Archive for ‘Economy’

12/26/2016

WHAT WILL TRUMP DO AT HOME?

Abortion: Trump will soon have the power to nominate Supreme Court Justices. One constitutional issue remains a woman’s lawful right to an abortion. At one point in the campaign, Trump was of the opinion that women who have abortions should be jailed. While that will not happen, the Court is now likely to further restrict 5th and 14th Amendment liberty rights as to abortion. On top of that, the Republican Congress will cut funds for Planned Parenthood, even though 90% of their activities have nothing to do with abortion.

Campaign Finance: With a Republican Congress, there is no hope any useful legislation restricting big money in politics will be enacted. Nothing will change. Lobbyists will continue to inhabit the swamp. Big money will not be drained out of it, as Trump promised.

Cities: Nothing much will change in black inner cities. The Republican Congress doesn’t care much about them and Trump himself knows little about how poor people actually live. Trump said blacks would have to be crazy not to try something new with him, but they knew better, and most voted for Clinton. While Ben Carson and other token blacks will be paraded around by Trump, nothing much will improve in minority communities.

Citizenship: Trump said he wanted to end constitutionally protected “citizenship by birth.” With regards to persons born in the U.S., the 14th Amendment makes it crystal clear that they are both citizens of the U.S. and the state where they reside. Trump apparently doesn’t understand how difficult it is to amend the Constitution. Outlawing citizenship by birth will never happen.

Economy: Trump talks about creating a 6% to 7% growth rate. I don’t think he knows what he’s doing. He’s not going to be able to stimulate such high growth. The greater fear is that his lack of understanding of international trade may trigger another recession or depression.

Environment: There is no doubt the oil and coal industries will benefit under Trump. With an Exxon chief running the State Dept., they will get what they want in global trade. Environment treaties that are in the way will be abrogated. The Keystone Pipeline will be completed. Any Native American who gets in the way will be dealt with the same way the U.S. has always dealt with Indians.

Government: Like most Republicans, Trump said he would eliminate some government agencies and departments. Sadly, the Republican Congress will only propose eliminating the most effective and useful regulatory bodies, and they’ll expect Trump to sign such bills. Since I doubt Trump will actually read any law presented to him, he’ll probably just go along with whatever they give him.

Guns: There is no hope during the next four years that anything useful will be done regarding the proliferation of guns, or the massacres they routinely generate. The Supreme Court will uphold the right wing’s twisted view of what the Founders intended by the Second Amendment.

Health Care: Trump repeatedly said he would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The question is with what? He said he opposes the more efficient single-payer model. So, if we continue using private insurance, how are we going to keep working people insured without subsidies? The only alternative is to regulate prices in the health care industry. Since “regulation” is a dirty word to most Republicans, no useful law will come out of this Congress. Health savings accounts are not going to cover galloping inflation rates in the health care industry. There is also little chance a Republican Congress will break up the virtual monopolies that exist in the health care delivery system, or in the pharmaceutical sector. Without subsidized insurance, people will either just die, or they’ll return to the more expensive government-subsidized emergency room.

Presidency: Since Trump has not previously been elected to anything, not even dog catcher, he will be on a tremendous learning curve. He will soon learn that the 435 House members and 100 Senators collectively have much more power than he does. While he can use the “bully” pulpit (a description that certainly fits), Congress controls the purse strings, and nothing happens without money. To be sure, Trump will continue to blame everyone but himself, but in the end, he may be forced to deal.

Religion: The U.S. Constitution endorses no religion. It doesn’t even mention the word “god” or “Christianity.” It speaks of religion in only two places. First, it bars all religious tests, and second, it prohibits an establishment of religion, such as Christianity. A Muslim U.S. Citizen, who happens to be a follower of Islam, is fully protected under our Constitution. Trump cannot do anything to them based on faith alone. He is not going to round up Muslims, or make them register, or do any such things to American citizens.

Retirement: During the campaign, Trump said he would not touch the retirement age. The problem is the Republican Congress doesn’t appreciate how much ordinary elderly people need their Social Security checks, and they will propose to raise the age. If this happens, I would hold Trump to his word and ask for a veto.

