Monday, November 29, 2010

You Hurt Alan Simpson's Feelings

Poor Alan Simpson. The co-chair of the Deficit Reduction Commission (popularly known as "The Catfood Commission") isn't feeling the love from folks responding to his initial recommendations on how to reduce the deficit. From the Wyoming Capital Journal:

During Al Simpson's nearly 50 years in government, he hasn't been afraid to take on critics and naysayers of his work in the U.S. Senate or on a variety of high-profile commissions and committees.
But as the co-chair of President Obama's debt commission, the Wyoming Republican said he's been taking an unprecedented amount of flak for the commission's draft proposals to help erase the nation's $13.8 trillion debt.
"I've never had any nastier mail or [been in a] more difficult position in my life," said the 79-year-old Simpson. "Just vicious. People I've known, relatives [saying], "'You son of a bitch. How could you do this?'"


Simpson said he's spent about $25,000 of his own money on travel and hotel expenses on behalf of the debt commission -- an expense he said he doesn't mind paying.

Oh, the humanity! What a noble fellow, spending his own money to ensure that low income seniors live under bridges and eat catfood in the years to come! Simpson also had this to say:

"We had the greatest generation -- I think this is the greediest generation," he said.

In other words: he made millions. He's got his. You, on the other hand, are greedy because you've paid in to Social Security, and will be receiving a retirement benefit.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Rewarding Failure

Robert Scheer in The Nation:

Welcome to the brave new world of post-bailout capitalism. The Commerce Department announced Tuesday that corporate profits are at their highest level in US history, and the Fed released minutes of an early November meeting in which officials predicted a stagnant economy and continued high unemployment.

The lead on the New York Times story read like a line from a Dickens novel: "The nation's workers may be struggling, but American companies just had their best quarter ever." What the Times story neglected to mention is that the bulk of the increase in corporate profits was nabbed by the financial industry rather than manufacturing and other productive sectors. A whopping $33.3 billion out of the total corporate profits increase of $44.4 billion went to the banks and investment houses that those same workers had bailed out with their tax dollars.

Most of us weren't expecting a thank-you card from the financial sector, but even a modicum of humility would be nice.

Now, if companies are doing better than ever...where are the jobs we were assured would start to appear when those companies started doing well?

Much of the rest of the corporate profit, in the non-financial sector, was also taken out of the hides of workers through increased "productivity" growth—meaning they had produced more for less personal income. Case in point: the plant that GM is reopening in Orion Township, Mich., where, under a deal negotiated with the beleaguered UAW union, 40 percent of the workers crawling through cars on the assembly line will be paid fifteen bucks an hour. That's about half the traditional UAW wage.

In other words: these companies have figured out how to get more for less by holding workers hostage. If you want to keep your job, you'll settle for less money. Otherwise, you too, can join the ever burgeoning ranks of the long term unemployed.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Friday, November 26, 2010

We're The Indians Now

Thanksgiving is the time for giving thanks, and showing compassion, or so tradition dictates. The natives helped the struggling Pilgrims so that they didn’t starve to death during their first winter in New England. Their crops had failed, and they relied upon socialist Indian handouts to survive. Of course we know how the Indians were repaid for their generosity. The voters who enthusiastically supported the recent red tide are likely to have a similar experience.

The NH portion of the federal fuel assistance budget may be cut by as much as fifty percent. Last year NH received $40.8 million in fuel assistance. This year, the budget may be cut to $19.7. One of the problems here is that Congress has not passed a budget yet for fiscal year 2011. Given the obstructionist climate, it seems likely that this could continue into the new year. The Energy Information Administration projects that New England will pay 15% more in home heating costs this winter than we did last winter. Senator Jeanne Shaheen has written to Secretary Sibellius of HHS, urging her to release full funding for the program. At a time when unemployment and poverty are rampant, it would be nice if poor folks didn’t have to freeze to death this winter. I can say from experience that poverty in northern NH means being cold. Very cold. Will the newly elected Teabaglicans tell us we must live, freeze, and die, or could, perhaps, the war budget be trimmed instead?

