News & Notes February 25, 2013

Gov. Corbett’s son-in-law, suspended by Philadelphia Police for allegedly stealing drug money from a bait car, turned in his gun and badge in preparation for dismissal.

One f the leading causes of drug addiction and crime is the lack of quality education in our cities.  We aren’t adequately educating minority children because we aren’t adequately funding their schools.  The state costing out study done several years ago determined it costs $9,000/year to educate each student.  Classrooms, teachers, aides and resources cost money.  Slashing funding for inner city schools by cutting budgets and funding charter schools is only exacerbating the problem.  Philadelphia schools lost $8.7 million last year to charter (for profit) schools which we know are not educating students well.

The number of children living in poverty in Pennsylvania is up 15%.  This means fewer kids are getting meals at home or school.  Conservatives are cutting food stamps, child care, Head Start and other critical early childhood intervention programs.  You may decry “big government” but government provides valuable and critical services.  It is the only counter to Big Business.  More and more we live in a corporatist culture rather a capitalistic one.  All laws passed in Washington have to be approved by the Chamber of Commerce or industry groups to the detriment of everyone else.  We see this in the cuts being proposed on both state and federal levels.  The rich aren’t being asked to sacrifice just everyone else.  This is hitting poor people especially hard.  If the massive income inequality continues unfettered it will lead to revolution.  It always does.

It’s time to increase the minimum wage.  A number of years ago I was involved ina coalition called Raise the Minimum Wage and we successfully fought to increase it to $7.25/hour in the Commonwealth.  In real dollars that wage is actually lower than it was in 1968.  If we want to get the economy growing again people need to earn more so they can spend more.  Conservatives always scream that increasing the minimum wage will result in job cuts.  Facts show that doesn’t happen.  Higher wages means more economic activity because those at the lower end of the income spectrum tend to spend most of their incomes.  It’s time people working for a living earned enough to live on those incomes.

As I hear absurd statement after absurd statement from Republicans I sometimes wonder if what I’m seeing is actually an parody.  Unfortunately it isn’t.  Some Republicans however still are having trouble understanding that The Onion is satire.

Speaking of not being able to tell the difference between reality and satire got caught believing a joke about Chuck Hagel and a non-existent group called Friends of Hamas.  This would be hysterical if it hadn’t turned out to be believed by some Senators.

Toeing The Cliff

The House will adjourn tonight with no vote on the fiscal cliff crisis.  The President said this afternoon that an agreement is near.  Word is Democrats have compromised on tax cuts by agreeing not to raise taxes for anyone earning $450,000/year or less.  This cuts potential revenues by 40% making it harder to balance the budget.

No House votes means the country will go over the fiscal cliff at midnight.  Because January 1st is a federal holiday nothing will happen tomorrow either.

Keystone Progress had a bit of fun this morning holding its “Fiscal Cliff Bowl” on a field in the 16th Congressional District in Reading.  Mike Morrill did the announcing while Dan Sauder played the part of Jim Gerlach who rigged the game for the millionaires.

Dishonest Republicans Look to Gut Social Security and Medicare

Senate Republicans and Tea Party House members held the nation hostage on a debt ceiling bill.  They demanded severe cuts to social programs and refused to raise taxes on the rich in order to continue paying for the out of control spending they did while in the White House.  $15 trillion of debt was run up by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and then George W. Bush and then Republicans in Congress who voted for all that debt refused to pay it when the debt ceiling was reached.  Their failed economic policies and refusals to regulate business resulted in a global financial meltdown which has crashed the economies of countries such as Ireland, Greece and Spain.  

Now they enjoy casting the specter of Greece before us and use it to fear monger over the deficit.  A deficit they created.  The difference between America and Greece is that we can afford to pay our debt.  Greece cannot.  It isn’t comparing apples and apples.

The agreement to extend the debt ceiling was reached by setting a fiscal armageddon date:  January 1, 2013 when across the board cuts would usher in an era of austerity.  Austerity has yet to work anywhere and actually depresses economies.  Republicans are ready and willing to throw our recovering economy back into depression in order to gut entitlement programs.  They see this as their opportunity to finally gut your Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  These are programs which are the most successful in our history.  Republicans however, are hell bent, as they’ve been for decades, to end them.

Heaven help us have successful programs for the poor, elderly, disabled and orphans.  Before Social Security half of all senior citizens lived in poverty.  That has been the real success of the program.  Our elderly, disabled citizens and orphans have been able to live with some self sufficiency and dignity due to SS.  It adds not one red cent to the deficit and should have nothing to do with deficit reduction negotiations.  The only reason it is is because Republicans see an opportunity to gut and/or end the program.

