Tag Archives: Bush

Winning No Matter What

The public strategy seems straightforward – the minority party holds the national debt hostage in an attempt to force the majority party to voluntarily undo three generations of their own progressive policy. On face value, it seems brilliant.

The Republicans, after all, are largely responsible for deficit and the worst depression since Prozac. When they took power under Bush, there was a $235 billion surplus. When Bush left office, the national debt stood at $10.6 trillion and deficits, based on Bush/Republican approved spending, were projected to increase by $9 trillion in the next 10 years. Of course, those estimates didn’t include 9% unemployment continuing to depress tax collections and increasing unemployment benefits, or Obama’s increased war spending. The national debt is now $14.3 trillion (41.8% of which is owed to the Fed and Government agencies) and the Republicans are using this hostage situation to provide political cover for their responsibility and to push the blame on President Obama.

John Boehner Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

John Boehner Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

Our democratically elected leaders, Republican and Democrat, constitutionally authorized the spending, but not taxes to pay for it, which requires the Federal Government to borrow the money to pay for what Congress has spent. Not allowing our government to borrow the money needed, sounds an awful lot like fraud. Conspiracy to commit fraud.

The Federal Reserve, Treasury Secretary, head of the IMF, Moody’s and the US Chamber of Commerce have suggested that forcing a government default is nuts and will cause havoc in the markets. Surely they won’t go through with it.

Of course, there’s that other issue. Two months ago, the House Republicans voted in lockstep to turn Medicare and Medicaid in to state voucher programs. Republicans have caught a lot of flack from seriously pissed off voters since they did. Ryan’s bill was DOA in the Senate. But, now, all they have to do is get the Democrat in the White House and at least four Democrats in the Senate to vote with them on a variation of the Ryan plan. They’ll get what they want and, perhaps, have an unelectable Democrat to run against in 2012.

It’s not that the Republicans want Grandma thrown out on the street, starve or to die from lack of health care (collateral damage)*. They just don’t want to have to listen to lobbyists and their campaign contributers complain about employers being forced to pay a share of payroll taxes. Republicans would much prefer Medicare be privatized so their health insurance buddies could keep their hands in the Federal wallet. Republicans would much prefer Social Security be privatized so they could enable their Wall Street buddies to gamble Grandma’s money. Republicans would also much prefer both Social Security and Medicare become voluntary voluntary so their rich pals could opt out.

On the other hand, Republican leaders would prefer poor people and their children be thrown out on the street, starve or die from lack of health care (that’s what prisons are for). Republicans are anxious to do away with federally required Medicaid believing that until our poor are paid wages competitive with the third world, there will be no new jobs.

Their brilliant strategy is not really just about the policy. The real plot is more sinister. Should the Dems not cave, the Republicans will get what they really want – a government, at least until the next election of a Republican or they lose the House, without enough money, but with seriously higher interest rates on the deficit. The problem for Republicans is that current average interest rates on the national debt are only about three percent (3%), costing about the Treasury only about $30 billion a month. Debt is not starving the government enough. Short-term default will cause rates to double or better – benefiting rich Republican campaign contributers while also starving the government of the money needed for social programs.

So what’s gonna happen? Will Obama read section 4 of the 14th Amendment and the Perry V US court case to Boehner – “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law… shall not be questioned.”? Will the Fed just forgive their part of the debt (theoretically, they could) so there isn’t a need for debt extension? Will there be a run on Treasury debt with China and the Saudis cashing in, causing rates to skyrocket and the Fed to intervene? Will the Tea-Party Congresspeople suddenly decide what they are doing is un-American(perhaps, Michelle Bachmann will say so)? Will the business lobby (aka: the Chamber) start calling Republicans and threatening something worse then death to get the needed debt increase passed? Will the Senate pass a version of whatever comes out of the House – hoping members of a conference committee could turn it into something tolerable? Will Obama blink – hoping that voters will be so outraged that Republicans are voted out of office in 2012 and the law can be overturned? Stay tuned. Whatever happens, the Republicans are risking the world and they plan to win – no matter what.

