Sunday, April 21, 2013

Obama and the Class War

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You know, I suspect that on Social Security we’ve got a somewhat similar position.” – Barack Obama in debate with Mitt Romney
When a Democrat gets away with austerity and wars of aggression it is truly time to admit that a new paradigm is needed.”

Yes Virginia, there is a class war going on in America. There always has been, and the tide for working people ebbs and flows depending upon their own level of activism, world events, or economic conditions. For the past several decades working people have been losing and by growing margins with every successive presidential administration.

Despite the phony wars between Democrats and Republicans, there is consistency at the top. Ever since the Ronald Reagan presidency Democrats and Republicans have done their best to put and keep the malefactors of great wealth, the 1%, on top. Barack Obama has done nothing to alter this awful trend. Like all of his predecessors he would never have become president if he hadn’t sided with the ruling classes.

That simple fact explains everything the president has done to date and eliminates any pretense of mystery surrounding his actions regarding budget negotiations. His decisions to convene a deficit cutting cat food commission and to propose austerity measures including cuts to Social Security and Medicare are easily understood when the foundations of our system are understood.

There is a nationwide casting call made up of rich, influential people who give a thumbs up or down to potential presidential candidates.”

We do not live in a true democracy. We live in a country controlled by corporate interests and wealthy individuals. They are the rulers and they determine who does and doesn’t serve in public office and what those people can and cannot do. They choose the politicians before we know their names and Barack Obama is exhibit A in that regard. There is a nationwide casting call made up of rich, influential people who give a thumbs up or down to potential presidential candidates. The people who promise to work on their behalf get the yea vote before anyone votes in Iowa or New Hampshire. That is how the ruling class works.

Barack Obama’s name was new to most Americans when he spoke at the 2004 Democratic convention but his presence there was proof that he already had buy-in from the movers and shakers and that he was planning his run for the presidency even then. The ambitious senator knew where his bread was buttered and showed his acumen and his loyalties early.

In 2006 Obama was only in his second year in the senate when he spoke at an event convened by the Brooking’s Institution’s Hamilton Project, a neo-liberal think tank created by Clinton administration treasury secretary Robert Rubin and deputy secretary Roger Altman. Thevideo of Obama’s speech shows us that the austerity measures being carried out today were being planned even then and the Rubins and Altmans of the world knew they had someone who could get away with doing what Republicans could only dream about.

The ambitious senator knew where his bread was buttered and showed his acumen and his loyalties early.”

The speech is a cornucopia of right wing fantasy made palatable by the supposedly liberal black man. “Too many of us have been interested in defending programs the way they were written in 1938.” “The forces of globalization have changed the rules of the game.” “The coming baby boomer retirement will only add to the challenges.” “Most of us are strong free traders.”

Like every smooth talking politician Obama knows how to use the right language for each audience and the audience was larger than those present in the room during his speech. Barack Obama became president because he told the Rubins and Altmans of the world that he was on their side while simultaneously convincing millions of voters that he was on theirs.

That is a recipe for electoral success. Americans are uninformed and deluded in many ways but they are not complete fools. Telling them that their Social Security benefits will be slashed is not a way to win votes. Convincing them that the other side is more evil and responsible for all the bad choices in a winner and Obama has mastered that art.

Changing the name at the top is not the solution.”

The fight against our own demise is not a hopeless one but it does require a level of analysis that is foreign to most people. Our system will always produce political leaders who work against our interests. It should be obvious that supporting the Democratic Party is to act against oneself. When a Democrat gets away with austerity and wars of aggression it is truly time to admit that a new paradigm is needed. The plea to stick with the Democrats should by now be completely discredited. Barack Obama has become the teflon president like his idol Ronald Reagan.

The next Democratic president may not be as gifted at dissembling but will definitely be as beholden to the rulers as Obama is. Changing the name at the top is not the solution. Changing all the assumptions about politics is the solution. Voting for the green party or other parties will be the answer for some. Others will disengage from the political process and choose other avenues of activism.

