Is Obama Sending Mixed Message on Public Option?

The answer is yes. Just a day after his Health and Human Services Secretary says the administration can live without a public option, other aides now say he hasn’t given up on it. And what exactly is involved with the health insurance co-ops that would take the public option’s place? Nobody seems to know.

All this is why, in a previous blog post, I argued that President Obama needed to start the health care reform debate with single payer, universal care.

ObamaHealthCare

Those who oppose him couldn’t care less about the public option, co-ops, or anything else he comes up with. Their end game is, simply, nothing, no change at all. That’s why they spent so much time and energy packing town hall meetings with loudmouthed screamers, some of whom still can’t fathom the fact that Barack Obama is President of the United States.

Now, progressives are crying foul, saying Obama is abandoning real reform in favor of a watered down alternative. It is, as New York Times columnist Bob Herbert accurately describes it, “like sending a peewee footballers against the Super Bowl champs” when it comes to co-ops vs. big insurance. So the question must be asked, why? Why is the administration making so many concessions?

Do they not see that for some of those who oppose healthcare reform, Obama himself is the issue? Maybe the president is having trouble digesting the ugliness that came out of so many of those town halls. But he doesn’t seem to understand that nothing will mollify that small segment of the American public. Nothing, that is, short of his resignation.

You can say it’s racial, you can say it’s generational, whatever. There is a loud minority in America who see “their country” slipping away from them. They see Barack Obama and his agenda as the cause of that slippage, and they don’t like it one bit. Ditching the public option gives emboldens them like nothing else could. It tells them, “we’re winning”.

Worse yet, big business is winning. They’re the ones bankrolling the politicians and in some cases the groups that are ¬†loudest in opposing reform. They’re the ones whose bottom lines will get fatter if costs aren’t controlled. And they’ll have a giant new pool of clients if everyone’s required to purchase insurance.

And what does the public get? Not a whole lot.

I for one understand politics well enough to know you don’t always get what you want, that compromise is part of the game, a necessary one if you talk to those who play it.

But at what price? You tell me.

Death Panel? What Death Panel?

So now Sarah Palin, private citizen, weighs in on healthcare via (what else?) Facebook.

She calls President Obama’s healthcare reform “downright evil”, and opines it will create a “death panel” that would determine who gets access to care. Death panel indeed! Where do they get this stuff from?

In this case, Palin’s fears about her son Trig and her parents have to do with a provision in the House healthcare reform bill that would provide VOLUNTARY end of life counseling to terminally ill patients. Somehow, and no one seems to be sure exactly how, that’s been turned into euthanasia, and medicine circa 1930s Germany (I’m not making this up).

So I guess this is what Palin means by trying to “effect change” from outside her elected office. Nice try. Combine Palin’s utter nonsense (and the attention it’s getting) with the disruption of town hall meetings on healthcare reform, and you have a small but vocal segment of the American body politic trying to impose its will on the rest of us.

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Their end game is to dilute reform to make it virtually unrecognizable from what we have now. Anything else, they bleat, like a public option or single payer puts us on the path to socialism. But what path does the current system put us on? Could it be something like Social Darwinism, where only the healthy survive?

Strip away all the rhetoric, and what leg do opponents of healthcare reform have to stand on? Put simply, they want no part of a system that affords the working poor access to quality care. If you make so little as to qualify under Medicaid, fine. If not, those geometric increases in the cost of health insurance premiums are on you, pal.

And who funds reform opponents? A guy named Rick Scott, the founder of “Conservatives for Patients Rights”. He also founded a hospital corporation that paid out $1.7 billion dollars to Uncle Sam for fraud. So let’s see now. We’ve got a group of vocal opponents of Obama’s healthcare plan who disrupt meetings at the behest of a failed governor and a medical fraudster. Nice.

