public infrastructure as a major factor in the success of the American economy (duh!), to be despicable, insulting, stupid, arrogant, and condescending. In that order. What a jerk. 

I am more than old enough to remember when no rational person would even imagine disagreeing with this obvious truth, still less making insulting remarks about the sitting president of the United States over it. 

16 July 2012

Mitt on the Defensive

No question about it; it's early days, and it's impossible to predict what may come up that could turn the presidential race on its head. But based on what's going on right now, it's hard not to see Obama as doing a much better job than Romney in connecting with ordinary voters.

Ian Masters was interviewing James Kloppenburg yesterday on this subject, and Kloppenburg remarked that we should expect the Romney campaign to come out with a major offensive to try to counter a very, very bad week last week. But today we get "Hey, Kerry's wife didn't release her tax returns and McCain only released two years!"  (Not true: McCain in '04 released 23 years of tax returns; and Teresa Heinz Kerry did release some tax information in '04, but the point is how lame this sounds, and how the more he complains about having to release more information, the more he creates the suspicion that he really does have something to hide).

Something else Kloppenburg said rings true: different context, but this is starting to sound like the shrill denials Nixon gave on Watergate. And even Romney has himself said on more than one occasion, if you're defending, you're losing. 

We can't get overconfident, but all this is good news for Team Democratic and Team Obama, no doubt about it.

13 July 2012

I hope Obama campaign REJECTS advice to soft-pedal criticism of LIAR Romney

I really, really disagree with former PA governor Ed Rendell's comment that the "Bain attacks" of the Obama campaign have gone "too far." I think they haven't gone far enough. Romney is a serial liar and a vulture capitalist of the worst sort, and the American people need to be reminded of that over and over, because the Right intends to spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to bamboozle the public into believing this shark is a nice guy who will act in their interests when (heaven forfend!) he gets into office.

Earth to "moderate" Dems like Bill Clinton, Cory Booker, and Ed Rendell: this approach is working, the polls prove it, and we have to do what it takes to win this year.

I'd like to see the Obama campaign hire Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, a plain-spoken Virginian, who was on Rachel Maddow last night calling Eric Cantor exactly what he is . . . "a bought and paid for crook." Video here. This is what we need... people who aren't afraid to tell it like it is and penetrate the Right wing framing and speak directly to the people.

Slick Willard

Seems so typical of a schoolyard bully type, which is what Romney is. Caught red-handed lying on his resumé, in effect (i.e., filing totally contradictory SEC filings and FEC financial disclosure statements about his tenure at Vulture Capital firm Bain 1999-2002), Romney spouts campaign ads saying, essentially, I know you are but What am I? 

What a completely dishonest piece of crap Slick Willard "Mitt" Romney is turning out to be.

I find it very interesting that on the day all this came out (with articles in Boston Globe and Wa Po, and wall to wall coverage on MSNBC and progressive radio), nary a damn word on the CBS Evening News. The idea that the "mainstream media" has a liberal bias in this country is as Alice-in-Wonderland upside down as Serial Falsifier Slick Willard calling Obama a liar!

08 July 2012

Higgs Boson coulda... shoulda... been an American discovery

This piece in the LA Times points out the peevishness of some American scientists at the July 4 announcement of the (now seemingly inevitable) discovery of the Higgs Boson. But the real point, to me, not to see politics in everything...except when it's there, damnit.... is that but for Rightist shortsightedness in canceling the Superconducting Supercollider, this would have been an American discovery.

This is an element of Right Wing obstructionism and nihilism that often isn't remarked on. Their vision of our society is so elitist, so constricted, so anti-Education, anti-Research, so anti-Public everything, that they have succeeded in dulling our edge in science and technology. The fact that America no longer has the capability of launching manned space vehicles, and the cancellation of such missions as the Terrestrial Planet Finder, as well as the disgraceful state of American public science policy, are all testaments to the backwardness of those who control the pursestrings.

This whole sorry picture is another, rarely mentioned, reason why more forward thinking (i.e., progresssive) leaders are sorely needed in this country.

07 July 2012

2012. . . the stakes could hardly be higher

It's become conventional in this country to say of every presidential election that "this is the most important election of our lifetime," etc. But this time, I really think it's true. Look at what's at stake. The Republicans have evolved into a truly extremist political party, which advocates the dismantlement of essential Federal programs that have given us a stable and functional society for decades, in favor of a system of oligarchy that would make the gilded age of the end of the 19th century look benign by comparison. They stand for further tax cuts to the richest, more "deregulation" that would essentially legalize financial fraud permanently (completely ignoring what caused the current Depression), intrusive social legislation that would change the character of our society, erosion of the separation of church and state, calamitous inaction and damage to environmental progress.... the list is virtually endless. No rational and informed person can be completely unaware of these issues.

I'm not rich, but I just went to barackobama.com and contributed another $200 to the presidential campaign (again), and it's my intention to give targeted support to Congressional races where it looks like there are prospects to take back Republican held seats, or where support is needed to ensure retention by reasonably Progressive Democrats (unfortunately not all are). Republicans are pulling out all the stops; people like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson are contributing tens of millions to their campaigns, which under the new legalized bribery regime (thanks to the Rightist majority on the Supreme Court), is now legal.

I urge my farflung correspondents to take this election seriously and do what they can to ensure the Republicans' defeat, both legislatively and in the presidential race.

To my retiree friends, who have time... I urge you to get involved in making calls or doing whatever you can to help out in this election, on whatever level.

The stakes are high... we have to win this one.