Sunday, February 20, 2011

WHY WE'RE BROKE

DIGGING DEEPER
By Ivan G. Goldman

“We’re broke.”

The House speaker says it, the Wisconsin governor says it. In fact, Republicans and their Blue Dog pals use these two words as an excuse for everything from depriving babies of their formula to punishing NPR for occasionally reporting facts. Once they get a slogan working for them, these people stay with it. After all, repeating slogans is so much easier than making sense.

And this time, oddly enough, the slogan is true. Government’s broke, along with at least half our citizens and most of the world. But just how did government get so broke? Well, let’s look at Medicare, for example.

The Republican-Blue Dog Coalition passed a Medicare prescription bill that made it illegal for government purchasing agents to bargain with drug companies. They publish their prices, government pays them. But wait, the same drug companies sell their wares for half-price in Canada and still make a profit. That meant the government must be prevented from making an end-run at the border and re-importing drugs from Canada. So the drug companies that wrote the legislation made that illegal. Their excuse for this was so impossibly stupid I can’t bear to repeat it. Let’s just say it makes sense if you accept the proposition that Canada is an undeveloped country whose products are probably swarming with rat feces.

Some other things that wrecked our finances: Two useless, multi-trillion-dollar wars. In one of them we continue raining billions of dollars on the bandits in the Afghan government and they divvy up the loot with the enemy, so we end up paying both sides. How can anyone as smart as Obama be so frightfully dumb? Meanwhile we keep raising the Pentagon allotment even though we’ve been the only superpower for two decades.

Our pals in Washington cut taxes for super-wealthy folks and made sure they stayed cut, no matter what. At the same time the banks were deregulated and they promptly created packages of worthless mortgages. They managed to sell them by paying off the ratings agencies. When their whole stinking garbage heap collapsed they got away clean. No one went to jail, but millions of homeowners who bought at the wrong time lost their life savings. Because the value of real estate dived, so did property taxes, putting unsustainable strain on local and state governments.

See a pattern? The formula is simple.

1. Perverted thieves pass laws that prevent us from putting locks on the doors.

2. They burglarize us.

3. They complain that “we” are broke.

4. They find patsies that include schoolchildren, disabled people, and organized labor and make them pay the price.

This isn’t Egypt. Not yet. But give the Egyptian demonstrators credit for not only knowing they were getting screwed but also knowing who was screwing them and why they were so broke.

Monday, February 07, 2011

WHY TERM LIMITS AREN'T THE ANSWER


DIGGING DEEPER
By Ivan G. Goldman

Petitions to impose term limits circle the Web like mindless birds. Maybe you’ve seen them, maybe you’ve even signed them, which doesn’t make you mindless. It just means you probably haven’t thought this thing through.

We’re frustrated that government doesn’t seem to work in behalf of the people anymore. Health care works for insurance and drug companies, and foreign policy is crafted in favor of global corporations that see America as a farm field growing them dollars. When they’ve picked them all off the stalks they’ll just move on to another field. We also continue fighting wars that few of us believe in, but we can’t seem to get them stopped.

We don’t even have an energy policy.

Extended political terms for office-holders won’t solve any of this. Stopping them from taking bribes would sure help though. The bribes I’m talking about are often legal because the lawmakers made them so. They come in many forms -- not just campaign contributions. They’re jobs, financial opportunities, you name it. Shut down one source of income and twelve more pop up. Here are some you might know about:

* A congressman sponsors a Medicare prescription bill and the very next year goes to work for the corporations that wrote his legislation.

* The federal budget director quits and goes straight to Citi, which pays his salary, bonuses, stock options, and other perks with some of the billions it got from the government in zero-interest loans.

* The wife of a Supreme Court justice openly hangs a red light outside her home and invites in weasels desiring her favors. The justice-pimp fails to recuse himself from any of the cases involving her clients.

* In Los Angeles the mayor recently agreed to rent a huge swath of valuable real estate to a corporation that wants to build a football stadium there. Terms of the lease? The corporation pays a dollar a year. Oh, one more thing. The city’s convention center sits on part of the property. The mayor promises to tear down part of the building and put it on the other side to make room for the stadium. He’ll borrow $350 million to get that done. Incidentally, an NFL team plays about 10 home games a year. The rest of the time the land will be a closed-off, concrete wasteland. Last year he closed down summer school. Lack of funds, he said.

People are so desperate for a cure to these ills that they sign silly petitions, figuring any change has got to be for the better. Not so. Some changes make things worse. California already has term limits and it has one of the worst Legislatures around. The lobbyists who run the capital have no term limits, and their superior knowledge and experience give them even more leverage over legislators still trying to find the restrooms.

Why worry about how long politicians stay on the job? We could change them every month and still be in the same mess. Let’s stop the bribery. Then if we get a good office-holder, let’s hang on to her.

Friday, February 04, 2011

CHICKEN LITTLES SAY SOCIAL SECURITY IS FALLING

DIGGING DEEPER
By Ivan G. Goldman

No, Social Security isn’t doomed. That’s just junk put out there by an army of reactionary Rasputins who want all New Deal programs rolled back so we can go back to the good old days when John D. Rockefeller and Herbert Hoover had everything under control.

If we fail to tinker with it, Social Security would run out by about 2041. But why would we be that dumb? We’ve tinkered with the program since its inception. Social Security is a live, successful entity that evolves with our society. Goofballs on the right want us to think the sky is falling so we should go live in caves. But if we didn’t look for ways to make things better, physicians would still be bleeding patients.

The Rasputins tell us we have to reduce benefits, make the retirement age much higher, or do both because they don’t want us to notice that Social Security taxes top out after you’ve made $106,800. Corporate kingpins making $20 million annually pay no more into the program than your average pharmacist. But the Meg Whitmans and Robert Rubins of the world don’t make their serious money in salary anyway because it’s too easy to tax at the maximum rate of 35 percent. They go for stock options and other accounting tricks that allow them to pay no Social Security or Medicare taxes on their earnings and a maximum rate of only 15 percent in income tax.

Incidentally, the maximum tax rate during the Eisenhower and Kennedy years was 91 percent, but that was before politicians began altering campaign financing regulations into a witches’ brew that allowed them to take much bigger tips from wealthy contributors. As these tips got bigger, the tax rates got much, much lower for the wealthiest 1 percent. And it's not over yet. Today’s youth believe Social Security won’t be there for them. That’s not solely based on the belief that America will go broke. It also rests on the savvy understanding that we’re getting screwed, and based on their experience, young citizens see no reason to believe it will stop. After all, it’s all they’ve ever known.

Meanwhile we have polluted air and water, crumbling bridges, no high-speed trains, anemic schools, and an obscenely structured medical care system that even with the new reforms will provide maximum profits to insurance and pharmaceutical suckfish. And now they’re coming for our Social Security. Not long before he died George Carlin, probably the best political scientist we’ve produced in the last century, predicted they’ll get it. Maybe they will. But if we understand it a little better we can make it a lot harder for them. There’s no reason capital gains have to be treated so much better than wages and there’s no good reason to top out Social Security taxes at absurdly low levels.

Obama’s deficit commission recommended that we raise the retirement age to 69 and apply means testing. The Rasputins know that if we turn Social Security into a welfare system it will lose its popularity and eventually they can starve it out, making it a fond memory, like justice and fair play.