Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mitt Romney’s Dream World: Cutting Billions Out Of Medicaid Will Not ‘Hurt The Poor’

Medicaid, which is funded jointly by the states and the federal government, provides health coverage to approximately 53 million lower income Americans. The federal government helps fund the program by matching state spending on a per-claim basis and paying a percentage of each state’s Medicaid costs (anywhere between 50 and 75 percent). While both parties are looking for ways to reduce spending on the program, the GOP presidential candidates, along with Mitt Romney, have proposed reducing the federal government’s commitment by block granting its contribution and paying states pre-established grants that are indexed over time. Under such a plan, federal spending would no longer reflect the actual costs of the program, particularly during periods of economic recession when Medicaid rolls swell and costs increase.
“Medicaid alone, by being sent back to the states, and growing the funding by inflation — CPI — plus 1 percent a year, will save a $100 billion,” Romney usually says on the campaign trail. But during a rare yesterday, the former Massachusetts governor took his claim one step further, telling Fox News’ Chris Wallace that reducing the federal government’s payments to the safety-net health care program would not undermine beneficiaries because states would use the reduced funds more efficiently:
ROMNEY: I take the Medicaid dollars, send them back to the states, without the mandates as to how they have to treat –“
WALLACE: “But you’re also cutting the budget by $700 billion dollars.”
ROMNEY: “Well what I’d do is I’d take the money, send it back to the states, and say we’re going to grow that funding at inflation, the CPI, plus one percent. By doing that, you save an enormous amount of money. I happen to believe that states can do a better job caring for their own poor, rooting out the fraud and waste and abuse that exists within –“
WALLACE: “But you don’t think if you cut $700 billion dollars in aid to the states that some people are going to get hurt?
ROMNEY: “In the same way that by cutting welfare spending dramatically, I don’t think we hurt the poor. In the same way I think cutting Medicaid spending by having it go to the states run more efficiently with less fraud, I don’t think will hurt the people that depend on that program for their healthcare.
Watch it:
It’s an ostentatious claim from a governor who reformed the Massachusetts health care system in order to sustain increased federal funding for Medicaid. And while some states could certainly find less painful cuts to Medicaid, a Congressional Budget Office analysis of Paul Ryan’s very similar block granting scheme found that if federal spending for Medicaid decreased, “states would face significant challenges in achieving sufficient cost savings through efficiencies to mitigate the loss of federal funding.” “To maintain current service levels in the Medicaid program, states would probably need to consider additional changes, such as reducing their spending on other programs or raising additional revenues. Alternatively, states could reduce the size of their Medicaid programs by cutting payment rates for doctors, hospitals or nursing homes; reducing the scope of benefits covered; or limiting eligibility,” the budget office concluded. As a result, enrollees could “face more limited access to care,” higher out-of-pocket costs, and “providers could face more uncompensated care as beneficiaries lost coverage for certain benefits or lost coverage altogether.”
Some Republican governors have spoken out against the proposal and condemned additional federal cuts in general. As Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) indicated in November, states can swallow small cuts, but larger reductions would result in a “cost-shift to the states.” “We know there is going to be a reduction in the Medicaid program. If it’s a small reduction, states are prepared to share in that, we will do our part,” he said. “If it is a dramatic reduction, then it is significantly going to have an adverse impact on state budgets. And when you look at state budgets, there are three big items: Medicaid, the funding we do for the education of our children in K-12 and higher education. So if you dramatically cut Medicaid, you’re going to force us to make dramatic education cuts for our children, that’s not where we ant to go,” Heineman warned.

Covering Their Tracks: Firm Linked To Ponzi Scheme Erases Tagg Romney From Website

Yesterday, ThinkProgress released our investigation of the Romney family’s investment firms, including Solamere Advisors and its parent company, Solamere Capital, which is run by Mitt Romney’s son Tagg. The report found that Tagg founded his firm using $10 million of Mitt’s money, and later partnered with a group of brokers who allegedly helped perpetrate one of the largest Ponzi schemes in modern history, the $8.5 billion Stanford Financial Group.
After our report, the Romney campaign released a statement to ABC News and the National Journal simply attacking ThinkProgress as a “a left-wing blog with a highly partisan agenda.” Despite calling our story “false material,” the Romney spokesperson did not directly dispute any of our assertions. The Romney campaign has not explained why, for instance, Tagg Romney falsely claimed that his Solamere Advisors partners were “cleared” of wrongdoing in connection to the Stanford Financial Group Ponzi scheme.
Now, it appears that one of the firms is trying to cover up its tracks. Sometime last night, Solamere Advisors, the firm run by brokers who allegedly took part in the Stanford Ponzi Scheme, deleted the section of their website that lists Tagg Romney and Spencer Zwick, the Romney for President lead fundraiser. View a screen shot of the current web address, which shows a “404 File or directory not found” error message:
Fortunately, ThinkProgress captured screen shots of the Romney family investment firm websites before we published our story. View a screen shot of the Solamere Advisors directors page before the deletion (click to enlarge the website image):
Solamere Advisors directors, including Tagg Romney, Spencer Zwick, and several brokers who allegedly perpetrated the Stanford Ponzi scheme
In an interview last month, Tagg Romney told ThinkProgress that his partners were “cleared” from the Stanford Ponzi scheme lawsuit to retrieve what prosecutors believe are the fraudulent gains made by his partners, Tim Bambauer, Deems May, and Brandon Phillips. He also suggested that his former Stanford employee partners were the true victims since they had been promised bonuses that they had never received. In fact, in court documents obtained by ThinkProgress, none of the men have been cleared, and a court-appointed audit found that they made about $1.6 million in participating in the Stanford Ponzi scheme.

