Friday, September 25, 2009

Who Owns Congress?

by Sen. Bernie Sanders
Independent U.S. Senator from Vermont

Over a year ago, we suffered the most significant financial collapse since the Great Depression, and the result of that is massive unemployment and underemployment. People lost their savings. People lost their homes. Now, despite the greed and illegal behavior of Wall Street, there is a massive effort to make sure that Congress does nothing about it. You know what? That might end up being the result.

How does it happen that Wall Street was able to convince Congress to deregulate their industry, to be in a position to bring the economy down? How does it happen that they are able to fend off serious efforts in Congress to try to re-regulate the financial institutions to protect the American people? Here's the answer: In the last 10 years, Wall Street and big financial institutions have spent over $5 billion in campaign contributions and in lobbying activities. It doesn't matter whether you are a Democrat or a Republican; if you have any influence they are going to go after you.

How is it that we pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs? How does that happen that we are the only country on earth that doesn't in one way or another regulate the cost of drugs to prevent the reality that when you walk into the drug store tomorrow the price you are paying may in fact be doubled. It may have something to do with the fact that since 1998 the pharmaceutical industry has spent over $1.6 billion on lobbying and they employ over 1,100 lobbyists -- more than two lobbyists for every member of Congress.

What about health care? How is it that we are the only country in the industrialized world that does not have a national health care plan guaranteeing health care to all people? How is it that in the health care bill that's now being debated in the Finance Committee the private insurance companies and the drug companies are doing pretty well? Might it have something to do with the fact that since 1990, the health care industry has spent over $850 million dollars in campaign contributions?

Why is it that we have record breaking defense budgets despite the end of the Cold War? Well, over the last decade the defense industry has spent more than $447 million on lobbying and made $144 million in campaign contributions.
Big Oil is the same story. Exxon-Mobil makes record-breaking profits. Working people pay very high prices at the gas pump. Do you think that has something to do that the oil and gas industry has spent more than $830 million dollars on lobbying and $240 million in campaign contributions over the past two decades?

On and on it goes. The reality of Washington, to a very significant degree, is that those people who have the money are able to influence public policy. Big money controls the agenda. If you don't have the money, you get to the end of the line.
That's the reality today. It could get worse. Right now, the Supreme Court is considering a case that could be used to open the coffers of all the big corporations to directly fund campaign ads in this country. So you would not just be dealing with political action committees and lobbyists, you would have to deal with the treasuries of large corporations.

This is a huge issue. The antidote, in my view, is public funding of elections so that everybody has the opportunity to run for office without having to be beholden to powerful special interests. We have begun to see progress at the statewide level. But if you are concerned about public policy in general in this country, health care, the environment, whatever it may be, we have got to pay attention to the power of big money.

Read more at:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Stuff that Really Demonstrates Republican Hypocrisy

Another Gem from Driftglass

Palin Hong Kong Speech Blames Government For Financial Crisis; Some Walk Out In Disgust

HONG KONG — Former U.S. vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, criticized for her lack of foreign policy experience, emerged in Asia on Wednesday to share her views from "Main Street U.S.A." with a group of high-flying global investors.

In her first trip to the region, the former Alaska governor addressed an annual conference of investors in Hong Kong in what was billed as a wide-ranging talk about governance, economics and U.S. and Asian affairs.

Two US delegates left early, according to AFP, with one saying "it was awful, we couldn't stand it any longer." He declined to be identified."I'm going to call it like I see it and I will share with you candidly a view right from Main Street, Main Street U.S.A.," Palin told a room full of asset managers and other finance professionals, according to a video of part of the speech obtained by The Associated Press. "

And how perhaps my view of Main Street ... how that affects you and your business."Palin spoke out against government intervention in the economy. "We got into this mess because of government interference in the first place," Palin said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"We're not interested in government fixes, we're interested in freedom," she added....

She didn't refer to President Barack Obama by name, the Wall Street Journal reported, but said she called his campaign promises "nebulous, utopian sounding... Now 10 months later, though, a lot of Americans are asking: more government? Is that the change we want?"

Some attendees were disappointed by her focus on her home state and her attacks on President Obama."As fund managers we want to hear about the United States as a whole, not just about Alaska," one told AFP. "

And she criticized Obama a lot but offered no solutions."

More here

Where is the Media Outrage now??

Rich Lowry Suddenly in Favor of Criticizing American Presidents on Foreign Soil

By: Blue Texan via FDL

Here's Starburst Boy, after the Dixie Chicks said something mean about George W. Bush overseas, in 2003.

"What the Dixie Chicks forgot is that, as country singers, they might be "artists," but they're not entitled to the alienated self-righteousness assumed by most every other artist in the country."

"No, they are part of the Country Music Nation, the red-white-and-blue musical heart of America, where our enemies are evil, our cause is righteous, and comments critical of the commander in chief on foreign soil on the eve of a war are, uh, shall we say, not appreciated. "

And here's his reaction when his crush Sarah Palin gave a lengthy speech in Hong Kong in which she criticized Obama's handling of the current war in Afghanistan, his foreign policy, domestic policy, economic policy -- pretty much trashed his entire administration.

"Palin is an authentic, powerful voice of the populist right and in the speech she implicitly connects its call for limited government and sensible fiscal policy with America's role as a world power."

It's official: the "Country Music Nation" has changed its policy about criticizing white Republican commanders-in-chief overseas.

These people are abhorrent and not to be taken seriously.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Unjust for Men

From the drawing board of Driftglass
The Greendayman is feeling a lot like this these days... but there is not enough "Just for Men" in the Universe to fix our collective financial concerns.

Every year advertisers hire experts to crack open our skulls and get a good, clear look at the current state of our most secret mortal dreads and primal hungers. They do this because they are fucking evil, as the late, lamented Bill Hicks explains here (not remotely safe for work)

The one and only upside to Madison Avenue's relentless dredging of the American mind is that, if you happen to be interested in what is truly driving us at any given moment (and you know how to read the goat entrails of commercial culture) then it's all there, laid out for you like a Sunday brunch buffet.

