Swans Commentary » swans.com March 22, 2010  



Blips #98
 From The Martian Desk


by Gilles d'Aymery





"Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system."
Dorothy Day


(Swans - March 22, 2010)   WHETHER SICK CARE REFORM reaches the president's desk for his signing into law is not yet known at the time of this writing, though if it does it will be in no small part thanks to Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) who, after having consistently pledged that he would not cast his vote in favor of any bill that did not contain a public option, announced that "after careful discussions with President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, my wife Elizabeth and close friends, I've decided to cast a vote in favor of the legislation"...that does not contain a public option. Kucinich is a darling of the "progressive" crowd... Enough said (at least for today).

SINCE THE Obama administration has been eager to hear constructive ideas from concerned people regarding health care reform, I decided to contact the White House on March 8, with the following suggestion:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I would like to respectfully suggest to our esteemed president the following:

Since he is facing a recalcitrant Congress with too many Democrats putting a brake on his efforts to bring some kind of health care reform -- not the best reform in my opinion...but I am a partisan of a single-payer system that has never been in the cards...and understand the politics and commercial interests behind the debate -- and since the Republicans have from day one done their utmost to destroy his presidency, going all the way to support fringe groups (financed by not-so-fringed corporate interests) that accuse him of being a crypto fascist/socialist/communist/marxist/muslim/not-born in the USA destroyer of our country, I'd like to recommend, again with much respect, that he takes this specific step (which I honestly do not know whether it is a constitutional action):

Call a WH press conference wherein he announces that by executive order, as of March 31, 2010, all members of Congress will be stripped from their health care benefits (paid by us, the taxpayers) and will have thereupon to fend for themselves (as we all do) with the private, for-profit insurance companies.

I'd reckon that were President Obama to sign such an executive order he would have his moderately-designed reform voted up in a hurry.

With respect and best wishes

IF THIS LOOKS a bit too drastic an approach, perhaps Congress could simply scrap that non-reform and approve instead HR 4789, a bill introduced by Alan Grayson, the fiery Democratic representative from Florida, that offers a public option for anyone to buy into Medicare. It's a pretty straightforward legislation. "I've introduced," said Grayson to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! last Wednesday, "a simple three-and-a-half-page bill that opens up Medicare to anybody who wants it. If you want it and you pay for it, it's yours. It's that simple. It's open to everybody under the age of sixty-five, whether or not you're handicapped. And you pay the same amount as other people your age would pay." "And the reason to do this," continued Grayson," is because we need a public option. We need an option that doesn't involve putting us at the tender mercies of insurance companies, particularly if there's a mandate to do so. A lot of people feel that there is a fundamental conflict of interest between themselves and private insurance companies. The private insurance companies make money by denying you the care that you need to be healthy, and sometimes to stay alive. And a lot of people are just sick of it."

IF YOU DON'T believe him, ask our friend Leigh who three years ago paid $260 a month for her health insurance. Her Anthem 80/20 plan with $3,000 deductible went up to $408 last year, and this year it's going up to $671 -- an increase of over 150 percent in three years! Or ask our friend Lori. In 2007, she paid $400 a month to Blue Shield for her family of four, with a deductible of $8,200 and no coverage for prescription drugs. Then the premium went up to $464, which was raised to $515 after she was hospitalized for a ruptured ovarian cyst and sepsis last year. She does not know how much the premium will be hiked this year. She is afraid to go to the doctor or take her kids because of concern over being able to pay the bills, as most of us have -- at least the people I know. Our own plan went up 300 percent in the past 5 years. There is no end in sight, but the graveyard. Keep in mind, especially my international readers, that none of the people I know (with two exceptions) is a working-poor fellow. We are all muddling along in the middle, some lower, some higher, but pretty much all standing near the cliff of financial obliteration if a serious illness strikes. So, imagine the situation of the bottom two quintiles of the population, the truly poor and working poor -- that's about 120 million people.

