Friday, November 30, 2007

Fixing the country's broken moral compass

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media

I know this is a pretty strong statement, and many people’s hearts are in the right direction, at least in starting to wake up from the slumber that overtook tens of millions of people over the past few years. However, there are still so many people who don’t even realize, let alone have even remotely prepared for, the effects from the hangover caused by the past seven years.

Ironically, this all started back in the 2000 campaign with promises to “restore honor and dignity to the White House”, and was followed up in 2004 with the so-called “moral values” dominating the debate and election. I’d normally laugh at this farce if the foul stench of hypocrisy and lies didn’t have such a grave impact on what so many in this country find “of utmost importance” and really how the view of moral decline and decadence really was portrayed by those who were not only in power, but by those who blindly supported the most radical and extremists views and actions – and had the unmitigated gall to call themselves “morally superior”.

A perfect example is the office of the US Attorney General. Back when Bill Clinton was president, first Zoe Baird and then Kimba Wood – two women with pretty impressive credentials and resumes were summarily dismissed as being unfit for office and had to have their names withdrawn from consideration due to the horrific crime of not paying employment taxes on the wages paid to nannies. The cries from the “right” and the so-called moralists mandated that a perfect record was the only thing that would allow someone to have the ability to hold this esteemed office.

While this may or may not be an appropriate place to draw the line when it comes to disqualifying someone from holding such an office, we now have all three Bush-appointed Attorneys General supporting torture, with nothing more than resigned acceptance as the strongest opposition from the “moralists”, the talking meatsticks in the corporate media and much of Congress. We know how much Gonzalez skirted the law before and during his term as Attorney General – his lies to Congress, his approval of torture and his other shady dealings with Mister Bush in Texas or with respect to the Plame leak.

We know that Mukasey’s otherwise solid resume (including presiding over trials of terrorists) should be thrown out the window if he has to hem and haw about whether acts of torture are indeed acts of torture. Not to be overlooked in this is the colossal betrayal of American values by Democratic Senators Schumer and Feinstein with their tacit approval of torture. And now, the first Bush Attorney General, John Ashcroft is doing the same two step on torture, and even said that he would be willing to be waterboarded.

Now, aside from the fact that someone should call his bluff here, the fact that torture is even being discussed in the mainstream American debate and in the halls of Congress in 2007 is a disgrace. The fact that so many people excuse the use of torture, including more than a few members of Congress is an embarrassment.

But it isn’t just that. Not by a long shot. Here is a very quick, off the top of my head list of the dire moral situation this country is in.

Excusing the lies about going into Iraq, or the tactics that are used there. Solving problems around the world by threatening to invade or bomb, instead of any level of diplomacy. Allowing government officials to ignore Congressional subpoenas. Dismissing the healthcare crisis with statements like “the Constitution doesn’t guarantee health care coverage”. Forgetting about the neglect, negligence and destruction of an entire US city and region. Not caring about most of the Bill of Rights being trampled on, or being spied on illegally.

Making the argument about “every life being sacred” yet cheering for and sending other people’s children off to kill and die for lies. Making that same argument about life beginning at conception, yet not doing anything to help people after they are born or before they are about to die. Or, decrying gay marriage (which, as my wife says is “patently discriminatory” to decry) and living a double life in the closet – no doubt being untrue to your marital vows.

Excusing the willful leaking of sensitive national security information and then wanting to punish and demonize the victims of the leak as well as the country(ies) that such people were tracking nuclear proliferation of. Polluting the environment, purposely dumbing down the education system and demonizing those who don’t agree with everything you say or feel. How does this create an environment that the next generation can thrive, let alone survive in?

Allowing companies to dump toxic waste, loosen standards for toy safety for our children, lax food and water quality standards and chemicals in our fish. And of course, demonizing or censoring anyone who dares speak truth to power about, well, just about anything. Preaching the Bible to “sinners” while only selectively following it yourself. Or, doing exactly the opposite of what Jesus would do to and for fellow man (and women).

This is a short list. Yet it is very telling when it comes to how misplaced so many people’s priorities are. When the big news of the day is the latest missing white woman (now it is the “other Peterson”), who won American Idol, Dancing with the Stars or whatever other piece of crap is getting more votes than the Presidential election. When the breaking economy, housing market and healthcare system threatens tens of millions of people and can put them out on the streets in a matter of weeks is largely ignored, yet mudfights between the major Presidential contenders gets all of the press.

When human life is given such little thought, and the future is given even less thought. When it has become “I’ve got mine, good luck getting yours” has become the modus operandi for too many people. When jobs are being lost and a raise in minimum wage (to something way lower than even a basic living wage) is being looked at as a “burden” for businesses, yet executive pay is at all time highs.

The country is broken. And it is those who are the ones pointing fingers are usually the ones whose heads are also buried in the sand. Americans aren’t stupid, but they have very fragile egos (must have something to do with the “everyone gets a trophy and nobody loses” culture) and probably can’t even admit that the problems are as big as they are. For those who can and do admit this (or see the obvious), it is too daunting to even think about without being overwhelmed.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there, or that it doesn’t need to be dealt with and dealt with now.

The question is whether we as a country are too far gone to do the heavy lifting. That is, if people can realize it, care about what is right and can get off the couch long enough to turn off the TV and come back to the reality based community.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mike Huckabee's "Willie Horton" problem

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media

There has been much focus on Mike Huckabee’s performance at last night’s debate, as well as the intrigue that goes along with a new candidate that shows some dose of sanity or a momentary lack of phoniness.

And there has been much written about him in Left Blogistan lately as well, including an excellent post by Devilstower and another that garnered a lot of exposure regarding his positions.

But as with fabulous Fred Thompson, once there is any looking below the surface, there are a number of ugly things about Huckabee that haven’t yet come to light for the general public. Taking out the believing in creationism or his extreme and out of the mainstream right wing positions on abortion and other issues as well, there is another item that hasn’t received the proper attention – and this is one that goes straight to the heart of the whole “strong on crime” and “good judgment” theme that the cowardly but chest thumping republicans love to exhibit.

Call it Mike Huckabee’s “ Willie Horton problem”, and its’ name is Wayne Dumond.

Huckabee, whose self-deprecating humor and easy candor have charmed many on the campaign trail, bristles when asked about the case, in which Dumond - now dead - was paroled from an Arkansas prison, with then- governor Huckabee's endorsement, only to sexually assault and kill a woman in Missouri.


Dumond's case is notorious in Arkansas. In 1984, he raped a 17-year-old girl. While awaiting trial at his home, he was castrated by, he said, masked intruders. Later, after Dumond went to prison for life, some people in Arkansas saw the sentence as excessive, especially given his mutilation.

Huckabee was one, and, after becoming governor in 1996, he announced his desire to commute Dumond's sentence. Dumond's rape victim, Ashley Stevens, saw it differently.

Stevens, now 40 and living in the western United States, said she tried to persuade Huckabee not to shorten the sentence for Dumond.

"I told [Huckabee]: If you ever let him out, he's going to do it again," she said in an interview.

She was able to get a meeting with the governor - who, she said, had not spoken to her before announcing his intention to commute Dumond's sentence - but realized Huckabee had "made up his mind." So Stevens stood up, she said, walked over to Huckabee, who was seated on a sofa, squatted down and thrust her face inches from his.

"I said, 'This is how close I was to Dumond's face for an hour,' " Stevens recalled. " 'I'll never forget his face, and you'll never forget mine.' "

The parole board - following a closed meeting with Huckabee - decided to let Dumond go. The following year, Dumond committed the Missouri slaying. He died in prison in 2005.

To break this down to the bite size piece that can be digested by “Joe Flag Waver” – Mike Huckabee lobbied for the parole of a convicted rapist in an unprecedented manner over the protest of the victim and the parole board. This convicted rapist then sexually assaulted and murdered another woman the following year.

Another twist to this is that conservative commentators (read:talking meatsticks) harshly criticized Bill Clinton for NOT granting clemency to Dumond because the victim was a distant relative of Clinton’s:

Some conservative commentators began to question Clinton's denial of clemency for Dumond in light of the fact that Dumond's victim was a distant relative of Clinton, "even though Clinton had recused himself in 1990 from any involvement in the case because of his distant relationship with Stevens."

In order to fit in with the republican base, you not only have to be “strong on terrorism” or “strong on crime and criminals”, you have to do it to the extreme. Taking out the absolute hypocrisy of those “conservative commentators” who suddenly found a soft spot for a convicted rapist just because the victim was a distant relative of the most evil Bill Clinton, it is an opportunity to exploit the poor judgment of Mike Huckabee when it comes to violent sexual offenders.

