Posts from — October 2009
If I had my way, no legislation would be longer than five typewritten pages – double-spaced. Never would you see a bill like the 2,000-page health care monstrosity the U.S. House is now considering. Or that bulky Wall Street “reform” bill the Obama Administration is pushing. These mammoth bills often include provisions that call for the opposite of the bill’s professed intent, slipped in there by sneaky politicians with axes to grind.
I don’t read these bills and I am not likely to. But from what I have learned from those who have the time and patience to slog through miles of turgid prose, sneaky things are going on.
Take the Wall Street reform bill that’s supposed to correct the abuses leading to the TARP bank heist, for example. You remember how the Bush administration stampeded Congress into handing out hundreds of billions of bailout dollars with no strings attached? And you remember the wails of regret when the elected representatives could not find out where the money went? That was no more than I expected from the Bush gang. But it’s not what I expected from Obama. And it looks as if that’s what we’re getting.
Obama’s treasury secretary, Tim Geithner (with the President at right), is a veteran Wall Street wheeler-dealer, as are all the President’s financial advisers, and I don’t think he is aware of the hanky-panky they’re up to. He’s a constitutional expert, after all, not a numbers cruncher.
How else to explain the contradiction between his fine rhetoric and their skulduggery?
Geithner not only continued the bank robbery operation initiated by Bush treasury secretary Hank Paulson but is also looking to expand its scope.
A recent Salon article by David Sirota warns that:
As evidenced by two little-noticed sections of the Obama administration’s Wall Street “reform” bill, presidents and their bank benefactors are back to thinking they can pilfer whatever they want – only now they have learned to camouflage their demands by burying them in the esoterica of lengthier bills.
What caught Sirota’s eye is a provision in the massive bill that would let the administration give favored financial institutions any amount of tax money without approval by Congress. Here’s Sirota’s interpretation of the provisions:
Whereas the original TARP included some oversight language and power to limit Wall Street bonuses, TARP on steroids includes no specific oversight or executive pay constraints. Whereas TARP permitted the government to underwrite both small and large banks, TARP on steroids allows taxpayer cash to go only to the behemoths (which, not coincidentally, tend to make the biggest campaign contributions). And whereas TARP limited the Treasury secretary’s check-writing authority to two years and $700 billion, TARP on steroids would let him spend as much as he wants for as long as he wants.
Ironically, the Obama administration has labeled the bill the “Financial Stability Improvement Act,” and – as Sirota points out – it would be an improvement for Wall Street’s stability, though certainly not for the stability of the nation’s finances.
Are you as puzzled by this as I am? Whose side is Obama on, anyway? How did a pack of Wall Street insiders get control of his administration’s financial policies and how much tax money will they plunder before voters say, “Enough”?
October 31, 2009 3 Comments
You hear it all the time: “Oh, they’re just a bunch of crooks.” That’s the opinion most people seem to have of elected officials. And considering the scandals you read about in “democracies” all over the world, you may be inclined to agree.
From Afghanistan to Zaire, the beat goes on. It seems that people run for office only to feather their nests when they get elected. And the implications are horrific.
In America, the health care kerfuffle has ripped the scab off an especially septic situation. The media have bestirred themselves enough to look into the hidden influences at work in the “debate.” And what they’ve found is deeply disturbing. Health care profiteers have donated millions to the campaign chests of politicians responsible for reining them in. It’s no wonder that real health care “reform” is getting nowhere despite all the chatter. It seems inevitable that the health insurance companies will emerge with even fatter profits, some of which will go back to the politicians who are rigging the “reform” process in their favor.
To me, that’s just plain corruption, but it is completely legal. Also legal is the “you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours” culture in Washington, where wives and daughters of elected representatives are often hired by interests that depend on the politicians to look out for them in Congress. Examples are too numerous to mention, but the case of Indiana Senator Evan Bayh stands out because it could have had such far-reaching effects.
A new book by Barack Obama’s campaign manager discloses that Bayh (photo at right) was a “coin toss” away from becoming the President’s running mate last year. In “The Audacity to Win,” David Plouffe quotes candidate Obama as saying his choice for vice president was a toss-up between Bayh and Joe Biden. That sends chills down my spine.
