Lies hidden within truths?

We sometimes read that the best lies contain as much truth as possible. That’s true enough, I guess. This article may be an outstanding example of that. Harry Reid most likely was engaging in some thoughtless hyperbole – both sides of the political divide seem content with that, and both have enough ardent believers who’ll accept their lines uncritically to make this sort of hyperbole well worthwhile. I’ve been caught up in it a time or two.

Still, this article tries to disenfranchise Warren Buffet from the Billionaire’s Club. “Either Warren Buffet’s secretary has an incompetent tax accountant or Buffet has some pretty juicy tax breaks. I think the latter is more likely.” Which causes me to wonder. Should I trust Paul Roderick Gregory‘s math, which seems reasonable on the surface, but is in pursuit of a narrative, or Warren Buffet, who was talking about a very specific situation. I mean, if Gregory is such an economic guru, couldn’t he have discovered what Buffet’s “tax breaks” were, and figured out how many of them applied to other millionaires (and billionaires)?

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.

Believing impossible contradictions

We live in a weird political maelstrom. I cannot decide if it has been this way for as long as I remember, or if the current crop of extreme viewpoints is really boiling toward some sort of violence. The result is we all try to believe unreasonable numbers of contradictory things, and too many of us fall back on trusting the most sincere salesman in the room. Our right wing, which calls itself conservative, but does not believe in, or in any way support conservation (apologies to Ducks Unlimited; you are the exception that proves the rule, and you must be fairly aware of that), currently is up in arms that about 47% of the U.S. hasn’t paid taxes in the last three years. But that is caused not by people refusing to pay taxes, but by a campaign of lowering taxes, reducing the effectiveness of the IRS, and shrinking government in relation to the population of the United States, that has been underway, largely pushed by the conservative right, since Reaganrsquo;s era (oops, since his era ended. Reagan approved some pretty large tax increases to deal with federal deficits).span style=”mso-spacerun:yes”nbsp; /spanYet today, this largely conservative program is coming home to roost as a Democratic initiative gone wrong.span style=”mso-spacerun:yes”nbsp; /spanThe really sad thing?span style=”mso-spacerun:yes”nbsp; /spanItrsquo;s just another example of politicians directing attention away from the significant.span style=”mso-spacerun:yes”nbsp;br /!–/w:LatentStyles–br /That#39;s right.nbsp; When things were going well, Republicans gladly beat the drum loudly about lowering taxes to the poor.nbsp; Easy votes for negligible income, when you look at the federal balance.nbsp; Now, when the laws they lauded five years ago are actually providing relief to the poorest of us, but the political fires are burning hot in Republican Land to keep taxes off of the rich, the favoite complaint is that not everybody is paying a share.nbsp; This, in an era when the difference in wealth between the poorest and the richest in the US is larger than it has ever been.br /br /I#39;m gonna quit complaining after this next one.nbsp; I heard somebody playing up the idea that the poorest 20% of Americans makes more money than 80% of the rest of the world.nbsp; This is an almost meaningless statistic.nbsp; The piece of shit appartment I lived in when my wife and I first moved in together probably cost more per month than half the world makes in a year.nbsp; The cheapest of two bedroom appartments in Anchorage costs more than $1000.00 a month, or about $2000,00 every year more than the average person on earth makes,a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28PPP%29_per_capita” the worldwide income per capita being about $10400 each year./a/span/span Median is another deal.nbsp; The world median income was $1700 in 2005, and probably hasn#39;t done any growing since 2008.nbsp; That#39;s right.nbsp; The worst turd of a 2 bedroom appartment in Anchorage, AK, costs about $10300.00 more than the median income on the planet.nbsp;br /br /There are a lot of people in the US, whose personal weekly expenditures are 10 times what I make in a year, but who pay at a lower tax rate than I do, and the Republican part is ready to go to the mats for them, while screaming that people who have fallen beneath the poverty line should be taxed more heaviily before the millionaires consortium sees any increase./lj-cutbr /!–/lj-cut–nbsp; Yes, there is a class war going on.nbsp; Too bad us hoi poloi only just heard.nbsp; The march on that one was stolen years ago, and we#39;ve already lost.

Another health care rant.

I don’t approve of using the insurance industry to pay for health care reform. That’s thirty percent of our medical care dollars going into corporate coffers, and enough money each year to pay for healthcare for all the deadbeats the industry keeps telling us are out there trying to steal our hard-earned insurance dollars.

I think that the health care insurance industry is just another corporate Colossus that has managed to completely separate health care costs from market realities, and will continue blindly jacking up the price of health care costs until the system breaks down.  Not the value of health care, just the cost of it.

I think that the federal government should go into competition with AETNA, and set out to win. If laissez faire is so fair, if private business is so much more effective and competitive, then AETNA will win out in the end against those lazy bureaucrats in the public sector, and find ways to make sure private citizens can afford health care programs that won’t vanish when things get ugly, and the patient becomes too weak to hold his job.

I think that the federal government ought to be in the business of keeping successful and competent obstetricians from having to pay a couple hundred thousand dollars a year in malpractice insurance, because they have to protect themselves from desperate customers who’ve lost everything, and a loved one, paying for an unsuccessful outcome.  That is just plain sad and sinful.  The reason so many health care professionals want reform is because they aren’t getting the money we pay for our care. Insurers, boards of trustees, and lawyers are getting more health care dollars than many of our doctors are.  Let’s face it.  Americans spend 16% of the largest GNP in the world on health care. That is the largest percentage of the very largest GNP going, and we aren’t living any longer than any of the other first world nations.  That is probably because our medical care providers are paying half of their income into what amounts to a protection industry.  Call it what it is: a protection racket.

As individuals, we cannot control the collective might of the corporate insurance industry.  Medical Insurance invalidates the entire concept of market forces at work when it comes to controlling prices.  It’s time and past time to put our federal government to work sorting out the morass of insurance industry malfeasance that is slowly but inexorably making health care something that only the wealthiest of our children will be able to afford.

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.