Monday, December 27, 2010

Pharmaceutical Industry Fraud

Guest Perspective By Ralph Nader

The corporate defrauding of taxpayers (eg. Medicaid and Medicare) and prescription drugs with skyrocketing prices was the subject of a report by Public Citizen's Dr. Sidney Wolfe and his associates (see citizen.org).

Dr. Wolfe's team compiled a total of 165 federal and state settlements since 1991 totaling $19.8 billion in penalties. A key finding is that the drug industry's penalties under the Federal False Claims Act exceed even those assessed against the overcharging defense industry for fraud.

Before we become overly impressed with the cumulative amount of the penalties, specialists in corporate crime law enforcement believe that adding more federal cops on the corporate crime beat, backed by a determined law and order Justice Department with White House backing, would have greatly increased the number of cases and imposition of penalties on these drug industry giants.

Nonetheless, Dr. Wolfe's study shows that the pace of penalties has picked up over the past five years. This is due to "a combination of increased violations by companies and increased law enforcement on the part of federal and state governments," says the report.

Many of these cases were initiated by company whistleblowers, who under the False Claims Act can receive a share of the settlements. Since the corporate bosses of these drug firms are almost never prosecuted, what these executives fear the most are company employees who go public with the evidence of corporate misdeeds.

These violations do more than financial damage to consumers and government health insurance programs. One of the worst violations involves companies promoting unproven, often dangerous uses for their medicines. Last year, Pfizer paid $1.2 billion for illegal off-label promotion -the largest criminal fine in U.S.history. Other major corporate violators were GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly, Schering-Plough, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, TAP Pharmaceutical, Merck, Serono, Purdue, Allergan, Novartis, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson, Forest Laboratories, Sanofi-aventis, Bayer, Mylan, Teva and King Pharmaceuticals.

The violations by these and other drug companies point to the wide range of impacts, including taking many lives of patients, which stems from these recurrent activities. These criminal or civil illegalities cover (1) overcharging government health programs, (2) unlawful promotion, (3) monopoly practices, (4) kickbacks, (5) concealing study findings, (6) poor manufacturing practices, (7) environmental violations, (8) financial violations and (9) illegal distribution.

Outside the purview of the Public Citizen study are the ravages of counterfeit drugs and poorly inspected ingredients in drugs, now mostly coming from China and India, due to the outsourcing by U.S. and European drug companies in their thirst for even greater profits.

Drug company sales are huge, growing from $40 billion in 1990 to $234 billion in 2008, and far exceeding inflation with their annual price gouging. To make matters worse, in 2003, the Congressional Republicans, with decisive support from some Democrats, passed the drug benefit bill which explicitly prohibited Uncle Sam, the payer, from bargaining for volume discounts with drug companies.

With over 400 full-time drug company lobbyists putting pressure on Congress, and tens of millions of dollars flowing into the legislators' campaign coffers, budgets for federal investigators, prosecutors and inspectors are kept to a minimum. Unfortunately, crime in the suites pays over and over again, despite occasional penalties.

A bright spot is the increasing enforcement action at the state level.

By last year, 32 states had enacted false claims acts, including fourteen states that qualified as strong laws by federal standards.

Still, the Wolfe report concludes that the "current system of enforcement is not working." He gives the examples of the $7.44 billion in financial penalties assessed over the past twenty years on GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer, as compared to their combined total of $16.5 billion in global net profits in one year alone.

What would deter these illegal practices and risks to public safety? Dr. Wolfe says "the lack of criminal prosecution that would result in jailing of company executives." is key. Moreover, the report notes that "a felony conviction could result in their companies becoming ineligible for reimbursement from federal and state health programs, a critical source of pharmaceutical company revenues."

A flicker of hope that a little change is on the way came from the Food and Drug Administration's Deputy Chief Counsel for Litigation, Eric Blumberg. He indicated that the government is considering going after drug company executives for violations such as off-label promotions. He stated: ".unless the government shows more resolve to criminally charge individuals-at all levels in the corporate hierarchy--.we can not expect to make progress in deterring off-label promotion."

The problem is that the final operating decision is in the hands of the Justice Department-historically short-staffed and short-willed to entreaties for prosecution by the FDA and other regulatory agencies.

Furthermore, for over 30 years, the Justice Department has stone-walled requests that it start a corporate crime database as it has done with street crimes. Congress likes it this way, as it continues to cash corporate campaign checks.

Just last week, however, outgoing Judiciary Committee Chairman, Democrat John Conyers introduced a bill (H.R. 6545) to create such a corporate crime data base in the Justice Department. Well, as the saying goes, everything starts with a gesture!

2010 Blizzard Timelapse

Very cool time lapse photography here:

December 2010 Blizzard Timelapse from Michael Black on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A little (or a long) vacation ...

Just a quick "thank you" to all of you who still visit Politizine and OurConcord even though I haven't been posting much. Family and work have been taking a lot of my life of late. The former is fine; I won't get into the latter except to say that I have had a disappointing few weeks but I think 2011 will be an interesting year.
Politizine, specifically, enters its ninth year of existence this week. It's hard to believe that but it's true. Readership has fluctuated from the hundreds to the thousands and back down again, depending on what I have written about or how many other people linked to my site. OurConcord was created and grew out of a frustration with local media outlets not really getting at the heart of many stories. I have been very happy with some of that work. But it can be a daunting, exhaustive task.
Despite all that I have done at this point in my life, I'm facing 45 and I'm really beginning to wonder about things. It isn't just the economy or a moment in time or anything like that. It's just become very clear that I have not been setting priorities. I thought I was, but I wasn't (once again). I have to look no further than the piles of paper in different places in my home, the list of things I have been wanting to get done, both personally and professionally, etc., to see that I have not been focused. Things are not where they should be.
Thankfully, we're not hoarders, not like those folks on television, which is frightening to see. We don't have a lot even though we have much more than some. But even though I'm considered one who takes actions, I do put things off ... and then put them off and put them off again. I always have. It's time though to stop putting things off. And, I need to take some time off.
I'm going on a little or a long vacation. I'm not sure which yet. I'll let you all know in January, when I get back.
I don't know what role Politizine or OurConcord play in my future. I'm wondering about a lot of things lately. But know and understand that I have appreciated your readership, time, and comments about what I have been doing with these sites.
Have a great holiday season. Merry Christmas. And talk to you all again soon.
Best,
Tony

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wikimania and the First Amendment

In The Public Interest by Ralph Nader

Thomas Blanton, the esteemed director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University described Washington’s hyper-reaction to Wikileaks’ transmission of information to some major media in various countries as “Wikimania.”

In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday, Blanton urged the Justice Department to cool it. Wikileaks and newspapers like The New Yorks Times and London’s Guardian, he said, are publishers protected by the First Amendment. The disclosures are the first small installment of a predicted much larger forthcoming trove of non-public information from both governments and global corporations.

The leakers inside these organizations come under different legal restrictions that those who use their freedom of speech rights to publish the leaked information.

The mad dog, homicidal demands to destroy the leaders of Wikileaks by self-styled liberal Democrat and Fox commentator, Bob Beckel, the radio and cable howlers and some members of Congress, may be creating an atmosphere of panic at the politically sensitive Justice Department. Attorney General Eric Holder has made very prejudicial comments pursuant to his assertion that his lawyers considering how they may prosecute Julian Assange, the Wikileaks leader.

Mr. Holder declared that both “the national security of the United States” and “the American people have been put at risk.” This level of alarm was not shared by the public statements of defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of States Hillary Clinton who downplayed the impact of these disclosures.

The Attorney General, who should be directing more of his resources to the corporate crime wave in all its financial, economic and hazardous manifestations, is putting himself in a bind.

If he goes after Wikileaks too broadly using the notorious Espionage Act of 1917 and other vague laws, how is he going to deal with The New York Times and other mass media that reported the disclosures?

Consider what Harvard Law Professor Jack Goldsmith, who was head of the Office of Legal Counsel in George W. Bush’s Justice Department just wrote:

“In Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward, with the obvious assistance of many top Obama administration officials, disclosed many details about top secret programs, code names, documents, meetings, and the like. I have a hard time squaring the anger the government is directing towards Wikileaks with its top officials openly violating classification rules and opportunistically revealing without authorization top secret information.”

On the other hand, if Mr. Holder goes the narrow route to obtain an indictment of Mr. Assange, he will risk a public relations debacle by vindictively displaying prosecutorial abuse (i.e. fixing the law around the enforcement bias.) Double standards have no place in the Justice Department.

Wikileaks is also creating anxiety in the corporate suites. A cover story in the December 20, 2010 issue of Forbes magazine reports that early next year a large amount of embarrassing material will be sent to the media by Wikileaks about a major U.S. bank, followed by masses of exposé material on other global corporations.

Will these releases inform the people about very bad activities by drug, oil, financial and other companies along with corruption in various countries? If so, people may find this information useful. We can only imagine what sleazy or illegal things our government has been up to that have been covered up. Soon, people may reject the those who would censor Wikileaks. Many people do want to size up what’s going on inside their government in their name and with their tax dollars.

Wasn’t it Jefferson who said that “information is the currency of democracy” and that, given a choice between government and a free press, he’ll take the latter? Secrecy—keeping the people and Congress in the dark—is the cancer eating at the vitals of democracy.

