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As I've noted before, Haiti's earthquake recovery problems were exacerbated by the economic and trade policies pushed on them by the United States. Now Bill Clinton has admitted as much:
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The earthquake not only smashed markets, collapsed warehouses and left more than 2.5 million people without enough to eat. It may also have shaken up the way the developing world gets food.
Decades of inexpensive imports - especially rice from the U.S. - punctuated with abundant aid in various crises have destroyed local agriculture and left impoverished countries such as Haiti unable to feed themselves.
While those policies have been criticized for years in aid worker circles, world leaders focused on fixing Haiti are admitting for the first time that loosening trade barriers has only exacerbated hunger in Haiti and elsewhere. Read more.
Not long ago, the most prominent supporters of the public option were touting it as essential for healthcare reform. Now, suddenly, it’s incidental.
In fact, many who were lauding a public option as the key to a better healthcare future are now condemning just about anyone who insists that the absence of a public option makes the new law unworthy of support.
Consider this statement: “If I were a senator, I would not vote for the current healthcare bill. Any measure that expands private insurers’ monopoly over healthcare and transfers millions of taxpayer dollars to private corporations is not real healthcare reform.”
That statement is as true today as it was when Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, made it three months ago in a Washington Post op-ed. But now, a concerted political blitz is depicting anyone who takes such a position as a menace to “real healthcare reform.”
After devoting vast amounts of time, money, energy and political capital to banging the drum for the public option as absolutely vital during 2009 and through this winter, countless liberal organizations and prominent Democrats in Congress have made a short-order shift.
You are now to understand that the public option isn’t essential—it’s expendable. And all of the sudden, people who assert that a public option is a minimal requirement for meaningful healthcare reform are no longer principled—they’re pernicious. Read more.
Last April, shortly after beginning his first term as president, Barak Obama promised that the war supplemental he requested from Congress would be the last one ever:
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday that this will be the last supplemental spending request for the wars. The administration has already earmarked $130 billion for military operations next year, but officials have said they do not want that funding tagged “emergency.”
“The honest budgeting and appropriations process that the president has talked about falls somewhat victim to the fact that this is the way that wars have been funded previously,” Gibbs said. “So we can’t wait until the appropriations process is done in … August or September to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in June.”
And suddenly a lot of the members of Congress who had opposed war supplementals in the past and promised not to vote for another one, decided “just this one last time” to go along. Read more.
The United States spends almost twice as much per person on health care as any other country in the world, and yet has some of the worst health outcomes of all developed nations. This means we spend a lot on care that does not contribute to better care, and there is extraordinary room for cost control that does not reduce access to or quality of care. However, we often pursue cost control strategies that are not based on evidence, and are designed to limit political opposition from the health care industry, for which our high costs are its high income. These efforts either don’t work at all, or don’t work on a scale that will have a noticeable impact on a system with double-digit premium inflation.
To a large extent, our high spending is due to a fragmented system where providers deal with hundreds of different insurers, all with different rules. This drives up administrative costs in the system, and means we lack what other jurisdictions have to effectively control costs: the ability to budget the health care system and publicly plan the allocation of limited resources to the communities and areas of care that need them most. This is why only nations with uniform payment systems and an extraordinary level of public oversight have been able to “bend the cost curve’’ without hurting health outcomes. Read more.
Most Americans believe tax hikes are OK if you're making more than $250,000, a policy proposed by President Barack Obama, but hands off Medicare and Social Security, a poll released on Monday found.
The Quinnipiac University poll found that 60 percent of Americans among both major political parties think raising income taxes on households making more than $250,000 should be a main tenet of the government's efforts to tame the deficit. More than 70 percent, including a majority of Republicans, say those making more than $1 million should pay more.
But 80 percent say raising taxes on those making less than that should not be part of the government's approach. Moreover, most oppose touching Medicare and Social Security - two long-term drivers of the budget deficit over the coming decades.
"Given those numbers, it's clear that those who want serious deficit reduction have their work cut out for them in convincing the public, which seems adamantly opposed to cutting the programs with the largest budgets," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the polling institute....
This year, the deficit is expected to top $1.5 trillion, about 10 percent of gross domestic product. The administration and many economists say a healthy deficit would be about 3 percent of GDP. Read more.
U.S. securities regulators are demanding detailed reports from major financial firms in an attempt to uncover any accounting tricks like the "Repo 105" method Lehman Brothers used to mask its losses.