Exclusive: Romney Family Investment Group Partnered With Alleged Perpetrators Of $8 Billion Ponzi Scheme

Mitt Romney, his son Tagg, and Romney’s chief fundraiser, Spencer Zwick, have extensive financial and political ties to three men who allegedly participated in an $8.5 billion Ponzi scheme. A few months after the Ponzi scheme collapsed, a firm financed by Mitt Romney and run by his son and chief fundraiser partnered with the three men and created a new “wealth management business” as a subsidiary.
In an exclusive interview with ThinkProgress, Tagg Romney confirmed their business relationship, but falsely claimed that the men were cleared of any wrongdoing associated with the Ponzi scheme. Tagg Romney told ThinkProgress that his three partners collected about $15,000 from their involvement in the Ponzi scheme. Court documents obtained by ThinkProgress show that the legal proceedings are ongoing and the men made over $1.6 million selling fraudulent CDs to investors.
The Ponzi Scheme
In 2009, prosecutors announced charges against the Stanford Financial Group, which managed a portfolio of $8.5 billion, for running a “massive, ongoing fraud” against its investors. The Ponzi scheme bust was one of the largest in recent history, second only to Bernie Madoff, who perpetrated a fraud estimated to be around $17 billion. The Stanford Ponzi scheme wiped out the savings of thousands, including many American retirees across the country. In Texas, 1290 people lost their retirement savings because of the Stanford Ponzi scheme; in Louisiana, several hundred reportedly suffered the same fate.
The Romney Business Connection
Solamere Capital, the investment company founded by Tagg Romney with seed money from his father, Mitt Romney and other investors.
Launched in 2008 by Romney’s son Tagg and a few others, including Mitt Romney’s chief fundraiser Spencer Zwick, Solamere Capital is a “fund of funds,” meaning that it primarily invests in other investment companies, like private equity groups. Mitt Romney himself made a $10 million initial seed investment in Solamere Capital and his personal financial disclosure forms reveal that he has received between $100,000 and $1 million in returns from his stake in Solamere. Romney has come under fire for refusing to release his tax returns, which would likely reveal additional details about his financial relationship with Solamere Capital.
After news of the Ponzi scheme precipitated the collapse of Stanford in 2009, Tagg partnered with several of Stanford’s North Carolina executives to start a firm called Solamere Advisors. At least three prominent brokers who had worked for Stanford — Tim Bambauer, Deems May, and Brandon Phillips — joined Tagg to help run Solamere Advisors, a wealth management business located in Charlotte, North Carolina. “We are excited to be associated with such a highly capable group of financial advisors with a proven track record of meeting the needs of their clients throughout the Southeast,” said Tagg in a press release announcing Solamere Advisors, which borrows its the name from its parent company, Solamere Capital.
The Romney Campaign Connection
The Romney campaign and the Romney family investment company are deeply entwined. A recent Boston Globe investigation found that top donors to the Romney campaign have invested into Tagg’s firm, and that Romney’s star campaign fundraiser, Spencer Zwick, doubles as a managing partner for Solamere Capital. The Romney campaign has paid Zwick’s firm, SJZ LLC, over $2 million in fees this year alone. Mitt Romney’s brother Scott Romney is listed as a senior advisor to Solamere Capital.
Tagg Defends Partners, Falsely Claims They Were Cleared Of Wrongdoing
In an interview with ThinkProgress after the CNN debate in Las Vegas, Tagg said he was proud of his investment with Solamere Advisors, the wealth management firm now run by Stanford’s former executives. “They’re friends of ours, they use the [Solamere] name, we own a piece of them,” he said. “We helped them get started.” Romney’s son said he owns a minority stake in Solamere Advisors, but noted that they operate with some level of independence. “We don’t control them at all, we just own them,” he explained.
The Solamere Advisors website lists Bambauer, May, and Tagg Romney among the directors of the firm (Eric Scheuermann, a managing partner for Solamere Capital, is also a director of Solamere Advisors). The Solamere name comes from “a private community in Deer Valley, Utah, where [Mitt] Romney owned a ski mansion,” reports Globe writers Michael Kranish and Donovan Slack.
“Did you know that some of those guys were in with, there were allegations that some of those guys were involved with the Allen Stanford Ponzi scheme?” ThinkProgress asked. “Before we invested in them, they were in that. But they were cleared of that before we made our investment,” replied Tagg, who spoke to ThinkProgress for a few minutes while walking around the Venetian hotel after the debate.
Solamere Advisors, a wealth management firm employing brokers who allegedly participated in the Stanford Financial Group Ponzi scheme. Tagg Romney helped found Solamere Advisors with an investment from Solamere Capital.
ThinkProgress also asked about the allegedly fraudulent profits made by his partners in helping orchestrate the Stanford Ponzi scheme and the current effort by Stanford’s victims to retrieve their money. In response, Tagg claimed that his colleagues are also victims: “They probably made, their pay there was like $15,000 total. Those guys got totally screwed by the whole thing. It almost ended their whole careers because they moved all their clients over [to the Stanford Financial Group], and then the place was shut down two months after they moved their clients over. They hadn’t made any money yet. They had bonuses and everything promised to them, but they didn’t make any of their money. So they made no money.” Tagg’s assertions, that his Solamere Advisors partners who were employed in the Stanford Ponzi scheme didn’t make “any money,” and that they their involvement in the Ponzi scheme has been “cleared,” contrasts with court documents obtained by ThinkProgress. According to documents reviewed by ThinkProgess using the Pacer search engine, charges against Tim Bambauer, Deems May, and Brandon Phillips have not been dropped. A recent court filing shows May requesting the court for arbitration instead of going to trial. ThinkProgress also spoke to the deputy clerk for the federal District Court in Dallas, and confirmed that the three men are still defendants in the lawsuit to recover the Ponzi scheme money.
Moreover, a court-appointed audit of the Stanford Financial Group found that several of the former Stanford brokers made far more than what Tagg claimed:
– Solamere Advisors managing partner Tim Bambauer made $1,143,392 in incentive pay selling fraudulent CDs to investors.
– Solamere Advisors partner Deems May made $465,000 in incentive pay selling fraudulent CDs to investors.
– Solamere Advisors operations manager made Brandon Phillips $70,000 in incentive pay selling fraudulent CDs to investors.
The lawsuit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission claims the Stanford Financial Group built its Ponzi scheme by incentivizing brokers to sell fraudulent CDs with an array of bonuses. A document filed in the District Court of North Texas says that Stanford “used an elaborate and sophisticated incentive program” to encourage brokers, like Bambauer and others, to lure investors into the Ponzi scheme. A suit to recover money for Stanford’s victims declares that Stanford’s former brokers are not entitled to their performance pay because those funds were made in “furtherance of the Ponzi scheme.”
Despite Tagg’s assertion that his partners were innocent and had no idea what was going on, representatives for Stanford’s victims differ. San Antonio attorney Edward C. Snyder, an attorney representing Stanford’s investor victims, scoffed at the notion that Stanford’s brokers did not know what they were getting into. They were “making outrageous fees and commissions from selling and promoting CDs,” said Snyder in an interview with ThinkProgress, adding, “no one makes that kind of money doing that.” As the litigation continues, Synder said he is confident that all of Stanford’s brokers that received performance pay selling CDs “are going to give the money back.” Snyder told us that many of Stanford’s brokers have made the argument that they had no idea what was going on, but he isn’t buying it. “Anyone that was selling a related-company offshore bank CD to his clients, and making such a large percent of commission, should have their license revoked,” wrote Snyder in an e-mail.
Bambauer, hired by Tagg in July 2009 as the managing partner for Solamere Advisors, left the firm two months ago, according to Deems May, who spoke to ThinkProgress last week. Bambauer was a higher level executive at the Stanford Financial Group. The Solamere Advisors website still lists Bambauer as a director of the firm along with Tagg. A message left with the Bambauer household has not been returned.
Asked about the current effort by the court-appointed receiver to retrieve the commissions received in selling Stanford Ponzi scheme CDs, May said he “can’t comment on anything like that.” Tagg told ThinkProgress that he now only owns a 5 percent stake in Solamere Advisors, but May said to check with Eric Scheuermann, Tagg’s business partner, about the extent of Solamere Capital’s ownership holding in Solamere Advisors. Mays also referred ThinkProgress’ other questions to Solamere Capital, but the firm has not responded to ThinkProgress’ request for comment.
ThinkProgress compiled a chart illustrating the financial connections between Mitt Romney, the Romney for President campaign, Tagg Romney, and the alleged Ponzi scheme brokers:
Despite Ponzi Business Connection, Romney Promises To Repeal New Investor Protection Laws
The revelation about Romney’s ties to the Stanford ponzi scheme unmask the risks associated with removing new investor protections. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform law, a reform Romney says he will repeal if he wins the presidency, attempts to address future Ponzi schemes by enacting new protections for whistleblowers to alert authorities when they find evidence of fraud. The law also creates a new Investor Advocate and Investor Advisory Committee within the Securities and Exchange Commission to detect and investigate future Ponzi schemes.
Mike Hudson, a reporter with iWatch News and author of a new book about how predatory Wall Street practices created the financial crisis, told ThinkProgress that Dodd-Frank “could be a game changer that helps the SEC identify and shut down Ponzis and Ponzi-like schemes.” But on the campaign trail, Romney, a fierce critic of efforts to reign in Wall Street practices, has called new investor protections like Dodd-Frank “extraordinarily burdensome.”
When ThinkProgress spoke to Tagg in Las Vegas, the last question about the Stanford Ponzi scheme was this: “How do you prevent a Ponzi scheme like that?” “Hey guys, we’re done,” Tagg said before taking off.
[Update]In an e-mail to National Journal’s Chris Frates, the Romney campaign attacks ThinkProgress as “a left-wing blog with a highly partisan agenda.” The Romney campaign did not directly dispute any of our assertions. Rather, the Romney spokesperson called our story “false material.” The Romney campaign has not backed up Tagg Romney’s assertion that his Solamere Advisors partners were “cleared” of wrongdoing in connection to the Stanford Financial Group Ponzi scheme. We stand by our reporting.[/update]

