Posts Tagged ‘Medicare’

Trump Couldn’t Lose for WInning

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Who knew?

     Who knew?

Sitting and watching the March blizzard do its thing outside the window — working, working, working to shut everything down — a memory from the 2016 presidential campaign snuck into my consciousness. The post kept popping up on my Facebook feed, but I honestly can’t remember the original source of the news. I’m also not in the mood to go researching for it because I didn’t think it was fake news then and today I am convinced it is the god’s honest truth.

In brief, one of DT’s former aides (of which there are many) wrote an article in which she claimed he never expected to win the Republican nomination and the election. Indeed, she said he did not want to win the election. Rather, she said, he just wanted to get his name out there for whatever profit he could gain from the publicity and maybe help launch a TV network he was planning. Branding.

Less than two months since his inauguration, it’s obvious: Donald Trump likes being president, but he is less than fond of doing president. The title and the glory are great — right up his alley. Put a big, gold “T” on the White House.

But the work? Daily intelligence briefings? Reading reports on the battle against ISIS? Getting up to speed on how complicated health care is? Learning the difference between the debt and the deficit, Medicaid and Medicare, China and Taiwan, Iran and Iraq, legal and unconstitutional? Isn’t that what we have Mike Pence for?

The man has no patience for details, for facts, for differing opinions, for the legal process, for diplomacy, for Cabinet meetings, for, at the very least, hiring people to fill the hundreds of federal government jobs unfilled since he took office. Who knew being president was such a big job?

Well, for one, his predecessor. And, with varying degrees of success, a long line of predecessors before Barack Obama.

Getting back to that aide’s story … Was there ever a campaign for president run with such obvious disregard for facts? WIth such disdain and outright rudeness aimed at other candidates? With such arrogant disregard for the bigotry and violence it encouraged in its followers? With such crudeness towards women, minorities, the physically handicapped? With such an ill-informed, self-obsessed liar as the candidate?

Rhetorical questions.

It was a campaign expressly designed for maximum press coverage, which it got. What went wrong for Trump is that he was up against the worst field of Republican candidates imaginable, few of whom had the guts to match him insult for insult (some of whom now kiss up to him since he’s the titular head of their party) and then ran into the most disliked Democrat in America as his opponent in the general campaign. Even encouraging the Russians to wiretap Hillary Clinton wasn’t enough to doom the Trump campaign.

Hard as he tried, most Republican leaders and elected officials couldn’t bring themselves to publicly call him a bully and a liar and a fraud and so their voters — the ones who weren’t outright racists or conspiracy theorists or rightwing extremists, all of whom loved him from the get-go — went for the celebrity candidate who promised them … well, whatever they wanted him to promise them.

I won’t be playing golf every week, he promised. Mexico will pay for the wall, he promised. Social Security and Medicare are safe, he promised, Everyone will have health care, he promised. How could he know that House Speaker Paul Ryan hated Social Security and Medicare and had no clue about how health insurance worked? That would have required understanding all that stuff himself and talking to Ryan about it. Work.

Trump’s bad luck followed him into November. Clinton beat him by three million votes and still lost, thanks to the Electoral College, which is a concept the new president surely still does not understand. Although he swears he had the widest winning margin there in decades. He couldn’t lose for winning, no matter how hard he tried. And now he has to try to convince a bunch of much smarter people who report to him every day that he knows what he’s doing.

Not that they believe him.

Which is our problem, America.

The golf? Jeez, I know I promised I’d be a working president, but this is ridiculous. Anything to get out of that depressing White House every weekend. ISIS this; ISIS that. Merkel this; Merkel that. Warren this; Warren that. What’s wrong with Flynn talking to Russians? Some of my best friends and creditors are Russians. How come nobody told me federal judges were appointed for life? Do I attack North Korea if they launch a missile at us? I can’t believe Ryan is going to try to find money for that stupid wall. Now they’re trying to pin my name on that ridiculous health care plan he came up with. Maybe I can feed that Maddow dame the only legit tax return I have this century to take the heat off the Russia thing. And what the heck is going on with Lindsay Graham and that loser McCain? Is Turkey an ally? Did La La Land win the Oscar or not? Bad dudes in Hollywood. I wonder if Rudy wants his old job back at Justice, or is he ticked I didn’t name him ambassador to Russia? Damn, why does the FBI want to talk to me? Melania!? Melania!? Help! They want me to organize the Easter egg roll! Stop hiding in New York!

Damn, where’d I leave my phone? Maybe I can get Snoop Dog to come down to Mar a Lago for golf this weekend. Hey, Bannon, it’s still Black History Month, isn’t it?

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

A livable, not a minimum, wage

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

By Bob Gaydos

Gov. Andrew Cuomo ... wants $15/hr minimum wage

Gov. Andrew Cuomo
… wants $15/hr minimum wage

When New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo raised the ante on the state’s minimum wage a couple of weeks ago, saying that $15 an hour sounded good to him, he also changed the nature of the political debate about what people get paid.    

For those who decide such things — well-paid politicians, usually — no longer is it a question of how little can we get away with paying people to do boring, tiresome jobs we wouldn’t do ourselves, but rather, what constitutes a minimum amount people can actually support themselves on? What’s a minimum livable wage?

With echoes of his late father’s call to take heed that all are included in the fruits of a prospering society, Cuomo did an about-face on the $15-an-hour wage shortly after signing on to that rate as a minimum for fast-food workers in the state. A panel appointed by Cuomo had recommended the $15 minimum and the state labor board agreed. Cuomo made it official. That rate will be phased in over six years.

