Saturday, June 25, 2011
COERCION BY POLITICAL BLACKMAIL
Many of us wonder from time to time about the completely irrational and foolish positions taken by republicans. Sometimes it seems as if nobody in that party or its leadership is capable of thinking out the most simple matters or probable public reaction to the positions they take openly, even by votes in Congress.
Yes, indeed there are a number within their “celebrity” political group who appear to fit the weak-minded image that their comments and behavior conjures. But we also observe other more respected ones within the republican party putting out a line and calling for unanimity of support of idiotic measures. This seems to us incongruous. Surely they must know better, we say.
Various positions taken by republicans on reducing budget deficits and curtailing the growth of national debt leave us leave us somewhat awe-stricken. “Surely nobody is dumb enough to propose that,” we think.
Does Pawlenty really believe he can cut budget deficits by 40% in 10 years by cutting taxes $7.8 trillion, added to the $2.5 trillion lost by keeping the Bush cuts? He projects also a spectacular 5% growth rate in the economy, and a minus 1% unemployment. What does that mean? It is nonsense.
So it was with the proposal to repeal Medicare as we know it, and substitute a voucher for seniors to go out and shop for a policy from insurance companies. This is not really a sane proposal. Politically, it won’t fly. As an alternative to cutting corporate and other subsidies, it won’t be chosen. Nor will it be acceptable as an alternative to raising taxes for the wealthy among us.
It should be mentioned that seniors are not a market that private insurers want, and rates would likely be exorbitant. Also, nothing works in any budget unless health care costs are brought under control. Medicare, as it now exists, is the only major force stopping medical charges from running amok. Medicare declares what it will pay – and no more can be charged to them or the patient. This is highly significant to the economy of the nation. Would that we would adopt a form of Medicare for everybody, so we could put real brakes on costs.
So then, why would republicans take on such a loser of an issue?
The answer is: Every republican in Congress, and every republican candidate for office, is being coerced and threatened by an organization quite popular among their rich and corporate donors. The Americans for Tax Reform is headed by a politically ruthless man named Grover Norquist. He is the one who makes every republican candidate sign a “NO TAX” pledge in order to have his favor and the favor of all the political cash that he controls.
If a republican candidate refuses to sign the NO TAX pledge, he has no chance for financial support from the wealthy conservatives in the party. If he violates his pledge and succumbs in weakness to vote for any tax increase, or even now for cutting corporate subsidies (such as for oil companies), then that politician is assured of a well financed primary opponent in his next election.
It is just that mean and vindictive, and it assures almost 100% adherence to the party line by republican rank and file congresspersons. That is why the Ryan scatter-gun budget carried almost all republicans in the House and had few republican dissenters in the senate. That is why all the lines in the sand are being drawn by Speaker Boehner, confidently predicting the republicans will support no debt compromise that has any kind of tax increase in it.
When one understands that every republican is running scared, then one may begin to understand the foolish positions to which these people are driven.
It means that they cannot support revenue increases. Everything must be taken out of spending. The budget has two legs – income and expenditures. If one of these is ruled entirely out of the process for balancing, then it makes the job next to impossible. And, it forces consideration of inhumane and downright mean ideas as if they had logic or deserved attention. This is what is happening.
Republicans must be called out for their self-serving obeisance to the masters of corporate cash. Are they victims of political blackmail? Or, does their unthinking, slavish service of the money-masters involve something more like political prostitution?
It has been hoped that the democrats would bring in budget balancing ideas which would increase revenue, principally by making the rich pay their fair share, with the costs of government be borne more by those who are reaping the greatest benefits from the system. Also, we are hoping for a cleaned up expenditure plan with the elimination of lower priority programs and the cost of foreign wars. Give-away programs, foreign and domestic, need to be examined and curtailed.
Most of us are sensible enough to recognize that it will take both revenue enhancement and expenditure controls to bring our budget in with meaningfully reduced deficits. Call on republicans to shake off their money shackles and join others in sensible, patriotic, fiscally responsible actions.
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate
DOUBLE DIPPING THE STATE RETIREMENT SYSTEM
For several decades there has been continuing concern among retired educators and others about the sanctity of the Oklahoma Teacher Retirement System. One concern has been about the tendency of the legislature to pass bills promoted by a single legislator to favor a particular retiree, or class of retirees, at the expense of the system. Much concern has been expressed about special legislation that allows schools and retirees to abuse the system for the advantage of a person and a school by double-dipping – being both retired and still working.
Currently scarce resources of the Teacher Retirement System are being exploited by schools to save salary dollars. Schools are allowed to hire back a retired teacher within a few months of official retirement. The teacher continues to draw a retirement check while the school pays him/her a salary. Usually the teacher makes more than before retirement, and the school saves a bundle on salary.
The Oklahoma Teacher Retirement System gets the fiscal shaft.
