Friday, March 19, 2010

Dr. Sardonicus

From Ryan Grim at Huffington Post, we learn the welcome news that H.L. Mencken has returned to us in the corpus of Alan Grayson:
Sarah Palin, the former half-term Governor, current-nothing and future-even-less, charmed the all-Republican audience with her folksy folksiness and her homespun homespunnery. Atypically, Palin was wearing clothes that she had paid for herself. At the end of the event, she shared her recipe for mooseface pie.

In response to Palin's attack on Rep Grayson, Grayson actually complimented Palin. Grayson praised Palin for having a hand large enough to fit Grayson's entire name on it. He thanked Palin for alleviating the growing shortage of platitudes in Central Florida. Grayson added that Palin deserved credit for getting through the entire hour-long program without quitting...

When asked to comment about what effect Palin's criticism might have, Grayson pointed out, "As the Knave's horse says in Alice in Wonderland, 'dogs will believe anything.'" Earlier, as the Orlando Sentinel reported, Grayson said, "I'm sure Palin knows all about politics in Central Florida, since from her porch she can see Winter Park," which is part of Grayson's district...

"I look forward to an honest debate with Governor Palin on the issues, in the unlikely event that she ever learns anything about them," Grayson added...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Lead Role in a Cage?

I'm worn down, and not because Dennis Kucinich gave in. At this point the POS would be worth passing for only 2 reasons:

1) it would piss off the Republicans and all their little ignoramus tools, and
2) it will give us a starting point to create an actual health care reform program.

Personally, I'm too desperate for some glimmer of light to give in totally to cynicism, but I fear that the miserable display of "courage" the Dems have treated us to this past year is a preview of what we have to look forward to in the fight to make something out of this pig's ear. That fight is going to be hard and ugly and there will be no glory in it and so it will probably be lost. I hope I'm wrong. But if we end up in 2012 looking back on 4 years' worth of Mitch McConnell's harpy shit splatted over every decent thing that the party of Phineas attempted, I won't be a bit surprised. And it will be a long time before Jason and the fucking Argonauts arrive.

The POS As It Stands Right Now

Now, a look at what we are going to get.
President Barack Obama is preparing a final push for a health care overhaul and is expected to announce a plan on Wednesday to move the ambitious legislation forward without support from opposition Republicans. Last week he announced what he wanted in legislation to bridge differences with bills passed by the House of Representatives and Senate. On Tuesday Obama listed some Republican ideas that he said he was considering. Here is a summary of his proposals and the Republican ideas he is exploring:


...state-based insurance exchanges similar to the proposal in the Senate-passed bill...(no) public option...Office of Personnel Management to negotiate with private insurers to provide multi-state health plans on the exchanges.


(No) 5.4 percent surtax on high-income households...(will) raise the Medicare tax on high-income earners to 2.9 percent from 2.35 percent (and) impose a new 2.9 percent Medicare tax on some investment income for high-income people....

...modifies the proposed Senate tax on high-cost insurance plans (which) would kick in on plans costing $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for family plans (beginning in) 2018 rather than 2013...also provides higher tax thresholds for firms that have higher costs because they employ mostly women or older workers (and) higher thresholds for high-risk professions such as firefighters.

...increases proposed new assessments on brand-name pharmaceuticals to raise $23 billion over 10 years...(starting in) 2011.

...closing a tax loophole on a cellulosic biofuels credit to prevent it from being used for a paper processing byproduct...clarify "economic substance" tax rules on investment transactions and raise penalties on transactions that have no economic purpose except to avoid paying taxes.


...A family of four earning as much as $88,000 a year would receive federal assistance in paying for healthcare costs.

...close the so-called "doughnut" hole in Medicare prescription drug 2020...


...young adults up to the age of 26 (can) stay on a parent's health insurance plan. ...insurers would be barred from dropping people from their health plans. When exchanges begin operation in 2014, insurers would be barred from excluding people for pre-existing conditions and setting annual and lifetime coverage limits. The Department of Health and Human Services would get new authority to help states review annual premium rate increases.


...individuals (are required) purchase health insurance. (No) employer mandate...(modified) fees on those uninsured companies with employees receiving subsidized health policies on the exchange...Small firms with fewer than 50 employees would be exempt...a tax credit is provided to encourage small companies to offer health coverage to workers.


...medical professionals be engaged to conduct undercover investigations of healthcare providers to reduce waste and fraud in Medicare and Medicaid.