What is remarkable about all the official hullabaloo by government officials, who leak plenty themselves, is that there never is any indictment or prosecution of government big wigs who continually suppress facts and knowledge in order to carry out very devastating actions like invading Iraq under false pretenses and covering up corporate contractors abuses. The morbid and corporate-indentured secrecy of government over the years has cost many American lives, sent Americans to illegal wars, bilked consumers of billions of dollars and harmed the safety and economic well-being of workers.

As Cong. Ron Paul said on the House floor, why is the hostility directed at Assange, the publisher, and not at our government’s failure to protect classified information? He asked his colleagues which events caused more deaths, “Lying us into war, or the release of the Wikileaks papers?”

Over-reaction by the Obama administration could lead to censoring the Internet, undermining Secretary Clinton’s Internet Freedom initiative, which criticized China’s controls and lauded hacktivism in that country, and divert attention from the massive over classification of documents by the Executive Branch.

A full throttle attack on Wikileaks is what the government distracters want in order to take away the spotlight of the disclosures on their misdeeds, their waste and their construction of an authoritarian corporate state.

Professor and ex-Bushite Jack Goldsmith summed up his thoughts this way: “The best thing to do….would be to ignore Assange and fix the secrecy system so this does not happen again.”

That presumably is some of what Peter Zatko and his crew are now trying to do at the Pentagon’s famed DARPA unit. That secret initiative may ironically undermine the First Amendment should they succeed too much in hamstringing the Internet earlier advanced by that same Pentagon unit.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Couple of important WSJ stories ...

Recently, I broke down and re-subscribed to the WSJ. I shifted some money around and was able to free up the $10 a month commitment (in a lump sum, unfortunate). However, already, it has paid off in at least mental knowledge, in just a couple of weeks. And it's great having the WSJ app on my iPhone, so I can read it anywhere. Here are a few of the stories this week that I found interesting:

First, this story about Groupon and its founder is pretty amazing: ["Groupon's $6 Billion Gambler"]. The article is especially interesting when you consider what the company has done in 2.5 years, in the middle of a recession that is hammering retail sales. That said, the key to its success was figuring out a way to offer consumers a deal for things they want. There have been other programs that have attempted this (it reminds me of the Radio Advertising Bureau half-off program, which is used successfully in some markets). This, however, is pretty incredible.

Keeping with the state of retail sales, there was another story in the print edition of the WSJ showing that sales at "dollar" stores was surging and taking away business from Walmart. I wasn't able to find it online, but there have been other articles looking at similar statistics.

Wondering why the employment situation is so bad? Well, a lot of companies are holding onto cash instead of hiring people and expanding their businesses: ["Companies Cling to Cash"]. The key sentence is the opening lines:
"Rather than pouring their money into building plants or hiring workers, nonfinancial companies in the U.S. were sitting on $1.93 trillion in cash and other liquid assets at the end of September, up from $1.8 trillion at the end of June, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. Cash accounted for 7.4% of the companies' total assets—the largest share since 1959."
That's up $130 billion in three months. That's a lot of money. That's 2.6 million $50,000 a year jobs ... just on the increase in cash holdings, not even the rest of the billions ... Wow.

Lastly, a bit about the trick ... the shopping trick ... how retailers get you to buy stuff during the holiday season: ["Many Discounts, Few Deals"]. Take the interactive quiz and see how you make out [I got four out of five].

So you want to be a journalist?

Oh yeah, this is funny ... and sad ... and maddening ...

Judy Pancoast's great new video ...

Local children music performer Judy Pancoast has a great new video out. This is simply awesome! PS: I didn't know she was nominated for a Grammy! Wow. Congrats, Judy. :-)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Who's hot and who's not?

James Pindell has the latest up and down of NH pols here: ["Political Standing for Dec. 17, 2010"].

There's a new aggregate news site covering New Hampshire and the world: ["NH Journal"]. One has to wonder if we really needed another aggregate site. However, they seem to also be creating their own news, which is a good thing too (one of their stories landed on the Drudge Report, just a day or two out of the gate ...). And, the more the merrier, as the saying goes. Good luck to them!

Magellan Strategies releases a 2012 New Hampshire primary poll which shows exactly what I wrote a couple of weeks ago: President Obama would defeat all challengers easily and handily: ["Automated survey"]. It should be noted that the poll was commissioned by NH Journal.

This is too bad because, from what I've seen of this show, I kinda like it: ["At CNN, Talk Show Tensions"]. There's not a lot of yelling. They've had interesting people on, like a poet, and the Doobie Brothers playing live, which is kinda cool. I don't know if the show would work with Eliot Spitzer all by himself. I think Kathleen Parker adds a lot to the co-host chair. These television people really need to let things ride for a bit without always jumping in to monkey around with a show format. Give it time to breath already.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Majority of one

In the Public Interest, by Ralph Nader

On Friday, December 10, 2010, Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent Socialist, of Vermont, came of age. At last. With just about the best progressive voting record, Senator Sanders has nonetheless been an underachiever in the minds of those Americans who marveled at his tenure as mayor of Burlington, Vt. before he became a Congressman and now a Senator.

Last Friday, Sanders tore the covers off an oligarchic driven Congress and a concessionary President with eight-and-a-half hours of non-stop presentations of facts and figures and a plea for fairness and justice. His goal was not heated rhetoric, though he showed deep moral indignation, but to attempt to rally the American people “to voice their feelings” to their members of Congress via phone calls, letters and e-mails. C-Span carried him live, since he was the only activity on the Senate floor that day.

He asked the over-riding question of “who is winning and who is losing?” The winners were the giant, bailed out corporations and other companies so coddled with tax breaks and subsidies that they pay no federal income tax at all. He named some of these company bosses who make sky-high salaries and bonuses and take advantage of tax havens. ExxonMobil, Sanders noted, made $19 billion in profits last year, paid no federal income taxes and even received a $156 million refund from the U.S. Treasury!

Senator Sanders filled the Congressional Record with statements about a variety of inequities and contradictions regarding President Obama’s capitulation. Highlights follow:
--A Government Accountability Office report states that two-thirds of corporations making $2.5 trillion in sales over several years paid no federal income taxes.

--During the giant Wall St. bailout of 2008-2009, the Federal Reserve also bailed out with huge credit draws foreign banks from Bavaria to Japan. Such disclosures will be more common as a result of a successful Sanders amendment to the financial reform law earlier this year.

--The Obama-Republican deal would increase the deficit by $900 billion dollars over ten years but devote “not one nickel” to any infrastructure projects in local communities.

--He cited Warren Buffet and 90 other very rich Americans who wrote a letter to Congress opposing a tax cut for rich people like themselves.

--He cited the top one percent of the richest Americans who have wealth equal to the bottom 90 percent and receive 24% of all income. “When is enough, enough, do you want it all?” cried Sanders to an empty Senate chamber. (His colleagues had gone home Friday morning except for Senators Sherrod Brown and Mary Landrieu who conducted brief colloquies with Sanders while he rested his voice or went to the men’s room.)

--The top 25 hedge fund managers each made an average of a billion dollars last year with much of that income taxed only at a 15% rate. The richest 400 families paid a 16.6% effective tax rate on average. The Obama deal would extend their tax cuts for another two years.

--There has been zero net job creation since 1999 leading to a decline in average household income. Inequality of wealth in the U.S. is the worse in the industrialized world.

--The U.S. has the highest rate of child poverty in the western world, in some cases five to six times that of Scandinavia.

--The Obama Republican deal would divert for the first time $120 billion from the payroll tax, leading Sanders to say this is the beginning of the unraveling of social security, “eating our own seed,” he added.

-- “Let us be very clear: This [estate] tax applies only--only--to the top three-tenths of 1 percent of American families; 99.7 percent of American families will not pay one nickel in an estate tax. This is not a tax on the rich, this is a tax on the very, very, very rich.” (The estate tax is reduced, while the exemption is increased, leading to $30-52 billion retained by the very wealthiest of estates over two years.)

--And of course over $120 billion over two years are left with the highest income rich, worsening the deficit in the coming years.

“We can do better” repeated Sanders, noting that Obama challenged his liberal base in Congress by asking “where are the votes?” To which, Sanders replied: “Our job is to mobilize the people of America,” noting a rising flood of support for a fairer deal.

Of course, Obama has a healthy majority in Congress until January 2011. It is the threat of a Senate Republican filibuster—which Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid et al have never made the Republicans use during the first two years of the Obama Administration—that has neutralized that majority. Moreover, the Senate Democrats could have changed these obstructive rules by a simple majority vote back in January 2009. But they chose not to allow their own working majority of well over 50 votes to prevail.

Obama came to the White House swearing that he would not live in “a bubble” and that he would keep his promises, which explicitly included no further extensions of tax cuts for the rich and a $9.50 federal minimum wage (still lower in purchasing power than the federal minimum wage in 1968!) by 2011.

So what do we see from the President? Well, he boasted about being a community organizer in Chicago years ago. Yet for months, knowing what was coming, he failed to arouse the citizenry against the Republican tax cuts for the wealthy which Obama swallowed last week. He is known to be an expert poker player, but he displayed none of that skill with the Republican corporacrats, Rep. John Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell. Where are Obama’s touted oratorical skills? How smart can he be−undercutting his own Democrats and presenting them with the results of a closed-door sweetheart deal with their Republican adversaries?

Obama has frittered away his comfortable majority in Congress on many accounts for two years. And millions of people and their children will be paying the bill for his failure to fight for them.
---

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Obama stim impact: Zero?

