Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lies are on the record, let’s move on

"If you tell a lie that's big enough, and you tell it often enough, people will believe you are telling the truth, even when what you are saying is total crap."  Comedian and Law & Order actor Richard Belzer  

I predict that the debt limit will be raised in a deal somewhat along the lines of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s plan.  Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s two-step plan will not be necessary, although it would have been infinitely more desirable as yet another months-long opportunity to grind President Obama into the dirt and hold Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid hostage just prior to the 2012 elections.

But it won’t be necessary because the big lies are already in the can or on the Cloud or on the Internet or DVDs – wherever they can be safely stored until the Koch Brothers, Karl Rove and their ilk can turn them into campaign ads, which they will then bombard us with endlessly from now until Nov. 6, 2012.

Not that the Democrats won’t do some of the same, it’s just that they aren’t very good at it, while the Tea Party\Republicans (one doesn’t know what to call them any more) are world class masters.

We got a little taste Monday.  

Every House and Senate Republican leader looked straight into the TV cameras one after the other and, in exactly the same words, said, “President Obama is playing politics and not doing what is best for the American people.”  

Okay, so that’s a wrap.  Talking point established.  Prepare to see whichever Republican is running for election or re-election in your neighborhood run that sound bite in campaign ads about four million times between now and next November.  

Never mind that the Republicans are also “playing politics,” not doing what’s best for the American people and, in fact, doing their darnedest to do what’s best for their big corporate contributors.

Here’s a few more big lies we’re already seeing and we’ll see again and again over the next year:

“We must take away President Obama’s blank check.”  

His blank check?  I believe that Congress is the one that allocates money, as it did for the $700 billion bank bailout under President Bush in which each of the the big banks came into then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s office and wrote the sum it wanted ‒ $10 billion, $20 billion, $50 billion – on a single sheet of paper that amounted to a very big “blank check” indeed.   

But raising the debt ceiling does not allow President Obama to spend new money, it only allows the government to make credit card payments on money Congress and the president have already spent.  The blank check has been filled in and cashed. 

"The stimulus was a failure." 

 Okay, it wasn't perfect, but it did save or create three million jobs, which unfortunately are now being lost because you can't build curb cuts, repave roads or pay cops and teachers out of a limited federal fund forever. That money did buy a lot of groceries and pay a lot of mortgages while it lasted.  On the other hand, the Republicans would have let the Detroit auto industry just go bust at the cost of hundreds of thousands of jobs.  And they had no plan to create jobs.

“The banks won’t lend money and big business won’t create new jobs because of the ‘climate of uncertainty’ that the Obama Administration has created.”

The uncertainty is that the corporations' Republican lackeys will not be able to stop the wildly popular move to take their multimillion-dollar tax breaks away from them and let the Bush tax breaks expire even as many of them enjoy their highest profits ever.

Another uncertainty: They also may not be able to avoid government re-regulation and prosecution after a decade of such lax regulation that the financial industry almost drove the world economy into the ground while their CEOs got rich providing predatory subprime mortgages to millions of Americans, most of whom have lost their homes. 

Yeah, market forces are perfect and that regulation thing is a terrible drag on the economy.  

Not that U.S. corporations haven’t created jobs.  They have, only not here.  U.S.-based multinational corporations are enjoying record profits but not creating American jobs, according to a recent AP report.  In the 2000s they created 2.4 million jobs overseas and cut 2.9 million jobs here.  

When was the last time you talked to an IT person for Microsoft or HP or some other software company who wasn’t in Bangalore? 

"Raising taxes on the job creators or letting the Bush tax cuts expire will just kill jobs." 

The "trickle-down" theory of job creation hasn't worked since Ronald Reagan first proposed it so why do the Republicans cling to it so ferociously?  (See corporate donors.)   According to a Washington Post-ABC poll taken July 14-17, 72 percent of all Americans, including 54 percent of Republicans, favor raising taxes on incomes over $250,000 and 59 percent, including 55 percent of Republicans, favor raising taxes on gas and oil companies. 

Okay, one more big lie: 

“We have to turn Medicare into a voucher system in order to save it.”  