Increase proposed grants to states for demonstration projects to resolve medical malpractice disputes and curb the need for lawsuits...

Increasing doctor reimbursements for Medicaid patients...

...expand health savings accounts used in conjunction with high-deductible health plans (in) proposed new insurance exchanges...
Add to all this the Senate anti-abortion language, which is less onerous than Stupak, but still ridiculous; allowing insurance companies to charge twice as much for premiums to older consumers; allowing insurers to exclude adults with pre-existing conditions for another 4 years (doing so to children would be barred); and allowing insurers to charge families of 4 with incomes over $88,000 yr. pretty much whatever they like for premiums and out-of-pockets, and you've got a real win-win, eh? So long as you have the same insurance policies as the House and Senate, anyway. And how will they rein in the insurers to make premiums and costs affordable? The President's plan itself tells you:
The House and Senate health insurance bills lower premiums through increased competition, oversight, and new accountability standards set by insurance exchanges.
See there? Increased competition, the lifeblood of the free-market, which is a totally acceptable model for a system meant to save lives, so long as those lives are worth more than the stockholders' shares. The exchanges, which will be state, not national, will take care of it for you. So whether you get a good deal or not depends on the compassion of your state leaders and their intimacy with the regional Chambers of Commerce. Now I know you feel better.

A Re-Cap of the Progress of the POS: 9/09-11/09

First, a re-examination of the mess we got ourselves into.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What IS Affordability?

So now attention is being been paid to the Senate Finance Committee memo linked to in The New Republic by Jon Cohn. In 4 mildly-worded pages, it lays out a fantasist's idea of health insurance affordability that only cossetted, in-the-tank boneheads like Max Baucus and his ilk (which is to say, your average well-insured legislator) could find “affordable”. The maximum premium cap laid out in this plan is 13.9% of income. Bear this in mind for later.

But the best thing about it is that it begins to quantify what has heretofore been merely a slogan. What does affordability mean?

There has been no secret about the model on which these changes would be crafted; it's the Massachusetts Mess, and a simple exercise worked out on its convenient Commonwealth Connector website offers anyone who wants it, the opportunity to be a Bay Stater for a moment. A moment, I'd add, that once past, you will wake from in sweaty terror, clinging in sheer relief to the knowledge that you are free from that nightmare, for the nonce at least. Let's take a look at what the plan offers to an older couple not yet ready for Medicare, making a decent but not excessive living of about $86,000 per year.

First, we know the couple will not be eligible for Commonwealth Care, which is basically a public option, because it is only open to couples making less than $43,716 per year. We also know, from using the handy “affordability tool”, that our couple makes $1000 per year too much for subsidies, and so is considered fair game for any insurance plan offered. (Better hope your income doesn't vary from year to year, or the headaches won't be the kind your prescription drug plan can fix.) So let's go straight to the private insurers.

The plan offers 3 levels: bronze, silver, and gold, just like Olympic medals. See that? Don't you already feel like a winner? First, be aware that out of pocket spending in all plans is limited, to a mere $10,000 per year. Whew! Dodged a bullet on that one, eh?

Let's examine the highest and lowest cost plans offered. First, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care:
$960.12 per month, or $11,521.44 per year. 13% of total income.
What do we get for this princely sum? Well, first, the deductible: $3500. Then:
Doctor visits: $25 copay for up to 3 medical care office visits per individual (or 6 per family); the next visits are subject to the deductible; then 20% co-insurance thereafter.

ER visits: $250 (watch those kitchen accidents!)

Hospital stays: Deductible first, then 20% co-insurance

Prescription drugs: Separate deductible of $500, then $15 for generics, 50% co-pay all others

In a bad year, if our couple should have to use up their deductible, the total cost including premiums would be $21,521.44, or 25% of total income. And that doesn't even include the co-pays, drugs, or other spending, which will raise that percentage much higher.

For the highest cost, leave it to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts:
$2,293.73 per month, or $27,524.76 per year. 32% of total income.
Ah, but here's the diff—NO deductibles. None. Nada. Nil. The co-pays are rare and much more reasonable, and involve no nasty surprise balloon payments:
Doctor visits: $15 co-pay (no limits on visits)

ER visits: $100

Hospital stays: $100

Prescription drugs: $10/$25/$45
In a bad year our couple will not pay much more than their premium payments, or $27,524.76 per year. 32% of total income. In other words, the same amount that they paid out in premiums, not counting a few small co-pays that, unlike the "cheap" plan, will not add up to anything worth sweating.