Christmas and the ancient winter festivals of light around the world

These days many people understand that "Christmas" represents the continuation and remake of the very ancient observation of the winter solstice, the time of year when the sun "dies" and is "reborn" or "resurrected," as the daylight hours decrease to their shortest point and then begin to increase again. This important solstice time has been observed most notably on December 21st or 22nd in the northern hemisphere. However, as we can see from the image below (click to enlarge), over the past several thousand years in many cultures globally the winter solstice has been celebrated at various times, from the middle or end of November to the middle of January. The symbolism in many of these instances is clear: Mourning the decrease and celebrating the increase of the sun's life-giving light and heat.

(For more information, see The 2010 Astrotheology Calendar.)
As can also be seen, this solstice transition was incorporated into mythology in numerous parts of the world, as the sun god or goddess has been represented frequently as emerging from a "cave," symbolizing the "underworld" or the place where the sun appears to go at night and during the winter months.
While it is clear that winter-solstice festivals of light have extended throughout the month of December, the winter celebration most people are familiar with is "Christmas," which occurs on December 25th, the transition from "Christmas Eve" on the 24th. This date is not a mistake or calendrical misalignment; indeed, it represents the end of a three-day period or triduum observed by the ancients as the sun's "death" and entrance into the underworld, after which "he" is resurrected or reborn into the world. The ancients noticed that, for three days during this period, the sun's shadow on the sundial remained in the same place (at noon); hence, it was believed that "he" had "died." Thus, according to this ancient perception the solstice period - "solstice" meaning "sun stands still" - begins at midnight on December 21st and ends at midnight on December 24th.
Winter solstice and Jesus Christ's 'birth'
While hundreds of millions worldwide continue to be taught otherwise, it is well known these days in certain quarters, including among many Christian fundamentalists, that "Christmas" does not truly represent the birth of a historical Jesus Christ as the "real reason for the season." It is understood that this "Christian" celebration in actuality constitutes a remake of the birth of the sun instead, and it is contended that this "Pagan" winter-solstice festival was adopted into Christianity only in the third to fourth centuries after Christ's alleged advent.
However, there are indications that this solar "birthday" of Jesus was already in the minds of the creators of Christianity long before that time, including comments by Church fathers, the biblical and traditional depiction of Christ as the "sun of righteousness," and an enigmatic verse in the Gospel according to John (3:30), put into the mouth of John the Baptist:
"He must increase, but I must decrease."
The original Greek of this scripture is: ἐκεῖνον δεῖ αὐξάνειν ἐμὲ δὲ ἐλαττοῦσθαι. The first clause literally translates as, "That one it is necessary to cause to grow," while the second clause reads, "Me moreover it is decreasing." Thus, John 3:30 reads literally:
That one it is necessary to grow; me moreover it is decreasing.
Young's Literal Translation renders this verse thus:
Him it behoveth to increase, and me to become less...
This passage has been interpreted to mean that John the Baptist as a preacher must become less popular and lose his following, while Christ must increase in popularity, inheriting John's following. Such a contention would remain odd, however, in that the speaker is clearly discussing not followers but a single person or object, with the "me" without a doubt referring to an individual, not a group or collective. The intent is clear that one must increase while the other must decrease, but how could this strange idea apply to a person? Was John the Baptist very fat, while Jesus was too thin?
Rather than representing the literal remark from a real person, this enigmatic verse is worded in such as way as to take on the appearance of mysteries - or, at least, mysterious - language or allegory. In consideration of the patent solar imagery sprinkled throughout the New Testament, along with the numerous characteristics Christ shares with solar heroes, such as the virgin birth, winter-solstice birthday, miracles of walking on water and turning water into wine, along with the transfiguration on the mount, resurrection and ascension into heaven, it is reasonable to suggest that this line represents the changing of the guard from the summer-to-winter sun (John) to the winter-to-summer sun (Jesus).
This indication of Christ and the Baptist representing personifications of the winter and summer solstices is validated by their respective birth or feast days on December 25th and June 24th. It also has precedence in other mythologies, such as the Egyptian, in which the gods Anubis and Osiris are said to be the personifications of the summer and winter solstices, respectively. Among other similarities, both Anubis and John are depicted as headless and as purifying or baptizing the god or godman who saves the worshipper from death and promises eternal life, leaving us to wonder whether or not John the Baptist is an Egyptian myth.
John and Jesus as remakes of Anubis and Osiris
In the case of Anubis and Osiris, the strange line, "He must increase, while I must decrease" would be appropriate, in consideration of their role as personifications of the summer and winter sun and solstices. In this regard and for many other reasons, the gospel of John, in which this verse may be found (3:30), is obviously geared toward an Egyptian audience, having also its apparent provenance in Egypt, where the earliest fragments of the book were discovered. Hence, the connection between this biblical verse and the winter-summer transition becomes even more logical to assume. It would therefore seem that the writer(s) of John's gospel - which does not appear in the literary record until the end of the second century - were aware already at this time of the identification of Jesus Christ with and as the sun, as they should be, since the coming messiah is specifically called "Sun of Righteousness" in the Old Testament book just before the Gospel of Matthew, Malachi (4:2).
Rather than representing the birthday of a human savior of a particular ethnicity and creed, this time of the year constitutes the "birth," "rebirth" or "resurrection" of Sol Invictus, the "Unconquered Sun," whose annual journey across our sky can be celebrated worldwide as a truly unifying expression of our global family.
Happy Solstice!
For more information, see my books and my DVD: Great Minds of Our Times.
Further Reading
For information about astronomically aligned sacred sites worldwide, see The 2012 Astrotheology Calendar.