Now the advertiser’s dark art has always been built on an offer of redemption through consumption; the promise of fantasies satiated or fears vanquished for the low, low, discount price of $19.99. This is the ocean we swim in, but even in the blasting glare of a million shiny lies clamoring for my attention, this particular “Just For Men” commercial really caught my eye:

for the way it ruthlessly plugs directly into the main transmission lines of male existential horrors that slithering just below the surface of modern American life.

You saw a 30 second commercial?

I saw a tiny, horror haiku built by Raymond Carver out of spare parts left over from

"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"

A brutal meditation on what awaits the unlucky at the played-out threadbare end of the American Dream.

Think of the vast, implied back-story of the guy in this commercial -- this American guy I’ll call Joe the Boomer -- who we meet at his darkest hour: backed into a savage corner from which he believes his only possibility of deliverance comes in the form of a magic potion which promises to claw him out of his shallow, middle-aged grave and back into a facsimile of youth.

As the failure Joe is today, something as basic as, say, a job interview in another city probably means standing in a mile-long line with hobos and teenagers, shambling in his paper airport security slippers through pat-downs at the hands of surly strangers, until he is unceremoniously crammed into a Greyhound Bus with wings on yet another leg of his desperate hunt for a job -- any job -- across a suddenly foreign and hostile nation.

Consider how different it was when Joe was his daughter's age; when he was a young white, middle-class God and America was his Mount Olympus.

To such a Young God in America, air travel was rare and adventurous; a rocket-ride through the heavens, eating sundaes dispensed by pretty ladies in short skirts and being awarded a pair of golden Junior Pilot wings from a Competent, Noble and Mighty silver-haired Captain at the end of his tour of the cockpit. (Girls got a “Junior Stewardess” pin.)

And as Joe the Boomer grew up, it was just assumed that coming of age white, male and middle-class in America meant becoming one of the Mighty Men. It meant a rewarding and prosperous life piloting a Great Nation through war and tribulation, through the end of a century and safely into his dignified retirement, while along the way, pretty ladies in short skirts brought him sundaes...and sex...and children...and gold-tinted, silver-haired companionship.

It meant growing up to be Jim Rockford, or to marry Suzanne Pleshette.

Or at least to travel a little way into the wild, wisdom grasses with that other Suzanne

where she would feed him tea and oranges
That come all the way from China.

But agribusiness efficiency experts with vinyl hair and Blackberries downsized all the flavor out of all oranges.

And it’s not tea anymore but teevees -- the same teevees that unemployed, obsolete Joe used to make until the factory was closed and the jobs moved overseas -- that now come all the way from China.

And now -- at the same age or a little older than the Mighty Men were when they bestrode his childhood -- Joe finds that instead of being the master of his own fate, he has become a peasant on someone else’s land and his dreams of a dignified retirement -- or of just keeping a roof over his head -- have been vaporized by the merciless, compound interest which failure can exact for even the smallest mistakes.

They have been frittered into confetti by young, dark-haired men who come from a far-away place called Wall Street and who are neither competent nor noble, but who nonetheless -- by some sick and incomprehensible alchemy -- now sit at the controls where Joe was supposed to be sitting. Who fly Joe's once-great nation ever deeper into an alien and inhospitable future, while pretty ladies in short skirts cater to their every whim and bring them everything they could ever want.

And of course, whatever bits of his American Dream the banksters didn't get have been shattered by divorce.

In the commercial, Mrs. Joe is obviously long gone: probably left Joe and his grandpa hair for a Wall Street kinda guy.

Joe played it all by the Rules of American Success so far as he knew them, and yet that life full of promise and the easy power of youth is gone with nothing to show for it and there is no longer enough time or strength left in his tank to chase it all back down.

Everything is gone.

Well, everything but the kid.

Shit, ten minutes ago she was teething and Joe was her Competent, Noble, Mighty hero; now she's his daughter-wife. While Joe can't even remember how to tie his own tie, his own child has turned into June Fucking Cleaver in tiny, faux-pearl earrings -- making mommy-faces and helping him slip the symbolic noose around his neck -- as they hide out together in a furnished duplex at the ass-end of his life.

Hide out, because right outside his door the monster that feeds middle-aged men like Joe into an emasculating abattoir is waiting to finish him off.

This is where the advertisers pick up Joe's story; at his moment of maximum humiliation and vulnerability, when his manhood and his identity as a father and husband hangs in tatters all around him.

Then ask yourself who it is that Joe cannot avoid seeing almost every day, and whose very existence rubs Joe's face in his own weakness and failure? Whose life is in every way the exactly opposite of Joe's; whose attractive, prosperous and not-at-all-fucked-up family just moved into the best house in the world while Joe sweats out his slide into penury and oblivion in a couple of furnished rooms as his daughter-wife looks on pityingly?

This Guy.

Late at night while his daughter sleeps on the couch in their rent-by-the-week duplex that's not much bigger than his first apartment, Joe watches his Chinese teevee and sees this black guy from Chicago with the sinister, foreign-sounding name
busy living the life that was supposed to be Joe’s.

Then, two channels away, sincere men who seem to understand and completely sympathize with Joe's problems sink shafts directly into the heart of Joe's worst nightmares and whisper to him that his deepest fears are all true. That the black guy from Chicago with the sinister, foreign-sounding really has stolen Joe's birthright. Really does intend to destroy what's left of Joe's country.

Really isn't even legally the President.

Because when measured out by the spoonful, the fears of millions of men like Joe can make a hair dye salesman rich.

But when laced with blood, sold raw and by the pound, and pointed in the right direction, those same fears can topple governments.

Which is exactly what those sincere men on Joe's Chinese teevee are betting on.

Public Service Announcement

Please help protect health insurance company profits.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

PhRMA’s Big Bribe Comes In by Matt Taibbi

The drug industry’s trade group plans to roll out a series of television advertisements in coming weeks specifically to support Senator Max Baucus’s health care overhaul proposal, according to an industry official involved in the planning.
via Drug Makers to Back Baucus Plan With Ad Dollars – Prescriptions Blog –

I’ve been completely out of the loop with the health care story these last week and half or so, out of touch actually with the entire earth (I’ve been on a deadline on another story), but upon returning to work today I began getting calls about some alarming maneuverings in congress. We’re apparently finally seeing delivery of the Big Bribe that President Obama and Rahm Emanuel extracted from that pharmaceutical industry in exchange for dropping drug-pricing reform in the health care bill.