 

* Grandmas who practice personal responsibility and free-market capitalism, don’t have to worry. Unless she gets cancer. Or helps her unemployed children. Or worked for a firm that underfunded her pension. Or her job was off-shored. Or her children grow up to be Republicans.

Forgiveness is way overrated

I’m really in to brotherly love, peaceful coexistence and all that stuff. I got little room for hate and vengeance – antipathy is about as far as I go. Someone slights me, I forgive or forget and move on. Apply the golden rule – forgive as I want to be forgiven.

It’s just that I’m not looking for forgiveness for murder, kidnapping, maiming, torture, assault (except verbal), robbery, abuse, incest, poisoning, grand theft, bribery, the general ruining of lives or conspiring to commit any of the above. Not saying that I couldn’t find a way to forgive some variations of these crimes, just that they don’t come freely. Likely they require some combination of stopping the behavior, confession, remorse, making amends – all of which just might lead to reconciliation. It is true in our relationships, courts and religion.

I know, I know, I know, you are thinking, “what about politicians?” Same list. If, for instance, a political party in charge of our government were to lie about reasons to take us to war, require thousands of our nation’s finest to sacrifice their lives and tens of thousands, perhaps, many more injured for life and wreaking untold heartache and hardship on their families; add to it the organized murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, the maiming of a million or so more and the displacement of even millions more, calling it “collateral damage,” while in their march of madness toward making the Middle East safe for oil companies; emptying our treasury for their rich friends, dismantling the regulations that protected our economic system from failing that caused the unemployment, foreclosures, evictions, repossessions, lost pensions, bankruptcy and ruined lives of a hundred or so million of my fellow citizens, while bailing out those greedy bastards who caused this bringing their status quo back to unimaginable wealth; add to it the spoiling our lands, water, air and bringing the apocalypse of global climate change from fear to a near-term reality; add to it kidnapping and torture… well, I could go on. I don’t care how often they have admitted their sins and asked for forgiveness; I’m not ready to forgive them. Wait a minute, the Republicans, not a one, have admitted or asked for forgiveness, They’ve just asked for my vote. They aren’t going to get that. As God might would say, “Damn them.”

But wait, the new testament Bible teaches us that every sin is forgivable, except if a person blasphemes the Holy Spirit – that’s about God’s forgiveness, not mine and the Christian God has some pretty weird standards. If heaven is filled with murderers, rapists, abusers, liars, thieves, and people in office during the Bush administration, I’d prefer to be elsewhere.

I know, I know, I know, you are saying, “what about corporations, they are people, too, aren’t they?” Same list and likely to be continued.

More reading: Wikileaks.org

Incredibly high fictitious cost of health care

Health care reform doesn’t go into effect for 3 more years, so why is it costing really really big businesses so much right now? In the last month, company after company has announced quarterly earnings and included huge accounting charges for health care costs.

Companies announcing charge offs for health care costs
“Why? For what? And should we be scared shitless?” Glad you asked. First off, except for exercising their Supreme Court given right to paid free speech, which resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on lobbyists to fight the health care reform bill, it hasn’t cost big business a nickel. Nothing. Nada.

Here’s what has happened. Way back in 2003, under Bush/Cheney, the brain trust in charge of our government at the time, decided to add a prescription drug benefit to those on Medicare. You probably wondered at the time, “what the hell do Republicans care about seniors?” Me, too. I knew they were having a difficult time squandering the Clinton budget surpluses so they could begin starving the states, so the states, in turn, could begin starving the poor. Plus, Bush Inc. had already paid off the campaign money they’d gotten from the super rich, the oil cartels, defense contractors and Wall Street. But they still owed big health insurance, big pharma and big business and thought they might be able to buy some senior votes in Florida, so they hatched this scheme: establish a huge new subsidy to create a private for profit prescription drug insurance plan industry to buy hundreds of billions of dollars of pharmaceuticals at non-negotiable retail and provide a tax subsidy to big business to help them get rid of workers at or nearing retirement age (Medicare Part D) – a real win-win. Even got Ted Kennedy to vote for it. Except for the donut hole, a diabolical stroke of campaign genius that must have Lee Atwater wish he could have come back from hell to enjoy it. But I digress.

