Saturday, March 29, 2008

Some Planks from Senator McCain's Platform

54%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

Hi, whoever is out there,

I decided to do something I maybe should have done before but just haven't got around to. (So many blogs, so little time; to steal a phrase) I am going around to the three major candidates' web pages and taking a look at their positions and proposals. I realized that I am too dependent on other bloggers and the news media for my information and have decided to correct that. I may even drop in on Nader as well.

Right now it is John McCain's turn. First is his economic stimulus package. He proposes reducing the corporate tax rates from 35% to 25%, giving a tax credit equal to 10% of wages for research and development, and a first year write down on equipment and technology investments. He claims that the U.S. has been lagging the rest of the industrialized countries in reducing the tax burden on corporations which puts them at a decided disadvantage competing with international firms. That may be and I am not in any position to refute his assertions. The question I have is how will corporations use this kind of a revenue windfall? If it merely goes into the pockets of the CEO and his upper management or into the stockholders' pockets what will we gain. Senator McCain seems to assume that the funds will all be plowed back into the companies. I wouldn't bet on it.

Second, his tax reform proposals. This section is a bit of a mishmash. It repeats the proposals made in his economic stimulus outline. And it is highly skewed toward business. His proposals for the middle class focus on the alternative minimum tax which he wants eliminated. Actually I think the premise behind the tax is rather sound. Everyone should pay a fair share of taxes. The problem has been that the original legislation never accounted for inflation and as incomes have risen more people have been hit with this tax. How about amending the legislation to account for inflation? He also suggests that we roll back the medicare taxes so seniors won't find their social security and pensions eaten away by increasing taxes. He seems to count on the medical and medical insurance sectors to control costs. Nice but I don't think relying on the private sector to control costs will work any better in the future than it has in the past. I have long felt that there are certain things that should not be commodities provided on a profit basis. Health care is one of these.

As part of the program Senator McCain proposes to reign in spending. Some of his proposals I definitely agree with and in some cases would go further. For example, the notion that we should eliminate pork-barrel projects, wasteful subsidies, and ear-marks. Of course the devil is always in the details. What is exactly pork-barrel? Can legislators agree on a definition? And I would go a step further--I would insist that no funding bill be attached as a rider to an unrelated bill. In other words: no 'bridge to nowhere' attached to a defense bill. Funding bills should be included in the budget or should stand on their own. On the issues of 'reforming' social security and medicare the proposals are very nonspecific. He also seems to lean toward curtailing benefits and increasing taxes. Nor does he indicate how he would judge which one in five government programs is ineffective. I would love to see how the Department of Homeland Security would stack up, or No Child Left Behind. The sections on 'trade and displaced workers,' 'national strategy for energy security,' and reform of the medical delivery system are too non-specific to make any judgment on. Given the tenor of this whole section it will probably cater to the interests of business and industry primarily.

Third, reform of the health care system. The first half of this section is very general. It reiterates many of the criticisms of the health care system but, as I said above, the devil is in the details. Senator McCain's concrete proposals are heavily skewed toward the medical insurance industry and emphasize individual responsibility. For example, he has picked up the proposal that individuals be given a $2500 tax credit to buy their own insurance and opening the insurance market nationally so individuals can choose from companies operating on a national level. I have several problems with this. How many people pay enough in taxes to get back a $2500 credit? I never have. Also, how many will find adequate insurance for this amount? Families often have to spend upwards of $1500/month, so how far would the family credit of $5000 go? I have seen accounts of insurance for individuals exceeding $500/month. Also, there is no mention of the people who cannot find insurance at any price. Senator McCain's plan fails, as far as I can see, to address the problem of the 'uninsurable.' I am entirely sympathetic with the complaint that business is at a disadvantage with comparison to foreign companies when they have to provide health care for their employees. However, over the past several years more and more companies have been getting out from under both pension plans and health care plans leaving the burden on the employees which places employees at as similar disadvantage compared to foreign workers. Why do I say that. Because the U.S. is the only major industrial nation which has no national health care system that covers everyone. We are the only country in which the burden is almost entirely on individual companies or individual workers.

On the Senator's 'sanctity of life' proposals, needless to say, I disagree. Banning abortion or overturning Roe v Wade is a cheap and insensitive way to enforce conservative, Christian morals on everyone else. This is the area where individual responsibility and choice should be the determining factor. It is none of the state's business (federal or state levels).

