Mind and Destiny

“I make no pretension to patriotism. So long as my voice can be heard ... I will hold up America to the lightning scorn of moral indignation. In doing this, I shall feel myself discharging the duty of a true patriot; for he is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins. It is righteousness that exalteth a nation while sin is a reproach to any people.”- Frederick Douglass

Name:
Location: Delhi, N.Y., United States

The author and his webmaster, summer of 1965.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Benito Mussolini

The characteristics of fascist regimes tend to ignore human rights.  They tend to approve of torture, executions, assassinations, and lengthy incarcerations of prisoners.

Even when widespread domestic problems occur, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, the domestic agenda is neglected, and military service is glamorized.

Fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion.  Religious terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies.

Fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship.

Italian fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini had a quite different perception of war, than Obama does. Mussolini claimed: “And above all, Fascism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace... War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the people who have the courage to meet it.”

Senator Obama recognized that there wasn’t an imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction and that it was overstated. He has acknowledged, that many in Congress demonstrated a lack of judgment by not anticipating that, once we went into Iraq, it would be very difficult to get out.  The question wasn’t whether we could overcome Saddam Hussein’s army, but what would happen once we were there. Obama foresaw the possibility that the invasion would inflame anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East and distract us from the fight that we still hadn’t finished in Afghanistan.

Obama promised: “We must be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in.”

Friday, December 30, 2011

Warnings Ignored

Warren Buffett was the first to noticed, that the “Gramm amendment” enabled the creation of a shadow banking system, which allowed the creation of financial “weapons of mass destruction,” and that act directly contributed to the current mortgage foreclosure crisis.  The Republican Party, who is so concerned about establishing a cradle-to-grave dependency is responsible for the dependency of the 8 million Americans made job less during the Bush presidency.

In 2011, Angelo Mozilo the executive of Countrywide Financial Corporate was fined $67.5 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission. However, in the “Financial Times,” Chrystia Freeland wrote, that it wasn’t Countrywide alone, but in fact part of a system, where the banks, as they did historically, no longer held the mortgage. Consequently, investment banks no longer had a direct financial incentive to care whether people were going to pay their mortgages back.

Clayton Holdings, a Connecticut-based firm that analyzes home mortgages for banks, hedge funds, insurance companies and government agencies, provided its data to the Financial Crises Inquiry Commission, a bipartisan panel created by Congress to investigate the roots of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

The firm had been hired by Wall Street investment banks to analyze mortgages given to borrowers with poor credit, which were then packaged and sold to investors during the boom years.  The firm revealed that as much as 28 percent of those loans failed to meet basic underwriting standards.

Clayton Holdings flagged those loans as potential problems, but Wall Street banks ignored the warnings of the rating agency nearly half the time and purchased those loans anyway to sell them to unwitting investors.  Investors were never told that the biggest home loan due diligence firm in the country had found potential defects in those mortgages.

Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich can’t explain why he was paid $1.6 million by Freddie Mac. For 8 years, Bush didn’t payed attention to Wall Street, while politicians and lobbyists killed common sense regulations.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Consensus of Opinion

On 2/23/09, “Time” magazine presented a list of those responsible for the current economic crisis.  Ranked at the top of their list was Angelo Mozilo the chief executive of Countrywide Financial Corporate.  The ranking was the consensus of opinion of 10 business and economics columnist.

Countrywide provided subprime loans for years, but began giving mortgages to people, who couldn’t pay them back and they fully recognized, that they weren’t going to be paid back. Countrywide was able to securitize those mortgages, by putting them in a pool and selling them almost immediately to investors around the world.  That was the chain of events that ultimately allowed there to be an enormous amount of credit, and Countrywide used that access to easy loan money to seduce people into buying houses they couldn’t afford.  

Number two on the “Times” list was former Republican Senator Phil Gramm, who was the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.  He had played a lead role in writing and pushing through Congress the 1999 repeal of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial banks from Wall Street.  In 2000, Gramm slipped the “Commodity Futures Modernization Act,” into an omnibus spending bill just as Congress headed for vacation.  

In the waning days of the Clinton administration, Congress completed work on a variety of appropriations bills that weren’t passed prior to the 2000 election. One was the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. The final language of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act was available approximately 24 hours before consideration began, but the conference report that included an amendment was introduced only four minutes before final consideration commenced. Without review, that bill would be viewed eight years later as part of the failure of our political system abetting a financial storm that brought the world to its knees.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Corruption and the Solution

In 2001, Bush hired regulators who weren’t interested in regulating Wall Street. Republican Congressman Bob Ney, blocked efforts to let the victims of predatory lending sue everybody who profited from it, which left Wall Street executives with virtually nothing to risk. Eventually, on 10/13/06 Rep. Ney pleaded guilty to corruption charges arising from the influence-peddling investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Neu became the first elected official to fall in the scandal that resulted in Democrats winning back the House, after 12 years. Voters had witnessed 8 years of corruption, tax cuts to billionaires and subsidies for corporations.  

Obama took office in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  America lost 650,000 jobs in December 2008.  An additional 700,000 jobs were lost the month Obama was sworn in.  On February 13, 2009, twenty-four days after Obama took office the Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed, without a single Republican vote in the House. That legislation prevented the worst financial crisis, since the Great Depression from getting worse and turned the economy from contraction to expansion. 