The insurance companies sold the Bush Administration and Congress on Medicare Advantage, the big lie that they could provide more comprehensive Medicare services more cheaply than the government, as part of the Medicare Part D prescription drug deal.  They didn’t.  Medicare Advantage was more expensive and provided far fewer services.  It is being phased out. 

Now that the lies have become so predictable that we can spot them before they arrive, here’s hoping fewer people will buy into them.  One can but hope.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Supporting the billionaires -- the McCourts thank you

Frank and Jamie McCourt are the owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers, over which they have been fighting non-stop for two years in such a bitter divorce that the team is now in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  
They are among the wealthy 1 percent of Americans who own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth and who the Republicans/Tea Partyers are forcing the rest of us to support by refusing to lift the Bush tax cuts while demanding Middle Class sacrifices, such as cuts Medicare and poverty programs.  
In the last five years the McCourts have pulled more than $100 million out of the team’s coffers, on which, according to a revealing article in the August Vanity Fair magazine – A Major League Divorce – they paid few or no taxes.
But they have been paying for other things:
·         Seven homes including two adjacent homes in Malibu ($27.3 million and $19 million),  two in Holmby Hills, Calif. ($21.3 million and $6.5 million), a mansion in Brookline, Mass. ($16 million), a Cape Cod estate ($19.5 million) and a ski condo in Vail, Colo. ($6 million). 
·         A $10,000-a-month hair dresser, whom they fired as an economy measure and replaced with a $2,500-a-month hair dresser.
·         A $12 million indoor Olympic-sized swimming pool so Jaime could swim laps at the main Holmby Hills house.
·         Rental of more than 250 hours a year on private jets at $12,500 an hour.
·         A driver and security staff costing more than $800,000 a year.
·         A $500,000 Bar Mitzvah for their son, Gavin.
·         $180,000 to have the kitchen of their Brookline house shipped to California.
You cannot say, however, that the McCourts are not what the Republicans love to call “job creators.”  They have, after all, created jobs for several very high-priced baseball players, for their children, for their household and security staffs, and for the Dodgers organization itself.  In fact, Vanity Fair reports, Frank fired 70 Dodgers staffers who had picked up and moved from all over the country to take those jobs, because he felt they were too loyal to Jaime. 
Since the divorce proceedings started, a California court has ordered Frank to pay Jaime $600,000 a month for living expenses and the mortgages on their homes.  The homes are in her name and the Dodgers are in his, and she won’t sell until he coughs up 50 percent of the team.  He says he can’t pay her on his $5 million a year income and he has been struggling from month to month to make the team payroll as well.
According to ESPN, which has been covering the whole affair extensively, Frank says he had to file for bankruptcy because “I simply cannot afford to support [Jaime’s] lifestyle any longer.”
Worse, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig put the kibosh on a $3 billion broadcasting deal with Fox Sports that Selig says was “structured to facilitate the further diversion of Dodgers assets for the personal needs of Mr. McCourt.”
The creditors include the Dodgers’ top players – Manny Ramirez ($21 million), Andruw Jones ($11 million), Hiroki Kuroda ($4.4 million) – announcer Vin Scully ($150,000), the Chicago white Sox ($3.5 million for shared spring training facilities), and a San Francisco Giants fan named Bryan Stow who had the crap beat out of him by Dodgers fans on opening day at Dodgers Stadium.
I couldn’t care less about the Dodgers or about how the piggish McCourts spend their money.  What I’d like to know though is this:  How much money have we taxpayers had to pick up and will we have to pick up as a result of the tax loopholes the McCourts have been able to enjoy and the tax forgiveness that bankruptcy protection brings with it?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sounding off on Sound Off