The strategy for victory in Iraq says pretty much what the news sound bites have indicated. I have a problem with the whole thing on several fronts. First, it is largely predicated on a business as usual premise which hasn't changed since the so-called end of the Cold War. We have shifted from an ideological war against communism (which was identified with particular states) to a new ideological war against terrorism (which is considerably more amorphous). For the last century we have been engaged in ideological struggles that have attained the intensity of the religious conflicts of the 16th and 17th centuries. I think it is about time that we got out of that rut. Second, it does nothing to cure us of our presumptuousness. We presume that we have the right (as well as the might) to demand that other people adopt our values, our concerns, tow our line in all things. And if they don't we have the right to chastise them with our military. Third, it relies so largely on conflict and confrontation and in the end on how much military force we are willing to bring to bear. Will Senator McCain, if he is elected President, follow President Bush's lead and declare his openness to negotiation but fail to negotiate honestly in good faith? Or will he dictate what must be the final outcome of the alleged negotiation?

There is more on Senator McCain's web pages. Please do visit them and make your own decisions on what is written.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Religion/Politics, Phony Revelations, The biggest Social Security Scam, and other things

Mom received a forwarded message today.  It said that the Book of Revelation prophesied that the Anti-Christ would be a charismatic Muslim.  And then asked if Obama might be that Anti-Christ.  Then it suggested that the recipient forward the message to everyone they knew.  My reaction, after a string of swear words, was to note two things.  First, Obama is NOT a Muslim.  That story has been debunked repeatedly.  And his religion is irrelevant in any case.  Second, John wrote Revelation about FOUR HUNDRED YEARS before Muhammad was born.  I have read Revelation several times and I do not remember anything which could specifically describe anyone as a Muslim.  I said after 9/11 that Americans seemed to have lost their backbones and this message convinces me that nothing has changed, at least with some Americans.

To continue the ranting, here is a link I found by way of Me and the Cat this morning.  I think this opinion blogger has the situation about right.  To say that we are economically bankrupt, or nearly so, isn't saying nearly enough.  We are also morally bankrupt and the two go together.  Thank you Mark Morford of sfgate.  I couldn't say it better which is why I have linked to you.  I especially love the assessment that "America is apparently still being run by inbred white collar thugs who would blind their own mothers for an uptick in Exxon share prices."

By way of Entitled to Know an asinine suggestion from Robert Novak at the Washington Post.  Evidently the notion of cutting the Social Security taxes has floated around for some time.  Now, evidently, a McCain staffer told Novak the idea is 'no big deal.'  As noted by Entitled to Know, this is ironic considering the report by the trustees of the Social Security System that the fund will begin to run out of money by 2041.  So we should move up the date by slashing the taxes that sustain the system?  This whole argument burns me.  I have paid into the system for the last 40 years.  No one gave me a choice, which I think may not have been such a bad thing.  This particular tax was supposed to fund a system which would ensure that I would have at least a little something when I reached retirement age.  Perhaps not enough for me to quit work entirely but enough to at least provide a cushion. That was the bargain.  Since Saint Ronald, of not so pleasant memory, Conservatives have tried to convince me that this wasn't the bargain.  If it wasn't then give me back all I paid in plus interest.  But DO NOT sit there and tell me I am some kind of leach draining the life blood of the poor little generations who came after me.

Three rants are about all I can handle.  I think I will go get some breakfast and try to regain my equilibrium.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Economic Travails, Illusions

Courtesy of the guest blogger at Altercation here is a link to the Des Moines Register which has a very nice summation of why we are in the economic mess we are in and whose policies are responsible.  Few have summed it up better.  When President Bush extolled "compassionate conservatism" during the 2000 election campaign I thought it an oxymoron.  He has proven me right.  Now Senator McCain is telling us (last night's news sound bite) that he isn't going to bail any one, large or small, out of the mortgage mess.  Maybe he won't have to since the Fed has already injected over $200B worth of 'liquidity' into the biggest banks,  "facilitated" JPMorgan's acquisition of BearSterns, and slashed interest rates over the last six months.  All the mortgage borrowers have gained is the slight encouragement that the Administration has given to voluntary measures to restructure some mortgages for those few the banks think worthy.  Our own version of the Victorian notion of the "deserving poor."