We can actually expand Social Security benefits and extend its solvency for 75 years by lifting the income cap upon which payroll taxes are collected.  People who earn millions and billions per year pay FICA taxes on only the first $110,000 of that income.  Therefore you pay a higher tax rate than they do.

Republicans ran this year on the issue of Medicare by scaring senior citizens that they’d protect it against President Obama’s cuts.  While ballots continue being counted from the election Senate Republicans such as Lindsey Graham are already using extortion to gut Medicare and Social Security.  They also used the threat of Democratic cutting in 2010 then voted in the House to replace it with a privatized voucher system.

40% of senior citizens, according to exit polls, voted for the Romney/Ryan ticket dedicated to gutting both Social Security and Medicare.  They did so because the GOP lied about the issue.  This is no excuse for not being an informed voter.  There is no defense against willful brainwashing.  Still, with the electoral college not yet even meeting to be on television demanding cuts to entitlement programs is shameful.

Grover Norquist’s anti-American anti-tax pledge is shameful because it forces Senators and Congress members to violate their oaths of office.  It forces them to put partisan ideology ahead of the country.  John McCain’s “Country First” slogan was a fraud.  Any candidate who signs the Norquist tax pledge is unfit to serve.

Medicare is in financial trouble long term because our private health care system s broken.  Medicare isn’t the problem:  private health insurance is driving costs upwards.  A single payer Medicare for All system fixes everything.  Both programs need expansion, not gutting.

This entire “fiscal cliff” discussion is a failure.  The deficit isn’t the problem, a lack of jobs is what is issue #1.  Putting people back to work will eliminate the deficit by raising income tax collections.  The deficit was caused by three main factors, all Republican failures:  the Bush tax cuts for the rich, two wars which weren’t paid for and the economic collapse.  We can fix things by allowing the tax cuts to expire, ending the wars and following proven economic recovery models.  There is no need to gut entitlement programs.

They aren’t “entitlement” programs anyway.  You’ve paid into both for as long as you’ve worked.  You’re invested in Social Security and Medicare, you’ve worked for them.  The rich aren’t entitled to tax cuts or wars for which the poor fight and die.  They aren’t entitled to an unregulated, chaotic, boom and bust capitalistic economy.  Now those ARE entitlements.

Republicans cannot be trusted with your financial security.  If you voted Republican then perhaps you deserve to lose your Social Security and Medicare.  Even extreme Tea Party members won’t give up their benefits.  I’ve been at their events with a small BBQ grill and signs saying I’d burn their Medicare and Social Security cards and none of them would do so.  Let’s take their benefits away since they’re hell bent on destroying the programs.  One solution is obvious:  if you’re a registered Republican you don’t get Social Security or Medicare.

Senate Republicans Kill Jobs Act

Senate Republicans who ran on creating jobs in 2010 killed the American Jobs Act tonight by a vote of 51-48.  Sixty votes were needed to overcome the GOP filibuster.  Without the filibuster the bill might have passed.  It sought to save hundreds of thousands of teacher’s jobs among other things.  Republicans and Democrats Ben Nelson and Jon Tester voted against it because it levied a surtax on millionaires.

Job creation is one of the most crucial issues facing this nation and will be issue #1 in 2012.  How Republicans will gain votes of third party and independent voters after voting to support those earning $1,000,000/year over those 20 million Americans looking for work will be very, very interesting.  Usually they create some diversionary issue like Commies, terrorists or gays.

Tonight the GOP presidential candidates debate at Dartmouth College on economic issues.  The top economic issue is jobs and tonight their Party killed the President’s jobs bill.  Republicans have introduced legislation only designed to kill jobs for the past two years.  This should be embarrassing.

Toomey Joins Super Committee “Politburo”

Sen. Pat Toomey who voted against the Budget Control Act because it didn’t go far enough was named to the Congressional Super Committee today by Mitch McConnell.  Toomey sponsored a bill requiring the government to pay China before retirees, veterans and orphans if a debt ceiling bill isn’t passed.  He, of course, worked for a Hong Kong billionaire at one time.  He also headed the virulent anti-tax Club For Growth for many years before running for Arlen Specter’s seat.  His presence on this Committee guarantees gridlock over raising revenues meaning no agreement likely will be reached before Thanksgiving.  Of course Democrats are placing Max Baucus on it also and he will readily cave in to fellow conservatives.  Things aren’t looking good for our republic.  Voting for Pat Toomey was a vote for severe economic calamity.