There are many reasons (some of which will no doubt remain buried) why Huckabee is unfit for the Presidency. There are many reasons that will be cited as why he would make a great candidate, some of which are genuine and some of which are absolute nonsense. However, there is a specific case and instance where Huckabee’s poor judgment (and possible abuse of his power as Governor?) resulted in the release of a violent sex offender over the protest and warnings of the victim, the protest of the prior Governor and the parole board.

And that decision resulted in the subsequent sexual assault and murder of another woman – a woman who would still be alive if not for Huckabee’s decision to grant clemency to Dumond. In a final kicker, despite the warning by the victim, we have the following Bush administration moment from Huckabee:

"But nobody could know that" Dumond would attack again, he said.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Giuliani: closer to corrupt criminal Kerik than his kids

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media

For starters, I must give a hat tip to my good friend, thereisnospoon, for mentioning this frame on our BlogTalkRadio show, “Don’t Hijack My Thread!” when I was talking about how Rudy’s tremendous and consistent showing of bad judgment when it comes to who he aligns himself with and what his major decisions and actions are.

And for anyone who still can overlook his lack of “family values” when it comes to multiple marriages, or his (conflicting) views on a woman’s right to privacy in her personal and medical decisions, surely will at least be a bit disturbed by the fact that Guiliani is closer with the corrupt and indicted Bernard Kerik than he is with his own children. Whether this kills him in the primary battle or the general election, I think this is a simple and direct reminder of what the “strong on crime former Federal prosecutor” Rudolph Giuliani deems to be important when choosing his relationships.

There are so many things that are so very wrong with Rudy that it should be easy to articulate most of them in bite size pieces that would stick with the general or voting public. Generally, they all focus on Rudy’s incredible lack of good judgment and poor decision making on very important matters. Even more important, however, is the fact that his one major perceived strength – strong on crime and “national security” – can so very easily be knocked down by highlighting his close relationship with a corrupt police chief.

The purposeful distancing from his campaign by his own children leaves the door open to really stick in the side of the fundies or other republicans who claim “moral or family values” to be very important for their vote. there are some real good juicy tidbits of just how good a father Rudy is in this article from March:

Mr. Giuliani’s relationship with Andrew has grown strained and distant since his very public and bitter divorce from Andrew’s mother, Donna Hanover, and his marriage to Judith Nathan, according to Andrew and others familiar with the relationship.


“There’s obviously a little problem that exists between me and his wife,” the younger Mr. Giuliani said. “And we’re trying to figure that out. But as of right now it’s not working as well as we would like.”

Andrew Giuliani said he would not participate in his father’s campaign, saying his devotion to becoming a professional golfer within three years allows no time for distraction.


Some campaign Web sites highlight pictures of candidates with family members, but Mr. Giuliani’s does not mention his children, though it includes photographs and mentions of Ms. Nathan.


Mr. Giuliani once prided himself on attending all his children’s events and went to Andrew’s high school football games and Caroline’s plays. But he stopped at some point after his marriage to Ms. Nathan in 2003. He missed his son’s graduation, in 2005, and his daughter’s plays in the last 18 months, said people who attended those events.

Let’s be clear here – this is not a knock on his children, nor is it anything that will drag them into the spotlight. Frankly, it isn’t even ABOUT his children, really. The point here is that Rudy doesn’t even mention his children on his campaign website, and doesn’t even attend his children’s major life events

Now, let’s look at Rudy and his corrupt/indicted buddy Bernard Kerik. Well, for starters, the corrupt former Police Chief was CEO of Giuliani-Kerik LLC, an affiliate of Giuliani Partners LLC until his embarrassing nomination for Homeland Security Chief. The key here is that either Rudy truly did not know about the depth of corruption and illegal acts by his good friend (who he trusted as CEO of one of his companies, and nominated for the top Homeland Security position) and is therefore unfit for President due to having such poor judgment or he DID know about the depths of Kerik’s corruption and illegal acts, making him unfit for President based on knowingly associating himself so closely with corrupt criminals.

He was also a former driver for Giuliani and detective before becoming Rudy’s Police Chief. Now, say what you want about what a driver knows about his employer, but wasn’t the driver of another very famous and wanted man stuck at Gitmo because of his “connections” and had his case heard by the US Supreme Court?

And lest anyone think that even Guiliani is distancing himself from the corrupt and tax cheat Kerik, there is this little nugget from the LA Times article linked above:

Although Giuliani said last week that the two men had not talked recently, they were professionally and personally close. The former mayor is godfather to Kerik's daughter, and Kerik wrote in his autobiography that Giuliani had "made" him.

Press reports have indicated that before Kerik's appointment as police commissioner, a New York City official briefed Giuliani about Kerik's ties to a New Jersey waste disposal company that is at the heart of the federal indictment. Giuliani has not disputed those reports, but maintains he doesn't remember the briefings.

And yes, Rudy is defending Kerik, not distancing himself from him. Once again, if Rudy doesn’t remember briefings about Kerik’s ties to a company at the heart of a federal indictment, then doesn’t that cut right to the heart of his “experience and strength in law enforcement”? Either he didn’t remember those briefings – pretty damning briefings about one of his closest friends and professional partners – and isn’t really strong on crime and law enforcement or he DID remember those briefings and is a liar who is not strong on crime and law enforcement as he would then be covering up his knowledge of this information.

In either event, it is very telling and shows just what Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani finds important, and who he chooses to align himself closely with.

A corrupt tax cheating criminal over his own children. What strength against crime and corruption. And what a great dad – always being there for his children as they enter adulthood. A great model for his kids – showing them that he cares more about his corrupt buddies than he does about them.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Going hungry on Thanksgiving

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media

At a time of year when many families are traveling long distances to be with one another, as well as to have quite possibly the biggest meal of the year, it is easy to get caught up in packing, traveling and even giving thanks for whatever it is that people will be giving thanks for (for me it will be health and a safe birth of our son who is due in late March).

But what gets lost in this time of the year, and even the name “Thanksgiving” is the 2nd half of the word – the “giving” part. And unfortunately, in the mix of the class divide that this country has been experiencing, the issue of homelessness and hunger has dropped relatively below the radar, even though it is becoming more and more of an epidemic.

More people are going hungry in a time where prices of food, gas and many other things are skyrocketing while real wages are declining and jobs are being lost (or people are working more jobs for less pay). Sadly, we are seeing more and more stories that take this narrative:

The New York City Coalition Against Hunger said that 1.3 million city residents -- around one in six people -- lived in households that were food insecure, or unable to afford an adequate and consistent supply of food.

"This annual survey of food pantries and soup kitchens shows that more working families, children, and seniors are being forced to seek emergency food," Joel Berg, the group's executive director, said in a statement.

This doesn’t only impact New York – not by a long shot. The Detroit Free Press has a story that estimates 1 million Michigan residents and 35 million Americans are struggling to put food on the table. Food banks in Maine are seeing a major uptick in people coming in and are running short of food and cash.

The Bread for the World Institute just released its annual report on world hunger, and the report’s highlights page paints this all-too-familiar picture (emphasis mine):

The lone homeless person may be the most conspicuous image of poverty in the national media. Less conspicuous, but a much larger group, are the families who cycle in and out of poverty. Families most at risk are those that are just a little better off than poor, surviving on low-wage jobs until suddenly they lose their financial footing because the main wage earner's job has been eliminated or one of the family members has a medical emergency.

Liberals and conservatives agree, no hard working family should have to raise their children in poverty—and yet the sad truth is that many are. Two-thirds of all children growing up in poverty in the United States have one or more working parents, and one-third have a parent working full-time, year round.

Three decades ago, a low-wage job was enough to lift a family of three out of poverty; today, it scarcely comes close to getting them to the poverty line, and without food assistance and other government support a family struggling to get by in the low-wage economy would be on the absolute edge of desperation.

What makes this worse is that some states aren’t making it easier – rather they are making it MORE difficult to feed the homeless. And no, that is not a typo. According to a report that came out last week by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless, more than 20 major cities have laws that PENALIZE those who help feed or shelter the homeless:
The criminalization of homelessness in the United States is a severe problem, with cities across the country implementing measures that ban eating, sitting, or sleeping in public. While these regulations have been on the rise over the past 10 years, laws targeting local churches and other groups who feed or shelter homeless people mark a disturbing new trend that threatens the well-being of America's most vulnerable citizens.