By December 2009, the number of private sector had risen by 1.1 million. The Obama administration had helped created more jobs, than Bush did in 8 years. In January 2010, the DOW was up 11%, and we had seen a 10% growth in private sector jobs. A year later, corporate profits as a percentage of U.S. economic growth reached their highest level in the three decades.  Profits had plummeted to the lowest point ever, when the recession hit. A year ago, corporate profits reached their highest point ever as a share of GDP. 

The unemployment is at 8.6%, and economist see a slow, steady improvement in the economy. Private sector job growth has continued for 22 consecutive months.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Freedom to Steal

In 1933, as a result of that Great Depression, FDR and a Democratic controlled Congress put in place the Glass-Steagall Act to prevent future collapse. In 1999, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act essentially gutted Glass-Steagall. Not unlike the culture of the 1920’s, the predominate culture in Congress had again become: “Wall Street knows best.”

Former Republican Senator Phil Gramm wrote: “We have a new century coming, we have an opportunity to dominate that century the same way we dominated this century. Glass-Steagall came at a time when the thinking was that government was the answer. In this era of economic prosperity, we have decided that freedom is the answer.”

Gramm was able to convince Congress and many Americans, that they needed to believe that government isn’t the answer, when in fact it’s the only answer. The protections in the Glass-Steagall Act were stripped away and big banks and insurance companies were allowed to merge. In 2001, George W. Bush became president. There was a new sheriff in town, and the sheriff wasn’t interested in watching Wall Street.

Recently, the Justice Department announced a $335 million settlement with Bank of America over discriminatory lending practice at Countrywide Financial.

Attorney General Eric Holder said a federal probe found discrimination against at least 200,000 qualified African American and Latino borrowers from 2004 to 2008, during the height of the housing market boom. He said that minority borrowers who qualified for prime loans were steered into higher-interest-rate subprime loans.

Bank of America purchased leading mortgage lender Countrywide in 2008 for $4 billion, in a deal that made the bank the nation’s No. 1 home loan lender at the time. The deal closed in July 2008, a few months ahead of the meltdown in financial markets.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Did You Know?

After World War II, a child who was born into poverty had a 50% chance of becoming middle class as an adult. By 1980, that chance had fallen to around 40%. And if the trend of rising inequality over the last few decades continues, it’s estimated that a child born in 2012 will only have a 33% chance of making it to the middle class.

The richest 1% of Americans saw their income go up an average of more than 10% each year between 2002 and 2007. As the richest Americans got richer, the middle class saw their income stay about the same, and the number of people in poverty gradually increased.

A nurse or construction worker, who earns $50,000 a year, is likely to pay a higher tax rate than somebody raking in $50 million. Warren Buffett said it’s wrong for his secretary to pay a higher tax rate than he does. Many of our wealthiest citizens would agree to contribute more if it meant reducing the deficit and strengthening the economy that made their success possible.

Tea Party Republicans continue to insist on protecting the $100 billion worth of tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans, even if it means reducing the deficit with deep cuts to things like education and Medicare.

In 2008, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 777 points in one day, the biggest point loss ever.  Wall Street melted down, because a relatively small number of irresponsible people who controlled a great deal of money had been allowed to get away with breaking rules, that had been put in place to prevent Wall Street from creating a massive public risk in order to chase private gain.

Unbelievably, congressional Republicans want less regulations and continued tax breaks for the most wealthy.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Team Player

The following meaningful narrative was sent to me by Mary McKeon.

“I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma. I was just a kid. I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her on the day my big sister dropped the bomb: ‘There is no Santa Claus,’ she jeered. ‘Even dummies know that!’

“My Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her ‘world-famous’ cinnamon buns. I knew they were world-famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true.
 
“Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me. ‘No Santa Claus?’ she snorted.…‘Ridiculous! Don’t believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad!! Now, put on your coat, and let’s go.’
 
“‘Go? Go where, Grandma?’ I asked. I hadn’t even finished my second world-famous cinnamon bun. ‘Where’ turned out to be Kerby’s General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything. As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days. ‘Take this money,’ she said, ‘and buy something for someone who needs it. I’ll wait for you in the car.’ Then she turned and walked out of Kerby’s.
 
“I was only eight years old. I’d often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping.
 
“For a few moments I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten-dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for. I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church.
 
“I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock’s grade-two class. Bobby Decker didn’t have a coat. I knew that because he never went out to recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobby Decker didn’t have a cough; he didn't have a good coat. I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat!

“I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked real warm, and he would like that.

“‘Is this a Christmas present for someone?’ the lady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down. ‘Yes, ma'am,’ I replied shyly. ‘It’s for Bobby.’
 
“The nice lady smiled at me, as I told her about how Bobby really needed a good winter coat. I didn’t get any change, but she put the coat in a bag, smiled again, and wished me a Merry Christmas.
 
“That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat (a little tag fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) in Christmas paper and ribbons and wrote, ‘To Bobby, From Santa Claus’ on it. Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker’s house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially, one of Santa’s helpers. Grandma parked down the street from Bobby’s house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge. ‘All right, Santa Claus,’ she whispered, ‘get going.’
 
“I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his door and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma. Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby.
 
“Fifty years haven’t dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker’s bushes. That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were ridiculous. Santa was alive and well, and we were on his team.
 
“I still have the Bible, with the coat tag tucked inside: $19.95.”

