View From Table 9

October 31, 2008

The Math is not the Point

It’s amazing how quickly a good idea spreads, isn’t it?  Take the We Deserve it Dividend.  What started as a simple post somewhere has spread quite far.  Far enough of course that some have decided to nit-pick the concept – for instance revealing the mathematical error in the OP’s calculations that mean there would be a lot less going to each individual.  OK, but that’s not the point.

See, the problem with the whole bailouts and loans scheme cooked up by the Treasury is that pretty much no one has any idea how the deals proposed would address the problems at hand: namely the fact that the economy’s in the crapper, people are losing their jobs left and right, and now, just for special fun, they’re also losing their houses and even people who didn’t jump on the Happy Free Money Bandwagon are screwed (yes, Virginia, we really are a community and we are all affected at times by the actions of a few).

Unfortunately, they’re not, and of course we’ve been lied to yet again about not only that but how the loans we’re making are actually being used.  For instance, the NY Times did an article on what AIG has done with the $123 Billion they were loaned:

A.I.G. has declined to provide a detailed account of how it has used the Fed’s money. The company said it could not provide more information ahead of its quarterly report, expected next week, the first under new management. The Fed releases a weekly figure, most recently showing that $90 billion of the $123 billion available has been drawn down.

Of the two big Fed loans, the smaller one, the $38 billion supplementary lending facility, was extended solely to prevent further losses in the securities-lending business. So far, $18 billion has been drawn down for that purpose.

An estimated $13 billion of the money was needed to make good on investment accounts that A.I.G. typically offered to municipalities, called guaranteed investment contracts, or G.I.C.’s.

For $59 billion of the $72 billion A.I.G. has used, the company has provided no breakdown. A block of it has been used for day-to-day operations, a broad category that raises eyebrows since the company has been tarnished by reports of expensive trips and bonuses for executives.

Why should we care?  Because it’s our money that’s being loaned.  It’s not only ours, it’s the money of our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.  We have the right, in fact the obligation, to ensure that the debt we’re incurring is used as we intended it – not so that banks can buy other banks and make more money for themselves (without loaning a dime to anyone or re-negotiating even one mortgage) or so that Executives receive their good-job performance Bonuses that they don’t deserve.

Goldman Sachs, which is getting $10 billion US from Washington’s stunning $850-billion rescue plan to help prop up the battered financial system, is to pay out $6.85 billion in bonuses, according to media reports.

That’s $210,000 per employee. And that’s despite a 47% drop in its profit and 53% drop in its share price.

Goldman Sachs, by the way, also prospers from Washington’s $85 billion rescue of AIG, the world’s largest insurer — since it would lose up to $20 billion if AIG failed.

Morgan Stanley, which is also getting $10 billion from government, is doling out $6.44 billion in bonuses or $138,700 per employee, even though its profits tumbled 41% and its shares are off by 69%. And Merrill Lynch, which the Federal Reserve forced to merge with Bank of America, is paying out $6.7 billion.

Even employees at bankrupt Lehman Brothers are getting bonuses. And employees at Bear Stearns, which was bought by JP Morgan Chase after the Federal Reserve loaned it $29 billion, employees already got bonuses, according to reports.

How is it that the guys who created this mess get to use our tax dollars to give themselves bonuses for good performance?  Is it just me or is that insane?  That the White House is defending all this is just disgusting.  Clearly, they’re missing the real point:  We’d like for that huge debt to mean that things get better for us, not the White Collar Gangsters on Welfare.

Here IS the point:  How about putting that money where it really will make a difference?   Give it to every Citizen Taxpayer directly.   I think we’d all do better than these guys.  We could not do much worse.

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July 25, 2008

Wounded Warriors, Empty Promises…Shame of a Nation

Filed under: Uncategorized — table9 @ 1:52 pm
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All I can say is….right on.

July 25, 2008
Editorial

Wounded Warriors, Empty Promises

The bad news about the Army’s treatment of wounded soldiers keeps coming. The generals keep apologizing and insisting that things are getting better, but they are not.

The latest low moment for Army brass came on Tuesday in Washington, where a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing to examine the sorry state of the Army Medical Action Plan. That’s the plan to prevent the kind of systematic neglect and mistreatment exposed by The Washington Post last year at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

After a flurry of apologies, firings, investigations and reports, the Army resolved to streamline and improve case management for wounded soldiers. Under the plan, “warrior transition units” would swiftly deliver excellent care to troops so they could return to duty or be discharged into the veterans’ medical system. Each soldier would be assigned a team to look over his or her care: a physician, a nurse and a squad leader. It all sounded sensible and comprehensive.

It has not worked out so well. Staff members of the House subcommittee who visited numerous warrior transition units June 2007 to February found a significant gap between the Army leadership’s optimistic promises and reality.

Among other things, the Army failed to anticipate a flood of wounded soldiers. Some transition units have been overwhelmed and are thus severely understaffed. At Fort Hood, Tex., last month, staff members found 1,362 patients in a unit authorized for 649 — and more than 350 on a waiting list. Of the total, 311 were identified as being at high risk of drug overdose, suicide or other dangerous behavior. There were 38 nurse case managers when there should have been 74. Some soldiers have had to languish two months to a year before the Army decided what to do with them, far longer than the goal the Army set last year.

Under skeptical questioning during a hearing in February, Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army surgeon general, told the subcommittee that “for all intents and purposes, we are entirely staffed at the point we need to be staffed.” He also said: “The Army’s unwavering commitment and a key element of our warrior ethos is that we never leave a soldier behind on the battlefield — or lost in a bureaucracy.”