"Restricting the feeding of homeless people in public spaces nationwide is just another veiled effort to push the visible poor out of downtown America," said Michael Stoops, Acting Executive Director of NCH.

Two of the biggest problems of the hunger epidemic are that (1) there is more than enough food in the US – a lot of it is just being wasted, so people don’t think that there is a “food problem”, and (2) just as Hurricane Katrina pulled back the curtain and opened millions of people’s eyes about the major problems that too many people in this country have trying to make ends meet, admitting that there is a hunger epidemic is something that “proud Americans” don’t want to do – this would, of course, shatter the notion of America being able to take care of itself and its’ people.

This was put very well by Anna Quindlen in the most recent Newsweek when she talked about hunger in the US. She also talks about the shortfall of food donations in the US, and just how bad this is:

The director of City Harvest in New York, Jilly Stephens, has told her staff they have to find another million pounds of food over the next few months to make up the shortfall. "Half as many pantry bags" is the mantra heard now that the city receives half the amount of emergency food than it once did from the Feds. In Los Angeles 24 million pounds of food in 2002 became 15 million in 2006; in Oregon 13 million pounds dwindled to six. It's a cockamamie new math that denies the reality of hunger amid affluence.

A number of years ago, my wife volunteered at a number of soup kitchens around the NYC area. And while she can’t get around as much now due to being nearly six months pregnant, it is something that we would like to do again when she is able to. But in the interim, it is something that has become more high profile lately, yet still under the radar. With Thanksgiving upon us and the holiday season already kicking in, there are a few things that can be done to help out, even in a small way.

You can donate to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty at this link. You can donate to the Bread of the World Institute at this link. You can donate to FoodShare at this link.

Or, if you don’t have any extra money to spare, you can donate through The Hunger Site - where all you need to do is click and their sponsors will send food at no cost to you. SecondHarvest helps find local food banks as well, and you can also volunteer at their site. And in a novel idea, this site lets you “click to donate grains of rice”, and was actually featured in a CBS News report last week.

If you made it all the way through this diary, thanks for reading and I hope you and your family have a great holiday. And if you can take a few minutes to click through any of the above links, or even donate a bit of time or money, it will be very much appreciated. Not only by me (not really relevant if I appreciate it, actually), but certainly by those who will benefit from it this Thanksgiving.

And what better way to have someone give thanks on a day that more food will be wasted than I even want to imagine (considering that an estimated 6,000 tons of food are thrown away by restaurants in the US) then to give them something to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Paging Patrick Fitzgerald. Your services are needed in DC.

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media. Recommended at Daily Kos

Bravo to Scotty for coming clean, only years after he already knew that Rove, Libby, Cheney AND Bush all lied to him about national security matters – matters of war, life and death. To sell an ill-conceived invasion of a sovereign country that was by no means connected to 9/11 or an imminent threat to anything other than its own crumbling and inevitable decline.

Don’t you think that this little bit of information would have been more important to divulge when you first knew about it, instead of admitting it in a book that you are profiting off of? What would a patriot who is more interested in serving his or her country think of withholding this information? Don’t you think that Mr. Fitzgerald would have benefited from that information? Wouldn’t the grand jury be interested to know that Rove is involved in passing false information to the White House’s chief spokesperson with the intent to deceive the press corps, Americans and the rest of the world?

Just like Colin Powell was a day late and a dollar short with his role in not exposing the bogus claims that Team Cheney fed him at around the same time, Scotty’s “noble” announcement doesn’t remotely come close to exonerating himself for his role (knowingly or unknowingly) in this cover up. However, it does lead to another example of a former White House official pointing a finger at either Cheney, Bush or someone high level regarding bordering on illegal, if not outright illegal acts.

Regardless of whether the “false information” was about Plame or about yellowcake or about aluminum tubes or whatever else, wasn’t Fitzgerald given wide latitude in pursuing this case to begin with? He did indicate that he had “sand kicked in his face” and was unable to continue because of the perjury and obstruction of justice. At a minimum, Rove needs to explain himself and McClellan should immediately be called to testify about his statements.

If Kenny-boy Starr could waste as much time, effort and money as he did over the nonsense he ended up dredging up, then surely a reopening of the case in order to see just how a sitting President, his Vice President and their two top aides willingly passed along false information to its Press Secretary in order for the knowingly false information to be disseminated to and intentionally deceive the world.

I’ll put it simpler - The former White House press secretary was tricked into lying the country into an illegal invasion.


How, please tell me, how is that not worth investigating further? The Democratic controlled Congress and ESPECIALLY its leadership have a duty to call for and ensure investigations into these revelations and why they were not divulged for such a long period of time. What did the President know and when did he know it? What false information did he and Cheney pass along?

Lying for reasons of “national security secrets” should not protect those who are lying. Willfully deceiving the country into supporting a war that was based on half-truths (at best) is quite possibly the worst thing that anyone can do. When thousands of lives are lost and countless more are forever scarred physically, emotionally and mentally because of these lies, there cannot be anything short of accountability to those who are responsible.

If Democratic leadership (including Presidential candidates) don’t want to have Congress investigate this, then bring back Patrick Fitzgerald.

He has a job to finish.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Held hostage by a $50 billion tax loophole for the privileged few

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media

I’m sure that some, or even many of you have heard of the Alternative Minimum Tax (“AMT”). And if you haven’t, then chances are that you will before this year is over. Now, I don’t want to talk about the details of the AMT or bore you with any tax-like analysis that will make your eyes glaze over so don’t worry.

I will however, tax about how a couple of loopholes that pretty much only benefit hedge fund managers is holding hostage a temporary “patch” or fix to the AMT that could have around 20 million more Americans paying more tax than they should. Of course, this is over and above the already millions of people (myself included) who pay this ridiculous tax despite only owning a home and working for “the man”...

I’ll give a bit of background and some detail, but the basic gist of the issue is as follows:

  • The AMT law is screwy and, if not changed, will add thousands in taxes for millions of families even if there is no change to their income situation from last year;

  • Congress is trying to fix this (the House passed a bill within the past week or so) but it will cost over $50 billion to fix, and with the PayGo rules, need/want to offset the savings so as to not add another $50 billion to the deficit;

  • The deficit busting republicans don’t want to pay for the offset and don’t care about adding another $50 billion to the deficit. Of course, this can also allow them to point a finger at Democrats as adding to the deficit as well.

  • A provision that would tax hedge fund managers at the same rates as you and me for services performed in their job as opposed to sweetheart rates that are less than half of the “regular” rates is being used by Bush and the republicans to threaten the entire AMT fix.

So republicans want to help you and me, but don’t want to do it at the expense of their “base” – those who have derived the bulk of the Bush tax cut benefits. Therefore, either another $50 billion (or part thereof) will be added to the deficit (most likely), no AMT fix will be passed at all, screwing another 20 million families (somewhat but not overly likely as this would totally kill republican chances in 2008), or something else will be used to pay for this fix, thereby keeping the sweetheart lower tax rates for hedge fund managers (also possible).

The main republican argument is that this tax (the AMT) never should have hit this many people so therefore a fix shouldn’t need to be paid for because it never was intended to apply here. So with that logic, why do we have to pay for the continued occupation in Iraq, since Rumsfeld never intended for it to last more than a few months?

At issue here is what is called “carried interest”, and deals with certain fees/income that hedge fund managers receive as part of managing the portfolios. Now, in general, income that you get for services, especially in your job, gets taxed at “ordinary tax rates”. This is somewhere around 25% or so, more as you earn more (up to over 35% at the highest levels). Income that you have from investments (i.e., not for performing services for your job) is taxed at a much lower rate of 15%. Somehow, hedge fund managers that get additional income from doing their job are able to say that this is not income from services – that it is services from investing – and that it is taxed at 15%, not (up to) 35%. The additional cost by having these lower rates is around $25 billion over 10 years.

Another tax loophole for these entities/individuals is to defer income to offshore accounts, which ends up comprising around $24 billion over 10 years (same link as above).

Now, this is somewhat of a simple way of explaining this, but know that I am a tax consultant by day who deals with income and employment tax, so I know what income from services is – and these hedge fund managers are receiving it, no matter what they want to try and call it. And my wife works in the tax area as well for private equity and hedge fund clients, so even when she tried to convince me of the rationale, she knew that it was kinda shady at best.

Even articles in The Street and Long Island’s relatively conservative Newsday (I’m from Long Island so trust me on that one...) talk about how this loophole could fix the AMT and help out many millions of Americans.

