Showing posts with label middle class. Show all posts
Showing posts with label middle class. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Louisiana swamp gas . . . or weapons of ass destruction

The Louisiana Legislature's latest round of budget negotiations has prompted the return of what is becoming an annual tug-of-war match between funding TOPS and funding state health care services.

The House Appropriations Committee on Monday advanced its version of a $27 billion state budget to begin July 1 featuring full funding for the popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students scholarships and deep cuts to safety-net hospitals and other programs that serve the poor and disabled.

"This is a process," House Appropriations Vice Chair Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, said during the committee's hearing on House Bill 1. "There are other steps we'll be going through."

HB1 is scheduled to hit the House floor on Thursday, where it is certain to generate additional debate over where the brunt of nearly $650 million in cuts should land. Lawmakers haven't ruled out the idea of holding yet another special session to try to close all or part of the remaining "fiscal cliff" the state faces when temporary tax measures expire June 30, but they can't take up most revenue-raising measures during the regular session and current budgeting process. . . . 
"In rushing to pass amendments out, the House Appropriations Committee proved what we’ve been saying all along – there simply isn’t a way to fashion a budget that adequately funds our state’s pressing needs," Edwards said in a statement. "TOPS is absolutely a priority and should be fully funded, but so should higher education institutions, health care for our seniors and those with disabilities, funding for medical schools in Shreveport and New Orleans, and our partner hospitals. Now we can see that it’s not possible to do that without replacing more of the revenue that is expiring."

The move to prioritize funding for TOPS, which is wildly popular among middle class and more affluent families, mirrors recent actions from the Appropriations Committee, which gets the first bite at the state budget under state law.

Rep. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, said he worried about the ripple effect cuts to the state's safety-net hospital partners would have. Several of those operators have already said they will walk away from the agreements, threatening the shuttering of hospitals across the state, if their funding is drastically reduced to the levels that have been proposed.

"We have health care providers in the state of Louisiana making tough decisions," Carter said. "I'm a big believer in both education and health care, but I certainly don't want to risk closing any hospital."

Several Democrats also questioned the plan to fund TOPS while cutting general funding for college and university campuses.

It didn't take jetliners flying into New York skyscrapers.

It certainly didn't take any declaration of war.

All it took was Bashar al-Assad dropping a chlorine (and perhaps sarin) gas bomb onto a Damascus neighborhood and killing 40-odd people in the latest outrageous act of Syria's long and bloody civil war. For that, the combined forces of the United States, France and Great Britain launched 100-something missiles into a country with which we weren't at war, at least not legally.

What, then, shall we do with Louisiana?

I doubt it could be argued that Louisiana politicians have not killed -- and will not kill -- any fewer than a Syrian gas attack every few weeks, if not days, by starving every social safety-net program on the books, all because their constituents have no more interest than Cain in being their brother's keeper. As we know from Genesis, Cain had no interest in being Abel's keeper because he had already killed him.

Artistic tradition pictures the jealous Cain slaying with the jawbone of an ass, as Samson later in scripture did away with the Philistines. In Louisiana, it's asses jawboning who mow down the poor, the disabled and the sick with their votes and their callous neglect. If the House committee's will becomes budgetary law, what little cash the state has on hand will fully fund a popular welfare program that overwhelmingly benefits the adult children of middle-class white people.

The poor and the ill, then, will be left to be their own damned keeper. Should be interesting to see how well Grandma shifts for herself when she's wheeled to the curb after the Medicaid money stops but her nursing-home tab doesn't.

The white children of white parents with ample green will have their tuition to crumbling state universities (which aren't being funded) paid in full with taxpayers' dollars.  The state Department of Health would be starved to the point where virtually every public-private "safety net" hospital closes its doors.

Meantime, medical education virtually would end in Louisiana.
“So of $346-million available, you want to spend $246-million of it for this, leaving $100-million for everything else?” [Rep. Walt] Leger [D-New Orleans] asked. “You believe $246-million is best spent in these ways?”
“I do,” [Rep. Franklin] Foil [R-Baton Rouge] replied. “We had a lot of ground to make up, since the executive budget had zero dollars spent on TOPS.”

“Isn’t this message giving students false hope, because the full body isn’t likely to maintain this in lieu of funding other programs?” Leger pressed. “You’re okay getting a positive news story today, even if it ultimately will prove to be fake news?”

“My commitment is to students,” Foil answered.

“What about the Department of Health?” Leger asked.

“What about it?” Foil fired back.