The 2009 law gave big business a 28% tax deduction on retiree, or early retiree drug benefits, but it was more than just another corporate tax loophole. It was a tax-free treatment of the government subsidy to pay for companies providing the equivalent of Medicare Part D – the law gave them a subsidy and let them also deduct it from their taxes. Technically, accountants, lawyers and Adam’s house cat* refer to this as “double-dipping.” Republicans and the Chambers of Commerce refer to this as “pro-business.” When the new health care reform law goes into effect in three years, the subsidy will continue, but the tax deduction big business got for spending the subsidy will end.

snake oil“Then the tax deduction was worth billions of dollars?” you might ask. No, not by a long shot. In fact, the loss of the deduction will have almost no affect at all on company valuation or profit, but they’d like us to think it does. The explanation of how they came up with such extravagant numbers and why now, is a wee bit technical. Here goes: accounting rules require companies to recognize the present value today of future cash costs for as long as they offer the drug benefits and make this adjustment by writing down the deferred tax asset balances. Another way of saying it would be, they can pick any number they want and they can do whenever they want. These announcements are big businesses’ way of attempting to influence the off-year elections with the hope that the next Congress will give them back the deduction, which they don’t really use, doesn’t have any impact on jobs, but they are greedy and like to have more of whatever they want than they would ever need and don’t mind scaring the bejesus out of us as sport.

“But these tax deductions were real, so there’s a real cost to the companies’ investors, right?” In most cases, no. Big companies don’t pay taxes in America . That’s why we have those island governments just off our shores. According to the GAO’s most recent data (why it is so old, I have no idea, but I’m guessing that it has something to with providing political cover to those who write tax law), shows that two-thirds of US corporations paid no federal income taxes from 1996 through 2005 (those include the Clinton boom years) and 94% paid less than 5%.

So tomorrow when you read, “Company X earnings down due to health care reform costs,” just smirk and turn (or click) the page.

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*A variation of “Adam’s off ox.” The form commonly used is ‘not to know one from Adam’s off ox,’ meaning to have not the slightest information about the person indicated. The saying in any form, however, is another of the numerous ones commonly heard but of which no printed record has been found. But in 1848 the author of a book on ‘Nantucketisms’ recorded a saying then in use on that island, ‘Poor as God’s off ox,’ which, he said, meant very poor. It is possible that on the mainland ‘Adam’ was used as a euphemistic substitute. The off ox, in a yoke of oxen, is the one on the right of the team. Because it is the farthest from the driver it cannot be so well seen and may therefore get the worst of the footing. It is for that reason that ‘off ox’ has been used figuratively to designate a clumsy or awkward person.” From “A Hog on Ice” by Charles Earle Funk (1948, Harper & Row).

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Note: the post was edited on 4/23/10 to correct a stupid error of fact in paragraph 3. The original post, referred to “George Herbert Walker Bush” which was fortunately caught by alert reader/writer/commenter, Cliff Green.

Faith Based Security

There’s a reason Sadam Hussein was good at security. He had everyone killed that he suspected. He also carried out pre-emptive murder. Ditto Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Milosevic, Idi Amin, Jean-Paul Akayesu, Abdul Hamid II and more than you would tolerate listing here. It still works today in way too much of the world – China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Darfur, Burma, Iran and others.