NH food pantries are seeing as much as a 50% increase in need. The Eagle Tribune reported on NH food pantries in early November. A representative from the Kingston food pantry commented that many new faces were being seen, many of them elderly. This saddened her, because in her experience, elderly folks traditionally don’t admit to needing help. Not only will our low-income seniors be cold this winter, they’ll also be hungry. These are folks who worked hard, served in the military perhaps, brought up families, and now are getting the Indian treatment from an ungrateful nation.

Meanwhile, we’re starting to learn a little more about our newly elected officials. New Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland ran almost exclusively on repealing the evil “Obamacare,” the health insurance bill that means (in part) that insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Andy Harris wants to make sure that most of us will continue to find health insurance costs beyond our reach, and apparently Maryland voters agreed. One of Rep. Harris’s first acts was to have a little snit when he learned that the government health care he is entitled to, as a Congressman won’t take effect for 28 days. He was outraged at having to wait so long. What if something happens? Of course, in the real world, the average wait is often 2 months, and more if you happen to be on the wrong end of the waiting period. In the even realer world, you can’t afford health insurance at all. Shouldn’t someone who campaigned so earnestly against “gummint health care” be refusing to accept it for himself? Is new Rep. Guinta planning to accept this socialist benefit? What about Congressman Bass? Senator Ayotte? I hope all of you Teabaglican voters will be urging our new delegation to just say no. After all, you wouldn’t support hypocrites, now, would you?

I was pleasantly surprised by the very gracious letter that Frank McCarthy had in the paper recently, where he thanked Representatives Buco and Butler for their service to our state. As gracious as that letter was, however, before the next legislative session is done, McCarthy will vote to eliminate Ed Butler’s marriage. Thanks, Ed – but it’s Squanto time. Rep. Dino Scala of Wakefield was refreshingly honest in his letter. He announced that he has no intention of working with the minority party, because the voters didn’t elect him to be cooperative.

Speaking of which, the red tide in NH is producing some interesting fallout already. State Rep. Gene Chandler seems likely to lose his bid for Speaker of the House to Bill O’Brien of Mont Vernon. It’s an interesting day in NH, when far right Chandler is considered too liberal by his colleagues. O’Brien is a rabid nutcase, who spent the summer sucking up to the new Teabaglicans who now comprise most of the freshman class in the NH House. People like Laurie Pettingill from Bartlett, a fluent speaker of Sloganese, and Norm Tragenza of Eaton and also of the John Birch Society. These folks talked about taxes all the time – but taxes aren’t their concern. O’Brien and his new cohorts have a far right regressive social agenda that is their real goal. They want to repeal the NH marriage equality law, amend the NH Constitution to ban gay and lesbian citizens from marrying, make it more difficult for women to get abortions (which, in case you’ve forgotten are legal), and they want to expand the death penalty. They also intend to repeal mandatory kindergarten, and mess with education funding again, so that we’ll return to the era of Claremont style lawsuits. They’re just getting warming up to show us what a REAL nanny state is.

I’ve written about the death penalty expansion before. The NH Judicial Council finds that expanding the death penalty will add costs upwards of $5 million a year to the NH budget. None of the supporters (including sponsor Jeb Bradley) have come forward to explain how this will be paid for. We heard “cut spending” from these budget peacocks all through the campaign. Adding $5 million and more to the budget for the purpose of killing people is NOT cutting spending. Where will this money come from, Laurie Pettingill? Norm Tregenza? Jeb Bradley?

I suspect that some of you voters will be learning (quite unpleasantly) through the law of unintended consequences, that we are all Indians now.

“An asylum for the sane would be empty in America.” George Bernard Shaw

© sbruce 2010

This was published as an op-ed in the November 26, 2010 issue of the Conway Daily Sun

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Debts of the Dead

Americans are still defaulting on debt. The unemployment numbers are in the double digits, poverty is on the rise, and for most folks, the "economic recovery" we keep hearing about is just a rumor. In an effort to reclaim even more money, debt collection agencies have begun aggressively going after the debts of the dead. The Federal Trade Commission wants to revise the guidelines on who, exactly, is possibly responsible for the debts of the deceased. From the Washington Post:

The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act limits the people that collectors can contact to those with authority to pay the debt - typically a spouse or family member, and possibly a third-party executor of an estate. But in a proposed policy statement, the FTC said changes to court procedures have widened the pool of those who may be able to pay to include a host of other legal representatives.