But that left the state with the somewhat awkward circumstance of largely part-time, fast-food workers earning more than some people working at other, full time jobs in offices, schools, etc. Challenged on this contradiction, Cuomo was quick to recognize it. If $15 an hour is the minimum that fast-food workers need to live in New York without depending on other assistance, it certainly is a fair minimum wage for all workers in the state, he agreed. He said he would urge the state Legislature to approve the increase.

On cue, Republicans went into mock shock at the thought that every New Yorker should be able to earn, not just a wage, but a livable wage. Alluding to the governor’s own comment of a few months ago that a $15-an-hour minimum wage being sought by fast-food workers was “too high” and that $10.50 an hour was more realistic, State Sen. Jack M. Martins, chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, said, “I really don’t know what happened between $10.50 six months ago and $15 now. What’s the significance of $15? In my mind it’s a political number. The governor has not established $15 as a fair number.”

Well, I can’t read the governor’s mind, but let me answer Martins’ question anyway. What happened between $10.50 an hour and $15 is that the Republican-controlled state Senate flatly rejected Cuomo’s request for $10.50 and agreed instead to phase in a raise in the state minimum wage from $8.75 an hour to $9 an hour next year. Apparently, Republicans senators — who are paid a base salary of $79,500 a year and receive a $172 per diem allowance — consider a quarter-an-hour raise to be a major beneficence.

So maybe Cuomo did some calculations, mathematical and, yes, political, and decided it made no sense any more piddling around with proposals for small, incremental increases when the math added up otherwise. At $15 an hour, for a 40-hour week, someone would earn about $31,200 a year. That’s a barely livable wage for someone with a small family, but it’s a lot better than the $21,840 that a $10.50-an-hour salary adds up to.

In fact, that $21,840 is barely above the $20,090 federal poverty level for a family of three, according to government figures used to qualify people for a variety of assistance programs, including Medicaid. The $9-an-hour rate New York legislators generously approved comes to $18,720 for a full time, 40-hour work week. Of course, fast-food franchises typically don’t hire anyone for a 40-hour-week, thereby saving on overtime, insurance, sick pay, vacation and other benefits. The $15-an-hour rate would at least help workers make up for some of those exclusions.

The idea didn’t originate in New York. The cities of Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley have plans in motion to raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour. New York would be the first state to do so.

But is it, as Martins questioned, a fair number? Apparently New Yorkers think so. Two recent surveys showed a solid majority of residents in favor of the $15 minimum wage. A Quinnipiac University poll found that 62 percent approved of $15 an hour, with Democrats and Independents favoring it and Republicans opposing. A more recent survey conducted by Siena College found that 59 percent of respondents support an across-the-board $15 minimum wage, while 38 percent oppose it. Again, Republicans were against the rate, Democrats in favor. That speaks volumes about what the two parties stand for.

The business community in New York has, not surprisingly, joined with the restaurant industry in arguing against the $15-an-hour wage. Senator Martins even said many fast-food franchise owners were “scared” of the proposal and worried about their ability to stay open. Cuomo couldn’t say anything about that prospect for political reasons, but I can’t help but think that a few less fast-food establishments would be a major boon for the entire country, reducing obesity and other health problems and lowering health costs along the way, including Medicaid and Medicare expenses.

Business associations have also raised the usual argument that raising the state’s minimum wage would force some employers to cut payrolls. That’s just an argument to keep wages stagnant while profits rise. It also never seems to come up when top executives get huge raises.

In reality, when the wages of the lowest-paid workers are increased, they spend more money on goods and services and depend less on taxpayer-funded government subsidies. The money doesn’t go into offshore accounts. As opposed to the Reaganesque trickle-down GOP fantasy of giving the wealthy tax cuts so that they will invest more in the economy and thereby raise workers’ salaries — never happened, never will — a higher minimum wage actually trickles up through the economy, benefitting everyone.

And for all the doom-and-gloomers accusing Cuomo of playing to the populist mood of the country, there’s also the political reality that Cuomo is not about to casually alienate the state’s business owners. He says the new wage would be phased in over a period of years, allowing businesses to plan. He also says he’d propose tax cuts for businesses (they love that) and look to reduce other burdens (regulations), so that the increase would be affordable.

It sounds fair to me. In fact, it sounds like something I could live with.

Hillary, Beware the Cloak of Inevitability

Friday, June 12th, 2015

By Bob Gaydos

Hillary Clinton, why does she want to be president?

Hillary Clinton … why does she want to be president?

Having been dragged into the 2016 presidential debate a year early by the unexpected candidacy of George Pataki, I feel obliged to acknowledge the presidential ambitions of another “New Yorker,” Hillary Clinton.

Unlike Pataki, a Republican who carries the baggage of a man looking for a political party to support his aspirations, Clinton has long worn the cloak of inevitability as the Democrats’ likely candidate in 2016.

She may not want to get too comfortable with this bit of political apparel.

History suggests why. In 2008, the so-called conventional wisdom made Clinton a heavy favorite to capture her party’s nomination. All she had to do, it was suggested, was relax and let nature takes its course. After all, she had a well-respected Bill by her side in a reversal of roles, all the money they had amassed since he left the White House, a long list of wealthy Democratic donors and she had even won an election to become New York’s junior senator.

What more did she need?

As it turned out, a few things: 1.) a populist message with which voters could identify; 2.) a campaign persona that projected sincerity, clarity, energy and the possibility of real change; 3.) a little warmth; and 4.) a way to defeat Barack Obama, who, it turns out, had plenty of the first three.

In 2008, the inevitable was overcome by the unexpected.