Big firms let off £25BILLION in taxes: As families are chased for every penny, corporate giants dodge their massive bills

  • 6p could be cut from basic rate of tax if £25.5bn bill was paid in full

  • Revenue and Customs has 'very few people' with deep knowledge of tax affairs, says Margaret Hodge

  • Goldman Sachs deal 'would never have come to light without whistleblower'

  • Chief executive Dave Hartnett had 107 lunches with big firms' tax lawyers and advisors between 2007 and 2009

  • Britain's biggest firms owe the taxman up to £25.5billion, but are regularly let off the hook, MPs say today.
    The sum is equivalent to £1,000 for every British family - or the equivalent of 6p being cut from the basic rate of income tax.
    While families, shopkeepers and small businesses are forced to pay their bills in full, big businesses are striking favourable deals and have an 'far too cosy' relationship with HM Revenue and Customs.
    The £25.5bn is HMRC's own 'ballpark estimate' of the maximum tax liabilities of big businesses
    The £25.5bn is HMRC's own 'ballpark estimate' of the maximum tax liabilities of big businesses
    They are having their tax bills cut or managing to avoid paying interest.
    Dave Hartnett, the out-going HMRC chief executive, was wined and dined 107 times by big firms' tax lawyers and advisors between 2007 and 2009, the report revealed.
    Margaret Hodge, Labour chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, accused the tax office of hiding behind a 'veil of secrecy' to keep deals private.

    She said the panel of MPs had to rely on a whistleblower and a private eye to find out about the questionable deals.
    A controversial deal struck by Goldman Sachs which allowed them to avoid paying up to £20million would never have come to light if it had not been for the insider.


    HMRC executives, such as the outgoing Dave Hartnett, were 'imprecise and inconsistent', according to the report Unlike millions of hard-up taxpayers, Dave Hartnett (pictured) will never struggle to find money to pay his bills, or face the choice between heating and eating.
    The 60-year-old Permanent Secretary at HM Revenue and Customs, pictured, is due to retire next summer on between £75,000 and £80,000 a year, and will also get a lump sum of between £160,000 and £165,000.
    When he retires, he may miss the programme of corporate hospitality that he has enjoyed during his time at HMRC.
    Between 2007 and 2009, he was entertained 107 times, mostly at breakfasts, lunches and dinners, by banks and law and accountancy firms.
    In total, the report says, HMRC is seeking to resolve more than 2,700 issues with the biggest companies, including disputes over outstanding tax, with potential tax at stake of £25.5billion.
    It said: ‘We have serious concerns that large companies are treated more favourably by HMRC than other taxpayers.’
    It criticises the department’s ‘specific and systemic failures’.
    Campaign group UK Uncut have vowed to pursue firms for unpaid tax through the courts.
    Mrs Hodge, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, said this morning that they discovered a lack of accountability.

    ‘This is a bit like David and Goliath,' she said. 'The big companies have very expensive lawyers and Advisors. HMRC have very few people who have in-depth knowledge of tax affairs.
    ‘There is no dissociation between those who negotiate and authorise them (the deals).
    'They hide behind a veil of secrecy claiming taxpayer confidentiality so there is no accountability as to whether these deals provide good value for money.’
    She accused HMRC of striking ‘sweetheart’ deals with big businesses which would be denied to hard-working families, shopkeepers and small businesses.
    Mrs Hodge said the panel had to rely on the testimony of a whistleblower as well as a private eye in a situation she described as ‘very unconscionable'.
    Banking giant Goldman Sachs was allowed to skip a multi-million pound interest bill on unpaid tax on bonuses after outgoing chief executive Dave Hartnett was wrongly advised there was a 'legal impediment' to collecting it.
    The potential cost to the taxpayer is officially put at £8million but the committee was given evidence from a whistleblower that the sum could be as high as £20million.
    In its report the MPs expressed astonishment that HMRC 'chose to depart from normal governance procedures' by allowing the same senior officials to both negotiate and approve such deals.
    Worse, it said, the Goldman deal was done 'without legal advice' or an official note being taken of the meeting, with officials relying on the firm's records.
    Margaret Hodge, Labour chairman of the committee, says the report, published today, is ‘a damning indictment of HMRC’.

    Scathing: Margaret Hodge, Labour chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said the report is a 'damning indictment of HMRC'
    Scathing: Margaret Hodge, Labour chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said the report is a 'damning indictment of HMRC'
    She is particularly critical of the refusal by the department’s executives to answer questions from MPs about details of its dealings with big business.
    They insisted that there were issues of confidentiality, but Mrs Hodge dismissed these claims, saying they are using ‘a cloak to protect the department from scrutiny’.
    The report says executives, such as the Mr Hartnett , gave ‘imprecise, inconsistent and potentially misleading answers’, and states: ‘This situation is entirely unacceptable.’
    It warns: ‘The department has left itself open to suspicion that its relationship with large companies is too cosy.’