Yes, there is a ruling class and they will tell this president what to do before they choose the next one. It is time for everyone to decide where they stand, with the rulers or with the ruled.

Are the Banks Already Orchestrating Another Meltdown?

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Nevada buses hundreds of mentally ill patients to cities around country

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Over the past five years, Nevada's primary state psychiatric hospital has put hundreds of mentally ill patients on Greyhound buses and sent them to cities and towns across America.
Since July 2008, Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas has transported more than 1,500 patients to other cities via Greyhound bus,sending at least one person to every state in the continental United States, according to a Bee review of bus receipts kept by Nevada's mental health division.
About a third of those patients were dispatched to California, including more than 200 to Los Angeles County, about 70 to San Diego Countyand 19 to the city of Sacramento.
In recent years, as Nevada has slashed funding for mental health services, the number of mentally ill patients being bused out of southern Nevada has steadily risen, growing 66 percent from 2009 to 2012. During that same period, the hospital has dispersed those patients to an ever-increasing number of states.
By last year, Rawson-Neal bused out patients at a pace of well over one per day, shipping nearly 400 patients to a total of 176 cities and 45 states across the nation.
Nevada's approach to dispatching mentally ill patients has come under scrutiny since one of its clients turned up suicidal and confused at a Sacramento homeless services complex. James Flavy Coy Brown, who is 48 and suffers from a variety of mood disorders including schizophrenia, was discharged in February from Rawson-Neal to a Greyhound bus for Sacramento, a place he had never visited and where he knew no one.
The hospital sent him on the 15-hour bus ridewithout making arrangements for his treatment or housing in California; he arrived in Sacramento out of medication and without identification or access to his Social Security payments. He wound up in the UC Davis Medical Center's emergency room, where he lingered for three days until social workers were able to find him temporary housing.
Nevada mental health officials have acknowledged making mistakes in Brown's case, but have made no apologies for their policy of busing patients out of state. Las Vegas is an international destination and patients who become ill while in the city have a right to return home if they desire, the state's health officer, Dr. Tracey Green, told Nevada lawmakers during a hearing last month.
She and others insist that the vast majority of patients they are discharging to the Main Street bus station are mentally stable and have family members, treatment programs or both waiting for them at the end of their rides.
That was not true in Brown's case. His papers from Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services read: "Discharge to Greyhound bus station by taxi with 3 day supply of medication" and provided a vague suggestion for further treatment: "Follow up with medical doctor in California." Brown said staff at Rawson-Neal advised him to call 911 when he arrived in Sacramento.
Nevada Health and Human Services Director Michael Willden told lawmakers last month that while health officials "blew it" in their handling of Brown, an internal investigation found no pattern of misconduct.
But an investigation by the Nevada State Health Division documented several other instances from a small sampling of cases in February in which the state hospital violated written rules for safely discharging mentally ill patients.
Other apparent violations surfaced during The Bee's investigation.
At least two patients from the Nevada system arrived in San Francisco during the past year "without a plan, without a relative," said Jo Robinson, director of that city's Behavioral Health Services department.
"We're fine with taking people if they call and we make arrangements and make sure that everything is OK for the individual," Robinson said. "But a bus ticket with no contact, no clinic receptor, anything, it's really not appropriate."
Robinson said she viewed the practice as "patient dumping," and has reported it to federal authorities. "It's offensive to me that they would show this lack of care for a client," she said.