At this point, we don’t know what the Senate will do. But we do know that Harry Reid is being as strong and resolute as ever about sticking to the PayGo rules and making the minority republicans actually not dictate policy decisions:

In a sharp change in his position, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) signaled Thursday that he is resigned to waiving pay-go rules to offset a one-year patch to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).

But wait, there’s more. In exchange for caving on making a select few pay the same tax rates as everyone else on income they earn from working, Reid will ALSO allow for the extension of expiring tax provisions that Bush and the republicans wanted to extend. At least the republican-desired tax cut extensions is being offset. The problem is that if these cuts get extended, then either other programs get cut or other taxes get increased.

And you can just guess who is and who isn’t going to really be paying for those Bush favored tax cut extensions.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Setting the narrative on the Iraq spending bills

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media

No doubt there will be much whining, hand-wringing and finger pointing by the republicans, the talking meatsticks and whoever else in the right wing noise machine with respect to the two votes on the Senate floor regarding the Iraq spending bills. For those who didn’t follow what has happened over the past couple of days, the short answer is this:

  • The House passed a bill that would give $50 billion, largely tied to bringing the troops home. While it is far from perfect, it did get support from some of the Out of Iraq Caucus;

  • The Senate had two bills introduced today, both of which did not have 60 votes.

  • Reid introduced a bill that basically mirrored the House bill – it “failed”, 53-45

  • McConnell introduced a bill (without consulting Reid) that would give $70 billion with no strings attached. That bill failed, 45-53.

So, what does that mean? Well, for starters, we have three things that come from this.

(1) The Democratic Party passed a bill with both a majority of the House and Senate, which reflects current American sentiment to bring the occupation of Iraq to an end.
(2) The republican party will not let the will of the people speak, nor will it let a majority of Congress’ will speak for the American people.
(3) The republicans in the Senate are hell bent on giving blank check after blank check to Bush for an unending occupation of Iraq - against the will of America.

It is those three items that should be the starting point for future discussions about Iraq. Granted, we have been down this road before, only to have Democratic Party momentum crash and burn when cleaner bills were passed, or there was no pushback to republican obstinacy. Here, things are a bit different, at least for now. For starters, there are many more Democrats willing to take a strong(er) stand, as evidenced by andgarden’s diary from yesterday. Secondly, Pelosi and Reid have indicated that if this bill fails or if it passes and is vetoed, then there will be no more funding bills being discussed until next year.

This could play out very well, provided that the Democratic leadership realizes that America is on their side here. It has become evident that the game for the republican party and Mister Bush is to hold their breath and play chicken with the troops’ lives on the line, and throw out line after line of propaganda as well as lie after lie about how the troops can’t be stranded on the battlefield. And to this point, their bluff hasn’t been called, therefore resulting in more and more funding with no consequence or real teeth in a bill.

But here, we are back to the same situation we were in earlier in the year, when a funding bill has to be passed in order for the occupation to continue. While some metrics indicate a decrease in violence, that is not due in large part to any major strategy by our troops (I have written about this extensively and it isn’t really the purpose of this diary). But this does lead to an opening for the Democrats, regardless of the level of violence:

  • If violence continues to decrease, then we can “declare victory and leave”;

  • If violence continues to increase, then it becomes more obvious that our troops (and mission) can not stop the sectarian cleansing and civil war – therefore the “surge” failed and we should leave.

Right now, the early headlines are looking pretty fair. The Yahoo News article linked above is titled ”Senate blocks Iraq war spending”, where the first sentence says the following:
The Senate on Friday blocked a Democratic proposal to pay for the Iraq war but require that troops start coming home.

The Reuters article headline is ”Senate Republicans halt Iraq withdrawal plan”. And with all this, the republican party is throwing out the line that “Democrats are being irresponsible”, which is the ultimate in “deny, deny, accuse” tactics that the republican party is best at. On top of this, there is the narrative coming out of the Pentagon that a lack of funding will hurt the troops.

So, there is, once again, an uphill battle (as we saw yesterday when Yahoo News changed its’ headline on Iran and the IAEA). But the key here is that the Democratic Party leadership must remain strong as there will now be a couple of months between now and the next time a funding bill comes up, and the rhetoric will be very heated and blown out of proportion.

This is why it is so very important to set the narrative and tone now for the next couple of months. If we don’t, then it becomes more likely that another $50 billion, or even more, gets allocated and approved with no (meaningful) strings attached.. Needless to say, in addition to this being completely against what the American people (and a majority of Congress) wants, but it will be an absolute killer for Democratic electoral chances next year

And being that it needs to be relatively simple, we should stick to the following:

  • Democrats are reflecting the will of America when it comes to Iraq.

  • A MAJORITY of BOTH Houses of Congress voted for a bill that would provide $50 billion related to Iraq and Afghanistan, only to be shot down by obstructionist republicans.

  • Congressional republicans want to continue providing tens of billions of dollars for Iraq with no strings attached.

  • Congressional republicans and the Bush administration are being irresponsible and reckless when it comes to Iraq.

  • Congressional republicans and Bush have had nearly $500 billion in blank checks and a complete say in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and they do not deserve any more second chances

  • The American people want accountability and responsibility, and the Democrats have been trying to provide this, only to have the republicans block all attempts at accountability.

It is now that the tone needs to be set. Here are the facts. Here are our “talking points” – now let’s get to work....

Thursday, November 15, 2007

WANTED: new excuse to bomb Iran

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media

Looks like 2 more strikes against the foaming at the mouth neoconservative warmongering lunatics who NEED to bomb Iran in order to show how Iraq was really just a warmup. I can see Cheney on the line now trying to formulate a new reason why Iraqn is the most dangerous threat ever™ and we must bomb them yesterday.

Even though the “evidence” about Iran’s meddling in weapons smuggling presented as a slam dunk back in January was smacked down immediately by just about everyone with half a brain, that didn’t deter the bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran crowd. And it didn’t stop Bush from declaring Iran’s Revolutionary Guard force as a terrorist organization.

For those, if nothing else, you have to give them credit for trying, although it is the same old bad tricks from the same book as was used for Iraq, and the world, military brass and American public (by and large) is much wiser and less trusting. But even with all of this being trotted out and shot down, there were still two “aces in the hole” that were sitting out there as potential reasons (albeit crappy and very thin on credibility ones) to bomb Iran – its’ nuclear program and the “attacking of forces in Iraq” (of course, if Chavez invaded Mexico and it spilled over into the US border, we wouldn’t sit and watch).

That is, until today.

In a double whammy against the case for opening up a big old can of whoopass against Iran, there is news from US Maj. General James Simmons that Iran is sticking by its pledge to stem the flow of weapons into Iraq and help stabilize certain parts of the country. This follows comments made recently by Robert Gates that Iran made this pledge, and it seems like the pledge is being honored:

Simmons, a deputy commander of Multinational Corps-Iraq, told reporters that the number of roadside bombs either found or exploded nationwide had fallen from 3,239 in March to 1,560 last month.


Simmons said the decline included all types of roadside bombs, including highly lethal "explosively formed penetrators" — the signature weapon of Shiite extremists — which can hurl a fist-sized chunk of molten copper through the heaviest armor on U.S. vehicles.


"We believe that the commitments that the Iranians have made appear to be holding up," Simmons said, adding that Iranian-made weaponry still found in Iraq appeared to have been smuggled in months ago.

After the news conference, Simmons told The Associated Press that the Iranian move followed "a significant amount of negotiations." He would not give details, however, saying he was not privy to the discussions.

At a time when good news is pretty much lacking, this is good news for the troops, good news for Iraqis and good news for potential diplomacy (outside of the crazies that will never be open to diplomacy). But that only deals with the “killing our troops in Iraq” lie reason for bombing. What about the “we must not let Iran get nuclear weapons and will do whatever is necessary to stop them” rationale?

Sorry, Dick – another swing and a miss there as the IAEA has basically indicated that Iran has “basically been truthful about its nuclear program”. The one caveat in the report which will no doubt be twisted and exploited as much as possible is that Iran has not suspended its enrichment of uranium:

A report from the U.N nuclear watchdog agency on Thursday found Iran to be generally truthful about key aspects of its nuclear history, but it warned that its knowledge of Tehran's present atomic work was shrinking.


The IAEA report, released to its 35 board members, also confirmed that Tehran continued to defy the U.N. Security Council by ignoring its repeated demands to freeze uranium enrichment, a potential pathway to nuclear arms.