To recap: PhRMA, the lobbying arm of the pharmaceutical industry, earlier this year announced that it would be setting aside $150 million to pay for an ad campaign supporting the President’s health care bill. The deal was apparently struck in July, after former Louisiana congressman and current PhRMA chief Billy Tauzin (Rod Blagojevich’s underdog opponent in the upcoming semifinal match of the Corrupt Scumbag of the Century So Far tournament) met with Rahm and other Obama aides in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Also in attendance were representatives of the usual panoply of awful medical corporations, including Abbott laboratories, Merck, and Pfizer. It was in this meeting that the White House agreed to sell out health care reform in exchange for a few bucks to fund the next couple of election cycles.

Tauzin, who has never been one for subtlety or finesse (he took his $2 million-a-year PhRMA job about ten seconds after he finished pushing through the Prescription Drug Benefit bill), stupidly later revealed some of the contents of that shady meeting, saying that the White House had “blessed” a plan involving the $150 million. He disclosed to reporters that he had extracted a promise from the White House to drop two important reforms: one, to allow the government to negotiate bulk rates for drugs in Medicare, and the other to permit the importation of cheap drugs from Canada (which was once an Obama campaign saw).

The only problem with this plan, from the White House’s side, was that not all of the president’s fellow Democrats played along. Specifically, Energy and Commerce chair Henry Waxman put a provision in his health care bill that allowed the government to negotiate lower rates. If Waxman’s language were to be allowed to survive, it would queer the White House’s deal.
So here’s what started happening to kill Waxman’s language. First of all, PhRMA started paying its bribe.

The $150 million it committed to support Obama’s bill is now being rolled out in pro-reform ads, which are being aired mostly in the districts of freshman congressmen. The ads are cheesy, half-hearted tripe blandly supporting the weak-as-fuck remnants of Obama’s health care plan, an example being this “Eight Ways Health Reform Matters To You” ad that salutes the end of coverage denials for those with pre-existing conditions.

Now we’re also seeing pressure from a group of freshmen and Blue Dogs, who have composed a letter to a quartet of House Committee chairs requesting that the Waxman language be removed from the health care bill and replaced with the PhRMA language, which happens to be the language the White House is pushing and which will appear in the Baucus bill in the Senate. The pro-PhRMA language retains the preposterous government subsidy to the pharmaceutical industry in the form of laws banning Medicare from negotiating market rates. It is completely useless and of no possible social benefit to anyone except pharmaceutical companies, but this group still managed to get 60 people to sign this letter.

What does this letter say? Does it argue that the PhRMA language is better for America than the Waxman language? Does it say it will cost taxpayers less and provide cheaper drugs to more people? Hilariously, no. What it says is that this PhRMA language, while worse than the Waxman language, is not quite so bad as you think (it doesn’t save as much as the Waxman language, but it still has a 50 percent price reduction, which isn’t terrible!). Moreover, the letter says, substituting this language will help the bill get passed! Here’s the actual language, addressed primarily to Waxman:
“Your efforts to remove this onerous burden on Medicare beneficiaries… are to be greatly commended. However the commitment by President Obama and the AARP to support legislation that would provide a 50 percent reduction is a dramatic step forward in helping fill the doughnut hole. Equally important, it moves us toward our goal of health care legislation.”
In other words, your attempt to put in a real reform is cool and all, but PhRMA has us by the balls, so help us out.

Interestingly, the congressmen who wrote the bill — former NFL bust Heath Shuler and Illinois Democrat Debbie Halvorson — did not post the letter on their web sites, which is very unusual. One guesses that they are not particularly proud of this particular bit of shameless whoring.
Progressives this week are fighting to accumulate the votes needed to stop any health care bill that doesn’t have a public option. Hopefull they can stop this PhRMA payoff as well. If you’ve got a phone, call your congressman and give him/her hell about this…

This fight on the Hill over health care is extremely interesting and also a very important moment in our history. It was somewhat accidental that the Democrats decided this year to even try this reform; it probably wouldn’t have happened had not a certain segment of their campaign contributors, most notably the major manufacturers like the auto companies, seen their businesses start to crater in part because of health care costs. That’s where the top-down momentum for actually doing something about our absurdly inefficient system probably came from.

So Obama gets elected and swoops into Washington with a big mandate and now the question for him becomes, how do I make all of my various sponsors happy? If you look at the proposals carefully you can see that the whole policy debate is shaped by this dynamic. What is consistently present throughout the policies favored by the White House is an effort to use tax money to subsidize the existing employer-based private system instead of doing the logical thing and taking the bite — for a bite had to be taken out of someone — out of the pharma and insurance industries.

As an added bonus for all of us, the “reform” will include individual mandates designed to significantly increase the insurance and pharma industry’s customer base. So in the end, what we’re looking at is a pair of handouts to corporate donors: tax subsidies to ease the cost of insurance for employers, and mandates to push more business to the health care industry.
On the road to trying to pull this appalling snow job off, however, the Obama administration has stumbled on opposition from both sides. Obviously it will be an enormous victory if progressives can somehow get passed a bill with a real public option and reform of drug prices. But failing that, it would be a very important achievement just to kill the bill entirely. It seldom happens that the public is awake and focused enough to have this kind of OK Corral confrontation with the DC oligarchy, and it has to take advantage.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rachel Maddow Features "Billionaires for Wealthcare"

By Heather via Crooks and Liars

The latest incarnation of the "Billionaire" meme, "Billionaires for Wealthcare" struck again this weekend, as Healthcare Inc. CEOs in tuxedos and gowns "thanked"Tea-baggers for coming out for Glenn Beck's March on Washington this past Saturday.

Tea-baggers eagerly joined in on Billionaire chants of "Bring Back Bush!" and “Fight Socialism! Abolish Medicare Now!”, but the greatest crowd pleaser (and provoker) of the day, was a stirring rendition oftheir original song "Let's Save the Status Quo" sung to the tune ofthe "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and memorably captured in this music video.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Notes on September 11th, 2001

Slouching Away from 9/11
By: Scarecrow via FDL

I don’t think historians will have any disagreement dating the long and painful death of America’s most cherished ideals from the events of September 11, 2001.

