Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

The Right’s Goal–end the one tax expenditure that truly aids poor working families

by Linda Beale

The Right’s Goal–end the one tax expenditure that truly aids poor working families

The Tax Foundation, that propaganda tank that masquerades as a “nonpartisan” “think” tank, is at it again.  Now it’s pushing the right-wing agenda of ending any tax expenditures that redistribute resources down to those in the lower-income distributions. It’s produced a study on the “benefits” of eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit that often makes the difference between food security and living in your car for the working poor.  Erik Wasson, Tax Foundation Charts Benefits of Ending Earned Income Tax Credit, The Hill (Aug. 6, 2013).

The Tax Foundation “study” includes various right-wing assumptions about the working poor and the benefits of tax cuts that are not empirically supportable.

1) While conceding that the EITC helps the “really” poor, the Tax Foundation repeats the old right-wing saw that those working poor who aren’t “really” poor will be disincentivized to work by having the EITC, in essence making that old Romney claim that the EITC is a “bad” policy because it provides aid to the poor, which will keep them from taking “personal responsibility” and thus keep them from getting those multiple jobs that would provide them the same sustainability that the EITC provides. Here’s how the Hill story describes the report on this point:

The report argues that the tax credit encourages work for very low wage  individuals but serves to discourage work for those making more because the  refundable credit phases out.  Id.

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The Right cuts food stamps to pass corporate farm welfare–where’s the sense in that?

by Linda Beale

The Right cuts food stamps to pass corporate farm welfare–where’s the sense in that?

The House has its priorities firmly in mind.  Those priorities involve making sure that the wealthy people and corporations keep their wealth while any and all possible cuts to any welfare or “entitlement” programs are made.

All you have to do is look at the right’s emphasis on passing a farm bill (mostly aiding corporate farmers and gentlemanly nonfarmers) and on cutting food stamps to the nation’s food-insecure. In June, the House proposed slashing $20 billion from food stamps and ended up passing a separate farm bill because it was so determined to cut aid to food-insecure Americans.  Now, the media is all concerned that a farm bill won’t pass at all, because the right is insisting on doubling the cut to food aide–slashing $40 billion from the program.  See, e.g., Nixon, GOP Rush to Slash Food Stamps Puts Farm Bill in Jeopardy, (Aug. 1, 2013).

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Extradition and US refusals

Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian  pointedly reminds us that the “US frequently refuses extradition requests even if it involves a serious crime and there is an extradition treaty.”  The entire piece  is below.

On Obama’s cancellation of summit with Putin and extradition

The US frequently refuses extradition requests where, unlike with Snowden, it involves serious crimes and there is an extradition treaty.

(updated below)

President Obama today canceled a long-scheduled summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in part because the US president is upset that Russia defied his personal directive to hand over Edward Snowdendespite the lack of an extradition treaty between the two nations. That means that US media outlets will spend the next 24 hours or so channeling the government’s views (excuse the redundancy) by denouncing the Russian evil of refusing extradition. When doing so, very few, if any, establishment media accounts will mention any of these cases:

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Part Time Employment and the Sequester

Part of the reason employment and hours worked, in particular, have been so weak in early 2013 is the rapid growth of part-time employment. Part time employment is volatile and subject to many influences.  From December to June part time employment rose 589,000.  That is a 2.2% — almost 5% annualized – growth rate. Part time employment jumped from 18.4 % of total employment in December  to 19.0% in July.

The unusually large increase in part time employment is due  almost exclusively to the sequester.  For example, at the Department of Defense (DOD) some 650,000 civilians must take 11 days off in the second and third quarters. They have 26 weeks, but after adjusting for federal holidays, vacations, sick leave, etc., the effective  time is 22 weeks. This works out that DOD employees must take an involuntary, unpaid day-off every other week. Consequently, on any given week about half of the DOD civilian workers (325,000) became part time employees.  That is 55% of the 589,000 jump in part time employment in the first half of 2013..

But the sequester is impacting all federal employees and is spreading to federal contractors.  Total federal civilian employment is 2,760,000.  If half are now part time workers that would be 1,380,000, or 134% of the 589,000 jump in part time employment. Even if only 25% of non-DOD federal civilian workers are now part time, it would still mean that the sequester is converting over a million jobs into part-time work.