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Looking for Work

Many Americans have spent months looking for work, and others are struggling just to get by. Some folks can’t travel to see their relatives on Christmas, because they’ve got to save on gas or pay the mortgage. Families are putting off retirement to make sure their kids can go to college. Young people who have graduated from college find themselves in debt and unable to find employment opportunities. 

America was a place where hard work and responsibility paid off.  We were a compassionate country where everybody who worked hard had a chance at success. We were the country that prospered most when we stay true to a fundamental idea that we’re all in this together.

Obama insists: “It’s going to take time to rebuild an economy where hard work is valued and responsibility is rewarded.  It’s going to take time to rebuild an economy that restores security for the middle class and renews opportunity for folks trying to reach the middle class.  It’s going to take time to rebuild an economy that’s not based on outsourcing or tax loopholes or risky financial deals, but one that is built to last, where we invest in education and small business and manufacturing and making things that the rest of the world is willing to buy.”

On 9/8/11, Obama asked Congress to pass the American Jobs Act. The jobs bill is full of the kinds of ideas that in the past have been supported by Democrats and Republicans.

The Republican leadership in the House refused to let it come up for a vote. In the Senate the bill came up for a vote, but every Republicans in the Senate refused to even debate it. Although, almost two-thirds of Americans supported the ideas in the bill, every congressional Republican opposed it. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Political Blindness

Retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson was chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell in the first term of the Bush administration.

When asked: “Do you see any hope within the Republican Party for a new vision, a conservative realistic not reactionary foreign policy emerging?

Wilkerson answered: “I see Ron Paul and a few others who speak sanely and soberly. But as far as the leadership goes, whether it’s domestic policy, tax reform, taxing the wealthiest in this country, which incidentally Republican Dwight Eisenhower did for eight years at the rate of 90 %. Any issue you want to pick, my Republicans seem to be intent on suicide.” Col. Wilkerson added: “That is political opportunism and political blindness of the first order. And it may cause me to leave this party eventually, I must say that.”

President Obama directed our CIA and military to decimate al Qaeda, and Bin Laden was killed. Some opportunistic Republican leaders have criticized him for not being aggressive enough. An aggressive Obama response: “Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al Qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement. Or whoever’s left out there, ask them about that.”

Seven million Americans are currently surviving on modest unemployment insurance benefits. Three million are one unemployment insurance check away from falling into poverty.

Nevertheless, Tea Party Republicans are determined to do nothing about corporate loopholes. They’ll continue cutting taxes for the very wealthy. They’ll continue gutting regulations for corporations. They’ll keep claiming that that approach is going to somehow work for the unemployed, although it didn’t work during the Bush era.

If Americans think that that’s a recipe for success and a majority of voters are persuaded by that argument, we will continue towards becoming a fascist Oligarchy.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Middle Class Security

Over the last few decades, the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown farther apart, and the middle class has shrunk. Millions of working families have been forced to take their children to food banks for a decent meal. Those children have only a one in three chance of climbing out of poverty and into the middle class, no matter how hard they work.

That’s not a future that voters have to accept, because we can again build a strong middle class in America. The vision of a strong middle class was embraced by both parties for more than 200 years. It’s not a view that says we should punish profit or success or pretend that government knows how to fix all of society’s problems. It’s a point of view that says that we’re greater nation, when everyone engages in fair play and everybody does their fair share. Restoring middle-class security in today’s economy begins by making sure that everyone in America gets a fair shot at success.

Obama insists: “We’ll never be able to compete with countries when it comes to who’s best at letting their businesses pay the lowest wages, who’s best at busting unions, who’s best at letting companies pollute as much as they want. That’s a race to the bottom that we can’t win, and we shouldn’t want to win that race. Those countries don’t have a strong middle class. They don’t have our standard of living.

“The race we want to win, the race we can win is a race to the top. A race for good jobs that pay well and offer middle-class security. Businesses will create those jobs in countries with the highest-skilled, highest-educated workers, the most advanced transportation and communication, the strongest commitment to research and technology.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Payroll Tax Cuts

On 12/19, the Republican controlled House rules committee rejected a Democratic amendment by an 8-4 vote, that would have held a vote on whether to approve the Senate plan on payroll tax cuts, which is opposed by House Republican leaders. The vote prevent a direct vote on a Senate plan favored by both Democrats and Republicans Senators to extend the payroll tax cuts for two months.

The House rules committee then voted 8-4 in favor of a proposal by their Republican Chairman Rep. David Dreier for the House to vote on whether to call for a conference committee with Senate negotiators to work out a compromise on the payroll tax-cut legislation.

The rules committee decided the House would vote on sending the issue to a conference committee, as well as, a resolution supporting a year-long extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits cuts in the negotiations House Republicans are trying to force the Senate to pass.

The change in the plans by House Republican leaders followed a two-hour meeting with their caucus and indicated confusion over how to proceed in the face of relentless pressure from the White House, Democrats and 39 Senate Republicans to accept the Senate plan that passed on a bipartisan 89-10 vote.