We, in America, practice faith-based security. We believe (or choose to pretend) that we are safe. That democracy works. That we count all the ballots. That capitalism isn’t rigged. That justice is best served in courts. That civil rights, privacy, liberty and the right to own guns, trump a more absolute form to guarantee public order. That obeying our laws makes us safer. When something goes wrong – 9-11, Pearl Harbor, Firing on Fort Sumter, etc. as examples – our government has special powers to temporarily suspend these rights so that our faith can be restored.

airport securityOur government spends hundreds of billions of dollars each year to protect us and keep us believing while enjoying the fruits of freedom – intercepting phone calls, spy satellites, agents on the ground, interdicting suspected evil doers, and the like. When the Clinton administration foiled a planned millennium bombing attack on Los Angeles, it was luck and the system worked. When they didn’t in Oklahoma City; the 1993 World Trade Center; Centennial Olympic Park; the Birmingham, Pensacola, Brookline, Amherst abortion clinics; or Columbine; they weren’t lucky and the system didn’t work. Ditto the Bush years: 9-11; anthrax mailings, LAX, Beltway sniper; Riyadh compound, and all those bombings in Iraq, they weren’t lucky and the system failed. When they stopped the shoe bomber, they were lucky and the system worked.

No matter what Dick Cheney says, short of suspending all basic freedoms, imprisoning, or executing all we suspect, there is little we can do to stop it all. It takes luck. We spy, x-ray, screen, watch our lists, take our shoes off and wait endlessly in line; take names and invade countries harboring evil doers, but it is just part of making us believe we are safe so we can live out our lives normally and free. Our chemical plants, the water we drink, our power plants, grid, and ports are unguarded, or barely guarded. Were Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab to have chosen to take out thousands at a football game instead of a couple of hundred on an airliner, he would have had no problem.

Sure, when the Christmas terrorist was reported by his father, we should have put his name on the No-Fly list along with 3,400 others; or on  the Selectee list with 14,000 others; or the Terrorist Watch list with 400,000 others; instead of just the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment list with 750,000 others; but we didn’t.

The bomb didn’t work – not because he was stopped when he went through airport security in Nigeria. We just had made it difficult enough that it didn’t work – this time. Sure, we need to do better. Be more vigilent. Get the huge database lists to work more effectively. But the system worked just as it does most of the time when we are lucky. The system we have used since the beginning. The faith-based security system. We believe, therefore we are. I depend on the same system each time I get behind the wheel of a car.

Terrorism is nothing new, not even to us. For a list of terrorist attacks dating back to 1800, click here.

Obama wins Nobel

Nobel-Peace-Prize-medalWhat a surprise to wake up to: Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. For “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,”  the Nobel Committee said. Which in Norwegian translates as, “he is not George W. Bush.”

“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Committee said. “In the past year Obama has been a key person for important initiatives in the U.N. for nuclear disarmament and to set a completely new agenda for the Muslim world and East-West relations.” (from Salon)

Nominated for the prize just two weeks after becoming president and well before war broke out in town halls across America, Obama joins only two other sitting US Presidents as a winner, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Jimmy Carter won the award in 2002 after leaving office. Al Gore won the award in 20071.

The Olympic committee is said to be stunned. Likewise the Republican caucus. Fox News went silent for several seconds when the announcement was made. It is rumored that Hillary Clinton locked herself in a room and cursed privately.

Resources:


1 Technically, he was not president based on the Supreme Court ruling.

Gitmo facts before jumping to conclusions

guantanamo-bay-beach-cages

I had planned to announce today that I would pay the $80 million that President Obama needs to relocate the remaining 245 prisoners held at Guantánamo. My plan was to borrow the money from a TARP bank, take over the facility and develop a golf course, casino, hotels and some condos. This all fell through when I found out that the US doesn’t actually own Gitmo and is just renting. Imagine my disappointment.

How could it be, you ask? Just four years ago, we paid Halliburton a billion dollars to build the “detention center” on land we don’t even own? Wait a minute, we paid a billion dollars for that? Stop. Go back. Why does Obama need $80 million for relocation? That’s $326,530 a prisoner. For that, couldn’t he check them in to the Ritz for the next 4 years and forget about them? Yes, but stop interrupting.