Enter Bernie Sanders, 2015. The conventional wisdom — and even major news media, who should know better — are writing him off as an eccentric, under-funded, liberal — socialist even — senator from a small, New England state.

All of which is true, except for the eccentric part.

Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, is running for the Democratic nomination for president. Unlike most of the Republican presidential candidates, he is no crackpot. He has a dedicated — and rapidly growing — constituency, fueled by the most synergistic form of communication yet created by man — social media.

In 2008, Barack Obama had it. In 2015, Bernie Sanders has it in spades. Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites offer a non-stop, 24/7 recitation of Sanders’ positions on issues that resonate with so-called average Americans:

Protect Social Security and Medicare. Don’t raise the retirement age. Raise the minimum wage. Decrease the wealth gap by taxing the rich more. Overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that allows the super-rich to control elections. Fight global warming. Make college affordable, not a road to lifelong debt. Rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.

Furthermore, Sanders recently introduced legislation that strikes at the heart of Republicans’ so-called dedication to family values. His Guaranteed Paid Vacation Act would guarantee 10 paid days of vacation for employees who have worked for an employer for at least a year. Sanders is also co-sponsoring, with New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, The FAMILY Act, which allows 12 weeks of universal paid family and medical leave. This could be used to take care of a newborn, a seriously ill family member or to deal with serious medical conditions. Republicans are nowhere on this.

Sanders has also publicly criticized Clinton for not taking any position on President Obama’s TPP trade act, which Sanders has strongly opposed for its lack of transparency and a provision sidestepping congressional approval of new agreements.

This is not the agenda of a crackpot.

One of the knocks on Clinton has always been that she seems to feel entitled, that she should get people’s votes just because she is Hillary. That she should be New York’s senator just because. That she should be the first woman president of the United States just because.

Perhaps prompted by Sanders’ energetic campaign, which is drawing crowds and money to his cause, Clinton has called for universal voter registration — a knock at the numerous Republican efforts to limit voting rights in the name of fighting voter fraud, a phony issue. It’s a populist issue, but not one on the front burner.

Mostly, her campaign seems to be focusing on setting up a coast-to-coast organization to recruit workers and attract votes and money for the campaign against whoever the Republican candidate may be. That’s because the Clinton team doesn’t expect much of a challenge from Sanders or former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination.

O’Malley is also no dunderhead. He would shine among the GOP field of dreamers. Like Sanders, he has an air of believability. Sure, it takes a lot of ego to run for president, but beyond the ego — even the sense of entitlement — many voters like to feel the person who gets their vote really means what he or she says and will work like hell to make it happen.

Then-Sen. Obama projected that in 2008. Young voters, women and minorities especially rallied to his side. In 2012, he had a record that was strong enough to validate that commitment one more time.

So the question is, what would a second president Clinton stand for? Would Hillary be a second coming of Bill? In some ways, that might not be bad, given his management of the economy. But Hillary is no Bill, at least when it comes to campaigning. She can’t realistically change her personality, but she can articulate some views that demonstrate an awareness of the issues of concern to many Americans. Sanders has spoken on some, but women’s issues appear to be there for Clinton to claim. Also bias. Immigration. And she needs to challenge Sanders on the others if she disagrees with him.

Like any Democratic candidate, she enjoys the luxury of not having to appease the ignorati of the right, who distrust science, detest non-Christians, deny evolution and dismiss the poor. She is free to say what she really believes and, if it is in line with Democratic Party principles, she can do so without fear of losing primary votes. But she’ll need to take that comfortable cloak of entitlement off and show that she’s interested in more than wooing major campaign donors and renovating the family quarters in the White House.

Why does she want to be president?

Clinton has said, much to her regret, that she and Bill were broke when they left the White House. No one believed her, but, good for them, that’s apparently not a problem anymore. Her problem appears to be that every time she sets her sights on the Oval Office, some man gets in the way. First Bill, then Barack … now Bernie? B-ware, Hillary.

 

 

AARP: New Publishers Clearing House

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

I had hoped the annoying email from the AARP would stop after I didn’t renew my membership a while back. I should live so long. They are relentless. And just in case I don’t look at my email, they make sure to send regular reminders via the U.S. Postal Service. Those I don’t mind quite as much. I want Crystal, our letter carrier, to keep her job, along with all the postal workers around the country whose jobs are being threatened by the austerity hawks in Congress.

Really, I don’t need an AARP card to show that I qualify for the senior discounts. And lately I’m finding their emails at least as annoying as the letters I get from Publishers Clearing House announcing in big, bold type that I could be the next winner of their Grand Prize. Look closely and there is small type saying “no purchase necessary,” and “odds of winning Grand Prize: 300,000,000 to one.” At least the AARP gave better odds in their email last month when they wrote, “Michael, We’re Giving Away $25,000 in the Brain Health Sweepstakes – Enter for Your Chance to Win.” I didn’t read any further: Brain health isn’t my forte.

Then there was one that said, “Michael, Intimacy After 50: What’s Normal?” I have to admit I was tempted to read that one just to see what they had to say on the subject. I imagine they don’t think highly of whips and chains and such. That reminds me of my favorite line from Eating Raoul where Paul Bartel as Paul Bland says, “I’m into S&M and she’s into B&D and we met at the A&P.” I like that movie.

There was one in January: “Michael, For a Limited Time Save 40% on the AARP Driver Safety course.” And in February: “Michael, For a Limited Time Save 20% on the AARP Driver Safety course.” That would have really bugged me if I were going to take a driver safety course and I’d missed out on that 40% off deal. There was another in March: “Michael, For a Limited Time Save 30% on the AARP Driver Safety course.” Now I’m waiting for that 40% off to come around again. When it does I’m going to jump on it. (I told you brain health isn’t my forte.) I figure you can never learn too much about safe driving.

