Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More About Health Care and Social Security

Yesterday, I wrote that Bush's health plan deduction could reduce social security benefits for some people, but how that might happen was a little fuzzy. Well, today I came across this article by Allan Sloan in the WaPo that explains everything in detail.
Here's the deal. Bush, as you probably know by now, wants to let taxpayers who have health insurance exclude $7,500 (for singles) or $15,000 (for married couples) from their taxable income, but would count as income the value of employer-paid health insurance. Those exclusions would apply not only to federal income tax, but to Social Security and Medicare tax, as well.

Bush said his plan would let a couple earning $60,000 a year save $4,500 of taxes. (The actual number is $4,545, but Bush is rounding, of course.) According to the White House press office, that savings number is based on the couple being in the 15 percent income tax bracket and also paying 15.3 percent in Social Security and Medicare taxes. Apply that 30.3 percent combined rate to the $15,000 exclusion, and you get the president's number.

In reality, the couple would probably save only about $3,400 in taxes, because employers pay 7.65 percent of the 15.3 percent Social Security and Medicare tax. So unless Bush's $60,000 family happens to be self-employed, it would save 22.65 percent of $15,000 rather than the 30 percent Bush used. But $3,400 is still serious money.

Now, let me show you how Bush's health-care proposals could reduce future retirement benefits for many of today's taxpayers, who would in effect be trading retirement income tomorrow for help in covering health insurance costs today.

Remember that Bush would let you exclude $7,500 (singles) or $15,000 (couples) from taxes -- but that you'd pay income, Social Security and Medicare taxes on employer-paid health care. So if your employer pays less than $7,500 (or $15,000) toward your health care, you'd pay less Social Security tax than you pay now. (Around 20 percent of taxpayers with employer-paid health care would end up with higher taxes, but we'll set that aside for now.)

Got it? Let's proceed. Paying less Social Security tax would reduce your future Social Security retirement benefit, which is determined by a formula that's based on how much Social Security tax you pay. It's a progressive formula under which you get a benefit of 90 percent of the first Social Security tax dollars you pay, declining to 15 percent of the final tax dollars you pay if you're high-income. If you pay Social Security tax to the max -- for 2007, it's on $97,5000 of income -- you would see your benefit shrink by way less than 15 percent if you exclude $15,000 from Social Security taxation.

But low-income people -- who get much more in benefits per dollar of Social Security tax than maxed-out folks do -- would see benefits shrink by a far higher percentage. "A family earning $30,000 a year could see its retirement benefit cut in half," says Len Burman, director of the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute. This would be an especially serious blow, because $30,000 families tend to rely almost entirely on Social Security for retirement income, whereas high-income families rely far less on Social Security because they have retirement accounts, pensions and savings. [emphasis added]

This is no solution, especially for low income families. Why can't Bush just do something because it's the right thing to do?

Marriage Rates Tied to Economics

The recent news that half of all women in our country are single, marriage rates are down nearly 50 percent since 1970, and couples are divorcing at high rates didn't surprise me. Within my circle of friends and family, there are few people who don't fall within one of those categories. Their reasons for postponing marriage, remaining single or getting divorced vary, but money has played a key role in most cases. That's why this article didn't surprise me either:

Declining marriage rate tied more to economics than anything else
This is old news. Drill a bit deeper in the statistics, and you’ll unearth a much more remarkable fact: Better-off couples are half as likely to divorce. Families with annual incomes of more than $50,000 have a 31 percent chance of divorce after 15 years, according to a study by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, whereas families with incomes below $25,000 have a 65 percent chance.

Income predicts divorce with great accuracy. The numbers suggest that a key variable in family stability is less cultural or sociological — less about personal values — than about economics. It is hard to get along when you can’t get by. [...]

The Bush administration has focused on marriage as an anti-poverty program, with the government directing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money to help marriages flourish. I agree that healthy marriages should be encouraged. Married couples have higher incomes through their combined efforts, generally provide a better environment to raise children and bring wider social stability. But just teaching people conflict resolution and relationship skills is not addressing the elephant in the room.

You want healthy marriages? Start reversing the growing income inequality and the you’re-on-your-own economy that America has become. You want healthy marriages? Start with healthy people and make sure that no American is without affordable health care and no employee has to lose a day’s pay when sick. [...]