To be sure, America had experienced troubling eras many times before then, but it had always fought back. The nation's more precipitous decline came after that event. Nor do I think historians will blame America’s rapid moral decline on the handful of religious fanatics that shouted “god is great” as they crashed hijacked jets into the twin towers and Pentagon and murdered 3000 people. No, America’s heart-sickening fall from grace happened after that, in how it responded to the event by so easily abandoning every principle of enlightened governance that had made the country seem not just unique, but worth emulating.

Even in the wildest imaginings of Dick Cheney’s neocons, al Qaeda never possessed a tiny fraction of the power to challenge America militarily or economically. The idea that even a well organized and deranged band of murderous fanatics posed an existential threat to the most powerful nation on earth was always ludicrous. So when the nation unthinkingly responded to the 9/11 murders by foolishly declaring a “war on terror,” many Americans knew we were headed in the wrong direction.

It was reasonably predictable that a President with the maturity and judgment of a spoiled teen frat boy would lead the nation into revengeful but irrelevant responses. It was even more predictable that he and the arrogant faux warriors surrounding him would exploit the national shock by pulling out their list of “get evens” they’d always wanted to do if only they had the opportunity – and there it was, presented to them with no grownups in charge, no wise men or vigilant media asking “why are you doing this?” -- and a shocked nation willing to trust that whatever their leaders did was meant to keep them from being murdered by fanatics.
The President’s men set out to get even for god knows what personal inadequacies, because they’d always wanted to. And they did it, as the quintessential journalist of the time bragged, because he and the child-men he listened to needed to say, “suck on this.” We were led by 12-year-old idiots.

What we, or at least I, didn’t see coming was how relentlessly, efficiently and remorselessly Dick Cheney and his morally depraved henchmen would pull America into the “dark side.” I would never have imagined how easily they conditioned the American soul to first tolerate and then defend a regime that committed felony after felony, including some of the most notorious war crimes perpetrated by military victors on their captives.

The media freely helped in this immoral conditioning. It was so thorough that David Broder, the "Dean" of America’s journalists, who had opposed holding accountable those responsible for crimes while they were in office, pronounced that it would be unseemly for the subsequent Administration to hold them accountable when they were out of office, thus completing the destruction of any principle of accountability for the highest officers in the land. That the man was not hounded from his Washington Post tells us how thoroughly corrupt the official media has become.

The rule of law was now undermined, along with major pillars of the American Constitutional framework -- separation of powers, an accountable executive checked by Congress, limits on war powers, and restraints preventing the executive from suspending the most sacred rights against arbitrary government arrest and incarceration. Hundreds of years of legal tradition and precedent, much of it bought with blood, were now gone. Even a Supreme Court whose majority can't wait to overturn precedents chocked on that.

What is left of America is hard to see from these ruins. The news is dominated by mindless teabaggers, unchecked and relentless lying and town hall thugs. The worst are driven by gross stupidity and rage, encouraged by a cynical media and organized and directed by even more cynical interests willing to exploit the mob’s ignorance, racism and hatred. With the official media complicit or incompetent, there is no way to stop these man-made wildfires other than to hope they burn out before they lead to armed insurrections.
There are daily calls for rebellion and threats to the President’s safety, and the thuggery now infects the Congress with only a hypocritical veneer of official restraint. Without principled, courageous leaders on all sides condemning the breakdown, the nation can easily descend further.

I’m 65. I’ve lived through McCarthyism, racism and race riots, the civil rights movements, Berkeley in the 60’s, three assassinations, Nixon and Watergate. I helped kill some people in Vietnam and called in Medevacs for others, for no reason I can account for, and I’ve watched the American addiction to imperial adventures drag us into one quagmire after another. I lived and worked through the rise and neglect of environmentalism, Carter’s hapless energy wars and Reagan’s mindless wars against governance, science and rationality. I've watched the zealots of the nation's self-declared official religion become increasingly detached from reality and its humane commandments.

We managed to survive all that but paid a huge price; I've never seen America’s moral and legal foundations crumble as quickly as they have in the last decade. We are in a dark period of decline, and I don’t know whether we can fight our way out. But I know, deep in my gut, that America is more profoundly sick than ever in my lifetime, perhaps since the Civil War that so many seem anxious to threaten. It is seized with multiple cancers of unbridled greed, concentrated wealth, racism and fears, and governed by corrupt institutions that not only tolerate but facilitate hugely powerful interests in looting the nation.

We remain willfully ignorant of how we got to this point, while we argue about innocuous presidential speeches telling kids to stay in school -- they should be in the streets; it is their future being stolen. America’s once hallowed press, most of it not worthy of its guaranteed freedoms, acts as though they’re watching the games at the Coliseum, and perhaps they are.
Today’s America is threatened by cynical opportunists and dangerously ignorant people who believe it’s rational to buy as much ammunition as they can, because they wrongly believe a President who can’t rhetorically disarm his most disingenuous critics is about to seize their guns and destroy their country. They don’t understand it’s already gone, though it's not one they ever understood.

Insanity is loose in the land, and here we sit trying to counter the craziness by writing blogs.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different

by Chris Landreth, 2004 - via Driftglass
This Oscar®-winning animated short from Chris Landreth is based on the life of Ryan Larkin, a Canadian animator who, 30 years ago, produced some of the most influential animated films of his time. Ryan is living every artist's worst nightmare - having lost his ability to create and succumbing to addiction, he panhandles on the streets to make ends meet. Through the use of computer-generated characters, Landreth interviews his friend and colleague in an effort to shed light on his downward spiral. Some strong language. Viewer discretion is advised.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Robert Reich on the Public Option in 150 Seconds

Comparing the House Bill's Cost to the Baucus Proposal

By Ian Welsh

Emptywheel has crunched the numbers on the Baucus plan, and has come up with how much money it will leave families if they actually have to use the insurance for any significant health care problems.

Here are her numbers for a family of four earning 300% of the poverty levels or $66,150.

