Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Yo Republicans, It's Called A God Job

How are Republicans going to explain that while their party out-Gods the Democrats by a country mile, Hurricane Isaac already has disrupted their national convention in Tampa?  And is almost certain to hit New Orleans?
Moving beyond the fact that the Republican rocket scientists who chose the Florida city apparently were unaware that late August is the apex of hurricane season in the Gulf of Illegal Immigrants -- hey, remember Katrina in 2005 guys? -- George Bush sure hasn't forgotten and I am not alone in thinking that his meh reaction to that enormous disaster was the turning point of his presidency. 

Projections now have Isaac missing Florida and slamming into . . . New Orleans and the other population centers devastated first by Katrina and then by Bush administration nglect.  Were it not for the potential for destruction, death and misery, I would suggest that Isaac is well deserved for Republicans and especially Mitt Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, who has ferociously opposed funding most disaster aid.
As it is, the convention will not be the choreographed love feast that Romney's handlers wanted.
First Todd Aiken didn't get the memo requesting that knuckle draggers like himself suspend the War on Women rhetoric until after the convention, while vocal Akin supporter Mike Huckabee -- who says that he "does not fully support Romney" -- will give a prime time speech.  Meanwhile, Ron Paul supporters threatened to upset the entire Republican apple cart and with it the illusion of unity.
Photograph from NASA's Earth Observatory

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Wanted: A Smoking Gun To Prove That Romney Knowingly Profited From Fraud