These are pesky details that our 535 members of Congress don't have to concern themselves with since we, the taxpayers, fork over their health care expenses. It allows them to empathize with our pain (Clinton, Bill, was very good at that, as his health coverage was, and remains, paid for in full by the people, and he makes hundreds of millions of dollars still empathizing on human misery), all the while dining in plush restaurants on the Potomac with the predators that rake in gazillions of dollars in profits from the blood and tears (and wallets) the many keep shedding so that the few... Oh gee, don't get me started, my blood pressure is boiling and I can't afford to have a stroke... Better get back to amusing the gallery with tongue-in-cheek tales about the sharks that feed on us. (But, eh, thank you Kucinich for your principled stand. Always nice to witness a profile of courage in action...)

THERE ARE OTHER happy few who are not concerned by skyrocketing health costs either. I am referring, of course, to the club of billionaires whose 2010 List has just been published by Forbes.

BUT BEFORE I GET TO IT, I just noticed that I did not review the 2009 List last year. I must have had too much fun covering the economic and financial crises. It turns out that our billionaires suffered in 2008, poor them. According to Forbes, "The richest people in the world have gotten poorer, just like the rest of us. This year [2008] the world's billionaires have an average net worth of $3 billion, down 23% in 12 months. The world now has 793 billionaires, down from 1,125 a year ago." Yeah, just like the rest of us...but unlike the rest of us they nicely rebounded in 2009, with 1,011 of them from 56 countries making the list (403 Americans) and averaging a net worth of $3.5 billion for a collective total of $3.6 trillion. China herself, the "communist paradise," has 89 billionaires. At the top of the list stands Mexican mogul Carlos Slim with $53.5 billion, closely followed by Bill Gates ($53 billion) and Warren Buffett ($47 billion). But oh rage, oh despair, (reference to Le Cid) for the first time ever since 1994 the list is not led by an American, and only three of them made the top ten (the third one being Lawrence Ellison of Oracle with $28 billion).

OUT OF CURIOSITY, I checked two individuals that I've commented on for the past few years, John Paulson and George Soros (one of the heroes of Ralph Nader, if you can believe it!), both heading hedge funds (see my Blips #61 and forward). You may recall that John Paulson made the list for the first time in 2007 after having bet against subprime mortgages in 2006. His net worth was about $1.3 billion and he was ranked somewhere around #750 (I have not been able to find the exact ranking number.) The following year, he went on with his strategy and ranked #368 with a $3 billion net worth. In 2008, his net worth doubled to $6 billion and he ranked #76, and in 2009 he doubled it yet again to $12 billion and now ranks #45. Soros went from a net worth of $8.5 billion in 2006 (rank #80), to $9 billion in 2007 (#97), to $11 billion in 2008 (#29), and to $14 billion (#35) in 2009. Is there a song with the refrain, "just like the rest of us, just like the rest of us"?


I KNOW, this may look fastidious to keep rehashing these obscenities, but take a moment to reflect on the overall meaning. That club increased its net worth by $1.2 trillion last year at a time of high economic pains suffered almost the world over (and going). Two quick points: First, an investigation (which will go nowhere) has been launched to find out the extent to which funds like Paulson's, Soros's, and the likes of Goldman Sachs have been betting against Greek debt and doing likewise against the British pound. (Remember Soros bringing the Bank of England to its knees in the 1992?) These actions have dire consequences on people's lives. Penury raises its ugly head. Austerity becomes a leitmotiv as respective governments embark on deep social cuts (increase age of retirement and working hours, slash funding for pension funds, housing, health care, education, family planning, etc.), which inevitably lead to increased poverty and social unrest, which in turn are countered by more spending on repressive police forces and the diminishing of civil liberties... Folks, open your eyes, look around and ask yourselves where are these trends leading... Second, coming back for a minute to the US sick care non-reform, it is alleged that Obamacare would cost one trillion dollars over the next ten years -- repeat, over the next ten years. That's less than the increase of our billionaires' net worth in just one year. Granted, we are talking about worldwide billionaires and, therefore, the comparison does not correlate. Fine. Take the 403 American billionaires. That's about 38 percent of the total. Let's estimate that they equally shared the $1.2 trillion increase in the whole total net worth (okay, that's not an exact statistical measure, but still it provides an idea), then their share would be $456 billion in ONE year, almost half of estimated Obamacare over TEN years. (If you take the total net worth of $3.6 trillion, their share becomes $1.368 trillion!)

