Sep 182010
Dorothy meets the Cowardly Lion, from The Wond...
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Article first published as Thirty-one Cowardly Democrats on Technorati.

President Obama took the initiative earlier this month to use his bully pulpit and give the Democratic base a reason to get out and vote in November. He started the final weeks before the election out stumping and defining the differences between the parties. Democratic voters could feel the momentum start to build. But one week later, the cowardly lions on the left began their customary collapse, and with their tails between their legs decided to join ranks with the Republicans.

To his credit, the President first took the podium in Milwaukee on Labor Day and revealed his $50 billion infrastructure plan. Two days later he came out swinging in Cleveland and attacked the Republicans on everything from their obstructionism to their factitious support of small business. He focused much of his message on the $250,000 line drawn in the sand over the expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts and set the stage for an 8-week fight over who really represents the middle class.

But obviously not up for the fight, on Wednesday, 31 Democrats broke ranks and signed a letter to Speaker Pelosi advocating for the extension of all of the Bush tax cuts, including those for the top 2%. The letter starts with “In recent weeks, we have heard from a diverse spectrum of economists, small business owners, and families who have voiced concerns that raising any taxes right now could negatively impact economic growth.” In other words — we don’t have the courage of our convictions and believe that we may lose votes if seen as supporting tax increases.

The single page letter goes on to attempt to justify the cowardice, stating that the upper tax brackets include only 2%-3% of tax payers, but that “they are responsible for 25% of national consumer spending.” It states further that 70% of our economy is driven by consumer spending, therefore “this is not the time to jeopardize further growth.” Of course ALL of these statements are true, but the conclusion is a non sequitur fallacy.

People in the group in question would be reporting $250,000 or more in taxable income. By definition they would already have the money to continue their 25% of consumer spending. They are obviously not the people being adversely affected by the economic collapse or they wouldn’t be reporting such high income. Contrary to what the letter implies, most economists agree that the money saved by this group would largely be set away in savings and have no impact on stimulating the economy. Besides, as the President has articulated, the rich would still be receiving the very same tax relief on the first $250,000 as everyone else.

The letter also offers up the same tired Republican distortion regarding the overlap of the top 2% and small business. Reciting statistics stating that “up to one-third of high-income taxpayers are small business owners,” these Republicrats assert that expiring the cuts for the rich will cost jobs and harm the recovery. Of course they know better than that. They know that only 2%-3% of real small businesses fall in to this category. They know that the “small businesses” in this group are actually the largest law firms, hedge funds, and other elitists that employ very few people. This is pure “I’m not a tax raiser” politicking.

Liberals need to seriously consider whether or not there’s anything on the planet more cowardly than a congressional Democrat. This entire maneuver is because they’re worried that the mean old Republicans might spin their support of tax cuts for only the middle class into perceived support for raising taxes, even if on the rich . . . poor Democrats. So, instead of saying, “Hell yes! We support relief for the middle class,” the Democrats are willing to bow down again. Football fans will recognize their strategy in the many NFL teams who go into a “prevent” defense in the fourth quarter to protect a lead, and ALWAYS wind up losing. Democrats play not to lose while the Republicans play to win.

Democrats need to learn that public opinion follows spin, so instead of letting the Republicans do the spinning, the damn Democrats need to get out there and tell the story. The only reason the Republicans get away with adhering to a strict loyalty to the upper 2% and still get elected is because the Democrats allow them to get away with a constant barrage of fact-free propaganda. Republicans by necessity use distortion, hyperbole and outright lies to obfuscate their true agenda, but the Democrats are too afraid to expose them, fearing that public opinion may not roll their way.

Now, even on an issue where the Democrats are obviously acting on behalf of 98% of the population (whether the people know it or not), these cowardly 31 are still too timid to push the agenda. What exactly do these mice stand for?

Fortunately, at this point, Speaker Pelosi is holding strong, and still has the support of the majority of Democrats in the house. At least Madam Speaker has some conviction and fortitude. It’s high time that the rest of the Democrats get behind the President and help define why people should vote for them. After all, if the people want to elect a Republican, why would they vote for one who’s a Democrat?

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Sep 162010
20 Dollars art2
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Are the offices of elected officials in America really up for sale? Apparently Meg Whitman believes so. With 48 days left in the auction for the office of Governor of California, billionaire Whitman raised her bid by another $15 million. Her personal total now at $119 million, Queen Meg has set a new all-time record for personal contribution in an American election campaign.