You want healthy marriages? You want things to look more like the venerable 1950s, when people seemed calmer and more secure about their lives? Then return to defined benefit pensions. Only about 21 percent of workers in the private sector enjoy this peace of mind. We have shifted the risk of retirement onto workers’ shoulders. If you don’t invest wisely in your 401(k) or if you didn’t put enough of your income aside or if you outlive your nest egg, well, thems the breaks. [...]

You want healthy marriages? Then a $2-per-hour increase in the minimum wage won’t cut it. We should figure out what constitutes a living wage and make that the floor. [...]

If the Bush administration really wants to gird the institution of marriage, then it should forget about sermons on personal virtue (the government’s marriage programs are largely operated by faith-based institutions). Red states, which tend to be more avidly religious, have higher divorce rates than blue states. Whereas in low-divorce blue states, workers tend to have higher incomes. It’s not a matter of values, it’s a matter of value for one’s labor.
If we can't be generous with a portion of our tax dollars to help the living standards of families, then what's the point of saying we value marriage? Marriage takes commitment, hard work and sacrifice. Our nation should be leading the way and setting the example.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Bush's Health Plan Deduction Could Reduce Social Security Benefits

It always pays to read the fine print. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer [emphasis added]:
A little-noticed part of President Bush's new health-insurance proposal could pose a sticky question: Is it worth getting a tax break for health coverage if it means you will end up with smaller Social Security checks when you retire?

Bush's proposal to create a tax deduction for health insurance, if enacted into law, could reduce Social Security benefits for many Americans because the deduction would apply not only to income taxes, but also to payroll taxes that go to Social Security. While most workers might welcome a cut in payroll taxes, the flip side is the less they pay into Social Security, the less they can collect when they retire.
White House spokesman, Alex Conant, said workers could forgo the deduction if they choose, however, they would face much higher taxes than under current law if they get coverage from employers because they would owe taxes on the value of the coverage.

Some choice.

UPDATE: In comments, Kvatch asked "wouldn't the increase in taxable income be subject to payroll tax before the deduction is taken?" Good question, and I wondered the same thing. It's complicated, so here's the explanation from the Tax Policy Center [pdf file]:
Taxable payroll, both for the purposes of calculating Social Security and Medicare taxes and for the purpose of calculating Social Security benefits, would be redefined as earnings plus employer contributions to health insurance minus the new standard deduction of $7,500 for individuals or $15,000 for family coverage. Employers would adjust taxation and withholding according. [...]

The 35 percent of households under age 65 who do not owe any income tax would likely get no tax benefit for purchasing health insurance because their current reduction in payroll taxes would be largely offset by reduced Social Security benefits in retirement. For example, if a low-income worker purchased insurance in the individual market, his payroll taxes under the proposal would go down by $1,148 (or the 15.3 percent rate multiplied by the $7,500 exclusion). But, his future Social Security benefits would also go down by nearly as much in present-value terms as the current payroll tax savings. It is important to note that most of the people who save on payroll taxes would receive smaller Social Security benefits in retirement. For low- and middle-income families that gain health insurance (and a $15,000 reduction in Social Security earnings), this could translate into a very substantial drop in retirement living standards.
This stuff makes my eyes glaze over, but the Tax Policy Center hopes to release distributional tables to illustrate what they mean soon. As soon as they do, I'll post them online. In the meantime, click over and read their initial assessment of the health plan. They feel it's a good start, but needs some major tweaking.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Blackwater Security in the News

Last week we read that five civilians employed by Blackwater Security died in the Baghdad crash of a helicopter owned by the company. I've written about Blackwater and its Michigan ties before - here, here and here - so I thought I'd share a couple of articles I ran across, although you won't read this in any of Michigan's GOP-controlled papers.

The first article is from the Seattle PI and the only word I can use to describe it comes from the article itself - appalling:
Private security contractor Blackwater USA is seeking $10 million from the attorney representing the estates of four employees killed and mutilated in Iraq, arguing their families breached the security guards' contracts by suing the company for wrongful death.

Blackwater also has asked a federal court to move the dispute into arbitration, having failed so far in its ongoing efforts to have the lawsuit dismissed.

Arbitration is necessary "in order to safeguard both (Blackwater's) own confidential information as well as sensitive information implicating the interest of the United States at war," attorneys for Blackwater Security Consulting, a unit of Moyock-based Blackwater USA, wrote in a petition filed December 20.