During my jaunt through the blogosphere a couple of days ago I found an interesting post.  I wish I could remember where it was so I could link it.  The author said that the famous photo of the enthusiastic Iraqi crowd pulling Sadam's statue down was actually staged.  If it was I am not surprised.  It would be part of the illusions that define our lives in the 21st century.  I am reminded of the premise behind Daniel Boorstein's book "The Image."  We live in a world of 'pseudo-events.'  The event we see on the news may be a spontaneous happening or it may be a created event presented for a specific purpose.   It doesn't matter if the 'image' is real, or if the definition fits.  All that matters is that people who get their information from the image or the sound bite think it fits.  We were told that the Iraqis would welcome us as liberators and, behold, there is an image reinforcing that story.  We have been told that Obama is a Muslim, at heart if not in fact.  That notion is still hanging on in the mainstream media no matter how often it has been debunked by others in the same media.  Since it doesn't have the punch the conservative pundits had hoped for, now we are bombarded with the notion that he is a flawed Christian infected by a rabid black pastor who hates America with anti-American notions.  I think I have heard this before somewhere around 1960.  But what no one can tell me is why McCain isn't similarly infected by white pastors who claimed America got what it deserved on 9/11 because we tolerate homosexuality, abortion and any number of other heinous sins.  

Crabby Old Lady on Time Goes By today has some very cogent thoughts on the Michigan/Florida primary flap that has been eclipsed by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright issue.  It ties into the above notion of the illusory nature of our society.  Senator Clinton has tried to frame the debate in the terms of democracy denied.  The poor voters in those two states are not being allowed to exercise the basic rights of citizens in a democracy and it is all the fault of the Obama campaign.  Let's label this as the hogwash it really is.  The party leaders in Michigan and Florida decided to move up their states' primaries hoping to cash in on the media attention.  They did so against the rules set down by the National Democratic Party months before.  They did so having been warned by the Party that the delegates chosen in any primary moved from its original date would not be seated in the convention.  Senator Clinton now tries to take a 'high' road after having taken the ethically dubious actions of campaigning in states whose primaries would not count and leaving her name on the ballots in those same states.  Her stance is nothing but amoral opportunism.

Wolfrum at Shakesville has a point on the Nader campaign I hadn't thought of and think is very well made.  It also ties into the problem I have had with the Democratic Party for long time now even though I generally, in national elections, vote Democratic.  There is not a penny's worth of difference between the Republicans and the Democrats in most of the issues that matter to me.  Reading the positions Wolfrum gleaned from Nader's campaign site I don't see one I would disagree with.  And they are positions we don't get from the candidates of either party.  Senators Clinton and Obama merely represent the lesser of the evils.  But they are only marginally better than McCain.  Perhaps that is why significant numbers of Obana's and Clinton's supporters would rather vote for McCain if their candidate doesn't get the nomination.  As some other bloggers have noted, even on Iraq  the stated policies of the three candidates are not significantly different.  All see a significant American presence in Iraq well past inauguration day.  Perhaps it is time for the Democrats to see the advantage of neutralizing the potential impact of Nader's campaign by adopting his positions?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Global Warming, Gendered Medicine, Credit Squeeze--OH MY!!

From Altercation at Media Matters today a link to the NY Times story that James Hansen may be raising our President's and VP's temperature again.  Hansen and his co-authors say that the safe limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was actually passed in the 1980s.  Oh, well!!  I am not really surprised by this.  I have long thought that, if global warming is real, by the time we recognized it on a societal and political level AND decided what to do about it we would have already passed the tipping point.  I do believe that humans have impacted the world's environment adversely, including global warming, but on so many fronts that focusing on global warming alone is not likely to improve the human condition enough.  We hear about global warming but the drought in Atlanta made news for barely a week.  We have heard very little about the sustained drought in the west.  We have heard about the rise in food prices but nothing about crop failures in the central Asian countries.  

Bitch Ph.D has three links concerning women's health.  One goes to an account of a Bush Administration spokesperson claiming that doctors shouldn't be forced to make healthcare decisions for patients that goes against their (the doctors') consciences.  Another that claims that 33% of women will have a hysterectomy before age 60 and that most don't need one.  And the third goes to a UN report that US racism is a serious problem for women.  Given the study featured on the ABC Nightly news last night sexism is also.  They found that doctors when faced with a male and a female patient with equally serious knee problems will advise more of the male patients to have knee replacements. I can only imagine what the discrepancies would be it the females were also black or hispanic.  Last night the ABC local news included a story about the court battle some Illinois pharmacists are waging to overturn the Governor's order that prohibits them from refusing to fill prescriptions on the basis of their moral beliefs.  There was an editorial cartoon several years ago showing a pissed off pharmacist pointing to a sign which said that he was required by law to fill prescriptions for the 'morning after pill.  The woman customer, noting the ads for Viagra and other such medicines the pharmacist also provided,  remarked that that was fair since they supply the 'night before' pills.  Is there a connection between doctors who don't suggest knee replacement surgery for their women patients when they would for their male patients AND doctors who don't even consider heart disease for women patients when it is routine to consider it for male patients AND pharmacists who somehow think their consciences should dictate what drugs they will provide to which patients?  Gee, ya think??  