Some people might consider it unhealthy to have a process that allows candidates to contribute without limit to their personal election campaign. Objections asserting that a candidate should be elected based upon their record and policies, not the size of their bank account, are certainly valid. But that’s not the way things work in 21st Century American politics, where corporations are people, facts are optional, and elections are decided by who has the better television ads and sound bites.

For her money, Meg Whitman has assembled a media blitz of attack ads aimed at discrediting her opponent. Attacking both Jerry Brown’s record as mayor of Oakland and governor of California, her campaign has managed to saturate television and radio with an unrelenting barrage of half-truths, distortions, and outright lies.

Fortunately for Meg, lying may be unethical, but it’s not illegal. From her early ad that attempted to illegitimately associate Jerry Brown’s record as mayor with the debacle of misappropriation and graft in Bell, California, to her ridiculously mistitled The Facts: Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, a video ad that was virtually fact-free, to her most recent perversions of truth regarding Brown’s time as governor, Whitman has rivaled her contribution record with a performance destined for the liar’s hall of fame.

In Whitman’s seventh attack ad against Brown, she attempts to defame his position on taxes as governor by showing footage of former president, Bill Clinton, during their contentious 1992 Democratic presidential primary battle. In the video, Clinton asserts that Brown had raised taxes as governor — a claim that Clinton has since refuted. As it turns out, the former president’s statement was based on information presented by Brooks Jackson, of CNN, who now openly admits that his data was in error. The Whitman campaign, to their continuing discredit, was made aware of the issue but chose to retain the ad.

Another current Whitman ad, allegedly reporting the “facts” about Jerry Brown, apparently relies on the same erroneous reports of California taxes under Brown, claiming that he supported $7 billion in increases. The truth is that taxes fell under Brown, from an average 6.89% to 6.56%. The ad also claims that Brown was against Prop-13, which he was — because it artificially fixed rates and set a requirement for a two-thirds majority in both state houses to increase any tax. Brown wasn’t against the tax cut, and in fact had tried to get a cut through the legislature that was blocked by Republicans in an election year tactic. The truth is that Prop-13 was a poorly designed 389 word initiative that amended the State Constitution, drained the budget surplus, gutted education and benefitted business far more than the average Californian.

Unsatisfied with distortions only on Brown’s record on taxation, the Whitman ad is facetiously named, “Job Killer.” The job portion of the video starts with the claim that California’s unemployment rate “nearly doubled to 11%” under Brown. The truth is that it did go over 11% in late 1982, when the national rate had climbed to 10.8% because of the recession. But Whitman’s claim that the rate doubled is pure fiction.

According to Whitman’s own website, the unemployment rate before Brown took office was 7.3%, which would equate to only a 50% increase. And the fact is that unemployment started climbing before Jerry Brown took office, with the state losing 140,000 jobs between 11/74 and 3/75 because of the oil crisis and the end of the Viet Nam war. Official records only go back to 1976, when the rate was at 9.3%, and the reason it was higher when Brown left office, even though the state had 1.9 million new jobs created during his tenure, is because of a nagging recession and a growing population. The truth is that Jerry Brown had the best job record of the State’s past five governors.

Election campaigns being what they are, public offices are effectively sold today, but that doesn’t mean that once aware, voters should allow it to happen. There is no other case in American history where it was so obvious that a candidate was trying to buy an office and would stop at nothing in order to get elected. Meg Whitman has spent millions of her own money to inundate California voters with false information. She believes that her veracity is immaterial so long as she can saturate the media. California voters need to ask themselves if this lack of good character is what they really want in a governor.

Meg Whitman cares as much about the truth as she does the good people of the State of California. If she is able to lie and buy her way into the governor’s office, she will most assuredly fight for her fellow elite and bring them prosperity at the cost of the working people of California. Queen Meg believes in tax cuts for the rich and the outsourcing of jobs. Her dubious plan to address unemployment is nothing more than vintage trickle down, and her plan for education as substantive as her “facts” about Jerry Brown. The people of this state need to send Ms. Whitman back into retirement, because if they don’t, they’ll all be seeing red when the Red Queen is done.

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Sep 152010
Heath care for America Now! @barackobama rally...
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Article first published as Affordable Healthcare in America — Fighting Fiction and Facing Facts on Technorati.

