17 days before Greek elections change the EU

First to get the “horse race” out of the way, the “too close to call” election has a new poll today (6/1 – the Public Issue/Kathimerini poll – which had had SYRIZA – the left – leading by 4 points 5/24 now says that on 6/17 the coalition of the left called SYRIZA will beat all other parties by 5% by getting 31.5% of the vote – but there are many polls and after tomorrow it will be illegal to publish a poll lest the election be influenced by that poll). Below is a listing of recent polls:

Agency Date** ND SYRIZA PASOK I.G. KKE D.L. G.D.

*P.I. 1/6 25.5 31.5 13.5 5.5 5.5 7.5 4.5

KAPA 1/6 26.1 23.6 9.9 5.3 5.7 4.4 5.1

RASS 1/6 26.5 24.2 12.1 5.8 5.2 5.4 3.6

*MRB 31/5 27.6 26.0 14.6 7.1 4.7 6.6 5.4

*MARC 31/5 28.8 27.0 13.9 7.0 6.3 5.9 4.6

Alco 31/5 25.0 22.7 12.5 6.5 5.0 5.2 4.5

*D.RC 31/5 28.4 25.6 13.9 7.0 5.7 6.2 5.4

*Pulse 30/5 27.0 27.0 14.5 7.5 5.5 5.5 5.5

The Greek Reporter yesterday reported the EC still telling Greece that it must “make substantial additional expenditure cuts in the coming months” whilst stressing the need for previously agreed reforms to be implemented, while the ECB VP that served as temporary PM for Greece as it was given the bailout terms, Lucas Papademos, says that “Only limited readjustments can be made in the loan agreement and the new government will have limited room for maneuvering.” But after losing the ability to form a government in the first election, the two “leading parties”, left of center PASOK and right wing New Democracy, are no longer in lock step with Germany and now suggest those agreed spending cuts be spread over four to five years. Indeed Greece’s conservative New Democracy on Thursday promised voters tax cuts – not increases – if they win, saying the austerity measures can be made fairer. The conservative leader Antonis Samaras stated “… Our pledge is jobs, jobs, jobs. … No new taxes and no new cross-the-board cuts. The era of taxing incomes that do not exist is over.”

That it has taken a Greek population demonstrating its anti-austerity convictions through frequent strikes, violent demonstrations and even a public suicide in front of parliament over the past year to get left of center PASOK and right wing New Democracy to this point shows the incompetence of the political elite of both center left and the right. Still neither major party wants to change the fact that Greece’s shipping magnates and rich and corporate do not have to pay taxes via rules in the Greek Constitution and on the law books (This is the tax plan that is the goal of the Simpson-Bowles Tea Party GOP – sold by pretending it will cut the deficit – that old supply side economic thinking).

Meanwhile the 80% of Greek industries and businesses that are EU and foreign owned and/or controlled drain their profits out of Greece and deposited them in EU and other foreign banks outside Greece, as they pay little or no taxes. Neither party admits this is a tax problem or that there is a problem of an overvalued currency in a system that fights the idea of transfers between states that are exporters and states that are importers – transfers NY does every day as it sends its Federal collection to the poorer Southern States, – transfers Germany refuses to make.

So the political right wing running both major parties. center left and the right, sell fear so as to sell austerity – fear of a forced Greek exit from the Euro and of “certain catastrophe” and of “international isolation,” all but ignoring the fact that austerity measures have pushed Greece to a fifth year of recession, with a dramatic rise in unemployment and poverty among low-income sections of the country, as the right promises to restore some of the benefits cut, moving the poorest of the poor back to 2009 benefit levels, with unemployment benefits extended from one year to two. Stimulus, compassion – and austerity and no new taxes on the rich – sounds like America’s 2012 election, doesn’t it.

Meanwhile the leader of the real left (SYRIZA equates to the Democrats prior to blue dog Presidents and the current leaders of the Democratic Party), Tsipras, tells voters that while he has no desire to bring back the drachma, he does not believe that staying in the Euro requires the massive cuts in government spending to which Greece’s leaders have agreed as a condition of receiving international assistance over the last two years. Tsipras is trying to sell logic, noting that austerity — known in the country as “the memorandum” — is destroying Greece’s viability as a Eurozone member as those measures bring Greece closer to insolvency and default, panicking markets. And Tsipras is dangerous to the political elite because of his ability to take the complex and make a coherent political slogan, rejecting the idea that this election is a referendum on the Euro and saying the election is a referendum on the “memorandum.” Tsipras states his broad goals and refuses to get trapped in specifics, saying his criticisms of the debt deal are from a friendly hand extended toward the rest of the union, but suggesting the hand could be a fist – “We ask you to give power to Syriza in order to be as powerful as Greece,” but then saying a few sentences later: “We’re going to have the power to say, if you want to send us to the bottom, we will take you to the bottom too.”

