Where the Republican Budget Really Came From

I’m feeling cranky.  I’ll spare you the extended list.  If you’ve read a few of my more recent posts, you’ll remember that life in hospital land has been stressful.  It ain’t over yet, unfortunately.

Granted, the whole country is cranky.  And irritable or irritating, depending on your perspective.

Gail Collins, NY Times columnist, in her column today, makes a compelling case that the Republicans have become even more irritating than the French, a feat that would seem to defy the very laws of Nature herself:

While the G-20 was finishing its business, members of Congress were showing how they did theirs by passing a budget resolution. The spending plan was somewhat smaller than the president had requested. The Senate also added the Republican priority of reducing taxes on people who inherit estates of $7 million or more – a move that would increase the deficit while stimulating the economy approximately as much as eliminating a sales tax on square potato chips.

But even so, not a single Republican voted yes on the budget. In the House, the G.O.P. came up with an alternative that would cut more taxes for the wealthy while clamping down on nondefense spending. House Republicans think we invest way too much on these government programs and try to cut back on them every single year that their party is not actually in power.

In the Senate, Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire predicted that the budget plan “will absolutely put this country on an unsustainable path.” This would be the same Judd Gregg who agreed to join the Obama cabinet as commerce secretary before a last-minute discovery that the president is a Democrat.

Actually, it’s no contest when you think about it. The French aren’t even in the ballpark.

(I’ve made my irritation with the former Veep very clear in a previous post.)

The Republicans are really cranky, after that whole election thing.  And, when it comes to the financial crisis, the budget, trillions of dollars of deficits, and the fact they have to cover-up and evade the the fact their  policies are responsible for a humongous part of it, they are in a tizzy of biblical proportions.

So, to counter the budget they disdain, despise, and dysphagiate (figure it out), they have concocted their own version.  Ta-da!  For us mere mortals, they have released an 18 page summary of the absolute best, paramount, pinnacle of Republican fiscal theory and solutions.  I read it.  You can read it here: “Road to Recovery.”

At least look at it.  That way you’ll understand my following comments.

I give it very high marks for:

  1. Expansive use of white space in a policy document
  2. The incomprehensible use of bubble pictures connected by lines
  3. Text in a font and use of Italics (!!) popular at the time of Abraham Lincoln
  4. No numbers, well, sort of.  The ones that just happen to be included are for the most part those nasty Democratic ones
  5. Exhibiting a level of hubris and claiming a doctrine of infallibility that exceeds the wildest dreams of the Papacy.

I could stop there, but, in my crankiness I wrote a short piece a couple of weeks ago that I titled, “A Long Time Ago in a Beltway Far, Far Away.”  It tells the tale of where the ideas for the Republican budget really came from.

A word of forewarning. This piece is a very edgy satire and in a style in which I usually do not write.  You can access it here: “A Long Time Ago…” (I apologize in advance to George Lucas.)

Fiat and Chrysler Merge??!! Will NASCAR run the Mille Miglia?

Header Photo: 1960 Fiat 1100B.  Notice the “suicide” front door handles.
One May Love Beer and the Other Wine, But, Oh, Do They Love Their Automobiles!

Americans May Love Beer and the Italians Wine, But, Oh, Do We Love Our Automobiles!

Holy MOPAR, Batman!  Fix It Again Tony!  If I had been asked to guess which international automaker the Obama administration would instruct Chrysler to join forces with to survive, perhaps to one day again be profitable, I wouldn’t have guessed the legendary Italian carmaker, FIAT (I use caps here, because, it originally was an acronym of  Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino: Italian Automobile Factory of Turin).  Fiat has been around for a long time, being founded in 1899.  Fiat has been always been known for its small cars, even though it does have a major truck division, along with with major farm implements, etc., etc.

Over the years, Fiat has produced some fine cars of note, even if they were only known in Europe.  They withdrew from the American market in 1983.  Between 1967 and 2008, Fiat was awarded European Car of the Year thirteen times.

