Saturday, April 16, 2011

Legislative Assisted Suicide: House Republicans Embrace Ryan End to Medicare/Medicaid as we Know it

By:  Dr. J. P. Hubert

On a party-line vote the Republicans in the US House of Representatives yesterday passed Congressman Paul Ryan's Deficit Reduction Plan which would put an end to Medicare and Medicaid as they now exist.

According to the plan, by 2022, American's would no longer be enrolled in Medicare Part B. Instead, the elderly would be given fixed dollar amounts each year with which to purchase private health insurance coverage--through a kind of voucher program .

Given that elderly patients represent an unacceptable risk pool for insurance companies, the logical outcome is that most senior Americans would be incapable of obtaining health insurance at all. This of course is a radical form of health care rationing or what might better be termed legislative assisted suicide/homicide given the elevated incidence of serious disease among those advanced in age.

All House Democrats and only 4 Republican House members voted against the Ryan measure which is not currently expected to pass the US Senate.

Obama's Deficit Plan a boon to Super-Rich While Impoverishing Poor and Middle Class

Editor's NOTE:

The piece below by Kevin Zeese is a follow-up to my yesterday's post. Zeese agrees that the real money to be saved lies in the military/national security budgets.

Zeese has made multiple other observations which are spot-on including his remarks vis a vis the problems with the Obama Health Care Plan and the concentration of wealth into a progressively smaller portion of the US population. This is an excellent essay. Please read the entire article and forward to friends and other interested parties.

For a quick review of just how concentrated the wealth in America has become see the data below.

Key Tax Facts: (from Institute for Policy Studies article)

•15,753: The number of households in 1961 with $1 million in taxable income (adjusted for inflation).

•361,000: The number of households in 2011 estimated to have $1 million in taxable income.

•43.1: Percent of total reported income that Americans earning $1 million paid in taxes in 1961 (adjusted for 2011 dollars)

•23.1: Percent of total reported income that Americans earning $1 million are likely to pay in taxes in 2011, estimated from latest IRS data.

•47.4: Percent of profits corporations paid in taxes in 1961.

•11.1: Percent of profits corporations paid in taxes in 2011.

--Dr. J. P. Hubert

Obama's Deficit Plan will Impoverish Main Street America

by Kevin Zeese

Global Research
April 14, 2011

President Obama announced the outlines of his deficit plan, leaving a lot up for negotiation. He planted his poll at the center right and where he ends up, with his history of compromising to bring right wing Republicans and Democratic corporatists together, can only be worse.

I was pleasantly surprised to see groups that usually side with Obama even criticizing him. True Majority/US Action wrote

“Obama wants to cut $4 trillion, but not $1 from the Pentagon,” in their headline. They go on to point out that “President Obama today proposed reducing the deficit through almost $800 billion in cuts.”

They correctly point out that the country needs jobs not deficit cuts, and if cuts are going to be made they should not be made in domestic programs where funds are needed but in the military writing:

“Over half of the money Congress makes decisions on goes directly into the Pentagon’s pocket, and that doesn't count the money for actual wars. But instead of cutting the Pentagon budget, Obama is proposing over $700 billion in cuts to programs that benefit the poor, seniors and children, while only trying to save $400 billion on war and weapons.”

When there are no real cuts for the Pentagon, just slower growth, it means that the rest of discretionary spending will face real cuts. Everything from education to the environment, health care to safety will be cut and every American will feel it.

When it comes to taxes, the president is seeking small increases on the wealthiest. A critical part of solving the economic problems in the United States, not just the deficit problems, is fixing the dramatic upward shift of income and wealth to the economic elite. The corporate cronyism of the last three decades has left the middle class, working class and poor with few resources, but the wealthiest have become gluttonously rich.

The vast majority of the income gains in the United States over the last three decades have gone to the richest 5% of the population with the greatest gains in the top 0.5%. This funneling of wealth to the top came as a result of policies that were explicitly designed to redistribute income upwards beginning with President Reagan’s “trickle down economics” and continuing with the Bush tax cuts and the Obama/Bush Wall Street bailouts. In fact, during the economic expansion from 2002-2007 the top 1% captured two-thirds of income growth. Now, the top 1% has 70% of the wealth of the nation. To balance the budget, the government needs to go where the money is. As a result, it is far more appropriate to tax the richest that have prospered then to cut essential services for the broad middle class which has suffered.

The funneling of wealth to the top has been due to tax payer subsidies, tax breaks and corporate welfare to concentrated corporate interests and tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. This is a major source of the national debt. From 2001-2008, tax cuts for the wealthy cost the U.S. Treasury $700 billion, all adding to the national debt.