McConnell: “Ryan Medicare Plan Is Sensible”

Sen. Mitch McConnell says Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity plan to dismantle Medicare and replace it with private industry vouchers “is a very sensible way to go to try to save Medicare,” adding that President Barack Obama’s Medicare plan would empower “a board that would ration health care.”

Let’s take a good look at that statement.  Rationing of healthcare is a reality in any and every situation anywhere.  Unless everyone is given full access to medical care anywhere, anytime and for any reason (a hypochondriacs dream situation) there is “rationing.”  Some sensible management of a person’s medical care is important.  Too many x-rays, cat scans, MRI’s and such imperil one’s life from exposure to radiation.  Even getting too many, frequent dental x-rays is irresponsible.

So now we accept that some management is necessary so abusers don’t bankrupt the rest of us let’s actually examine the current situation in the U.S.  Most Americans receive their health care either from a government program or from private health insurers.  If you work for the government, are in the Armed Forces, are a senior citizen, disabled or an orphan you already have government healthcare.  Medicare and Medicaid are two of these programs.  A substantial portion of our population is covered by these programs including both Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.  I haven’t seen either of them renounce their coverage.

Private insurers, for profit companies and “non-profit” Blues which retain hundreds of millions in “profits” provide the balance of everyone’s coverage.  Except for the 59 million Americans who have been rationed out of the system entirely.  So we already have rationing.

Now we have a situation where those with pre-existing conditions get rationed in their coverage.  If you have had a “condition” in the past your private health coverage may likely exempt you from benefits for future treatment for it.  This is also rationing.

If you get seriously ill, cancer, MS, heart disease, need an organ transplant or whatever your private insurer can opt to drop you completely rather than pay for your medical care.  Unfortunately this happens frequently.  This is also a form of rationing.

You also have lifetime coverage limits.  Whether $1 million, $10 million or whatever coverage limits ration the healthcare available if you have private insurance coverage.  Your policy also rations how many times you can be hospitalized in a year, how many tests you may have done, where you go for treatment, who you may see and what you may have done.  This is all rationed healthcare.

If your primary physician refers you to a specialist and you cannot get into see them immediately and must wait for several days or weeks that is a waiting line.  We have always had “waiting lines” except for the most urgent situations.  Even going to an emergency room involves waiting your turn.  I’ve rarely gone to a doctor without having to wait in their office.  Mental health is severely restricted in our current health care system for example.  That care is severely rationed.  

Rationing and waiting lines have been intrinsic parts of health care for as long as there has been health care.  Republicans concocted these terms to scare people about single payer government health care.  Death panels is their latest fear mongering term.  Imagined by opponents to the Affordable Care Plan a feature which paid for a consultation for a person with their doctor to review end of life decisions, a Living Will for example, was twisted to mean a panel of bureaucrats would determine who might receive life saving treatments and who would not.  Gullible, stupid people swallowed this obscenity and actually believed it would happen.

Actually it did, under a Republican Governor in Arizona.  Faced with a mounting state deficit issue Jan Brewer decided that Arizona transplant patients would die rather than get life saving medical care.  They did.

An actual government managed single payer system would fix this broken system with which we currently suffer.  The underlying weaknesses are costs which remain out of control and which keep forcing more and more people out of the pool.  The employer based coverage developed in the 1940’s to provide incentive for workers when wages were frozen has not worked well long term.

With no cost controls and 59 million uninsured citizens and millions more under insured we must re-examine how we deliver health care.  A single payer system means the government replaces private, for profit industry and the Blues and collects all premiums.  They then remit payments to all private providers of health care under rules, guidelines and regulations mutually agreed upon.  Now any huge insurance company can arbitrarily determine whether you get coverage, your coverage continues, you have access to medical care, what you receive and whether it can summarily determine it will no longer cover your illness, injury or situation.  

In the proposals for a single payer system all providers of health care would remain private.  No doctors, nurses, lab technicians or other providers of your medical care would become government employees.  This makes Congressman John Conyer’s bill a hybrid public/private method in which every person had an automatic right to health care.

The Paul Ryan plan which Sen. McConnell embraces in his quote would further ration health care by eliminating Medicare as we know it.  Currently eligible recipients (those 65 and over, the disabled and orphans) as they become eligible would get a voucher worth $6000 to use to obtain health insurance in the private market.  It replaces a system (Medicare) with 3% overhead with a market based system with average 25% overhead.  That means for every dollar you provide for coverage instead of 3 cents going to administer the program 25 cents is wasted.  That rations health care by sending your premiums to the pockets of shareholders, executives and CEO’s earning multiple millions in salaries each year.  That is rationing.