Supreme Court: While campaigning, the Republicans made Trump sign a paper promising to nominate one of 11 pre-approved right-wingers to the Supreme Court. Any one of them will be readily accepted by the Republican Senate. As a result, for perhaps another generation, the Court will remain conservative, particularly if Kennedy, the remaining Republican swing vote, or one of the four Democrats retires or dies.

Taxes: Like a typical Republican, Trump promised to lower everyone’s taxes. I’m sure the Republican Congress will gladly give him several tax reduction bills, and he will sign them. As a real estate tycoon, Trump will first and foremost help the real estate industry (as if they need additional tax breaks). He will also cut taxes for big business. The problem with taxes is the Republicans love to spend on costly military adventures, but they fail to raise taxes to pay for them. One thing is almost certain, Trump will not even begin to move us towards a balanced budget, or a lower national debt. The debt will almost certainly get much worse under Trump. I’m still hoping that some whistle-blower at the IRS discloses Trump’s tax records, so we can finally see who he’s been dealing with, and what if any taxes he’s paid.

Transportation: Although the Republican Congress has no use for public works projects that might put regular people to work (as evidenced by their failure to support Obama’s Great Recession proposals), they will throw Trump a bone, and they’ll give him something to sign creating some jobs, fixing roads and bridges in rural areas. This will be so he can say he did something.

Wages: While Trump acknowledged that working people have not had any real wage increases in a long time, there are only a few ways to increase incomes. One is to raise the minimum wage, which is something the Republican Congress will never do. Another is to strengthen unions, which again the Republicans will not do. So, it is unlikely wages will improve under Trump. The only possibility is that they go up due to supply-and-demand employee shortages. If this occurs, it won’t have anything to do with Republican policies or Trump.

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01/14/2013

Need “Borrowing” Not “Debt” Ceiling

The “Debt Ceiling” is once again being debated in Congress, but it shouldn’t be, since we have no choice, but to pay the financial obligations we already have. Defaulting on our loans is not a realistic or responsible option as it would do nothing but lower our credit rating and trigger negative global responses.

The debate should instead occur much earlier whenever Congress borrows money.  If we are going to have a “ceiling,” it should be as to the amount we borrow. Whenever right-wing politicians vote for another war, or a new weapons system, without raising taxes to pay for them, they should first be required to raise a “Borrowing Ceiling.” This is where the issue might make a difference, since borrowing is not a necessity.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the power “to borrow money” is specifically delegated to the Congress (Art. I, Sec. 8). Congress must approve of any measure that causes borrowing. It is not a power assigned to the Executive. The President does not write the budget. The House must stop blaming the President for spending and they must face their constitutional duty to control it.

Right-wing politicians, who control the House, where all budget bills originate, are famous for supporting all sorts of wasteful military spending, without raising taxes, but once they authorize spending, it’s a waste of time to debate the issue of paying for the military toys previously purchased with a credit card.

It’s time for the Republican House to act like adults, take responsibility, and significantly cut the Defense Budget, or raise taxes to pay for the military spending they previously supported.

11/04/2012

Undecided Voters: Economic Issues

The better choice on each issue is in the left column, indicated by a (D) for Democrat, (R) for Republican, or (N) for neither.

(D) DEFICITS AND DEBT: Which party has shown an ability to end deficit spending and produce surpluses? Reagan made drastic tax cuts for the rich in 1981 and 1986, and tripled the debt. Bill Clinton’s budget in 1993 was passed by Democrats, without a single Republican vote, and it led to surpluses. Little Bush cut tax rates again, started an optional war in Iraq, and failed to request taxes for it. He just handed a great recession to Obama. While right-wing Republicans control the House, and promise to spend more on the military, they stubbornly refuse to tax for it. There’s no reason to believe they are capable of managing the debt.

(D) TAXES IN GENERAL: Which party is more likely to implement fair tax policies that may correct the deficit and debt. Romney said he would not raise taxes. (1-8-12). He stated a desire to lower them even further. (1-16-12). He said we only need taxes for the military, nothing else. (1-7-12) With these extreme positions, he would never get close to correcting deficits and debt.

(D) TAXES: CAPITAL GAINS, DIVIDENDS AND INTEREST: Which party has the better position on taxes as to capital gains, corporate dividends, and interest income? Romney repeatedly said during the Republican debates he wanted to completely eliminate taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest (9-7-11) (9-12-11) (9-22-11) (12-10-11) (1-16-12) He later said he would limit his plan to incomes of less than $200,000. (1-23-12) In either event, it’s unfair to people who pay taxes on earned income. His policies would either raise taxes on the Middle Class, or make the deficit and debt worse. He never explained how he would make up for the lost revenues.