Now, this isn’t really a squeaky clean report, and the White House has already jumped all over this, indicating that it will seek a third round of sanctions against Iran. But it does show that once again (in addition to all of the reports on Iran being 3-5-10 years away from developing a weapon) the argument about Iran’s nuclear weapons being an imminent threat that must be stopped right now though bombs – and of course no thought of the repercussions against our troops in Iraq, the blockading of the Strait of Hormuz, the price of oil as well as the continued decline of our reputation in the world to a level even lower than we currently “enjoy” – is absolutely ludicrous.

So now we are back to breathing a temporary sigh of relief about Iran. Maybe cooler and saner heads will prevail as more and more out of the mainstream and radical excuses being used for out of the mainstream and radical actions against Iran are shot down. Poor Dick – now he needs to find a new excuse to peddle and feed to Hannity, Limbaugh and the other “freedom lovers”.

But for today, score two more points for sanity and reality.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Do you like where this country is headed?

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media

That is what next year’s election should boil down to. Plain and simple.

It doesn’t matter who the Democratic Presidential nominee is – all of them are quite capable and more or less on “our side”. Granted, there are no heroes, and some candidates would be more (or less) vindication for politics as usual or the progressive movement. But all of them (yes, certainly including Clinton) are no brainers as compared to whatever (or whomever) the republicans put up.

In pretty much every race.

So let’s fast forward past the primaries – to a time when we know who our candidates are. When we have the candidates we have (as opposed to the candidates we wish we have). It doesn’t matter if the Democrats are running Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or Dennis Kucinich. There will be smears, there will be attacks, there will be lies.

What needs to be done – and what hasn’t been done in many prior election cycles is that the Democrats need to set the narrative and set it early on. We all know that once the narrative is set, it is very difficult to change that narrative or change the terms of the discussion. The difference here is that nearly all of the republican-established narratives have been disingenuous at best, and outright lies, and we have facts, American sentiment and reality on our side.

Even with the missteps of the Democratic Congressional leadership (willful or not...), there is no way that the continuing occupation of Iraq and many of the other excesses, crimes and corrupt behavior of the republicans, Bush administration and its supporters will be hung on the Democratic Party, at least not by many in the general public. And if we are successful in setting the narrative early and forcefully, this will be something that no republican candidate can run or hide from.

Which goes back to the title of this diary. Reagan was able to use a variation of this when he asked the country if they were better off then they were four years ago. This worked well because he was running against an incumbent, however that doesn’t disqualify it from working now. Especially since pretty much every republican marched in lockstep with what Mister Bush wanted, even if they were not in Congress. Of course, each of the Presidential contenders have their own baggage (Rudy has bad judgment and can’t be trusted, for example), but every issue, every position, every argument can be wrapped around this theme.

And the best part is that this is not only universal and simple to understand and explain – it meshes with the “change of direction” that the Democrats will no doubt be pushing for over the upcoming year (even if it is somewhat disingenuous as well...).

What republican wants to get us out of Iraq? What republican is concerned with the dire healthcare situation in this country? What republican wants to do much about the environment or global warming? What republican wants to roll back the outrageous powers of the Executive Branch? What republican wants to speak out against torture (not even McCain does)? What republican wants to do something about the economy that will HELP, not hurt the middle class?

And so on and so on.

Senator Kerry said recently that he wishes that he set the tone in 2002 or 2003 about his faith and his lifelong approach to religion. He wanted to establish himself before the republicans did it for him. While that is very noble and he should be commended for recognizing that he could have set the frame for who he actually was and what he actually stood for before the smear machine did it to for him, it is a lesson that should be learned sooner rather than later.

It is less than one year from the election. And while we may not be happy with our choices, they could be worse. And the opponents are MUCH worse. As much as this may be a “hold your nose and vote for the bad option over the worse option” election, the worse option is actually a disastrous option and a complete continuation of the oppressive erosion of our rights here in the US, a foreign policy where the nicest word that can be used is “reckless”, an arrogant dismissal of torture as no real big deal, a “bury your head in the sand” approach to healthcare and an economic policy that will only speed up the complete ruin of the middle class (especially if the AMT isn’t resolved).

The previous paragraph is where the country is headed. Which makes the question simple for anyone that asks what the difference is between Clinton or Obama or Edwards and Giuliani or Romney or McCain. The current situation is directly related to policies of the republican party. And a republican Congress/President/administration will only continue speeding this country down the wrong track into a brick wall.

The Democratic candidates and Congressional officials won’t do nearly enough from our perspective to change all of this. But they will do something, and something in the right direction. The only response to any question as to why someone should vote for the Democrat (or should vote at all) is that one party is totally committed to continuing the disastrous {INSERT PARTICULAR PET POLICY HERE} policies of the past 10 years, and one will not.

Its time to go on the attack and set the narrative – the media won’t, that is for sure. But we can.

And we must. Otherwise, this country will continue to head in the wrong direction, but faster.

A few words that I didn't know in 2001.

If nothing else, I have learned a lot over the past six years or so – unfortunately, a lot of this was related to things that I really have no business knowing about. What is worse is that there are more than a few of the “things” or words that I didn’t know existed, or barely knew what it related to a few short years ago – only to have them thrust into the forefront of discussion.

Discussions that, quite frankly, we should never be having, let alone be excusing. Discussions that are being held on the floor of Congress, on television, and all over America which are an absolute disgrace and embarrassment to this nation. For example, United States Senators calling a prospective Attorney General “wrong on torture”, yet still voting to confirm him.

You know, things like that...

And I was thinking yesterday about this when I realized that there is a whole slew of words/phrases and related items that have become discussed way more than they should, and have even become accepted. Things like the Intelligence Identities Protection Act which came to light when some very patriotic high level members of the Bush administration decided to blow the cover of Valerie Plame – but of course didn’t “technically” violate the IIPA. And while we are on Plame, nobody should know that Brewster Jennings isn’t a real company, or that yellowcake is anything other than a vanilla flavored spongy type of dessert.

Caging is another word that entered my vocabulary – and not in a way that refers to birds or wild animals. For someone (Tim Griffin) to engage in this – nay, spearhead something like this in order to disenfranchise voters is bad enough. For him to do it as part of the RNC and then get promoted to US Attorney is mind boggling. And of course, Diebold, ESS, and the fat that voting machines were so easily hackable with no paper trail are some things that sadly are part of our election process – or at least for the past few cycles.

FISA, warrantless wiretapping and a debate over how much of our fourth amendment rights can be stripped have made it all the way to Congress, where inexplicably, this was deemed to be pretty much ok to do. Cutesy acronyms and bold names for programs that do exactly the opposite of what they are called have become the norm, not the exception. Help America Vote Act, Clear Skies Initiative, No Child Left Behind, the USA PATRIOT Act and “faith based initiatives” are just a few of the Orwellian names given to some of the most destructive programs to our election process, environment, educational system, Bill of Rights and separation of church and state.

I never would have thought that political expediency or back room deals would be done by the Democratic Party leadership that would put (and keep) a man like Hans von Spakovsky on the Federal Elections Commission – a man whose entire career was spent disenfranchising large swaths of voters. And a discussion of “new terms and things in Congress” wouldn’t be complete without talking about the nuclear option, “upperdown vote” or the ridiculous notion that 60 votes is needed in the Senate to do anything (except when republicans had less than 60 votes last year).

Other things (outside of “WarOnTerror™”) that have creeped into the general discussion include waterboarding, stress positions, extraordinary rendition, alternative interrogation tactics and of course torture. There is white phosphorus, IEDs, WMDs and RPGs and the hollowest of hollow phrases, Support the Troops. We can’t forget anthrax (and the supposed “antidote” Cipro, which Rumsfeld has an ownership stake in), ricin, “dirty bombs” which were held in “stockpiles”, of course.

This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface, but I am about to board a plane and my battery is running out. Come to think of it, how can I forget the Department of Homeland Security as I had to empty all of my contents of everything and pull my shoes apart at the seams when going through the airport earlier today....

But when I (or you) stop and think for a moment just how many real fucked up things have happened over the past few years, and how it has permeated every level of society and impacted so many Americans, it almost defies comprehension. Maybe enough people will remember these terms and what they represent when it comes to supporting candidates in the primary, or the general election.

There is so much at stake – not that we all didn’t know that already. But as time goes by, a number of things tend to slip from memory, and we can not afford to let that happen. Thanks much, Mister Bush, Mister Cheney and the rest of the thugs/criminals who brought us this ass backwards world and disaster of a reputation this country now has. Not only do I now know a lot more than a few years ago, but I am much wiser as well.