There are 7,500 households in the United States with annual incomes over $20 million. Over the last two and a half decades, this is the group that has profited from a tax system designed to favor the wealthiest. America’s highest earners – the top 400 – have seen their share of income paid in federal income tax plummet from 51.2% in 1955 to 16.6% in 2007, the most recent year with top 400 statistics available. Congress should boost the top tax rate to 50% on annual incomes over $5 million and to 70% on incomes over $10 million. This would generate an additional $105 billion annually, going a long way toward getting our fiscal house in order.

Last week the Institute for Policy Studies issued a report, "Unnecessary Austerity, Unnecessary Shutdown", which showed that austerity was not really needed. The report pointed out “we're not broke. Not even close. The United States of America is awash in wealth. Our corporations are holding record trillions in cash. And overall individual wealth in the United States, the Credit Suisse Research Institute reported this past fall, has risen 23 percent since the year 2000, to $236,213 per American adult.” They point to five tax revenue reforms that could raise a total of as much as $4 trillion over the next decade. The vast majority of Americans would see no tax increase from any of these reforms:

• Establish several higher income tax brackets for millionaires: $60-$80 billion a year
• Scrap overseas corporate tax havens: $100 billion a year
• Introduce a modest financial transaction tax: $150 billion a year
• Revamp the estate tax to include progressive rates: $25 billion a year
• End preferential treatment for income from dividends and capital gains: $88 billion

The largest caucus in Congress, the Progressive Caucus, put forward an alternative budget as well. The CPC Budget would balance the budget by 2014 and create a budget surplus by 2021. And, they were also able to reduce the deficit by $5.7 trillion from 2012 to 2021. They do not do this with magic, they achieve these goals with common sense – they go to where the money is the wealthiest Americans and corporations that have profited from government programs, the military and security state apparatus that spends 66% of federal discretionary spending and by getting the economy growing again.

These are the types of taxes on the wealthiest Americans and corporations where President Obama should have started the discussion. It he had taken this approach and seriously cut the military budget he would surpass the deficit cutting goals of even the most extreme Republican and provide enough money to build a clean energy economy that would be sustainable for the 21st Century.

That brings me to my final point, health care. Rep. Paul Ryan has made destruction of Medicare the centerpiece of his deficit cutting plan. Medicare is the most cost-efficient part of U.S. health care that covers everyone over 65 years old. Ryan is seeking to give it to the insurance industry and funnel trillions of dollars to them. Sadly, this builds on the mistake of President Obama’s health care bill. Rather than building on a successful public health program, Medicare, Obama and the corporate Democrats decided to further entrench the insurance industry. The hundreds of millions in annual tax subsidies they will get from ObamaCare are not enough. Their appetite for profits is unquenchable, now they want trillions by privatizing Medicare and Rep. Ryan is trying to sell it for them. On its face the proposal is absurd: how do you save money by putting in place a middleman who takes 15% to 20% of the funding of health care for its profits, executive salaries, advertising and investments in property and other profit centers? Ryan would leave seniors with insufficient funds to pay for health care.

On health care another Democratic loyalist got it right in reaction to the budget debate. Robert Reich wrote pointedly: Mr. President: Why Medicare Isn't the Problem, It's the Solution. He points out facts that every American paying attention should know. The U.S spends “more on health care per person than any other advanced nation and get less for our money. Yearly public and private healthcare spending is $7,538 per person. That's almost two and a half times the average of other advanced nations.” He points out a few more nuggets about the failed American health care system:

- America spends $30 billion a year fixing medical errors - the worst rate among advanced countries.
- Administrative costs eat up 15 to 30% of all healthcare spending in the United States. That's twice the rate of most other advanced nations.
- A third of nursing hours are devoted to documenting what's happened so insurers have proof.

And, how is Medicare the solution? Well first off, many economists correctly point out that health care is the driver of deficits at the state and national levels of government for the foreseeable future. Cutting Medicare funding does not deal with any of the underlying problems in the U.S. health care system it just results in seniors having less health care. Reich points out:

“Estimates of how much would be saved by extending Medicare to cover the entire population range from $58 billion to $400 billion a year. More Americans would get quality health care, and the long-term budget crisis would be sharply reduced.”

Improved Medicare, expanded to cover everyone is the solution to the U.S. health care crisis it results in lower costs, better coverage and better health outcomes for everyone in the United States.   (Editor's bold emphasis throughout)

Once again President Obama has missed an opportunity to get the country on the right track. And, if his previous negotiations with the Republicans are a measure of the likely outcome, his already weak proposal is going to get worse – worse for the middle class, working class and poor. The military, security state and wealthy – they will be fine.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Republicans Move to End Medicare: Democrats Fail to Stop Wars

Meanwhile, the Struggling Masses "Die on the Vine"

By: Dr. J. P. Hubert

Republicans have become the party of the Plutocrats (read Kleptocrats) who if Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has his way, intend to create a kind of social Darwinism not seen since the late 1800's and early 1900's, if ever. Were the Republicrats to have their way, all social programs for the poor, disabled, unemployed and otherwise socially challenged would be totally eliminated under the rubric of forced austerity re: radically slashing needed social programs without concomitantly raising taxes.

