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To Kill (a) Medicare March 20, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Seniors.
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The House Republicans’ plan to end Medicare as we know it is coming back this week. Please take this opportunity to share information about this reckless plan with your friends and family.

The House GOP budget would fundamentally change Medicare from a single-payer plan that provides guaranteed benefits and coverage into a voucher plan designed to pay a portion of premiums to private insurance companies.

Representative Paul Ryan’s budget plan would so drastically change the way America’s seniors are provided health care coverage that it becomes a completely unrecognizable, inferior and dangerous program.

The Ryan plan essentially would revoke the guarantees that provide seniors and people with disabilities a specific set of benefits and services, replacing it with vouchers covering a portion of premiums to private insurance companies. If Republicans get rid of the guarantees to benefits and services, it will destroy the Medicare program that seniors have relied on for nearly 50 years. They talk about providing a traditional Medicare option at first, but the way they designed this guarantees it will soon fail and have to be eliminated.

We have paid into the Medicare system our entire working lives. Under the GOP’s plan, guaranteed coverage would be phased out over time. When we retire, whether that’s in 10 years or 40, we would be enrolling in a Medicare system based solely on private insurance companies.

Private insurers seek to maximize profits while minimizing costs. This leads to a health care system that wasn’t designed to ensure that seniors get quality care, but instead is designed to line the pockets of insurance company executives.

Click here to share information about this dangerous plan with your friends and family.

In the coming weeks we will send you more information about this attack on Medicare.

Best Wishes,

Will O’Neill Health Care for America Now


 

Dirty Deals on Social Security Likely to Succeed June 28, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
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Monday 27 June 2011
by: Jack Rasmus, Truthout         | News Analysis
         Jack Hartley, 58, at his home with his dog, Bouncer, in Fostoria, Ohio, September 3, 2010. Hartley, who works a 12-hour shift assembling tires, said he does not think he can last until age 66, when he will be eligible for full Social Security retirement benefits. (Photo: Stephen McGee / The New York Times)
The current offensive underway against Medicare by Paul Ryan and the House Republican majority is well known. Less well known is the somewhat hidden undermining of Medicare in the 2010 Obama health bill that will take effect in a few more years and cost retirees a significant increase in out-of-pocket costs and caps on benefits. In contrast to Medicare, Social Security retirement and disability programs were, according to the Washington political consensus, to be delayed from cuts until after the November 2012 elections. But there is new evidence that the growing coziness between Obama and mainstream Republicans, on the one hand, and corporate interests on the other is about to result in a new offensive against Social Security before the 2012 elections. What this means is that the “old age retirement” benefits fund as well as the “disability insurance” fund programs of Social Security are now, like Medicare, about to become prime targets for cuts in the 2012 budget this fall.

The assault on the disability fund is already well underway. Disability benefits administrative law judges, who decide on granting long-term disability benefits under Social Security, have recently come under intense attack for being “too generous” in granting permanent benefits to the disabled. The new offensive was initiated in the wake of a May 19 Wall Street Journal editorial attacking disability administrative judge, David Daugherty. In the wake of the Journal opening salvo, Republicans and Democrats in the House quickly joined forces calling for an investigation of disability benefits judges in general. In response to the House investigation, the offensive quickly turned even more aggressive. It has now taken on the character of a criminal probe. All this, no doubt, will have a “chilling effect” on decisions to grant benefits by judges. The cost cutting has already begun.

The disability benefits trust fund is a prime and easy target from which to attack Social Security across the board. The disability fund pays out $124 billion in benefits to 10.2 million in 2010. That’s a juicy cost-cutting plum.

Rumors abounded that Obama’s “golf summit” with House Majority Republican Leader John Boehner would discuss Social Security cuts as part of a larger “understanding” of broad federal budget cutting in the 2012 budget, starting next October. Obama is clearly willing to use Social Security as a bargaining chip now, instead of waiting for a second term.