Consider that one of Obama’s main campaign planks – perhaps the main campaign plank – was health care reform, and consider that Bayh’s wife, Susan, has reportedly earned at least $2 million over the past six years as a member of the board of WellPoint, a major health insurer. According to news reports, Susan Bayh joined WellPoint’s board in 1998, while her husband was governor of Indiana. In addition to her director’s pay, she has profited handsomely from selling WellPoint stock.
What was Obama thinking? Does nobody vet his choices? Did his advisers know about the Bayh family’s involvement in the health care industry? How could they have sanctioned a vice presidential selection so diametrically opposed to Obama’s professed goal of reforming health care?
Could it be that hypocrisy and deception are so endemic to Washington that no one noticed the conflict of interest?
Every day, I read about some new scandal involving government officials. Currently, the House ethics committee is investigating no fewer than 30 members of Congress. The list includes many highly respected and powerful politicians. According to the Washington Post, seven members of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense are “under scrutiny” by the committee. They are Reps. John Murtha (D-PA), Pete Visclosky (D-IN), James Moran (D-VA), Norm Dicks (D-WA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), C.W. Bill Young (R-FL), and Todd Tiahrt (R-KS).
And the ethics committee has announced it is launching a full investigation of Reps. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Laura Richardson (D-CA). The Waters matter focuses on her alleged intervention to get bailout funds for a bank in which her husband held stock. Richardson allegedly failed to disclose real estate assets and got special treatment involving a foreclosure on her home.
Meanwhile, a report from Alaska today spotlights the corruption rampant in that state. Two ex-officials of VECO Corporation were sentenced for paying members of the Alaska legislature about $395,000 to get their votes. Former CEO Bill J. Allen got 36 months. He must also pay a $750,000 fine and serve three years of supervised release. Former Vice President Richard L. Smith got 21 months. He must pay a $10,000 fine and serve three years of supervised release.
I could go on and on. You probably recall many similar cases over the years. Legally and illegally, elected representatives are bought and sold like chattel in America while officials shake their heads sanctimoniously and tut-tut over the “corrupt government in Afghanistan.” (Ironically, it’s the American CIA that’s promoting some of the corruption over there.)
Of course, America is not alone. Corruption is rife everywhere. It has been going on forever, and, to tell you the truth, I don’t think anyone will ever be able to stamp it out.
October 30, 2009 1 Comment
Back in the days when people still prized common sense, there was a saying that went something like this:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
We don’t ride horses much any more, and we no longer use them in battle, but the old proverb is as relevant today as ever. I was reminded of this when I read a news item today about a $1.26 billion default judgment against PepsiCo. Inc. According to the story, the soft drink giant got hit with the huge judgment because its high-priced lawyers failed to appear in court as scheduled.
Two Wisconsin men, Charles Joyce and James Voigt, had sued Pepsico, alleging the company stole their idea to bottle purified water. When the company was notified of a hearing in the case, no one showed up. So, Circuit Judge Jacqueline Erwin ruled for the plaintiff.
Pepsico is trying to get the judgment vacated, explaining that a busy secretary hadn’t forwarded a document to the right person in time. According to the company, here’s what happened:
The corporation first received a legal document related to the case from the North Carolina agent on Sept. 15 when a copy of a co-defendant’s letter was forwarded to Deputy General Counsel Tom Tamoney in PepsiCo’s law department. Tamoney’s secretary, Kathy Henry, put the letter aside and didn’t tell anyone about it because she was “so busy preparing for a board meeting.”
I don’t know how reliable Kathy Henry normally is, but I imagine she was overwhelmed by an unreasonable workload, the way most corporate employees are these days. Corporate masterminds have found out they can increase profits and boost stock prices by cutting staff, and they always cut from the bottom. Instead of firing an overpaid vice president, companies usually lay off half a dozen clerks. This naturally leads to inefficiency as important documents get misplaced and important tasks remain undone.
The prevailing feeling in corporate America is that some employees are “valuable” and others are not. Companies pay CEOs and other top brass huge salaries and bonuses because these executives are considered essential to success. And the people who actually do the work? Why they’re a dime a dozen and get paid accordingly. Now, I have known my share of CEOs, and I can vouch for the fact that they are about as smart as the next person. A few are a little smarter; others aren’t as smart. But they have all managed to build impressive resumes peppered with the right buzz words, and they are able to convince boards of directors that they know the secrets of success.
