Econ-Recon: April 2008: Archives

April 23, 2008

Yes To Tax Cuts & Loopholes - No To Fair Pay Legislation genre: Econ-Recon & Polispeak

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Understanding the dynamics of the November election isn't all that complex if one simply takes the time to draw some necessary comparisons. In many ways, the policies of the Bush administration have provided the essential contrast. With that as the backdrop, we ought to be able to make prudent political decisions as an electorate. Further, it should guide the actions of our elected officials. Unfortunately, that may not always be the case.

Today, the defeat of legislation that would have enabled employees to pursue redress should it be determined that they have been unfairly discriminated against with regards to equitable pay highlights the division between those who foster favors for the wealthy (the GOP) and those who believe the fair treatment of the individual is an imperative (the Democrats).

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked legislation to reverse a Supreme Court ruling that makes it tougher for workers to sue for pay discrimination.

Democratic presidential rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton interrupted their campaigns to return to the Senate to vote for the bill. The measure would lift tight time restraints to file claims that could expire before workers realize they were treated unfairly.

On a 56-42 vote, mostly Democratic supporters of the bill fell short of the needed 60 in the 100-member Senate to clear a Republican procedural hurdle and move toward passage of the bill approved earlier by the House of Representatives.

The blocked Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, named for an Alabama woman who lost her case in the Supreme Court last year, is backed by women's and civil rights groups that argue it would give workers a fair chance for justice.

On average in the United States, women are paid about 23 percent less than men, while minorities receive even less -- despite laws that mandate equal pay for equal work.

The White House said it opposed discrimination in the workplace. But it threatened to veto the bill if Congress passed it, saying in a statement the measure would "impede justice and undermine the important goal of having allegations of discrimination expeditiously resolved."

Backers of the bill complained that the Supreme Court, in its 5-4 ruling last May, reversed decades of legal precedent by declaring discrimination claims must be filed within 180 days of the first alleged offense.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican presidential candidate, did not return to Washington to vote on the bill.

I suspect the McCain absence was intentional and in keeping with his efforts to straddle the political divide. Unfortunately, his actions betray his even-handed, straight talking proclamations. John McCain supports cutting corporate taxes from 35 percent to 25 percent. He has also reversed his position with regard to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Once opposed to these cuts, he now argues they are an important element of his economic platform.

When push comes to shove, voters need look no further than examples of this nature to discern where the candidates...and the party's stand...and where their bread is buttered. Back in 1992, "It's the economy stupid" became the mantra attached to the presidential election. Following eight years of George W. Bush's ransacking of the economy while rewarding the wealthy with more wealth, may I suggest we simply remember the following, "It's the haves versus the have-nots, stupid".

Tagged as: 2008 Election, Democrats, Discrimination, Fair Pay, George W. Bush, GOP, John McCain, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Republicans, Supreme Court, Tax Cuts, U.S. Senate

Daniel DiRito | April 23, 2008 | 7:28 PM | link | Comments (0)
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April 19, 2008

GAO Calls Bush On His Game Of Chicken SCHIP genre: Econ-Recon & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

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Last year, President Bush shut down legislation designed to provide health insurance to more low income families and rewrote the rules to limit the coverage states could provide. At the time, his minions were busy eviscerating a family that spoke in favor of the measure. According to the Government Accountability Office, it turns out that the President didn't have the authority he thought and and actually violated the law. Nothing new there, eh?

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration violated federal law last year when it restricted states' ability to provide health insurance to children of middle-income families, and its new policy is therefore unenforceable, lawyers from the Government Accountability Office said Friday.

The ruling strengthens the hand of at least 22 states, including New York and New Jersey, that already provide such coverage or want to do so. And it significantly reduces the chance that the new policy can be put into effect before President Bush leaves office in nine months.

At issue is the future of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, financed jointly by the federal government and the states. Congress last year twice passed bills to expand the popular program, and Mr. Bush vetoed both.

In a formal legal opinion Friday, the accountability office said the new policy "amounts to a marked departure" from a longstanding, settled interpretation of federal law. It is therefore a rule and, under a 1996 law, must be submitted to Congress for review before it can take effect, the opinion said.

But Jeff Nelligan, a spokesman for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said, "G.A.O.'s opinion does not change our conclusion that the Aug. 17 letter is still in effect."

What happens next is not clear. New York, New Jersey and several other states have filed lawsuits challenging the Bush administration policy. In addition, Congress may consider legislation to suspend the directive.

Under the Aug. 17 directive, states cannot expand the Children's Health Insurance Program to cover youngsters with family incomes over 250 percent of the federal poverty level ($53,000 for a family of four) unless they can prove that they already cover 95 percent of eligible children below twice the poverty level ($42,400).