Locating those who can pay the debt creates another challenge. Often, collectors may contact several friends or relatives in their attempt to find the right person. Current law allows collectors to only ask for "location information" without revealing that a debt is owed. The FTC is considering relaxing that rule for those who are deceased.

But that could pave the way for collectors to persuade unobligated consumers to pay the debt, consumer groups say. In its investigation of the practice, the FTC listened to thousands of phone calls and found debt collectors often operating in a gray area, Winston said.

That would be the gray area of trying to guilt someone into thinking they're responsible to pay the debts of someone they loved, who has died.

The FTC proposal states that collectors appealing to consumers' "moral obligation" to close the debt could violate federal law. In addition, it emphasized that collectors cannot imply that those with authority to pay the debt must do so out of their own pockets. All debts should be paid out of the deceased's estate.

Instead of making it easier to harass the bereaved, it's a shame that the FTC isn't changing the rules to protect those who have lost someone they loved.

I confess to having a personal bias and some experience here. My husband died in 2009, and over the last year, I've been harassed by debt collectors, been through a very hasty foreclosure, and I'm still getting letters from lawyers. I don't worry about it any more. There's really nothing they can do to me. I'm earning less than the federal poverty guidelines for a single person. I do, however, worry that relaxing these rules will create a great deal of misery for elderly widows and widowers.

The whole proposal is available to read here. You can also comment on the proposed rules changes until Dec. 1.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Monday, November 22, 2010

Messing with Social Security

In March, Erskine Bowles, co-chair of President Obama's Deficit Reduction Commission spoke at the North Carolina Banker's Association annual Bank Director's Assembly. He was quoted in the Columbia Journalism Review:

"We’re going to mess with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security because if you take those off the table, you can’t get there. If we don’t make those choices, America is going to be a second-rate power, and I don’t mean in fifty years. I mean in my lifetime."

As the CJR points out, given that Bowles is 64, "in my lifetime" sounds pretty dire. Luckily the millions he made on Wall St. will insulate him from any unpleasantness during his later years.

Those of us who aren't so well insulated may be less fortunate. From an op-ed in the LA Times by Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, the co-directors of Social Security Works:

In releasing their plan, the co-chairs went out of their way to make clear that they were proposing changes to Social Security "for its own sake, not for deficit reduction." This was an acknowledgement that Social Security does not and cannot contribute to the deficit, because it has no borrowing authority and by law cannot pay benefits unless it has sufficient income and reserves to cover their cost. But Simpson and Bowles just couldn't keep their hands off the program.

This needs to be repeated. Often and loudly.

One thing they propose is increasing Social Security's retirement age to 69. Every year that Social Security's retirement age is increased amounts to a 6% to 7% across-the-board benefit cut for recipients. The retirement age is already being raised to age 67 for those turning 62 in 2022. Increasing the age to 69 would cut benefits by one-quarter from a decade ago, when the retirement age was 65.

The co-chairs also want to increase the early retirement age to 64. Currently, the majority of Americans start claiming benefits at age 62, despite the fact that this means they receive reduced benefits. As a new General Accountability Office report concluded, the people who take early retirement often do so because they work in jobs that are too physically demanding to continue or because they have health problems or can no longer find work. Raising the early retirement age will shut out workers who are disproportionately low income and minority, and it will do it when they are most vulnerable, potentially forcing them to seek disability benefits or welfare.

I'm at a loss. I truly do not understand how cutting benefits for older people will make the US a first rate power. I can think of many things it will make us, but I'm far too genteel to list them.

The co-chairs apparently think most Americans can work as long as politicians, Wall Street billionaires and others who have all of life's advantages. In effect, the Bowles-Simpson plan says to America's workers that they must work longer for less because the rich are living longer.

Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson are a couple of reverse Robin Hoods, attempting to steal from the poor to give to the rich.

The folks at Social Security Works are asking all of us to participate in a national day of action. On November 30, people all over the country will be calling their US Senators and their Congressperson to say: Hands Off My Social Security! More info.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Making a Buck on Misery

Banks, hedge funds, and other investors are now putting up money for lawsuits (medical malpractice, class action, etc) in the hopes of cashing in on big awards. From the NY Times

The loans are propelling large and prominent cases. Lenders including Counsel Financial, a Buffalo company financed by Citigroup, provided $35 million for the lawsuits brought by ground zero workers that were settled tentatively in June for $712.5 million. The lenders earned about $11 million.

