Move Medicare To 55 Then Drop It Every Year

I have an idea for a bipartisan solution to the health care reform effort that everyone can agree on.
Lower the age for Medicare to 55 right now, and then drop the minimum age by five years every year as the system adjusts to the influx of new people.
This is a bipartisan solution because it expands on the Republican Party’s main concern that Medicare be protected, as stated in their “Health Care Bill of Rights for Seniors” proposal to “protect Medicare.” It also protects the “Blue Dog” Democrats’ main concern that a complicated “public option” would harm large insurance companies by offering the public superior services at a lower cost.
How hard would it be to add this idea to the health care legislation? It would be a simple addition to the current legislation, requiring only a few paragraphs in the 1000-page bill. There would be very little additional administrative cost because Medicare already exists and serves millions of people, and all the procedures for adding and serving lots of people are already in place.
People between 55 and 65 years of age would see an immediate benefit because they would be immediately covered. And each year more people would benefit. By 2013 when the current legislation is supposed to start phasing in, everyone over the age of 40 would already be covered, greatly lowering the costs of covering the remaining younger, healthier people who remain uncovered. And costs would be reduced further every year as the age of eligibility drops by another five years.
This would be a winner with voters because everyone understands and loves the Medicare program.
This idea addresses the complaints about the reform legislation before Congress:
* It is too complicated (“over 1000 pages”) – this requires only a few paragraphs of legislation
* It amounts to a “government takeover” – this only expands on an existing, popular program
* It is too expensive – several centuries of all costs of this program can easily be covered for by rescinding the bailouts received by the Wall Street millionaires and billionaires and asking for the money back – requiring only another few paragraphs of legislation.
So how hard would it be to introduce this solution to the contentious health care reform debate?

The Bonuses and the Damage They Do

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
This is a story we are all too familiar with: Wall Street vs. Main Street. Irresponsible behavior leads to bonuses for Wall Street while working hard and playing by the rules leads to unemployment and foreclosure for Main Street.
You’ve heard the elements of the story: For quite some time Wall Street and the banks were operating irresponsibly, fomenting a huge credit bubble which led to the financial collapse. At the end of 2008 millions and millions of regular people – popularly known as “Main Street” – began losing their jobs, losing their houses, losing their savings and forgetting about ever retiring.
Wall Street: Huge Wall Street bonuses are in the news: Bank Bonus Tab: $33 Billion

Nine banks that received government aid money paid out bonuses of nearly $33 billion last year — including more than $1 million apiece to nearly 5,000 employees — despite huge losses that plunged the U.S. into economic turmoil.
… The nine firms in the report had combined 2008 losses of nearly $100 billion. That helped push the financial system to the brink, leading the government to inject $175 billion into the firms through its Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The Cost: The same amount, used for the people, would bring over 2.5 million good-paying jobs.
The “financial collapse” bonus pool is $33 billion. For comparison, look at what $30 billion could buy for We, the People, if only we had some control over things. $30 billion is the amount requested in Senator Sherrod Brown’s (D-Ohio) Impact Act. $30 billion = more than 2.5 million jobs:

“IMPACT (Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technology) creates a $30 billion Manufacturing Revolving Loan Fund to help small and medium-sized manufacturers finance retooling, shift design, and improve energy efficiency.
. . . the IMPACT Act could create 680,000 direct manufacturing jobs nationally and 1,972,000 indirect jobs over the next five years.”

Gas Prices and Bonuses: Do you remember those soaring gas prices that hit Main Street so hard last year. They play a part in this bonus story. For some background, see Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone piece, Inside The Great American Bubble Machine,

So what caused the huge spike in oil prices? Take a wild guess. . . . [Wall Street] persuad[ed] pension funds and other large institutional investors to invest in oil . . . The push transformed oil from a physical commodity, rigidly subject to supply and demand, into something to bet on, like a stock. Between 2003 and 2008, the amount of speculative money in commodities grew from $13 billion to $317 billion, an increase of 2,300 percent. By 2008, a barrel of oil was traded 27 times, on average, before it was actually delivered and consumed.
[. . .] But it wasn’t the consumption of real oil that was driving up prices — it was the trade in paper oil. By the summer of 2008, in fact, commodities speculators had bought and stockpiled enough oil futures to fill 1.1 billion barrels of crude, which meant that speculators owned more future oil on paper than there was real, physical oil stored in all of the country’s commercial storage tanks and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve combined. It was a repeat of both the Internet craze and the housing bubble, when Wall Street jacked up present day profits by selling suckers shares of a fictional fantasy future of endlessly rising prices.

This fits our story because the top bonus-getter this time around is Andrew J. Hall. Hall “earned” it by helping to run up the price of oil last year. Hall is getting a $100 million bonus. (Thanks to previous years’ bonuses Hall already owns a 1000-year-old castle called Schloss Derneberg. Go look at some of the pictures of what these nice Wall Street bonuses can buy.)
Here’s some more bonus news: Goldman may pay out largest bonus pool ever,

Looks like things are back to normal, or perhaps even better, at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE:GS) as the firm is reportedly on track to pay out its largest bonus pool in the firm’s 140-year history thanks to soaring profits in the first half of 2009.