Moreover, in such states, children who lose or drop private coverage must be uninsured for 12 months before they can enroll in the Children's Health Insurance Program, and co-payments in the public program must be similar to those in private plans.

The administration told states they must comply with the directive by August of this year or else they face "corrective action." Compliance could mean cutting back programs.

It amazes me that a President who sold himself to the electorate as a compassionate conservative is willing to restrict health care to the needy while insisting on spending billions of dollars year after year on his failed war in Iraq. It makes one wonder just who the President is protecting with his war on terror. I suspect those who risk losing coverage under Bush's arbitrary guidelines feel terrorized by their own government.

Then again, we shouldn't be surprised that a man of privilege (who acted out like a rebellious teenager until reaching the age of forty) lacks any tangible empathy for those in need. No, he would rather wax endlessly about the need to make permanent his tax cuts for the wealthy and finish the job his daddy didn't have the wherewithal to pursue.

When it's all said and done, I can't help but conclude that America has been the playground for an insecure and ego-challenged charlatan with little regard for anything that didn't serve to stroke his obtuse persona. Yes, his legacy will be legendary...though I'd wager it won't be of the nature he had hoped. In the end, I doubt many Americans will shed any tears when this 'little big man' rides off into the sunset.

Tagged as: Compassionate Conservatism, George W. Bush, Health Care, Iraq, Little Big Man, Poverty, SCHIP, State Children's Health Insurance Program, Tax Cuts

Daniel DiRito | April 19, 2008 | 4:11 PM | link | Comments (1)
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April 15, 2008

Bill Moyers Journal: Hunger & The Rising Cost Of Food genre: Econ-Recon & Gaylingual & Video-Philes

During election years, it's easy to get lost in the pettiness of the political battles that we think are important. Unfortunately, that partisan focus often leads us to lose sight of the issues that really matter. While we are asked to evaluate who is best prepared to answer the phone at 3:00 AM, millions of our fellow citizens are pondering how to feed their children breakfast in the morning.

When I watch programs like the following, I can't help but think about the huge amounts of money we are spending on the war in Iraq. Time and again, our president tells us the war is necessary to protect America. Somehow, I don't imagine the folks who are struggling to make ends meet are all that worried about a terrorist attack.

In fact, I suspect that many of the people referenced in this video live with the terror of being unable to find their next meal or surviving until the next handout is available. Our politicians talk about the need for health insurance while millions aren't even eating the food they need to insure their health.

Frankly, I can't imagine what the next president will have to do to right the ship. It's easy for voters to lock onto an issue, believing that it's a non-negotiable necessity. Some of us won't vote for a candidate that supports abortion...some of us won't vote for a candidate that won't support an amendment to ban same-sex marriage...some of us won't vote for a candidate because she is a woman or a black man.

In the midst of our absolutism, we ignore the neighbor who simply needs a decent meal or the elderly woman with high blood pressure who can't afford the medication she needs. For all the talk of this being a Christian nation, I am astounded at the lack of Christian compassion.

I simply can't imagine why we need to spend millions of dollars on initiatives to ban gay marriage in the midst of such great need. Why on earth would anyone care about what happens in the bedrooms of their neighbors when they don't give a damn about the neighbor's empty refrigerator? No, we've become a hateful nation filled with animosity and resentment for all things different. Those who rail against gay marriage argue they're simply protecting the family. I'm still trying to decide which families they're trying to protect. It sure as hell isn't the family next door.

Bill Moyers Journal - Hunger In America

Tagged as: Abortion, Bill Moyer, Compassionate Conservatism, Food, Food Banks, Food Pantries, Gay Marriage, Hunger, Inflation, LGBT, PBS, Poverty, Religion, Same-Sex Marriage

Daniel DiRito | April 15, 2008 | 9:25 AM | link | Comments (2)
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April 4, 2008

Bushwhacked - The Sequel: Jobs Down, Unemployment Up genre: Econ-Recon

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By all accounts, George W. Bush was determined to win reelection and thus avoid a repeat of his father's embarrassing defeat. Unfortunately, they say the sins of the father shall be visited upon the son. If true, the declining economy at the close of this Bush administration may well be a revisiting of his father's misfortune. While George W. Bush may have charted a different course than his father, he appears to be arriving at the same destination.

While the promise of the senior Bush to enact no new taxes is thought to have been a key component of his downfall; the cutting of taxes by his son was touted as the ultimate economic elixir. Given the economic status at the end of both Bush administrations, it seems to have been a difference without a distinction.