    The £25.5billion is HMRC’s own ‘ballpark estimate’ of the maximum potential tax liabilities of big businesses, calculated before any proper investigation has taken place.
    The figure can be dramatically cut by a business legitimately applying for a relief, or being able to offset a tax liability against a loss made in the previous financial year.

    'This report will increase suspicions that big businesses are treated differently'

    The report is published days after Mr Hartnett, 60, announced his plans to retire next year following a barrage of criticism surrounding his running of the department.
    He will not be leaving empty-handed. He stands to scoop a pension which is currently worth between £75,000 and £80,000 a year.
    This gold-plated sum will be paid after Mr Hartnett has taken a lump sum of between £160,000 and £165,000 from his £1.7million pension pot.
    The report is critical of his attendance at a ‘significant’ number of lunches and dinners ‘with large companies with whom HMRC was settling complex tax disputes’.
    Emma Boon of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘Ordinary taxpayers often feel that they are treated harshly when they make genuine mistakes because of our complicated tax system.
    ‘This report will increase suspicions that big businesses are treated differently.’
    Some of the big business settlements are currently the subject of a separate investigation by the Government’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office.
    HMRC has been responsible for a catalogue of errors recently. Around 6million taxpayers are currently getting letters saying they have over-paid, and can expect to get back £400 each, equal to £2.5billion. Around 1.2million others  are being told they need to pay an average of £600 more.
    Yesterday an HMRC spokesman rejected the MPs’ report, saying it was based on ‘partial information, inaccurate opinion and some misunderstanding of facts’.
    He said the £25.5billion figure was ‘a ballpark estimate of maximum potential tax liabilities’. It is not ‘actual tax’ that is owed or unpaid.
    He added: ‘In many cases, when HMRC has looked at the full facts, it becomes clear that there is no further liability at all.’
    David Gauke, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, said: ‘The Government has full confidence in HMRC and its current leadership.’

    Allen Stanford Amnesia Claim 'Not Credible,' Prosecutors Say

    (Updates with Stanford's lawyer in sixth paragraph.)

    Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- R. Allen Stanford may be faking amnesia and should be tried in January as scheduled on charges he led a $7 billion investment fraud, prosecutors said, citing a prison medical evaluation.
    Stanford's scores on medical and neuropsychological tests "were sufficiently low as to evidence that he either was not trying or was faking," Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg Costa said, citing a doctor's report. The prosecutor, in the proposed court order filed today, asked U.S. District Judge David Hittner in Houston to find Stanford competent to stand trial.
    A doctor who evaluated the defendant at a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, "concluded that Stanford's performance indicated that he was 'blatantly simulating cognitive defects/known to be malingering,'" Costa said.
    Stanford, 61, has been imprisoned as a flight risk since his June 2009 indictment on charges of defrauding investors through a scheme built on allegedly bogus certificates of deposit at Antigua-based Stanford International Bank Ltd.
    Hittner delayed the trial, which had been set for last January, after three doctors testified that Stanford was incapable of assisting in his defense. They said Stanford had become addicted to anxiety drugs prescribed in prison and could be suffering lingering effects of a head injury suffered in a 2009 inmate assault.

    'No Viable Alternative'

    Ali Fazel, Stanford's lead criminal-defense attorney, urged Hittner in a separate court filing to reject the Butner medical evaluation and continue delaying Stanford's trial. Fazel asked the judge to rely on the testimony of experts Stanford's defense team plans to present at a competency hearing next week in Houston.
    "The accused's mental condition has not so improved as to permit the proceedings to go forward,'' Fazel said in a proposed order asking Hittner to find Stanford unfit for trial, citing the addiction and head-trauma issues. "The court has no viable alternative but to disagree" with the Butner doctors' certification of Stanford's competency, he said.
    Fazel declined to immediately comment on the government's disclosure of details of the Butner evaluation. He said in a phone interview that he needed to read their document before responding. Hittner has ordered attorneys not to discuss the case publicly.

    'Retrograde Amnesia'

    Stanford first began complaining of "extensive retrograde amnesia" from the jailhouse attack sometime after he arrived at Butner in February, according to the prosecutors' filing. "Stanford has recently repeatedly claimed being 'completely amnestic to his life prior to the assault, stating that 59 years were stolen,'" Costa said in the filing, citing the Butner report.
    Stanford claimed to be unable to recall life events "including his romantic encounters with various female partners, past vacation and holiday activities with his children, visits with famous politicians, as well as details of his business and banking operations," Costa said. Stanford claimed family members had to "educate" him about his previous life, and the former billionaire "indicated feeling bad after being informed by his family that he was known as a 'womanizer,'" Costa said, citing the Butner report.
    Prosecutors claim Stanford skimmed more than $1 billion of investor funds to finance a lavish lifestyle that included a fleet of jets and yachts, several mansions and a private Caribbean island, as well as financial support for women with whom he has had children.

    Spontaneous Recall

    "FMC Butner concluded that Stanford's complaints of memory loss were 'not credible' based on the fact that he had 'no difficulty spontaneously recalling personal and business information" during the period after his September 2009 assault and before he got to Butner, Costa said in the filing.
    Prison staffers, who monitored Stanford's inmate e-mail and phone conversations, said he appeared to have no trouble discussing certain current events and personal experiences with family members while still incarcerated in Houston following the attack, Costa said in the filing. Stanford also represented himself in May 2010 at a Houston court hearing, where he "spoke cogently and with significant recall of events in arguing his case," Costa said.
    Robert Bennett and Kent Schaffer, both former Stanford attorneys, "also confirmed that, following the assault, Stanford did not have any difficulty recalling information that predated the assault," according to the filing.

    Brain Scan

    In addition to more than 16 different neuropsychological tests administered by prison and outside doctors, Stanford underwent a magnetic brain scan in March that showed "no evidence of damage to any part of Stanford's brain that processes memory," Costa said. "Specifically, the neurologist found that Stanford's reported memory deficits were 'grossly out of proportion to expected memory loss' from a head trauma," Costa said.
    Stanford's defense team has tried "to excuse Stanford's suspiciously low performance on the tests on the ground that he was depressed and sleep deprived," Costa said in the filing. He said the doctors who evaluated Stanford for his defense offered no explanation "as to why, even assuming depression and fatigue, Stanford's performance would be worse than subjects with advanced dementia or mental retardation."
    If Hittner determines Stanford is mentally fit, his trial will begin Jan. 23.
    The case is U.S. v. Stanford, 09-cr-342, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Houston).