Mary Schapiro, chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, said on Monday that the agency would be probing every major financial institution over the coming weeks.
"We want to make sure both their accounting and disclosures are accurate when it comes to how they're characterizing repurchases," Schapiro said in an interview with CNBC. Read more.
Bank of America, Wells Fargo Probably Won't Pay Income Tax for 2009
Annual reports suggest BofA and Wells Fargo won't have to pay federal income taxes for 2009.
By Christina Rexrode | Charlotte Observer
This tax season will be kind to Bank of America and Wells Fargo: It appears that neither bank will have to pay federal income taxes for 2009.
Bank of America probably won't pay federal taxes because it lost money in the U.S. for the year. Wells Fargo was profitable, but can write down its tax bill because of losses at Wachovia, which it rescued from a near collapse.
The idea of the country's No. 1 and No. 4 banks not paying federal income taxes may be anathema to millions of Americans who are grumbling as they fill out their own tax forms this month. But tax experts say the banks' situation is hardly unique.
"Oh, yeah, this happens all the time," said Robert Willens, an expert on tax accounting who runs a New York firm with the same name. "Especially now, with companies suffering such severe losses."
Bob McIntyre, at Citizens for Tax Justice, said he opposes the government giving corporations such a break.
"If you go out and try to make money and you don't do it, why should the government pay you for your losses?" McIntyre said. "It's as simple as that." Read more.
Update: There are now 80 cosponsors of the Public Option Act. Here is the current list: Reps. Baldwin, Berkley, C. Brown, Capuano, Carson, Castor, Chu, Clarke, Wm. Lacy Clay, Cleaver, Cohen, Cummings, D. Davis, DeGette, Delahunt, Doyle, Edwards, Ellison, Engel, Farr, Filner, Frank, Fudge, Garamendi, Green, Grijalva, Gutierrez, Hall, Hare, Hastings, Hinchey, Hinojosa, Hirono, Holt, Honda, Israel, Jackson-Lee, Jackson Jr., E.B. Johnson, H. Johnson, Kaptur, Kennedy, Kilpatrick, Kucinich, Lee, Lewis, Maloney, McDermott, McGovern, Meeks, James P. Moran, Nadler, Napolitano, Norton, Olver, Payne, Pierluisi, Pingree, Polis, Rangel, Richardson, Rush, Sablan, Sanchez, Robert “Bobby” Scott, Schakowsky, Shea-Porter, Speier, Sutton, B. Thompson, Tonko, Towns, Velazquez, Waters, Watson, Weiner, Welch, Woolsey, Wu.
Congressman Alan Grayson, D-Fla., today announced that 50 Members of Congress have signed on as cosponsors of his Medicare You Can Buy Into Act. The bill opens up Medicare for anyone who can pay for it.
Congressman Grayson said, “WOW! 50 cosponsors in less than 48 hours, including five Committee Chairs. I am thrilled, but not surprised, that so many of my colleagues support this bill. We all believe it deserves a vote.” Read more.
We decided that a good place to begin with unified action was to oppose the recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations unlimited contributions to political candidates.
MICHAEL MOORE: A LOVE STORY
By Joan Wile
If you know the Upper West Side of Manhattan, you know there are probably more progressives per square inch here than in all the 50 states. So, it's no surprise that a big bunch of people showed up this evening at my small one-bedroom apartment in this highly liberal neighborhood to see Michael Moore's masterpiece, "Capitalism: A Love Story."
My event was one of MoveOn's 700 parties nationwide tonight to show the film in an effort to generate grass roots action against some of the evil excesses of capitalism rampant in the United States. These evils are powerfully exposed in Moore's movie -- the foreclosures on people's homes; the cancellation of jobs in order to make way for profits; the practice of taking out insurance on employees unbeknownst to them and then collecting large payments when they die (of which not one cent is shared with the family survivors), and all manner of other immoral practices so harmful to decent working Americans.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued the following statement...after a federal appeals court in New York ruled that the Federal Reserve should reveal information about loans to private banks:
"Today's court decision is a major victory for the American taxpayers, and it is absolutely consistent with an amendment that I offered and Congress approved last year.
"We now have two courts, 59 senators and a large majority in Congress telling the Federal Reserve that the American people have a right to know which large financial institutions and corporations received more than $2 trillion in taxpayer loans, how much they received and what they are doing with the money.