Even if some of these fat cats do have bright ideas (Lee Iacocca’s development of the Ford Mustang springs to mind), they wouldn’t do much good if the minions charged with executing the ideas fall down on the job. As the old proverb illustrates, the farrier replacing that horseshoe was as important as the general who devised the battle plan.
Pepsico is fighting the $1.26 billion award and a hearing is scheduled for Nov. 6. I imagine the lawyers will wiggle out of this embarrassing situation somehow. But I hope the soft drink behemoth has learned a valuable lesson. And I also hope the rest of the corporate world is paying attention.
October 29, 2009 No Comments
According to an old saying (I read on the web that it originated in ancient China), “fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me.” But what about “fool me over and over and over”? How shameful is that?
And that’s what Joe Lieberman has done to the Democratic Party. I don’t know what he has on party brass but they keep forgiving him for the most egregious treachery and rewarding him for stabbing them in the back not once, not twice, but time and again.
Check out some of his worst betrayals as compiled by The Huffington Post:
This snake-in-the-grass was Al Gore’s vice-presidential candidate in 2000 but supported Republican John McCain in 2008! You could see him all over the place – and all over TV – tagging along beside McCain, two little birds-of-a feather, Heckle and Jeckle, (photos at right) lying their heads off and touting policies that are anathema to Democrats.
After the voters resoundingly rejected McCain, Lieberman came crawling back to the Democrats. I was among thousands who signed a petition begging the party to bar the door, but – with encouragement from newly elected President Obama – the party leaders welcomed him into the Democratic caucus and even gave him back his committee and subcommittee chairmanships.
So what has he done to show his contrition and gratitude? Not a thing. He is still the little creep who called Obama a Socialist (and suggested he might even be a Marxist) during the presidential campaign, and who told Fox News that it would be the end of America if the Democrats won a 60-seat majority in the Senate.
As chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, he has followed the Fox News party line by holding hearings on the number of so-called “czars” in the Obama administration. And now he’s threatening to help Republicans filibuster health care reform if it includes a public option.
This man is no Democrat. He is a Zionist hawk who vigorously supported war with Iraq and wants America to bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. His loyalty is clearly to Israel, not to his own country. And he erroneously supposes that by bombing Israel’s neighbors, America will make that country safer.
Here’s an excerpt from a New York Times article written back in 2000, when Lieberman was the Democrats’ vice-presidential candidate:
Behind the traditional Democratic oratory of his convention speech is a senator who has described himself as being “pro-business, pro-trade and pro-economic growth.” During his two terms in the Senate, Mr. Lieberman closely aligned himself with three industries — insurance, high technology and health care – that are the main sources of his campaign contributions, and whose lobbyists say they are pleased with how he has promoted their agendas in Washington.
This is the guy that Harry Reid is leaning on to help get a decent health care reform bill passed? Puh-lease!
October 28, 2009 4 Comments
You may have been feeling let down recently. Americans put a bright young fellow in the White House expecting a change from the wretched politics and policies of the past eight years, and what did they get? Words – lots and lots of words. As far as deeds are concerned, the more things changed the more they’ve seemed the same.
You might say that it isn’t the guy’s fault. The system sucks. Sorry to be so crude, but that’s the most accurate description I can come up with. Long, long ago, someone wrote an ill-advised memo, which somehow got attached to the U.S. Constitution. And it has been interpreted to mean that corporations have the same rights as individuals. Over the years, that has steered the government away from democracy – you know “government of the people, by the people, for the people” – to government of the people by the corporations for the corporations.
In practical terms, it has meant unrestrained bribery of elected representatives through corporate campaign contributions. The Supreme Court consistently torpedoes any attempt to curb the practice, since corporations enjoy the same rights (to free speech, etc.) as individuals.
So, on the face of it, attempts at reform are pretty much predestined to failure.
But surely candidate Obama was aware of that? He’s a Constitutional scholar, after all. So why did he promise so much, knowing he could do so little?
I could come up with all kinds of cynical responses to that question, but not today. Today I am prepared to concede he may be the genuine article, that he can bring about the changes he promised, that he might be wily enough to work around the system.