It's likely that the slow slog towards recession has now become a snowball racing rapidly down a slippery slope; headed for an unknown destination. Despite the repeated assurances from the Bush administration that a sound economy underlies the current downturn, the ride to the bottom may be a long one and it may end with a thunderous thud. When it's all said and done, the consequences of this Bush administration may mirror the misfortunes that befell the GOP in the wake of the prior Bush administration.

From Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Employers cut payrolls for a third month in a row in March and the unemployment rate jumped to a 2-1/2 year high, more evidence that a housing downturn and credit crisis may have pushed the economy into a recession.
The Labor Department on Friday reported that March non-farm payrolls fell 80,000, biggest decline in five years.

It also said the March unemployment rate jumped to 5.1% from 4.8%, highest since a matching rate in September 2005.

Adding to the bleak picture, the department revised the first two months of the year's job losses to a total of 152,000 from a previous estimate of 85,000.

The March job report was more bleak than expected. Economists had forecast a decline of 60,000 in non-farm payrolls and a rise in the unemployment rate to 5%.

"There doesn't appear to be any silver lining. It shows that we're right in the middle of a recession that will probably take a while," said Carl Lantz, U.S. interest rate strategist at Credit Suisse in New York.

"Our expectation is that it will be a longer recession than the last two and we're just in the beginning," Lantz added.

It has taken George W. Bush two terms to reach an endpoint that will undoubtedly be seen as very similar to that of his father's presidency. Both men watched as the economy tanked...unaware of the plight of the working class. The first Bush didn't know the price of milk - the second seemed oblivious to the rising cost of gas. During their presidencies, both men invaded Iraq - the first Bush having the good sense to limit the scope of the incursion - the second determined to one-up daddy regardless of the cost.

In 1988, when Anne Richards spoke her oft quoted words about the senior Bush, "Poor George. He can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth"; little did we know how prescient her observation would be with regards to the second Bush. In recalling the expression, "The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree", one could also argue that the electorate bears responsibility for succumbing to another well known idiom...the one that posits, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me".

Sadly, a new poll provides a grim assessment of the degree to which voters may be experiencing buyers remorse. Unfortunately, what's done is done...and we're left to hope that the damage can be undone.

From The New York Times:

Americans are more dissatisfied with the country's direction than at any time since the New York Times/CBS News poll began asking about the subject in the early 1990s, according to the latest poll.

In the poll, 81 percent of respondents said they believed "things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track," up from 69 percent a year ago and 35 percent in early 2002.

Although the public mood has been darkening since the early days of the war in Iraq, it has taken a new turn for the worse in the last few months, as the economy has seemed to slip into recession. There is now nearly a national consensus that the country faces significant problems.

A majority of nearly every demographic and political group -- Democrats and Republicans, men and women, residents of cities and rural areas, college graduates and those who finished only high school -- say the United States is headed in the wrong direction. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said the country was worse off than five years ago; just 4 percent said it was better off.

In the end, there is also an abundance of irony to be found in the two Bush presidencies. The former president Bush spoke of mobilizing 1,000 points of light...the latter nearly succeeded in turning off all of the lights. When the senior Bush called Americans to service, it was impossible to know that his son would enlist 1,000's of young Americans in the prosecution of an ill-advised war.

When the current president pledged to unite us, we should have realized that the ability to unite emanates from the capacity and the willingness to hear, understand, and appreciate the views of others. When he pledged compassionate conservatism, we missed the numerous indications that compassion would only flow to those who adopted his brand of conservatism. Hence, compassion modified by conservatism is more likely an ideology of intransigence than an expression of empathy.

As we await the passage of the second Bush administration, it should be abundantly clear to voters that we can ill-afford a third Bushwhacking. Hopefully voters won't be fooled by the cleverness of the GOP to choose another Bush as their candidate. Lest there be any confusion, I'm not talking about an eventual Jeb Bush candidacy...I'm talking about none other than John "W" McCain.

Tagged as: 2008 Election, Economy, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Iraq, Jeb Bush, Jobs, John McCain, Recession, Unemployment

Daniel DiRito | April 4, 2008 | 10:07 AM | link | Comments (2)
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April 3, 2008

Senate Steamrolls Measure To Assist Homeowners genre: Econ-Recon & Polispeak

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Most people understand the meaning of "the squeaky wheel gets the grease". The government's actions to bail out the big dogs in the subprime lending fiasco, in conjunction with the seeming disregard of the plight of the individual homeowner, are destined to rewrite the expression to read "the big wheel gets the grease".

In light of today's refusal by the Senate to modify bankruptcy laws to assist homeowners, it seems a further modification will be needed. I would suggest it be - "Once the big wheels get greased, the hosing of the homeowner can begin".