Should be an interesting election.

A Salute to Jane Hamsher

You know, I normally consider myself to be fairly well informed and aware. Today I am forced to admit this is not the case.
Today I just read a brief bio of my Firedog host, Jane Hamsher.
During the 90’s, I was immersed in the study of Kung Fu, and in my 10 year foray barely scratched the surface of that venerable system. In the midst of my studies, the movie “Natural Born Killers” was released. I found the movie both frightening and exhilarating, a profound statement on the killing arts, a modern version of Miamoto Musashi’s “Book of 5 Rings”. Until now, I had no idea of Jane Hamsher’s role in the production of this masterpiece.
I could gush on about the rest of this remarkable womans accomplishments, but I won’t as to do so would be immodest on my part.
I can only express my gratitude for my good fortune to be here in the creation of a true Master, and my joy to share this space of blogosphere with all it’s denizens.
My forehead to the floor.

Late Night: Pump and Dump

What it's all about.

By any objective measure, Republican dominance in either state or local government ends in failure.  Deficits, cronyism, declining services and economic malaise are always the result, conveniently leaving in their wake increased public cynicism about the value of government at all.  But that leaves out the curious paradox that it precisely when government is so thoroughly trashed, rich people are more eager than ever to buy it.  Why?  For the same reason they love to buy “troubled” companies and fixer-uppers; somewhere, someone has left money on the table, and they’ve got to get their paws on it.

Never mind the individual tragedies that have moved these once-treasured assets onto the bargain shelf: the overseas competition that made the factory “uncompetitive,” the elderly widow who let her house fall to ruin, or the emaciated state government that can’t pay its teachers and firefighters.  They’re all the same; another chance for the savvy investor to “flip” something for some quick cash.  In that sense, Republican policies begin to become eminently logical.

If America were, say, a house, it wouldn’t have caught the attentions of any flipper back in 2000.  It wasn’t upside-down on its mortgage, the yard was neatly trimmed, and the servants were able and contented.  By 2008, though, the mortgage was in arrears, the paint was peeling, the servants were either surly or thieves, and unrepaired water damage had taken a ghastly toll; as you can imagine, the flippers hungrily swarmed in.  You see, although Bush had been a little sloppy on the aesthetic stuff, he really had made a lot of valuable improvements not visible to the average buyer.

Why would anybody buy a government when it’s saddled with a bunch of grabby retirees, uppity unionized employees, boring functions to administer, a nosy judiciary, and a “quaint” Bill of Rights?  Nobody, that’s who.  So in his devilishly odd way, George Bush increased the value of government, at least for the right customer.  And the wars, though costly on their face, not only drastically increased oil consumption and price, which made a lot of the right people want to move in, but they also threw in a dedicated revenue stream; think of it as a Granny apartment for Military Industrial Grannies.   That sucker will pay the mortgage and then some, especially since it happens to be the size of Co-op City.

A similar bidding war is breaking out in Wisconsin; in the pre-Walker days, it was only worth a few million to the Kochs and their ilk.  But after Walker’s “improvements,” they’re spending ten times that much to hang onto it, and why wouldn’t they?  Abysmal economic performance aside, what with the voter suppression, emasculated unions, loosened environmental protections, and draconian new laws against dissent, the place has a lot of upside potential; never mind the shaggy lawns and dangling gutters.

Contrary to popular belief, the supposed goal of drowning government in the bathtub was always just a ruse;  Big Government, of the socially stingy and punitively extravagant sort, is a primary requirement of the Big Money that might want to buy it.  It’s one of those improvements you or I can’t see, and that’s the point.  Our loss is their gain.

For your captioning pleasure: WH portraits Of President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Welch Bush unveiled

I received this in my inbox today from the Office of the Press Secretary of the White House…there’s so much rich material here.