I know, I’ve criticized him for being too flexible, too patient, too “bipartisan.” In his place I would have plunged headlong into the fray, reeking of testosterone and inflated ego, laying down the law and telling anybody who would listen that I had a mandate from “the people” so it was my way or the highway.
But I probably would’ve been outflanked by sly politicians with axes to grind. The reforms I sought would most likely have been sabotaged.
Obama is playing it a different way. He smiles and makes no sudden moves, offering olive branches all over the place and saying nice things about everybody, friend or foe (except, understandably, Fox News). To be honest with you, it has been driving me crazy. But now, I’m wondering whether he might be on to something.
Bright spots have appeared in the news this morning, making me wonder whether change may be possible after all. Most encouraging, of course, is the announcement by Majority Leader Harry Reid that a public option is in the Senate’s draft of the much debated health care reform bill. I realize the bill is 1,000 pages long and could include a lot of ugly stuff. I realize states will be able to opt out of the public option after trying it for a year. I realize pharmaceutical companies would be shielded from the government’s massive bargaining power. And I realize that the desperately needed reforms won’t be implemented for several years… But all of that having been said, it’s better than I expected.
Another reason to cheer comes from the latest real estate sales figures. Home prices were up for the third straight month in August. The home price index of 20 major cities released today rose 1 percent from July. Yes, I know, 1 percent doesn’t sound like much and prices are at levels not seen since August 2003. (They’ve fallen almost 30 percent since May 2006.) But the latest index shows a widespread turnaround with prices rising month-over-month in 15 metro areas since June. Keep your fingers crossed.
Also encouraging is the President’s deliberate approach to the military’s request for more troops in Afghanistan. In his place, I would’ve told the generals to do unpleasant things to themselves and called all of America’s troops home. But can you imagine the fallout? The military-industrial complex and its lackeys in Congress would’ve eaten me alive. I don’t know how President Obama will deal with the Afghan tar baby but at least he’s not rushing to do the bidding of his generals. I’m beginning to hope he may have a plan to extricate America with the least possible damage.
If you’ve been reading these blogs, you know I’ve been wondering why the Obama Administration has not initiated more direct development – like rebuilding the nation’s outdated power grid. Looking at the way the stimulus package emerged from Congress, I got a sinking feeling. It seemed the money was destined for a scatter-shot program designed more to pacify the states and placate political allies than to revive the economy.
Today, I got some good news. President Obama is announcing grants totaling $3.4 billion in support of 100 projects aimed at modernizing the power grid. The projects include installing “smart” electric meters in homes, automating utility substations, and installing thousands of new digital transformers and grid sensors. The grants, which come from the government’s $787 billion stimulus program, will be matched by $4.7 billion in private investments. This is the kind of thing that could get the “green revolution” off to a fast start. It will spur development of wind and solar power and probably provide thousands (millions?) of new jobs.
So today I will bask in the rays of sunshine peeping through the clouds of doubt. Tomorrow, I may be beset by misgivings again. But let’s look on the bright side today.
October 27, 2009 3 Comments
This is a tale of two cities, but while it is the worst of times in many communities, nowhere in America is it the best of times (unless you are a financial shark).
In one city, Detroit, the urban landscape is deserted, and foreclosed houses line the streets as far as the eye can see. Total vacant land in Detroit now occupies an area almost as big as Boston, according to a Detroit Free Press estimate. So what are city officials doing about it? They’re turning to the “free market” to rescue them – and the “free market” is letting them down.
On the auction block in Detroit last week, almost 9,000 homes and lots in various stages of abandonment were offered for sale (photo of abandoned home at right). Despite a minimum bid of only $500, less than a couple of thousand were sold after four days. Also, hopeful home buyers found themselves bidding against banks and speculators. Naturally, the individuals were no match for the deep pockets of speculators, so the properties that were sold are not likely to attract residents any time soon. Look for Detroit’s urban rot to get worse, not better.
In neighboring Flint, a “land bank” program has been initiated, and it’s working. Turns out government is not the problem, after all. Not in Flint, anyway. The local government is selling foreclosed houses through brokers and attracting new residents. Some of the vacant land is allowed to revert to green space, and some is devoted to community gardens. Where appropriate, plots are stitched together for redevelopment. It’s a process called community planning.
