$$ Voting Made Easy: Empowering the 99%

I’m about to buy a lawn mower, but I don’t want my money used to attack Wisconsin workers and families.

There are several lists of companies to avoid when making purchasing decisions, such as companies led by people who gave big donations directly to the Walker campaign. Buying local is usually a wise decision, but even that is problematic when most Wisconsin businesses support the Chamber of Commerce (national or local), or other organizations hostile to Wisconsin’s workers and families.

For example, Wisconsin-based Ariens is out because they belong to WMC. Illinois-based John Deere is even worse, because they not only belong to WMC, they also belong to ALEC.

It can be difficult to find a non-evil company to reward with my consumer spending, but it’s worth the effort. At the moment, I’m considering buying a Husqvarna mower. Husqvarna is apparently a Swiss company, although I’m not sure the where the mowers are actually manufactured.

Boycott lists are a good start, but aren’t enough. We need better ways to help each other identify and support companies that believe strong and prosperous families are good for the economy.

For starters, I need your suggestions on what mower to buy, and where to buy it.

Privatized Profits, Socialized Risk

No matter how outraged you are, it’s impossible to keep up (h/t Lily Tomlin). In last week’s installment of “Let’s Hope No One’s Paying Attention,” the Bank of America moved uninsured Merrill derivatives to its commercial bank’s federally insured ledgers. In other words, if Bank of America fails, the FDIC must clean up its mess. And apparently the FDIC isn’t any too happy about it. But the Fed is reportedly all in favor of the move. Matt Taibbi explains: “Essentially, an irresponsible debtor, B of A, is keeping a loan shark from breaking his legs by getting his rich parents to co-sign his loan. The parents in this metaphor would be the FDIC.” Actually, the “parents” would be both the FDIC (Mom) and the Federal Reserve (Dad). But Dad is egging the miscreant on instead of calling him to account.

The Federal Deposits Insurance Corporation was created by the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, when Depression with a capital D had brought the country to its knees, leading to the bank panic of 1933. The Glass-Steagall Act separated investment banking from commercial banking in order to protect depositors (like you and me) from the risk inherent in investment banking. In effect, it prevented Wall Street from gambling with money deposited in commercial banks. And it created the FDIC to protect commercial banks’ deposits.

In 1999, Republicans, enjoying a majority in both chambers of Congress and counting on nobody paying attention (all too often a safe bet), passed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed the part of Glass-Steagall that prohibited a single institution from acting as any combination of an investment bank, a commercial bank, and an insurance company. During the debate over the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, Rep. John Dingall (D-Michigan), eloquently warned of the consequences: “Under of this legislation … liability in one area is going to fall over in the liability of the next. Taxpayers are going to be called upon to cure the failures that we’re creating tonight. And it’s going to cost a lot of money.”

So the riskier Merrill Lynch liability is now spilling over into the federally insured liability of Bank of America’s commercial operation. And, as predicted, taxpayers are being called upon to cure the failures created by Congress in 1999. Jonathan Weil reports:

Unfortunately, none of the actors here went on the record to explain what’s going on. We don’t know what kinds of derivatives these are, or even the dollars at stake, only that they are big enough to make the FDIC upset. The entire story would be playing out in secret were it not for some unidentified whistleblowers who seem to have this crazy idea that the public should be informed about what the regulators and Bank of America are up to.

We’ve been told the Dodd-Frank Act passed by Congress last year would end federal bailouts of large banks. It doesn’t exactly do that, though. Taxpayer money still would be at risk in the event that the FDIC has to exercise its new resolution powers. … While the law says the FDIC is supposed to tap the banking industry to pay for any eventual losses, it’s hard to imagine the agency could ever charge enough to cover the costs from a failure at a company with $2.2 trillion of assets.

So in spite of the outcry of Occupy Wall Street, the behemoth Bank of America, in all of its too-big-to-fail glory, is still acting as though no one is paying any attention. Hiding behind the voluminous skirts of the FDIC, whose deposit insurance “is backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government,” B of A continues its dance of privatized profits backed by socialized risk. Where are the decriers of socialism when you need them?