Interesting op-ed in the WSJ today, granted, by advocates of lower taxes: ["The Obama Stimulus Impact? Zero"].
The chart, however, goes to something I have assumed before: The federal stim spending circumvented local and state spending. It was just a money shift. If it were an addition instead of a shift, maybe it would have had more impact. But maybe not.
What's worse, is that the shift went from local and state debt to federal debt. Which is better? If state and local governments need more money, those officials should make the hard choices on spending or raise taxes (and deal with the revolt). But when the expense is shifted to the federal debt, it hurts the national economy and lines the pockets of rich people and the Chinese, since they are the only ones grabbing all the debt bonds. This perpetuates more problems.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Is this Obama's long-term strategy?

Everyone is in a tizzy about what seems to be a cave by President Obama over the Bush tax issue. However, let's look at a couple of points before assuming this is a bad political move.
First, even though there are fringes on both sides, I'm going to bet that there are enough votes to get this plan approved. And, even if there aren't enough votes, there most certainly will be in January, when the GOP takes over the House.
Also, Obama is probably looking towards 2012. This plan only extends the cuts for two years, meaning that before the next election cycle, it's going to be an issue again. Since 2012 is a presidential election, and turnout in presidential races is much higher than mid-terms, with liberals, students, etc., tending to be more active, there will be a lot of building up of support for the president. Obama can use the compromise to show he tried to work with the other side, whether it was economically beneficial or not. I mean, let's be honest, the debt isn't going to get fixed whether millionaires pay 38.6%, 35%, or 0%. If revenue collections go up, the federal government is just going to squander the money on some other program. This is what the federal government does. Even under Clinton's supposed "re-inventing" government, nothing really changed.
If, however, the economy does not turn around and if all the people who are out of work are still out of work and things still aren't better - and I don't believe it will get better - the Democrats will sweep back into power, on the coattails of the Obama zombies who elected him in the first place. Obama will say, I tried to work with them, but their plans didn't work, see? Give us more time to fix things ...
After the Democrats are back in power, and they will be back in power, they can slam the door on the taxes permanently and monkey around with things for another two years, until the GOP comes back roaring again in 2014, with voters angry at what the Dems did in the previous two years.

A challenge from the left?
Some are speculating that Obama could face a challenge from his left flank ... and maybe more than one. And, he should count on this. There is money and time out there for progressive and populist Democrats to challenge him.
However, so be it. Obama is a shrewd enough pol to play a Clinton and totally use it to his benefit. He will move to the center without totally losing his focus on reconstructing American society into what he thinks it should be (and not what we all think it should be).
Ultimately, the left flank challenge will be unsuccessful. They will be 20 percent of the vote in the primaries, max, and will go nowhere. People forget that the first few Democrat primary states - Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina - are not Massachusetts, Wisconsin, or New York. They are libertarian Democrat and moderate Democrat places with, admittedly, some hard left-wingers. But not enough to oust a sitting president, the first black president. Believe that.
As well, the super left doesn't have anyone who can build coalitions around a bunch of issues in order to take Obama out either. There is no dynamic Jesse Jackson in 1984 or Jerry Brown in 1992 or Fred Harris in 1976 who can barnstorm around the country on a shoestring getting people all riled up on what could be or should be (although, I would love to cover that campaign ... how exciting!). And, even if the super left did have one of those candidates emerge, they won't be able to win the Electoral College against MILF Palin, Baptist Huckabee or maybe even Romney, the presumed-to-be three strongest GOP contenders for 2012. There are just too many red states.
The only person I can think of who might have any chance of challenging Obama successfully would be someone like Jim Hightower, a wise-cracking, southern populist who could potential mount a serious effort against Obama. But even then, how does he ultimately win the Electoral College battle with a fractured national party? I just don't see it happening. But it could get very interesting.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Former neighborhood newspapers sold ...

When I lived in Mission Hill, I used to read through the Gazette newspapers, both for MH and JP. Now, they've been sold to another locally owned Boston newspaper chain: ["Gazettes sold to local news group"].

The global economic collapse explained in less than 3 minutes

This was sent to me by a friend. Hilarious:

Let's get real about "the top 2%," spending, and debt

First off, the debate about the Bush tax cuts you are hearing is a phony one. Regular readers of Politizine.com know that I'm as populist as they come. It's in my bones. It's just the way I am. And I can sense phony populism a mile away. This entire "we need to tax the top 2%" argument by some of the Democrats misses the mark, won't fix anything, and is fraudulent, at best.
Let's look at the "top 2%" ... who are they? Households earning more than $250,000, according to the Census (Note: This data will be corrected after the Great Recession numbers start trickling in, with those incomes dropping even lower ...).
Now, that looks like a lot, especially from way down here. And it is. But these folks aren't millionaires. At $250,000, that's two high level professionals. Many of them can pay more in taxes, for sure, assuming that they don't have huge housing, school, credit car, car debt, or property tax bills. But it's their money. Why should they pay more when the federal government already wastes enough money?
The best data to look at is from the IRS which breaks down the data at the $200,000 level, according to the WSJ. There were 3.8 million tax filers in this bracket which is about 7 percent of all returns in the U.S. According to the WSJ, these people paid about $522 billion in taxes or 62 percent of government revenue for 2006. The richest 1 percent, about 1.65 million filers, making nearly $389K, paid $408 billion or 40 percent of tax revenues while earning only 22 percent of the report U.S. income. In other words, rich people really do already pay quite a bit of money into the federal coffers.

Fun with rates
When looking at the Bush tax cuts which are about to expire, it's important to note that the richest people only received a 3.6 percent tax rate cut (38.6 to 35 percent) in the first place while the lower earners received 5 percent cuts (and most lower earners now don't pay anything in federal income taxes. In fact, 40 percent of filers in the lower income brackets pay $0 in federal income taxes now). Yes, one can look at this the other way, It's only a 3.6 percent increase so why complain? However, no one has yet to tell any of us on what effect, positive or negative, this tax increase will have on the supposedly recovering economy.
The WSJ did do an interesting experiment last year. One of the writers said, Hey, why stop at 40 percent, what would happen if the government took all the rich people's money?
According to their figures, if the government took 100 percent of the taxable income of every American making more than $500,000 in 2006, Congress would have $1.3 trillion or less than half the 2006 budget and about one-fourth of the FY10 budget. In other words, even taking all the earnings of the rich, the government still wouldn't have enough money to run the government (The government has to take every single dime of everyone making more than $75,000 to cover the entire federal budget for FY10).
But even though all those rich people pay all those taxes, let's be honest: None of them pay the rates that are listed. None. If you're a millionaire, meaning in the fraction of 1 percent of filers in the U.S., you're never paying 35% or 38.6%. Never. You're rich enough to hire attorneys and accountants to find ways around the tax code so you never pay that amount. You give more of your money away to your charities, where you can be praised at parties and in the newspaper, just so you don't have to pay the government.
I always use the example of George H.W. and Barbara Bush's tax filing from 1991, before the highest rate was reduced. The two earned $2.3 million and paid 9 percent of that amount to the government in income and SSI withholding. In 1991, I earned about $16,000, and paid 23 percent of my income in state, SSI, and federal taxes. Did I pay more actual dollars? No. But I paid a higher percentage that the millionaires did. It's the same today.
That's why all these arguments about rates and everything else is a bunch of hooey. That's why when the debt commission proposing lowering the rate but making it solid, meaning with fewer deductions and loopholes, it's the right way to go because then rich people will actually be paying the higher rate and not hiding their money from the government. It is really that simple.

Spending, already ...
What does this all mean? Well, Houston, we have a spending problem.
Federal government spending is simply too high, too burdensome, and now, running up so much debt it's impossible to see where things really get fixed. In addition, while I haven't gone through the entire debt commission report, from what I have seen, there are good and bad things and, frankly, it may not go far enough.
Ideally, even if it hurts the supposed recovery, we should have a sweeping debt reduction program in order to free up more money for regular government spending. What's that? How's that possible? Well, the federal government spends so much money at this point on interest, it's taking away much needed dollars for programs.
In FY10, the interest on the national debt came in at $413 billion. Imagine for a moment what that money could be spent on if it wasn't being awarded to the people, businesses, and countries that buy the government's debt bonds. Even if we could get back to debt interest levels of 1988 of around $214 billion, the government would have almost $200 billion to spend on other things instead of lining the pockets of mostly rich people and China who are getting rich off our government's debt.
This is why debt reduction is so important. And it's more than just taking all the rich people's money. It's about living with less in the federal budget. It's about going through line item after line item after line item and saying, "Is this really necessary? Is it? No? Well cut it already."

Real debt figures
Here's another interesting fact that I thought I would throw out there, since there is some contention on what president created the most debt. There is a really great chart in this week's TIME magazine, that shows large, sharp spikes in all kinds of data. When I saw it I was like, Hmmm, it looks like the Obama and the Democrats have created as much debt in less than two years that Bush and the Republicans (and Democrats) did in eight years.
So, I had to go fishing around for some figures and from different news agencies and the U.S. Debt Clock, here's what I found:
* President Obama and the Congress controlled by Democrats have created about $3.25 trillion in debt in about two years.
* President Bush, with houses of Congress controlled by Republicans mostly but Democrats in the last two years of his administration, created $4.9 trillion in debt during eight years in office.
So, no, it's not the same, but it is pretty close. By the end of next year, it looks like, they will be even, with the Republicans running Congress.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cher in Vanity Fair ...