Of those cars, I find the 2006 Alfa Romeo (Fiat’s sport division) very attractive.  Small, but well styled:

Alfa Romea 156 Selespeed, 2006 European Car of the Year

Alfa Romea 156 Selespeed, 2006 European Car of the Year

Once word of a Chrysler/Fiat merger hit the international media, this announcement, of course, or should we say thank the Stig, did not escape the notice of the guys at Top Gear:

With operations throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, Fiat has vast resources and small car expertise. The Fiat 500 is one of the hottest cars in Europe, winning European Car of the Year for 2008, and the company wants to bring the car to our shores; initial reports indicate that Fiat plans to retool existing American Chrysler plants and sell it here. We say “non vediamo l’ora” and bring us the Abarth!

Fiat 500 Abarth 2008

Fiat 500 Abarth 2008

The Abarth is a performance model of Fiat 500. The 1.4L engine with IHI RHF3-P turbocharger is rated 135 PS (133 hp/99 kW) at 5500 rpm and 180 N·m (133 lb·ft) (206 N·m (152 lb·ft) in sport mode) torque at 3000 rpm. It includes 5-speed C510 transmission, low ride suspension, dualdrive electric power steering with SPORT setting, 6.5 x 16” aluminium alloy rim with 195/45 R16 tyres, 4-wheel disc brakes (front ventilated). Interior includes turbo pressure gauge, Gear Shift Indicator, aluminium foot pedals, Blue&Me MAP with Telemetry monitoring and GPS system.  Source: Wikipedia

Okay, I look forward as much as the next gear-head to the Stig (some say that he secretly keeps a ’70 Plymouth Superbird under a tarp in his garage and that he made Jeremy promise to never call it “rubbish.”) blasting around the Top Gear track in a hot set of wheels with a Five-Point star stamped into the valve covers of it’s 5-Litre motor putting out 600 brake horsepower getting 35 miles per gallon.  Let’s just hope it does not, and I mean DOES NOT look like the Fiat 500 Abarth.

Now, it’s disclosure time.  I owned a Fiat.  Yep, Lorette and I bought a brand-spankin’ new 1979 Fiat 131 Brava while we lived in Fort Worth, Texas, my last year in seminary.  Two liter, twin overhead cam engine, five speed, and a snappy clutch.  I loved that car, especially because it replaced a 1974 Ford Pinto station wagon with “country squire” fake wood vinyl siding.  When you shifted from fifth to third, and put your foot in it, something actually happened “accelerationwise” with that pretty Fiat exhaust putter that sang all the way up to the redline.

Fiat Brava 1979 Ad

Fiat Brava 1979 Ad

The ad above was a cleverly disguised code that only the likes of Ralph Nader and Joan Claybrook believed during the dark years of the 55 MPH national speed limit.  Relaxed?  In third gear, the engine wasn’t even breathing hard when it blasted through 55.  Fourth redlined something over 80.  Relaxed, my….

Yeah, baby.  Here’s what my Brava looked like, with the “champaign” paint job:

Fiat Brava 4D 1980

Fiat Brava 4D 1980

The only difference I can discern, between my ’79 and this 1980, is the wheels.  If I actually can dig out a picture of my Brava, I’ll replace this one.  It’ll be like old times.  Replacing part after part after part, like the time the distributor cap cracked in Tillamook, Oregon on a trip with several other ministers to check out a site for a church camp.  On a Friday afternoon…but that’s another story.

Anyway, in the real world, only time will tell if this is a match made in heaven or if our esteemed colleagues in the White House should have chosen BMW, Audi, or even, believe it or not, Hyundai.  I’d love to see Chrysler survive (not to diss Ford or Toyota, by any means).  I just hate to have to watch those snooty Chevy commercials every time one of their cars wins a NASCAR race.

By the way, 30 years later I still like cars with names that are acronyms:

Vorsprung durch Teknik  audi-rings-wet-copy


Amputating the Soul

This post has been redacted and censored to comply with my employer’s Social Media Policy as of Nov. 1, 2010.  All references to my place of work and the system it is part of, as well as photos have been removed.  This action appears to be only recourse I have to preserve my Constitutional rights to free speech and the free expression of my views on Extreme Thinkover.