(D) TAXES: PAYROLL: Which party is more likely to promote tax cuts for regular workers? Romney was dismissive of Obama’s ongoing payroll tax cuts, as he called them a band-aid (12-10-11)

(D) TAXES: CORPORATE: Romney advocated lowering the highest corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%. (11-9-11). This new loss of revenue would have to be made up by the Middle Class.

(D) TAXES: RETIREES & THOSE WITH SMALL INCOMES: Although everyone pays sales taxes, gas taxes, real estate taxes (as a part of rent), as well as other excise taxes, Romney said everyone (poor, elderly, etc.) should pay income taxes. (9-7-11).

(D) TAX RETURNS AND HIDDEN WEALTH: Why didn’t Romney disclose more personal income tax returns? Romney promised to release “multiple years.” (1-19-12). In the end, however, he only showed us two years. We don’t know if he is hiding something, or telling the truth. Gingrich said Romney lives in a world of Swiss and Cayman Island bank accounts (1-26-12)

(D) BUDGET, NATIONAL DEBT, MILITARY SPENDING: Romney said we need to stop spending like we have for the past 40 years. (1-8-12). He was critical about leaving debt to the next generation. (11-9-11). He claimed he would cut spending, but he didn’t explain how (11-9-11), except by saying he would ban earmarks. (2-22-12). Romney promises not to cut wasteful military spending, of any kind. (10-11-11). He wants 350 million for the F-22, more aircraft carriers, more Navy cruisers, more Air Force bombers, and more troops. (11-22-11). He would increase Navy shipbuilding each year from 9 to 15, and would add 100,000 troops. (12-15-11) (1-23-12) (2-22-12). He makes the case for the other side, saying Obama is shrinking the military (1-7-12) Romney thinks our Navy is smaller than it was in 1917, and our air force is smaller than it was in 1947. (1-16-12) (1-23-12).

(D) JOBS: Which party would be better for promoting jobs? Obama inherited a recession where unemployment reached over 10% in 2009. It is now down to 7.9% and the trend has been in the right direction the past three years. Romney incorrectly argued no jobs were created from the job stimulus bill (10-11-11) He said Obama’s polices worsened the job situation, which is obviously a false claim (1-7-12). Romney argues the government doesn’t create jobs (12-15-11), the private sector does (12-10-11), but then inconsistently blames Obama for not creating jobs.

(D) LABOR: Which party is more likely to protect the rights of working people? The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) insures fairness between organized labor and management. Romney said he would curtail the NLRB (12-10-11), and would promote anti-union “right to work” laws throughout the U.S. (1-8-12) He repeatedly showed hostility towards the NLRB, by saying it was filled with “labor stooges” (1-8-12) (1-19-12).

(D) MINIMUM WAGE: Do you think Romney would ever promote an increase in the minimum wage? In one word: no.

(D) MANUFACTURING: Which party appears to be more interested in saving American manufacturing? The Republicans clearly opposed loans help GM and Chrysler get through the Great Recession. Over fierce opposition, Obama helped them. Had they gone through bankruptcy, the nation would now be reeling from the economic ripple effects. Obama took a gamble and succeeded.  Romney said funds should not have been used to bail out GM and Chrysler (10-11-11) Romney again said the auto bailout was wrong; they should have gone bankrupt. (11-9-11).

(D) AGRICULTURE: Romney would end farm subsidies as he said to let the markets work. (1-23-12). What he is actually promoting is a localized depression in Midwestern small towns.

(D) TRANSPORTATION/MASS TRANSIT: In one debate, Romney advocated improving the infrastructure, by rebuilding bridges, roads, rail beds and air transport systems. We can’t criticize him for that, but we should not forget his party harbors the likes of Gov. Walker of Wisconsin and Gov. Scott of Florida, who blocked mass transit proposals. So on transit, it appears the Republican Party will not help America enter the 21st Century.