Like most Delco Times readers, I love Sound Off.  It is my favorite feature.  It makes me laugh, it makes me grind my teeth, it often makes for great lunchtime debate and, every once in a great while, it just stops me dead in my tracks.
A recent caller declared “We have our liberty and liberty is all we need.” 
What set this off?  We’ll never know, but obviously the caller felt a deep and urgent need to express this sentiment.  Of course it’s not really true.  Liberty is, I grant you, a basic need.   We also need education, jobs, a roof over our heads, food, clean water, medical care, and clothing and shoes, at a minimum.  Public transportation, military preparedness, interstate highways, airports, retirement security, police, fire, schools and the taxes to pay for them also leap to mind.
Sound Off callers tend to leap straight for the most radical conclusions.   President Obama has proposed something a caller doesn’t like so he must be a radical, Liberal, Communist, fascist, racist, unpatriotic, Muslim, African witch doctor with a secret plan to destroy America.   Really?  Maybe he just said or did something you disagree with.  All presidents do now and then.
Or they go for the most absurd solutions:  One of today’s callers asserts that we should immediately wipe out the entire Middle East with nuclear bombs, a reaction to the news that a handful of nut cases may be contemplating sewing bombs inside their bodies (or more likely other people’s bodies) to blow us up.  
Thank God this caller isn’t the president and let’s hope no one like him (Michele Bachman) ever gets near the Oval Office.  We would forever be pariahs if we killed 500 million or so people because a couple of hundred of them might be thinking of trying to harm us.  Not to mention the 10,000 years of worldwide nuclear contamination and the destruction of the world’s economies, including our own, for generations.  Not a practical solution but it probably felt good to say.
Then there was this item from a June Sound Off, which I reproduce in full, including the editor’s note at the end:
I love how the Daily Times uses the editor’s note in Sound Off to support liberal viewpoints.  Making sure readers knew [U.S. Sen. Patrick] Toomey and [U.S. Rep. Patrick] Meehan voted for the Ryan plan in the editor’s note, you were supporting the “scare the seniors” position Democrats are taking these days.  Nothing will change in Medicare for those 55 and older; changes are proposed for the future solvency of Medicare.  If you stop with the liberal nonsense, your paper would not be getting so small, and your readership would undoubtedly increase.  Remember, we are a center-right nation.
Why don’t you want people to know that Rep. Pat Meehan and Sen. Pat Toomey voted for the Ryan plan? – Ed.
 “Remember, we are a center-right nation.”  This is merely one person’s opinion, not a provable fact, but it sounds simultaneously like a threat, a warning, an admonition and a mission statement on the wall of a North Korean re-education center.
Can the Daily Times look forward to Brown Shirts marching in to break up the printing presses if it doesn’t refrain in the future  from spouting the “liberal nonsense” of actually telling readers how their elected representatives voted on an issue of considerable importance to them?
Should Sound Off readers who don’t agree with the caller look forward to being paraded through the county at the point of a gun with dunce caps on their heads and placards around therir necks while chanting the slogan? 
In fact, there is no one monolithic America that believes in one single, unifying political creed.  We would never in a million years agree on what that creed should be but I am reasonably sure the end product would not be “We are a center-right nation.”
 We are 300 million contentious, opinionated Americans — white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, male, female, gay, straight, married, single, young, old, wealthy, struggling, East Coast, Left Coast, heartland and big city dwellers — who do not come together on any single point, except that we are all Americans (and there would be numerous dissenters on that).
We are a huge country, more than 3,000 miles wide and stretching north to south from the Canadian Rockies to the subtropical Florida keys.  If you superimposed the map of the U.S. over Europe, our footprint stretches from Great Britain nearly to China.
It would be ludicrous to expect a newly engaged gay couple from New York City to agree with the average fundamental Baptist farm couple in Jackson, Mississippi, or for a sundrenched Hawaiian surfer to share the same attitudes and experiences as an  icebound, fur-clad Aleutian fisherman.
I am guessing the caller is basing his “center-right” conclusion on the outcome of the mid-term elections, but that election certainly didn’t prove America was united on any one position, since nearly half of the electorate voted the opposite way.  In any case, it looks like the victors badly misinterpreted the message voters were sending. 
When the voters said, “fix the economy and  create jobs,” I don’t think they meant, “hey, spend all your time protecting Wall Street and the wealthy, banning abortions, destroying labor unions, dismantling public education, laying off public employees, and cutting Medicare and Medicaid (which pays for a lot of poor old people to live in nursing homes).”   
And how about the caller’s opinion that the Democrats are scaring seniors on the Medicare issue?   I’m sure Toomey wasn’t using scare tactics when he was running that campaign ad about a gazillion times last fall accusing his Democratic opponent, Joe Sestak, of cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare.
Anyone who had examined Toomey’s politics even a smidgeon would know that he would vote in a heartbeat to scuttle both healthcare reform and the entire Medicare system and hand it all back to private for-profit insurance companies to screw us all over.  While you were all focused on the befuddled little old lady staring out at you from your TV in the anti-Sestak ads, you might have missed that point about Toomey. 
 I have to agree with “Ed.”  If all Meehan and Toomey were doing was voting for “changes for the future solvency of Medicare,” why in the world would the caller object to those votes being made public?
Me, I don’t think that’s what they were doing, I think they were voting to begin the process of dismantling Medicare.  And, yeah, that is one scary proposition. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