The difference between costs of the plans in a worst case scenario year is about $6000. But the problem is that with those hospital and drug co-pays in the “cheap” plan, a serious illness or accident could easily end up bankrupting or impoverishing a family, while that $6000 will be mostly all the family with the expensive plan will have to eat. Another safety valve, that of preventive care, also gets cocked by the “cheap” plan. The family that takes it out gets raked over the coals by premiums, and finds the co-pays and hoops so onerous and difficult that it may forgo treatments altogether. So those who go for the lowest cost end up feeding the corporate beast with little security to show for it, and are 13% poorer for the privilege.

But don't take my word for it. Public Citizen looked at the real-life situations of Mass citizens this past February, who had very little good to say about it. People are still falling through coverage gaps, still finding themselves unable to access care, worse off with less money to spend as the insurance companies rake in profits from their captive market. This is not the model for national health care. This was an experiment, and experiments are done to learn from mistakes.

Let's learn from this one.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cost Containment Is Inherent in Single-Payer

At Counterpunch, David Lindorff makes a persuasive argument for the inherent cost savings of a Medicare-for-all plan:
"Medicaid, the program that pays for medical care for the poor, and is funded by federal and state taxes, would be eliminated, saving $400 billion a year. 
Veterans’ care, currently running at $100 billion a year, would be eliminated.

Perhaps two-thirds of the $300 billion a year spent by federal, state and local governments to reimburse hospitals for so-called “charity care” for treatment of people who have no insurance but don’t qualify for Medicaid, would be eliminated.

Individuals and employers would no longer have to pay for private insurance.

Several hundred billion dollars currently spent on paperwork by private insurers would be eliminated.

Car insurance would be cheaper as there would no longer have to be coverage for medical bills.

Federal, state and local governments would no longer have to pay to insure public employees.

In short, if every person were on Medicare, the overall savings would overwhelm the small increase in the Medicare payroll tax of 5.8%."
I would add that federal incentives to make going into primary care more attractive than specialties, and requiring service in under-served areas in exchange for those incentives, might go a long way to  keeping costs down, as well as injecting a much-needed correction into the expanding gentrification of our health care continuum.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Tearing Down the Wall of Our Humanity, One Brick at a Time

Chuck Grassley continues to disgrace himself with his petty, opportunistic hatchet blows at what's not going to end up as our health care reform bill anyway:
"Senate Finance Committee Democrats rejected a proposed a requirement that immigrants prove their identity with photo identification when signing up for federal healthcare programs.

Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said that current law and the healthcare bill under consideration are too lax and leave the door open to illegal immigrants defrauding the government using false or stolen identities to obtain benefits.

Grassley's amendment was beaten back 10-13 on a party-line vote.

The bill, authored by committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), would require applicants to verify their names, places of birth and Social Security numbers. In addition, legal immigrants would have to wait five years, as under current law, after obtaining citizenship or legal residency to access federal healthcare benefits such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program or receive tax credits or purchase insurance through the exchange created by the legislation.

But the would not require them to show a photo ID, such as a drivers license. Without that requirement, the bill "remains dearly lacking when it comes to identification," Grassley said. "Frankly, I'm very perplexed as to why anyone would oppose this amendment," he said."
Well, it's not hard to perplex a man who will parrot any damned crazy crapola his  party's morons make up, and is happy to exploit the nativist panic over our immigrant population.  Why are they always so quick to deny care to the very people who basically wipe the nation's ass for it because white people are too busy?  They may not want to take care of sick immigrant children (and what the hell do the children have to do with it? where is all this "pro-life" bushwa when it counts?), but they don't object to them dying for us in Iraq.
As of February 2008 there were about 65,000 non-citizen and naturalized immigrants in the armed services--people who would have to wait five years under Baucus'  bill before we would deign them worthy of health care.  Here are some stats:
All this whinging about how immigrants are stealing our cheese conjures to mind an image of a chandelier of an old lady, bejeweled about the dewlaps, clasping tightly at her purse as a ragged child in the street tries to sell her a box of matches.  "Oh God!" she shrieks, "Get her away!  She's probably capable of anything!  She'll take everything I have if I let her get any closer! Oh, take me home, James!"  Upon which she's off to her estate for a formal dinner as the child dies in the gutter.