Federal Taxes (estimate from this page): $8,710 (13% of income)

State Taxes (using MI rates on $30,000 of income): $1,305 (2% of income)

Food (using "low-cost USDA plan" for family of four): $9,060 (13.5% of income)

Home (assume a straight 30% of income): $20,100 (30% of income)

Bad Max Tax: $20,610 (31% of income)

Total: $59,785 (89% of income)

Remainder for all other expenses (including education, clothing, existing debt, transportation, etc.): $7,215 (or 11% of income.

Now, the House bill stops subsidies at EXACTLY the same level, 400% of poverty level. We can use Emptywheel's numbers for all of this. The difference is that the House plan limits premiums to 10% of gross income at 300% (pg 137, pdf), and out of pocket expenses to $10,000 per family.
So that makes the House Tax: $10,000 + 6,615 = 16,615 or 25% of income (as opposed to 31%).

The difference between the House plan and the Baucus plan is $4,025. Total expenses are $55,7607, or The remainder for all other expenses is $11,240 or 17% of income.
It's not a meaningless difference, $4,025 a year is $335 a month. But it's not huge, either. (Note: see update at bottom of post.)

Now, one might say the real difference is that the House plan has a public option, which will drive down costs. At best that's questionable. I don't think so, neither does Taibbi, and neither do various other people. Yes, a good public option would, but the House plan has a crippled public option. I strongly expect that most people at 300% are going to be paying 10% of their income, because that's what insurance companies are going to charge them, since that's what they can charge them.

If you object to the Baucus bill because it will force families to buy insurance that will still financially cripple them, then there's little reason not to object to the House Bill for the exact same reason.

Update: Dave Johnson points out the following (which would be true of Marcy and my numbers):
It seems you want to deduct the $20K insurance premium from gross income before you calculate the federal tax, so fed tax shouldn't be $8710, it should be
$66,150 - 20,610 = 45,540 * 13% tax = $5920 tax.

The difference is $2,790 to both the Baucus and House plan numbers. Which is slightly better for both of them. I leave it to readers to decide if it's enough better to make either of them a good deal.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Barack Obama's Labor Day Speech to the AFL-CIO

Obama Reviews Basic Rights Labor Has Won Over the Years That Many of Us Take for Granted .

The "Selective Amnesia" of the Corporate Right

Stagnant Wages and Regulation of the Financial Sector

Manufacturing Gains and Education

Health Reform (Part 1)

Labor's Not the Problem, Labor is the Solution

Fired Up! Ready to Go!

It's On - Let's Join Keith and Try to Rid Our Country of the Most Destructive Force Against Democracy, Fox News.

Send Me Everything You Can Find About Glenn Beck
by Keith Olbermann via Daily Kos

I don't know why I've got this phrasing in my head, but: Find everything you can about Glenn Beck, Stu Burguiere, and Roger Ailes.

No, even now, I refuse to go all caps.

No, sending me links to the last two Countdowns with my own de-constructions of his biblical vision quality Communist/Fascist/Socialist/Zimbalist art at Rockefeller Center (where, curiously, he works, Comrade) doesn't count. Nor does sending me links to specious inappropriate point-underscoring prove-you're-innocent made-up rumors.

Keith Olbermann's diary :: ::

Tuesday we will expand this to the television audience and have a dedicated email address to accept leads, tips, contacts, on Beck, his radio producer Burguiere, and the chief of his tv enablers, Ailes (even though Ailes' power was desperately undercut when he failed to pull off his phony "truce" push).

This becomes necessary after this in order to prove various cliches about goose and gander, and to remind everybody to walk softly and carry a big popsicle, and most particularly to save this nation from the Oligarhy of The Stupid.

I keep wondering if somewhere somebody named Ollie Garhey thinks he's in charge now. Or, even more entertainingly and societally satisfying, if somebody named Ali Garhi does.
Despite the worn-out snark above, I am in earnest here.

More Here From Raw Story:

As Beck eyes more White House scalps, Olbermann declares war
By Daniel Tencer

“Send me everything you can find about Glenn Beck,” screams the headline of a Daily Kos diary posting by MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann.

The liberal pundit’s posting continued, “Find everything you can about [Fox News host] Glenn Beck, Stu Burguiere, and Roger Ailes.” Stu Burguiere is Beck’s producer; Roger Ailes is the president of Fox News.

Olbermann goes on to state that, on his prime-time news show Tuesday night, he will announce a hotline where viewers will be able to phone in tips about the controversial Beck and “his TV enablers” Burguiere and Ailes.

Olbermann’s declaration of war against Glenn Beck and the news network that hosts his show is a sign that the Van Jones controversy is not over simply because the White House’s green jobs adviser resigned over the weekend.

Olbermann himself admits that this is about Van Jones — and also about Beck’s own implied plan to continue his political campaign against White House staffers.

Jones resigned on Saturday night over partisan attacks surrounding his signature on a petition requesting an investigation into the possibility of US government involvement in the 9/11 attacks, and over a remark he made earlier this year, when he called Republicans “assholes.”
Jones is a co-founder of ColorOfChange, the activist group that launched a successful boycott of Beck’s program after he called President Barack Obama a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred of white people.” Although Beck had mentioned Van Jones in his programs prior to the boycott, it wasn’t until after he lost several dozen advertisers that his campaign to unseat kicked into high gear.

“Van’s resignation is the tragic result of a retaliatory witch-hunt by Glenn Beck and Fox News Channel,” Color of Change co-founder James Rucker told the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday. “Beck’s attacks against Van Jones haven’t been about finding the truth, they’ve been about changing the subject from his bigoted comments and continued race-baiting.”

And Beck doesn’t appear to be finished.

“Van Jones is the tip of the Iceburg [sic].As VJ has said:”personnel is policy”.Demand that the President DISAVOW EACH STATEMENT AND GROUP.CALL DC,” Beck Tweeted last week.
Another Twitter message to his followers last week read: Watch Dogs: “FIND EVERYTHING YOU CAN ON CASS SUNSTEIN, MARK LLOYD AND CAROL BROWNER. Do not link before burning to disc.”

Blogger David Weigel brought attention to Beck’s Tweets last week, and notes that Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor, is the Obama White House’s nominee to head up the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs; Lloyd is the chief diversity officer of the FCC, which regulates TV and radio; and Browner is an assistant to the president on energy and climate change issues.