Obama’s new “soft” position on Social Security in general was evident in his last December 2010 decision to reduce the payroll tax by 2 percent for workers. That resulted in more than $100 billion shortfall in revenue for Social Security this year alone, when the chronic jobless problem – 24 million still out of work – for three years now has already meant a major falloff in Social Security revenues for its various funds for the first time in decades. The 2 percent cut in the payroll tax was supposed to boost consumption, but it hasn’t. Estimates are that 60 percent of the 2 percent payroll tax cut last December has already been absorbed by oil companies to pay for $4 a gallon gasoline.

Not deterred by this fact, the Obama administration, nonetheless, in recent weeks has begun floating the idea of cutting the employers’ 6.2 percent share of the payroll tax, giving yet more income to business that has been sitting on a cash hoard of $2 trillion and not investing in the US and creating jobs. The logic of why corporations need still more cash from a payroll tax cut in order to invest is unconvincing. This second cut will drive the Social Security retirement and disability funds further in the red, making it even more convenient for those who argue for cuts now instead of after 2012.

With the imminent new offensive against Social Security “in the air,” groups like the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) last week did an about-face. AARP led the defense against Bush Jr.’s attempts to privatize Social Security last decade. Now, however, they are jumping on the cut Social Security retirement benefits bandwagon. As the Wall St. Journal recently gleefully noted, AARP “is dropping its long standing opposition to cutting Social Security benefits, a move that could rock Washington’s debate over how to revamp the nation’s entitlement programs.” Does anyone believe AARP hasn’t discussed this already with the Obama team, that some kind of new consensus to cut early and deep is being formed?

The most recent report by the Trustees of the Social Security program stated that the retirement benefits trust would run out of revenue to provide full benefits to retirees in 2038, when only 77 percent of benefit levels could be paid. The Medicare trust will run out of funds for full benefits earlier, in 2018.

The Obama-Republican-Corporate Solutions

Republicans, Obama and Corporate interests are proposing to “solve” the Social Security retirement/disability benefits and Medicare benefits problems with the following measures:

  1. Raise the retirement age to 70, which would cover 28 percent of the projected shortfall.
  2. Eliminate the annual cost-of-living benefit increases for retirement benefits, which would cover another 23 percent.
  3. Make new state and local government workers go into the Social Security system instead of receiving negotiated state-local pension plans, saving another 7 percent.
  4. Reduce benefits for middle-income retirees and significantly for higher income retirees, raising another 39 percent.

Those four measures would amount to 97 percent of the projected shortfall and make the retirement benefits trust fund “solvent” past mid-century.

For Medicare, their proposals are not to maintain benefits, but to reduce them by various measures while raising the costs for the reduced benefits. These include:

  1. Cap government payments while prices are allowed to rise. Or, as in the Ryan plan, give retirees vouchers to buy insurance that is “capped” as well while insurance rates rise.
  2. Raise the amount of monthly premiums by double or more. Currently, retirees must pay between $95-$115 for doctors’ costs coverage and an additional amount per month to cover only part of prescription drugs. Combined premiums will, thus, rise to $250-$300 per month. And that’s not counting higher deductibles and copays for doctors and drugs.

The Real Causes of the Social Security-Medicare Funding “Crisis”

The shortfall in the Social Security retirement benefits fund and disability fund are due first and foremost to the chronic lack of job creation and, thus, payroll tax revenue generation, for more than a decade now. Today, fewer are employed in the US than in 2000. The 2001 recession resulted in loss of jobs followed by weak job creation for the following four years. The 2007-11 recessions resulted in 24-27 million lost jobs and continuing weak job creation for more than three years now. These cyclical job losses were combined with chronic structural job losses at the same time: multinational corporations created three million jobs offshore and reduced 2.4 million jobs in the US. In addition, for those with jobs, wage gains have been lagging for a decade as well. That adds up to less payroll tax revenue as well. Then on top if it all, Obama cuts the payroll tax and is about to propose even more cuts in the payroll tax.