For reasons that escape me, many Americans shudder at the prospect of community planning. They are convinced that thoughtful preparation for the future is a “tyrannical” intrusion by government into the private lives of individuals. They prize the “freedom” to foul their nests and indulge their gluttony at the expense of their neighbors and future generations. If anyone tries to impose reasonable restraints on their excesses, they cry, “Socialism!”
Some of these “protesters” are wealthy and privileged. They have nothing to gain and lots to lose if the government were to ensure that everyone is treated fairly.While I don’t admire these people, I can understand their self interest.
It’s the “live free or die” underclass that puzzles me. Huddled in rusting trailers or crumbling shacks, hoarding an arsenal reminiscent of an Afghan warlord, yards strewn with parts of old machinery and overgrown by weeds, they are prepared to fight to the death to defend their freedom from health care, freedom from education, freedom from sanitary living conditions, freedom from a decent future for their children…
It seems to me that their most prized possession is ignorance. What hope is there for a country where more people believe in haunted houses than in global warming?
The latest Pew poll shows a steep decline in the percentage of Americans who believe global temperatures are rising (from 71 percent to only 57 percent in the past 18 months). And those who believe human activity contributes to global warming are down from 47 percent to 36 percent. Meanwhile, according to a recent Gallup poll, 37 percent of Americans believe that houses can be haunted.
As you might expect (as I might expect, anyway), this contrast is particularly dramatic among conservatives: Only 18 percent of Republicans believe there is evidence that human activity causes global warming, while 28 percent of conservatives believe in haunted houses.
What I want to know is where in the Constitution does it say that Americans have the right to be stupid?
October 26, 2009 2 Comments
Back in the days of Bugsy Siegel, Al Capone and other “Godfather” types, gangsters used to hold up banks. Now they probably own the banks – at least shares in some of them. With the vast profits organized crime has raked in over the years from drugs, prostitution, robbery, extortion and other lucrative endeavors, mobsters have been able to buy enormous influence in business and politics.
Today’s mobster is likely to wear a business suit and wield a laptop instead of a machine gun. America’s top criminals have become extremely sophisticated – and even more deadly than ever. And they come from many countries, not just the United States. Take Russian “don” Semion Mogilevich, for example.
Mogilevich (photo at right) has earned a place in the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, although he operates out of Moscow. The FBI accuses him of involvement in arms trafficking, prostitution, extortion and murder for hire.
But he is also involved in less conventional criminal enterprises. For instance, he reportedly swindled Canadian and U.S. investors out of $150 million in a financial scheme centered on a firm called YBM, which was headquartered in Newtown, Pennsylvania, and supposedly made magnets in Hungary.
The scheme involved bogus financial records, bribery and stock rigging. And another thing – there were no magnets.
Mogilevich and his associates were indicted in 2003 on 45 counts of racketeering, securities fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering. Russian authorities arrested him last year on tax fraud charges, but because the United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, he has remained beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. He is now free on bail. The FBI says Mogilevich is manipulating international energy markets, and played a part in the recent natural gas disputes between Russia and the Ukraine.
Here’s another example of the proliferation of “white-collar crime” : widespread looting of Medicare and Medicaid.
American authorities report that crime groups of various nationalities are making millions from health care fraud. CNN recently detailed operations in Los Angeles, where Russian, Armenian and Nigerian gangs were caught by federal agents.
Recent arrests include crime boss Konstantin Grigoryan, a former Soviet army colonel who pleaded guilty to taking $20 million from Medicare. And Karapet “Doc” Khacheryan, boss of a Eurasian crime gang, was convicted with five lieutenants of stealing doctor identities in a $2 million scam.
It goes without saying that criminals who operate at that level of sophistication are also likely to take an interest in politics. Some lobbyists in Washington are not above representing mobsters – international as well as homegrown. And, over the years, there have been many instances of mob involvement in the American political process.
Sandra will tell you I have an overactive imagination, but I can’t help wondering how far that influence spreads. So much of what goes on in Washington defies logical explanation. Unless…
Unless our right to representative democracy has been hijacked by organized crime.
In April 2008, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey warned that organized crime “has emerged as a top global threat as mobsters conspire worldwide to prey on everything from energy markets to victims of identity theft.”