My only hope is that you all get exactly what you deserve from your actions.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hey wingers: would you let Hillary spy without a warrant?

Front paged at Booman Tribune

And if not, why?

I only mention Senator Clinton as opposed to the other candidates because she is the one that makes them the most apoplectic but it certainly would apply to any other Democratic candidate. For me, the answer is an obvious no, but most likely for very different reasons.

You see, I think the whole “unitary executive” nonsense is just that – nonsense. As such, it should be abolished, destroyed and quite frankly ruled unconstitutional, just so it can be stricken from the realm of reality. Warrantless wiretapping is illegal. Plain and simple. And nobody should have that power – not a Democrat, not a republican, not anyone.

Of course, there are many – millions even, who think that warrantless wiretapping of American citizens on American soil by the Bush administration, not to mention the telecom companies who went along with this illegal charade and now want immunity for their crimes and complicity. Unfortunately, there are even some Democrats in Congress (thanks, Senator Feinstein) who have taken such a strong stand against the Constitution and rule of law that the lines once again get blurred between what is and what should never be.

But to have this power in the hands of a Democrat – let alone that Democrat is something that is inexcusable not because of what it is, but because of who would have that power. And this is how we should be talking about the latest illegal issue that seven years ago would never have even been a consideration of something to even talk about, let alone have so many people willingly excuse.

If having this power and ability to break the law is necessary to fight and root out terrorists (even though it is not), and even if you “have nothing to hide so it shouldn’t matter anyway” (even though it isn’t the point and does matter), then I’m sure that there is no reason for anyone in the non-existent vast right-wing conspiracy to be concerned.

Because having this power doesn’t mean that it won’t be used for political purposes or for retribution or blackmail, right? This administration has never been found to do something that is politically motivated or has never broken the law in the name of “keeping us safe” and has never done anything for retribution or in retaliation for something else.

In the event that somehow you feel that you have no civil liberties when you are dead and you are so afraid of the boogyman that you are all on board with monitoring the sales of falafel to catch Iranian “terrorists” (hint: you have the wrong country), then it shouldn’t matter who is President. The ends justify the means, right? Can’t keep our Commander-in-Chief’s hands tied when it comes to hunting down the enemy and fighting them over there so we don’t have them follow us home, right?

But if the idea of warrantless and illegal spying on your life is something that you don’t want Hillary Clinton (or Barack Obama, John Edwards or any other Democratic candidate) to have the power to do but you are ok with it now – maybe you really aren’t ok with it. If you are afraid that she would abuse this power, then guess what? There is already someone who is abusing this power. A power that nobody should have in the first place.

And if you think that it is ok for one President to have this ability but not another President, then it really isn’t about fighting terrorism, is it?

Friday, November 09, 2007

If you don't stand for something, you stand for nothing.

Republicans - the party that supports torture.
Democrats - the party whose relative silence gives tacit approval to torture.

That sums it up for me right about now. I guess you can substitute “lawbreakers”, “perjurers”, “corruption”, “pissing on the Constitution”, “endless occupation of Iraq and military conflict in the Middle East” or any number of other issues for the word “torture” above, it doesn’t really matter.

But it is telling.

There are few, if any heroes. Maybe there never were but we just feel like we need one now. We do have “moderately ok on most issues most of the time”, but that’s probably a bit generous lately. Our field of Presidential candidates are definitely better than the republican field. But “better” isn’t “good enough”, and frankly, “good enough” is probably not good enough at this point in time.

Waterboarding has entered the national discussion, and there is no repercussion for engaging in, advocating for or evading a question about when you are being confirmed as the nation’s top attorney. Another $50 billion is probably going to be sunk into the hell of Iraq, despite the fact that pretty much nobody wants this to happen. Impeachment was back on the table, only to have Hoyer and Pelosi try to kill it as quickly as possible – despite the fact that it is a slam dunk.

Our choices for our so-called leaders are almost a choice of “bad” or “worse”. Sure, there are exceptions now and then, and there are examples where this isn’t the case, but where is the strong stand on oversight, torture, retroactive immunity for illegal spying, Iraq and holding people accountable for their actions? Where is the “new Congress” that was in town?

On one hand, I agree with my good friend thereisnospoon when he says that the Democarts are cynical manipulators as opposed to spineless cowards. Which makes this even more disturbing to me. Seems like the conventional wisdom is that 2008 will be huge if a strategy of finger pointing and token gestures is undertaken. Now, in most years or times, that wouldn’t be so horrible. A smart political move, and it would be much better than the alternative.

But this time around, it isn’t just “politics as usual”. There have been wholesale abuses of power – dozens of laws being broken (and the law breaking being flaunted), a radical hijacking and redistribution of wealth, an economy and currency that is on the brink of collapse and aggressively reckless or careless (take your pick) approaches to foreign policy that has set us back in relations and reputation and respect.

A significant portion of this country knows this. And they are calling, crying, nay - screaming for help – something, anything to show real and true leadership. On the economy, Iraq, oversight, radical appointments, abuses of power, accountability, the future or corruption. Hell, on anything, really.

Even the vote on Mukasey – a man that has no business being Attorney General if he has to dance around defining torture – is a perfect example. Most of the Senate Presidential candidates (including Dodd, Obama, Clinton and McCain) were too busy to vote for someone that may very well excuse torture and certainly won’t hold anyone accountable for doing it. The excuse was that they were too busy campaigning. Yet, it would seem that the best thing that you can do to campaign for President if you are a Senator is to show leadership and take bold action in your current position. It’s really the perfect job interview, yet each one of them fell flat on their face with this decision.

Is torture not something that would fall under “extraordinary circumstances”? Have you not learned from the Alito confirmation that symbolic victories are meaningless and, by the way, cause a whole helluva lot of damage down the road. (Note to Edwards supporters – even though he is not currently in the Senate, he shouldn’t be given a pass on these votes). What message does allowing someone that is a known vote suppressor to be on the Federal Election Commission send?

Playing it safe is a whole lot like a tactic in football when one team has a seemingly large and insurmountable lead called the prevent defense. If you haven’t heard about this, then all you need to know is that you want to prevent the other team from getting a big play, and usually the other team ends up scoring relatively quickly. Another and sometimes accurate way to describe the “prevent defense” is that all it does is prevent you from winning.

Right now, we are watching the Democratic Leadership use the prevent defense with respect to their governing, with an eye on the elections. We can’t afford to have this happen, since it is clear that this administration and its supporters will overstep and do whatever it takes to keep power as long as they can – and not just in government. Pretty much all of the popular opinion on major issues goes against the republicans. And many people want, no, need change, starting yesterday.

It is long past time to lead with actions and not high minded and empty rhetoric. The time for action is now. For today’s and tomorrow’s (or even next year’s) leaders, this is your audition. So far, I’d give a grade of D or if I was feeling generous a D+. And you pretty much have my vote anyway. For the 25+% of those who are undecided, you can’t afford for them to think that you failed your audition.

So, what’ll it be?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I Am NOT a "Healthcare Consumer"

I have health insurance through my employer. I guess that makes me “lucky” in some respects. I have also been fairly lucky with my health in general (knock on wood) and have not really had to navigate the hell that is Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois.


Every November, we receive a batch of information related to the “employee benefits open enrollment period”, which allows us to make any changes to our elections for the upcoming year. Pretty basic and self-explanatory. And while there is the usual bit of frustration when realizing that I have to choose between bad or worse versions of the same one insurance provider’s plans, this year was different.

The materials that we receive include the typical instructions, changes, deadlines and related information. However, this year, there was a significant amount of “rah-rah fluff” that really, really rubbed me the wrong way. And it is this fluff that really is indicative of the major underlying problem related to healthcare in this country – even for those who are fortunate enough to have some level of coverage.

It was one thing that I got a “2007 compensation summary” that included the “value of employer provided health benefits” (as well as the employer share of FICA tax – how generous of them) in my overall compensation. As if I should be honored that I am being graced with the crumbs of coverage for which I need to (1) make 50 calls to try and find a doctor that actually takes my insurance, despite not knowing anything at all about his or her actual qualifications or getting any good solid reference information, or (2) pay $10,000 out of pocket each year for me AND another $10,000 out of pocket for the missus to go to a doctor that she actually trusts and is not skittish about.

I say the above because my wife recently had her wisdom teeth removed and went to a “covered doctor” in our area, only to have them screw up and leave the right side of her face without feeling for a few months and now a dull pain that never goes away – all of which can’t be resolved other than by “waiting and hoping” or through surgery that would either not work or possibly leave her with no feeling on half of her face.