Dan Callahan, a California-based attorney representing the families, called the claim "appalling."

"This is a shock-and-awe tactic," Callahan said Friday. Blackwater's attorneys declined to comment.

The four families, represented by estates administrator Richard Nordan, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Blackwater in January 2005 in state court. Family members argue Blackwater broke contractual obligations and used cost-saving measures that ultimately led to the deaths of the four men.
Yeah, like telling the men they would provide armored vehicles, but then failing to do so. The company pocketed $1.5 million and those men lost their lives as a result.

The second article comes from Jeremy Scahill writing in the LA Times [emphasis added]:
Bush made no mention of the downing of the [Blackwater] helicopter during his State of the Union speech. But he did address the very issue that has made the war's privatization a linchpin of his Iraq policy — the need for more troops. The president called on Congress to authorize an increase of about 92,000 active-duty troops over the next five years. He then slipped in a mention of a major initiative that would represent a significant development in the U.S. disaster response/reconstruction/war machine: a Civilian Reserve Corps.

"Such a corps would function much like our military Reserve. It would ease the burden on the armed forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them," Bush declared. This is precisely what the administration has already done, largely behind the backs of the American people and with little congressional input, with its revolution in military affairs. Bush and his political allies are using taxpayer dollars to run an outsourcing laboratory. Iraq is its Frankenstein monster.

Already, private contractors constitute the second-largest "force" in Iraq. At last count, there were about 100,000 contractors in Iraq, of which 48,000 work as private soldiers, according to a Government Accountability Office report. These soldiers have operated with almost no oversight or effective legal constraints and are an undeclared expansion of the scope of the occupation. Many of these contractors make up to $1,000 a day, far more than active-duty soldiers. What's more, these forces are politically expedient, as contractor deaths go uncounted in the official toll.

The president's proposed Civilian Reserve Corps was not his idea alone. A privatized version of it was floated two years ago by Erik Prince, the secretive, mega-millionaire, conservative owner of Blackwater USA and a man who for years has served as the Pied Piper of a campaign to repackage mercenaries as legitimate forces. In early 2005, Prince — a major bankroller of the president and his allies — pitched the idea at a military conference of a "contractor brigade" to supplement the official military. "There's consternation in the [Pentagon] about increasing the permanent size of the Army," Prince declared. Officials "want to add 30,000 people, and they talked about costs of anywhere from $3.6 billion to $4 billion to do that. Well, by my math, that comes out to about $135,000 per soldier." He added: "We could do it certainly cheaper."
We saw what "cheaper" cost those four men in Falluja, and we've seen Iraq go from bad to worse in spite of help from those private contractors. The only one gaining anything from this arrangement is Erik Prince.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Michigan Has Foreclosure Misery Company

Readers are increasingly turning to the Web for their news and abandoning print media. I can't speak for everyone else, but I read my news online because 75% of the time an article will leave me with unanswered questions and I end up searching the internet for answers. For example, this was a lead story in today's Freep:
Home foreclosure filings surged to record levels across metro Detroit in 2006, adding to the misery of a region already suffering the effects of a sagging job market, plant closures and layoffs. [...]

It's the repercussions of a bad economy -- and in stark contrast to other parts of the country that are growing," said Dana Johnson, chief economist for Comerica Bank in Ann Arbor. "It's unfortunate, but it's not surprising."
Ouch! Are we really alone in our single-state misery as the article implied? I did a quick search and soon found that Michigan has lots of company in foreclosure misery. From Yahoo [emphasis added]:
[T]he leading online marketplace for foreclosure properties, today released year-end data from its 2006 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report, which shows more than 1.2 million foreclosure filings were reported nationwide during the year, up 42 percent from 2005 and a foreclosure rate of one foreclosure filing for every 92 U.S. households. [...]

Colorado documented the nation's highest state foreclosure rate for the year, one foreclosure filing for every 33 households... an 85 percent increase from 2005 and the eighth highest total among all the states.

Georgia and Nevada both reported one foreclosure filing for every 41 households in 2006, but Georgia edged out Nevada with a slightly higher percentage of households in foreclosure... Georgia reported a total of 75,975 foreclosure filings during the year, the sixth most of any state and a 67 percent year-over-year increase. Nevada foreclosures surged in fourth quarter, pushing the state's total for the year to 21,045 -- nearly three times the number reported in 2005.