Here’s an excerpt from the AP report of his speech:
No longer just the stuff of Mafia lore, organized crime groups are particularly dangerous when they hook up with terrorists to turn a profit, Mukasey said in announcing a new government focus on mobsters.
“At some point, when people who want to make money meet other people who are motivated by ideology and want to buy something, and they spot an opportunity for profit … then there is a coincidence of interest,” Mukasey told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“And the way you fight is, initially, with intelligence gathering (that) you then use to frustrate it or prosecute it as may be appropriate,” Mukasey said.
Also alarming is growing evidence of what Mukasey described as mobsters infiltrating and corrupting global gas and energy markets — potentially destabilizing parts of the U.S. economy. He cited cases of organized criminals increasingly smuggling immigrants and contraband — such as counterfeit money and drugs — into the United States.
You can find similar reports all over the web. And they don’t just refer to America. Apparently, this has become a global cancer. But it’s possible that the people who write these reports also have an overactive imagination. Let’s hope so.
October 25, 2009 No Comments
I have spent more than half a century trying to report and edit “the news,” so I should be able to recognize news media by now. And I can tell you that the Fox cable channel is not a legitimate member of the news media.
I won’t go into the kind of analysis that Rachel Maddow engaged in on MSNBC last night. That’s just not necessary. Most normally intelligent people can tell real news from tabloid journalism. You don’t need a manual for that.
When you stand in line waiting to pay for your groceries, you probably glance at those “newspapers” on the rack next to the cashier. And you know without being told that they are not legitimate news media. You know, for example, that a two-headed Martian did not really father a baby in Oshkosh. And you take with more than a grain of salt the lurid “exposes” about celebrities and other public figures.
Fox News is just as unreliable and sometimes even more extreme.
I am not talking only of the relentless personal assaults on President Barack Obama and various individuals in his administration. Regrettable as that is, it’s still not unknown in “political reporting.” It’s the one area of reporting in which I consistently found that bias was not only tolerated but even encouraged.
But Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and other Fox News “personalities” indulge in even more despicable tactics, often resorting to deliberate misrepresentation – and outright fabrication – to fuel their crusades and whip up their audiences.
When I was in the newspaper game, anyone who sunk to that level of journalism became a pariah in legitimate media circles. For example, the National Enquirer paid good money, but you worked there at your peril; once tainted by that brush, you could never get a real newspaper job again.
Nobody would expect the White House to invite representatives of the supermarket tabloids to attend press conferences and interview government officials. So why are legitimate journalists in a huff over the Obama Administration’s decision to shut out Fox News?
I can understand Tucker Carlson complaining that Obama is “bullying” Fox News, and claiming that the White House and liberals are trying “to use government power to muzzle opinions they don’t agree with.” Tucker Carlson is nobody’s idea of a legitimate journalist. But what on earth prompted ABC News’ Jake Tapper to get all huffy when White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Fox was “not a news organization”? Tapper pompously protested that “it’s escaped none of our notice that the White House has decided in the last few weeks to declare one of our sister organizations ‘not a news organization’ and to tell the rest of us not to treat them like a news organization.” He asked Gibbs to “explain why it’s appropriate.”
Come on, Jake! You know Fox News is not ABC’s “sister organization.” If you don’t, you need to go back to journalism school for a refresher course in newsroom ethics.
And I am mystified by the legitimate TV channels’ threat to boycott interviews with Kenneth Feinberg, the Treasury Department’s special master for compensation, unless Fox was also invited. What about the rest of the tabloid-trash industry, guys? Shouldn’t the National Enquirer and The Globe have been included?
October 24, 2009 1 Comment
If I never hear the words “health care” again it will be OK with me. It’s getting to the point where I would rather curl up and die than endure this endless “debate.” What’s to debate, anyway? People who supposedly live in a civilized society should have health care as a matter of course. That’s the way it is in Jamaica. That’s the way it is in Canada. That’s the way it is in the United Kingdom, France, Russia… That’s the way it is even in remote Bhutan – and probably in the remotest tribal villages in the Amazon basin.
Only in America would anyone consider the arguments being presented against health care reform. Don’t give me that malarkey about the deficit. If our leaders can find trillions of dollars to help out the financial industry and trillions more to blow up foreign countries, then they can find whatever it takes to care for the sick.
