Thursday, August 06, 2009

Lies & Liars

I can't say I have been overwhelmed by comments in various venues in which "Clear The Mist" posts appear. But perhaps I can. And so sadly, it seems that irrational thinkers, people that simply cannot think "out of the box" or act from a place of compassion balanced with some degree of practicality, can too easily overwhelm real democratic speech and social progress.

Oh gee, am I talking about Republican and conservative politicians, whose only ability to speak is derived from someone else's "talking points? You all know the ones. Thems that have money and don't want anyone to share in prosperity? Thems that blindly follow mythically epic blatant lies about proposed health care legislation, including but not limited to "old folks will have to choose how they want to die" or "Medicare is NOT socialized health care" or "the government will step between the patient and physician" - my personal favorite, though the old folks must die canard is picking up points.

Them great thinkers, the same ones that sold us on the Iraq War and cost us thousands of sons and daughters, not to mention tens of thousands (if not far far more) Iraqi lives. The ones that believe that torture is just fine so long as we are doing the torture. And yes, the ones, that have no concept of what it took us in terms of government intervention in the economy to jump-start America and begin to dig us out of the Great Depression, painting FDR as some Great Satan and Herbert Hoover as a hero.

Some people should get over their own narrow-minded, myth-based concept of reality.

Are deepening federal deficits, not to mention state deficits, a good thing? Surely not. But they are necessary and in the long-run can be resolved in many ways.

Is a substantial and comprehensive overhaul of our clearly broken health care system long overdue and necessary for the health of Americans AND the health of businesses? No question whatsoever. Medicare needs some tweaks and not much more. Then it will be "ready for primetime" and can be held up as an example of how health care should be practiced and delivered in the United States.

Those who believe that merely tinkering with the current for-profit insurance industry delivered system will solve the problems are sadly mistaken, be they Republican or Democrat. You want to whine about the myth that government will step between you and quality health care with rationing and whatever else. But you don't whine about insurance companies doing precisely that.

If you actually have health insurance, how many times have you experienced - or even heard from a relative or friend or neighbor - an insurance company denying benefits for a diagnostic procedure or a particular treatment, or even a simple drug? It happens every day!

To the lobbying firms, and those that have hired them, that have been organizing the fascist brown shirt thugs that believe more in disrupting democratic town hall meetings rather than engaging in rational discourse, you won't succeed in turning the United States into 1930s/40s Italy or Germany - unless we fail to take their threat to our freedoms seriously, take a stand and say "ENOUGH!"

These fringe elements do not speak for the great majority of Americans who, poll after poll since before the 2008 election clearly show, want reform. We are finished with neoCON Republican and conservative lies and liars.

Or at least we should be.

Monday, August 03, 2009

B.O. - Backbone & Obama

Well it did not take a recent week of well-needed vacation for this commentator to crystallize his concern about the politics/policies of the Obama administration, the lack of leadership and backbone of the Democratic Party, generally, and the need for substantial reform.

So on Sunday, National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers suggested that a middle-class tax increase might not be out of the question as part of a solution to reduce the enormous projected federal budget deficits. Really! This after then Senator Obama campaigned so strongly against it during his White House run? Are we receiving mixed signals here? Or are lobbyists for the wealthiest two-percent of Americans and their corporate bosses once again winning the "Battle of Backbone" when it comes to formulating policies that will lead the way for perhaps decades to come?

There is genuine concern among many economists and analysts, including yours truly, that we may see a "double dip" recession. Assuming that we have seen a bottom in terms of manufacturing activity and production generally, having avoided a general collapse of the nation's financial system - for which I largely credit bold action by the Obama administration - we just may not be out of the woods. This should not come as new news to anyone.

Dangers may be ahead.

We must be concerned about the fragility of the commercial real estate market. This multi-trillion dollar market remains fractured as a result of a) a weak office market, b) closings of thousands of retail outlets which affect shopping centers, malls, center cities, not to mention jobs that may be gone for a very long time, c) shuttering of manufacturing plants - domestic of course - that leaves swaths of empty real estate, much of which was "single use" suitable without huge amounts of new investment.