The 242-seat Republican majority can only afford 26 defections to overcome a unified 192-seat Democratic minority. Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina said the Democratic party’s caucus was 99% in support of the Senate measure.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said: “I negotiated a compromise with Senate Minority Leader McConnell, at Speaker John Boehner’s request. I will not reopen negotiations until the House follows through and passes this agreement that was negotiated by Republican leaders and supported by 90% of the Senate.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Important Issues

Voters must start focusing on important economic issues. Let’s begin by considering the following very relevant facts:

Trickle down economics is a myth and we must recognize that our government is the only institution that can protect us from a few greedy Wall Street gamblers, who destroyed the economy for both Wall Street and Main Street in 2007 and 2008.  

In 2001 and 2003, Congress passed two of the most expensive tax cuts for the wealthy in history.  It resulted in the slowest job growth in half a century. 

Loopholes for corporations exist so that they can make billions in a year and pay not a nickel in taxes.  Actually, 38% of American corporations don’t pay any taxes.  We’ve tripled military spending since 1997, but congressional Republicans refuse to take a hard look at corporate loopholes and military spending.

Corporate profits as a percentage of GDP are at their highest levels in the past five decades.  Wage earners have seen their income dropped like a rock during that same period of time.  The last time we had a gap this large was back in 1929, at the start of the Great Depression.  We might be headed for another Depression.

Critics claim the wealthy pay more than their fair share.  However, the overall tax burden on the wealthy has been shrinking much faster than on middle-class taxpayers. According to Internal Revenue Service the top 1% now earn 25% of all income, up from 10% in the 1970s. Today, they own more than 40% of all of the country’s wealth.

Tea Party Republicans in the House are willing to harm the unemployed in order to continue providing unwarranted tax cuts for the richest 1% of Americans who saw their income go up more than 10% each year between 2002 and 2007.


 

Monday, December 19, 2011

National Investments

Obama insisted: “Business, and not government, will always be the primary generator of good jobs with incomes that lift people into the middle class and keep them there. In the past, Congress has come together to help create the conditions where both workers and businesses can succeed.”

Lincoln began the first intercontinental railroad. Teddy Roosevelt used the power of government to break up monopolies. Franklin Roosevelt worked with Democrats and Republicans to give veterans of World War II a chance to go to college on the G.I. Bill. Eisenhower launched the most massive government undertaking in our history known as the Interstate Highway System. Some complained that the program was too costly, but it turned out to be the most successful long term economic stimulus programs in American history.

Those investments were paid for by asking everybody to do their fair share. If we’re going to have a strong middle class, our tax code must reflect that value.

Do we want to make the investments we need in things like education and research and high-tech manufacturing or do we want to keep in place the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans in our country?

Congressional Republican have refused to ask the wealthiest Americans to go to the same tax rate they were paying when Bill Clinton was president. When, Clinton first proposed those tax increases, folks in Congress predicted it would kill jobs and lead to another recession. Instead, our economy created nearly 23 million jobs and we eliminated the deficit. Today, the wealthiest Americans are paying the lowest taxes in over half a century. In the early ‘50s, the top tax rate was over 90 percent. In the early ‘80s, the top tax rate was about 70 percent. Under Clinton, the top rate was only about 39 percent.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Finally, the End

More than 1.5 million Americans served in Iraq.  Over 30,000 Americans were wounded, and those are only the wounds that show.  Nearly 4,500 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice. Those numbers don’t come close to telling the full story of the Iraq war. 

Our troops served tour after tour of duty. Guard and Reserve units stepped up with unprecedented service. They’ve clearly demonstrated why our military is the finest fighting force in the history of the world.

Part of ending a war responsibly is to stand by those who fought it. They’ve stood up for America and now our government needs to stand up for them.

Obama has announced: “As your Commander-in Chief, I am committed to making sure that you get the care and the benefits and the opportunities that you’ve earned. For those of you who remain in uniform, we will do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our force –- including your families.  We will keep faith with you. 

“We will help our wounded warriors heal, and we will stand by those who’ve suffered the unseen wounds of war.  And make no mistake -- as we go forward as a nation, we are going to keep America’s armed forces the strongest fighting force the world has ever seen.”

Obama wants to enlist our veterans in the work of rebuilding America.  That includes the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, so that they and their families can get the education that allows them to live out their dreams. It includes a national effort to put our veterans to work. The Obama administration has worked with Congress to pass a tax credit so that companies have an incentive to hire vets. It has worked with the private sector to get commitments to create 100,000 jobs for those who have served. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Out of Iraq

Sen. McCain said: “Unfortunately, it is clear that this decision of a complete pullout of the United States troops from Iraq was dictated by politics and not our national security interests. I believe that history will judge this president’s leadership with a scorn and disdain that it deserves.

Sen. Lindsey Graham claims: “This was a failure by the Obama administration to close the deal. At a time when we need troops in Iraq to secure the place against intervention by Iran and the bad actors in the region, we’re going to go into 2012 with none.”

Retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson was chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell in the first term of the Bush administration. Regarding our troops coming home from Iraq, he said: “It’s unconscionable in some respects that we have let these people sacrifice for as long as they have in Afghanistan and Iraq and literally gone on with our lives. These men and women not only deserve to come home, they deserved to come home a long time ago. The preposterous protests being made by members of my political party, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham and others just boggle my mind.”

“We need to move in a military sense back to a position of strategic agility. That is to say, we need to be in offshore confirmation. We need to be in battle groups and marine amphibious groups and Air Force in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. We need to have that agility to be able to move as we need do to influence actions if we need to with hard power in eastern Asia.

