29 November 2012

Bernie Sanders and Bill Moyers Discuss Solutions for America / Iran's Nuclear Aspirations / Extending Middle Class Tax Cuts for 98% of Americans and 97% of Small Businesses

On “Moyers & Company,” Bill Moyers talked with Bernie Sanders about the pressing issues facing the United States including the wealth and income gap, the disappearance of the middle class, attacks on Social Security, and the influence of big-money interests in American politics.

In the clip below, Sanders describes how “dialing for dollars” distorts our leaders’ perspectives on who they’re actually representing, and how money’s influence is transforming both our politics and society.

“You’re looking at a nation with a grotesquely unequal distribution of wealth and income, tremendous economic power on Wall Street, and now added to all of that is big money interests -- the billionaires and corporations now buying elections,” Sanders told Moyers.

“I fear very much that if we don’t turn this around, we’re heading toward an oligarchic form of society.”


Reuters reports Iran will continue to "press on with enrichment" certainly raising concerns in the US and Israel and providing additional fodder to the war mongers.

But Iran still contends that their enrichment is for nuclear power and despite claims by the Associated Press to the contrary Iran is attempting to work with IAEA inspectors.

Yet the US continues to contend that Iran has failed to cooperate with IAEA inspectors.  The US has now set a March deadline "for Iran to start cooperating in substance with a U.N. nuclear agency investigation, warning Tehran the issue may otherwise be referred to the U.N. Security Council."

It remains unclear just exactly the US would push for beyond the already devastating sanctions that are in place.  The US military has clearly demonstrated through simulation after simulation that war with Iran would be disastrous.

The only real solution that has not been tested since the fall of the Shah is a reestablishment diplomatic relations.  It may be that through diplomacy and compromise lies the only path to peace.

Perhaps "diplomacy" and "compromise" will become the next members of an axis of evil for lawmakers in D.C. who seem ready to push their own country off a cliff.  Compromise with Iran, legislators can't even compromise with Americans.


From The White House Blog, an entry by Amy Brundage:

Countering Claims That The President’s Tax Proposals Would Hit Small Business
  • First, even under the GOP’s own flawed definition of small business, approximately 97% of taxpayers with small business income would be completely unaffected by the President’s plan: According to estimates by Tax Policy Center, about 97% of taxpayers reporting business income would not be impacted by the President’s tax proposals -- which only affect those earning over $250,000.  This has been confirmed by the independent Congressional Research Service, which concluded that “only a small fraction of businesses will be affected [by allowing the temporary income tax cuts to expire for people earning over $250,000 a year], around 2% to 3%.” 
  • Second, what Congressional Republicans Define as “Small Businesses” Include Millionaires and Billionaires, Law Partners, Hedge Fund Managers, and Passive Investors. Congressional Republicans define as small businesses any individual who receives “small business income”. Under this definition:
    • Over half of the 400 Highest Earners in the United States Would Be “Small Businesses”: According to IRS data, in 2009, among the 400 taxpayers with the highest adjusted gross income – group that averages over $200 million each in taxable income – at least 237 would have qualified as “small businesses” under this definition.
    • Hedge Fund Managers and Law Firm Partners are “Small Businesses”: It counts any type of partnership income, proprietor income, or S corporation income as “small business” income. That includes:
      • income received by partners in law firms – each and every one of whom would be considered a “small business” under this definition
      • income received by partners in hedge funds – each and every one of whom would be considered a “small business” under this definition
      • passive income on investments
      • income from renting out a property like a vacation home.
    • This is why, last time Republican Congressional Leaders tried this argument they couldn’t produce one so called “small business job creator.” Last fall, when the GOP was blocking measures of the American Jobs Act that could have supported over a million additional jobs; they argued that asking millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share would hurt “small business job creators.”  But after pressed by independent media outlets such as National Public Radio, Republicans in Congress and their wealthy allies could not produce a single millionaire job creator for NPR to interview. [LINK]
  • Third, in contrast to the President’s small business proposals, which would encourage and directly reward new hiring and investment, the GOP’s so called “small business” tax proposal could actually discourage firms from creating jobs or making new investments this year, while giving away tens of billions of dollars to millionaires and billionaires. The legislation sponsored by Majority Leader Cantor and passed by the House of Representatives provides across-the-board tax cuts (a 20 percent deduction) on qualified “small business” income for firms with fewer than 500 workers – including well-compensated hedge fund managers and law firm partners, and even to companies that are actively laying off workers or cutting wages.
    • In some cases this proposal actually encourages postponing new hires and investments. Because new employees and expenses are deducted from this year’s taxable income, for some companies the decision to expand payrolls and invest in their businesses can actually translate into their receiving a smaller tax benefit under the Republican’s proposal.
    • In addition, the benefits are dramatically skewed - half of the $46 billion cost goes to those making more than $1 million, translating into an average tax cut of $45,000 for those millionaires.
    • The biggest beneficiaries are not small businesses making investments and creating jobs, but rather the very wealthiest Americans - like law partners and investment managers, the so called “small business job creators” Republicans in Congress claim would be hurt by the President’s position.
 And from NPR's desk about Mr. Boehner's claims that "Raising taxes on the so-called top 2 percent, half of those taxpayers are small business owners that pay their taxes through their personal income, tax filing every year."