Practice called risky

Nevada mental health officials did not respond to repeated requests for phone interviews for this story, nor would they address a list of emailed questions about the origins of the busing policy and the safety protocols in place.
Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services, the agency that oversees Rawson-Neal, maintains detailed written policies for transporting patients "to their home communities," with the stated goal of providing more appropriate care by the most economical means possible.
The policy includes a special section on "Travel Nourishment Protocol," specifying the number of bottles of Ensure nutritional supplement the patient should receive for the bus trip – essentially six per day.
Staff members are supposed to fill out a "Client Transportation Request" form, which includes questions about whether the patient is willing to go, whether housing or shelter has been verified, and the cost of the trip.
The written policy calls for staff to confirm that a patient has housing or shelter available "and a support system to meet client at destination." They are to provide information about "mental health services available in the home community."
Interviews with health officials in California and numerous other states indicate Nevada's practices are unusual. None of the 10 state mental health agencies contacted by The Bee said that placing a psychiatric patient on a bus without support would be permissible. And none recalled being contacted by Rawson-Neal to make arrangements for a patient coming from Nevada.
In California, where most public mental health treatment is overseen at the county level, agencies contacted by The Bee said they rarely bus patients and that Nevada's practices seem out of step with the standard of care.
Several described the practice as risky, even if patients have someone waiting for them at the end of their journeys.
"Putting someone whose mental illness makes them unable to care for themselves alone on a bus for a long period of time could be absolutely disastrous," said Dorian Kittrell, executive director of the Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center.
Patients could suffer relapses during their trips and potentially harm themselves or other people, said Kittrell and others. They could become lost to the streets or commit crimes that land them in jail.
"The risk is just too great," said Dr. Marye Thomas, chief of behavioral health for Alameda County.
Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services has had an ongoing contract with Greyhound since July 2009, said bus company spokesman Timothy Stokes.
Stokes said he was unaware of any serious incidents involving mentally ill patients from Nevada. He said Greyhound has contracts with "a number" of hospitals around the country, but declined to identify them.
"We take it on good faith that the organization is going to make certain that patients are not a risk to themselves or others," he said.
Still, officials in several of California's largest counties said they rarely, if ever, bus patients out of state.
"We don't do it, we never will do it, and we haven't done it in recent memory, meaning at least 20 years," said David Wert, public information officer for San Bernardino County. Rawson-Neal has bused more than 40 patients to that county since July 2008.
Los Angeles County officials said they have not bused a single patient out of state during the past year, and when they have done so in the past they have supplied chaperones. In the past five years, L.A. County has received 213 people from the Nevada hospital, according to The Bee's review, more than any place in the country.
Likewise, in Riverside County, sending patients out of state "happens very infrequently upon request of the family," said Jerry Wengerd, head of the county's Department of Mental Health. "A staff member accompanies the client and it is usually by air." Nevada bused 20 patients to Riverside in the period reviewed.
Sacramento County bought bus tickets for five patients during the past year, Kittrell said. In all cases, he said, facility staff confirmed before patients departed that a family member or friend would meet them at their destinations, and provided referrals for treatment.
Organizations that advocate for mentally ill people said Nevada's busing numbers seem unjustifiably high.
DJ Jaffe, executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org., a nonprofit think tank, said his group often hears anecdotally about patients being "dumped" from one county to another.
"Discharging severely mentally ill patients inappropriately is policy in this country," Jaffe said. "But getting rid of them altogether by busing them out of state is, I think, rare. I am shocked by these figures. It seems to be almost routine in Nevada."
After California, Arizona has received the most patients by bus from Nevada, at more than 100 over the five years.
But Cory Nelson, acting deputy director for the Arizona Department of Health, cautioned against drawing conclusions about Nevada's practices based solely on number of bus tickets issued. In many cases, Nelson said, relatives could have agreed to house patients or made treatment arrangements before the clients left Las Vegas.
In rare cases, Nelson said, a hospital can find itself in a Catch-22 situation when a patient no longer needs to be in a hospital but refuses to cooperate with a discharge plan. "It kind of leaves a hospital in a tough situation," he said.
Still, the sheer number of patients bused from the Nevada hospital "does seem pretty high," he said.