The Senate on Thursday rejected a Democratic proposal that would have rewritten bankruptcy law to help struggling mortgage borrowers, while moving ahead with debate on a housing market rescue bill that includes a $6 billion tax break for home builders.

In a 58-36 vote, the Senate defeated an amendment offered by Assistant Senate Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin to empower bankruptcy judges to ease mortgage payment terms for distressed borrowers under strictly limited circumstances.

The Durbin amendment -- which would have affected only mortgages already in place upon enactment -- was opposed by the influential banking industry and Republicans, who were joined by 11 Democrats in voting to kill it.

"Unfortunately, my amendment was strenuously opposed by the banking lobby and their powerful friends in the Bush Administration and in the Senate," he said.

Demands for action on behalf of average homeowners have grown since the Federal Reserve last month engineered a massive bailout of investment bank Bear Stearns.

The Senate bill, with lengthy debate still ahead of it, is estimated to cost $15 billion to $20 billion.

The bill's tax break for home builders and other businesses involves extending a rule that allows businesses to count net operating losses against tax returns from prior profitable years. The rule, in place for 2008 and 2009 only, would allow carry-backs of four years instead of the current two years.

"This is a taxpayer-funded give-away for corporations that caused the housing and mortgage crisis. It doesn't do enough to help struggling homeowners," said Jacob Hay, spokesman for the Laborers International Union of North America.

While the actions to kill this measure are appalling, the severity of the crisis may soon force politicians to reconsider. As foreclosures rise, and more Americans are impacted by the economic downturn, the public outrage with the ongoing efforts to bail out the lenders who willingly participated in promoting the suspect practices is bound to explode. That may preclude politicians from pouring cash into the coffers of their brazen benefactors.

I keep referencing the Savings and Loan scandal of the late 80's in order to explain the scope of the situation. While it provides a useful example, it fails to illustrate the fact that the current fiasco will not only cost the taxpayer in terms of the governments funds needed to underwrite the lending industry's losses; it will result in an across the board decline in consumer wealth as a result of declining home values. At the same time, consumers will be forced to overcome the other obstacles that accompany periods of economic malaise.

In the end, this crisis will be far more injurious to the individual and far more insidious in revealing the complicity of our elected officials. Those who have built their political careers upon opposing the expansion of the nanny state are about to undertake one of the most egregious examples of corporate welfare we've ever witnessed.

If this alliance is allowed to exist, voters can expect the big wheel to become a steamroller aimed at flattening all that stands in the way of further capitulation to the almighty corporation. As of this moment, there are at least 58 senators who are willing to allow the crushing of their constituents.

It's not only time to silence the squeaky wheels, it's time to deny them access to the grease. More importantly, it's time to send a much needed message to their hypocritical enablers. Unlike many Americans, I'm certain these pandering politicians will have homes to return to once they've been thrown out of the drivers seat.

Tagged as: Banking, Bankruptcy Laws, Corporate Bail Out, Corporate Welfare, Dick Durbin, Economy, Foreclosures, Homeownership, Housing Crisis, Interest Rates, Lobbyists, Savings & Loan Scandal, Subprime Lending

Daniel DiRito | April 3, 2008 | 6:50 PM | link | Comments (1)
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April 2, 2008

R-E-C-E-S-S-I-O-N: The Ownership Society - You've Been Pwned genre: Econ-Recon & Tongue-In-Cheek & Video-Philes

With the Bush presidency coming to an end...with talk of a lame duck administration...and despite the negative reviews on George Bush's ambitious yet seemingly endless epic, The Iraq War...GWB Studios, in conjunction with GOP Tax Cut Productions, is moving forward with plans to release an astounding sequel that is destined to put an exclamation mark upon the 'Mission Accomplished' era.

From the director who brought us The Doubling Of Debt...get ready to witness the most startling event since the release of The Great Depression. Not since Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, has America faced such an unfettered onslaught of "peckery". When the curtain falls on this startling production, you'll not only be missing the shirt off your back, your pocketbook will have been plucked cleaner than a spiral ham bone.

History is about to unfold...America is about to unravel...and George Bush is certain to have a legacy unlike any of his predecessors. My fellow Americans...prepare yourself for the premiere of R-E-C-E-S-S-I-O-N: The Ownership Society - You've Been Pwned.

R-E-C-E-S-S-I-O-N

Tagged as: Alfred Hitchcock, Depression, Economics, George W. Bush, Humor, National Debt, Ownership Society, Recession, Tax Cuts, The Birds

Daniel DiRito | April 2, 2008 | 4:25 PM | link | Comments (1)
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