As with Van Jones, the new targets appear to be at least partly personal for Beck. Lloyd, for example, is a known critic of the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine. From the 1940s until the Reagan administration, the Fairness Doctrine dictated that broadcasters using public airwaves must give equal time to opposing viewpoints. When Reagan repealed the Fairness Doctrine, it paved the way for the explosion in one-sided, right-wing talk shows, of which Beck is a part.
But re-instating the Fairness Doctrine could also affect left-wing news organizations, such as Air America or MSNBC, which may help explain why the Obama administration is opposed to bringing it back.

It isn’t only MSNBC’s Olbermann who is alarmed at a so-far successful campaign by one of the most radical TV personalities against the White House. Progressive activists are also upset with both the Beck campaign and the White House’s steadfast refusal to support Jones when he came under attack.

As Joe Garofoli writes in the San Francisco Chronicle:
The middle-of-the-night resignation Sunday of longtime Bay Area activist Van Jones as a White House environmental adviser left many progressives angry at the Obama administration for buckling to conservative criticism of Jones’ controversial past comments and actions.
The administration is losing not only one of the nation’s leading environmentalists, progressives say, but one of the few liberal voices with President Obama’s ear.

Supporters say the administration surely knew his background when they appointed Jones, the first African American to write a best-selling environmental book, as special adviser for green jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. In fact, agents interviewed at least one of his former supervisors in San Francisco - Eva Paterson - when the FBI vetted his appointment.

At the Firedoglake blog, Jane Hamsher writes:
If these groups, if these liberal leaders, let Jones just hang there while Glenn Beck pounds his chest and celebrates the scalp, we have no liberal institutions. What we have are a bunch of neoliberal enablers who have found a nice comfortable place in the DC establishment that they don’t want to jeopardize, a place on the new K-Street gravy train that they don’t want to lose. Dropping Van Jones from their rolodex is a small price to pay.

But other commentators view the link between the ColorOfChange boycott and the Van Jones resignation differently.

“Not for a second am I denying the recklessness of Beck’s words about the president,” writes David Zurawik at the Baltimore Sun. “But the link between Jones and ColorOfChange is enough of a connection to raise questions in my mind about the propriety of an organization co-founded by an adviser to the president organizing a boycott against a broadcaster who criticized that president. Does this not sound like something out of the Richard Nixon-Spiro Agnew White House for dealing with so-called enemies in the press?”

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Four From the Roof

I Dig A Pony (rooftop concert 1969)

Get Back

Don't Let Me Down

The One After 909

The State of Denial Has Zero Electoral Votes -- But It Seems to Be Winning

What's Up With This?? I think it's time we on the Left started exercising our 2nd amendment rights.

by Larry Gellman
Image by Darkblack

The Right Wing purveyors of hatred, fear, and anger have adopted a new strategy. Unfortunately, it seems to be working as well as their old one.

Until now, they have focused on spreading lies and distortions about President Obama. He is a socialist and a Nazi (an interesting combination) wants to kill granny. He wants to ruin our wonderful health care system -- which is working well for virtually no one under the age of 65. He wants to run up trillions in debt -- but Bush already did that. He wants to take away all our freedoms and liberties--but Bush already did that. He wants to take away our guns--but he let patriots bring assault weapons to a meeting where he spoke.

You know the drill and the litany. I thought it had gone about as far as it could go. But, as we've all learned, never underestimate the power of racism and hate.

Today we broke new ground. The haters on the Right are now basically saying that the election never happened. Obama didn't really win and he's not really our president. If he was really president, there would be nothing new or controversial about his desire to do a video address to school children regarding how important it is to study hard and stay in school.

George H.W. Bush did the same thing almost 20 years ago. He addressed school children and asked them to help him be a better president and no one complained or even batted an eye. That's because Poppy Bush was a real president and once someone is actually our commander in chief, there's nothing partisan or controversial about him asking anyone and everyone to help him do a better job.

But when Obama asked students to write him letters with advice regarding to how he could do a better job, he received a torrent of abuse from the Right calling it a blatantly partisan act. They are successfully demanding the schools not carry the speech and instructing parents to keep their kids home from school on Tuesday so their young ones will not be damaged by hearing directly from their president.

Ronald Reagan also addressed students before that and actually did try to promote his agenda. He lectured our kids regarding the merits of tax cuts. But you see Reagan was a real president, not a Black guy born in Kenya who never should have been allowed to run in the first place and therefore never really won.

Today, in perfect harmony almost as if they were singing in a choir, Right wing media superheroes Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michelle Malkin blasted Obama for his blatantly partisan effort to "indoctrinate" the minds of our children by talking to them about the importance of education. In unison, they called on all responsible true American parents to keep their kids home from school on Tuesday.
The rest of us Liberal fools are operating under the illusion that we had open and honest election where we were free to work hard for the candidate we preferred. But when elections are over, then the winner is the president of all of us for the next four years. The campaigning is over, the negativity is over, the mudslinging is over. We're all on the same team--particularly in times of war and financial crisis.

But due to his impostor status, Obama's policies are vigorously opposed regardless of his positions. When he alters his stimulus package to include Republican proposals for tax cuts, it's still "Obamanomics" and therefore it's bad. When the stock market goes up 50 percent and is higher six months in a row and three times as many Americans are optimistic about the future compared to a year ago -- that is in spite of Obama, not because of him.

When he adopts 82 Republican amendments to his health care reform plan and waffles on the public option, it's still "Obamacare" and therefore it's bad. Just put his name on it and oppose it. That way the facts don't matter. It's all about discrediting and bringing down the man.
Every president before Obama has had what they call a honeymoon period. It's a time when everyone gives the new guy a chance, pulls in the same direction, and prays that he will succeed. But every president before Obama was not Black.

We should have seen this coming. A year ago when the presidential campaign was nearing its end, issues like Obama's friendship with terrorists and racist ministers were being emphasized by some Republicans. Questions about his place of birth were also being stirred up by the same crowd.

After November it stopped for an instant. He was approved and sworn in as president without dissent. Even the most ardent Conservatives admitted that he was born in Hawaii. We stopped hearing about Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi and Reverend Wright. We had a new president and it was time to move on.

