Saturday, February 28, 2009

Single Payer Health Care

As a physician I have always been skeptical about "socialized medicine" of any kind. I assumed that it would lead to long waiting times, scarcity of resources, poor medication availability and lack of choice in health care providers. But I have been studying the health care plans of many developed nations around the world and have come to the conclusion that our current system is simply unsustainable. My reasons are as follows:

We spend more of our national gross domestic product on health care than any other nation in the world.

Our Government Spends Less Per Capita on Health care Than Any Other Nation
(In other words, we each pay more of the bill than citizens in other countries do)

We Have Poorer Health Care Outcomes Than 36 Other Countries

To be Continued....

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Thomas Jefferson on Banking Swindlers

"Everything predicted by the enemies of banks, in the beginning, is now coming to pass. We are to be ruined now by the deluge of bank paper. It is cruel that such revolutions in private fortunes should be at the mercy of avaricious adventurers, who, instead of employing their capital, if any they have, in manufactures, commerce, and other useful pursuits, make it an instrument to burden all the interchanges of property with their swindling profits, profits which are the price of no useful industry of theirs." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, 1814. ME 14:61

"I sincerely believe... that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies, and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity under the name of funding is but swindling futurity on a large scale." --Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816. ME 15:23

Monday, February 9, 2009

Republicans Ruin Stimulus Bill in the Senate


Dueling Recovery Bills

Last week, the Senate took up the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, an economic stimulus package aimed at boosting the tanking economy. The legislation that emerged from the Senate debate, which is up for a procedural vote today, is substantively different from that which passed the House in January. The differences are due to an effort by a group of "centrist" senators -- the 'gang of moderates' -- to rein in what they characterized as unnecessary spending in the House version. Led by Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the gang crafted a compromise that cut spending in the bill by about $100 billion, reducing the total cost to about $780 billion. However, that total does not factor in two new tax breaks that the Senate added -- one for new car purchases and another for home-buyers. With these tax breaks added in, the estimated cost stands at about $827 billion. As a result of the "compromise," though, the Senate bill is now inferior to the House's in terms of stimulative effect. More than two-thirds of the cuts are in areas that would provide the most effective stimulus. As the Center for American Progress' Michael Ettlinger wrote, "there are other smaller cuts in the remaining third that make little sense if the goal is, in fact, to weed out the least effective stimulus provisions."

THE DIFFERENCE IS JOBS: The unemployment rate is currently at 7.6 percent, after employers shed 598,000 jobs in a "brutal January." This number jumps to 13.9 percent when the underemployed -- those working part-time who want to be working full-time, or those who have simply given up on finding a job -- are factored in. Over the last three months, 1.8 million jobs have disappeared. As the Center for American Progress' Heather Boushey pointed out, "the United States has not seen job losses of this magnitude over a three month period since 1945." This highlights why job creation in the stimulus package is critical, yet the Senate bill would create between 430,000 and 538,000 fewer jobs than its House counterpart. Of course, as economist Brad Delong noted, "relative to the alternative of no bill we do boost employment in America a year from now by on the order of 3 million." But with potential job losses expected to continue "for another year nationwide" those jobs would mean a lot, and the stimulus should be aimed at those areas in which it can do the most good.

OUT -- STATE AID AND EDUCATION: Of the $83 billion cut by the Nelson-Collins gang, $40 billion of it was for state stabilization funding. This is incredibly important funding meant for "helping states and localities avoid wide-scale cuts in services and layoffs of public employees." There are 46 states facing budget shortfalls this year or next, and at least 41 states anticipate shortfalls for fiscal 2010 and beyond. Economist Mark Zandi calculated that every dollar invested in aid to the states has a return of $1.36. Also, this funding moves into the economy quickly, as "states that receive a check from the federal government will quickly pass on the money to workers, vendors, and program beneficiaries." A second area hard-hit by the gang's compromise is education (which the state funding would also have gone towards); the Senate bill "cuts all $16 billion from the original bill for K-12 school construction, [and] trims more than $1 billion from Head Start programs for youngsters." But as the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities pointed out, "thirty-four states have cut education or proposed such cuts because they face massive, devastating budget deficits in this recession." These cuts come in the form of per-pupil expenditure, school meal programs, and teacher layoffs. As one school board president said, "We are at that point where we have no other place to go (for cuts)." This money would have had immediate effects "in terms of forestalling layoffs and really preventing the symptoms of recession from exacerbating the economic woes that we're currently experiencing," CAP's Raegen Miller noted.