It means instead of getting Medicare automatically regardless of your health you will be sent to private insurers who could refuse coverage, exempt certain conditions or at any time in the future decide you will no longer be covered.  That is rationed health care.

I ask Mitch McConnell if he simply spoke from ignorance, callousness or stupidity?

The Republican Agenda

The President traveled to New York yesterday and addressed the issues around Wall Street reform in the belly of the beast.  Congress has been working on this legislation for some time.  Regular readers here will have seen numerous articles and coverage of Paul Kanjorski’s hearings and legislative work on the issues.  The Republicans in Washington are again trying to paint this as some sudden, overnight vote and say we should wait or go back tot he drawing board.  Just as they did with health insurance reform their strategy is to delay by claiming the bills are being crammed down the throats of Americans without enough discussion.  Two plus years after the financial meltdown, little accountability to Wall Street and not enough assistance for homeowners, I don’t think that’s going to fly.

Following the President’s speech yesterday Austan Goolsbee, a member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, did a conference call which, to me, was revealing for its naivete.  On the call he stated he couldn’t imagine a Republican Senator reading and comprehending the bill, taking into account what’s good for the nation and the financial system, and not voting to pass the legislation.  What makes Mr. Goolsbee believe Republicans are at all interested in doing what is best for the nation?  Has he been in an isolation cocoon for the last twenty years?  That isn’t their agenda:  they want Barack Obama to fail.  Once you understand someone’s agenda, as I always say, you can predict their behavior.  If the White House thinks that just because a Republican Senator like Bob Corker worked on drafting bipartisan legislation that even he will vote for it they are mistaken.  Sen. Corker is now against the bill he helped draft.  Why?  Mitch McConnell won’t allow any successful, meaningful legislation to be passed with Republican support.  Rush Limbaugh established the GOP agenda directly after the election when he pledged to make this a failed presidency.  Republicans do his bidding, they must.  They have anointed Rush their defacto leader in the absence of the circus clown named Steele.  Once you understand this is their agenda assuming any of them would do something rational, intelligent and responsible illustrates a reckless regard for reality.  I certainly hope these beliefs aren’t common in the White House.  If these people don’t understand the real Republican agenda we’re all in trouble.  We cannot afford a failed Presidency.

McConnell: Management “Enlightened”

Crossposted from Hillbilly Report.

I am always apolegizing to the entire enlightened world for Mitch McConnell. This time I must do it because Mitch McConnell definately does not know the meaning of the word “enlightened”. In a ridiculous argument against the Employee Free Choice Act McConnell once again proved that when it comes to understanding the problems that face working Americans he definately needs to brush up some on his history.

Of course, McConnell started out spewing the usual right-wing lie catch slogan:

If the Employee Free Choice Act, which McConnell calls the “Employee Forced Choice Act,” passes the Senate, the Democratic members will have to do it, he said during a telephone conference call with reporters.…

Next, he offered forth this pathetic rambling which demonstrates just how out of touch he is with what is really happening in the American workforce:

McConnell said the AFL-CIO wants the measure approved because “private sector union membership has declined from a high of 35 percent in the 1950s to 7.5 percent now.”

That has happened “because we have very enlightened management in this country now, treating employees better and employees have decided they don’t want to pay the dues.”

Enlightened?? In the last several decades management and ownership have outsourced untold middle-class working jobs with benefits because they did not want to pay a living wage and sought instead to exploit desperate oppressed workers in third world or communist countries who are forced to work long hours at slave like pay. Even children are not exempted.

The same “enlightenment” that has caused these occurences in our own country have stagnated wages and created jobs that deny benefits and pay at or just above the poverty level. This same “enlightenment” refuses to pay workers enough to buy their own health insurance, refuses to provide health insurance and then spends hundreds of millions of dollars to fire up every right-wing nutcase about nazis killing their grandmothers.

Union membership is at least partially down because of the difficulty that workers have forming a union. Having participated in two such drives I can tell you the current system gives ownership way to much sway. The Employee Free Choice Act lets them decide whether they want their cards to serve as their vote, or if they want to wait several months and be forced to listen daily to anti-union propoganda on the clock, hurting their productivity.

It is not enlightened to be greedy, selfish and prey upon the most vunerable people in America and the world. It is not enlightened to lie through your crooked teeth about a bill that will help Americans achieve the middle-class. With reports showing that Corporate greed is creating a whole “Lost Generation” we need the Employee Free Choice Act now more than ever.

Get informed on what the Employee Free Choice Act really does.

Giving more people more freedom from powerful monied interests that seek to exploit their labors and markets is always the enlightened thing to do. Of course, men like Mitch McConnell have been too busy trying to roll back the Enlightenment to understand what it really means.