What a disgraceful panorama of hypocrisy and faux-Christianity.  But thank God Max got his.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Get A Grip

Mind if I piss in the punch bowl?

While everyone else is wahooing and celebrating the new House Health Care Reform plan, I have to ask: is this really what I'm supposed to break out the champagne for? Limits on premiums that allow insurance companies to gouge people living at 400 percent of poverty for 12% of their income? For a family of 4 making $88,200, that's a yearly total of $10,584 just to pay for the privilege of having something called "insurance". But wait, there's more. Once you've paid to "have" insurance, you may then have to actually "use" it. Now what would you pay??

Well, that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish, my friends. But don't worry! This fabulous bill "prevents bankruptcy" (that's really what it says) by capping total out-of-pocket spending for covered benefits that cannot exceed $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a family. So our family of 4 at 400% of poverty can look forward to shelling out, at most, no more than $20,584 during the year in a worst-case scenario, provided the medical expenses are ones covered by their policy.

So this means that now our hypothetical family will need to put aside only 23% of their income for medical care. That year. Because, of course, they might have to incur the same amount of debt next year, too. And if someone is hit by a particularly nasty illness or impairment, it could go on that way for years. No worries about bankruptcy now, eh?

And you know what the best part of this culmination of our fight for universal coverage is? It won't even be universal: an estimated 18 million people will remain without insurance. But it's all good. The CBO has given its blessing, and in the end, it's really only the price tag that wags this dog. Parsimony wins the day when it comes to saving lives, because there's lots more money needs to be shat down the Pentagon/contractor toilet to make the world safe for Wall Street. The odd thing is that Pelosi backed off a public option that would dictate fees for providers, and instead went with negotiated fees, which all agree will add expense to the system. And despite all the whinging about how budget-busting a single-payer system would be, there's this:
"The new House bill would expand Medicaid to cover childless adults, parents and others with incomes less than 150 percent of the poverty level, or $33,075 for a family of four. This goes beyond the earlier House bill and a companion measure in the Senate, which would extend Medicaid to people with incomes less than 133 percent of the poverty level ($29,327 for a family of four).

This change saves money. It is less expensive for the federal government to cover low-income people under Medicaid than to provide them with subsidies to buy private insurance."
I tell you, I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning. Smells like...Congress.

Ah, life is good. Now let's see how that financial regulatory reform is coming.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Once More Into The Affordability Breech, Dear Friends

If I'm going to bitch about every health care reform plan that comes out of Congress, I suppose I'd better explain what I think affordability means. It does not mean 10% of one's income for premiums, and it does not mean another 10% in deductibles and out of pockets before one's insurance actually begins doing what you have been paying it to do.

With regard to expanding utilization of current programs:
  • First, Medicare drops to cover everyone 40 years old and older. Age discrimination law protects all those over 40, and many illnesses begin to manifest after this age, so this seems a good starting point.
  • For those under 30, the option to stay on their parents' or guardians' insurance.
  • For the low-income, Medicaid up to an income of $25000, no matter the size of the family.
Regarding the cost of insurance premiums for everyone who doesn't fall into the above categories, no more than the following % of income, on a sliding scale:
$25,999—1% ($260 yr, $22 mo)

$30,000---2% ($600 yr, $50 mo)

$70,000---3% ($800 yr, $67 mo)

$100,000—3 ½ % ($3500 yr, $292 mo)

$150,000---4% ($6000 yr, $500 mo)

$200,000---5% ($10,000 yr, $833 mo)

$250,000---6% ($15,000 yr, $1250 mo)

$300,000---7% ($21,000 yr, $1750 mo)

$400,000---8% ($32,000 yr, $2667 mo)

$500,000---9% ($45,000 yr, $3750 mo)

$1 million and up---10% ($100,000 yr, $10,000 mo)
The excess amount charged to those in the higher income categories can be used to underwrite the costs of insuring those in the lower-income brackets.

What the above chart tells you is that:
1)  No insurance company, no matter how venal, is ever going to charge $100k a year for a family's insurance. This means that the rich will always be at advantage over the poor when it comes to paying premiums. If you found yourself looking at that chunk of the millionaires' share and thinking, “Wow! That's a little steep!”, just imagine how more more cruel that 10% will be on the backs of those with only a fraction of that income; and

2)  Even a small percentage, taken from a limited income, is going to weigh heavily on that family or individual in ways that could break them if other expenses are not taken into consideration.
Deductibles and out of pocket cost limits should be minimal, rare, and for very extraordinary situations; say, cosmetic surgery for purely vanity reasons. For those paying 1% of their income for premiums, they should not exceed the cost of those yearly premiums. For those paying 3-6%, they should not exceed twice the cost of those yearly premiums.