IN -- INEFFECTIVE TAX BREAKS: While state aid and education were cut, added into the bill in the Senate were tax breaks that will do little to jumpstart the economy. The Senate found just $18 billion in tax breaks it was willing to cut, but among these was a scaling back of the Child Tax Credit expansion proposed by the House. The House bill eliminates the income floor for the credit in 2009 and 2010, opening it up to the working poor who are most apt to spend it; the Senate set an income floor of $8,100. The Senate also included patching the Alternative Minimum Tax, which takes place every year and can hardly be called stimulative. Finally, the Senate included a $15,000 home-buyers credit, in an attempt to address the housing crisis. While it is undeniable that a fix for housing must be found, this tax credit is not it. It is not likely to incentivize anyone who was not going to purchase a home anyway, and as Dean Baker noted, the credit will "cost more than promised." Furthermore, it can go to any home-buyer, "the vast majority of whom will be people who already own a home. If a person buys a home, but sells their current home, it has no net effect on the market." In the end, it will amount to little more than a "house-flipping subsidy."

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The financial elite in this country just don't get it.

We are on the brink of a financial calamity in this country. This crisis was caused by the religion of Reaganism and it's believers in the "trickle down" economic philosophy of Milton Friedman. Their god was money and their gospel was the "free market", deregulation and a government dedicated to serving the interests of ruthless giant corporations, the greedy speculators and the super wealthy. This year the Republican party put on numerous celebrations of Ronald Reagan's legacy. The Republican senators who are trying their best to gut the Obama stimulus bill keep preaching the same bankrupt gospel.

That is even though that philosophy is responsible for our bankrupt economy littered with failed banks, insurance companies and brokerage houses. In the Savings and Loan failures of the 1980's the bill to taxpayers was in the billions and it kept this country in a recession that lasted for at least two years.

The truth of that not to distant reality has been drowned out since then by the Republican lie machine. They told us it was essential that we deregulate Wall Street and let the free market solve all of our problems. Their candidates preached to us like the converted that the free market was the only way to fix health care, Social Security, unemployment, inflation and even our failing environment.

Because of the tenants of their free market religion over the past decade social programs have been cut to the bone and the minimum wage was not raised for ten years, even as the real value of those wages went down. Privatization of countless federal agency services was an unfortunate result of this belief in the free market. One stark example of the wisdom of this approach is the case of Walter Reid Hospital's outpatient rehabilitation services for wounded veterans. The "Walter Reed Scandal" was nothing of the kind. Instead it was the private company (a Halliburton subsidiary) in charge of outpatient rehabilitation that failed our troops. Privatization of government services was a pillar of the Bush administration's management agenda that was declared in 2002. Given the ubiquity of this policy and the hundreds of government agencies involved we can safely assume that lucrative contracts have been channeled to Bush and Cheney cronies and that they have not been held accountable.

The Bush era drove our country into the ground using Ronald Reagan's spirit to guide as many of our tax dollars into the war machine and other big businesses and draining as many dollars as possible out of the maintenance of our physical and social infrastructure. Because of that perverse management of our wealth as a nation we have come to this point. Not only are businesses going bankrupt by the dozens but the social safety net is in taters. We must restore what has been robbed from our social infrastructure. We must take care of children, the disabled, the elderly, our nations health care system and our educational system. That the Republicans see restoring these basic programs as threatening is just one more piece of evidence that they just don't get it.