From the mouths of ... er, I mean mouth of a babe:
"I would be willing to pay a lot more taxes, because I make a lot more money, but I don’t want to give them more to just f--- things up more ... It really should fall on people like me to get together and do things to help the people in this country. If you’re not worrying about how to put food on your table, you [should be] worrying about why other people don’t have food on their table. I remember a great America where we made everything. There was a time when the only thing you got from Japan was a really bad cheap transistor radio that some aunt gave you for Christmas."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Infuriating ...

This is simply infuriating: ["Fed aid in financial crisis went beyond U.S. banks to industry, foreign firms"].
So, instead of letting them all sink, a slew of connected companies got handouts and one of them, a big media company, didn't report on the handouts. Meanwhile, everyone else in the real world - from the downtown shop to the part-time newspaper peddler - got ransacked. Many of us lost a lot or everything. Did any of the big CEOs at these companies take a pay cut to get by when cash flow was drying up? Nope. Come on.
If people don't now realize that everything is upside down, that both political parties are screwing our country, that monetary policy isn't about you or me but about them and control, and that the Fed needs to be audited pronto, you're just a lunatic in the wilderness.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Missing the mark on Deficits

Guest perspective by Ralph Nader

The recent reports by the two deficit commissions–one appointed by President Obama (fiscalcommission.gov) and the other from the private Bipartisan Policy Center (bipartisanpolicy.org)–do not lack specifics. In fact, they are so specific that they obscure the need for a more explicit public philosophy that reveals both their value biases and their establishment thinking.

The compositions of the two task forces clearly are designed to achieve a legislative consensus on Capitol Hill. There are self-styled centrists, moderates, conservatives and liberals. There are no paradigm-busters, few challengers of assumptions, no backgrounds from unorganized labor, elderly or youth activists. Even Trade Unions advocates are rare. About the only eyebrow raisers are provided by the relentlessly wise-cracking co-chair of Obama’s Commission—former Wyoming Republican Senator, Alan K. Simpson.

It is true that both panels do include very modest cuts in the vast bloated military budget whose empire takes half of the entire federal government’s discretionary spending (not including the insurance programs Medicare and Social Security). Already a tentative suggestion by the Commission’s Co-Chairs to “save” $100 billion in the Pentagon budget by 2015 was called “catastrophic” by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates. The two reports make no mention of ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, or stopping contractor lobbies from bleeding the Pentagon dry, which would be a solid rejoinder to Gates.

That’s the problem throughout these reports. They do not come to grips with the need for fundamental changes to expand the economy as if people matter first, to locate new revenues, launch long-overdue public works programs with their jobs throughout communities in America, and reduce the kind of deficits which are empty calories that create no real wealth, such as corporate welfare bailouts and giveaways.

For example, there is much reference to tax reform that rearranges tax rates. The private task force—chaired by Alice Rivlin and former Senator Pete Domenici (R- NM)—would eliminate special tax rates for capital gains and dividends. Fine. But why not also shift the incidence of some taxes from workers to a Wall Street tax or what may be called a tiny sales taxes on purchases of speculative derivatives, as well as stocks and bonds that economists Dean Baker and Robert Pollin say would raise several hundred billion dollars a year?

The Rivlin-Domenici report noted but did not recommend a carbon tax—another major revenue-raiser that would reduce pollution, greenhouse gases and advance solar energy and energy conservation. An added humane and economic benefit is that less coal burning would also save thousands of lives a year from air pollution, according to the EPA. Instead the Task Force proposed a sizable regressive national sales tax.

Under health care, both reports go for what they call medical malpractice reform. What they mean is not doing anything about the 100,000 Americans who die and many more sickened every year from hospital malpractice, not to mention adverse affects from drugs and hospital-clinic infections. No, by reform they mean cutting back on judicially-decided damages now being awarded to far less than the one-out-of-ten victims who even file a claim. Grotesque! A Business Week editorial years ago said the medical malpractice crisis is malpractice. Prevention is the way to save lives and money—a policy entirety ignored by the two commissions.

There is no mention in either report about ending notorious foreign corporate tax havens for U.S. companies that would bring in nearly $100 billion a year. And, remarkably, though some mention is made of tax compliance, they ignore the regular estimate by the Treasury Department of $300 billion a year in uncollected taxes.

Not surprisingly, the two establishment reports did not consider the enormous economic savings from adopting a single payer—full Medicare for all—health insurance system. (See: http://www.pnhp.org/news/2009/april/testimony_of_david_u.php)

Three other large areas were ignored. First is cracking down on corporate crime, including at least $250 billion dollars in annual health care billing fraud and abuse. (See: http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/sparrow091409.htm). Both the fines, the disgorgement back to the defrauded and the deterrence to corporate crime amount to large sums of money.

Second, the commission-co-chairs and the task force avoided recommending the proper pricing of our commonwealth assets that are regularly given away free (eg. the public airwaves and hard rock minerals, such as gold and silver, on federal land) or at bargain basement fees (the national forest timber and other minerals).

Third, although both reports emphasize the need for economic growth (which produces more tax revenues to reduce red ink), there was no reference to revising global trade agreements that have left our country's huge trade deficits and its workers in dire straits. Keeping industries and jobs from moving to repressive regimes like China for reexport to the U.S. should not have been ignored. But then, look at the composition of these Task Forces and you’ll see why.

NHPTV to broadcast music documentary

“The Acadia Sessions” Starts December 3rd on NHPTV

13-Week Music Documentary Series Goes Behind The Scenes With

The Region’s Most Talented Musicians

Maine viewers were able to watch the “The Acadia Sessions” earlier this year on Maine Public Television, and now the series is available on NHPTV’s Explore Channel and to Comcast subscribers in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and areas of southwestern Maine beginning Friday, December 3rd at 10pm.

“The Acadia Sessions” is a music documentary series featuring some of New England’s most talented bands and musicians working in an acclaimed Portland, Maine recording studio. Each 30-minute episode documents and explores the song writing process, giving the audience a behind-the-scenes look at the artists’ backgrounds, songs, and interactions with each other.

“The Acadia Sessions” has been described as "an absolutely riveting 13-week music documentary series featuring some of our most interesting and gifted musical minds..." (Portland Daily Sun, 5/7/10); and “artful and smart, with musicians responding to good questions in thoughtful ways." (Portland Phoenix, 5/14/10).

The December 3rd episode features Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia; future episodes document in-studio performances and interviews with The Baltic Sea, Dark Hollow Bottling Company, Rustic Overtones, Batshelter, Olas, Brzowski and Sandbag, Huak, South China, Phantom Buffalo, Boreal Tordu, Peepshow, and Murcielago.

“The Acadia Sessions” team includes Executive Producers Gina and Marc Bartholomew of the Acadia Recording Company, as well as Petra Simmons, Scott Sutherland, and David Camlin, who together have endeavored to put a much-deserved public face on the talented local artists creating music of all genres – from folk to hip-hop, and pop to punk. Members of the team have produced several music documentaries including the “Developer” series and the award-winning “48-Hour Music Project.”

For more information and a preview of the series go to www.theacadiasessions.com.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Comcast outage ...

Last night, Comcast was out for a number of hours. Emails were trickling through but the Web was completely out.
One thing we realized about not having access to the Web is just how much we rely on technology now compared to the past. And, it's a bit unnerving.
The reverse of that is because I couldn't surf the Web before bed, I went to bed. So, that's not a bad exchange, considering.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010

OK, I found something I want for Christmas

Yes, a remote control flying Millennium Falcon:


And yes, it actually flies!
I can also tell you why I now know we don't watch a lot of TV. While watching Scooby Doo on the Cartoon Network, the kids were bombarded with all kinds of toy advertising. Of course, dad wanted half the stuff that he saw too ... but that's another story entirely. This isn't usually a problem - 'cause the kids only watch PBS Kids or Sprout, and there isn't much advertising on those channels. But Cartoon Network? Oh yeah ... a lot of ads ... and some really cool toys.

Up way too early today ...

I was up way too early this morning but did accomplish a lot. Then, after checking my Yahoo accounts, I became distracted with all the cool movie previews they have online. I played through a string of them and it reminded of the old days when being flooded with movie previews was a fun part of going to the movies. Of course, like most folks, I haven't been to the movies in ages. But it was still fun watching them this morning ...

Tomorrow is Black Friday, the day everyone goes crazy shopping. It's also Buy Nothing Day. And that's what I will be doing. I'm a bit shocked at the audacity of retailers this year, actually opening at 10 p.m. tonight or, in some cases, 12:01 a.m. tomorrow morning, in order to squeeze every bit of shopping frenzy out of Americans. Instead, why not just lower prices a bit all the time? That would secure and sustain retail spending and leveled economic growth instead of all this hoopla, one day out of the year. Better growth numbers, less stress on employees, less pain in the wallets of Americans ... sounds logical to me, which is why it probably won't ever happen. Also, while there are some cool things on sale, I am surprised by the amount of junk that is out there ...

Two facebook links with reposting:
First, this story, looking at the 2010 electorate: ["The 2010 electorate: Old, white, rich and Republican"]. Of course, this is an estimate. All the data isn't in, as we've seen here in Concord. I'm in the process of gathering some of the data to see if this is actually true. I suspect it is, but the breakdown data still isn't available yet.

And then, there is this, possibly the coolest video out there right now: A remote control SR-71 jet: ["RC SR-71 jet with real engines"]. Super-duper wow!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 22, 2010

My Friend Barack

Guest Perspective By Ralph Nader

After nearly two years out, I can imagine George W. Bush writing his successor the following letter:

Dear President Obama:

As you know I’ve been peddling my book Decision Points and while doing interviews, people ask me what I think of the job you’re doing. My answer is the same: He deserves to make decisions without criticism from me. It’s a tough enough job as it is.