The regulations allowing direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription pharmaceuticals should be eliminated, to cut down on the costs of those drugs ( % of drug company costs are related to advertising and marketing) and reduce patient demand for drugs that may not be appropriate or advisable for their situations.

Accountability should be created by requiring insurance companies to provide regular yearly financial statements to their customers showing where their profits are coming from and where they are going, including top executive salaries and all political contributions and PAC connections.

No this isn't meant to be comprehensive, but it give you an idea of where I'm coming from.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Not So Fast

Yes, I know, everyone's breathless over the passage of the House health reform bill. But just remember this: requiring people to pay for insurance does not mean they are going to get health care:
Because of costs, Massachusetts hasn’t solved the problem of guaranteeing access to health care. Even residents with coverage can’t afford medical treatment because of co-payments and the charges that insurance doesn’t cover, according to a September 2009 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation with headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
This is how you get a 97% coverage rate that looks good on paper: you force people to buy coverage that drains their budgets and costs so much to use that they can't afford to get the health care this was supposed to be about in the first place.

This is what I fear is coming down the pike from our millionaires in Congress, too, where a cap of $12,000 on premiums is considered affordable, and allowing insurance companies to charge older people twice what they charge younger ones is a fair deal.

And as for those vaunted cost savings? Not so much in the Bay State:
Private insurance premiums in the state rose more than 12 percent through the end of 2008, according to an Oct. 21 report in the New England Journal of Medicine co-authored by Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby. The cost of buying insurance increased 10 percent so far this year, the report said.

Price increases like these put pressure on the finances of businesses that provide insurance to employees, workers who pay part of that cost and individuals who buy their own coverage.

“President Obama is a visionary and he’s going to use Massachusetts as an example of how his ideas might play out,” said Regina Herzlinger, an economist at Harvard Business School in Cambridge. “But Massachusetts is a wealthy state and it can afford things that other states cannot. And even now Massachusetts is having trouble.”
I will grant you that Massachusetts put the cart before the horse and rushed everyone into eating an insurance plan before cost reductions had been worked out. But the essential flaw in the system--the idea that you can craft a device that will affordably grant health care to the masses while ensuring corporate profits--is going to cripple every attempt to fix it until it is recognized for the myth it is, and the free market is eliminated from basic health care coverage.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It's Over

I've given this a lot of thought, and it's really hard for me to say it, but it's time to kill this bill. The Stupak amendment was just the final straw. It will create a de facto ban on abortions as effectively as if the old laws of the pre-Roe era were back in place. That it will do so within the context of a bill that will lay an enormous financial burden on the middle class without providing them nearly enough real health care compensation in return, is simply unsupportable. I'm with the 41 liberal House Dems who have told Pelosi they will off the bill in conference if the amendment is not removed. The line has finally been crossed, and it's time to junk this thing. For those who say it can be fixed in incremental changes over time, I say, look at how the Hyde amendment and the ripples created by Casey v Planned Parenthood have been changed over time: states and even reactionary federal governments have turned the screws on women ever tighter, until a legal medical procedure has become basically unobtainable to women in 87% of the country. If our elected Democratic officials, riding a wave of anger so palpable that a black man with an Arabic-sounding name could be elected President of the United States, were unable to craft a law that put the needs of their people ahead of their own trifling self-interest, why on earth would anyone think a different breed of politico is going to come down the pike in 5 years and fix it later?

And if you think this can eventually be corrected by the Supreme Court, you haven't been paying attention to the Roberts court decisions.

Too many cowards taking our tax money to sell us down the river. Too many bad decisions about to become enshrined in law. I'm out.

30-Second Sermon

Responding to Glenn Beck's suggestion that people run screaming from churches that seek to comfort the poor and redress injustice, the Rev. Miguel De La Torre has a few choice words:
Miguel De La Torre, an ordained Baptist minister who teaches ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, said in a column published March 15 on that Beck's viewpoint is the product of a dominant religious culture that focuses on personal piety like praying or trusting Jesus instead of reaching out to the poor and marginalized.