I for one am still not ready to give up on single payer, universal care for all. I know people are saying it’s not politically feasible, people have said the same thing about other, equally worthy pieces of legislation. There’s something utterly galling about having the debate on this issue hijacked by the small, the petty, the misinformed, and the deliberately misleading.

As they say across the pond, death panel my arse. What do you think?

Cash for Clunkers…cars… A New Partisan Fight?

It sure looks that way. The Cash for Clunkers program, which gives buyers of new, fuel efficient cars rebates of up to $4500 for turning in old gas guzzlers, has become a political football.

That should be no surprise. What’s interesting is the fighting now is directly because of the program’s popularity. The $1 billion dollars budgeted for the program has quickly run out. Now, the House has passed an additional $2 billion dollars, but the Senate may not follow suit.

So what’s not to like? New car sales during Cash for Clunkers have gone up, dealer inventory has dropped, and in theory, gas guzzling relics are leaving American roads.

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The problem, say Republican senators, is the cost and the fear on the part of people like John McCain that speculators are already abusing the program. In fact, he threatens to lead a filibuster against extending Cash for Clunkers any more money.

As usual, the McCains and Jim DeMints of the Congress are just saying no. Never mind that buyers exhausted all the money in the program in about a week. Never mind that Ford will post its first monthly sales increase since 2007. The point is to never give an inch, unless you absolutely have to. The government says it will continue the program until the Senate acts (or doesn’t), but like with health care, one has to ask why the GOP is so good at forging a united front, while Democrats seem to be hedging their bets.

To be sure, no one is saying Cash for Clunkers should go on forever, And yes, there have been some problems, like the government’s Website crashing, and too much paperwork. But still, it’s a popular program even has an environmental benefit (though no one’s talking about it).

Cash For Clunkers

Maybe this time Republicans are overreacting. It’s hard to argue with a program that offers a serious discount during times like these. Americans like Cash for Clunkers. Otherwise, the McCains and DeMints would be arguing it was a bad idea in the first place.

So give it the extra $2 billion, and let it run its course. More than that the Republicans might have a point. US car buyers know that nothing is forever, not zero percent financing, not employee pricing, and certainly not Cash for Clunkers. It’s a shot in the arm the economy could use, and, more importantly, you can’t treat every Obama Administration initiative like it’s health care.

But the Republicans should know that by now, shouldn’t they?

What do you think? More Cash for Clunkers, or no?

Corruption- You From Jersey?

Suffice to say the Garden State, my home by way of full disclosure, has had its problems with corruption before.

Three ex-mayors of Newark, the state’s largest city, have been convicted of crimes.

Yet the arrest of 44 people, including the mayors of three municipalities and five rabbis takes the notion of corruption to a whole new level.

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It’s a twisted tale, this one, and involves allegations of kidney selling, fake Prada bags, and a box of Apple Jacks cereal stuffed with $97,000 dollars. And it should surprise no one living in New Jersey that it all began with a real estate developer.

Developers in Jersey, you see, have almost become synonymous with double dealing. In order to get profitable projects built, the logic goes, they’ve got to grease the wheels. That sometimes means making nice with elected officials who hold the fate of an office tower or condo block in their hands. In this case, the developer is one Solomon Dwek, who himself was charged with scamming a bank out of millions back in 2006.

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The feds turned him into an informant, and what a snitch he turned out to be! All of what follows are allegations, and those charged are innocent until proven guilty.

Most of the rabbis involved are accused of laundering Dwek’s money through charities they controlled. Some of them also allegedly laundered their own profits from the sale of fake Gucci and Prada bags in a similar fashion. The politicians allegedly took bribes to make sure Dwek has those necessary permits and approvals to get projects finished.

Yet the most outrageous allegations are against Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum.

*Jul 23 - 00:05*

He’s allegedly been running a kidney peddling operation that makes the $10,000, to $25,000 bucks the pols were scamming pale in comparison. According to prosecutors, Rosenbaum would buy kidneys from people in Israel for $10,000, then resell them here for $160,000. The story goes that Solomon Dwek introduced the kidney merchant to an undercover agent posing as his secretary. She told Rosenbaum her uncle needed a transplant, to which he allegedly assured her he’d been in the business for a long time.

