Monday, July 9, 2012

Monday Open Forum

Some early links:


Paul Krugman asks what Mitt is hiding besides the gray in his hair. There have been some recent disturbing revelations and allegations about his secret financial history, such as how in the world did he end up with as much as $100 million in his IRA? Why does this potential president not release all his tax returns and why does he have the need to hide money overseas? I rhetorically ask (my comment is number two in "Oldest") why the hell the Obama Justice Department doesn't investigate him if he is as crooked as the campaign is making him sound?


Meanwhile, here's a preview of Biennial Bush Tax Cut Extension Kabuki, in which President Obama pretends to bravely buck his own party by calling right now this very minute for a one-year extension of cuts for poor people earning less than $250,000. It's a theatrically bold slap in the face to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, starring as millionaire Democrats who think that anyone earning $999,999 is just plain struggling folks in the middle class. Barry plays Errol Flynn throwing down the gauntlet to the piratical GOPers, who don't believe gazillionaires should pay a penny more, ever and into perpetuity. Arrrrgh.


The Libor hearings continue in the U.K. I think another reason why this scandal is not getting much attention in the American press is that Barclay's CEO Bob Diamond got his grilling on our national Fourth of July holiday and the merikun pundits were not working to provide it for us on the telly. Plus, the name sounds like one of those British minority parties -- a Cockney cross between liberal and labor. Yawn. I did watch a snippet last week, and the first thing I noticed was what a smarmy arrogant jerk this Diamond was, calling members of Parliament by their first names. Even Jamie Dimon has the good taste to not call his U.S. senator "Chuckie". The Brits sensibly consider Diamond to be a proper annoying twit. Meanwhile, Bank of England honcho Paul Tucker  gets his turn today. What did he pretend not to know and why does he not know it, etc.

Tom Junod scathingly examines The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama in Esquire, concentrating on the murder of a 16-year-old American boy by drone strike. An excerpt from the piece, written in the form of a letter to the president:

This is not to say that the American people don't know about the Lethal Presidency, and that they don't support its aims. They do. They know about the killing because you have celebrated — with appropriate sobriety — the most notable kills, specifically those of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki; they support it because you have asked for their trust as a good and honorable man surrounded by good and honorable men and women and they have given it to you. In so doing, you have changed a technological capability into a moral imperative and have convinced your countrymen to see the necessity without seeing the downside. Politically, there is no downside. Historically, there is only the irony of the upside — that you, of all presidents, have become the lethal one; that you, of all people, have turned out to be a man of proven integrity whose foreign and domestic policies are less popular than your proven willingness to kill, in defense of your country, even your own countrymen ... indeed, to kill even a sixteen-year-old American boy accused of no crime at all.
We are a nation of the willfully blind, which is probably why fully two-thirds of Americans polled say they are just fine with the targeted killings of Americans and all manner of unknown victims far, far away. As Chris Hedges points out in his latest essay, we have forgotten how to even think.


And where in the world is Occupy in all this? Alexander Cockburn has a depressing take.


Welcome to the Wonderful World of Monday.

21 comments:

Charles D said...

Of all the threads, Cockburn's take on OWS is perhaps the most depressing to me. All we gained from it was the knowledge that a significant minority of people are really pissed about where the country is headed, and that they have no idea how to turn it around.

Well, they are right to be pissed and also correct that they - and no one else for that matter - knows what to do about it. I fear we must wait for the system to collapse because rising up to replace it with something we cannot even imagine and without a plan to get there is not going to work.

James F Traynor said...

Yes,Charles D., it's getting increasingly to look like, ''You can't get there from here." Depressing. And Hedges' article, the longer, is even more depressing. Allow me me to depress even further.

Hedges went from Cockburn's particular to Hedges' general - from Occupy to the human condition. I'll attempt to go a little deeper, in the physical sense; to the molecular level (our genes), to selection and E.O. Wilson.

To put it in a nutshell, Wilson thinks that selection operates on two levels - the individual and the group. On the individual level, selfishness trumps altruism: On the group level, it's the reverse. I have come to think Wilson may be - is probably - right. It explains a lot. It means that, among social animals particularly, it is the sum of both pressures that results in the end product. It means that the outcome for our species is more preordained than not; the odds, if not the outcome, are already set. And the odds don't look good.

Pearl said...

I get frequent e-mails from Russ Feingold's Progressives United with plans for changing the landscape. Other progressive groups as well put forth sensible programs they hope will catch on. BUT without massive support it will not happen.