The one on March 29 was kind of spooky: “Michael, Why Do Couples Split after 25 Years or More?” I didn’t look at that one either but I suppose they split for the same reasons couples split after fewer than 25 years. But the thing that was spooky about it is that Eva-Lynne and I would soon be celebrating our 25th anniversary. Was AARP trying to tell us something?

And then there was one that resembled a headline in the National Enquirer: “Michael, You Can Prevent Arthritis with These 7 Tips.” I have no idea what the tips are but it is way too late for me to prevent arthritis. I’ll tell you this though: If AARP can come up with some tips that will cure arthritis, I might consider renewing my membership. But for now I’ll pass.

At a time when issues of vital concern to seniors, when Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are on the chopping block, AARP sent, “Michael, These Inns Are So Fancy You May Never Want to Leave Your Room.” The accompanying text describes “Quaint inns for the astute and deep-pocketed traveler.” Of one, AARP wrote, “Countless repeat guests don’t blink at the $1,260-and-up nightly tab, which includes three sumptuous, made-to-order gourmet meals each day; plentiful outdoor activities, from snowshoeing to flyfishing; and personalized service that extends to round-trip transfers from distant airports.”

I replied to that one April 27: “Shame on you, AARP.” So far they haven’t answered.

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.

 

All Aboard the Fancy Feast Express!

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

'Signed Off' / Illustration by Lance Theroux

By Emily Theroux

Back in the ’80s, my irreverent sister Ann (not a millennial “hipster” but the genuine article) was fond of cracking, whenever either of us came up with a questionable idea, “Let’s not and say we did.” Long before the advent of air quotes and Facebook friending, our favorite throwaway line (which apparently originated as far back as the 1920s) was a pre-“Interwebs” verbal meme.

More often than not, we did all kinds of inadvisable things — and said we didn’t. But we were young and relatively carefree then; life, or what remains of it, has grown a great deal grimmer and more complicated since those heady days.

Case in point: Two weeks ago, my husband’s newspaper job (and, if the virtual writing on the wall proves accurate, a 40-year career in journalism) succumbed to the industry demon: budget cutbacks intended to keep a dying institution — the printed page — from fluttering away on the downdraft of technological progress. The ax fell just six years before Lance’s expected retirement. As bad luck would have it, his layoff occurred a week before congressional Republicans refused to stop the idiocy of deliberate fiscal “sequestration” and two cruel weeks before a positive jobs report hailed a .2 percent drop in the unemployment rate.

We joked, gallows-style, that the “Boehnerquester” arrived a week early in our household, where one of us (that would be me) is already on disability. Both of us are adult orphans with no prospect of any eventual inheritance. In these desperate times, the job market is virtually nonexistent for a 59-year-old unemployed newspaper artist — even one who has earned a slew of national and regional awards from three states and the District of Columbia, in categories ranging from design and illustration to news presentation and graphics.

Terrified yet absurdly hopeful, less than a month out, is probably an accurate appraisal of our current outlook. It’s almost spring. With no commute, we’ve been saving a small fortune on gasoline. We’re literally running on fumes and nervous energy.

I have absolute confidence in Lance’s skills, his talent, his courage and resourcefulness and tenacity, and even (for reasons I can’t explain even to myself) his prospects for a future no one can yet predict.

* * *

We’re not the only ones to find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma.

Since the sequester went into effect on March 1, official Washington has once again descended into “grand bargain” fever. This inexplicable fetish for diminishing the social safety net — provided for decades by Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, as well as food stamps, education aid, disability, unemployment, and veterans’ benefits — has long been exalted by Beltway pols and pundits. Now, even President Obama appears poised to break his campaign promise not to sacrifice vital social programs on the altar of “discretionary spending cuts” — the deceitful repackaging of lopsided supply-side dogma as “bipartisan compromise.”

If the sequester furloughs proceed, if the wrongheaded “chained CPI” index impoverishes older seniors whose savings have run out by tampering with the formula for Social Security’s cost-of-living increase, can Paul Ryan’s perennial austerity budget be far behind? Apparently not, as long as Ryan can hustle recent fiscal-cliff “tax hikes” on gazillionaires (along with the same $716 billion Medicare cut that the failed veep candidate brandished against Obama last fall) into something everyone agrees is not going to happen — an “Obamacare” repeal that would preserve the $1 trillion the law is slated to raise in tax revenues!

Washington Post editorial writer Stephen Stromberg’s recent take on the Ryan budget retread — uncharitably titled “Paul Ryan To Change Medicare for Boomers Over 55? Good.” — bristles with intergenerational hostility. (Overcome with curiosity, I Googled Stromberg’s photograph. As I suspected, he looked as though he started shaving last year and rarely trusts anyone over 49.)

Ryan’s budget “upgrade” could include “structural changes for boomers as old as 58,” warned Stromberg. Thank God, my husband and I have both lived long enough to dodge that bullet. But hi-ho, Steverino: You’re going to be an old fart, too, some day. It creeps up on the best of us, much faster than you could possibly imagine. Life, as Thomas Hobbes said in 1651, is nasty, brutish, and short. Rich or poor, upwardly mobile or in sudden harrowing freefall, most of us will likely make it to 65, with or without a safety net. After that, there’s only one exit, though many ways of reaching it.

Nothing — not all of David Koch’s billions or the gold-plated ripcord of his reserve parachute — can slow the inevitable human collision at the bitter end with implacable earth.