'A tsunami situation'

Several people interviewed said the numbers might be explained in part by the unusual nature of Las Vegas.
"As the whole country no doubt knows, Vegas is a pretty unique place," said Dr. Lorin Scher, an emergency room psychiatrist with UC Davis Health System.
The city's entertainment and casino culture draws people from all over the world, Scher noted, including the mentally ill.
"Many bipolar patients impulsively fly across the country to Vegas during their manic phases and go on gambling binges," he said. "Vegas probably attracts more wandering schizophrenic people" who are attracted to the warm weather, lights and action, he added.
"I am by no means defending their practices," he said. "It certainly gives cause for concern. But it's one possible explanation."
Stuart Ghertner, former director of Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services, cited other possible reasons.
He said Rawson-Neal has been under siege for years because of state budget cuts, a steady increase in poor people needing mental health services in the Las Vegas area and a revolving door of administrators.
He noted the city had a disproportionate number of people displaced by the housing and mortgage meltdown of a few years ago.
"The casino boom was over, people were losing their jobs and their homes. They were stressed and they wound up in a mental health crisis," Ghertner said.
Between 2009 and 2012, Nevada slashed spending on mental health services by 28 percent to address budget deficits, according to data collected by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Even before those cuts, Nevada fell well below the national average in spending on mental health services: In 2009, it spent $64 per capita on such services compared with a national average of about $123, according to the study.
"You're looking at a tsunami situation," said Ghertner, a psychologist who resigned last year after five years as agency director. "There is more pressure to turn patients over faster, and fewer programs (in which) to place them. Perhaps busing them became the easier solution."
It also is cheaper, he noted. Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services spent a total of $205,000 putting patients on Greyhound buses during the past five years, according to The Bee analysis. The state hospital admits about 4,000 patients a year to its inpatient unit, and inpatient care runs around $500 per day per client, Ghertner said.
He said he was aware during his tenure that Rawson-Neal was busing patients out of state but that he thought the practice was rare.
At the time, "I had 800 employees and a $106 million budget," he said. Ghertner regularly reviewed numbers pertaining to admissions, length of stay and other issues at the hospital, but patient busing was never on his radar, he said.
"I'm embarrassed to say that this practice was going on to this degree under my leadership," he said. "I had no idea. It just never came up."
Ghertner said the state mental hospital has been under stress since it opened in 2006, turning over five hospital directors since that time. That instability has taken a toll, he said.
"This busing issue is a symptom that reflects that the care there is not quality care," he said. "Things clearly are being missed."
Willden, Nevada's Health and Human Services director, said during last month's legislative hearing that policies have been tightened and disciplinary actions taken to ensure that patients are discharged only after the hospital confirms care and treatment at their planned destinations. The hospital administrator, Chelsea Szklany, now must approve all bus discharges ordered by medical staff, he said.
"Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services is committed to providing quality mental health services to its patients," said spokeswoman Mary Woods in an emailed statement.
But investigations continue into the agency's practices.
Rawson-Neal could lose vital federal funding pending an ongoing probe by the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. California state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has written a letter expressing outrage to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
The hospital's discharge practices also have prompted a call for action by a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Commissioner David Kladney called for a broad investigation by Nevada's governor and Legislature.
"As a Nevadan, I am ashamed that my state is failing in its duty toward the neediest residents," Kladney said. Nevada, he said, appears to be "simply hoping that other states will shoulder the responsibility."

Read more here:

Before the Collapse, A Call to Action

The economic news in the last two weeks points to bad news for the economy and a reason for people to mobilize and demand change.

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We’ll get to the impact of the Obama budget, but first let’s explode a critical myth: there is no recovery. Last month’s unemployment numbers showed the fraud of the unemployment rate.  Even though the country produced less than 90,000 jobs, when over 120,000 are needed to keep up with growth, the unemployment rate declined. Why? Because hundreds of thousands are giving up on work each month and they don’t get counted. Now, over 100 million working age Americans do not have a job, that is 41.5%.  And, for some groups, African Americans and youth in particular, this is a persistent jobs crisis that ensures low incomes and little wealth for the future. And, workers who do have jobs are paid way too little, about half of the value of what they actually produce. There will be no recovery until these fundamentals change.

The combination of poor federal economic policy – which is getting more off-track – and a corrupt economy is bringing on the next crash.  In an article in Truthout last week, we point out the deep corruption of the finance system, which dominates the economy.  Security fraud expert Bill Black told us that the evidence shows that fraud is “pervasive” among the “most elite financial institutions,” yet the Obama government policy was no prosecution. The Economic Collapse Blog points out there are 11 crashes going on right now: gold, silver, bitcoins, consumer confidence, 401(k) retirement accounts, casino gambling, Greek employment, European financial stocks, Spanish bankruptcies and energy demand; and predicts the bloated US stock market is next.