A letter I sent to Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chair of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee and advocate for universal health care.  His health care plan is available by clicking on the header “Call to Action” above.

Dear Sen. Baucus,

This week the Clinical Pastoral Education Center at Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy fell victim to the economic recession.  CPE centers nationwide, accredited by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) are the training sites for chaplains for hospitals, the military, prisons, hospices, and other institutions.  ACPE certification (which includes the Association of Professional Chaplains, National Association of Catholic Chaplains, National Association of Jewish Chaplains, as well) is almost universally required for employment for these important ministries.

ACPE accreditation is not easy to get.  In fact, the state of Montana does not have a certified CPE training site at this time.

I was part of the team beginning in 2001 that worked for over two years to get Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy accepted as a CPE training site.  We began our program six years ago.  The first two years we were on probation, but were then granted full accreditation in 2005.

Our center quickly became recognized as the new place to train.  The past two years we have been able to be selective, turning away more applicants than our program could handle (which is six students per unit), and even had international students work in the program.  We had applicants already applying for the 2010-2011 school year.

On Monday (March 9) our administration announced, along with other major cuts, that the CPE program would be eliminated.  As of now, our budgetary shortfall stands at $17-20 million for FY09.  Our uncompensated care last year (FY08) was $66 million.  We are over $1.4 million ahead of that pace as of the end of February.

Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy. County’s unemployment rate hit 12% this month (Monaco RV was one of our major industries).  South of us, Douglas County is reportedly pushing 16% unemployment.  Tens of thousands of newly unemployed people no longer have any health insurance.  Only a tiny fraction will have the resources to afford COBRA.

Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy in southwest Oregon south to the California border are making huge cuts in staff and programs. (Portland’s situation is somewhat better, but deteriorating, e.g. Oregon Health and Sciences University is making draconian cuts to survive).

Every day, hundreds of newly unemployed, now newly uninsured Oregonians face the frightening reality of trying to access America’s terminally ill health care “system.”  Just like Montana.  Just like, well, everywhere in America.

They’ll come to us.  We’ll treat them.  Everyone who comes through our door.  But what will our uncompensated care come to this year?  $80 million?  $100 million?

And as for CPE?  Well, Medicare classifies it as “overhead.”  That’s good news, in one respect, because Medicare reimburses the hospital for each Chaplain intern based on the percentage of Medicare patients we treat as in-patients, which in our case was about 40%.  But it wasn’t enough.  We are losing three staff members, as well as the six students that worked daily with us ministering to patients on their assigned medical units.

But, when hospitals face making the most painful cuts, programs like CPE are vulnerable.  The unintended consequences are placed on the furthest burner back.  We are at war.  One of our staff chaplains just went back on to active duty.  We not only cannot replace him, we cannot train someone who might replace him.  There is a tipping point here.  Here at Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy we just crossed it.  We aren’t the first hospital to face that, nor will we be the last.

Let me share something about what hospital chaplains do.  We don’t wander about the halls patting hands and saying little prayers.  We step into the shadows with our patients, those places of their darkest fears, the thin fabric of their lives, where the veil between life and death is almost transparent.  And when that veil tears, we stand in that darkness holding a light.  A light for the dying so they know they are not alone.  A light for the living to guide them on the new path they must walk.  That is spiritual care.

Calling.  Passion.  Training.  This is what chaplains are in the hospitals, the armed forces, the prisons, hospices.

And now there is one less place to train.

I remember learning in school that justice delayed is justice denied.  I now believe, too, the right to health care delayed or barred by preconditions is the right to health care denied.

Please, Senator.  We need your health care plan.  Now.

Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy
–CPE: Our Light Diminished.

This Photo is dedicated to all the staff and students who made Clinical Pastoral Education at Sacred Heart Medical Center the truest part of our mission of healing and compassionate care.  Our Light is diminished. May the Divine brighten yours!