I have written to Progressives United and Russ saying that they must become
a challenge to Obama at the Convention by putting another name forward for a presidential nomination, hopefully himself. At any rate we need some kind of fireworks at this convention to wake up the democrats, at least.

Many people in the Democratic Party are fed up with Obama but are afraid to speak up and create more problems for him in his run for the nomination.
However, without some real challenge from disenchanted democrats we will get nowhere.

We may be forced to let a Republican become president in order to create a
stronger opposition to current policies. At any rate, without real support from the left of center democrats and fed up Independents, nothing will change.

Charles D: Thank you for mentioning Cockburn's article about the OWS. I have to agree with him and have felt that it was too disorganized and leaderless to succeed. A much larger, stronger movement is needed that will echo effective events of the past that he mentioned, which did bring about change. However problems have become so ensconsed in our society, that greater challenges are needed.

I'm fastening my seat belt.

Denis Neville said...

“The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.” - Voltaire

Between-the-lines message from the now infamous Hamptonspalooza Romney donor:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYqF_BtIwAU

Just like Mittens, “I’m not concerned with the very poor.”

To the gentry on the Hampton lawns and their upper servants in Washington, we are just the lower income, uneducated commoners – “the baby sitters, the nails ladies,” - who just don’t get it, who don’t understand what’s going on and how it works.

But we do understand!

Where are the pitchforks?

Jay - Ottawa said...

Let me to lead you a little deeper down the alley called Blue Monday (in 2 steps).

Imagine you’re sick and uninsured. Imagine we’ll let you choose your own health plan. Would you like a Cadillac Private Insurance Health Plan DeLuxe, a so-so Private Insurance Health Plan, Medicare or Medicaid? Unless you’re incapable of thinking for yourself, you avoid Medicaid, which is the bottom tier health plan in a land where the classes and the tiers are pulling further and further apart. Medicaid is for the poor, and you know how well America takes care of its ever-expanding population of people gravitating around the poverty line.

If you think Medicaid is not so bad, accompany a community health nurse for a week on his or her rounds to the homes of patients in all three groups. Case closed.

To give you a feel for the dimensions of the issue, here are numbers (rounded) from 2010:

Base population: 303 million
Private insurance: 185 million
Medicare: 42 million
Medicaid/CHIP: 45 million
Uninsured: 48 million

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/health_policy/Health_Insurance_Selected_Characteristics_Jan_June_2010.pdf

So -- a little over a total of 90 million Americans are on Medicaid or uninsured. Add to that figure most of the privately-insured people who are always over the trap door of limited coverage insurance that can drop them quickly into bankruptcy.

How many people filed for bankruptcy because of health costs in recent times?

“A study released Thursday by the American Journal of Medicine finds a huge increase—nearly 20 percent—in medical bankruptcies between 2001 and 2007. Sixty-two percent of all bankruptcies filed in 2007 were tied to medical expenses. Three-quarters of those who filed for bankruptcies in 2007 had health insurance.”

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/01/05/1051848/-Medical-bills-cause-62-percent-of-nbsp-bankruptcies

Three years ago about 1.5 million Americans declared bankruptcy annually. Sixty-two percent of that equals 930,000. All totals keep rising as the recession keeps eating jobs, life savings and mortgages. These figures are from 2007 and 2009. Currently, close to 1 million a year are probably being ruined by healthcare costs. Do these figures put you to sleep or wake you up? Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are safe. How about you?

http://articles.cnn.com/2009-06-05/health/bankruptcy.medical.bills_1_medical-bills-bankruptcies-health-insurance?_s=PM:HEALTH

...MORE...

Jay - Ottawa said...

... CONTINUATION ...

At least Medicaid is better – much better -- than the absolute nothing of Third World peoples living beyond the reach of modern medicine. The closest we have to nothing in the USA is a fourth category labelled “the uninsured.” You really, truly don’t want that. Intensely-willed miracles, Good Samaritans, NGO’s like Doctors Without Borders and last-minute ambulance pick-ups headed in a hurry to the ER are not the best bets for staying alive.

Medicaid has traditionally been funded for the most part by Washington, but administered by the states. Some states are less stingy than others in their administration of Medicaid services. For all its faults, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) had one great shining sub-program: the extension of Medicaid to more poor and more near poor. In a way, the proposed extension of Medicaid was the camel’s nose of single payer with its nose under the universal care tent or, if you prefer, a back door to provide twice as many people (from 45 million to 90 million) with routine, minimal, stabilized health care.