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I wish Castro were my landlord, or it’s about clean coal technology. Since 1934, the US has “rented” the 46.8 square miles around Guantánamo Bay for the purpose of coaling1 and naval stations with annual payments of $2,000 in gold (currently, $4,085 per month in check) – from 18982 until 1934, we didn’t pay anything. Since the Cuban Revolution (1959), all but one (an accident of the revolution) of the checks have gone un-cashed and are reportedly stuffed in Castro’s desk. Cynically, we continue to make the checks out to the “Treasurer General of the Republic” since we still don’t recognize the new (60 years) government.

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For 60 or 80 centuries, Cuba was inhabited by the Taíno and Ciboney peoples. They were peaceful farmers and hunter-gatherers. In 1492, when Christopher Columbus landed, it all went to hell and, except for a brief period after WWII, has pretty much been there ever since. The Spanish brought with them infectious diseases and Christianity. Those indigenous people who didn’t die from one, died from the other. For 400 years, the Spanish colonized Cuba and developed a plantation economy on the backs of African-descended slaves.

When the desperately poor finally rose up and looked like they were going to overthrow the Spanish, we stepped in. For the next 110 years, we have cruelly dominated this poor island country. By US law, we are required to leave “control of the island to its people.” Yet, we have invaded. Propped up dictators. Funded insurrection. We have forced unfair trade and have decimated Cuba economically by military blockhead and embargoes. We’ve dumped toxic waste and broadcast toxic radio. 040825_cubabaseball_hmed_2phmediumjpgIn spite of this, Cuba is a diverse country with a stable government and no lobbyists. It has free elections, universal healthcare, a strong education system, freedom of religion, low crime, wonderful food and great baseball players. All things that we aspire to.

There is that nagging “socialist” thing. According to Wikipedia, in 2006, Cuba’s economy was 78% public-sector employment and 22% private sector (compared to 91.8% to 8.2% in 1981). Ours, on the other hand, is about just about opposite those figures, but moving the other direction.

It is time to give notice on our lease. Of course, we’d have to recognize their “new” government.

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So what to do about Gitmo? Of the 775 detainees who have been our guests, only three3 have been convicted; 420 were released without charge by the Bush administration; 69 are now hosted by other countries; 41 are either in US prisons or have been misplaced; and 245 remain. Of these, we want to release about 185 when we can find a country to take them, which requires the bribe that Congress has yet to fund. That leaves us with what to do with the remaining 60 or so.

These 60 men so terrify our governors, representatives and senators that they are afraid to run for re-election if the prisoners are on our soil in their states. Closing of Gitmo is the issue that our alpha-male ex-veep came out of hiding to describe as “unwise in the extreme” and “recklessness cloaked in righteousness.” This is the issue President Obama says is “the toughest issue we will face.”

Doesn’t sound so tough to me. These worst of the worst are no match for the vicious criminals in our prisons – certainly, not in the showers. They are friendless, penniless and powerless. Many have been tortured and are incapacitated. Most don’t even speak English (except those who take our English language courses and enjoy some of the 7,500 books in the Gitmo library). These “masterminds” aren’t. They have long since been replaced by new recruits – many of which were likely recruited because of our internment policies and torture. Gitmo prisoners aren’t coming back here. Chances are, they aren’t going to be welcomed anywhere. No matter what we do, there are risks. But the risk to our system is greater if we don’t act.

We are a nation of laws. It is time to trust them. Trust the courts. Charge them or let them go. Take them back to where we found them (or, release them in Texas – they wouldn’t last a week).

Suggested reading:

Links:

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1 Our Navy ships used to burn a lot of coal – almost a thousand tons per day per battleship, which explains why we might want Guantánamo, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. We started switching to oil in 1910.