“You’re aware that department is taking biggest cuts? And you still believe it is more valuable to fund TOPS?” Leger asked, incredulously.
“Your district includes a substantial constituency that is on Medicaid, doesn’t it, Rep. Foil?” Rep. Pat Smith [D-Baton Rouge] asked. “But you’re willing to fully fund TOPS to benefit a different socio-economic group in your district, instead?”

“I think this helps everyone, in every district,” Foil replied. “We are clearly short on revenue, and even if we were to take all of the money available and give it to the Department of Health, they would still have a shortfall.”
“Yet your amendment fully funds TOPS to the detriment of all the other programs in the state: disabilities waivers, nursing homes, public-private partner hospitals, graduate medical education,” Leger said. “It’s a trap, forcing us Democrats to say we either support TOPS or we don’t. That’s a false choice, and it will really end up being nothing more than a comment about what we would like to do.”

“We are already on notice that the public-private partner hospitals will be closing,” Rep. Gary Carter (D-New Orleans) chimed in. “We say ‘we fund our priorities.’ Your amendment makes TOPS a greater priority than health care.”

“I believe we will find funding as we go through this process,” Foil insisted.

“That’s pie in the sky,” Pat Smith told him, bluntly. “You’re perfectly aware there is no guarantee to raise additional revenue. Some 20 members of this body won’t vote for any new revenue under any circumstances. What this ends up saying is that we only want to fund a program for kids doing well in school, but not the schools they go to, and not the hospitals.”
BREAKING NEWS . . . Louisiana to poor, sick and higher ed: Drop dead.

Breaking news? That's old news. It's also today's news, tomorrow's news, next year's news and your grandkids' news.

In this era of concussive enforcement of the Geneva Conventions and international human-rights charters, here's the news I eagerly await:

As a proportional and just response to unacceptable violations of civilized norms, I await news that sea- and air-launched cruise missiles from the combined armed forces of the United States and sundry NATO allies have sent a message to America's own pariah state. And that the Louisiana Capitol Complex now looks a lot like some of the sadder parts of north Baton Rouge.

Right is right, after all, and rogue regimes must be put on notice that certain red lines must not be crossed. Even in the reddest of states.

We're all in agreement on that, am I right? Am I right?


Friday, March 09, 2012


Translation: Stuff Well-Heeled Liberal White People Like.

Wow. At $199.99, this costs a lot more than my Peter Max-designed Hot Wheels car did 40-something years ago.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Help! Help! They're being repressed!

I am one of those Catholics who believes in God, not cultural self-identification.

I believe that God exercises a "preferential option for the poor." I believe that's in the Bible -- somewhere toward the back.

I believe that how we govern ourselves, and how our governing structures implement a basic vision of social justice, is a direct reflection on a democracy's citizenry, which grants consent to its agents.

I believe that God does not sleep, that nations come under judgment and that we are in big, big trouble.

I ALSO BELIEVE that Louisiana -- my home state -- is working hard to sink from mere banana republicanism to fascistic banana republicanism, and that this stinking turd some self-righteous collegiate twerp left on the opinion pages of LSU's student newspaper is Exhibit A. From the soiled July 28 edition of my old stomping grounds, The Daily Reveille:
Obama and the Democrats love to paint a picture of the "poor" as innocent people "just trying to stretch every dollar as far as it will go."

I wonder how many Democrats have ever been to a Third World country to see what poor really means. For two weeks I stayed with a family in Costa Rica who had no air conditioning, no hot water, no washer or dryer, and the roof of the house was raised above the walls so that air could circulate in and out. And yet they washed all my clothes, gave me meals every day and never complained about it.

There are definitely some Americans who are truly needy, but it would be ridiculous to think the 47 percent of Americans not paying federal income tax are eating food out of dumpsters.

It's sickening to hear Obama and the Democrats portray the poor as blameless people in dire need of government help when our poor live lives of luxury in comparison to the poor of other countries.

It isn't the rich who are paying less than their fair share in taxes. To the contrary, they're paying much more than everyone else. It's America's poor who get free health care and new SUVs who aren't sharing the sacrifice.

And if we don't start taxing the rich, Obama wants to withhold Social Security checks. How about the government withholds welfare checks from the "poor" instead of Social Security to those who have actually paid their fair share?

It's about time the so-called poor Americans share the sacrifice and pay their fair share of taxes.

BACK IN MY DAY, the "f*** the poor" crowd complained about "welfare Cadillacs" and ghetto dwellers buying bottles of Mad Dog and Colt 45 tall boys with food stamps. Now, apparently, it's "free health care" and "new SUVs" that are the problem.