But a lot of folks just couldn't seem to shift gears. A few months ago, the Birthers (championed by "newsman" Lou Dobbs) reappeared with no new information but with more energy than ever--more than a year after they first raised the issue and dropped it due to lack of facts or proof.

This week, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer resurrected the names of Ayers, Wright, and Khalidi -- calling them the friends that Obama has learned from -- as he went on to explain (citing no facts of course) why his presidency is already a complete failure.
But this kerfuffle over the speech to students takes things to a new level. Some of us actually believe that Obama is the President of United States. When he asks adults or children to help him be a better president, it is not a partisan act unless you reject the notion that whether you voted for him or not, Obama is the president of all of us and will be for at least 3 1/2 more years.
But apparently in addition to being a socialist, a terrorist, a Kenyan, a Nazi, a granny killer, and like Hitler -- Obama is not even really our president. The whole thing was just a big liberal lie -- a huge mistake. He's just a pseudo-president or someone who wants to be president some day. Otherwise all these charges and concerns are bogus on their face.

Meanwhile, dozens of school districts around the country have succumbed to pressure from Right wing parents and decided that a speech to all American students will not be carried in their schools on Tuesday. If you really believe that Obama is the President of the United States, how do you make that call?

I guess that Rush, Sean, Glenn, and Michelle are the true leaders of our country. Or at least they are able to call the shots in an environment where anger and fear reign and truth, justice, and the American way have become empty words.

The State of Denial (population--millions and growing) has zero electoral votes but it seems to have won the election. Unless, of course, the rest of us demand a recount.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Real Canadians Talking Real Healthcare

Atlas Farted

by Brady Bonk
via KIAV
(yep - that's Ayn Rand)

Among the many entries in my gratitude journal, were I to actually keep one, the following is up near the top: I am thankful that Ayn Rand’s vile influence did not ruin me.

I read the Atlas Shrugged when I was like 12 or something. What can I say. Dagny Taggart was hot. I think this is the way it happens for a lot of these Robbie Goulds walking around out there. I think they read the Atlas Shrugged, I think they pop a boner over Dagny Taggart, and, in that highly suggestible state, I think they take in all of Ayn Rand’s bullshit as truth.

A caller on the Ed Schultz Show this afternoon reminded me of this. He was whimpering on the phone about how “government-run” health care paid for by others was “immoral.” Rand’s “philosophy” permeates throughout, hiding its acidic, destructive nature.

Understand this: When you put your trust in the ideas of Ayn Rand, you are trusting the ideas of a person who thought that if a woman were President of the United States, holding the position would wreck her psychologically. I am not making this up. Rand argues that “the essence of femininity is hero worship,” or the “desire to look up to a man.” Because the Executive is the highest office in the land, she argues, a “rational” woman would find the position of President to be “unbearable.”

(Of course, your average Robbie Gould probably is going “Yeah? So? What’s wrong with that?”)
Rand spent her formative years in St. Petersburg, Russia. She was 12 when the Romanavs’ heads rolled. The commies took her daddy’s pharmacy. So yes, of course she was destined to create a “philosophy” that essentially says that it’s okay to be an asshole.
It is ironic, though, that Rand spent an entire career railing against yet another thinker who had big ideas that looked really good on paper but never actually work in practice.
In the meantime, it is we, the liberals, who are in actuality the pragmatic thinkers; we, who have actually in reality created programs that have actually worked.

You’ve seen it just recently: “Cash for Clunkers.”
‘Clunkers’ program gives biggest boost to foreign carmakers
Clunker deals also boosted Ford and GM

Wait. I guess it wasn’t a boon to all of the car companys: Chrysler To Report 15% Drop In August Sales Due To Low Inventory

Sorry Chrysler. You snooze, you lose.

Or, more generally, from the stimulus:
U.S. Economy Gets Lift From Stimulus
Pending Sales of Existing Homes in U.S. Rose in July

It is time for the rabid free-market goons to go away. They are ruining it for the rest of us. I have said it before, and I need precious little excuse to say it again: Ayn Rand’s books should be wrapped in brown paper and kept behind the counter, not to be sold to any person younger than 35.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bi-Partisanship is Hurting Democrats

By Mugsy

After the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy last week, a parade of Republicans lined up to bemoan how his departure could spell the end of bi-partisanship in the Senate with regards to the healthcare bill. Because, as we all know, “bi-partisanship is a one-way street in Republicanland”.
To the public, “compromise shows weakness”. The implication is that if you are willing to compromise on your core-beliefs, then they couldn’t of been that important to begin with. President Obama keeps compromising on what “Healthcare Reform” actually means, and repeatedly gets nothing in return. Not only does he not win any Republican support, but he loses public support. When Republicans demand “bipartisanship“, what they’re REALLY demanding are “concessions” from Democrats. How many principles can you name that Republicans have budged on when it comes to healthcare reform? Democrats have moved from “Single-Payer” to “the public option”, and a number of prominent Republicans even reject the wholly inadequate “co-op” compromise if it involves “government backing” in any way, shape or form (the only way a co-op could even begin to influence healthcare costs).

What have Republicans offered to compromise on? Please tell me. It’s not “bipartisan” if only one side is making all the concessions. (a satirical op/ed on The Huffington Post last week claiming “President Obama plans to switch Parties because it is the only way to get Republican support” is funny because it is almost plausible.) How does a 40% minority in the House & Senate control the debate over ANYTHING?

It is frightening to think that, after the eight-year disaster of the Bush Administration, this country could have voted for another Republican President to replace him. Had Sen. McCain of not torpedoed his own campaign by picking a more competent running mate, the election night results could very well have been a nail-bitter reminiscent of “Bush v Gore” in 2000. If George Bush had been a Democrat that “failed to prevent the attacks of 9/11″, “failed to protect a major American city from Hurricane Katrina” that resulted in “dead bodies floating in the streets” (I’ve linked to the photos in the past if you need a refresher), mired the country in two wars that are costing the country $864Billion dollars a year (May 2009 pdf) with no clear path to victory, and an economic collapse not seen since the Great Depression, there is NO WAY Democrats could have retaken the White House last November.

