Republican Lockstep and punishing foreign investors

I’ve watched, in the least interested way, this story evolve.

US seeks record sentence for hedge fund boss in NY

What happened was that people have gotten together in such numbers to control the market that outsiders are increasingly disenfranchised. I’m about convinced that if you don’t have money and connections to invest through an insider trading specialist, you, like me, have watched your market investments rise up to nearly basis and crash back down repeatedly for the last decade. I no longer consider my mutual fund based IRAs a retirement fund. They’re a pseudo-scientific experiment in how long the market will attract small investors who don’t recognize that without a an insider in their corner, wall street is nothing but a pyramid or Ponzi scheme, and has been since 2000.

Doesn’t much matter in the end. Raj Rajaratnam has been sentenced to 11 years. He didn’t specifically defraud his customers. He simply defrauded everybody who was not inside on one of his trading scams.

What I care about, and what worries me, is that the hedge fund manager isn’t an American. Does the attorney’s office hope that they can set an example of longer sentences by picking up somebody who’s clearly a foreigner, and who won’t have a hometown following from one of the major political parties? (He isn’t really a Republican or a Democrat; he’s one o’ them dirty ferinners.)

Or, was the prosecutor’s office aware that the same mental picture that the Republicans and their lockstep cousins, the Tea Party, use to justify consistently filibustering against every piece of jobs legislation the president proposes will go insane if charges are pressed against one of their own? Maybe the insider trading schemes are so political party centric that any attempt to throw double decade penalties at an American who got caught with his hands in that particular cookie jar would be seen as a cheap political attack on a particular party? Maybe it is only safe to chastise foreigners for breaking the securities exchange laws. Maybe it would look bad if nine of ten inside traders turned out to be lining the pockets of one particular party. Which party would be tarred most heavily with that insider trading brush?

It’s very likely that the billionaires the Republican Party protects from higher taxes with one voice are simply not as emotionally invested in the tax argument as the bought and paid for politicians are in protecting their investors. Ah, I mean their staunch Republican Party contributors. The billionaires’ club can call this growing likelihood of a voters’ rebellion off by dropping some money on the Republicans to back off of this filibuster thing. Yes, the billionaires (and the millionaire auxiliary) bought and paid for their politicians, and their politicians have stayed bought (even the tea-partiers). It’s already become so obvious that the Republican hardline attitude is caused by loyalties that lie beyond voters and in the hands of the contributors who have bought and paid for that blind loyalty that every filibuster threatens to destabilize the voting blocks that keep the red state politicos useful.

Scrapping the national safety net

I’m proud to announce that seeing this picture brought tears to my eyes. I was so touched that I went back online to see if I could track down the story. Apparently, it’s true.

The gentleman whose grave is so righteously decorated was a part of the Greatest Generation. That generation brought in and supported social security, national welfare programs, and the first federal intervention through business subsidies to ameliorate the catastrophic economic collapse that was in progress during the 1930s.

Right now, there is a big political fracas brewing about cutting welfare, social security, and any other obvious government programs. Those programs were used to set our nation back on its feet after an entirely laissez faire economic meltdown led to mass starvation in this country.

A lot of people want to deny that Americans were dying of malnutrition during the great depression. When I went to high school in the 1970s, I had teachers that remembered classmates in their U.S. elementary schools who had quit coming to class because they STARVED TO DEATH. Yes, Americans starved to death in the 1930s because their local charities and local governments and local social organizations fell down — because the local folks were all poor. It’s just that some of them were a little poorer than others. We want to deny that today, but my teachers in the 1970s still remembered their dead friends. American friends. If we follow down this line of “reducing government” far enough, and if this stupid economic meltdown continues to stretch the difference between the richest and the poorest of us, we’ll start to see starvation deaths again.

I’m agin it.

Turning it all over to private industry or to the fed? Are these really the only choices?