And of course:

The rise of lending to plaintiffs and their lawyers is a result of the high cost of litigation. Pursuing a civil action in federal court costs an average of $15,000, the Federal Judicial Center reported last year. Cases involving scientific evidence, like medical malpractice claims, often cost more than $100,000. Some people cannot afford to pursue claims; others are overwhelmed by corporate defendants with deeper pockets.

This doesn't always work out well for the plaintiff:

Such financing also drains money from plaintiffs. Interest rates on lawsuit loans generally exceed 15 percent a year, and most states allow lawyers that borrow to bill clients for the interest payments. The cost can exceed the benefits of winning. A woman injured in a 1995 car accident outside Philadelphia borrowed money for a suit, as did her lawyer. By the time she won $169,125 in 2003, the lenders were owed $221,000.

This whole story is disturbing, but this paragraph gave me the shivers:

“If you want to use the civil justice system, you have to have money,” said Alan Zimmerman, who founded one of the first litigation finance companies in 1994, in San Francisco, now called the LawFinance Group. “If there’s less money, you’d have less litigation. But then you’d also have less justice.”

Increasingly, there are two justice systems. There is one for the folks who have money, like the Colorado wealth manager Laura wrote about last week. Then there's the other system, where people who don't have money have no choice but to live with injustice.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Wall St. Has 4th Most Profitable Year

From Reuters:

Wall Street may earn $19 billion in 2010, its fourth-most profitable year, even as regulatory changes and a weakened economy limit its ability to generate profit, New York state's comptroller said.


DiNapoli said Wall Street has nonetheless benefited from federal bailouts and low interest rates, and may see profitability settle near levels that prevailed prior to 2007 and 2008, when it lost $54 billion overall.

It sure was nice of us to bail them out, after they almost destroyed the US economy. And even though at least 10% of us are unemployed and struggling, and there's opposition to further extending unemployment benefits that expire just before Christmas, here's news that will make us feel all warm and fuzzy:

DiNapoli expects to provide his annual tally of Wall Street bonus payouts in early 2011. Overall Wall Street bonuses totaled $20.3 billion in 2009, up 17 percent from 2008.

According to the pay consultant Johnson Associates Inc, Wall Street workers may see individual bonuses rise an average 5 percent this year, though weak trading results may lead to declines for some employees.

Of course a more cynical person than I might call this .....greed. Someone like Jim Hightower

By the laws of economics, if not physics, bonuses should fall to earth this year, because the bankers have performed poorly. Trading is down, profits are flat (despite being given trillions of dollars in almost-interest-free money by the feds), firms are firing lower-level employees, and banker greed has ruined the public reputations of the financial giants.

Who cares, shriek the big shots – its bonus time, baby, so grab all you can! The CEOs of Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and others have set aside billions of dollars to flood their executive suites with bonus cash at the end of the year – money that should go to shareholders. Their claim is: "We deserve it, for we took low pay during the crash of 2008-2009." For example, Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs' boss was paid a mere $9 million last year, so this year he wants that "sacrifice" to be made up to him.

Blankfein provides us with a perfect illustration for the phrase "having no shame."

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Where's MY Government Health Care?

Andy Harris is a newly elected Congressman from Maryland. He's an anesthesiologist who ran on a repealing "Obamacare" platform. At the orientation for freshman legislators, he had plenty of questions about his government health care. From Politico:

A conservative Maryland physician elected to Congress on an anti-Obamacare platform surprised fellow freshmen at a Monday orientation session by demanding to know why his government-subsidized health care plan takes a month to kick in.

Republican Andy Harris, an anesthesiologist who defeated freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, reacted incredulously when informed that federal law mandated that his government-subsidized health care policy would take effect on Feb. 1 – 28 days after his Jan. 3rd swearing-in.

“He stood up and asked the two ladies who were answering questions why it had to take so long, what he would do without 28 days of health care,” said a congressional staffer who saw the exchange. The benefits session, held behind closed doors, drew about 250 freshman members, staffers and family members to the Capitol Visitors Center auditorium late Monday morning,”.