 

 

 

 

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"pensioners: 17 cents on the $; BoA, UBS 75 cents on the $"

Detroit Said to Reduce Swaps Debt by 25% in Deal With Banks . The swaps were a “bet” on the direction of interest rates. With the decline of variable interest rates, Detroit found itself owing to the banks. With the decreased credit rating to B2, the same as AIG, Detroit found itself at the mercy of the banks who demanded their money. Except, there was no President of Congress moving quickly with legislation to establish a fund like TARP did for AIG. Nor did the Fed establish the city as a Bank or buy up its municipals. Even the state of Michigan did little to help the cash strapped city.  When the first Michigan Emergency Manager Act was struck down, the Republican dominated legislature reacted quickly, far quicker than voting on the expansion of Medicaid (one year has passed since SCOTUS ruled on the PPACA); but then, this is TBTF and business we are talking about and not ~ 450,000 constituents living with incomes less than FPL. With little delay, the legislature passed a new Emergency Manager Act, Public Act 436 giving derivatives such as the Interest Rate Swaps top priority similar to what the Federal 2005 Financial Services Modernization Act did. Public Act 436 goes as far as to supersede payments to pensioners and child support payments.

Sec. 11. (1) An emergency manager shall develop and may amend a written financial and operating plan for the local government. The plan shall have the objectives of assuring that the local government is able to provide or cause to be provided governmental services essential to the public health, safety, and welfare and assuring the fiscal accountability of the local government. The financial and operating plan shall provide for all of the following:

(a) Conducting all aspects of the operations of the local government within the resources available according to the emergency manager’s revenue estimate.

(b) The payment in full of the scheduled debt service requirements on all bonds, notes, and municipal securities of the local government, contract obligations in anticipation of which bonds, notes, and municipal securities are issued, and all other uncontested legal obligations. [ As written by a Republican legislature and signed into law by a moderate Republican, Governor Rick Snyder]

Besides awarding derivative holders and bank first in line status, the Republican State Legislature also took it upon themselves to make sure Public Act 436 can not be overturned through voter referendum. Governor Rick Snyder wasted no time in signing the bill.

The winners in the Detroit crisis are the banks who have reaped $millions in fees, avoided property taxes on partially foreclosed properties (the foreclosures were never completed after driving the owners out of the houses and left the uninformed former mortgage holders on the hook for back taxes), and moved to the front of the line of Detroit debt holders. Typically these Interest Rate swaps are of the variable interest rate variety and are often exchanged for fixed rate through the Swaps. When the Fed drove down the variable interest rates, cities found themselves on the hook for the higher fixed rates. Many of the Swaps are also tied to the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) which was being manipulated by the largest banks. As a result, the banks owe little due to low variable rates and the cities are on the hook for higher fixed rate costs. Just a measly $1.4 billion of the $3.8 billion Interest Swaps tied to Detroit Pension Funds to which pensioners are being asked to accept far less than what banks are being asked to accept.

The losers?  Retirees who have pensions covered by the Interest Swaps. Workers who took and will take wage cuts. Detroit with thousands of partially foreclosed vacant houses which property taxes can not be collected on from the former owners or the banks. The state of Michigan; it will have a black eye for doing little to help the abandoned city over the decades. Without it and its trade with the US largest trading partner Canada, the state would be little more than a large vegetable farm. Banks may take a trim around the ears; but, it will not be anywhere as severe as the haircut the pensioners and workers will have taken when all is sorted out.

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Ways and Means–still distracting with false scandals

by Linda Beale

Ways and Means–still distracting with false scandals

GOP representatives Camp and Boustany are continuing to beat the dead horse of an IRS “scandal” connected with the way the IRS has attempted to efficiently filter new applications for 501(c)(4) status to provide extra scrutiny to the most likely groups to be engaged in illicit politicking.  See their July 30th letter to IRS deputy commissioner Daniel Werfel [hat tip Prof. Evelyn Brody]  in which they suggest that there is email evidence that IRS official Lois Lerner may have inappropriately released confidential tax information in the 501(c)(4) application process to an FECofficial.  They’ve included in the pdf file a series of emails between Lerner and FEC officials and IRS officials relating to a request for information about the exempt status of a particular group.

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David Sirota Agrees with me on the Tax Reform "Secrecy" Scandal

by Linda Beale

David Sirota Agrees with me on the Tax Reform “Secrecy” Scandal

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Max Baucus has established a secret submission process for Senators to let him know what pet tax loopholes they want to retain (probably the ones that high-paid lobbyists representing corporations with operations in their states have pushed for).  Senators will be granted 50 years of secrecy–constitutents won’t be able to find out what their own senators proposed and supported, or their rationales for those proposals, unless the Senators themselves opt out of the “protection from constituents” process.  The anti-transparency measure adopted by Senate Finance Committee leaders smacks of a complete disregard for democratic processes and citizens’ rights to know what proposals their representatives in Congress are supporting.  The one thing we can be sure of is that whatever tax “reform” a group comes up with in these closed-door circumstances won’t have the best interests of the ordinary American worker in mind but rather the best tax “loopholes” for multinational corporations and their wealthy managers/owners.