As for Medicare’s shortfall in funding, the problem has several dimensions. First, the same payroll tax of 1.45 percent for the employee and for employer is ridiculously low. Where else are 47 million recipients of medical care covered for so small a tax? The typical employer-provided health insurance in contrast costs more than 20-24 percent, the equivalent of a typical worker’s monthly paycheck. That’s ten times more expensive. And the benefit coverage is often far less. The other major problem with the Medicare fund’s shortfall is rising health insurance premiums and other health care costs for the past 15 years. And there’s no solution to rising health costs in Obama’s 2010 health care bill whatsoever.

Alternative Solutions to the Social Security-Medicare Funding “Crisis”

Solving either of the funding shortfalls, for Social Security retirement-disability or for Medicare, is not very difficult.

  1. Eliminate the current cap of $106,800 on earnings for the 12.4 percent. This would raise revenue to cover 86 percent of the projected shortfall for the next 75 years.
  2. Raise the payroll tax rate by 1 percent more, both for employee and employer, to 14.4 percent, in stages over the next 20 years. That would cover another 63 percent of the shortfall. That’s just under 150 percent of what is needed.
  3. Use the excess 50 percent funding to reduce the retirement age to 65 for everyone, instead of the current 67. That would open up more jobs for young workers, who are suffering the worst unemployment as more older workers are forced by economic conditions to continue working past 67 or are forced to re-enter the labor force just to pay their bills.
  4. The Medicare shortfall can be solved simply by raising the 2.9 percent Medicare payroll tax by 0.25 percent for workers and employers each for the next ten years, then another 0.25 percent each for the second decade. That’s  0.5 percent now and another 0.5 percent ten years from now.
  5. To sum up, what this amounts to is a simple 1 percent more each, employee and employer, for Social Security retirement, and another immediate 0.5 percent each for Medicare, applied to all “earned” incomes (wages and salary = “earned”). In short, make all earned incomes pay the same – and the so-called “great crisis” in entitlement funding disappears. These estimates, by the way, are from the Social Security administration’s own calculations.
  6. Better and simpler yet, make everyone pay the 14.4 percent and 3.4 percent, not just those “earning” wages and salaries. Make all forms of capital incomes (capital gains, dividends, interest, rents etc.) pay the 14.4 percent and 3.4 percent – and you not only solve the so-called “entitlement funding crisis” for the remainder of this century, but you have now raised enough revenue to pay for single-payer health care for all as well.

But you won’t hear these ideas and solutions coming off the “golf course summit” between Obama and Boehner this week.

Ayn Rand, Hugely Popular Author and Inspiration to Right-Wing Leaders, Was a Big Admirer of Serial Killer February 28, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Right Wing.
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Alan Greenspan with his heroine, Ayn Rand
 
 
 
Today her works treated as gospel by right-wing powerhouses like Alan Greenspan and Clarence Thomas, but Ayn Rand found early inspiration in 1920′s murderer William Hickman.
Mark Ames, www.alternet.org, February 26, 2010  |  
 

There’s something deeply unsettling about living in a country where millions of people froth at the mouth at the idea of giving health care to the tens of millions of Americans who don’t have it, or who take pleasure at the thought of privatizing and slashing bedrock social programs like Social Security or Medicare. It might not be as hard to stomach if other Western countries also had a large, vocal chunk of the population who thought like this, but the US is seemingly the only place where right-wing elites can openly share their distaste for the working poor. Where do they find their philosophical justification for this kind of attitude?

It turns out, you can trace much of this thinking back to Ayn Rand, a popular cult-philosopher who exerts a huge influence over much of the right-wing and libertarian crowd, but whose influence is only starting to spread out of the US.