In the employment world for the rest of us, insurance benefits can take much longer to kick in. In fact, the eligibility period in most jobs occurs only once a year. In the real world, right here and now, over 50 million Americans have no health coverage at all.

Dr. Harris ran on a platform opposing health insurance for the rabble. He, however, deserves gummint health care. As long as he's got his - all is right in the world.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Serious Challenges Facing Carroll County

The state of the economy and the recent mid-term elections got me thinking about the Reagan years, and what life was like for the average Josephine in Carroll County around 1989. There were few jobs available. Few employers provided health insurance. Housing costs were high, though toward the end of the Reagan years they decreased, and became more realistic. Looking at the help wanted ads provoked a revelation – the wage scale in this area hasn’t changed since then.

According to Census data, 7% of the families, and 9% of the individuals in Carroll County fall below the federal poverty guidelines. There are 450 families in this county earning less than $10,000 a year. Thirty-five percent of them are households led by female single parents.

As for housing, some 349 housing units lack complete plumbing. There are at least 311 housing units that lack kitchen facilities. Almost half (49.4) of the available housing in Carroll County is vacant. The average cost of a rental is between $750 and $1,000. According to a 2008 study by Universal Living Wage, in order to afford a 1 bedroom apartment in Carroll County, a worker needed to be earning $13.13 an hour. To afford a studio, they needed to be earning$12.44. Nearly half (44.7%) of the households in this county earn less than $50,000 a year. According to the 2008 Livable Wage Study done by the Carsey Institute, Carroll County has the fewest livable wage jobs in the state. We have the lowest average wages in the state. My non-scientific observation that the wage scale here hasn’t changed in over 20 years seems to be correct.

A story run the Conway Daily Sun in August informed us that Carroll County has the highest number of homeless families in the state. We have no homeless shelters at all. The number of homeless in the county has doubled since 2005. According to Families USA: In 2008, 24% of NH residents lacked health insurance. Of that group, 85% were members of working families. Carroll County has the highest number of uninsured residents in the state, at 17%.

The statewide unemployment rate is 5.5%. In Carroll County, the official number is 4.7%. These numbers are not correct, any more than the national unemployment number of 9.7 percent is correct. The only people who are counted are folks who have filed unemployment claims. The people who were never eligible, who have run out of benefits, and the people who are underemployed are not counted. Doubling these numbers is likely to provide an accurate measure. That would mean that the real state and county numbers would be more like 10%, and nationally the number would be more like 20%. That’s a lot more realistic than the artificially low numbers that are intended to lower the economic fear factor. During the last quarter of 2009, an estimated 12.5% of residents of the county were underemployed, discouraged workers. People who can only find part time jobs, who need to be working full time.

According to a study done by the Annie E. Casey foundation, NH children rank the healthiest in the nation, once again. The study also found that childhood poverty is on the rise. Some 9% of NH children are living in poverty. The number of families receiving food stamps in NH increased 61% during the last two years.

To summarize, in Carroll County, we have the lowest average wages in the state, the fewest number of livable wage jobs, the highest number of uninsured residents, and the highest number of homeless families. This should be of great concern to us all, especially our newly elected legislators, swept in on an especially toxic red tide.

This newly elected GOP majority ran on the same platform they’ve had since the Stone Age: Cut Spending, No New Taxes. They claim to be terribly concerned about families and jobs. That may even be mostly true up here, but in the southern part of the state a number of gibbering lunatics were elected, and their first priority is actually destroying the families created by the NH marriage equality law. We can count on the fact that the Carroll County delegation will fall right into lockstep with them. Al Baldasaro accused the state of selling babies to gay couples for $10,000, at a hearing I attended last year. Despite being obviously deranged, Baldasaro was overwhelmingly re-elected, and this bit of news went unreported by the far right biased media in our state.