There are seven billion people on Earth this year or next, and although the demographers think that that growth rate will slow in upcoming years, they’re banking on an ahistorical trend when they make such predictions. Whether the rate of population increase slows or not, barring a die back that makes the Black Death look like a summer cold, Earth will double in population over the next century.

Lots of folks are using the internet to complain that the US Government has never done anything good for the country, and that everything good that has happened in America is purely the result of individual initiative.

The internet they complain about the Gubmint on was developed using both private and public funding. The auto industry is a good example of private development that then turned to the gubmint to protect themselves from brash interlopers taking control of their industries.

And lots of them, of private businessmen making this country a better place, but you can also find lots of examples of the government making this country a better place, and from Queen Isabella to JFK, you can find examples of governments financing exploration, technical development, and good science that no private agency would be likely to fund, because the chances of success couldn’t be easily calculated, or the source of profit would not be immediately identifiable.

I’m not trying to argue that the government isn’t full of self interested people, I’m pointing out that, regardless of venue, self-interest and power seeking are a part of the human condition. Publicly funded science has paid off for the country, and so has private research and industry. We, as a culture, can poorly afford to argue that either side of that equation can be done away with. You can complain about the U.S. Government and force it to shrink. But Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon, BP, Microsoft, and AT&T keep growing, and shrinking the government simply cedes power away from something that the tea-party can influence, and invests it in corporations that don’t care what you and I think, and often aren’t even American.

I think that the government has to stay large enough to maintain control over our corporate entities, which involves remaining large enough to oversee them.

I also think that the issue at argument shouldn’t be size of government, or how prophetic the founding fathers were when they framed the constitution, but how to put the voters in control of the country. Actual control, not just shifting the liar in the seat back and forth between two parties that aren’t answering the need. Our government has been getting smaller in relation to our population for fifty years, but I don’t think things are any looser, or that we’re getting adequate bang for our buck. And I do think that there is an effort afoot to define the country’s economic health without referring to unemployment, the millions of people who lost their retirement nest-eggs in the latest stock market crash, or the fact that a growing percentage of the GNP rests in corporate coffers, doing individual citizens no good at all.

The citizens of this country, whom I consider the only important part of the country, are ceding stakeholder status in the running of the nation when we call for deregulation and ignore the elephant in the room. The corporations grow more powerful and less responsible for their actions with every deregulation. They don’t give a fig about illegal immigration, which is profitable to them, or our opinions, which are absolutely insignificant to Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon, BP, Microsoft, or AT&T, even if several million like-minded people give up their phones or cars and boycott. They do care when we, as a people, force them, through our government, to play fair by our standards, rather than their own.

Pay attention!

Congress does not have a policy permitting retirement at full pay after one term. Congress critters are on FERS, which is the same federal retirement program as the rest of the Federal government. In 1984, congressmen were on another program, CSRS, and did not pay into Social Security. They also were not eligible for social security, so that is a wash. You can google congressional retirement plans any time you like. It’s publicly available information available here.

Congress critters do not exempt themselves from the health care reform legislation – check here. They have a valid health care plan, and that is all that is required. I’m on the same health care plan I was on when the legislation went into affect. The only impact it has had on me is actually on my children, since they will be covered by my plan for five additional years, thanks to that legislation. I’m not exempt from health care reform, I was already involved in a health care plan, so the new legislation had little impact on my life.

Hey! most of the federal deficit was paid to American Corporations.The money is still in the U.S, or at least held by U.S. citizens – most of it went to the U.S. military industrial complex. The bombs and bullets went away, but the cash is either here or in off-shore accounts. When are those trillions going to trickle down to us, the hoi polloi? Methinks they won’t. Never. Trickle down doesn’t work when the corporations are handing out record-breaking bonuses during years when their companies claim losses. I’m guessing that a lot of that money is going into off-shore accounts.

I’m not in the life-boat yet, so I’m kind of pissed that they’re pulling in the ropes.

Bill

Lemonade or Grape flavored?