On June 28, the Supreme Court, voting 7-2 (Ginsberg and Sotomayor dissenting), said there was a problem to the extension of Medicaid. The Congress was bullying the states by forcing them to follow new rules in return for more money. States’ rights must be protected. Hereafter, states may opt to extend the Medicaid program or not. As I said in a previous comment upon the Robert's decision, more than half of the governors had already brought suit before the Court to kill ACA (Obamacare) whole and entire. Now, after the ruling affecting Medicaid, only a rump of ACA remains, along with a bundle of peripheral programs for research and system experimentation.

There’s more. One of the justices nominated by Obama to the Supreme Court was Elena Kagan. She replaced the leader of the liberal bloc on the Court, but she just voted with the conservative pack that undermined Medicaid in ACA.

This is not the first time Kagan votes for conservative interests when she isn't recusing herself (see her votes on Miranda, free speech and death penalty reviews). But ask any Yellow Dog Democrat and they’ll tell you we must vote for TLOTE because he will hold the line against the appointment of benighted justices to the Court, thus keeping Roe v. Wade – if not much else -- intact.

http://www.salon.com/2012/07/07/kagans_medicaid_vote/

Like others, I groaned when I read a few months ago that Elena Kagan, supposedly in a gesture of comity, was reported hunting with Antonin Scalia on his turf. Let us celebrate this rapprochement with a maxim: People who hunt together walk side by side, use like weapons and aim at the same targets.

Denis Neville said...

Arriving at the Hamptonspalooza, a woman (definitely not one of the “nails ladies”) yelled to a Mittens aide, “Is there a V.I.P. entrance? We are V.I.P.” (lines are for little people)

Where are the pitchforks? Tumbrels? Guillotines?

As Bill Moyers said, “So remember, moneyed lords and ladies, what King George learned the hard way – you can only push your subjects so far.”

Last year Occupy was like the boy who cried out, "The Emperor has no clothes!" That was a huge accomplishment. But it seems to be, as Cockburn writes, down the Memory Hole already. Has it left anything worth remembering? Most certainly, yes.

America is not theirs for the taking! It's a fight for our democracy and it is a fight worth waging. We must not give up. We have to resist and fight back as long as it takes and against the odds until things change. We have to hold the belief that at some point the plutocracy will topple. It will be like David and Goliath, for their power is too strong for us to take on the whole thing at once.

As Stephen Lerner told Bill Moyers:

“I think many of us at least have spent our life sort of waiting for the great leader to come and save us…I don't think that there's going to be somebody in Washington that's going to emerge and do that. I think instead we have to look at where are the battles that we can have that we can both win but also become symbolic and exciting that inspire and move people…we just have to be willing to say slowly dying is worse than having a really big fight and trying to win.”

We must, like David, aim our slingshots well.

Denis Neville said...

@ Jay - Ottawa – excellent!

Not having health insurance is incredibly stressful, physically, financially and psychologically.

“The Oregon Health Insurance Experiment: Evidence from the First Year,” National Bureau of Economic Research, was the first large-scale study of its kind to show the benefits of providing Medicaid to the poor. Using a randomized controlled design, a group of uninsured low-income adults was selected by lottery to be given the chance to apply for Medicaid. One year later the Medicaid group had substantively and statistically significantly higher health care utilization, lower out-of-pocket medical expenditures and medical debt, and better physical and mental health than the group without Medicaid.
http://www.nber.org/papers/w17190

But Republicans don't care. They just want to slash Medicaid. Doing so will create an even harsher society. That's too bad, but that's the way that their God made the world. Those who have Medicaid now, or hoped to have access to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, most likely will be shafted by Republican state governors. As JuanitaJean says, “everybody knows that a funeral is cheaper than health care.”

Suzan said...

Exactly.

And the moment I heard about it, I knew that the rich were getting everything they want.

As per.

Thanks again for all you do to document the reality of our lives.

S

Biennial Bush Tax Cut Extension Kabuki, in which President Obama pretends to bravely buck his own party by calling right now this very minute for a one-year extension of cuts for poor people earning less than $250,000

P.S. IMUHO Occupy is really sprouting roots worldwide and coalescing around the issues of a return to Constitutional government, serious campaign finance reform and trials and penalties for convicted financial felons.

And Russ Feingold could be the candidate we all rally round at the Convention and beyond. I think he's willing.

Denis Neville said...

No VIP entrance for these underclass victims of TB.