Did soon to be Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney profit from healthcare companies that committed massive Medicare fraud?  Absolutely, as the record shows that was the case in at least two instances.  What is less clear is whether he was aware of these criminal activities.  In this regard the record suggests that it would have been difficult for Romney to miss the fraud, and if he is the master strategist and corporate know it all that he claims to be, he would not have missed it.
The companies are Damon Clinical Laboratories, which in 2004 paid the then-largest healthcare criminal fraud fine -- $35.3 million -- as well as a $83.7 million civil fine, and industry giant Health Care Corporation of America, which in 2002 agreed to a $1.7 billion settlement with the Justice Department because of accusations of wide ranging fraud.
Medicare is much in the news not because of pervasive healthcare industry fraud, but because Romney and Paul Ryan, his vice presidential pick (who reportedly was selected because of a $100 million bribe from one of the Koch brothers), are ceaselessly painting themselves as defenders of Medicare by obfuscating what President Obama intends to do with $700 billion in cuts he has made, which is distribute this money more equitably through the Affordable Care Act.
While their claim is utterly lacking in credibility, a potential bombshell lurks behind it: That in the cases of Damon and HCA, as well as possibly other companies, the eagle-eyed Romney, as CEO of Bain Capital and still a beneficiary of its money-making prowess, saw the fraudulent activities of these companies not as a turn-off but an opportunity to make big bucks because both were adept at milking greater profits even if it was at substantial taxpayer expense.
In 1988, Damon began the systematic practice of Medicare fraud that ended up costing taxpayers $400 million, according to the prosecutors' estimate.  In 1990, with Romney at the helm, Bain bought a minority stake in Damon.  He took a seat on its board of directors and was on its Strategic Planning Committee.  Romney later said he believed Damon CEO Robert Rosen's claim that the company was in compliance with government regulations.  In other words, he was uncurious about whether the claim was accurate and whether Bain had bought into a company that might not be operating above board.
Then in 1993, Corning bought Damon with Romney's encouragement, netting Bain between $7.4 million and $12 million, depending upon who is doing the counting.  Romney walked away with a paltry $437,000.  Corning immediately uncovered the fraud that had been perpetrated under Romney's nose for upwards of four years and went to the feds.  
In his unsuccessful 1994 bid to unseat Ted Kennedy, Romney boasted about the role he played in Damon's growth, then in 2002 when running for Massachusetts governor he had the temerity to claim that he helped uncover the fraud, which if nothing else shows that Romney had no inhibitions about lying through his ivories years before his presidential bids.
The key to HCA's success at generating enormous profits from its 163 hospitals during the Bush Recession, a time when many hospitals were going broke, was based on getting more revenue from insurance companies and patients by billing more aggressively, reducing emergency room overcrowding by refusing to treat some uninsured patients, reducing staffing to inadequate levels, providing kickbacks to doctors who referred patients to its hospitals, doing unnecessary surgeries, and of course fraudulent Medicare billing that prosecutors' estimated ran into the billions of dollars. 
Rick Scott was HCA's CEO during much of the period when there was fraudulent billing.  He resigned but was not charged in the fraud, went on to become a venture capitalist and then Florida's governor.  He is as enthusiastic a Romney supporter as former Governor Charlie Christ is a detractor.
When HCA's profits began sagging in 2006 because of fewer patient admissions, in part as a result of its skinflint practices, investment bankers from Merrill Lynch approached Bain and two other private equity firms to discuss a buyout, which took place later that year.
In the years since, HCA's industry-leading profit growth raised the value of its holdings to nearly three and a half times the initial investment of Bain and the two other firms in the $33 billion deal.  The firms -- with Romney along for the ride -- took the money and ran.  In 2011, HCA once again became a public company and floated a successful stock offering.
* * * * *
Most people naively view Medicare as a huge social program, but it is much more.
Medicare is a system of contracts that transfers more than $500 billion in taxpayer funds each year into the private sector.  While Medicare has taken the profit out of providing health insurance to seniors, it has left untouched the profit motive in the delivery of healthcare services. 
As one commentator put it, "Medicare's billions have played a central role in building the commercial healthcare leviathan it is today."
This begins to explain why providers, including individual physicians running Medicare mills, as well as Fortune 500 pharmaceutical and medical device companies, regularly try to bilk the system for more than they are entitled to, but in the forefront are for-profit hospital systems like HCA.  At the end of the day, it is these rapacious fraudsters and not poor and indigent seniors who created the Medicare crisis.
* * * * *
I feel liked a damned fool for not seeing it coming. 
The corporatocracy has become a shadow government that in some respects is more powerful than the federal government.  A tiny segment of the population, now commonly referred to as 1 percenters, has virtually all of the wealth as the chasm between the rich and middle class and poor grows apace.  The 1 percenters own practically everything else, so why not the White House?  Could this Vampire Elite do worse than with Romney, who is one of their own, as president?  Unlikely.  
Can the money that Bain and Romney made from Damon and HCA and Romney continues to make because of the millions he receives in largely untaxed stock dividends be considered blood money?  Absolutely. This is because Romney tries to project a holier-than-thou image and has boasted about all of the great things that Bain did under his tutelage. 
Meanwhile, there probably is a smoking gun in the form of someone who worked for Bain or in Bain, Damon or HCA documents that reveal Romney was well aware that taxpayers were being fleeced.  My gun is a pea shooter, so concerned voters should hope that The New York Times, which has aggressively investigated HCA's dark side in recent weeks, or some other media outlet with a conscience is looking for that smoking gun as Romney is coronated later this week in Tampa.
When found, that alone would disqualify Mitt Romney to run for president, let alone be president.
* * * * *
The information in this article was drawn from The Daily Kos, Dirt Diggers Digest, The New York Times and RedState. Links here, here, here, here and here.