    --Editors: Andrew Dunn, Michael Hytha

    Gerald Celente - Sneak Peak of the Top Trends for 2012

    KWN is giving readers and listeners globally an exclusive sneak peak into Gerald Celente’s top trends for 2012.  Gerald Celente is founder of Trends Research and the man many consider to be the top trends forecaster in the world.  When asked about the top trends for 2012, Celente stated, “One of our tends is the technocrat takeover.  Over in Greece or over in Italy, they are all bragging they’re bringing the technocrats.  It’s not the technocrats, it’s the bankers.  The bankers have taken over the temples of the capitals of the world.  So be very aware of the language and what’s going on because here’s the next trend.”
    Gerald Celente continues:

    “As the bankers take over, and we’re seeing what’s going on, they are throwing out democratically elected governments, we are forecasting there is going to be a severe decline in 2012, particularly in Europe.  They are going to blame the problems in Europe as a reason for the problems going on over here (in the US).  And we have our own (problems) that are as big as Europe’s, even bigger and better.

    So that brings us to the next trend, get ready for economic martial law.  They are going to call a bank holiday.  So what we are saying is conditions have become a lot worse.  And a bank holiday is no holiday folks. 

    You can’t get your money out and when you do get it out, you will get it out a little bit at a time.  It’s going to be worth a lot less.  That’s what they do with bank holidays, they devalue your money.  So they are going to do it again.”

    When asked about his new trend prediction titled ‘Battlefield USA,’ Celente responded, “It just became law.  The Bill of Rights in the United States has been abrogated.  They passed the new Defense Act and in that Defense Act they have in there, in clear language, anybody can be arrested under the National Defense Authorization Act....

    “They authorized the military to go in and take anybody they feel is an enemy of the state, citizen or not, no charges, detain them indefinitely and without a civil trial.  No judge, no jury, no trial, no rights of habeas corpus.  This is what the United States has become.

    Put it all together, it’s going on worldwide.  The merger of state and corporate powers is, by definition, fascism.  Now they have put the laws into place where fascism has become legalized.

    The military could come into anyone’s home, anyone’s office, into anyone’s life and lock you up.  Take you away, torture you, blow your brains out and there’s no recourse at all.  They are setting us up, they are putting all of the pieces in place because when the banks close and when the economy starts crashing down, now they have the goon squads in place.

    So they are putting the soldiers in place.  I used to think they were nuts talking about the FEMA camps, now I don’t anymore.  We have no civil liberties.  We have no rights in this country, they are all gone.”       

    Gerald covers many more of the top trends for 2012 in this interview.  The KWN interview with Gerald Celente is available now and you can listen to it by CLICKING HERE. 

    To subscribe to the Trend Research Newsletter CLICK HERE.

    © 2011 by King World News®. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.  However, linking directly to the blog page is permitted and encouraged.

    Eric King

    Private Property Now Subject To Seizure

    The bottom line is that apparently some warehouses and bullion dealers are not a safe place to store your gold and silver, even if you hold a specific warehouse receipt.  In an oligarchy, private ownership is merely a concept, subject to interpretation and confiscation.
    There's the punchline -- let nobody claim that Jesse buries the lede!
    If this went over your head, let me explain (and go read Jesse's article on it) -- the bankruptcy trustee is now apparently either attempting to or actually has seized customer property held in gold and silver vaults if those bars were transacted through MF Global!
    A warehouse receipt is not an unallocated, nebulous claim.  It contains a serial number of one or more specific bars sitting in a warehouse.  You are in fact charged a storage fee for the service of maintaining security over your property and you have had to tender payment in full as well.  This is a bailment in any sense of the word and under any theory of law I've seen -- and yet now, suddenly, it is proposed that your property held under bailment by this institution can be seized and stolen to pay unallocated bankruptcy claims against the bankrupt company's estate!
    This sort of action turns the entire premises of private property and bailment on its ear!  NO -- and I repeat NO -- property held allegedly for your benefit by any third party anywhere is safe under this "theory" of the bankruptcy trustee.  Yes, this includes something so simple as the money on deposit in your bank account.

    The Silver Rush at MF Global

    Investors are furious that they can't get back the gold and silver they stashed with the failed brokerage.
    It's one thing for $1.2 billion to vanish into thin air through a series of complex trades, the well-publicized phenomenon at bankrupt MF Global. It's something else for a bar of silver stashed in a vault to instantly shrink in size by more than 25%.
    That, in essence, is what's happening to investors whose bars of silver and gold were held through accounts with MF Global.
    The trustee overseeing the liquidation of the failed brokerage has proposed dumping all remaining customer assets—gold, silver, cash, options, futures and commodities—into a single pool that would pay customers only 72% of the value of their holdings. In other words, while traders already may have paid the full price for delivery of specific bars of gold or silver—and hold "warehouse receipts" to prove it—they'll have to forfeit 28% of the value.
    That has investors fuming. "Warehouse receipts, like gold bars, are our property, 100%," contends John Roe, a partner in BTR Trading, a Chicago futures-trading firm. He personally lost several hundred thousand dollars in investments via MF Global; his clients lost even more. "We are a unique class, and instead, the trustee is doing a radical redistribution of property," he says.
    Roe and others point out that, unlike other MF Global customers, who held paper assets, those with warehouse receipts have claims on assets that still exist and can be readily identified.
    The tussle has been obscured by former CEO Jon Corzine's appearances on Capitol Hill. But it's a burning issue for the Commodity Customer Coalition, a group that says it represents some 8,000 investors—many of them hedge funds—with exposure to MF Global. "I've issued a declaration of war," says James Koutoulas, lead attorney for the group, and CEO of Typhon Capital Management.
    At stake is an unspecified, but apparently large, volume of gold and silver bars slated for delivery to traders through accounts at MF Global, which filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 31. Adding insult to the injury: Of the 28% haircut, attorney and liquidation trustee James Giddens has frozen all asset classes, meaning that traders have sat helplessly as silver prices have dropped 31% since late August, and gold has fallen 16%. To boot, the traders are still being assessed fees for storage of the commodities.
    Other kinds of problems are also surfacing. Investor Gerald Celente says he was hit with a big margin call when the gold contracts in his MF Global account were transferred to another brokerage. "I refused to put up more money," he explains, "so they closed out a number of my open positions at the current market price." The trustee, Giddens, couldn't be reached for comment for this story.
    A substantial portion of MF Global's commodity clients cleared their transactions through the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Comex, owned by CME Group (ticker: CME). The question now looming over CME's stock is whether the company will be liable for customer losses. CME, which also owns the Chicago Board of Trade and Chicago Board Options Exchange, runs markets for futures contracts and options on futures, interest rates, stock indexes, foreign exchange and actual commodities.
    CME's stock, which had been as high as $327 over the past year, has slid to a recent $242 as a result of low trading volumes and uncertainty about the MF Global scandal.
    The Customer Coalition may eventually press its case with the exchange operator. "If it turns out the only way we get customer money back is [to] go after the CME, then we'll go after the CME," says Koutoulas.
    Trader John Cassimatis of Philadelphia, who was a large client of MF Global, is furious at CME, now that his contracts for silver bars are stuck under the control of the trustee. "Ultimately," he says, "they have failed to be the backstop, anywhere, anytime."
    IT'S STILL UNCLEAR WHETHER CME will put its commodity-futures customers first—or its shareholders. The company has set aside a $550 million reserve for MF Global customers, and it has cash balances of more than $1.1 billion that it could tap, if needed. But CME Group's chief operating officer, Bryan Durkin, said last week that CME wouldn't guarantee the funds that remain missing from customer accounts at MF Global after they are reimbursed by the bankruptcy trustee. Such a move would be "unwise" and the CME has a "fiduciary responsibility" to its shareholders, Reuters quoted him as saying.
    In congressional testimony last week, CME Executive Chairman Terrence Duffy pinned the blame squarely on MF Global, asserting that Corzine knew that untouchable, segregated customer funds had been used as collateral for loans. Corzine later denied Duffy's charge.
    At a minimum, it all makes for an intriguing, although risky, play on CME stock.
    ISI Group analyst Brian Bedell points out that the shares are changing hands at just 13 times estimated earnings for next year, a three-year low relative to the price/earnings ratio of the Standard & Poor's 500 Index. If the company dodges big payments to MF Global customers, the stock could be as good as gold.