2 Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain! Sure. The state that gave us the two senate votes to pass Obama’s stimulus. No, the other Maine. The USS Maine sank in Havana Harbor (1898). Even though the explosion that caused the Maine’s sinking was in dispute, President Bush at the time, played by William McKinley, cited it as a reason to start a war with Spain and take over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. While the Republicans were waiting for a reason to pick a fight, disappointingly, Spain had already lost Mexico, Paraguay, Chile, Peru, Santo Dominto, Columbia, etc.

After the Spanish-American war, the Cuban-American Treaty gave us Guantánamo Bay and the surrounding land in perpetuity for the purpose of coaling and naval stations in exchange for our recognition of the sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba, their prohibition from negotiating treaties with country but us, and our agreement to preferential sugar tariffs, which allowed the US to dominate the government and the economy so long as we both shall live. This treaty was a requirement of the Platt Amendment to the Army appropriations bill (1899). While the treaty was rejected by the Cuban assembly, it was accepted by the government du jour (del día) and integrated into the Cuban constitution. One note: we signed the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969) which voids treaties obtained by force, but we ignore it in this case.

3 The Austrailian kid, who after torture, pleaded guilty and received a suspended sentence; the former chauffeur who was released for time served; and a man who received a life sentence for making a video celebrating the attack on the USS Cole.

Why are they torturing us?

smilingdickSeeing Dick’s crooked smile again on talk TV. Watching Nancy parse, fumble, flip, fluster, clarify and accuse. Hearing the Newt call for a leader to step down for something other than sex, racism or corruption. Watching liberal pundits be interrogated night after night by the gleeful wing nuts.

It was cruel. I just wish it was unusual for there to be more outrage at someone who is presumed guilty of not doing than those proven guilty of the most heinous crimes.

House Majority Leader, Nancy Pelosi (D) of California, stands accused of having attended a highly classified intelligence briefing in September 2002  (Republicans held the majority in the House at the time and she was not in the minority leadership) that included a description of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) used by the Bush Administration – and not doing much as a result. Further, at different times this week, she denied she was briefed on water-boarding, accused the CIA of not being truthful about the information presented, and had great difficulty describing her role without betraying the secrets of the briefings.

pelosiandbushWhat did she not do and when? Who else knew and didn’t act?

Beginning in 2002, the CIA held 40 separate intelligence oversight hearings that included information on EITs.  It is believed that at least 65 members of the House and Senate attended at least one of these meetings including John McCain (R, AZ), Pat Roberts (R, KS), John Rockefeller (D, WV), Carl Levin (D, MI), Dianne Feinstein (D, CA), Evan Bayh (D, IN), Barbara Mikulski (D, CA), Russ Feingold (D, WI), Lamar Alexander (R, TN) and Richard Shelby (R, AL).

Pelosi was included at one of those briefings along with Porter Goss (R, FL)) who later became head of the CIA. The subject of the briefing was the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah who had been captured in Pakistan in 2002. The interrogation techniques used on him were discussed and the representatives were reassured that was legal. Most of the focus is presumed to be about Zubaydah’s confession (later proved to be phony) that Al Qaeda terrorists use chemical weapons, helping justify invading Iraq.

I’m not here to be an apologist for any of them. What they did not do is disgusting.  It was September of an election year. The first anniversary of 911. The Rove propaganda machine was at full tilt. Bush, the decider, had decided to go to war. No one in Congress had facts. The Misleader-in-Chief and his dark sidekicks, Dick and Don, had threatened the patriotism of any one that wasn’t for them. It is easy to look back and see how convenient it was for our leaders to be informed, but not have the courage to martyr themselves just because it was the right thing to do.

Even if she knew of the water-boarding, just remember the controversy that surrounded Pelosi after her election two months later as the first female Minority Leader (of the lame duck session). It is pretty easy to see why she would might been reticent to stand up in January as House Majority Leader and throw away the Democrats’ promised agenda by announcing the Bushies were war criminals.

Bring on the Truth Commission. The tortured truth needs it.