Cartoon du Jour

Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate

Monday, August 20, 2012

Why Romney & Ryan Are Albatrosses, Why Half Truths Are Lies & Much More

I continue to cling to the notion that voters have not lost their collective minds.  That there remains hope for a brighter American future. So I draw sustenance from the news that it has been nine days since Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan to be his running mate in a desperate effort to curry favor with a right-wing Republican Party base less than enamored of him and thereby revive his subterranean campaign.  But hallelujah and all that.  The Tea Party darling from Wisconsin has provided no bounce.  Nor will there be a Romney rally.
This is because Ryan's vision for America is radical, which is kind of ironic given that Republicans have sought to tar Barack Obama with that label over the last four years.
Ryan, in word and deed, has stressed individualism over what he calls collectivism, a loaded word with communist-socialist connotations, but it is individuals like the rich who would benefit and individuals like the elderly, the infirm, the middle class and the poor who rely on Washington to get by, ease their suffering and provide job training who would be deeply affected by his slash-and-burn budgets of last and this year.  Oh, and financial markets -- the very banksters and others who drove the country into recession with a helping hand from George W. Bush -- would be relieved of all government oversight and regulation, thank you.
More than three-fifths of the cuts advocated by Ryan and rapturously applauded by the Tea Party come from programs for low-income Americans. We're talking billions of dollars eliminated for job training at a time of continuing high unemployment, Pell grants for students and food stamps for the hungry, cuts so severe that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops scolded Ryan, himself a Roman Catholic, for walking away from the nation's moral obligations.
New York Times polling guru Nate Silver found that Romney has gained an underwhelming net of one point, on average, in the eleven polls conducted wholly or partially after the Ryan announcement, while Gallup characterized public reaction to the pick as among "the least positive" that it ever has recorded. 
Translation: Voters aren't buying Ryan's toxic recipe and that could hand Obama Florida and Pennsylvania, swing states with large elderly populations.  Ryan also has accomplished something that Obama, his surrogates and the news media have been unable to do: Pin Romney down on some economic and social issues that he has been vague about or fled from.
This is the first time in my life -- which has included covering 10 presidential elections -- that a vice presidential nominee has actually defined the presidential nominee, but then this election is shaping up to be special, or I should say especially ugly given the vast gulf between a kinder, gentler but pragmatic Obama and Biden and a pair of challengers who would return the U.S. to the pre-New Deal era when the federal government cared and did little about those moral obligations.
Ben Smith noted at BuzzFeed Politics that: 
"[T]he campaign has reached its ugliest, most fevered moment. President Obama himself invoked an old story about Romney strapping a dog to the roof of his car. The Chairman of the Republican National Committee shot back with a jibe about Obama having eaten dog as a schoolboy in Indonesia. Biden suggested that Republicans want to put voters back 'in chains.' Romney demanded Obama takes his campaign of 'division and anger and hate back to Chicago.' Obama's spokesman called him 'unhinged.' The atmosphere bristled with conflict, Twitter spilled over with gleeful vitriol, and the campaign reached the sort of fevered political moment when it feels like anything can happen."
What will happen, and some Republican bigs are already saying so privately, is that the selection of someone as radical as Ryan to run with an empty suit like Romney all but hands the election to Obama, whom I believe is en route to an Electoral College rout.  (Go ahead, do the math yourself and you'll see what I mean.)  Consequently, these leaders are quietly working to try to inoculate down-ticket candidates from the havoc the twin albatrosses could wreak at the state and local level.
* * * * *
The entrance of Ryan into the race has resulted in a proliferation of half truths, which is to say not outright lies but lies nevertheless.  A pungent example is the claim that Ryan's plan to cut Medicare closely matches Obama's.
That is half true insofar as the pretty much identical amount that would be trimmed.
Here's the other half: Obama's Affordable Care Act puts this money back into the pockets of people who need help paying medical bills, fills the so-called "donut hole" in Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage and seeks efficiencies throughout the system. Ryan's 2012 budget -- now eagerly embraced by Romney -- takes those benefits away and replaces them with a voucher system that may work for healthy seniors but will be disastrous for those with various ailments.  The donut hole would open back up, access to preventive care would vanish and a portion of the cuts would be used to pay for tax decreases weighted toward the wealthy.
It is rich, or something, that Romney and other Republicans have repeatedly whacked Obama for "failing to lead" on fiscal issues because "he refuses to tackle the entitlement crisis," but then turn around and whack him for cutting $700 billion from Medicare.
Ryan has responded to criticism about this Revere Robin Hood Plan by saying that he actually is helping the poor by eliminating their dependence on the government, a notion that certainly resonates with many voters.  But he has been unable to explain how he would make the poor self-sufficient, let alone turn around a struggling economy.
State and local government employee layoffs and not welfare kings and queens are the big engine in the ongoing unemployment malaise, yet Ryan's budget would cut aid to these governments by at least 20 percent, as well as reduce mass transit and highway spending and some other things that we take for granted, like federal money for your local sewage treatment plan and fire department.  Unimportant stuff, I'm sure you will agree.
* * * * *
Ryan's grand introduction briefly enabled the Romney campaign to change the subject from the presumptive nominee's tax returns, which except for the year 2010, and apparently in a few days the 2011 return, he adamantly refuses to release, to more important subjects like taking class warfare to new heights.
It occurred to me, as well as other uh . . . great minds, that if Obama had made the same claim about his birth certificate -- that "We'll get attacked," which has become I Wannabe First Lady Ann Romney's meme about the refusal to abide by an income tax return transparency pioneered by her hubby's father in 1968 -- he would be laughed out of the White House and all the way back to Kenya.
Ron Dreher nails it when he writes that Romney pays far less in taxes than virtually all of us, on fact at a rate when we were in college, "and he still seems to think he deserves a cookie. I'm sick and tired of him and his wife whining about how people are so mean to them about their taxes."
Me, too.
* * * * *
Veteran political pundit Dick Polman raises an interesting question. When Romney tells lies day after day, is it fair for a political reporter to state unequivocally that the candidate is a liar?
Well yes, but don't hold your breath.