I woke up this morning to a lie from the political party I most side with. Guy Cecil from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee wrote to tell me that the “Republicans are so against funding women’s healthcare that they would shut down the federal government over it.” He was lying, and we both knew it. Of course, he probably thought I didn’t, but that just goes to show the incredible gall many politicos have — the unvarnished disdain they have toward their constituency.

If it wasn’t for the serious avalanche of tripe my tea-partying friends are swallowing without any hint of critical appraisal, I’d be more angry with my party. Instead, I’m mildly disgusted, but mostly just worn out. I guess when it comes down to it, the Democrats aren’t my party. They’re just the team that pisses me off the least, this year.

I voted for Barack Obama, even though I’ve always liked John McCain. I’ll vote for Obama again in a year or so, even though I think he’ll lose. I admire the fact that he put his own political career in the shredder to push through a health care bill that we badly need, as a people, if health care is to remain available to everybody. We need to begin thinking of health care as a necessary public service like electric power or running water, or long and healthy life will become the special domain of the wealthy, an elitist privilege.

But President Obama told us that he could be a bipartisan president, at the same time as the DNCC was pushing me for donations to make sure that the Republican’s were so outnumbered that they couldn’t even front a filibuster when “my” party of the moment wanted to have a free hand at whatever legislation they wanted to pass.

As it happens, I don’t want to turn my guns over to the democrats any more than I want to watch the Republicans walk us in lockstep into their most desperately, trenchantly, right leaning members’ idea of a moral utopia. Abortion is not murder — probably 30% of all first pregnancies self terminate. That whole argument is stupid — God isn’t murdering those miscarriages. We are a Christian people, but not a Christian country, and our founding fathers made sure of that. Funny how the wisdom of the founding fathers is plenty of excuse to allow the poor to starve or freeze to death without public aid, but inadequate to bind the country to remaining religiously tolerant.

When it comes down to it, both sides are grandstanding to get attention. If the Republicans blew off their most rabid supporters, and the Democrats really tried to figure out why the Republican middle doesn’t want to give up their guns, give up their sense of traditional values, home as castle, etc, then maybe we could move forward on some really important things.

I don’t want to spend $4.10 per gallon for the privilege of burning Exxon’s industrial waste in my car. I want Shell to use that oil for important things, and treat gasoline as the industrial waste that it is. I want BP to acknowledge that most of the gasoline we burn is something they would otherwise need to dispose of themselves, and stop playing cynical games with charging the absolute maximum they can get from us. Yes, it is possible to engineer a crash in the U.S. economy by charging enough for gasoline.

Wallstreet crashed twice in the first decade of the 21st Century, and we pretend that there is a reason to argue about regulating that place. Most of my friends who lost money during those crashes have never recovered their basis. I had almost recovered my investment from the first crash at the beginning of the decade when the next one hit at the end of the Republican monopoly on congress. Both sides of the fence look away from the fact that the stock-market is just legalized gambling. There are legitimate stocks available for purchase, but most of what goes on there is just addicted gamblers pushing paper around, hoping that their scrip will sell for more of more than it is worth than they paid for it. When the stock market isn’t in freefall, it bounces ten percent on some days. This is not a viable place to keep any money that isn’t absolutely available to be lost.

One of my best retired-military friends owns a bar and grill in Oregon. He spends more on his cook than he earns for himself. His costs are mostly in the form of required benefits, and unless the economy goes back into overdrive, he’ll probably end up selling the place. Too many social programs are being paid for by small business owners.

My sister has lived in and around San Francisco for ahem years. She spent about twenty of them in the food service industry, working three or four jobs at a time. A huge chunk of the food service industry in that area can’t afford full time employees because of the required benefit packages. They avoid that by having five employees doing the job of two full time employees, so that nobody goes over half-time.