One reason why most countries don’t find the time to embrace her thinking is that Ayn Rand is a textbook sociopath. Literally a sociopath: Ayn Rand, in her notebooks, worshiped a notorious serial murderer-dismemberer, and used this killer as an early model for the type of “ideal man” that Rand promoted in her more famous books — ideas which were later picked up on and put into play by major right-wing figures of the past half decade, including the key architects of America’s most recent economic catastrophe — former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and SEC Commissioner Chris Cox — along with other notable right-wing Republicans such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

The loudest of all the Republicans, right-wing attack-dog pundits and the Teabagger mobs fighting to kill health care reform and eviscerate “entitlement programs” increasingly hold up Ayn Rand as their guru. Sales of her books have soared in the past couple of years; one poll ranked “Atlas Shrugged” as the second most influential book of the 20th century, after The Bible.

So what, and who, was Ayn Rand for and against? The best way to get to the bottom of it is to take a look at how she developed the superhero of her novel, Atlas Shrugged, John Galt. Back in the late 1920s, as Ayn Rand was working out her philosophy, she became enthralled by a real-life American serial killer, William Edward Hickman, whose gruesome, sadistic dismemberment of 12-year-old girl named Marion Parker in 1927 shocked the nation. Rand filled her early notebooks with worshipful praise of Hickman. According to biographer Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market, Rand was so smitten by Hickman that she modeled her first literary creation — Danny Renahan, the protagonist of her unfinished first novel, The Little Street — on him.

What did Rand admire so much about Hickman? His sociopathic qualities: “Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should,” she wrote, gushing that Hickman had “no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel ‘other people.’”

This echoes almost word for word Rand’s later description of her character Howard Roark, the hero of her novel The Fountainhead: “He was born without the ability to consider others.”

The Fountainhead is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s favorite book — he even requires his clerks to read it.

I’ll get to where Rand picked up her silly Superman blather from later — but first, let’s meet William Hickman, the “genuinely beautiful soul” and inspiration to Ayn Rand. What you will read below — the real story, details included, of what made Hickman a “Superman” in Ayn Rand’s eyes — is extremely gory and upsetting, even if you’re well acquainted with true crime stories — so prepare yourself. But it’s necessary to read this to understand Rand, and to repeat this over and over until all of America understands what made her mind tick, because Rand’s influence over the very people leading the fight to kill social programs, and her ideological influence on so many powerful bankers, regulators and businessmen who brought the financial markets crashing down, means her ideas are affecting all of our lives in the worst way imaginable.

Rand fell for William Edward Hickman in the late 1920s, as the shocking story of Hickman’s crime started to grip the nation. His crime, trial and case was a non-stop headline grabber for months; the OJ Simpson of his day:

Hickman, who was only 19 when he was arrested for murder, was the son of a paranoid-schizophrenic mother and grandmother. His schoolmates said that as a kid Hickman liked to strangle cats and snap the necks of chickens for fun — most of the kids thought he was a budding manic, though the adults gave him good marks for behavior, a typical sign of sociopathic cunning. He enrolled in college but quickly dropped out, and quickly turned to violent crime largely driven by the thrill and arrogance typical of sociopaths: in a brief and wild crime spree that grew increasingly violent, Hickman knocked over dozens of gas stations and drug stores across the Midwest and west to California. Along the way it’s believed he strangled a girl in Milwaukee, and killed his crime partner’s grandfather in Pasadena, tossing his body over a bridge after taking his money. Hickman’s partner later told police that Hickman told him how much he’d like to kill and dismember a victim someday — and that day did come for Hickman.

One afternoon, Hickman drove up to Mount Vernon Junior High school in Los Angeles, and told administrators that he’d come to pick up “the Parker girl” — her father, Perry Parker, was a prominent banker. Hickman didn’t know the girl’s first name, so when he was asked which of the two Parker twins — Hickman answered, “the younger daughter.” And then he corrected himself: “The smaller one.” The school administrator fetched young Marion, and brought her out to Hickman. No one suspected his motive; Marion obediently followed Hickman to his car as she was told, where he promptly kidnapped her. He wrote a ransom note to Marian’s father, demanding $1,500 for her return, promising that the girl would be left unharmed. Marian was terrified into passivity — she even waited in the car for Hickman when he went to mail his letter to her father. Hickman’s extreme narcissism comes through in his ransom letters, as he refers to himself as a “master mind [sic]” and “not a common crook.” Hickman signed his letters “The Fox” because he admired his own cunning: “Fox is my name, very sly you know.” And then he threatened: “Get this straight. Your daughter’s life hangs by a thread.”

