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Member since: Sat Sep 9, 2006, 03:59 PM
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Chart of the Day: Employer-Based Health Insurance is Going the Way of the Dodo

Paul Krugman

Reed Abelson at Economix points us to a startling study on the effects of the Great Recession on health insurance. You can see similar trends in the Census data, but for whatever reason this survey — carried out by a highly reputable group — is even stronger. Here’s the key picture:

The chart is from the National Institute for Health Care Reform.

What this says is that the system that has provided workable insurance coverage to many (but not enough) Americans is coming apart at the seams. And this in turn means that if health reform goes down, we’re going to be looking at a wave of misery spreading across the land.

Kevin Drum/Mother Jones

Over the past decade, the number of Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance has dropped from about 70% down to nearly 50%. Note that this is for the non-elderly only, so it's not due to the aging of society or the growth of Medicare. This is working-age people only.

Most Americans simply have no clue how bizarre it is that we rely on employers to provide health insurance for most people. We've all grown up in this sytem, so it seems completely normal. But it's not. It happened through a weird combination of historical accidents, and it makes no sense. Why should an airplane manufacturer also be in the healthcare business? Why should you lose your health insurance if you get laid off? Why should your choice of doctor be limited by your employer's choice of insurance carrier? (And why should it change whenever your employer decides to change carriers?) Why should your boss be allowed to dock your paycheck if you don't get the medical "counseling" he deems necessary? (Yes, this is real. And it's rapidly making its way to a corporation near you.)

It. Makes. No. Sense. And dozens of countries around the world have shown that there are better, less expensive, more universal ways of providing medical care. It is truly a mystery that we still put up with the archaic, Rube Goldberg mess that passes for health insurance in this country. If the red trendline I added to the NIHCR chart turns out to be accurate, maybe we won't for too much longer.

(The study -- Great Recession Accelerated Long-Term Decline of Employer Health Coverage -- is in PDF format.)

Nationwide protests planned *Occupy ALEC* February 29

Co-ordinated protests are planned in some 60 cities later this month against a right wing group which activists say has an unfair hand in writing state legislation that favours corporate interests.

Working under the banner Shut Down the Corporations, activists plan to target corporate members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) with nationwide protests on 29 February.

Organisers say Alec, a nonprofit free-market policy group whose membership includes some 2,000 state legislators, wields undue influence by drafting legislation beneficial to its corporate members, which in some cases is then used as a model for legislation in states across America.

The nationwide protest is being co-ordinated by Occupy Portland, with activists across the country due to take part – including from Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Oakland.

The rest at The Guardian.

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Occupy-ALEC/327473290599424

#shutDOwnALEC/#occupyALEC/#ALECexposed/Shut down ALEC livestream page: http://shutdownalec.org/

I didn't have a lot of success looking for a centralized resource for local groups. Here's a search for occupy ALEC February 29, which is the one that had the most hits (try F29 or #F29 -- both are coming up a lot) -- you'll do better through local occupy groups and searching online for local protests

http://bit.ly/wFxrcU (yeah, it's Google)

Amy Goodman: Romney’s 1 Percent Nation Under God

Although Mitt Romney has yet to win a majority in a Republican primary, he won big in Florida. After he and the pro-Romney super PACs flooded the airwaves with millions of dollars’ worth of ads in a state where nearly half the homeowners are underwater, he talked about whom he wants to represent. “We will hear from the Democrat Party the plight of the poor, and there’s no question, it’s not good being poor,” he told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien. “You could choose where to focus, you could focus on the rich, that’s not my focus. You could focus on the very poor, that’s not my focus. My focus is on middle-income Americans.” Of the very rich, Romney assures us, “They’re doing just fine.” With an estimated personal wealth of $250 million, Romney should know.