But I digress.

What really got me is this blurb, one that was never in prior enrollment literature and really cuts right to the core of the healthcare situation in the US (text emphasis is mine):

How Do I Choose Which Medical Plan is the Best for Me? During this year’s enrollment process, you are going to make some important decisions and selections on behalf of you and your family. Just like any other purchasing decision, you want to be an informed consumer when selecting a health care plan and participating in tax-advantaged savings accounts

And therein lies the problem. We are NOT “purchasers” of healthcare. Basic medical care is not something that we should be “informed consumers” about. Especially when we are only “informed consumers” about the few crappy plans that will give us half the coverage that we need. As for those “tax-advantaged” savings accounts? Well, my response is to please not piss on my head and tell me that it is raining.

Here is my “tax advantage” – as I said above, I have the privilege of going to a doctor that we are comfortable with and trust. And as an “informed purchaser”, I get to set aside $2,700 on a pre tax basis to pay for things that the insurance company won’t pay for itself, before paying for the rest out of pocket on an after tax basis. And as I said above, in order for the insurance company to pay for anything (which is only 70% or so), my wife and I EACH have to spend $10,000 before dollar 1 gets paid for by Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

What a great tax advantage for me.

Another headline in big bold letters in our literature reads Be a savvy health care consumer with these wellness tools. The first sentence under this headline? Fundamental to consumer-driven health care is arming you with information you need to make wise health care decisions. What a farce. How can anyone make “wise health care decisions” when they either have to pay through the nose to get the service that all Americans deserve or we are stuck with two or three crappy plan “options” from the same one insurance company?

Which leads me to the heart of the matter. In addition to the 47+ million who are uninsured, there are the millions of others who are underinsured. These people pay thousands of dollars each year for maybe being covered, or partially covered for things that are the most basic of issues. By taking small measures up front for preventative care – and not being forced to wait until a problem gets very dire and expensive to treat so much money would be saved, and so many more people would be healthier.

But until we change the discussion from “healthcare consumers” and making “informed decisions when purchasing healthcare options” to one where basic and affordable healthcare is available to Americans with the ability to actually go to a doctor that they trust without sacrificing a mortgage payment or other necessities, we will never begin to address this issue.

You shop around for a car. You make informed purchasing decisions for food, housing or other necessities – even for things that aren’t necessarily necessities. Getting treatment for your health isn’t something that you should be treated as a “consumer” for. Healthcare is not a commodity. When you have an emergency health issue or if you are involved in an accident, you go to the hospital that is closest (or the one that is closest that you trust). You don’t stop and think about calling all area hospitals to get the deal you are looking for, and you certainly don’t negotiate as you would over a car.

This is a basic right that Americans should be afforded. We should not be treated as “consumers” and basic affordable healthcare isn’t something that should be “shopped around for” at the cost of proper care.

A Tale of Three Countries

With us or against us.

If we take a look at three countries that are in the news and tied to the “WarOnTerror™”, there are some very interesting contrasts between “Country A”, “Country B” and “Country C” and it really creates another stark example of the farce of our foreign policy, and the damage that has been done to our reputation. Oh yeah, and the extreme danger that these reckless decisions and actions have put our country, the Middle East and parts of Asia in.

So, I figured that I would take a look at these three countries and do a little write up on each, just to see how “with us” or “against us” they really are – and to shed some light on the precarious situation that we have put ourselves in.

Country A

Country A had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. In fact, this country pretty much hated Saddam, hates al Qaeda and wanted to help the US after the attacks when it came to Afghanistan. This reaching out after 9/11 was one of three separate occasions that an offer was made to have some level of diplomatic dialogue after a long period of no relations whatsoever. Country A also helped the US with respect to rounding up some suspected terrorists, and helped with logistical issues when we took military action against Afghanistan. This country has a long history with the United States, including some times when relations were pretty good.

This country has a fairly progressive population that has decent promise in terms of furthering relations in the future and shaping the future of the country’s political direction. In fact, it elected a President – who served as recently as 2005 (in elections that are more Democratic than in either Country B or Country C) who pushed for more social freedoms, over the objections of the more conservative religious leaders. Of course, this President was ridiculed as not having any power over the religious leaders in the country.

Partially as a result of the US rebuffing any calls for diplomacy, a confrontational President was elected, and whose confrontational rhetoric was also rebuffed by the former moderate President. Now, of course, this confrontational President (whose words are frequently “clarified” or contradicted by the same religious leaders) is labeled as too dangerous and has too much power. This is despite his losing the support of many people who voted for him, the religious leaders and a waning influence on the local political scene. He is not in control of the country’s armed forces and while he isn’t a figurehead, his actual power is far exceeded by the perceived power that he has (despite insinuations that his predecessor not having any power).

This country has no nuclear weapons, and by all accounts will not have any (if at all) for at least 3-5 years. This country has no reason to attack the US, and certainly is not a threat to our economy or security. Despite this country not having similar interests or goals as the US, it is unlikely that Country A would seek to inflame or incite any global conflict. This country can be a major player in the global economy and has decent relations with a number of other countries with strong economies or potentially strong and complimentary sectors of the economy.


George W. Bush – 11/21/2001: We fight the terrorists and we fight all of those who give them aid. America has a message for the nations of the world: If you harbor terrorists, you are terrorists. If you train or arm a terrorist, you are a terrorist. If you feed a terrorist or fund a terrorist, you're a terrorist, and you will be held accountable by the United States and our friends.

Which brings us to Country B

Country B also has a long relationship with the United States, although it is more of one that is based on convenience for the US. We have alternately shunned and supported this country, although we have also supported its “enemies”. Country B was one of only three countries who recognized the Taliban as legitimate before abruptly changing its mind after 9/11.

Country B’s leader seized power in a coup, and has, at times, suspended the Constitution, held positions as President and leader of the country’s military, looked the other way as terrorists set up in his country. Country B had no ties to Saddam or to 9/11, however, it has been sympathetic to extremists that have caused death and destruction within the country – including against political leaders. On the other hand, there were ties between the country and the Taliban in the months leading up to 9/11.

Country B’s population is not sympathetic to the United States; rather it is fairly hostile or apathetic at best. Not only does the Taliban and al Qaeda have large membership in the country, but many of its citizens in certain regions had been harboring them and therefore letting them roam free – recently, its leader was less popular than bin Laden according to polls. Last year, Country B’s leader said that he wouldn’t go after bin Laden if bin Laden agreed to live a peaceful citizen.

Country B also has nuclear weapons, and was dangerously close to a nuclear conflict with its neighbor a few years ago. The high level official in Country B’s government who was responsible for its nuclear weapons program sold nuclear secrets to a number of other countries, and is basically a free citizen (not totally but certainly not being punished). Most recently, it was uncovered that Country B’s leader really has no interest in cracking down on extremists and terrorist groups and was accused last year of looking the other way while the Taliban and al Qaeda were launching attacks over its border against US and NATO troops.


George W. Bush - November 6, 2001: "Over time it's going to be important for nations to know they will be held accountable for inactivity," he said. "You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror."

The case of Country C is a bit more complex, yet still important to discuss. Country C is where bin Laden came from, and where much of his family is now. It is also the country where most of the 9/11 hijackers came from. Country C really has no military to speak of, and its human rights record is more than a bit spotty, with both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch having numerous and repeated concerns.

Most of the “foreign fighters” in Iraq come from Country C, and while it has no nuclear weapons program (or probably any ambitions), its record on terrorism is far from clean. The population is akin to a welfare state, with a huge dichotomy between the ruling family/class and the vast majority of the population. This leads to concerns about the population being sympathetic to extremism and extremist causes.

Last year, it was reported that a number of very wealthy citizens were funneling money to the Sunni insurgents in Iraq, including money used for shoulder rocket launchers used against our troops and helicopters. Country C’s leaders are aware of this, but have done little if anything to stop it from continuing.

Also late last year, it was reported that Cheney was warned that if the US were to withdraw from Iraq, it would side with the Sunni insurgents. Shortly thereafter, the US started to side with Sunnis against Shiites (also who conveniently were more aligned with Country A) – and amazingly the US even started to arm the same Sunni insurgents that were fighting against and killing our troops.

Country C also has a number of “charities” that have been linked to suspected terrorist groups but it has been slow to crack down on them as well.