President George Walker Bush

President George W. Bush is portrayed standing in the center of the Oval Office in the West Wing. His right hand rests on an armchair made for the White House in 1818 by District of Columbia cabinetmaker William King, Jr. A corner of the “Resolute desk,” presented to the White House by Queen Victoria in 1880, can be seen behind the chair. Over his right shoulder hangs a 1929 western painting, A Charge to Keep, by William H. D. Koerner. The President, who had used the same title for his 1999 memoir, often called attention to that painting and its significance.

Mrs. Laura Welch Bush

For the setting of her portrait, First Lady Laura Bush selected the Green Room, as refurbished with her active participation in 2007. Wearing a midnight blue gown, she rests her left hand on a lyreback armchair attributed to the famous New York cabinetmaker, Duncan Phyfe, c.1810. Federal easy chairs, among antique American furniture added to the room in 1971-72, were reupholstered in a rich salmon-colored silk. The 1767 David Martin portrait of Benjamin  Franklin hangs over the neoclassical mantel, acquired for the White House in 1818.

About the Artist

John Howard Sanden, born in 1935 in Austin Texas, now lives in Connecticut and maintains a studio in Carnegie Hall in New York City. Well known for his portraits of leaders of industry and education, he received the first John Singer Sargent Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the American Society of Portrait Artists in 1994.

Commissioning

As usual, the White House Historical Association contracted with the artist selected by the subjects and will donate the finished paintings to the White House as a gift of the George B. Hartzog, Jr. White House Acquisition Trust. In 2010, President Bush selected John Howard Sanden to execute his White House portrait.  The success of the sittings and the portrait itself, completed in 2011, led Mrs. Bush to select Sanden for her portrait as well, finished in early 2012.

Just an aside — the artist made Laura Bush look like a mannequin. Below the fold is the transcript of the unveiling ceremony, featuring President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush, and former First Lady Laura Welch Bush, but feel free to submit your opinions and captions for these paintings.

(more…)

Generational Theft

UNICEF Child Poverty Report, Table 1b (click to enlarge)

Before I get to a recent report issued by UNICEF on childhood poverty around the globe (PDF), I’d like to provide a little perspective.

On Face the Nation back in February 2009 Senator and 2008 Presidential candidate John McCain described the legislation that would become the successful American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 “generational theft” and could not support the bill because of the debt it would create for future generations of Americans. The term has since been thrown around by many self-described fiscal conservatives, claiming that the stimulus bill and other fiscal policies set forth by the Obama Administration that lavishly shower undeserving moochers with unnecessary pork will saddle the next generation with the credit card bill.

Despite the $288 billion in tax incentives for individuals and corporations, $105.3 billion in infrastructure investments and other economic perks for the anemic economy in the Act, the convenient charge of larceny has stuck. It’s worth noting that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the stimulus bill has created up to 1.9 million jobs during the first quarter of 2012 alone. I dare say the net benefits will prove the Act to be self-amortizing, especially for shorter term tranches.

Real generational theft has real and tangible effects, not imaginary ones that will affect straw boys and straw girls. Those of the tangible variety have been identified by a new report put out by UNICEF Measuring Child Poverty. To the extent that we can quantify suffering, the indicators are absolutely painful.

The first table shows the percentage of children within a given country that lack basic necessities like “three meals a day, fresh fruit and vegetables, two pairs of properly fitting shoes.” This is the one that really grabbed me: “the opportunity from time to time to invite friends home to play and eat”.

The next table in the report shows the percentage of children who are living in relative poverty, defined as living in a household in which disposable income, when adjusted for family size and composition, is less than 50% of the national median income. The United States is ranked second to the bottom, at 23.1 percent.

Overall, 30 million children in 35 countries are found to be living in poverty and the United States is ranked second highest as measured in th preceding table at 23.1 percent.

Further in the report, the term “real” poverty is discussed. Real poverty, it is said, means lacking basics – enough food to eat, adequate clothing, a dry home, an indoor toilet, hot water, and a bed to sleep in. Once you leave such basics behind and start drawing poverty lines based on statistical notions like median income, it is argued, you end up with results that fail to make intuitive sense and so fail to convince either politicians or public.

The skeptics argue that “relative” poverty becomes an abstract moving target, subject to the whims of the stock market, consumer confidence, the last generation and the Jones next door. In the spirit of no child left behind, there’s an element of truth in that. But that’s the only way we can measure poverty. It’s always in relation to a frame of reference that gives us perspective. I would add that measuring against the Jones next door in terms of a given “perk” like having an occasional friend over to play with and have dinner with is certainly relative but also a very tangible experience in wellbeing.