Yes, that’s right “back to normal.” Huge bonuses, in some cases the largest ever.

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The RealDVD Situation

I have been following the story of the lawsuit over RealDVD. Here are a few: Update on RealDVD vs MPAA, RealDVD and Movie Industry Again — And Bob Barr, Too, MPAA vs RealDVD — Why You Care, Times Change, Some Industries Don’t Want To
So here is recent news:
• On August 11th, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel granted the movie industry’s request for a preliminary injunction barring the sale of RealDVD, software designed for copying a DVD to a computer hard drive for backup and portable personal use.
• The injunction was granted on the grounds that RealDVD, despite being one of the only commercial DVD-ripping software packages that respected copyright through use and copy restrictions, technically violated the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
See: Agonist: Movie Industry Bent on Killing Itself Like Music Industry Did,

I haven’t blogged about this in a dog’s age, but when I realized that Real DVD had lost in court to the movie industry, I had to post something.
. . . Sure enough, as anyone could have predicted, Judge Patel ruled against Real DVD and by extension, against fair use, freedom of information and ultimately against the interest of the very media companies she ruled in favor of. When 90% of U.S. consumers believe they should be able to make backup copies of the DVDs they purchase, its a futile battle to try to prevent them from doing so.
And just as with Napster, whose centralized servers potentially gave the music industry greater control of how music was distributed online, Judge Patel has ruled illegal a product made by a legitimate company that offers STRONGER copy protection than that used on DVDs.

See also: MyDD :: Stupid Laws Written by Lobbyists Do Long Term Damage

The Recession Is Probably Ending

m4s0n501

I think that the recession is probably ending. This is a technical term, and people will not feel a change. But the “cliff diving” has ended. We have probably hit a “bottom.”
This is due to a few things. First, you can’t fall forever at such a fast rate. Second, you can only fall so far. Third, there are still millions upon millions of people with jobs who have to eat, buy some clothes, use phones, etc.
And, finally, the “stimulus” is starting to work, making up for a lot of the lost demand in the economy.
What next? Well that depends on a lot of things. There is no reason to think things will start getting better. And things will probably not get worse until the stimulus ends. But the restructuring of the economy didn’t happen, bank regulations didn’t change, concentration of wealth to the top still is occurring, trade laws still sap our jobs, and Wall Street still dominates with their incentives to sell every factory in the country at fire sale prices.
My prediction is that we will coast along for a while, the Fed will try to inflate another bubble in something, and then after a while the collapse will start again, from where it left off.

The Root Of The Discontent

The anxiety is expressed over health care, but the opening for the mistrust came from Obama’s favoring of Wall Street.
From A Blue Dog’s lament: ‘People are scared’ – POLITICO.com,

“I go to church. I hear it at church. They’re just afraid. They don’t trust this administration,” Webb said.
Exactly why is tougher to pin down, but it often returns to the same litany, a mix of conservative and populist frustrations. Webb cited the stimulus before wondering in his next breath: “I don’t understand how a company can fail and then the head of that company gets a $3 or $4 million bonus.”

People don’t know the difference between the bailouts and the stimulus. People don’t know that it was the Bush administration that bailed out Wall Street. And people don’t understand why the Obama administration allowed those bonuses.

Trusting Obama

Has anyone been held accountable yet for the economic crash? Torture? Launching illegal war? Letting lobbyists write laws? Using terror alerts for politics? Other obvious violations of law?
No?
Then I don’t trust Obama either.
If Obama has the courage to restore the rule of law, talk to me then. And don’t even me get started on his backing off the public option after the teabaggers started disrupting town halls. That just encourages the tactic, which is dangerous.

National Association of Manufacturers Blasts … American Manufacturing?

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Last week Harold Meyerson wrote a great column in the Washington Post, Just One Word: Factories, promoting American manufacturing. Meyerson wrote,

“Since 1987, manufacturing as a share of our gross domestic product has declined 30 percent. Once the world’s leading net exporter, we have become the world’s leading net importer. In 2007, we exported $1.2 trillion worth of goods and services but imported $1.8 trillion. If there were a debtor’s prison for nations, we’d all be in the clink.
[. . .] What makes the decline of American manufacturing particularly galling is that we’re not falling behind because we’re inefficient: American factories are among the most productive on the planet, as McCormack notes. But alone among the world’s industrial powers, we have left the task of enticing manufacturers not to the federal government but to state and local governments, which try to attract factories and research facilities with tax abatements and public investments that are dwarfed by the efforts of national governments in other lands. …
It’s not just that the United States uniquely lacks an industrial policy. It’s that the United States uniquely has an anti-industrial policy.”