(D) ENERGY: Who has the better energy policy? Romney wants energy security and independence by using our own resources (10-18-11 (1-7-12) (1-19-12) That’s a nice idea, but energy resources are fungible and are sold on world markets, so no nation controls them. Romney put emphasis on developing coal, oil, gas, and nuclear (9-7-11)(1-16-12) He’d give more permits for natural gas and oil drills. (12-15-11). He does not discuss solar or wind, but why not? Since Obama includes all energy resources, his policy is better.

(N) ANTITRUST: Has either candidate advocated antitrust lawsuits to break up companies too big to fail? No. Antitrust was a Republican idea in 1890, and prosecutions are now needed to break up the concentrations of power in the hands of a few.

(D) FEDERAL RESERVE: Romney claims Federal Reserve chair Bernanke pumped too much money into the economy (9-7-11), and he would discharge him. (10-11-11). He said Congress should have Fed oversight, but no control over the currency. (9-12-11). Since Romney is opposed to priming the pump through Monetary Policy, how would he have stimulated it?

(D) BANK BAILOUTS: At one point, Romney said he didn’t want to save the Wall Street banks, as Bush did (2-22-12). It appears he would have just let the system collapse, but if that had happened, we’d be in a deep depression right now.

(D) WALL STREET: Romney correctly pointed out the derivatives market was not regulated (1-23-12), but he failed to promote a regulation of it. He instead criticized those occupying Wall Street, by saying they were engaged in dangerous class warfare (10-18-11).

(D) HOUSING: Romney supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) (10-11-11) (10-18-11) He accused Fannie and Freddie of offering mortgages to people who can’t afford them (1-26-12). He opposed the Dodd-Frank law, claiming it makes it harder for banks to make loans (1-7-12)(1-8-12).  He said the government should not stop the banks from foreclosing (10-18-11). He claimed Obama was holding off the foreclosure process, and argued we must let the market work (11-9-11) His non-solution solution is to block-grant housing vouchers (2-22-12).

(D) VULTURE CAPITALIST: If Romney wins, he’ll be the first President with a vulture capitalist background. He claims to have successfully operated businesses (12-15-11), but he was really a Bain investor, who just made money for himself and his partners. Gingrich accused him of profiting by stripping American businesses of assets,  bankrupting companies, and laying off workers (1-7-12) Romney said they had to be downsized (1-7-12) Gingrich said Romney’s Bain looted companies and left people unemployed (1-8-12). Gingrich said he was engaged in vulture capitalism. (1-16-12). In an interesting contradiction, while discussing tax returns, Romney said his income came from a blind trust. He said the money I earn: “is not made by me.” (1-26-12).

06/14/2012

Coal: Why Don’t Republicans Discuss It?

During the Republican debates, aside from Gov. Romney’s comment that he would promote coal, and Sen. Santorum’s disclosure that he served on a coal company board, the other conservatives simply encouraged oil and gas drilling, criticized clean energy like solar and wind, but said nothing about coal.

Although Republicans argued in favor of repealing regulations that interfere with energy, expressed a desire to eliminate the Energy Dept., and repeatedly demanded that the Environmental Protection Agency get out of the way, they were not specific.

So what would their coal policy be? The question is important because coal remains a major energy source. Large quantities of it are sold to electric power plants, as over half of all electric power in the U.S. is generated by coal. As coal is burned, it heats water in boilers, creates steam, spins turbines, and generates electricity.

The U.S. has one-third of the world’s coal supply, enough to mine for another 350 years. The U.S. started burning coal around 1850 and its use eventually turned America into a strong industrial nation. Most U.S. mining has been located in West Virginia and Kentucky, as well as other parts of the Appalachians, from Pennsylvania to Alabama.

Only Russia has greater coal reserves. Germany’s deposits are in the Ruhr River Valley, Britain’s are in Wales, and China’s are in Manchuria. Historically, coal fields were so important, nations fought wars over them. Germany and France, for example, battled over Alsace Lorraine, Saarland, and the Ruhr many times.

But what are the political issues in the U.S.? One issue concerns mine safety and the rights of coal miners, as coal mining is potentially dangerous. Most coal miners in the U.S. descend about 260 feet underground. Mines must be constructed properly and ventilated constantly. If the pillars in mines supporting their roofs collapse, cave-ins can be fatal. If the air flowing into the mines is interrupted, gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and methane can build up, catch fire, and explode causing death.

Another issue is the air pollution generated from burning coal. While some equipment eliminates some smoke and soot, there remain many environmental costs from using coal.