Polman cites the oft-repeated Romney canard, now taken up by Ryan, in ads and on the stump that Obama intends to hand out welfare checks to slackers who don't want to work.  There is no factual basis whatsoever for this claim because Obama is as committed as ever to enforcing the federal welfare-to-work requirements. What's new is a tweak that gives the states more flexibility in how they would meet those requirements. That flexibility was requested by (cough, cough) Republican governors.
"But surely the traveling reporters can do more," writes Polman.  "If 'lie' is too strong a word, then perhaps a more genteel sentence construction would work. Something like, 'Today, Romney said again that Obama has eliminated the work requirement for welfare recipients, an assertion that is contradicted by the factual record.' Anything would be better than the usual stenography."
Ryan is similarly disposed, claiming in recent days that Obama failed to rescue an auto factory in his Wisconsin district that closed in 2008 Bush.
* * * * *
Speaking of slackers, Romney has been pretty much been one save for making tons of money by shutting down companies and his one-term stint as Massachusetts governor, and this has been the case since he was eligible for the military draft.
Although an early and enthusiastic supporter of the Vietnam War, Romney avoided military service by seeking and receiving four draft deferments. They included college deferments and a 31-month stint as a "minister of religion" in France, where he luxuriated in a mansion when not proselytizing.  Church elders were concerned at the time that this classification for the church's missionaries was being overused at the height of the war.  Go figure.

Romney is in good company in this respect. Fellow chickenhawks include George Bush and Dick Cheney, as well as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rush Limbaugh among many, many others.
* * * * *
Stealing a march on Romney, Ryan now says that he will not reveal specifics of his updated 2013 budget plan until after the election.  Same for the specifics of how Romney will revive the economy.
This, if you didn't catch my earlier drift, is because both men's plans are political poison unless you happen to be spending a few leisurely days away from Wall Street and are sunbathing on your yacht.

Photograph by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Cartoon du Jour