“They want to embarrass this man (Obama). They want to put this man through every kind of turmoil they can possibly put him through politically... What really grates on me as a Republican -- even if it’s not in the interest of this country, they will take a stand and have repeatedly taken stands that oppose the president simply because they oppose the president. It’s certainly not our national security interests. It’s getting rid of this president.

“That is political opportunism and political blindness of the first order. And it may cause me to leave this party eventually, I must say that.”

Friday, December 16, 2011

E.J. Dionne

Doing nothing is possibly the most reliable way to cut $7.1 trillion from the deficit over the next decade.

According to E.J. Dionne, if Congress simply fails to act between now and Jan. 1, 2013, the tax cuts passed during the Bush administration will expire. The $1.2 trillion in additional budget cuts would go through under the terms of last summer’s debt-ceiling deal, and a variety of other tax cuts also go away.

Reasonable members of Congress would most likely agree to a balanced package of long-term spending cuts and tax increases to bringing the deficit down, coupled with short-term measures to boost the economy. However, congressional Republicans have repeatedly demonstrated that they have no intention of compromising. Genuine compromise won’t happen because Republicans refuse to accept any significant tax increases.

Senate Minority Leader McConnell made it clear in October 2010 that his number one priority above everything else is to defeat President Obama. Republicans believe that doing nothing to improve the economy or create jobs will ensure Obama’s defeat in 2012.

Democrats have put huge spending cuts on the table and in return they’ve asked that the cuts be balanced by some additional revenues. But, Republicans have learned something about negotiating budget deals with Democrats: If you don’t like their offer, just wait a couple of months and they’ll give in.

Republicans decided they needed to look more flexible. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the Republican co-chairman of the super-committee proposed $300 billion in revenue from a promised tax reform in a plan that also included a proposal to slash tax rates for the rich. In effect, what Republicans wanted to do was to make at least 90% of the Bush’s tax cuts permanent. That would make deficit reduction even harder in the future.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Consumer Watchdog

President Obama has pointed out: “My grandmother worked as a banker for most of her life. She worked her way up, started as a secretary, ended up being a vice president of a bank. And I know from her, and I know from all the people that I’ve come in contact with, that the vast majority of bankers and financial service professionals, they want to do right by their customers. They want to have rules in place that don’t put them at a disadvantage for doing the right thing. And yet, Republicans in Congress are fighting as hard as they can to make sure that these rules aren’t enforced.”

In 2010, for the first time in history, reforms were passed by the Democratic controlled Congress that put in place a consumer watchdog who is charged with protecting everyday Americans from being taken advantage of by mortgage lenders or payday lenders or debt collectors. The Obama administration has nominated Richard Cordray to be the consumer watchdog. He’s a former attorney general of Ohio who has the support of most state attorney generals, both Democrat and Republican, throughout the country. Nobody is claiming that he’s not qualified.

Nevertheless, the Republicans in the Senate are refusing to confirm him for the job; they refuse to let him do his job. The problem that led to our current financial crisis certainly wasn’t caused by too much oversight of mortgage lenders or debt collectors.

We shouldn’t be weakening oversight and accountability of financial institutions. Wall Street firms have violated major anti-fraud laws because the penalties are too weak and there’s no price for being a repeat offender. Obama is calling for legislation that makes those penalties count so that firms don’t see punishment for breaking the law as just the price of doing business.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Clear Contrast

Obama urged Congress to extend the payroll tax cut extension. He said: “My message to Congress is to keep your word to the American people and don’t raise taxes on them right now. Now is not the time to slam on the brakes. Now is the time to step on the gas. Now is the time to keep growing the economy, to keep creating jobs, to keep giving working Americans the boost that they need.”

David Axelrod, Obama’s Senior Campaign Advisor recently said: “I was amused by the Newt Gingrich ad, because he talked about he’s going to bring the country together to solve problems. You’re talking about the godfather of gridlock, the guy who two decades ago really invented the kind of tactics that have now become commonplace in Washington.”

If voters in the Republican primary decide that they want a consistent conservative who’s extreme on the issues that matter the most to middle class Americans, Newt Gingrich will be their guy.

In a debate between Gingrich and Obama, voters would see a very clear contrast between Obama, who has clearly and consistently fought to move this economy forward, fought to bring both sides together, stood for the notion that we can’t have it all our way and that we need to work together.

The thread running through the entire field of Republican candidates for president is that they’re desperate to do anything, say anything to woo voters to support them, rather than stick to principles and embrace the notion that when you’re running for office or when you’re serving in office, you have to stand up for the courage of your convictions and be measured on those convictions, not stick your finger in the wind and choose a conviction on any given day that works for you politically.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Nations Welfare

Tax loopholes and tax shelters have enabled one quarter of all millionaires to a pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class families. In fact, some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1 percent.

It’s wrong that in America, a nurse or construction worker, who might earn $50,000 a year, should pay a higher tax rate than somebody raking in $50 million. It’s wrong for billionaire Warren Buffett’s secretary to pay a higher tax rate than he does. Actually, many of our wealthiest citizens would agree to contribute more if it meant reducing the deficit and strengthening the economy that made their success possible.

This issue isn’t about class warfare. It’s about our nation’s welfare. It’s about making choices that benefit not just the people who’ve done exceedingly well over the last few decades. It’s about choices that benefit the middle class, those struggling to get into the middle class, and the economy as a whole. A strong middle class can only exist in an economy where everyone plays by the same rules, from Wall Street to Main Street.