Other states with foreclosure rates among the nation's 10 highest included Texas, Michigan, Indiana, Florida, Ohio, Utah and Tennessee.

Texas reported 156,876 foreclosure filings for the year, the most of any state and nearly 13 percent of the national total. The state consistently reported big foreclosure numbers throughout 2006... -- giving the state the nation's fourth highest state foreclosure rate.

Rising foreclosure activity in the fourth quarter pushed California's 2006 foreclosure total to second highest among the states. The state reported 142,429 foreclosure filings during the year, more than twice the number reported in 2005 and accounting for more than 11 percent of the national total. [...]

Florida foreclosure activity remained relatively flat in 2006, up just 2 percent from 2005, but the state's foreclosure total still placed third highest among all the states. [...]

Other states with 2006 foreclosure totals among the nation's 10 highest included Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, Illinois, Colorado, New York and Indiana.

Detroit, Atlanta, Indianapolis report highest metro foreclosure rates

With an average of more than 10,000 foreclosure filings in each quarter, Detroit documented the highest annual foreclosure rate among the nation's 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas. Foreclosure filings in the city represented 4.9 percent of all households -- or one foreclosure filing for every 21 households. The city's foreclosure rate was 4.5 times the national average.

Atlanta's 2006 foreclosure total of 63,737 represented 4.4 percent of the city's households -- second highest among the top 100 MSAs and more than four times the national average. [...]

Indianapolis foreclosures decreased in the second, third and fourth quarters, but the city still documented the nation's third highest metro foreclosure rate -- with total foreclosure filings representing 4.3 percent of all households.

Other cities with foreclosure rates among the nation's 10 highest were Denver, Dallas, Fort Worth, Las Vegas, Memphis, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
All of that information came from one article, but there were plenty more to choose from:
Foreclosures climbed a whopping 64.6 percent in the nation's Northeast in 2006, fueled by a fourth-quarter filings scramble in metropolitan areas of New York and Boston, and across northern New Jersey.

Colorado had more foreclosure filings per household in 2006 than any other state, RealtyTrac, a California provider of foreclosure data, will report today.

Foreclosures in Fresno County more than quadrupled in the fourth quarter from last year... Statewide, the number of default notices — the first step in the foreclosure process — climbed a whopping 145% in the fourth quarter of 2006 from a year earlier to the highest level in eight years, according to DataQuick Information Systems, a real estate tracking service.

Mississippi ranks low nationally in foreclosures, but homeowners unable to pay their mortgages are on the rise. ... Mississippi foreclosure rates increased about 50 percent from the previous month and 130 percent from the previous year.

Mortgage defaults in California more than doubled on an annual basis in the last quarter of 2006.

"It's the economy, stupid." James Carville's famous slogan from the 1992 presidential election also explains why Kentucky's mortgage foreclosure rate is the fifth highest in the nation, economists and mortgage bankers say.

From the Cincinnati area: While Swain's circumstances are especially dire, similar foreclosure notices were tacked to the front doors of more than 10,000 homeowners in almost every neighborhood of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky last year. For the seventh straight year, foreclosure filings hit record highs not only here but in all of Ohio and Kentucky.

Florida chimes in: Foreclosures put added burden on association-run communities..."We're seeing a 100 percent increase in the number of files turned over to us [by associations] for lien and foreclosure," said Gary Poliakoff, whose Fort Lauderdale-based law firm, Becker & Poliakoff, represents 4,200 associations in Florida.
As long as newspapers continue to do only half their job, I'll continue to read my news online where it's more convenient to search for the rest of the story.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

About Last Night's SOTU Address

Joshua Holland has the best summation of last night's SOTU address for those of you who missed it:
But all you really need to know is that last night president George W. Bush could have come out on stage and, after pausing to let the ovation die down, he might have looked at the cameras with those beady little eyes and said, simply, "Folks, I got nothing. G'night!"
Of course, that didn't happen. Bush touched on everything from Afghanistan to Social Security. If you're interested in reading about his domestic initiatives, the Drum Major Institute's SOTU analysis covers the economy, budget, health care, immigration and education.

The president also talked about the goal of reducing U.S. gasoline usage by 20 percent in the next 10 years. But, as the WAPO pointed out this morning, you need to read the fine print: "Administration officials said that the goal is 20 percent below projected annual gasoline usage, not off today's levels."