    Romney would raise age for Social Security and Medicare in cost-cutting plan

    WASHINGTON – Mitt Romney unveiled a sweeping budget-cutting plan today that would increase the eligibility age for Social Security and cap Medicaid payments to states.
    Romney’s plan would also increase the eligibility age for Medicare and allow seniors to choose between the government-sponsored plan and private insurance.
    The plan would cut at least $500 billion per year from the federal budget as of 2016 and dramatically shrink the government, pulling back funding from areas that Romney says the nation can no longer afford.
    Those areas include Amtrak, which would lose all government subsidies. Romney would also slice $600 million from the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Legal Services Corporation Fund.
    Romney also would cut foreign assistance to countries that are not aiding US interests. An example is China, which Romney said gets $27 million in US aid.
    “There are some who are going to argue that fiscal responsibility is heartless and immoral,” he said. “No, what’s heartless is to imperil our children and what’s immoral is to imperil the strength of a nation that was founded under God and preserved by His hand.”
    Romney campaign advisers said the pace of changes to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare had yet to be decided but they said current and soon-to-be beneficiaries would not be affected.
    The plan resembles one put out earlier this year by Representative Paul Ryan, which also would have capped Medicaid payments to states in block grants. But Ryan’s plan would have privatized Medicare, the federal health care insurance for seniors. Romney’s plan would keep Medicare intact, but allow seniors to choose other, private insurance options.
    Romney said his plan will lead to a “simpler, smaller and smarter” federal government.
    The former Massachusetts governor and hopeful GOP nominee for the presidency unveiled the fiscal management plan at an event this afternoon organized by a group with ties to another GOP hopeful, businessman Herman Cain.
    The Americans for Prosperity Foundation is investigating its financial dealings with a Wisconsin group formed by Cain campaign adviser Mark Block after reports that money from the foundation may have illegally been funneled to the Cain campaign through the Wisconsin group, called Prosperity USA, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News.
    Cain appeared at today’s event and, while not directly addressing the controversy, said he is proud of his association with the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, whose board includes David Koch.
    “I am the Koch brothers’ brother from another mother...and proud of it,” he said.
    Cain did not mention another controversy that has roiled his campaign in recent days: revelations that he faced allegations of sexual harassment when he worked for the National Restaurant Association. The association paid settlements to at least two women who complained Cain made remarks that made them feel uncomfortable.
    In his speech to a packed ballroom at the Washington Convention Center, Cain spent much of the time talking about his now-famous “9-9-9” tax plan, which would eliminate the current tax code and replace it with a flat 9 percent income tax, corporate tax and sales tax.
    Here is a fact sheet about Romney’s fiscal plan released today by the Romney campaign:
    Set Honest Goals: Cap Spending At 20 Percent Of GDP
    Any turnaround must begin with clear and realistic goals. Optimistic projections cannot wish a problem away, they can only make it worse. As president, Romney’s goal will be to bring federal spending below 20 percent of GDP by the end of his first term:
    •Reduced from 24.3 percent last year; in line with the historical trend between 18 and 20 percent
    •Close to the tax revenue generated by the economy when healthy
    •Requires spending cuts of approximately $500 billion per year in 2016 assuming robust economic recovery with 4% annual growth, and reversal of irresponsible Obama-era defense cuts
    Take Immediate Action: Return Non-Security Discretionary Spending To Below 2008 Levels
    Any turnaround must also stop the bleeding and reverse the most recent and dramatic damage:
    •Send Congress a bill on Day One that cuts non-security discretionary spending by 5 percent across the board
    •Pass the House Republican Budget proposal, rolling back President Obama’s government expansion by capping non-security discretionary spending below 2008 levels
    Follow A Clear Roadmap: Build A Simpler, Smaller, Smarter Government
    Most importantly, any turnaround must have a thoughtful, structured approach to achieving its goals. Romney will attack the bloated budget from three angles:
    1.The Federal Government Should Stop Doing Things The American People Can’t Afford, Including:
    oRepeal Obamacare — Savings: $95 Billion. President Obama’s costly takeover of the health care system imposes an enormous and unaffordable obligation on the federal government while intervening in a matter that should be left to the states. Romney will begin his efforts to repeal this legislation on Day One.
    oPrivatize Amtrak — Savings: $1.6 Billion. Despite requirement that Amtrak operate on a for-profit basis, it continues to receive about $1.6 billion in taxpayer funds each year. Forty-one of Amtrak’s 44 routes lost money in 2008 with losses ranging from $5 to $462 per passenger.
    oReduce Subsidies For The National Endowments For The Arts And Humanities, The Corporation For Public Broadcasting, And The Legal Services Corporation — Savings: $600 Million. NEA, NEH, and CPB provide grants to supplement other sources of funding. LSC funds services mostly duplicative of those already offered by states, localities, bar associations and private organizations.
    oEliminate Title X Family Planning Funding — Savings: $300 Million. Title X subsidizes family planning programs that benefit abortion groups like Planned Parenthood.
    oReduce Foreign Aid — Savings: $100 Million. Stop borrowing money from countries that oppose America’s interests in order to give it back to them in the form of foreign aid.
    2.Empower States To Innovate — Savings: >$100 billion
    oBlock grants have huge potential to generate both superior results and cost savings by establishing local control and promoting innovation in areas such as Medicaid and Worker Retraining. Medicaid spending should be capped and increased each year by CPI + 1%. Department of Labor retraining spending should be capped and will increase in future years. These funds should then be given to the states to spend on their own residents. States will be free from Washington micromanagement, allowing them to develop innovative approaches that improve quality and reduce cost.
    3. Improve Efficiency And Effectiveness. Where the federal government should act, it must do a better job. For instance:
    oReduce Waste And Fraud — Savings: $60 Billion. The federal government made $125 billion in improper payments last year. Cutting that amount in half through stricter enforcement and harsher penalties yields returns many times over on the investment.
    oAlign Federal Employee Compensation With The Private Sector — Savings: $47 Billion. Federal compensation exceeds private sector levels by as much as 30 to 40 percent when benefits are taken into account. This must be corrected.