Read My Lips, No New Taxes:

Note that Republicans never envision a need to raise taxes no matter how dire the situation. Moreover, they see no need to reduce military (read "War") spending significantly. The Republicrats have never met a war they didn't like unless their is no opportunity to 1) steal the natural resources of countries we attack/occupy and or 2) make hideous amounts of money off of the manufacture of weapons which are better at killing non-combatant civilians than perceived enemy soldiers.  In Pakistan last year almost 1000 innocent people were put to death as a result of American drone attacks.

What about the Democrats?

Unfortunately the Democrats are no better. While making perfunctory noises about the need to preserve critical entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare through the increase of taxes on millionaires and billionaires, the vast majority of Democrats are simply "Republican-light" when it comes to reducing the bloated Defense/National Security budgets. That of course is where the real money lies. A recent conservative estimate indicates that combined, the two are scheduled to waste in excess of 1.3 trillion dollars during the next fiscal year, a number which is totally absurd by virtually any conceivable standard or metric. It is well-known that the USA spends as much per year on "Defense" as the next 17 nations combined. Is this not insane?

Defense Department or War Department?

The United States currently operates a Hegemonic Empire through the exercise of raw military power. The stratagem employed is the initiating and prosecuting of immoral and unnecessary offensive wars of aggression primarily aimed at the resource-rich areas of the world. As John Smith wrote for Truthdig in October 2010:

"In the end it is still about the resources: they have it, we don’t To continue to survive as a “superpower” we must have those resources, regardless of the consequences."

What this really means is; we do not have a Defense Department or a National Security State in the traditional sense but rather a "War Department" and a National Insecurity State designed to benefit less than 0.1% of the US population at the expense of the rest--the portion that benefits from constant war. That is the real reason we have a 14+ trillion dollar National Debt and a projected 1.6 trillion dollar federal budget deficit for the next fiscal year.  Sadly, it appears that <1% of the US population realizes or cares that for over 60 years, our country has initiated offensive wars of aggression in order to enhance the business and economic interests of a numerically small but powerfull Oligarchical "Elite."

Were we to liquidate the American Empire, we could easily balance the federal budget and reduce the National Debt to zero over the next 10-15 years. That could be accomplished without any significant change in current Social Security policy.  The math is very simple. War-making is cost-prohibitive as well as immoral!

Obviously, there are other totally immoral and illegal activities which contribute to the US financial crisis such as the "too big to fail" Investment Banks, the lack of proper financial oversight and regulation despite last year's largely ineffectual Dodd/Frank legislation passed by the Congress and the unjust corporate welfare provided to Energy Companies in the form of subsidies. These should all be addressed as well. However, the most serious fundamental underlying issue is that of the unsustainable cost of maintaining the American Empire.

Were we to simply add a functioning "public option" (uniformly rejected by the Republicans) component to the Obama Health Care Plan enacted last year  it would be unnecessary to entertain the kind of Draconian enterprise that Congressman Paul Ryan advocates which would literally end Medicare and Medicaid as publicly funded health care programs for the poor and elderly. As it is, the new Health Care Act of 2010 lacks any effective mechanism for controlling costs while representing a boom to the private health insurance industry.

The Elephant in the Room:

The critical question that needs to be asked is why neither major political party in the United States is willing to address the real dilemma--the so-called "elephant in the room."  Why if things are truly so dire, do we not do the one thing that would solve all of our financial problems--slash the Defense and National Security budgets, end the foreign wars and once and for all end the Empire?  One might note that other developed nations which do not waste valuable resources on war-making ipso facto lack our financial problems.

Consider Brazil, India and China for example. All have large highly profitable economies in which the Debt/GDP ratios are lower than ours where the US Debt/GDP ratio is 90+%. Moreover, in real terms, Brazil and India spend next to nothing on "Defense" and China barely more at 1.4% of GDP. The US spends at least 5% of GDP on Defense (over six times that of China) and almost 42-57% of projected tax revenue on Defense related expenditures.

Many other examples exist as well. Look at the Scandinavian countries or Canada all of whom spend minuscule amounts on "Defense." Even Germany, which has a formidable economy and leads Europe in economic productivity spends almost nothing on so-called "Defense."  All of these nations know what we should as well--money spent on war-making is lost forever to the greater economy. It robs needed funds from the public treasury which would otherwise be available for building or maintaining valuable infra-structure, the supporting of scientific research, or improving education etc. War-making is a completely negative enterprise for everyone except the armament makers. Why do we not end it? I maintain that it is because of the power of the hidden elite or high cabal referred to below.