"This money does not belong to the Federal Reserve. It belongs to the American people, and the American people have a right to know where more than $2 trillion of their money has gone."
Congress last year called on the Federal Reserve to identify banks and other financial institutions that received taxpayer-backed loans and other financial assistance. The provision in the budget resolution put Congress on record in favor of requiring the central bank to reveal the names of financial institutions that borrowed funds since the financial crisis began. Sanders sponsored the amendment on Fed transparency that was initially adopted by the Senate on April 2 by a vote of 59 to 39.
K Street appears to have cashed in on the lengthy battle over healthcare reform.
About 1,750 businesses and organizations spent at least $1.2 billion in 2009 to lobby on health reform and other issues, according to a study from the Center for Public Integrity released Friday. A precise figure isn’t available because lobbying disclosure forms don’t require companies or other groups to itemize how much they spend to lobby on a particular issue.
While serving on the commission, Gorelick came under attack by conservatives for a March 4, 1995, memo she wrote while deputy attorney general.
In the memo, Gorelick instructed the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office to go beyond what is “legally required” in maintaining the wall between them and U.S. intelligence services.
Her opponents argued that her instructions stopped the sharing of information that might have prevented the 9/11 attacks.
Her defenders argued that Gorelick was only articulating policies that were already in place.
Jamie S. Gorelick, a former assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration and a member of the 9/11 commission, is keeping busy in the private sector.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Gorelick is one of the attorneys representing Steven Rattner in his negotiations with the New York state attorney general’s office and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Read more.
Companies using "squishy numbers" for "double" tax deduction, now taken away under new health insurance reform. Does the IRS allow you to "estimate" your figures?
On March 24, 2010, social justice activists from the "Network to Stop Foreclosures and Evictions," held a press conference in Towson, MD. They are trying to stop the Bank of America (BOA) from foreclosing on the home of Renee DeFreitas. According to their press release, Ms. DeFreitas is 51-years old, with five children. She works for the state of Maryland and lives in Baltimore City. Ms. DeFreitas, "as a result of the economic crisis," was forced to apply to the BOA for "a home modification on her loan." Unfortunately, the BOA has ignored that important process and turned the matter over to a local law firm for foreclosure action. Check out for background on the growing foreclosure crisis, Finding in Foreclosure a Beginning, Not an End, Bailout People and The Foreclosure Crisis Reshapes America.
By Dave Lindorff
Get ready kids. It’s time for more scare stories about Social Security.
The New York Times weighed in today with a dire warning that this year, six years ahead of what had been predicted only a few years ago, the Social Security system would be (cue scary music) paying out more in benefits than it takes in from the payroll tax. The reason for this earlier-than-anticipated event is the Great Recession, the paper explained.
In December, we argued the urgent need to make public A.I.G.'s emails and "key internal accounting documents and financial models." A.I.G.'s schemes were at the center of the economic meltdown. Three months later, a year-long report by court-appointed bank examiner Anton Valukas makes it abundantly clear why such investigations are critical to the recovery of our financial system. Every time someone takes a serious look, a new scandal emerges.
The damning 2,200-page report, released last Friday, examines the reasons behind Lehman's failure in September 2008. It reveals on and off balance-sheet accounting practices the firm's managers used to deceive the public about Lehman's true financial condition. Our investigations have shown for years that accounting is the "weapon of choice" for financial deception. Valukas's findings reveal how Lehman used $50 billion in "repo" loans to fool investors into thinking that it was on sound financial footing. As our December co-author Frank Partnoy recently explained as part of a major report of the Roosevelt Institute, "Make Markets Be Markets," such abusive off-balance accounting was and is endemic. It was a major cause of the financial crisis, and it will lead to future crises.
According to emails described in the report, CEO Richard Fuld and other senior Lehman executives were aware of the games being played and yet signed off on quarterly and annual reports. Lehman's auditor Ernst & Young knew and kept quiet.
The Valukas report also exposes the dysfunctional relationship between the country's main regulatory bodies and the systemically dangerous institutions (SDIs) they are supposed to be policing. The NY Fed, the regulatory agency led by then FRBNY President Geithner, has a clear statutory mission to promote the safety and soundness of the banking system and compliance with the law. Yet it stood by while Lehman deceived the public through a scheme that FRBNY officials likened to a "three card monte routine" (p. 1470). The report states: Read more.
You gotta see this! [Video above.] If this doesn't convince you that Timothy Geithner knew about the securities shenanigans that were going on at Lehman, than I don't know what will.