This Photo is dedicated to all the staff and students who made Clinical Pastoral Education at Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy the truest part of our mission of healing and compassionate care. Our Light is diminished. May the Divine brighten yours!

Michigan, the Big Three Automakers, & the Death of Reaganomics

UPDATE: Dec. 19: I am feeling just a bit prescient (just a bit). In the post below, if you haven’t read it, I somewhat tongue-in-cheek suggest the Michigan could jump the U.S. Ship of State and join Canada, because the Canadians would probably welcome the chance to have their own auto industry. Turns out, they already do, and it is The Big Three. Just today, Ottawa announced that they were providing the Detroit automakers with $3-$4 billion in financial support because the auto industry is such a huge part of the Canadian economy. The conditions for the money, aimed at GM and Chrysler initially, but to Ford, too, if it requests aid, are similar to the ones coming out of Washington and the Obama office. What I find curious, from the perspective of media reporting, is that USA Today broke the story. At CNN.com it was buried as an add-on on their CNN Money page, and I couldn’t find it at all on MSNBC, ABC, or the New York Times’ websites. Read on!

Neoconservative Republicans (are there any other kind left?) apparently hate Michigan. Specifically, they hate Detroit’s Big Three automakers, General Motors, Chrysler and Ford teetering on the edge of the abyss. The Neo-cons see this peril as the moment to throw their last tantrum for “Free Market Economics” in a dramatic demonstration to avenge their losses, against the American electorate in the 2008 elections. (It might also be called political suicide by ideological obstinance.)

That is such a good idea! The economy is shedding 500,000 jobs a month, the economy is in shambles, the world is in a staggering recession, and so, of course, the absolutely most reasonable thing to do is enact, create, or threaten every possible wall to ensure another whole sector of the economy is beaten to a pulp. Yep, no bailout for the auto industry!

Abraham Lincoln may be rolling over in his grave over the Blagojevich affair in Illinois, but Ronald Reagan must be standing and saluting in his, as the standard of Reaganomics is hoisted high by the neo-cons: “I meant TRICKLE down. Fire the Lazy Socialist Bastards!”

Hmph. So, there.

Senator McConnell, tear down that wall!

There must be more than a hundred books written on unintended consequences in political, social and economic policy, but evidently the neo-cons have never read any of them. The primary unintended consequence of free-market Reaganomics, and its fatal flaw, is not that it abhors government regulation, but that it allows the individual to believe that morality and ethics are compartmentalized within that individual. Therefore, what happens to other people is of no consequence, as long as you are making money. The biblical Golden Rule is rewritten “Do unto yourself as you would have done unto yourself at a profit.” That whole idea of “doing unto others” in the original text is rationalized away by an ideological delusion that the others have exactly the same opportunity to succeed as you do, but they are completely on their own to get it done. If they don’t have the same opportunity to succeed, it’s their fault, because, despite any mitigating circumstances, they are supposed to have them because they are. Therefore, if others can’t succeed, it has nothing to do with you, but it’s all their fault, and they, not you, have not lived up to the Golden Rule -2.0.

Clever. Handy. Utterly immoral.

Where does this insight come from? I, with remorse, confess that I am a former Reaganomicist. Back in the early 1980s, fresh from graduate school, uncertain about my financial future, and having voted for Ronald Reagan (Jimmy Carter, after all, had been such an ineffectual president–although even Nostradamus hadn’t predicted George W. Bush and the cataclysms he wrought upon the world these past eight years), and so upon the invitation of a college friend, my wife and I joined up with Am___. (It is a word that must not be spoken.) And for the next five years we attended dozens of rallies and seminars, listened to hundreds of hours of tapes, all about how we would become fabulously rich by Am___ distributors who had become fabulously rich. We, however didn’t. We did spend a lot of money attending all that stuff, supporting all those SUCCESSFUL distributors telling us how easy it really was. To be fabulously rich.