With worst TB outbreak in 20 years kept secret, Florida rushes closure of its only TB hospital:

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/news/state-regional/worst-tb-outbreakin-20-years-kept-secret/nPpLs/

Brave new Republican world!

“Ending is better than mending.” - Aldous Huxley

Zee said...

@All--

On Mitt Romney and his tax returns:

Were I Mittens--especially with his father's history of integrity and openness--I would release my last twelve years of tax returns and let the chips fall where they may.

As far as I am concerned, anyone who presumes to be honest enough to be President of these United States should be able to do so without a second thought.

Still, there is a certain amount of "un-Americanism" in Krugman's final statement:

"...unless he does reveal the truth about his investments, we can only assume that he’s hiding something seriously damaging." --Paul Krugman (Bold emphasis added.)

My visceral response is to agree with Krugman. But that does not exactly strike me as "the American way."

I don't want the government-or anyone else--spying on me. Does that mean that the government--or you--can assume that I have something to hide?

Well, maybe "yes," and maybe "no."

But that's not the point: In this country, we have a presumption of innocence until we are proven guilty. Something that I occasionally have a hard time explaining to my immigrant friends.

As one of them once suggested to me, we could end the problem of drug use in this country by simply searching every domecile in this country and arresting each and every offender. "If you have nothing to hide, what have you to fear?," I was asked

Except that we just don't work that may here, at least not yet.

If Mittens foolishly chooses not to disclose his last 12 years of tax returns, well, that's his problem to deal with throughout the campaign. Maybe he has something to hide, maybe not. I can't know, and can't (read: shouldn't ) be swayed by innuendo.

What if--just what if--his tax returns hide something really good about what he has done with his money, and he's just waiting to drop it on Obama, say, about October 15, 2012? I'm not saying that's going to happen, and in fact it almost certainly won't.

But "what if?"

PS: If I had enough money to spare, I'd have a lawful bank account in Switzerland invested in Swiss francs, too. Who knows what's going to happen to this country and the dollar?

Zee said...

@Karen--

Regarding your question as to why, if Mittens is so corrupt, the Obama administration's Justice Department has failed to investigate him?

Well, let me ask in return:

Whom has Eric Holder's Justice Department bothered to investigate over the past three years save easy targets like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whom even I dislike, and a few states who have dared to try to take "border control" into their own hands when the Feds won't?

A brief "Googling" seems to suggest that the "big" targets at the moment are cable TV providers, major "news" organizations and a few police and sheriff's departments.

Banksters? Nah. They're Friends of Obama, also known as "FOO."

And the rest of the DoJ's time seems to be spent circling the wagons behind "Executive Privilege" in the "Fast and Furious" Congressional investigation.

Hey, it's an election year.

Anne Lavoie said...

Romney should agree to release one year's tax return for every year of Obama's college academic record. There must be a compelling reason for Obama to keep that TOP SECRET.

So what is Obama hiding?

Pearl said...

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places--and there are so many--where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in
however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future.
The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we
think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory,"

- Howard Zinn, "The Optimism of Uncertainty," The Nation, 2004.

Zee said...

@Anne Lavoie--

A brilliant thought!

Valerie said...

This thread has engendered some excellent comments.

I agree that Feingold should challenge Obama at the primary - but I doubt it will happen. He certainly has fallen in line - with the party line - up to this point.

I don't really know what to say about Occupy. I am not sure it is dead and I think it is problematic for all of us to be accepting that it is. I think the whole idea about American liberals waiting for a leader is true, which is why we were all so demoralised by Obama's betrayal - we hoped he would be THE ONE. But maybe Occupy has the right idea - WE are the solution if we just join hands and each one of us does his or her part. Of course, someone has to organise these protests but if everyone who believes that the CEO's of corporations and the big bankers have FAR too much power in our country and far too much privilege would just start speaking out and showing up - we MIGHT have a chance. But as long as Americans sit back and expect someone else to do the heavy lifting instead of doing their part nothing will change.

I raise my glass to the Occupy protesters. They had and still the right idea.

Denis Neville said...

@ Zee

Mittens is the poster boy of the winners-take-all, abusive tax code.

How about his mega-multimillion-dollar IRA? How could the IRA have grown to as much as $102 million if the maximum annual contributions are normally capped at $5,000 or $6,000 a year?

Just another trick in plutocrats’ huge bag of special privileges, like Mittens did with his kids $100 million trusts to avoid the estate tax, I’m sure.

There's one set of rules for the super-rich and another for the rest of us commoners.