The two progressive forces that have protected workers regarding safety, and the public as to pollution, namely the unions and the Environmental Protection Agency, are being attacked by the Republicans.

Although the United Mine Workers Union contributed greatly to mine safety laws, such as the Coal Mine Inspection Act, the Republicans have declared war against all organized labor, and cannot be trusted do anything about mining safety complaints.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency has been the watchdog for the public as to air pollution generated by power plants, Republicans have pledged to abolish it, and our air will not be as safe, if the right-wing gains total control.

Although the Republicans have not clearly stated a coal policy, what they have said about destroying unions and dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency is all we need to know to figure out the rest. We should be concerned that if the right-wing takes total control, the coal industry will become more dangerous to workers, and the purity of the air will decline.

06/12/2012

Autos: Replace Gas Engines with Electric

There is no doubt autos with gasoline-combustion engines are by far the dominant mode of transportation in the U.S., but how long will that continue? For those who think gas-propelled cars will remain indefinitely, they should be reminded of the horse-and-buggy, which was once considered a permanent institution.

The question is not whether the gas-combustion engine will become a thing of the past, the only issue is: When will it be replaced, and by what alternative source of energy?

It may be surprising to many, but electric cars were manufactured by 54 different American firms between 1893 and 1928, and were once widely used. 300 electric taxis were operating in New York City in 1900. The next year, an electric ambulance took President McKinley to the hospital, following his assassination in 1901.

Although electric cars had the advantage of being quiet and clean, as they emitted no poisonous gases, their top speed was only about 20 MPH, and they could only go about 50 miles before their lead-acid batteries needed replacement. To complicate the problem, new batteries were expensive. As gas-propelled vehicles became easier to operate in 1910, the electric car faded from the scene, and they were eliminated completely in 1928.

Another predecessor to gas was the steam engine, known as the Stanley Steamer, which was first marketed in 1896. They remained through 1925, when again gas-combustion took over.

The gas-combustion engine got their boost in Germany in 1885, when Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz built vehicles. In the U.S., Henry Ford and Ransom Olds started in 1896. Olds took the first step towards an assembly line, as he increased production from 425 cars in 1901 to 2,500 in 1902. Using Ford’s conveyor belt in 1913, they were able to make one Model T every 93 minutes.

Following WWI, the gas-propelled auto became the major means of transportation in the U.S. Its use increased many times over in the subsequent decades of the 20th Century.

To make the auto dominant, the government invested billions in federal, state, and local highway systems, beginning in 1921. As tax dollars were spent, millions of miles of roads were added during the 20 years through 1941. Suburban communities exploded, particularly after WWII, as many were invented in places not previously serviced by rail or water.

Now, the era of the gas-engine has had a long 90-year run, during which many improvements were made to the car, but many problems also surfaced. Gas engines have given us air pollution, congested highways, urban sprawl, a foreign oil addiction, automobile accidents, as well as a host of other problems.

When considering their cost, we must keep in mind not only the price of the car, but the taxes spent by the government to build and maintain roads, military spending to keep the sea lanes open for oil shipments, and environmental harm to the air we breath.

Political leaders should be pushing scientists and engineers to bring back the electric car, since they are quieter, cleaner, and need not rely on foreign oil. The government invested heavily in roads to help gas-powered car get off the ground. Now, we need the same to help electric cars become our primary form of transit.

06/11/2012

High-Speed Rail: Why Opposed by Right?

It’s always surprising when high-speed rail projects are rejected by people who call themselves conservatives, since they are, when compared to cars, a much more efficient mode of transportation.

In an effort to stimulate jobs, President Obama proposed high-speed rail for Florida, between Orlando and Tampa, and from Milwaukee to Madison in Wisconsin, but right-wing Gov. Rick Scott of Florida rejected his plan, and Wisconsin’s Tea Party Gov. Scott Walker likewise pushed away the Badger State blueprint.

To wealthy Republicans like Florida’s Rick Scott, transportation is no problem, for he has always had his own private jet, and can go wherever he wants without delay. Money is no object for him. The problem with Scott Walker of Wisconsin is he examined only one part of the equation, the start-up costs, while failing to consider the international risk of oil and gas embargoes, the plight of youthful or impoverished people who don’t own cars, and the many environmental costs created by gas-combustion engines.