* * *

The koi pond in March 2009 / Photo by Lance Theroux

Once our pond thaws and the koi surface to feed, I imagine we’ll go back, Lance and I, to fanning out The New York Times, section by section, on the big glass-topped table on our deck — at least as long as we have a deck to spread it out on. Hot coffee, a mechanical pencil with a decent eraser, the Times crossword puzzle, and ink-smudged fingertips are all the religion I’ve ever needed on a Sunday morning.

The actual physical paper is still good for a great deal more than lining birdcages, clipping grocery coupons, or wrapping fish. But if our headlong hurtle out of the middle class hits bottom and we lose the house, I can always pack my grandmother’s bone-china teacups in crumpled wads of newsprint when the time comes to ship the family heirlooms to my younger sister, Beth. (Ann, two years my junior, is already gone. Like our father, she died tragically before the age of 60.)

Born when I was almost 13, during the Baby Boom’s penultimate year, Beth long ago relocated to the West Coast to practice family medicine in underserved communities, working for thankless wages yet undoubtedly reaping enormous spiritual dividends. Right up there with Pacific Coast Highway wildfires, earthquakes, and mudslides, my baby sister has survived a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and endured a subsequent residency in neurology, undertaken in her late forties so she could better treat MS patients and research the disease.

Should Beth go without Medicare benefits, if she lives so long that she becomes sick enough to need them? I don’t think so, Mr. Stromberg.

Some Entitlements in Need of Reform

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

I am always amazed when I hear some millionaire or billionaire (or their spokespeople in Congress or Fox News or talk radio) proclaim, “We’re broke!” According to them, our government no longer has the means to continue safety net programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

They themselves are not broke, of course. They’re doing just fine. And if you ask them, everyone in this country is pretty well off too, so we don’t really need the safety net anymore. They’re just symptoms of the “nanny state” anyway and that’s what’s wrong with this country by golly: all those people looking for handouts (you know, like retirees, veterans and disabled folks). You’ve probably heard statements of this sort (either on Fox News or on The Daily Show when Jon Stewart shows clips of the dumb things they say on Fox News):  “Poor people never had it so good as they have it now in the U.S. They have refrigerators, air conditioners and television sets. How bad off can they be?”

The Wall Street Journal published an article recently that even tried to make the case that the “middle class” in this country has not been harmed by the fact that real wages (adjusted for cost of living changes) have not gone up in decades as wealth has ballooned for a small percentage of people at the top of the economic ladder. According to the writer, wages aren’t a good measure anymore because of all the advances that have taken place that make life better for us all, as in healthcare, for example. (I’m not making this up.)

Another article in the WSJ a while back suggested that income disparity is good for everybody. The writer used Michael Jordan as an example. See, when Jordan was leading the Chicago Bulls to championships, his mediocre teammates got paid better, the arena was packed, which meant more people were hired to prepare and serve food and show people to their seats. Talk about a win-win. But a two-hour drive from Chicago would have taken the author to Freeport, Ill., and the shut down Sensata plant. Sensata, which manufactures sensor parts for the auto industry, is owned by Bain Capital, the private equity company founded by Mitt Romney. Despite a profitable 2011 Sensata laid off all the workers in Freeport last year and moved manufacturing to China—but not before forcing the American workers to train their replacements. Ironically, the plant was shut down the day before Election Day.

As described by Dave Johnson of the Campaign for America’s Future, “Bain’s business model is to purchase companies using ‘leveraged buyouts’ that borrow huge sums using the purchased company’s own assets as collateral, uses the borrowed money to immediately pay itself, then cuts costs by doing things like sending jobs to China, cutting wages and manipulating tax rules to cut taxes owed, along with standard big-business practices like consolidating business units, taking advantage of economies of scale not available to smaller competitors, squeezing distribution channels for price cuts, and other practices that bring competitive advantages.”

Bain is “entitled” to do this under the current laws of the United State of America. I think it’s about time we had some entitlement reform to stop this kind of thing from happening. If a U.S.-based company making good profits in this country wants to move to China, it should be allowed to do so only after providing extended health benefits and severance packages to each and every person who will lose a job as a reult of the move–or not be permitted to move at all.

Another entitlement in need of reform is the one that permits the underachieving or none-too-bright sons and daughters of wealthy people to attend great colleges and universities simply because a relative went there before. These “legacy students” are taking up space that might otherwise be given to hard-working students who have earned admission but whose families cannot afford the steep cost of sending them to a place like Yale or Harvard, for example. A worthy reform might be to require those who can readily afford it to pay for the education of one of those deserving people in addition to that of their own family member. The deserving individual would be selected at random from a pool of worthy candidates regardless of their race, creed or color. All they would have in common is that their families can’t afford to send them to the school. This would avoid the usual complaints about “reverse discrimination” that accompany affirmative action measures, while still advancing the goals because a disproportionate percentage of minority community members will be represented.

Why is someone who inherits a large piece of land “entitled” to sell it to developers for commercial use? Why is the concept of “private property” more important than preservation of the earth and the health of its inhabitants? Now there is some fertile ground for entitlement reform. Feel free to add your own. And for goodness sakes, let’s not allow them to take away the safety net:  Hands off Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid!

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.

 

The Right’s ‘Nobama’ Melodrama

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

In the continuum between “fiscal cliff” brinksmanship and “right-to-work” trickery, I can’t decide whether to laugh, throw rocks, or avert my gaze in disgust from the spectacle of angry old white men, locked in a grudge match with President Obama and behaving churlishly.

The past week has been a mash-up of bad actors and worse theatrics. Which should we ring down the curtain on first?