Yet, amazingly, there are those who still dream that Mitten's vast wealth will somehow "trickle down" into their pockets; that someday they could, too, be like Mittens.

Does anyone really think Romney genuinely believes in the need to create a fairer society?

Kat said...

Good morning fellow nursing home denizens,
Anyone read the drone article in the NYT magazine? Apparently being a drone pilot is a great job because it allows work/life balance. Fabulous!

Zee said...

@Karen--

One other topic that I suppose I should get myself into trouble over on this thread is the utter artificiality as to how Progressives and the greater Left define who is “poor,” “middle-class” or “rich” so as to ”fairly” tax them.

A few threads ago, @Denis pointed out the injustice that a single dollar in income makes for a family of four, as to whether a household is eligible for Medicaid, or has to pay a huge sum out of pocket for private insurance under the Affordable Care Act. (Supreme Court Rulz/Open Thread , 6/28/2012)

In your current thread, Karen, you highlight the silliness for Barack Obama to decide that a couple who takes in $249,999 is “middle class,” whereas a couple who takes in $250,000 is suddenly “rich,” while Nancy Pelosi has arbitrarily decided that a couple (or maybe it's an individual in this case, I'm not sure) who takes in $999,999 is “struggling middle class,” whereas a couple who earns $1,000,000 is “rich.” Who's right? And why should a mere $1 make the difference in either case? And then, what is the “fair share” owed by the “rich.” 50%? 90%? I've heard numbers all over the map.

It is especially unjust to set such absolute thresholds without regard to the geographic location of the hypothetical “couple” involved. $250K goes a lot further in, say, Albuquerque or Louisville than it does in San Francisco or Manhattan.

These “step function” definitions as to who is “rich,” and as to what constitutes their “fair share,” are arbitrary and divisive, setting the Left up for right-wing charges of class warfare, etc.

How about eliminating the concepts of “the rich” and their “fair share” altogether by employing “continuously progressive” taxation? Why not do away with tax brackets and tax everyone incrementally more as a smoothly increasing function of income?

We simply define a smoothly increasing curve as a function of income, and everybody pays accordingly above a certain poverty threshold. Those below the threshold pay nothing, and may be eligible for aid programs separate from tax returns, which is another mistake that this country does with its system of taxation. The math is easy to do these days, and gets all of us away from decisions as to who is middle-class or rich, with only the threshold poverty level firmly defined.

Households are therefore merely incrementally better off or worse off, not arbitrarily defined as middle-class or rich by the difference of a single dollar.

This is not a new idea:

http://web.ics.purdue.edu/
~pritchey/blogs/blog5.php/2008/11/01/a-smooth-tax-plan

http://web.ics.purdue.edu/
~pritchey/blogs/blog5.php/2011/03/18/a-smooth-tax-plan-revisited

While the math looks imposing, it's really not.

The entire tax code needs to be reformed. Why not consider adding this feature to any income tax reform?

Zee said...

@Denis--

I'm certainly not defending the current tax code. The tax code desperately needs total reform in the interest of fairness. In fact, in this thread I propose one modification that, I think, does make it fairer.

Nor do I defend the ability of the rich--with their armies of lawyers--to exploit the tax code to their personal advantage, or even to turn it into a money-making proposition.

I was merely suggesting that Krugman's statement that we must assume that by witholding his tax returns Mittens must be hiding something violates the basic American premise of "innocent until proven guilty."

I still think so.

That doesn't mean that I either like or trust the man.

Pearl said...

Valerie: Russ Feingold will fall in line, as you said, to the Democratic Party depending on the response he gets from his supporters. I feel that he is testing the waters with his Progressives United to see how far he can go so it ultimately depends on all of us to push for as much as we can get. I wonder how many of us are getting his Progressive United e-mails? If interested, punch it in and sign up. (no charge) and you will see what he is up to.

As to the OWS, the actual physical body may not be stirring much, but the messages they put out are still resounding despite efforts to silence them. It is up to the larger, more organized hopefully, experienced part of the population to use that base to move forward with real teeth in them. Remember the Civil Rights marches and battles which were effective with strong leadership and huge numbers of supporters who were fearless. They felt they had nothing to lose which is where we all are at this point in time. Don't forget our dear friends in the Hamptons and their collective hatred, entitlement and plans for the country. That should encourage more united action on the part of the disenfranchised and the rest of us.

I enjoyed all the responses to Karen's Monday Open Forum. Lots to think about. Thank you.