Hickman and the girl’s father exchanged letters over the next few days as they arranged the terms of the ransom, while Marion obediently followed her captor’s demands. She never tried to escape the hotel where he kept her; Hickman even took her to a movie, and she never screamed for help. She remained quiet and still as told when Hickman tied her to the chair — he didn’t even bother gagging her because there was no need to, right up to the gruesome end.

Hickman’s last ransom note to Marion’s father is where this story reaches its  disturbing: Hickman fills the letter with hurt anger over her father’s suggestion that Hickman might deceive him, and “ask you for your $1500 for a lifeless mass of flesh I am base and low but won’t stoop to that depth ” What Hickman didn’t say was that as he wrote the letter, Marion was already several chopped-up lifeless masses of flesh. Why taunt the father? Why feign outrage? This sort of bizarre taunting was all part of the serial killer’s thrill, maximizing the sadistic pleasure he got from knowing that he was deceiving the father before the father even knew what happened to his daughter. But this was nothing compared to the thrill Hickman got from murdering the helpless 12-year-old Marion Parker. Here is an old newspaper description of the murder, taken from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on December 27, 1927:

“It was while I was fixing the blindfold that the urge to murder came upon me,” he continued, “and I just couldn’t help myself. I got a towel and stepped up behind Marian. Then before she could move, I put it around her neck and twisted it tightly. I held on and she made no outcry except to gurgle. I held on for about two minutes, I guess, and then I let go. “When I cut loose the fastenings, she fell to the floor. “I knew she was dead. “Well, after she was dead I carried her body into the bathroom and undressed her, all but the underwear, and cut a hole in her throat with a pocket knife to let the blood out.”

Another newspaper account dryly explained what Hickman did next:

Then he took a pocket knife and cut a hole in her throat. Then he cut off each arm to the elbow. Then he cut her legs off at the knees. He put the limbs in a cabinet. He cut up the body in his room at the Bellevue Arms Apartments. Then he removed the clothing and cut the body through at the waist. He put it on a shelf in the dressing room. He placed a towel in the body to drain the blood. He wrapped up the exposed ends of the arms and waist with paper. He combed back her hair, powdered her face and then with a needle fixed her eyelids. He did this because he realized that he would lose the reward if he did not have the body to produce to her father.

Hickman packed her body, limbs and entrails into a car, and drove to the drop-off point to pick up his ransom; along his way he tossed out wrapped-up limbs and innards scattering them around Los Angeles. When he arrived at the meeting point, Hickman pulled Miriam’s head and torso out of a suitcase and propped her up, her torso wrapped tightly, to look like she was alive–he sewed wires into her eyelids to keep them open, so that she’d appear to be awake and alive. When Miriam’s father arrived, Hickman pointed a sawed-off shotgun at him, showed Miriam’s head with the eyes sewn open (it would have been hard to see for certain that she was dead), and then took the ransom money and sped away. As he sped away, he threw Miriam’s head and torso out of the car, and that’s when the father ran up and saw his daughter–and screamed.

This is the “amazing picture” Ayn Rand — guru to the Republican/Tea Party right-wing — admired when she wrote in her notebook that Hickman represented “the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul. Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.”