Think about that for a moment. President Clinton handed George Bush a balanced budget, a National Debt that was smaller than it was when he took office in 1993. and the strongest post-WWII economy the country had seen in over 50 years. Eight years later, President Bush handed Barack Obama an economy that was a total basket-case, having doubled the National Debt, all three of the Big-Three automakers (GM, Ford & Chrysler) all on the verge of bankruptcy, a $750 Billion dollar bailout of Wall Street designed to do nothing but put off the problem until Bush left office, rising unemployment, not to mention two costly wars… and STILL the election could of gone either way. Astounding.

President Obama and the Democrats keep compromising on their principles, and get nothing in return… less actually… losing public support while the Republican opposition appears to be “standing up for their principles” and threatening to “retake Congress” in the next election. Bill Maher put it best when he said “it is time for President Obama to start acting like George Bush“, who didn’t give a crap about being “bipartisan” or spend one minute worrying about what the Democrats want. They called a 52% election night victory “a mandate” that gave them the right to ram their agenda through with fewer votes than we have now. And when Democrats in the Senate complained, Republicans threatened “the nuclear option” to take away their right to filibuster.

Did ANY of that hurt John McCain’s chances of being elected President? I don’t even remember it being an issue. Stop compromising and stand up for what you believe in. The voters will still respect you in the morning. FAR more than they respect people that hold no principle so dear they won’t sell it out.

A Specific Plan to Win Control of Health-Care Reform Back from the Crazies:

by Peter Dreier and Marshall Ganz via Unfogged
image by Plante

First, it must concentrate on winning support for a specific bill that incorporates the key principles Obama has been advocating: universal insurance coverage, no denial of coverage for preexisting conditions, the public option and controls on exorbitant drug and insurance industry costs. The Limbaugh loyalists know what they are against. But Obama and his allies have to be clear about what they are for.

Challenging the right wing's framing of the issue, Organizing for America and the activist groups need to recruit volunteers to reach out to friends, neighbors and especially the "undecided" public with the same urgency, energy and creativity that they showed in the election.

Second, the campaign must focus attention on the insurance companies that are primarily responsible for the health-care mess. This means organizing public events across the country that can articulate Americans' frustrations with the current health insurance system and polarize public opinion against the insurance companies and their allies.

Americans who are paying the price of our failure to act -- people who lost family members because they were denied coverage for preexisting conditions, people who can't afford health insurance and fear that a medical emergency would wipe them out, families who went bankrupt and lost their homes because of out-of-pocket medical expenses, and businesses that suffer because of the high cost of insurance for employees -- need opportunities to publicly confront those responsible for their plight. It is time to put human faces on the crisis by contrasting their stories with the insurance companies' outrageous profits and top executives' exorbitant salaries and bonuses.

This requires "movement" tactics, from leaflets, vigils and newspaper ads to nonviolent civil disobedience -- such as occupying insurance company offices and picketing the homes of insurance executives -- to focus attention on the companies and individuals who are the major obstacles to reform. As long as the real source of the problem remains faceless (or can hide behind seven conservative Democratic senators), the right remains free to demonize "big government" rather than greedy corporations.

Third, the campaign must educate constituents of the Baucus caucus about their senators' political and financial dependence on the insurance industry and other opponents of reform. They need to ask these conservative Democrats: Which side are you on? If they won't support real reform, they should know that a primary challenge is likely.

When Crazy Meets Money

by David Seaton

So now we are being told that president Barack Obama is Adolph Hitler... just like Saddam Hussein, Ahmadinejad or (fill in name of whosoever the American right wants to bomb at the moment).
They want to talk about Hitler? Lets talk about Hitler.
According to John Tolund, who most experts consider Hitler's definitive biographer, as early as 1918 German army doctors had diagnosed Hitler as a "psychopath with hysterical symptoms". How did someone literally insane go so far?

It happened because Germany's top industrial families were so terrified of the communists in the context of the then collapsing German economy that they thought that the the triumph of the weird and wacky Hitler, the failed watercolorist from Vienna with his campy brown shirts, would favor their interests.

You could say that their bet paid off: although Germany was burned to the ground in WWII and perhaps 8.5 million Germans died, most of the great German industrial fortunes of the 1930s are still great fortunes today. If the communists had carried the day in Weimar Germany, quite possibly today's Krupps and Thyssens might be bussing dishes on the Ku'damm and sleeping rough in the Tiergarten... an outcome they were naturally eager to avoid.
From Germany's industrial oligarchy's -- albeit minority -- point of view, backing Hitler and destroying Germany was a reasonable business decision. Who knows, perhaps, America's "good and the great" may be taking similar decisions today in order to defend what they, quite correctly, see as their interests, which perhaps are not the same interests as those of most of the rest of us.

Is the "Obama = Hitler" really crazy stuff? You betcha. But the crazy part is not the real story because for historical reasons, due to its origins as a refuge for religious eccentrics, the United States has always had much more than its share of crazies. Sinclair Lewis and H. L. Mencken had endless fun exposing America's deep vein of primitive weirdos. America treasures its crazies, they make us unique. Crazy is not the story. The story is the money. The question today is to determine who is paying for this particular campaign of organized insanity aimed at leaving America without a health plan. Way back in May of 2007 I posted about the opening of a "Creationist Museum" in Kentucky that cost a cool $27,000,000, I entitled the post "High Rolling Holy Rollers with a Big Bank Roll". This snippet from my old post is relative to today's story:
One of the essential roots of American culture from the earliest days has been religious nonconformity and even religious manias. (...) What distinguishes today's holy rollers is the money they are finding to express themselves with. Traditionally these people, by definition uneducated refugees from a Flannery O'Connor short story, have always been dirt poor and outside the system. The $27m that this creationist museum cost is the real novelty here. Where is all the dough coming from for this "know-nothing Disneyland"?

For sure this campaign against health care is costing a lot more than the creationism museum and it is doubtful that it is being financed by the "widow's mite" of those whom Chris Rock so pungently described as "Broke-ass white people, livin' in a trailer home, eatin' mayonnaise sandwiches, fucking their sister, listening to John Cougar Mellencamp records..."So here is the real job for America's investigative journalists and political junkies: cherchez l'argent... follow the money. History hinges on the money trail.