We are not Greece

Don’t let the Tea Party nuts convince you that we are, like Greece, on the brink of collapse.  We are most certainly not Greece.
In Greece, petty bribery is a way of life.  Want to see a dentist, get a building permit, hire a plumber, have a phone line installed, you pay a bribe.   According to one study, every Greek pays an average of 1,800 Euros a year in these everyday petty bribes.
In Greece, tax evasion is the national sport.  No one pays taxes unless they are employed by the government or a large corporation and therefore have to – not doctors, not lawyers, not small business owners, and not average citizens.   
No two sources seem to agree on the minimum retirement age in Greece, but the guesses range from 53 to 61 with those in “arduous” professions, like waitress or hairdresser, able to retire even earlier.   Then you start getting a generous government pension or Social Security.   
Greece is a small country of about 11 to 12 million people, one-30th the population of the United States.  Yet it has one of the highest rates of public employment in the world and public sector employees receive salaries twice as high as those in the private sector, or possibly three times as high if you take bribes into account. 
According to excellent article in the Oct. 1, 2010 Vanity Fair, the average state railroad employee receives 65,000 Euros a year ($94,000 at today’s conversion rate), but the railroad runs a 600 million Euro annual deficit.
One really interesting concept in Greece is 13 and 14-month paychecks.  These are essentially large end-of-the-year and summer “bonuses” that make up much of the annual salaries of public sector employees.  Let’s not try it here.
There are a lot of other statistics I could throw at you, like ratio of debt to GNP (way higher than ours),  VAT (sales) tax (21 percent), but you get the picture: when you combine so much corruption and governmental largesse with such a small tax base, lack of revenue and mismanagement, you get the mess that is Greece.   
Now the people of Greece are rioting because the country has to enact “austerity” measures.  Guess what they are?  Raising the retirement age to 65, freezing or cutting public employee salaries and government pensions to more reasonable levels, laying off some public workers, allowing private employees to lay off more workers, selling off  publicly owned utilities, raising taxes and actually enforcing tax collection. 
That’s pretty much the same things that the rest of the developed, democratic countries of the world, including the United States, already do.  Most of these measures will strengthen the Greek economy, allowing it to grow jobs.
Greece is what socialism run amok looks like. The United States government is not socialism run amok, despite the histrionic protestations of the Tea Party ilk.
On the other hand, our large multinational, privately owned corporations and their wealthy owners do look an awful lot like socialism run amok.
Corporations don’t pay petty bribes, they pay very large bribes to elect politicians who will do their bidding, they are masters at evading taxes, and they pay their CEOs and other executives obscene sums even when they grossly mismanage their companies.  Their political lackeys reward them for taking most of our jobs overseas.  But they can still count on American taxpayers to bail them out. 
Our besieged Middle Class can do absolutely nothing about any of that because we can’t compete with corporate money for the loyalty of our politicians.  And when we do redress the balance just a tiny bit, like health care reform, the corporations and their political lapdogs go nuts.
In our corporate world, loss is socialism, to be shared by all, but profit is private, to be enjoyed by a few.
Maybe we should do a little rioting of our own.