Turns out there's not much credence to it.  Listen to the story here.

21 November 2012

The Affordable Care Act: Back to Reality

Nine Republican Wisconsin State legislators are threatening to arrest any federal officials who try to implement a federal health insurance exchange in the state.  This development prompted the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial staff to declare, "What's next: Firing on Fort Sumter?"

Evidently that's just what the next step is intended to be.  Yet even ultra-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia knows better.  "There is no right to secede," Scalia recently wrote.

Gov. Walker finally announced his administration will not be presiding over the implementation of a health exchange for Wisconsin because for one he's against it and two it will cost Wisconsinites too much.  The specific details on how the exchange would cost Wisconsin more than not having them is unclear and diametrically opposed to what the intention of the exchanges is designed to be.  The exchanges are supposed to be designed to save buyers of insurance money by providing more choices to access.

Similar exchanges are currently used by public employees through the Employee Trust Fund (ETF) in Wisconsin. Through the ETF, public employees choose an insurance plan that fits their needs and based on the contributions they would like to make.

It seems obvious that all citizens of Wisconsin should have access to a similar exchange. 

While concern over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is understandable given the nation's inherent distrust of monarchical rule, the ACA is anything but a government takeover of health care.  In fact it is more or less a buy-in to private insurers.

A look at the finer points of the law clearly illustrate how the whole framework of the law is based on conservative and capitalist notions including the provision that everyone buys in.  The so-called individual mandate holds every citizen responsible for his/her own health insurance.  The individual mandate is an attempt to stop people from not purchasing insurance only to show up sick in an emergency room with no way of paying for care.

Although many people may dread the idea of being encouraged toward buying health insurance in lieu of a cash penalty, the people who shouldn't be complaining about the individual mandate are those who agreed with Mitt Romney that there are certain people who don't pay for services.  Likewise, emergency room professionals know all too well the sheer numbers of people who carry no insurance yet expect emergency care.  The ACA's individual mandate hopes to lessen that problem which in turn could lower health care costs.

Below I've tried to highlight some key provisions in the ACA:

Stage 1 (in effect now)
• Outlaws worst health insurance abuses including denials based on preexisting conditions for children (adults in 2014).
• New standards for insurance, such as allowing young adults to stay on parents policies until they are 26.

Stage 2 (goes into effect 2014)
• Expand BadgerCare (Medicaid) to almost all low income Wisconsinites.
• Create competitive health marketplace to guarantee coverage to everyone who does not have good insurance at work.
• Require Members of Congress to buy the same plans offered to everyone else in the new marketplace.
• Strengthen Medicare for Seniors.