So when I read this morning that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has decided she can’t get a “robust public option” passed, I was ready to throw up my hands and run screaming into the woods. If she can’t get a bill with a robust public option, she should call the whole thing quits and try again after the 2010 elections. The polls show a significant majority of Americans want a public option – that’s like offering Medicare to all ages – and I bet they would vote out the stumblebums who are blocking health care reform if given the chance.
Here’s the plan. Scrap this silly nonsense that has been going on for so many months. Forget about “bipartisanship.” Forget about “compromises.” Have President Obama draw up a bill the way he wants it passed and present it to the voters on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Let the 2010 elections – and the 2012 elections, if necessary – be a referendum on health care reform.
If the voters don’t vent their frustration at the polls, then they deserve whatever they get. And the “debate” over health care reform can be put to rest forever.
October 23, 2009 2 Comments
After being laid up for a month with severe bursitis, I ventured on the golf course yesterday. As I wandered along taking gentle pokes at the ball (to protect the nerves in my lower back), I found myself stymied by one of those foursomes that keep hitting the ball sideways. There was a single ahead of me who was also being held up, and he suggested we play in together.
He was an amiable, even garrulous, young man, who was born and bred in Central Florida and had helped build the golf course we were playing on. Usually, golfers don’t talk politics, but this guy proved to be an exception. It turned out he had worked his way up from digging sand traps to owning his own irrigation company, and he had enjoyed momentary prosperity during the housing bubble. When the bubble burst and construction ceased, he was hit hard. And he didn’t mind letting me know who was to blame.
His dissertation on the subject lasted for the next seven holes, so I won’t attempt to reproduce it here, but one of his main complaints was against government interference in his life. He called it “social engineering.” It was the social engineers who had caused the housing crisis, he insisted, because they wanted to provide homes for black people who couldn’t afford them.
He cataloged the myriad mistakes made by past administrations, starting with Teddy Roosevelt’s introduction of the 17th amendment to the Constitution, which he explained changed the way in which federal senators were chosen. It was a familiar litany, and you can hear it on any of those “conservative” radio programs if you’re interested. Probably the best way to sum it up is to repeat the motto he said he was raised by: “Root hog, or die!”
Basically, he wanted to return to the days when Americans were free to fend for themselves, when they made their own stuff and asked nobody else in the world for anything. Left to him, for example, there would be no trade with China, no outsourcing to India, no deficit, no national debt… He realizes that would mean no Wal-Marts, too, and he is OK with that.
I didn’t try to argue with the man; I had a golf ball to attend to. But obviously his vision is a pipe dream. There is some logic to his complaints, but someone let that genie out of the bottle a long time ago, and there’s no way to put the pesky critter back in. The world is now too intertwined, and much too complex, for any nation to be self-sufficient. As long as giant corporations and international financiers pull the strings, the shelves at Wal-Mart will be stocked with goods made in China – or some other country where labor is cheaper. And Americans will buy the goods because they can’t afford not to.
In this complex world, hogs may root as hard as they can and still die – unless “social engineers” provide an environment in which the hogs can survive. The futility of “free-market” thinking is illustrated by the chaos it caused on Wall Street recently, and the continuing abuses committed by America’s financial giants.
With hundreds of billions of tax dollars distributed to these greedy money changers – and with executives at the financial institutions pocketing obscene bonuses – small businesses still can’t get the loans they need. There’s only one way to unplug the dam – government intervention.
So now, the Obama administration has stepped in, announcing a program to give community banks some of the bailout money originally destined for the big institutions, and ordering pay cuts and caps on benefits for top executives at companies that still owe money to the government.
According to today’s news reports, pay cuts will average 50 percent at seven companies including Citigroup and Bank of America. The cash portion of salaries for the 25 highest-paid employees will be slashed 90 percent. Some cash will be replaced by shares, and employees will be restricted from selling the shares immediately.
As you might expect, the administration’s crackdown has triggered a heated debate about the government’s interference in private industry. Cries of “socialism” are heard in the land. And I suppose you could call it that. But what other path is there? In a world dominated by insatiable financiers and unprincipled profiteers, who will protect the little hog rooting as hard as he can in the wilds of Central Florida?
Who if not the government?
October 22, 2009 1 Comment