Jeff Danziger/New York Times News Syndicate

Monday, August 13, 2012

Why Mitt Romney's Assertion That He Can Fix The Economy Is Flapdoodle

Hoover's business acumen crippled his presidency
Mitt Romney's leading qualification to be president -- okay, his only qualification -- is that as an experienced corporate executive officer he can lead America out of the economic wilderness in which it has wandered since Barack Obama . . . excuse me, George Bush drew on his own entrepreneurial experience to jump start America's ongoing economic malaise by pushing through an enormous tax cut for the wealthiest Americans while simultaneously waging two wars.
Romney's assertion that he can cure what ails us economically by magically creating millions of jobs -- some 12 million jobs by his own over-the-top estimate in a speech earlier this month -- is utter and absolute flapdoodle.  After all, those free-market capitalists whom the presumptive Republican nominee worships and Paul Ryan, his vice presidential running mate fetishizes, have shown little interest in creating jobs because they are far more interested in making record profits. 
Public opinion polls reveal that while voters in the swing states that Romney must win if he has a chance of ousting Obama are deeply concerned about the economy, they understand three things:
* That the president has been handicapped at every turn by obdurate Republicans like Ryan who would rather see him suffer in the polls than pitch in to turn the economy around.
* That even in this era of truth twisting, Romney and his handlers have lied continuously and shamelessly on an epic scale about virtually everything, including his own private-sector record.
* That Romney's tenure as a venture capitalist who destroyed jobs no more qualifies him as an able steward of the economy than it did Herbert Hoover.
The 31st president made a small fortune in mining while his apparent brilliance as a corporate organization man greased his election in 1928, then doomed an administration that was notably out of touch with Main Street as the Great Depression spread.
As Michael Kazin notes in Dissent magazine, no businessman has ever been a successful president. 
Beyond Hoover, the most pungent example of this is Bush himself, who was notably dismal in a series of businesses ventures until Poppy Bush sicced Karl Rove on him and this resume without a man became a governor and then, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, a president.  And then thanks to an electorate doped up on post-9/11 Republican fear mongering, re-elected him.
The biggest reason that Romney's claims that he would be an economic savior fall flat is fundamental: A country is not a corporation, something that former pizza mogul Howard Cain conveniently overlooked during his 15 minutes of fame behind the wheel of the GOP presidential clown car.
There are no counterparts to interest rates, tax rates and spending programs in the corporate world, and it is ironic that the biggest reason that Obama is likely to win re-election -- and perhaps win in an Electoral College landslide because so many voters have a visceral dislike of Romney -- is Romney's rapacious tenure atop Bain Capital, an issue that not only won't go away but becomes more pungent because he continues to refuse to release more than one year of his federal tax returns, defying a standard set by his father in 1968.
We do know from that single return that Romney paid a tax rate of 13.9 percent on income of $21.6 million. The richest of the rich, of whom Romney is one, pay income tax at a rate of 35 percent, but he "earned" most of his money from investments and has paid an obscenely low rate for capital gains. 
Corporate bigs don't necessarily have to be politically adept, as Hoover was not.  He was a wooden and uninspiring speaker who never connected with the downtrodden during those calamitous times. Kind of like Romney come to think of it, who infamously co-mingled Palestinian business and political culture (code for their religion) in asserting that Palestinians, who in fact are quite entrepreneurial minded despite the iron fist of their Israeli occupiers, are a bunch of lazy oafs.
In analyzing Romney's tax plan, the Tax Policy center found that "It is not mathematically possible to design a revenue-neutral plan that preserves current incentives for savings and investment and that does not result in a net tax cut for high-income taxpayers and a net tax increase for lower- and/or middle-income taxpayers."
Even if tax breaks "are eliminated in a way designed to make the resulting tax system as progressive as possible, there would still be a shift in the tax burden of roughly $86 billion [a year] from those making over $200,000 to those making less” than that. What would that mean for the average tax bill? Millionaires would get an $87,000 tax cut, the study says. But for 95 percent of the population, taxes would go up by about 1.2 percent, an average of $500 a year."
I rest my case.
Kazin writes that it was Franklin D. Roosevelt who became the exemplar of a chief executive: "Compassionate, witty, capable of switching from damning his opponents to winning enough of them over whenever necessary. And so, over the next six decades, the idea of a businessman as president largely went out of fashion."
It wasn't until 1992 with the emergence of billionaire Ross Perot that voters seemed again ready for a self-made mogul who would run America like a business. Perot made brash promises to balance the budget and curb free trade, all unsustainable, and eventually faded as a major party candidate because while he thrived in a corporate environment where he was the big cheese he was incapable of adjusting to a political environment and requisite consensus building.  The same thing would have happened to Cain had he not had a zipper problem.
Michael Tomasky summed up Romney best in a Daily Beast commentary
"Releasing your returns is just one of those things you have to do, like eating corn dogs in Iowa. That he is even fighting this point shows us, or at least gives us much reason to suspect, that the kind of capitalism he practiced for 25 years is utterly incompatible with civic responsibility."
Image by Oscar Cesare (1929)

Cartoon du Jour

Jim Morin/Miami Herald