Enter the FY2013 House budget proposed by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan. Ryan claims that his proposed blue print of generational deprivation will “preempt austerity.” Apparently in Mr. Ryan’s world down is up and black is white. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan described it by saying, “It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history)”.

Adding insult to injury, the House Ways and Means Committee recently voted on April 18 to eliminate the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG). This funding helps states meet the specialized needs of their most vulnerable populations, primarily low- and moderate-income children and people who are elderly or disabled.

In the meantime, the next generation, yes, the one that we’re being accused of stealing from through economic stimuli like ARRA and TARP that prevented another Great Depression is being deprived of 3 meals a day, fruits, vegetables and an internet connection for lack of “relative” wealth. Certain members of Congress propose to increase that deprivation. Is this not generational theft from the next cohort of Americans that will need every amount of human capital to contribute meaningfully to our country and the world?

Do we ever consider data like these when proposing budgets for programs that are supposed to address the social challenges that meet Americans, especially our current and next generation of children? I think we know the answer.

Health Insurance: Rebates Are a Drop In the Bucket, but Justifying Rates Means Real Savings

Hospital Bill

Thursday’s reports that some Californians will get rebates on their health insurance premiums are a little bit of good news–but not nearly as good as it could be.

An L.A. Times story reports that California small businesses and their employees who are insured by United Health Group will get rebates averaging $98 on last year’s premiums because United Health didn’t spend at least 80% of the premiums on health care, a requirement under the federal health reform. The total will come to about $3.5 million in the state. Other insurers may also owe money on small business, large employer and individual policies–the figures are still being crunched.

But what if insurance companies could not overcharge us in the first place? The 80% rule in the federal law only encourages insurance companies to pay hospitals and doctors inflated prices, because it inflates the 20% that insurance companies get to keep. (It’s like the Hollywood agent who gets a 15% cut–his personal incentive is to get the biggest price for his client.) With no real curbs in California on how much insurance companies can charge, they have no incentive to bargain for lower medical costs to begin with.

Unlike 35 other states, California has no power to make health insurance companies justify their rates and to deny or modify unreasonable or unjustified rates before they go into effect. Californians also have no right to make the state do its job through consumer challenges to unjustified rates. All this would change if voters pass an initiative, sponsored by the Consumer Watchdog Campaign, that’s headed for the November ballot.

Which brings us to another huge source of savings–the inflated rates that insurance companies encourage hospitals and in some cases doctors to charge. A shocking recent story, also in the L.A. Times, found that patients who are insured are often paying out of pocket many times the amount of patients who pay cash for the same treatment.

Here, from the story, is how it works:

Many hospitals, doctors offer cash discount for medical bills

The lowest price is usually available only if patients don’t use their health insurance. In one case, blood tests that cost an insured patient $415 would have been $95 in cash.
May 27, 2012|By Chad Terhune

A Long Beach hospital charged Jo Ann Snyder $6,707 for a CT scan of her abdomen and pelvis after colon surgery. But because she had health insurance with Blue Shield of California, her share was much less: $2,336.

Then Snyder tripped across one of the little-known secrets of healthcare: If she hadn’t used her insurance, her bill would have been even lower, just $1,054.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Snyder, a 57-year-old hair salon manager. “I was really upset that I got charged so much and Blue Shield allowed that. You expect them to work harder for you and negotiate a better deal.”Unknown to most consumers, many hospitals and physicians offer steep discounts for cash-paying patients regardless of income. But there’s a catch: Typically you can get the lowest price only if you don’t use your health insurance.

That disparity in pricing is coming under fire from people like Snyder, who say it’s unfair for patients who pay hefty insurance premiums and deductibles to be penalized with higher rates for treatment.

The difference in price can be stunning. Los Alamitos Medical Center, for instance, lists a CT scan of the abdomen on a state website for $4,423. Blue Shield says its negotiated rate at the hospital is about $2,400.

When The Times called for a cash price, the hospital said it was $250.

Is your blood boiling yet? Insured patients can try to pay the cash price, but elsewhere in the story we find that hospitals may not even allow patients with insurance to get the cash price. And if you pay cash, it doesn’t count against your deductible or the out-of-pocket limit for your policy. Is this cozy or what for the (usually for-profit) insurance companies and (often for-profit) hospitals?