If you're still starved for information, try turning to Think Progress. The site has a number of excellent posts discussing the address, as does Campaign for America's Future, which takes a look at the numbers and shows how Bush's rhetoric has failed to match reality throughout his presidency.

Overall, though, Holland is the most realistic:
To be fair to the president, it didn't really matter what he said; Americans are fully aware of the state of our union. Polls this week paint a grim picture of a nation that has lost confidence in its leaders. Seven out of ten Americans say the country is headed on the wrong track. A record 64 percent call the Iraq war a mistake, more than at any time during Vietnam, and "for the first time more than half of Americans, 52 percent, say the United States should withdraw its forces to avoid further U.S. casualties, even if civil order hasn't been restored." More than half think the economy's getting worse, and less than a third of the country thinks Bush "shares their priorities." He might as well have gone up there and admitted that he had nothing.

Ultimately, the best thing about this State of the Union was the end -- Miller Time -- and with it, the knowledge that we'll only have to suffer through one more.
I'll toast to that.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The SOTU Is a Misnomer

The State of the Union address is tonight, although I think that's a misnomer - it should be called the "Spin of the Union" address. Looking only at the economy, the Bonddad Blog points to some honest facts we won't hear tonight: State of the Union: A Nation Off Track

Click the link and read the statistics, but the bottom line is this:
[T]he economic recovery Bush will tout is mostly about the rich getting richer. And those tax cuts that Bush will call the shining star of his economic acumen? Guess what. They’re helping the rich more than the economy.[...]

The Bush administration ran the Clinton budget surplus into the ground after less than a year in office—and has kept adding to the national tab so that the United States is now more than $8 trillion in debt (that’s nearly $29,000 for every man, woman and child in the nation). Yet after all these years of draining the federal budget into oblivion, administration cronies now suddenly are sounding the alarm. [...]

Let’s see. The budget deficit is in the dumpster and the Bush administration wants to salvage it by cutting back on retirement and health care.
As the table shows (which happens to come from the Congressional Budget Office), entitlements only contribute 10% to our budget deficit, yet Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chairman, claims the long-term danger posed by looming deficits comes from Social Security and Medicare!

As Bonddad concludes, "There are a lot of reasons why Bush’s approval rating has tanked, according to recent polls. And it’s pretty clear that Iraq isn’t the only reason 71 percent are saying the country is seriously off track."

Monday, January 22, 2007

Still Waiting on Dale Kildee

No news from Rep. Dale Kildee on his position regarding troop escalation, but kudos to him for co-sponsoring a resolution to better protect Congressional pages that recently passed the House.
The sponsors of the resolution are Reps. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., two page board members who were never informed by Shimkus of Foley's questionable e-mails to a former page until the lawmaker resigned last Sept. 29. [...]

The Kildee-Capito resolution expands the board membership to eight, including the former page and the parent. There also would be four House members -- equally divided by party -- as well as the clerk of the House and the sergeant-at-arms.

The previous board had five members: three lawmakers -- two from the majority -- plus the clerk and sergeant-at-arms.
Let's hope politics are never put above the well-being of our children ever again.

To get back to the war though, I'm left wondering if Kildee shows a similar concern for our troops serving in Iraq. Twenty-five soldiers lost their lives this past weekend alone, but as I mentioned in my earlier post, Kildee's position on Bush's proposed troop escalation is unknown. We know how other Michigan Representatives lean, so why has Kildee avoided any public statement?

Michigan's residents deserve to know where all of our elected representatives stand simply because they work for us - not the Bush administration - and those officials should be lining up behind public opinion that is overwhelmingly opposed to sending more troops to Iraq.

Kildee demonstrated concern for the pages, now it's time to show concern for our soldiers who are fighting and dying in Iraq too. Besides, as Nirmal at Capital Viewpoint states:
Given that the Iraq war has cost Michigan taxpayers over $10 billion dollars, [pdf file] stopping President's proposed escalation is a priority for Michigan residents. An escalation of the Iraq war would only serve to endanger our service men and women and increase tensions in the region.
If you won't take a stand and oppose escalation for our soldiers, Congressman Kildee, then take a stand and oppose it because Michigan cannot afford to pay for this folly anymore.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Dale Kildee on Troop Escalation?

Think Progress is keeping track of where every member of Congress stands on troop escalation. So, where does Dale Kildee (MI-D) stand? That's "unknown" at this point.