But their inquiries did prompt me to write you to privately express my continual admiration for the job you are doing. Amazing! I say “privately” because making my sentiments public would not do either of us any good, if you know what I mean.

First, I can scarcely believe my good fortune as to how your foreign and military policies—“continuity” was the word used recently by my good friend, Joe Lieberman—has protected my legacy. More than protected, you’ve proven yourself just as able—and I may say sometimes even more so—to “kick ass” as my Daddy used to say.

My pleasant surprise is darn near limitless. Your Justice Department has not pursued any actions against my people—not to mention Dick Cheney and I—that the civil liberties and human rights crowd keep baying for you to do.

Overseas, all I see are five stars. You are roaring in Afghanistan, dispatching our great special forces into Yemen, saying, like me, that you’ll go anywhere in the world to kill those terrorists. When you said you would assassinate American citizens abroad suspected of “terrorism”—that news came over the radio during breakfast when I was eating my shredded wheat and I almost choked with amazement. You got cajones, buddy. I was hesitant about crossing the border into Pakistan—but you, man, are blasting away. Even Dick, who would never say it publically, told me he is impressed.

The Leftists are always trying to have your policies show me up negatively. Hah—they’re having one hell of a tough time, aren’t they?

Me state secrets, you state secrets. Me executive privilege, you executive privilege. Me stop the release of torture videos, you backed me up. Me indefinite detention, you indefinite detention. Me extraordinary rendition; you extraordinary rendition. Me sending drones, you sending tons more, flying 24/7. Me just had to look the other way on collateral damage, you doing the same and protecting our boys doing it. Me approving night time assassination raids, you’re upping the ante especially since General Petraeus took over. Me beefing up Defense, you not skipping a beat. Me letting the CIA loose, you told them operate at large. Me demanding no pictures of our fallen troops, you doing the same, but allowing the families to go to Dover which I should have done.

There is one big difference. I never cracked a law book. You are a top Harvard lawyer and teacher of constitutional law. So when you do what I did, man, it’s—what’s the word—legitimization!

Domestically, sure you rag Wall Street, but you continued the big bail out of the bankers and their supporting cast. Sure, you’re tougher with your words, but they deserve it—remember I said that the Wall Streeters “got drunk” and “got a hangover”.

What I get such a kick out of is how you handled the unions and libs who backed you with dreams of Hope and Change. How smoothly you let them learn they got nowhere to go, just as we used to tell our conservative wing the same thing (though now they’ve been reborn as growling Tea Partiers). So, cardcheck, single payer, rolling back my Party’s passage of legislation in Congress—you made them forget it!

You have been such a great president—backing me on so many things—keeping most tax cuts and shelters, support for my oil and gas buddies (my base), big loan guarantees for nukes, keeping Uncle Sam from bargaining down pharma, expanding free trade, not going tough on China (my Daddy especially liked this one), avoiding class struggle rhetoric and so on.

You want to know how confident I am about you? Even though you called waterboarding “torture,” I proudly admitted approving its use to protect our country and its freedoms. Isn’t that really what the Presidency is all about, along with honoring our troops and the entire national defense efforts?

Semper fi—
George W. Bush

P.S. My mother Barbara is a big fan. She calls your term so far Obamabush. Cute, aye, for someone who was never a wordsmith.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Quick link dump ...

It's been a while since I have put together a link dump. Here are some things going on:

First, I want to give a kudos out to colorful Manch state Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Republican who, many months ago, predicted that there would be a Republican sweep at the N.H. State House on Nov. 2. He guessed that Democrats would lose 74 seats. Some snickered after his email was passed around Concord. He was off though ... on the low side ... The GOP gained at least 122 seats, with some recounts still to be settled.
Wow.
Vaillancourt, who was great for a quote when I was working in radio news in Concord and made a point to attend Election Committee meetings where I liked to camp out, also has a cable show, "More Politically Alert." Here is the embed code to the show where he meticulously goes through all the Manch Ward and some state results:

MPA 111010 from TV Guy on Vimeo.

I'm in the process of gathering some turnout data from Concord, to compare some of the results from previous years, especially the Democrat tsunami years of 2006 and 2008. The clerk would have the breakouts I'm looking for from 2010 for another couple of weeks. But I already know from looking at the results that while Democrats lost the support of independents, they also stayed home in droves. I'm guessing that Concord Democrats staying home costs Annie Kuster a Congressional seat. And, I suspect that this will reverse itself next year and there will be Democrat gains in 2012. I'm not going to make a sweeping prediction just yet. But I suspect that after Americans get a taste of the GOP during the next 18 months, they aren't going to be happy with what they see.

Here's a great piece on the history of WMFO, the Tufts community radio station where I got my start in radio so many years ago: ["Goooooood Morning, Medford"]. I wish someone could do some research into old newspapers and see if the train track legend is true or not. I suspect it is.

Should President Obama skip a re-election bid? Democrat pollsters and FoxNews commentators Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen think so: ["One and done: To be a great president, Obama should not seek reelection in 2012"]. The cynic in me can't help but think that somehow Roger Ailes is behind this oped. We're seen some of the Republican presidential field. In a word, they can be described as "yuck" (with the exception of Sarah Palin who is, obviously, not a knuckle-dragging, old, fat, white guy). But, seriously, wow, squared ... what a column. At the same time, who would the Democrats run? Most potential candidates are also-rans at this point. The new blood is being suffocated by old, Baby Boomer pols who just won't get out of the way.

Put this in the One Good Thing about the Republicans taking over Congress Category ... Rep. Ron Paul going after the Fed: ["Bernanke's worst nightmare: Ron Paul"]. Yes, finally, can we have some oversight of the private bank that controls our country's monetary system? Say it with me folks ... Yes, we can! ... Can we finally audit the Fed? ... Yes, we can! ... Expect very good things from this next year. And why is this important? Because, at least at Walmart, inflation is already here: ["Secret Walmart Survey Shows Inflation Already Here"]. So while a slew of people are out of work, and millions on food stamps, many businesses are cashing in. Note: This is why it is important to realize that even though Wall Street might be OK, Main Street clearly isn't. Stock prices rise while people get creamed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Founders set up the country to limit drastic change

After nine hours of sleep, I was up at 5:30 a.m. and decided I should try and clear off the dining room table a bit. For the first time in I don't know how long, I actually got to do more than skim a newspaper.
I don't subscribe to the Sunday Globe but we get it at the office and I was able to check out the Ideas section this week and came across this excellent column by Elvin Lim: ["No change"].
Lim lays out the historical case on how and why the nation will never get expansive "change" due mainly to the separation of powers and the convoluted and difficult process to amend the Constitution. It's a pretty good read.
I think now, the next step, is to look at how the electorate is influenced by advertising and rhetoric, and whether or not those influences have a drastic effect on election outcomes. I won't use the word "educated," as in, "the American people need to be educated ..." since that has all kinds of arrogant connotations to it that I personally find offensive. Some folks are just firm in their belief systems and all the "education" isn't going to make a bit of difference, something that is perfectly fine since this is, after all, America.
But it is clear that both sides of the political spectrum don't really understand that 1) we live in a Republic, not a "democracy," and 2) the system is set up to not create the sweeping changes many people want to see from the federal government, whether they are "Obama zombies" or Tea Partiers. My friends on the left need to propose their major changes in the form of Constitutional amendments if they want a European-style democracy. My friends on the right need to understand that, yeah, there is waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal budget and it is so big and expansive that it will probably always be there. The best we can probably do is chip away at it and the influence of corporations too, while we're at it.

Is it time to unsubscribe?

I haven't worked in radio in more than 3.5 years ... is it about time to unsubscribe to all the corporate radio email lists I'm on at this point in time?
I just spent 15 minutes going through four days worth of email. On a whim, I looked and realized that I'm on nine different radio email lists. I think it might be time to cut the cord ...

Note for W.

Dear former President George W. Bush,
I didn't buy Clinton's book and I won't buy yours, for the same reason (although I will buy Keith Richards' book when it comes out on paperback ...). I lived through it with you, so I don't need to read your version of what I lived through with you. Thanks but no thanks.
I will say that I find it a positive thing that you have realized you made mistakes during your presidency (unlike Clinton, who was defiant even if the face of fault). Too bad you didn't own up to them and fix them when you had the power to do something about it.
Good luck on the book tour.
Best, Tony

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Democrats Squander the Swing Vote

Guest Perspective By Ralph Nader

The mid-term 2010 Congressional elections are over and the exaggerations are front and center. “A tidal wave,” “an earthquake,” “a tsunami,” cried the Republican victors and their media acolytes.

Wait a minute! No more than 7 percent of the actual voters switched sides to create a 14 point spread. This amounts to about 3 percent of all the eligible voters who produced this “tidal wave.” That is what happens in our winner-take-all system. So when it is said that “the people have spoken,” chalk it up to 7 percent or so switcheroos. The rest voted the way they did in the previous Presidential and Congressional election (and about 28 million voters stayed home.)

Such sweeping descriptions gave incoming House Speaker, John Boehner, even more leeway than usual to play with words when he declared, without further elaboration, that “the peoples priorities and agenda are our priorities.” Mr. Boehner is the consummate corporate logo-man masquerading as a Congressman. If someone drew the logos of all the big companies that have marinated his career and put them on his suit coat, they would run into each other.