It is not the occasional hiring back of a retiree at less than half-time for a modest stipend that is of concern. That is not the real issue. But there is something wrong with retiring for three months, drawing full retirement, then going back to work half-time or more for second salary for doing the same job. Both the school and the retiree are abusing the system at the ultimate expense of all beneficiaries.
Both the retiree and the school are gaming the system. It is perfectly legal – since the legislature has made it so. But on close examination, it is easy to see that there is something inherently wrong about laws that allow exploitation of the retiree trust fund for the benefit of school budgets and a few privileged retirees.
However, some seem to think this is just great. Or, at least it appears so in the press. Not long ago facts were printed in a local newspaper about how much extra some rehired retirees were now making yet how much the school was saving on these salaries. These were mostly second echelon administrators who retired and returned, making more than ever before but costing the school district less. How delightful! Win – win! Everyone, including the newspaper people, thought this was just great. Nobody considered that the losers were little old retired folk for whose benefit the trust fund money was intended.
This same legislature that provided for a loophole for abusing the retirement system is constantly engaging in a harangue regarding the poor fiscal condition of the retirement system. They say that the system cannot afford even the pittance of a 1% a year COLA for its elderly retirees, while they allow fund coffers to be milked by schools and colleges and to be abused by some younger retirees.
Only about five years ago the legislature handed out lucrative benefit increases to the highest paid school personnel preparing to retire, They did so by removing salary caps and allowing certain buy back privileges for earlier years. This increased the unfunded liability of the system greatly. Perhaps worse, it added to the size and the unfairness of the chasm between the level of benefits received by newer, younger retirees and the elderly who have been retired much longer.
Newer retirees do quite well. There is no need for them to be concerned about COLA’s for years to come. But some who have been retired twenty years or more are hard pressed to maintain a decent standard of living. Some elderly retirees fall below poverty criteria. Nobody seems to care.
Younger retirees are better organized and more active that the elderly. Generally new retiree benefits get more attention and are better supported by the professional associations of the active professionals. In general, elderly retirees have had few champions to help them make their case to the legislature.
For several years, the Oklahoma Council of Retired College and University Presidents made legislative proposals to take care of the elderly with higher COLA’s. These have been introduced in bill form by friendly legislators in several sessions. But each time these have met a cruel fate at the hands of legislators who claimed to be concerned about the actuarial condition of the system.
The Oklahoma legislature has used the “one size fits all” negative excuse for any consideration of the human plight of the elderly retirees for which it has responsibility. While they can allow convenient loopholes for the exploitation of retirement system funds for schools or politically influential interest groups, they turn a blind eye toward a segment of the retiree population with the greatest need.
Then they hide behind a cowardly broad brush ruling, “No COLA’s unless the actuarial cost is paid in advance.” Let them look at reality instead and take care of the need.
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
THERE THEY GO AGAIN
To most of us John Edwards was always a likable fellow. To some of us it seemed he had a message of empathy for those in our society unrepresented in politics and ignored by government. He was a handsome guy, impeccably groomed, no doubt contributing to his downfall. He spoke well, and he had a nice smile.
John Edwards was a family man. Having lost a son, tragedy haunted the family in the form of Elizabeth’s breast cancer. Yet through all this they gave the impression of a family united strongly against adversity, and driven to accomplishments for the public good. He had been picked as his party’s candidate for vice-president earlier, and he made a third place run for the nomination for president.
Then everything went awry. Edwards’ candidacy did not flourish in competition with the Clinton versus Obama war for the party’s spot. There was the resurgence of the cancer, and then the $400 haircut hit the media. The guillotine dropped with the emergence of the affair with a campaign media contractor, the existence of illegitimate progeny of that affair, and followed by all the cover-up attempts.
Down went John Edwards! His hypocritical behavior translated to despicable behavior, even for many of those who had been friendly toward him. Edwards correctly assesses his conduct: “What I did was wrong.” Everybody agrees.
So, he paid the price. His political future went down the tube. He lost his family at bad time. Elizabeth died. His name is mud. What more could happen to a prideful man like him, with high ambitions for his life? He had brought ruin upon himself and travail on those closest to him. He had been relegated to a reduced and tarnished stature, from which he would not be likely to rise again. What more?
Well, there are always those who are willing to kick the guy who is down. That appears to be more consistently true in politics than in life.
Now, three years later, after passing up on the prosecution of illegal conduct in the previous administration on such matters as obstruction of justice by Rove’s White House, outing of secret CIA staff, fostering prosecution of petty issues with opposing party candidates, and political manipulating of district attorney personnel to that end – this comes up. After clear violation of international law and our own treaties by criminal torture of prisoners and “rendition” of kidnapped suspects to foreign lands for torture, faking and lying to Congress and the country to provoke the Iraq War – despite passing politely on all these, we suddenly decide to make a federal case against John Edwards on shaky grounds of misusing “campaign funds” to cover up and to shelter his mistress.