 Stage 1 Reforms:
Insurance Practices Outlawed now under the Affordable Care Act
• Preexisting condition exclusions (kids now/everyone in 2014) (see below for a list of preexisting conditions)
• Lifetime limits
• Dropping coverage after a person gets sick
• Excessive insurance industry profits and overhead (80-85% of your premium dollars must be spent on medical care, not profits)

The Affordable Care Act guarantees
• Preventive care coverage (ex: Mammograms, checkups, etc) with no cost sharing (co-pays, deductibles, etc)
• Young adults can stay on parents policies until age 26
• Preventive care without cost sharing for seniors on Medicare

Health insurance companies hold the right to deny any coverage for people who may have been diagnosed under previous care with any one of the following medical conditions.  These are called Preexisting Conditions and this list is not exhaustive:
• Diabetes
• Arthritis
• Heart Disease
• Obesity
• Asthma
• Cancer
• Stroke
• High Blood Pressure
• Hypertension
• Stress disorders
• High cholesterol
• Kidney disease
• Alcohol and drug abuse
• Hepatitis
• Adjustment disorders
• Alzheimer’s
• Angina (Chest Pain)
• Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
• Pancreatitis
• Dermatomyositis
• Emotional disturbances
• Emphysema (Lung disease)
• Major organ transplant

Sami’s Story
“My 7-year-old son, Sami, suffers from a disease that causes tumors to grow all over his body. Sami’s treatments could not continue if we hit our insurance policy’s life time limit. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer impose lifetime limits or deny health coverage to children like Sami with preexisting conditions. We can’t go back to being on our own against the insurance companies.”
--Tracy, Appleton, Wisconsin

Remy’s Story
“I own a small café. Over 20 years ago I beat cancer, but ever since then no insurance company would sell me a policy because my cancer is called a preexisting condition. Starting in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act, no insurance company will be allowed to discriminate against me because I’m a cancer survivor.”
--Remy, Pepin, Wisconsin  

01 November 2012

Are sanctions on Iran targeted at the Iranian regime and nuclear program?

Fact:  While many sanctions measures are at least nominally aimed at the Iranian government and its nuclear program, the sanctions on Iran are deeply affecting the Iranian people.

