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Friday, November 11, 2011

Republican Candidates for What?

Are you kidding me?  These are Presidential candidates?  The Republicans have lost their marbles in proposing any of these clowns as presidential timber.  The Presidential “debate” of Nov. 9th on economic matters reached an all-time low of disingenuousness and lack of specifics.

Take Herman Cain…please!  He blamed everyone but himself for the allegations of sexual harassment made against him.  And, to make matters worse, the audience booed the questioners and applauded his blaming of the media!  But that’s not the worst of it. 

He continued backing the absurd 9-9-9 Plan displaying an intransigence and lack of intelligence that is mind-boggling.  Perhaps the only saving grace is that his Plan wants to rid us of the current tax code.  But he has never demonstrated to anyone that he knows what that entails or what it will engender in the execution of it.  Above all, the flat tax of 9-9-9 is a giveaway to the rich and a further burdening of the poor and middle class.  Can you imagine paying a tax on goods that includes a federal tax of 9% on top of a state/local tax of somewhere between 5-9%?  You buy an item of clothing for $30 and pay another $4.20-5.40 in tax?  Or how about when you buy a new car for $20,000 -- are you ready for the extra $2800-3600 you will owe the national, state and local governments?  Herman Cain is a joke.

Speaking of jokes… just what we need: another Texas buffoon.  Rick Perry doesn’t just have a memory problem (what‘s that third agency?…oops!); he’s got an intelligence problem (not unlike another Texan who unfortunately made it to the WH).  This man wants a flat tax of 20% for everyone, but will give those who don’t want or like it the option to stay with the current tax rates and tax code with all its attendant improprieties.  He’s so anxious to bring the tax rates for the richest 1% down to 20% that he can’t see the forest for the trees.  And, above all, that 20% is not the effective tax rate, it’s just what the corporations and the rich will start at before they use existing tax loopholes to lower that to 0-10% actually paid!    It’s like the MSRP of car-selling: no one believes that is the actual rate to be paid!  Ah-h-h-h Texas: the promised land for oil tycoons, corrupt judges, state executions, pseudo-education textbook publishers, land speculators, scams, and secessionists!

And then there’s Mitt Romney, who’s never seen the side of an issue that he didn’t like!   Here’s the man who established a health care reform plan in Massachusetts that served as a model for so-called “Obamacare.”  He denies the approbation.  Here’s the man who wants Medicaid to be handed to the states to run, but he never makes it clear that each state already administers its own Medicaid program while the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) monitors the state-run programs and establishes requirements for service delivery, quality, funding, and eligibility standards.  Apparently, he wants the states to take on those latter responsibilities, which would price Medicaid administration out-of-reach for many states.  Because state programs already differ from one another, according to each state’s needs (which Romney says he wants to have happen even though it already exists), a few states even have their own names for Medicaid, such as "Medi-Cal" in California and  "MassHealth" in Massachusetts. States may bundle together the administration of Medicaid with other programs such as the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), so the same organization that handles Medicaid in a state may also manage additional programs. Separate programs may also exist in some localities that are funded by the states or their political subdivisions to provide health coverage for indigents and minors.  In some states Medicaid is also subcontracted to private health insurance companies, while other states pay providers (i.e., doctors, clinics and hospitals) directly.

Something else that Romney doesn’t tell his audience is that State participation in Medicaid is voluntary; however, all states have participated since 1982.  Since he now opposes the way Medicaid is managed, perhaps he should have dropped Massachusetts from the mix during his tenure as Governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007.

In his own state of Massachusetts, their version of Medicaid doesn’t adequately cover people under age 65 with other than a developmental disability.  They don’t cover case coordination, for example, nor do they provide other essential services needed for community integration, such as adequate counseling or housing support.  To put it mildly, their coverage stinks -- and that’s exactly what we know about several other states.  With completely state-run programs, we could expect that many other states would have to use federal block grants to increase administrative cost coverage, but not the enhancement of services.  Devolvement of Medicaid to the states would be the death knell of adequate Medicaid programming for the poor and disabled.  