In this world, the Gospel according to Ronald reigned unchallenged. Salvation by free enterprise. Liberty through personal wealth. Step into the great economic trickle-down and be showered by your wildest dreams. Ronald Reagan was a god to these people. Big problem, though. The masses at the rallies were nearly all professing born-again evangelicals, so their adoration had to be kept in the dark recesses of their souls, for to speak plainly of this truth would be an admission they were worshiping mammon and not the Lord.

Naively, I thought I’d be a shoe-in. I had a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees. I was smart and well-educated, so moving up through those “diamond” levels was going to be a great ride to my dreams.

During that time, I learned two things about my “higher education.” One, was that in this crowd (many of whom would morph into Neo-conservatives when Newt and the Boys hit Washington), “liberal” education was not only looked at with open disdain and suspicion (unless you were a male athlete), for you might not believe in Biblical Literalism, but that you probably had been brain-washed by liberal faculty into thinking “liberally,” which meant, obviously that you were not to be trusted. I also had not attended one of the “right” seminaries (i.e., Wheaton, Dallas, Fuller, Bob Jones, etc.) so I was suspect right off the bat. Alas, I was evidently, one of those damned liberals (in the biblical sense).

The second thing I learned, despite my P.R. issues, was that, due to my education, I actually possessed the ability and capacity to think about what was being said in these mass rallies, and I began to have doubts that the party line had a basis in reality. Any basis. Hmm. This became troubling. I had been part of the organization long enough by that time to understand dissenting from the orthodoxy of Reaganomics would be called, at the very least “stinkin’ thinkin” and at worse, evidence that a SOCIALIST had infiltrated the ranks of the Chosen, and should be ostracized. Or have to buy a lot more cassette tapes.

That chapter passed. By the time Reagan’s second term finished, I was done with Am___ and Reaganomics. I still believe in free enterprise, as well as capitalism. But I will not, I cannot, rewrite the Golden Rule for my personal profit. Therefore, I hold to the principle that capitalism can be moral only in the context of how it protects those who are most vulnerable to impoverishment, and gives to them opportunities, with the benefits of assistance to raise their quality of life, while they, too, contribute to the common good. Now, I make no pretense that I am the first to view capitalism from this perspective; not being an economist, however, I just don’t know who to cite for the attribution.

Now, back to Michigan. First, I admit feeling some sympathy for those neo-con Republicans in the state’s government, as well as their Congressional delegation. They probably think they’ve been condemned to some new lower level of Dante’s hell. The one where the most faithful are hung out to dry by the leaders of the most faithful, because they are the “faithfuller” and do it, because they can. I shudder.

The good people of Michigan have a couple of other options. First, they could secede from the Union and petition Canada to be a new province. (None of that Alaskan miscreant secessionist baloney, however) After all, Detroit sits right on the border, now, and Lansing is about the same distance from Ottawa as from Washington, D.C. Canada would instantly have its very own auto industry, and the Parliament’s motivation to make it work would be enormous. The Queen could visit her new subjects so everything would get a fresh coat of paint. Think tax revenues! It would look a lot better on the maps, too, especially if they gave the upper peninsula to Wisconsin. That whole border outline thing always looks so messy in its current form.

The other option, which I find devilishly humorous, is for Michigan to declare itself as Upper Tennessee. Then watching Senator Bob Corker (R-Nissan) run for reelection would be the most fun we’ve had since watching that Iraqi reporter throw his shoes at W.

I do have one non-negotiable requirement regarding Chrysler (and I currently own a Chrysler product): Cerberus is a financial beast that should not be trusted for all the reasons I have discussed above. Before they are given a single buck of taxpayers’ dollars, they should be required to put up $10 billion in cash of their fund’s moneys to provide for the well-being of Chrysler employees, and then they can apply for a loan. They should be treated as Robber Barons until they show full faith through the common good that they are not! If you choose for your institutional identity an unrestrained ravenous beast, you should expect to be regarded to be exactly that (remember the fable of the rat and the scorpion) until you prove–beyond a shadow of a doubt–that you are domesticated and will faithfully contribute to the common good!