Despite exemptions from sanctions for licensed imports of medical supplies, financial restrictions are causing significant shortages in critical medicines:
Sanctions aimed at Iran’s entire economy and banking sector have led to a rapid devaluation of Iran’s currency, increased already high levels of inflation, contributed to growing unemployment and are punishing the middle class and Iran’s opposition.
Iran has been affected by unprecedented levels of air pollution since U.S. sanctions on providing Iran refined gasoline went into effect, requiring Iranians to use more polluting alternatives that have a deleterious effect on the health on the Iranian population.
  • New York Times: “Officials ordered at least five of the country’s major petrochemical plants to switch production to gasoline. According to e-mails circulated to industry experts and reproduced on unofficial news sites and blogs, Iran’s new supply of domestic gasoline may contain high levels of aromatics — more than twice the level permitted by Iranian law. Burning aromatics in car engines produces exhaust packed with high concentrations of “floating particles” or “particulates” that, added to the typical smog caused by nitrous oxides and ozone, can cause a range of health problems, from headaches and dizziness to more serious cardiac and respiratory complaints.” (New York Times, Energy Policy in Iran Leaves Many Gasping; December 21, 2010)
  • LA Times: Gas stations are selling three types of fuel: gasoline produced at petrochemical plants; with the additive MTBE; and normal fuel produced at refineries… the fuel with MTBE is considered carcinogenic in Europe. (LA Times, Iran: Experts suggest sanctions are tied to staggering pollution levels; December 7, 2010)
  • New York Times: “An official in Tehran’s municipal government leaked Health Ministry statistics for pollution-related deaths on his personal Web site — more than 3,600 in the first nine months of the Iranian calendar year— figures that until now had never been released to the Iranian public.” (New York Times, Energy Policy in Iran Leaves Many Gasping; December 21, 2010)
US sanctions on spare parts for Iran’s civilian aircraft have led to a series of tragic and avoidable accidents.
  • New York Times: “The sanctions have prevented oil-rich Iran from updating its fleet, forcing it to use substandard Russian planes and to patch up its older jets far past their normal years of service, drawing on spare parts bought with increasing difficulty on the black market. Rarely a year goes by without major airline accidents, and most Iranian planes, including the 727, are forbidden to operate within the European Union.” (New York Times, Iran’s Airlines Seen as Faltering Under Sanctions; July 13, 2012)
  • Christian Science Monitor: “In late 2002, speaking days after the crash of a Ukrainian-made plane killed 46 scientists, the then-transport chief [of Iran] said several Boeing and Airbus planes had been grounded for lack of parts, and Iran’s aging fleet had ‘reached a crisis point.’” (Christian Science Monitor, Iran plane crash latest to afflict aging fleet; January 10, 2011)
Reformist and opposition leaders in Iran say that sanctions give the Iranian government a pretext to crack down on opposition groups like the Green Movement.
  • Mehdi Karroubi, senior leader of the Green Movement: “These sanctions have given an excuse to the Iranian government to suppress the opposition by blaming them for the unstable situation of the country… “Look at Cuba and North Korea. Have sanctions brought democracy to their people? They have just made them more isolated and given them the opportunity to crack down on their opposition without bothering themselves about the international attention.” (The Guardian, Iran sanctions strengthen Ahmadinejad regime; August 11, 2010)
  • Ali Shakouri-Rad, a leading member of the opposition Islamic Iran Participation Front: “‘The government will say that critics of their policies are doing the foreigners’ bidding’ and will use sanctions as a pretext to silence opponents, said.” (Washington Post, Iranian Opposition Warns Against Stricter Sanctions; October 1, 2009)
Though the Obama Administration has taken some steps to undo the effects of sanctions that make it more difficult for Iranians to freely access internet communications tools, sanctions continue to affect the availability of internet tools inside Iran:

FAIR: PBS Newshour Botches Basic Fact about Iran Dispute

The national media watchdog group, Fair and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), took the PBS Newshour to task for its reporting on Iran’s nuclear program:

In an October 22 discussion of the foreign policy presidential debate, the PBS NewsHour‘s Jeffrey Brown stated that “Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been a particular flash point.”
 A few weeks earlier (10/5/12) on the NewsHour, Ray Suarez said that Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez had
“continued to thwart American efforts on a range of international issues, such as Washington’s attempt to convince Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to halt his country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

As most people following this story should know, there is no intelligence that shows Iran has a nuclear weapons program. The country has long denied the accusation, and regular inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency have failed to turn up evidence that Iran’s enriched uranium is being diverted for use in a weapon (Extra!, 1/12).

Some governments claim otherwise, but journalists are supposed to convey the evidence that is available–not to make claims that are unsupported by the facts. If there was one clear lesson from the Iraq War, it was that reporters need to carefully distinguish between what is known for certain and what some government leaders claim.

There have been questions about the NewsHour‘s Iran reporting before (FAIR Blog, 1/10/12). On January 9 the broadcast reported that Iran’s denial that it is pursuing a nuclear weapon was “disputed by the U.S. and its allies.” The show turned to a clip from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to bolster that point — but edited out the part of his statement in which he said, “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.” A NewsHour editor agreed (FAIR Blog, 1/1712) that “it would have been better had we not lopped off the first part of the Panetta quote.”

Unfortunately, these recent examples suggest that the show is still being careless about how it reports the facts about Iran.


Tell the PBS NewsHour to correct its assertions that Iran has a nuclear weapons program.
PBS NewsHour