Let’s also call out Mitt Romney for his inaccurate claim that the current Medicaid program is a “one size fits all” program.  Does he know anything about Medicaid Waivers that allow states to develop their own versions of Home & Community Based services to meet particular needs of particular populations: those with mental challenges, the aged, others with brain injury or HIV/AIDs?  Maybe if he had taken the leadership to obtain the “Nursing Home Transition and Diversion” waiver, he might have been able to develop more appropriate community services for adults with MS or Parkinson’s Disease who wanted to stay out of nursing homes, or who wanted to transition from such facilities to community housing and services.

Give me a break, Governor.  When you had the chance, you accessed only three of the many existing waivers allowed under Home & Community-Based Waivers, section 1915(c) (MR/DD, TBI, and Aged).  North Dakota and West Virginia are the only states to have fewer Waivers.  New York state, on the other hand, has eight HCBS Waivers including: MR/DD, Aged, Aged & Disabled, TBI, NHTD, HIV/AIDs, children, and CDPAP. 

So, Mitt, are you sure you know how these programs -- and Medicaid itself -- work?  If you do know how Medicaid works, why don’t you tell the truth, instead of leading us down a primrose path?  Medicaid is already a state-run program, funded by both state and federal funds.  There are already enough options within Medicaid to allow for development of programs for particular needs.  State programs already differ substantially from each other, and use different names to emphasize that fact.  Why don’t you admit that Massachusetts had its chance to develop home and community-based services for special populations and chose not to, leaving a child and adult population of disabled persons in great need.    

And distortions don’t stop there.  Romney (and others on the stage) wrongly blamed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as primary causes of the housing crash.  But, in truth, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission reported in 2011 that the FMs were not primary causes of the crash; it was private lenders who were the main causes of the crisis with their lack of down-payments, anything-goes lending practices that did not take into account ability to pay, aggressive accounting practices, and their questionable terms and liquidity. 

Let’s take a minute to look at some of the history of Fannie Mae (based on “Reckless Endangerment” by G. Morgenson and J. Rosner).  One of the things that can be strongly said about this agency is that it made many friends in Congress in order to keep its government subsidies flowing into its coffers.  After facing certain critics in Congress, the Chairman of Fannie Mae, Jim Johnson, came up with an idea in 1993 that Fannie Mae needed a local presence in communities across the country in order to win the hearts of people on Main Street and to insulate itself against its critics.  Soon Johnson’s company was opening storefronts in cities and towns where it was possible to partner with local officials, first, to promote home ownership and second, to promote its reputation as a good-deed doer.  His so-called Partnership Offices cemented the company’s relationships with members of Congress, by encouraging lawmakers to take credit for housing initiatives in their districts.  Fannie Mae even provided the publicity for the very congressmen and women whom it relied on for help and protection in Washington.

Guess what?  When Johnson traveled to Atlanta in February 1995, to open the new Partnership Office there, he made sure to invite some powerful Republicans to join him on the podium.  The focus of the Atlanta Office would be to create mortgage products for first time homebuyers, and low and moderate-income consumers.  There to celebrate the Fannie Mae commitment, and office-opening, was none other than the Georgia Republican who happened to be Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, who was a big proponent of reducing the size of government.  Here’s what Gingrich had to say on that occasion:

“Fannie Mae is an excellent example of a former government institution fulfilling its mandate while functioning in the market economy.”  Strange, you say; wasn’t Gingrich one of those on the debate stage on Nov. 10th who was bemoaning the government status of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?  That’s right; there was nothing “former” about Fannie Mae’s government status in 1995 -- it was receiving government subsidies even then.  And here at this Atlanta podium was Newt Gingrich wrongly telling people that this was a private entity functioning in the market economy.  Please Newt, say it isn’t so.  He went on to laud the agency:  “Fannie Mae has had a regional presence in Atlanta for over 40 years, and the announcement of a partnership office demonstrates its continued commitment to affordable housing in the Atlanta metropolitan area.” 