End the Empire or Perish:

Almost no one in Washington or among the political/pundit class is willing to discuss the actual origin of the US financial crisis--the huge cost of maintaining the American Empire. This no doubt is because the so-called "high-cabal" as the late Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty labeled it, the creme-de-le creme of Plutocrats who control all US policy decisions of import have through intimidation (threat of Assassination for example) and or bribery, managed to completely control what passes as political discourse these days. The personal cost for falling off the wagon or leaving the reservation so to speak is political exile or loss of livelihood.

The last politician who seriously tried to oppose the high cabal was President John F. Kennedy and he was murdered for his efforts. Nevertheless, until we end the American Empire, all attempts at solving our national financial crisis are doomed to failure. We can perform the radical extirpative surgery ourselves or wait for it to be done for us through bankruptcy, balkanization or conquer by a foreign adversary. By then of course, the members of the "high cabal" will be safely ensconced abroad in their callously created refuges--built on the backs of their fellow Americans and off the blood of those against whom we made war--the illicit profits from which will fill their coffer's to the brim.

Will the overburdened and lethargic American middle class awaken before it is too late? Will the 99.9% who are being abused and about to be discarded to the trash heap of history finally recognize what is being done in their names? Will they object en-masse or remain content to play their games, drink their beer, watch their sporting events and carry on with the bread and circus routine as if all is well with the ship of state? Time will tell. If the history of the past 50 years is prologue, fasten your seat belts because we're in for a very bumpy ride.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Militarized Economy Cannot Balance the Budget

Editor's NOTE:

John Perkins is correct that the military budget of the United States is out of control. Attempts to balance the federal budget and to significantly reduce the national debt are bound to fail if the US National Security State is not markedly reduced. At least 250 billion dollars/year could be cut from the "defense" (read War) budget if we ended the foreign wars and began obeying international and US federal law.

--Dr. J. P. Hubert

By John Perkins

"Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.”

--Eisenhower, 1961 Military Industrial Speech

April 08, 2011 "Information Clearing House" -- While we send our love and support to those so horribly impacted by the earthquake and tsunami, we must not allow this shock to divert us from the tsunami headed our way. Our business and political leaders will try to use this terrible catastrophe as a diversion to hoodwink us into budgetary reductions that will fatten their wallets and leave us and our children devastated.

It does not matter on what side of the political fence you sit during the current budget debates. The fact is that if our leaders are not willing to take into account our over-dependence on a militarized economy and change it, we will never balance the budget. Our progeny will face an endless struggle to clean up the debris.

Each year the Department of Defense’s tidal wave grows more menacing. We witness countless billions allocated for weapons research and development; nuclear warheads; and the secret and often illegal activities of the CIA, NSA, FBI, Homeland Security, and other “intelligence” agencies. We watch countries that are caught up in natural disasters and political upheavals and see how this “crisis elixir” attracts and profits predatory capitalists. Turmoil in foreign lands encourages U.S. hawks to party on at their military orgies. They stagger out to launch campaigns into new areas of conflict.

And they have the gall to do this under the guise of promoting democracy.
It is time for us to tell them that they are exposed, that we comprehend that what they are really doing is reaping huge profits and making other nations their financial servants for generations to come. Meanwhile, at home, we face severe cutbacks in social services, transportation, health care, the environmental and educational sectors, and other civil services.

Now is the time for us – you and me – to let our leaders know that we are no longer duped by their rhetoric. We understand they cannot bring our financial house to order without significant reductions in military spending. This includes calling our troops back from the Middle East and Afghanistan.

In 1961, President Eisenhower said, “As we peer into society's future, we -- you and I, and our government -- must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.” There is a very sad irony in those words. We need to let those who have followed Ike’s footsteps to the halls of power in Washington know that we understand the relevance of those words to today’s economic and military crises.

The United States accounts for almost 50 percent of the world’s total military spending; yet our share of the world’s GDP is less than 25 percent. This official budget does not take into account the money that is secretly allocated in the “black” budgets of the Pentagon, CIA, and other clandestine operations.

We must all ask ourselves:

How can a nation that prides itself on government “of, for, and by the people,” justify hiding these black budget allocations from taxpayer scrutiny? How can a nation continue to prosper by ignoring its own long-term demise at the hands of a militarized economy?

If we truly want a real democracy to survive for generations to come, then we must demand extensive military reductions. We must demand a peaceful and sustainable path for our country and for the world at large. We must bring our soldiers home. We must protect ourselves from the tsunami that is building on Wall Street and in the halls of Washington DC.