I called Kildee's office to ask his position, but the man who answered the phone said I would have to speak to Kildee's chief-of-staff. Unfortunately, the chief was in a meeting, so I would have to leave a message on his voice mail. I asked if he would get back to me today, but was told he had meetings scheduled the rest of the afternoon.

I then asked if he could just tell me what Rep. Kildee's position was on increasing the troops. I explained that I tried searching his website and the media without success and simply wanted to know where he stood. The nice man again said he couldn't help me, but I was welcome to call back later on. (If they have meetings scheduled all day, what was the point of calling back?)

Anyway, not to be deterred, I decided to write the Congressman and ask him to clarify his position (and I also let him know I oppose an escalation). If I get a response, I'll let you know.

I wish our elected officials would post this kind of information online. Why should the taxpayer have to call, write or Google? Kildee has a website, but it's extremely out-of-date. It's actually scrolling press releases from last October. Come on, Congressman, get with the times and update your website, okay? Inquiring constituents want to know your position on these issues.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Injustice Index

Check out the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy 2006 Injustice Index. As they describe last year, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

Here's a sample from their list:
Wages that an average CEO earns before lunchtime: more than a full-time minimum wage worker makes in a year

Ratio of the average U.S. CEO’s annual pay to a minimum wage worker’s: 821:1

Years of unused vacation time that American workers collectively give back to their employers each year: 1.6 million

Percentage of women earning less than $40,000 per year who receive no paid vacation time at all: 37

Number of times that Congress has reduced the estate tax since it last raised the federal minimum wage: 9

Amount in tax breaks and subsidies that last year’s energy bill paid out to the gas and oil industry during a period of record profits and higher prices at the pump: $6 billion

Total Wal-Mart received in government subsidies, sometimes called “corporate welfare” by activists, in 2005: $3.75 billion

Ratio of compensation of CEOs of publicly traded defense companies to privates before September 11th, 2001: 190 to 1

Ratio in 2006: 308 to 1

Percentage increase in out-of-pocket medical expenses for the average American in the past 5 years: 93

Estimated amount the U.S. would save each year on paperwork if it adopted single-payer health care: $161,000,000,000
This kind of economic injustice typifies the Bush administration. They've catered to corporations and the rich, while leaving families at the middle and lower rungs behind.

Monday, January 15, 2007

King's Words Just as Meaningful Today

From “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” by Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Are we seeking power for power’s sake? Or are we seeking to make the world and our nation better places to live? If we seek the latter, violence can never provide the answer. The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

“The beauty of nonviolence is that in its own way and in its own time it seeks to break the chain reaction of evil. With a majestic sense of spiritual power, it seeks to elevate truth, beauty and goodness to the throne.”

Friday, January 12, 2007

Message to Bush: We Love You, Man!

No, that's not my message to Bush, it's from his base - those wealthy taxpayers who benefitted from all of his tax cuts:

Bush Breaks 150-Year History of Higher U.S. Taxes in Wartime
Iraq is the only major U.S. conflict, except for the 1846-48 Mexican-American War, in which citizens haven't been asked to make a special financial sacrifice. President George W. Bush opposes tax increases, even as the costs escalate far beyond predictions and he calls for more troops.
So, what's wrong with that?
[...] using borrowed money pushes the cost onto future taxpayers, who will have to pay it back with interest.

The war ``is being fought on our children's shoulders,'' said Judd Gregg, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. ``You're probably talking about around $750 billion that is going to be spent on this war that will end up not being funded.'' [...]

The cost in Iraq has been growing rapidly and now runs about $8 billion per month, the independent Iraq Study Group estimated last month. The final tally, the group said, could reach $2 trillion once all the bills for caring for disabled veterans and replacing military equipment are counted. That would be more than 30 times what the White House estimated ahead of the March 2003 invasion.
We'll all be long dead and Americans will still be paying for Bush's folly.

I doubt that the president will follow Woodrow Wilson's example from WWI and subject corporations (war profiteers) to excess profits taxes, so maybe it's time for Congress to apply PAYGO rules to this deficit-financed war. It's not an entitlement program in the strict sense of the word, but granting no-bid contracts to war profiteers isn't much different in my opinion.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Taking this Ill-Begotten War to the Streets

Joe Conanson speaks for me too about Bush's decision to send more troops to Iraq:
Even more troubling than the prospect of more Americans returning home dead and wounded is the suspicion that they will be sacrificed to save face for the president, his associates and their neoconservative advisers. Almost nobody in the White House believes the “surge” will lead to victory, according to informed sources who suggest that the Bush gang merely wants to delay the inevitable withdrawal until the next administration.