Europe has always been a much easier and efficient continent, when compared to the U.S., in terms of transportation and travel. Trains generally run on time and connect all the major cities in the Old World. One can connect on buses at train stations, without all of the hassles or expenses related to cars. A little walk or bike ride now and then in Europe keeps them from becoming obese, like their overweight American counterparts.

So what happened? When did the conservatives in America stop caring about conservation? In the early years, it was the Republican Party in the industrial north that expanded the network of railroads. The Union Pacific, started in 1865, was connected to the West Coast in 1869. Businesses needed trains to remove lumber from the forests and resources from the mines. They hauled coal, livestock, and machinery, just to name a few items.

The advent of the electric subway and elevated trains around 1895 was a major source of efficiency for our major cities, as they provided a relatively cheap way for millions of ordinary people to travel in places like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chicago.

While the airplane has replaced the train for some purposes, and the mail for example can be delivered more efficiently by air, trains still have a purpose, and they should be used in the U.S. much more than they are at present. They are not obsolete.

America would be a much more efficient and better place if all of our major cities had subway systems, and if our national passenger trains were improved so they could enter the class of high-speed lines used in France, Japan, or China, for example. The first step in moving in the right direction, would be to elect people from the left, who have a vision of what the U.S. could be.

06/02/2012

Health Care in U.S.: Hostile to Consumers

Would you buy a car, and drive it off the lot, not knowing its cost, just hoping for the best when the bill arrived in the mail? I didn’t think so. But that is exactly what the U.S. medical community seriously expects you to do when consuming health care.

American medicine operates within a totally dysfunctional economic system. Patient accounts do everything possible to avoid price quotes. If consumers are patient enough to wait on line to speak to an actual human being, many of whom are impatient, condescending, or just downright rude, they will at best hear only vague meaningless “estimates.”

If a written letter is issued, and it actually states an “estimated” price for a procedure, the following paragraph will qualify the cost, and make it totally meaningless, through additional language that states: “this does not include any potential facility fees, anesthesia fees, lab or pathology fees, or supply charges.”

Don’t they realize “estimates” followed immediately by language that allows billing for of a whole host of additional expenses, renders them absolutely worthless? How is the consumer to know even a ballpark cost? What is the reasonable consumer to think?

But let’s not accuse the relatively well-off medical community for creating this terrible American system we have. Let’s keep the blame where it belongs, on the consumer, for they are the ones who deserve ridicule. How dare they even seek price quotes in the first place? Just who are these peons with the audacity to request information on costs? Don’t they realize they’re addressing the medical community? Don’t they know those in medicine simply don’t dirty their precious hands with costs, that is, until it is time to collect, and the wretched consumers are fully expected to pay every nickel, under a one-way highway billing system.

Personally, I was priced out of the private health insurance market long ago. No, I am ok. I can walk, talk, and get around just fine, but my parents had diabetes and heart disease, so on the assumption I would also succumb, my premiums started galloping upward with each payment, until the private carriers finally got what they wanted, and pushed me away without insurance. So, now I pay cash for health care, and must shop around.

Although the online price for a cataract procedure was an average of $3,300 and up, when I tried to nail something down this week, I was unable to do so. The Dean Clinic gave me an “estimate” of $5,686 with all the qualifying language mentioned earlier in this article, which amounted to no price quote at all. Anderson and Shapiro started at $2,999, “with no hidden costs,” but then after I was switched to the next operator, I was told I needed a physical and EKG, since I was over 55, even though I was symptom free. The “estimated” cost online for the unnecessary EKG was around $2,000. So, I was left with truly no idea what the cost of a relatively simply out-patient 10-minute cataract procedure would be, except that it would be starting somewhere above $5,000.

I don’t mean to single out just two clinics, as almost all of them have created problems over the years. When I set up an eye exam at the University of Wisconsin Eye Clinic earlier this year, I was quoted $246, but when the bill arrived, it was $358, which was $112 more than the quote. I just laughed, because I knew they would not honor their own quote. Since their ophthalmologist “estimated” cataract surgery at around $6,500, I definitely didn’t return there, due to their history of billing more than their quotes.

There is no reason the government could not simply order health care providers to post their prices for each procedure, somewhat like those visible at gas pumps. Yes, each patient is unique. We all know that. But while treatment may differ slightly from one to the other, there is no reason we could not mandate a public disclosure of all-inclusive singular prices, so consumers could be informed, and could begin shopping in a competitive market. For the uninsured, the current pricing system is totally dysfunctional.