Senator Bernie Sanders already opted out of the secrecy promise by publishing his own proposals on his website.  Let’s hope many others realize the anti-democratic nature of a process that spurns the public’s input or knowledge of what the Senate millionaires club is up to.

David Sirota has a good piece in Salon.com on this issue.  See Corporate Sellouts Exploit a Secret New Gimmick, Salong.com (July 31, 2013).

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State Run and Free Healthcare Clinics ? ? ?

“For goodness sakes, of course the employees and the retirees like it, it’s free,” says Republican State Sen. Dave Lewis.

11,000 Helena state employees, retirees, and dependents now go to a state run healthcare clinic which is free. No co-pays, no deductibles, doctors are salaried, wait time is a few minutes, and visits are up 75%. Of course, the skepticism is high:

“I thought it was just the goofiest idea”

“If they’re taking money out of the hospital’s pocket, the hospital’s raising the price on other things to offset that,” Lewis suggests . . .

He (Lewis) and others faulted then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer for moving ahead with the clinic last year without approval of the state legislature, although it was not needed.

One year has passed and what about today’s feelings ?

“They’re wonderful people, they do a great job, but as a legislator, I wonder how in the heck we can pay for it very long,” Lewis says. (me)Someone changed his mind.

– division manager Russ Hill says it’s actually costing the state $1,500,000 less for healthcare than before the clinic opened. (me) Sounds like it will fund itself in the end.

“Because there’s no markup, our cost per visit is lower than in a private fee-for-service environment,” Hill says.

Some of this may not sit well with physicians; but, why the big difference ? ? ?

Physicians are paid by the hour, not by the number of procedures they prescribe like many in the private sector. The state is able to buy supplies at lower prices.

Bottom line: a patient’s visit to the employee health clinic costs the state about half what it would cost if that patient went to a private doctor. And because it’s free to patients, hundreds of people have come in who had not seen a doctor for at least two years.

Hill says the facility is catching a lot, including 600 people who have diabetes, 1,300 people with high cholesterol, 1,600 people with high blood pressure and 2,600 patients diagnosed as obese. Treating these conditions early could avoid heart attacks, amputations, or other expensive hospital visits down the line, saving the state more money. and lower costs over all in the end (me).

– That personal attention has proved valuable for library technician Pamela Weitz. A mammogram late last year found a lump. “That doctor called me like three or four times, and I had like three letters from the clinic reminding me, ‘You can’t let this go, you’ve got to follow up on it,’ ” she says.

This is what is meant by improved quality and better outcomes from healthcare as opposed to a services for fees scenario.The patients appear to be happier as well as the doctors employed by the state run clinic.

– Clinic operations director and physician’s assistant Jimmie Barnwell says this model feels more rewarding to him. “Having those barriers of time and money taken out of the way are a big part [of what gets] people to come into the clinic. But then, when they come into the clinic, they get a lot of face time with the nurses and the doctors,” Barnwell says

Maybe it is a fluke; but at least, one state tried it with what appears to be good results. I live in Michigan where the state Repubs have been haggling with the teacher and state employee’s unions over paying for healthcare insurance. I could see this model working here for both groups as well as Detroit workers and retirees where the city is seeking to end it for retirees and cut it for workers. In the end, it appears it could save Michigan and Detroit money which is sorely needed in “some” cases. It is interesting a state which is 50-50 in politics appears to have found a way out of the healthcare cost and insurance quagmire. Montana’s State-Run Free Clinic Sees Early Success

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The headline juxtaposition boggles the mind

David Zurin from The Nation writes The headline juxtaposition boggles the mind:

The headline juxtaposition boggles the mind. You have, on one day, “Detroit Files Largest Municipal Bankruptcy in History.” Then on the next, you have “Detroit Plans to Pay For New Red Wings Hockey Arena Despite Bankruptcy.

Yes, the very week Michigan Governor Rick Snyder granted a state-appointed emergency manager’s request to declare the Motor City bankrupt, the Tea Party governor gave a big thumbs-up to a plan for a new $650 million Detroit Red Wings hockey arena. Almost half of that $650 million will be paid with public funds.

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