We must further be concerned about the debt burden in the commercial real estate market: Who and how will maturing debt on questionable properties be refinanced? Will banks make necessary funds available?

Next on the list of potential landmines is ever-growing rates of default on credit card debt. These default rates are currently at record levels, the result of continuing job losses, the absence of any real income growth, and last but not least, the outrageous policies of banks increasing interest rates and fees on credit cards, even among their better or best customers. Slashing of credit lines on even good customers is not helping the issue either.

The banks are claiming that they need to raise rates and fees in order to cover increasing losses. But their own cost of money is at record lows, allowing them to increase profit margins. The federal government is largely giving money away to the banks, charging one-percent, two-percent, etc. to the banks while the banks get to increase rates to consumers from nine-percent or twelve-percent to as high as thirty-percent, even more.

Since the Obama administration took the reins in January, nothing has been done to address the "to big to fail" dilemma with financial institutions. Rather, the opposite has occurred. As "smaller" banks continue to fail, they are taken over by larger banks, creating yet more ever larger banks, increasing concentration and reducing competition.

Little has been done in actuality to stabilize the mortgage market, allowing homeowners to successfully refinance. It seems that while programs have been created by the federal government to support refinancing, the banks have no incentive to use them. They believe they can make more money by allowing even more homes to enter foreclosure because the potential fees they can earn outweigh what the government would otherwise pay them as incentives to refi mortgages.

On the surface, all the legislation looked good. But in practice, the special interests were too strong to allow the passing of anything with real teeth.

On the health care reform front, we are following one diluted bill after another through Congress, none of which seem to really have the kind of reform that would financially benefit consumers, let alone the federal government. Will we have a public option similar to Medicare? Will Medicare be permitted to actually negotiate drug prices, saving hundreds of billions of dollars? Will health insurance reform, eliminating pre-existing conditions clauses, etc. actual result in fair premiums? Or will it simply allow the insurance companies to charge even more for the privilege of covering folks with pre-existing conditions? Or even raising rates on EVERYONE as a result?

I, for one, would happily accept a modest increase in the payroll tax - not income tax - to cover both stabilization of Medicare and availability of a Medicare program for people under 65 or not disabled. I, for one, believe that payroll taxes should be paid by EVERYONE that earns above an established minimum income. The fact that people earning say $250,000 or $25 million have not paid a Medicare tax in the past is not an argument for not paying it in the future. They are the people that most benefit from "The American Dream," are they not?

Republicans and conservatives - yes I'm talking about you irrational Blue Dogs, also - like to focus on the currently "unfunded" $12+ trillion 75-year deficit in Medicare. True, this is an audited number. However, if you assume that the size of the American workforce remains unchanged over the next 75 years - how likely is that!? - this unfunded deficit amounts to an average of about $160 billion annually. Again, that amounts to an average of about $1,100 a year in new taxes for every working person.

Realistically, that kind of gap would not be closed by equally taxing every worker, would it? That's not what we want. Those that can afford more should pay more, no? Further, if we had REAL reform of health care, both public and private, we could actually realize savings even if some people saw increased tax rates. I would gladly pay a little bit more in taxes while paying at least that much less for health care. And I thought that was the whole idea about health care reform, beyond covering many millions of people that cannot afford coverage.

And how about either giving people that are forced into bankruptcy as a result of medical bills some type of break - like not destroying their credit scores - or writing off their medical bills above some acceptable threshold, or having a catastrophic loss fund at the federal level? There are dozens of ideas that can be evaluated to address this ever-mounting concern.

And how about putting an end to the Canadian health care system myths once and for all? You know the ones: Canadians hate their system; their taxes are measurably higher as a result (though their medical out-of-pocket expenses are pretty minimal); they must wait months and months for important procedures; they flood across the border to New York or Michigan or Minnesota for health care; on and on. Stop it already. Let's just call lies lies.

Having personally undergone a two-disc spinal fusion, I understand the importance of a strong backbone. But does President Obama and the Democratic majority on the Hill?