Romney’s campaign itself is well-financed, but his success to date, especially against his current main rival, Newt Gingrich, is driven by massive cash infusions to a so-called super PAC, the new breed of political action committee that can take unlimited funds from individuals and corporations. Super PACs are legally prohibited from coordinating their activities with a candidate’s campaign. Federal Election Commission filings made public Jan. 31 reveal that the principal super PAC supporting Romney, Restore Our Future, raised close to $18 million in the second half of 2011, from just 199 donors. Among his supporters are Alice Walton, who, although listed in the report as a “rancher,” is better known as an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune, and the famously caustic venture capitalist and billionaire Samuel Zell, the man credited with driving the Tribune media company into bankruptcy. William Koch, the third of the famous Koch brothers, also gave.

Juxtapose those 199 with the number of people living in poverty in the United States. According to the most recent figures available from the U.S. Census Bureau, 46.2 million people lived in poverty in 2010, 15.1 percent of the population, the largest number in the 52 years the poverty estimates have been published. 2010 marked the fourth consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty.


The next morning, NBC’s Matt Lauer challenged him, asking: “Did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country, is envious? Is it about jealousy, or fairness?” Romney doubled down, claiming: “I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99 percent versus 1 percent—and those people who have been most successful will be in the 1 percent ... [it’s] entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.”

It's Amy Goodman -- the rest is worth reading! She nails it. Damn, if anyone would personify the government being of the 1% for the 1%, it'd be Romney!

Secrecy Shrouds ‘Super PAC’ Funds in Latest Filings

Newly disclosed details of the millions of dollars flowing into political groups are highlighting not just the scale of donations from corporation and unions but also the secrecy surrounding “super PACs” seeking to influence the presidential race.


Some came from companies closely identified with prominent industrialists or financiers, like Contran, a mammoth holding company controlled by the Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, a patron of a number of conservative groups and candidates, and Blue Ridge Capital, a New York hedge fund founded by the wealthy investor John A. Griffin, a supporter of Mitt Romney.

But some checks came from sources obscured from public view, like a $250,000 contribution to a super PAC backing Mr. Romney from a company with a post office box for a headquarters and no known employees.

President Obama still outpaces the Republican candidates when it comes to direct fundraising filling campaign coffers. But the big money, the more secretive stuff, is coming from these groups running ads and engaging in other activities to influence the election.


Most of the money disclosed this week went to independent groups supporting Republicans, giving them an enormous money advantage over similar Democratic groups in the first phase of the 2012 election cycle. Such donations were made possible by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 and subsequent court rulings, which opened the door to unlimited corporate and union contributions to political committees and made it possible to pool that money with unlimited contributions from wealthy individuals.

Much more at this must read NY Times article. The terrifying ones are the ones that allow for donors to hide their identities -- god only knows what foreign and illicit entities are buying their candidates and our elections.

The New Yorker: Ron Paul's Filthy Lucre

“People close to Paul’s operations said he was deeply involved in the company that produced the newsletters, Ron Paul & Associates, and closely monitored its operations, signing off on articles and speaking to staff members virtually every day,” Markon and Crites reported. They went on to write:

“It was his newsletter, and it was under his name, so he always got to see the final product.… He would proof it,” said Renae Hathway, a former secretary in Paul’s company and a supporter of the Texas congressman….

A person involved in Paul’s businesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid criticizing a former employer, said Paul and his associates decided in the late 1980s to try to increase sales by making the newsletters more provocative. They discussed adding controversial material, including racial statements, to help the business, the person said.

“It was playing on a growing racial tension, economic tension, fear of government,” said the person, who supports Paul’s economic policies but is not backing him for president. “I’m not saying Ron believed this stuff. It was good copy. Ron Paul is a shrewd businessman."

A "shrewd business man" who sends out racist newsletters under his name as a "good business" practice? Give me a damn break. It's good business pandering to racists? What the hell kind of person would pander to racists if he didn't believe that crap himself? Can you even imagine sending crap like that out under your name? I certainly hope not! I know I'd rather be penniless than send out the racist crap he sent out.

The FACT is that the newsletters were proofed by him and, according to staff, he knowingly made the decision to send out the newsletters containing the horrible racist content they have. Own them putz, they're totally yours! Either you're a racist sack of shit or you're a lying sack of shit or, most likely, you're a lying racist sack of shit!

(Rest of the short New Yorker News Desk piece is here.)

Ben Jealous (NAACP) wants your stories on how the economic crisis has affected you/loved ones

Via email (emphases in original email):

Leadership. Commitment. Unity.

As I sat in the House of Representatives chamber this evening, these were the themes I heard President Obama speak to in his State of the Union address.

But as I listened to President Obama, I looked at obstructionist leaders in Congress and I couldn't help but get angry.

It is past time to throw aside partisan differences, put America first and embrace the American values of equal opportunity and fairness for all.

In communities across the country, the NAACP has marched, rallied, and raised our voices to let our leaders know job creation can't wait. President Obama has heard our call, and tonight he laid out his ambitious blueprint for continuing to improve the economy and put people back to work.

Unfortunately, too many members of Congress are committed to nothing but blocking the president's work. They are more concerned with scoring political points than getting us out of the worst economic slump since the early 20th century.

Every day, NAACP leaders nationwide speak with people who are working harder than ever before, and still struggling to make ends meet. Just this week our North Carolina NAACP leadership conducted a tour throughout the state to chronicle the effects of joblessness, underemployment, and poverty.

We know many of you have similar stories, and we want to hear them. Will you share with us your story on how the economic crisis has affected you and those you love?


Marcellus Brown is 43 years old. He doesn't have a steady job, but he wants one. He's from Scotland Neck, North Carolina, but travels 30 miles to apply for unemployment and look for jobs. There are no resources or living wage jobs in his community.

Davette Bulluck, a mother of three, is unemployed in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. She cleans yards, washes dishes, and collects cans in the streets for money. Her utility bill exceeds her monthly income by $500. She's skipped many meals so her children can eat, and often faces the prospect of choosing between electricity, water, and food.

President Obama's American Jobs Act would create 1.9 million jobs for people like Marcellus and Davette in places like Scotland Neck and Rocky Mount. His summer jobs and tourism initiative will create hundreds of thousands more, and stimulate an economy built to last and designed for sustained prosperity.

I applaud President Obama for adopting our long-standing priority of economic stability in communities of color, for his bold stand on job creation, and for leading the charge on reversing the economic crisis.

But Congress must match his leadership. Millions are suffering, and systemic poverty persists in almost every corner of the richest nation on earth. In moments like this, extreme partisanship is a luxury our nation cannot afford.

It is time to pass much-needed legislation to foster workforce training and create the kinds of jobs that allow Marcellus, Davette, and countless others to thrive, not just survive.

It is time for cooperation to trump personal political agendas.

And until it does, we must continue to speak out, stand up, and be heard.

Please share your stories and experiences on the economic crisis, and how it has affected you and your loved ones:


Thank you. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.



Benjamin Todd Jealous
President and CEO

The Nation: Obama Is on the Brink of a Settlement With the Big Banks—and Progressives Are Furious

For months, a massive federal settlement with big Wall Street banks over their role in the mortgage crisis has been in the offing. The rumored details have always given progressives heartburn: civil immunity, no investigations, inadequate help for homeowners and a small penalty for the banks. Now, on the eve President Obama’s State of the Union address—in which he plans to further advance a populist message against big money and income inequality—the deal may be here, and it’s every bit as ugly as progressives feared.

The Associated Press reports that a proposed deal could be announced within weeks. Five banks—Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Ally Financial (formerly GMAC)—would pay the federal government $25 billion. About $17 billion would be used to reduce the principal that some struggling homeowners owe, $5 billion more would be used for future federal and state programs and $3 billion would be used to help homeowners refinance at 5.25 percent. Civil immunity would be granted to the banks for any role in foreclosure fraud, and there would be no investigations.

There are several reasons why this is could be a terrible deal. For one, the dollar amount is inadequate in relation to both the tremendous loss of wealth via mortgage fraud and the hefty balance sheets of these massive companies. Furthermore, the banks might be allowed to use investor money instead of their own funds—this makes the penalty even lower. Beyond all that: it’s extremely hard to justify the absence of investigations and punishment for mortgage fraud that was so widespread and so damaging to people’s lives.

There are also many other, more serious problems besides a lack of punitive action. The small amount of money—and the federal government’s recent inability to truly help underwater mortgage holders, of which there are currently 11 million—means that the victims of mortgage fraud might not see enough relief. And perhaps most importantly, with no real punishment for widespread damaging fraud, what are the incentives on Wall Street not to engage in similarly destructive practices once again?

The rest is at The Nation.

Boy, this couple with the article that just came out about Holder & Breuer, and if this comes to pass, it stinks to high heaven!

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, were partners for years at a Washington law firm that represented a Who’s Who of big banks and other companies at the center of alleged foreclosure fraud, a Reuters inquiry shows.

The firm, Covington & Burling, is one of Washington's biggest white shoe law firms. Law professors and other federal ethics experts said that federal conflict of interest rules required Holder and Breuer to recuse themselves from any Justice Department decisions relating to law firm clients they personally had done work for.


Reuters reported in December that under Holder and Breuer, the Justice Department hasn't brought any criminal cases against big banks or other companies involved in mortgage servicing, even though copious evidence has surfaced of apparent criminal violations in foreclosure cases.


While Holder and Breuer were partners at Covington, the firm's clients included the four largest U.S. banks - Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo & Co - as well as at least one other bank that is among the 10 largest mortgage servicers.

As Robert Sheer wrote back in August:

They will get away with it, at least in this life. “They” are the Wall Street usurers, people of a sort condemned in Scripture, who have brought more misery to this nation than we have known since the Great Depression. “They” will not suffer for their crimes because they have a majority ownership position in our political system. That is the meaning of the banking plea bargain that the Obama administration is pressuring state attorneys general to negotiate with the titans of the financial world.

It is a sellout deal that, in return for a pittance of compensation by banks to ripped-off mortgage holders, would grant the banks blanket immunity from any prosecution. That is intended to short-circuit investigations by a score of aggressive state officials, inquiries that offer the public a last best hope to get to the bottom of the housing scandal that has cost US homeowners $6.6 trillion in home equity in the past five years and left 14.6 million Americans owing more than their homes are worth.


Yet the administration has rushed to the aid of the banks once again and is attempting to intimidate the few state attorneys general who have the gumption to protect the public interest they are sworn to serve. As Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times reported:

“Eric T. Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, has come under increasing pressure from the Obama administration to drop his opposition to a wide-ranging state settlement with banks over dubious foreclosure practices.…

I'm sickened. Totally sickened at what the President is reportedly preparing to do. But he'll not do it without a fight -- I hope it's clamorous on the part of us 99%ers! Here's a statement from Richard Trumka released today in response to the reports that Obama is about to indemnify these fraudsters......

January 23, 2012
4:11 PM

Statement by AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka on Possible Bank Mortgage and Foreclosure Fraud Settlement

WASHINGTON - January 23 - We need to hold banks accountable for the fraudulent practices that brought about the worst economic crisis since the Depression. State Attorneys General have been investigating bank fraud, and these critical investigations must not be undermined by a premature and inadequate settlement. We call on the administration to reject any deal that insulates banks from full responsibility.

It is critical that the Department of Justice lead a comprehensive investigation together with the state Attorneys General to prevent banks from engaging in future unlawful and deceptive practices that could exploit homeowners and put the economy further at risk.

We commend state Attorneys General like New York's Eric Schneiderman and Delaware's Beau Biden for their leadership and courage in calling for a real investigation and relief on a scale that helps the millions of homeowners who face a new wave of foreclosures.

The economy is currently weighed down by $750 billion in negative home equity, so relief on a massive scale is needed to lift home values and stimulate the economy by increasing consumer demand. A comprehensive settlement must force banks to write down underwater mortgages. A sum significantly larger than the rumored $25 billion is needed for the economy to grow and create jobs.

Specifically, the administration must stand strong against the big banks and insist on:

1) A full and thorough investigation into problems tied to the residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) market, and

2) A guaranteed minimum amount of money set aside for reducing the mortgage principal of "underwater" homeowners in key states impacted by the foreclosure crisis.

This is an opportunity for the administration to demonstrate leadership and show that it has the political will to do what's right for homeowners and right for our economy.

Romney Estimates 15 Percent Tax Rate as Rivals Hit Him on Taxes

Mitt Romney estimated he pays an effective tax rate of close to 15 percent and said he’d release further details in April if he clinches the Republican presidential nomination, as his rivals in the race crisscrossed South Carolina to prevent that from happening.


“I know that if I’m the nominee, people will want to see the most recent year,” Romney told reporters. Asked what effective tax rate he pays, he said, “It’s probably closer to the 15-percent rate than anything, because my last 10 years, my income comes overwhelmingly from investments made in the past, rather than ordinary income or earned annual income.

He also said: “I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away, and I know I get speakers’ fees from time to time, but not very much.

Romney earned almost $375,000 in speaking fees from Feb. 26, 2010 to Feb. 20, 2011, according to his personal financial disclosure. In that report, he reported between $190 million and $250 million in assets.

Source: Bloomberg Business Week

If that doesn't SHOUT 1% to voters, I don't know what will. Oh, the areas of vulnerability for this man as THE 2012 GOP candidate are legion! (Emphases above are mine.)

House to take up SOPA debate again next month

(Subheadline): Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary committee, said today he expects the debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) to resume sometime next month.

"To enact legislation that protects consumers, businesses and jobs from foreign thieves who steal America's intellectual property," Smith said in a statement. "We will continue to bring together industry representatives and [of members of Congress] to find ways to combat online piracy.

Smith suggested the debate in the House over the bill, which would speed up the legal process involved with getting an accused foreign-based pirate site taken offline, was due to "retreats" that members of Congress were scheduled to attend over the next two weeks.

Opponents of the bills claim SOPA and the Protect IP Act, similar legislation in the Senate, threaten free speech and innovation.

The irony of Smith's word choice will not be lost on critics of the bill. They will note that the only thing that has retreated over the past five days was support for the bills.

Source: CNET


I don't trust this "on hold" thing one bit. Look away everyone, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! Tomorrow's blackout will continue and, I hope, wake more people up to oppose SOPA/PIPA! Keep the pressure on -- I trust these assholes as much as I trusted George W. Moron's insistence we had to attack Iraq.

"Regulators keep falling down on the job, and keep getting rewarded for it by Wall Street" - Taibbi

Revolving Door: From Top Futures Regulator to Top Futures Lobbyist


While America focused on New Hampshire, a classic example of revolving-door politics took place in Washington, going almost completely unnoticed. It’s a move that ranks up there with the hire of Louisiana congressman Billy Tauzin to head the pharmaceutical lobbying conglomerate PhRMA -- at a salary of over $2 million a year -- immediately after Tauzin helped ram through the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill, a huge handout to the pharmaceutical industry.

In this case, the hire involves Walter Lukken, who toward the end of the Bush years was the acting head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. As the chief regulator of the commodities markets, it was Lukken’s job to spot and combat speculative abuses and manipulations that might have led to artificial price hikes and other disruptions.


By insisting that the spike was “not a result of manipulative forces,” Lukken helped Wall Street in its efforts to avoid reforms that might have prevented such abuses, like the closing of a series of loopholes and exemptions that allowed a handful of major speculators to play a lopsided role in the setting of commodity prices.

Lukken's reward? He'll now head the Futures Industry Association (FIA), which is the "chief lobbying arm of futures investors."


Obviously this kind of thing has been going on forever in Washington, but some revolving-door hires feel worse and more shameless than others, and this is one of those. But really it's the same old story: regulators keep falling down on the job, and keep getting rewarded for it by Wall Street, and nothing gets done about it.

I can't possibly do Taibbi's post justice in 4 paragraphs. This is a must read IMO.

Sadly, the revolving door that was supposed to at least slow down is just as bad as it had been under Bush, etc. As was quoted later in the piece, Mike Masters said this is the height of revolving door politics......“It’s not the revolving door. It’s the express elevator,” he says.

"Regulators keep falling down on the job, and keep getting rewarded for it by Wall Street, and nothing gets done about it."

Promises, promises. Sigh.

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