"What Beck will one day sadly discover is that no one enters heaven without a letter of recommendation from the 'least of these,'" De La Torre said.

De La Torre said advocating a Christianity that goes beyond feeding the hungry to ask why they are hungry "is to invite hostility from those privileged by the status quo."
Commie atheist mole.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

We Must Destroy Ourselves to Save Ourselves--Israel's Self-Destruct Policy Is Turned Up to 8

Chris Hedges on the next stage in Israel's metamorphosis into a police state:
The campaign against Israeli dissidents has taken the form of venomous denunciations of activists and jurists, including Justice Goldstone. It includes a bill before the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, which will make it possible to imprison the leaders of Israeli human rights groups if they fail to comply with crippling new registration conditions. Human rights activists from outside Israel who work in the Palestinian territories are being rounded up and deported. The government is refusing to issue work visas to employees of 150 NGOs operating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including Oxfam, Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). The new tourist visas effectively bar these employees from Palestinian territory under Israeli occupation...

The purge is under way because of the belief within the Netanyahu government that these groups and activists provided evidence of Israeli war crimes in Gaza to Justice Goldstone. Israel has no intention of lifting the blockade on Gaza, halting settlement expansion, including the 1,600 new homes to be built in East Jerusalem, or reversing its division of the West Bank into impoverished ghettos of Palestinians. The growing brutality and violence of the occupation, no longer easy to deny or hide, coupled with Israel’s growing status as an international pariah, have unleashed a crackdown against all those within the Jewish state who are blamed for the bad publicity. Yuli Edelstein, the Diaspora affairs minister, summed up the witch hunt when he announced that the Cabinet had been “concerned for a time with a number of groups under the guise of NGOs that are funded by foreign agents.”

The Knesset bill, if passed, will force human rights groups to register as political bodies and turn over identification numbers and addresses of all members to the government. These groups will lose their tax-exempt status. Most governmental organizations, such as the European Union, which is a large donor to Israeli human rights organizations, cannot legally pay taxes to another government, and the new law will effectively end European Union and other outside funding. The groups will be mandated to provide the government with the records of all foreign donations and account for how these donations were spent. Any public statement, event or speech, even if it lasts half a minute, by these groups must include a declaration that they are being supported and funded by a foreign power. Those who fail to follow these guidelines, including local volunteers, can face a year in jail.
We can now rest easy knowing our tax money is not only helping starve children in Palestine, but harass and chase off the doctors who care for them.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Custer Died For Your Whims

Wyoming is ready to secede, led by an Obama-supporting Dem governor:
This week, Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal signed House Joint Resolution 2 (HJ0002), claiming “sovereignty on behalf of the State of Wyoming and for its citizens under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government or reserved to the people by the Constitution of the United States.”

...In a memorandum sent to the Wyoming legislature in late January, Freudenthal made clear his position that the federal government has gone beyond the limits of the constitution:
“For decades we have shared increased frustration dealing with the federal government and its agencies. What started out as a leak in the erosion of state prerogative and independence has today turned into a flood. From wolf and grizzly bear management, to gun control, to endless regulation and unfunded mandates – the federal government has become far too powerful and intrusive...this resolution serve as notice and demand to the federal government, as our agent, to cease and desist, effective immediately, from enacting mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers. The state of Wyoming will not enforce such mandates. ”
Very droll, coming from a state that, as of 2005, absorbed $1.11 federal dollars for every $1.00 it paid in federal taxes, making Wyoming 23rd highest in receipt of federal largesse. Not to mention how I have to pay to bail their boo-hooing, tantrum-throwing asses out every time some predator makes lunch out of their livestock or a bad storm takes out part of their herds, just because they insist on ranching in some bear's back yard (on FEDERAL land at $1.35 per animal per month, no less). Meanwhile, the elitist New Yorkers out here in the Commie Northeast are only getting 79 cents back from every dollar they send to D.C., so the whingers in Wyoming can get them some liberal welfare while they complain about being expected to behave like civilized human beings who belong to a community.