    oRepeal The Davis-Bacon Act — Savings: $11 Billion. Davis-Bacon forces the government to pay above-market wages, insulating labor unions from competition and driving up project costs by approximately 10 percent.
    oReduce The Federal Workforce By 10 Percent Via Attrition — Savings: $4 Billion. Despite widespread layoffs in the private sector, President Obama has continued to grow the federal payrolls. The federal workforce can be reduced by 10 percent through a “1-for-2” system of attrition, thereby reducing the number of federal employees while allowing the introduction of new talent into the federal service.
    oConsolidate agencies and streamline processes to cut costs and improve results in everything from energy permitting to worker retraining to trade negotiation.
    If pursued with focus and discipline, Romney’s approach provides a roadmap to rescue the federal government from its present precipice. But that respite will be short-lived without a plan for the looming long-term threat posed by the unsustainable nature of existing entitlement obligations. Romney proposes reforms that will strengthen both Social Security and Medicare, preserving benefits for today’s seniors while putting the program on sound footing for generations of seniors to come.
    Social Security: No one at or near the retirement age will see any changes and tax hikes cannot be on the table. Instead, Social Security can be placed on a sustainable trajectory with commonsense reforms:
    •Gradually raise the retirement age to reflect increases in longevity
    •Slow the growth in benefits for higher-income retirees
    Medicare: Medicare should not change for anyone in the program or soon to be in it. Nor should tax hikes be part of the solution. Reforms must honor commitments to our current seniors while giving the next generation a revitalized program that offers the freedom to choose what their coverage under Medicare should look like:
    •Give future seniors a choice between traditional Medicare and many other healthcare plans offering at least the same benefits
    •Help seniors pay for the option they choose, with a level of support that ensures all can obtain the coverage they need; provide those with lower incomes with more generous assistance
    •Allow beneficiaries to keep the savings from less expensive options or choose to pay more for costlier plans
    •These reforms will encourage insurers to lower costs and compete on the quality of their offerings
    •Gradually raise the retirement age to reflect increases in longevity
    Basic Overview:
    •Nothing changes for current seniors or those nearing retirement
    •Medicare is reformed as premium support system, meaning that existing spending is repackaged as a fixed-amount benefit to each senior that he or she can use to purchase an insurance plan
    •All insurance plans must offer coverage at least comparable to what Medicare provides today
    •If seniors choose more expensive plans, they will have to pay the difference between the support amount and the premium price; if they choose less expensive plans, they can use any left over support to pay other medical expenses like co-pays and deductibles
    •“Traditional” fee-for-service Medicare will be offered by the government as an insurance plan, meaning that seniors can purchase that form of coverage if they prefer it; however, if it costs the government more to provide that service than it costs private plans to offer their versions, then the premiums charged by the government will have to be higher and seniors will have to pay the difference to enroll in the traditional Medicare option
    •Lower income seniors will receive more generous support to ensure that they can afford coverage; wealthier seniors will receive less support
    •Competition among plans to provide high quality service while charging low premiums will hold costs down while also improving the quality of coverage enjoyed by seniors
    What are the immediate effects of this plan?
    This plan has no effect on current seniors or those nearing retirement. It will go into effect for younger Americans when they reach retirement in the future.
    How is this different from the Ryan Plan?
    Romney shares Ryan’s goals and believes his general approach of premium support is the right one. Existing Medicare spending would be repackaged as a fixed-amount benefit to each future senior that he or she can use to purchase an insurance plan with coverage at least comparable to what Medicare provides today. Unlike the Ryan Plan, Romney’s approach keeps traditional Medicare available as one of the insurance plans that seniors can choose among. Other details will differ as well.
    How high will the premium support be? How quickly will it grow?
    Romney continues to work on refining the details of his plan, and he is exploring different options for ensuring that future seniors receive the premium support they need while also ensuring that competitive pressures encourage providers to improve quality and control cost. His goal is for Medicare to offer every senior affordable options that provide coverage and service at least as good as what today’s seniors receive. Lower income seniors in the future will receive the most generous benefits to ensure that they are able to get care every bit as good as that provided in the current Medicare program.
    How will the plan impact total Medicare spending?
    The total impact on spending will depend on a number of factors, including the rate of premium support increase and the effect of competitive pressure on providers. By replacing the inefficiency of the current system with a competitive, market-oriented system in which every provider – including the government – wants to find the most efficient way to provide high quality care, the plan puts the future of Medicare on a sound footing to meet the needs of future generations.
    How will traditional Medicare remain an option?
    Traditional Medicare will compete against private plans. It will be operated by the government and funded by premiums, co-pays, and deductibles that are set at the level necessary to cover its costs. The attractiveness of this option to future seniors will depend on how its efficiency and quality compares to that offered by other providers in the marketplace. Future seniors will benefit from the innovation and competition among options.
    How will seniors be affected by the costs of different options?
    Future seniors will be able to enjoy the savings from selecting less expensive plans, or choose to pay more for costlier options. When the insurance premium costs less than the support provided, the balance will be available in an HSA-like account to pay for other out-of-pocket health expenses.
    Donovan Slack can be reached at

    60 Minutes - Prosecuting Wall Street Fraud At Citigroup And Countrywide - DOJ On The Defensive

    Watch Video

    Video - Part 1 - Dec. 4, 2011
    Outstanding segment from Sunday night for anyone who missed it.  This first portion focuses on fraud at Countrywide.  This is very good television.

    60 Minutes Video - Prosecuting Wall Street - Part 2
    Vikram Pandit comes under fire.  Don't skip this second part.

    Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk: European Bailout Will Make Crisis Far Worse 12/19/11