A lot of people want to argue that laissez faire business without legal controls is the only way to make the country work, because that’s the way it was when Beaver Cleaver was a sprite. Big business wants us to believe that, because it does work out well for big business. Unfortunate, really, that there isn’t enough big business to go around. But millions, maybe even billions, of dollars are spent to keep the American people from recognizing just how far from true it is that the board of directors or stockholders of GM care a whit about the twenty people who applied to work for that company but were turned down for every one person who actually found employment there. The mobilization of money, deceit and influence that went into fighting health care reform was awe inspiring, and continues to be intimidating, especially when you consider that health care reform is saving lives, and that with some concerted effort on the part of lawmakers, could be economically freeing for 99% of the people in this country, without putting anybody at all in the poor house. This is particularly agonizing to me, since it would work so much better if there weren’t so many people trying to get it to fail because it originated in the wrong camp, and not because it’s a bad idea. Health care reform is a stellar idea, and most of the people in the health care industry approve of it.

Why is it so very easy for me to find out how much money the average American makes, and how many of us there are, and what the average family earns, but so impossible for me to find out how much money the US corporations make, and what portion of the U.S. economy is tied up in corporate accounts? That question practically answers itself. We have big problems in this country, both sides of the political divide are fully aware of it, and they’d rather keep us fighting about abortion, entitlement mentality, and freedom of religion than turn our corporate gaze on what was really going on during the budget crisis this week. The Republicans and the rebranded republicans in the Tea Party were pissing on the American people with lemonade flavored piss. The Democrats were pissing on the American people with Grape flavored piss. But it was all piss.

Batshit Crazy, or The Odd Things People Want to Believe.

OK, the climatologist conspiracy theory is as batshit crazy as the one about Elvis and JFK languishing in a cell in area 51. To begin with, there would be more money available to resolve the controversy than there is to support a commonly accepted scenario. The problem is that only a very few real climatologists have found valid reason to disagree with the common theory that AGW is occurring. Anthony Watts has certainly found a way to turn the “controversy” to a profit. All he has to do is throw out smoke bombs and ignore all the evidence that makes his www.WUWT.com site look silly. Watts up with the climategate note that he leaves posted about Michael Mann being investigated by Penn State? Michael Mann was cleared when his numbers turned out to be valid, and his email scandal turned out to be a case of malicious misquoting. I’m not going to go on, because there are very intelligent people who want to swallow Watt’s tripe – but it’s still raw, green, and very old, tripe.

But it goes on. I recently spoke with a real live scientist who is convinced that Janet Reno and some ATF officers held the FBI at gunpoint while they allowed the Branch Davidian compound to burn to the ground, murdering 76 people. Think about this. Janet Reno was a political appointee who wasn’t well liked. Almost all law enforcement people are Republican, and have been for a while. What are the odds that a bunch of people who didn’t like an appointee would stand around and let her burn women and children alive, to cover up some supposed bad investigative work? They’d have happily thrown her to the ground and hand-cuffed her while they rescued those kids, then taken her off to file charges. That’s what people like that do when faced with criminal conspiracy. Further, It would have been a huge black-eye for the Democratic administration, and an equally huge coup for the justice community. More to the point, we’re talking about a really large group of people who’ve spent their lives pushing back the darkness. The suggestion that you could get a group of heroes like that to throw away their morals to please one horsefaced old political appointee just pisses me off.

Both of these situations, especially the Branch Davidian fiasco, were exhaustively investigated, and it turned out that people of good heart and conscience had acted correctly. Watts up with That?

Elvis’s cell in Area 51 next to JFK, Marilyn Monroe, or Paul the alien? Inquiring minds want to know.

Sarah, it’s time to come home

Please. Just move into your gated and reinforced compound, hide there for thirty years or so, and fade away. You’re just too damn polarizing to even consider as a public servant anymore. You’re beautiful, but you’re scary, and you’re too mean to take seriously anymore. Come home to Alaska. Hide. Please. For the good of the nation.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/24/sarah-palins-pac-puts-gun_n_511433.html

Screw the first responders! We have millionaires to protect!