Here's a plan: secede! Get off the damn grid, and give me back my money. Go live in the wilderness where no one can expect anything of you, and curl up with a nice campfire and a grizzly bear. Screw your roads and your healthcare and your agricultural welfare queens. Give me back my federal lands and get the fuck off, then go cry to Canada when some wolf eats your lambs. You people really are a bunch of work.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Elegance of Brevity

Joe Biden comes home with his testicles in his hand, thanks to our "friend" in the mideast. Juan Cole puts it in a nutshell:
Since 1949, the US has given Israel over $100 billion in direct aid, and the indirect forms of aid are orders of magnitude greater. That the vice president of the United States (and therefore the president himself) were ambushed by the prime minister in this arrogant and nearly sadistic manner raises the severest questions about why US taxpayer money should flow in such enormous amounts to a country that is actively and on a massive scale violating the Hague Agreement of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of populations by occupiers. And this at a time when the US budget deficit is ballooning and there is not enough government money to take care of the needs of US citizens. The argument that Israel is a security asset for the United States is undermined if the Israelis are provoking enmity toward the United States among 1.5 billion Muslims by their inexorable annexation of Palestinian land and daily oppression of the Palestinian people.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Meet the New Boss---Same As the Old Boss

It's the old fox-in-charge-of-the-henhouse school of legislation again:
Senator Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who is playing a crucial role in bipartisan negotiations over financial regulation, pressed to remove a provision from draft legislation that would have empowered federal authorities to crack down on payday lenders, people involved in the talks said. The industry is politically influential in his home state and a significant contributor to his campaigns, records show.
Yes, politically influential, as in "was born and bred in Tennessee and has the whole state by the short hairs":
W. Allan Jones, the jet-setting visitor, went on to found Check Into Cash, the first of the national payday-lending chains. With a knack for marketing, Jones rechristened the transaction Eaton called “check cashing” as “the payday advance.” It was Jones who saw the potential to expand someone else’s business concept into a coast-to-coast empire. Jones saw how payday lending could be to finance what McDonald’s is to food.

In the early 1990s, there were fewer than 200 payday lending stores in America; today, there are over 22,000, serving 10 million households each year—a $40 billion industry with more U.S. locations, in fact, than McDonald’s. Today, Jones’s company, based in his hometown of Cleveland, Tennessee, is the second or third largest of its kind.
Corker's BFF Jones has made big inroads with him, as well as with Chris "The People's Friend" Dodd, in trouncing any possible controls over his behemoth:
W. Allan Jones...has been a longtime friend and supporter of Mr. Corker’s...

Mr. Jones, his relatives and his employees have given money to Mr. Dodd, Mr. Shelby and other members of the Banking Committee, but have been particularly active donors to Mr. Corker, records show. They have contributed at least $31,000 to his campaigns since 2001, when he was running for mayor of Chattanooga.

In 1999, Mr. Jones and other payday lenders started the Community Financial Services Association to lobby against regulation. The group’s political action committee gave $1,000 to Mr. Corker last year.
So tiresonely predictable.  As is this:
Late last month, Mr. Corker pressed Mr. Dodd to scale back substantially the power that the consumer protection agency would have over such companies, according to three people involved in the talks.

Mr. Dodd went along, these people said, in an effort to reach a bipartisan deal with Mr. Corker after talks had broken down between Democrats and the committee’s top Republican, Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama.
Typical Dem timidity. We may be in the worst financial state in my lifetime, and citizens may be suffering as never before, but that's no reason to extend unemployment to people who can't find work, or rein in the financial criminals who made them so, and God forbid we put a bit in the teeth of one of the cruelest and most usurious scams on earth. After all, no one in Congress will need to use payday loan centers. They were specifically targeted at the poor, from whom the banks divested themselves years ago:
An applicant need only fill out the sheet, show proof of employment and a bank account, and then write a bad check, dated her next payday, for the loan amount plus the fee. (In Tennessee, typical advances range from $50 in cash for a $58.82 check, to $200 for a $230 check.) On that next payday, the customer cashes her paycheck and buys back the check in cash for its face value.

Such is the process in principle, but seldom does it work out that way. When the next payday arrives, most borrowers can’t afford to repay, so they extend the loan until the following payday by paying another finance charge...Like a sharecropping contract, a payday loan essentially becomes a lien against your life, entitling the creditor to a share of your future earnings indefinitely. Even the industry- sponsored research cited on the Check Into Cash website shows that only 25.1 percent of customers use their loans as intended, paying each one off at the end of their next pay period for an entire year. Government studies show even lower rates of customer payoff. North Carolina regulators found that 87 percent of borrowers roll over their loans; Indiana found that approximately 77 percent of its payday loans were rollovers. This is hardly surprising, of course: if your finances are so busted that a doctor visit or car repair puts you in the red, chances are slim that you’ll be able to pay back an entire loan plus interest a few days after taking it out...