As we approach the next crash, the government’s across the board sequester is beginning to have big impacts on people’s lives and will lead to further shrinking of the economy. Here are 100 cutbacks that are affecting people as of early April and the pace is picking up. These impacts are very real, thousands of Medicare patients with cancer are being turned away at health clinics because of sequester cut-backs. And, at a time of increasing poverty, Greg Kaufman writes the sequester means: “up to 140,000 fewer low-income families receiving housing vouchers, more children exposed to lead paint, higher rent for people who can’t afford it and a rise in homelessness.”

If either President Obama’s or Paul Ryan’s budget, or some of each, is enacted, since these are what DC is considering, the economy will get even worse. The bipartisans have fully embraced austerity and are being cheered on by the corporate media and wealth-funded think tanks, as Margaret Flowers found when she debated two on the Marc Steiner Show. The president has shown his embrace of austerity by proposing unilateral budget cuts to Social Security and Medicare that will shrink benefits and increase the cost of health care. After four years of seeking to cut these programs, the Grand Obama Betrayal has arrived. Economist Jack Rasmus describes this as a “grand collusion” between the bipartisan corporatists and big business interests. The president did not put forward any plans to solve the jobs crisis, shrink the wealth divide, build a new economy – instead he embraced a mistaken mission of austerity.

The embrace of austerity does not apply to the military, whose sequester cuts were restored with theadministration even funding a missile defense program that Congress de-funded. When it comes to people’s needs, Obama put forward an approach that intentionally ignores the real living costs of the elderly and instead relied on a fake inflation rate that economist Michael Hudson calls “catfood reform.” Obama and the bipartisans want Americans to think these cuts are necessary, but in fact, they aren’t.

Obama is not only hurting the middle class, poor, elderly and veterans with these cuts, but his budget continues to give gifts to big business. Obama’s budget proposes selling the Tennessee Valley Authority to big energy interests. This will ensure consumers pay the highest rates possible. As food safety gets worse, Obama’s budget will cut chicken inspectors and let the industry inspect itself.  And, Obama, who has always been well funded by the nuclear industry,revised rules to dramatically raise permissible radioactive levels in drinking water and soil following “radiological incidents,” such as nuclear power-plant accidents and dirty bombs.

These wins for industry are losses to the health and welfare of Americans. Congress does its job for big business as well; research shows big payoffs for members who vote to deregulate the deeply corrupt finance industry. And, agribusiness food giant Monsanto was able to get the Monsanto Protection Actpassed, which prevents regulation of GMO’s and even prevents courts from intervening.

The corruption of Congress and the president were on display this week when they repealed the STOCK Act, designed to prevent insider trading by high government officials by requiring them to disclose their financial investments in a searchable format. The Senate passed the repeal in 10 seconds, the House in 14, both by unanimous consent – not one member spoke up to oppose the repeal.  President Obama quickly and quietly signed the law. The repeal was accomplished more quietly than when Obama signed the STOCK Act a year ago, saying how important it was for elected officials to live within transparent rule of law. Speaking of corrupt secrecy, the Federal Reserve argues that the widespread corrupt mortgage practices are trade secrets and should not be disclosed. Is this mafia capitalism at work?

It is now clear that Americans who deposited money in big banks could suffer the same result as the people of Cyprus, remember the lessons of the Depression, and have their deposits seized and turned into bank stock. Ellen Brown reports this is part of the “too big to fail” banks plan to withstand the next collapse.  In fact, massive and risky derivatives investments, almost as large as the US economy, would receive more protection than depositors. It could happen here in a collapse, and it would be fast and furious, with the banks or the FDIC writing down deposits to save the banks at the expense of consumers. And, if you can’t pay your bills, be wary of debtors prison.