Healthcare insurers are at it again, only this time they’re blaming their rate increases on the Affordable Care Act passed earlier this year. Late last week, Aetna Inc., certain BlueCross BlueShield plans and other smaller carriers asked for rate increases from 1% to 9%, allegedly to cover costs stemming from the new law.

Republicans were quick to jump on the news and leverage it for political gain by posting the news on the Republican Senate’s website. But this is nothing new. The Republicans have railed against the legislation since day-one, most often with gross distortions, like Sarah Palin’s “Death Panels.” Most recently, during his August 24 speech at the City Club of Cleveland, House Minority Leader, John Boehner attacked the law, illegitimately labeling it “a government takeover of healthcare.” Of course it’s actually nothing of the sort, as it continues to rely upon the existing system of private insurers and providers, but Boehner would never let the truth get in the way of a good talking point.

Not to miss an opportunity to ding the Democrats, Rand Paul released a new campaign ad attacking what he calls, “the Obama-Pelosi healthcare scheme,” claiming that it “puts Washington bureaucrats in charge, destroying the doctor-patient relationship.” And according to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, “People are finding out what’s in [the law], they don’t like it, and I think it’s going to play a big factor in this election.” Such serious assertions make a person wonder what changes within the new law could possibly be responsible.

The issues cited by the insurers looking for rate hikes were: allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until age 26, eliminating co-payments for preventive care, barring insurers from denying coverage for children with pre-existing conditions, and changes to annual and lifetime coverage caps. Just how these regulations will “destroy doctor-patient relationships” or why Grassley’s “people” would raise an objection to them is hard to fathom. But fact-free Republican spin is a constant in 21st Century America, so Democrats are left with a vigilant effort to combat fiction with actual facts.

The fact is that the Obama administration was expecting small premium increases in the short term, between 1% and 2%, stemming from the new regulations. But they are also counting on the state managed insurance exchanges to provide much needed competition and rate reductions as time moves forward. Another fact is that rate increases vary amongst carriers. The high mark is currently Celtic Insurance Co., in Wisconsin and North Carolina, who claim that half of their 18% increase is the result of the new federal regulations. BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon sets their hit at 3.4% of an overall 17.1% increase, and HMO Colorado actually filed for a 1.8% rate reduction associated with the new laws.

Regardless of what the costs resulting from new regulations are in reality, they are but a small part of the overall thrust toward ever escalating healthcare costs. Few can forget the 39% increase requested by Anthem BlueCross earlier this year, a request that turned out to be based on erroneous calculations. But erroneous or not, costs are on a steep upward trajectory and so are insurance company profits.

Real costs continue to rise for multiple reasons. With Baby Boomers aging, there is a steady increase of elderly patients, and at the same time, the population is increasing and people are living longer. New and expensive medical technology is another contributor of rising costs, as is increasing obesity, currently estimated to affect 34% of American adults. Inadequate medical records and a lack of preventative care also contribute, both of which are now being addressed through Obama administration initiatives — preventative medicine through the healthcare bill and medical records through $20 billion in Stimulus funding.

But none of these issues should be viewed as the main culprit, though each one does have more impact than the Republican’s favorite diversion — malpractice insurance, which only accounts for around 2% of overall costs. Fortunately, the main culprit is completely controllable, but it will require structural change: that factor is our reliance upon a fee-for-service based insurance system. Inherent in the design of fee-for-service systems are incentives that promote the consumption of unneeded and marginally effective services, and disincentives for leveraging preventative care. This dynamic is the driving force behind the fact that, while we trail most other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations in almost all healthcare metrics, we also spend twice as much on healthcare — currently 17% of GDP.

Ironically, the main people really benefitting from continuously escalating healthcare costs are the very same people now asking for rate increases — the medical insurers. While the nation is struggling under the weight of average insurance rates that have climbed 131% since 1999, the insurers have enjoyed a ridiculous 250% increase in profits. Even in the current economic times, the nation’s five biggest for-profit health insurance companies posted record profits, booking $3.2 billion in the first three months of this year, a 31% increase over the same period in 2009. They’re doing so well that the top 10 firms have been able to raise CEO pay to an average $23 million each, a 167% increase in 2009 alone.

Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act didn’t address most of the issues responsible for driving up healthcare costs, and at present, there is no movement in Washington to do so. Until these issues are given the focus they need and fee-for-service is replaced with some sort of managed care system, more emphasis is placed on preventative medicine, and a system is created to provide real competition amongst both insurers and providers, costs will continue to skyrocket and insurers will keep smiling all the way to the bank.

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