Even more startling is word that many of the key players involved in the corruption dealt with Dwek knowing that he’d been a government target for his bank scam. The probe that netted the 44 suspects began a decade ago out of two cases, and Thursday arrests involved 200 FBI and IRS agents. In one case, the Mayor of Hoboken, NJ, Peter Cammarano had just been sworn in at the beginning of the month.

One wonders what the politicians are thinking now that they know the money they got was pitifully small when compared to the $3 million dollars allegedly laundered by the rabbis. No matter. The one person who must really be sweating after all this is New Jersey Gov. John Corzine. Facing a nationally watched election some say he could lose, the last thing this “corruption fighting” governor needed as to see a bunch of predominately Democratic elected officials led away in handcuffs.

Yet this is the public perception of New Jersey anyway, isn’t it? Should it be? You tell me.

Can Legalizing Weed Save Cali?

Well, no, it can’t.

A new estimate says legalizing marijuana would net the Golden State around $1.4 billion dollars. Their current budget gap is something like $26 billion. But it would, no doubt, make a dent. That’s why there’s a bill to legalize, tax, and regulate weed sales that’s been introduced in the California Assembly. Tax officials bas their estimate on a $50 dollar per ounce fee, as well as revenue from sales taxes.

Call me old fashioned, but I have a problem with the idea of legalizing something to make money from it. Sort of brings up the question why was it illegal for so long? It smacks of political and financial expediency. That said, it does make sense. I know there are some old stoners in California looking at that $50 dollar an ounce fee and thinking “I can remember when an ounce cost less than that”! Yet the logic of the bill’s sponsor, San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano rings true. With California’s legislature unable (as of Thursday) to reach a budget agreement, with furloughs, state IOUs, and cutbacks the order of the day, can the state really afford not to take a look at this potential revenue source?

Some facts are in order. California is the nation’s largest marijuana producing state. Last year, law enforcement seized 5.3 million plants. At the same time, residents consumed an estimated 500 tons of weed, implying that the law can only interdict so much. So the question really becomes, can the state afford to ignore what’s going on under their nose?

Of course, medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996. There’s also a move afoot to tax that as well, especially now that the Justice Dept. under Attorney General Eric Holder has taken a more rational position on federal raids on dispensaries. Other states will be keeping a close eye on what California does. Whether by legislation or referendum, Cali is a bellwether state. As it goes, so goes the rest of America, or so the thinking goes.

It’s just interesting how financial necessity becomes the mother of invention. Would efforts at legalization be taken so seriously if California’s economy was steaming along? Will the black market dry up completely if marijuana is legal? Can the state’s tax collection system adapt itself to properly monitor sales and collect revenue?

All these are hypothetical questions that in a way put the cart before the horse. Let’s see what happens when the Assembly takes up Tom Ammiano’s bill. Legalization opponents, especially those in law enforcement, won’t simply go away. After all, weed seizure is big business to them.

What do you think? Will California bite the bullet and legalize marijuana? Should they?

Will Madoff Sentence Deter Future Hustlers?

As the world watches cheap hustlers trying to pimp off the name, likeness, and legacy of Michael Jackson, it’s time to take a look at what happened to the world’s biggest hustler.

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He would be Bernard Madoff, and he’s been sentenced to 150 years in prison for running a multi billion dollar Ponzi scheme. Such was his betrayal of people like former baseball great Sandy Koufax, Larry King, John Malkovich, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and literally hundreds of other just plain folks that he received not one letter of support prior to sentencing, not even from his family.

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What did Madoff’s victims have in common? They trusted him. Any hustler worth their salt will tell you trust is essential. In this case, they all wanted to make money, and lots of it. There were reports that Madoff promised some investors they’d make 35% on their money. That led one friend of mine to opine that he had no sympathy for the victims, none at all. “Who in their right mind would trust they’d get that kind of return?¬†They were just plain greedy, straight up,” he sneered.