 

The Speaker of the House resorts to high-risk stagecraft

John Boehner isn’t entirely sure who he’s representing in the fiscal cliff fiasco, but he’s certainly had to tiptoe through the muck left over after the Republican campaign splattered like an overripe tomato against the brick wall of the electorate. Republicans have no idea what they’re mutating into – since, at this early stage, it’s still bubbling up from the primordial ooze of spent teabags, long-form personhood certificates, forcible rape-rap, and amnesty antics into its own form of lame-duck lunacy.

Among Boehner’s recent one-liners:

  • (Re: his fiscal cliff avoidance plan, which proposes cutting $600 billion in “entitlement” spending, partly by raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, but doesn’t raise the marginal tax rate on rich people; collecting $200 billion in revenues by closing unspecified income tax deductions and loopholes; then trimming billions more by slashing agency budgets, eliminating other mandatory programs, and reducing beneficiaries’ cost-of-living increases – all without offering specifics or even mentioning the payroll tax, unemployment, or the coming debt-ceiling debacle): “A credible plan that deserves serious consideration by the White House.”
  • (Re: President Obama’s standing offer of generating $1.4 trillion in revenues (revised downward from an initial figure of $1.6 trillion in an attempt to appease Tea Party holdouts) by reinstating Clinton-era tax rates for the extremely wealthy; cutting entitlement spending by $400 billion; adding another $50 billion in stimulus spending; and requiring that Congress cede power over raising the debt limit to the executive branch): Obama’s “la-la land offer.”

Why is Speaker Boehner slow-walking an eventual deal with Democrats? The National Review’s Robert Costa said the House Weeper may be facing a leadership challenge from no-nonsense conservative Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, if Boehner colludes with moderates to achieve the dreaded “compromise.” Moreover, the GOP’s festering Tea Party flank isn’t in any hurry to cave in to raising their single-minded constituents’ taxes. Creative gerrymandering by Republican-controlled state legislatures may have put the kibosh on reaching common ground.

Worrying the bejesus out of small business owners (who fear losing customers to Medicare cuts) and the general public is the looming prospect of  economic collapse. The Congressional Budget Office warned in August that the fiscal cliff impasse, if not resolved by January (when the Bush tax cuts expire and the extreme “sequestration” budget cuts kick in), would hurtle the U.S. economy into another recession. As International Monetary Fund director Christine Lagarde cautioned Sunday, failure to reach “a comprehensive deal” before January will crash the fragile recovery, reverse recent gains in employment, and reduce growth to “zero.”

The House Speaker (who holds more power at this moment than anyone with his self-serving mindset, indecisive temperament, and appalling incompetence ever merited) dithers while America burns. Republican intransigence continues to edge us closer every day to plunging headlong into catastrophe. We can’t afford to play these dangerous games with the future of the U.S. economy so that Boehner and the House’s far-right cohort can “save face.”

John Boehner needs to stop worrying about saving his own job and focus on saving his country instead. He might go down in flames among the rabble-rousers in his own caucus, but he’ll also improve his chances of going down in history as a principled patriot rather than the worst Speaker the U.S. House of Representatives has ever had.

 

Krauthammer’s cruel logic: Right-to-work equals lower wages

Yesterday, Michigan’s lame-duck state legislature passed the Orwellian-sounding “right-to-work” law, which labeled union-busting “freedom of choice” while its proponents proclaimed it “pro-worker” and “pro-choice.” With a stroke of his pen, Governor Rick Snyder vanquished organized labor in the birthplace of the United Auto Workers union.

Right-to-work laws, as Ezra Klein explained in The Washington Post, don’t give you the right to work. “They give you the right to refuse to pay union dues when you work for a union shop, even though you get the wages the union bargained for, and the benefits the union bargained for, and the grievance process the union bargained for.”

If you live in Michigan and watch your salary and benefits steadily decline over the next several years, don’t ask Charles Krauthammer to cry for you.

During a Fox News “Special Report,” the insufferable Dr. K averred that successful American auto unions like the UAW resulted from a postwar “anomaly” that no longer exists in a globally competitive world.

“I sympathize with the unions, but the fact is that in a global economy, where you have to compete on wages and other elements of production, you can either have high wages with low employment, or you can, as Obama would say, ‘spread around the wealth’,” Krauthammer (who worked for years as a shrink!) said with sublime sensitivity, unable to resist a rapier-like pun. “In the right-to-work states, unemployment is 6.9 percent, and in the non-right-to-work states, it’s 8.7. So you can choose to have fewer workers who enjoy higher, inflated, unnatural wages, uncompetitive wages, or you can have competitive wages and more people employed, more people with the dignity of a job, and less unemployment and more taxation and more activity. I think it’s the right choice, but I understand how it’s a wrenching choice.”

Sorry, Charlie, but, as the wingnuts like to say, “That dog don’t hunt.” If CEOs and other company managers weren’t awarded salaries totally out of proportion to those earned by their employees, gazillion-dollar annual bonuses regardless of performance, corporate welfare, tax credits for outsourcing jobs, “golden parachutes,” and other incentives to gamble away corporate profits instead of reinvesting a portion of them in living wages, well-deserved benefits, and decent pension programs for their most valuable assets – the human kind – the economy wouldn’t be in this godawful mess.

If you have no heart, at least have the sense to keep your deficiencies to yourself!

 

Scalia compares ‘homosexual sodomy’ with murder

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has once again stepped in a steaming heap of controversy over a topic under consideration by the Court. During a nationwide book tour, Scalia brought up “having moral feelings against homosexuality,” only two days after the Court agreed to hear two cases challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s definition of marriage as “between a man and a woman.”