How then did the Democrats lose against the most craven Republican party in modern history—a Party that opposes again and again the fair rights of workers, consumers, investors, savers and patients.

Regarding patients, Boehner’s oft-repeated view of the modest, non-single-payer health insurance changes by Congress and Obama—“it will kill jobs, destroy the best health care system in the world and bankrupt our country.” Reporters listen to Mr. Boehner say this repeatedly and do not ask him to explain his wild rhetoric.

So, in listing some of the ways the Democrats failed to defend the country against such Republicans, put near the top not rebutting the crisp lies and abstract assertions that Republican candidates uttered while campaigning or “debating” their Democratic opponents. Listening to debate after debate on C-Span radio, I was amazed at how infrequently the Democrats demanded examples from their Republican opponents each time the words “cut spending,” “cut taxes,” “reduce the deficit,” “deregulate” and “create jobs,” were uttered.

In elections, one side is on the offensive and the other is on the defensive. The offense creates momentum unless it is countered and driven back. Since the Democrats are furiously dialing for the same corporate campaign dollars, it is difficult for them to stand for the people. That is why the Democrats are wishy-washy, reticent and reluctant to put major subjects of abusive power on the table.

Rarely did one hear Democrats state their position on corporate crime law enforcement, huge fraud on the taxpayer (Medicare), anti-collective-bargaining laws for labor, the bloated military budgets, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the flood of corporate subsidies, handouts, giveaways and bailouts, or the grotesque tax escapes for the multinational corporations and the super-wealthy.

They did not want to talk about consumer rip-offs, or the hundreds of thousands of unprotected Americans who lose their lives every year from un-regulated workplace-related diseases/traumas, medical malpractice, air, water and food contamination, or having no health insurance.

Too many Democrats are cowering candidates. Speaker Nancy Pelosi told incumbent Democrats that they could criticize her if necessary to get elected and preserve their majority in the House. Since Republicans made a practice of assailing Pelosi in almost every debate or on every occasion, many Democrats did not rebut their Republican opponents. Some Democrats stated they would not vote for Pelosi as Speaker in 2012. Unrebutted political attacks often influence voters who wonder at mixed messages from members of a Party.

A key Democratic failure was not to keep on Howard Dean, as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Between 2005 and 2009, Dr. Dean, with his 50 state strategy, energized both the DNC and state Democratic Committees. He knew what it took to go on the offensive against Republicans. He produced victories in 2006 and 2008 before his bĂȘte noire, Obama’s Rahm Emmanuel, pushed him out.

Dr. Dean would have challenged the Tea Party and slowed its momentum. When the Democrats saw this self-styled conservative/libertarian rebellion receive the first of its vast mass media coverage (especially by Fox News and Fox Cable) in August, 2009 when Tea Partiers loudly showed up at town meetings of incumbent Congresspersons, there should have been a Democratic response. A “Coffee Party” of progressives and deprived workers rebelling against the corporate control that 75 percent of Americans believe is excessive might have caught on.

Instead, the Tea Partiers, in all their disparate strands and wealthy right-wingers trying to take them over, became the daily feature and news of the 2010 campaign year.

Obama came out of his 2008 victory with 13 million names of donors and supporters, along with great enthusiasm from young voters. The Democrats squandered this support. This astonishing blunder happened, in no small part, because Obama turned his back on his supporters and denied their leaders White House access that he so often afforded corporate CEOs—eg. from the health insurance giants, drug companies, and banking behemoths. That’s one reason so many of his 2008 supporters stayed home in 2010 and did not vote. They felt betrayed.

With 23 Democratic Senators up in 2012, as compared with 10 Republican Senators, the Democrats may lose both Houses of Congress. Voters shouldn’t only have the barren choice of voting for the least worst of the Two Parties. Here we go again. Or as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Campaign 2012 begins?

I'm hearing some strong rumors that Barack Obama could potentially have both liberal and moderate primary challenges in 2012.
Some of the names being circulated? Former Gov. Howard Dean, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, and Ind. Sen. Evan Bayh. Plus, a potential challenge from NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg too. Wow.
I don't think people should be speculating until the ballots are counted. But I'm hearing some folks say they expect an LBJ-styled bow out by Barack Obama before the bloodletting begins next year. Double wow.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Who I'm voting for ...

Here's the text from my letter in the Concord Monitor Friday. It pretty much says what' I'm going to do on Election Day.

Splitting tickets

After more than three decades of watching how government doesn't really work, many of us have come to the conclusion that the more divided it is the better things are. Bipartisan solutions, not one-party rule, will move the state and nation forward.

I don't agree with everything these candidates believe in, but they'll get my votes Tuesday:

First, Democratic Gov. John Lynch's steady leadership is needed to improve the economy during these unpredictable times.

Despite personally liking both major party candidates for U.S. Senate, I will ignore their mudslinging and vote for independent Chris Booth, a Constitutionalist who supports Medicare for all and alternative energy policies.

For Congress, Charlie Bass has already had his turn. Democrat Ann Kuster gets the nod.

After the debacle with the school board charter, our state senator, Sylvia Larsen, does not deserve re-election. Republican Chris Wood will serve us well, without collusion or backroom deals.

Concord Ward 5, 6 and 7 voters should send Democrat Rick Watrous and Republican Pam Ean to the Legislature. Watrous has worked tirelessly for us, supporting open, honest government. Ean, a school teacher, understands that the state must tackle spending first, before increasing taxes.

Most important, the following candidates for Concord School Board Charter Commission deserve your support: Laura Bonk, Charlie Russell, Kathy Conners, Jim Baer, John Stohrer and Chuck Douglas. These candidates will fix the charter and restore our rights as parents, so we can improve our school district.

TONY SCHINELLA
Concord

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Road to Corporate Serfdom

Guest perspective by Ralph Nader
It was Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist, James Carville, who in 1992 created the election slogan: “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” For the 2010 Congressional campaigns, the slogan should have been: “It’s Corporate Crime and Control, Stupid.”

But notwithstanding the latest corporate crime wave, the devastating fallout on workers, investors and taxpayers from the greed and corruption of Wall Street, and the abandonment of American workers by U.S. corporations in favor of repressive regimes abroad, the Democrats have failed to focus voter anger on the corporate supremacists.

The giant corporate control of our country is so vast that people who call themselves anything politically—liberal, conservative, progressive, libertarian, independents or anarchist—should be banding together against the reckless Big Business steamroller.

Conservatives need to remember the sharply critical cautions against misbehaving or over-reaching businesses and commercialism by Adam Smith, Frederic Bastiat, Friedrich Hayek and other famous conservative intellectuals. All knew that the commercial instinct and drive know few boundaries to the relentless stomping or destruction of the basic civic values for any civilized society.

When eighty percent of the Americans polled believe ‘America is in decline,’ they are reflecting in part the decline of real household income and the shattered bargaining power of American workers up against global companies.

The U.S. won World War II. Germany lost and was devastated. Yet note this remarkable headline in the October 27th Washington Post: “A Bargain for BMW means jobs for 1,000 in S. Carolina: Workers line up for $15 an hour—half of what German counterparts make.”

The German plant is backed by South Carolina taxpayer subsidies and is not unionized. Newly hired workers at General Motors and Chrysler, recently bailed out by taxpayers, are paid $14 an hour before deductions. The auto companies used to be in the upper tier of high paying manufacturing jobs. Now the U.S. is a low-wage country compared to some countries in Western Europe and the trend here is continuing downward.

Workers in their fifties at the BMW plant, subsidizing their lower wages with their tax dollars, aren’t openly complaining, according to the Post. Not surprising, since the alternative in a falling economy is unemployment or a fast food job at $8 per hour.

It is not as if we weren’t forewarned by our illustrious political forebears Fasten your seat belts; here are some examples:

Thomas Jefferson—“I hope that we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

Abraham Lincoln in 1864—“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. …corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.” (1864)

Theodore Roosevelt—“The citizens of the United States must control the mighty commercial forces which they themselves call into being.”

Woodrow Wilson—“Big business is not dangerous because it is big, but because its bigness is an unwholesome inflation created by privileges and exemptions which it ought not to enjoy.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt—“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism—ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.”

Dwight Eisenhower, farewell address—“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

And, lastly, a literary insight:

Theodore Dreiser—“The government has ceased to function, the corporations are the government.”

Are you, dear reader, the same now as you were when you began reading this column?

Monday, October 25, 2010

November 2010 Top 30 Chart

Reporting: 13 different radio stations and Internet programs

1. The Hush Now – Shiver Me Starships
2. Deer Tick – The Black Dirt Sessions
3. Ad Frank & the Fast Easy Women – Your Secrets Are Mine Now
4. The Lights Out – Rock Pony EP
5. Streight Angular – Alright EP
6. Winterpills – Tuxedo of Ashes EP
7. Bearstronaut – “Shannon”
8. Juliana Hatfield – Peace & Love
9. Spirit Kid – Spirit Kid
10. Viva Viva – Viva Viva
11. Endless Wave – City Walls EP
12. Eli “Paperboy” Reed – Come and Get It
13. Freezepop – Imaginary Friends
14. Marc Pinansky – As A Child EP
15. The Wandas – New Wave Blues
16. Leo Blais – The Free EP
17. Bleu – Four
18. Hallelujah the Hills – Collective Psychosis Begone
19. The Holey Moleys – Cheese is Christ EP
20. Kingsley Flood – Dust Windows
21. Mean Creek – “The Comedian”
22. Pernice Brothers – Goodbye, Killer
23. John Shade – All You Love is Need
24. Wicked Whiskey – Under the Gun
25. The Luxury – In the Wake of What Won’t Change
26. Bon Savants – “Tidal Waves”
27. Ketman – Ketman A Go-Go
28. Oranjuly – Oranjuly
29. The Weisstronauts – Weisstronauts In Memphis
30. Gene Dante & The Future Starlets – “The Love Letter Is Dead”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

10 Questions for Tea Partiers

Guest perspective by Ralph Nader
Here are ten Questions for Tea Partiers that they want or do not want to answer. I say it this way because people who call themselves Tea Partiers do not have the same view of politics, government, Big Business or the Constitution. Their opinions range from pure Libertarian to actively furthering the privileges of plutocracy. Their income and occupational background vary as well, though most seem to be middle-income and up.