This is about the $700 billion of taxpayers money in the Troubled Assets Relief Act, that rescued our major banks from collapse. Thereby, we avoided a full-blown financial meltdown, that would have sent us into a second Depression.

Part of the TARP deal was that we wouldn’t go back to business as usual. Last year, a Democratic controlled Congress put in place new rules. The Obama administration is in the process of implementing those new rules. Unless you’re a financial institution whose business model is built on breaking the law, cheating consumers and making risky bets that could damage the entire economy, no financial institution should have anything to fear from those new rules.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Characteristics of Fascism

Political scientist Dr. Lawrence Britt has listed the characteristics of fascism. Among them are:

Because of fear of enemies the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored. They tend to approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, and lengthy incarcerations of prisoners.

Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, the domestic agenda is neglected, and military service is glamorized.

Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation.

Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.

The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

Fascist nations tend to promote open hostility to higher education, and academia. It’s not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored.

Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

Sometimes elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Consumer Financial Protection

Senate Republicans have let 99 percent of Americans know that they stand with Wall Street and not Main Street. Recently, they blocked the confirmation of Richard Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general, who President Obama picked to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency. The final vote was 53-45. All the no votes came from the extremist right-wing republicans.

Republicans have consistently spoken out against Cordray’s nomination, and it’s no secret Republicans hate the fact that the agency even exists. The agency’s main purpose is to protect middle class consumers from financial abuses. It’s obvious that Republicans would rather protect Wall Street and not the middle class.

The filibuster, also known as cloture has been invoked 63 times in 2009 and 2010, which isn’t just the most ever. It’s more than the sum total of instances from 1919 through 1982. Once Democrats took control of Congress and Obama became president obstructionism went through the roof.

Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders said: “I think the Republicans made a decision. They will do everything that they could to stop his agenda. If the issue means rebuilding our infrastructure and creating jobs, they will obstruct. If the issue means taking on Wall Street and protecting consumers, they will obstruct.

“If the issue is transforming our energy system, dealing with global warming, they will obstruct. Because what’s important to them is not rebuilding the middle class or protecting the United States of America. It’s defeating Barack Obama. And it’s a pretty sad state of affairs.

“If it comes to whether or not banks can charge you 25 or 30 percent interest on your credit card or if you are going to have somebody in your corner fighting against usury, well, I guess the Republicans are pretty clear which side they are on.”

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Last Decade

In 2001 and 2003, Congress passed two of the most expensive tax cuts for the wealthy in history. It resulted in the slowest job growth in half a century.

In the last few decades, the average income of the top 1% has gone up by more than 250% to $1.2 million per year. The top 1% of America make a million dollars every single year. For the top one hundredth of 1%, the average income is now $27 million per year. The typical CEO who used to earn about 30 times more than his or her worker now earns 110 times more. At the same time, over the last decade the incomes of most Americans have fallen by about 6%.

That level of inequality has not been seen, since the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate reached 24.9%. When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, when people are slipping out of the middle class, it drags down the entire economy from top to bottom. America was built on the idea of broad-based prosperity, of strong consumers all across the country. That’s why Henry Ford made it his mission to pay his workers enough so that they could buy the cars he made. It’s also why a recent study showed that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run.

Inequality gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and it runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. It leaves everyone else rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged against them, that our elected representatives aren’t looking out for the interests of most Americans.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Do Nothing Congress

Jim Horney, Vice President for Federal Fiscal Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has explained how the deficit could be reduced by $7.1 trillion in the next 10 years.

It can be done, but it will require that Congress does nothing. Congress can reduce deficits and the budget would be nearly balanced in 2021, merely by “not” passing certain new legislation.

That amount of savings would require the following inaction:

$3.3 trillion could be saved by letting temporary income and estate tax cuts enacted in 2001, 2003, 2009, and 2010 to expire at the end of 2012.

$0.8 trillion in savings could be realized by allowing other temporary tax cuts that Congress has been extending on a “temporary” basis to expire as scheduled.

$0.3 trillion of savings could be accomplished by letting cuts in Medicare physician reimbursements scheduled under current law to take effect. Those cuts are required under the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate formula enacted in 1997, but they have been postponed since 2003.

$0.7 trillion in savings could be achieved by letting the temporary increase in the exemption amount under the Alternative Minimum Tax to expire, thereby returning that exemption to the level in effect in 2001.

$1.2 trillion could be saved by letting the sequestration of spending required if the Joint Committee doesn’t produce $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction to take effect.

$0.9 trillion in lower interest payments on the debt would result from the deficit reduction achieved from not extending the current programs noted above.

Why aren’t Congressional Republicans proposing that we use Jim Horney’s formula to reduce the deficit by $7.1 trillion over the next decade? After all, they ran for Congress on the promise that they would save America for our grandchildren.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Out of Touch

Most American understand that when the richest people are becoming richer and their effective tax rate is the lowest in decades, they should be required to pay more in taxes to help us with deficit reduction.

Loopholes for corporations exist so that they can make billions in a year and pay not a nickel in taxes. Actually, 38% of American corporations don’t pay any taxes. We’ve tripled military spending since 1997. Congress has go to take a hard look at corporate loopholes and military spending.

Tea Party Republicans and their representatives in Congress defend the positions of more tax breaks for the rich and resist cuts in military spending. They’re way out of touch with ordinary Americans.