I don’t know if I’d go that far. However, it’s interesting to hear some of Madoff’s investors, people who lost their life savings so he could live large, take the government to task for not keeping a closer eye on what he was doing. Some of them, not all but some, don’t want the government involved in the financial markets in any way, shape, or form. Not, that is, unless they get burned by Bernie. Some victims said they didn’t even care about the money. They wanted a trial so the truth would come out.

While we don’t actually know the exact amount of money Madoff ripped off during the course of his lucrative hustle, we do know he’s been ordered to forfeit $171 billion dollars.

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His wife Ruth, who originally tried to protect $80 million dollars she said was hers alone, is now down to about $2.5 million. Worse yet for him, a growing number of prison experts think Bernie will do his time not in a country club style minimum security prison, but in a medium to high security facility.

Maybe it’s a sign of the times that as the world mourned Michael Jackson, the second most asked question of the weekend was “How much time ya think Madoff will get?” So now we know. Yet aside from any pity one might feel for those who lost their life savings, there’s a nagging feeling that the Madoff example won’t act as the strong deterrent US District Judge Denny Chin thought it might be.

Hustlers will always be among us, preying on some very basic human emotions. People will still get swindled, no matter how much time Bernie Madoff got.

Trust me on that one.

So, did Madoff get the right sentence, or was it too harsh? You tell me.

GM Bankruptcy- Good for America?

So, early Monday, the deed was done. GM, the nation’s largest automaker and in a way the face of the American car, filed for Chapter 11.

2006 GM TEN Event - Stacy Keibler

Ironically, it was an affiliate, Chevrolet-Saturn of Harlem, that started the ball rolling. Folks in the world’s best known black community must be scratching their heads about that one. In the end, it will be the city of Detroit that takes it on the chin.

Maybe there was no other way to do this. After all, we’re talking about a company whose stock was valued at $40 a share two years ago. As of Friday, the value was 75 cents. The litany of GM mistakes, blunders, and shortsightedness doesn’t need to be chronicled here. Suffice to say it’s been left to Uncle Sam and to the US taxpayer to clean up the mess.

The “New General Motors” will get just over $30 billion dollars in bankruptcy financing from Uncle Sam. That’s in addition to the nearly $20 billion in loans the “Old GM” already received. Of course, none of it comes with guarantees, and it puts the government in the unique position of owning a big chunk of an American corporation. While the reorganized company will have to comply with salary cap restrictions like those imposed on financial institutions back in February, the impact on workers has yet to be calaulated.

It’s likely to be severe. GM says it plans to close 11 factories and idle another 3, and that was before the filing. There will likely be a big cut in the company’s workforce, with some estimates at 21,000 jobs gone by the end of the year. Almost half of GM dealerships will close, leaving hundreds if not thousands of others out of work. Not a pretty picture by any stretch of the imagination.

Make no mistake. The aftershock of this action won’t just be felt in Detroit, which must feel a lot like a punch drunk fighter by now. Cities and towns across America will also feel the pain. The Obama Administration has acknowledged as much, sending members of his cabinet to reassure citizens in the four states likely to be hardest hit.

There is another, potentially devastating aspect to the GM bankruptcy. That’s the possibility that the government will preside over the exportation of autoworker jobs to non union southern states, or, worse yet, overseas. While the Obama Administration does have a great deal of leverage over the “New GM”, it can’t directly tell them where to build new cars.

That leaves open the possibility that states hardest hit by the bankruptcy, states Obama won last November, will be forced to sit by and watch as the next generation of GM cars are manufactured in Mexico or Korea. Suffice to say Obama needs to use every means at his disposal to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Can he make this bankruptcy work, or at least be a viable alternative to liquidating GM, which most everyone agrees would be a total disaster? You tell me.