That was thousands of wounded, neglected soldiers ago. There are now about 12,500 soldiers assigned to the warrior transition units — more than twice as many as a year ago. The number is expected to reach 20,000 by this time next year.

The nation’s responsibility to care for the wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan will extend for decades. After Tuesday’s hearing, we are left pondering the simple questions asked at the outset by Representative Susan Davis, the California Democrat who is chairwoman of the military personnel subcommittee: Why did the Army fail to adequately staff its warrior transition units? Why did it fail to predict the surge in demand? And why did it take visits from a Congressional subcommittee to prod the Army into recognizing and promising — yet again — to fix the problem?

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

May 6, 2008

Rewarding our Troops…Not

I’m not generally a huge fan of Bob Herbert at the NY Times.  This, however, touched a nerve.

May 6, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

Doing the Troops Wrong

At the top of the list of no-brainers in Washington should be Senator Jim Webb’s proposed expansion of education benefits for the men and women who have served in the armed forces since Sept. 11, 2001.

It’s awfully hard to make the case that these young people who have sacrificed so much don’t deserve a shot at a better future once their wartime service has ended.

Senator Webb, a Virginia Democrat, has been the guiding force behind this legislation, which has been dubbed the new G.I. bill. The measure is decidedly bipartisan. Mr. Webb’s principal co-sponsors include Republican Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and John Warner of Virginia, and Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.

(All four senators are veterans of wartime service — Senators Webb and Hagel in Vietnam, Warner in World War II and Korea and Lautenberg in World War II.)

Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are on board, as are Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House.

Who wouldn’t support an effort to pay for college for G.I.’s who have willingly suited up and put their lives on the line, who in many cases have served multiple tours in combat zones and in some cases have been wounded?

We did it for those who served in World War II. Why not now?

Well, you might be surprised at who is not supporting this effort. The Bush administration opposes it, and so does Senator John McCain.

Reinvigorating the G.I. bill is one of the best things this nation could do. The original G.I. Bill of Rights, signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, paid the full load of a returning veteran’s education at a college or technical school and provided a monthly stipend. It was an investment that paid astounding dividends. Millions of veterans benefited, and they helped transform the nation. College would no longer be the exclusive preserve of the wealthy and those who crowned themselves the intellectual elite.

As The New York Times wrote on the 50th anniversary of the G.I. bill: “Few laws have done so much for so many.”

“These veterans were able to get a first-class future,” Senator Webb told me in an interview. “But not only that. For every dollar that was spent on the World War II G.I. bill, seven dollars came back in the form of tax remunerations from those who received benefits.”

Senator Lautenberg went to Columbia on the G.I. bill, and Senator Warner to Washington and Lee University and then to law school.

The benefits have not kept pace over the decades with the real costs of attending college. Moreover, service members have to make an out-of-pocket contribution — something over $100 a month during their first year of service — to qualify for the watered-down benefits.

This is not exactly first-class treatment of the nation’s warriors.

The Bush administration opposes the new G.I. bill primarily on the grounds that it is too generous, would be difficult to administer and would adversely affect retention.

This is bogus. The estimated $2.5 billion to $4 billion annual cost of the Webb proposal is dwarfed by the hundreds of billions being spent on the wars we’re asking service members to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. What’s important to keep in mind is that the money that goes to bolstering the education of returning veterans is an investment, in both the lives of the veterans themselves and the future of the nation.

The notion that expanding educational benefits will have a negative effect on retention seems silly. The Webb bill would cover tuition at a rate comparable to the highest tuition at a state school in the state in which the veteran would be enrolled. That kind of solid benefit would draw talented individuals into the military in large numbers.

Senator Webb, a former secretary of the Navy who specialized in manpower issues, said he has seen no evidence that G.I.’s would opt out of the service in significantly higher numbers because of such benefits.

Senator McCain’s office said on Monday that it was following the Pentagon’s lead on this matter, getting guidance from Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Under pressure because of his unwillingness to support Senator Webb’s effort, Senator McCain introduced legislation with substantially fewer co-sponsors last week that expands some educational benefits for G.I.’s, but far less robustly than Senator Webb’s bill.

“It’s not even close to the Webb bill,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an advocacy group.

Politicians tend to talk very, very big about supporting our men and women in uniform. But time and again — whether it’s about providing armor for their safety or an education for their future — we find that talk to be very, very cheap.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

I’d say “unbelievable”, but, yanno, given the general erosion of benefits over time (retirement is less, health benefits are less, VA is a nightmare, etc.), it’s not as surprising to me as it should be.  Mostly it’s just very very disappointing.

Support Your Troops means more than wave the flag, go to the parade, put the flag sticker on.  It means taking care of them when they’re injured, providing them with compensation that is equivalent to sacrifice or value, and yes, benefits that make it ‘worth it’ to protect us against enemies, foreign or domestic, and allow us to live in freedom.

GI bill benefits are one of those ‘perks’ that pays back in so many ways.  Bill Gates talks about how the GI bill allowed his father to obtain an education and allowed his parents to afford a house.  The house I was born in was a GI Bill VA Loan house, as was the first house my husband and I bought.   Many of my college instructors were themselves GI bill educated, including a world-class, internationally recognized optical scientist and an internationally renowned plant scientist.   So why not support it?  It doesn’t just pay the service member, it pays the community back in droves.

So please, if you really do support our troops, write your congresspeople and demand they are taken care of and rewarded for their sacrifice.

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