My guess is that most Tea Partiers come from the conservative wing of the Republican Party who are fed up with both the corporate Republicans like Bush and Cheney, as well as the Democrats like Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi.

With the above in mind, the following questions can serve to go beyond abstractions and generalizations of indignation and get to some more specific responses.

1. Can you be against Big Government and not press for reductions in the vast military budgets, fraught with bureaucratic and large contractors’ waste, fraud and abuse? Military spending now takes up half of the federal government’s operating budgets. The libertarian Cato Institute believes that to cut deficits, we have to also cut the defense budget.

2. Can you believe in the free market and not condemn hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate welfare-bailouts, subsidies, handouts, and giveaways?

3. Can you want to preserve the legitimate sovereignty of our country and not reject the trade agreements known as NAFTA and GATT (The World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland) that scholars have described as the greatest surrender of local, state and national sovereignty in our history?

4. Can you be for law and order and not support a bigger and faster crackdown on the corporate crime wave, that needs more prosecutors and larger enforcement budgets to stop the stealing of taxpayers and consumer dollars so widely reported in the Wall Street Journal and Business Week? Law enforcement officials estimate that for every dollar for prosecution, seventeen to twenty dollars are returned.

5. Can you be against invasions of privacy by government and business without rejecting the provisions of the Patriot Act that leave you defenseless to constant unlawful snooping, appropriation of personal information and even search of your home without notification until 72 hours later?

6. Can you be against regulation of serious medical malpractice (over 100,000 lives lost a year, according to a study by Harvard physicians), unsafe drugs that have serious side effects or cause the very injury/illness they were sold to prevent, motor vehicles with defective brakes, tires and throttles, contaminated food from China, Mexico and domestic processors?

7. Can you keep calling for Freedom and yet tolerate control of your credit and other economic rights by hidden and arbitrary credit ratings and credit scores? What Freedom do you have when you have to sign industry-wide fine print one-sided “contracts” with your banks, insurance companies, car dealers, and credit card companies? Many of these contracts even block your Constitutional access to the courthouse.

8. Can you be for a new, clean system of politics and elections and still accept the Republican and Democratic Two Party dictatorship that is propped up by complex state laws, frivolous litigation and harassment to exclude from the ballot third parties and independent candidates who want reform, accountability, and stronger voices for the voters?

9. If you want a return to our Constitution—its principles of limited and separation of power and its emphasis on “We the People” in its preamble—can you still support Washington’s wars that have not been declared by Congress (Article I Section 8) or giving corporations equal rights with humans plus special privileges and immunities. The word “corporation” or “company” never appears in the Constitution. How can you support eminent domain powers given by governments to corporations over homeowners, or massive week-end bailouts by the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department of businesses, even reckless foreign banks, without receiving the authority and the appropriations from the Congress, as the Constitution requires?

10. You want less taxation and lower deficits. How can you succeed unless you stop big corporations from escaping their fair share of taxes by manipulating foreign jurisdictions against our tax laws, for example, or by letting trillions of dollars of speculation on Wall Street go without any sales tax, while you pay six, seven or eight percent sales tax on the necessities you buy in stores?

Let’s hear from you Tea Partiers. Meanwhile, see the work of video-journalist, Steve Ference, who has interviewed and given voice to those among you in his new paperback “Voices of the Tea Party” published by Lulu.com on July 4, 2010. Contact VoicesoftheTeaParty@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

How Sprint lost my business

This weekend, Sprint lost my business.
I have been with the company, in one form or another, for the better part of 10 years. It started back in 1997 when I got my first cellphone from Omnipoint at a little bodego in Jamaica Plain that was run by a Spanish DJ I knew at WUNR where I worked at the time. Omnipoint was later acquired by Nextel, which was later acquired by Sprint.
With the exception of a break for a couple of years in the mid-2000s, when I had Earthlink, I have been with the same company.
During the last seven years, I have had some form of smartphone: First an analog Treo, then a Motorola Q9, which was great, and then three Q9Cs, which were a disaster. Every few months, the buttons stopped illuminating and the battery would start acting strange. After two replacements, I was unable to get any more replacements since the warranty ran out. The last time was two weeks after the warranty ran out. If I'm in the car at night, I can't dial the phone, because the buttons don't illuminate. The other day, the battery, which normally lasts about three days without a charge, just died in the middle of the day.
I don't fault Sprint for this - the product was faulty. But they sold me the faulty product in the first place. They should have at least offered me some kind of inexpensive exchange.
So, I've been waiting until my renewal came up to get something new.
Sprint actually has the least expensive phone service (before they changed their plans). Because I had been with the company for a while, I had an older plan: $59 for two phones, a $15 data plan for one of the phones, and a third phone for $10. Total cost, before taxes, was about $85 [with taxes pushing it up to $100].
However, a couple of months ago, Sprint switched their plans around and when I went to look at getting another smartphone, our bill for the three phones would jump to $150 a month [plus taxes]. I was shocked and thought, This can't be right.
So, I visited the Sprint store and, sure enough, if I wanted to get even a new, simple smartphone, like a Blackberry or something [no more Motorolas, thanks], it was going to double my bill. Plus, I was going to need to pay about $50 to $150 to get into an inexpensive smartphone. I talked to an online salesperson and the gave me the same pitch. I even went to Best Buy and it was the same with them.
Even though my wife wasn't using data on her phone, I had to pay for it on her phone anyway if I wanted data on my new phone. I kept telling them, I only need data for one, why can't you leave my bill where it is? Sorry, this is the way we're doing things now. Great.
None of the other plans offered anything cheaper with three phones either, especially if only one had data. I quickly came to the conclusion that we were going to have to go down to two phones.
I then looked into a pay-as-you-go service and that was pretty reasonable. But, if I wanted all three phones, it was going to get me up over what I was paying, plus $250 for a new Blackberry, and another $100 for two new basic phones. There would be more minutes, but no free ones at night. That didn't work work either. It looked like I was going to be stuck.
I looked at all the reviews of the non-smartphone upgrade options with Sprint and none had a calendar service that I needed and most were geared towards kids texting [can you see me with a pink sparkle phone? No thanks]. Also, the online reviews varied with some folks saying they hated the phones and others saying they were fine. Did I want to risk it?
My wife, who is a Mac person, had been talking about getting an iPhone. Not because she needed it, but because the commercials looked cool and she thought it might be fun to have one. Her sister and brother-in-law have them too and they love them [they have an iPad too, which is pretty cool, BTW].
On a whim, I looked into them at Best Buy and was impressed. They have all kinds of features and apps, are super fast, and colorful. Wow.
I realized that the ATT plan would actually only be a bit more than my original plan [$99 plus tax]. I also got free 18-month financing for the iPhones and 30 percent off accessories [spend some money, help the economy in China, etc.]. And the money I saved not going with Sprint's plan will pay for the iPhones during the next two years, which isn't bad either.
When I got them home, we were both super impressed with them. Not only that, but ATT's service is three to four bars here instead of Sprint's one to two bars. Meaning the signal is better too.
So, I guess, even though I'm spending a bit more money, I owe a big thank you to Sprint for not listening to me, the customer. I have better phones with better signals and all kinds of cool gadgets. Thanks, Sprint!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hot story over at OurConcord.com

I want to point all my regular Politizine readers to this pretty hot story I have over at my other site, OurConcord.com: ["NH AG: Concord attorney broke lobbying law"].

Warning: Always read the fine print ...

Recently, I've been considering whether or not to buy a new car. I've been doing research, looking at cars, checking out flyers, and seeing what's out there. The usual.
Last week though, I came across an interesting trick presented by two Kia dealerships, AutoServ in Concord and Bonneville in Manch. Both dealers have advertised pretty low prices for cars in the Hippo (Bonneville had a display ad; AutoServ a multi-page circular). The AutoServ flyer had an asterisk next to the "buy for" price. When you look up the disclaimer, it says that all "buy for" prices on new vehicles include a "20% of MSRP" down payment. On the used vehicles, it's $3,000. So, the "buy for" price isn't really a "buy for" price at all. It's "buy for" plus thousands more.
This is so close to bait and switch it isn't even funny. Imagine the surprise of someone going into the dealership to look at a 2010 Dodge Challenger for $14K only to find out that it is $17K or more! But, it's not really "bait and switch" - because, yes, there is a very small asterisk and yes, there is very small fine print telling potential shoppers that they will actually be paying more than the BIG NUMBER price listed in the circular.
The Bonneville ad also has a disclaimer, noting that all lease and purchase prices include a $2,999 down payment. So, that 2010 Kia Optima isn't really $11,900 ... it's $14,899.
There really ought to be a law against these kinds of tricks. Since there isn't, consumers, as I have said before, should just ignore the tricks that are out there in flyers and television commercials. Simply decide on the vehicle you want, go to Edmunds.com and look up the invoice price, and ask the dealer to get as close to that as possible. With so many car choices out there, it can be a little hard making a decision. But a little protection from the tricks can take you a lot way.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Why say Yes to the party of No?