Our Congressional Budget Office has found that giving huge tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans is one of the least effective ways to stimulate our economy. Republican politicians have continued to claim, that tax cuts benefit our economy, even after the Bush-era tax cuts provided ten-years of irrefutable proof, that tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires don’t stimulate the economy. 

America was $11 trillion in debt when Obama was sworn in. He didn’t want the super- committee to fail, but he wants justice and that is what the vast majority of the American people want. Most Americans want the wealthiest people and large corporations, who up to this point haven’t contributed one nickel toward our deficit reduction to pay their fair share.

Social Security has not contributed one nickel to the deficit, because it’s paid for by the payroll tax and has 2.5 trillion dollar surplus. Telling aging senior citizens, who are surviving on $14,000 a year, and are getting sicker, that they’ve got to be the people, who must shoulder the burden of reducing the deficit is absolutely unconscionable.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Obama Doctrine

Yesterday, Obama spoke in Osawatomie Kansas where in 1910, Theodore Roosevelt had laid out his vision for what he called a New Nationalism.

Obama stressed, that Roosevelt a Republican son of a wealthy family had praised what the titans of industry had done to create jobs and grow our economy. He believed, that the free market was the greatest force for economic progress in human history, because it led to a prosperity and a standard of living unmatched by the rest of the world.

According to President Obama, Roosevelt understood that free market only works when there are rules of the road that ensure competition is fair and open and honest. He busted up monopolies, forcing those companies to compete for consumers with better services and better prices. He fought to make sure businesses couldn’t profit by exploiting children or selling food or medicine that wasn’t safe.

Teddy Roosevelt insisted: “Our country means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy…of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him.”

Ironically, over 100 years ago Roosevelt a Republican had been called a radical, a socialist and even a communist. Roosevelt argued for an eight-hour work day, a minimum wage for women, insurance for the unemployed and for the elderly, and those with disabilities; political reform and a progressive income tax.

Obama pointed out: “Now, just as there was in Teddy Roosevelt’s time, there is a certain crowd in Washington who, for the last few decades, have said, let’s respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. 'The market will take care of everything. If we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes -- especially for the wealthy -- our economy will grow stronger.'"

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Tax Rates

According to Karen Hube a columnist for the “Fiscal Times.” Federal tax rates are at their lowest levels. If Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire at the end of 2012, the top income tax rate rises to 39.6%, and by historical standards, that would still be a historical low.

For the past 63 years, the top tax rate has been higher than 39.6%. For 54 years, the top rate was at least 50%. Through the 1950s and early 1960s, the top tax rate was more than 90%.

Of course, income taxes are just one category of taxes. Americans are paying payroll taxes, the alternative minimum tax, sales taxes, investment income taxes and gasoline taxes, as well as state and local taxes. Nevertheless, the Bureau of Economic Analysis has concluded that the overall tax burden has been shrinking.

The portion of Americans’ income going to federal, state and local taxes decreased from 14.4% 10 years ago to 12.4% in 2008 down to 9.4% in 2010.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that as many as 40% of households owe no federal income tax. And, a study by the Joint Committee on Taxation found that 51% of American households pay no income tax. Actually, the claim that the poor pay no taxes is misleading. In fact, the 51% reflects only income taxes and doesn’t account for other taxes paid by the poor. A payroll tax is automatically deducted from the paychecks of the working poor to fund Medicare and Social Security.

Critics claim the wealthy pay more than their fair share. However, the overall tax burden on the wealthy has been shrinking much faster than on middle-class taxpayers.

According to Internal Revenue Service the top 1% now earn 25% of all income, up from 10% in the 1970s.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Barring Journalist

Josh Stearns Associate Program Director for Free Press has reported: “The New York Police Department forcibly evacuated Zuccotti Park, home of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The move provoked a clash not only with protesters but with the press. It appears to have been a coordinated effort to block coverage of the raid, the police barred many journalists from reporting on the police action.

“Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the police kept the media away ‘to prevent a situation from getting worse and to protect members of the press. But according to the New York Times, one journalist told a police officer ‘I’m press!’ and the officer just responded ‘Not tonight.”

“If the mayor of our country’s largest city thinks protecting the press means silencing them, we’re in trouble. Bloomberg is not alone. Police harassment of the media has been reported during ‘Occupy’ protests in Chicago, Denver, Oakland, Portland and Seattle.

“Since the birth of the Occupy Wall Street movement two months ago, 23 journalists have been arrested and countless others have been roughed up, tear-gassed and pepper sprayed. There have even been reports of police using high-powered strobe lights to disable video cameras and block people from recording their actions. We must demand that Mayor Bloomberg and the Conference of Mayors make a commitment to upholding the First Amendment.

“The freedom of our press is fundamental to our identity as Americans. As elected representatives charged with serving the people, our mayors must rein in these aggressive and violent tactics by local law enforcement.”

Thought of the day. A 84 years old woman, who was pepper-sprayed in Seattle wrote: “It certainly left an impression on the people who rode the bus home with me. In the women’s movement, there were signs which said, ‘Screw us and we’ll multiply’.”

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Payroll Tax Cuts

Most congressional Republican agree with President Obama and Democrats that extending the payroll tax cut would help the economy, but the parties remained divided over how to pay for it.