A Better Question for the CNN Tea Party Republican Debate

Last night CNN hosted a Tea Party Republican debate. I didn’t watch it because it didn’t seem to be a good use of my time. It’s a given that every time any one of the GOP/Tea Party candidates speak they say something that’s completely outrageous, so I figured chances were pretty high there would be something stupid and or amazingly cruel was said at the debate. Yet again, the candidates and studio audience didn’t disappoint.

The audience cheered at the thought of letting an uninsured person die. In my opinion, everyone, no matter their health insurance status, should be treated for life threatening illness or injury, but that’s neither here, nor there. This type of thinking is disturbing. What type of person cheers at the thought of someone else dying? Wait, maybe I don’t want to know the answer. I only hope the people cheering death don’t call themselves Christian.

In case you missed the debate, Ron Paul was asked a question about a young, uninsured young man who needed health care. There’s outrage at the audience’s reaction to the question. While anger at the crowd is understandable, I take issue with the question and the message behind the question.

What struck me about this video segment is the question. It was a “soft ball” question at best and really missed the point. The point being, in this time of financial crisis there are many people who don’t have good jobs and/or access to affordable health insurance. This question talks about someone who has the option of having affordable health insurance and doesn’t take it. A transcript of the debate can be found here.

Here’s the hypothetical question:

“A healthy 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides, you know what? I’m not going to spend $200 or $300 a month for health insurance because I’m healthy, I don’t need it. But something terrible happens, all of a sudden he needs it. Who’s going to pay if he goes into a coma, for example? Who pays for that?  “

There are many things that can be said about the question. First off, this question puts all the focus on “personal responsibility”. The person is question has a “good job”, it’s assumed he is offered affordable insurance through his employer and doesn’t take it. He later needs medical treatment, but doesn’t have the coverage. The crowd cheered and someone said “let him die”. In their world view, this person made a personal decision and should suffer the consequences of their choices. While it’s reprehensible to let anyone die because they can’t get access to medical treatment, I contend the question itself was flawed.

I think the question should have taken into consideration the number of employed people that aren’t offered affordable insurance through their employer. The question doesn’t take into account the large number of unemployed people who can’t afford or have run out of COBRA benefits.

A better question might have been:

“An unemployed 60-year-old with diabetes needs immediate treatment for his condition. This person has worked since he was 14 and is now unable to find employment. He saved for a rainy day and for his retirement. All that money is gone now his 401k lost half its value when the market tanked in 2008 and he’s had to empty his “rainy day” account to pay his bills during the time he’s been unemployed. He has no insurance because his COBRA ran out and he can’t afford insurance premiums on the open market. Who’s going to pay if he goes into a coma? Who pays for that?”

Here’s another one for you:

“A healthy 25-year-old worker is in a life threatening car accident. She’s frugal with her limited resources and saves every penny she possibly can. She doesn’t splurge on extras as she works to be completely self sufficient. She works two jobs to “make ends meet” each month and has no room in her budget for any unexpected expenses. She is offered no insurance through her employer. Who’s going to pay for the care she needs or should we turn her away because she lacks insurance?”

I’m sure there are many other hypothetical questions that could have been asked. The person in the question asked had choices regarding health insurance. What about the millions of Americans that don’t have those health insurance options? Why wasn’t the hypothetical question about a person who had no access to health insurance? Oh yeah, that’s right, if we don’t talk about the people who have no health insurance options they don’t exist.

Bill Maher-“Americans must realize what makes NFL football so great: Socialism”

“Irritable Bowl Syndrome” aired January 28, 2011, full-text of Bill Maher’s commentary is below the video.

Bill Maher explains why the NFL model of pooling resources lifts up the entire football league and resembles what Democrats want. In contrast the “every man for himself” Republican approach is destroying the American middle class in the same way that the MLB is destroying baseball.

One of my favorite quotes: “I haven’t watched the Superbowl since 2004 when Janet Jackson’s nipple popped out during half-time, and that splilt second glimpse of an unrestrained black titty burned my eyes and offended me as a Christian.”

[if the YouTube clip gets taken down, here’s the HBO site’s clip]

With the superbowl only a week away Americans must realize what makes NFL football so great: Socialism. That’s right. Continue reading