Every tax year, we are reminded how the big banks and wealthy avoid taxes by hiding money off-shore, claiming loses in the USand profits abroad. One report indicates that these off-shore havens cost the average taxpayer $1,000 annually. This year, a cache of 2.5 million files containing the secrets of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts that were analyzed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists exposed the hidden dealings of politicians, criminals, business people and the mega-rich the world over totaling up to $32 trillion hidden off-shore.

As we get closer to the full implementation of ObamaCare, the legislation is looking more expensive and less beneficialto patients.  Obama met with the insurance industry at the White House to discuss their partnership in implementing the law. Already rising health care costs are resulting inpeople cutting back on their prescription drugs to save money – this will not be good for health or for the cost of healthcare. And, Obama is moving to quietly ruin Medicare with cuts while at the same time increasing funding for the more expensive and less efficient private insurance for seniors, Medicare Advantage. This is part of the privatization of the most successful part of US healthcare, Medicare, made worse by the nomination of a former executive for Hospital Corporation of America to run Medicare. Marilyn Tavenner promises to run Medicare as a business, just the opposite of what it should be, a necessary public service.

The political and economic mess of Washington and Wall Street, the foundering economy and threat of another collapse, are leading more and more to question the viability of big finance capitalism; withcriticism ranging beyond its traditional critics. More and more call for breaking up the big banks and tougher enforcement against banksters. But, others are calling for more structural changes. In an article that will be published in Truthout tomorrow, we discuss how to transform the Federal Reserve to make it transparent, democratic and responsive to the economy; the creation of public banks in every state and major cities, as well ways to opt-out of the Wall Street economy.

The crisis of the US economy and government are upon us. The only way we will stop the cuts to necessary social services, the continued privatization of public services and government gifts to big business is to mobilize to stop business as usual in Washington, DC.  Beyond that, it is important for all of us to envision and begin to create the new economy as the old one collapses.

The future is ours to define, now is the time to do it!

$560 Billion Wiped Of Central Banks' Reserves On Gold Slump

Gold slump has wiped $560 billion from the value of central bank reserves after its price dropped 13% in the last two days. Global investors are switching to equities in a bid to generate income.
Central banks own 19% of all gold mined (some 31,694.8 metric tons) and are among the major losers from the asset price slump, according the World Gold Council in London. Global investors have sold gold to reinvest in riskier assets such as equities, as gold is no longer seen as a sustainable hedge.
Many experts say the Western central banks have no one but themselves to blame. Many of them, led by the US Federal Reserve and the ECB contributed to falling gold prices in a bid to support their domestic currencies. 
Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, dubbed the Fed’s recent action an “assault on gold”. “The Fed is rigging the bullion market in order to protect the US dollar’s exchange value, which is threatened by the Fed’s quantitative easing,” he wrote. 
On April 12, the Fed dumped 500 tons of naked shorts on the market, pulling dollars out of thin air and sending gold prices deep into the red, Dr. Paul Craig Roberts writes citing Andrew Maguire, an independent bullion trader and a whistleblower.
Other experts noted that ECB chief’s statement that debt-burdened Eurozone economies, such as Cyprus would have to sell their gold reserves to keep their bailout programs afloat also triggered the bullion price decline. 
After a steady rally for 12 years gold reached a record mark of  $1,923.70 an ounce in September 2011. Growth in world’s leading economies along with falling global inflation boosted equities market by $2.28 trillion in 2013 due to the traditional store of value, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 
Investors have turned towards profit making assets, while gold was only useful as an instrument to fight inflation and brought no revenue. 
“There’s a perception that risk has been lessened, and with that, investors are looking for assets that either generate income or have growth potential, neither of which gold has,” a market strategist with LPL Financial Corp Anthony Valeri is quoted as saying by Bloomberg. “We’ve seen a grab for yield, and without a yield, gold has been left out.”
Over the past decade Russia’s Central Bank acquired 570 metric tonnes of gold emerging as theworld’s biggest gold buyer. Since 2000 when Russian gold reserve totaled 384 metric tons the state more than doubled it in 12 years. According to official data from World Gold Council, in October 2012 gold made up 9.6% of Russia’s national forex reserve and stood at 936.7 metric tons.