Other people don’t exist for Ayn, either. Part of her ideas are nothing more than a ditzy dilettante’s bastardized Nietzsche — but even this was plagiarized from the same pulp newspaper accounts of the time. According to an LA Times article in late December 1927, headlined “Behavioralism Gets The Blame,” a pastor and others close to the Hickman case denounce the cheap trendy Nietzschean ideas that Hickman and others latch onto as a defense:

“Behavioristic philosophic teachings of eminent philosophers such as Nietzsche and Schopenhauer have built the foundation for William Edward Hickman’s original rebellion against society,” the article begins.

The fear that some felt at the time was that these philosophers’ dangerous, yet nuanced ideas would fall into the hands of lesser minds, who would bastardize Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and poison the rest of us. Which aptly fits the description of Ayn Rand, whose philosophy developed out of her admiration for “Supermen” like Hickman. Rand’s philosophy can be summed up by the title of one of her best-known books: The Virtue of Selfishness. She argues that all selfishness is a moral good, and all altruism is a moral evil, even “moral cannibalism” to use her words. To her, those who aren’t like-minded sociopaths are “parasites” and “lice” and “looters.”

But with Rand, there’s something more pathological at work. She’s out to make the world more sociopath-friendly so that people like Ayn and her hero William Hickman can reach their full potential, not held back by the morality of the “weak,” whom Rand despised.

That’s what makes it so creepy how Rand and her followers clearly get off on hating and bashing those they perceived as weak–Rand and her followers have a kind of fetish for classifying weaker, poorer people as “parasites” and “lice” who need to swept away. This is exactly the sort of sadism, bashing the helpless for kicks, that Rand’s hero Hickman would have appreciated. What’s really unsettling is that even former Central Bank chief Alan Greenspan, whose relationship with Rand dated back to the 1950s, did some parasite-bashing of his own. In response to a 1958 New York Times book review slamming Atlas Shrugged, Greenspan, defending his mentor, published a letter to the editor that ends: “Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should. Alan Greenspan.”

As much as Ayn Rand detested human “parasites,” there is one thing she strongly believed in: creating conditions that increase the productivity of her Supermen – the William Hickmans who rule her idealized America: “If [people] place such things as friendship and family ties above their own productive work, yes, then they are immoral. Friendship, family life and human relationships are not primary in a man’s life. A man who places others first, above his own creative work, is an emotional parasite.”

And yet Republican faithful like GOP Congressman Paul Ryan read Ayn Rand and make declare, with pride, “Rand makes the best case for the morality of democratic capitalism.” Indeed. Except that Ayn Rand also despised democracy, as she declared: “Democracy, in short, is a form of collectivism, which denies individual rights: the majority can do whatever it wants with no restrictions. In principle, the democratic government is all-powerful. Democracy is a totalitarian manifestation; it is not a form of freedom.”

“Collectivism” is another one of those Randian epithets popular among her followers. Here for example is another Republican member of Congress, the one with the freaky thousand-yard-stare, Michelle Bachman, parroting the Ayn Rand ideological line, to explain her reasoning for wanting to kill social programs:

“As much as the collectivist says to each according to his ability to each according to his need, that’s not how mankind is wired. They want to make the best possible deal for themselves.”

Whenever you hear politicians or Tea Baggers dividing up the world between “producers” and “collectivism,” just know that those ideas and words more likely than not are derived from the deranged mind of a serial-killer groupie. When you hear them threaten to “Go John Galt,” hide your daughters and tell them not to talk to any strangers — or Tea Party Republicans. And when you see them taking their razor blades to the last remaining programs protecting the middle class from total abject destitution — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and brag about their plans to slash them for “moral” reasons, just remember Ayn’s morality and who inspired her.

Too many critics of Ayn Rand– until I was one of them — would rather dismiss her books and ideas as laughable, childish, hackneyed. But it can’t be dismissed because Rand is the name that keeps bubbling up from the Teabagger crowd and the elite conservative circuit in Washington as The Big Inspiration. The only way to protect ourselves from this thinking is the way you protect yourself from serial killers: smoke the Rand followers out, make them answer for following the crazed ideology of a serial-killer-groupie, and run them the hell out of town and out of our hemisphere.

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