During a speech at Princeton University promoting his new book, Reading Law, Scalia responded to a question from a gay student about why his writings compare “laws banning sodomy with those barring bestiality and murder,” the Associated Press reported Monday. The justice opined that legislative bodies can prohibit acts they believe to be “immoral.”

If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have (them) against murder? Can we have (them) against other things?” Scalia wondered aloud. What, this caused me to marvel, should this man’s personal musings about morality have to do with interpreting the law?

The questioner, freshman Duncan Hosie of San Francisco, remained unconvinced by this outrageous line of chatter, even though the justice insisted “he (was) not equating sodomy with murder but drawing a parallel between the bans on both.” Hosie told the AP reporter that he believes Scalia’s writings tend to “dehumanize” gays.

Scalia should immediately recuse himself from deliberating on any case about which he has already publicly revealed his prejudices – something he apparently has no intention of doing, since blurting out two months ago at a similar event, held at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, “Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state.” As far as Scalia, who calls himself a “textualist,” is concerned, if the Constitution didn’t ban the death penalty or preclude restrictions on abortion and sodomy, then neither should he.

As Michael Tomasky concluded in Time, “What blithering nonsense! … And Scalia is a bigot.”

Mitt’s V.P.: The Prince of Partisan Pop

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Union members demonstrated against Mitt Romney's vice-presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, in Las Vegas. (Photo: BuzzFeed)

By Emily Theroux

On Twitter, Rupert Murdoch called Mitt Romney’s V.P. pick an “almost perfect choice,” and a Fox News fanboy dubbed him “the rock star of American politics.”

So why does Witless Mitt appear to have a classic case of buyer’s remorse?

Wayward Willard apparently made the most important decision of his entire presidential campaign in full panic mode. His press secretary, Andrea Saul, had just committed the cardinal sin: forgetting to lie about “Romneycare.” During a Fox News broadcast, Saul was asked about a pro-Obama super-PAC ad in which a laid-off steelworker said that, after his former plant was shut down by Romney’s Bain Capital and he lost his company-sponsored health insurance plan, his uninsured wife later took ill and died. Observing that, if the family had lived in Massachusetts, they would have been covered by Romney’s universal health care law (a forbidden subject in MittWorld), Saul effectively implied that “Obamacare” was a pretty good deal for America.

Erick Erickson

A Full Fringe Freakout ensued. Erick Erickson of Redstate.com sent out The Tweet of Doom: “OMG. This might just be the moment Mitt Romney lost the election. Wow.” Laura Ingraham informed her TRN radio audience that, although she “might be the skunk at the picnic,” she had to say it: “Romney’s losing.” Rush Limbaugh mercilessly castigated Saul on Clear Channel. And Ann Coulter imploded on Hannity, demanding Saul’s head on a platter by the following morning. (As of press time, Saul still had her job.)

Mitt had already grown desperate to change the subject from relentless questions about his unreleased tax returns. Seeking immediate surcease, the Much-Maligned Mittster discovered all possible means of egress were marked “No Exit.” Terrified of spending all eternity with two or more raving partisans in Sartre’s cramped version of hell, Mitt jumped at his first chance to get back in the wingnuts’ good graces. Harry Reid, he could deal with, but being on the outs with El Rushbo & Co. was no freaking Pee-Wee boxing match.

The Mittbot clicked into autocorrect. Salvaging his doomed campaign became paramount; careful deliberation gave way to frenetic  forward motion. He had to do Something Big — and very distracting. Spurning the advice of seasoned pros with far better political instincts than his own, the one-term, faux-conservative governor flashed his only wild card, two weeks before the GOP convention was slated to begin in Tampa.

 

Whose budget plan — Ryan’s? Of course not — Romney’s!

Paul Ryan

The presumptive Republican vice-presidential nominee, Mitt announced, was Paul Ryan, 42,  the wonkish seven-term Wisconsin congressman of “Young Guns” renown (along with Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy). Ryan, an extreme social and fiscal conservative who serves as chairman of the House Budget Committee, has championed the obliteration of women’s reproductive rights and gay civil rights. He favors uncompromising, hard-right fiscal policy, devotes countless hours to manic P90X fitness workouts, and secretly worships at the bizarre altar of the fanatical ideologue Ayn Rand.

A post on Erickson’s blog gave Mitt props for picking Ryan — and also let him wriggle off the hook for Saul’s unforced error: “Contrary to some people’s opinions, Romney has run a stellar campaign. He can’t help it if Eric Fehrnstrom and Andrea Saul have had some brain-dead moments …well, maybe he could. There is no such thing as the perfect campaign.”

But almost immediately, mainstream reporters began clamoring to sort out how Ryan’s signal political achievement — his 2010 “Road Map for America’s Future,” a radical budget plan that would convert Medicare into a voucher system — would affect the campaign. That led to edgy, defensive bravado on Mitt’s part (Paul who? Who said anything about Ryan’s plan? Hey, I’m the candidate here. My plan’s not exactly chopped liver, ya know. )

Then why appoint Paul Ryan V.P.? they queried. This perfectly reasonable question visibly stunned Romney. His heretofore choreographed campaign began unraveling. His own budget plan remained vague and sketchy like the rest of his policies, but the Ryan plan was something the press — and unfortunately, the public — could sink their teeth into.