They’re all wound up about gay folks getting married, and women having abortions, neither of which have any negative impact on our state’s economy. In fact, gay folks getting married have had a positive impact on a lot of small businesses: inns, hotels, florists, bakers, caterers, etc. Have gays and lesbians getting married caused you to lose your job? Your housing? Have gays and lesbians getting married caused your health insurance costs to increase dramatically? Have gays and lesbians getting married caused the price of gas, or home heating oil to go up? Have gays and lesbians marrying caused food prices to rise? I didn’t think so. Yet that’s the priority of the Teabaglican lunatics who now comprise the majority of the Republican Party. The old-school moderate, reasonable, Republicans have been pushed out by the rabid right.

Newly minted State Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley wants to change NH’s death penalty statute to make more cases eligible for the death penalty, which is estimated to add upwards of $5 million in costs to our annual state budget. This is hardly fiscally, or morally responsible. It would seem that while our new majority (both statewide and nationwide) love to talk about cutting spending and deficits, it’s just that. It’s all talk. These budget peacocks love to preen as they mouth slogans. Whether there’s anything behind the preening remains to be seen. Carroll County families are in increasingly dire straits thanks to this economy. Let’s hope our local legislators stay focused on that, as opposed to getting caught up in the goals of the faux-liberty nanny state politics of the far Teabaglican right.

© sbruce 2010

published as an op-ed in the November 12, 2010 edition of the Conway Daily Sun

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Behind the Attack on Social Security

The threat to Social Security is real. Economist Dean Barker today, writing at TPM gives us some insight into why we should be very frightened:

This effort is being led by billionaire investment banker Peter Peterson. Mr. Peterson has personally profited to the tune of tens of millions of dollars from the "fund managers' tax subsidy," an obscure provision of the tax code that allows billionaires to pay a lower tax rate than schoolteachers and firefighters. However, Peterson believes in giving back. He has committed $1 billion to an effort that is intended to take away the Social Security benefits that people have worked and paid for.

As part of this effort, Peterson set up a whole new foundation, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. He and/or his foundation created a "news service," the Fiscal Times, which is intended to promote the view that we have no choice but to cut Social Security. The Fiscal Times has entered into agreements with the Washington Post and other credible newspapers to provide material.

Peterson is also funding the creation of a high school curriculum which is intended to tell our children that the in the future the country will be too poor to finance Social Security. He funded a silly exercise called "America Speaks," which was supposed to convince an assembly of selected participants that we must cut Social Security after a daylong immersion in Peterson-style propaganda. (The people didn't buy it.) And now his crew is spending $20 million on an ad campaign to convince people the world will end if we don't cut Social Security.

Peterson's started his own media propaganda outlet, and is actively involved in brainwashing high school students - all aimed at destroying Social Security. He's got more money than he could ever spend in his life, but he wants to make sure YOUR retirement is spent living in a cardboard box.

Not only is this a perversion of the American social contract and the American dream, it's also a slap in the collective faces of we the taxpayers who bailed these miserable greedsuckers out with TARP.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Abandoned Mess vs. Repaired and Rented

From the NY Times:

Save Florida Homes Inc. and its owner, Mark Guerette, have found foreclosed homes for several needy families here in Broward County, and his tenants could not be more pleased. Fabian Ferguson, his wife and two children now live a two-bedroom home they have transformed from damaged and abandoned to full and cozy.

Mark Guerette has claimed several homes in Broward County, hoping to gain permanent ownership after seven years.There is just one problem: Mr. Guerette is not the owner. Yet.

Guerette is counting on a Florida statute dating back to 1869 that says the properties will be his if left unclaimed for 7 years. The authorities don't see him as a hero for rescuing abandoned properties, repairing them, and renting them to folks who badly need homes. He's being charged with fraud, and will go to trial next month. The bizarre, entangled mess that US real estate has turned into, has resulted in similar cases around the country.

Mr. Guerette, who now faces up to 15 years in prison, insists that his business is legitimate and moral. He said he got started last year, driving around working-class neighborhoods in Palm Beach and Broward Counties, looking for a particular kind of home: not just those with overgrown lawns and broken windows, but houses with a large orange sticker from the county reading “public nuisance.”


So he set about fixing up the unclaimed properties. In some cases, he just mowed the lawn and replaced stolen air conditioners or broken windows; in other cases, like with Mr. Ferguson, he let tenants make improvements in lieu of rent.