Welcome back Republican Senators. President Obama will surely respect your strength. He fairly gave up a second term to see through the first step on the road to national health care. You filibustered the 9/11 first responders in order to make sure your millionaire buddies don’t face a tax increase. I understand. You’re afraid that the greater body of American millionaires will flee the country in despair if they’re forced to lie about 1% more of their incomes at tax time The lies they’ve generally told for years to make sure their real taxes run 10% or less are nothing compared to the insult of having to lie about 1% more. A tough decision, just like the president made. I hope those millionaires appreciate your unstinting sacrifice, you know, in letting New York first responders die and bankrupt their families trying to pay for medical care for the cancers and heart/lung conditions they developed while responding to what you call the first battle in the war on terrorism.

I admire your stances on party solidarity. While I’m not sure you really earned your pay as senators, I think you’ve more than earned your campaign contributions and side incomes. I’m sure several of you have bright futures with Halliburton and like industries.

http://gothamist.com/2010/12/09/gop_hates_sick_911_workers_filibust.php

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-december-16-2010/9-11-first-responders-react-to-the-senate-filibuster?xrs=eml_tds

Health care reform – my second rant.

Health care is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to see, even when they’re generally happy to see elephants in the room. President Obama is probably a one term president because he insisted on recognizing that fact, and the odds are very good that the next administration will float in on promises to ignore that fact. They’ll promise to cancel the Obama health care plan, and to bring things back to status quo, and people will vote for them in droves, with nothing but vague assurances to look into the issue sometime in the future – just like 1993. But health care is so expensive now that it crushes median income families.

I just looked up a large sampling of health care plans available to private citizens in Alaska. As non-smokers, my family of four could plan on paying out a minimum of $6.000 per year, plus copays, with a family cap of about $50,000 out of pocket for medical care. Hey, that’s more money than my family makes! That’s right. If somebody in my family were to come down with cancer, I could look forward to spending more money than I make, on medical care, before my plan would take up the rest of my medical costs. Of course, I have to keep up payments on the plan, even during that medical emergency that might go on for a couple years.

That’s assuming that I could get that plan. Since I have hardware holding my back together, and have had high blood pressure and cholesterol since the accident that caused me to go bionic, a lot of those plans would either not let me join, or specifically exclude orthopedic and coronary care from my coverage.

So, if I didn’t already have a plan provided through my military retirement, the health care that I could afford would cost $6k per year, and I’d go bankrupt if anybody in my family suffered a catastrophic illness …

A better plan, which would have a lower deductible, and a much lower maximum payout for my family, would cost us $12,000 per year up front, and would still have substantial copays, deductibles, and individual care caps in the thousands per year. How many families of four in the Anchorage area can pay out $12,000 per year on medical insurance, plus an out of pocket limit of $4500? This is one of the best plans to have if you actually come down with a catastrophic illness, but my actual take home pay right now, from two jobs and my military retirement, comes out to … Well, let’s just say that $12K per year would bite right into the feeding the kids budget, even though we’re doing a lot better than several of the families in my neighborhood.

The median household income in Alaska for 2009 was supposedly $63,505 After a fashion, I accept that. I actually know a few people who make that amount or more. My family falls slightly below the median. 11.3% of Alaskans live below the poverty line, even though we have lower unemployment than most states. Supposedly, median family income describes that point where half of families earn more than that amount, and half of families earn less. But, I don’t actually know very many families who will acknowledge earning the median, and health insurance isn’t based on household income. If we were buying our own health care plan today, and my family were at the median, we’d be paying almost 19% of our total before tax income into our health care prepay. Dental care not included. Not including extra costs for my preexisting conditions.

I’d joke that only death, taxes, and health care costs are sure things, but I don’t have to pay $1 for health care. I can choose to die of my next major illness.

What is becoming increasingly clear, and increasingly true, is that only rich people get to have reliable health care plans. TheĀ status quo cost of medical care, before Obamacare, was taking up a larger percentage of our incomes every year, excluded a larger percentage of Americans from access every year, and grew faster than household income or any other aspect of the American cost of living. Returning to status quo will renew that cycle.