I DON'T CARE MUCH for "Obamacare," but its financing should be a no-brainer. Simply tax wealth, especially the speculators who are devastating entire communities and countries! Go where the money is instead of hitting everybody else. So much destruction for the profits of the few... Darn, this is so infuriating. Dorothy Day was right on mark about this "filthy, rotten system." How long are we going to keep accepting it? As the grand Charles (de Gaulle) used to say, vaste programme, monsieur.


DISTURBING NEWS: There are reports coming from Europe that the sharks are circling the waters of Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland; and rumors that the credit agencies Standard & Poor's, Moody's, and Fitch Ratings want to downgrade the credit-worthiness of various European countries, including Spain, the UK, and France, from AAA to AA -- an eminently political act played between the U.S. and the E.U., and a troubling development as it would accelerate further the transfer of public funds toward private investors. Affaire à suivre...

MEANTIME the folks at the FDIC have been busy as eleven additional banks have failed in the past two weeks (total of 37 as of March 19) for an estimated loss of almost $1.5 billion, which is the damage to the Deposit Insurance Fund. The losses, as I noted in my Blips #96, are far bigger than in preceding financial crises (like the S&L). This may be due to the fact that the concentration of the US banking sector has widely increased in the past 20 years. According to the French financial blog Faillites bancaires aux USA, "in 1990, the FDIC was insuring over 15,000 institutions while at the end of 2009 the number was just over 8,000" (source in French). While the number of institutions has contracted sharply the amount of insured deposits (JPG) has increased as sharply and failures are much costlier. All in all this shit is far from over. (Sorry for the gloom and doom...)


LET ME (ALMOST) END for today with an amusing tidbit. Jan Baughman was in Seoul, South Korea, two weeks ago. She told me teasingly that for about $30 a month you get a 54Mbs connection to the Internet, whether through fiber or WiFi -- 54Mbs with unlimited upload and download! The WiFi connection at the airport was free. Free? Gosh this is so un-American! The tease? I pay $60 for a theoretical 600Kbs HughesNet satellite connection with daily maximum 200Mb upload-download and if I go over the threshold the connection is automatically lowered to about 40Kbs for 24 hours! The connection seldom reaches the theoretical speed. The best I can expect when downloading a software update is 70 to 85Kbs. I rarely watch online videos because of the too often excruciating stop-and-go experience (runs 10 seconds, stops, downloads for 15 seconds, runs 10 seconds...) and the risk of reaching the dreaded threshold, which they call a "Fair Access Policy." When the satellite is down or it rains heavily, I fall back on my Earthlink modem connection ($20 a month) with a speed of 19 to 28 Kbs! The greatest country in the world, eh? I've read that the Federal Communications Commission is proposing that by 2020, broadband at 100Mbs will cover the entire country. In the Netherlands they already have speeds up to 120Mbs! Mieux vaut rire que pleurer...


ONE QUICK LAST WORD, and it's about Jean Ferrat, the extraordinary French singer and great human being who kept many of us believing in communism without stalinism. He died on March 13, 2010. I tried to share my thoughts about him in French, including a few tidbits about my past, but I've not been writing in French for some 30 years and was unable to get the piece together (which would have required much TLC from Marie Rennard) in time for this issue. Marie did me the favor of writing a short remembrance for our English-speaking readership. Jean Ferrat deeply touched millions of French people, including this writer. He will remain in our consciousness with much love and respect.


HERE IS A LINK on YouTube to his famous song, Camarade.


AND HERE ARE A FEW OTHERS VIDEOS, also on YouTube, which postings Ferrat did not oppose (at least to my knowledge):

Ma France

La montagne

La montagne (1966)

La montagne (1964)

Ma môme

Que serais-je sans toi


Je ne chante pas pour passer le temps

Pauvres petits c...

Nuits et brouillards

Jean Ferrat's garden (on the Web site of l'Huma)


CAMARADE, oh mon camarade...

 . . . . .

C'est la vie...

And so it goes...


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published March 22, 2010