Mitt the Whiner

Once again, the Romney campaign backed away from focusing on the economy (his only imaginable path to victory) and started flailing away at Democrats on the stump with an ever-shifting drumbeat of lies and innuendos: Obama wants to keep soldiers from voting. Obama’s going to take the ‘work’ out of welfare reform. Biden is a racist. (Why? He said an unregulated Wall Street would put us “in chains.” Chains = slavery, no matter the context. He used the word “y’all,” so he must have been talking about race. Or something.) Resign, Biden! (Sez Sarah Palin.) Obama’s campaign is based on division and anger and hatred. (Dog-whistle translation: Obama is a scary, angry black man. Be afraid. Be very afraid.) Obama is being mean to me. Obama and Axelrod, go back to Chicago so ‘us decent Americans’ can take our country back!

(Romney himself once said, “There’s no whining in politics.” It’s available on videotape for anyone to see. So why is this man still whining, when it makes him look like such an insufferable ass?)

 

When the #MittHitsTheFan, GOP insiders remember to duck

Several days after Romney’s announcement, it emerged that, after publicly praising his veep pick, some three dozen GOP strategists and operatives  met individually with Politico reporters to express serious reservations about Ryan’s potential effect on Romney’s candidacy as well as Senate and House contests. “Away from the cameras, and with all the usual assurances that people aren’t being quoted by name, there is an unmistakable consensus among Republican operatives in Washington,” Politico’s resulting scoop revealed. “Romney has taken a risk with Ryan that has only a modest chance of going right — and a huge chance of going horribly wrong.”

Mark McKinnon

“(T)he most common reactions to Ryan ranged from gnawing apprehension to hair-on-fire anger that Romney has practically ceded the election,” the Politico article, co-written by Alexander Burns, Maggie Haberman, and Jonathan Martin, stated. Some even think the Ryan pick is “a disaster for the GOP” and might cost Republicans the Senate if voters latch onto “MediScare” again. “Very not helpful down ballot — very,” a top Republican consultant told Politico.

Why on earth would Mitt choose a candidate who’s going to tar down-ticket Republicans with the same “class warfare” brush — the “Medicare menace” that enabled a Democrat to win an upstate New York district that had voted Republican since before the Civil War? The risk-averse Romney should have refrained from prodding the dry tinder of districts whose GOP representatives are backing as far away from Ryan as possible, before a spark of doubt among an aging populace bursts into a conflagration.

Meanwhile, wrote a Daily Kos blogger, “The Florida papers are destroying Paul Ryan” — in a state that Romney desperately needed to win. ” So much so that a distraught and panicked Village (a term used by progressive bloggers to denote the mainstream media) believes ‘Mitt Romney is in big, big trouble’ for selecting the man who wants to pull the plug on Grandma.”

The only GOP strategist brave enough to speak to Politico for attribution, former Bush senior adviser Mark McKinnon, called Mitt’s decision “a very bold choice”  that meant “Romney-Ryan can run on principles and provide some real direction and vision for the Republican Party.” Then McKinnon added his single caveat:  “And probably lose. Maybe big.”

 

Ryan’s list of negatives continues to mount:

  • “Willard’s Choice” has doubled the number of rich white men atop the GOP ticket. (Mitt could have picked Pawlenty or Portman — two boring white men — but that would scarcely have budged the Etch a Sketch.)
  • Because Ryan proposed eliminating the capital gains tax and Romney’s income is derived almost entirely from investments, Romney would pay virtually no taxes under Ryan’s plan. (Way to pick a winner, Mitt!)
  • In the 14 years since Ryan left Wisconsin for Washington, only two of his many proposed bills have ever been passed. One renamed a post office; nobody remembers the other one.
  • Romney’s ratings haven’t received the customary “bounce” from his veep announcement.
  • #MittTheTwit didn’t rack up any  points bad-mouthing Palestinians in Israel. Only six percent of American Jews answer “Israel” when asked what most influences their presidential vote, says Peter Beinart of The Daily Beast — who adds that Romney (the perennial outsider who never has a clue) probably lost the remaining Jewish vote by choosing Ryan. (The economy, health care, a positive view of government spending, and fear of the Christian right top the list. And get this, Mitt: “Almost 80 percent of American Jews think it’s fine for a woman to have an abortion for any reason.” Giving birth control to teens ranks right up there, too — and support for school prayer is a definite minus. Sorry, Willard — you’d be a lot more popular if you were still governor of Massachusetts!)
  • According to the Gallup poll and reason.com, “a clear majority, 58 percent, of Americans” have never heard of Paul Ryan. Snooki, Kim Kardashian, or Donald Trump would have been more readily recognized by the typical American voter. (And maybe Chris Christie, if he keeps insulting people on a regular basis. He might even get his own reality show.)

 

Union demonstrators protest Ryan’s Vegas star turn

Out on the campaign trail, hecklers interrupted Ryan’s debut campaign appearance at the Iowa State Fair, where the veep candidate showed his snarky side while dodging reporters’ questions. “We’ll play ‘Stump the Running Mate’ later,” he snapped at an NPR reporter. “I’m just going to enjoy this fair right now.”

The following night, the man of the hour attended a GOP fundraiser at billionaire donor Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. The event, however, attracted more than big bucks. Outside, several hundred union protesters filled the plaza, according to Alternet. Protestors carried signs reading  “Romney/Ryan Road to Ruin,” “Paul Ryan Hustling for the 1%,” and “This is What Democracy Looks Like!”

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, had come to Vegas for his union’s annual convention, BuzzFeed reported. “Romney Hood, Ryan Hood, not in our neighborhood,” Gage chanted.

The GOP strategists may not see eye-to-eye with the 99 percenters, but they are definitely worried about the added angst of a Ryan candidacy. “Everybody loves Paul Ryan. Everybody supported the Ryan plan,” one party insider told Politico in D.C. “But nobody thinks Ryan should be the tip of the spear.”