The Senate blocked competing Democratic and Republican proposals from moving forward, thereby setting up negotiations on a possible compromise. House Speaker John Boehner signaled support for an eventual deal, when he admitted: “I don’t think there’s any question that the payroll tax relief, in fact, helps the economy.”

The Senate Democrats plan to extend and expand the payroll tax cut set to expire at the end of this month would assess a 3.25% tax on income over $1 million to pay the cost of more than $200 billion for the extension. Taxpayers with an income of $50,000 would benefit by $1,500 a year.

Senate Republicans insisted on a 60 vote super-majority to proceed, thus nullifying the 51-49 majority vote for the Democratic proposal.

The Republican alternative proposal would freeze discretionary government spending and cut federal jobs, while raising Medicare costs for Americans with incomes above $750,000 a year. That proposal was blocked by opposition from both parties by a 20-78 vote.

President Obama response to those votes in the Senate was: “They chose to raise taxes on nearly 160 million hardworking Americans because they refused to ask a few hundred thousand millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share. It makes absolutely no sense to raise taxes on the middle class at a time when so many are still trying to get back on their feet.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney pointed out that the question is whether “it is worth giving 160 million Americans taxpayers, a tax break of $1,500 by asking 300,000 Americans to pay a little more.”

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Ranked Sixteenth

According to a Commonwealth Fund supported study, America placed last among 16 high-income, industrialized nations when it comes to deaths that could potentially have been prevented by timely access to effective health care.

Other nations lowered their preventable death rates an average of 31% between 1997–98 and 2006–07, while the U.S. rate declined by only 20%. At the end of the last decade, the preventable mortality rate in the U.S. was almost twice that in France, which had the lowest rate.

Ellen Nolte of RAND Europe and Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine analyzed deaths that occurred before age 75 from causes like treatable cancer, diabetes, childhood infections, respiratory diseases, and complications from surgeries. They found that an average 41% drop in death rates from ischemic heart disease was the primary driver of declining preventable deaths. They estimated that the United States of America could improve its preventable death rate to match that of France, Australia, and Italy; who are presently the three best-performing countries.

Commonwealth Fund Senior Vice President Cathy Schoen said: “The good news is we know lower death rates are achievable if we enhance access and ensure high-quality care regardless of where you live. Looking forward, reforms under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Healthcare Act have the potential to reduce the number of preventable deaths in the U.S.”

Nolte and McKee noted that while preventable death rates declined in all 16 countries, the rate of decline varied significantly. Ireland, which ranked last with the highest preventable death rate in 1997–98, improved 42% by 2006–07.

According to the study’s authors, America’s poor performance and relatively slow improvement compared with other nations may be attributable to “the lack of universal coverage and high costs of care.”

Friday, December 02, 2011

Informed and Voting

Bartlett Giamatti, former Commissioner of Major League Baseball, said of our disdain for politics and politicians. "What concerns me most today, is the way we have disconnected ideas from power in America and created for ourselves thoughtful citizens who disdain politics and politicians, when more than ever we need to value politics and what politicians do."

Some angry voters tend to rant about politicians, but can only suggest; “throw them all out.” Politicians are representatives of “we the people”, and we determine, who ends up representing us. In fact, every member of Congress is there because he or she got more votes than anybody else in the last election. Angry voters rant about politicians, but fail to recognize that it’s our informed opinion, which determines who represents us. We get the government we deserve.

Many Americans feel cynical and powerless, and our cynicism comes from a belief that we must have a lot of money in order to have our voice heard. Expressions such as; “They're all the same is merely an expression of voter anger and frustration. We need a different attitude, which encourages the belief that each of us has the ability to in our own small way effect change.

Cynical, apathetic and uninformed voters have helped create this mess. It’s the political will of the voters, which determines and sustains the political will of our governments. The changes that are needed must come from us. We can’t wait for our political leaders to do it for us. Reasonable voters recognize that we must not to let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

Foolish defeatism infects others, and many Americans have lost hope for a better world. It’s the political will of the voter which sustains the political will of our government. Changes must come from you, and we can’t wait for our political leaders to do it for us. Democracy is not a spectator sport, it’s up to us to sustain this democracy and reclaim our birthright from corporate lobbyist.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Automatic Spending Cuts

Obama signed a law that will cut nearly $1 trillion of spending over the next ten years. A component of that law also requires Congress to reduce the deficit by an additional $1.2 trillion by the end of 2011. Obama sent Congress a detailed plan that would reduce the deficit by an additional $3 trillion, by cutting spending, slowing the growth in Medicare and Medicaid, and asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.

Republicans continue to insist on protecting the $100 billion worth of tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 % of Americans, even if it means reducing the deficit with deep cuts to things like education and Medicare.

There are already $1 trillion worth of spending cuts that are locked in. Those cuts are part of the law that Obama signed last summer, which stated that if Congress couldn’t reach an agreement on the deficit, there would be another $1.2 trillion of automatic cuts in 2013, divided equally between domestic spending and defense spending.

Democrats are trimming the deficit by a total of at least $2.2 trillion over the next 10 years. That will happen, one way or another. They’ve got $1 trillion locked in and either Congress comes up with $1.2 trillion, which so far they’ve failed to do, or the sequester kicks in and the automatic spending cuts, that will occur would bring an additional $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction.

Some in Congress want to undo those automatic spending cuts, but Obama insists: “I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off-ramps on this one. We need to keep the pressure up to compromise, not the turn off the pressure.”