My assumption, though, is that the faces behind the stereotype are still brown ones.

What I don't understand is why the smug Reveille columnist, Austin Casey, didn't aim lower for whom he considers real poor people. Why not starving Somalians instead of Costa Rican peasants?

That could have made him feel even better -- or worse, depending -- about how rich America's poor are in the grand scheme of things. After all, it doesn't look quite so bad that the richest 1 percent of Americans controls 40 percent of its wealth and takes home a fourth of its annual income if we get to put quotation marks around our poor.

Sorry, make that "poor."

OF COURSE, the whole construct of inequality in the United States is unique to "socialists" like . . . well, me. I actually give a rat's ass about stuff like this. Austin Casey and the rest of Tea Party America don't.

When Austin Casey encountered the poor of Costa Rica, they sheltered him, fed him and wished him well. When Austin Casey encounters the poor -- sorry, "poor" -- of America, he pouts, stamps his feet and screams "Help! Help! I'm being repressed!"

Tea Party America is not the land of e pluribus unum -- out of many, one. Instead, it is the land of ad te sorbet -- it sucks to be you.

Jesus has an opinion on that. It's in the Bible -- somewhere toward the back.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A banana republic . . . if you can afford it

We're high for a poor country, in terms of inequality, and we're a rich country. We're about the same level of inequality as China. And, of course, China, half the population are rural peasants who are not part of the modern world.

And if we were to compare us with African countries, dictators in different places, you know, taking a lot of the wealth from normal people, we would be among the top half of the African countries of inequality. So, the U.S. really has reached an extraordinary level of income inequality.

-- Richard Freeman,
Harvard economist

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lullaby for the working class

Dear Democrats:

No matter what asshats Republican politicians might be (and they are), ordinary Americans still hate you worse. This is Tuesday's lesson from the Wisconsin recalls . . . and from numerous other elections across America the past four decades.

I have opinions on why this is.

One, you hate Joe Six-Pack just as much as the GOP pols, basically. You'll go to the wall for the eugenicist swells of Planned Parenthood in ways you'd never consider going to the wall on behalf of -- for lack of a better word -- the proletariat.

In a world of political priorities, you know and I know that you think it's more important to abort babies (many of them poor and brown) than it is to fight like hell for jobs, education, social services and basic f***ing human dignity for the poor, working and middle classes. Many of these people can't articulate it that way, but they know it just the same.

And this is why so many of them either stay home on Election Day or go out and vote against their own economic and class interests by filling in the oval or pulling the lever for tea-party nutwagons, bomb-throwers and (oftentimes) your average, modern-day "conservative" protofascist.

This is the lesson from Recall Tuesday in Wisconsin. No matter how outrageous the GOP's sins against the poor and working class, regular folk think their chances are better going with their enemies than with their "friends."

Good luck with that paradigm in 2012, Democrats. And God help us all.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Mr. Sanders gives it to Washington

Can't add anything to this, except perhaps for "Amen!"

Oh, all right.
I can add this one thing: It's a damned sad day in this sad land when it takes a self-proclaimed democratic socialist to do something seemingly as simple as go onto the floor of the U.S. Senate and tell the God's honest truth.

America's tea-party "patriots," maybe what this country needs is more socialism, not less. Especially if the alternative is plutocracy -- a veritable banana republic . . . with nukes.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The poorhouse, explained

The fatal flaw of the tea party movement -- OK, the most fundamental of its myriad fatal flaws -- is that it long ago got what it now clamors for.

And that's what's killing us all. Check that. Not all.

The rich, they're doing fine, despite everything. It's the fast-disappearing middle class and the poor taking it in the shorts.

Despite all the angry rhetoric from the tea-party delusionals, despite all the laissez-faire rhetoric and faux solidarity with "real Americans" coming from millionaire hucksters such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, the real problem here, alas, is not that Barack
Hussein Obama is a socialist working hard to turn the United States into a people's republic.

No, the real problem is that America is becoming
less socialist every day -- that the sort of laissez-faire, free-market social Darwinism that lets the rich man grow ever richer, unfettered by the "socialist nanny state," has been wildly successful at redistributing wealth away from the poor and middle class and into the hands of Corporate America and the wealthy.

What the tea-party marionettes clamor for -- the magical shot of "freedom" that supposedly will cure all our ails -- is just more of what we've had for decades, decades during which the American middle-class family has been beaten into a vegetative state.