This sounds good to me. If we are going to restore American economic power we need to promote American manufacturing.
So who comes out to blast Meyerson for his column promoting American manufacturing? Was it the European Manufacturers Association? Was it the China Manufacturers Association? Was it the Korean Manufactures Association? No, it was America’s own National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Yes, the American NAM, not the European, Chinese, Japanese or Korean NAM, but the American NAM. They say American manufacturing is in fine shape and doesn’t need any help from the government to keep it strong.
WTF?
Why is the NAM blasting Meyerson for writing a column promoting American manufacturing? A clue might be the source of the anti-American-manufacturing information they use. They quote Daniel J. Ikenson of the Cato Institute. Cato is an anti-government “libertarian” think tank that supports “free trade” and is against any kind of regulation of business, including any restrictions on imports. This could be because Cato receives a great deal of financial support from non-manufacturing interests including commodities and securities traders, tobacco companies, communications companies, software companies and oil companies. They also receive support from non-American manufacturing interests, including the Korea International Trade Association.
What I want to know is: Why is America’s National Association of Manufacturers echoing the Cato Institute’s views against American manufacturing? Has this organization lost its way? Does the NAM membership know about this?

China Is Being Smart On Trade. Will We?

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Trade is not complicated. Trade is just an exchange of goods. You trade something for something. I buy something from you, and in exchange you buy something from me. It is simple. It is a win-win bargain because we both end up with something we needed. The wealth of each of us is increased.
In modern times we use money as an intermediary instead of making a direct and immediate trade of one good for another. You have the money I used to buy from you, and you can use it to buy from me in the future. Of course, we both have to agree on what to use as money and its value for exchanges, but once we do our transactions proceed smoothly.
Trade between countries works the same way: we buy tings made in Factorystan and Factorystan gets richer, then the Factorystanis buy from us and we get richer. Both of us have things we didn’t have before.
Add in additional countries and the equations become more complicated. But it comes back to the same principle. Goods are exchanged. Each side benefits.
So obviously the more goods a country makes or grows, the stronger its position in this global system.
Just as the intermediary of money enable individuals to trade more easily, it introduces ways for international transactions to proceed. We agree on the value of the money using “exchange rates.” This allows a balancing mechanism. As countries accumulate an excess of the money without exchanging it for goods made elsewhere the exchange rates fluctuate according to the rules of supply and demand, making their goods more expensive to others. Therefore goods made in the other countries become less expensive and the exchange flows should come into balance.
In free markets things come back into balance. But this natural balancing is not occurring today. China has been building up their economic power for some time. China should be the economic powerhouse now. According to the rules of currency and balance its currency should be extremely strong. Its products should be the most expensive on the planet. Its people should be rich, enjoying the consumption of things made elsewhere. This should be providing strong incentives to open factories in our own country.
This is not what is happening. Instead China’s currency is not strong, so the prices for their goods continue to undercut everyone else’s. China is manipulating the exchange rate so that its currency stays low. This keeps the price of its goods low, and keeps the business flowing to its factories. They are not buying from us. In fact they are even requiring that internally they buy Chinese.
This is occurring under the current rules described as “free trade.” Of course this is not free trade. It is manipulated and enables China to capture much of the world’s manufacturing. China is rising up and seizing the world’s means of production.
China is just being smart. The problem is that we are not responding and protecting our own interests. Our country’s leadership appears to be hamstrung, unable or unwilling to challenge this and develop a long-term economic and manufacturing plan. Part of the reason for this is that a wealthy Wall Street few profits from this in the short term, as we bleed away our country’s long-term interests. Our country’s decision-making processes appear to be under the control of that wealthy Wall Street few. And they are selling China the rope with which it is hanging us.
Theorists tell us that eventually economic forces should force a rebalancing of China’s currency and a shift in the world economic order. But there are a number of problems with sitting back and waiting for this to occur. It could take decades, and things could get (and may already be) so far out of whack that any rebalancing will be “disorderly,” meaning another – and worse – chaotic economic crash. And there is no guarantee that a rebalancing will ever occur. As China increases its economic power it increases its ability to bend the rules in its favor. The lesson learned so far is that manipulating the rules is highly profitable and brings few, if any, consequences.
Even if a rebalancing does eventually occur there is no guarantee that it will help us. When a factory closes we lose more than the jobs. We lose the know-how – the intellectual infrastructure that supports modern technological processes. We lose the supply chain. We lose the customer base. We lose the economic power that could enable us to rebuild. We lose more of our manufacturing capacity every day this situation is allowed to continue.
Our country’s leadership must engage and develop policies to fight this and restore our economic power. We need an economic plan. We need a manufacturing plan. We need an accountability plan, holding Wall Street and China accountable, making them follow the rules. We need to know that our leadership is on our side and is fighting for us.
Trade is a two-way street and it is time that the goods flow in both directions. “Free” trade is not “free” if only one side plays by the rules.