Now, it would seem as though Country A would be the least of our troubles, with Country B being the one to keep our eye on the most, and Country C as a “thorn in our side”. Yet, as I am sure you figured out by now, Country A is Iran and is public enemy number one, despite no evidence that they are a threat to us. Of course, Iran isn’t the most innocent or pure of nations by a long shot, but it clearly is way down on the list of “threats to our national security”.

Country B (Pakistan) has been making the US look the damn fool time and time again, whether it is intentional or not, but clearly would represent the biggest potential disaster as it already harbors terrorists, has a military dictator who just suspended the Constitution and has nuclear weapons.

Country C (Saudi Arabia) has all of the ties to the Bush family and is hardly the “model of democracy”. Of course, the threats and blackmail related to our staying in Iraq and the funding of those same insurgents who were killing our troops gets little notice as compared to Iran’s purported and specious ties to weapons that are used against our troops in Iraq.

It’s no wonder that the world is in the shape it is in, and that the US is the laughingstock.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Senator Clinton, why do you want to be our President?

Front paged at Booman Tribune. Recommended at Daily Kos

I mean that as a sincere question. And I know that there are those who will view this as a “hit piece”, but so be it. She is the frontrunner, yet she has offered few details of her vision for this country. Or to that, even an overarching theme for her campaign as to why she wants to be President of the United States. I said many months ago that we need someone that not only wants to be the President but also has a campaign whose purpose and direction can be easily understood, discussed and supported. We do not need, nor can we afford a candidate that wants to be called the President more than they want to BE the President

So far, she has largely skated by without really saying or doing much – not even as much as she can in her current role as United States Senator. Sure, she has been a more than capable Senator and has done some pretty damn good things for NY. And yes, her voting record is largely progressive-ish, at least not much different from the other candidates when you take those “which candidate do I agree with most” tests.

But what does that all mean? Why exactly does Clinton want to be President? What is her overarching theme of the candidacy? And for those of us here in the netroots, why has she made such a conscious decision to not only not reach out to us – a very large and vocal and motivated (and smart) constituency – but to go out of her way to basically shun us. For that matter, what does that say about the influence we will have, or where we will fit in as far as our ideas, ideals and organizing power if and when she is elected President?

Tonight at 8PM Eastern, thereisnospoon and I will talk about this issue on a larger scale on our BlogTalkRadio show. When we started talking about this topic and issue, we ran down a number of campaigns on both the Democratic and republican side, including Dodd (restoring the Constitution), Romney (“moderate and pragmatic” who can get stuff done), Rudy (strength on national security, even if that is a farce), Edwards (middle class and other class issues), Huckabee (the “true conservative”), to name a few.

Yet when we came to Clinton – the presumed frontrunner and “inevitable” candidate, we were both at a loss. What is her campaign theme? Why is she running? What does she have to offer that other candidates don’t?

She talks about her experience, yet questions about her past experience are off limits. She talks about foreign policy issues, yet her vote on Kyl-Lieberman, her lack of leadership on Iraq and desire to not answer any questions or explain her vote on Iran based on “it being a hypothetical” run contrary to that as well. She has a keen interest in reforming the healthcare system, as evidence by her attempts during her husband’s administration, yet her plan is neither a radical change or all that different from other candidates’ plans. Not that it makes her plan bad by any stretch, it just isn’t all that different.

When the other candidates finally attack her positions, or lack thereof, she appears to get defensive about being ganged up on by a bunch of men as opposed to actually clarifying her positions. She is doing very well in head to head matchups with the republican counterparts, yet both Obama and Edwards are as well, so “being more electable” isn’t the issue – not to mention that it isn’t really a reason to run either.

Obviously, she is a much better candidate or option than any of the republican counterparts as well, but then again, even the worst Democratic candidate is better than the best republican candidate. But a campaign has to be much more than that. You need to have that “2 minute elevator speech”, as it is called in my business. What does she stand for that the others don’t? How is she a leader or how is she leading in areas that the other candidates aren’t?

How does she stand out from the other candidates? On what positions? And if it is based on her experience, then why is all talk, challenges and questions about that experience off limits?

I know why she wants to be called the President. But I don’t know why she actually wants to be President. And at this particular time in history, with all that is wrong in the United States, as well as around the world (much of which is directly related to our actions and need strong leadership to fix or change course), this is something that we deserve to know from our candidates, let alone the frontrunner.

Friday, November 02, 2007

An apology and a promise to my unborn child

As some of you already know, the missus and I are expecting a clammyc junior (or juniorette) in a few months, and I have been excited as can be about this. Of course, with the complete immersion in the events of the world and this country that I am involved in, it is also a bit scary and disconcerting to think of the world that he/she will be entering in a few short months.

Over the past few days, I have been thinking of a diary around the theme of “undoing the damage” – damage on a world stage, damage to America’s reputation, damage to our collective psyche, damage to, well, pretty much everything I can think of. Some of this is a long term decline, while a lot of it was over the past 7-10 years.

And while, of course, I am not apologetic for bringing another life into my family or this world, I do want to make an apology and a promise up front. Who knows when I’ll be able to share this with him/her, or when it will even be understood. You see, I was lucky to avoid trauma and upheaval in my life until my late 20’s when I had a few very trying years as I watched my (former) marriage and job (and employer) crumble all around the time that 9/11 happened and turned this country on its head.

Yet, I was born in a similar period (1970) where an unpopular war was going on – killing way too many people for specious reasons about a war that would threaten democracy around the world. But it seems here that there are so many other things that have gone on that there isn’t even a semblance of a true national discussion on where we as a country are headed or what our place is on the world stage (as opposed to what some in this country think our place is or should be – which is pure fantasy and not grounded in any reality whatsoever).

My apology is for things that I, as one individual, really can’t take much of the blame for, but certainly they are circumstances where I am bringing a son or daughter into the world without the ability to confidently say that I can leave them a world that is better than the one that I saw or am living in now. As one person, I can only be as proactive as my schedule and habits allow, and there certainly have been decisions and actions that have not made things easier.

But again, this is less of something that I had a direct and material control over, yet – as an American, as a human, I will be asked “why” with respect to so many things. Initially, they will be somewhat innocuous questions but ultimately as he or she grows and realizes (little by little) what is happening – even on a small level – I will probably have to come up with some very uncomfortable answers. These questions may not come until he or she is 6, 8, 12, 15 or 20, but they will come. And to the extent that the answers are unfair or difficult or even something that I couldn’t have done more about, there will be an apology for, if nothing else, the way that certain things are.

Which leads me to my promise.

I do promise to do whatever (little) I can to make the world a bit of a better place – to raise the level of discourse, to fight for what I believe in and the truth, regardless of how difficult it may seem and how much I am up against. To not back down to bullying and to shine a light on and try to change things that are unfair, or not right, or not good for the environment and our health. And to set as good an example as I can to help navigate a complex and, frankly, what has become a more frustrating reality that we now live in.

At this point, there are many things on such a large level that need major addressing – many things that nobody (no, not even Al Gore) could do a damn thing about. Who knows what global warming will lead to. Who knows what the economy will look like. Whether our elections will ever be fairly run again. Whether there will be enough food, clean water or alternative energy sources that will not pollute our food and air. Whether we will be able to afford medical procedures or care if ever needed – certainly not only for them but for us as well.

Those are mainly on the more personal level – things that impact us that I can do as much as I can to help change (other than the election process). There is also the rampant privatization of our government, politicization of the Justice Department and many other governmental agencies that are more concerned with advancing an agenda than being fair and impartial. I’ll need to explain why certain people go to jail while others don’t when they do the same thing. How people keep killing each other and fight wars for reasons that should never be. Why some things can’t be said, or some expressions and views can’t be discussed.

Or, why things that are told to us on TV (or radio) are just not true. Why our President lied to the country and the world. Why people are so angry over things that are pretty trivial and don’t care about really important things. That we live in a time where insults and distractions are why so many people don’t have the ability to get help when they are sick, or when catastrophe hits. Why many things that should be taken care of are ignored due to the national debt, trade imbalances and policies of greed.

It’s a big scary messy world that we live in, and it has been compounded by many policies, actions and inactions over the past decade. Some of this I have had little control over and some I can take more direct action, even on a small scale.

So this is an apology for the things that are not fair, are not right, and are even beyond my reach in terms of being able to do something about – let alone explain why they are the way they are “because they are, even though it is not fair”. An apology for the events and situation in this dangerous world.

And a promise to do whatever I can to make it better, fairer or a little bit more livable than what it is now. Even if it is just a small bit.