Keep in mind, that Geithner ran Lehman through 3 "stress tests" prior to bankruptcy; all of which Lehman failed, and yet, nothing was done. Anton R. Valukas--the examiner who wrote the 2,200 page investigative-report which was released on Thursday-- has provided plenty of information detailing Lehman's “materially misleading” accounting and “actionable balance sheet manipulation.”
In other words, they cooked the books. Read more.
Yes, you've heard plenty about Bernie Madoff and his $65 billion Ponzi scheme, and maybe even about Allen Stanford, the garrulous Texan who built a sprawling Caribbean compound from his $8 billion Ponzi scheme. But what about "mini Madoff," "Miami Madoff" and "Montreal Madoff"? What about all the fraudulent real-estate schemes and farm-grain schemes or the Ponzi built on investments in state-worker uniforms and the one that siphoned off retirement funds from bus drivers? What about the two brothers in Williamstown, Michigan, themselves bilked in a Ponzi scheme, who turned from prey to predator, and used their church and family ties to bilk neighbors out of $50 million for nonexistent gas and oil exploration in the Southwest?
TomDispatch associate editor and regular contributor Andy Kroll has done a remarkable job of mapping the U.S. as a coast-to-coast "Ponzi nation" at a time when an open credit spigot, a booming housing market, and visions of unimaginable wealth on Wall Street left practically every American with dreams of future riches. It was an extraordinary era, one that may have left the "roaring Twenties" in the dust, and its legacy, as Kroll lays it out, is a mood that has its own striking dangers. As he writes, "Disillusionment with the past decade is such that many Americans now simply assume that our world is little but a giant Ponzi scheme."
Kroll concludes: "Ours is now a Ponzi nation. There is a new mood in the land. Just how it will play out is unknown, but a sense of having been conned is still spreading -- as if not just surprising numbers of investors, but the whole country had experienced the last days of a giant Ponzi scheme. With it goes a feeling that what we’ve been living through, even in 'the best of times,' wasn’t an American dream, but pure nightmare. Welcome to America, sucker."
"I landed in this country with $2.50 in cash and $1 million in hopes, and those hopes never left me," Charles Ponzi once told the New York Times. An Italian, who emigrated to the New World in 1903, his glory, such as it was, involved leaving countless immigrants and other Americans with only $2.50 in their pockets and nothing to hope for.
While he was hardly the first Ponzi schemer, he milked his particular con with particular success and dramatic flare in the 1920s. Ever since, his name has been attached to any scam in which you promise outrageous returns -- he offered a 50% return on investment in only 45 days -- and pay off old investors with the money eagerly offered by newer ones. The aura of success only brings in more money until, of course, it all goes bust. Ponzi’s last recorded words to a reporter caught the financial-showman spirit of his time: “Even if they never got anything for it,” he said of those whose lives he destroyed, “it was cheap at that price. Without malice aforethought I had given them the best show that was ever staged in their territory since the landing of the Pilgrims! It was easily worth fifteen million bucks to watch me put the thing over." Read more.
The Crisis in Iceland: Every Bubble Ends in Rubble
By Richard C. Cook
A friend asked me at brunch recently about the situation in Iceland. Here is a commentary:
The small nation of Iceland–population 320,000–doesn’t produce much of anything. During the 60s and 70s Icelandic Airlines had a pretty good business running the cheapest flights you could find between the US and Europe, but that is long in the past. They do catch some fish out of the dwindling North Atlantic fisheries, and a few tourists who like the geysers and cold-weather wilderness hiking show up. That’s about it.
Technologically the Icelanders are highly competent, which helps them produce sufficient geothermal and hydroelectric energy to produce their own electricity.
During the worldwide explosion of high finance, particularly during the early to mid-2000s, they became investors, applying their skills as robust ex-Vikings to working the world’s financial markets. By big-time borrowing from European banks, including British ones, they were able to leverage their credit into substantial stock and bond holdings. Iceland was once one of Europe’s poorest nations, but now it began to feel and act rich.
Unfortunately, when the world’s financial system tanked in 2008-2009, Iceland fell hard and fast. The investors lost not only their shirts but also their thermal underwear, and their creditors–led again by Britain–found them in default. With the banks going, well—bankrupt–and the Icelandic government taking them over, the creditors naturally looked to the government to make good on the nation’s debts. The government approached the International Monetary Fund for bailout loans, with the IMF, as is its wont, expecting them to raise taxes and cut public services in order to free up money.