05/31/2012

Auto Loans: Romney Tries to Hitch Ride

It was funny earlier this month when Gov. Romney tried to take credit for the auto industry bailout that saved Chrysler and GM from a certain Chapter 7 bankruptcy, by providing federal loans in a depressed economy where no money whatsoever was available from private sector banks. I mean it was not just odd that Romney would say what he did, in that sense of the word funny, but truly funny to the point where we couldn’t stop laughing, as we listened to Romney say he supported the auto industry bailout, all along.

Romney must really think we are stupid. As painful as it was, I had watched all 20 Republican debates, just to listen to what the right-wingers were saying. All of their candidates, including Romney, repeatedly stated an opposition to the loans that saved Chrysler and GM. They had no concern for the countless number of jobs that would have been lost, not only at those companies, but at the component part factories that also would have closed.

In the debates, Romney said he would have let Chrysler and GM go bankrupt. (6-13-11) Funds should not have been used to bail out GM and Chrysler, he argued. (10-11-11). The auto bailout was wrong, he insisted, as he opposed the transfer of GM to the UAW, and Chrysler to Fiat. (11-9-11) As the debates dragged on, Romney often repeated his talking points that the government should not have loaned money to GM or Chrysler, and again insisted they should have been allowed to go bankrupt. (12-8-11)

It was only when Romney approached the Michigan primary that he started campaigning differently. Then he said: “No way would we allow the auto industry in America to totally implode and disappear.” (2-22-12). It’s interesting how he changed his tune so quickly. Santorum correctly pointed out Romney was not a principled person, because he favored the Wall Street bailout, but opposed any aid for the Detroit auto workers. (2-22-12)

The truth is Obama inherited an auto industry that was on the verge of bankruptcy, but he refused to let it die. Now, GM is once again the world’s number one automaker, Chrysler has grown, and Ford is investing billions in U.S. plants. The industry has now added 160,000 jobs, and Obama said we will soon be selling U.S. cars in Korea. (1-25-12)

Hopefully, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana will not forget the truth of where Romney stood in their hour of need. Obama deserves credit for saving not only two of our most important auto factories, but also their component part suppliers. And Romney, the next time you totally contradict yourself, which we have come to learn is on a fairly regular basis, please at least try to come up with a lie that is much more plausible. After all, the debates were videotaped.

05/30/2012

Jobs: Republicans Deserve No Credit

It always amusing when Republicans like Wisconsin Gov. Walker take credit for job increases, as if they personally interviewed the unemployed, one by one, and told them they were hired. While Democrats have historically helped those out of work by creating public sector jobs, Republicans don’t even budget enough money to meet the current government payroll, and they certainly are not entitled to take credit for any new government employment.

As to the private sector, governments can only indirectly stimulate economic activity through Fiscal Policies, which increase government spending. Since Republicans again routinely vote against job stimulus bills, they cannot legitimately take credit for any employment the government may trigger in the private sector.

When politicians like Republican Gov. Perry claim they added 1 million new jobs in Texas, they try to take credit for something they did not do, since they added no public sector jobs, and stimulated no private employment, through state budgeting.

While Gov. Romney argued jobs are established in the private sector, and not in Washington, he repeatedly failed to explain his theory that only those who understand “how the economy works” can create employment. The truth is merely understanding “how the economy works” is not a formula for job creation. Slogans like: “to create jobs, you have to have had one,” sound great, but insult our intelligence, since they explain nothing.

What is funny is when politicians like Romney, Perry, Huntsman, Bachmann, Ron Paul, Gingrich, and all the others, repeat the standard Republican talking points that jobs can be created by eliminating regulation, lowering taxes, and repealing Health Care.

Just how would the elimination of regulations create jobs? Have you ever thought about it? The right wing repeatedly makes this argument, but nobody pauses to think about what they are saying? If we repealed food safety rules made by the Food and Drug Administration, our health would be endangered for sure, but how would that create jobs, except perhaps in emergency rooms? If we eliminated air safety rules promulgated by the Federal Aviation Administration, we may have more plane crashes, but explain the job creation theory, because the connection is not at all obvious.