That sounds like the kind of criminally insane reasoning once used to send more troops to Vietnam.
They also want to squeeze every last cent out of this war for their friends - Halliburton, Bechtel, Blackwater Security, et al.

It's time to take this issue to the streets - way past the time.

As Molly Ivins writes:
We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we’re for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush’s proposed surge. If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on Jan. 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, “Stop it, now!”
Click here for more information about the march in Washington on January 27, 2007.

If you can't make that date, Christian Peace Witness for Iraq also has plans for a march in Washington D.C. and local communities scheduled for March 16, 2007.

Monday, January 08, 2007

A Profound Question

How much is a human life worth in the United States today?

Hat-tip to The Command T.O.C. for pointing us to the answer.

(We should be ashamed.)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

New Year's Eve at the VFW Hall

That was easy! I finally found the time to switch over to the new version of Blogger and everything appears to be okay (knock wood). I'm glad I waited till they perfected the beta version. I don't like being a crash test dummy!

Moving along, I know I'm late in sharing this, but I wanted to tell you where my hubby and I spent New Year's Eve - a VFW Hall. We usually celebrate at home, but this year we decided to do something different now that the kids are all on their own. It was an interesting night for several reasons.

First, the hall was the same one my dad belonged to years ago. (He was in the Navy and served in the Pacific Theatre.) It was bittersweet to see the pictures of some of the post-commanders we remembered from our childhood, and it was also unsettling to realize how long ago that was. My dad died more than 30 years ago and members of that post gave him a 21 gun salute at his funeral. I can still remember that like it was yesterday.

Besides the memories, it was also interesting because they had a live band. I'll take a good band over a DJ any night of the week - and this band was better than good, it was exceptional. They played everything from Patsy Cline to Janis Joplin to Stevie Ray Vaughan to the Temptations.

The group was very versatile, and the audience loved them because they took requests. Halfway through the evening, someone requested Lee Greenwood's "Proud to be an American" song, which turned out to be a touching moment when people started standing up and raising their hands in tribute to our soldiers.

There was another poignant moment later on in the evening. Shortly after midnight, one of the lead singers yelled, "Let's bring our soldiers home in 2007," and the audience started clapping. He continued on by shouting, "And let's get Bush out of office," and people started stomping and cheering, although my husband said he heard one or two people booing.

The crowd was primarily made up of veterans, so I was somewhat surprised by their reaction, but my brother-in-law (Bob) shed some insight into this. Bob is an ex-Marine who did several tours in Vietnam and he spent a lot of time swapping stories with other veterans that night. He also found out that many of them now have children serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. One woman in particular talked to him for a long time about her son who came home from Iraq a few months ago. He's having a terrible time adjusting to civilian life - depression, anger, nightmares, paranoia - all the hallmarks of PTSD, and it's taking a toll on his marriage. His mother is angry with the military because they haven't provided him with any mental health services.

This is reminiscent of Vietnam according to my brother-in-law. He feels the military is quite efficient and spares no expense training people to kill, but they fail miserably when it comes to helping our soldiers transition back to civilian life. Considering that up to 30 percent of Iraq vets suffer from PTSD, something needs to be done to help these soldiers with serious mental health needs. Well, the military claims they've developed a plan according to an article in Mother Jones:
[...] the Pentagon is gearing up for dealing with them with a series of Flash movies for VA employees based on the first documented case of Iraq-related psych issues. The patient is Gilgamesh, who, as you'll recall, was the king of Uruk—the ancient land that would become modern-day Iraq. In the new version, Gilgamesh goes off to war, watches his buddy die, and comes home with an epic case of PTSD. It's a cheeky, cheesy take, but hopefully it means the Pentagon is starting to take the issue more seriously. It has a ways to go: It was reported earlier this year that 80 percent of vets with PTSD symptoms didn't get a follow-up. And some GIs who were diagnosed with the disorder were unceremoniously booted from the service.
A movie? That doesn't sound like the Pentagon is taking PTSD very seriously to me. Excuse me if I don't sound too impressed, but if they handle these mental health issues the same way they've handled the war in Iraq, our soldiers don't have a prayer.