If you're not familiar with Elizabeth Warren, Harvard law professor and current chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, stop right now and watch the above video. Want to know what the hell happened to you (and the economic world around you) over the last 40 years? This will explain it all.

Warren tells you how the middle class has come to the brink of extinction, why both you and the missus are busting your butts and still living paycheck-to-paycheck, and why you're just a layoff -- or a serious illness -- away from oblivion.

IN THE VIDEO, she tells you all this on Mar. 8, 2007. A year and a half before the crash.

Things haven't improved since:

THE MSNBC INTERVIEW followed publication of this column of hers last December in The Huffington Post. Read on, if you've guts enough:
Today, one in five Americans is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can't make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings, has left family balance sheets upside down, and threatens to put ten million homeowners out on the street.

Families have survived the ups and downs of economic booms and busts for a long time, but the fall-behind during the busts has gotten worse while the surge-ahead during the booms has stalled out. In the boom of the 1960s, for example, median family income jumped by 33% (adjusted for inflation). But the boom of the 2000s resulted in an almost-imperceptible 1.6% increase for the typical family. While Wall Street executives and others who owned lots of stock celebrated how good the recovery was for them, middle class families were left empty-handed.

The crisis facing the middle class started more than a generation ago. Even as productivity rose, the wages of the average fully-employed male have been flat since the 1970s.

But core expenses kept going up. By the early 2000s, families were spending twice as much (adjusted for inflation) on mortgages than they did a generation ago -- for a house that was, on average, only ten percent bigger and 25 years older. They also had to pay twice as much to hang on to their health insurance.

To cope, millions of families put a second parent into the workforce. But higher housing and medical costs combined with new expenses for child care, the costs of a second car to get to work and higher taxes combined to squeeze families even harder. Even with two incomes, they tightened their belts. Families today spend less than they did a generation ago on food, clothing, furniture, appliances, and other flexible purchases -- but it hasn't been enough to save them. Today's families have spent all their income, have spent all their savings, and have gone into debt to pay for college, to cover serious medical problems, and just to stay afloat a little while longer.

Through it all, families never asked for a handout from anyone, especially Washington. They were left to go on their own, working harder, squeezing nickels, and taking care of themselves. But their economic boats have been taking on water for years, and now the crisis has swamped millions of middle class families.

The contrast with the big banks could not be sharper. While the middle class has been caught in an economic vise, the financial industry that was supposed to serve them has prospered at their expense. Consumer banking -- selling debt to middle class families -- has been a gold mine. Boring banking has given way to creative banking, and the industry has generated tens of billions of dollars annually in fees made possible by deceptive and dangerous terms buried in the fine print of opaque, incomprehensible, and largely unregulated contracts.
AND THE CURE for this is supposed to be less regulation? Less government? Fewer taxes on the wealthy? Removing the last of society's unraveling safety nets?

Fighting "socialism" is the answer here? For the love of God, send us a real socialist, not some too-cool, dispassionate poseur like Barack Obama.

You know, like Franklin Roosevelt. Or Harry Truman. Or Dwight Eisenhower, Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Hell, even Richard Nixon.

By tea-party/Limbaugh/Beck standards, all these presidents were raving Bolsheviks. And under their political tutelage, we still had a middle class. We still had hope for America's future.

And now?

During Warren's 2007 lecture at the University of California-Berkeley, she explains that according to Gallup, most people in 1970 judged that it required a high-school diploma and hard work to launch a young person into the middle class. But by 2002, Gallup reported, twice as many Americans thought the moon landing was faked -- staged on a Hollywood sound stage -- as thought
that someone could make it into a middle-class life with just 12 years of schooling.

From the presentation:
"The difference is -- when you look at middle-class families -- if you needed 12 years back in 1970? The taxpayer paid for it. You got it all for free. All you had to do was show up . . . live there and show up.

By the year 2000, if you need a college diploma, you pay for it yourself.

Sure Berkeley and other state-supported schools? I guess that means you guys aren't paying any tuition?

Room, board, books, right? It's not very much -- I guess you borrowed maybe a dollar or two in order to do this?

But notice what that means. It means the launch -- what parents have to do to get that next generation into the middle class -- has shifted from being something that everybody pays for to something that only the families with children are paying for.
WITH THE ADVENT of what is an almost-mandatory two years of preschool for toddlers, Warren noted that -- in little more than a generation -- we've gone from a shot at a middle-class life requiring 12 years of free education to requiring 18 years of schooling, one-third of which parents are on the hook for.

Now imagine what it's like to be poor in America today . . . because we of the former middle class may all be there soon enough.