It seems that our values a bit crossed. This guy has had enough. It is not necessary to go to the extremes that have been done to try to make a legal case against him.
Why would the “Obama administration” do this?
As it turns out, it is not Obama’s people who are pressing this case. The justice department prosecutor in North Carolina is a former conservative senator’s staff member appointed as an U. S. Attorney by Bush. Because the litigation department administrator is a democrat and Edwards’ own attorney was once in the Obama White House, there has been a reluctance to invite charges of “political interference” in what appears to be a political vendetta against Edwards.
So then, it’s a “hands off” policy for this partisan prosecutor.
Next, it turns out that the money for taking care of Edwards’ mistress did NOT come from campaign donations, but instead personal gifts made by a willing heiress through different channels for that purpose. So, first these other gifts had to be declared campaign donations, opposite statements made by the donor. After these were so declared to be campaign gifts, contrary to past legal precedent, then that made them illegal to be used for the purposes given -- besides over limits.
All this involves a legal stretch which is severely questioned by most non-partisan legal authorities. “This interpretation has never been made before in similar legal situations,” says a mainstream television legal consultant. That gives the prosecutor’s case against Edwards all the appearances of being “selective prosecution” – thus a violation of law itself.
But, there they go again. It appears again that there is a republican attempt to misuse and abuse the legal justice system for partisan political motives. John Edwards may deserve public defamation for his conduct, but he does not deserve a kangaroo legal prosecution and jail sentence for it.
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
DEBT LIMITS: WHAT NOW?
This is quite a worrisome, but totally unnecessary and inappropriate, political gamesmanship problem with potentially disastrous consequences. The obstructive stubbornness of GOP leaders, in obeisance to their Tea Party faction, threatens to bring the walls and roof down on the U. S. government.
There are several things we need to understand about the debt ceiling. Normally, it has not been an issue, because most people in Congress were responsible and somewhat sensible people. First, Congress votes to approve a budget, and commitments are then made under that spending plan. The various agencies of government then go about their business, spending up to the level budgeted.
That congressionally approved budget, or spending plan, has involved spending more than income. So, the budget included additional borrowing to cover the bills. Now, the GOP House, in its backwards and contradictory fashion, proposes not to allow borrowing the money it already authorized to be spent and reneging on promises already made.
Call this flip-flopping, call it irresponsible, call it playing the deadbeat, or call it GOP style politics. It amounts to fraud and amoral behavior on the part of any congressman who votes against the debt ceiling. This is true no matter how he/she voted on the budget. It is true no matter what excuses are offered.
If the budget was legally adopted, then we have legal bills to pay. This is too serious for game playing and political posturing.
Now comes the question: “What happens if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling now?” Of course, the fact is that Congress has already defaulted, and our executive branch has already been moving money and utilizing creative accounting so that the interest on our debt and our current bills continue to be paid in full.
But what happens this summer when these background adjustments will no longer work? Will we then default on our debt payments and send the world financial and currency markets into chaos? Yes, this is possible.
But some see a different scenario, one that nobody will like, and one with widespread grave consequences – stressful but short of world chaos.
If the republicans continue their obstinate position, then the president may well make a choice between paying the interest on the debt and paying the bills and salaries to run the government.
We may well hear a televised Oval Office talk which reminds us that the administration has put forth a responsible plan for reducing debt over time through cuts in spending and raising income. The President will explain that because of republican intransigence, he must now take necessary steps to cut expenditures so as to neither exceed the existing limit nor stop interest payments on the debt. These steps can include almost anything.
All grants for various community, health, educational, or scientific purposes may be suspended, including community grants, highway funds, college student aid, and all such. It may be announced that Social Security checks will be reduced or suspended, and that recipients will have to make arrangements to borrow from their bank until funding is put back on a normal level. The same could happen to Veterans’ benefits. Medicare could cease paying hospital and doctor claims, or cut these in half to reduce the outgo of money. Federal workers could be laid off, as well as state and corporate employees dependent on grants or contracts. Our military pay could be delayed by 20%. Courts could be jammed with suits, yet close the doors.
Indeed not paying one’s regular bills is tantamount to not paying one’s debts. The difference is the formality and legalities between bonds and bills. And neither is a good thing.
Yes, these and other action examples could become necessary if the irresponsibility of GOP members of Congress continues. Of course, blame for any such necessary actions would be unceremoniously laid at their political feet.
If the GOP members are politically dumb enough to vote for an austere budget bill that includes killing Medicare, then they may well be dumb enough to allow all this to begin to happen before hostile voters descend upon them in anger to force the issue to be properly resolved.
How long will the public stand for such obvious chicanery from one political party in tying up government with such unnecessary and irresponsible tactics?
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate