Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bush Gets a "F"

Today, in an eighteen page press report, CBS released the results from its latest poll. It reveals George Bush is in deep trouble with the American people, who re-elected him fifteen months ago. It also shows some insight into the American mindset and habits.

CBS reports that even now 29% of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

President Bush’s approval rating of his handling of the war in Iraq has tumbled to 30% and only one in three Americans approve his overall job performance as our president.

Although the majority of Americans (76%) believe accidents like Dick Cheney’s shooting of a hunting partner is understandable, we are split (46% - 46%) on satisfaction with his answer. By the way, 88% of have not been hunting in the last 12 months.

More later.
The Tulsa World reports a 21 year-old Army soldier from nearby Skiatook, Oklahoma was killed in Iraq, just 2½ weeks after his deployment there. Meanwhile, Iraq slips into a civil war and my president seems to be fixated on some surreal outcome. Bush and his war council are completely out of touch with reality as their commander in Iraq reports that Iraqi army combat ready battalions have slipped from one to zero. The president’s poll numbers are at a record low of 34%.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Juan Cole says the Bush administration cannot even control the al-Qaeda operatives it has in prison! Much less the many walking around free because Bush wasted our resources on an Iraq War instead of polishing off al-Qaeda.
The Associated Press reports that Iraqi Interior forces have captured another top aide to al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi during a raid in western Iraq.

Now that leaves only 14,872 more to go.

My President

I realize everyone has jumped on this story, so let’s follow the time line on this UAE debacle.
  • February 11th – The Associated Press reveals that the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS) has approved the deal where a company owned by the UAE (Dubai Ports) will manage 6 seaports on our east coast. My president appointed the members to CFIUS. Funds supporting the 9/11 suicide attackers were routed through the UAE. The USS Cole was docked at a UAE port when it was attacked.
  • February 13th thru the 20th – Lawmakers from both parties, including Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer and GOP Rep. John Sweeney, call on Treasury Secretary John Snow and Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff to explain the deal publicly. Several governors along with members of the house and senate grumble to the press over this secret deal made by those who work for my president.
  • February 20th – Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says he will introduce legislation to delay the transaction if my president in the White House doesn't do so.
  • February 21st – My president said, "After careful review by our government, I believe the transaction ought to go forward," to reporters who had traveled with him on Air Force One to Washington. "I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company. I am trying to conduct foreign policy now by saying to the people of the world, `We'll treat you fairly.'" My president also threatened to veto any legislation that attempts to overturn the deal allowing a company owned by the UAE government to run some of our ports.
  • February 22nd – The White House PR people said my president was unaware of the pending sale of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports to a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates until the deal already had been approved by his administration. White House counselor Dan Bartlett said Wednesday the UAE company, Dubai Ports, "is a reputable firm that went through a congressionally approved vetting process." The only congressionally approved process was the law creating CFIUS, two decades ago. My president’s staff secretly required a company in the United Arab Emirates to cooperate with future U.S. investigations before approving its takeover of operations at six American ports, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. It chose not to impose other, routine restrictions.As part of the $6.8 billion purchase, state-owned Dubai Ports World agreed to reveal records on demand about "foreign operational direction" of its business at U.S. ports, the documents said. Those records broadly include details about the design, maintenance or operation of ports and equipment. My president’s staff did not require Dubai Ports to keep copies of business records on U.S. soil, where they would be subject to court orders. It also did not require the company to designate an American citizen to accommodate U.S. government requests. Outside legal experts said such obligations are routinely attached to U.S. approvals of foreign sales in other industries.
  • February 23rd – U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay said Wednesday that President Bush is making a big mistake backing a sale of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports to a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates. The former Republican majority leader said the administration's approval of the deal is "pretty outrageous.” We learned that back in September, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said the Treasury Department, as head of the interagency committee that reviews such deals, had used an overly narrow definition of national security threats because it wanted to encourage foreign investment. CNN reports that Bob Dole, former Senate majority leader and husband of Senator Elizabeth Dole has been hired to lobby for Dubai Ports. New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine files suit to stop the takeover.
  • February 24th – Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey who led the bipartisan probe of the Sept. 11 attacks, said the deal was a big mistake because of past connections between the 2001 hijackers and the UAE."It shouldn't have happened, it never should have happened," Kean said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. The quicker the Bush administration can get out of the deal, the better, he said. "There's no question that two of the 9/11 hijackers came from there and money was laundered through there," Kean said. My president backs down and agrees to a 45 day re-examination period of the Dubai Ports deal.
  • February 26th – Senate majority leader Bill Frist says, “Republicans trust my president and think his determination that the port deal doesn't threaten American security is "in all likelihood absolutely the right one." We learn that the Department of Homeland Security initially objected to the agreement, but was finally persuaded to sign off on the deal.

And finally this; My president’s men, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and even Treasury Secretary John Snow, who oversees the government committee that approved the deal, all say they did not know about the purchase until after it was finalized. The work was done mostly by assistant secretaries. These assistants apparently didn’t think this was important enough to brief their bosses and eventually, my president.

Steven Hadley, a spokesperson for my president, says there is no going back on the deal.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

The Fox and the Hen House

News reports this morning point out another corporate welfare scheme hidden in the Medicare Drug coverage Act. Big businesses are getting a $4 billion bribe from our government if they will continue to fund retirees prescription drug benefits. Never mind that these benefits are part of a contractual agreement with retirees.

Here’s the score on that onerous piece of legislation, so far.

  1. The president sold the bill claiming it would cost far less than the experts at the Center for Medicare and Medical Services (CMMS) claimed. As it turned out, the expert was threatened with his job if he spoke out discrediting the president’s figures. And wouldn’t you know, after the bill passed, all of a sudden, the president’s forecasts were too low after all. The White House now says the plan will cost $1.2 Trillion over the next decade; much higher than the president claimed in 2003 when the bill gained Congress’ approval by a narrow margin.
  2. Less than one fourth of the 22 million seniors and other people eligible have signed up for the prescription drug plan. Adding to the confusion and mistrust, there are over 1,000 different plans being foisted on seniors with drug stores, discount chains, and insurance companies all offering conflicting plans with different options. Once a retiree signs up with a plan, they’re stuck with it for a full year.
  3. The insurers, by the way, to their benefit, can change what drugs are covered and which are not, at any time. So, if Uncle Fred signs up for XYZ plan and three months later his provider drops coverage on his particular drug or drugs, Uncle Fred is SOL because he is required to stay with the plan until expiration date. Although it’s too soon to tell how often this will occur, it’s pretty unsettling for seniors to wonder if they’ll get caught in this trap.
  4. In their magnanimity, the president and Congress required the CMMS to buy the drugs at regular retail prices, as opposed to the volume price deal it negotiates for the Veterans Department and other agencies involved in healthcare. How’s this for simplicity:
    • First, the monthly premiums run about $32 per month. That’s around $384 per year for the premium. Then there’s the $250 annual deductible those insured pay before the Medicare plan takes effect.Next, beneficiaries pay 25% of the costs of the next $2,000 of drug expenses (beneficiary pays $500 of next $2,000 of drugs costs plus all of the first $250 of drug costs for a total of up to $750). Still with me?
    • After $2,250 of drug costs, there is no coverage until the beneficiary has paid another $2,850 worth of drug expenses (beneficiary pays up to $3,600 for up to $5,100 in drug costs)
    • Finally, catastrophic coverage begins after beneficiary has paid $3,600 of out-of-pocket expenses ($5,100 total drug costs). The beneficiary pays the greater of $2 for generic, $5 for brand name drugs, or 5 percent of the costs, whichever is greater.
Now tell me, how is a 78 year-old widow who lives alone, going to figure out what’s in her best interest?

I know whose best interest this travesty of justice legislation was intended. The bill should have been titled, “The Fox Guarding the Hen House Act.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Budget Three-Card Monte

Hidden among the entire furor over the Vice President’s secrecy about his shooting of a hunting companion, are further revelations about the President’s budget proposal for FY 2007. This budget proposes cutting $183 billion in funding fro domestic discretionary spending through 2011, the last year covered in the request. While the recommendations for FY2007 have received some attention, the cuts after FY2007 have received almost no attention because the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) failed to provide explicit information about the funding for discretionary programs after 2007. This information is critical in understanding the specific impact of this budget because most of the cuts proposed will start in FY2008 through FY2011, with minimal cuts in FY2007.

Fortunately, The Center for Policy and Priorities has assembled data from a host of administration documents and published a study highlighting these draconian cuts.

  1. The president wants to slice Veterans’ programs by a total of $10.3 billion over the next five years, with the cuts reaching 13 percent in 2011. These programs primarily provide health care to veterans and the Veterans Department excels in delivering health care to Veterans. These figures spotlight the callousness of the administration whereby they want to cut funding knowing the department will have to provide care for all those wounded and maimed in Iraq. This is disgraceful.
  2. Energy programs would receive one of the largest percentage reductions of any area of domestic discretionary programs; they would be cut 29 percent in 2011. Funding for these programs would be cut a total of $4.4 billion over five years. The programs in this area include research on alternatives to oil, energy conservation efforts, and emergency energy preparedness programs.
  3. Education and workforce development programs would be cut by 17 percent in 2011, and by $52.7 billion over five years. These programs include K-12 education, higher education, community college funding, job training, and other such programs.
  4. Health programs would be reduced by 13 percent, or $21.9 billion over five years. Programs include medical research at the National Institutes of Health, community health centers, and HIV/AIDS treatment funds.
  5. Similarly, income security programs would be cut by 13 percent, and by a total of $23.6 billion over five years. A wide range of programs is contained within this overall category, such as low-income housing assistance programs, child care assistance, low-income home energy assistance, and nutrition programs that serve low-income mothers and children and low-income elderly people.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Health Care Crisis in Oklahoma

The Oklahoma State Department of Health recently released it's State of the State Health Report. It’s a report card on the health of the citizens of the Sooner state and it’s not pretty.
  • In the country that has the highest poverty rate of any of the 25 established market economies; Oklahoma has the highest poverty rate in the country. There are 37 million Americans living in poverty, and over 500,000 of them live in Oklahoma.

  • In the country that has the highest percentage of citizens without access to healthcare of any of the 25 established market economies; Oklahoma has the highest percentage of its citizens without access to healthcare.

  • Oklahoma ranks 45th in the nation for expenditures for clinical prevention and public health and our country has the lowest percentage of spending on clinical prevention and public health of total dollars spent on health care of all the established market economies.

  • In September 2004, an interim report documented that the prevalence of key risk factors in our youth is worse than the nation. Without intervention, this report predicts a worse health status for Oklahomans in the future. The risk factors are:
    • Alcohol abuse leading to addiction.
    • Calorie addiction and physical inactivity leading to obesity.
    • Nicotine addiction resulting to chronic use of tobacco.
Here’s the kicker. The Oklahoma Health Department says, “Our health care system and our business community simply cannot sustain the rapidly increasing costs of poor health outcomes caused by obesity, tobacco use, lack of motorcycle helmet use, lack of immunizations, and lack of family planning services.”

The governor and Democratic leaders of both houses of the Legislature have made admirable proposals, but NONE address the risks defined in this report. Instead of heading off the health care calamity predicted by our own experts, our elected officials are talking about tax refunds and there is an initiative headed to the voters this fall (TABOR) that will tie the legislature’s hands to address this approaching health care crisis.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Déjà vu all over again.

Some things never change.

Today in an article in the New York Times reporters Steven Greenhouse and Michael Barbaro disclose that Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott has a private web site where he often talks tough with his managers in this secure electronic conference hall. Most revealing is an exchange where one of his managers as why Wal-Mart, the biggest company on earth can’t provide some type of health benefit to its retirees. Mr. Scott replied that to do so would place Wal-Mart at a competitive disadvantage, and then tartly implied the manager was disloyal and should go work for some other company.

Déjà vu all over again.

More than twenty years ago, when I lived close to Wal-Mart’s headquarters, my family was acquainted with another family headed by a man who had a management position with Wal-Mart, and worked out headquarters. At that time, I believe headquarters office hours were 7 AM till 6 PM, Monday through Friday and 8 AM till 1 PM on Saturday. It’s probably the same today. Anyway, the manager in question’s job required him to work away from home, leaving home early Monday morning, and returning late Friday night. He submitted a request through a suggestion box or process that he and other employees, who were away from home all week, every week, be excused from the Saturday morning meetings.

The word come down to him and those who were his subordinates was that if you didn’t think your job was important enough to attend the meetings, then they should find other employment. This guy, like hundreds then and thousands now, hated his job but was addicted to the money. He was right where the company wanted him. And now Scott uses the same threat to another manager, this time about retiree’s health-care!

CORPORATION, n: An ingenious device for extracting individual profit without individual responsibility. -- Ambrose Bierce, 19th century writer.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

HSA Questions

Yesterday, President Bush went to the headquarters of Wendy’s, the fast food franchisor, in Dublin Ohio, to tout his Health Savings Account (HSA) proposal. Basically, the legislative proposal Bush wants Congress to pass would grant a tax deduction for money individuals put into a HSA and buy a high deductible medical insurance policy. Bush claims HSAs are the way people without company sponsored health coverage can get affordable coverage. His visit to Wendy’s was calculated to create the impression that all fast-food workers could benefit from HSAs because about 20% of their employees have been enrolled in a HAS plan, and Wendy’s is also a staunch Republican ally.

President Bush’s budget includes $156 billion in tax cuts over the next ten years (2007-16) to promote Health Savings Accounts and associated high-deductible insurance, with the large majority of this money going to more affluent households. This is slightly larger than the $133 billion in tax cuts for health care that the President proposed in last year’s budget. But this modest increase masks a more fundamental change in the President’s priorities.

The President has dramatically scaled back last year’s proposal to provide refundable tax credits to low- and moderate-income families to purchase health insurance in the individual market. While that proposal was flawed and would not have done much to reduce the number of uninsured, cutting the proposed resources that would be directed toward low and moderate-income families signals a disturbing shift in the Administration’s health care priorities. The Administration has reduced the cost of the health tax credit targeted on low- and moderate-income families from $77 billion over five years in last year’s budget to $24 billion over five years in its new budget. At the same time, the Administration is now proposing $132 billion in HSA-related health tax breaks that would go disproportionately to affluent households, as compared to $31 billion in such tax breaks in last year’s budget. In other words, the size of the health tax proposal for lower-income households has been scaled back by two-thirds from last year, while the health tax proposals disproportionately benefiting high income households have more than quadrupled in size.

Here’s just one example; under current law, individuals who enroll in high-deductible health plans (at least $1,050 for individuals or $2,100 for families) can contribute to a HSA. Contributions to HSAs are tax deductible, earnings on the HSA accounts accumulate tax free, and withdrawals from the accounts are tax free if used for qualified medical expenses. In his budget proposal, Bush wants to increase the tax free maximum deposits into HSAs to $5,250 for an individual and $10,500 for a couple or family and to give tax subsidies for the high deductible insurance policies.

Just how many people flipping burgers at Wendy’s can set aside $5,250 into a HSA? How many single moms working at Wal-Mart can put $10,500 in a HSA?

Who is this deduction actually for?

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Valentine from Darth

Finally, after 40 years and 5 draft deferments, Vice President Darth Cheney gets combat experience. Saturday, he shot a 78 year-old lawyer with a .28 gauge shotgun at pretty close range. The men were on a hunting trip at a private ranch in South Texas. The victim, Harry Whittington had wounds to his face, neck, and torso. He was placed in ICU at a Corpus Christi Hospital, Saturday afternoon.

Now I know a lot of people don’t have a high opinion of lawyers in general, but they are pretty harmless by the time they’re close to being 80 years-old. Cheney was either extremely vengeful or arrogantly careless in shooting the old guy. To compound the abuse of his position, Cheney hid the accident from the press until the next afternoon. One of his mouthpieces, Mary Matlin came to Cheney's rescue to blame the innocent elderly hunter who got a face and torso full of buckshot. She said Cheney "was not careless or incautious . . . He didn't do anything he wasn't supposed to do." She never explained if that statement asserted the Veep was "Supposed to" shoot Whittington or that Cheney has the right to shoot any fellow hunters.

Was the elderly wounded man supposed to read Cheney’s mind and know he was going to whirl 180 degrees and fire at a covey of quail, regardless of who was in his line of fire? The wounded hunter was wearing one of those ‘orange’ vests, by the way. We should have known that Cheney is color-blind . . . remember Hurricane Katrina?

Tom Joyner, host of a syndicated morning radio show said it best, reciting a Dick Cheney Valentine poem.
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Disagree with me,
And I’ll shoot you, too.

Small comfort to Harry Whittington, who had a heart attack this afternoon as a direct result of the gunshot he suffered at the hands of our Vice President.

Who's next, Michael Moore?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Free Muni Wi-Fi

Dallas, TX recently announced it was going to roll out free Wi-Fi in all libraries and about a dozen parks, by the end of the year. What a great idea!

Smaller cities around the country are either rolling free Wi-Fi out to their citizens or a monetized version of civic Wi-Fi. Some locales in the San Francisco bay area are also doing some interesting things with civic WiFi.

To my knowledge, Dallas' entry is the first in a huge red state city with so many corporate entities close at hand. SBC is headquarted in San Antonio.

Attention: Mayoral candidates, this is a great issue to attract younger supporters and voters to you campaign. Free Wi-Fi in all Tulsa parks . . . I'd vote for that! OSU Tulsa already provides it for it's students.

In your face, Cox.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

GM and Buggy Whips

Governor Brad Henry (D) announced Saturday that General Motors officials have asked for a meeting with his administration to discuss his "eye-popping," proposal to keep the Oklahoma City plant operating. General Motors started to end production at the plant last Monday. This shutdown will throw 2,200 GM employees at the plant, out of work.

The governor’s proposal includes further concessions from union workers and a $200 million bond issue to pay for re-tooling the plant. The bond issue equals about $91,000 per effected employee. Governor Henry’s proposal is really short-sighted because neither Ford nor GM will admit the basic problem of the US auto industry. As a result, GM will ultimately shut down the OKC plant . . . either this month, or when they can’t squeeze any more money out of Henry and the Oklahoma Legislature.

The decline of the fortunes of GM, Ford, and to a lesser extent, Chrysler is not cost related. Look around and see if Toyota, Honda, and Nissan are undercutting prices. They’re not. It’s a matter of sales volume, not an unfair cost advantage of the foreign car makers. Foreign car makers pay workers in their US plants as much or more than their US counterparts. Car buyers in the US want other brands more than they want Chevrolets, Pontiacs, and Buicks; Fords, Mercurys, and Lincolns. That’s the fact and no amount of plant closings is going to change that. Changes have to be made at the top of the companies. Closing plants isn’t the fix.

The US car makers got drunk on SUVs and addicted to short term profits. They refused to look long term and make other vehicles the public actually wants. That is why Ford now has the smallest market share since 1921 and GM is laying off more than 30,000 workers in the US.

Maybe GM should consider making buggy whips, their mind set seems applicable.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Sweet Irony

Oh boy, how ironic!  The cable and telco guys have been hollering about how they need to charge internet content providers a premium above regular access fees and want internet users to pay ala carte fees in addition to subscription fees.  In a new report, the FCC says that consumers would be better served if their TV offerings were ala carte instead of paying for a bundle of 30 channels of so, to watch only 2 of interest.  The cable guys are howling. . .saying they can’t do that because they have to buy programming in blocks to support the small content providers like Discovery Home and Nick 2.  

So the cable monoliths want it one way for the Internet and the opposite for TV.  Oh, by the way, super speedy broadband (7 times faster than our DSL) costs $30 per month in Japan.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Tune In, Don't Drop Out

Yesterday, I took part in a face-to-face lobbying effort with Richard Hedgecock, Rep. John Sullivan’s (R-Okla. 1st) chief of staff. There were 7 of us recruited by Common Cause to present the consumer side to Sullivan, as Congress tries to re-visit the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The basic issue is; the telcos and cable providers want to get out from under any kind of regulation from federal, state and local government and advocates of the common good of consumers want to pay for access without restraints and to stymie the greedy attempts of that industry to extort new fees and surcharges from internet content providers. We call it “Network Neutrality.” The communications industry wants to have the right to charge for or block access to their networks, to any content provider. Just last year, Comcast, a cable internet service provider (ISP), prevented their subscribers from accessing the Downing Street Memo site for purely political considerations. Inherent in this power grab is the right to block emails to or from persons or entities and charge subscribers extra for emails to or from “designated” addresses.

It’s like the power company demanding the right to tell you and me what brand of toaster, microwave, or TV you and I can plug into the electrical outlet, just because they’ve been granted a franchise from a local governmental authority to provide electricity to our neighborhood.

Compounding all this, are rulings made by the FCC in 2002 that said in effect that phone companies are regulated as common carriers and cable companies are information providers. Here's a great article in the Nation Magazine about the peril we face.

Stay tuned.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

All Surrey, No Fringe.

Brad Henry, Governor of Oklahoma laid out a fairly progressive agenda in his State of the State speech yesterday. The pressing issues of financing the Department of Corrections, and roads and bridges, should get bi-partisan support.

The majority leader of the house, Todd Hiett (R-Kellyville) claims to have found $115 million in waste and inefficiencies in the Medicaid program, but has yet to publish the report.

US Rep. Earnest (Skybox) Istook (R-Okla 5th) is mounting his campaign against the popular Henry by blasting the Governor’s budget proposals claming it would create more government bureaucrats and swell state government instead of promoting the private sector. That’s code for ‘tort reform.”

Already, the lines are being drawn in the gubernatorial race. Gov. Henry's program begins with the basic assumption that we are all in this together and the government can foster the 'villiage' by providing infrastructure and a hand up to the least of our citizens. Istook obviously believes it's 'everyone for themselves' and you better get outta his way!

We'll see this fall, whether Oklahomans will abandon their Good Samaritan nature and fall for Istook's selfish worldview.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Chicken Hawks and Iran

Today, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld echoed President Bush saying, "All options, including the military one, are on the table," in an interview published in today's edition of the German financial newspaper, Handelsblatt. So now we’ve got a consistent plan to “rattle sabers” at Iran, and that scares me big time. The Russians foreign minister fired back that, ". . . it is important not to make guesses about what will happen and even more important not to make threats," I’m starting to get flashbacks of “Dr. Strangelove and How I Came to Love the Bomb.”

I don’t have any capital letters after my name and no diplomatic experience representing our country, but I can not see any positive outcomes for the track that Bu$hCo is following with Iran. Our government seems to want to go to war in the Middle East in spite of the fact that both the Iraqi and now Iranian issues could and can be positively resolved with patience and resolve.

Let’s look at some facts about Iran. We know, for instance that two-thirds of the Iranian population is under the age of 30. We know that this population is well educated and were getting frustrated with the ruling theocracy back before 2000. Most of the citizens of Iran had a positive impression of the US. Iran has huge oil reserves and is strategically located in the middle-east. We also know that the government of Iran has and does support organizations like Hamas and Huzballah, both organizations who have used terror as a political weapon.

In an earlier State of the Union speech, President Bush indicted Iran as part of his “axis of evil.” This seemed to me as an abrupt change in our position on Iran. We have not had formal diplomatic relations with Iran since the embassy take-over and the fall of the Shah, back in the seventies. Nevertheless, we’ve had on-going contacts facilitated by an ally with formal diplomatic ties with Iran and our press had reported the growing affinity the Iranian people felt toward the US and growing demonstrations there for more freedom. When those words left the lips of George Bush back in 2002, he destroyed any amicable feelings the people of Iran may have held toward the US.

In a classic display of unintended consequences, George Bush has made the ruling mullahs of Iran, stronger, not weaker and by his action has forced the reluctant population into the arms of the radical theocrats who run the country. They elected a radical fundamentalists president, when in the past, the trend was toward more moderate government leaders.

When we invaded Iraq, the Iranian rulers, after being labeled, “axis of evil,” sought to restart their nuclear development under the guise of peaceful power production. Our administration started publicly berating the Iranians instead of quietly seeking some mutually agreeable solution. So here we are now. . . .beating the drums of war against Iran, rather than seeking the councils of peace and understanding.

I fear the Bush chicken hawks will lead us down the same stupid, cruel, and ultimately destructive course that has led to the quagmire in Iraq. As they destroy our reputation abroad, we will never be the same here on our own soil.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Truthiness About Tax Breaks

In a January 6th speech to the Economic Club of Chicago, the President stated: “American families all across this country have benefited from the tax cuts on dividends and capital gains. Half of American households — that’s more than 50 million households — now have some investment in the stock market.”

This statement and similar claims paint a distorted picture, however, of who is benefiting from these tax cuts; the benefits are overwhelmingly go to those with the highest incomes.

For instance, nearly two-fifths of this stock the President mentions, is held in retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s and IRAs. The capital gains and dividend income accruing inside these retirement accounts is not taxed, and wouldn’t get a tax benefit from reducing the tax rates on capital gains and dividend income

Only 17 percent of households in the bottom 60 percent of the income spectrum own stock in taxable accounts, as opposed to 73 percent of the households in the top 10 percent of the income bracket own stock in taxable accounts. Among those at the very top of the income bracket —the top one percent — 84 percent own stock in taxable accounts.

For those households in the bottom 60 percent of the population that have any taxable stock, the average value of the holding is about $52,000 (in 2001 dollars). The average value is nearly $2 million for those in the top one percent of households. The bottom 60 percent group owns only 9 percent of all taxable stock. The top 10 percent owns 70 percent of all taxable stock. The top one percent owns almost 30 percent of all taxable stock.

Another ‘truthiness’ statement the President’s supporters claim is that the majority of those with capital gains and dividend income have incomes of less than $100,000. This is true, but only because those with incomes below $100,000 comprise the vast majority — 86 percent —of all U.S. households. What these proponents don’t say is; those with incomes under $100,000 who receive any capital gains or dividend income are miniscule in number.

More than half of all capital gains and dividend income goes to the 0.2 percent of households with annual incomes over $1 million. More than three-quarters of this income goes to those households with income over $200,000, which account for about 3 percent of all households. In contrast, only 11 percent of capital gains and dividend income goes to the 86 percent of households with incomes of less than $100,000. Only 4 percent of this income flows to the 64 percent of households that have income of less than $50,000.

These statistics, found at The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, confirm the conclusion of many, that the tax reductions passed by congress during the last four years, has not helped the economy at all. It has lined the pockets of the ultra rich political donor class.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

C & C in Tulsa

Cronyism and corruption reached another level in Tulsa as The Tulsa Real Estate Coalition announced they were not going to invite their arch enemy, Councilor Chris Medlock to participate in their mayoral debate next week. Medlock, a Republican, is running against incumbent mayor Bill LaFortune and County Commissioner Randi Miller for their party’s nod.

The Tulsa Real Estate Coalition is an alliance of the Greater Tulsa Association of Realtors, the Home Builders Association, and the Associated Builders and Contractors. These are the same groups who banded together last year in a failed attempt to recall Councilor Medlock along with Councilor Jim Mautino. It seems that these two councilors had the audacity to question the wisdom of some of the city’s zoning and planning decisions and scrutinize the development deals during council meetings. These same groups were involved another ill-fated political coup; this one was to re-arrange the council representation more tom their liking.

I’m not a fan or supporter of Medlock, but this action by these Abramoff look-a-likes is pretty crude retribution. The coalition chairman said there were twelve candidates in mayoral race and the coalition could only hear from those who could receive an endorsement from the coalition.

It’s their right, but it sure shows their stripes for everyone to see. And I’m not talking about red, white, and blue stripes, either.

Hopefully, the good citizens of Tulsa will repudiate these shenanigans and elect a mayor loyal to the people. Don McCorkell comes to mind.

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Irrational Folly

I hope we all understand and grasp the significance of the President’s 2007 budget request for the Iraqi occupation. The 2007 budget is for the period October 1, 2006 through September 30, 2007. The Pentagon is requesting $120 BILLION. That’s $10 billion per month or about $329 million per day. To put this in perspective, the state of Oklahoma will spend $5.9 billion in the whole fiscal year of 2006. This is slightly more than half of what the Pentagon will spend for the occupation in just one month.

Let’s look at this obligation the administration is putting on our Chinese credit card, from another prospective. There are around 25 million people in Iraq. What if we gave each one of them an equal share of the $120 billion and just got the hell out of Iraq; each Iraqi man, woman, and child would receive $4,800 from Uncle Sam.

As of today, we’ve spent $238 billion to conquer and occupy Iraq. That’s $800 for every person living in the USA, or $9,560 for every person in Iraq.

Worse of all, it’s caused the untimely deaths of 2248 of our fine military personnel and horrendous injuries to more than 16,600 of these brave souls. Bush says 30,000 Iraqis have been killed since our invasion began.

Rumsfeld didn’t include the projection of deaths and injuries in this latest war plan budget.

What will be the ultimate cost to this irrational folly?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Ford Meets Reality

A friend of mine recently bought Ford Motor Company stock and we got into a discussion about Ford and the US auto makers as a whole.  We came to different conclusions.

My friend believes the demise of the US auto makers has been caused by the unions continued escalation of wage and benefit demands pricing their cars out of the market.  He also states that the foreign car companies, who have plants here, don’t have this albatross dangling from their necks.  His purchase of Ford stock was based on the assumption that the stock couldn’t go much lower, which is probably true.

On the other hand, I said that the demise of GM and Ford were primarily driven by their short term greed and lack of long term vision.  Ford, for example has lost market share every year for the last ten years.  As this happened, over capacity in manufacturing naturally occurs.  If you sell less cars every year for ten years, you sure don’t need the plants and people you started out with a decade ago.  Something has to give – either you create more sales or you shut down plants and layoff people.  Even the pleas and bribes offered to GM by Oklahoma’s governor won’t work.  Reality is indelible.

Ford has been the worse in creating cars that folks want to buy.  Aside from trucks and SUVs, Ford’s product line is lack-luster.  You can’t blame that on the UAW and other unions.

The foreign auto makers deal with the same challenges as do Ford and GM, namely building cars the public wants and keeping prices in line.  I did a cursory check and found that the foreign manufacturers have no advantage in terms of labor costs.  They are more productive per man hour and their cars are more attractive to the public.

Did I mention my friend drives a Toyota?