Guest perspective by Ralph Nader
How does the Big Business-indentured Republican Party get away with expectations of a runaway election victory this November? If such a victory should occur in Congress and for many governorships and state legislatures, it will be due to a ten percent or so shift in voters who voted Democratic in 2008 and are expected to vote Republican this year or stay home in despair or disgust. The rest of the voters who do vote will still stay with their hereditary Republican or Democratic candidates.

So what is accounting for a possible ten percent shift? Let’s briefly review some of the Congressional Republicans’ voiced positions:

1. They want to do nothing about unfair Chinese trade practices that lure jobs away from our country though huge factory subsidies, and where workers are repressed and counterfeit products abound. Imagine, Republicans coddling a communist regime, luring the auto parts, electronic, solar and drug ingredients industries away from America, often in violation of the World Trade Organization rules. And, in turn, China is exporting to the U.S. impure food, faulty tires, toxic drywall, lead-tainted toys and medicines which are contaminated, defective or harmful. Don’t forget the dumping violations.

2. Republicans, led by Senator Richard Shelby and his banking friends, declared their adamant opposition to Professor Elizabeth Warren becoming head of the new consumer financial regulation agency. (To avoid a confrontation with them, President Obama made her a special assistant to organize this consumer watchdog.) Ms. Warren has a solid record of exposing and communicating clearly to families the tricks and traps of credit card companies, mortgage firms, and intermediaries that have taken so many billions of consumer dollars with impunity.

3. The Republicans led by their House leader, John Boehner (Rep. Ohio), a total toady of the gouging student loan companies, opposed the Democrats successful reform of this taxpayer boondoggle that guaranteed obscene profits and had the taxpayers absorb any student defaults. Boehner’s lobbying should upset millions of parents who had to foot the bill for so many years.

4. The Republicans are opposed to raising the federal minimum wage to what it was, adjusted for inflation, in 1968!! They opposed an adequate budget for health and safety enforcement by OSHA to diminish the 58,000 American workers who die every year from workplace toxics and trauma. They are now blocking protections for coal miners pending in the Senate after the Massey mine disaster.

5. Republicans oppose doing anything about “too big to fail” even after Wall Street’s reckless, avaricious collapse of the economy, costing 8 million jobs and trillions of lost pension and mutual fund dollars.
Moreover, they do not support genuine enforcement of the anti-trust laws which are supposed to break up monopolization efforts, monopolies or oligopolies like Monsanto (seeds) or the big five banks—bailed out by taxpayers and secure in their domination of well over 50 percent of all bank assets, deposits and the credit card business. This is by far the highest concentration of financial power in modern U.S. history. With few exceptions, the GOP want very few federal cops on the corporate crime beat.

6. Fighting for the last billionaire and multimillionaire, Republicans are blocking ending Bush’s tax cuts on incomes beyond $250,000 per year. Yes, Republicans want to reduce the deficit yet they want to end revenues of over 700 billion dollar over ten years of restored super-rich taxes. They are blocking renewal of the estate taxes after their expiration on Dec. 31, 2009 left no taxes this year on the estates of the super-rich. (Over 99 percent of estates were already exempt from the federal estate tax.)

7. No matter that Republicans caved to the health insurance companies getting over 30 million new covered customers, starting in 2014, they supported the industry’s blaming the federal government, no less, for this month’s latest sharp hike in insurance premiums by Aetna and others largely on the policies of individuals and small business. The Republicans did this after blocking the “public option” that would have given consumers both a choice and the benefit of some competition to the big insurance firms.

8. Have the Congressional Republicans ever challenged the bloated, wasteful, contractor-corrupt military budget that makes up half of the entire government’s discretionary budget?

Even the Congress’s own auditing agency—the Government Accountability Office (GAO) declares the Pentagon budget unauditable. Many Pentagon audits document the abuses of Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater and other firms in the deficit-driving, bloody Iraq and Afghanistan wars (both Republican espoused.) The Pentagon’s burgeoning budget, now nearing $800 billion a year, is deemed untouchable. (A few Republicans, like Charles Grassley and John McCain sometimes object to contracting abuses.)

9. President Obama wants a counter-recessionary public works program renovating airports, bridges, highways, rail and mass transit, drinking water and sewage treatment facilities and other infrastructures. Republicans sneer at this local job creation for much needed facilities.

10. Unlike any Republican Party since its creation in 1854, it has misused the filibuster threat, and any one of its Senators misuse the rules and block even going to a floor discussion or a nomination vote. The Party is earning its moniker as the Party of NO. Republicans have turned the U.S. Senate into America’s graveyard.

There is much more, but enough has been cited to ask again—how are Republicans seen by the polls as front runners in the upcoming election?

The answer my friends, is not in the stars. The answer is in the clueless and spineless Democrats, busily dialing for the same corporate campaign dollars.

The other answer is in the ten percent of the actual voters who need to seriously avail themselves of the facts and a modicum of thought. For if they don’t, they will continue to pay bills handed to them and their children by their ruling corporatists in Republican clothing.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Since 'Unsafe At Any Speed'

Guest perspective by Ralph Nader
Let’s celebrate some good news, before some qualifications are considered. Traffic fatalities in the U.S.A have dropped to a 60 year low. There were 33,808 deaths in 2009—a 9.7 percent decline from the previous year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety administration (NHTSA). The reduction was across the board from passenger vehicles, light trucks, large trucks, motorcycles and pedestrians.

Since 1966 when the motor vehicle and highway safety laws were passed by Congress—led by Democrats but with significant Republican support—the fatality rate dropped from 5.49 percent (50,894 lives lost) to 1.13 percent in 2009 (33,808 lives lost.) This large live-saving reduction occurred while absolute vehicle miles traveled increased more than threefold in those intervening decades.

These sharp reductions in “accidents” did not happen by chance. They came about because the national highway safety mission was enacted into law.

The national policy to address a major public safety epidemic—started with the Congressional outrage following General Motors and its clumsy attempt to have private detectives try to “dig up dirt” on me before and after publication of my book “Unsafe at Any Speed” in November 1965.

Extensive Congressional hearings in the Senate and the House pulled together the overwhelming evidence that the auto companies were suppressing the use of long-available safety devices and selling style and horsepower over safety and fuel efficiency. Forty-four years ago in September 1966, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the legislation and presented me with one of the pens at the White House ceremony.

The deliberate legislative process worked as it was supposed to work. The press and TV in Washington and Detroit covered the Auto Safety developments week after week in 1966 as a regular reporting beat instead of just an occasional feature. This kept the heat on any recalcitrance by members of Congress. The auto company executives had their say at hearings and proved unpersuasive.

NHTSA was established as an agency in the Department of Transportation with Dr. William Haddon, a very knowledgeable scholar and specialist in trauma prevention on the highway? NHTSA was given regulatory authority to establish mandatory safety standards, require vehicle defect recalls and research advanced prototype safety vehicles suitable for mass production.

Intelligent, experienced people went to work for NHTSA to tackle this fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. integrating vehicle, highway and driver inputs. Useful research and testing expanded rapidly along with motorist expectation levels for safer vehicles.

Far fewer people were losing their lives and incurring serious injuries due to greater seat-belt usage, better air bags, brakes and tires, stronger enforcement of drunk-driving laws, improvements in highway design right down to “hot spot” corrections at high-casualty locations.

More recently, the wider adoption of electronic stability controls and better collision avoidance capabilities augur even better safety on the roads.

Along the way since 1966, however, there were many missed opportunities, delays, suppression of needed upgrades of existing vehicle and tire standards, and avoidance of necessary recalls. Many lives have been lost and injuries inflicted as a result of such callousness.

Pressure came from the auto company lobbying operation and their friends in the White House and Congress, especially their powerful perennial defender, Democrat John Dingell from Michigan, who almost never saw a safety standard or fuel efficiency upgrade he liked. On the consumer side have been long-time advocates Joan Claybrook and Clarence Ditlow.

In the past decade, distracted drivers using cell phones and other electronic gadgets are involved in the loss of over 1000 lives a year. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood has made this growing peril a major cause.

With the rise in the number of motorcycles to 11 million, there has been a steady rise in motorcycle fatalities over the years. This is due in no small part to 30 states not having a mandatory helmet law. “Along with taxes and weather, there is the certainty that no mandatory helmet laws leave more motorcyclists dead on the highway,” says Jackie Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “It’s like having a cure for AIDS over twenty years and not applying it in certain states,” she added.

Safety laws have to be updated and strengthened from time to time. Currently a bill is moving through Congress, largely opposed by industry, to toughen the weak penalty provisions, strengthen some safeguards against newly discovered defects and increase the pitifully small budget in NHTSA for motor vehicle safety standards, recalls and research.

The current annual budget is about $150 million, which is less than three months worth of your tax dollars paying corporate contractors to guard the U.S. Embassy and its personnel in Baghdad, Iraq.

While the decline in highway casualties in 2009 can be attributed to a considerable degree to the recession, the record of highway safety regulation, bumps and all, certainly compares favorably with the anemic safety frameworks set up for other widespread technologies such as offshore drilling and spilling.