MarketWatch today had an interesting quote from some financial genius at Citibank.  Investors should, they say, "avoid companies and countries that have grown to rely too much on borrowed money." The bottom line is that "Leveraged banks must lend less, leveraged consumers must consume less, leveraged companies must acquire or invest less, and leveraged speculators must speculate less."  Since that includes most banks, most consumers, most companies and most speculators, I would say the economy is in a world of hurt and no one has any notion of how to stop digging and making the hole we are in deeper.  For the last ten years a recurring question over our morning coffee in this household has been "What happens to a consumer driven economy when the consumer can't (or won't) consume any more?"  A related question on our drives around town has been "Who is buying these mini-mansion houses that are sprouting like mushrooms and how are they able to finance them?"  I don't think I have to spell out the answers

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Politics and Economics. Can anything be more dismal?

Here is a couple of places I have visited today that I thought I would share.  Now I will go on and visit some more sites.  Will come back later if anything interesting pops up.

Crabby Old Lady at Time Goes By covers just about all the bases on the problem with politics generally, and the Presidential primary races in particular.  Go here for the details.  I can't express it better.  I will add that I have been disillusioned for many years with the pie-in-the-sky promises politicians make just to get elected and then ignore when they are elected.  I would much rather hear someone tell me honestly what they think we need and that they will try to get a program passed to address the issue. If I agree with them I will vote for them. If not, not.  I am tired of being pandered to.  I wish they would be humble enough to acknowledge that they are not running for Savior.  

Dean Baker at TPM Cafe asks the fundamental questions concerning the sub-prime mortgage mess.  What ever happened to the notion of a 'free market'?  

"With so many people on all sides of the political spectrum desperately seeking the government’s help, those of us in the sidelines have to ask: “whatever happened to the free market?” 

We remember all those lectures about how important it is to remove protective barriers for U.S. manufactured goods like steel, cars, and textiles. The smart people who teach economics and write newspaper columns and editorials told us repeatedly how U.S. workers would just have to adjust to the global economy. If they couldn’t make a living doing what they were doing, then they would have to either learn a new skill or work at the minimum wage in a fast food restaurant. Protectionist barriers were bad for the economy and therefore out of the question.

They gave a similar story when it came to welfare reform back in the mid-nineties. Mothers receiving welfare were told that they had to learn to work for a living. While there were promises of work supports in the form of child care, health care, and housing assistance, the government never seemed to have enough money to be able to provide the working poor with a decent standard of living.

But, now that the people who are hurting are the Wall Street financial types -- people who make tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions, a year -- the government cannot possibly move fast enough to rescue those in need. They want the government to write blanks checks that could even exceed a trillion dollars (who would even ask about a price tag at a time when so many rich people’s finances are at stake?) to keep the richest people in the country from losing their shirts due to their own incredible negligence and stupidity in managing the country’s largest financial institutions."

Some time ago one of the bloggers I read regularly (sorry I don't remember which one or I would cite by name) described the situation as one of capitalism for the masses and socialism for the bankers, or big corporations, or whichever elite you care to name.  I for one have no great sympathy for the bankers and financial institutions who have lost big on this gamble.  I feel some sympathy for some, but not all, of the homeowners who are caught in this mess.  There were many who were just plain greedy, who engaged in flipping properties, or who looked at the acquisition of a house as an investment to be cashed out as quickly as possible. But from my own past experience as a home buyer I know it is very easy for a borrower to get caught up in situations they don't really understand and don't realize they don't understand.  And I found out that even the nicest and most ethical of real estate agents are not to be completely trusted.  After all their interests are not completely coincident with they buyer's.  So far however, the few plans that deal with the pain of (the few 'worthy') homeowners about to lose their homes would allow some of them to stay in their homes but give the banks absolution for their part in creating this mess.