If California had the power to approve, deny or modify unjustified health insurance rates before they went into effect, the insurance companies would have to do more than prove they’re spending 80% of your premium on whatever they can define as “health care.” With their books open and both consumers and regulators looking on, they’d have powerful incentives to push harder to bring down costs, just as auto insurance companies do—in large part because regulators are watching. Executive compensation in the millions would no longer come out of patients’ pockets.

That form of regulation, called “prior approval” of rates, is the aim of the ballot initiative sponsored by the Consumer Watchdog Campaign. The same kind of regulation, passed by voters as Proposition 103 in 1988, already saves hundreds of millions of dollars a year on average for auto and homeowner insurance buyers in the state. In just the first nine years after voters passed Prop 103 in 1988, property and casualty insurance companies had to fork over more than $1 billion in consumer rebates–similar in type to the $3.5 million United Health is paying.

It’s no surprise that the health industry is one of the state’s most powerful political lobbies. It’s no surprise that such lobbying power has killed every effort to pass effective control of health insurance rates in the Legislature. It’s also no surprise that stories like the one above are making voters furious. At least voters, unlike too many politicians, don’t have to do what the health insurance industry tells them to do.
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Posted by Judy Dugan, research director for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Tucker Carlson to Help His Readers Suicide Themselves on 11/7/12

Tucker Carlson’s helpful internet gag newspaper/repository of George Zimmerman fanfic is giving away free guns! Yay!

 

The FMK 9C1 is an American-made high capacity 9mm designed by Jim Pontillo and manufactured in California. Each gun is engraved with the Bill of Rights.

This gun will come in handy for Daily Caller readers late election night as California is called for Barack Obama and it’s all over but for the shouting and the flash mobs of New Black Panthers bumrushing all the nice white neighborhoods looking for white wimmens, Skittles, and motherfucking ice tea.

Occupy Buffalo Chasing Chase Out of Buffalo

Since its inception on October 1st, Occupy Buffalo has taken their part in the fight against “Too Big to Fail Banks” holding several actions in Buffalo’s financial district a couple blocks away from the Niagara Square encampment. Though there is only one location in the City of Buffalo, an office in the dubiously named Liberty Building which is occupied by bankers, lawyers and other representatives of the one percent, JPMorgan Chase Bank holds all of the city’s money. Over 400 million dollars of our taxpayer dollars are leveraged against the people of Buffalo every year.

On Wednesday May 30th, City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder announce that 45 million dollars will be withdrawn from JPMorgan Chase Bank and put into First Niagara who has agreed to a lower interest rate “funding will earn 0.30 percent interest, more than the 0.25 percent interest rate it had been getting with JPMorgan” according to Schroeder’s statement.

“Not only will the funds earn more interest with First Niagara, a major local employer headquartered in Buffalo, but it also sends a crystal clear message to JPMorgan Chase that the City of Buffalo is not happy with their business practices,”

City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder

As a one of the organizers of the series of actions held against JP Morgan Chase in front of the Main Place Tower, this small victory is proof that activism has an effect. Too often we are disillusioned by the absence of immediate response to our efforts. When this issue was first addressed, members of the Council showed little genuine concern for our objections to City funds being held with an unscrupulous bank, one with no presence in the city of Buffalo. Many on the Council referred to the responsibility of the Federal Government to regulate Big Banks. Supposedly due to its size JPMorgan was the best option because they could provide the best interest rate. We persisted and returned to the Council Chambers to push the issue, and we also went to the JPMorgan Chase office to send a message to the Chase executives in Buffalo.

Our Most recent action was a Wall Street Casino held in front of the Chase Office after reports of their $2 Billion (and counting) loss. During the action, Chase Executives observed with a typically one percent air of superiority refusing to engage in any kind of dialogue except to ask if we had jobs. Occupy Buffalo returned to Common Council on May 22nd to push further as the Council had offered a compromise of a loosely worded Good Banking policy that did little but ask for more information from banks about their practices. Though Council Member LoCourto expressed some concerns, the rest of the Council seemed to view the issue as a nuisance. Demone Smith said simply, “we have been looking in to it…and we have some ideas” About a week later the announcement to withdraw $45 million dollars was made. Persistence is the path to progress and Occupy Buffalo’s efforts are proof that activism can create change, even when it looks like it’s being ineffective.

 

Through Rain Through Snow Occupy Buffalo