The public is angry. Why should the public pay for the bankers mistakes. Iceland blogger Halldor Sigurdsson
Who cleans up the mess when ignorant, greedy bankers rack up massive debt then go broke? The people of Iceland made a strong statement Saturday. The sins of big bankers and government regulators shouldn't fall on the citizens. By a 93% to 2% margin, they voted down a proposal requiring them to cover bad debt incurred by one of the nation’s oldest and largest banks. Covering the debt would have cost Iceland's 317,000 citizens around $17,000 each.
Iceland's national referendum was the first opportunity for the people of any nation to vote directly on who pays when the financial elite fail.
As citizens voted, Iceland's Prime Minister was dismissing the importance of the vote and promising to negotiate a payment scheme obligating citizen subsidies for bad debt created by Iceland's beyond-bad bankers.
Icelanders are struggling with a collapsed economy. Businesses are failing at a startling rate, unemployment is soaring, and the prospects for the future are simply not there. Yet the British and Dutch governments demand that their swindled citizens receive compensation from beleaguered Icelanders. Where were the British and Dutch central banks and politicians while their citizens were being fleeced? Aren't the rulers of these countries aware that the failed Icelandic bank was owned by wealth investors, not the citizens?
Iceland's size and the very dire circumstances offer a focused preview for citizens around the world. The banks make bad deal after bad deal. When they're about to fail, the government steps in with a taxpayer bailout. It doesn't matter which faction of the narrow political spectrum is in charge. The message is starkly clear -- when the banks fail, you pay. The solution is presented to citizens as a fait accompli, a mandatory submission to indefinite financial slavery for the benefit of the failed financial elite. The will of the people doesn't matter even when there's a direct vote.
The failed financial enterprises that control global commerce are opening their new show on the road in Iceland. Greek citizens are next in line for indentured servitude, thanks to their lying leaders and Wall Street's Goldman Sachs.
...you can save thousands by hiring a medical billing advocate to find and fight hospital billing errors for you. Eighty percent of hospital bills contain errors, according to Medical Billing Advocates of America.
Millions of Americans...have health insurance plans that charge "coinsurance" rather than a flat co-pay. Coinsurance means you are charged a percentage of your medical care. The most common cost-sharing arrangement is an 80/20 plan, where the insurance company pays 80 percent of your bill and you pay the other 20 percent. Twenty percent of a big bill for a major hospitalization is a lot of money.
Insurance policies have maximum lifetime limits that they will pay out. Often, those lifetime limits are not as generous as they should be, and you may have no choice if you are insured through your employer and not given many options. Therefore, you want to keep your costs down as much as possible to stay away from that lifetime limit on coverage. Read more.
End-of-Life Warning at $618,616 Makes Me Wonder Was It Worth It
By Amanda Bennett | Bloomberg
Along with my colleague Charles Babcock, I spent months poring over some 4,750 pages of documents collected from six hospitals, four insurers, Medicare, three oncologists, and a surgeon. Those papers tell the story of a system filled with people doing their best. And they raise complex questions about a health-care system that consumes 17 percent of the economy.
Days to Decipher
As I leafed through the stack of documents, it was easy to see why 31 percent of the money spent on health care goes to paperwork and administration, according to research published in 2003 by the New England Journal of Medicine. That number has either stayed the same or grown, said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a professor at Harvard Medical School and a co-author of the study cited by the journal. Some bills took days to decipher. What did “opd patins t” or “bal xfr ded” mean? How could I tell if the dose charged was the same as the dose prescribed?
The documents revealed an economic system in which the sellers don’t set and the buyers don’t know the prices. The University of Pennsylvania hospital charged more than 12 times what Medicare at the time reimbursed for a chest scan. One insurer paid a hospital for 80 percent of the $3,232 price of a scan, while another covered 24 percent. Insurance companies negotiated their own rates, and neither my employers nor I paid the difference between the sticker and discounted prices.
‘It’s Completely Insane’
In this economic system, prices of goods and services bear little relation to the demand for them or their cost to make -- or, as it turns out, the good or harm they do. Read more.
ScienceDaily (Mar. 4, 2010) — A new study shows that the more graphic and intense war news is, the less likely that viewers -- regardless of political beliefs -- will remember the advertising that follows the news.
However, the researchers did find that lower-intensity programming resulted in a better recall of the
advertising by proponents of the war.