Once caught in the cycle, the borrower faces a choice each payday—pay Check Into Cash $30 or pay Check Into Cash $230. Unlike conventional loans, in which the creditor issues the debtor a lump sum to be repaid with interest in installments over time, the largest single transfer in a payday loan goes from debtor to creditor. With payday lending, the “debt trap” is not a figure of speech: the loan is actually structured as a trap.
Now, that's a system you can get behind, right? Good old American entrepreneurship at work, right? It's a free country, isn't it? Well, then why did these same cats' paws vote for this?
The John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 became law this last October. One small section of this Act, Section 670 under "Subtitle F--Other Matters," gives marching orders to the practices of creditors who prey upon military service members and their dependents. (A "predatory lending practice" is one considered to be "an unfair or abusive loan or credit sale transaction or collection practice.") Among those affected are businesses that offer military personnel deferred deposit transactions--small, short-term loans better known as "payday loans--without regard for their ability to repay and with excessive charges packed into the loan and terms requiring, for example, balloon payments and waiver of legal rights. Loans such as these have proven to be a source of spiraling debt for many military families.
Once upon a time, for a minute, they realized how destructive these businesses were to families and communities. But I guess unless you agree to give up your life for stupid illegal wars, you don't rate such protection.

But maybe I'm too harsh. After all, as Obama's people never tire of telling us, it's a "difficult" political environment. Maybe they really are just trying to help out the unemployed the only way they can. You see, joblessness has opened up a whole new set of hunting grounds for Allen and his fellow bottom-feeders. So now Dodd and Corker and Shelby can look forward to the assets of the poor trickling up to them at an even faster rate. What you and I can look forward to, though, is more of the same cowboy capitalism and non-regulation Reagan's Republican party gave us starting in 1981, with willing Democratic abetment. An environment, in fact, that will look an awful lot like the one that allowed this mess to get going in the first place:
From customers in such straits, Allan Jones has amassed a fortune, which in 2005 was valued at half a billion dollars. The profit margins are similar to those in conventional banking, but as with fast food, payday lending derives those profits from innumerable small-value transactions taking place at thousands of outlets. The business works according to the classic logic of deregulation. Profits on loans of a few hundred dollars can be significant only in a regulatory environment in which anything goes. If customers weren’t trapped—if they really paid off their $20 or $30 finance fees at the end of one pay period—payday lending wouldn’t be profitable at all.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Thanks For Stopping In, and By The Way, Fuck You

Israeli hospitality at its finest:
JERUSALEM — Israel announced Tuesday its intention to build 1,600 new housing units in a Jewish neighborhood of East Jerusalem, infuriating Palestinians and upsetting the American administration, as Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. vowed to the Israeli leadership here “absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel’s security.”

...Mr. Biden, who will stay in the region through Friday, was not forewarned of the interior ministry announcement and spent the day making a concerted and highly public show of American support for Israel.
Good times, good friends. He then got back in the clown car that is American mid-east policy and rode off to Palestine where he will no doubt spend much of the time wagging his finger at Abbas and Fayyad for being such intransigient little wogs. But not before running the compulsory performance gauntlet at Yad Vashem:
After his morning meetings with President Peres and Mr. Netanyahu on Tuesday, Mr. Biden, accompanied by his wife Jill, visited the gravesite of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish extremist opposed to reconciliation with the Palestinians.

He then toured Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum and center. After signing its guest book, he said: “The phrase ‘never again’ is used so often it almost has lost its meaning. But then again all you have to do is walk through Yad Vashem to understand how incredible the journey has been for world Jewry and why Israel is such a central part of its existence.”
Yeah, never again. samsonNow try walking through Gaza and finding clean drinking water. Or locating the memorial for the 91 victims of the terrorist attacks on the King David Hotel, the bombing of which Bibi and the Israeli reactionaries are so fond that they held a celebration in 2006 to remind themselves why killing innocents is wrong except when they do it.

I'm reminded of the legend of Samson, whose strength resided in his hair, and whose pride and lust rendered him defenseless against the woman who shorn him and delivered him to his enemies, to be blinded and chained. Israel has become our Delilah, and we, helpless to resist, imagine her fuck yous are actually pillow talk, and walk into her arms to be rendered impotent. The question is, who is it who will blind and bind us, and how long will it take for our power to grow back?