He didn't try to deceive anyone:

Copies of leases show Mr. Guerette included an addendum noting that he was not the legal owner. Tenants like Mr. Ferguson and his family, who had been homeless before moving in last year and paying $289 a month, see Mr. Guerette as a savior.

The neighbors are generally happy, too. They'd prefer to have a family fixing up the premises over having an empty house being vandalized. It's hard not to see Mr. Guerette as something of a hero, since he's not exactly raking in the big bucks for doing this. Property values go up, taxes are paid - it seems like a winner for everyone.

Still, as Laura just pointed out, we are endlessly punitive to those at the bottom of the pyramid. The bankers and Wall St CEO's who stole the American dream from us will never get the punishment they deserve. Mark Guerette, on the other hand, will probably go to prison for trying to help families get the dream back.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Monday, November 08, 2010

Texas May Eliminate Medicaid

Texas is considering withdrawing completely from the Medicaid program. From the NY Times:

“With Obamacare mandates coming down, we have a situation where we cannot reduce benefits or change eligibility” to cut costs, said State Representative Warren Chisum, Republican of Pampa, the veteran conservative lawmaker who recently entered the race for speaker of the House. “This system is bankrupting our state,” he said. “We need to get out of it. And with the budget shortfall we’re anticipating, we may have to act this year.”

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization, estimates Texas could save $60 billion from 2013 to 2019 by opting out of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, dropping coverage for acute care but continuing to finance long-term care services. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which has 3.6 million children, people with disabilities and impoverished Texans enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP, will release its own study on the effect of ending the state’s participation in the federal match program at some point between now and January.

Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured adults and children in the nation. Medicaid provides coverage for 2.3 million Texas children, though over 70 percent of the eligible children in the state are not enrolled. For every dollar Texas spends to fund Medicaid, they get $1.55 back in federal matching funds.

As always, budgets are balanced on the backs of those least able to afford it. It's difficult to imagine how having 2.3 million MORE uninsured children could be a badge of conservative pride.

Texas also has*:
The third highest teen birth rate
The third highest poverty rate
The lowest number of high school graduates
The lowest voter turnout

* from an interview on NPR

cross-posted at MainSt/

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

drunk and orange is no way to go through life, son

Drunks often get weepy - but you'd think he'd just won the Miss America pageant. This is amusing coming from the party that advised folks to "man up."

Maybe he thought they said "tan up."

19 Facts

about the de-industrialization of the United States. From Business Insider:

It was America that showed the world how to mass produce everything from automobiles to televisions to airplanes. It was the great American manufacturing base that crushed Germany and Japan in World War II. But now we are witnessing the deindustrialization of America. Tens of thousands of factories have left the United States in the past decade alone. Millions upon millions of manufacturing jobs have been lost in the same time period. The United States has become a nation that consumes everything in sight and yet produces increasingly little. Do you know what our biggest export is today?
Waste paper.

The slide show (available at the link) is interesting and depressing. Even more depressing is their slideshow 19 iconic products that America doesn't make anymore.

We don't even make our own national league baseballs. It seems US companies would even outsource Mom's Apple Pie. It's difficult to imagine what kind of economic recovery we can expect if we don't make anything here.

(Neofeudalism doesn't count as recovery.)

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Indiana Plans Ahead

From HuffPo:

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development is beefing up its security ahead of the holidays, when officials expect a seasonal surge in unemployment claims and extra stress for long-term jobless who might miss benefits because of Congress.

If Congress doesn't reauthorize extended unemployment insurance, which expires at the end of November, the National Employment Law Project estimates that two million people will prematurely miss checks by the end of December.

The holidays are stressful enough for people who are working. So far Indiana is the only state that is increasing security at employment offices, but other states may follow, depending on whether Congress reauthorizes unemployment benefits or not.

Congress will have only two weeks from the time it reconvenes until the deadline for reauthorizing the benefits.

cross posted at

Monday, November 01, 2010

Don't Get Too Comfortable

with your big food stamp allotment, warns congressional candidate Nick Popaditch, from California's 51st district.

Popaditch says he believes in a safety net, but he doesn't want you to get "too comfortable down there."

As MoJo points out, that Food Stamp "comfort" amounts to about $3.37 a day.

I'm afraid to lean what his idea of discomfort might be. Breadlines? Poor houses?

cross-posted at MainSt/