The common good. That is what I am saying is the only morally acceptable route to deciding how to deal with the automobile industry. And that will involve the United States government acting on behalf of the people who depend upon the industry, now. Require change? Yes. Require accountability? Yes. Require that they pay back America at a profit? Absolutely.

We’re Spending an Extra $700 Billion Every Year for What?!!

If you think this post is about the $700 billion we are paying for the financial bailout, sadly you are incorrect.  I wish it was.  It also has nothing to do with the Big 3 automakers.  Their problem appears to be peanuts compared to this.

And it also has no relation to keeping NCAA intercollegiate football and basketball coaches’ salaries on par with Hedge Fund managers.  What?  Oh, sorry.  Got off track there.

The frightening reality I am talking about is health care in the U.S.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you are aware that I am a vocal advocate for universal health care for Americans.  It is a massive, overwhelming transformation that the United States simply has to do.  Soon.  Now.

Each year, Americans spend $2.6 trillion on health care.  It is 16% of our GDP!  But here’s the kicker:  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that over one-third of that spending does not contribute to the actual health of you, me and our neighbors across the country.  And that means that over $700 billion is being overspent. Every year!

Here’s what Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) states:

The U.S. spends $2.3 trillion a year — more than 16 percent of the U.S. economy — on
health care, and economists warn that rising health care costs represent a serious threat to
our long-term fiscal security.1,2 We spend more than any other country on health care —
both per capita and as a percentage of gross domestic product — yet the Congressional
Budget Office (CBO) estimates that up to one-third of that spending does not improve
Americans’ health outcomes.3 That means we spend over $700 billion more than we need
to get the outcomes that we receive today. Clearly, excess spending must be eliminated
and dollars put to better use — not only to correct the imbalances of the current health care
system, but to offset the high costs of much-needed comprehensive reform (p. 65).

Sen. Baucus is proposing a plan that will comprehensively transform American health care  by transforming every sector that is involved in it.  I have read his plan, Call to Action: Health Reform 2009.  You can access the entire document by clicking on the link at the bottom of my header.

So, here it is.  Congress authorized $700 billion to bailout the American financial mess.  At this point (we all hope) it is a one time special authorization.  But across the street in Health Care, we are going to overspend (i.e. waste) $700 billion this year, and the next and the next. . . By the end of Barack Obama’s first term, we will have spent $700 bn on the financial rescue and over $2.8 TRILLION on wasted health care, with nothing to show for it, whatsoever!  [11/25: This morning Sec. Paulsen announced that another $800 billion would be authorized to prop up the mortgage market meltdown.]

But Sen. Baucus isn’t finished.  The naysayers (both in and out of the health care industry) are screaming that universal health care will be so expensive, it will bankrupt us.  Oh, yeah?  Take a look at this:

Americans deserve a health care system in which everyone has affordable coverage, no
matter their age, income, employment, or health status. This will require an investment.
Some experts predict that a health system covering all Americans would necessitate $100
billion to $150 billion in new Federal spending per year. But savings from the reforms
proposed earlier in this Call to Action and the financing mechanisms in this section can
make the net cost of reform much smaller (p. 65).

The math is so simple, even a ultra-right wing radio shock-jock could do it.  I’m not even going to rub it in.

The price of inaction, might, in fact bankrupt us.  If we do not enact radical and comprehensive health care legislation, the $700bn will look like chump change.  Here is our fate if we do not act:

Congress and the public must be realistic about the timeframe in which the fiscal success
of reform is measured. If we fail to act, however, the current national expenditure on
health care will double from over $2 trillion to $4 trillion, tens of millions will continue to
be uninsured, poor quality will continue to contribute to nearly 100,000 deaths each year,
and the nation’s entitlement programs will consume a greater portion of the Federal
budget. In short, the costs of inaction, both in human and financial terms, would
eventually be far greater than any initial outlays. America must choose to invest now in a
health care system that will richly repay the nation with greater health and economic
stability in the long term  (p. 66).

This is not the America that you or I want, one we must not–cannot–tolerate.