So which is it Newt?  Is Fannie Mae to blame for the housing crisis, or not?  Is it a government entity, or not?  Is it part of the market economy, or not?  Should it be privatized, or not?  Newt Gingrich likes to extol his own penchant for history.  Too bad he can’t remember a lot of his own history before he shoots off his know-it-all mouth.  He’s as bad as Mitt Romney in covering multiple sides of an issue.

The lesson to be learned:  watch out voters!  These candidates are out to bamboozle you -- to “treat you as baboons.”  They are so far away from the middle class and the poor that they live in another world devoid of concern for your needs.  Their programs and principles have been in effect since the Reagan years, and since that time, our economy has favored the rich over anyone else.  We have seen lowered top tax rates, deregulation in many areas, cut-backs in government spending, and incentives and breaks of all kinds for corporations, resulting in tremendous profits.  What we have also seen is the movement of manufacturing jobs overseas, effective tax payments and rates of 0-15% for top corporations, and the outrageous growth of wealth for the 1% of our population known to Republicans as “job creators.”  Problem is: although these measures have not worked to produce many new jobs (but a deep torrent of layoffs instead), Republicans propose more of the same as their only Plan for Prosperity. 

Beware!  You are being taken for the proverbial ride!  We will not recover manufacturing jobs that have gone overseas!  We will not see multinationals innovating here when they can make more profit in other countries.  We will not recover our economic leadership without investment in education, infrastructure,  new industries, single-payer health insurance, and new alternative energy companies.  Republicans since Reagan have led us into the current banking, investing, lending, housing, and unemployment crises.  To give them another chance to produce the same results is the definition of insanity.  Are YOU being bamboozled?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Republicans Are Disconnected

The Republicans in Congress seem to me to be disconnected, not only from what is needed in our nation, but from what they need to be doing as elected representatives of the people.

First of all, they are in a budget-cutting mode and mood.  But nowhere do we have a definition of a problem that will be solved by such budget-cutting.  Nor do we have any strong data that backs up the budget-cutting propounded by the Republicans in Congress.  For instance, what data exists to prove that budget-cutting is more effective than say government reform and raising the taxes of the rich?  Oh yes, we hear over and over that we are spending too much and that our children and grandchildren will be stuck with the bill.  That is not the definition of a problem; that is a statement based on political rhetoric; nothing more.  The problem we face is multi-faceted: not simply that we are spending too much; rather, the basic problem is that Congress is spending taxpayers’ money in poorly-conceived ways, and raising revenue in poorly-constructed methods that do not advance the welfare of our commonweal.  That is the fault of our elected leaders, but let us be careful to examine which leaders.

Let us not forget that it is the constitutional responsibility of the Congress to  “provide for the common defense and general Welfare of the United States…to borrow money on the credit of the United States… to regulate Commerce…” It is Congress’s duty to sponsor bills for raising revenue (which must originate in the House of Representatives);  ...all money drawn from the Treasury must be appropriated by the Congress… and Congress has the responsibility “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.” 

In stark contrast, we note in Article II of the Constitution that the Executive -- the President -- is much more limited in his responsibility, especially concerning the power of the purse.  He can recommend measures to the Congress “for their consideration” as “he shall judge necessary and expedient…”, but it is Congress that ultimately legislates what it wishes of such recommendations: the President proposes; Congress disposes.  So, although the President can propose plans, and legislation, and budgets, and ideas, it is Congress that has the responsibility for the purse and for all legislation.  Yes, the President has great power that is recognized throughout the world, but that power has evolved because of his role as Commander-in-Chief, because of his responsibility for foreign relations in the area of treaty making and diplomacy, and perhaps because of the need, in this modern and complicated world, to be able to act decisively whenever the nation is confronted with outside forces (of many kinds) that could negatively impact our welfare and our very existence. 