Lowering taxes to create jobs is another interesting theory. President George W. Bush tried it in a big way, as he dramatically cut taxes for the wealthy, and what happened? 4 million lost their jobs in 2008, in the six months before President Obama took office. Bush’s cuts sounded good to the wealthy, but if the policy had worked for all of us, the rich would have used their new wealth to invest in job creation, but they obviously did not do that.

How would the repeal of the new Health Care law increase jobs? If the nation will be adding health coverage for 40 million people, one need not be a rocket scientist to understand that a countless number of jobs will necessarily be created to take care of them. The right wing theory that repealing the law would somehow add jobs is totally baseless and illogical.

While Republicans pay lip service to unemployment, saying it is a tragedy that affects millions, they avoid direct solutions like public works hiring projects, and oppose government stimulus plans. Reducing taxes for the rich, eliminating unspecific regulations, and making other reforms not even remotely related to jobs, is no answer. The very least the right wingers and Republicans could do is avoid taking credit for jobs, since they certainly have no right to claim credit for them.

05/24/2012

Dodd-Frank: What Did The Law Include?

After the crash of 2008, the Democratic Party, led by President Obama, passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform & Consumer Protection Act of 2010, and even though all Republicans, including Gov. Romney, instinctively denounced it during the Republican debates (2011-2012), perhaps it would be wise to first examine its many sub-titles, before passing judgment.

CONSUMER PROTECTION FROM BANKS: Title X of Dodd-Frank created a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which can regulate banks, payday lenders, and other financial institutions. Its job is to protect consumers from abusive financial practices by promoting transparency and fairness as to mortgages, credit cards, student loans, and other financial natters.

MORTGAGES REMOVE PREDATORY PRACTICES: Title XIV of Dodd-Frank outlaws predatory lending by reforming mortgages. It requires loan originators to make a good faith effort to verify that consumers reasonably have the ability to repay their loans, when considering 2nd mortgages, insurance, assessments, and taxes. Points and fees are now limited to 3% of the loan.

INVESTOR PROTECTION: Title IX helps those who invest in stocks, bonds, and securities. It protects stockholders from being ripped off by those managing corporations, by requiring the disclosure of all CEO compensation. It makes Credit Reporting Agencies, such as Moody’s and Standard and Poors, provide accurate reports as to the financial condition of businesses. It gives the SEC the authority to impose greater fiduciary duties on securities brokers and dealers. It also addresses the sale of asset-backed securities and creates an office of the Investor Advocate.

FINANCIAL STABILITY IS GOAL: One explicit purpose of the law was to promote financial stability by ending bailouts for entities “too big to fail.” To better monitor the financial markets Title I of Dodd-Frank created: 1) Financial Stability Oversight Council; and 2) Office of Financial Research.

LAW COORDINATES FEDERAL AGENCIES: Dodd-Frank brings together representatives of: 1) Treasury; 2) Federal Reserve; 3) Currency; 4) Consumer Protection;  5) SEC; 6) FDIC; 7) Commodities; 8) Housing Finance; and 9) Credit Union Board.

LIQUIDATIONS INCLUDE INSURANCE AND NON-BANKS: The existing ability to liquidate banks was broadened to include insurance companies and non-bank financial entities. It allows for the orderly winding down of bankrupt firms.

BANKS CAN NO LONGER ENGAGE IN SPECULATION: The Volker Rule prohibits banks from engaging in proprietary trading.

HEDGE FUNDS AND VENTURE CAPITAL REGULATION: The law now regulates hedge funds and private equity funds. Investment advisors, hedge funds, and private equity firms now have to register with the SEC.

DEFAULT SWAPS AND DERIVATIVES REGULATION: Dodd-Frank brought the sale of derivatives out into the open, by requiring that they be traded on the exchanges.

INSURANCE REGULATION: The law allows the monitoring of the insurance industry.

LAW REQUIRES MONEY BE PAID BACK: Dodd-Frank reduced the amounts available under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) (2008) and the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (2008) and restricted the use of federal funds.

Dodd-Frank provided protection to consumers, credit card users, mortgage borrowers, and investors, and it gave the government more power to regulate the financial sector, so as to provide greater stability for all of us. The knee-jerk objection to the law by Republicans like Romney simply shows how out of touch he is with real people, and how much he is in bed with Wall Street.