In spite of this recognized “imperial” power, the Executive does not have the power to make laws or to appropriate funds.  It is not the constitutional duty of the President to raise revenues, nor to give a regular accounting of the receipts and expenditures of public money (except as the Congress may legislate for him to do); nor to draw money from the Treasury except as authorized by the Congress; nor to borrow money on the credit of the United States; nor to coin money or regulate its value.  It is not the President’s constitutional duty to pay the debts, nor to provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.  All of that is part of the constitutional duty of the Congress! 

My point?  Congress is not living up to its responsibility to legislate, to appropriate, to borrow, to raise revenue and to control, oversee, and report on its actions.  Yes, that’s right: the Congress is required by the Constitution to make “a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money (which) shall be published from time to time.”  Are you getting your report on ALL receipts and expenditures of ALL public money?  I’m not.  As a matter of fact sometimes it is almost impossible to obtain such information (for instance on “member items” or “earmarks”) and often requires an FOIA to get such information from the Congress or from a federal department or agency. 

Why isn’t the Congress living up to this responsibility?  Because Congress doesn’t want you to know how poorly they are doing their job!   They do not want you to know how poorly they spend your money.  They do not want you to know where they spend the most and on what they spend the least.  They do not want you to know that they are not living up to their constitutional responsibility to oversee all spending.  Which means, my friends, that it is the Congress that is responsible for the fiscal mess we find ourselves in.  It means that the responsibility for the deficit does not fall to the Executive, but to the Congress which has a constitutional mandate to oversee all public expenditures.

So, are we being bamboozled?  You bet.  The Congress, as it is wont to do, has tried to blame the budget deficits and the national debt on the President.  They say that his “stimulus package” was a failure; that “Obamacare” will run up the deficit and the debt; that his budgets will add trillions to the national debt.  Wait a minute….are the Republicans in Congress trying to tell us that the President has the power of the purse and not them?  Are they trying to shift blame to the Executive who constitutionally has to carry out the legislative mandates given him by the Congress?  Are they telling us that it is the President who legislates and that the Congress is just a puppet?  NONSENSE!

Whether Republican or Democrat, the Congress is to blame for all of our deficits and debts.  They have the power to legislate our way out of this, but if they fail to act, or act timidly (more accurately: in a political manner) then they cannot shift the blame.  It is the fault of Congress that we are in the fiscal mess that we are in, and no amount of rhetoric can change that fact.  They make the laws; they appropriate the money; they approve draws on the Treasury; they oversee the Executive branch’s execution of the laws they enact; they have the power of the purse.  The rhetoric that comes out of the mouths of Boehner and Cantor, and Ryan; of Sen. McConnell and his cohorts is nothing but misleading, overblown, false: it is meant to make baboons of (“to bamboozle”) the public.

It is my contention that the Republican Congress, and the Republican minority in the Senate, are abusing the legislative process, and therefore acting against their constitutional mandates.  They are disconnected from their main task: to provide for the general welfare of the people of the United States.  Congress is now led by people who think it acceptable to block legislation, to say no to anything that would give the President a legislative “win,”  to bring government operations to a halt if it serves their ends; all of this being contrary to their duty to “make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the…powers…vested by this Constitution…”  Instead of resolving problems with innovative legislation, this Congress is content to repeal existing legislation that addresses national problems like health care, rapacious Wall Street activities and environmental cleanup.   At its worst, the Congress has obstructed the creation of jobs that would address a crumbling infrastructure, even while claiming that their number one priority is to put people back to work.  The disconnect between reality and rhetoric is overwhelmingly obvious.  You are definitely being bamboozled!

More next time on other disconnects exhibited by the Tea Party-controlled-Republicans in the Congress, and why we must elect Representatives and Senators dedicated to a new era of problem-solving that will redound to the health and welfare of this nation.